My first action on stepping back into the daylight from those Metro Tunnels was to utter a prayer of relief. I was glad to have those dim, dark corridors with their oppressive silences behind me. That’s not to say I wasn’t met with silence once back in the open air, but it carried a different quality… Friendlier, in a way, I guess. Although that could just be because of the babbling of the river that drifted to me. Whatever it was, I felt much lighter than I had underground. I remember saying to myself that I hoped never to enter anything like that again, though I knew I’d have to sooner or later. Funny thing is, after all this time, I still feel a shiver down my spine and the crawling of my skin before I take any step underground. After growing up in the Vault, it doesn’t seem right to be afraid, but maybe it is. Maybe something in me recognises the damage that my youth did to me and knows that no good will come of going underground… I’ll never know for sure.
Even as I breathed deep of the clear air, I heard a voice telling me that I couldn’t dally. I was already days behind my father, and I had yet a long way to go. Besides which, almost half the day had passed away while I’d made my way through the tunnels, and I’d been warned that the journey south didn’t have too many safe places to rest: the Brotherhood of Steel rarely made trips between the D.C. Ruins and Rivet City; each place had its own stronghold, and news was spread mostly by GNR or travelling merchants.
Before I’d left GNR, Lyons had placed a marker on my Pip-Boy’s map to tell me where Rivet City lay, and consulting it, I realised it was almost directly south of where I stood. I had to make a decision: to follow the river, or veer away. The first option would give me ready access to water, irradiated though it was, and be the most direct route, but it was also the lifeblood of the Wastes, bound to attract all sorts of people and creatures, most of which wouldn’t be friendly. Or, I could add hours, if not days to my journey, and have a better chance of avoiding things that were like to try kill me.
It didn’t seem much of a choice. That little voice in my head kept telling me that I needed to hurry; that Dad was never going to stop moving and if I wasn’t as quick as I could be, I’d never catch him. So there wasn’t much behind my decision to set off southward, keeping the river always at my right hand.
To this day, I haven’t been able to work out the reason—maybe it was just that people and critters had, like me, considered the dangers of sticking to near the water—but it was a long time before I happened across anything living. I was still up on the stone paths when I first spotted a shape in the distance. It was big and brown, and beyond that I couldn’t make it out. Looking through the scope of my sniper rifle brought the thing into sharp focus, and I had to look twice before I could be sure I hadn’t just lost my mind.
Back in the Vault, we were taught all sorts of things about the world that was, and among them was the way that people had sustained themselves. Rather than the processed, recycled slabs of unnamed stuff that was all we had to eat, people had used to gorge themselves on green vegetables and all sorts of meats that just can’t be found any more. Well, except for cows, as I found out in that moment. Realising it was a cow was the first thing that gave me pause, but the fact that it had two heads confused the hell out of me. It could hardly have been the only one, and I remember wondering, just before I pulled the trigger, whether these beasties were farmed in the same way now as they were before they mutated.
The Vault had been well-stocked with videos and instruction manuals on how people used to live above ground, and, as children, we’d been allowed to peruse these at will. I remembered the one on how to bleed out an animal and get edible meat from its carcass, but I still made a hack job of it. I was in the middle of doing so when I heard voice echoing, and looked up. A wooden jetty projected out over the river from the other shore, and a person (it looked like an old lady) stood on the very edge, waving at me. I couldn’t know what she wanted, but the fact that she wasn’t shooting at me was reassuring. I finished collecting the meat that I wanted, stored it away, then crossed the river and pulled myself up on to the jetty, where the old woman had settled herself into a rocking chair.
“I do wonder what you get up sometimes, Olli,” She murmured in a cracked voice, “You’re never here in the daylight hours, but you never have anything to show for what you’ve done in the day.”
Brushing the water from my forehead, I took in the dark tan and heavy wrinkling of her skin. It spoke of a life hard-lived, “I think you have me mistaken, ma’am.”
She turned to look at me, and I could see that her eyes was almost completely covered by a white film, “Can’t blame me… Eyes ain’t what they were. You haven’t seen my Olli, have you?”
“Can’t say I have, ma’am.”
“Oh, stop with that ‘ma’am’ nonsense, boy. Folks call me Granny Sparkles.”
A small wooden shack leant drunkenly nearby, its front door hanging wide open. I felt pity for the old woman. By the rules of the Wastes, she should have died long ago, but she continued on, growing blinder and more decrepit with every passing day. “Who’s Olli?”
“Olli’s my son. He takes care of me…” A cloud suddenly passed across her face, and tears began to well in her eyes, “Who’s going to take care of me now?”
“What do you mean?”
I asked so quietly that I could hardly hear my voice above her sobs, but still she answered, “He’s dead. They told me he was dead, so he must be dead. Who would kill my boy?”
I drew closer, taking her gnarled hand in mine, “Who told you?”
Again, she looked into my face, and a smile broke through the tears, “Olli, my boy. They said you was dead. But you’re not. You’re here.”
Something was wrong in her head, but I thought maybe I’d get more answers if I played along, “Yeah, I am. Who was it said I was dead?”
“Strangers…” Suddenly, she sat bolt upright, her fingers digging into my arm with unexpected strength, “Talon Company. We’re not safe.”
Though I hadn’t the faintest idea what she was talking about, her urgency frightened me, “What’s Talon Company?”
She relaxed again, “Talon Company? Never heard of it, dearie. Could you put on some coffee to boil?”
I sighed and stepped back, “It’s a wonder Olli didn’t put you out of his misery.”
She suddenly rose and took hold of my arm. Even standing, her head didn’t rise higher than my chest, and I realised how frail she must be, “Olli, you have to find him. You have to warn him.”
Fear warred with exasperation, with the latter winning out as I wrenched myself free of her grip, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
I remember hearing a roar as time seemed to slow. I didn’t realise it then, but the naming of me, said with such force and vigour, was a pronunciation of my doom. The name Talon Company meant nothing to me, but in that moment, I knew I was being hunted. That was enough to freeze the blood in my veins.
“I’d like to meet him. The radio says such nice things about him…” I tuned out Granny Sparkles’ babble as thoughts turned over and over in my head. For a brief while, I let myself entertain the thought it had all been some fancy of the batty old woman, and then that it was some other Vault-dweller, but I couldn’t hold back the presentiment of danger for too long. Once again, I felt I was at a crisis point. Was continuing on in the face of this newest threat to my life and safety really the best option, or should I turn back and seek safety behind the walls of GNR, or recruit some of the Brotherhood’s soldiers to accompany me? I wrestled with myself over the dilemma, but my pride won out in the end. Turning back would mean admitting weakness, and I just couldn’t do that.
Granny Sparkles seemed to have forgotten all about me, because when I came back to myself, she was fast asleep in that weather-beaten rocking chair.
A short while after I set out again, I happened across a figure I could only guess was Olli. Poor guy had been mutilated. His left kneecap had been shattered, his right leg torn from his body and tossed aside. His chest had been cut open, and his heart removed. The letters TC had been branded into his forehead, below which his eye sockets stared emptily into the sky.
“T.C.,” I murmured, “Talon Company.” If my guess was right, the people that were after me had done this. I wondered what this man had done to get in their way, or if this was nothing more than sport for them. Either way, it frightened me. Did the same fate await me if I fell into their hands? Or did they have some special hell prepared?
It was beyond my power to restore the dead man to any semblance of dignity, but I crossed his arms over the gaping wound in his chest and murmured a few words of commiseration before continuing on my long trek south.
The rest of that day passed in a blur without me seeing another living thing until just on nightfall. I was on the lookout for a place to sleep when I heard a woman cry out shakily, “Stop there, you!”
Between the darkening sky and the grey of her outfit, I had trouble picking her out from the rocks. From a glance, I could tell that, if the situation called for it, I could overpower her easily. Instead, I called back, “Evening.”
“Who you? What you do here?” She approached cautiously as she fired the questions at me.
“I’m no-one. And I’m just trying to make my way to Rivet City, maybe looking for a place to stop the night.”
“You think here?” As she spoke, she gestured over her shoulder, where one of end of a collapsed bridge cut into the sky.
I started to respond, but she cut me off.
“You can’t. No safe here. Them back tomorrow, and them kill you. Go far.”
“You’re just going to let me go?” She gave no answer, but took another hard look at me, as if measuring me up for some dread purpose. “Well, I’ll just-”
“You no hurt me, promise?”
“What? I- No. I’m not going to hurt you.”
A deep crease furrowed her brow for the briefest moment before a radiant smile transformed her face, “Then you sleep. I keep you safe, promise.”
Within the base of the standing end of the bridge was a clear area that had been morphed into a homely sort of place, stuffed with beds and couches, books and kitchen implements. I knew already that the girl—for that’s all she was, really—didn’t live there alone, but her reluctance to tell me things, combined with the apparent gaps in her teaching, meant I was unable to get much more from her than that. I cooked the steaks I’d cut earlier that day, and she and I passed the evening eating and talking. Even though I was exposed to every danger of the Wastes, I felt more comfortable there than I had for a long time before, and fell asleep quite early while reading one of the books from the meagre collection that was there.
“Wake. They come!” The sibilant hiss of the girl’s voice jerked me from a dream of plenty just as the absolute darkness of night was beginning to give way to another grey dawn. “Hurry.”
Voices echoed through the still air, and as I sneaked away from that homely place, I caught sight of no less than five men, all outfitted in the peculiar clothes worn only by raiders.
Only then did I realise how stupid I’d been to trust that girl. But at the same time, I had to be thankful for my lucky break.
Disclaimer: The preceding is a narrative account of the author’s playthrough of Fallout 3. It is not paid content. Fallout 3 and all related trademarks remain the property of Bethesda Softworks. OnlySP.com team members have no personal or professional affiliation with Bethesda Softworks or any related companies.