I was led around a corner and into a wide open space, dominated by some kind of huge green tent. It seemed so out of place among the humming machines and glowing screens that I had to pause to take it in. In front of the tent was a low table covered in fruits of every colour, and leaning over this was a short woman in a long white coat.
As I watched, she held out a needle. “I need you to run another analysis, Janice; I think this time I’ve managed to reduce the arsenic levels to a point that will result in few short-term issues.”
The lab assistant cleared her throat as she hurried forward to collect the sample before murmuring something in the other woman’s ear.
“Oh yes, the visitor. I do so love interruptions…” the doctor turned to face me, a brilliant red apple in her hand. Her skin had a sickly yellow tint to it, and the right side of her face was disfigured by a tumorous growth. “I don’t suppose I could interest you in a piece of delicious fresh fruit?”
“Arsenic?” I asked.
“All in the name of scientific advancement, of course.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll pass.”
She sighed. “Of course you will… I’m told you have something to tell me about Project Purity? Has James managed to make some miraculous breakthrough already, or has he realised that the facility will never function again?”
“I don’t know. I’m here for what you can tell me.”
“About Project Purity? Really? I have more important things to do than talk about long-dead fantasies.” she shook her head as she turned away again, and I felt a flare of anger. I’d had enough of the arrogance of the people in Rivet City. After all the miles and dangers that lay behind me I deserved answers.
“You rude, self-obsessed b****! Is it so impossible to take ten minutes away from your damn plants to tell me what I want to know?”
Far from turning back to me, or offering a response, she picked another piece of fruit from the table and held it up for examination.
In hindsight, I reacted badly. I don’t know what came over me. My anger was like a demonic possession. I closed the gap with four steps and, with one violent movement, flipped the table, sending fruits and vegetables scattering in every direction.
Through the deafening blanket of rage, I heard Doctor Li’s voice: “Janice, call Captain Harkness.”
One hand closed around her throat, while the other held my pistol to her temple. I felt a cathartic surge of pleasure at the terror in her eyes. “Tell me what I want to know.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Where. Is. My. Father?”
“James. Where is he?”
I felt the convulsive movement of her throat as she swallowed. “You’re Valken? I was under the impression he left you in a Vault.”
Throwing her from me, I felt another twisted surge of pleasure as she hit the floor. “He tried. But his leaving left me no choice,” the explosion had left me feeling calmer, making me realise how frustrated I’d felt at the constant setbacks. “Where is he?”
“Dead, most likely.”
My breath caught. “What?” After everything I’d been through, it wasn’t possible. “No.”
Doctor Li struggled to her feet. “He set off into the Wastes—towards an area known to house a population of Super Mutants—alone. He was obsessed. Half-mad. I don’t understand what brought him back after all these years. How could he not realise it was too late?”
“Too late? What is Project Purity? What happened to it?”
She righted the table and sat upon it. I could see that she was still shaken by my outburst, but it had to be that way if I was going to get my answers. “It was the dream of James and Elise that all of us were infected by because it was such a… vital idea. Safe water, free for everyone. It’s the first real step that’s needed if we’re going to rebuild the world. And we almost had it, but then you happened.”
Three-Dog’s words came back to me, but I still had to ask, “Me? What do I have to do with any of this?”
“After Elise died giving birth to you, James left us. The best efforts of the best minds in the Wastes couldn’t take the project any further than your parents. After six months of halted progress, the Brotherhood of Steel decided that supporting us longer was pointless. Without their protection, most of the team was afraid to stay and so we fell apart.
“I don’t know what James was thinking coming back. He was acting as though he expected all of us to still be here… He always was an idealist.”
“Idealist? Why didn’t you help him?
She laughed at me. “The rest of us did what your father, apparently, never could: move on. The team is dispersed, spread all over the Capitol Wasteland, and some of them are probably dead. As important as Project Purity is, it’s a dream that needs more than two people. And besides, I have work of my own to do. I can’t afford to waste the rest of my life locked in a cycle of futility.”
I turned away in disgust at her attitude. “You’re just afraid, aren’t you? Afraid of the Super Mutants and afraid of being responsible for failure again. Why risk your reputation and comfort by trying to make the world a better place when you can just say here injecting arsenic into food, right?”
“For all the brilliance of your father, you really are incredibly stupid. Just because I left Project Purity behind doesn’t mean I don’t still live for the same ideals as we all did then. My talents are simply-”
The end of her sentence was cut off by an ear-piercing squeal capped off by an explosive bang. Heavy footsteps rang on the gangway that offered a top-down view of the main floor of the lab.
“Hold!” that voice that shouted down was authoritarian and vaguely familiar.
Looking up, I realised that I was surrounded; more than half a dozen security personnel had responded to Doctor Li’s request.
“Outsider. I thought you’d turn out as a troublemaker.” The man who spoke was the same as had met me on the stairs when first I’d entered Rivet City. His toad-like face with its wide-set eyes looked down on me, and I met them with equal coldness even while I dropped the pistol. “Oh, it’s too late for that, Outsider.”
The sounds of guns being readied echoed around the lab before silence, broken only by the ominous humming of machines, reasserted itself.
“You came into our community uninvited.”
I saw him cock the hammer on his antiquated handgun.
“You caused upset among some of our most respected citizens.”
He raised the weapon, squinting along the barrel.
“You verbally threatened and physically assaulted our most eminent community member.”
A grim smile twisted his features.
“For these crimes, I, Captain Errol Harkness, find you guilty-”