The heavy steel door slammed shut with a resounding clang. It shook as a body cannoned into the other side, and I drew the bolt as quickly as my shaking, exhausted hands would allow. Only then, once I felt a modicum of safety, could I take the time to catch my breath and take stock of my surroundings.
Like so many other places I’d found myself in since leaving the Vault it was dark, the only light seeping in from the crack around the door, the air stale with the stench of dust and decay. With my back to the door, I slumped to a sitting position and breathed deeply, trying not to let the exhaustion of my flight from Rivet City overwhelm me.
Stumbling over that mercenary on the way out had unnerved me, but I wasn’t about to let the fear and paranoia that it inspired to beat me. The morning was well-advanced by the time my feet once more touched solid ground, and I began the trek east blithely, following Doctor Li’s instruction to stick to the bay. As I strolled along, my imagination was captured by the tidal basin to my left; the benefits that such an amount of water, purified and potable, could bring to the Wastes was heady. Doctor Li hadn’t been kidding when she said that Project Purity was a vital step in bringing back civilisation, and I no longer doubted my father’s motives.
With my thoughts thus occupied, it was easy to ignore the paranoia and the creeping feeling that I was being watched and followed by some unknown figure. As the day wore on, however, it became more difficult; every time I pulled my eyes away from the water, I saw movement. At first I put it down to paranoia, but as I spotted it more frequently, I began to watch the sneaking grey figure for longer, and always it paused in its movements shortly after I did. It had to be a human. No wild beast would keep time as that shadow did, and surely a Super Mutant wouldn’t have need for subtlety. My shadow was a foe at least as intelligent and dependent on caution as myself. The only advantage I could hope for was that it didn’t know that I knew it was after me.
Doing my best to appear to remain calm, I quickened my pace slightly as I steered my feet more directly towards the marble structure that loomed on the horizon. This game of cat-and-mouse continued as the day wore on, and made me ignorant of a more present danger as I drew closer to the Jefferson Memorial.
I whirled about at the first gunshot, expecting my shadow to be standing bold and clear, a brave, upright shape grey against the grey of the landscape, but the world remained empty except for the tumbled ruins. Only then did I realise that that the shot had sounded from ahead of me. Around the memorial was a tall scaffold, upon which stood a number of Super Mutants, each with a weapon aimed in my general direction.
“S***.” I murmured.
The unmistakeable bursts of automatic gunfire rang out and I dived to my left, rolling to absorb the shock, then rising to one knee to unhitch my sniper rifle. Rising, I broke into a run at the same time as I activated V.A.T.S. The contorted faces of Super Mutants leapt out at me as I sighted along the scope, half a second before they exploded open like ripe fruit thrown against a wall. Reality reasserted itself before I could clear all of them, and it was then that I heard the shots exploding from behind me, and the corresponding fall of Super Mutants. It threw me into confusion. Had I been wrong to fear my shadow? Were they, perhaps, some kind of guardian angel sent to help me? I hadn’t time to consider it then, but I hoped that I might be able to get answers at some point. For the time being, I had to survive and get inside the memorial.
I decided to put my faith in the shadow, sling the rifle over my shoulder again, and straighten my path. I could hear nothing above the pounding gunfire and my own thundering heartbeat as I pressed forward, my eyes furiously scanning the base of the memorial for some kind of tunnel, or doorway, anything that might prove to be an entrance. Even as I dashed forward, however, my hopes were fading. Doctor Li had been right in saying that the memorial was a Super Mutant stronghold. With such opposition facing him, and remaining after he might have been expected to arrive, how could my father have arrived safely? Though the odds seemed impossible, I had to have faith that his God would be benevolent enough to protect him.
There! The door blended in with the scum-covered stone that surrounded it, only noticeable because it was sunk in slightly from the facade. Glancing behind me, two Super Mutants with nailboards were closing the gap and I activated V.A.T.S. again to enhance my reaction time as I burst through the door, slammed it shut and drew the bolt. The door reverberated from impact, but held.
An exasperated roar sounded from outside as I sunk to the ground, breathing a heavy sigh of relief. I was in a tunnel, the air thick and a heavy silence punctuated only by the slow dripping of water from somewhere deep within.
I moved on after catching my breath, pistol at the ready. A short way along the tunnel, a sign hung from the ceiling indicating that a gift shop and rotunda were to be found by passing through an offshoot to the right. With no other clues to go by, it seemed wise to follow it. The new path led to a wide open area with furniture as tumbled and chaotic as in any of the abandoned houses I’d explored on the way here. As I stepped clear of the tunnel, an ominous whirring began to sound and I ducked back behind the wall, only then noticing the faint green glow of an active computer panel.
I activated it as a matter of course, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get past the automated turrets, and the longer my attempt to hack the console went on, the easier it seemed to become. The programming I came across was familiar in a way that the other computers I’d accessed in the Wastes hadn’t been. Slowly, I became more convinced that my quest hadn’t been in vain after all. Then, I cracked the password. It couldn’t be a coincidence: ‘Elise’. My spirit was galvanised. He’d been here. He had to still be here.
I was growing to find comfort in the ruins of the world. Fragments of the world that had once been were becoming amusing to me. Globes, desk lamps, calendars, and gramophones counted among the useless trinkets that had once provided decoration and diversion, and now they were nothing but so much garbage. Although I knew it was all trash, I still rummaged through the remaining contents of the gift shop, finding some small connection to my forebears through the curious items that they had once purchased and consumed in large quantities.
However, the urgency of my quest led me on. From the gift shop, I had two choices. The first led to the rotunda that had been advertised outside, and the second led down into the basement. I suddenly wished that I’d thought to ask Doctor Li exactly where in this facility the control room of Project Purity was located. Having to make a guess, I settled on checking out the basement first on the assumption that deeper meant safer.
Of course I was wrong. Though filled with a wide array of machines, the functions of which I couldn’t even begin to guess at, the basement was entirely void of life. I would have returned to the gift shop entirely disappointed had it not been for stumbling across a small room deep in the bowels of the basement, in which I found a bed and a small table with a holotape upon it. My hands had shaken as I reached out and inserted the recording into my Pip-Boy.
“I can hardly believe the state of disrepair that Project Purity is in. Madison wasn’t lying when she told me of its abandonment. For more than eighteen years it has sat here, slowly falling apart with no-one to care for the promise that it once held. I know why they did it, but I still have trouble believing it.
“No matter. I’m back now, and wiser and more determined than ever to bring life back to the Wasteland. There is much work to be done: analytics to be performed, machines to be repaired, pumps and pipes to be replaced. I can hardly fathom how many hours of hard work lay ahead of me before I can even hope to begin experimenting again. But then, there may be a short cut to all that… No. I can’t let myself think like that. The G.E.C.K. is a tool that I can’t rely on. I have to ensure Project Purity is at least functional in the capacity as I left it before going any further. It’s going to be a long few days.” My father’s voice faded away as the recording stopped. At long last I was certain that I wasn’t following a misleading path of breadcrumbs. Despite what Moriarty and Three-Dog and Doctor Li had said this recording was the first hard evidence of my father’s presence before me. He was here. He had to be.
I raced back through the winding corridors of the basement, burst through the door into the gift shop, then into the rotunda, where I found the control room. It was a massive glass-fronted cylinder, elevated above the level of the gangway. I couldn’t suppress a smile. Finally, my journey was at its end, and I could take my place beside my father in repairing Project Purity and bringing life back to Wastes.
I mounted the stairs to find a control panel void of lights. All was silent. Dread began to rise. Surely if my father was here he would be at the control panel, running his experiments.
I walked a circuit of the cylinder, and came up empty-handed. No Dad. No clues. Despair and defeatism warred within me, and I let out a wail, falling to my knees.
Had it all been for nothing? Had I been chasing a phantom, a will-o’-the-wisp all along? I beat at the control panel furiously, pointlessly, screaming all the while.
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.