“You’ve handled babies before?” The ease with which Reed had soothed the child brought the question unbidden to my lips.
“Reg’ly,” I couldn’t make out his features in the dark, but his voice carried a smile. “Dem a righ’ fine commod’ty, but ‘m loud. I have ‘m what ‘m call ‘magic touch’. Dem go quiet easy.”
“Ever have a child of your own?”
“Yeah. Long time ‘go. But her died.”
“Oh,” I murmured, taken aback by his candour, “I’m sorry to hear it.”
“Don’t be. T’was ‘er mam’s fault, non yours. You ‘ave churren?”
I chuckled. “No… There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought this girl—Amata—would… but it’s impossible now.”
Clouds had moved in to obscure the moon, and without its silver glow my new companions were nothing more than three vague shapes, standing out from the background only because of how much darker they appeared. Since setting out I’d been considering how much information about myself to share with Reed, and this was his first real attempt to pry into my past. “I killed her father… It upset her a little.” I tried to cover the guilt and pain of the memory with a joke, but the attempt rang false to my own ears.
“Killed dead? Why?
I hesitated before answering. “He was in my way.” It wasn’t a lie. Not really. I’d gone to the Overseer’s office readily enough, prepared to tell him all that I knew or could guess about what had happened to my father. But then he’d goaded me. Pushed me. I’d gotten angry and fought back with questions of my own that he’d refused to answer. It was only after that he’d threatened me with confinement for non-compliance that I lost my temper. I’d demanded to be set free of Vault 101 to find my father and bring him back. He refused, calling in the guard stationed outside the door. That’s where the carnage of my escape from the Vault had started.
Memory faded, and I noticed that Reed was laughing, a wheezing sound that seemed painful to make. “Force,” he murmured after the fit had subsided, “Dat ‘m the on’y way t’ show ’em.”
“Yeah. You got to be some kind of heartless to survive out here.”
Reed shushed me as Bork let out a low rumbling growl. Some time earlier I’d noticed the unmistakeable flickering light of a campfire obscured behind a wall, and the building had proven itself to a be a large factory as we’d drawn closer. I’d hoped that the fire was the result of some natural cause, but the sudden wariness of the Yao Guai proved my hopes wrong.
“Hail!” Reed’s shout, rending the air like a bolt of lightning, was met with the sounds of people being rapidly woken and weapons being readied.
I’d jumped sharply on hearing the shout and now grabbed his arm. “What are you doing?”
“You ‘m can’t go past quiet. It’s ‘spicious.”
The only sign of the person that emerged from around the corner was the lengthening, then sudden disappearance, of their shadow. “Who goes there?” The voice almost certainly belonged to a woman.
“’M scavenger. Looking t’ barter, ‘f it plea’ ya.”
We were allowed to approach after a short exchange, and I stood by while Reed conducted his business. The raiders pushed him on every single item of sale, but the presence of Bork and myself seemed to prevent any real disputes from breaking out.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that the baby turned out to be the “commodity” most sought after by the raiders. Knowing that it was going to end up as their roast dinner, I had to turn away when they started haggling for the poor kid. I blamed Reed for his actions then, but I don’t any more. He was just trying to make the best of a bad situation, same as anyone else. It may have been callous but it was far from evil, considering the morality of the Wastes.
Though Reed expressed a desire to search the factory, we pressed on after the business was concluded as I was keen to put some distance between us and the raiders in case they happened to change their minds. The landscape around us became more wild and rugged with the further westward we went. Less like the D.C. Ruins and more like the wilderness into which I’d first stepped after leaving the Vault. The peace and quiet created a sense of solitude and oneness with the world. I think, most of all, I was just glad to leave the masses of steel and concrete behind. After growing up in a place from which there was no escape from the signs of old-world industry, and where we never had the chance to breathe free air or feel grass beneath our feet, I can no longer stand to spend too long in the ruined cities.
Reed and I barely spoke as we plodded on. The most we said was the occasional passing of commentary on something we noticed, but I was okay with that.
We walked until the first pink blush of morning was spreading across the sky. At that point, I had to stop to watch the progression of darkness to day. I’d already seen sunsets, but never sunrise, and seeing the colours in the sky and the way the world grew inevitably brighter filled me with the same sense of wonderment as my first sunset, the evening before I walked into Megaton. That day, not two weeks distant, seemed already a lifetime ago.
We lunched on the last of the fried squirrel I’d bought while in Rivet City and set out again, ever in the same direction. It would have been late morning, as we were passing through what would once have been a village when I noticed a flurry of movement out of the corner of my eye. Fear shot through me. Surely it couldn’t be the same person that I left behind at the Jefferson Memorial. I’d taken the precaution of setting out at an ungodly hour under the cover of darkness, keeping watch always for any sign of pursuit. Had that not been enough?
Reed and Bork, meanwhile, seemed oblivious to my sudden alertness.
“Did you see that?” I asked under my breath once I was sure that whatever had moved was gone.
“You ‘m damn fool,” replied Reed in a harsh undertone. “Memmer, you ‘m scavenger, like I. Ain’t no what t’ be a-scared of, so you just shaw’n tha’ you ain’t wha’ y’ are. Get we dead, y’will, ackin’ like tha’.”
We were about halfway along the main street when the front door of one of the houses ahead of us opened, out from which walked a tall man dressed in old-world clothing. He strode towards us without a hint of fear or hesitation. “Hi there,” he said, a smile stretching from one ear to the other, “My name’s William Willow, friends call me Liam. What about you fellows?”
We supplied our names to him, and his smile, if possible, grew broader.
“We don’t often get visitors to Andale any more (Heaven knows why, it is the best little town in America). What is it brings you to these parts?”
Reed answered for us both, “Jus’ passin’ through, sai.”
“Oh, that’s a shame,” something about Liam’s cheery manner was off-putting. It was neither threatening, nor menacing, but there was an indefinable sense that it was all an act put on for our benefit. “I was going to suggest you stay for the evening. We have spare beds enough for both of you, and my wife is always more than happy to make up a bit of extra stew for honoured guests.”
At this, Reed turned to me, “A comf’ul bed an’ hot dinner? Wha’ you thing, Valken?”
On the one hand, I couldn’t suppress the sense of urgency that drove me ever onward in the quest for my father, but on the other, the long walk had left me tired and depleted. “We can’t stay ’til morning, but a meal and a few hours of rest would be nice.”
“Then it’s settled! You boys make yourselves comfortable, and I’ll go see Gloria about dinner.” Liam bounced away, each step filled with the same exuberance as his manner.
Reed also slouched away, murmuring something about having to make sure the animals were settled, and I was left to wander alone through the deserted streets of Andale.
“’The best little town in America,’” I scoffed at Liam’s claim as I sat down on a rusty swing in a park overgrown with weeds. There was no life to be seen. No citizens. No animals. No children. “What kind of bubble are these idiots living in?”
“What’s an idiot?” the sudden interruption on my thoughts by a soft, high-pitched voice caused me to look up. A young girl stood before me, a confused look on her face.
“Idiots are… uh, a species of wild animal that often live alongside people.”
“Oh…” If anything, she looked even more confused by my answer. “What do they look like?”
“Ask your parents. They’ll explain it better than I can.”
Her face fell. “They don’t like it when I ask questions. They always say I’m too young, and that I’ll know when I’m older. That’s why I’m never allowed to talk to strangers, or Old Man Harris. But I like you. You’re funny.”
“Well I like you too. What’s your name?”
“Sally. Sally Small. Have you met my pa yet? Henry?”
“No, I haven’t. Why don’t you tell me about him?”
She spoke for more than ten minutes, responding openly to any question I asked, but never giving me any real insight into the activities of her parents or the other older people of the town. Not that I’d really expected it. Children don’t often have much useful information.
We were interrupted in our chat by a well-dressed lady. “Oh, there you are, Sally. How many times do I have to tell you not to go running away like that. I get worried.” She turned towards me. “You must be one of the guests. Liam’s got the whole of Andale in a frenzy that you and your friend are staying with us for the night. You don’t know how rare it is that we get visitors these days, so it gives us all a fine excuse to have a feast. Thank you so much for keeping her out of trouble.”
“My pleasure.” I answered. I couldn’t help watching as the pair walked away. After the innocence of Sally, the nervous, excited energy of her mother was almost frightening in its intensity.
Dinner that evening felt incredibly peculiar. I hadn’t had a ‘family’ meal of that kind in years, and the adults of Andale, aside from Old Man Harris who was absent because of illness, was exuberantly talking over one another, their voices rising in a cacophony. Reed and I contributed little to the conversation, the reason of which, for myself at least, was a deep-seated sense of discomfort and unbelonging. No matter how they tried to involve us, there was a falsity in their manner that kept me out.
The stew, however, made of some meat that I’d never come across before and home-grown vegetables was delicious. I ate ravenously, and couldn’t understand why Reed held back, eating only a little, in spite of the exhortations of our patrons that there was plenty more food.
After dinner I was led to the spare room of the Willow house, where sleep claimed me almost before I’d set my alarm.
That night I dreamed of babies being roasted over an open fire, children being whipped without making a single whimper, my father banging futilely on the hatch of a Vault, Reed laughing as Bork raged through the halls of Rivet City. My past, future, hopes, and fears all mixed up in a massive mess of frightful symbolism from which there was no escape.
“Make sure those ropes are tight.”
“Hurry up. We don’t have long.”
Sounds of rapid movement and heavy breathing.
I came to consciousness with the sudden realisation that I was being carried. My eyes shot open, and I began to squirm immediately, keenly aware of the danger I was in. My arms were pinned to my sides, my mouth gagged so that I couldn’t make a sound. My thrashings were in vain.
Liam’s smiling face loomed out of the darkness above me, still smiling. “Now, now, Valken, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
I was carried down a set of stairs into a room and tossed unceremoniously into a cage in which I couldn’t stand up.
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.