Mere seconds passed before the ferals flooded into the bar. The robotic bartender immediately went on the attack, blasting flames and spinning its saw, but was quickly felled. A trio of Ghouls prowled towards me. I endured a caress from one as another lifted its face to mine and sniffed. It let out a hiss, but did not strike me. Though afraid, I stood completely still, waiting for them to lose interest and leave. And soon enough, they were gone.
I could hear gunfire and louder explosions echoing through the halls above and around me and knew that the Ghouls had won the battle of the lobby. No doubt they were now spreading, like a virus, through the tower, slaughtering those residents that had hoped the first line of defence would be enough. Most of them, like Chief Gustavo and the Wellingtons, deserved no more gracious end, but knowledge of the death of ‘Daring’ Dashwood was a weight on my mind. Even so, I should have felt more guilt. This slaughter was my doing, as surely as had been the massacre back in the D.C Metro tunnels.
Strangely, I felt little compunction about looting the corpse of every human I came across, taking their keys and valuables. Showing respect for the dead was a matter of small concern as I moved methodically through the tower, entering and clearing every room of its more interesting artefacts. Maybe I was finally descending into the morality of the Wasteland, or maybe it was just that I was clinging to the belief that I’d acted with the best of intentions. Surely no-one would blame me for trying to prevent the massacre, even with its results.
Philips stopped me on my way out into the courtyard. “You opportunistic b*****d. Stealing from the newly dead. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
I’d hoped to escape without seeing him again, and hearing his voice fired my anger. I whirled about to face him. “I’m making the best of a s****y situation, you son of a b***h. You’re the one who should be ashamed… This wasn’t necessary. We could have found a better solution.”
“Oh, stop preaching, kid. You’re not convincing anyone. The people who used to live here were all bigots. They’re better off dead. And more useful. Ghoul’s gotta eat, after all.” He began to laugh, a twisted, demonic sound.
I’d heard enough. I cast one last look around the lobby, and felt a twang of regret. An hour ago it had been one of the last bastions of the old world, opulent, decorative, one might even say beautiful. Now it was a scene of carnage. Bodies were strewn about the blood-slicked floor. The walls were peppered with bullet holes. Ornaments had been toppled and smashed. Lights hung haphazardly from the ceiling. Now, Tenpenny Tower was just another part of the Waste.
As I walked into the pre-dawn chill, I heard Philips’s voice behind me, “Come back any time, kid. Our doors will always be open to you.” Again, that demonic laugh.
I slammed the doors shut behind me. I was tempted to toss the mask away as I crossed the courtyard, but thrust it into a spare pocket of my backpack instead, figuring that it may come in handy again; if it had worked on those Ghouls, maybe it would work on others.
“Wha’ ‘appened in dere?” Reed’s first question was predictable.
I shrugged. “Everyone died.”
Reed looked from me up to the tower, then back again. “Dere be some gud people in dere…”
“I know…” Finally, the guilt came crashing over me like a wave. I sunk to my knees, sobs racking my body as my mind flashed each resident in a seemingly endless succession, first as they had been in life, and then as they had lain after death, their bodies broken and many mauled by the gnashing teeth of hungry Ghouls.
Reed waited until my flurry of emotion had burned itself out before asking, “So wha’ ‘m took y’ so long?”
In response, I unhitched my backpack and upended it, tipping the contents onto the ground. Reed smiled at me, showing a mouthful of missing teeth, before rooting through the clothes, small arms, books, batteries, cartons of food, medicines, and other miscellaneous items, setting aside those he would take.
“I dun li’ your met’ods,” he said, “bu’ your resul’s…”
After redistributing the goods between us, with Reed taking the majority share, we set out again, heading north-west from the tower. As the Waste around us slowly brightened, I found myself getting ever more nervous. I’d quickly grown to find comfort in darkness, and now I felt exposed to whatever hunters waited for me out there. It seemed foolish, even to myself, to be so nervous, jumping at every hint of a shadow; dangers enough lurk in this world to not need to conjure more from the fancies of imagination. But my fear was founded.
I paused when first we saw them, a soft haze atop one of the gently rolling hills that made up our horizon. Of course I didn’t know then who or what they were, but any presence was a threat.
Noticing that I’d stopped, Reed turned back to me. “Why ‘m stop’n’, V? We press on, be a’ Vaul’ One-Twel’ by nigh’fa’.”
I tore my eyes from the distant patch of khaki. “That soon?” In our days of travelling together, not once had he mentioned how long our journey was expected to take.
He nodded, and we resumed the trek. But I never let my eyes stray from the other figures we could see. They were off to the right, and seemed on a path to avoid us, but, as the sun crept across the sky, they turned and began to bear down on us.
Reed ignored them. I hardly expected it of him. Until then, he had scarcely passed up a chance to either scavenge or barter, and it was a fair-sized group out there. He could have done a roaring trade had he chosen to, but he didn’t waver, his feet turned resolutely to the north-west. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter. The gap closed, and by the time the sun was directly above, they were upon us.
My fear had gotten the better of me long before that.
A group of twelve. Khaki clothes. Weapons bristling. Unmistakeable pride.
“Reed,” I’d murmured, “we can’t let them catch up.”
“We can’ no’. Dem mercen’ries. Dem kill ‘s.”
“Then we should make a stand, right now. Get rid of them first before they have time to attack us.”
Reed shook his head, his seamed face set in grim lines. “No. ‘S too dan’rous.”
Once they were within shouting distance, their leader, a young man with close-cropped hair shouted out, “Howdy, cowboys. Would you pull up for us?” One or two of the other people in the group raised their weapons.
Bork let out a low, rumbling growl as Reed’s arm shot out, preventing me from moving forward. Within two minutes they had us surrounded.
Their captain stood before us, his sarcastic smile stretched to impossible lengths by a scar that extended from the left side of his mouth to his ear. His hand was clenched around a heavy, ornate pistol, but my eyes were caught by a familiar badge on his chest. ‘TC’. A webbed octagon.
Just my luck. My heart pounded so hard it was a wonder they couldn’t hear it. My breathing was laboured.
“So where are you boys headed?” The captain’s eyes flicked between Reed and me.
“Li’le Lam’ligh’. My son ‘m be t’rnin’ six’een soon, an’ I wan’ t’ be dere fo’ him when him come in’o de real worl’.” Reed’s reply came without even a momentary hesitation.
“And where are you coming from, you inbred dips**t?”
“Tenpenny Tower?” He repeated, before turning to his followers, “Hear that, ye of little faith? We are not too late.”
Though I could feel cold sweat pouring down my face, I spoke up, “Actually, you are. Ghouls overran the place this morning as we were leaving. I can’t imagine there were any other survivors.”
The captain’s eyes narrowed as he whirled to face me. “Huh. I guess that means no chance of collateral damage. That just makes our sport so much better… What’s your name, boy?”
“Arandel.” It wasn’t a name I’d ever heard before, but it was the first collection of sounds that sprang into my mind. I wasn’t about to reveal my real name to a member of Talon Company.
“Interesting… You almost fit the description of a man we’ve been told to keep an eye out for as a potential new recruit for our organisation… I don’t suppose you’ve come across someone travelling alone recently? A young man, a vault dweller, last seen heading west from Rivet City?”
I shook my head while Reed replied for me, “No, sir. We ‘m come fr’m de sout’. Seen none bu’ rai’ers an’ ban’its.”
“Who were too afraid of that beastie to threaten you, no doubt,” he inclined his head towards Bork.
In these words, his voice had carried more than a hint of menace. Both Reed and I sensed it, remaining silent, but preparing ourselves for a sudden outbreak of violence.
The moment stretched on.
Stepping forward to put his head between Reed’s and mine, the captain whispered,. “If you were a different sort of men, I’d have had you killed. Be grateful.”
Then, turning back to his squad, “We have better sport than these two waiting for us. Let’s go find it.”
It was clear to see that several of the others were disappointed. They wanted more than to murder us. I still hadn’t forgotten the image of Olli, his heart and eyes removed and the Talon Company badge burned into his forehead. On another day, with another squad, that might have been the fate of Reed and myself. Our escape was based on pure luck.
As soon as the Talon Company mercenaries were out of earshot, Reed rounded on me. “Why di’n’t you tell me dem were af’er you?”
“I didn’t know. I’ve had… suggestions, but nothing certain. Besides, I didn’t think it was important.”
“No’ ‘por’ant? You know who dem are?”
“Not really,” I confessed, shaking my head. “I’ve seen their handiwork before, but…”
“We lucky we ‘m not dead.”
As we continued across the increasingly rocky terrain, Reed told me about Talon Company, and my fear grew.
Their origins stretched back to before the War, when they had been a private military corporation fighting on the side of the U.S. Somehow, they had survived the bombing, and emerged in the two centuries since as a fighting force for whatever faction had the most money, growing ever more brutal as time went on. Over the past three years, they had grown bolder than ever, their forces attacking settlements, merchants, and raiders indiscriminately. Rumours were spreading that Talon had finally broken down and these attacks were being carried out by unaffiliated cells, but Reed didn’t believe that and nor did I. The most chilling piece of information that Reed told me was that they never gave up once a contract had been signed.
“Dey af’er you, V, and dey get you. Sunner or la’er.”
Soon after Reed had finished his narrative, he put out a hand to stop me. We had just crested a small hill, and a shallow valley stretched away before us. In the centre of it was a small garage, in front of which a pair of robots patrolled. Behind was a massive pile of rocks, hidden amongst which was a tent.
Far off in the distance we could hear explosions, but it wasn’t because of them that Reed had stopped me. “Dere i’ be. Vaul’ One-Twel’.”
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.