Although I knew it was likely to be my last night in a safe place for who knew how long, it still wasn’t easy to sleep in Moriarty’s Saloon. Worry for my father was probably the biggest reason for my restlessness, but I was also scared about heading back into the Wastes and the things that I would find. The rotted face of Gob haunted me, and I’d been told that he was far from the worst of the freaks the radiation had given birth to. And beside the critters, there were the difficulties of travelling the Wastes: the slow, unavoidable seep of radiation into your body, the lack of any safe food or drinking water, hordes of roving bandits that kill on sight, and the presence of outlaw and vigilante factions that had taken it upon themselves to restore order to the United States of America. And then there was the uncertainty of my quest; how could I be sure that I would meet with success? How could I know that my father wasn’t lying dead in a ditch somewhere?
I woke early the next morning in the hope of covering as much ground as possible while the world was still lit. I ate swiftly, speaking as little as possible to the other people in the saloon, before heading out into Megaton to barter the stuff taken from Silver’s residence for more useful supplies. It was about an hour later that I left the town with a bigger arsenal than I’d walked in with, along with a couple of bottles of water and enough food to last me at least a couple of days, all stored in a new backpack. Even though I still knew little of what to expect, I felt much more prepared than I had upon emerging from the Vault onto the ledge overlooking Springvale the previous day.
I had to circle around Megaton before I could strike out west, as advised by Moriarty, and I attracted the attention of a swarm of massive, shrieking beasts as I did so. Their wild, and seemingly blind, charges made them easy to pick off, but the attack was a timely reminder that caution was necessary. I came across a second, larger herd a little while later, and took a longer path to avoid them. While it would have been easy to kill them, I wanted to keep as much ammunition as I could for the real dangers that lurked out there.
The blasted, rocky terrain slowly gave way to gently rolling hills upon which grass grew sparsely. I took the opportunity, while perched on top of one of the hills, to take a break and have something to eat. I could see for miles and the ruins of the world held a particular grandeur. Megaton rose a forbidding presence behind me, while a number of towering blocky buildings lay ahead. To either side were fields stretching as far as the eye could see, the scenery sprinkled with the warped shapes of man-made structures fallen into disrepair and decay. Although all around were the visible remnants of the apocalyptic war, eating squirrel skewers on that hill, while listening to the Galaxy News broadcast through my Pip-Boy, everything seemed utterly peaceful.
I continued onward after lunch, the buildings I was headed towards growing ever larger until I was dwarfed by them. Old houses started to appear, growing closer together the closer I came to the remnants of the city. Eventually, as I found myself at the foot of buildings that seemed to rise to the sky, I caught myself pondering the amount of effort that had gone into the construction. And the rest of the city. Vast amounts of land cleared and covered with cement. Enormous drainage systems. I compared the ramshackle design of Megaton to this city, and found myself shocked by how far humanity had fallen in the wake of the War.
I was shaken from these thoughts by a high-pitched shout, “Help!” I turned about and saw a young boy sprinting towards me with two Ghouls close behind. I hadn’t the faintest clue of what was going on, but I knew I had to help the kid. After the murders and theft of the previous day, I had to find some way to make peace with myself. I raced towards the boy, hoping to put myself between him and the Ghouls so that I might be able to calm them down and work out what their issue with him was. I thought that Gob was the standard of their sort. I thought that even though they look grotesque, there was still some spark of humanity inside them. I found out quickly that I was wrong. I tried to speak, but one of them just lashed out at me, and I felt its sharpened nails tear a chunk of flesh from my cheek. The blow sent me stumbling, which saved me from the thing’s second wild swing.
As it moved to attack again, I slipped the baseball bat that I bought from Megaton from its scabbard, ducked, then shattered the creature’s arm with a counterattack. It shrieked, but struck out again. I repeated this pattern a second and third time before I managed to land a solid blow that knocked it out. Turning my attention to the remaining Ghoul, I unslung the shotgun from my back and moved towards them while shouting to draw its attention. Although this failed, the kid turned my way. I levelled the weapon, sighted along the barrel, and, as the Ghoul drew close, pulled the trigger. A shower of gore exploded into the air as the creature collapsed. At the sound of the shot ringing out, the kid glanced back, slowed to a stop, then dropped to the ground, his body wracked by sobs.
He was upset and disturbed, that much was clear, and I really had no idea of how to approach him. I couldn’t just leave him there, though; there had to be more dangers lurking about in the ruins of the city.
“You alright, kid?” Even to my own ears the words sounded brittle and uncaring.
But he looked up, and I saw that his tears had drawn trails through the dirt on his face. He glared at me for a long moment, distrust drawn clearly on his face, then slowly shook his head, “That’s a stupid question, mister.”
“I know,” I replied, walking closer to him, “what are you doing out here?”
“I was looking for help, and I found those things. They chased me a long way.”
“Help with what?”
“I need to see if my dad is alright, but I can’t get to our house.”
Of all the answers I might have expected, that was not one of them, “What’s stopping you?”
“Fire Ants.” His voice carried deep fear as he named the source of his problems, then he went on to tell me about how the giant ants had started pouring out the Metro entrance near to Grayditch a few days earlier, and how they had planned to move to get away from them. And how his father had not come back for him after telling him to wait in a shelter.
Taking the kid’s burden on as my own would mean falling further behind my father, but that was a sacrifice I had to make. I couldn’t just leave him in the middle of nowhere to fend for himself. I pulled a packet of snack cakes from my backpack and handed them to him as he rose to his feet. As he tore the packet open, we set off together for Grayditch to see if there was anything I could do for him.
Grayditch turned out to be a small settlement on the outskirts of the other end of the city. As we walked, the kid introduced himself as Billy Wilks and told me a little about the people that had lived nearby, most of whom he hadn’t seen since the ants appeared. Most of what he told me had no importance, so I only half listened, making sympathetic noises every now and again. I chose to not speak about myself.
The sun was riding high by the time we spotted the settlement from a vantage point atop the tumbled remnants of a building. Even from a distance, the ants could be seen crawling through the streets and along the sides of buildings. There weren’t many that I could see, but there were still enough to cause concern. Billy pointed out his house and a few others, then wished me luck and raced to one of the town’s personal preservation shelters.
Alone again, I sighed, shouldered the hunting rifle I’d bought in Megaton and picked my way down into the settlement. I kept an eye out as I approached the Wilks house, but still managed to be surprised by one of the ants rounding a corner and scuttling towards me with a horrendous clacking sound. We’d had ants back in the Vault, but they weren’t hardly any bigger than my fingernail. The thing coming towards stood higher than my waist and was longer than I am tall.
The first round I fired pinged against its head, but didn’t even phase the critter, and nor did the two that followed. Realising that firing randomly wasn’t going to work, I activated V.A.T.S. and took aim at its legs. Two were severed, but the ant was still barely slowed.
It suddenly lifted its head and with an angry hiss, a jet of flame spewed from its jaws. I leapt backward to avoid the heat and backed away, trying to think of a different way to kill the creature, and looking for anything that I might be able to exploit as a weakness. Then I got an idea, but I’d have to get in real close.
I danced one way, then the other, but couldn’t hope to be fast enough to get near it. I was getting pretty tired by that point too, so I had to look for something that might give me the upper hand. Then I remembered the bombed-out diner near Billy’s shelter. I lured the ant nearer to it, then raced inside and hid behind the counter. Looking over the top of it, I saw the ant enter and follow my path. I leapt on top of the counter as it rounded the corner, then activated V.A.T.S. and dropped onto its back with knife drawn. Though it started to buck almost instantly, the hyperawareness of the assisted targeting system gave me the opportunity to slide the blade between the plate of the ant’s neck and head. With two violent wrenches, and a small spray of colourless fluid, the head dropped off and rolled away while the body slumped.
I found myself longing for the ants from the Vault that I could crush between my fingers, and knew that I would have to find some other weakness of these Fire Ants. I couldn’t hope to cut off all their heads without getting myself cooked.
I don’t know how long as I stayed on the headless body of that ant, but I recuperated some strength after a while, and sprinted for the front door of the Wilks house. As I ran, I could see them beginning to swarm, and hear the excited clacking of their jaws. It sent a chill down my spine, but I managed to make it into the house and slam and bolt the door behind me before they could get too near to me. I knew that I’d have to move quick, but. The door wouldn’t hold long against them.
I sighed, took a deep breath, and turned around to find out what had happened to Billy Wilks’ dad.
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.