It was clear straight away that the ants had got inside little Billy’s house. Chairs were scattered about all over the place, a bookshelf was toppled over, and scorch marks were everywhere. A blackened corpse, missing an arm and half its right leg, lay sprawled face down on the staircase, and I knew straight away that it was Billy’s dad. It was sad enough to see and think about just because that kid would be without a father from then on, but I felt a wrenching in my stomach at the thought of coming across my own father in the same state somewhere further out in the Wastes. Strangely, it made me feel closer to the kid. I even played with the idea of taking him under my wing, but that was impossible. Coming with me would only put him in danger. But nor could I just leave him in Grayditch, either; not with the Fire Ants about. I had to protect him, and the only way to do that was to get rid of the bugs.
Although I’d killed one already, I’d been sorely tested by it, and I knew that it was a fool’s errand to try to kill them that way. While we’d been making our way to Grayditch, Billy had mentioned a scientist had moved in a couple months earlier, then vanished about a week before the ants started spewing out of the Metro entrance, and I wondered if the events were related. If they were, maybe he knew how to get rid of them. And even though he was gone, the tin shack he’d used as a home still stood, and had been pointed out to me by Billy. If I was going to find answers, that seemed as likely a place as any.
I picked my way through the Wilks house quickly, finding nothing of use to me but a bit of food in one of the cupboards, then went to an upper window to see where the ants were. I guessed that they’d forgotten about me because I could see them spreading across the neighbourhood again, but I still waited a little while before heading out again, just to be safe. I climbed out of one of the ground floor windows, rather than risking drawing the ants’ attention by opening the front door, and remained crouched as I made my slow way over to the scientist’s shack. As I’d expected, the front door was locked, but I’d bought a few picks in Megaton, and set to work opening the door.
I’d never picked a lock before, but I must have got lucky because it took only a little jiggling for it to click and the door to swing inwards. The darkness within the windowless shack was blasted away by stark brightness as I crossed the threshold. My eyes took a moment to adjust, but I couldn’t help being impressed by the sophistication of the equipment within the shack.
Back in the Vault, my father had dabbled in scientific experiments when his medical workload wasn’t too heavy, but had always lamented the state of the equipment he had access to. I knew that he would have been in raptures if he could have seen that room, but I wasn’t interested in admiring things. I headed straight for the computer console and booted it up. As expected, it was password locked. Although this computer was more advanced than the ones that Dad had taught me to hack while in the Vault, his method still worked, and I soon found myself scrolling through the scientist’s logs. The entries were peppered with jargon, but I read enough to confirm the suspicions that the scientist was behind the Fire Ants, and I also learnt that he had descended into the Metro tunnels to be closer to his experiments.
Even though there was little hope for him to still be alive, I had to at least try to find him. For Billy’s sake.
After leaving the shack, I moved slowly and cautiously through the settlement, trying to stick to the high ground to get a better view of where the ants were as I made my way to the Metro entrance. I admit I was afraid as I made that trek. I had no idea how sensitive was the ants’ sight or hearing, and I cursed every time a bit of rubble crumbled under my feet and bounced away. But I got to the tunnel entrance without attracting any attention. And it was only once I was there that I realised that if I was scared on the surface, I’d be terrified underground. There was space to try run away above, but none under. I wasn’t about to let that stop me though.
After pausing a moment at the gaping entrance to look in through the semi-darkness, I took a deep breath, made sure my rifle was loaded, and crossed the threshold. Concrete and metal had been the dominant building materials of the tunnel, and years of neglect had taken their toll. Great chunks of the ceiling and walls had fallen, making large sections of the atrium impassable. The red speckling of rust was everywhere, and the glass-fronted advertisements that had once lined the walls were shattered and faded.
Straight ahead of me were a series of waist-high boxes, beyond which I could see a couple of ants scrabbling. Further on, I could see an enormous stairwell leading further into the bowels of the earth. Although I knew that was where I had to go, there was little chance that I could make my way past the ants. To my right was a rotten wooden door, the words that had once been painted on its surface were faded to the point of no longer being readable. I couldn’t know what lurked behind that door, but it couldn’t be any worse than the ants, I hoped.
It proved to have once been an office of some kind, with filing cabinets lining the walls and a couple of desks tucked into the corners. Standing against the far wall was a large metal capsule, similar to one that was in the scientist’s shack, which contained a robot like Rusty from back at Megaton, except in much better shape. I could see that it was outfitted with a laser weapon, and thinking that might be effective against the ants, I followed the capsule’s cables back to a computer terminal. It was more difficult to hack than the scientist’s, but Dad’s technique was equally effective, and within a few minutes, I had the robot activated.
It paid me no mind as it scanned the room, before trudging out of the offices, its footfalls resounding like thunder and sure to draw the attention of the Fire Ants. I took the opportunity to look through the desks, but found nothing more than a few worthless odds and ends. As I made my way back towards the entrance, there came an explosion of noise as the whine of the robot’s laser weapon echoed through the terminal. It lasted only a few seconds before the rhythmic stomping of the robot started up again. Judging it to be safe, I left the office room by the same door I’d come in, and saw, sure enough, the two ants dead, their legs curled into their smoking bodies.
Seeing the effectiveness of the robot’s weapon, I regretted my earlier decision to pass on picking up a cheap laser pistol. I’d read in Dad’s books when I was younger that they were unpredictable. Their beams reacted weirdly to certain materials, and misfires, which usually killed the person holding the weapon, weren’t exactly uncommon. But clearly, they had their uses.
For the moment, I put the thought out of my mind and followed the metal man at a safe distance, letting it clear each corridor and atrium in turn as we travelled further and further underground. The further we went, the more electric lights seemed still to be working, so it never got too dark, but there were also blockages everywhere. Every tunnel that the trains used to run through was filled with rubble, so there was no way out but the way I’d come in. Although I figured that to be nothing more than the rolling of the dice of time and the bombs that had been dropped, it still made the Metro terminal feel like a trap.
Me and the robot (I’d decided to call him Jerry) kept on travelling deeper into the tunnels, and our surroundings changed from the shiny plastic of the terminals, to concrete-lined tunnels, to the steel pathways of the service areas. Everywhere we went was the signs of decay and ruination, but I kept my eyes out, and found more than a few things that I thought might eventually prove valuable or useful.
It seemed hours before we came to a door that marked a dead end. Made of thick metal plating, it had a lock of some kind that a single look at made clear wasn’t about to be got through by any means I had to hand. At the same time, every other offshoot had been blocked and there’d been no sign of anything resembling a nest. We had to find some way to press on, door or no. After working out that Jerry wasn’t going to burn a hole through it with his laser, I picked up a big chunk of metal off the ground nearby and bashed on the door. It made a noise like the bells of the apocalypse, but it must have attracted the attention of someone on the inside because the locks moved with a rusty creak, and the door swung open.
Behind it stood a weedy looking fellow with an apprehensive look on his face, “What? How did you…”
He was cut short by me lifting my 10mm pistol from its holster on my hip, “I take it you’re the scientist from Grayditch.”
“Y-Yes. My name is Professor Ulrich Aronson. You aren’t, by any chance, here about the ants?”
“Actually, I am. It’s already too late for most of the people from Grayditch. But you need to get rid of them. Now.”
He scratched at his ear while looking at me over the top of his glasses, annoyance clear in his eyes, “What do you think I’m trying to do, you stupid brute?” He paused a moment, turning away, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Tell me, do you have any idea how delicately balanced the genetic make-up of even the simplest of creatures is? Biological experimentation is a dangerous business. Sometimes it works. More often, it results in the creation of species that are, arguably, better off not existing. The two-headed Brahmins that are the primary livestock are the result of just such experimentation. Their adaptations allowed them to survive the nuclear fallout, but the vast majority grew an extra head.
“The ants were already here in the Metro. There’s no point in explaining how I came across them, but once I knew that they were here, it was only a matter of time until they made their way to the surface. Realising the danger they would pose when that happened, I took it upon myself to revert their genetic code to what it was before they were affected by the radiation. To do so, I needed to isolate the colony, which I did by blasting the tunnels leading away from the Grayditch station. That was my first mistake, as it forced them to the surface far earlier than might otherwise have been the case. My second mistake came during one of my testing phases as the queen I was experimenting on escaped her containment. The ants that emerged from her hatchings had increased aggression, as well as a chemical mutation in their mandibles that allows them to emit an inflammatory liquid.”
“Fascinating stuff, doc, but it doesn’t answer the question of how do we kill them all.”
A muscle in the Professor’s cheek twitched, “The work I’m doing here is incredibly important, and could have an impact across the entire Wasteland. I have developed a serum that will remove the chemical mutation within a single generation, and will significantly reduce the ants’ size over subsequent generations. And the serum could be used to similar effect anywhere. Everywhere. With a simple injection, we could remove a major obstacle to the rebuilding of society.”
“So why ain’t you fixed your mistake yet?”
He sighed heavily, “Because I can’t get to the queen.” He went on to explain that the nesting chamber beyond his room was protected by four or five warrior ants that he called the nest guardians that were far bigger and hardier than the drones that we’d already come across, and that their presence made it impossible for him to get near the queen. Then, he promised a reward if I could get rid of them without harming the queen, and I readily agreed. He pointed me towards the back of his room, where sat an array of explosives, and told me that shooting off the ants’ antennae would be likely to send them into a frenzy and make them attack whatever was nearest. I thought about this advice as I loaded up on mines and grenades, and started to form a plan of attack.
A few minutes later, I pushed open the heavy door to the nesting chamber and willingly took my first steps into the most dangerous place I’d yet been, without Jerry beside me. There was a part of me that wanted to turn tail, leave Grayditch and forget everything that I’d seen there, but there was still little Billy Wilks to think about. I couldn’t do that to him.
The tunnel I found myself in had been carved in crazy shapes from the natural rock. It clearly wasn’t made by human hands, but a low hum and a dim glow ahead showed that the professor had been back here once upon a time to set up generators and electric lights. I followed the path, and found one of the warrior ants within the circle of light, standing with its front legs on top of the generator. I no longer doubted what the professor had told me about these nest guardians. Its legs were near as thick as my whole body, and it stood taller than me, and near twice as long. It was a fearful sight, and again I felt the urge to run, but I also saw an opportunity.
For my plan to work, I’d have to draw the attention of the ant to somewhere that wasn’t me as soon as it was frenzied, and that was where the explosives would come in handy. I climbed up the rock as quietly as I could, positioning myself as near to directly above the ant as I could hope to get without it noticing me. Then I set a five second timer on one of the grenades, and hefted my shotgun. I tossed the grenade, felt the dilation of time as V.A.T.S. activated, and leapt from the rock. If not for the hyperawareness of the targeting system, the blasting of the ant’s antennae would never have been possible. I dropped into a protective roll as I hit the ground, and ducked around a protrusion of rock as the ant reared back, its jaws clacking horribly. Time resumed its normal pace, while I held my breath, and a second later, an explosion echoed down the tunnel, causing bits of rock and dust to drop from the ceiling.
The sounds of the ant fell away, and I decided to follow it further into the nest at a cautious distance. Ahead of me, all was dark. The explosion must have knocked out the next light. The sounds of the ants seemed creepier in the blackness. Then came the wild clacking, and the hisses, before jets of flame illuminated the battle between the nest guardians. It was an eerie sight and no mistake. Through the brief flashes of light, I could see that all four of them were in the fight. While I could have just waited until only one was left, then killed it while it was weak, I figured that would take too long, and although I doubted how effective it would be to toss grenades into that roiling mess of legs and flames, that’s exactly what I did.
One by one the ants fell, until one was left to limp away, clearly wounded and exhausted. It turned away from me, no doubt to crawl further into the nest so it could rest and recuperate, and I knew I had to act. I kept quiet as I snuck up behind it, knife drawn. Even though the warrior was bigger and tougher than the one I’d killed in Grayditch, I still figured that the knife was my best option. I drew closer, and still it didn’t notice me, then I turned on V.A.T.S. again and struck, leaping atop the critter and driving the knife into the gap between the chitin of its head and neck. It tried to rear back and throw me off, but it was already dying. I leaped free, watched it flail about for a few moments, and finally drop dead.
It was only then that I realised how fast my heart had been racing. Without even looking in on the queen, I made my way back along the tunnel, reflecting on what I’d already been through. Two days out of the Vault; I’d been shot at; I’d killed people; I’d learned that my dad was more than he’d ever seemed to me; and now I’d wiped out a whole nest of ants for some kid I’d never met before and barely cared about, damn near getting killed in the process. I had to admit, it was one hell of an adventure I was on.
I pushed open the door that lead onto the scientist’s makeshift laboratory, and was met by him, a most peculiar smile plastered across his face and a needle as long as my biggest finger in his hands.
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.