Read Part 30: “Tranquility Lane” here.

Betty must have supposed that the terror she inspired was enough to deter any visitors to her abode because the door was unlocked. Entering, the lounge room was a mess, with chairs and tables scattered about haphazardly and a random selection of rubbish—a garden gnome, a cinder block, and empty bottle, and more—arranged in what appeared to be a feeble attempt at decoration. I shrugged it off as a peculiarity of the girl and set about examining the rest of the house.

What I found was… odd.

The kitchen, bedrooms, basement, and bathroom were all unlit and sparsely furnished. Simply, the house was not suitable to be lived in. What’s more, there were no clues on how to escape the simulation. My earlier elation had faded. It seemed there was no choice but to ruin the Rockwells’ lives.

On my way back out of the house I bumped one of the tables in the lounge room. The bottle atop it fell over with a peculiar chiming sound, followed by the unmistakeable double beep of an inaccurately entered computer code. The same sounds were emitted as I replaced it were it came from. Struck with an idea, I tapped the cinder block, then the radio, getting the same response with a different chime each time. Then I touched the gnome. The chime sounded, but not the error tone.

What followed was a process of trial and error as I struggled to build upon the melody until something happened. It seemed impossible that this was just a random glitch in the system were it where Betty lived.

As such, I wasn’t as surprised as I might have been when a massive computer terminal materialised against the wall. Like the door, there was no security to speak of, and I immediately had full access to the messages, notes, and files that it contained. Though it wasn’t what I needed to know, I felt an irresistible desire to delve into the past. The folder titled ‘Versions’ beckoned.

Shalom Chalet

Entry One:
The urban surrounds of mid-town Boston were beginning to wear on me, not to mention that the population of computer-controlled persons was taking a toll on the fidelity of the simulation. Now, the Shalom Chalet design is complete and I now prepare to send it live. It has taken far more time than I anticipated to craft, but it is, by no small margin, my finest work. Living on the alpine slopes will be bliss.

Entry Two:
Shalom Chalet has now been activated. The residents of Vault 112 have settled in well, with few hitches to speak of. They have proven themselves most adaptable, for which I am thankful. Nevertheless, I find that the boredom that so inflicted on me by the Boston simulation returning already. The thought of spending an eternity with these people intrigues me, no doubt—they have already proven fruitful subjects for study—but also bores me. I’ll need to find some other pursuit with which to occupy my mind.

The entries went on and on. Betty seemed to have kept a daily log of the goings-on of the people, and her own musings on scientific studies, and other things that were beyond my comprehension. Strangely, I could find nothing to hint at the sadism that she now displayed. That is, until, after reading through more than a hundred entries I stumbled upon something.

Entry One Hundred and Eighty Four:
Today brought tragedy and, with it, excitement. Unfortunately not from my continuing experiments into the physical boundaries of the simulation, but excitement nonetheless. Marie Dithers was on the slopes when something went wrong. Whether she slipped, or simply attempted more than she was capable of I don’t know, but she managed to impale herself on one of the ski racks. Of course I was distraught to lose a subject like that (not that she is truly gone, of course, she’s still living in the Tranquillity Lounger. I assume that the computers have built a sub-simulation for her, but she will return when I update from Shalom Chalet), but at the same time, her crimson blood spreading across the pristine snow was a sight to behold. Between that and the mourning that followed, I was fascinated.

I kept scrolling through.

Entry Two Hundred and Sixty Three:
They do make such interesting subjects when faced with unexpected calamity. Young Timmy Nesbaum finally succumbed to his pneumonia. It was invigorating to hear the wailing of his parents, and see the community rallying together for the funeral preparations. It’s what this place needs. Things do get so dull when nothing is happening, and that, simply, is not conducive to good research.

Boredom? Was that really the source of the desire to ruin lives? I’d thought Betty depraved, but that was more disturbing than any of the reasons I’d considered on my own. Considering the vast quantity of entries, there was no way that I’d be able to read them all. I skipped to the last.

Entry Eight Thousand and Ninety Two:
It will all come crashing down tonight. The avalanche will consume Shalom Chalet and the cockroaches that occupy it, allowing me to reboot the system and usher in the age of Tranquility Lane. We’ll start over anew, this time in suburbia. I can hardly wait.

I decided to skip the logs for Tranquility Lane. From what I’d witnessed from Betty in person, I could see that history was repeating itself. Once again, she had grown bored and was using carnage to fuel excitement. I turned my attention instead to ‘Messages’.

There was little to find, aside from a long, ongoing correspondence with an individual who signed off with The General. I scrolled straight to the last of these.

Dr Braun,

I accede to your requests, though I doubt any civilian computer is capable of running this program. Attached you will find the files for the Chinese Communist Invasion simulation. As we’ve already discussed, caution is advised. Activation of this program will result in the permanent and irreversible death of every subject. Remember, this failsafe program destroys all files, and so is only to be used in the event of a security incursion.

The General

As promised in the words, the executable file was right there at the bottom of the entry. “Interesting,” I murmured, and moved to scan Betty’s notes.

These were divided into different categories, with scientific pursuits, assassination plans, and random musings counting as just a few of them. She may have been a deeply disturbed individual, but at least Betty was fastidious in her organisation. I scanned through these, looking for any references to the Invasion program, and soon struck gold:

After how many months I finally have it. But, I no longer find myself quite so prepared to use it. I have grown fond of my subjects, even when they bore me, and the thought of losing them is rather painful. Not because of who they are or anything so stupidly sentimental, but because there is no way to replace them. No AI, even one designed and programmed by myself, can possibly match the excitement and unpredictability of a human. I am conflicted.

Many subsequent entries touched on the same themes. Apparently, Betty was different to the other subjects, somehow beyond the reach of the failsafe, and so, could neither leave the simulation, nor die. As different as our moral dilemmas were, I could understand Betty’s indecision: the fear to act.

I kept searching, but found nothing that would allow me to leave the simulation. And activating the program meant the almost certain death of myself and everyone else in Vault 112. What to do?

This time, there was no smile on the little girl’s face as I approached.

“I can’t do it. They don’t deserve that.”

“Can’t, or won’t?” the voice of the little girl, hardened with distaste, emerged this time, “You should know theirs isn’t a happy marriage. Simon hasn’t been faithful to Janet…”

“It’s not my place to intrude. Especially not for your twisted pleasure.”

Her lips thinned. “You know, I turned your father into a woof-woof because he wouldn’t play with me.” My eyes flickered to the dog that cowered at her feet. “He could do with a friend, I think. I’ve always wanted a kitty…”

“You’re a sadist. Ending your fun is as easy as killing everyone in this simulation, and I can find a way to do that even as a cat.”

She chuckled. “You don’t have the courage to end a marriage. How can I believe th-”

“I’ve killed before. Plenty of times. And there’d be no guilt for killing the people you’ve trapped here.” That claim wasn’t exactly truthful, but I had reason enough to make it. “By ending their lives, I free them from your games. I think they’d welcome that.”

She laughed again, this time, a rough, throaty sound that belonged to the old man. “A foolish suggestion, boy. The world around you is not real, and I am in control of it all. Death here is not permanent. I could bring them back as easily as snapping my fingers.”

You certain of that?”

She paled slightly, her eyes widening. I could almost see her brain mulling over the possibility that I’d discovered the failsafe. “Yes, I am.”

The voice had a waver in it. I had the upper hand, and knew it. “Last chance, Betty. You let my father and I go right now, or everyone dies.”

She crossed her arms, the very image of an obstinate, petulant child.We both know you’re bluffing. I will give you one more chance to end that marriage.”

Her attitude made the decision to revisit the abandoned house one of the easiest of my life. I didn’t want to kill everyone, but were I in their position, I would rather die than be a pawn to her destructive whims.

As I threw the door open, Betty appeared in front of the console. She turned to me, a look of her anger on her face. “You…?”

“I wasn’t lying.” It took a second to cross the room and toss her aside.

“No, you can’t do this!” Messages flicked past my eyes as I scrolled to the bottom once more. “Stop!”

I paused. She sighed, her eyes pleading as earnestly as her voice, “I’ll let you and your father go. Just please, stop.”

My hand hovered in front of the terminal, the executable of the failsafe program an inch from my fingers. “How do we get out?”

“I’ll show you.”

Her shoulders were slumped, her eyes downcast as she led me back across the neighbourhood to the playground. It gave me pleasure to see her defeated. No doubt she would be back up to her old nastiness within a few days, but I had won.

She spread her skirts around her as she sat down in the sandbox and began to shovel away the sand with her bare hands. “I underestimated you,” she murmured, “Your father was smart, but weak. I didn’t expect you to be so bold…”

“I don’t want or need your praise. Just get me out of here.”

As the sand was moved aside, a flickering trapdoor appeared. I looked up, and noticed the dog only just arriving beside me. “Hey Dad, we’re getting out of here.”

Betty suddenly looked up, “What’s that sound?”

I heard it too, a strange sound like the droning of a fly. Dad barked. As one, we glanced up at the sky. Dots were quickly growing on the horizon.

“How…” First wonderment, then a sudden flash of anger from Betty as her voice abandoned the girlish for the last time. “You!” she roared, moving towards Dad.

Without thinking, I shouldered her out of the way, pulling open the trapdoor and watching a cascade of sand fall in.

Dad leaped in as the first soldiers appeared from between the buildings. Khaki uniforms, guns at the ready. It was all I needed to see. Somehow, Dad had activated the failsafe after we had left the house.

I followed my father, pulling the trapdoor shut as the sound of automatic gunfire erupted around me.

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.

Damien Lawardorn
Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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