The mad glint in the scientist’s eye caught me off guard, and that needle only made me the more nervous. I dropped my hand onto the butt of my pistol, fully prepared to draw at the first sign of violence.
But he smiled, “You should know that you have done science, and the future of humanity, a great service today. I promised you a reward for your assistance, but I’m rather afraid that I’m not one for the collection of material goods. All I can offer you is my expertise,” he lifted the needle a little higher, “I have here a serum that will alter your body’s genetic code, improving the sensitivity of your senses, particularly sight and hearing.”
No doubt that being able to see and hear better would come in helpful out in the Wastes, but I was hardly confident enough to take his words on faith, “You expect me to just accept that, after you stuffed up with your ants?”
“I understand your skepticism completely, but that was an isolated incident—the first of its kind in my career. Besides, I have tested this formula on myself with no adverse side effects to speak of. A little wooziness initially, but that fades quickly enough. It’s safe, and I’m willing to stake my life on it.”
I wouldn’t be in any position to make sure he came on good on that bet if he was wrong, but something about the certainty that he spoke with reassured me. I nodded, and let him to lead me to a chair and strap me down. “A precaution, nothing more,” he promised.
There was a pain in the crook of my arm, like the stinging of some monstrous fly, as the needle slid under my skin, and I would have jerked away if not for the straps. Next there came a most peculiar feeling as the fluid began to seep into my body, and then, without any warning, I blacked out.
A sharp, salty smell brought me back to consciousness with the scientist asking, “How do you feel?”
I groaned in response, not feeling up to any answer, but he seemed never to need a reason to blabber on.
“Don’t worry, the grogginess will pass and you’ll be back to your normal surly self soon enough. I want to thank you again for your assistance today, and ask if there is anything more I can do for you. The ants above ground should all be dead or dying by now, so you have nothing to worry about on that front.” When I didn’t answer immediately, he started to jabber on about his experiments. I figured that he’d been alone for too long and wanted someone to talk to, so I didn’t interrupt him for a good long while. Besides, I had to wait for the grogginess to fade.
I ended up taking an opportunity to make my requests as he paused to take a breath, “Doc, there are two things you can do to help me. The first is to promise to take care of the kid, Billy, up there in Grayditch. The second is to give me directions.”
He seemed reluctant on both accounts, but gave in after a little prodding. After being in the Metro for what seemed hours, I walked out feeing prideful, and with a better idea of what lay ahead on my quest than I had walking in. I was happy with that.
Little Billy Wilks looked up at me with sad eyes the size of dinner plates when I finally cracked open the shelter he was sat in, “You were gone so long, mister. I was afraid…”
“I know, and I’m sorry. I was just trying to make sure you were safe. And I’m sorry about your Dad. He-“
“He’s gone. The ants got him. I knew that when he didn’t come back the first time. Nothing would have stopped him.” Fresh tears welled in his eyes, cutting new tracks through the dirt on his face.
I knelt down and put my hand on his shoulder, “Billy… You’re on your own now, so you gotta be strong,” Even as I said the words, I could feel tears pricking at my own eyes, “You have a whole lot of life left to live. This can’t beat you. Understand? I wish I could help you more, but I can’t. Not yet. I will come back one day, though. I promise you that.”
He shook his head violently and dashed the tears from his eyes. For a long moment, he did nothing more than glare at me, hatred visible in the set of his face, then he pushed me away and made for his house without another word. I didn’t know if I’d said something that upset him or what. Hell, I still don’t, but I’ve never forgotten his face, nor the way his shoulders slumped the further he walked away from me, from determination to fatalism. For the longest time afterwards I regretted watching him go like that. I regretted not calling out and seeing if there was more I could. I regretted that I failed him.
I toyed with the idea of staying in one of the abandoned houses in Grayditch that night, as the sun was getting kinda low, but I couldn’t bring myself to want to stay so near to Billy. Instead I headed off towards the setting sun, and maybe it was just me projecting my feelings onto the world, but my second sunset seemed more melancholy than the first. There didn’t seem the same riot of colour as the sky faded from its dirty blue, through the colour of a purpling bruise, to grey and finally black. I walked long into the night, until I felt I could walk no more, then found my way into some long-abandoned building, made a nest of whatever scraps of softness I could find, and fell asleep.
My sleep was restless that second night. Just about every little noise, from the chirruping of night creatures to the creaking of the building jerked me back to wakefulness, and there were nighmares when I finally did fall asleep. The Fire Ants were in my dreams, tearing and burning the world apart. Back in the Vault, blood spattered all over the walls and the corridors were lined with bodies from rioting. My father laying dead on some altar, and me, mounted on a pale horse as I travelled from one scene of destruction to another. I’ve had those nightmares, and variations of them, so many times that they’re burned into my waking mind as well as my sleeping.
Next morning I woke even more tired than I had been when I fell asleep, but I knew I couldn’t loiter. I’d wasted the better part of a day in Grayditch, and the longer I took, the further I fell behind. The settlement of Grayditch was left far behind, and ahead rose the ruins of a massive city. The remnants of the bygone age, monoliths of concrete, steel and glass rose to the sky, a testament to humanity that was. Without being told, or even having to check my Pip-Boy’s map, I knew what that place was. Once upon a time it had been the capital of the world entire, where decisions affecting the whole of humanity had been made. Washington D.C., and now the D.C. Ruins. From where I stood, I could see that the scientist had been right. The city had been one of the most frequent targets during the War, and the zone around the city proper had been left impassable. The only way in was through the Metro.
I could see the entrance from where I stood, but between me and it was about half a mile of former urban sprawl, a small river, and a bank lined with markers of humanity’s presence.
Breakfast was a tin of dried beans washed down with most of what was left of my water. Hardly the best meal going, but it gave me the energy to set off again. The streets seemed deserted as I made my way to the water’s edge, and the ticking of the Geiger counter in my Pip-Boy kept growing louder. The river, like most any other water source in the Wastes, was irradiated. It was only then that I realised the difficulties of the old man outside Megaton, and thought that maybe I should have done more to help him. I couldn’t dwell on that mistake though; there were plenty more to be made.
The ringing out of a gunshot shook me out of the daydream, and I instinctively dived behind the nearest cover I could see: a waist-high balustrade made of concrete, underneath which a wooden jetty projected out onto the river.
Whoever was shooting began to call out, and that confused me. I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to make out their words the day before, but I caught every single one. Peeking over the top of my cover, I spotted one of them by the flashing of the sun’s reflection off his gun’s muzzle. Lifting my hunting rifle into my arms, I rested it on the concrete, and heard a fresh volley of bullets ring out. In the lull that followed, I raised myself to sight along the barrel, guessed where his head would appear, and waited. Predictable. His head exploded in a shower of gore, and my second assailant let out an animal scream, “You son of a b***h!”
I ducked down as bullets hammered into the concrete and whizzed over my head, showering me with white flakes. I repositioned myself away from where she was concentrating her fire, hoping that her anger would blind her to the obviousness of my movements, and it must have because she just kept blasting away at the same spot on the wall. I wasn’t willing to take chances, though, so I waited until I had V.A.T.S. activated before popping up and firing off three shots in quick succession.
I knew I’d gotten lucky. If those two had been any kind of smart, they wouldn’t have wasted their first shots, and I would never have made it past that little river. Even so, I breathed a sigh of relief at having survived another threat. More importantly, those idiots had shown me the importance of keeping my eyes and ears open, even when no threat seemed present. That lesson proved vital only a short while later. I’d stayed by the water, worrying about the radiation levels being indicated by my Pip-Boy, even though I knew that I needed to both cross and refill my water bottles. Knowing that, I’d taken a pill called Rad-X that the store owner in Megaton had assured me would increase my resistance to radiation poisoning, and was waiting to feel some effect from it before diving in.
As I stood on the edge, I heard a deep rumbling voice from somewhere above me, “It came from around here.” The gratingness of the voice lent a distortion to the words.
A second, similar voice answered, “Whoever it was ain’t here no more, so why waste our time?”
“If they are, we eat well tonight. Take a look around.”
Those last words sent a chill down my spine and made up my mind for me. I’d already risked being put on the menu once when I’d taken on the cannibals back in Springvale, and I wasn’t keen on reliving the experience. Two options presented themselves: standing still or diving into the water. The second meant risking being seen, but the first meant certain discovery. It was no choice at all. I slipped into the water, remaining under for as long as possible between breaths. Thankfully, the river was narrow and the current weak, so I made it to the opposite bank without difficulty. More importantly, I hadn’t been seen.
I dragged my sopping self onto the opposite bank, and hurried behind cover as quickly as possible before looking back. And when I did, I became even more grateful that I’d managed to escape from those cannibals.
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.