Those things weren’t cannibals because there was no way they were human. Both of them would have been at least double my height, and their skin had a sickly green tint to it. They reminded me of a comic I’d seen as a kid. The Incredible Bulk, I think it was called; t was supposed to have been some kind of pre-war artefact, and special because of that, but I’d always preferred Grognak the Barbarian.
I guess they figured I was long gone, because they didn’t stick around, and nor did they bother to cross the water. Even so, I waited for a little while after they disappeared before crossing the barren zone between where I stood and the entrance to the Farragut West Metro Station. The path was in good repair, so I made decent time, but just as I had at Grayditch, I paused at the yawning blackness of the entrance. Professor Aronson had warned me that most such tunnels were a breeding ground for degeneration, and were infested by all manner of mutated beasts. All the help he could offer was a piece of unnecessary advice, “Be careful out there.”
Echoes of an unsettling hissing, accompanied by the occasional thuds of things banging together came from deep within the complex. It all spoke of dangers untold. The Grayditch terminal, cloaked in silence, had been scary enough. If not for the warnings issued by the scientist of what I was likely to find, I might well have balked and given up my quest then and there. Instead, I forced the fear aside and stepped into the shadows.
My first thought, once my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, was that I was suffering deja vu. The empty advertisement holders, the rust-riddled waist-high boxes up ahead, even the layout and building materials; all of it could easily have been mistaken for the station of Grayditch. And I did the same as I did there by walking into the office first of all. Aside from the fact that there weren’t no Jerry inside, it was exactly the same. The only thing in there of any value to me was a pair of dusty bottles of Nuka-Cola. I popped the cap off one of them, carefully tucking it into the satchel with the rest of my coin, and took a swig. The sweetness, the fizziness, it was like nothing I’d had before. The stuff we’d had in the Vault was a cheap imitation by comparison. I tucked the second bottle away in my pack, planning to save it for a time when I’d have the chance to relax and really savour it.
Without the firepower of Jerry beside me, I had to be more careful as I made my way further into the terminal. Ghouls are squishier than Fire Ants, but they can still be dangerous. Aside from a few small mice and roaches, the atrium was empty, but something living lay ahead. The hissing grew louder with each step, and grunts, shouts, and the occasional screech could seen be heard to accompany it. Though it was cold down below the earth, sweat prikled on my forehead, and my hand felt clammy around the butt of my pistol. Were anyone in that situation to say they weren’t scared, I wouldn’t hesitate to call them a liar.
The stairwell led onto a massive chamber, the far end of which I couldn’t even see. I recalled passing through a similar chamber back at Grayditch, but I’d been too concerned about the ants to pay it any mind. Barely a trickle of light penetrated this far into the complex, and the glowing fungus that grew here and there didn’t do much to dispel the gloom.
I tried to imagine what the place would have looked like before the War. Electric lighting emphasising the sense of space, gleaming trains pulling in and out along the rails, and people everywhere. I struggled to imagine the number of people it would take to fill that cavern, but our book-learning had told us that there were times when the press of people in such places was so thick that some had been trampled to death. We’d been told that overpopulation was a contributor to the War. I started to question that version of history as I stood there. Back in the Vault, without proper sense of the scale of the real world, it was easy to believe that there once had been too many people, but not once you’d walked the Wastes. There was just too much space. I forced the questions from my mind because they were questions without answer. Who, in this world, would keep records of the end?
That cavern wasn’t empty. There was light enough to make out why the hissing was louder than it had been before: Ghouls. Dozens of them. Some huddled together in groups, but most roaming about on their lonesome. All had the same predatory grace of those that had chased little Billy Wilks and none of the human sophistication of Gob. They were feral. Without a doubt, dangerous.
My choices were to try to sneak past, or fight my way through. Neither was a guarantee of success, but I had to cross the cavern. With pistol in one hand and knife in the other, it was tense going. I crouched low and moved slow, sticking mostly to the walls so as to avoid drawing attention. The stairs were a challenge, but I kept my head below the level of the handrail and made it to the bottom without being molested. And then, happy to have gotten to the lower level, my attention slipped.
I was too mindful of one Ghoul pacing to my left, and stood on another as I tried to sneak in the opposite direction. I got too jittery when it groaned, an awful gurgling sound. Without even thinking, I swung my gun around and fired. It was only as the shot echoed around the chamber that I realised what I’d done.
The hissing seemed to grow into a chant, broken up by grunts, groans and roars. I’d woken the hive. Everywhere I looked were bulging green eyes, dangling sheafs of rotting skin, gaping wounds crawling with maggots. With their long, thin arms outstretched, they all started to converge on me. Fear overrode my mind, and I stood stupid, seeing but unable to react. I knew I was about to die. My vision blurred as tears filled my eyes. I’d been so hopeful when leaving the Grayditch Station. I’d gotten rid of the Fire Ants, and I had a better idea of where I was going and what lay ahead. But I’d failed Billy, and now I stood in the gloom, with a smoking pistol in my hand, knowing that I would never see my father again. Knowing I would never see Amata again.
It was strange that her face popped into my mind then, I thought. I’d barely thought of her since stepping out of the Vault. After seeing the anger etched in every line of her face as she screamed at me for killing her father, I’d never thought to see her again. But I wanted to. I wanted to go back and make amends if I could. I had to live.
V.A.T.S. took hold. Seven shots felled six Ghouls before I had to reload, then the hyperawareness faded. I continued to fire into the throng as I backed away, trying to keep some distance between them and me. Their numbers thinned, but they just kept coming. No fear of death. If they were human, I might have mistaken it for religious fanaticism, but Ghouls are driven by hunger.
I tossed out a grenade on a short fuse to buy me a moment when the chamber of my pistol was emptied. The explosion was followed by tortured screams that told of torn flesh and broken bones. I exchanged the 10mm for my shotgun, managing to fire off three blasts before the throng was upon me. The weapon was torn from my hand as I used it to block one swinging blow. Ghouls don’t fight like people do. They act more like animals, using their fingernails as claws, rather than beating you down with brute strength. I didn’t know that for sure then, but I worked it out quick as chunks of my skin were ripped away with every strike that connected.
One of them grabbed my hair, wrenching my head sideways, and I slammed the knife into its wrist, feeling the blood gush over my hand before the critter let go with a blood-curdling screech. Hisses and groans surrounded me, as rotting arms flailed about, tearing me apart piece by small piece.
Time slowed as I reactivated V.A.T.S., giving me a moment’s respite that was over all too soon. If I’m honest, I don’t know how I survived that onslaught. I just kept lashing out with the knife, growing ever more desperate. Inside me was a fire to keep on breathing, and that was all I was fighting with. My waking self was gone. The image of my father was gone. The image of Amata was gone. All I had left was the unconscious refusal to give up.
One of the Ghouls dragged me to my knees, and my only answer was to pound away at its ribs. I screamed as its teeth sunk into my shoulder, but found the energy to push it away. In the half-second before it attacked again, I repositioned the knife in my hand. I swung without aiming, and got lucky. The blade bit deeply into its throat, bathing me in a fresh spray of blood. The body collapsed under its own weight, and I went with it, leaving myself exposed to any further threats. I was exhausted. There was no way I could get up and fight on, so I stayed down, fully prepared for the inevitable.
I was met not with death, but with the silence of death. I’d done it. I’d survived. I had no idea how.
It was a good long while before I was able to sit up. I’d never thought it possible to be so pleased by silence. I even caught myself smiling a little. Having survived made me feel like celebrating, so I popped open the second bottle of Nuka-Cola and savoured it as I’d planned to. I had a bite to eat to go alongside it before carrying on further into the Metro.
Without the ever-present hiss, the gloom was much less creepy. Aronson had told me to follow the signs showing the way to Chevy Chase North Station, as that would bring me within the D.C. Ruins, and those were easy enough to spot. Ghouls lurked alone and in pairs at points along the tracks, but they were easy enough to get rid of.
After a long time following the tracks, I saw a shining spot of daylight far ahead of me. Seeing it, and knowing how close I was to getting out of the tunnels made me feel claustrophobic. And I knew that it was likely to be where I was headed, as the professor had said that Chevy Chase was above ground, so I hurried my steps. I was practically running when I saw a shadow pass between me and the light. It was shaped like a man, only far bigger and bulkier, reminding me of the things I’d seen on the opposite bank before I’d gone into the Metro.
A primal roar echoed down the tunnel. Then the beastly thing started to race towards me.
“Oh s**t,” I murmured as I dropped to one knee, lifting the hunting rifle to my shoulder.
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.