Read Part 12: “Disguised For Diplomacy” here

The door to the Museum of Technology opened with a rusty creak. I was already on edge, and that long, drawn-out squeak set my nerves all a-jangle. When first I emerged from the Metro tunnel into the dim light of day, I’d worried of crossing the plain when I could see Super Mutants patrolling near and far. Stumbling across those trenches, seeming more a relic of the Great War than of the Apocalypse, I’d thought them a godsend. Damn foolish thought. Narrow, foreboding; I expected every twist to deliver me into the hands of one of those hulking great beasties. Small wonder then that, when I finally climbed out of there, I was shaking like a leaf in a high wind.

My first impression was of a dimly-lit space in which even the smallest noise would be magnified. The next was that I couldn’t be alone. Though dust lay thick on the floor, fresh paths had been cut through it by enormous footprints. More Super Mutants. Leaving the door ajar, I crept forward and slipped behind a marble pillar to check my surroundings.

A moment later, a figure emerged onto the balcony of the second storey and leaned over the railing, “Rez? That you?” Like all of the others I’d already heard, this Mutant spoke in a deep baritone rumble.

From off to my left came another voice, “What do you want now, Lum?”

“Thought I heard something.”

“Bah! Get back to work.”

I knew already that the Super Mutants weren’t a bunch of dumb beasts, like the Feral Ghouls, but that word, work, got me thinking. Maybe they was just another order of humanity, trying to achieve the same goal as the Brotherhood, only for their own kind? Maybe all their brutality was just a reflection of our fear and hatred for them? It was something that might be worth talking through with Three-Dog, but at that moment, I couldn’t let sentimentality get the better of me.

I laid one of the mines that I’d got off professor Aronson near the pillar and slowly backed away, drawing out my hunting rifle again. I could hardly have hoped for a better outcome. Two quick shots sent the one Mutant tumbling from the balcony, and the second one was blown to pieces when it stepped on the mine. Again I felt that twinge of horror at the thought of becoming a wanton killer, but I suppressed it and began the search for the broadcast dish.

The museum was eerily quiet in the aftermath of the explosion, but it gave me enough confidence to explore without fear of being molested further. The entry way lead directly onto a reception area, dominated by an enormous circular table that was covered with the detritus of the ages. The walls were lined with display cases, the glass fronts of which had all been smashed and the contents plundered. Reading the plaques, it was no surprise to discover that they had once held the weapons of the old world. Once the bombs stopped falling, it became all about personal survival. And the easiest way to ensure you keep breathing is to kill the other guy. Of course any stores of weapons were raided as soon as people felt it safe enough to venture from their homes.

On the opposite side of the atrium, beside a yawning doorway, a glowing computer monitor hung on the wall, and it was to this that I crossed. It provided information on the exhibits, but nothing besides. Reading through it, I was stunned, once more, by the ingenuity of humanity that was. Once upon a time, we sent people to the moon. That’s a truly bizarre thought.

Whatever had once been kept in the hallway that lead on from the doorway was long since lost, buried under rubble, so I turned instead to head up the stairs. The first exhibit I came across up there provided a bitter taste of irony. Double doors, with a sign above proclaiming the “Halls of Today”, seemed to promise some majestic mystery. Behind them lay ruination. The roof had collapsed. It seemed an apt metaphor for the state of the world today, alright. All the greatness of humanity, buried beneath the weight of our own folly.

I passed on, and came into a new room, which housed some immense, phallic object. The plaques announced it to be a Delta IX rocket, which had been used to send satellites into space. It was stunning, no doubt, but my sense of wonder was tempered by the knowledge that every achievement had been futile. Although the stairwell I was on encircled the room, leading both up and down, the way up was blocked off by a hastily-erected barricade. Instead, I headed down, and continued my exploration of the museum.

I paused before entering the next exhibit, staring at the sign above the entrance. ‘VAULT-TEC’. I’d grown up with that name stamped on every wall, every service robot, every set of coveralls, every machine that had worked tirelessly to keep the community of Vault 101 alive. Hell, the name was even printed on the Pip-Boy attached to my arm. Seeing it frightened me. Was our Vault—my home—some kind of scientific experiment? I pushed the thought aside and pressed forward.

It was like taking a step that spanned all the miles I’d already come. What I stepped into was a near-perfect replica of that last set of stairs that lead onto the carved-out corridor showing the way to the Wastes. The same arrangement of machines. The same dimness and dull steel. The only real differences were the lack of a low thrumming of machinery that slowly pumped steam into the air; no siren blaring somewhere in the distance, warning of danger to the Vault’s residents; and no Amata standing there, screaming at me that if I didn’t leave, she would kill me where I stood. I felt almost as though I’d gone home, and found that some terrible accident had taken place, killing everyone that ever I’d known or cared about.

As I reeled, trying to force myself to believe that this was nothing more than a copy, made in some mass production factory that had planted hundreds of Vaults all around America in the lead up to the War, a mystical voice sounded from speakers hidden in the walls, “Welcome to the future. Since its founding, Vault-Tec has worked tirelessly to create a shelter: a place where you and your family can find sanctuary from all the worries of the world. Today, you find the result before you. Vault-Tec Vaults are equipped with all of the latest mod-cons, running on fully autonomous machines to ensure that those within their cosy walls will never have to worry about a thing thanks to our determination to provide every resident with the Three ‘S’s: Safety, Security, and Sanitation.”

The voice continued on, trying to sell the benefits of the Vault. It was comforting, alluring, and utterly full of s**t. I wondered whether people had ever gone in for what it was selling, because from the other side, I knew that the Vaults weren’t no Utopia. All they was was a microcosm of the society of the world outside, filled with the same petty squabbles and personal grievances that had been aired as amusement for the masses on pre-War televisions. They used to have a bank of recordings that they kept in a storage room in the Vault that Alvin and I had found when we were kids. We spent hours watching that nonsense, and in retrospect, it’s easy to understand why the Overseer had thought it best to lock that stuff away. It provided nothing but an example of how to live a truly messed up life, spying on your neighbours and making up pointless intrigue to divert attention away from just how boring you are.

Safety, security, and sanitation; the Vault provided those things, alright, but it robbed us of spirit. Walking through the museum exhibit, listening to the same narrator babbling on about the benefits and comforts provided by the Vault, I came to realise that maybe that was the intention. They locked us up to make us appreciate the mundane.Windows provided a glimpse into a living room, a kitchen, and a function room, all of which flashed me back to times in my childhood. The whole place gave me the creeps; it was like my life had been put on display for the masses that would once have teemed through those halls.

On the other side lay a once-vast hall, half blocked off by a collapsed ceiling. For a moment, my heart stopped. What if the Virgo II lander upon which the broadcast dish sat was buried somewhere under the rubble. Three-Dog wasn’t likely to accept that as an answer. No, instead he’d just accuse me of being a liar and hiding out behind GNR for a few hours to make them all believe that I’d undertaken this hare-brained quest. Then I noticed it. Sitting a scant few metres in front of the cave-in was a bizarre contraption seeming to be made up of rods and randomly-placed metal sheets. It wasn’t like anything that looked as though it could be used on Earth, and, best of all, I could see the dish sticking out from its near side.

I raced down the stairs and crossed to the lander. As I stood there, looking up at the dish and pondering a way to pull it free, I heard a clatter, and then the unmistakable rumble of a Super Mutant’s voice, “This is a waste of time!”

As by instinct I activated V.A.T.S. and raced across to dive behind a display case.

“If you think that, you’re a waste of brains.” The second voice was more high-pitched than the first, and carried within it a stronger sense of menace. “We are not beasts, and we cannot live like animals any more.”

“They’ll never accept us, so why try?”

“That’s enough. Remember your place; it is not your role to think, but only to carry out the orders given to you. Live by our rules, or wander the wastes alone. Those are your options.”

Through a crack between the floor and the base of the cabinet, I could see the iron-shod feet of the Super Mutants stomp across the hall, but conversation between them had stopped. Some time passed before I felt safe enough to creep out from my hiding spot, but once out, I felt as though a clock was ticking somewhere beyond me, counting down the seconds until the corpses in the foyer were found.

The dish was unwieldy, but I managed to tie it to my pack in such a way that it didn’t much hinder my movement, and set off again back the same way I came so as to have a better chance at avoiding the Mutants. Passing through the Vault exhibit was less haunting the second time, though I still struggled when forced to take the step that, a few days before, had left me overlooking the small town of Springvale. I’d already left my life behind, but it felt like I was losing even more. Once out, though, it was simple to move on. I was silent as I slipped passed the rocket, through the atrium and back into the muted sunlight of the outside world.

Looking left, I could see a giant pillar—what I’d been told was where I had to take the dish—sticking into the sky, and made a beeline for it, thinking all the while about the snippet I’d heard of those Mutants’ talk.

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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