Read Part 26: “Compromise” here.

“When I saw you earlier, behind the building, what were you doing?”

Dashwood seemed to freeze for a moment. Then, with a murmur—”God damn it,”—he spun in one smooth movement, snatching the revolver from the bed, and pressing its barrel against my forehead. “Closhe the door.” His voice was low, full of menace.

As I followed the order, I glanced around the room, noting a computer terminal to my left, a safe beside his bed, and an array of weaponry adorning walls and shelves. It spoke of a unique blend of civility and savagery, far removed from both the dens of bandits and the sitting rooms of the rich.

“Do you think you’re shpecial? Hand-picked as Gushtavo’s shpy?” he shook his head, “You’re not the firsht, you know.”

“Mr Dashwood, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He laughed. “Oh, you would shay that. You all shay that. You young ‘uns all think I’m shtupid because I’m old. I’m not. And if you think I’m going to let you and Gushtavo blame me for what’sh going on with Philipsh, you’ve got another thing coming, kiddo.”

If you’ve ever tried negotiating with a gun pointed at your face you’ll know that it’s incredibly difficult. I felt disturbed, wrong-footed, and at a distinct disadvantage. Even the words that Dashwood said failed to register.

“The generator failure. The contaminated water. Even the Shuper Mutant attack; he claimed I was in cahootsh with those things. And hish shpiesh. Alwaysh with hish shpiesh. Watching and ashking queshtionsh. I should have known that you’d be one of them.”

His growing anger was causing his speech to louden and his lisp to become more pronounced, making it difficult to understand his tirade.

“Mr Dashwood, please,” as I spoke, I pressed my hands together, hoping that he would take it as a sign of nervousness, “There’s no need for threats or violence; I just want to talk to you.”

I could see that my words were falling on deaf ears. My hand slid up, touching the Pip-Boy on my arm. There came the familiar sense of a dilation of time as Vault-Tec’s chemical blend flooded through my veins. A second later, knowing that my movements would seem a blur to the old man, I moved my head out of the way of the gun, brought up my right hand to pry the weapon from him, and pushed him back onto the bed with my left. I deactivated V.A.T.S.

Fear could plainly be read in his wide eyes. He may have been surprisingly agile for an old man, but he’d lost the only advantage he had.

I pocketed the revolver. “Will you listen now and tell me what I need to know?”

He nodded silently.

‘Finally,’ I thought, ‘progress’.

“What were you doing when I saw you earlier?”

He covered his eyes, shaking his head. “You don’t undershtand yet, and Gushtavo never will. It getsh sho boring here. A man needsh a bit of adventure to get the blood flowing. Jusht because I wash in the tunnelsh doeshn’t mean I had anything to do with the Ghoulsh, I promishe you that.”

Luck has rarely been on my side, and I’d learned early on in the Vault to snatch the opportunities that presented themselves to me. The idea that Dashwood thought I was a spy was one that I could leverage. “Do you expect me to believe that without proof? Without investigation?” I feigned a sigh. “If that’s all you have to offer, then I’m best off telling Gustavo who our traitor is.”

“But that’sh not true. Go into the tunnelsh yourshelf. Shpeak to the Ghoulsh if you have to. They’ll tell you that I’ve never agreed to help them.”

“You have spoken to them, though. How did you get down there?”

He looked away from me again. “The door in the lobby. I, uh, found it unlocked and figured I wouldn’t get a better chanche to have a look around and shee if I could shtill kill Ghoulsh with the besht of them.”

“Lying only shows me that you have something to hide, Mr Dashwood.” I laid my hand upon the door knob.

“Okay. Okay. I have a key. Shtole it from Gushtavo a while back. I know I shouldn’t have. I know it’sh dangeroush, but I jusht needed some excitement.”

“Hand it over.”

As he passed me the key, I saw a tear slide down his creased cheek. Once a celebrity, a hero in his own mind, now a broken mess. I couldn’t blame him for wanting to get away from the tower. Even from the little I’d seen I could tell that Dashwood must have been ostracised by those people. How was it a crime to want to recapture a little of the sense of adventure that had been such a huge piece of his past?

“If you’re telling the truth, I’ll make sure you get it back. I wouldn’t want to take this from you, ‘Daring’.” By the time he looked up, I was gone.

When Reed came knocking on my door two hours later I still hadn’t slept, too consumed with worry about the task I’d agreed to do for Roy Philips. My mind had been running all afternoon, concocting one disaster scenario after another. What if I was caught by Gustavo? Dashwood had been fearful of that as a possibility, and I already knew the security captain wasn’t a forgiving man. What if I couldn’t get the door open and Philips took out his anger on me? What if Gustavo’s mercenaries arrived early and I became the cause of the slaughter of the entire Ghoul community? Of all the possibilities I considered, that was the worst; I couldn’t bear the thought of having another massacre laid at my feet.

Only after fobbing off Reed with a flimsy excuse for my continued tiredness was I able to sleep, fitful and interrupted though it was. Once more I dreamt of faceless figures looming around me, rivers of blood, and a melange of humanoid figures, some Super Mutant, some Ghoul, and some dressed in the hard-wearing outfits of Talon Company. Though ever-changing, the nightmare scenes were a constant reminder of the threats that always hung just beyond the horizon.

At 3:30am, I was woken from a fitful slumber by the quiet ringing of my Pip-Boy’s alarm. The nightmares and the recollection of Talon Company had left me with a sense of unease, but I thrust it aside.

Though the guards on duty were vigilant, even at that late hour, their attention was directed outside the tower walls, meaning that slipping past them was as simple as sticking to the shadows and moving slowly. The need to sneak past was an act of subterfuge that made me, again, question whether I was doing the right thing. But then, the morality of the Wasteland wasn’t what I had grown up with. It wasn’t my place to question any behaviour that offered a chance to reduce the violence and xenophobia of the world.

The generator room was almost pitch black, the only light filtering through a small, barred hatch in the wall directly opposite the entrance. The room would have been little more than six feet across, but it stretched out to either side, where hummed massive bulks of machinery. Through the window I could see a much larger space, dominated by a cylinder in the centre and laced with a mess of pipes and wires. The chambers were exactly as Philips had described them to me. Within moments I found the switch to unlock the door in the lobby, and then I was on my way back inside, still moving slowly and sticking to darkness.

Philips was waiting for me when I pushed open the door.

“Oh, you’re a wonder, kid. I didn’t think you’d manage it.” His rotted face was, if anything, even more terrifying in the half-darkness than it had been in the light, his smile warped into a threatening leer.

“Come on,” I replied, turning away to lead him, “it’s not long until daylight.”

Pain lanced through my head and I dropped to my knees. My head slammed into the concrete floor a moment later as a boot hammered into the middle of my back. I must have have blacked out for a second because the next thing I knew was Philips rifling through my pockets. “You did real good, kid, and your reward is your life.” Something plopped onto the ground beside me. “That should keep the ferals from attacking you, but in case it doesn’t, I’m giving you twenty minutes to get out of the tower. Use it well.”

Ferals? Twenty minutes? The pieces came together slowly. Danger! I’d been fooled and used. Philips had never intended to seek a peaceful solution, and now he had a way to bring on the attack. How had I been so stupid? How had I not seen it? I rose to my feet, awareness of the time pressure that had been placed upon me pressing down, but I still stopped before I returned to the lobby. I’d made a terrible mistake. By aiming to prevent one massacre, I had contributed to one that would be much worse. I knew instinctively that Philips would show no mercy. Come sunrise, Tenpenny Tower would be painted in blood.

Priorities. I knew that I had to save Reed, but then what? Escape, leaving the tower residents to their fates? Alert Gustavo and try to prevent the massacre? The decision could wait until after Reed was safe. I picked up the object that Philips had left behind, thrusting it into a pocket without examining it, then tore back out into the lobby.

I was stopped immediately by a shout, “Hey!” The guard at the desk looked at me with a mix of suspicion and fear. “What were you doing down there.”

‘Trying to help.’ The words were right there, so simple to say, yet they wouldn’t come out. I struggled for several seconds, knowing that the guard was getting impatient. Finally, I managed to force out the words, “The Ghouls are coming.”

“What was that?” asked the guard.

I repeated my words, louder this time, before adding, “Tell Gustavo. Tell whoever you need to.”

Though he went ashen, letting me know that he believed, he forsook none of his belligerence. “If we survive this, I’ll make you suffer, Outsider.”

The message delivered, I ignored what the guard did next, racing up the staircase two steps at a time to hammer on Reed’s door. It swung open seconds later. “Valken? Wha’ ‘m y’ want?”

“You have to get out of the building. Get Bork and Tate and wait outside the gate for me.” Without waiting for an answer, I turned away, hurrying back to my room. Thankfully I hadn’t anything worth unpacking, so leaving was as simple as pulling on my backpack. But in that room, with moonlight shining through the large windows, I had a moment to think. I took the thing that Philips had dropped and unfolded it. It was a rubber mask, designed to mirror the rotted aspect of the Ghouls. He had indicated that it would provide safety. Standing in the silence, an interesting, awful, and potentially necessary idea began to take root.

Fifteen minutes later, I was standing in the lobby alongside Tenpenny’s security forces and a number of the residents, everyone armed. Many of them glared at me, clearly wondering whether I was involved in bringing this threat down upon them, and hating me for the possibility, but no-one said anything. The tension was palpable, heartbeats audible.

The door to the Metro tunnels burst open. Feral Ghouls swarmed in like a torrent, one after another being cut down by automatic gunfire, but they continued to come, climbing over each other, intent on the feast and uncaring of death. I was the only one of the defenders to notice the grenade that soared over the growing barricade of dead Ghouls, and knew in that moment that the tower would fall. It exploded. Some of the defenders dropped where they stood. Others were flung aside, limbs hanging uselessly, but they fought on.

I understood. This building was their home. Many of them had family here. Lovers. Friends. It was a small patch of civilisation in a world that had forgotten the word. They were ready to die for it. But I wasn’t. As the Ghouls continued to pour in, now unimpeded, I turned tail and raced into the Federalist Lounge, using the spare moments I’d bought in the retreat to pull on the mask. Now I just had to wait for them to find me, and hope that Philips was telling the truth.

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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