We reached the Jefferson Memorial a little after midnight of the following evening. The trek that had taken Reed and I three days was made by my father in less than half that time. As he’d requested, I spent the first couple of hours recounting my adventures, but he seemed hardly to listen, his questions coming with a distracted air. I wasn’t surprised. Growing up, I’d seen him possessed by scientific curiosity, going without food or sleep for days on end until he either passed out from exhaustion or solved whatever puzzle he’d been working on. His glazed eyes and fidgeting hands told me that he was a man obsessed.
“What happened to the Super Mutants?” Those words, the first that had passed between us in some hours, shattered the night’s silence as effectively as a rifle shot.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “They almost killed me on my way in, but someone had done the same to them before I left.”
Even in the dimness, the look of concern on Dad’s face was clearly visible. “Did anyone follow you? Perhaps Rivet City security?”
I shrugged. “I thought I saw someone a few times, but they kept their distance. Eventually, they just disappeared, so I can’t say for sure.”
He fell back into pensive silence after the exchange, which remained unbroken until we arrived at the entrance to the gift shop. I pushed open the door, but he didn’t follow me across the threshold.
“I have the sense that something is very wrong, Valken. No-one would attack a nest of Super Mutants without cause; it is simply too dangerous. And there are few factions in this part of the Wasteland that could be capable of doing it. Did you see any human bodies when you left?”
It seemed a strange, irrelevant question. “Not that I recall, but I wasn’t looking too hard.”
Dad’s lips compressed, his brow furrowing. “Powerful. Secretive…”
“What are you afraid of?”
“A lack of knowledge…” He placed a hand on my shoulder. “I should be back by midday tomorrow, or twilight at the latest. If not, then you should leave this place and never return. Stay safe, Valken.”
As he disappeared into the darkness, I began to wonder. What enemies did he have that justified a warning of that sort? Unfortunately, I didn’t know enough about the world to even be able to guess, leading me, once more, to lament my upbringing within the walls of the Vault. Worse, I still didn’t understand why Dad had chosen to lead that life for almost twenty years.
I shut the door, disabled the security system, and spent about an hour pacing through the cold, echoing halls of the Memorial, thinking about the past and the future. Those lonely minutes ticked by without bringing me any answers and I eventually surrendered to the demands of my body. Dad had only let us rest for a few hours through the heat of the day and I was exhausted by my exertions.
I woke to echoes. The peculiar hum that follows the striking of metal on metal hung in the air. As a potential sign of life, it seemed out of place. In the absence of anyone besides myself, Project Purity should have been as silent as the streets of Dallas.
Try as I might, however, my attempts to find the source of the sound, which took me from the highest levels of the facility, where sat the controls for Project Purity, to the depths of the sub-basement, were in vain. Nothing stirred and no further sounds were to be heard other than the slow drip of water and the echoes of my own footfalls. I had begun to think that I was jumping at shadows, imagining the clanging as a result of some restless dream inspired by Dad’s warning, when I heard the unmistakeable sound of voices.
They were quiet, but clearly not bothering to hide their presence, which meant they felt comfortable in these surroundings. That left two possibilities: either they felt they belonged there, and were the scientists and engineers from Rivet City; or they were a strong enough force to not fear opposition, meaning that they were the enemy that Dad had left unnamed.
From my earliest lessons I was taught that it’s best to err on the side of caution, so I double-checked that my shotgun was loaded and headed upstairs once more. I was in the stairwell when I heard the door above swing open and a familiar voice call out my name.
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Yeah, Dad. I’m here.”
The stairs rang as he hurried down to meet me on the first landing. Had I expected an emotional reunion, I would have been disappointed. “What are you involved with?”
“What are you talking about?”
He drew a piece of paper from within a pocket. “Harkness gave this to me. Care to explain?”
I took it from him:
All members of Talon Company are hereby notified of a kill-or-capture contract for a man named Valken. Physical description of the target follows:
About twenty years old. Of middling height and build. Blue eyes. Light brown hair hanging to shoulder length. Dressed in Raider garb. Last seen in the company of Brotherhood of Steel soldiers in the vicinity of Galaxy News Radio in the DC Ruins.
Members are warned that the target may be dangerous.
Bounty for capture: 2000 caps.
Bounty for kill: 1500 caps.
In the years since, I’ve collected dozens of similar notices. Each time, the details have been updated, a higher price attached to my head, but I’ve never been able to answer the question of why someone wants me dead. Were I asked the same question today, my response would be the same as it had been on that day in Project Purity: a dumbfounded look and, “I wish I could.”
Dad’s lips compressed, but he seemed to accept my reply. “Talon Company is a dangerous enem-”
“I know,” I replied sharply, cutting him off, “Reed told me about them. You don’t need to worry, Dad. I’m not completely naïve.”
There followed an awkward silence. I could tell that he was put out by my reaction, but it was useless to linger on the subject.
“Did you find out about Vault 87?” I asked.
His face quickly resumed its usual neutrality, the signs of upset smoothing away as emotion was forced aside by the far more familiar rationality. “No. But Madison reminded me that the Project Purity mainframe is linked to the Brotherhood of Steel servers. They will have the location of at least some of the Vaults, and hopefully we will be able to find a G.E.C.K. at one of them… The answers are within our reach, Valken. All we need to do is reactivate this facility.”
At that moment, there came a clatter from above. “James? You down there, man?” The voice was strong and oddly husky.
Dad looked up. “What do you need, Garza?”
The man appeared on the landing with us. “Daniel says the most likely reason there’s no power is that the fuses are busted, and Doctor Li says that Janice needs you back up in the control room.”
Turning back towards me, Dad murmured, “I don’t know why Madison ever hired that useless woman.” Then, in a louder voice, he asked, “Valken, would you be able to handle the fuses?”
Though caught off-guard, I didn’t want to seem as though I wasn’t willing to help. “Sure. But I don’t know where to-”
Garza winked at me. “Just follow the signs, lad. Can’t not find it.”
As he passed the fuses to me, I couldn’t resist staring at his hands. He was a beefy guy, and those hands could have easily engulfed mine twice over.
“If you need directions, just call me over the intercom; I’ll do my best to direct you. When you’re done, come find me.” With that, Dad slung his arm over Garza’s shoulder and the two of them headed back up the stairs.
Once again I was left alone. As I trudged back down to the sub-basements, I thought about how easily I’d been drawn into helping Dad out with Project Purity. He’d ordered me to follow in that imperious tone that fit him so well, and I had followed. Yet, I didn’t feel any enthusiasm at the prospect of bringing his vision to life. Instead, I was quickly growing tired of it. Not only did he want to speak of almost nothing else, which has always dimmed my anticipation, but making it work seemed like a laborious process, a trial destined never to end despite the efforts that all involved poured into it. At the same time, I felt no desire to give up. Working on Project Purity gave my life purpose. It was worth following through, even if I had no passion for it.
After replacing the fuses, I made my way back up to the rotunda, which had become a hive of activity. Doctor Li and two other scientists stood at various points within the control room, scanning gauges and taking notes. Four engineers, including Garza, hurried about, some carrying tools, others materials. As I watched, one of those to whom I had not been introduced nudged another, both of them casting disagreeable looks in my direction. Dad stood slightly apart from the others, answering questions and giving orders in a brisk, quiet voice.
I ascended the stairs and stood beside him. “It’s done.”
He nodded, and without looking at me, barked another order, “Janice! When you’re finished there, I want you to go down to Level Two and activate the mainframe.”
After receiving the woman’s breathless affirmative, Dad turned back to me. “Thank you for helping out, Valken. Now, I need you to flush out the filtration pumps while everyone else finishes getting everything in order here.”
“Filtration pumps? I thought we were only trying to reactivate the computers. Why would you need to…” I trailed off, letting my question ask itself.
“This facility is powered by a miniature nuclear reactor. The presence of any artefacts in the water used to cool it presents a risk. Don’t worry, there’s nothing dangerous in what you have to do. Simply access the pipes and turn a valve.”
While Dad filled me in on further details, I was jostled by one of the engineers. Gazing after him, I caught the flicker of a malicious grin on his face, and noted that it was one of the two that had leered at me earlier.
“Who was that?” I asked, interrupting Dad’s explanations.
“Uh… Daniel Agincourt. He’s been a part of the project since the very beginning. Not a very friendly fellow, but he’s one of the best we have.”
Two minutes later, I was walking through the gift shop when Agincourt stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. “You better not get too uppity, kid. I know who you are, and if anything goes wrong this time, I’m blaming you.”
I looked at him, mystified. “Thanks for the warning.” I pulled myself free of his grip and turned away.
“Twice your dad has shown up out of nowhere, demanding everyone drop their tools and help him. I believed his rhetoric last time. This time, I’m only here because Madison still believes it. He abandoned us last time. The failure of Project Purity was his fault. Everyone else here is dedicated to the cause, so if it fails again, it’ll be his fault. And yours. We have no need of some strutting little peacock, so stay the hell out of the way.”
I’d begun to walk away long before the spiel was over, but Agincourt followed me to the grate that Dad had said led to the valve. “If you don’t mind, I have work to do. And I’m fairly certain you do too, grease monkey.”
Perhaps I shouldn’t have slipped in that slur, because Agincourt fixed me with a venomous stare. “I’m watching you.”
I shrugged, lifting the grate and sliding down into the pipe. It was dimly lit down there, the only light filtering in through tiny cracks in the structure. A gentle dripping sound echoed from somewhere far ahead and this I followed.
As I wandered along in the darkness, I thought over Agincourt’s behaviour. His anger may have been justifiable, but it was misdirected. He should have been angry at those people that had left after Dad; those that had truly given up hope. Thinking about that led me to the folly of using a radioactive power source to de-radiate a water source. It seemed an impossibly stupid contradiction, and I had to stop thinking about it.
Only then did I notice a low-pitched rumbling that stopped my heart. It sounded like a flood of water… except it was coming from outside. Just ahead of my was the valve, and I turned it as far as I could, hoping that that was all I needed to do, before pressing my eye to one of the cracks.
As my vision adjusted to the comparatively blinding brightness outside, I distinguished something that I had only ever seen in the ancient wartime documentaries from the vault: a VTOL aircraft, around which huddled a group of people in military-styled outfits.
Immediately, a thought flashed through my head: The Enemy.
I had to warn everyone.
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.