Read Part 33: “Purpose Without Passion” here.

I raced along the pipe, ignoring the threat posed by the slippery trickle of sludge that ran down the centre. My mind kept replaying the brief scene I’d witnessed, picking out more details each time: the heavy-looking silver armour worn by the soldiers, the laser rifles held loosely in their hands, the indistinct insignia printed on the side of the VTOL, the tall man in a black coat that had seemed to issue orders. Whoever they were and whatever they wanted, their show of force bade ill for the project.

Absorbed by these abstractions, I was almost too late in noticing the sudden drop-off that marked the end of the pipe. I skidded to a stop inches from the edge and peered over. Blackness. My Pip-Boy light was just bright enough to illuminate a couple of platforms arranged around the edges of the pipe, clearly designed to allow easy access. Most were heavily rusted, some were deformed, and all creaked dangerously as I lowered my weight onto them, so I took the descent slowly, cursing the disrepair of Project Purity. Every second my return was delayed was time that the enemy could be using to slaughter those in the facility. I didn’t care about most of them, but Dad… After everything I’d been through to find him again, I couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from him so soon, this time by an uncrossable gulf.

If not for the Pip-Boy, I would have been engulfed in darkness on reaching the bottom. The pipe continued onward to a thick iron plate designed to hold back the water in case of an emergency. Although giving the appearance of an insurmountable barrier, Dad had mentioned that it could be opened via a release handle built into the wall. I cringed at the racket it made as it swung open, hoping that the enemy would assume the noise to be a part of the regular operation of the facility.

With shotgun pressed to my shoulder, I scanned the room ahead of me, recognising it immediately as the top level of the sub-basements. The space in front of me was clear, and although I knew I should have made sure that the lower floors were clear, I hurried up the stairs into the gift shop. Like the lower level, it was deserted.

Full of misgiving, I pushed open the door to the rotunda as quietly and unobtrusively as I was able. The sight that met my eyes gave realisation to the fears that had been growing and threatening to choke me since I’d looked out through that crack in the pipe.

Everything was still. Agincourt, Garza, Janice, and Doctor Li were gathered at the top of the stairs that led to the command centre, watched over by one of the soldiers who menaced them with his rifle. A transparent panel prevented their joining everyone else, who were within the inner sanctum alongside five more soldiers and the man I took to be their commander.

This last stood face to face with my father, speaking in a low but carrying tone, “-access to all files related to the operation and maintenance of this facility.”

“I won’t do that,” Dad’s voice was level, but through long familiarity I could hear his fear, “This is a civilian-run project and the Enclave has no authority here.”

The other man laughed. “The Enclave is the rightful government of these United States of America and our authority is absolute. You will do what has been asked of you, or you will be charged with treason, sir.”

“Colonel Autumn—it is Colonel, correct—I mean you no disrespect. I simply cannot do what you ask. This facility represents a lifetime of work from all involved. As intelligent, devoted, and hard-working as your people no doubt are, removing the present staff would set Project Purity back at least twenty years.”

In one swift movement, the Colonel drew a pistol, aimed, and fired. A splatter of red appeared on the wall of the rotunda and one of the scientists fell to the ground. Janice let out a small scream and the guard pressed his rifle to her head.

“Woops,” That word—so childish, so innocently murmured—pulled my full attention back to the Colonel. He had lowered his weapon and was looking, once more, at Dad. “Now, how about I give you a moment to rethink your position. Or else, who knows, we might have a few more little… accidents on our hands.”

The silence that followed this statement dragged out. The Enclave guards maintained their discipline while several of those working on Project Purity fidgeted. One of the engineers had tears streaking through the dirt on his face.

Dad heaved a sigh. “Very well. I’ll do what you ask.”

I had to fight down the urge to shout out. Drawing attention to myself in that moment could have been disastrous. Instead, I switched my shotgun for the sniper rifle and scoped the guard on the outside. It seemed unlikely, at best, that the Enclave would leave anyone alive, and I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t a one-sided massacre, even if only one of their soldiers died before I did.

After tapping away at a terminal for a short while, Dad looked over his shoulder, past the Colonel and directly at me. He gave me no smile, nor even a softening of his features. Determination and a hint of anger were the only emotions drawn on his face.

One final press of a button and the room became bathed in lurid red light while sirens blared deafeningly. I was reminded instantly of my waking in Vault 101 on the day of my escape. Without knowing what was happening, and taking advantage of the bewilderment of the Enclave guard, I took my shot, the bullet penetrating his armour through the visor. Then I glanced back to the control centre. The people within were doubling over, writhing in agony. Suicide in exchange for slaughter. Dad’s final action was noble, but I could feel only a bubbling hatred in that moment. First he had separated me from the only life I had ever known in Vault 101, and now he had severed the final tie I had with who I had been.

I was shaken from my reverie by a hand on my shoulder and a gentle voice in my ear, “Come on, Valken. More will be coming. We have to get out of here.” It was Doctor Li.

The group of four had made their way towards me, and I gazed at each of them in turn. Janice was crying. Garza looked resigned. Agincourt stared back at me with undisguised distrust. Only Doctor Li had mastered her emotions.

“What happened?” I asked, switching back to my shotgun.

“James activated a failsafe designed for just such an occasion as this. It flooded the chamber with poison gas.”

I took one last look up at the control centre. Dad was on his hands and knees, coughing up blood. On seeing his pain, my heart softened. He may have been distant and authoritarian, but he’d been a good father. Behind me, the door swung open as the others filed out. I took a moment longer, absorbing the scene before following them.

“Halt!” the shout, made by an oddly distorted feminine voice, preceded the distinctive shriek of a laser rifle. With the soldier obscured from my vision by the door, all I saw was the orb of red energy strike Doctor Li in the chest, knocking her off her feet.

While the others ran on, I rounded the corner and opened fire. The first blast staggered the soldier, her heavy armour more than enough to protect her from a smattering of buckshot. My second shot, more carefully aimed, sent the weapon spinning from her hand before my third floored her.

As she struggled to regain her feet, I followed the others, casting a glance at Doctor Li as I passed. The deep, charred wound in her chest was smoking and she was, unmistakeably, dead. Another person to mourn if ever I had the time and freedom.

Daniel and Janice had already disappeared. Garza, meanwhile, held open a manhole cover, gesturing for me to hurry with his giant hands. I slipped through and descended a rickety ladder into a dim cavern. My feet had barely touched the ground before I was sent sprawling by a violent shove. Before I could even begin to regain my footing, a sharp kick to my ribs robbed me of breath.

“I warned you.” Agincourt’s voice was low and full of menace.

His second kick struck the same spot as his first, and I rolled onto my back to present a different target. At this, Agincourt seized his opportunity, wrenching the shotgun from my weakened grip. I opened my eyes to find myself staring down the barrel of the weapon, behind which Agincourt’s face bore a twisted smile.

“That’s enough, Daniel!” Janice’s voice, more accustomed to accepting than giving orders, trembled as she spoke.

“We need him,” added Garza.

“Like hell we do. Given half a chance, he’ll sell us out the same as everyone else.”

I struggled to one knee. “My father died up there. Are you suggesting I wanted that?”

Agincourt adjusted his grip on the weapon. “It was too neat to be coincidence. Seven years we worked on Project Purity last time and the Enclave never knew about it. We hadn’t even been here two hours this time. And the only difference between then and now is you.”

“He couldn’t have done it,” said Janice, “You heard what James said. The boy has only been outside the Vault for two weeks.”

“And he’s the one that Three-Dog has been saying all those nice things about,” added Garza.

Agincourt looked over his shoulder. “You’re accepting as truth the words of people whose opinions are biased from the start. Why don’t you try judging on the evidence of your own eyes?”

“In that case,” murmured Garza, “he killed one of the Enclave and defended us against another. If he is with them, he’s committed to the role of a double agent.”

The sound of metal grating against metal was heard from high above and all of our eyes turned to the manhole. A woman’s voice could be heard indistinctly.

“We can’t stay here,” said Janice.

I got to my feet. “If you’re going to shoot me, then do it. Otherwise, I’d like to have at least a chance of seeing through the end of this day.”

“Fine,” said Agincourt, finally lowering the weapon, “but I keep the gun, and you go first.”

Given that none of the others were carrying a weapon, I had planned to lead the party through the tunnels while relying on their directions, so that was no concession. Having a man who bore a clear grudge against me at my back with a shotgun, however, was cause for concern. Unfortunately, I was in no position to bargain, so I shrugged, accepting the directive.

Those passages—Janice called them the Taft Tunnels—were a maze, piled at various points with desiccated corpses, barrels of radioactive waste, and caches of weaponry. The air was dank and heavy, though not nearly as bad as some of those underground places I’d been where Feral Ghouls made their homes. From far behind we occasionally heard the sounds of pursuit, but we focussed our attention forward, which almost led to disaster.

We were nearing the end of our journey, according to Janice, when I ran past an opening without first checking whether it was safe. Instantly, the piercing shrieks of laser rifles rang out. The other three, thankfully, didn’t hesitate but rushed past the opening, putting on a fresh burst of speed. From then on, I followed up the rear, firing off shots from my hunting rifle every now and again, and Agincourt chose not to say anything about the change in situation.

But it didn’t matter how fast we ran, the Enclave soldiers closed on us. To this day, I put our escape down to pure luck.

I’d just fired another useless shot over my shoulder when, up ahead, there appeared a massive sheet of flame, immediately followed by Janice’s scream. The inferno dissipated, but the woman remained standing, a screaming pillar of brightness.

Since then, I’ve heard people say that, at moments like those, when things are happening and you’re unable to either prevent them or give aid, time seems to slow down. For me, it was the opposite. Everything seemed to speed up and happen at the same time.

From behind, the sound of footsteps came to an abrupt end, replaced by the increasingly familiar reports of laser fire. Meanwhile, Agincourt rushed forward, whipping off his coat and wrapping it around Janice to smother the flames while Garza shouted, “Enclave!”

Another distorted voice shouted back, “Up the ladder, quickly. I’ll hold them off.”

For the time being, I ignored this order, instead taking up position behind a fallen piece of masonry, beside the Brotherhood of Steel soldier. Though my rifle could only be effective against the heavy armour of the Enclave if aimed with pinpoint accuracy, I fired upon them, trying to keep their attention on me rather than the others who were having trouble getting Janice up the ladder. It was the flames, however, that slowed the advance of the Enclave because, despite being radiation-resistant and almost bullet-proof, the armour was not heat-resistant.

Only once Agincourt, Garza, and Janice had escaped through the hatch did I abandon my post, following them into the open air.

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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