Read Part 35: “The Skirmish” here.

Indistinct voices swirled around me, stray words falling like ash from the sky. Beneath the current of conversation ran the soft hum of machines and the faint, rhythmic sound of footsteps. I could smell the sharp scent of antiseptic mixed with the rank odour of rotting flesh. Like so much else in the Wastes, these sounds and smells were reminders of my childhood. I used to while away the hours after class in the hospital wing of the Vault, watching people with minor injuries hobble in and those that had been attended to hobble out, waiting for Dad to finish his shifts.


I didn’t feel like crying; I just felt hollowed out. While I was growing up, he’d driven me towards being an engineer-cum-scientist so that I could assist him in his work. On my leaving the Vault, he’d continued to set my goals. First finding him, then helping him to get Project Purity running again. But he was gone and any sense of purpose with him. For the first time in my life I felt truly alone.

I opened my eyes.

The stone roof above me was damp with a spotted film of mould creeping across its surface. Given that my other senses had told me I was in an infirmary, it wasn’t the most reassuring sight. My eyes wandered across the room. I hadn’t been mistaken. The space was set up with a dozen beds, most of them occupied by people either missing body parts, swathed in bandages, or quietly talking to themselves. And despite the run-down appearance of the room itself, the complexity of the medical equipment was more than a match for anything I had ever seen in the Vault.

I let my head fall back onto the pillow and closed my eyes again. I felt safe. I didn’t want to think about the things that existed beyond the stone walls, and I didn’t want to think about what I’d been through. I simply wasn’t ready to face life again.

Too bad for me the other survivors of Project Purity didn’t seem to share my lack of enthusiasm. As my eyes closed, my attention turned to the conversation around me.

“-ircles for the last twenty minutes,” although now weak and hoarse, I could still recognise Janice’s voice, “That’s long enough. We need to make a decision.”

A chair creaked. “How can you see a choice?” This time, it was Agincourt speaking, “Madison, James, and everyone else gave their lives so that this dream could continue. We owe it to them to keep trying to make it work.”

“You weren’t this keen when James came back. What changed?” asked Garza.

“I realised that there was still hope. You might remember that I was one of the last to leave after he abandoned us the first time, and only because the Mutants ran us out of there. I didn’t want to go back because I didn’t want to face our failure. But we have a chance to fix that.”

“How?” asked Janice. “Without Madison and James, we-”

“We still have their notes, their plans and blueprints. What’s to stop us from getting Project Purity working?”

Garza chuckled. “Oh, how about the Enclave? Or how about that there’s only three of us left? Or that you and I are just mechanics?”

“Or that I’m not much of a scientist? I was little more than Madison’s assistant,” added Janice.

Agincourt sighed. “So what? The Brotherhood will fight off the Enclave for us, and we can always recruit more people to help us.”

“Where are those people going to come from, Dan? It’s not like Rivet City has an endless supply.”

“I’m sure some of the Brotherhood’s Scribes would be willing to devote themselves to our cause, and we can send envoys to The Institute and Big Mountain. People will want to be a part of this.”

It was Janice’s turn to sigh. “No matter how many want to come, it’ll be pointless to carry on unless we can overcome the constant purification failures. It could take years before we can even understand why they happened.”

“James wouldn’t have come back unless he had some idea. There has to be something.”

“There is: the G.E.C.K.,” my voice came out as a whisper. I opened my eyes once more and sat up.

The four of us survivors had been given a corner of the room to ourselves, with Agincourt the only one not in bed. Garza was propped up against a number of pillows, a sheet covering his lower half to hide his missing leg. His bed was opposite mine, with Janice beside him. She was swathed in bloody bandages, the few pieces of exposed flesh red, blistered, and peeling. I could only imagine the pain that both of them were in. No wonder they were willing to give up.

Why did I speak up when I did? There were a few reasons. The first is that, although I wasn’t sure I wanted to be part of the continuing efforts of Project Purity, it was something worth pursuing. Another reason is that I felt a duty to ensure that my father’s life hadn’t been given for nothing. The final reason, and I think the one that most forced my tongue, was that I needed a purpose, and hunting down the G.E.C.K. would give me one.

“I don’t know what it is or what it does exactly, but Dad was convinced that it was what was needed to make the purifier work.”

“What’s a G.E.C.K.?”

“When did he say that?”

“How would it work?”

“Where would we find one?”

“How did he find out about this thing?”

“Why didn’t he mention it to us?”

Questions came at me faster than I could comprehend, but I was saved from having to answer any of them by the opening of the door and the swift approach of soldiers. At their head was an old man dressed in an elaborate robe. His left hand betrayed a nervous habit of brushing down his wispy grey hair.

“On behalf of the entire Brotherhood of Steel, I offer you all our condolences. I wish we could protected you somehow. If we had but known of the return to the Jefferson Memorial—if Doctor Li had but told us—we might have been able to avert this tragedy. Alas…” His eyes, which had settled on each of us in turn as he spoke, came to rest on my face as his speech ended.

Agincourt had stood on the stranger’s entrance and now took a step forward. “Elder, there’s no point regretting what might have been. All we can do is try to fix our mistakes.”

The Elder nodded. “That’s true. Nevertheless, this burden weighs heavily on me as, in allowing this to happen, the Brotherhood has let itself down as well as you… Most people view us as protectors, but we are also procurers. We seek to restore order to the world by collecting and putting to good use the most advanced technologies we are able to find. Your project was not just valuable, but vital. If there is anything at all we can do to help you reclaim it, you need but ask.”

“Would you-” began Agincourt, only to be cut off by a hoarse cough from Janice.

“Thank you for the offer, but we’ve not yet decided on a course of action.”

The Elder seemed disheartened by Janice’s words, but he turned back to Agincourt, “What were you about to ask?”

Agincourt, meanwhile, looked towards Janice and his lips compressed slightly. “If we did choose to resume our work, would you be able to provide us with support from both your soldiery and scribery?”

“Yes, of course. Anything you need.”

I leaned forward. “What about the location of Vault 87?”

For a moment, the Elder seemed confused, his left hand absently stroking his hair once more. “Do you feel well enough to walk, young man?”

I nodded.

“Very well,” he replied, then looked to the woman standing beside him, “Star Paladin Cross, would you please escort our new friend to the laboratory so he may speak to Scribe Rothchild?”

As I swung my legs out of bed, I was struck by a wave of dizziness and a sudden hunger. By that point, I hadn’t eaten in more than twenty-four hours and was feeling the effects of it. However, my stupid pride prevented me from showing my weakness before so many people. I waited for the greyness that had swamped my vision to subside, then walked towards the entrance of the infirmary, heedless of my prescribed guide.

She caught up me before I had reached the far end of the room. “You’re the image of your father, you know. But you don’t seem much like him otherwise. James, for one, was never arrogant.”

Although I was surprised by her statement, I tried not to show it. “How did you know him?”

“There was nobody who didn’t know James and Sylvia after they first appeared in Rivet City promising an endless supply of pure drinking water. I was also his guardian—and yours—on the journey to Megaton after your mother’s death. I was sorry to hear of his passing.”

We had emerged into a corridor that rang endlessly with the heavy tread of soldiers in armour, making it difficult to hear each other, but our conversation continued nonetheless.

“How well did you know him?”

“Quite well. He, like Doctors Li and Trenton, and Tracy and Edward, became my friend. It pains me to hear that so many of them are no longer with us. They were all good people.”

We walked along in silence for a short while as one question ran through my mind: Who was this man? Almost everyone that I had spoken to about him remembered him as a kind, friendly, good-hearted person. I couldn’t recognise him in their praise. Towards me, he had always been painfully distant, doing only what he needed in order to keep me in good health. I was beginning to resent him for what he had given all these other people and withheld from me. He didn’t deserve to be remembered so fondly.

Star Paladin Cross and I were passing through the courtyard, where combat training was in session, when I voiced aloud a stray thought, “Dad’s the reason everyone’s dead.”

My escort stopped, leaving me to walk forward a few steps before realising she’d fallen behind. “From what I’ve been told, James did what was necessary to ensure the continuation of his work.”

Work. Duty. I realised then that the code by which the people I was associating was fundamentally different to my own. I was seeking a purpose for my life, but no matter what I chose, I would never be able to consider it worth dying for. For the Brotherhood, and the other survivors of Project Purity, their goals became their reasons for living. To them, it was right to die in the line of duty. Not so for me.

“Yeah. And that’s all he thought about. He didn’t consider those of us left behind who would have to try to pick up the pieces. You’re wrong with what you said before. His sacrifice gave us a chance to escape, but forcing the burden of Project Purity on us was the most arrogant, self-serving thing that any person could have done.”

“How ungrateful you are, child. Your father gave you your life. For that, you owe him to carry whatever burden he placed upon you.”

“I owe him nothing but what I choose to give.”

Cross glared at me. “Then I owe you nothing. Find your way alone.”

As she strode away, I couldn’t help reflecting that I was still following Dad’s wishes by asking for the location of Vault 87. I may have been tarnishing people’s memories of him with my words, but my actions were those of a dutiful son. I was beginning to resent that fact.

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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