Read Part 31: “Betty’s Lair” here.

I crawled—almost fell—out of the Tranquillity Lounger. Immediately, the room started to whirl around me, and I had to fight back the urge to vomit. Vertigo. I crouched down, eyes closed, waiting for the dizziness to subside.

The sounds of the Vault were soothing. A gentle beeping, the way the treads of the Robobrains clacked against the metal floor as they moved, a faint hissing. While not exactly familiar, they were similar enough to the noises that had surrounded me back in Vault 101 to make me feel at home. That feeling was cemented by a cough that I’d grown up with. I opened my eyes.

My father’s beard was wilder than I’d ever seen it, his face pale and thin. Whatever he’d been through since leaving the Vault had aged him.

“What are you doing here, Valken?” It was the same tone of voice that he’d used when he found me, at eight years old, wandering amongst the machinery in the bowels of Vault 101; the same blend of confusion, chastisement, and concern.

“Don’t do that, Dad,” I murmured, avoiding his gaze. “Don’t treat me like a little kid. I’ve been following your stupid trail of breadcrumbs for two weeks, getting shot at by maniacs and gnawed on by Ghouls.

“Do you have any idea what it feels like to be cast out into this world, never having known it existed? Being completely without guidance and having to rely on the words of people who claim to have a clue?” I paused. Guessing that I wasn’t finished, he remained silent, and I finally locked eyes with him. “Why didn’t you prepare me? Why didn’t you tell me about any of this?”

His lips thinned in a familiar sign of disapproval. My father had always been the kind of man to trade knowledge, rather than simply give his answers away. I hadn’t replied directly to his question, and expected a similar evasion in return. Instead, he nodded, his eyes wandering around the room, but clearly not seeing it. “I thought it too dangerous. Although the Overseer welcomed me into 101 after I proved I had the skills to bring benefit to the society, he never fully trusted me not to upset the status quo. If he suspected that you knew there existed a world beyond the walls of the Vault, he would have had you silenced. He knew that I could be discreet, but the errant words of children can be persistent, and that can raise questions, even in a community as insular as that of 101.”

“But why shouldn’t-” I started to ask, before realising that he had changed the subject. Sure, he’d given me an answer, but it couldn’t be everything. “The truth, Dad.”

This time he sighed, bowing his head slightly. His voice was low as he said, “I wanted you to respect me. Had I told you, my project would have been brought up eventually, and I couldn’t bear the thought of you thinking me a failure. What happened with Project Purity has plagued me for twenty years, and I simply couldn’t add your disapprobation to my own. That’s why I had to leave without telling you, but I would have come back after that foundering was rectified.”

And arrived far too late to stop a miscarriage of justice, I thought. It hurt to learn how little he cared about me. “So it was all about you. Your security. Your peace of mind. My well-being never even factored into your decisions, did it?”

There was a long pause before he spoke again. “You’ve changed, Valken.”

I had to clench my jaw to stop from shouting. “Having everyone turn against you and abandon you will do that to a person.”

Again, that pause. “Tell me what happened to you after I left.”

With that simple statement of demand, the emotion in him was wiped away and he was, once again, the human computer, dealing exclusively in facts and logic. This was the exchange of knowledge he expected, and I’d been stupid to think he could have changed.

I told my story quickly, glossing over the more mundane details and abbreviating the betrayals, deceit, and destruction that had accompanied my exit from Vault 101. As my narration drew to a close, Dad began to walk towards the stairs, gesturing for me to follow. He led me back along the corridor to the Overseer’s office. The door, which had proven impenetrable for me, was opened in seconds.

“It’s curious,” he began as he crossed to another pod, in which slept an old man whose body barely stopped twitching. “The Overseers are supposed to ensure smooth operation of the Vaults, but their actual purpose is to supervise the social experiments of Vault-Tec. Amata letting you go means that either she doesn’t know her role, or she is wilfully shirking her responsibilities. It almost makes me want to go back to see what comes of it all.”

The Vaults as social experiments? That was another mystery for me to follow up on if ever I found the time to do so, but it wasn’t my most pressing question at that point. “What are we doing here?”

Dad was rummaging through the cupboards that lined one wall of the office. “I’m looking for a map. Even though Doctor Braun over there was the creator of the Garden of Eden Creation Kit, his Vault was not supplied with one, most likely because it was never supposed to be opened. However, the files he made in the simulation indicate that Vault 87 is the nearest to have one. I need to know where that is.”

“You mentioned that in the logs you left at Project Purity. What is it?”

“It’s a device designed to regenerate land in the aftermath of nuclear fallout. The technology within it is the missing piece of Project Purity; I should be able to incorporate it into the design, and then, at long last, it will work.”

“And after that?”

“The water in the Tidal Basin will be purified and we will move on. There are very few sources of non-irradiated water in the Wasteland, and society will never be able to rise again without it. My intention, once the viability of Project Purity is proven, is to recreate it at every major water reservoir across the country, even though I could never do that in my lifetime.”

His words struck me silent. If that was his plan, then what was I? Some kind of insurance policy to ensure that his work didn’t die with him? The task was a noble one, but I didn’t know then whether I would be willing to dedicate my life to any cause, let alone one of such grand ambition. At the same time, the venture held the promise of exploration and excitement. Those may not have been my desires on leaving the Vault, but my travels across the Wasteland, in retrospect and despite the tribulations, had been the best times of my life so far. If Dad was offering me the chance to continue them, I was tempted to accept.

Of course, he hadn’t explicitly asked, so I wasn’t beholden to give him an answer at that point. Instead, after a long period of unbroken silence, during which Dad continued to rifle through the cupboards and drawers, I crossed to the Tranquillity Lounger in the centre of the office. The man inside was impossibly old, his enforced sleep anything but peaceful. Dad had called him Braun, and that meant that, inside the simulation, he had been Betty.

Were I a better man, I may have pitied him. Instead, I felt only a seething hatred for him for the tortures to which he had subjected the inhabitants of 112. Whatever it was causing him to twitch and writhe was a punishment not severe enough for the sins he had committed.

A hand touched my shoulder. “It’s a shame. Braun was, arguably, the best mind of the pre-war world. Not only did he develop the G.E.C.K., but he was also one of the key designers of the Vaults, in both the technology and psycho-social experiments. Not all of his actions can be condoned, but his genius can’t be denied. Now, however, he is integrated into that machine, destined to neither die nor live… There’s nothing we can do for him.”

‘To him,’ I wanted to reply. I didn’t care what the man had been; to me, he was a monster, torturing and killing for his own amusement. That was the standard by which he should have been judged, not his past achievements and accolades.

Instead, I ignored my father’s comments. “Did you find a map?”

He sighed. “Not one that can be of any use to us. I suppose if Braun knew the Vault locations, he must have memorised them. And, unfortunately, I can’t trace them through the Vault network because 112 isn’t connected. Given what happened here, I can understand Braun’s desire for secrecy, but I can’t deny it’s a setback…”

As we stood there, I caught myself wondering why I had been so consumed by the desire to find my father. Was it the result of some instinctual filial duty? It certainly wasn’t the company. His habit of thinking out loud and frowning upon any interruption had always frayed my patience. And there we were, back in the same frustrating situation we’d been in hundreds of times before as Dad had explained a medical procedure, or directed me on some piece of maintenance while we’d been in 101.

“I need to go back to Rivet City. Madison will know where to find 87.”

I turned away from the pod, putting my back to my father as I bit my lip. After what had happened there… “Uh, there may be a problem with that.”

“What do you mean?” There was a familiar sense of heavy brooding in his voice.

“Captain Harkness probably won’t let me back in. There was some kind of attack while I was there and, for some reason, he blamed me.” Sure, I left out the fact that the attack probably was somehow linked to me, but he was destined to find that out soon enough if he went back to the city.

“Why would he…” By the tone of his voice, I could tell that Dad was perplexed, but he quickly shrugged it off. “Don’t answer. I’ll get a more accurate response from Harkness himself. I need you to come with me as far as Project Purity. There may be some things to do there after I finish in Rivet City, and they will get done faster with your assistance.”

Without waiting for a reply, he set off again. Within minutes, we were dressed in hardier clothes more suited to the rigours of the Wasteland, stolen from a laundry behind a locked door. Our footsteps echoed weirdly in the silent corridors leading back to the garage. Then we stepped out into the light of predawn.

As we began the long trek back to Project Purity, Dad turned to me. “Tell me about leaving 101, and what you think of the outside.”

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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