The Impossible Will Take A Little While

You never get away from the dust.

I feel it crunch beneath the palm of my hand as I lower myself to the ground next to the rusting Corvega, resting the .30-06 along its bumper. I brush my hand absently on the padded leather pants I stole off my last victim, not noticing if the dust goes anywhere. Taking a deep breath, trying not to choke on the dry grit in the air, I lower my head to the scope.

“I am in a conventional dither / with a conventional star in my eye …”

I turn down Galaxy News Radio in my earpiece, but don’t turn it off entirely. I’ve reached the point where I can’t stand to switch it off. Letting the silence take over feels like acknowledging despair – letting the world win a war that’s already over. Still, I have to wonder where Three Dog pulls these albums from. He told me some of them are over three centuries old. I can’t think of the last working thing I saw that’s three decades old.

“And you will note there’s a lump in my throat / when I speak of that wonderful guy!”

The raiders one hundred yards down the road – snarling and merciless in spiked leather and chains – have pushed two cars across the front of the highway, angling them to create a narrow chokepoint. I could backtrack the mile I spent climbing this highway and walk overland, hoping all the yao guai are hibernating. But I need to make Big Town by nightfall and top off my canteen. These bastards parked between me and the next 24 hours of my life. And that’s all it takes.

I dial the scope gingerly, squinting through the chipped and faded My First Telescope that I’ve strapped to the top of the rifle. A raider’s shaved head bobs into view, shadowed by the Brotherhood of Steel issue rocket launcher strapped to his back. I take a breath, let out half.

“I’m as corny as Kansas in August / high as the flag on the Fourth of July …”

A brash cry jerks my head up. Another raider, at the opposite end of the improvised barricade, spotted the sunlight flash on my scope. He approaches my hiding place with cautious steps, sliding the TEC-9 out of the DKNY clutch he’s appropriated as a holster. He’s coming from my right. In forty yards, there’ll be nothing between him and me but asphalt.

raider

Swearing, I swing my rifle around, glance into the scope, and squeeze a shot off. With no time to reset the range I hit him on pure luck – a one inch slug that tears his left knee halfway off his leg. He collapses, screaming, and the gun clatters out of his grip. I swing back as the guy with the rocket launcher begins to unlimber it off his back. One in the shoulder slows him down; another in the throat stops him.

“If you’ll excuse an expression I use / I’m in love, I’m in love …”

Now the other three raiders – I counted two before – have cleared their holsters and taken cover behind their car barricade. Automatic fire peppers the car I hide behind. A bullet gouges the asphalt inches from my right foot, sending shards of stone into my hand and face. I wince, gasping but not screaming. The bastard I kneecapped’s doing plenty of that.

I’d rather save this last grenade for the Super Mutant I know the sheriff in Big Town’s going to ask me to take out, but I only have one shot left in the mag on my rifle and they’ll be on me before I reload. One of the raiders is already waving his friend toward me: flank him; I’ll cover you.

I pull the pin on the grenade. Instead of throwing it, I roll it from under my car toward theirs. It bounces over a loose stone – just high enough that they see it coming – and lands neatly in the cinderblock that’s propping up their car’s engine. Nuclear-powered, as was every 2075 Corvega.

“… I’m in love, I’m in love …”

The glare blinds me. The rush of heat and wind knock me hard onto my back. My counter ticks in panic as the burst of rads blows over me. I stay there, waiting for the ticks slow to one every ten seconds, until I open my eyes.

My legs. stiff with tension, throb in protest as I stand. The surge of nuclear heat in the cool air above the overpass has kicked up an impressive gust of wind. The man I wounded with my first shot is gone. So is the man with the rocket launcher, his rocket launcher, his three clever friends and the cars they hid behind.

There’s no one left on the road ahead. Just me and the dust.

“… I’m in love with a wonderful guy!”

10 Comments on “The Impossible Will Take A Little While”

  1. Ryan #

    It’s very true: after playing so many hours of Fallout 3, I can’t stand not to hear Three Dog on the radio. It’s too quiet. Even in the deserted metro stations, I have to have it playing. Also, I’m now a big fan of the Ink Spots.

     
  2. Punning Pundit #

    My first playthrough, I didn’t repair the radio station, and thus spent a lot of time listening to Enclave Radio. It was actually a rather effective bit of propaganda…

     
  3. Eric #

    “People who are genuinely unsatisfied with civilization don’t write big band music. They write punk.”

    Sorry, but that’s just an embarrassingly bad line. Grow up.

     
  4. Perich #

    @Eric: You’re totally right! “Dissatisfied,” rather than “unsatisfied,” would have worked much better. Thank you.

     
  5. odeed #

    “My first playthrough, I didn’t repair the radio station, and thus spent a lot of time listening to Enclave Radio. It was actually a rather effective bit of propaganda…”

    Yeah, I actually found myself thinking, ‘maybe these guys aren’t so bad after all,’ Eton sounds so calm, and kindly.

     
  6. AtomicRed #

    I love Fallout 3 and reading this article makes it more appealing. Keep up the good work.

     
  7. Sheelagh the vault dweller #

    Very interesting piece.

    However, while it might help make your point, you’re wrong about humanity dying in the Fallout universe. Out west, the NCR has a population of 700,000 along with railroads, factories, electricity, a well-organised army and a police force. While the Capital Wasteland is more lawless, there’s no shortage of people there either (Vault 101, at least, has the lack of genetic viability, something the Overseer admits)

    What are your thoughts of on Enclave Radio? Broadcasting stirring speeches and patriotic songs across the devastated remnants of the nation? Trying to rally the people by talking about stuff they’ll have never experienced, like baseball games? I have to admit, I support the Enclave. Not because of the propaganda, but because of the truth. They have the biggest, most advanced army in the Capital Wasteland. Who better to get rid of the raiders and super mutants (you see patrols in lots of areas doing just this), to use their resources to let people get on with rebuilding instead of just surviving?

     
  8. perich #

    @Sheelagh: good points. I don’t know that the Fallout developers have commented explicitly on the long-term future of the human species in their universe. And they probably don’t intend to. So maybe things aren’t hopeless!

    However, an industrial society (like the NCR and the Enclave are trying to recreate) requires an industrial population base to labor in support of it. 700,000 people may be enough to support a civilization with railroads and factories, but I suspect that’s cutting it really close. London circa 1900 had 6.7 million people. Presuming (pure seat of my pants guesswork) that 15% of them worked in blue collar labor, that’s at least 1 million souls keeping the trains running on time.

    Also, bear in mind when I talk about “the end of the human species,” I mean on an ecological scale of time. It took the last Cretaceous dinosaurs at least a million years to die off. Humans have wrecked the planet far worse in Fallout 3, but even the most pessimistic estimates would give the human race another, say, two thousand years of life.

     
  9. Sheelagh the vault dweller #

    @Perich: Good points too. Don’t forget that the Fallout universe is more advanced than ours, and so automation (specifically robots and AIs) can take care of a lot of tasks. They also have huge advantages in the form of their fusion power sources which means electricity isn’t something that needs as much effort dedicated to it. I suspect this is part of the explanation for how (as my other half wondered) all the lights in the subways and sewers still work – every so often, you come across a small reactor humming away happily in a utility room, as it has done for the last two centuries.

    As we never get to see the NCR running (apart from the capital city) up close it’s hard to say just how well it all works but I’d imagine that it must. Certainly in Fallout 2, the various independent settlements all had a speciality they traded (Modoc had produce, Vault City medicine, Redding gold, Broken Hills uranium, Gecko power, San Francisco weapons) for the stuff they lacked.

    A lot of folks have said that Fallout 3′s nuclear devastation would be more befitting of a world 2 years after the war, not 200. After two centuries, many plant species would have started to regrow and certainly we wouldn’t still have a desert… Point Lookout gives a more realistically overgrown setting. It’s also mentioned that once you get about 50 miles out to sea, the ocean is largely as it is now (and no doubt getting better, given there’s no trawlers scooping up everything in huge nets).