Love Never Changes
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

“War. War never changes...”

I reached up to wipe the mirror off so I could put my make-up on. “Come on, can you turn the hot water down just a little? I’ve had to wipe the mirror off twice so far, and you’re still in there, muttering over that speech.”

The water in the shower quickly cut off. “Sorry, Tina. It’s just...”

“I know, you want to make sure that you have it down pat. You’re the one who gets to speak at the Veterans Hall tonight. You’re the one with all the medals, because you were in combat arms and in the power suits.” My voice sounded a little bitter.

Nathan grabbed a towel and started drying off. “I know, hon, it’s not fair. Hell, you’re just as much a veteran of the Anchorage combat as I am, and I’m man enough to admit you’re a better shot than I am, too. But you were a civilian that got caught up in the fighting while I was actually in the Army. So yeah, I got all the glory ... and you.”

“Well, I still have to finish getting ready, if we’re going to take Shaun out later. Just because it’s Saturday doesn’t mean we don’t still have things to do first.” I slipped my dress on and put on some flats while Nathan moved towards the mirror to shave. He let his towel drop to the floor, standing nude before me.

“Hey, can you think of something good to do this afternoon, like maybe go up to the park like we did in January?”

I rolled my eyes. “Grow up, hero. I just got my body back in shape, it’s going to be a while before Shaun has any siblings.” Shutting the bathroom door behind me, I thought, a long time if I stay married to you.

I walked into the kitchen area, where our Mister Handy robot butler was busy at the counter. “Ah, good morning, Miss Tina. Your coffee, 173.5 degrees Fahrenheit, brewed to perfection. And today’s newspaper, just delivered!”

I picked up my coffee cup. “Thank you, Codsworth. Did you fix a light breakfast?”

“Yes, mum. A slice of fried Cram with a fried egg, on a fresh and lightly toasted muffin.” Using his claw arm, he handed me a plate. From the end of the hallway my son started crying. “Ah, sounds like someone made a stinky! I shall attend to young Shaun.”

Nathan had finished getting ready and passed Codsworth in the hallway. “You know, I was nervous at first, but Codsworth is really good with Shaun.”

I glanced at the morning paper. The headline mentioned that the case was closed on the crime boss, Eddie Winter. “Huh, looks like Eddie Winter was a police informant.” I saw another story. “You weren’t able to get tickets to the Series game, were you?”

“No, even the scalpers were holding onto them for their own use. With us leading the Rangers three games to none, this afternoon will be a nightmare anywhere near the Big Green Wall. I couldn’t even get into our corporate box.”

I took a bite of my sandwich. “Well, if General Atomics can’t get you in, I doubt if my being the lead attorney for RobCo in Massachusetts will pull much ... oh, now what?”. The doorbell was ringing.

Nathan glanced at the door. “It’s that salesman again. I don’t know why he keeps bothering us. But he says he’s here for you, every time, and won’t talk with me.”

I finished my sandwich. “Fine, grab your plate and get ready. We need to get some groceries. I’ll see what he wants.” I crossed to the front door and opened it. An older man, wearing a tan suit and hat, with a clipboard in his hand, was waiting there patiently. Behind him I could see his truck, with the large Vault-Tec placard on the side.

“Good morning! Vault-Tec calling!”

“No offense ... but no soliciting.”

“Oh, no worries, ma’am. Not worries at all! I’m not selling anything. Not today. I’m here today to tell you that because of your family’s service to our country, you have been pre-selected to entrance into the local Vault. Vault 111.”

“Really? What about my family? And why do you have to talk to me, and not the war hero over there?”

“There’ll be room for you and your family, minus your robot, naturally. In fact, you’re already cleared for entrance. My paperwork here shows that you’re very important to RobCo and thus to Vault-Tec. I just have to verify some information is all.”

Well, that was a switch. Normally Nathan was the important one. He’s the one that got us Codsworth for next to nothing. And Codsworth had proved very useful around the house, in more ways than one. “So, what’s so important, and what information?”

“Well, after all, in the unforeseen event of total nuclear annihilation, it wouldn’t do to have paperwork not done, now would it?”

“Fine, let me see your clipboard, then.”

He handed it to me, and I started thumbing through the pages. How about that, I was first on the list. Tina Shannon Wilson, my law degree, when I started working for RobCo, and way too much personal information on the Alaska debacle, my current job title at RobCo. Then Nathan Wilson, a list his military service stations, his combat tours, and all of his medals, and his work title at General Atomics. And finally, Shaun, with his birth date and blood type.

I looked up at the Vault-Tec representative. “Okay, that’s us. I’m rather annoyed that you have all this information already, but apparently someone at your corporation has been talking with my corporate people.”

“I completely understand, ma’am. If this is all correct, then I’m just going to walk this over to the Vault! Congratulations on being prepared for the future!” He bowed a little and stepped back. I watched him walk down the street, towards the pathway that led up to the hill behind Sanctuary Hills subdivision. Nathan came up behind me.

“Things are going to hell in a handbasket, Tina. I hope that we never have to use the Vault, but ... it’s a good thing it’s there.”

I sighed. “I suppose. It’s like insurance, or your footlocker that’s hidden out back. Something that is better to have and not need, than to need and not have.”

He grinned. “Yeah, well, hopefully we’ll never need to use either one.” He started to move closer to me when Codsworth called out from Shaun’s room.

“Miss Tina! Shaun just won’t settle down.”

Nathan raised his voice. “All right, Codsworth, we’ll be right there.” He lowered his voice to me. “Look, hon, I know you’re proud of your job, and your career, and I know that having Shaun disrupted the hell out of those plans. But ... I do love you.”

I sighed. “I know, Nate. It’s just...” I shook my head. “Tell you what. Let’s get Shaun checked out and changed. I bet all he wants is to just be held, and that’s something Codsworth just can’t do. Then I’ll get on the phone and see if there’s any seats in the RobCo box that I can get for us. I am a Vice-President there, after all.”

His eye lit up at that. “Thanks, hon.” He led the way into Shaun’s bedroom. Shaun was fussing and Codsworth was flustered by it. Robot arms could change diapers, but they weren’t designed to pick up infants.

“We’ve got this, Codsworth,” I said. Nathan picked Shaun up and he immediately quieted down.

“Yeah, that’s all the little man needed, just being held, isn’t it? Hey, little bud, do you like the space ship mobile I made for you?” Nathan started bouncing Shaun a little, making our baby giggle now.

I couldn’t help but grin at that. Times hadn’t always been as bad between us as they were now. I don’t think Nate really understood that, that he thought he was still the soldier in the T-51b power armor coming to rescue me. It wasn’t that I hadn’t needed a bit of rescue at the time, it was more like I just needed reinforcements and someone to load for me.

From the living room, Codsworth called out, “Sir, Ma’am, you need to see this!”

Still carrying Shaun, Nate walked out. “What is it, Codsworth?” I followed him out.

The Radiation King television showed the local station instead of the network broadcast. The announcer was saying, “We’ve reports now of nuclear detonations in Washington and New York, with other missiles inbound. Get to your shelters now!”

“Oh, my God. We need to get to the vault, now! Come on, honey!” Nate started running for the door. He barely broke stride as he opened the door. From outside, I could hear the warbling sound of sirens coming from the courthouse in Concord and faintly in the distance from Boston.

I was right on his heels. Our neighbors in Sanctuary Hills were running outside of their homes as well. I saw one of them, Mrs. Rosa, dropping the bags she carried. Her son yelled at her, “Leave the bags, Mom! We need to hurry!” I followed Nate down the pathway behind our homes. There were soldiers along the path waving us along.

Things were chaotic and I almost felt like I was back in Anchorage again, trying to process everything happening around me at the same time. I saw a couple sitting beside the pathway, holding each other and crying. A soldier in power armor was trying to walk up the hill beside the pathway. I could feel the tunnel vision starting to take me, like it had when I was alone in that office building, trying to hold off the attacking wave of Chinese soldiers, before Nate had showed up. I focused on the middle of his back, like I was looking over the sights of the battle rifle I had used, making sure to not lose sight of him and more importantly, Shaun, in the confusion. I could hear a soldier along the pathway yelling, “All Vault participants, this way!”

A tall security fence with a gate blocking the pathway was suddenly in front of us. An Army officer, a Captain by his rank tabs, was arguing with the Vault-Tec representative.

“That’s absurd, I AM Vault-Tec!”

“You’re not on the list. You don’t get in!”

“I’m going in. You can’t stop me!” Beside the Captain, another soldier in power armor leveled his battle rifle. The Vault-Tec representative suddenly raised his hands in fear. “Okay, okay!”

Nate was next. “Nathan, Tina, and Shaun Wilson, Captain. We’re on your list.”

The Captain looked down. “Infant, adult male, adult female ... okay, go ahead. Vault elevator is on top of the hill. Move it!”

As I went by him, I could see in his eyes that the Captain knew what was going to happen to him. I paused for a moment, touching his arm. “Godspeed, Captain, you and your troops. Thank you.”

He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, like he was in pain, then gave a quick nod. He knew his likely future as well. “Good luck, ma’am, and God help us all.”

I followed Nate to the top of the hill. We passed some construction equipment, cranes and bulldozers, that had been hastily abandoned. Piles of crates were scattered about. Several soldiers were surrounding the opening to the vault, a large circle in the ground, with the Vault-Tec insignia painted on it. Several of our neighbors were already standing on the entrance. Trying to comfort Shaun, Nate took a spot in the middle of the circle and crouched down with him, crooning a simple tune.

There were warning sirens starting to blare and from a hidden speaker, someone said, “Prepare for elevator operation. Stand clear. Prepare for elevator operation.”

Through the soles of my shoes, I felt a vibration as the motors powering the elevator started to slowly lower it into the ground. I started to breathe a sigh of relief when the biggest flash of light I’d ever seen before came from the south. Nate looked up from where he was kneeling, a look of shock on his face, then laid down flat on the elevator, covering Shaun. I realized in an instant what had happened near Holliston and dropped to the steel floor myself.

Some of the others on the elevator just looked at us. They realized their error when the first blast wave started to buffet them, debris being picked up and thrown at them. The elevator seemed to quicken its pace in dropping down below ground level, cutting us off from being injured. A couple of the women were crying. I could hear Shaun laughing at the fun ride. I rolled over and looked upwards, seeing the opening in the shaft grow smaller and smaller as we descended further and further into the earth.

After a couple of minutes, I stood up. Reaching down, I helped Nate to his feet. “Well, honey, I guess we’ll be at our new home soon,” he said. Right after he said that, the elevator stopped moving. A safety cage along one side raised up, and some people wearing white lab coats were waving us along.

“Come along, folks. This way. We need to get you changed into your vault suits and do a quick medical exam.”

There was a small metal stairwell leading upward to a platform. From there we went across a narrow metal walkway that passed through a round opening with many slots, like gears almost, in it. That had to be where the main vault door would close. The yellow handrails didn’t look that sturdy to me. A brown-haired man in a blue jumpsuit stood to one side, looking at a console as we crossed. A swinging gateway blocked the end of the walkway.

I looked up. On the wall above, a large sign said, Vault 111 and below that, it read, Welcome Home. Just above where another man stood with a clipboard was a sign telling us to proceed in an orderly fashion. There were two flat pieces of electronic equipment sticking up on each side of the walkway. I heard them making a humming noise as I walked through them. The man with the clipboard said, “Right this way, folks. We’ll get your uniforms issued and then get you ready for your new home. Come along, right this way.”

A smiling woman, also wearing a blue jumpsuit, had boxes open on a table next to her. She looked at Nate and Shaun, then reached into the box and pulled out a sealed, plastic bag with a blue jumpsuit in it and handed it to him. “This one should fit you. Just get changed and we’ll get you on to decontamination. Put your personal items back into the bag so we can get them to you later.” She looked at me and reached into a different box. “Here you go, honey. Get changed and follow the doctor.”

Off to one side was a curtained area. I quickly skinned out of my dress. In the plastic bag was a plain bra, panties, a pair of loafer style shoes, and a blue jumpsuit with the vault identifier in large yellow numbers on the back. I slipped their underwear on over my own, then pulled the jumpsuit and booties on and put my clothes and shoes back into their bag. I handed it to the woman when I came back from behind the curtain and she put it into a box with other bags.

Nate had changed as well, with Shaun still in his blanket. He looked at me and smiled. “Well, you’re looking good in that, honey.”

“Thanks. What’s he saying?” From behind Nate, a man in a white lab coat started talking.

“Come this way, folks. We have a final decontamination procedure for you, then we’ll move you further on, deeper into the vault to your new home. You’re going to love it here; this is one of our most advanced facilities. Not that the others aren’t great, mind you.”

Nate wondered, “How long do you think we’ll be down here?”

The doctor heard and said, “Oh, we’ll be going through all that in orientation. Just a few medical items we have to get through first.”

After a few minutes, the rest of the people were changed and we were all led down a corridor. First one small group, then another was taken into smaller rooms with a group of chambers in them. “Okay, folks, these are special decontamination units that will make sure you don’t have any remaining radiation or other biological hazards that could cause problems. Everyone get into their own pod ... um, Mr. Wilson, you go ahead and carry your son with you, that’ll be fine. The pod will decontaminate and depressurize you before we head deeper into the vault. Just relax.”

Nate tried to smile encouragingly at me. “See you in a few minutes, honey!”

“Right. I’ll take Shaun from you when we get out of these things.”

The pods looked vaguely like giant pet carriers, with doors that came down from above. There were some pipes and hoses running to them, probably for air and whatever else it was that they used for biological and radiological decontamination. A leather covered pad on the back wall gave me something to lean against. I entered the pod and watched as the door closed. A clear viewing port let me see Nate and Shaun in their pod across from me.

A computer speaker inside the pod said, “Resident secure. Occupant vitals, normal. Procedure complete in 5... 4... 3... 2...” The atmosphere inside the pod got cloudy and I felt woozy, like I was falling asleep. I closed my eyes, then I knew nothing.

I don’t know how much time passed. I didn’t dream. From what sounded like a long way away, I thought I could hear the computer voice again. I felt like I had a hangover. Whatever stupid chemicals these idiots had used, had obviously caused a bad reaction in me. I tried to focus on what the computer was saying.

“Manual override initiated. Cryogenic stasis suspended.”

What the hell? Cryogenic stasis? We’d been lied to? I tried to open my eyes, finally managing to do so. It took me a couple of moments for them to focus. I realized it was cold in here. I could see a layer of frost around the outside of the clear view port. The center of the view port was free of frost. It was much darker outside the pod. From a light inside their pod, I could see Nate and Shaun in the pod across from me.

From one side, a woman wearing a full environmental suit, complete with face mask, came into view. I heard a muffled voice through the wall of the pod saying, “This is the one, here.” I saw her arm pointing at the pod with Nate and Shaun in it. A balding man, wearing some kind of harness, walked in front of me and looked at their pod.

He had a harsh, grating voice. “Open it.” The woman did something to the control panel beside their pod, causing the front door to swing up.

Nate leaned forward, nearly dropping Shaun, but managing to hold onto him at the last second. The sudden movement scared Shaun and he started crying. Nate was coughing, trying to catch his breath. “Is it over? Are we okay?”

The balding man said, “Almost. Everything’s going to be fine.” The woman stepped forward, reaching out for Shaun. “Come here, come here, baby.”

Shaun continued crying and Nate wouldn’t let go. “No, wait. No, I’ve got him!”

The balding man brought his right hand up and I could see a very large pistol in it, pointed at Nate. “Let the boy go. I’m only going to tell you once!”

I looked around for a switch to open my pod. There wasn’t one. I started pounding on the inside of the port. Nate pulled back from where the woman was trying to take Shaun from him. “I’m not giving you Shaun!”

A single gunshot stopped the argument. That bald bastard shot Nate, nearly hitting Shaun. The woman grabbed Shaun from Nate’s lifeless hands. “Goddammit! Get the kid out of here and let’s go...” He pointed towards the entrance of the vault for the woman, then came over to my pod. I could see his face; he had a large scar running down one side of his face. “At least we still have the backup.”

The computer voice said, “Cryogenic sequence reinitialized.”

My thoughts were full of anger, but I couldn’t hold onto them as my mind went blank again. Once again, I didn’t know how much time passed, but all of a sudden, I could feel myself starting to breathe again. Only I felt myself being hit with racking coughs, making me bend over as I tried to catch my breath.

The computer voice now said, “Critical failure in Cryogenic Array. All Vault residents must vacate immediately.” The front of the pod opened up, raising above me. My legs felt weak, and I fell to the floor for a moment.

I stood back up and rushed across the aisle. There was a control panel just to the right of Nate’s pod. I found a button on it and pushed it. I heard myself saying, “Come on, come on, come on.” The door raised up, revealing Nate, still frozen, with no Shaun. Damn, I had hoped it was just a nightmare or a weird dream. There was a large hole in his chest where the bullet had gone in. The blood from his body was also still frozen.

I just stood there for a minute, in shock. The computer voice sounded again, barely penetrating my conscious mind. Finally, I snapped out of it. I could see on his left hand that Nate still had our wedding ring on. I reached out and took his hand in mine. His body was starting to thaw, so I could flex his fingers and pull his ring off. “You were a lousy husband, but you didn’t deserve this. I’ll find whoever did this, and I’ll get Shaun back. I promise.”

The lights in here seemed bright to me, but they were actually dimmer than they had been, before. I looked at the other cryogenic capsules. Everyone else in them was dead. A single computer terminal at the end of the hall told the tale, there’d been failures in all the pods but mine. Next to the terminal was a door. I looked at it for a couple of minutes, finally figuring out the controls. My hands still weren’t coordinating with my thoughts. With the sound of activating hydraulics, I got the door open.

“What the hell happened?” A skeleton lay in front of me. I was both surprised that the body had completely decayed and that there wasn’t a stench. The air didn’t have a musty smell to it.

The hallway before me had windows and a door on my left. I could see another room behind it with more chambers in it like the one I’d been imprisoned in. The lights were low in there as well. I opened the door to it and checked the computer console just inside. None of the inhabitants of those chambers remained alive. I didn’t find anything useful in there, either.

Shit, now what? The computerized voice was still calling for everyone to evacuate. I went back into the hallway and paused, thinking for a moment about how we’d come in here. That’s right, it was at the end, to my left. The doorway leading out to the entry was closed and it wouldn’t open. A toolbox with some wrenches sitting on a cart and a small ladder under an open ceiling panel showed that someone had been working on it at some point. There was a thin, even coating of dust on everything in here. I could feel the air circulating, so obviously there was still power to the fans.

I saw something I’d missed earlier, an opening leading off this hallway. A small flight of stairs led upward to another hallway. An open doorway off it led into a room, a sign reading ‘Security’ over the entry, with a working computer terminal on a desk. A filthy ashtray showed that people had been using this room, but the shape of the chairs showed it’d been a long time since someone had sat here. I pulled up a chair, wiped the dust off the screen, and hit enter.

The glowing words on the green screen didn’t seem real to me. They’d planned on us being frozen all along. This was some sick experiment for AFTER a nuclear war? How could they do this? What’s this, a one hundred eighty-day period before they could evacuate, with us icebergs still frozen. Doesn’t sound like it went well for them, and for that body to be down to a skeleton means it’s been a hell of a lot longer than six months.

I found an extendable baton that still worked, so I at least had a weapon in case I ran into anything down here. The squealing of the chair on the steel floor as I scooted back to stand up sounded incredibly loud to me. I guess my hearing was a bit sensitive after ... how long?

I went back into the hall, following it around. There was a window to my left. I could see what appeared to be a power generator in that room, with large transformers coming from the top that were glowing. There were sparks and the occasional arc of electricity coming off the transformers, so it appeared it must not be working right. And ... what the hell is that? In the light of the power arcs, I could see another body on the floor, but there was something else moving.

It looked like a cockroach. It scuttled like a cockroach. But this was the cockroach from hell, at least a foot long, half that wide. “Oh, God, what spawned that?” I turned back down the hallway, finding two more rooms and a closed door at the end. The closed one had a sign over it saying this was the power room. The other two were a barracks of some kind and a small kitchen.

The barracks held several bunk beds and some wall lockers. All the materials inside had decayed to useless rags. The mattresses and beds were possibly usable, but I’d rather not find out. I did find a pillow case that seemed strong enough to carry, so I grabbed it as a bag in case I found anything useful. There was a shower and bathroom off to one side. The shower didn’t work, but surprisingly enough, the sink did. I turned the water on. It ran brown for a few moments, then cleared up. The pressure didn’t seem to drop so I let it run for another minute, then took a drink.

Wow, that tasted good. Of course, it’s the first thing I’ve had to drink in ... well, to me, it was just a few hours ago. To the cells in my body, it was a lot longer. I remembered how, back in Alaska, we’d been on the run and I’d gone almost a whole day without any water. This refreshed me like I’d felt back then after getting something to drink.

Which also brought something else into play. I raised the lid on the toilet. Inside the bowl was bone dry. I tried to flush, with nothing happening. Checking inside the tank, it was dry. There wasn’t a visible water line running to it like in our home toilets, so this was just going to be a convenient spot. I unzipped my jumpsuit, pulled my underwear down, and felt instant relief inside. Things smelled a little off to me, so I made sure and drank some more water once I was done. I suspected I didn’t want any kind of bladder infection.

The kitchen area had some food that scared me. It’s one thing to see a Salisbury Steak package in your kitchen cabinet at home and know it’s got a shelf life of two years, it’s another to see one sitting on a cabinet now, open the package, and it still looks vaguely edible. Maybe if I was starving. Food poisoning also didn’t appeal to me. There were a couple of cups and plates here, as well as some empty bottles with lids, so I could store some food, if I found any, and water for later.

But first I needed to deal with the cockroach from hell.

I went back up the hallway to where the toolbox was located. It took me a couple of minutes and it wasn’t pretty, but using the hammer and screwdriver, I knocked the lid off it while keeping the handle attached. It wasn’t much, but it’d give me a rudimentary shield. After that I went back to the closed door of the power room.

The sound of the hydraulics from the door opening sounded loud to me, but once I stepped into the power room, I realized it was drowned out by the buzzing noise coming from the power plant itself. I readied the baton as I carefully crept further into the room. A walkway went around the perimeter had several crates on it, giving me places for concealment.

The giant roach came closer to where I was hiding. Finally, it was close enough and I lashed out with the baton, smashing it. Well, that’s encouraging, it squished like a regular roach. But ... damn!

The insulators on the power plant seemed to be failing, as some power arcs came flashing out from it. The crates and other metal items in the middle kept the lightning contained, but gave me a sense of urgency about getting out of here before the thing totally failed. In one of the flashes, I could see both the body of several roaches that had tried to cross the middle and failed, as well as another one on the far side still moving.

I had no desire to find out how painful the bite from one of those bastards would be, so I decided to roll the dice and hope the power plant was only in the process of failing and wouldn’t just quit while I was still down here. So, I continued to try to be as stealthy as I could. After a couple of minutes, I made it around to the far side. The roach was sitting there, flapping its wings and trying to feed on the remnants of another, smaller roach that was dead. It ended up crunching nicely as well.

I sighed with relief as the tension left me. An opening led to a flight of stairs, so that was the way I headed. I shouldn’t have relaxed so much, there was another roach on the stairs. It jumped at me, and it was only from the sheer reflex of moving my left hand up with the tool box lid that prevented me from getting hurt. I swung hard at it with the baton, killing it. My hand hurt a little from the bash, but nothing serious, thank God. A second roach was sitting in the corner, flitting its wings. It finally decided that I must be edible and started towards me, but that was too late for it, as I was able to intercept and kill it mid-leap.

The landing at the top of the stairs opened into a room with a large curved desk, several chairs, shelves along a wall, and another skeleton wearing ragged clothing. The roaches had been busy chewing in here, with several of the storage boxes on the shelves looking like they would crumple to dust with a hard sneeze. The lights in here were relatively steady, and as I looked around for more roaches, I noticed a dull blue gleam under the hand bones of the skeleton.

I used the baton to scoot the bones aside. They concealed a 10mm pistol. I picked it up. It still had a full magazine. I pulled the slide back, locking it open, to check things out. Other than being a little stiff, I was surprised that the mechanism seemed fine. I blew some of the dust out. I was rather pleased there wasn’t any rust in the barrel. I didn’t really trust the ammo or the magazine spring, but I also didn’t have much choice.

On the desk was another computer terminal. The roaches hadn’t eaten the wiring, so this one was also working. Before I read it, I searched the room. There was a locked weapons cabinet along one wall, an opening that went into a single bedroom with an attached bathroom on another, and then a locked door on the third. I found more ammunition loose in the bedroom and a few other simple supplies, including a sealed plastic bag with a new Vault Suit in it, but no key for the weapons cabinet.

Muttering to myself about tricks learned as a kid, I pulled a bobby pin from my hair to use as a rake and picked up a small, flat head screwdriver to use as a torsion bar. It took me a couple of tries, but I was able to defeat the lock. Inside the cabinet was a decent supply of ammo, a few Stimpaks, as well as a couple of Jet inhalers. Nasty stuff, I knew some people were hooked on it because for a brief period it would seem to make time slow down for them. But the damage it would do to your body wasn’t worth the trade, not unless you were probably going to die otherwise. I’d witnessed too many troops in Anchorage just use it for regular stuff and then pay the price later to ever want to use it myself.

There was some kind of device on the wall in another locked cabinet, looked like some kind of weird rifle. I didn’t even bother trying to pick that lock, I didn’t want some kind of experimental rifle, I just wanted a good combat rifle with scope.

“All right, this looks like it must have been the office of someone important, let’s see if I can find anything on your computer.” I almost didn’t realize I was talking to myself. It was a habit I’d picked up studying for my law degree, doing my thinking out loud.

“Okay, you were the Overseer. Cryolator, some kind of experimental freezing gun. So, what was going on here? Experimental cryogenics ... they were using us as guinea pigs AFTER a nuclear war? My God...”

I fell backwards into the chair of the overseer. I was only mildly shocked that it didn’t collapse under me, considering the huge shock I had just received. The vault was to remain sealed at least 180 days after a nuclear detonation, then could be evacuated after that, but we were to be left there as unwitting participants. Somehow, I suspected quite a bit more than six months had actually passed.

I don’t know how long actually went by while I just sat there, taking everything in. Finally, though, I realized one other minor detail. The computer screen also had another note on it, about opening the evacuation tunnel. I hit that, which caused the sealed door on the far wall to open.

No more using a tool box lid and security baton as an impromptu sword and shield. I had the pistol I’d first found, plus a second one as back-up. Time to see if I can find the exit to this underground tomb. I went to the door and checked around the corner. Sure enough, there were several of these radiation enhanced roaches ... may as well call them radroaches, for ease of talking about them, even if to myself ... in the corridor.

One thing that had annoyed Nate to no end wasn’t that I was just a better shot than he was, but how much better I was than he. I wondered if being frozen would affect my skills. I took careful aim and gently squeezed the trigger. Nope, still got it. Four shots, four dead radroaches. The corridor curved and I carefully followed it, watching for more of the energetic bastards. I didn’t see any. After it straightened out, I saw my goal, the entryway to the vault.

As I walked up a final flight of stairs, another roach came crawling out from under a skeleton. I shot that one as well. The flat sound of the pistol firing told me that I’d end up needing some kind of hearing protection, too. I stepped over the radroach body and looked at the control panel. I didn’t recognize everything on it, but I did see it would need a connection to some portable ... computer ... maybe like the one on the arm of the skeleton the radroach had just crawled out from underneath.

I picked it up and examined it. I recognized it, a Personal Information Processor 3000 Mark IV, made by RobCo, or as we called them, a Pip-Boy. I remembered doing some of the work on the contract for these, where we sold them to Vault-Tec for the Boston area. If I’d known then what I did now about Vault-Tec, I don’t think I could have done that work.

But doing that contract did gain me access to a tour on how to use one. Let’s see if I remembered how the damned things work. I opened the latch up and then put it on my left arm. After I wiped the dust off the screen, I hit the power button, hoping it still had some juice left. That was one thing about a fusion cell, if there was no drain on it, it should still be good. Something was going in my favor. The power light came on immediately.

The screen lit, displaying Pip-OS v 7.1.0.8, 64K RAM, 38,911 bytes free storage. State of the art for a portable device. My desktop computer was more powerful, but this had a lot of things built in that took up the slack. A Geiger counter, a radio, a flashlight, and most importantly, medical sensors that monitored the health of the user. There also was a local map built in, but I wasn’t sure how useful that would be considering it was ... fuck ... two hundred and ten years since I’d entered the vault.

Jesus, it’s 2287. I wonder how long ago it was that they actually stole Shaun? Last week? Last year? Last ... century?

Well, only one thing to do. Get out of here and see what the situation is topside. The Pip-Boy had a connector on the back. I pulled it out, plugging it into the control console that had the markings on it as door control. A cover over a button popped open when I did that, and I pushed the button. Nothing happened, so I hit the button a little harder. That did it.

From above me, there was some squealing as long dormant metal components started moving. A large device came down from the ceiling and slid forward, plugging into the back of the vault door. It started spinning, making the connections needed, and then started retracting, bringing the vault door with it. Sparks shot up as the metal of the door scraped across the opening. Finally, the huge door was retracted, the sprockets and teeth fitting into a rack that it rolled onto.

At the same time, a metal walkway extended to the entrance of the vault. I could smell ... something ... wafting in from outside. After a moment, I realized what it was. Fresh air. I followed the walkway out and down a flight of stairs. Ahead of me, the elevator was descending, apparently activated when the vault door opened. After a moment, it hit the bottom and the safety cage opened up.

I made sure I had everything I’d gathered up with me, as I had no desire to ever see this place again, then entered the elevator. Time to see the shape of the world. I hit the button on the side, and in my feet and legs, I felt the vibration as the gears kicked in. I looked up at the pinpoint of light above that gradually got larger and brighter. I readied my pistol, to take on whatever this new world would throw at me.

“Oh ... My ... God.”

There wasn’t much else I could say when the elevator finally brought me to the surface. I simply stood there for at least two or three minutes, slowly turning in a circle, stunned by what I saw. I had been a first-hand witness to the carnage and brutality of battle, but that was while it was going on, buildings on fire, the smell of flesh roasting from people trapped or killed in those buildings, the smell of fresh blood as the person crouched next to you gets shot and his blood and brains spill out onto your lap.

This was worse.

Skeletons, some with the remnants of military garb still on them, were scattered about. Most weren’t complete, it was obvious that animals of some kind had at one point or another feasted upon the dead. The green and growing landscape had been replaced by a sickly brown color, weeds and bare dirt in many spots. The security control booth at the entrance to the vault looked battered and partially melted. Several pieces of heavy equipment were still there, rusting and badly damaged. There was even a wrecked vertibird in one corner of what had been a fenced in area. I noted that some of the fences were also down or had holes in them.

Finally, I drew in a deep breath and walked over to the security booth. A medical kit on the wall yielded some basic supplies, a Stimpak and vials of both Rad-X and Radaway. I suspected I would need all three before too long. I’d also have to make sure I had fresh water if I used any of them, that was something I’d learned in Alaska. A Stimpak would make you thirsty, and Radaway would make you pee like a racehorse.

I noticed the glow coming from under the bones of the hand of the security guard. There was a key chain, in the shape of a Nuka-Cola bottle, with a key attached to it. “Huh, that’s odd,” I said aloud. The level of dirt and general rundown condition of the guard post was different, like this key had been placed there at a different time. I wondered if it was what that bastard had used to get into the vault.

I left the guard post and walked around the hilltop. There was a trailer behind the shack that I didn’t remember from when we first went into the vault. It was still weather damaged and beaten up, but again, it didn’t look like it’d been sitting here for more than two centuries. The door was locked. I made sure my pistol was ready and following my hunch, used the key to unlock the door.

I think Nate would have been proud of me, I cleared that trailer just like he’d shown me when clearing a room of hostiles. There were slight differences between military procedure and the police procedure my Dad had taught me. Since it was only me, though, I didn’t shout, “Clear!” once I’d swept the inside for bad guys.

I wasn’t sure quite what to make of what I found inside. A desk and chair yielded some papers that listed the residents of the Vault. It was difficult to make out since the papers were so old and faded, but I thought I could see our names highlighted. Another scrap of paper had a signature at the end of it, the Director. Director of what? The rest of the paper was gone.

More medical supplies and some cans I recognized as military spec purified water were on one shelf of a shelving unit. I wasn’t an expert, but it looked like, from the level of dust, that these things had been sitting here for decades, not centuries. That was sort of encouraging. On the shelf under these goodies was a supply of military rations. I realized that what I’d seen in the trash can were decayed food wrappers, where someone had used this trailer as a base of operations for a short while. A sleeping bag on the floor finished out the rest of the trailer.

This almost raised more questions than it answered. That key was just sitting out in plain view, albeit under the hand of a skeleton, so anyone wandering along could have found it and used what was in here. That ... didn’t bode well for how many people had survived or were still alive. I also wondered if this was where those bastards that killed Nate staged before they came into the vault. Well, if nothing else, this might provide me a secure base if I needed it. I’d just have to see how things went.

Secure base. That reminded me. I’d have to head down the hill, but if things weren’t torn up too badly at the house, I’d be in a bit better shape. I checked the Pip-Boy to confirm the time. It’s late October, so it was going to start getting dark soon. I had been awake for too long, had too much stress, I needed at least a nap. I decided to just say to hell with it for the night. Since the trailer had been undisturbed for so long, I hoped it would stay that way.

Paying attention just to make sure there wasn’t anything lying in wait, I went back out. I went around to the side of the trailer. Looking down the hill, I could see the roofs of some of the houses in our subdivision. Many of them looked damaged, and there were a couple of empty spaces where houses were missing. Looking around to make sure I was undisturbed, I opened the jumpsuit, slid my panties down, squatted and carefully peed. Finishing up, I quickly redressed and went back into the trailer. I shut the door and found that it would lock from the inside.

It wasn’t airtight, I could feel a couple of breezes blowing in from open cracks. But it was good enough. Even though I’d been frozen, I just had had too many shocks to my system, from the nuclear attack to watching my son be stolen to waking up two hundred years in my future. I had to get some sleep. I readied the pistol just in case, locked the door, crawled into the sleeping bag.

My dreams were, to say the least, troubled. I was swinging in my backyard as a little girl, looking up to see my Mother bringing me out a glass of lemonade, and watched our house be destroyed by a nuclear fireball. Then I was in high school, trying out for the school dive team. I climbed to the top of the diving board, went to the end, leaped off, only there wasn’t water under me, it was a huge hole in the ground like the entrance to the vault. I fell and fell into a dark abyss, then things vanished in a flash of bright light. I was in the hospital, giving birth to Shaun. My legs were up in the air, in the stirrups. The doctor was reaching up inside me, pulling Shaun out. Nate was in the background, screaming, “No, push him back in, you can’t take Shaun!” The doctor pulled out a gun and shot Nate, then took Shaun. He pulled his mask down and looked at me. “Beep, beep, you’re the back-up alarm. Beep, beep, beep...”

I woke up, startled. My Pip-boy was making a beeping noise. It was dawn and time to get up.

Before unlocking the trailer door, I spent a couple of minutes listening to make sure there were no surprises outside. It was quiet, but I did hear a couple of birds chirping in the distance. That made me feel a little better, there was still life outside. I used the sleeping bag as a bag to hold the food and water I’d found in here. I left enough for a couple of days as an emergency store. The rest made for a bundle that weighed about twenty pounds. Annoying, but doable.

I emptied my bladder again once outside the trailer, then zipped up, ready to head out. I noticed that my Vault suit sensors were talking to the sensors in the Pip-boy, so I could monitor my health. I knew the suits were designed for that; I simply hadn’t paid attention to it before. I also remembered that Vault suits could, in an emergency, act as diapers, at least for a brief period. For some reason the end of the world as I knew it might have taken some of my attention. I shut that line of thinking down, hard. It would have been very easy to drive myself crazy, very quickly.

I carefully descended from the hill along the pathway I had come up only yesterday. Or rather, two hundred plus years’ worth of yesterdays before. There were some skeletons, a couple of partially melted suits of power armor, and other debris from the decades. The small bridge was no longer standing, so I waded through the small creek. I wondered about the weather. It was late October, but it didn’t feel like fall to me. A few of the trees were still alive, but looked sick. Most of the ones still standing looked dead, and there were a lot that weren’t still standing and had fallen, rotting on the ground.

The houses didn’t look like they’d melted. But the homes, which had been advertised as the ‘House of Tomorrow’, sure looked worse for the wear. Most of them had at least some roof or wall panels missing, a few of them were completely collapsed. I was hoping my house wasn’t collapsed. I just wondered if I’d be able to find the footlocker we’d buried outside of Shaun’s room after he was born, it had some...

“Codsworth?”

The robot, looking a little worse for the wear, said, “Miss Tina! As I live and breathe...”

“Codsworth! You’re still here. So ... other people could still be alive, too!”

“Well, of course I’m still here. You don’t think a little radiation could deter the pride of General Atomics International.”

“I know I saw what looked like an atomic blast just before going into the Vault. The shape of things up at the Vault when I came out ... the bastards really did it. It’s been ... too damn long.”

“Too long? Ah, yes, the garden. I’ve tried to keep things trimmed, but the posies have been problematic. If only Sir were here to help. Where is he, by the by?”

“He’s dead. Someone broke into the vault, stole Shaun, killed Nate. I don’t know how long ago that was, the fuckers had me in cryogenic freezing. Have you seen someone come by any time in the last ... fuck ... two hundred years?”

“Perhaps mum is suffering from hunger induced paranoia? Not eating properly for two hundred years will do that, I’m afraid.”

“No, it doesn’t matter how long it’s been. I feel fine, all things considered. And I just ate something this morning, so...”

“Shall we search the neighborhood together? Perhaps Sir and young Shaun may turn up yet.”

“What part of my telling you that Nate is dead did you not grasp? His frozen and dead body is in the vault if you’d like to come see for yourself. Now, what do you know?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know anything, mum. The bombs came and all of you left in such a hurry. I thought for certain you and all your family were ... dead.” His voice changed to one full of fright. “Oh, mum, it’s been just horrible! Two centuries with no one to talk to, no one to serve. I spent the first ten years trying to keep the floors waxed, but nothing gets out nuclear fallout from vinyl wood. Nothing!”

“And don’t get me started on the futility of dusting a collapsed house. And the car. The car! How do you polish rust?”

I looked around. My house wasn’t in that bad a shape, all things considered. “I don’t suppose you happen to have a shovel, do you?”

“Um, I think I could find one if you need one. But I’m equipped to do gardening work, mum. What can I do to help?”

“Follow me.” I walked around behind the house. Codsworth had kept the grass, what there was of it, trimmed neatly. The grill was still standing, but in pretty bad shape. I noted where it was, three steps out, directly in line with Shaun’s window. I moved it to the side. “Okay, Codsworth. Your choice. Find me a shovel, or dig down, right here.”

He moved closer, bringing one of his arms into play. “How far down should I dig, mum? The requisite six feet deep?”

I was startled. “Oh, no. Nate’s already further down than that, and he’ll stay there. No. If things haven’t changed too much, then ... about two feet down. There’s a footlocker buried here, or there was.”

“Give me a few minutes, then, mum. If something was here, then it should still be here. Other than the occasional attempt at target practice or scavengers seeking spare parts, I’ve pretty much been left alone here.” He started digging, flinging scoops of dirt up and out of the hole. It only took him about five minutes and I heard the noise of his grappling arm hit wood.

“Okay, stop. Let’s be careful here. I don’t know how touchy some of the things inside there are going to be after so long.”

His voice quavered. “Mum, is this ... dangerous?”

“Just back up.” I found a small gardening shovel and bucket in our carport that weren’t rusted away. I got down on my knees and finished clearing the top of the container. The plastic sheet we’d wrapped it in appeared intact. I dug down to the sides and the handles also seemed intact. “Okay, this is heavy. You get on that side. I’ll pick up this one.”

Codsworth helped me get the heavy footlocker up to the surface. “I didn’t know this was here, mum. What’s in it?”

“Hopefully, salvation. Or at least a fighting chance. You know that Nate and I were in the battle of Anchorage. We brought home some ... souvenirs.”

“Oh, mum! Some carvings from the natives, or perhaps something...” He shut up when I pulled the plastic off and opened the footlocker, exposing the still gleaming machinery of death inside. “Oh, I see...”

“Combat rifles, grenades, ammunition, personal combat armor, Stimpaks and other chems, plus rations. We honestly didn’t think the Red Menace would end up here in Boston, but all things considered, it was better to be prepared just in case.”

“Goodness, mum. What were you and Sir thinking?”

“Survival. Oh, not from what ended up hitting. Nate and I discussed this, and we didn’t think there’d be a general war like we apparently ended up having, what they were describing on television before ... well, just before. Instead, we guessed there’d be a smaller one, only a few cities nuked. But there’d be a huge breakdown in the civil authorities, with the central government gone. And of course, even though Nate was a military veteran, once he’d been discharged, he was still considered a civilian. So, he couldn’t publicly have some of this stuff.”

Codsworth said, “Well, I suppose that’s sort of a moot point now, eh, mum? By the by, now that we’ve recovered this, shall we check the area for young Shaun? I’ve ... well, I’ve not really strayed that far from home for quite a while.” He sounded apologetic.

“Have you seen anyone come out of the vault? Armed, wearing strange clothes?”

“The only strange person running around was Ms. Rosa’s boy, running around in his Halloween costume, more than a week early. I swear, the nerve of that woman, leaving her brat unsupervised. Not like you, mum. You’re the perfect mother. And Sir is ... was ... oh, mum!” Now he was distraught.

“Calm down, Codsworth. I’d hate to have to do a personality reset on you. If there’s not been anyone around for a long time, then help me carry this into the house. I can unpack it there, get organized, and figure out what to do next.”

“Very good, mum.” He sounded relieved to have direction in his life now. We carried it around to the front and I stepped inside my house for the first time in literally centuries. I nearly dropped my end as my eyes registered the changes that time had made.

“Set ... set it down here. That’s good.” I took a deep breath. “Okay, give me a minute to look around.” Codsworth moved into the kitchen area while I just took it all in. The first thing that drew my attention was the flag case. The glass was broken out of it, but the flag was still folded inside. The note on the back of the case wasn’t readable now.

Neither was my diploma, although the frame and glass were intact. There had been too much moisture inside. I looked up, and could see holes through the roof all the way to the sky. The only thing I could do was sigh. I walked down the hallway. The bathroom was relatively intact, but stains showed where all my cosmetics had rotted away. It wasn’t any better in our bedroom, the dresser was destroyed and, on the bed, the mattress had disintegrated. I figured that was symbolic of my marriage being gone as well.

I went into Shaun’s room. His crib was damaged, but still standing. I forced myself to walk over to it. His blanket was gone, but the waterproof mattress was still there. So was the Nuka-World space ship mobile, or at least part of it. I just stood there for a while, my tears flowing freely now. God damn whoever it was that stole my son, you have fucked with the wrong woman. I finally stopped. Tears wouldn’t bring him back.

In the corner of the room was one of his outfits. I carefully picked it up, pulling it close to my face. I couldn’t smell him on it, though. Fine. I wiped my face off with it, then put it inside his crib. I vowed those will be the last tears I shed until I have him safe and home.

I headed back to the kitchen. Codsworth was trying to make me some food. “I’m sorry, mum, the refrigerator is broken. So, we’re all out of fresh fruits and vegetables. But not to worry! We have plenty of preservative-rich food. Fancy Lad snack cakes and the like. I’ll surprise you with something. What do you say?”

I glanced down at my Pip-boy. “It’s only been a couple of hours since I ate. And to be honest, I don’t know if I could stomach anything right now. Let’s scoot the remnants of the couch over, so I have someplace to spread this stuff out and take inventory. It’s been months since we ... well, years now ... since we buried it.”

“A bit over 210, actually, mum. Give or take a little for the Earth’s rotation and some minor dings to the ole’ chronometer.” Codsworth used his arms to move the couch towards the wall.

I spent the next half hour emptying the footlocker in an organized fashion. Two sets of full combat armor. Four canteens. Two sets of web gear, with both shoulder harnesses and hip belts. A dozen ammo pouches. Two backpacks with emergency, light duty sleeping bags. A case of Stimpaks and another case of emergency chems. Two combat rifles that were partially disassembled so they’d fit inside the footlocker. Fusion cells to power the night scopes for the rifles. Four cases of ammunition. A case of hand grenades. Two silenced pistols. A case of ammunition for the pistols.

“Honestly, Codsworth, I don’t think Nate ever thought we’d end up needing any of this stuff. But I’m glad I have it, things could be nasty if all I had to depend upon was what I found in the vault.”

“Oh, I completely understand, mum! Only so much one can do with limited materials. But Miss Tina, while I haven’t done much exploring beyond our own neighborhood, I did find something I think might be useful for you.”

“Really, Codsworth? What’s that?”

“Well, Mrs. Rosa and her son were working together to rebuild a Corvega. She had used the insurance money from when her husband died in that accident to purchase the tools to do so. Those tools are still there.”

“I agree that some wrenches and hammers may come in handy, but I don’t understand your enthusiasm otherwise.”

“Well, come see.” I followed him across the street. He pointed at the carport. “You see, mum?”

I saw, all right. I had to let out a low whistle. I knew these were available for industrial and commercial customers, I didn’t know someone had one of them personally. It was a Vault-Tec brand workstation, the variation of the device they’d built for the military. RobCo had done the programming for them, you needed one of our computers to make them work, but with that, you could make almost anything. They had a General Atomics cold fusion generator in them, so they’d run forever. I didn’t understand the process on how they did it. Some nut job from Vault-Tec was basically the only one who did, but I’d seen one demonstrated before, several times.

“Where’s the terminal, to get this running?”

“Ah, I’m sorry, Miss Tina, but that didn’t survive. Perhaps your Pip-Boy might suffice?”

“Codsworth, you’re a genius!” I pulled it up. It only took a few seconds to get the cable from my Pip-Boy hooked up and to interface. “Fuck, yeah!” Everything powered up and I got it working. The menus were small and hard to read, but if I had the raw materials, this station could use the replicator inside to make anything programmed into it. I looked over at the other three stations the Rosa’s had been using.

Along one wall were two workbenches, the first with a drill press and milling table on one end, a vise at the other, with a container holding metal drill bits and some other small tools in the middle, the second with a treadle operating sewing machine and small anvil on it. While they weren’t explicitly labeled, there were two containers with some basic components sitting on the floor at the end of these workbenches. On another wall was a third station. I could tell they’d been using it as an engine hoist, but that wasn’t what it was designed for. It was an original style power armor workbench.

“Mum, in Mr. Russell’s backyard, he had an interesting set-up of chemistry equipment that was hidden behind his fences. I don’t know if that will be helpful to you or not.”

“Oh, yes, it will. I wonder if there’s anything else around, as well?”

“Shall we search the neighborhood, then, mum? Perhaps we’ll find young Shaun!”

I shook my head. “I doubt we’ll find him, but it won’t hurt to look around. Let’s get back to the house. I want to armor up first.”

“Very well, mum,” he said, with a bit of a sniff at the end. I disconnected my Pip-Boy and went back to my old house.

It only took a couple of minutes to put one of the sets of combat armor on. I really wasn’t expecting to run into too much trouble, so I only grabbed a couple of magazines of ammo for my combat rifle. Codsworth made a humming sound as he waited. I decided to pass on the grenades at this point. If there were anything really bad here, it probably would have attacked already.

We started through the neighborhood. I found a couple of safes that I was able to pick the locks on to open. Codsworth got excited in the second house. “My sensors are picking up movement in the house next door! Follow me!” He went heading out, not heeding my call to be careful.

There were three of those giant roaches in the house. I shot two of them with my pistol while he killed one with his laser arm attachment. “I’m sorry, mum, I thought there’d be more here than this. Not just some bugs. Oh, but I am sensing movement in the house across the way!”

“Hang on a second. Let me scope things out first.” He listened to me this time. I took a kneeling position and brought the rifle up so I could see through the scope. “Oh, come on. Not just giant roaches, but giant flies? Shit, that thing is the size of a small dog. And it’s flying? How fucked up did the world become?”

I took careful aim and sent a single .45 round into one of the green and brown bugs. It exploded into a pile of guts and wings. I noticed movement beyond from another one of these bloated flies, and shot it as well. A third started coming towards us. Codsworth moved to intercept it. The fly moved into an almost vertical position, bringing its tail up and shooting something towards Codsworth. It looked like it shot a larva at him, which sounded like it would have hurt if it’d hit me. Fortunately, it just sort of bounced off of my metal butler. I fired again, putting an end to the combat.

“Nothing like a little dust up to get the oil flowing, eh?” Codsworth sounded cheerful.

I grinned. “I suppose. These were easier than the soldiers Nate and I faced in Alaska, anyway. Come on, let’s see if there’s anything else to find that my neighbors left.”

We spent the rest of the afternoon going through the houses. Just behind one house was a doorway in the ground hidden behind some strange looking fruit trees, sort of like an old-fashioned root cellar. It was a bit of a treasure trove, with more food, water, a safe that had some gold and money in it, and additional tools. But what I found most intriguing was something I wasn’t expecting.

On a shelf was an old radio. Just for the hell of it, I flipped the switch on it, and the thing powered up. But what happened next and shocked me, was when I spun the dial and heard music. Even more shocking was when the music stopped. “This is Diamond City Radio. Come ... come visit our spon ... spon ... sponsors. Remember, we’re safe behind the Green Wall.” The music started up again.

Diamond City? Surely not...

I went back to the entrance of the root cellar with the last bit, where Codsworth had been ferrying the things I brought out back to my house, since he couldn’t fit inside. He was just returning. “Codsworth, have you heard of a Diamond City?”

“Not that I’m aware, mum. I wonder what a Diamond City would be like? If the name has anything to do with it, it must be quite nice. Where did you hear of this place?”

“The radio still works. The announcer said that he was with Diamond City Radio, behind the Green Wall.”

“Someone must be making a joke, mum. Anyone in the Boston area would associate a green wall and diamonds with the home of the Red Sox, of course.”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking. So, I think we’ll be heading that way before too long. In the meantime, though, think you’re up to some demolition work?”

“What do you mean, mum?”

“Simple. That workstation needs raw materials. We have an abundance of them in this neighborhood, especially with those houses that are completely destroyed. If we get one of the foundations cleaned off, we should be able to build a decent house in its place.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand, mum. What’s wrong with your house now?”

“As many repairs as it needs to make it livable, well, I think something a bit more basic is in order. Also, something a bit more ... weatherproof. Unless I’m mistaken, winter is on the way and I’d prefer not to wake up with snow coming in through the roof.”

“Ah, yes, snow. Haven’t seen that for several decades now, mum. But I do understand what you mean about the roof. Simply dreadful. I’m afraid that our House of Tomorrow is just not what it used to be.”

“I’ll set up a sleeping bag in the Rosa’s old living room and then start we’ll gathering materials. Use your saw to cut the dead trees and brush down to manageable size, your laser to chunk up the metal from the houses, and your claw to drag them all over to the workstation. I’ll gather the things I can, the tires and other, smaller stuff. If you’re in doubt about putting something into the workstation, then don’t, set it aside for me to decide upon later.”

“I’ll get on that at once, mum!” For a robot, he sounded rather excited to have a purpose again. I knew I had one as well. While Codsworth was demolishing things, I started on modifying the combat armor that we’d stored, adding pouches to it and making sure I could carry more supplies.

I stopped a couple of times to eat and drink some water. Codsworth had found a couple of bottles of Nuka-Cola. I was surprised they were still sealed. He also brought me a couple of boxes full of bottle caps. I stopped him after he brought me the second one. “Codsworth, why are you bringing me these?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, mum, I didn’t think about it, that you wouldn’t know. I’ve seen these being used as the medium of exchange.”

“You have? Where?”

“In Concord, mum. I’ve seen people in that area, and they’re only slightly heavily armed. Last time I checked, they only pummeled me with sticks a few times. I don’t think they’re as put together as I am.”

“I didn’t think you’d gone that far from here?”

“Ah, well, I was hoping to find fresh geraniums, so our garden would be the pride of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, I failed. But that’s when I saw the people there, they were trading with a young woman who had an eyebot carrying some supplies, and they were using bottle caps for currency. So that’s why I’m collecting them for you, mum.”

I rubbed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose. “Codsworth, remind me at some point to have a look at your logic and decision tree matrix. Maybe a little more stress on your timing of these relatively minor but rather important points.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Tina.” He sounded contrite.

“It’s okay. Just ... it’s been a rough couple of days. Remember that, to me, it was only a few days ago that this was still perfect. I need some time to adjust. Maybe just a little too much stress.”

“I understand and I apologize for my behavior, mum. Would it help if I fixed you a nice hot ... oh, wait, I’m sorry, I can’t do that anymore, either. This whole nuclear war is so annoying in being able to be of service to you, mum.”

“Okay, look, just leave me alone for a little bit ... let me get some supper and a good night’s sleep, and we’ll continue this discussion tomorrow.” I left Codsworth collecting and feeding materials to the workstation and went down near the river. I scanned up and down both banks but didn’t see any signs of life. I did see something rather amusing, and at the same time, handy. Sticking up from the water was a toilet bowl.

It wasn’t wedged into the sand too deep, so I picked it up and moved it to where it was supported by two pieces of steel, while still over running water. The Vault suit was actually capable of processing waste materials in an emergency, but things would get rather raw after a while. And my panties would be ruined, although with the workstation I should be able to make new ones, now. I found an old cooking pan in the debris that would still hold water, and dipped it full. Using the impromptu toilet, without having to really watch to make sure I didn’t pee or crap on my clothes, made me feel a bit better. I used the water to wash myself off a bit, too.

My Pip-Boy made a clicking noise to let me know the water wasn’t quite pure, but the exposure from the radiation in the water wouldn’t actually be a problem as long as I didn’t drink it. It was perfectly fine for washing my butt after I had a bowel movement.

I felt a bit better. I went back up to the Rosa’s house, where Codsworth was diligently working. “Mum, I took the liberty of preparing a light meal for you,” he said.

I could hear in his tone that he was apologetic. “Thank you, Codsworth. I appreciate it. Good night.”

“Sleep well, mum.” He returned to the demolition work.

I carried the food inside. It smelled good, anyway. I realized that he’d taken some of the meat from one of the bugs we’d killed and cooked it, I guess from the flame and heat of his own thruster. There had been some odd fruit that he’d also cut up for me, too. That and a bottle of beer we’d found made my supper. I quickly ate, then stripped down and got into my sleeping bag. I fell asleep to the sound of Codsworth humming while feeding materials into the workstation.

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