Love Never Changes
Chapter 3

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

The next two days were busy for all of us. Sturges hadn’t been lying, he really was able to take a lot of things that looked broken to me and fix them. With my being able to use the workstation to create new items out of raw materials to support what he could fix, there were soon weatherproof shelters set up for everyone, with room for the community to expand.

The afternoon of the second day, Mama Murphy came up to me while I was running a batch of wall panels. “I got a favor to ask ya, kid. I know it’s silly, but I need a chair. Something with a nicer fit for these old bones. Can you do that for me?”

“Yeah, probably. I’m guessing this isn’t just because you don’t like what we have now.”

She sighed. “I know it’s odd asking for a fitted chair in this day and age, but it’d really help me out, kid. The ‘Sight’s’ been real exhausting lately. Got aches and pains even when I’m lying down. And with you heading out tomorrow, I’ll be able to help more once I can sit down.”

Preston had come up, to help carry some of the panels. “No! Mama Murphy, we talked about this. That junk ... it’s going to kill you.”

Mama Murphy chuckled. “Oh, shush, Preston. We’re all gonna die eventually. She’s gonna need the ‘Sight’. I need to do this. I’ve ‘seen’ it.”

“Look, I can program in a comfortable chair for you, it’ll be made in a just a few minutes. But I don’t want you killing yourself to try to help me with the ‘Sight’. It’s not worth it.”

“The ‘Sight’ can help you, kid. It always has answers. I know how you’re tied to this place. Your energy, your life, was here. I saw you leave that ice box. This whole world is like some bad dream you can’t wake up from, isn’t it?”

“Damn.” I couldn’t look at Preston. “You’re right about that, Mama Murphy. But one time, and only one time. After that, I want you to quit using chems. What do you need, other than this newly made chair?”

“Some jet will do it for me, kid.”

Preston sighed and gave in to the inevitable. “I figured this would happen. Here, Mama. I have some that I found in one of the houses.”

I set the newly made chair up in the middle of the garage. She moved her old frame into it, sitting down and settling in, almost like Dog walking in circles before he lay down at night.

“Oh, yeah, this is a really good chair, kid. Thanks. Now, Preston, let me have that inhaler.”

He reluctantly handed it to her. She put it to her mouth and squeezed down on it, taking a deep breath while she did so. She gave a little cough. “Oh, lord ... that’s pure. Gonna be an interesting trip.”

After a moment, she spoke again. “Diamond City holds answers, but they’re locked tight. You ask them what they know, but people’s hearts are chained up with fear and suspicion. That ... that’s what you need to do, kid. Follow the signs to the bright heart. You’re looking for a man, but he ain’t gonna be the man you expect. He’s somewhere deep, and dark. Surrounded by folks with nothing but cruel intentions. When you meet the fat man and the angry woman, tell them to ‘remember the Quarry and Lily June on the rocks’, and they’ll let you and your friend pass.”

Her head fell forward, and she coughed a couple of times. “Whew. Wow, that ... that took more out of me than usual. I’m gonna need to rest now, kid.” She started snoring.

“That make any sense to you, Preston?”

“Yes and no. Obviously, there’s something or someone in Diamond City that knows what you’re looking for. And remember that phrase she said. When she’s that specific with something, then you’ll need to know it.” He saw the disbelief on my face. “Look, I know it seems weird. But you said it yourself, she knew the name of your son. I don’t begin to understand how she does it.”

“Yeah, I know. All right. I think we’re pretty much done here for now. I’ll get back as soon as I can. I set this place up as a pretty good base camp.”

“That you have. Good luck tomorrow.” He looked like he wanted to give me a hug. I turned away from him before he could move, heading for my room and my bedroll.

I got up the next morning, ate a quick meal, and made sure I had my weapons and gear ready for at least a week. I got into my repaired and modified power armor and looked at Codsworth. “You ready to head out?”

“Of course, mum. Are you sure I’m the man for the job, as it were?”

“Right now, there’s no one, other than Dog, that I’d want at my side. And he’s not that great of a conversationalist, if you know what I mean.” Upon hearing his name, Dog barked joyfully.

“I understand, mum. So, we’re heading for this Diamond City, then?”

“Yes. Let’s go.” I started walking towards the bridge.

Preston came walking up, being on patrol. “Can I ask you something?”

“You just did.” My attempt at humor fell flat. He just stared at me. “Go ahead.”

“Sorry. Just ... did I do something wrong, something to make you mad?”

“Preston, think about it for a minute. Think about me for a minute. How long has it been, to me, since I watched my baby being kidnapped, my husband shot down in cold blood, literally my entire world destroyed in nuclear fire? Do you maybe think that I don’t know you were flirting with me? Do you need a big sign that says, hey, I’m not ready?”

He stopped in his tracks. “Oh, I didn’t...”

“Of course, you didn’t. You’re a man. I’ll be back. Keep in mind that this is my home.” I kept on walking, leaving him standing.

As we crossed the bridge and neared the Red Rocket, Codsworth said, “The end of the world is more like a new beginning, eh, mum? I won’t let you down.”

“Like men in general? I appreciate that you’ve been rather discreet since I showed back up, not mentioning our ... games ... from before. All in all, I’m just as glad to be on the road now and away from the bullshit that was building back there.”

“Ah, yes. I wasn’t sure if you’d want me to say anything, mum. It has been a rather long time for me, and I’m afraid all of the extra items have decayed over time. I know you said that I was ... well, more than adequate ... but that’s not something to help build my own self esteem. Oh, mum, I’m detecting something in behind the station.”

“Let’s take a look.” We went down the hill. There was a tunnel leading into the ground behind the station. I readied my gun and we entered. It turned out to be a lair with some more of those mole rats in it. We quickly finished them off, and I found something precious. A full fusion core for the armor. “Very good. Let’s head on into Concord.

I was watching to all sides as we went through Concord. I was also keeping an eye on the power gauge in the armor, getting an idea on how rapidly the fusion core was being depleted. Having another core would come in handy. “Keep in mind, my old friend, that I said I ended up getting married because I had gotten drunk and gotten pregnant. No one ever noticed that I didn’t actually love Nate.”

“You ... didn’t love Sir? Mum?” Codsworth sounded distressed.

“Affection? Sure. Gratitude for saving my life. Certainly. But love? Not hardly.”

“I guess I’m a bit confused, mum.”

“I’ll explain later. What’s going on up ahead? Isn’t that the Drumlin Diner?” I could hear a man and woman shouting at each other.

“We had a deal, Trudy! Hand over the goods. You owe us!” The man was standing outside the diner with a companion. Both of them were holding some primitive looking weapons, pointing them towards the diner.

From inside, a woman yelled back, “I ain’t giving you poison-shilling chem pushers anything! Do you know what that junk has done to my boy?”

“He bought them fair and square. Ain’t our fault if he’s strung out!”

I decided to see if an intervention could help here. “Hey, what’s going on here?”

“Whoa, whoa there, Miss Power Armor. This doesn’t concern you!”

“It does if I say it does. Now how about you back the fuck down for a minute and let’s see if this can get resolved peacefully.”

He looked at me in shock. “Oh, uh, yeah. Sorry. Look, go talk some sense into Trudy and I’ll pay you. Say, 100 caps. She owes me for some chems her son bought.”

I walked into the diner. An older woman was standing by the door, holding a shotgun. I could see a young man, curled up and sitting along one of the walls. “I’m guessing you’re Trudy? What’s this all about?”

“Oh, that chem pusher didn’t tell you? He got my boy hooked on jet, sold him a ton of junk on ‘credit’, and now he expects me to pay him off. Get rid of Wolfgang. I don’t know what he’s offered you, but I’ll pay you 100 caps to kill that jet selling scumbag!”

“He offered me that just to talk some sense into you. Seems like a low price for a man’s life.”

“I’ll sweeten it, then. 200 caps. And this place may not look it, but caravans come through here, okay? You help me, we can trade for whatever you need.”

Trudy easily heard the disgust in my voice. “I’m calling it, right here. This world can officially bite my ass.”

She chuckled a little. “You got that right. But Wolfgang out there means business. And he fucked with my son. Tell me any mother wouldn’t defend her son.”

I felt the huge blow to my stomach, like I’d been punched. Things almost went into slow motion for me. Codsworth started to say something, but before he could finish the first word, my rifle was at my shoulder and two bullets went out. One into Wolfgang, one into his assistant.

Trudy looked at me, almost in shock. “Oh, uh, wow. Uh ... yeah, here’s your pay.” She just pulled out the caps and handed them to me. “Thank you.”

I walked out to where the two bodies lay. Wolfgang had several different chems on him. I stripped both bodies of anything useful. “So, you said we could trade, right? Seems that I have some things here to trade with now.”

“Um, sure. Here’s what I have.” I traded my new acquisitions with her for more caps and a couple of Stimpaks. As I turned to leave, she said, “Thanks again. It’ll take my son a while to get off the chems, but we’ll make do. We always do.”

I continued heading south, following the road. Codsworth spoke up after we’d left the area of the diner. “Miss Tina, I do hope you know what you’re doing. Things are quite a bit more violent than I was expecting.”

“I think we’re in good shape, Codsworth. Do you have old American history in your memory banks? Specifically, the old west?”

He was silent for a moment. “Ah, yes, I see what you mean. But with the addition of radioactive monsters, in addition to the usual human ones.”

I looked ahead through my scope. There were some human figures ahead. They were hideous. Looked like their skin had melted from them. After a moment, I realized that these must be the ghouls that Preston had warned me about.

“Speaking of those, are those some of those ghouls near that wrecked train up ahead?”

“I believe so, mum. Shall we go around? They seem to be somnolent.”

“Nope. Look at what’s on the back of that flatcar.” I had spotted a cage with a set of power armor in it. “Let me get a little closer and see how many I can take out.”

It turned out that there were only three ghouls, resting around and under the train cars. I killed two of them, Dog grabbed the third by the leg and while it was trying to shake him off, Codsworth used his saw blade attachment to cut it up. I let Codsworth loot the bodies while I started working on the terminal attached to the cage. It took me a couple of tries, but one of the default RobCo passwords worked.

“Very good, mum. I didn’t know you were a computer hacker.”

“I’m not. Not really. Vault-Tec isn’t the only corporation that had dirty little secrets, but I don’t think ours at RobCo were quite as bad as human experimentation. One thing that wasn’t generally well known was that RobCo software has diagnostic access available. ALL RobCo software. And while someone else may make the hardware, the actual operating system that runs the hardware was written by a RobCo programmer.”

Codsworth sounded a bit distressed. “But that would mean that you have access to my software, too.”

“Not to belabor the obvious, but that’s a given. But you’re family, Codsworth. So, don’t worry your circuits about it, not as far as you’re concerned.” I opened the door to the power armor cage. “I’m going to pull the fusion core from this armor. I know you can’t haul the power armor frame, but do you have the capacity for the three pieces here?”

“Yes, mum. Just strap it onto my back.” He spun around, showing me the hard points.

It only took a couple of minutes to get him hooked up and ready to go. We continued southward, towards the river. To the east, I could see some smoke rising from the stack at the Corvega plant. I stopped for a moment, checking through my rifle scope. It was pretty far away, but I could see movement on the roof, and from the position of the arms of the people walking, I could tell they were carrying guns.

“Let’s avoid getting too close, Codsworth. And ... that’s also a column of smoke coming from ahead, too. I think that’s where an old junkyard was. Let’s sneak as best we can between them, shall we? At least the road goes this way.”

“Discretion is the better part of valor, mum.”

There was assorted debris along the road and a couple of vehicles, including a military troop transport. I looked at that one. “Okay, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. It shows that the fuel level is still good. Why can’t I just start it, and we can ride in style?”

“There wasn’t just one bomb that hit south of town. You would have already been below ground by then. There were several more bombs that hit. A lot of electronics just quit working, due to the electromagnetic pulse. I think that the only reason I survived so well is that I was inside the house when more bombs fell, and the metal frame of the house protected me.”

“That actually make sense. I bet there’s places that were underground, like the Vaults, that might still have lots of working electronics.”

We started going down the hill, approaching the Charles River. I looked both left and right, before finally deciding to avoid Cambridge for now. “Let’s head this way. I don’t want to try to get through town, and it looks like there’s a standing bridge to cross the river. I don’t think these suits are that buoyant.”

“No, mum, I rather think that unless you know how to breathe water, or have an internal air supply, you’d be walking across the bottom. As for me, well, water and robotics don’t exactly mix well.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. How about beer?”, I asked as we started across the bridge.

“That’s an odd question, mum.”

“Just curious. I don’t see any guards walking around on the roof. That’s the Beantown Brewery up ahead.” A large, three story building with an assortment of piping running up the outside was to our right. “Not sure how good the beer would still be after all this time, and I really don’t want to find out.”

We avoided the brewery, going around it to the south. I stopped again, thinking about which way to go. I thought about just following the Charles into town, but after a few moments, decided to follow the railroad tracks, instead. It was a quick climb onto the embankment. My decision was immediately rewarded by being able to see in a fairly straight-line due south.

We’d been walking for a few minutes when I saw an old railroad switching tower to the side of the tracks. I noticed two women, digging in the ground, tending to some crops. They saw us and stopped what they were doing, watching us warily. I raised my hand to them in a peaceful greeting. The darker one carefully waved back.

I took my helmet off, so they could see my face. “Ladies, in case you need assistance in the future, I come from Sanctuary. There’s people there that want to help others, against Raiders or anything else that disrupts a resumption of normal life.”

“Normal life? We’re doing what we can to survive here. There’s Raiders that live in the old Brewery, but they pretty much leave us alone. But ... thanks for the offer, anyway.”

I kept on going after putting my helmet back on. The tracks went through some overgrown woods, and there were some very weird looking ferns growing close to the tracks. They were almost glowing, which made sense if they had been irradiated. I heard Dog start growling. While I didn’t see anything to either side, that was enough of an alert for me to ready my rifle from the carry position.

From the wood line, about twenty yards away, a large bear came rushing out. I quickly took aim and started firing. I wasn’t sure what kind of bear this was, but it shared many characteristics of the bears I’d seen in Alaska. Shoot the things and they don’t realize they’re hurt, and even if you hit them with a killing shot, it still takes them a while to actually die. Which meant that the damned thing managed to actually get right up to me and run into me before it finally died.

The only thing that saved me from being seriously hurt was that I was wearing a full set of power armor. If I’d been in just regular combat armor, having about eight hundred pounds of bear sitting on me would have hurt ... a lot. As it was, some warning lights kicked on, indicating that my leg armor had received a bit of damage, and I knew I was going to have serious bruises.

Now that I had time to look at it, I realized that it wasn’t ... quite ... a bear. Maybe a bear that had been crossed with a hyena or something. The head was more elongated than the bears of Alaska, narrower towards the mouth.

“Well, that was exciting, mum. Are you all right?” He helped me move the bear off my legs.

“Yeah. Who’s a good Dog? Yes, that’s right, let me know the bad monster was coming so I could kill him, right? Good boy.” I reloaded my rifle, slung it, and pulled out a knife. “Come on, Codsworth. Lend me a hand, or in this case, your blade. Time to cut some steaks from this ... thing. Dog here just earned his reward of fresh meat.”

“Oh, um, yes, mum.” Codsworth used his blade and laser cutter to get some chops from the bear-like creature. He held one of them in his pincer, not knowing for sure what to do with it. After a moment, he moved it closer to Dog. With a quick snap, Dog took it from him and started eating heartily. Codsworth cut another, smaller one, then hovered over it, allowing his thruster to cook it.

“Thank you.” I pulled my helmet back, and bit into the steak. Not bad, a little gamy, sort of like venison, but not with the grainy texture of beef. Decent enough, and it let me save some of my own rations. I drank some water, then finished up. “Okay, let’s get back on the road. I want to get due west of the stadium, then head east.”

The tracks crossed a road. I could see some armed people on a bridge to our west as we did so, but they didn’t see us, so I left them alone for now. The tracks curved, with another switching yard and rail tower ahead. Several freight cars were also in this area. As we got closer, I could see some people walking around the freight yard. I stopped, bringing the scope of my rifle so I could examine them from a distance.

These were more active ghouls than before, wandering around, like they were feral animals. I took careful aim at the closest one, the crosshairs of my scope just over its ear. The drop of the bullet at this range meant it went right into the ear. Hydrostatic shock blew the top of its skull off.

The noise of the exploding head brought several more of these ghouls to life. They all started moving towards us. I felt myself get into my shooting zone again, servicing the targets downrange. None of them made it closer than 40 feet from us. There was one last one almost running towards me, only this one was glowing like a firefly. I shot it, but it kept on coming, and it was faster than it looked. I got another shot off, then Codsworth moved between me and it.

The glowing one swung at Codsworth, which seemed to irritate my companion. “Have at you!”, he loudly said, in about as close to a yell as a robot could make. With that, he spun his saw blade forward, slicing through the legs on the ghoul. That dropped the ghoul to the ground, but didn’t actually kill it. I put another round into its head, which was enough to kill it.

“Stay back, mum, this one is rather hot, and I don’t mean that in a heat way.”

“Understood, Codsworth. See if there’s anything worthwhile on the body. I don’t want to hang around here too long.”

He took some blood samples for examination later. Dog found a box inside one of the boxcars that had some usable medical supplies. I stopped for a moment and looked around. “I’m not totally sure, but I think we should be able to head due east from here.”

We changed direction. The terrain was a little rougher than normal. At the top of a hill, I could see the edge of town. The light standards over the stadium were visible in the distance through some of the rubble. I could see a bit of a mist rising from the Chestnut Hillock Reservoir, down at the bottom of the hills. Some ramshackle buildings, barely shacks, caught my eye.

As did something a bit more refined. Coming down the hill, I muttered, “What the hell?” There was a building that looked just like the guard shack at Vault 111, along with several ramshackle buildings as well. Turning towards the hill, I saw an opening in the side of the hill with two spotlights over it.

“Codsworth, do you have the locations of other vaults in your data files?”

“No, mum.”

“I wonder if these shacks are here from people trying to get salvage from inside. If so, there probably isn’t anything left.”

“But, Miss Tina, from what you said, doesn’t it require a Pip-Boy to open a Vault door from the outside?”

“You’re right. This could be interesting, then. Dog, do you smell anything bad inside?”

He barked playfully and just wagged his tail. Well, that was encouraging. I hit the switch and turned my headlamp on, then went into the opening. After a few feet, I realized that I didn’t need the lamp and turned it off. There were working lights inside. The shaft led downward a bit, then opened into a large cavern, with the floor changing from rock to an actual grating for flooring with railings. Across the floor of the cavern, I could see the actual Vault door. It had the number 81 in the middle of it. But what got my attention were the spotlights and gun turrets that flanked the door.

“Huh. These things are still active. I wonder if this is where the people came from that took Shaun. Let’s find out.” I walked up to the console. It had a spot on it for the cable from my Pip-Boy to connect. The power armor I was wearing made it a little difficult to get to the plug and cable, but not too bad. I plugged it in. The console still had power and my Pip-Boy quickly interfaced with it.

I was puzzled when the cover over the door switch didn’t open. I was shocked when a man’s voice came from over the speaker. “Hold it right there, Vault 81 security. I don’t know how you got hold of a working Pip-Boy, but you better start talking.”

“Vault 81? You’re still up and running, after all this time?”

He was rather sarcastic. “Yep, pretty good observation there, genius. Everyone wants to get to the shiny red button. But you’re the first one to try with a working Pip-Boy. Now where did you get it?”

“Well, it’s good to see that I’m not the only survivor, then. I got it in Vault 111.”

“Survivor? Vault 111? Haven’t heard of that one yet. And what sort of business are you looking to take care of here in 81?”

“What’s with the third degree?” If he could be suspicious, so could I.

“It’s called protocol. Think we let just anyone in here? Think again. Now ... oh ... hello, Overseer.”

A pleasant-sounding woman’s voice came over the speaker. “Who is it, Edwards?”

At least I had a name to go with the voice, which now sounded a bit more docile. “Ma’am, some new Commonwealth trader, not one of our usual traders.”

I heard the woman say, “Well, if someone wants in, they can earn it like everyone else.”

I decided to appeal to her. “But I’m a fellow Vault dweller. Can’t you just let me in?”

Edwards now sounded sheepish. “Excuse me, Ma’am. Before you arrived, she did say she was from Vault 111, and she’s in possession of a working Pip-Boy. Would have opened the door if I hadn’t picked up on it, actually.”

“Is that so?” The Overseer sounded intrigued. “I’m going to allow it. Edwards, open the door and make the announcement. Officer Edwards and I will meet you at the entrance.”

With that, the warning lights started flashing, a siren sounded, and then the Vault door started to slowly open. It was obvious that the door hadn’t been lubricated recently, as the sound of metal grinding on metal and some sparks attested when it was pulled open. The huge Vault door rotated out of the way. I walked from where the remote was to the opening of the Vault. In this respect, it was similar to Vault 111, with a metal catwalk bridge extending from inside. I could see several people inside, most of them wearing blue jumpsuits.

Very carefully, I clanked across the bridge. It was sturdier than it looked, easily holding my weight. There were three people standing on the far side of the bridge wearing blue jumpsuits. Two of them were wearing helmets and had ready weapons at their side. The third was a striking looking woman with rich, brown hair. She stepped forward as I finished crossing.

“I’m Gwen McNamara. Overseer. Welcome to Vault 81. Although that power armor might make a few people nervous.”

“Ah, sorry about that, I wasn’t really sure what kind of introduction I was actually going to get in here.” I opened the power armor and stepped out. “I’m Tina Wilson.” I held out my hand.

Her eyes opened a bit wider, seeing my blue Vault suit under my combat armor. She took my hand and shook it. “I didn’t actually believe you might have been from a Vault, but now that I see the suit and your Pip Boy ... Is this Vault 111 you mentioned still operational?”

“No, not anymore. It’s ... look, Gwen, is there some place we can discuss this privately? I’m still catching up on things in the Commonwealth and seeing a fully operational Vault is one of the last things I thought I’d find.”

She smiled sympathetically. “Of course, Tina. Come with me.”

One of the security guards said, “Ma’am, what about her dog and, uh, friend here?”

Gwen said, “I’ll allow it, Edwards. Security is extra mindful as it is.”

“Just a second.” I pulled the fusion core from the armor. “These are hard to get, and the power armor drains them too quickly.”

“Tell me about it. That’s normally how we have people earn their entrance here, they have to bring us three of them.” Gwen started walking towards the rear of the entrance. “I’d like to say that we’re totally self-sufficient, but we’re not.”

About that time a small cat came running from the back. “Ashes!”, one of the guards yelled. “What are you doing up here?” The gray cat started to dart between all our legs. Dog jumped to the side, in front of the cat and let out a bark, causing the cat to stop in its tracks. I reached down and picked it up by the scruff of the neck.

“Hello, kitty. I’m guessing you’re not supposed to be up here.” I cradled him in my arms and starting petting him.

The guard came up and apologized. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t know how he got away from Erin and came up here.”

Gwen smiled at her. “Don’t worry, Officer Green. We’ll take him back down.” She turned to me, still smiling. “You and your dog have helped one of our residents already.”

We passed a couple of people working on something behind open panels. There were several radiation monitors set up in a row like I’d seen in Vault 111. A man in a lab coat was standing at the end of the row. He frowned, looking at the results. “Overseer, the results from the dog and the robot are normal for our Commonwealth visitors, so there’s no issue with them. But these results are unusual for the lady.”

Gwen paused. “Are her levels too high?” I could hear the concern in her voice.

“No, ma’am. They’re too low. They’re even lower than ours. This is almost like she’s never been exposed to anything.”

“Yeah, that’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about.” At hearing me say that, Gwen nodded.

“Very well. Carry on, and thank you for your diligence.” She led us into an elevator, then pushed the down button. Dog whimpered a little at the feeling as it dropped and continued down for almost a minute. It stopped and then the door opened.

“This must be the normal depth, that’s about how long our elevator ride took. Although our entrance was above ground, not inside a cliff face.” I stepped out into the foyer. This Vault looked much different inside from 111. There was a two-story atrium, with walkways around the upper level and different rooms and corridors leading from it. I could see a common area with a cafeteria downstairs.

“I suppose so. You’re actually the first person from another Vault that we’ve met.” A young boy ran up to us. “Hello, Austin. Sorry, our visitor won’t be available to take your tour right now.”

“Okay, Overseer.” He started to turn, then spun back. “Hey, is that Ashes?”

I said, “That’s what the officer upstairs called him. Is he yours?”

“No, he’s Erin’s cat. Do you want me to take him to her?” I handed the cat over. “Wow, I’ll tell her Ashes was rescued by our visitor from the Commonwealth. She’ll flip!” He hurried off with the cat in his arms.

“Are you all right?” Gwen touched my arm.

I blinked back some tears. “Sorry. Normal kids. As I said, I’ll explain.”

“Come on, this way.” She led me around the walkway on the right. An overweight man was working on something behind a panel. He looked up as we approached.

“Come on, Gwen. My guys have been working doubles for weeks now. They need a break.” He sounded frustrated.

“Everyone’s working hard right now, Cal. You think I don’t know that? Just ... do the best with what you can.”

“Fine. I’ll see what I can do. But you and I both know we can’t keep going on like this.”

I interrupted. “You guys have been living here for over 200 years. This place is bound to be in decline.”

That brought a chuckle from him. “You must be one of those politically correct types. Old 81 here, she’s a straight up wreck. Pretty solid for a while, easy enough to keep up with her needs. But these last few years or so? Damn, she’s got feisty!”

I could see Gwen getting angry. Before she could say anything, I said, “Hey, I don’t know what all you need here, but I do know where there’s another Vault that we might be able to scavenge parts from that would help.”

He looked at me closely. “Yeah, I just realized you’re wearing blue, but you’re not from here, are you? I don’t suppose the people that live there now would let us, though.”

“It’s empty, now. I was the last one living in there other than some bugs. I’ll talk this over with Gwen, if you don’t mind.”

“Damn, little lady. You get me some tools and replacement parts, even if they’re used, and I’ll be happier than Holt Combes sneaking around with Tina DeLuca.”

“Calvin, that’s enough!” Gwen did get mad at that. “Sorry about that. We don’t need to go over our dirty laundry right now.” She started walking again, steaming mad. I followed her around the corner, down a short hallway and up a flight of stairs. A security guard was waiting in an outside office. She headed by him, into her office.

I looked at Codsworth. “Would you mind staying out here, with Dog?”

“Of course, mum. I’m sure the security officer and I will get along famously.”

I followed Gwen into her office. The door slid shut behind me. She was standing at her window, looking out over the atrium, her arms crossed. “Sometimes I hate this job.”

I sat down and waited for her. I’d been in corporate meetings like this before. She took less time than I thought she’d need to turn around, a wry smile on her face. “Sorry about that, Tina. I know we’ve just met, but ... there’s just something about you. Would you like some coffee?”

“You have fresh coffee? Yes, how many Raiders do I have to kill for a cup?”

Gwen moved to her coffee pot and poured two cups. She motioned at the extras and I shook my head. I took the cup and just let the aroma take me back.

“See, that’s what I mean. You obviously know coffee; I can see it on your face. But there’s just something else about you.”

I took a sip of the liquid ambrosia. “Perfectly fresh ground coffee, instead of instant. It’s been ... a long time. So, where do I start?”

“You said something to Calvin about you being the last one living in your Vault?”

“Yeah. How much do you know about the history of Vault-Tec?”

“The history of ... well, they built the Vaults, of course, in preparation for the nuclear war that ended up happening. I sometimes wish they’d built this one larger than it is. The most we can hold here is 96 people, and starting with the third Overseer, we’ve had to institute mandatory population control to keep it around 80 total residents. I sometimes wonder if they knew we’d still be operational after 200 years.”

“No, they didn’t. They probably didn’t expect anyone to be alive in here after a dozen years or so, at most.”

She looked startled. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t think Vault-Tec was being altruistic in making the Vaults, hoping for long term human survival. They made the Vaults for short- and long-term experimentation ON humans. I found this information on the Overseer’s terminal in Vault 111.” I pulled up the holotape I’d made.

‘Confidential, Security Eyes Only – Vault 111 is designed to test the long-term effects of suspended animation on unaware human subjects. Security staff are responsible for maintaining installation integrity and monitoring science staff activity.’ Another entry read, ‘Residents not accounted for in the manifest should be asked to step aside and detained forcefully by security if necessary. Once all residents have been sealed in their preservation chambers, dispose of any detainees.’ The final instruction entry read, ‘Life saving intervention is only permitted if greater than 80% of the resident population has perished while in cryogenic suspension, and must not interrupt suspension.’

“Oh, my God. I never dreamed it was that bad. But ... cryogenic suspension?”

“Personally, I think I look rather well for being more than 200 years old, don’t you?”

“That’s why you show less radiation. You were ... what, frozen? Since just before the war started?” She looked stunned. “My God, I wonder...”

“What?”

“It’s just ... the very first Overseer of our Vault had an encrypted file on this terminal. One that no one since her has ever been able to decrypt.”

“May I?” I asked politely. Gwen moved back from her terminal. I noticed how most of the keys were worn nearly bare from time. It was still a standard terminal; one I was very familiar with. I did a quick data check, then started muttering to myself as I began hacking her password. I may have been a bit more proficient at computers than I usually let on. Gwen watched in amazement as the screen flashed through a variety of data, almost too fast for her to follow. My memory for the installed back doors came in handy. The screen finally came up with a simple text file.

‘It’s much worse than I thought. I was finally given my full briefing today. Not only is Vault-Tec asking us to do clinical trials on humans; they’ve got some serious backers in the government. I can’t just blow the whistle on this.

I’ve seen the admission roster. There are good people planning to live in Vault 81, and I’ve little doubts the Vaults will come into use eventually. I won’t reward the trust of these people by treating them like guinea pigs. And then incinerating them instead of evacuating when the all-clear sounds.

I feel trapped. I don’t know what to do. I just can’t let them go through with human trials for God-knows-what Vault-Tec plans to do with their research.’

“I’m stunned. That’s from the first Overseer. I ... I thought we were supposed to live here and be safe, but ... that’s not what they wanted, not at all. How did you manage to find that?”, Gwen asked, stunned by what she’d read.

“I worked for RobCo before I was frozen, before the war. So I know some backdoors into most of our software. And ... well, with someone breaking into the Vault, killing my husband and kidnapping my baby son, and I have no idea why they’d do that, I suppose you could say I’m a little driven.”

“They killed your husband? But ... if you were frozen, how did you know?”

“They thawed us out. Found the pod with Shaun in it. Unlocked only that one. Nate tried to keep them from taking him, but the big guy shot him, shot him dead right in front of me. I was still locked in my pod so I couldn’t do anything. Then they took Shaun and started the cryogenic procedure back up, putting me back in suspension. I thawed out again just a few days ago. Everyone else was either dead in the pods, or skeletons on the floor.”

Gwen looked thoughtful. “That means this could have happened last month, last year, or even decades ago, if they re-froze you. Your son could still be a baby, be a teenager like the DeLuca twins, or even older.”

While that had crossed my mind earlier, I couldn’t help it as the thought of that being the case hit my emotions. So much for my earlier resolve. I started crying, tears streaming down my cheeks as the thought of Shaun not being my little baby hit me hard. Gwen realized how what she’d said was affecting me, and she took me in her arms, comforting me, patting me on the back.

After a period of time that I couldn’t measure passed, I stopped. Gwen was still holding me. I could smell her hair as she had tried to comfort me. I pulled back a little. “Hey, thank you. Um, I do appreciate that, a lot. But I noticed something, too. I don’t suppose you happen to have a shower and a laundry service, do you? I suspect you were almost holding your breath while hugging me, I can’t smell that good.”

“Come here.” Gwen stood, leading me from her office into her quarters. “If you drop your armor and Vault Suit here, I can have them cleaned for you. The shower is in there. One privilege of being Overseer is that my water usage isn’t monitored like it is for everyone else. There’s soap, still, for cleaning, but the shampoo ran out 50 years ago.”

I quickly pulled my combat armor off, then peeled out of the Vault Suit. I was still in my underwear. “Thanks, Gwen.” I went around the corner into the shower area. It was a full-sized shower, like I was used to from home. I started the water going, fairly warm. I didn’t miss the shampoo. I knew from Alaska how to wash my hair with soap. The first thing I did, though, was pull my bra and panties off and clean them in warm water. I put them over the sink to dry.

 
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