Love Never Changes
Chapter 5

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

Danny Sullivan looked at all of us entering Diamond City and simply shook his head. “Welcome back, Mister Valentine.”

Nick nodded at him in passing. While we were climbing the steps, Nick looked at me. “I need to go meet up with Ellie. If you could give me a few minutes before you come to my office, I’d appreciate it.”

“Not a problem. I think we have a few things to trade. I need to stay stocked up on ammo, anyway.” At the bottom of the steps that entered the city proper, Nick headed for his office while the rest of us headed for the market.

Arturo was waiting for us at his shop. “I thought I saw Nick with you when you came down the steps, yes?”

I nodded. “Yes. We’ve a few things that you might be able to rework or at least clean up a little and resell, if you’re interested. Maybe trade for some more ammunition.”

“Oh, well, I can always...” We started piling guns on his counter. “use more...” The stack grew larger. “merchandise...” Codsworth put half a dozen machine guns on the counter. “Santa Maria! How many gangsters did you kill?”

Piper was laughing at the expression on his face. “All of them. And we didn’t have to do much. Tina here took care of nearly all of them herself.”

Codsworth interrupted. “To be precise, Miss Piper, she did let Mister Malone and the last two, plus Miss Darla, live at the end of things. I was rather amazed that what Miss Murphy had told us before leaving Sanctuary worked, though.”

“I do need a cleaning kit, Arturo. I honestly forgot to grab one before we left Sanctuary. You take care of your weapon; it’ll take care of you.”

He nodded. “Yes, ma’am. Um ... I don’t have enough ammunition to cover what this is worth. I remember you had power armor, I can throw in a couple of fusion cores, and nearly every cap I have, to make this an even trade.”

“I don’t want to take advantage of your generosity, Arturo.”

“You’re not. I’ll make a rather nice profit reselling these once I have them cleaned up a bit. Blood can make an incredible mess of things if it completely dries on or in one of these.”

Curie spoke up. “Monsieur, you are indeed a gentleman.”

After finishing up with Arturo, we still had some things to sell or trade. The woman at the shop next to his looked at me with distrust. “I don’t know you, keep your distance!”

Piper looked at her with anger. “Myrna, stop being ridiculous in treating new people.”

“Well, you’re the one who wrote in the paper about the possibility of people being synths and I just can’t be too careful! Never know when one of them will show up here! Or did you write that because you’re a synth yourself?”

I sighed. “Wow, someone needs her medications adjusted. Look, lady, if you don’t want to make some caps in trading, that’s fine by me. But I’m not a synth. Hell, I was born before those damned things were even invented. Just ask Codsworth here.”

“Indeed, mum. I don’t believe General Atomics had anything like a synth in mind when they made Curie or I.”

“Fine. We’re open twenty-four hours a day here at Diamond City Surplus. The robot takes care of customers at night. Only one I trust to do it. Least I know he’s a machine. So, are these two robots yours?”

“Codsworth was with my family before, Curie is a scientific researcher. They’re with me, but they’re not property, if that’s what you mean,” I replied to Myrna.

“Well, I know they’re not synths. So, what do you want?”

We spent a little time dickering over things, selling more surplus to us items, getting some medications and a bit more food. After leaving, we headed for Nick’s office. Codsworth said, “Pardon me, mum, but is there some reason for her extreme paranoia?”

Piper spoke up. “Remember I mentioned Crazy Myrna? That was her. A year ago, she wouldn’t serve ghouls, which was just before McDonough ran them all from the city. Two years ago, she was afraid of aliens from another world.”

“I suppose if she’s not violent about it, then just letting her rant is the best thing to do nowadays. She’d probably be locked up for her own safety, otherwise.” We arrived at Valentine’s office. With all of us inside, it made it a bit crowded. Codsworth and Curie moved to the back room, just so we’d have room in the front office.

Ellie smiled at us while we jockeyed around. “Thanks for bringing Nick back. Tough to have a job without an employer.”

Nick said, “Ah, Ellie, you could have put on the coat yourself if need be. Anyway, our friend here has quite a mystery to solve, and from some things she said, she’s quite the mystery herself. Please, have a seat here and let’s talk.” I did, then Nick sat down across from me, behind a desk.

“So, I heard a little bit while you were rescuing me from Skinny Malone’s tender care. But just to keep things straight, take it from the top. Why do you need a detective?”

“Okay. I’m from Boston, recently from Vault 111. We were cryogenically frozen right at the start of the war as some kind of sick experiment by Vault-Tec. At some point, a group of people thawed everyone out, opened the chamber my husband and son were in, took my son, Shaun, and killed my husband, Nate. Then they refroze me. I have no idea how long ago that really was. I’ve pretty much just been reacting ever since I thawed back out a little over a week ago. Everyone else that had been frozen in the Vault was dead, and had been for some time.”

“Hmm. That sounds like a well-organized group, not something that your typical Raider band would do. Maybe the Gunners, this almost sounds like the operation was done with military precision. How were the people who killed your husband dressed?”

“I remember seeing one of them come up wearing an outfit like a tech would wear in a lab, fully covered up. But there was another man with her. He was bald, wearing armor, and had a big revolver.”

“Full lab gear? Do you remember if they said anything?”

“Yeah. The woman in the lab outfit told Nate to let go of Shaun. He wouldn’t do it. The man...” I surprised myself, my voice actually choked up a little. Piper put her hand on my shoulder in sympathy. “The man, he had a deep, mean voice. He told Nate to let Shaun go, that he’d give him one chance. Nate resisted, the guy aimed his gun and shot Nate, right in the chest. He cursed, told the woman to go. He came up to my pod, looked right at me, and said that at least they still had the backup. His face ... I’ll never forget that big scar on his face.”

Nick sat back. “Bald, big scar, excessively violent, rough voice. Ellie, does that sound as familiar to you as it does to me?”

“It sure does. Let me get his file.” She turned, opened a drawer on one of the filing cabinets against the wall and pulled out a thick folder. “Here you go, Nick.”

“Conrad Kellogg. Showed up in Diamond City a while back, bought a house in the abandoned west stands. He had a boy with him, about ten years old. Hasn’t been seen in town lately.”

“Damn. That sounds like it has to be Shaun. Any idea where he went?”

Ellie said, “No. Security tends to stay away from that section of town. It’s been...” She turned a page in the file. “Here it is, just over a month since he’s been seen.”

Piper frowned. “Do you keep a file on everyone in town?”

“It’s not that difficult, Piper, when you think about it. Everyone in town is a potential client of ours. Normally we only have what’s publicly available on anyone here, and if something else is needed, we do keep it confidential. So, we’re not going to tell someone that his wife is sleeping with someone else just because we know it,” Ellie said.

“Poor Paul, his wife Darcy is such a slut,” Piper said.

“That also means we’re not going to tell anyone else one way or another, either.”

“Hey, I’m a reporter, Ellie. You can’t blame a girl for trying.”

I spoke up. “If you two are done discussing an alleged affair, I’d like to know where this Kellogg lives. I want to go see if he’s left a forwarding address.”

Nick said, “I was just going to suggest that. I doubt we’ll be bothered by anyone.”

Ellie said, her voice a little emotional, “Hey, be careful, Nick.”

He tried to sound reassuring. “I always am. Come on, it’s this way.” Nick led us out into the covered walkway in front of his office, heading towards the stands. “Couple of things. One, I didn’t want Ellie to hear this, but I think you should know. Everything I dug up about Kellogg before his disappearance is bad news. He’s more than just a mercenary. He’s a professional. Quick, clean, thorough. Has no enemies because they’re all dead.”

He gave a little chuckle. “Except you. But nine to one odds say he’s our man. It’s more than just you identifying his distinguishing features. The MO is him as well. Leading a small team to kidnap a baby and leaving one of the parents alive for later? Not many mercs in the Commonwealth can pull that off.” We had followed Nick up a flight of stairs into a deserted and rather dingy portion of the stadium while he’d talked to us. A door into a Diamond City house was in front of him.

“Here we are. And that brings up the second point. You’re not exactly stealthy, with Piper, two robots, and a dog following you all the time. I was going to ask you to keep an eye out, but being subtle is sort of out the window here.”

“Hey, I’m with Tina because she’s my next story. And ... well, I sort of like her, too.”

Codsworth said, “I waited two hundred years for Miss Tina or someone from her family to emerge from that Vault. I’m not leaving her.”

“Oui! Madam rescued me from being locked in a room for all eternity. I need to find men of science here, to learn more. I will follow her as long as I can.”

Nick snorted. “What about you, flea bag?”

Dog just barked, then rubbed his head on my leg. I laughed at that. “I think he makes it unanimous. What the hell, Nick, having everyone along made it a lot easier to dig you out of that hole.”

He sighed. “I suppose.” He tried the handle to the house. “That would have made it too easy. Hopefully no one down below is looking up here, let me see if I can pick this.” He worked at it for a while. “Damn, this is just too tough for me. Do you want to try?”

“Sure. One universal lock pick, coming up.” He moved back, giving me room. I pulled out my pistol, held it close to the lock, and fired. The silencer made it no louder than the shots occasionally heard over the walls of the city. I then stuck a screwdriver into the destroyed lock and twisted.

“Well, I suppose that works, too.” Nick sarcastically said.

“I’m not particularly in the mood for subtle at this point, Nick. Let’s go see what this Kellogg had inside.”

We opened the door, leaving the robots and Dog outside. There was a desk in the middle of the room with a chair behind it, a set of steps leading upward where two mattresses for bed were on the floor, and a couple of tables. That was it.

Nick sounded suspicious. “Is it just me, or does this place seem rather small for a big time mercenary?”

Piper pulled the chair out to examine the desk. “Well, well, look here.” There was a button hidden under the desk. She pushed it. That activated a hidden wall opposite the door, causing it to slide back, allowing us entry into another room.

Nick nodded his satisfaction at being right. “This is more like it. Everything the Commonwealth mercenary needs.” Two shelves full of food and medical supplies, ammunition for a variety of weapons, liquor, and a comfortable looking chair that reeked of cigar smoke. “Huh. San Francisco Sunlights. You know, I understand that dogs have a sensitive nose. I wonder if Dog could track Kellogg based upon this?”

“Let’s find out.” I opened the door and held the cigar down. “Here you go, boy. Take a good sniff. Can you follow the scent? Can you find Kellogg for me?”

He whined a little, then barked and started off, his keen nose picking out the old, but, to him, distinctive scent. He led us back down the stairs, then towards the city entrance.

“Crap. I don’t know how long this is going to take, how far we’ll have to go. Piper, is it still okay if I leave my armor in your office?”

“Sure thing, Tina. Nat won’t bother it, and I don’t think anyone else knows it’s there.”

“Good. Come on, let’s follow this bloodhound and see where he leads us.”

We followed Dog out of the city. He headed north, then west along a street that I had to be careful that I didn’t twist an ankle walking, it was so torn up. I heard Piper curse when she put her foot into a puddle of water in one of the potholes. We kept going up around the north side of the Reservoir. At the edge of the Reservoir, he stopped and started moving in circles, like he’d lost the scent.

“Damn. Let’s see if anything around here looks like it may be from Kellogg.”

Curie noticed a chair with a couple of empty bottles by it. “Madam, is this not what we were seeking?” She picked up another partially smoked cigar.

“Bingo. Come here, Dog, get another whiff.” He did, barked again and caught the scent again. We started along the old railroad tracks that I had followed earlier, when I was first heading for Diamond City. We hadn’t gone far when we were briefly slowed by an attack of Mole Rats. This attack reminded me of something I was wondering about, so I walked over to where Curie was examining one of the bodies.

“Curie, I know you were using genetically modified versions of these animals for your experiments. I’m rather curious about something. Two hundred years doesn’t seem long enough for an animal that was only a few inches long to now be this large.”

“Ah, madam is correct. I believe I mentioned this before, but in the excitement, you may have not remembered. As you are no doubt aware, there were many military research programs going on due to the war with China. Some of these were hardware, such as the modifications of a simple Mister Handy into a military fighting machine. Others were more of a biological nature. One of the biological items created was the Forced Evolutionary Virus, or FEV. This virus allowed experimentation on a broader scale, enabling something like the simple mole rat to become larger and more capable of being used as a military weapon.”

Piper was listening. “From what I understand, mole rats aren’t the only thing that were used for experimentation, though. Super Mutants came from experiments to create new soldiers.”

I snorted. “There’s not much excuse for what was done. It pretty much violated all moral and ethical standards of civilized people. Of course, I don’t think at that point in time we really were very civilized. It did seem to simply be all about survival.”

Valentine sounded a bit sardonic. “I don’t think the way things are going we’ve made many improvements that way in the past couple of centuries, either.”

Codsworth made a profound statement. “Perhaps in the destruction, we’ll be able to rebuild a better world. After we find young Shaun, of course.”

I nodded at that. Dog barked again, then whined. He’d lost the scent again. We spread out a little. We were at an overpass, where the tracks crossed over a road. A flight of stairs led down. While the concrete walls had damage from age and old fights, there were some chips in the walls from ricochets that weren’t nearly as aged as the rest, like there’d recently been a gunfight here. A couple of bodies led credence to that.

I found a couple of discarded medical wrappings and a bloody rag. “Any bets our guy got hurt?” I whistled out for Dog, who came running, took one sniff of the rag and hurried down the road. He started trotting onto a bridge that crossed the river. There were several wrecked or otherwise broken-down vehicles stranded on the bridge.

Nick warned, “Be careful. This is a perfect ambush spot.” His warning didn’t come too soon, as several feral ghouls started crawling from their hiding spots.

“I feel like I’m in a bad zombie movie,” I muttered, while making several head shots.

Nick shook his head. “I suppose warning you about this spot did some good, although I’m not sure what.”

“Saved the rest of you from wasting ammunition.” I smiled at him. He just shook his head.

“It’s almost unreal, watching you move like that. I remember ... well, hell. Look, I’m a synth, which means my body was created in a lab. But my mind, my memories, my name ... they were all put into me by the Institute. Using memories from a detective from your time, from before the war. I’m not sure why the original Nick Valentine went and got himself recorded like this. But I can remember some bits of my ... his ... life from before.”

We were still following Dog up a hill. The torso and head of an Assaultron robot were propped up in some rubbish on the side of the road. A small pile of parts lay on the road surface, spattered with blood. Dog took one sniff and kept on going. “Looks like Kellogg was injured by this robot. But what were you talking about, Nick?”

“I remember my ... Nick’s ... girlfriend, being murdered by a gangster. I told you before, I remember stories about the battle of Anchorage. But I also remember someone else, someone who could shoot almost as fast and accurately as you. He was a police officer, like I ... like Nick ... was. Former military. He’d been injured, bad enough that he was medically discharged, but with his military preference points he got hired by Boston PD. He was my Captain.”

I looked at, then through, Nick. “Iron Mike Shannon. He could almost will a round to hit a target.”

Nick seemed surprised. “That’s right. You knew him, before the war?”

“All my life. He was my father.”

Piper had been quietly listening. “Well, that does help explain some things. About both of you, that is. I mean, Nick, I’ve known you for, what, ten years now? I never knew that about your past. And you, Tina, you’re probably more skilled than practically anyone alive today.”

“I don’t know about that. I do know that just because I was frozen for a couple of centuries didn’t mean I forgot how to do everything I knew how to do beforehand.” Dog had stopped, losing the scent again. “Look, let’s have a good talk after we’re done with this, we need to find something again.”

“Such as this, madam?” Curie pointed to a bloody rag that was stuck on a rusty fence. Dog ran over, sniffed at it, then started out again, this time going up a hill.

“Yeah, just like that. Everyone be careful, I recognize where we are. This is where the old Fort Hagen was. I don’t know if they have any automatic defenses still active.”

We headed up the hill and passed a ruined building that I remembered held a medical center of some kind. A flew flying bugs were near the ruins, but didn’t seem to want to come out, so we left them alone. Dog continued down a road, towards the main entrance of the old headquarters building. I saw some movement from the corner of my eye and got a shot off at an automated machine gun turret on the roof before it could fire.

“Dog, keep your head down. There’s guns around here.” He woofed back, almost as if he understood me. He led us up to the main entrance, then stood there, scratching at a sealed-up door. “Good boy, Kellogg is in there, right? Well, let’s see if we can find a way into this place.”

Dog started running around the building. I didn’t have a chance to tell him to be careful before I heard another machine gun open fire, immediately followed by him yelping in pain. I got around the corner in time to prevent the machine gun from finishing the job it had started.

“Curie, you’re the closest thing we have to a medic. What can we do?” Dog was laying on the ground, whimpering from where two bullets had gone through his back leg.

“A Stimpak should help him with the bleeding, but I believe he will also need time to recover from the muscle damage as well. They are typically made for humans, and the regenerative products inside may not properly work on him.”

Rather than risk him bleeding more, I pulled one out and injected him. The clotting and wound sealing agents acted almost immediately, stopping his bleeding. He looked back at his leg and then licked it, giving off a small whine as he did so. He then tried to stand up, but his leg seemed shaky.

While I was treating him, I heard other explosions. Nick, Piper, and Codsworth had been busy. They came back after a few minutes, while I was still evaluating Dog.

“We took care of the rest of the turrets on the building roof. There’s a roof hatch that looks like it might lead inside,” Nick explained. “How’s the mutt doing?”

“Nick, you have a terrible bedside manner,” Piper admonished him.

“Yeah, well, I’m made of circuits, not flesh and blood, so if something on me breaks, I put in a spare part.”

Curie sounded upset. “You should be ashamed of yourself. The brave puppy was hurt while helping madam.” She spun to look at me. “I think he will need some rest. It will take him a week or so to regain full use of the leg.”

“Well, do you need to watch him, or can just about anyone do it?”, I asked.

“He simply needs time, water and food, madam.”

I sighed. “Okay. Codsworth, I believe you have the lifting capacity. Carry Dog back to Sanctuary. Make sure that he’s taken care of. We’ll probably head that way once we’re done here, depending upon what we find. If not, I’ll be back as soon as possible. Also, brief Preston and the others on what I’ve found so far. I want to keep Curie here, in case we run into something medically odd.”

“If you say so, Mum,” Codsworth said. He sounded a little disappointed to not stay. Dog whimpered and tried to get off when Codsworth lifted him. “Stay there, boy. You need to go home and rest, so you can help Mum later.” That actually seemed to work, Dog calmed down. I gave Dog a pat on the head and scratched his ears. Codsworth headed out, towards territory that we already knew so he could avoid dangers.

The rest of us went us the ramps to the roof. The doors on the roof hatch were heavy, only reluctantly opening. I went down the ladder and took up a defensive position while the rest came down. We were in an alcove, off of a kitchen. The layer of dust on the furniture indicated that no one had been here for a long time. A hallway led out of the kitchen. The floor, being cement, didn’t creak at our steps. As we neared a flight of stairs leading down, I stopped.

There wasn’t a layer of dust on the stairs, and the landing itself showed a large number of footprints in the remaining dust. Someone was using it.

We started carefully down the stairs. At the next landing, where the stairs reversed directions, I paused and looked carefully around. I didn’t see anything moving, but I heard something in the distance.

It was a robotic voice, “Sensors indicate movement ahead.” Another, slightly different voice, replied, “Curious. Please come out, this is a restricted area.”

I ducked down, then peeked around the corridor. Two human shaped beings were in the corridor, looking my way. They were obviously robotic, metal heads not as finished as Nick, components exposed with no attempt to cover them up. The second one said, “Ah, there you are. Please surrender now.”

“Don’t think so.” I fired two shots at each of them. Like cutting the strings on puppets, they fell to the floor in a heap.

I could hear more of them coming from somewhere else on this floor. “Take positions, let’s get them when they close on us.” Piper and Nick moved into cover in another doorway. That enabled us to get the incoming robots in a crossfire, cutting them down with little risk to ourselves. After the shooting was done, it was time to gather weapons and ammo from them.

Nick looked at them. “In case you didn’t know, these are, or were, Gen 1 synths. Barely more than robots. Cover them with a kind of skin, and you have the Gen 2. A bit more programming lets them act somewhat autonomously. I’m ... well, I’m somewhere between a Gen 2 and the Gen 3 synth. I have free will like a human, but with other robot circuits and parts, I certainly can’t pass for one, unless you’re blind or something, but I don’t know if I’m a person or not.”

“While you may be circuits inside instead of flesh and blood, you’re still a person. It’s what’s inside you that defines you,” I told him.

He was uncharacteristically silent for a long time. His voice ended up a little raspy, deep in emotion, when he responded, “Thank you. That’s ... that’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me in a long time.”

“I’ll try not to let it happen too often, Nick. That might mess with your persona as the rough and tumble detective. Do we have all the weapons gathered up?”

Everyone agreed, so we continued exploring this floor. A couple of machine gun turrets and a room with some mines in it were the only other impediments we found. The last room had a locked door with a terminal near it. Nick said, “I can give that a try, to...” He trailed off, seeing me quickly enter one of my pass codes that bypassed the security. “Never mind, then,” he said with a snort.

I smiled at him. “Sorry, big guy. I used to work for the company that made these. I know lots of backdoors into them.”

“Well, fine.” He almost sounded upset.

Piper laughed. “I’m starting to get used to Tina being something special, Nick. Not just because she’s not from our time, but ... well, from everything.” There was a hint of something in her voice that made me wonder just how special she wanted me to be.

“Madam, there is a working elevator here. Do you think this will lead to our target?”

“Only one way to find out. Let’s push the button and see where it goes.”

As we guessed, the elevator went down. When the door opened, I was surprised to hear a rough sounding voice come from a hidden loudspeaker.

“If it isn’t my old friend, the TV dinner. Last time we met, you were cozying up to the peas and apple cobbler. Sorry your house has been a wreck for two hundred years. But I don’t need a roommate. Leave.”

I yelled out, “Kellogg! Where’s my son?”

Things were silent, with no response. I yelled out again, then jumped when Piper touched my arm. “I think he can track us, but I don’t think he can hear us.”

“Fine. Let’s find that fucker!”

We started down a hallway, deep underground. The lighting here was terrible, not letting us see very far. I held up one hand, because in the distance I saw something red. I put my rifle up to my shoulder and looked, then pulled the trigger. The flare from the muzzle flash briefly illuminated the corridor enough that everyone else could see the synth I’d shot. From behind it, red flashes came back our way. Some kind of laser pistols or rifles. The only problem with those is that in the dark, they point directly to where the shooter is located.

That meant this encounter was done quickly. Curie had taken one graze to her paint, which didn’t hurt her in the least. We continued down the hallway, around a couple of corners, killing a couple more of the Gen 1 synths. Kellogg came over a loudspeaker again.

“Never expected you to come knocking on my door here. Gave you 50/50 odds of making it to Diamond City. After that? Figured the Commonwealth would chew you up like jerky. Look, you’re pissed off. I get it. I really do. But whatever you hope to accomplish in here? It’s not going to go your way.”

Several more synths came from different places and attacked us. I had a laser shot vaporize a small bit off my armor, Curie took another hit that bounced off her, Nick and Piper were both unscathed – and half a dozen more of the simple synths were so much scrap.

“Well, if nothing else, I think Arturo is going to like us a little when we get back to Diamond City. We should have enough weapons to supply him for quite a while.” Piper tried to sound optimistic.

“I’m thinking about using these to supply everyone at Sanctuary with a common weapon. These are certainly better than the pistols made from scrap pipe they’re trying to use now, and if nothing else, we’re accumulating a lot of ammo for them.”

“Sounds like a plan, Tina. You know, there’s just a lot of people in the Commonwealth who really don’t give a damn about anything but themselves. Even in the middle of trying to find information out about your son, you’re also thinking of others. That sets you apart from most people.” The admiration in her voice was very obvious now.

“Well, hopefully you’re getting lots of background for the story you’re planning on writing, Piper. Maybe when we get back to Sanctuary, we’ll have time to sit down and talk about more ... personal ... details.” I purposely put some inflection into my speech, flirting with her a little.

She picked up on it, her eyes widening as she realized what I was saying. “Oh, uh, yeah, that ... that sounds good. My, is it hot in here, or is it just me?”

We wound through more corridors, over assorted rubbish piles, passing by damaged and destroyed computer consoles. Some skeletons wearing the remnants of uniforms were scattered about the corridors and rooms.

Nick frowned. “I don’t understand. These corridors are deep underground, sort of like your Vault was. These people wouldn’t have died from radiation or the bombs hitting.”

Curie answered. “Ah, monsieur Nick, it is simple. I have been taking samples as we have been traveling, as part of my ongoing research. The bones of the soldiers show higher readings than normal for neutron radiation. It would appear this facility was targeted by one of those types weapons, specifically designed to take out a hardened location.”

“Unfortunately, that makes sense. I know that Fort Hagen was one of the main armored unit headquarters on the East Coast. There was a staging area just north of here, where units would gather before shipping overseas. That’d make it a major secondary target. I know from where the first bomb hit, when I was just going underground, the first major blast looked like it was aimed at Boston’s Sentinel Site.”

Both Piper and Nick looked confused at my last comment. “We had defensive missiles situated around all major cities. They were supposed to shoot down any incoming ballistic missiles, to prevent ... well, what happened. I know we only had a very short time, from when the TV first told us some of the cities were under attack by nuclear weapons, and when the bomb went off here. I can’t believe our radar units wouldn’t have detected them being launched from China or coming down from space.”

Nick said, “That’s a mystery for another day, I suspect. There’s another locked door ahead.”

After I opened it and we took care of the synths that were defending it, Kellogg spoke over the speakers again. “It’s not too late. Stop. Turn around and leave. You have that option. Not a lot of people can say that.” I wasn’t sure, but I thought he sounded a little desperate.

We found more rooms, some filled with debris, others with medical devices, and a kitchen. After killing a few more synths, we found a small armory full of weaponry and ammunition. The room that opened off of that had at one time been pretty plush. A plaque on a desk indicated that this was the underground quarters for General George Martine, Commanding Officer of Fort Hagen. A large bed, personal shower, and faded pictures indicated the General had been a married man. There was no indication that he’d used it after the war, though.

Another room opened off of this one. It had a television camera along one wall, with the remnants of a curtain opposite it. More electronics along one wall indicated that this had been intended to be a command center for communications after the war. A different, newer looking, bed was in this room, along with some rather odd-looking equipment. I looked at the others with a quizzical look on my face.

Before any of them could respond, Kellogg used the speaker again. This time he sounded resigned. “Okay, you made it. I’m just ahead. My synths are standing down. Let’s talk.” A door at the far end of the room unlocked, swinging open. The room beyond was dimly lit, but I could see some figures standing in it. Time to settle things. I walked into the room.

The face was the same as I remembered, bald, big scar running down the left side, beard and mustache. He was wearing a rugged looking outfit, and had a damned large gun hanging from one hand. Two of the robotic looking synths were flanking him, their weapons at port arms. Almost all the rest of the room looked like a communications center, with terminals, desks, chairs and screens filling it, except one portion didn’t belong. That part, like the items in the previous room, looked new and out of place.

“And there she is. The most resilient woman in the Commonwealth.” Kellogg’s voice didn’t sound quite as intimidating face to face. “You came a long way. Let’s hear it.”

I didn’t know I could sound as cold as I did when I spoke. “And there you are. The murdering, kidnapping psychopath. Give me my son. Give me Shaun. Now!”

He sounded a little surprised. “Right to it, then, huh? Okay, fine.” His voice became more matter of fact. “Your son, Shaun. He’s a great kid. A little older than you may have expected, but I’m guessing you figured that out by now.” I heard Piper gasp a little at the confirmation of my suspicion. “But if you’re hoping for a happy reunion right now? Ain’t gonna happen. Your boy’s not here.”

“Then tell me where he is, damn it!”

“Fine, I guess you’ve earned that. It’s not going to matter, anyway. Shaun’s in a good place. Where he’s safe, and comfortable, and loved. A place he calls home. The Institute.”

“Then take us there, so I can judge for myself what you say. You called me the back up. That means they thought I was important, too, right?”

He sounded irritated. “Look, killing your husband. That was ... a regrettable accident. Still, this world? This life? Death is the only escape. I can’t get you in there, even if I wanted to.”

“This ... no, that can’t be true. Not after what I’ve seen, what I’ve done. There has to be a way in for me, no matter what.”

“Ha! That’s the spirit. You know, you surprise me. I have to admit, in some ways, I find myself actually kind of ... liking you. You might’ve actually been a good mother. Even if it is ultimately useless.” He sighed, then continued. “But I think we’ve talked long enough. We both know how this has to end. So ... you ready?”

My voice was even colder than before. “You have no idea how ready I am, Kellogg.” I hadn’t raised my rifle. I simply started shooting from the hip. Three shots, center of mass on Kellogg, destroyed whatever kind of black heart he had. The two synths raised their weapons to shoot, but Piper, Nick, and Curie were faster.

Nick said, “Well, that went about like I expected it to. I didn’t figure he’d be the type to surrender and talk.”

I felt defeat crawl into my voice. “Yeah, but now he’s dead, so this is, you’ll forgive the expression, a dead end.”

Scoffing, Nick said, “Man like that would’ve had access. In and out. There’s got to be a clue here, either in all this stuff that doesn’t belong here, or on him.”

“C’mon, Tina. Let’s see what we can find,” Piper said.

I let her lead me over the computer terminal and other gear. In spite of my emotions, I still found myself intrigued by some of the items. They looked futuristic, and I had to guess what some of them were. Piper sat at the terminal and found some computer entries that gave me tantalizing clues. Nick was scavenging some parts from the synths while Curie examined Kellogg.

“Madams, Monsieur Valentine, I think I have found something.” She had been looking at the back of his head. “Normal humans do not have this ... port ... in the back of their skulls, no?”

That made us all stop what we were doing and come look. Sure enough, in the back of his head, Kellogg had what looked like a spot to plug in a cable of some kind. “Uh, no, Curie, that’s definitely not normal,” I said.

“I suspected not. Let us see, then, where it leads.” With that, she deftly used her laser, saw, and manipulator arm to cut open the back of his head. Part of his brain fell onto the floor. The rest didn’t, it was held in place by wires. I heard Piper gasp from beside me, then turn her head and vomit.

“Jesus, that’s gross!”

Curie continued working inside his body, pulling out several different things, some that had been plugged into the spinal column, others into his muscular system. “It appears that this device would assist in controlling pain.” She held up another. “This would have assisted him with strength. And this is hooked directly to the hippocampus, so brain activity would have been enhanced.”

“Nick, does any of this ... stuff ... look familiar to you?”, I asked.

“That strength thing looks like something modified from an early synth. I’m not sure about the pain control. A couple of the wires and components from the brain thing look sort of like...” He went back to one of the dead synths. “Yeah, here we go. Part of the connections for the processor. I think I have something similar inside me. But hooked to an organic brain? I didn’t think that was possible.”

Piper had rinsed her mouth out with water. “Maybe that’s how they’re able to make synths that look and act like humans now. That little bit of extra processing power.”

Nick nodded. “That sort of makes sense, Piper. That may be why I’m a discarded experiment, because they wanted to see if they could put a real person’s mind into an electronic body. And now they’ve figured out how to do that with a meat synth.”

I held up my hand. “Wait, a meat synth? Human acting synths? What do you mean?”

“Remember that argument I was having with McDonough when you first came into Diamond City? About the kidnappings? I know I threw a lot at you all at once.”

“Shit, you’re right. So is Kellogg here a synth?”

Nick shook his head. “No. He’s been around in the Commonwealth a long time. My files on him go back to before we first suspected the Institute of making human synths. And I’ve seen a dead meat synth. The only thing they have is a small thing about half the size of a light bulb in their heads, and I really wonder if that’s even needed. But you know, a man like that had to have had a way in and out.”

I groaned. “So, he’s dead, and there’s no way to ask him how he did that.”

“Ask him? No. See how it happened? Maybe.”

Piper looked at Nick, disbelief on her face. “You’re talking crazy here, Nick.”

“I don’t think so. There’s a woman in Goodneighbor, a Doctor Amari. Runs a place called the Memory Den. People go see her when they want to remember something that they simply can’t anymore. Relive the pleasant moments in their lives. I don’t know if it’ll work or not, but I think it’s worth checking out.”

I thought for a moment. “Curie, do you have a sample storage area inside you, someplace that’s refrigerated or could even freeze something?”

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