Love Never Changes
Chapter 6

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

“I’m guessing that from the lovely shade of red you turned after you kissed Gwen that a public display of affection was frowned upon before the war,” Piper said.

We were walking by Diamond City, and she hadn’t let up about how things were pre-war. “It’s not that they were frowned upon, it’s more complicated than that. It’s that, well, we’re not related by marriage or blood, and we’re the same gender.”

Nick chimed in. “I have memories of Nick’s ... the original Nick ... about some of that. You’re right, Tina. I’ve not really given it much thought, since ... with this mug, there’s not much chance of anything other than a professional relationship with anyone. But back in the day, things were different than they are now. I still remember seeing signs saying to watch for degenerate behavior, that it was a sign of Red Chinese influence.”

Piper looked offended. “You’re saying that two people ... or more than two people, for that matter ... being in love or having a relationship was considered degenerate behavior? How is that even possible?”

“God, where do we begin? Nick, if you could lead us to Goodneighbor through an area we won’t have to fight every five minutes, I’ll try to explain everything to Piper.”

“I have a way in mind. Go ahead, we shouldn’t have too many issues. And I’m curious to hear your take on things, too, since all my memories are second-hand.”

“Works for me. Okay, Piper, I’m going to presume you don’t know anything about the Boston area, or pre-war America, even though I know you do. Just so my explanation is rather complete.”

“Sounds good, I suppose. I’ll consider it deep background for my story. Do I need to take notes, teacher?”

“Don’t give me any grief or I’ll spank you. Although you might like that. Come to think of it, I might like that. Anyway...” Everyone laughed a little at that, then I got serious again.

“So, Boston was a major area of the American Revolution. The town history goes back more than a hundred years before that, though. After that war, it was a major part of the abolition movement, which was all about freeing slaves. Prior to the American Civil War, owning slaves was legal in parts of America. I don’t know if it’s still there, but there was a memorial to that in the Boston Common.”

Piper said, “Yeah, no one goes in there now. Not with Swan in there. That’s why I made sure we stayed as far as possible from crossing his border.”

“Um, I realize this is a digression, but who or what is Swan?”

“Take a Super-Mutant, make him about 3 times bigger and meaner, and that’s Swan,” she explained.

“Oh. Okay, then. Don’t suppose anyone has an anti-tank launcher handy? Otherwise, how about somewhere between no, and hell, no?” I shook my head. “Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, after the Civil War. Over the next century, America was involved in three more major wars. Spanish War where we freed Cuba, World War One, and World War Two, which were pretty much just what they sound like, most of the world involved in the war. We ended World War Two by dropping nuclear bombs on Japan. Since we were the only country that had them, it kind of made us the policeman for the world at that time.”

“You’d think that when the war was over, no one would mess with us. And you’d be wrong. Korea had been divided after World War Two, and North Korea decided they didn’t like that, so they attacked South Korea. We told them to pull back or face our wrath, and they didn’t believe us. So, we dropped a nuke on them. Which pissed off China, since that’s where all the radioactive fallout ended up. They didn’t formally declare war on us, but they sent troops in to help the North Koreans. Guess what our response was?”

Piper sounded grim. “I’m guessing drop another nuke on them?”

“Yep. Unfortunately, about that time, we had some Soviet spies that passed our secrets over to them, and the Soviet Union exploded their own nuke. They told us in no uncertain terms to quit being so stupid or they’d take it out on us and our allies. That ended up starting a lot of anti-communist attitude in the country, including investigations by the government. Those investigations found a bunch of communist sympathizers in Hollywood, which was where most movies were made. They also found that most of these sympathizers had lifestyles that were deemed indecent. Men were having sex with men, women with women, lots of groups getting together in orgies, and basically lewd and licentious behavior was rampant out there.”

“The government moved in with strict morality laws. Put a lot of people in jail, ended up executing a few, too. The Supreme Court, which was the ultimate arbitrator of the law of the land, ended up gridlocked on whether or not what was happening was legal. We pulled back in Korea due to the unrest at home, with tensions between us, China, and the Soviet Union still pretty high, but at least we weren’t dropping nukes anymore. There was a small civil war in Cuba, but the government there won and stayed on our side. We were developing a space program. You may not believe it, but we did put men on the moon, back about the same time that things really started falling apart.”

“The government of the United States felt that things were too unwieldy, with 50 state governments. There was an amendment passed that divided the country up, and in the spirit of the thirteen original colonies, they made us into thirteen Commonwealths, with each Commonwealth made up of anywhere from two to six of the original states. Massachusetts and thus Boston were part of the New England Commonwealth. A lot of things got renamed at that time. One of the best and most famous engineering colleges in the world was in Cambridge. There was an interesting lawsuit filed that I studied about that name change, the administration wanted to remain the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

“A few years later...”

Piper stopped me. “Hang on. What’d you call that place?”

“Oh, it was known as MIT, but after the name change it became the Commonwealth Institute ... of ... Technology ... Son of a bitch. That’s too big of a coincidence.”

Nick said, “Well, as entertaining as this history lesson has been, there’s some folks ahead that may cause us issues.”

I looked ahead. There were sandbags and a fortified position set up in front of the Mass Fusion building. Several armed men and women were on watch. “I suppose that the only way to get to Goodneighbor is to go by them.”

“Well, they weren’t here the last time I came here. I suppose that if we stay on this side of the street, and make it obvious we’re going to Goodneighbor, they may not bother us.” Nick didn’t sound too hopeful of that. “From the paint on the building, those are Gunners, and they’re not always peaceful.”

“Worth a shot, I suppose. It’s not like we can’t take care of business if need be.”

When we came into view of the Gunners, one of them yelled at us, “Stay away.”

“Not a problem,” I yelled back. “We’re just going to Goodneighbor, and we’ll stay on this side of the street. Okay?”

“Don’t try anything funny, or it won’t go well for you!”

We kept our eyes on the Gunners as we carefully stayed on our side of the street. They seemed content to let us pass in peace. Nick was surprised as we came to the entrance to Goodneighbor. “I wasn’t expecting that. But then again, last time I was here, there were Raiders in that building. Odd that the Gunners took it over. They’re mercenaries, and not the good kind.”

We went through the entrance to Goodneighbor. “Oh, this is Scollay Square. I recognize the buildings, even if the names on them are different. That’s the Old State House on our left. I don’t remember what was in that building ahead. Those are interesting business names, though. Kill or Be Killed, and Daisy’s Discounts. Where’s this Memory Den, Nick?”

“Around the corner, down there, a couple of blocks from here.”

I started that way. A man wearing a leather coverall blocked my path. “Well, well, it’s the detective. Tracking down another wayward husband to his mistress?”

Nick growled, “Why, someone stand you up?”

“Trying that, what do you call it? Evasive language, on me? And who the hell is the dame? What are you, Valentine’s new dick in training?”

“We’re working together, yeah. We’re hiring, but I don’t think you’d ... measure up.”

He frowned, trying to get my joke, but ended up just shaking his head. “Now, now, don’t be like that. I got a special offer on insurance for partners of the great detective.”

I laughed a little. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Piper shaking her head at his stupidity. “Insurance? Are you serious?”

“That’s right. Insurance. Personal protection, like. You hand over everything you got in them pockets, or ‘accidents’ start happening to you. Big, bloody, accidents.”

“Like this?” In a smooth motion, I drew my pistol and shot him between the eyes. The back of his skull blew out and his body fell backwards onto the pavement.

I had noticed a ghoul wearing an odd costume walking up from behind the man. I pivoted slightly, the barrel of my pistol not quite pointing at him. The ghoul held up his hands. “Whoa, ho, ho! I like you already! Walk into a new place and make a show of dominance! Nice!” He had a slightly gravelly voice. Now that I could see better, I realized he was wearing a tricorn hat.

Valentine said, “See you’re still in charge, Hancock. Too bad you were a little late to save your man, though.”

“We might miss Finn next super mutant attack rolls around, but he wasn’t going to be around then, anyway. Couldn’t have him shaking down newcomers like that, so your friend here saved me getting my blade wet.” He turned to me. “Now, little lady, what can the mayor of Goodneighbor do for you?”

“You ... you’re a ghoul.”

“That’s right. Like my face? I think it gives me a sexy, king of the zombies kinda look. Big hit with the ladies. But there’s lots of us here in Goodneighbor, especially since that damned brother of mine ran us out of Diamond City.”

Piper exclaimed, “You’re Mayor McDonough’s brother?”

“Yeah, guy wouldn’t listen to reason about ghouls that aren’t feral. Now I been reading in that paper from there that some reporter thinks he’s been replaced by a synth. It’d almost serve him right if he had been.” He smiled a little sadly, then looked back at me and my companions, including Curie. “Anyway, Goodneighbor is of the people, for the people, you feel me? Everyone’s welcome.”

“I feel you, but right now I won’t touch you, if that’s okay.”

Hancock laughed again. “You’re alright, sister. Feel free to tell Charley down at the Third Rail that your first drink is on me, if you want something. And if anyone gives you any grief in town, you let me know.”

“Sure. You have a contract with the mortuary? That tends to be what happens to people that give me grief.”

“Somehow I don’t think you’re kidding. Fun times in town ahead, I can tell. You have a good one, sister. See you later, Valentine. Thanks for stopping in.”

He turned and headed into the Old State House. A red-headed woman wearing a combat harness that had been leaning up against a pole watching the interplay nodded at me and then followed Hancock in.

I looked at Valentine. “What the fuck was that all about?”

He laughed. “Goodneighbor tends to be rather ... loose. Raiders leave it alone, since this seems to be where every bit of organized crime that’s in the Commonwealth seems to originate. And the mobsters here are well armed.” He nodded at a couple of men guarding the entrance to the stores. They were both carrying old style Tommy guns.

“Okay, I can see that. Now I understand a bit more about Skinny Malone. So, where is this Memory Den, and Doctor Amari?”

“This way.” He led me through town. There were a lot of ghouls in town, but as many unchanged humans as well. For a gangster owned town, it was surprisingly clean. I saw a couple of people pushing brooms, trying to keep the streets clean. Two men, one human and one ghoul, were carrying a bucket, mop, and a folded-up stretcher.

The ghoul said, “Got word that Finn tried his insurance scam one too many times. You know anything about it?”

“Not in the least. But I tell you what, here’s 25 caps to help with your street cleaning fund.”

“Gotcha. Have a nice time in Goodneighbor.” The duo continued walking.

We finally came up to a building with the Scollay Square marquee over it, a smaller sign saying Memory Den under that. “I heard stories about this place. Vaudeville and burlesque, strippers, and such. I never visited it, but one of the girls I knew in college said she danced here a couple of times for thrills.”

Some of the artwork on the walls inside was still prewar, advertisements for dancing girls and dinner theater. The entry corridor led into a wide and long room, with a faded curtain still hanging over the stage in the back. There was exposed duct work and piping in the ceiling above. Faded and peeling wallpaper decorated the walls. Where the seats would have been for the audience to sit were several computer consoles and bubble-like chambers. Two of them were open, the closed one had a bald man wearing sunglasses sitting in it.

On the stage were two more computer consoles, an old television set, and a fainting couch. On the couch sat a blond woman, her hair done up, wearing a slinky looking, but at the same time slightly ratty with age, dress. “Well, well. Mister Valentine. I thought you had forgotten about little ole’ me.”

“I may have walked out of the Den, Irma, but I’d never walk out on you.”

Irma said with a smile in her voice, “Amari’s downstairs, ya big flirt. And you, whatever you and Nick are up to, I don’t need to know. Just don’t let the big, metal softy hurt himself, all right?”

“Thanks, Irma. I don’t think you have to worry your pretty little head too much about it.”

Nick led us downstairs. The room in the basement was smaller than the upstairs theater, with a fading black and white checkerboard tile floor. Two more of the capsules were down here, with easily twice as many computer stations as were upstairs. An older woman with dark hair and brown skin, wearing a lab coat was standing at a console, typing some things in.

Nick said, “Excuse us, Doctor Amari.”

She had a strong Indian accent. Hearing her made me wonder if India still existed. “Yes? What is it? I take it from your companions that this isn’t a social call.”

Curie moved forward slightly. “Oh, another physician. Tell me, where did you go to university?”

“University? You’re not serious, right?”

I interrupted Curie. “Don’t mind her, Doctor. She’s studying science right now. We need your help. You’re the one that can extract memories from a brain, right?”

“Normally we only allow our clients to experience their own memories. Now what’s this about?”

Nick said, “We need a deep dig, Amari, but it’s not going to be easy. The perp, Kellogg, is already cold on the floor.”

She sounded upset and offended. “Are you two mad? Putting aside the fact that you’re asking me to defile a corpse, you do realize that the memory simulators require intact, living brains to function?”

Nick persisted. “This dead brain had inside information on the Institute, Amari. The biggest scientific secret of the Commonwealth. You need this, and so do we.”

She gave a deep sigh. “Fine, I’ll take a look, but no guarantees. Do you have it?”

I brought Curie over and opened her storage compartment. “Here’s what we could ... salvage. We kept it cold, so that it wouldn’t degrade.”

“Well, that’s something, at least. I’m not sure the connections will work with ... wait, what’s this? The hippocampus? And this thing attached to it. A neural interface?”

Nick sounded grim. “Those circuits look awfully familiar.”

Amari sounded hopeful. “If these match your circuitry, then it’s possible. I’m ... rather familiar with newer Institute technology, but Mister Valentine is an older generation. But Institute technology being what it is ... the brain implant could fit him. But ... it’s an incredible risk we’re taking. We’re talking about wiring something to his brain.”

“Don’t worry about me, Amari,” Nick reassured her. “I’m well past my warranty date.”

“Very well. If this works ... Mister Valentine, when you’re ready, just sit down.”

Before she started, Nick said, “If I start cackling like a grizzled old mercenary, pull me out, okay?”

Amari started digging around behind Nick, plugging the tissue and connectors in. “I need you to keep talking to me, Mister Valentine. Any slight change to your cognitive functions could be dire.”

“There’s a lot of ... flashes ... static ... I can’t make sense of any of it, doc.”

She sounded defeated. “I was afraid of that. The mnemonic impressions are encoded. It appears the Institute has one last fail safe. There’s a lock on the memories. A single brain just doesn’t have enough processing power to overcome those locks.”

Curie asked, “But what about two brains, doctor?”

Amari sounded intrigued. “That might work. If we load one of you and Mister Valentine into the memory loungers, and run your cognitive functions in parallel, theoretically that might work.”

“Sounds like a plan, Doctor. What to do I do?”, I asked.

“Just sit in the memory lounger here. I’ll load Mister Valentine into the other one, and monitor things from out here.”

I turned to a worried looking Piper. “Hey, this will work. And just so I have a good memory to come back to...” I took her in my arms and kissed her. She quickly responded to me, our bodies melding together. After several moments, I pulled back. “See you on the other side, sweetie!” I sat down in the chair.

Amari told me, “Just lean back, I’ll close the lid, and then you focus on the screen in front of you. That’s right.”

The screen had the old television test pattern on it. I watched it for a minute, then felt almost a tickling in my mind, then things went bright white. From everywhere, I heard Amari’s voice. “Can you hear me? Ah, good. The simulation appears to be working, although the memories are quite fragmentary. I’ll try to step you through the intact memories, and hope we find one that gives us some clue as to the Institute’s location. This is the earliest memory I could find. Remember, you are experiencing these memories as Kellogg. That may be disorienting at first.”

Things went dark, then brightened up. I saw a child, sitting on a bed, reading a comic book. A woman was sitting next to him. The radio was playing soft music. Through a closed door in the bedroom, I could hear an angry voice yelling. I knew that this was Kellogg as a child, the angry voice was his father. The woman was my ... his mother. She handed him a pistol. The same one I’d seen him use. She told him that someday soon, he’d be the man of the family.

“This doesn’t appear to be it,” Amari said. “I’ve found another one. Here.”

The scene changed. A woman was washing dishes in a kitchen. Outside the window over the kitchen sink, I could see part of a bridge. I recognized it as the Golden Gate Bridge, or what was left of it, anyway. A baby in a bassinet was in the kitchen. I ... Kellogg ... was talking to the woman about how things were starting to look up for them, he’d found work and would be able to use his gun for hire. I could literally feel the love he had for the woman and the baby.

“I’ve found another intact memory, close to this one in temporal sequence.”

Kellogg was in a corridor, carrying an assault rifle. He was full of rage and anger. A voice over an intercom was taunting him about killing his wife and child. He kicked down a door and charged ahead, firing at targets I couldn’t see.

“Well, that’s not it. Let’s try this one.”

Now Kellogg was sitting in a bar somewhere. A man was offering him a job, due to his reputation as a mercenary. Something about taking on a deadly foe. Kellogg didn’t care; I could feel that he was conflicted. While he hoped to join his wife and daughter in death, he was too good a gunslinger. His pride wouldn’t let him do otherwise.

“We’re getting warmer. One of these has got to tell us something.”

A woman was sitting at a desk in front of Kellogg. This was definitely closer in time to now, there were three armed synths, the basic robot kind, surrounding him. She was telling me ... him ... that working against the Institute wasn’t good for him. He laughed at her, she said something, the three synths started to attack Kellogg. It was over almost before it started. The woman smiled and offered Kellogg a job.

“Definitely warmer. I hope we find something soon. We’re running out of brain here.”

Kellogg was in a corridor, looking at someone in a ... oh, fuck me! That’s the people who ... we’re all in Vault 111. There’s a woman, pointing down the hall to Nate’s pod. They’re walking down, opening the pod. There’s Nate, holding Shaun. The woman is reaching for Shaun. Nate is fighting her. Kellogg pulls his gun out. I can feel his regret that it’s going to end in violence if Nate doesn’t ... he pulls the trigger again, killing Nate. I feel the weirdest sense of deja-vu when he looks at me, beating on the window of my pod, and he calls me the backup again.

“Oh, god. I’m so sorry you had to experience that again. I’ve found another memory.”

Kellogg was sitting in his room in Diamond City. There’s a boy sitting on the floor and reading comic books. I knew from Kellogg’s memory that this was Shaun.

Amari’s voice said that she saw it, too. “Is that ... your son? This appears to be a very recent memory, so ... good news, I think.”

I could tell that Kellogg liked Shaun, even felt sorry for him about what had happened to Nate. The door opened and Kellogg instantly had his gun out and ready. There was a black man, wearing an unusual type of outfit, a black leather trench coat almost. This man was a Courser, a hunter from the Institute. He had a job for Kellogg, to find a scientist named Virgil who had escaped from the Institute’s grasp into the Glowing Sea. The Courser was to take Shaun back to the Institute while Kellogg did his job. Shaun got up and stood next to the Courser. After saying something about a relay, suddenly two beams of light appeared. Shaun and the Courser simply vanished.

“Teleportation. Now it all makes sense. Nobody’s found the entrance to the Institute, because there IS no entrance. Let me pull you out of there. As soon as you’re ready.”

I felt one last memory of Kellogg. He was thinking about Shaun, telling him goodbye. He had really cared for him. That was enough for me. I looked towards the television screen in the room, which was my exit out. Things got bright and suddenly I was looking from my own eyes again. Piper was to one side of me, Doctor Amari on the other, helping me stand up from the pod.

“Are you all right? This is something I’ve never done before.”

“That scientist Kellogg was supposed to track down. Virgil. We need to find him.”

Amari shook her head. “Slow down. Let’s start over. How are you feeling?”

I looked at Piper. “I’ll be fine. Just a little disoriented when I first stood up. That’s the first time I’ve ever experienced that.”

Piper smiled, relieved. “Seems like you’re getting a lot of first-time things. Hopefully this won’t be the last.” Her voice became matter of fact. “So, ready to talk about what happened in there?”

“I think Doctor Amari was along for the ride the whole way. Found out more about Kellogg’s history. Saw some things I didn’t care too much for. But the last one, that was the jackpot. The Institute uses teleportation to get in and out. So even if they are based somewhere around CIT, it’s all closed off with no entrances. There’s a scientist that ran from there. He got out. He must know how to get back in.”

Amari sounded worried. “Yes, but he’s in the Glowing Sea, so it won’t be easy, even if he’s still alive.”

I frowned. “Okay ... keeping in mind that I’ve been on ice for more than 200 years. Is that some new name for Boston Bay or something?”

Piper shook her head. “No, Tina. It’s where the big bombs fell. And lots of them. I’m sure you remember where Natick Banks is, or was.” I nodded, and feeling better, stood on my own. “Well, basically everything south of there was flattened, nearly all the way to Washington. I’ve talked to people who’ve explored the fringes of the area, and the radiation levels even a little way into it will kill someone unprotected in minutes. It’s called the Glowing Sea because it literally glows at night.”

“I saw the first bomb hit near there just as the Vault elevator started taking us down. I know a big part of the East Coast missile defense was located there. Damn, if Virgil fled into there, he must be dead.”

“Maybe not.” Piper and I both looked at Doctor Amari. “The radiation may be exactly why this Virgil fled there. He’s a scientist, he wouldn’t have done so if he didn’t have a way of coping with the radiation. And he would know how the Institute’s sensors work, and counted on them not being able to find him there.”

Curie spoke up for the first time. “Ah, now that you explain this, it makes sense to me. Madam, that is what I meant before. The leap of logic that Doctor Amari made just then is beyond me and my limitations. Getting beyond those is what I was hoping for when I left Vault 81 with you.”

“One thing at a time, Curie. First, we have to figure out how to find someone in the middle of a radioactive hell that doesn’t want to be found.”

“That is simple, madam. We go look for him. I know that when Doctor Burrow was using radioactive samples, he would wear a full hazmat suit. I am sure that Overseer McNamara will let you have two of them if you ask her, for you and Miss Piper. As for Mister Valentine and I, other than a good bath when we leave the area to remove dust, radiation will not affect our circuits at all.”

“Curie, is it? What you forget or perhaps do not know is that even with the best hazmat suit available, biological subjects will still take some damage from radiation, especially at the levels found in the Glowing Sea,” Amari explained.

I frowned. “I know the military had the answer for that, from before the war. Rad-X and Radaway. The only problem with Radaway is that you need lots of water, because you’re going to pee a lot, and it doesn’t do anything about your lowered risk of infection. And Rad-X can inherently cause an infection, so having antibiotics is a must.”

“I forgot, you were married to a soldier and would know about those things. I’ve heard that some people can make a mixture of several things that don’t have bad side effects, but I don’t know if anyone here in Goodneighbor would do that, or for that matter if I’d trust them to mix it anyway,” Piper said.

“I have access to quite a bit of Rad-X and Radaway. You’re welcome to take what I have on hand now, if you think that would help,” offered Amari.

“Thank you, Doctor. We’ll take you up on that.” I realized something. “Hey, is Nick okay? I just noticed he’s not down here.”

“Ah, Mister Valentine came out from under quite a bit earlier than you. I disconnected him and he said he’d wait upstairs for you. He wanted to talk to Irma, I believe. Oh, and Curie? I apologize if I sounded abrupt with you. I get caught up with my clients at times and forget my manners. Did I understand you, that you want inspiration?”

“Yes, Doctor. I am a competent technician, and I have studied all the medical and scientific works available to me in Vault 81. The problem is that I lack the ability to make the ‘leap’ like you did. From my studies, I find that this is a human trait, and as a robot I am incapable of that.”

“I see. Over the course of my own work, I have done work on both human brains and also upon those of the human looking synths. Physically, they are identical to humans, but they have a component in their brain so that memories may be implanted in them. We have found that is how the Institute initially programs them. They use something similar to my memory loungers to strip the memories from the human they kidnap, then implant them into the replacement body, along with their own programming.”

“Then, theoretically if you had a synth that had a blank brain, you could transfer Curie from her metal body into a flesh and blood one, so she could become human.”

Amari looked surprised. “I have never thought of that. You’re right; theoretically it should be possible. But ... as you said, the synth would have to have a blank brain. To do otherwise would effectively murder the personality in the synth. I won’t do that.”

Piper looked at Amari. “Um, you know I’m the nosy reporter from Diamond City,

right?” When Amari nodded, she continued. “Goodneighbor was our first stop on this side of town. I know about walking the Freedom Trail to find the Railroad. We figure that if anyone would be interested in finding out more about the Institute, it’d be them. And Tina lived here, so we don’t actually have to walk it. She knows where it leads.”

Amari was quiet for a moment. “It’s not much of a secret that I have done work for the Railroad in the past. If ... and I mean if ... the leadership of the Railroad agrees, I will see what I can do to help Curie. No promises, though. Now, I think it is time for you to take what you need, I have a lot of data from this memory trip to go over.”

There were half a dozen doses of each medicine available. I figured we’d stop at the chemist in Diamond City and get more when heading west. After thanking Amari again, the three of us went upstairs. Irma was still sitting on her fainting couch. Nick was on a bench on the other side of the room. I walked up to him. “You ready to go, Nick?”

It was Nick’s face, but Kellogg’s voice that came out of it. “Hope you got what you were looking for inside my head. Heh, I was right. Should’ve killed you when you were on ice.”

“Kellogg? Is that you?”

Nick sounded like himself. “What? What’d you say?”

“You just sounded like Kellogg, talking to me.”

“Ah, sorry about that. Amari said there might be mnemonic remnants left over in me. They’d go away once they triggered.”

Piper nervously laughed. “Yeah, that’s not something I’d want to hear again.”

“Come on, it’s time for us to go to church.”

A few Raiders learned the hard way that it was a bad idea to get in our way while we were heading to the Old North Church. So did several feral ghouls. Other than that, it almost was uneventful. I did figure that I’d need to stock up on a lot more ammunition before going into the Glowing Sea. If I used it at twice the rate I was here, and it took any time at all, I’d need both Codsworth and Curie to carry the extra. And Codsworth was at Sanctuary.

The church itself wasn’t in too bad of condition, all things considered. It was still possible to read the plaque at the front door. I also pointed out to Piper that the red brick Freedom Trail ended there.

“Okay, fine. You know the history of this town. It was probably a lot easier before the bombs to get around in, anyway.”

“You’d be surprised. Most people in town used the subway, because with transfers, it was easy to get from one side of town to the other. You’ve seen how narrow the streets are down here. Most of the surface streets were one way only, and parking was a nightmare. That’s why you’d take a bus from your house to the subway station. The fast roads were all up high, and we can see how well they’ve held up.”

“Yeah, as time progresses, I’m sure more and more of those are going to fall down. Um, Tina, sorry I sounded snippy. This is ... I’m a reporter, and I’m not sure the Railroad is going to like me knowing their business.”

“They can either get over it, or not. I’m here to see about getting their help to find Shaun. Since they consider the Institute their enemy ... well, hopefully that makes the old saying true.”

Piper looked puzzled. “What old saying?”

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

With that, I opened the door. Time and the elements had not been too kind to the roof of the old building. There were several holes in the roof, allowing light to penetrate. Once we got passed the foyer, the interior looked worse. There had been a fire here at some point. The pews and walls were charred; the second-floor balconies had collapsed in several spots. A few feral ghouls tried to interrupt our inspection. They failed.

Nick was looking around. His synth eyes saw better in the partial light. “Over there, by the end of that balcony. It looks like a painting of a lantern. And that may be an opening behind it.”

“Good. Let’s go catch a train.”

There was a partially hidden doorway. It was dimly lit, so I turned on the light from my Pip-Boy for better visibility. “Uh, Tina, that might attract someone we don’t want.”

“What, Piper, like some ghouls? What’s the life expectancy of them?”

“Sorry, I’m not used to having someone with me who can shoot like you. Most of the time when I’m crawling around in dark places looking for a story, I’m trying to be quiet as a mouse and as inconspicuous as one.”

About that time a feral ghoul came charging us. And then landed on the floor, a bullet in the brain. “Fine, I still think you’re showing off. Hey, are these tombs or something?” She was looking at a plaque on the wall.

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Not everyone was buried in the cemeteries. This was sort of like a mausoleum, they’d put the bodies inside the walls.”

“That’s not creepy or anything. Is it just me, or is the floor glowing?”

Curie checked it. “It is luminescent paint. It appears to mark a pathway.”

A few more ghouls and we reached the end of the tunnel. A light showed another Freedom Trail marker on the wall. There were wires leading from it that passed through the wall. “Puzzles, anyone?”, I asked.

Nick touched it, and realized that the outer part, where the letters were, spun. He must have had an idea, he put an R where the middle arrow pointed. Nothing happened. I reached over his shoulder and then pressed on the center section. It moved in, and made a clicking noise.

“First letter is ‘R’. Three guesses what the rest of them are.” With his help, we quickly spelled out Railroad. After lining up the ‘D’ and pressing the center, there was the sound of a relay closing. Part of the wall moved back, then slid aside.

“Well, at least I didn’t have to say, ‘Open Sesame’ for it to open.”

Piper asked, “Is that a reference I’m supposed to get?”

“Don’t worry about it. Nick, can you see anything over there? It’s really dark ahead.”

“I have better vision in partial light than a flesh and blood, but I don’t have infrared.”

I took another step. From ahead, bright floodlights suddenly clicked on, partially blinding us. A woman’s voice yelled out, “Stop right there! Who the hell are you?”

“The person that’s going to shove that light up your ass if you don’t turn it down so I can see who I’m talking to.”

“Fair point. We like to make sure we have the advantage if need be.” One of the lights was turned out of our eyes, so we could see better. There were three people on the other side of a small trench in the floor. One was a white haired, darker skinned woman, holding a mini-gun and pointing it at us. Another was a scruffy looking man, with a rifle pointing at us. The woman in the center had bright red hair, looked a little older than me, and was also holding a rifle pointed at us.

“Well, that’s a little better. Since we’re the ones that came onto your turf ... I’m Tina Wilson, this is my friend Piper. That’s Curie, she’s our resident scientist, and I’m sure that Nick Valentine’s reputation precedes him. Now, how about lowering those weapons before there’s an accident.”

“Well, that’s ... surprisingly open. And yes, we’ve heard of Mister Valentine. You’ve gone to an awful lot of trouble to find us. So yes, we’re the Railroad. How did you find us, and get the password to the secret door?”

“That’s ... a long story. As soon as I heard about following the Freedom Trail, I knew where you had to be, since I’m from Boston. And having the secret password being the name of your organization made it pretty simple to guess. It’s my understanding that you’re an enemy of the Institute.”

“An enemy is such an understatement. At times, I suspect we’re the only ones actively trying to stop them. I know damned good and well we’re the only ones who are helping synths who want freedom. No offense, Mister Valentine.”

“None taken. I’m a discarded experiment, and I know it.”

“Very well.” She lowered her rifle, her companions following suit. “I’m Desdemona, leader of the Railroad. Since it’s pretty obvious now you’re not with the Institute, what caused you to seek us out?”

“Because I need help getting into the Institute.”

“What? Either you’re suicidal or crazy, or...” A man came walking up from out of the shadows. “Deacon, where have you been?”

The bald man wearing sunglasses looked familiar for some reason. “You’re having a party. What gives with my invitation?”

“Enough jokes, Deacon. I need intel.”

The man looked at me and said, “You know, you’re practically famous. Nick Valentine was in a jam. But word is, you bailed him out, since he’s standing right here. And took care of Skinny Malone in the process, too. If that wasn’t enough, well ... let’s put it this way, boss. This little lady could have killed all three of you at any time if she’d wanted to, and Glory here wouldn’t have even got a round off. She’s killed one of the major pains in our ass, Kellogg, and she’s found out how to get into the Institute. She just needs our help in figuring out how to do it.”

“Kellogg’s dead? We hadn’t heard that yet. And how do you get into the Institute?”

I remembered where I’d seen the man before. “You were sweeping the street, then you were in one of the chambers in the Memory Den.”

“Seriously? How the hell do you know that?” He sounded upset.

“I have a memory for facial features. You can disguise your eyes and change your hair easily. Unless you have surgery or use a good make-up kit with inserts, you can’t change your mouth structure or your cheekbones. So, the only way you could know those things about me would be if you’d overheard some of our conversations, or talked to someone, or both.”

“Damn. I thought I was the spymaster here. Maybe you should teach lessons.”

Desdemona was getting angry. “That doesn’t answer my question. How do you get into the Institute?”

“Oh, simple in theory, difficult in practice. Teleportation.”

The white-haired woman looked at Desdemona. She had a throaty voice, like she was a heavy smoker. “Damn, that makes sense. Now I know why the bastards mind-wiped me, so I wouldn’t remember that.”

I looked closer at her. “You’re a synth?”

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