Love Never Changes
Chapter 8

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

Desdemona just stood there, looking at me with a stunned expression on her face. It took her a moment to recover. “You have a Courser chip?”

“Well, of course. Doesn’t everyone go hunting them down for these things? Oh, and in case anyone cares, we’ve also figured out a way to tell if someone is a synth or not. But I think it may require Curie to do the examination, we haven’t really discussed that.”

“Oh, my apologies, madam. Any Nurse Handy or appropriate settings with a biometric scanner should be able to detect the synth component chip. However, removal of the chip would require someone with adequate medical skills. Of course, it would still require a skilled neurosurgeon to remove the connection to the spinal column, and there would be inherent risks with that surgery. I would not attempt it on a human without considerable practice upon cadavers.”

“Thank you, Curie.” I shook my head. “Sorry about that, Desdemona. Anyway, long story short, yes, we have a Courser chip. I don’t suppose the resident mad genius here could analyze it?”

Both she and Deacon chuckled a little at that. “Come on, let’s go see Tom.” She led me to a black man wearing very peculiar headgear. It looked like his hat had eyepieces filled with different magnifying lenses. “Tom, we’ve got a Courser chip for you to analyze.”

I leaned over and whispered to Deacon, “I thought Carrington was the mad genius?”

“No, he’s just mad. As in pissed about everything. Tom here knows tech.”

The subject of our conversation raised up from where he’d been bent over a microscope. “A Courser chip? For real? Man, it’s been ages since I’ve had one of those to play with. I’ve got just the machine, ready to go to check it out.” Desdemona looked at me.

“Is it safe to hand it over? He doesn’t bite, or anything, does he?”

Tom sounded offended. “Hey, the sensor sweep says you’re clean. Every test Dez will let me run. Full EMF scan, biological sensors, and our other state of the art security. But you can never be too careful, especially if you’ve been around a Courser. So, the sweep says the Institute isn’t watching you, or us, but the tests can lie. Okay, have you eaten anything out there? Because if you have, they got you!”

I looked at Desdemona. “Seriously?” She had the grace to look embarrassed. I turned back to Tom. “I can handle a little paranoia. After all, sometimes they really are out to get you. But in this case, how about you just examine the fucking chip, or get out of my way and I’ll do it.”

He made placating gestures with his hands. “Okay, okay. I gotcha you. I’m sorry. It’s just ... you know what, never mind. Let me plug the chip in and see what I can find.”

Reluctantly, I handed it over. He at least wasn’t kidding. His machine was already set up with the appropriate pin connections so that the chip fit right in. The screen on the computer hooked up to the machine lit up and started flashing code on it. I was glad I hadn’t started examining it, the code was going by so fast I couldn’t even read it. Tom kept up a running commentary while he typed.

“All right, little Courser chip. Let’s have the circuit analyzer take a crack at you. And, we’re in. Chip accessed. Just poke the analog connectors a little is all. Oh, man, don’t crash. Hold it together. Memory hiccup. Wait, they’re using the same logarithmic function as the key generator. Solve for N. Come on, show me that base number. And we got it! We got the code!”

“So what do you have, then?”, Desdemona asked.

“The piece of resistance, or whatever you call it. This is the code that Coursers transmit when they want to enter the Institute. I don’t know how they do it, but this is what they use.”

“They say their designation and that they’re ready to transmit, and if they’re bringing someone with them. That’s what I saw the Courser do in Kellogg’s memories.”

Deacon grumbled, “Oh, joy. More time in the hazmat suits.”

Piper laughed a little. “Look at the bright side. You won’t have to show us your cute little butt this time, since you’re in a Vault suit.”

“I don’t think I want to know about Deacon’s butt,” Desdemona said.

“Oh, as far as butts go, it’s not bad. If you’re into that sort of thing. And at least we know where we’re going this time, so we’ll transit the Glowing Sea a bit faster ... I hope. Time to hit Goodneighbor and Diamond City on the way through, though. If we run into as many nasty critters as we did before, we’ll need all the ammunition we can get.”

“I’d prefer not to be skewered again if we can avoid it,” Nick said. “This trench coat doesn’t need any more holes in it.”

“Desdemona, do you happen to have a biometric scanner handy?”

Tom spoke up. “Hey, I have half a dozen of them. You can’t be too careful with things, otherwise the Institute can slip something in on you.”

“Great. May I please have one?” He handed one to me. “Thanks. Curie, you said that one of these scanners could pick up the chip in someone’s neck if they’re a synth, and it hasn’t been removed. Can you program it?”

“Oui, madam. One moment.” She used her manipulator arm to pull a cord out from her body and plug it into the scanner. The dial on the scanner lit up, Curie made a sound almost like a bird chirping, then the dial went dark. She pulled the plug out. “This should be correctly programmed now. I would like to test it, though.”

“Glory! Can you come over here a minute?”, Deacon yelled.

“One ass kicking angel of death at your service. What do I need to kill?”

“Curie, how close do I have to be to make this work?”

“Within about 6 inches. I do not know if clothing will interfere.”

“Hey, now. What do you think you’re going to do to me?” Glory sounded suspicious.

“To you? Nothing. Just hold still, I need to get close to you with this.” I picked up the scanner and walked up to her. From the front, nothing happened. I started around to her side. “Hold still, don’t turn your head.” The dial lit up and moved when I was about six inches from the base of her skull to one side.

“Bingo. Confirmation that we can detect the synth component chip in someone. Um, just to make sure, Piper, may I?” She nodded. I went all around her, then around Desdemona, then back to Glory. “Good job, Curie.”

“What? I told you I was a synth. I don’t understand what the big deal is?”

“I’ve a question for you, Glory. When you finally decided to leave whatever it was that the Institute had you doing, how’d you avoid being recaptured?”

“It was my charming personality, of course. Okay, maybe not. Look, you know that we have a way of giving synths other memories if they want them, right?” I nodded. “Well, even if you don’t want new memories, the process can somehow or other rewrite the access code in us, so we can’t be tracked. It leaves the chip intact, though.”

Deacon said, “But this also means that if someone is masquerading as a human, when they’ve been replaced by a synth, this now means if we can get close enough, we can tell for sure whether they really have been replaced or not.”

“No shit? Well, if you don’t mind, I’d just as soon you leave me intact,” Glory said.

“Miss Glory, I have taken two small DNA samples from both the Courser and from the synth we rescued. May I have a small sample to analyze from you?”, Curie asked. Glory grumbled, but acquiesced. “Thank you. This will only take ... interesting. You share the same percentage of genomes as the other two synths.”

“Huh. Well, we always knew we came ... fuck, I hate it when I run into a brick wall in my memories that those bastards took from me.” Glory stormed off.

Piper was excited. “Can I take the detector to Diamond City? Please?”

“Piper, this was just to make sure that our detector really worked. As for Diamond City, let’s not for now. Tom, how about we do a trade. I’ll have Curie program two more of those biometric scanners you have to help satisfy your paranoia and you give me a full copy of that code.”

“Miss Tina, are you sure that we can rely upon this gentleman?”, Codsworth asked.

“Hey, hey, I know that you’re not a synth or with the Institute because they don’t like things they didn’t make themselves. So, I won’t take offense. I got lots of cool gadgets and weapon upgrades if you’re interested,” Tom said.

While Curie and Tom were getting things exchanged, Desdemona came up to me. “So, now that you have this code, what are your plans?”

“Back to the Glowing Sea. Albeit I’ll probably be making a few detours. Since Deacon is your main intelligence guy, I’m guessing you’re not totally up to date on everything that’s happened recently.”

“Detours? Deacon, what am I missing?”

“Yeah, sorry about that. Newsflash, Bullseye here is the new General of the Minutemen. And she’s already starting to get some of the smaller settlements in the Commonwealth to working together.”

“I see.” She sighed. “I think it’s time for you to meet another member of our group. Please, follow me.” Desdemona turned and headed into a side room. Piper and I followed her. Once in this dimly lit room, I noticed several large computer banks along three of the walls, a terminal in the middle, and an robot standing to one side.

“Is that an Assaultron?”, Piper asked.

Desdemona said, “Not quite. Pam, this is Agent Bullseye and Piper Wright.”

The robot had a slightly feminine voice, but sounded much more computer generated than Curie. “Processing. Greetings, Reporter Piper Wright. My scheduled interview with you may only be used as background information on the Railroad and not quoted to me directly. Agent Bullseye. Your arrival was not calculated.”

I smiled. “I guess that’s a strange way to say hello.”

“Temporarily unable to process verbal input. Still processing. Preliminary adjustments to statistical models complete. Commencing introduction. I was, am, and will most likely be P.A.M., Predictive Analytic Machine.”

“Do you work for the Railroad, Pam?”, Piper asked.

“Yes. My goals and the Railroad organization have a high degree of correlation. They provide data. I provide first order approximations of the behaviors of all residents of the region designated Commonwealth. Rephrasing. I predict the future.”

“So, you have a time scheduled for Piper to interview you, but you didn’t predict me coming?”

“That is correct. Caution. Biological life forms behave erratically. Unpredictably. All output subject to an extremely high margin of error.”

“Just how inaccurate are you?”

“The smaller the group and the greater the time-frame, the less accurate I become. But all predictions are affected by the human element. Operation complete. You are a rogue variable. No current or previous models predict your presence or existence. Query. What is your point of origin?”

“I grew up here in the Boston area, if that’s what you mean,” I said.

“Negative. Still processing rogue variable. Error. No information on Agent Bullseye in Commonwealth population database.”

“Probably not.” I glanced at my Pip-Boy. “It’s not even three full weeks yet that I left Vault 111.”

“Accessing. Vault 111. Cryogenic vault, believed destroyed. Conversation terminated pending construction of new probability matrix. Rephrasing, goodbye.” The robot shut down motor functions, but I could from the electronics she was working overtime now.

Desdemona looked a little stunned. “Well, that’s not exactly what I was expecting. Pam has never done this before. When you took Deacon from here six days ago, she’d said earlier that a vital mission was coming for him. That’s why I made my decision to have him go with you when you said you had to go into the Glowing Sea.”

Deacon had come in to see what was going on. “Yeah, that may be my fault. I knew a bit about our new girl and was going to take her to retrieve the prototype from the old headquarters. So, Pam was right in that I had a vital mission. Just not which one.”

“Damn. Does that mean it’s too late to get the prototype?”

“I wouldn’t think so, Dez. You know how we locked things down. Last thing I saw of Tommy Whispers was he was inside the vault, so if it looked like the Institute was going to grab it, he would have destroyed it. The biggest thing we need is to find out one way or the other whether or not it’s still available.”

Desdemona turned to me. “I hate to ask you this, but...”

“I’ll just add it to my list of places. It may be a week or more before we’re back here, at this point, so don’t be surprised if it takes us that long,” I replied with a slight smile.

“Be careful and be safe. Is there anything you need from us?”

“We’ll need more anti-radiation chems. We’ll do some shopping on the way through. As for right now, it’s been a long day, so if we could grab some sleep for those of us that actually need to sleep, that’d be great.”

She agreed. They had several mattresses available in a back corridor, which even if they weren’t that comfortable, were better than the hard floor. Piper and I put two of them together so we could at least snuggle. Neither one of us wanted to do more than that in public like this.

The next morning, we got an early start. Our first destination was still within Boston. We headed south to Goodneighbor, avoiding trouble where we could, but not shirking from it when it found us. That gave us a few more things to sell when we got to town. I hadn’t stopped at the vendors before, just noting that they existed. I went to Daisy’s Discounts, since that seemed more likely to have chems than a shop named Kill or Be Killed.

Behind the counter was a female ghoul, wearing a brown wig and surprisingly well kept. “A new face walks into my store, and you’re not even screaming yet. Very polite. Let me know if anything catches your fancy.”

“Did you say something about people screaming at you?”

She smiled, as much as a ghoul could. “That’s right. Some newcomers have never seen a Ghoul before. Can’t handle a friendly face, I say.”

“I’ve talked to Hancock, so I can appreciate that. And with Nick here running with me, not much surprises me anymore,” I said, a smile on my face.

“Hey, it’s the detective. I haven’t seen you for quite a while. So is this sweet young thing your apprentice?”

He snorted. “You’d be surprised, Daisy. She’s been teaching me a thing or two about reality. Hell, she may be able to do that for you.”

“Oh, don’t bullshit me, Nick. I mean, I think I look pretty good for being 220 years old. Do you have any idea what it’s like being that old?”

He laughed, which made me chuckle as well. “She does, Daisy.”

I asked, “So, you’re 220 years old?”

“Okay, more like 270, if you want to be precise. You sort of give up counting birthdays after a while. So how would you know what it’s like being that old? What was the world like before the war?”

“So, you would have been about 60 when the war started. I like to say I was 29 and holding, because I was still short of 35. I got the Vault suit I’m wearing when I went into Vault 111 just as the first bombs were falling, then spent the next 210 years in cryogenic suspension. And I met my late husband in Alaska, fighting the Chinese. So, yeah, I knew the world before the war.”

“It’s a good thing for you that you didn’t have to live through the period after, like I did. Yeah, you’re right about my age. I was bitter, old woman then, sweetie. My husband got killed in the war against the Reds a few years before the bombs fell. They wouldn’t even tell me where he died. Classified information and all that. Well, you don’t want to see an old woman cry, so what can I get for you?”

“Anti-radiation chems. We’ve quite a bit of things to trade for them.”

Daisy and I bartered back and forth for a few minutes. When we were done, I said, “Daisy, I have to know. What did you do before the war?”

“I was an angry young woman then. Thought the world was sick and wouldn’t give me my due. Then I became bitter and old. Then it all ended and well, I ended in a way. Becoming a Ghoul ... Maybe when you get to my age, everything starts to look like fate.”

“No, I can understand that. I meant, where did you work? For some reason, you seem familiar to me.”

“Oh, I don’t think my looks are that great nowadays. But if you mean where did I have a job, for the last 20 some-odd years before the bombs fell, I was the assistant head librarian over at the Public Library here. That’s what I meant about not giving me my due, I was passed over for promotion to head librarian at least three times.”

“Mrs. Underwood. Of course. I’m Tina Wilson. You may not remember me, but my dad would drop me off at least once a week there. I was Tina Shannon then.”

“The police officer’s daughter? Lordy, I remember you. I had to expand some of our book and magazine collections because of you. I’m sorry about your husband and your father. But ... I’m damned glad to see you’re still alive, even after all this time.”

From behind me, I heard Deacon mutter, “Damn, she was right, about bone structure.”

Daisy continued, “I’m sorry, hon, those times are long gone now. But ... you’ll think I’m silly, but if you happen to stop by the Library, I have a book here that I had brought with me and never returned. It’d mean a lot to me if you took it back for me. Oh, and I’m not the only ghoul here in Goodneighbor that was alive before the war. There’s one that lives in the Hotel Rexford, if you run into him.”

I took the book from her. “I’ll take it back for you, Mrs. Underwood. Thanks again for everything.” I went around the counter then and gave her a hug. She felt odd, with her skin feeling like it was scar tissue after a severe burn. My weekly trips to the library when I was young had come in very handy over the years, none more so than since I woke up in the Vault.

After leaving her, we went to the Memory Den. Irma was still sitting watching over things. She recognized us. “Amari is downstairs. Go ahead.”

We went down into the basement. Doctor Amari was working at a computer terminal on something. She stopped, turned, and then said, “Ah, welcome back. I trust you have found what you were looking for in that brain.”

“Sort of. We’re going to have to make another trip through the Glowing Sea, though. In any event, that’s not why we stopped in. First, we have programmed a biometric scanner so that it can detect the synth component inside someone. Is that something you’d like to have?”

“Of course. Or at least the core programming behind it. I can easily program my own sensors and scanners here if I know what the basic program is. How accurate is it?”

“Well, so far it’s worked on someone we know is a synth, and not on someone who isn’t. It also has to be within a few inches of the subject’s neck to work, at least at this time. If you just want the basic program, we can give that to you. You’ve been a great help. And that lets me get to my second reason. I think you can help Curie with something.”

Amari was puzzled. “Oh? I’m not a mechanic. What could she possibly want?”

Curie sounded excited. “Ah, of course. Doctor, I wish to download my data and core programming into a human brain.”

Shocked, Amari said, “You want what? Is she serious?”

“Curie has a lot of pre-war research data, but she can’t continue her important research as a robot,” I said by way of explanation.

Curie cut in. “Oui. There are fundamental limitations in my robotic systems. I have no capacity for the human trait of inspiration. The scanner is the perfect example. While I was able to program the scanner, it did not occur to me to do so until madam asked if I could do so. I was programmed to further our studies of disease, pathogens, and viruses. I have gone as far as I possibly can in that simply due to my own limitations.”

Raising her hand to her face, Amari started rubbing her chin in thought. “This is an interesting thought. The memories themselves wouldn’t be hard. We translate those from the brain to computers and back all the time here. It’s how the loungers work. Her personality, though? All the extra pieces of robotic, programmed decision making? A normal, organic brain wouldn’t know what to do with them. A third-generation synth brain, on the other hand, with the organic components of a normal, human brain, but the machine interface so that it could receive those orders, that might work.”

“Unless one is attacking us, I won’t kill a synth just for this experiment.”

Amari sounded offended. “I’m suggesting nothing of the sort. You’re aware that many times I perform either full mind wipes or other memory editing upon escaped synths, to help them survive here in the Commonwealth or where ever they end up. Unfortunately, the procedure isn’t always successful. If something goes wrong, it can leave the synth in a brain-dead state, with autonomic responses only. Living, but no cognition. Most times the caretaker for the synth has me ... well, you understand. However, there are some where the caretaker knew the synth that underwent the procedure before, and they can’t let go. I know a caretaker for one of those brain-dead synths. If they’re willing, we could try transferring your friend’s consciousness into her.”

My companions were silent, watching me think things through. “How long would it take to get in touch with this caretaker?”

“Give me a day to get in contact with them. They’re understandably cautious, but I think they’ll hear me out,” explained Amari.

“Well, we have plenty to do before we delve back into a radioactive hell, anyway. Go ahead, get in contact with them. We’ll be back about this time tomorrow. We’ll see you then, Doctor.”

Curie said, “I would like to stay here with the Doctor, so that if the caretaker gives approval, I will be ready.”

“I don’t know what else we’re going to face here in the Commonwealth. I’d prefer you to come with us, just in case we need your scientific or medical expertise.”

She sounded disappointed, “Very well, madam. I understand.”

My companions followed me back up the stairs. “What are you thinking, Tina?”

“Well, Piper, I think we’re probably going to need another hazmat suit before we go into the Glowing Sea. I doubt that a synth is resistant to radiation like a mechanical being. Deacon, where’s this place you need to check, with the prototype?”

Deacon smirked. “It’s under a Slocum’s Joe in Lexington, and if I remember right, we’ll find a couple of hazmat suits there.”

“Wait. Your secret headquarters was under a coffee shop?”

“Sure. Isn’t everyone’s? And it even has an escape tunnel. Seriously, it was some kind of hidden military base. There’s a lot of equipment down there that doesn’t work any longer. But we thought it was the perfect hidden location for us, at least until the Institute hit us. That’s where we found Pam.”

“Well, if it’s in Lexington, then ... shit, I wish I’d known about this when we were coming down here from up north, we could have detoured then. Of course, we wouldn’t have gotten the hazmat suits then, if they’re in there. Hmm. Hang on, let me pull this up.” I pulled up the map of the Commonwealth on my Pip-Boy.

“Okay, here’s what I’m thinking. We have three different ways to get there. Go straight back up the coast, like we came down here, then cut straight west when we get to Lexington. Go back to Greentech Genetics, go northwest through the ruins until we get there. Or follow the Charles west, cross the river south of CIT at one of the bridges, then just follow those roads north. Thoughts?”

“Just tell us which way you really want to go. We’ll follow you,” Nick said. The rest affirmed his comment.

I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Okay, you’re all taking this General stuff way too seriously. But fine, you want to be that way, we can do it that way.” I headed west from Goodneighbor, this time going to the north of the State House. The Charles was soon in sight. The first bridge we came to was partially collapsed in the river.

Before we got to the second, we found a couple of Raiders with machine gun turrets set up outside of a clothing store. They didn’t slow us down more than a few minutes. Seeing what was stuck under the partially raised Boston University bridge did cause me to stop.

“Well, I suppose that when the bombs hit, it put the electric out, so the drawbridge would have stopped partway open. But how the hell did a tugboat full of barges get stuck there? And is still there? Surely the bilge pumps aren’t running?”

“Um, what are bilge pumps?”, Piper asked.

“Most boats leak, even just a little. And I’ve noticed that it still rains. So after a long enough time, you get more water inside than out. The bilge is the lowest spot inside the hull, where water tends to collect. If you don’t keep them pumped out, then eventually they fill and the boat sinks.”

Nick said, “Well, they have floodlights going, and there’s a bunch of cable running to the barge behind them, so I’d guess they do have power.”

“Fine, be that way.” I pulled my rifle up, to examine things through the scope. “I don’t suppose you or Deacon know if these are good people or they’re ... never mind, they’re Raiders.”

“Why do you say that, boss?”

“Good people don’t decorate their homes with the heads of people. Now, hush up for a minute.” I moved into a better position, with the railing helping to support the weight of my rifle a little. Six shots later, I said, “Well, crap. I wasted a round. Oh, well. Let’s go, the way is clear.”

Codsworth and Curie headed out ahead of us, so they could rummage through the boat and her cargo before those of us on foot could get there. “There’s a power armor frame on the barge, mum. I pulled the Fusion Core for you. Not much else other than some ammunition and a few medical supplies.”

I nodded in thanks. The drawbridge wasn’t perfectly positioned over the boat. At some time in the past, someone had created a ladder for people to go up and then cross over the span of the river. I looked down through the rusting grates on the bridge at the water flowing below. I shook my head with a grimace.

Piper sounded concerned. “What’s wrong, Tina?”

“Just a memory. One time, Dad and I were driving home and he got a call. A guy had jumped off the bridge to avoid getting arrested. We stopped here, right here, and looked down at the river through the grates on the bridge, just like I am now. Problem was the poor bastard forgot it was winter, the river was frozen over, so he hit the ice and broke his neck.”

Piper looked confused. “Winter? Was that one of the seasons then?”

“Don’t tell me, you don’t have seasons anymore.”

Nick shook his head. “Sorry, but we really don’t, haven’t had for as long as I can remember. With the clarification that I’m talking about since I’ve been awake as a synth, not from before. I remember them. I think that’s why things aren’t any more torn up than they are. Come to think of it, I don’t think we’ve even had any hurricanes, either. Of course, we didn’t used to have radiation storms back then, either.”

“Well, that explains why it isn’t getting colder since it’s November, anyway. So just rain, radiation storms, and a relatively mild climate. Between that and the mutations I’ve seen, that explains why crops seem to produce more than I’d expect. I guess that’s a good thing, helps keep everyone surviving fed.”

“Miss Tina, isn’t that the CIT building over there?”, Codsworth asked.

“Yes, it is. Why?”

“Well, it was my understanding from what I’ve heard you talk about that this is where the Institute is. I was just wondering why we’re not walking closer, or perhaps actually looking through it?”

“If it was that easy, don’t you about think someone would have found them by now? No, they wouldn’t have been so careless as to leave a physical connection to their facility right over where they were. They’ve gone underground, and unless we have some serious earth moving equipment, I don’t think we’ll get down there. Not when they use teleportation now. Plus, I can also see from here evidence that the building is full of super mutants.” The blood bags the green monsters used to store some of their food for later were piled near one of the entries.

“Then if I may ask, why did we come this way?” He did exacerbated very well.

“Because we haven’t come this way yet. It’s still on the way to where Deacon said we need to go. This way we get to clear more area and find out just how shitty ... speaking of, does that sound like a lot of laser fire to anyone else?”

Deacon sighed. “Of course. The question is, is the one doing the firing the good guy or the bad guy?”

I smiled. “There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there? I started jogging forward with my rifle ready, chuckling inside as I heard Deacon and Piper both cursing.

We were coming up the hill towards the Cambridge Police Station and College Square. I glanced over to my left, where the Fraternal Post that Nate had been supposed to give his speech was located. Funny how 200 years of neglect and decay almost made the outside of it look better than it had before the war.

There was what seemed to be a small army of feral ghouls ahead. They were concentrating on the Police station and didn’t see us coming. That helped us hit them from the flank, decimating them before they could charge at us. Apparently, that was what whoever was at the Police station needed, because the firing from there seemed to increase.

A series of barricades and fortified positions surrounded the Police station. We found an entry. A pile of dead feral ghouls partially blocked our entrance. Just inside, a soldier wearing power armor was fighting hand to hand with a feral ghoul. Behind him, at the entrance to the police station, a woman wearing a uniform was shooting at another feral ghoul while standing protectively over a man that was propped up at the building, trying to hold a leaking bandage over his middle.

Time seemed to slow for me as my eyes seemed to click over each of the feral ghouls that were attacking them. Four quick shots later, all four of the remaining ghouls were down, missing their heads. The soldier wearing the power armor seemed rather surprised at the sudden help.

“Civilian in the perimeter! Check your fire!” He quickly looked around, to make sure there were no more feral ghouls. “We appreciate the assistance, civilian, but what’s your business here?”

“Pest exterminator. We heard you had a feral problem and thought we’d stop by.”

Apparently, he didn’t find that funny. “Evading my questions is a surefire way to get yourself evicted from the compound.”

“Seriously? Yep, you’re a soldier. Corncob stuck up your ass attitude at anyone who doesn’t wear your uniform. Well, here’s some news for you, soldier boy. I’m General Tina Wilson of the Commonwealth Minutemen, and your compound is in my area of operations. So how about you shit can that attitude right now!”

Some of the things I’d learned while on the tour with Nathan had stuck with me. “Ma’am, we’re Recon Team Gladius, Brotherhood of Steel. I’m ... confused. You’re all wearing Vault suits?”

“Thermally self-regulating, providing comfort regardless of exterior temperature, upgraded with ballistic cloth for penetration protection, with polymer chest, arm, and leg armor for maximum protection with minimal interference in motion. Now, perhaps we can continue this like civilized people?”

“My apologies. If I appeared suspicious, it’s because our mission here has been difficult. Since the moment we arrived in the Commonwealth, we’ve been constantly under fire. We’re on recon duty, but I’m down a man and our supplies are running low. I’ve been trying to send a distress call to my superiors, but the signal’s too weak to reach them. I’m Paladin Danse, Brotherhood of Steel. Over there is Scribe Haylen and Knight Rhys.”

“Sir, if I may?”, the woman said.

“Proceed, Haylen.”

“I’ve modified the radio tower on the roof of the police station, but I’m afraid it just isn’t strong enough. What it needs is something that will boost the signal.”

Danse took over. “Our target is ArcJet Systems, and it contains the technology we need, the Deep Range transmitter. We infiltrate the facility, secure the transmitter, and bring it back here. So, what do you say? You willing to lend the Brotherhood of Steel a hand?”

“I’ve got a better idea. There’s a big Brotherhood of Steel airship sitting over at Boston Airport. I’ve seen it moored to the control tower, lots of vertibirds dropping down and shooting things up over there, probably securing what they think is a beach head. How about you sit tight and we’ll simply let them know where you are.”

“A Brotherhood of Steel airship? Here in the Commonwealth?”, Danse asked, surprised.

“Yeah, it was sort of hard to miss, coming in overhead, all lit up, loudspeakers blaring that we had nothing to fear. Surprised you didn’t see it.”

Haylen shook her head, asking, “How could we have missed it? When did this happen?”

I glanced at my Pip-Boy. “Six days ago, on the 11th.”

Danse turned to Haylen. “That was when we were fighting our way back up from the basement. No wonder we missed it.” He turned back to me. “A group of Super-Mutants attacked us a little over a week ago, managed to force us down into the basement section of the building. We held them on the stairs, but some of our equipment on the main floor was damaged. That’s ... that’s when I lost half our team.”

“Not to make light of your situation, Danse, but the Commonwealth will chew you up and spit you out if you make any mistakes. Tell you what. We’re on a mission of our own. You take care of your troops over there. We’ll be back this way either later today or tomorrow morning. You and I will talk then.”

“Outstanding! One thing, though. The Brotherhood only has one airship on the East Coast. The Prydwen. If she’s here, then that means Elder Maxson is here. And just so you know, that means the Brotherhood is going to war.”

“Great. We need another war. Look, we’ll talk more when we come back, okay?”

“Outstanding,” Danse said.

We headed up to the secret rendezvous spot, met with the Railroad agent that had been assigned to watch the old headquarters, then rather quickly and easily shot our way through the building, getting the prototype without any trouble at all. It was only five hours later we were opening the door after we’d left.

Paladin Danse greeted us when we returned to the Cambridge Police Station. “I take it your mission was a success?”

“Of course. I have a good team with me. So, is there anyone at the airship I should ask for, when we get there?”

“General, if it wouldn’t be a problem, I’d like to accompany you. This is still a secure facility and Rhys isn’t fully healed up. But between the two of them, they’ll be fine while I go explain what’s going on.”

“I presume you have enough fusion cores for your armor that it won’t be an issue. Very well.” I looked at my companions. “We’ll go straight east from here, cross the river, go to the next bridge, cross the river again, and go south to the airport. Any questions?”

Deacon said, “No, but that will take us by Bunker Hill, if we need to resupply.”

“That was my plan,” I said. Deacon glanced at me, then saw me wink. He silently chuckled. “Okay, then. Let’s hit the road.” We exited the building. “Danse, since we’re escorting you, you’ll be behind me.”

I knew that wouldn’t sit well with him. “Um, I’m in power armor and a heavily armed and trained soldier. I think that I...”

I cut him off. “I think you should shut up and follow orders. I’ll keep you safe.” His face turned an interesting shade, I thought he was going to blow up on me. About that time three feral ghouls popped up from where they had been hiding. Before he could react, I had shot all three of them.

Shortly thereafter, several Raiders came into view. They died quickly. A large group of ghouls were near a church. This time there were just too many of them, so Deacon and Piper each got to shoot one. I got the other four. The streets were otherwise relatively deserted. I could see the Bunker Hill monument before we got close to it.

Once we were close enough, though, it was obvious that someone had given the area some thought. Large fences made of lumber, steel, and tires bordered the whole monument area. Several wrecked vehicles provided funnels to lead attackers into fire zones. There was a large gate that opened inward, with a woman standing guard.

“Raider or Caravan?”, she questioned.

“Neither. Commonwealth Minutemen, escorting a guest. We’d like to check with your store, to see if we can get some more ammunition,” I explained.

“Well, you certainly don’t look like any Raider group I ever saw. Store is just past the monument; bar is to the west. Doc and Vet are over this way,” she pointed.

Danse was quiet as we negotiated for more ammunition. I noticed Deacon going over to an old man and discussing a Geiger counter. I smiled, knowing what was going on right in front of Danse. After a few minutes, we reached an equitable trade, several weapons that we’d be carrying from the attack upon the robotic synths for ammo. That also gave Deacon enough time to finish his discussion.

We left Bunker Hill and headed east along the road that led to a bridge across the Mystic River. As we got closer, Danse asked, “Is that normal?”

I looked to where he was pointing. “Well, if you had been around the Commonwealth, you’ve seen cars in trees and other things thrown about due to the nuclear bombs. I’ll admit that having Old Ironsides sitting on top of a building isn’t exactly something you see every day, but at least she’s still relatively in one piece. That’s American history up there, Danse.”

I noticed the bridge we were getting ready to cross had some booby traps on it. Before we got too close, I fired a single round at a gas container, which tripped all of the traps and made a rather neat fire. We waited a few minutes for things to calm down, then crossed the river.

“We need to stay on the road here. That’s an old power plant along the river. It’s still a bit more radioactive than we need to encounter without proper gear,” Deacon advised.

After going around the plant, I saw a couple of farmers with a small shack on the north side of the road. We walked up to them. One of them saw us. “Stay back, we don’t have much, but we’ll defend it.”

“Calm down. I’m with the Commonwealth Minutemen. Do you folks need our help?”

His expression changed. “I heard a rumor you folks were coming back. That’s great. And yes, you could help us. There’s a group of feral ghouls that we’ve seen outside the National Guard Training Center, just over there. We’ve got things going pretty well here, but we can’t hold them off if they decide to attack.”

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