Love Never Changes
Chapter 11

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

“That’s ... quite a statement, mother. What do you mean by that?”

“Simple, really. How large of a population do you have down here?”

He looked uncomfortable. “I do trust you; I’ve let you keep your weapons and I’m meeting you unarmed myself. But I prefer not to share that information with you just at the moment, if you don’t mind.”

“Not a problem. I saw three stories, with residences on each quadrant. With space for hydroponics, power, and other necessities of life, I’d make a guess that you have less than a hundred people down here, not counting robotic and biological synths.”

Now he looked even more uncomfortable. “That’s ... very close. May I ask how you came up with that number?”

“Certainly.” I didn’t say anything else.

He waited for me to say anything else, then his eyes widened when he realized what he’d said. “I can’t wait for you to discuss things with the Directorate. I have a feeling that I’m going to enjoy that. Mother, how did you come up with that number?”

“I’ve been inside multiple Vaults, including one that is fully functional. I saw how much room each of them had, based upon how many people were supposed to be living in each one versus how many they actually had or could support, and simply extrapolated.”

“Again, very logical. Almost frighteningly so. You ... well, you have given me a lot to think about, and ponder. I was going to ask you to join the Institute, to help our cause. If I understand you correctly, you’re actually asking us to join the Commonwealth.”

I nodded. “Shaun, I realize that I’ve thrown this at you from out of the blue. I wouldn’t ask it if I didn’t think it was vitally important for us, for all of us.”

A furrow crossed his brow. “Something you said, twice. I’m realizing I have to pay very close attention to what you say, you see. I called them organic synths. I presumed you were referring to them when you said biological synths, but you wouldn’t use that word if there wasn’t another reason. Why?”

I grinned widely. “You are my son. Very bright, and to use a very old saying, you just asked the six-million-dollar question. As you noted, the Institute uses our DNA to help create the biological synths. But other than the chip connection in the spinal column that allows external programming of the brain, which can’t be removed without harming the synth beyond the current ability of medical science to repair it, and the actual chip itself that conveys that programming, do you know what the difference is between one of those synths and you or I?”

He looked puzzled. “They were created by us as tools, using organic compounds mixed with DNA. That sounds like a question the Railroad would pose.”

“You’re too close to the problem to see the answer, then.”

He sounded slightly angry. “Then what is the answer? What’s the difference?”

“I don’t think you’re going to like my answer. But it’s also from direct observation as well. Absolutely nothing.”

“Ridiculous, mother! The organic synths are Institute property.”

“Then what about their children?”

He sat back on the couch like I’d slapped him. The blood drained from his face. In a very quiet voice, he said, “What did you say?”

I lowered my voice as well. “I said, what about their children? Come on, son. Surely your scientists realized the difference between creating a robotic synth, which isn’t much different than any robot that was created during my time, and a biological organism that has working reproductive organs.”

He sounded very shaken. “Do ... do you have proof?”

“I know that female synths can have menstrual cycles just like any other female. I know that female synths can end up missing those menstrual cycles after engaging in sex with men. I haven’t seen a child yet that I know was born of a synth woman if that’s what you’re asking. And I haven’t found a woman that knowingly has had sex with a male synth, but I haven’t checked the entire population of the Commonwealth. I’m working on that.”

“You raise even more questions with your answers. You’re checking the population of the Commonwealth? How?”

“What was it you said earlier, I’d prefer not to share that information with you. But as you said, you trusted me. Well, trust me on this. I’ve found a way to check whether or not someone is a synth. And it works, 100% of the time.”

He made the same wrong conclusion that Ingram did. “You know about the DNA, and have found a way to compare everyone to you. Ingenious. And no doubt, others on the surface know about it and the technique. You wouldn’t tell me things that you haven’t shared with your subordinates. You did say you were working with all three of the major factions on the surface, didn’t you?”

I simply raised one eyebrow in response.

“Very funny, mother. I did say I was going to have to consider what you said, didn’t I? Now you’ve given me even more to think about. In the meantime, the Institute is your home as much as it is mine. I’d appreciate ... wait, let me start over. Please, take some time and get to know it. Meet the people you’ll be working with. The Division Leaders, especially. And ... this is only a suggestion, of course, but I think it might be a good idea if you didn’t raise some of the points you have with me, with them, not yet.”

He stood up. “Thank you, mother. You’ve ... well, you’ve given an old man something to think about.”

That did it. I took him in a hug. He hesitated at first, then gripped me as tightly as I was holding him. I could hear him sobbing a little over my own crying. I had finally found my baby boy.

We both wiped our eyes upon breaking the clinch. “Here, mother, let me upload a map of the Institute to your Pip-Boy. That’ll make it easier for you to access things here. I’ll see you for dinner, I hope.”

“Of course, son.” I turned from him, looking at my Pip-Boy, figuring where to go first. I decided that if I was going to piss anyone off, I better get things out of the way first and go to Bio-Sciences, to retrieve the package for Virgil.

A circular walkway leading up two levels and down one, with plants and a tree growing in the middle, was what I first saw upon leaving Shaun’s quarters. My map showed where I needed to go. I walked into the main atrium, where the elevator shaft was in the middle. It was a peaceful place, clear flooring with running water underneath the floors. I could smell that the air was kept fresh and clean, without the use of chemicals that my nose could detect. Several people in lab coats were standing or sitting in the atrium, some of them holding conversations.

I heard one of them questioning another about Phase 3, with her companion saying that they couldn’t talk about it. Interesting that they keep secrets from each other here. A woman in a white lab coat was working on a synth that was simply standing still. An older woman, with light brown hair and wearing a yellow lab coat was watching.

“Almost done. Just need to tighten up this primary drive servo.”

“That’s the third time this has happened this month. As far as I’m concerned, the phase out on these older models can’t come soon enough,” the older woman said.

“Oh, I don’t know. Most of them have lasted long past their projected lifespans. If you ask me, they were built pretty well.” She closed up a panel. “There you go. All set. Unit, you can return to duty.”

The synth had a more mechanical voice than I expected, since it looked slightly human. “Thank you, ma’am. Returning to primary duties.”

The older woman said, “I can’t argue with their lifespan. Even so, I’m ready to see the full gen-3 production schedule going.” She noticed I was watching. Turning to the other woman, she said, “Thank you, Evans. That’ll be all.” Then to me, she said, “Well, they weren’t kidding. You really are here.”

“Of course, I am,” I said. “And you are...”

“Oh, sorry. I’m Allie ... Allie Fillmore. You can think of me as the Institute’s Chief Engineer. When Father told us about you, I could hardly believe it. You’ve been through so much; I think most people would have given up. If you don’t mind my asking, what was it that kept you going all that time?”

Nosy, but direct. Just like an engineer. “I needed to find my son and keep him safe.”

She smiled. “Now that you’ve found him, I hope you’re proud of the man he grew up to be. Now, I’ll give you a quick run-down of the Facilities division, and then I’ll answer any questions you might have afterwards.”

She went into a mild lecture mode. “As you might guess, we keep all of the Institute’s mechanical, electrical, and other support systems running smoothly. We maintain and upgrade all of the systems that make it possible to live and work in a place like this. There’s a lot of machinery and plumbing behind these walls that recycles the air and water, and provides the power to the laboratories and quarters. The work we do might not be as exciting as some of the other departments, but it’s at least as important. So, now that you’re here and you’ve spoken to Father, does that mean you’re on board?”

“Shaun and I have had a preliminary discussion, yes. We’ll be meeting for dinner after I’ve done a review of the departments and met with the Division Leaders before we determine the best way to proceed with things.”

Allie nodded. “Of course, that makes perfect sense. Shaun did imply that you operated on a level if not equal, then at least similar, to the rest of us. Very well, what can I do for the future director of the Institute?”

I smiled inside. Leave it to an engineer to let something slip. “I know that this was built originally by the survivors from CIT. I presume it took a while to get to all this?”

“Oh, yes. The original survivors of the war took refuge in the basement of the old CIT main building, as it was already several floors below ground. Over time, their sons and daughters dug deeper into the earth and built increasingly sophisticated habitats and laboratories. While they had the original Vault-Tec plans, they improved upon them over time, so we have what you see here. And it’s still a process that’s ongoing today. Even now, we’re digging tunnels out for new facilities and infrastructure. Just think of what this place will look like in a hundred years. I hope I’m there to see it.”

“If Bio-Sciences can keep things up, and depending upon other advances, we all may be around,” I said, acting like I knew what I was talking about. “If you’re the supervisor, who are your main subordinates?”

“Doctor Lawrence Higgs is our mechanical engineer. He oversees the major life support and security systems. Power distribution is Doctor Evan Watson’s area of expertise, and Doctor Newton Oberly is in charge of food and housing. He makes sure that our meals are balanced for optimal nutrition. And as you saw, we still make use of a number of synth units for low-priority maintenance and labor.”

“Power distribution, eh? It must be a challenge to meet the power demands of a place like this.”

“Absolutely. We scratch and scrape for every precious ounce of voltage that we can. Over the years, we’ve learned a few tricks that help supplement our power budget. When necessary, we can tap into select sources on the surface. We take only what we need, of course.”

I nodded. “Of course.”

“Fortunately, Advanced Systems is always working on new solutions to generate more energy. It’s a good thing, too, because the demand is always increasing. You don’t even want to know what a single use of the molecular dematerializer consumes,” she laughed.

I nodded. “I’ve a pretty good idea. Remember, I had to build my own, simply to come here.” I decided to go fishing a little, like a good like lawyer. “So will Phase Three take care of that?”

Her eyes widened. “Wow, Father does trust you completely. Yes, the new fusion reactor should power everything for centuries to come. We’re nearing the end of construction. In fact, I need to go check on something. Is there anything else?”

I shook my head, smiling, and held out my hand. “No, Allie, it was a pleasure.” She shook it, smiling at me in return. I watched in silence as she went off to another job.

I decided to go to Bio-Sciences and kill two birds with one stone. First, find Virgil’s serum. Second, meet up with the eggheads there.

The first ended up being almost laughably easy, at least for me. When I entered the Bio-Sciences section, there were two doors. I choose the door to the right instead of the one straight ahead. That led me along a corridor with a couple of other doors off of it. One of those went into a section that was locked, with a door reading FEV Labs, No Entry. Going through that didn’t take long.

A few turrets and an Assaultron were the only things I encountered. I was disturbed to see how many experiments upon people that they had run, though. One of the rooms had several nearly mummified cats in there that had been food for the inhabitants. A terminal entry noting how the test subjects died or were killed made me question if there were any difference between the Institute and Vault-Tec. I did find notes that confirmed Virgil had been here, and had complained to the Directorate about testing.

I ended up leaving the FEV lab through a doorway that led into the main Bio-Sciences section. The only problem was that there was a laser doorway blocking access. The terminal entry said this door was due to the potential bio-hazard in the FEV lab. Except there was nothing there, other than evidence someone had disagreed with the people that ran this place.

I almost hoped I’d be discovered on this side of things. When no one noticed, I started using my backdoor passwords. For scientists, these people were pretty stupid. My old RobCo passwords still worked even on their most secure doors. Once I had it down, I went into the main room and used a terminal on that wall to bring the lasers back up. At this point, I figured it was time to use my little programs that I’d been given before being sent here, and inputted both of them. The data tape that Sturges gave me quickly did its thing, copying whatever it was he wanted. The tape that Desdemona gave me also gave me quick results. A message came back asking me to meet Patriot in a room off the main atrium.

I decided to look like I belonged here, even if my clothing didn’t match anything and started walking around the room. It was huge, the walls lined with containers with some kind of plant growing in them. A couple of robotic synths were standing near a glass wall. I stopped and stared. There were two gorillas behind the wall.

A tall, relatively young man, with golden blond hair that needed a barber, came walking up. “Ah, welcome! So good to have you here. I’m Clayton, Doctor Clayton Holdren, head of the Bio-Sciences division. I can’t wait for you to see the work we’re doing, it’s truly amazing.” His tone was very enthusiastic.

I nodded. “I look forward to learning more about it.”

He practically bubbled at my comment. “Great! In that case, let me give you a brief overview of what we do here. As the name implies, the Bio-Science division specializes in fields of study such as botany, genetics, and medicine. Our most important directive is to ensure the health and well-being of everyone in the Institute. To that end, we cultivate the highly specialized breeds of flora that you see here for use in food and medicine. We’ve even started to explore the idea of synthetic animal life. I saw you looking at the gorillas ... they’re really just a pet project at this point, but the potential is exciting, nonetheless.”

“Where did you find the DNA to create gorillas?”

“Ah, a field agent managed to make a trip to the old Nuka-World amusement park and return. He had several samples of different animal life. The gorillas were the easiest to create, since to a certain extent, we are genetically related.”

“Nuka-World is still there?”

“Yes, although there have been Raiders move in since our agent visited. On the whole, I’d say these gorillas are a success. Their behavior does generally match what our historical data says it should be. Unfortunately, we had a few early setbacks. They can become suddenly aggressive, and they’re quite strong. They destroyed two of their synth handlers, so now we keep them in an isolated habitat where they can be safely observed.”

“From the looks of things, you have two males in there, correct?” He nodded. “Then I’d guess what happened was that they smelled something that was similar to a female having her menstrual cycle. That would tend to be something to stimulate their mating instincts.”

He sounded puzzled. “But ... we didn’t program them to have those.”

“If one of them were to die, and you did an autopsy on it, other than the spinal column connector and the chip, would there be anything to distinguish them from an actual, live born, gorilla?”

He frowned. “Well, no. The materials used to create them were all synthetic, though.”

“You said you do medical things here as well. Assume someone has a severe injury and requires massive blood transfusions to save their life. Is there any difference between them receiving whole blood from a live born person and a biological synth?”

He chuckled, although it sounded a little forced. “Well, of course there ... hmm ... now that you mention it, that’s something we’ve never studied. I’d suggest discussing that with Doctor Dean Volkert. He’s our chief medical officer, the one who tends to all of us for illnesses and injuries.” His face furrowed into a frown.

“Father was right. You have given me something to think about, to set up a new line of inquiry. One of our studies is the prolongation of human life. Certain internal organs tend to fail after years of use, as do joints. There is always a risk with artificial limbs and organs, but ... interesting. Thank you, I need to go make some notes.” He was very distracted, walking away from me.

That gave me the opportunity to browse the files on various computer terminals around the room. Not only did I find out their plans for more synthetic animal life, I also found they had replaced someone at a homestead in the Commonwealth. What irritated me was the purge mentioned to remove all evidence. That would include innocent lives. I had a feeling the Directorate and I were going to have an interesting conversation.

Especially if what Allie said was true.

I was getting ready to leave when an older man came up to me. “I was just getting some specimens to make an anti-inflammatory and Clayton said you had something to discuss with me.”

“And you are...”

“Oh, right. Sorry about that, really. We do tend to forget formalities at times, since we all know each other. I’m Dean Volkert, the medical officer. Anyway, Clayton said you posed a theory to him about synthetic blood replacement?”

“It’s simple. Since, from a medical perspective, a synth is biologically the same as a normal born human, would there be any medical reason why you couldn’t use blood from synths should someone be injured in a severe accident, or due to a major illness?”

He gave me a patronizing look. “Well, of course, there’s a reason. We create the synths, so they’re not human. How could their blood be compatible?”

This was going to be fun. “Oh, maybe because other than the chip in their heads and the board on the spinal column to allow programming, a synth is otherwise biologically indistinguishable from a human. That goes all the way to the cellular level, with DNA and RNA at the base that IS human. I should know, since biological synths share about 25% or so of my DNA, and Shaun is my son, after all, and he is the basis for them.”

“Well, it’s...” His face went blank for a long moment, then he blinked twice. “I ... I have to apologize for my comment a moment ago. To be perfectly honest, the thought had never occurred to me. I know when the first Generation 3 synths were made, they were a blend of machine parts, like the Generation 2’s, and organic. You’re completely correct. The latest Generation 3 synths are, other than the implant in the spine, are fully organic and have been that way for nearly two decades.” He looked disgusted with himself. “Why didn’t I ever think of this?”

“Because you’re too close to the problem, perhaps?”

“Yes, but do you know what this means? Certainly, I’d have to run trials first, but you’re right, synth blood should work in humans. And with the proper programming in the Robotics lab, and the use of different DNA as the basis, we could create synthetic organs or limbs for people who are badly injured. It still happens, and even our own advanced medicine down here can’t regrow a missing limb. Oh, but...” His excitement came to a screeching halt, his face going white. “Oh, that can’t be right, surely not. That would mean I’ve ... oh, no.”

I politely smiled. “It appears that you’ve just had a bit of a revelation, Doctor. I don’t see a burning bush around anywhere, so would you care to enlighten me?”

He looked around to see if anyone was close to us. There wasn’t. “Your proposal. If it is correct, then we’re not making synthetic machines ... we haven’t been for years. We’ve been making synthetic people.”

“Have you? Or perhaps, since these synthetic people are biologically identical, up to and including the ability to sexually reproduce as humans, you haven’t been making synthetic anything. You’re simply making ... people.”

He closed his eyes in pain. “Good God. I’m a monster.”

“No, you’re just someone who didn’t have all the facts as his disposal. The question now is simple, though. What are you going to do about it?”

“Well, I’m definitely stopping certain experiments I’ve been running using synths as the test subjects. That’s completely unethical. As for what else ... to be blunt, I’m not sure, exactly I can do. The attitude that synths aren’t people isn’t something that’s going to be overcome easily here.”

“I agree. But we’re morally obligated to try. I mentioned something to Shaun earlier, I doubt you’ve noticed because, again, you’re too close to the problem to see it. Humanity is still dying off. Our birth rates aren’t enough to replace ourselves, both down here and up there. But working with biological synths, well, since they are fertile, it’s something we can reverse.”

He frowned again. “How sure are you about that? I’ve never had an instance of a synth coming to me pregnant. In fact, I’ve never seen a synth female with a ... oh, shit.” He shook his head. “Supplement 41. It’s in our food. Because of our work, while we do still have sexual desires, the women down here didn’t want to go through the issues of menstrual cycles. It would interfere with their work. When a couple decide to have a baby, she has to take a pill that blocks the supplement from working on her body. The synths receive the same food as we do. You’re saying that, once a synth above ground has had time to flush the supplement out of their system, they have periods and can get pregnant.”

“While I don’t know the specifics, what you describe makes perfect sense. And yes, a synth female does have periods. I’ve not seen first-hand evidence with a synth male, but I would presume the production of sperm is still the same.”

He gave a wry chuckle. “Well, that’s one thing I’ll be able to check here, fairly easily. I’ll see about having a synth give me a sperm sample and examine it for viability.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe my predecessor never did that.”

“I’ll be having dinner with Shaun when I’m done. Do you think that’ll give you enough time to stop by with those results then?”

Volkert looked surprised. “You amaze me. I wouldn’t have thought Father would have listened to any of this.”

“If nothing else, I can be persuasive if need be. Carry on, Doctor, and I’ll see you later.”

Leaving Bio-Sciences, I walked around the outside perimeter to the next section. There were a group of the Gen 2 synths patrolling with weapons. One of them looked at me. “Weapons detected. Scanning ... subject authorized. Carry on, ma’am.”

I realized that this wasn’t the first group of armed robots I’d noticed. For what was supposed to be a peaceful community, they had a lot of roving internal security. That’s something else I’d need to talk to Shaun about.

The next section was labeled ‘Robotics’. I entered and started walking around. This didn’t look like any factory that General Atomics or RobCo had. Instead, this looked more like an operating room of sorts. Along the back wall were large, clear, tanks filled with some kind of red liquid. Along one wall, a machine seemed to be knitting something. Opposite that, another machine was pulling pieces from different containers and seemed to be building a skeleton. In the middle, a large pool filled with what looked like the red liquid had a large machine arm submerged in it, banks of bright lights around the edge causing some kind of reaction within the fluid.

Walking closer, I realized that what I was seeing was the creation of a biological synth.

A woman wearing a lab coat came up to me, a puzzled expression on her face. “I’m sorry, but you’re not allowed in ... oh, I’m sorry, I just realized who you must be. My apologies. Are there any questions I can answer for you, ma’am?”

“Shaun suggested I talk to the directors of each section. Who’s in charge here?”

She pointed. “That would be Doctor Binet. He’s over there, next to Doctor Loken.” There were two men standing, looking at a terminal and arguing about the results. I walked up to where they were standing.

The dark-haired man said, “Come now, Alan. It was probably just a glitch in the nervous system. The fine motor control software could just use an update.”

“If it was just a limb twitching, perhaps. But her eyes were moving as well. You just don’t want to admit to yourself what it is.”

Sounding angry, Loken said, “If you’re about to launch into one of your impassioned speeches about artificial sentience and machines with souls, don’t bother. Hell, I could recite them by memory.”

“But we can’t just ignore the question. If a synth can dream, why can’t it have a soul? Of course, it’s more comfortable to think of them as machines, so we can do what we want with them.”

Loken firmly said, “If you disapprove of the work we do here, Doctor Binet, you know where to find the teleporter.”

I decided it was time to interrupt. “Really? Seems to me that resorting to threats is the last refuge of a closed mind.”

Loken whirled to me. “Threats? I’m not making threats, I’m simply ... who are you?” He now looked puzzled.

Binet smiled sickly. “Hello, ma’am. Father told us you’d be coming around, of course. I’m sorry you heard us repeating an old discussion we’ve had many times in the past.”

“I’m not. I’m actually a little confused, though. According to the sign on the door, this is the Robotics section. However, that would tend to indicate that you’re making robots in here. I don’t see any of that.”

Loken looked offended and confused. “Pardon me, but are you blind? What do you think we’re doing in here?”

“Well, robots are made strictly of mechanical, hydraulic, and electrical components. What would normally be considered a cybernetic organism, or cyborg, would be some combination of mechanical components and human components, such as what Conrad Kellogg had, where mechanical components are added to or replace already existing human tissue. What I see you working with here are purely biological components made from human DNA. How is that robotics?”

“I suppose to the untrained person it could seem that way. But I assure you...”

“Doctor Loken, your assurance means nothing. You are making the flawed assumption that simply because you do not know what my training is that I am an untrained person. I received my training at one of the finest schools in the Boston area, taught by some of the finest minds in the world. I repeat my question. How is something that is created from biological components that are made from human DNA robotics?”

“Bah! They still have artificial components in them, and only do what they’ve been programmed to do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.” He stormed off.

Binet looked at me with gratitude. “Max is very ... hard-headed about this, I’m afraid.”

“And he’s very, very wrong, but that’s another story. I overheard you mentioning seeing eye movement while asleep, in a synth. When?”

He looked embarrassed. “My wife died several years ago, leaving me with a young boy to raise by myself, Liam. As part of a ... social ... experiment, Eve was assigned to me, to see how a synth would react in a family environment. Since she lives with us as our housekeeper, I’ve had the ... opportunity ... to observe her during down time.”

“You can say sleep, Doctor. Or even something more intimate, I completely understand. While I’ve only been in the Institute a short time, I’ve had multiple opportunities to interact with a variety of synths in the Commonwealth. I’d like to meet Eve when I have the chance, discuss her feelings with her.”

Binet blinked in shock. “Um, ma’am, I ... that is...”

“What’s the matter, Doctor? Cat got your tongue? Or does that phrase not still exist? You’ll find that I don’t have the same prejudices against my fellow humans, simply due to their origin, that others here do.”

“Wait a minute,” he said, furrowing his brow in thought. “You’re saying that as far as you’re concerned, synths are humans? At least the third-generation ones, I mean.”

“Of course. Give Eve the pill that counteracts Supplement 41, and you’ll give Liam a little brother or sister. That’s up to you, but I would discuss it with her first, of course.” Not get drunk in a hotel, is what I thought.

“Please, come with me.” He headed for the door. “I would prefer to continue this in a more discrete location.”

“Of course. Shaun wanted me to get to know the various division heads, anyway.” I followed him out, around a corner and up a different spiral staircase. There were two doorways off the landing, one of them with Binet on the closed door. He walked into what was obviously his quarters. An attractive brunette wearing a synth coverall was sitting in a chair to one side of the room. She looked up to see who was coming in. I saw the change in her expression when she recognized Binet, and I saw it change back to a neutral one when she saw me following him. We went in far enough that the door shut behind me.

“Eve, this is Father’s mother.” He seemed at a loss, because he’d never asked my name.

She stood up as I walked over to her. “Hello, Eve. I’m Tina Wilson. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She had a melodic voice. I could see why Binet cared for her. “Hello, ma’am. It’s my pleasure to meet you. You must be so proud of Father; all he’s accomplished here.” Her expression was still guarded, though.

“The Institute is certainly not all that I was expecting to find when I came here, that’s for sure. Neither are the people. And I include you in that remark as well, since, after all, you’re a person as well.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, ma’am. I’m merely here to assist as a part of an ongoing social experiment, to help raise Liam. May I offer you something to drink, or a snack?” She turned, to go into the private section of the apartment, where a small refrigerator was located. As she did so, the hair on her neck moved and I saw it. A very small, healed scar.

“I’m fine, Eve. As are you. Tell me, Doctor. How long ago did you remove her chip?”

Eve whirled around, her hand down by her side. “You don’t want to do that, Eve. Even with mine still holstered, I’m still faster than you. As I said, you’re a person to me. You don’t think you’re the only person who’s in love with someone, do you?”

The pistol in her hand slipped through her fingers, thudding when it hit the floor. Her eyes softened. “You do know and understand, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do, dear. The nice thing is that even if he doesn’t, I do. Men sometimes can be clueless, but women know, don’t we?”

“I took her chip and board out six years ago. I couldn’t stand the thought of someone being able to just hook her up and reprogram her like she was just ... a machine. She’s not.” Binet shook his head. “I don’t care what Max thinks. He’s wrong.”

I frowned. “You know how to pull the board connecting to the spinal column? I didn’t think that was possible.”

Eve unconsciously brought one hand to the back of her neck. Binet smiled at her. “I’m the head of the division, I know things that medical doesn’t. Once you remove the chip, you use a sonic emitter. Refrigerate the tissue so there’s no heat transfer, turn the emitter on, and let it disintegrate the board connections. It does take a couple of hours of very intense concentration, but with appropriate suction, the board will flake away from the spinal column without causing any damage.”

I nodded. “That makes sense. My medical person was thinking along the lines of a pure surgical procedure. I’ve seen inside the back of the neck of someone dead, the spine seemed to be grown through the board. But ... I do understand the purpose of the chip, so either memories or whatever initial personality desired can be implanted. What about a synth that has no chip or board? What do you get when you create someone like that?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.” At my look, he explained, “It’s against policy. We’ve never done that.”

“Of course not. That would completely destroy the myth that you’re making robots.”

Eve stood next to Binet. “What are you going to do to me, to us?”

“Well, if things go sour here, offer you a place to live in the Commonwealth. Other than that, nothing. It’s obvious that you love each other. And I think you, Doctor Binet, have something to discuss with Eve.”

“Um, yes, but...”

“But what? We’ll figure that out later. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple more departments to check.” I left the two of them standing in their quarters holding hands. I was happy for both of them, finding love in such difficult circumstances.

I realized when I got back down to the main floor that I was near where Patriot wanted to meet. I went to the side room, opening the door. A young man that looked familiar was waiting inside. “Hello, Liam.”

“Oh, hi. Uh, yeah, it’s me. So, you’re the one who sent the encrypted message? I wasn’t sure that anyone would be able to crack the Trinity encryption I used,” Liam Binet said.

“The Railroad sent me to look for someone they call Patriot. That’s you.”

He sounded shocked and pleased. “The Railroad? As in, THE Railroad? And they gave me a code name, too? I kept sending synths to the surface, hoping someone would help them. Your message was only one word, ‘Friend’. What did you mean by that?”

“You’ve helped save a lot of synths. We wanted to make sure you knew you had friends on the surface who are willing to help. Although I’m sort of curious as to why you’re helping synths,” I asked.

“Actually, it’s pretty simple. Dad says I’m as good as he is with computers, even if I mostly just do work for Bio-Science now. Anyway, one of the things I’ve realized over the years is that synths, if they’re left to their basic personality programming and simply verbally assigned jobs, end up pretty much all coming to the same conclusion. They’re being used as slaves, and they want freedom from that. It’s not too much of a leap from there to know that only someone self-aware would ever consider that, so that means that synths are people, too. It’s only if someone plugs into their chip that they revert back to whatever is then put into them, and I really don’t see how that’s any different than taking a person and subjecting them to a personality change via outside influence.”

I nodded. “Okay, you’ll do. For now, don’t do anything. I’ll arrange to meet up with you later. Oh, and if I could make a suggestion?” He looked puzzled. “Don’t go back to your home for a few hours.” At his look of shock, I quickly said, “Oh, everything is fine there, probably more than fine. It’s just your dad and Eve have a few things to work out without you around.”

He looked puzzled. “You’ve met Eve and Dad already? I hope they’re okay.”

I grinned. “Kid, if what I think is going on in that room right now actually IS going on, they’re MORE than okay. Do I need to paint you a picture?”

“Oh. OH!” He blushed. “I’ll ... I’ll go work on my chess routines, I think.”

“You do that.” I left him in that small room, chuckling to myself as I went to Advanced Systems.

Upon entering this department, there were two people in lab coats to my immediate left watching a young woman firing a laser weapon. One said, “She’s been in there for two hours, is she still working on modifications?” The other replied, “No, she finished those in ten minutes. I think she’s just having fun at this point.”

“I’m looking for Doctor Li,” I said.

“Oh, sure, she’s down the hall, in her office.” I nodded my thanks, and headed that way. The whole room was filled with futuristic looking computer consoles and displays, with multiple workstations set up to do whatever it was they did here. I noted at the far end of the main room was another laser barrier like had been set up in Bio-Sciences. Then I was at the door to Doctor Li’s office.

It opened and I stepped in. An older woman, matching the description I had, was bent over a computer terminal typing something. A microscope and several work benches were along the walls. I stopped for a moment in surprise. Sitting on a chair at the far end of the room was Shaun. Or more precisely, the young synth Shaun.

“Oh, it’s you. You’re not authorized to be here,” Li said.

“According to Shaun, I am. He told me to find you and talk to you.”

She huffed. “Fine. You’re obviously here for a reason, and you’ve already spoiled my experiment, so you might as well spit it out.”

I chuckled a little at that. “Is this how you treat everyone, or are you just putting on the charm for me?”

She was irritated. “I wasn’t aware I had to answer to you at all.”

Two could play that game. “Consider this your notice, then,” I told her sharply.

“Father may have given you the keys to the castle, but I still decide who goes in and out of my laboratory. So why don’t you run along and let me get back to work.”

“But who decides whether you even HAVE a laboratory to work in?” She looked at me in shock, that I would be so bold. “Now, since neither of us are men, can we quit this dick measuring contest, so I can get to the point of why I came to see you?”

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