Love Never Changes
Chapter 12

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

Shaun was sitting at a table when I entered his room again. There were covered plates on both sides, silverware, and a carafe full of water. I walked up to the table. He stood up, came to my side, held my seat for me while I sat down, then went back to his side. I noticed that a fine bead of sweat broke out on his brow from doing that.

“I don’t know if it was customary in our home to say anything religious before a meal. I will certainly wait if you wish to do so,” he said.

“No. I was raised Catholic, being of Irish descent in Boston, but ... well, I haven’t been particularly religious in a long time. Thank you, though, for the courtesy.”

He had an odd smile. “I thought it was the least I could do.” His voice became angry. “Since I do recall asking you to simply meet the people you’ll be working with, not be a party to one of them getting killed!”

I poured myself a glass of water, took the cover off my plate. “Ah, this doesn’t look like typical Institute food. I would hope this hasn’t been laced with Supplement 41.” I took my napkin and put it in my lap.

“Mother, I cannot just sit here idly by while you disrupt the entire Institute!”

“It’s my understanding that I’m to be the next Director of the Institute. If that’s what you planned to happen, then things down here will be run by me. Someone who knows and understands life on the surface, not a bunch of people who’ve never set foot outside of a lab and have no concept about the real world, either the one that was, or the one that is.”

He blinked, sitting back in his chair. “You ... you weren’t supposed to know that, not yet. No, our food here doesn’t have Supplement 41 in it.” He sighed heavily. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, you did manage to track down and eliminate Kellogg. Figuring a way to eliminate the one Directorate leader that would be most oppositional to you must have been child’s play compared to that.” He poured himself some water, taking a small sip.

I started cutting up what I hoped was a chicken breast covered in mushrooms, as I was hungry. “Shaun, what else did you tell me before I went out? That I’d given an old man something else to think about. I do realize that you asked me not to raise the points with them that I had with you.” I paused, taking a bite of the meat. Shaun used my pause to finally uncover his plate as well. His meal didn’t look like mine, it was softer foods. The meat was cooked to perfection, seasoned well, and tasted like ashes in my mouth.

My voice was very quiet. “How long do you have?”

He slammed his spoon down. “Damn it, you got Doctor Volkert to talk about that?”

“Shaun ... son ... just because I’m not a scientist doesn’t mean I can’t make observations and draw conclusions. Even though I was promoted to head of Legal as a reward for my services to RobCo in Alaska, I was well qualified for that job. Your grandfather was one of the best policemen in Boston. He made sure I knew how to look at all the evidence, to be able to come up with the best answer to the question of what fit the data I saw.”

Shaun rested his head in one hand. “I’m sorry, mother, it’s just ... the stress, this hasn’t been easy for me, you know.” He straightened up, looked at me. “So, tell me what happened, and your conclusions.”

“I’d like to say it’s simple, but it’s not. You’d been keeping me safe in the Vault, I’d guess with the hope that eventually you’d have been able to let me out and we could have some kind of relationship. Perhaps you even hoped to put your own memories into the Shaun synth, and actually grow up as my son. Then you became ill. Obviously, you wanted to make sure that someone would be able to take over for you here, but none of the candidates for the office that were here would actually be able to run things. You were desperate, so you rolled the dice and let me out, to see if I was capable of being what the Institute needed. Not another scientist, but an actual leader.”

“You had me watched, using the tools you use to try to find runaway synths. Other than certain areas where you simply couldn’t get your spy cameras, I’ve been followed the whole time I’ve been on the surface. I hope I didn’t shock you too much, that second day when I was working nude. After that, it was wait and see what would happen. The one thing you didn’t anticipate was that the very person you trusted to do most of the spying on me was the one person who didn’t want me to succeed. He’d been trying to set up his own little empire down here. He may not have known WHY you had me thawed out, but the more I succeeded above ground, the more I became a threat to him.”

“Thus, when I did as you said and simply started talking to the Division Leaders, I found out who had an open mind, and who didn’t. There are at least a few more people that could cause trouble as well, in the future, but with appropriate discussion, I think they will be reasonable. A scientist is supposed to have an open mind, after all. Propose a theory, then find evidence to either prove or disprove the theory, not have already made their mind up when new evidence comes along. Oh, and Doctor Volkert didn’t tell me anything about your condition.” I pointedly looked at his plate. “Some things are...”

“Obvious, yes, I know. Thank you, mother.” He began spooning up his mashed carrots. “Yes, I have an illness. Doctor Volkert knows about it. It’s not genetic, it’s due to being exposed to certain chemicals and radiation during an experiment gone awry. There’s no treatment remaining, only palliative care. Fortunately, it’s not painful. But it is fatal.”

“I mentioned to the Doctor about using synth blood or synth organs for transplant, since those are human. Would that help at all?”

“Unfortunately, no. I pursued that line of thought after we had our discussion. Things are simply too wide spread, there’s too much systemic failure.”

“I know of a broad-spectrum cure designed to defeat nearly any and all diseases in the world. If they found a way to clone ... well, mole rat blood ... I could get you some.”

He smiled. “I appreciate that. I also appreciate that scientific research is also ongoing outside the Institute. Perhaps this cure you mention will help you in the future.”

I sat and thought about whether to offer it or not, as they may not know about it. But he was my son, and I had to try. “Shaun, I’m sure you’re aware that the Railroad has a way to give synths new memories, new personalities. What you may not be aware of is that there is also a way to access a living brain, so the person involved can relive memories. Through a modification of that process, we’ve been able to transfer a robotic intelligence into a synth body. Perhaps we could do the same with you.”

He shook his head. “That’s something that we’ve thought about and discussed. You forget that we already do that, when we bring someone in. Your robotic friend, Mister Valentine, showed us how to do that. We’ve been improving the process ever since. No, mother. While that would work, I’ve ... well, I’ve already lived my life. Knowing that what I’ve spent my life working on will continue ... is enough.”

He chuckled, then. “I will, however, make a completely unacceptable social comment. If you weren’t my mother, I would consider getting a synth body so I could seduce you. I know that has to sound horrible, but you didn’t shock me. In fact, I ... well, I made a copy of that day’s tape for my own enjoyment. I have an incredibly sexy mother.”

I sat in silence for a moment. That had gotten weird, and I wasn’t expecting it. Finally, I said, “Well, would you like a private show, or something more?”

His eyes widened, and he coughed for a moment in shock. Then he broke into a hearty laugh, one that lasted so long he finally had tears in his eyes. “Oh, mother, you have just made my day. And my decision is easy, now. No, I appreciate the offer. More than you can know, actually. No, all I want from you tonight is your company at this meal, the chance to get to know the woman that I never got to learn about. Tomorrow, I do have a mission that I’d like you to perform for us, but for tonight, I just want us to be family.”

The tears in my own eyes didn’t stop me from agreeing with him. So, we did.

There was a room nearby set up for me that I slept in that night. The next morning, the same black Courser that I’d seen in Kellogg’s memory knocked on my door.

“Good morning, ma’am. Father told me to ask you to come to his quarters. He has a mission for us to perform.”

“Certainly. I’ll be there momentarily.” The Courser left. I checked everything in my gear, made sure to use the bathroom again, and headed out.

Dean Volkert was waiting in Shaun’s room as well. “Good morning,” he said. “Father and I were discussing the points raised by our discussion. He told me he’s filled you in on his condition.”

“Correct. What were the results of your discussion?”

“That the Institute is going to be in for one hell of a shake-up, basically. But based upon the salient points raised, it’s also one that’s long overdue. Oh, and unrelated, I completed the autopsy on Justin Ayo. It’s quite clear that you didn’t kill him, you have projectile weapons. Based upon the angles of the laser wound and the testimony, he attacked you and the Courser defended you. If I could personally do so, I’d say good riddance, but I can’t, so I didn’t.”

Shaun chuckled again. “I understand, Doctor. Now, if you’ll leave us for a moment.” He waited until Volkert left. “Apparently, you very quickly picked up on something that needed changed down here. I’d say good job, but it did cost a man his life. Normally banishment is preferred.”

“Is that what you’re going to do to me? Banish me?”

“Not hardly. No. I’m going to ask you to do something, to clean up another mess. Only this one wasn’t created by us; it was created by your friends in the Railroad. They don’t have the same equipment that we do, so at times, when they give an escaped synth a new identity and memories, things don’t always work out well. Such is this case. They gave a synth a new personality. He’s now a bloodthirsty Raider, and has taken over Libertalia, killing the residents and making it his base of operations.”

“I know that it’s not what they intended to happen, but that’s irrelevant. If he’s killing innocents, then he’s got to be stopped.”

Shaun sounded a bit embarrassed. “If we’d had this conversation before I found out what I know now, I would have been highly critical of the Railroad. Amateurs messing with things they have no business dealing with, stealing Institute property. Now ... well, I don’t agree with their methods, but I at least understand, a little, why they do what they do. And did. So, go to Libertalia. Meet up with X6-88. He’ll provide you support, and at the appropriate time, the recall code for the synth, Gabriel. While we can’t undo what has been done to the settlers there, we can still bring Gabriel back here and fix him.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier, and cleaner, if I simply ... eliminated him?”

“Yes, it would. But ... well, he’s not valuable Institute property, which would have been my argument. Instead, he is ... one of my children, gone astray, not through his own fault. I would like the opportunity to correct his behavior, if you will.”

I took Shaun in my arms and gave him a hug. He returned it, even if his beard did scratch my cheek a little. “Thank you, son, for being a good man.” I stepped back from him.

“You’re welcome, mother. Oh, and mother ... please feel free to relay to Sanctuary first, so you can update your friends on what’s going on. I suspect that they’ll probably want to talk to you. You can always relay back here, then directly to Libertalia.” I nodded, then left his room for the relay chamber.

The molecular relay in the Institute did its thing. There was a brilliant flash of light, and I found myself standing in Sanctuary, just outside the garage with the workstation in it. I was facing the house, so the first thing I saw was Sturges. Or at least his hairy ass. Tina DeLuca was on her knees, in front of him. The sound made by the air displacing when I popped in caused her to pause.

“Oh, shit! Quick, hon, pull your pants up.” She wiped her mouth off, zipping her Vault suit up and scrambling to her feet. “Um ... hi, we ... uh...”

I lowered my voice, trying to sound robotic. “You ... are ... engaged ... in ... activities ... contrary ... to ... the ... Institute. You must be eradicated!” Sturges had his pants halfway up, then fell on the floor, trying to run away. His poor cock was flopping in the breeze. Tina was moving backwards and fell onto a bed, her legs sprawling wide open. I learned something valuable from that sight. Apparently, an excited woman CAN flood a Vault suit so much it leaks through.

I couldn’t keep things up, I broke up laughing. “Are you two okay? Nothing vital hurt? I’m sorry, but not really. That was just too good of a chance to pass up a good practical joke.”

“Lady, you just scared the crap out of me. I don’t know if I’ll be able to perform ever again,” Sturges complained, now that he realized they weren’t in danger. He was trying to get his coveralls back on and tuck things in.

“I’m sure Tina will work on it, and you’ll get things figured out.” I glanced around. “Where is everyone?” About that time, I heard excited barking, with Dog running into the room. I got down on my knees, to pet and greet him. While he was licking my face, I noticed Tina moving behind me with a bio-scanner. “Go ahead, I’m quite certain that after having me pop in, someone checking to make sure I’m not a synth replacement is completely justified.”

She smacked me on the arm. “That wasn’t that funny, you know. What if I’d been so surprised, I’d bit it off?” She looked at Sturges, who finally was on his feet again. “It’s her, so we can’t blame the Institute for interrupting us.”

As I was getting back up, I said, “Technically, you can. They’re the ones who gave me the ability to teleport back here. But in any event, what’s going on around here?” Things sounded rather quiet.

They got less so when Piper came running up. “Tina! Oh, thank God. We were so worried when you just ... vanished.” Curie was right behind her.

“Madam, you are uninjured, yes? The pup jumped through a window in his eagerness to come here. Fortunately, there was no glass in the window.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Are Maxson and Desdemona still here?”

“Come with me.” Piper took me by one hand, Curie by the other. They led me to where a new structure had been built on one of the empty foundations. Opening the door, Piper yelled out, “Look who’s back, and still in one piece!”

It was a fairly large building, hastily assembled, but well-lit inside. There were a couple of cots along one wall, chairs on another, and a large table in the middle. Surrounding the table were members of the Brotherhood, Railroad, and Minutemen, looking at something on the table. Deacon looked up when Piper hollered, his face breaking into a wide grin.

“Welcome back, boss. That didn’t take as long as I thought it would. Scoot over, let the boss see what we’ve got here.”

I walked in. Elder Maxson was eyeing me curiously. “Already been checked by Tina. No chip. And ... one hell of a story. Doctor Li will do whatever you think best, but at the moment, she’s going to remain in the Institute unless I tell her otherwise, so she can remain one of the department heads. And Patriot is something else, but I know why he’s doing what he does, he’s been raised by a synth.”

Nick had been sitting in a chair along one side. “So, the question is, did the damsel in need of a detective end up solving her mystery?”

“Did I, ever. Now the long-term question is, or will be, what the hell do we do about it? In the short term, what can anyone tell me about Libertalia?”, I asked.

“Used to be a settlement that lived mostly on boats, in the bay north of Fort Strong, between there and Nahant. When a group broke off from the Minutemen, during the troubles I told you about, they moved in to take over and provide security. That only partly worked, then some Raiders moved in, slaughtered everyone.”

“Thanks, Preston. Anything else about it I need to know?”

“Um, don’t fall into the water? No telling what’s in there,” Deacon said. “So, what’s so special about another group of Raiders?”

“The leader of them isn’t a Raider. He’s a synth, that escaped from the Institute, then was reprogrammed by the Railroad with new memories. I need to go put a stop to him.”

Desdemona was upset. “What do you mean, put a stop to him? We’re here to help free synths from the control of the Institute, not re-enslave them!”

“He’s killing innocent people. I’d certainly hope that’s not what you changed him into being and doing. If it was, if I even thought it was, then things would be over between the Railroad and I.”

She at least had the good graces to look embarrassed. “Well, no. When we send synths to Doc ... the reprogramming lab ... they’re supposed to get a personality that simply allows them to blend in. I’m not sure what would have gone wrong, to make him turn into a blood thirsty Raider.”

Glory had been sitting to one side. “I’m not sure, but I may. There were a couple of synths that came through several months ago that had odd personalities, even for one of us. Almost like they’d been wiped too many times. You remember I mentioned G5, the synth that’s now Curie? She was totally erased, completely gone. These synths, it was like they had little bits of old programs left in them, but disjointed ones.”

“So, he’s a psychopath with multiple personalities. Well, in any event, he’s the leader at Libertalia. I’ll be meeting up with a Courser just outside of there, to go in and retrieve him, so the Institute can fix him.”

“Get their property back is what you mean,” Desdemona said with disdain.

“No, actually I mentioned to the Director of the Institute if it wouldn’t simply be easier to just eliminate this Gabriel. He said that, if I’d asked him that yesterday, his argument would have been that simply killing the synth would be a waste of valuable Institute property. But since it was today, instead, he’d just like to correct one of his children, gone astray through no fault of his own.”

Piper was standing next to me. “One of his children ... then you were right, the Director of the Institute is your son.”

My voice was a little choked up. “For now, yes, the Director is Shaun. But not for much longer. He actually suggested I come here, first, to talk to all of you, before going to Libertalia. I now have something no one has. The unlimited ability to teleport into, and out of, the Institute. Which means that, when we’re done here, in less than a minute, I’ll be outside Libertalia.”

Piper put her hand on my shoulder, guessing my answer to her next question. “Would you explain what you meant by not much longer?”

“You already know.” I took her hand in mine. “He’s dying, and there’s not a damned thing medical science can do about it.”

Valentine sounded like he meant it when he said, “I’m sorry that I helped you, because of the pain this has to be causing you.”

“Don’t be, Nick. Shaun and I talked a bit about this last night, over dinner. This is why he had me set free from being in cryogenic suspension. But it does create a whole new set of problems for us, up here.”

“Such as?”, he asked.

“Well, what do we do with the Railroad when they’re no longer needed, for one.”

Desdemona slammed her hand on the table. “Dammit, I knew it! You’ve sold us out!”

Deacon held up a hand. “Hang on, Dez. I know the boss, listen to what she has to say.”

“Desdemona, you’re not listening. I didn’t sell out the Railroad. I said the Railroad will not be needed. Calm yourself and actually think about WHY you won’t be needed.”

Glory said, “Because synths won’t be escaping the Institute any more. They’re shutting down access to the surface completely!”

“Close, but still wrong. Anyone else care to exercise their brain?”

“Synths won’t need to escape because they’ll be allowed to freely leave if they want to.”

“I owe you an apology, Danse. I’m sorry, I thought you were just muscle. Now I see why Elder Maxson has counted you as a friend all these years. There’s a working brain inside that suit of armor.”

Desdemona remained unconvinced. “And why would the Institute do that? They’ve considered synths to be machines, to be property, all this time. Why the sudden change of heart?”

Maxson spoke up. “Is it so difficult to believe that someone can’t believe the evidence before their eyes and change their mind? Or have you forgotten why I’m here, or that to the Brotherhood, up until very recently, a synth was just as much an abomination as a super mutant? Yet I stand here before you, knowing that Star Paladin Danse is a synth, and still consider him my brother in arms.”

“Hang on, boss. You said that your son is the Director, but he’s dying. If these changes are being made, what’s to say that whoever takes his place won’t revoke them, or even make things worse?”

I decided to drop the bombshell. “But Deacon, why would I do that?”

It was almost deathly quiet inside that room for a solid five count. My eyes flicked to those standing at the table, so I could see their reactions as my words sunk in. Maxson reacted first, almost instinctively, his right hand clenched in a fist going to his breast. “Ad Victoriam, indeed!” The rest of the Brotherhood quickly copied his move.

Nick was sitting down, just shaking his head, a wry smirk on his face. Garvey looked rather shocked. Desdemona looked lost, but Glory had a victorious smile on her face. She almost screamed out, “YES! We’ve WON!”, and started beating Desdemona on the back.

“Almost, Glory. I don’t want to spoil your victory parade, but there are a few things that I have to do first, not the least of which is clean up Libertalia.”

Desdemona finally clued in. “You’re going to be the next Director of the Institute?”

“Unfortunately, yes. I’m Shaun’s hand-picked successor. And since the head of the SRB met a recent, most unfortunate accident ... and as much as I wanted to, I didn’t shoot him, someone else did ... the new head of the SRB is much more sympathetic to synths.”

Scribe Haylen spoke up then. “Well, with everything you’re going to be running, I guess it’s a good thing we made this, then.” She pointed at the table to me. I finally took a good look at it. It was an eight-foot square map of the Commonwealth, complete with terrain, roads, and street maps of all the cities. “I took the views we made when we entered the Commonwealth, along with the information we’ve been able to gather from Mister Garvey and the other residents regarding settlements, to add the little markers you see.”

“Very nice work, Haylen. You’re right, this will make planning easier.”

She beamed at my praise. “Thank you, Paladin.”

Oh, yeah. I forgot I had that rank in the Brotherhood. Then Maxson made it worse. “Scribe Haylen, you are in error.” She looked startled. “You can be forgiven, however, as I only just made this decision. General Wilson, Governor Wilson, Tina ... you are no longer a Paladin in the Brotherhood of Steel. You are now Sentinel Wilson.”

Danse barely beat Maxson to the salute. “Ad Victoriam!”

I had a little look of confusion in my eyes. Danse chuckled. “The last Sentinel in the Brotherhood was Sarah Lyons. This is a rank between my own, as Star Paladin, and that of Elder. It effectively puts you outside the chain of command, operating on your own, but able to draw upon all assets of the Brotherhood should you need them. There’s only one person who can countermand an order of yours, and that’s Arthur, here. If you felt you had need of it, you could even order the Prydwen redeployed, although I’d bet that Arthur might say something about that.”

“Seriously, are you sure about this, Arthur?”, I asked.

“I plan on leaving a detachment of Brotherhood troops here when we leave, with your permission as Governor Wilson, of course. I want there to be no mistake between any of them as to who is actually in command of them. I realize that may not be for some time, yet, but in this case, I’d rather plan ahead than be caught by surprise.”

Desdemona frowned. “Where does all of this leave the Railroad? We’ve dedicated our lives to helping synths escape the Institute. Now you’re telling us it was all in vain?”

I shook my head. “Of course not. There’s going to be a need to assist synths that want to resettle in the Commonwealth. Who better to know that, and to give them advice on how to survive up here, than the group that’s been doing so for a long time? And let’s face it. Old hatreds aren’t going to die overnight just because of some pronouncement. There’s still going to be people who want revenge, or are just plain stupid. But all of that can wait, for now.”

“I’ve seen that look on your face before, boss. What are you thinking?”

“Deacon, has anyone ever told you that you’re a pain in the ass? If not, consider it done. All right, gather round. If past operations are any indication, I’ll be done in Libertalia before dark. But I won’t come back here, I’ll return to the Institute. Preston, you’ve done a good job of coordinating things so far, but there’s too many people out there that still need our help. Take our forces, with as many reinforcements as you can get Arthur here to give you, use Concord as your base of operations, and basically clear everything to the east, using that satellite station as your rough northern line, the south edge of Concord as your rough southern line.”

“If you run into anything odd, bypass it. I’ll leave it to your judgment as to what’s odd. Don’t take unnecessary risks. Arthur, you know the rules of engagement. It ... well, I don’t know how long I’ll have with Shaun. If I’m gone more than a week, and I’m not sure it’ll take you more than a week to do this, then come back to Concord, and do the same thing, going west. Obviously, stop before you get to the Glowing Sea.”

“I like the simplicity of the plan, Sentinel. This will let my troops get even more combat experience, while at the same time clearing the Commonwealth of undesirables. How long do you think you’ll need us here?”, Maxson said.

I shrugged. “Couple of months, maybe? I know from experience that street fighting is the ugliest form of warfare. And power armor sucks in it. If you don’t mind, we’ll play that one by ear.”

Garvey nodded. “That sounds eminently reasonable. I have a dozen troops already doing some patrols. We’ll probably need someplace for a headquarters like we used to have under General Becker, the Castle. It was a really old fort of some kind, south of the airport.”

“Oh, Fort Independence. What happened to it?”

“Mirelurk Queen decided that it was the perfect spot to raise her kids. Don’t know how many people survived when she moved in, but that was pretty much the beginning of the end of the Minutemen. We had our own radio station there, too.”

“Put it on my list of odd places, then. Good work on, well, working together.” I nodded at the groups, my hands finding Piper and Curie again. “Do any of you have anything else I need to handle, or are we good?” No one said anything.

I walked back outside of the room with my arms around the girl’s waists. I was walking towards the stream, just being quiet. “You are hurting inside, madam. I wish ... I wish I could take that hurt away from you.”

“Me, too,” Piper said. “I’m so sorry about your son.”

“Funny thing is, there is a way for us to keep him alive. Same thing we did for Curie, basically. But ... dammit.” I was crying again.

They took me in their arms, just holding me. When it finally seemed like I was done, Curie said, “We love you, mon cheri. Never doubt that.”

“I don’t. This is almost more like losing my Dad all over again, rather than my son, due to our age difference.”

Piper asked, “But, you’re older than Shaun, right?”

“Yeah, but he was taken out of cryogenic suspension more than sixty years ago, almost seventy. He feels like he’s lived a good life. It’s just ... fuck, this is hard. I just thank God I have the three of you.” Dog had followed us out, and whined when he heard what I said. “Okay, the four of you. I know you love me, too. When things settle down, we’ll have two things to do. One, figure out just how smart you really are, and two, find you a girlfriend of your own species.”

I swear that his bark sounded like a laugh to me.

With Piper and Curie still in tow, I walked back up to where the workstation was. Tina and Sturges were working now, bringing parts in for dismantling. “Where did that stuff come from?”

“When you teleported out, the whole damn thing blew up. Well, not really blew up in an explosion, but it fried everything inside. So Codsworth is over at the site, tearing things apart, and we’re hauling them here for recycling.”, Sturges explained.

“We’ll probably have to figure out about how to set up supply lines between settlements at some point. The Abernathy farm and the Red Rocket station just down the road all have workstations as well. Ah, good, this is what I was looking for.” I took the scanner off the shelf where Tina had put it after checking me. “Come here, Dog.”

Piper looked at me like I was weird. “Why are you checking the dog?”

I ran the scanner over him. Clean. “Because I saw that they were working on synth animals in the Institute. I guess this is another puzzle, because I swear, he understands nearly everything I say.”

Dog chose that moment to roll over on his back, wanting to be petted. “I swear you’re doing that just to mystify me.” I still bent down and rubbed his belly.

“Are you okay, Tina? I mean, are you going to be okay?”

“I’m not crazy, Piper. And yeah, I think I am. Going to be okay, that is. I’m going to have to be.” Shaking my head in disbelief, I said, “I don’t know if you realize this or not, but I’ve only been out of the Vault for a month. I’ve had so damn much happen to me that I’m almost surprised I’m not a little crazy.”

She took my face in her hands, looking me in the eye. “I’m here for you. We’re here for you. And I know Gwen is here for you, too. Take your time, do what you need to do. It took us over 200 years to get into this shape here. You’re not going to fix it in a couple of months.” Then she pulled me to her, giving me a deep kiss, one where I could feel her love for me.

When she pulled back, Curie moved in to give me a kiss as well.

I finally stepped back from both of them. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. You know, the only thing I could think of when I got out of the Vault was finding Shaun. Now that I’ve found him ... the only thing I can think about is coming home to all of you. I love you.”

I hit the button on my Pip-Boy and teleported back to the Institute. I was alone in the teleportation room. Looking at my Pip-Boy, I wondered if I’d have to actually go enter the location on the console outside, like I did when I went to Sanctuary. What the hell, if it doesn’t work, no big deal. I used the controls that Doctor Li had put in and set it for the settlement just south of Libertalia, then pushed the button. It worked, and I found myself standing on a beach just northwest of the Prydwen.

There was a shack just behind where I was standing. A man was just getting to his feet from being on the ground, a woman was running into the shack, and a young boy was standing in shock next to a water pump. “Hey, folks, sorry to startle you like that.” I held my hands up. The woman reappeared with a small rifle.

“Who are you, what do you want here?” She sounded frightened.

“As I said, sorry about that.” I made a fist and pointed with my thumb. “You see that big airship over there? I’m Pal ... Sentinel Wilson, with the Brotherhood of Steel. We heard reports there was a Raider encampment near here, and decided to try a new way of transport so I could check things out.”

The man’s brow furrowed. “You don’t look like you’re in power armor, you’re in a Vault suit under that combat armor.”

“Yeah, I have a couple of titles. I’m also General Wilson, of the Minutemen. Still the same mission.”

The woman lowered the rifle. “We’ve heard the Minutemen were reforming, a trader from Bunker Hill mentioned that.” She turned to her husband. “Remember, he said the new leader was a woman?”

“We’re just trying to survive here for now, lady. This little patch of ground lets us grow some food and just not be bothered too much by the Raiders. We’ve got two groups of them, the ones that live in Easy City Downs, and the really mean ones that moved in not too long ago in Libertalia. Damn super mutants live on the end of the peninsula, at Fort Strong, so we’re keeping our head down,” the farmer said.

I put my hands down. “I’ve already taken care of the super mutants, they’re gone. The Brotherhood may have an outpost set up down there if you need help. I’m here to take care of the Raiders in Libertalia, and I’ll see about the ones at the racetrack when I’m done with Libertalia.”

The woman scoffed. “Lady, I don’t mean to sound skeptical or anything, but you’re just one woman. What can you do?”

“Make a difference.” I started walking towards Libertalia, leaving them behind me.

A short distance away, over a rise and out of sight of the settlement, I readied my rifle. I saw a fishing trawler up on the sand, with a familiar looking black coat standing next to it. The coat was filled with the same black Courser that I’d seen in Kellogg’s memory.

“Hello, X6-88. Looks like you get all the fun jobs.”

His tone of voice was very precise. “Fun is an irrelevant option, ma’am. I have already neutralized the perimeter guard. Just give the word, and we can start the assault on the main flotilla.” He frowned, then. “Have I been introduced to you before? I do not recall giving you my designation.”

“I’ve seen you on a mission, before. Don’t worry too much about it. What do you have on the synth we’re here for, this Gabriel?”

“Designation B5-92 is holed up in the shack on top of the up-ended cargo ship you see in the middle of the flotilla. He probably has his best fighters with him, so we should plan on heavy resistance.”

I smiled. “Your definition of heavy resistance and mine are probably different. You know I can handle these Raiders on my own.”

He had just a hint of annoyance in his voice now. “I have no reason to doubt that, ma’am, but I have my orders. If you take on that synth, I will be right there with you.”

“You sound a bit like someone I know in the Brotherhood of Steel. I think it’s time for you to learn a little bit about a different method of combat, other than simply charge in, shooting everything in sight and hoping for the best.”

“I do not hope, ma’am. I am the best.”

“Uh-huh. How about you give me a little hand, here, so I can get up on this boat?” His face was puzzled, but he did so. I got to a high position on the deck, then lay down so I could see what we were getting into. He climbed up next to me, and at least he crouched down a little, to present a smaller profile.

“Why are we doing this, ma’am? Our target is up there.”

“See, when you’re going into a combat situation, it’s often best to at least check things out a little, before just charging in. So, sit there and be quiet and let me scope things out a bit.” I was in the prone position now, my rifle and scope up so I could look things over.

Libertalia was a fleet of fishing boats, somehow or other still afloat, and connected to each other with a series of floating walkways. In the middle, a large cargo ship was nose down, with the front obviously buried in the mud of the bay. From some of the other damage I’d seen along coastal areas, either a hurricane or maybe a water strike from a nuke had flung ships well inland, so seeing this wasn’t unusual. There were shacks built onto the structure of the cargo ship. In front of the cargo ship were a couple of barges, one full of trash, the other with cages on it that held the bodies of the former settlers.

I spent a good ten minutes just checking out where movement was, judging distances, and making sure of targets. X6 was getting antsy. “We should get moving, ma’am.”

“I am moving. Now.” I started servicing the targets I’d seen through my scope. Ten shots in, there was a slight explosion on one of the barges, where I’d taken out a machine gun turret. I shifted slightly, working on the cargo ship now. After six more shots, I stood up. “Okay, follow me.” I hopped down from the fishing ship, to the beach.

I switched magazines, then slung my rifle and drew my pistol, just in case. Other than a spotlight that I put out with a single shot, the only sound we heard as we crossed the planks and boats was that of the waves, slapping on the hulls. X6 kept looking around for targets. The only thing he saw were dead bodies.

Nothing bothered us until we got halfway up the cargo ship. A single Raider, one that had been sleeping, rose up out of a bed. I put her back to sleep, permanently, before X6 could even get his rifle ready. He looked at me with an odd expression on his face. I just smiled back at him.

We finally got to the trapdoor that would lead to the top deck, where Gabriel should be waiting. “Hold up a minute, ma’am. There is something important I need to tell you.” I nodded. “I am going to give you B5-92’s reset code. If he hears the code phrase, it will reset his cognitive processes and make him docile. You need to say, ‘B5-92, initialize to factory reset’, followed by the authorization code, ‘gamma-7-1-epsilon’. Once he is shut down, I can transport him safely back to the Institute.”

“I told Shaun that we’d bring him back, like any other wayward child. Let’s do this.”

“Well, he might not be alone up there. Violence might be inevitable.”

I chuckled at his words. “So?” I opened the hatch to the roof.

Three men stood at the far end of the deck; weapons ready. The middle one had long hair, and I could see the family resemblance in his face, he had some of Nate’s genes in him. He said, “Well done, very impressive. Just like me, you’ve made it to the top. But judging by your gear, I’m gonna guess you two are agents of the Institute. So, tell me, is the Institute so desperate for resources that it’s stealing plunder from honest, hard-working, Commonwealth gangs?”

“Not really. We’re after something more valuable. A member of the family, as it were. Gabriel, you aren’t who you think you are. You’re a synth, and we’re here to take you home.”

He was angry. “A synth? What the hell are you talking about?”

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