Love Never Changes
Chapter 15

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

“Wait a minute! There IS no United States now. We’re just a bunch of survivors living off the land, in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust,” Piper argued.

“We’re more than that, though, Piper,” Deacon said. “I’ve been down to the Capital Wasteland, after that big fight the Brotherhood had against the Enclave. I drank some of the pure water that’s down there. For right or wrong, the Brotherhood under Maxson has restored a good chunk of that area.”

Arthur smiled. “I can’t claim credit for all of it; Elder Lyons had a lot to do with that. But we do have portions of three of the Commonwealths under our direct control; Eastern, Columbia, and South East. Add in the forces the Brotherhood has in the Midwest, that puts us in the Plains, East Central and Midwest Commonwealths. Then the West Coast Chapter of the Brotherhood is in the North West, South West, and Four States Commonwealths. That’s nine out of thirteen.”

“Keep in mind that something a lot of people don’t know is that my ancestor, Roger Maxson, founded the Brotherhood of Steel. He was an officer in the United States Army before the war. After the war, he kept his troops alive, as many of them as he could, and their families. While we still had satellites in orbit, he talked to other troops around the country, and they agreed with him, following him. You already know what horrors were going on in the Vaults, so you know how the leadership of America failed the country. What you said, Miss Wright, is close to something he said.”

Arthur quoted, “I see survivors. People too stubborn, too damned ornery to die. We’ve fought and we’ve endured and finally we have a small patch of safety. But having a home isn’t enough. We need something more. What we need is purpose. We’ll preserve what’s best of what’s come before and use it. And one day, we’ll reclaim what was lost.”

“We, the descendants of the United States Army, have nine Commonwealths where we control territory. As Governor of the New England Commonwealth, you control the tenth. Under that document, that gives us ... gives you ... control of territory in ten of the Commonwealths. That’s more than the three-fourths required.”

“While the Brotherhood may control territory in those Commonwealths, when was the last time you had communication with them? If we’re going to do this, legally, there’s some things that have to happen. We have to have reliable communications with the west coast. When was the last time anyone heard from them, or the troops in the middle of the country?”, I asked.

“We do get traders coming in from time to time. Why?”, he asked.

I felt relief. “Okay, that’s not going to cut it. While this country started with just the original thirteen colonies, they were all here on this coast. We can’t bring it back together without some serious efforts. What’s the maximum operational range and altitude of the Prydwen?”

He looked puzzled. “I know you were told that as a Sentinel, you could requisition any of our items, but why do you ask?”

“I’m not asking for me, I’m asking for you. You’re the one who has the big airship that’s not needed here now. We can’t have a country that spans from sea to shining sea if we can’t communicate. We don’t have to be able to do it instantly like we used to be able to, but we have to be able to do it better than the occasional trader. Hell, at this point I’d settle for the Pony Express.”

I held up a hand before there were a lot of questions. “Never mind, that was even before my time. But let’s just say you can do 30 miles per hour. If you can’t go above 13,000 feet, and since it didn’t look like the ship is pressurized, so I doubt it, that means you’ll have to go south, because you won’t be able to go over the Rocky Mountains. Figure 3300 miles one way, that’s 110 hours. Double that in case of issues, 220 hours. Same thing coming back. That’s 20 days, coast to coast. Call it 3 weeks for good measure. Even if it took you a month to get there and back, that’s fast enough.”

“And I’m going to do this why?”

“You said it yourself. You’re the descendants of the United States Army. Can’t have the United States again if we can’t get consensus. As much as I’d like to take your word for it, the last thing we need is for part of the country to disagree. You’re the one with the best ability to talk to all the rest, since as you said, your ancestor is the one who started the whole Brotherhood. After all, aren’t you the one who said you wouldn’t trust the West Coast branch of the Brotherhood?”

“Damn, that makes sense. I see I’m going to have to have a very long talk with Ingram.”

“It’s going to take a little while for you to get your logistics together. In the meantime, I still have this agitator to deliver. Danse, do you have an actual uniform you can put on, instead of that power armor?”

“Actually, I started carrying one after your previous comments. Why?”

“Good, get out of your power armor and put it on.” I looked around. “Let’s see here. Piper, please put these bracelets on. Now the question is, who else?”

James was slightly amused. “Would you like me to go ahead and notify Jerome that we’ll be having guests for dinner?”

“Yes, I’m just figuring out who and how many. Danse and Curie for certain, as they’re easy. Nick, I’d like you to come as well, and you won’t need bracelets, either. Glory has already made her feelings known. So, how about Arthur and Desdemona?”

“I believe that would appropriate. Having been enemies for so long, being present at this would truly signal the start of the next phase for all of us.”

Glory objected. “Hey, you’re talking about going to the Institute, right? I’m not letting Desdemona go in there without back-up.”

“Up to you.” I held the other two pair of bracelets out. “You two ready for a little trip, before you have your big trip across the country?”

Desdemona looked at me, puzzled. “You don’t think I’m going to let Arthur go across the country without you along, do you? I don’t know how this whole thing is going to play out, but I’m not stupid enough to get between you two having time to get to know each other better.”

“But I’m almost twice his age...”

“Yeah, and I don’t think that matters to him, any more than it really matters to you. I’m going to do something I don’t want to do. Rhys, you and Deacon take our power armor back to where Bennett should be waiting, have her haul you back to Sanctuary, then drop it off there. Then have Bennett bring you to the CIT ruins and wait for us. Arthur, have one of your vertibirds meet our bird there, there should be plenty of room for both of them. That’ll be where we’ll show up, later.”

Nick was unsure. “You’re asking me to go back, after I was discarded?”

“Like I said before, I’m the Director of CIT now. Folks, if you don’t trust me by this time, what’s the point in continuing with this whole rebuilding the Commonwealth and United States thing we’ve got going on?”

Desdemona said, “You’re right. I need to get over things.” She took the bracelets and snapped them on. Arthur did the same a moment later.

“Give me at least a minute to warn Jerome, ma’am. Then we should be good.” James stepped to one side. “James Wilson, returning to CIT.” There was a bright flash and he vanished.

“Let’s get outside. It should be a little easier on the power requirements.” We went outside. There were two more Brotherhood troops and two Railroad heavies on guard outside as well.

“Get close, I think this should be enough.” I pulled up my Pip-Boy. The new command highlighted everyone that had a chip already, as well as the bracelets. I tapped it, then hit the execute button. We were enveloped in another bright flash.

Jerome and James were waiting at the entrance to the teleportation chamber. “Greetings, Director. I see you ended up bringing a few more guests than originally anticipated. If you all would, please follow me,” Jerome said.

There was a lot of murmuring and muttering from the group behind me as everyone figured out that they had teleported, as well as minor comments about what things looked like down here. We stopped at the central elevator shaft. Jerome stopped there, where another security guard was standing.

“Folks, and especially you, Glory. I would prefer that we avoid any undue incidents. You can tell that there’s a lot of things to see here. Having said that, some of them may cause you to react first and think later. Piper, Curie, and I will retain our weapons.” Jerome looked at me when I said that. “I would appreciate it if the rest of you would divest yourselves of all assorted ranged weapons and explosive devices. They’ll be safe here and when we leave, you can get them again.”

“Director, it was my understanding that you would be the only one armed, as my guards only carry non-lethal weaponry now.”

“Jerome, you trust me. They all trust me. They don’t know you well enough to trust you yet. Hell, up until a few days ago, they would have tried to kill you, and vice-versa.”

He nodded. “Apologies, you’re right.”

The group behind me listened intently. Nick sniffed. “You’re right about that. But I’m curious enough to see what all is down here, so...” He opened his coat and put his pistol down on a table. That seemed to break the ice, and soon a large arsenal of lethal weapons surrounded it. Glory was the last, setting her mini-gun down reluctantly.

It took two trips for us to get to the main floor. There were a lot of eyes looking around in wonder, as well as a lot of eyes looking back at the group that was with me. Doctor Volkert greeted me on the main atrium floor.

“Good afternoon, Director. Would you please introduce me to your guests?”

“Certainly. Everyone, this is Doctor Dean Volkert. You’ll find that most people down here have the title of doctor. His specialty is actually medicine, though. In the event that any of you need medical treatment, he’s the one you’ll see.”

“Thank you, Director. The teleportation process removes surface bacteria. However, it does nothing in case of viral or sinus issues. If anyone has a cold, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know now, so I can give you something for it. We are not totally isolated from things above ground here, but if it’s possible, we like to stop viral infections before they can spread.”

No one spoke up. “Thank you. As the Director said, if any of you have medical issues while you’re here, please let me know. I’ll be happy to help.” He turned and left us.

Piper looked at me. “Did he seriously just ask if we had a cold? As in sneezing and runny noses and such?”

Before I could answer her, Allie came up, Ellen right behind her. “Good afternoon, Director. I presume that you were successful in retrieving the beryllium agitator.”

“Yes. Allie, I hope you don’t mind, I brought a few friends who would like to watch it being activated. Ellen, afterwards, I think if we can move some of the tables together, I would like to have a meal with all of them as well as the members of the Directorate, and anyone here who would like to attend, and my son.”

Allie nodded. “Of course, ma’am. If you’ll all please follow me?”

Ellen also nodded. “I’ll have that taken care of, ma’am.” She hurried off to the cafeteria.

Arthur looked at me. “I honestly more than half way thought you weren’t serious about the way things were here. I’m glad to see I was wrong.”

“Piper, yes, he did. They’ve been isolated here, so some of our surface practices can be problematic regarding sanitation and hygiene, similar to Vault 81, actually. Arthur, you should know better by now.”

Allie led us through the rest of the atrium, into and then through Advanced Systems. Several people stopped to watch us walk through. We went down a long hallway, into a less refined portion of things, more industrial looking. There was an observation gallery overlooking a gathering of scientists. I saw Shaun down there, looking up at the window. I nodded to him, and he smiled back. “Piper, Curie, if you would come with me? The rest of you, please remain here. As you can see, the area is a little small down there. You’ll be able to hear fine.”

The girls each took one of my hands and the three of us followed Allie on down. James and Jerome remained behind as well. Everyone from Facilities and Advanced Systems, plus all the Directorate, was present. Leaving Curie and Piper at the bottom, I walked up the stairs, to where Shaun stood. His eyes widened a little when he saw my companions, then I saw another, brief, smile cross his face.

I turned to face the crowd. “Good afternoon, everyone. As you’re all aware, there have been a few changes around here lately. Not the least of which is that I have been named the Director, at the request of Father.” I put my arm around his shoulders, he slipped his arm around my waist. “He has been the driving force to keep things down here going, to continue to look to the future. The future of all mankind. Shaun?”

“Thank you, mother. This, my friends, is the moment we’ve all worked towards. After all your effort, the time has finally come to start our reactor. No longer will we be forced to compromise to survive. No more will we need to worry about outpacing our resources. Mother and I couldn’t be prouder of what you have helped us accomplish. And we look forward to achieving even greater things in the future. The Commonwealth Institute of Technology is here to help with future of mankind. All mankind, whether naturally born or created. We are all human beings.”

The crowd gave a good round of applause at that. I noticed the stunned looks from the gallery, followed by applause as well as Shaun’s words sunk in to them.

He moved from me. “Mother, if you would do the honors.”

I turned to the open reactor door. Taking the beryllium agitator from my pack, I stepped in and inserted it into the ready slot. Stepping back out, I hit the button so the door could close. There was a ceremonial button that I pressed. Upon doing so, it unleashed things and the reactor began activation. There was a minor, but noticeable increase, in the radiation level in the room.

“This is much cleaner than the reactor the agitator was in, but even our best shielding won’t stop all the radiation. We’ll monitor things here and slowly bring things up to full operating levels over the next week,” Allie explained. I saw two of her people putting on hazmat suits.

“Very good. The other reactor room barely had a two-minute survival time. That is not acceptable. I don’t want our people to be in any more danger that what a simple decontamination won’t take care of, even after four hours or more.”

“I understand, Director. We’ll take care of it.”

Shaun waited while I talked to Allie, then held my arm to walk back down the stairs. The rest of the audience left the room. Piper looked at me, then at Shaun. “I ... never thought I would end up meeting you. For the longest time, ever since I first met Tina, I was caught up in helping her find you. Now that she has, I’m not sure what to say.”

“Oui, monsieur. I have been assisting madam for some time as well. She has been most persistent in her search for her family.”

“From her descriptions, you must be Curie, and you must be Piper Wright. I am ... glad ... that my mother has found such friends as you both. I am afraid that my own time is growing short, but I would like to get to know both of you better while I can.”

“Shaun, I have more people here. I asked Ellen to set up a meal for everyone in the cafeteria, so we can have a social meeting.”

“I see. I saw people wearing both Brotherhood uniforms and clothing that no doubt means they are from the Railroad. I think that would be fine.”

The four of us helped him walk to the cafeteria, lagging behind the rest of the group I’d brought from the surface. Piper and Curie took turns talking to Shaun about themselves. Shaun was intrigued to learn about the cure she had created.

“You must discuss that with Doctor Binet and Doctor Volkert. We have enough capacity here to clone biological materials in excess of our needs. Such a cure, if possible, would help everyone, both below and above ground,” he said. “I suspect it will be quite some time before we get sanitary conditions on the surface.”

We had been paying attention to him and not to what was ahead of us. I almost bumped into Nick, who had been hanging back and was stopped. I raised my head and actually looked. Ellen had been busy.

The cafeteria had been rearranged a bit. Tables had been placed in a square, so we could eat and talk to each other. Nick said, “I’ll just sit over here, since eating isn’t really my thing.”

“I need you close enough to interact, Nick. I’ve got something to ask you, anyway.”

“Fair enough.”

Shaun and I took our seats, Piper to my left and Curie to his right. Everyone was looking at me, so I said, “Thank you all for attending this rather impromptu meeting. One of the biggest issues that had been facing CIT was the restrictions on available power. Thanks to the combined efforts of all three major groups in the Commonwealth, that has now been resolved. In addition, when a rogue element of the former Institute attempted to murder people above ground, these forces worked together to bring that to an end.”

“The reason I mention this is that we are stronger together, working together. Some of the challenges that are facing us now will require that as well. The Brotherhood is now working with the Minutemen to reduce the Raider, feral ghoul, and super mutant threat within the Commonwealth. The Railroad is working with the Brotherhood as well as the Minutemen to set up supply lines so that settlements in the Commonwealth can share supplies. That will include here at CIT.”

“This is an ongoing process, will require coordination, and more importantly, the trust that we’ve begun to show each other will need to continue. There will be no place in the future of both the Commonwealth and later on, the United States, for the petty bickering and partisan politics that made the conditions right for the war. We have a tremendous opportunity here, and I plan to make the most of it.”

“Before I get into specifics, are there any questions so far? Yes, Doctor Binet?”

“We have done some reworking of things in Creation Obstetrics. For lack of a better term, we have paused the production of created people. We wanted to get input from some of those who had, in the past, escaped from the former Institute. I don’t know if we can actually make things such that we no longer need the synth chip to help bring them to life, but if we can, we would like to make sure that those newly created people already have the free will and knowledge to survive both above and below ground. Is this something that the Railroad would be able to help us with?”

I looked at Desdemona for her reply. She was puzzled. “I’m a little confused. Are you asking for our help in reprogramming synths so that they actually have free will now?”

“We’ve changed the term, as other than the chip and board, there is no difference between a created person and a naturally biologically born one. Well, that, and the size difference, of course. But yes, we are, if you’re willing to help.” He turned behind him, motioning two people forward. “This is Liam, my son. You, the Railroad, know him better as Patriot. This is Eve. My wife died many years ago, while Liam was still a child. Eve has spent nearly a decade as a part of my family, as a part of my life. Originally, she was programmed to help. Since then, I have removed both the chip and the board from her, so she has complete free will, even here. I am proud to announce, publicly, that she has also agreed to become my wife.”

There were a couple of shocked looks at that, and I made note of who had them on their faces. From the corner of my eye, I saw Jerome and James doing the same thing. Other than that, everyone else at the tables greeted his announcement with applause.

“Congratulations, Doctor Binet, Eve, and Liam. Does that answer both your question, Desdemona, and Glory, does that help you with the doubts I know you had?”

Glory stood up. “I’m not good at making speeches. For the last several years, I’ve been more of the shoot first, then shoot again, shoot again, and then maybe shoot some more type of person.” There was a little laughter, some of it forced, at her words. “I felt ... abandoned ... by the Institute, when I was captured by super mutants. I grew to hate everything about them. We were disposable slaves, valuable property to be rescued if possible, but in the end, just something that was owned. I’m not saying this to make any of you uncomfortable, that’s just how it was. I ... volunteer. To help. Maybe this will help me, too. Put some demons behind me.” She quickly sat back down again.

“Anything else?”, I asked.

Alana Secord said, “With the changes down here, the elimination of the Courser group, and the change so that we only simply have security forces here, we have a number of Gen 1 units that surplus to our needs. Can they assist in the clearing of trouble spots?”

“Thank you, Alana. I had planned on asking about that to you and Jerome later, if you felt comfortable in doing that. How many units do you have?”

“We still have a couple of hundred surplus units now, in addition to our regular stores, and with the changes in status for the Gen 2’s, we’ll have a hundred of them.”

“How many total units do you have, though?”

She looked uncomfortable. “Director, I...” She sighed. “You’re right. Five hundred total Gen 1’s, four hundred total Gen 2’s.”

“Now I really understand why the department was called Robotics for so long. Anyone else?” No one spoke. “Very well. Now on to specifics. With the increase in power capacity, the restriction on only having three people without chips teleport at any one time should be relaxed a little. At the same time, we still want people to have legitimate reasons for coming here. I’m thinking Carrington, Tinker Tom, Proctor Ingram, Proctor Quinlan, Scribe Neriah, Scribe Haylen, Doctors Forsythe and Penske, and Gwen McNamara, for those who will have, well, effectively unlimited access.”

“At the same time, I also want residents of CIT to feel free to visit ... safe spots ... in the Commonwealth. Sanctuary, Vault 81, Bunker Hill, Boston Airport, and Diamond City come to mind as immediate places they could visit, once we’ve had a little chat with those in charge. That’ll give people here an idea of the challenges being faced. I want to make sure that everyone knows that all residents of the Commonwealth, whether in CIT or above ground, will be subject to Commonwealth law if they break the law. And we all know who the arbiter of Commonwealth law is, right?” A slight chuckle came after that. One of the shocked faces at what Alan Binet said grew very pale.

“In addition, I want Advanced Systems and Doctor Li to coordinate with Proctor Ingram on helping the Brotherhood and the Prydwen. We still have to get specifics on the mission itself, but I plan on sending the Prydwen on a mission quite literally across the country. It appears that I’m going to get yet another hat to wear if that mission succeeds. Until then, things will proceed as they have been. I’m proud of the accomplishments you’ve made down here in such a short time. I’m sure you’ll make more.”

“I do have one additional question, and that’s for Nick Valentine here. I know that none of the scientists here today would have worked on you, but you were one of the reasons they are able to create life now. I don’t need your answer right now, but I’d like you and Doctor Binet to discuss the possibility of, well, giving you humanity again.”

“Now wait a minute, if you’re saying I should let myself be tinkered on, then I don’t have to think about it, the answer is no!”, he said.

“I think I understand what she means, Mr. Valentine. A created person is a blank slate until we give them programming. You’re already a person anyway, in a mechanical body. She’s talking about giving you back a flesh and blood body, like you once had.”

“That’s right, Doctor Binet. We already know it’s possible, Curie is proof of that. Nick, you’ve been a good friend, and a great help. I want to give you something as a reward. If you don’t want that, and it’s completely up to you, would you simply allow them to, well, give you a tune-up, as it were?”

“I suppose that wouldn’t hurt anything. And I suppose talking about it doesn’t commit me to actually doing it.” He chuckled. “Don’t know what Ellie would think if I was a real man, though.”

Piper laughed. “Nick, you are a real man. And you’re not much of a detective if you don’t realize that Ellie is in love with you.”

He looked shocked at that. “What? But I’ve never ... have I?”

She giggled at his discomposure. “It’s not the hat and coat, that’s for darned sure.” That produced a bit of a general laugh from everyone.

I looked around. “That’s about all I have. If there’s nothing else, I’d like for the Directorate to make themselves available to our guests for discussion and just a general meet and greet for the next hour, and then we’ll head back to the surface.”

Shaun dryly said, “Yes, I have one question. What is the new job you’ll also take on, if this mission with the Brotherhood airship succeeds? You haven’t struck me as someone eager to actually take on something else unless it’s been forced upon you, you just sort of stumble into them and then succeed magnificently.”

“This one is also effectively being forced upon me. I thought it might happen, I just hadn’t expected it so quickly. If Elder Maxson succeeds, he’s going to get a different title himself, as will the entire Brotherhood of Steel, which I don’t think he thought about.” From the look on his face, he hadn’t. “They’ll become, once again, the United States Army. He’ll become the Commanding General, and they’ll have regular ranks again. And I’ll get stuck with being the President.”

Allie Fillmore was puzzled. “President of what?”

“The United States. Now, if you’ll excuse us, I’d like to spend more time with Shaun.”

From there we took Shaun to his room. He went to his bed, which started helping him breathe better. Doctor Volkert started checking his vitals. I was holding one of his hands, in a chair on one side, Piper and Curie were sitting on chairs they’d pulled up next to him on the other side.

“Father ... Shaun ... I’m sorry. I’ve done all I can. It’s only a matter of time, now.”

“Doctor Volkert, it always has been a matter of time. Whether or not my mother would get out of the Vault in time, whether she would survive in time, whether she would find a way to make it here in time. She has done all of those, admirably. I had hoped that she would be able to take over from me here, when I was gone, as the Institute needed a leader. She has exceeded even my wildest expectations in that now, with this latest job. I know she will be ... remarkable ... at it.”

The girls and I were all freely crying. Shaun moved his hand from mine up to my face, to my tears. “Don’t cry for me, mother. I have learned something that I always was unsure about. I missed the opportunity to have you as my mother while I was growing up, so I didn’t really know if I would be able to love you. I knew ... know ... that you love me. Before, we discussed our relationship, of uncle and niece. I don’t want that, not now. I am your son. I am proud to be your son, and I am so very proud that you are, and always will be, my mother.”

He turned his head to the girls. “Piper, Curie. Pass my message on to Gwen, and to anyone else you add to your rather unconventional relationship. I know that you both love my mother with all your hearts, I’m sure Gwen does as well. She loves you just as much. I wish I could have had time to learn to love you as well. For that, I am sorry.”

He took a couple of deep breaths, fighting to get air into his lungs. “I love you, mother. Be strong, be good. Don’t let your love for everyone, for life, change because of this. Love never changes, if you don’t let it. I know that, your love for me, my love for you.” He closed his eyes, then his body gave a little shudder as he passed away.

I just held onto his hand for a time, I don’t know how long. My baby, my little Shaun, was gone again. This time for good.

Finally, I stood up, folded his arms on his chest, leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. “Goodbye, Shaun. I love you.”

I turned from his body. Piper and Curie had moved from the other side of his bed and were standing behind me, waiting to see if I needed them. My voice was rough, but I said, “I’ll be okay, thank you.” A single tear ran down my cheek. I saw Doctor Volkert standing back, his hands clasped in front of him.

“Doctor Volkert ... Dean ... I don’t know what the usual arrangements are down here.”

“Director, your son asked that we forego the normal funeral, just a simple memorial service later. I...” He stopped, for a moment. “This is rather delicate. Normally when someone passes away down here, there is a cremation and the ashes are given to family members. Shaun and I discussed this, as ... well...”

“As his DNA is still used as the basis for all created people. Then what are you waiting for? I presume that you have appropriate cryogenic facilities, so that you can freeze his tissue for later processing. It may come as a surprise to you, but in the past, if someone died, we could be organ and tissue donors. One person dying could help save dozens of other lives. I can think of no finer legacy for my son than to have him continue to help with our goals. Do what you need to do.”

“Yes, ma’am. If you would excuse me for a few minutes...” He turned to the bed.

I led the girls out of the room, into the hallway. “Blue ... Tina ... are you sure you’re okay?” The worry was evident in her voice.

“You’ve seen me let down my hair and dump my stress on you before. This is ... not a situation that I really need to do that. If I’d had to do what I was fully prepared to do when I first came down here, then ... yeah, if I’d made it back to the surface alive, I would have needed your help. I knew Shaun was the leader of the Institute, and if I’d had to do it, I would have killed him. That he wasn’t ... evil ... that I could spend the time together we did have with him ... yeah, I’m okay. I’m not happy, but I’m okay.”

I took both her and Curie into my arms. “I love you, both. I don’t know if it’s possible, or if you’ve even thought about this, but ... I would like to take our relationships to the next level. And no, this isn’t a reaction to Shaun’s death. I’ve known that’s been coming long enough that every moment I had with him after he first told me was a precious gift that I’ll treasure the rest of my life. It is, however, like he said. Don’t let my love change because of this.”

Curie was puzzled. “I do not understand, what is this next level you refer to? Are we not already friends, lovers, and companions for life?”

Piper now had a radiant smile on her face. “Curie, you’re right, but you’re forgetting that human society has a few rules about things, about our interactions. Taking things to the next level means this goof has just asked us to marry her!”

“Oh. OH! I...” Curie started smiling and crying at the same time. “I am still learning these human emotions. I feel so ... full inside, like I want to burst, but I am also crying. Why is this?”

“Because you’re happy, happier than you ever thought possible. About like I’m feeling as well. My answer is yes, Tina, of course.”

“Oui! I also. Oh, but what about ... Piper and I? Can we do this as well?”

“Under the old laws of the Commonwealth, not only no, but hell no. However, since I’m the Governor of the Commonwealth, I hereby declare the old marriage laws null and void. What was it you said before, Piper? No one cares who’s married to each other, just so long as all parties are happy? Works for me. But ... we’ll have to wait until we get Gwen with us, I don’t want her to be left out.”

“Oh, God, no. We can’t do that. As it is, I wonder if we can get someone else to run that Vault, so she can come with us and live with us.”

The door behind us opened, Doctor Volkert stepping out. He had a bit of a sly grin on his face. “I couldn’t help but hear the rather excited yells through the door. Shaun and I discussed the possibility that your relationship with your women would go to the next level. I take it that at some point in the future there will be a wedding?”

“We’ll have to figure out the logistics, of course, and find ... well, maybe the preacher in Diamond City, because I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to officiate for myself, but yes, there’s going to be a wedding.”

“Very good.” He now was smiling openly. “I have a present for you, from Shaun. Not here, but you did mention cryogenic storage before. Should any of your wives wish to have a child, there are donations from Shaun available. And ... he also realized that you were ... robbed ... of an opportunity.” He looked behind me. “Ah, Doctor Li, thank you for coming.”

I turned around, then froze. Doctor Li was walking up with someone with her. “Hi, mom! Hi, you must be Miss Piper and Miss Curie. I’ve heard so much about you. It’s a pleasure to meet you, I’m Shaun.” He held out his hand to them.

I felt my breath catch in my throat, and just couldn’t speak. Piper looked at me, then at the little boy. Then she got down on one knee, to his height, and held out her arms. “Hello, Shaun. I’m Piper. Look at you, you’re getting so big!” He moved a little closer and she gave him a hug. I could see the tears shining in her eyes again, like they were in mine. Madison even had some tears in her eyes.

Shaun stepped back from Piper. “Is it true, mom? Father is gone? He told me that it was going to happen sometime, but he didn’t know when. He told me that you were on another mission, on the surface, but you’d be back and I’d see you then.”

I found my voice. “Yes. I’m back.” I looked at Madison. “Madison, I take it that he behaved with you watching him? I know you’re not normally who watches him.”

She understood what I meant, and smiled. “Yes. Everything has worked out with Shaun like Father had hoped it would. In every way.” She motioned to the bracelets that Piper was wearing. “He’ll need those if you take him to the surface with you in the future, just like Eve would.”

“Wow, mom! Do you think that could happen? I know it’s probably not as clean as it is here, but ... I’d sort of like to see the surface. And ... I miss you, when you’re gone.”

“I’ll need...” Madison simply held her hand out, with another set of bracelets. “Thank you. Thank you so very much.”, I said, my voice shaky.

“Don’t get all emotional on me, please. It goes against my personality. Oh, and I’ll be going back up with you as well. I talked to Elder Maxson; I need to discuss with Proctor Ingram how we can tweak the Prydwen.”

“Of course. I guess it is about that time, isn’t it? Shaun, do you have anything that you need to take with you before we go to the surface?”

“Oh. I get to go? Then yeah, just one thing. Where do I meet you?”

“If we’re not in the cafeteria, then head up the elevator. You can find it, right?”

“Mom! I’m not a little kid anymore.” He hurried off. As soon as he was around the corner, that’s when I broke down. I wasn’t alone. Doctor Volkert was busy passing around tissues to all the females present, and I think I heard him blowing his nose once or twice, too.

Madison recovered first. “Shaun ... Father ... felt that you had been cheated. At first, I was against creating the child. He is unlike any other syn ... created people. His DNA is that of Father, not a mixture. As far as he knows, he was kidnapped from you as a baby, raised primarily by a kindly old man named Father down here, and you recently found him after a long search. Being with Kellogg is no longer in his memory. I used an advance of the original process created by Doctor Binet, the one he used on Eve, and completely removed both his chip and the connecting board. He is fully human, fully your son.”

“Thank you, Madison. For everything.” My voice still wasn’t steady.

Her voice got a little unsteady. “I ... I have been a scientist for too long. I forgot what it was to be a woman. You’re welcome ... Director.”

James walked up to us as we were finishing up. “Ma’am, there is a young child who has come to the cafeteria looking for you. He said he’s going to the surface with us.”

“Of course he is, James. He’s my son.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Father has passed away, from his cancer. Shaun will be coming to the surface, to live with me. He won’t be going on missions with me, of course, but it’s time for him to see what his mother does for a living, as it were.”

“I see.” His tone was a little off, like he didn’t see. Then his expression changed as he realized what had happened, what my words meant. “Very well. Should I perhaps ask Jacquelyn to accompany us, to make sure he has an appropriate guardian as well, just as I am yours?”

“If Jerome will allow it, then please, do so.” I took a deep breath, wiped the last tears from my eyes. “Okay, are we ready to get this circus on the road?”

Nick was waiting in the cafeteria, talking to Doctor Binet. He saw us walk in. “There’s a case that I need you to handle if you can. I’ve ... decided to stay down here for a bit. If you check with Ellie, she’ll have all the details.”

I nodded. “We’ll be going to Diamond City in the near future anyway, so that won’t be a problem.”

“Yeah, well, this case, I mentioned it to you before, is still in the Commonwealth, just north. So, it’s in your jurisdiction, anyway. And ... look, I’m not good with some things, but ... I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

“Not a problem, Nick. I wouldn’t have found Shaun here, otherwise.” I nodded at the boy that was standing nearby, talking to Danse and Glory.

“Oh. I ... see. Then...”

“Yes, Father, the former Director here, has passed away. Just ... don’t get too attached to things down here, you’re invited to a wedding. Hell, the way things are, you may end up the best man ... if we can figure out if we’re going to have a groom or not.”

Watching him shake his head in amusement was still disconcerting, seeing inside him. “Life has not been dull since you showed up, that’s for sure. Take care, I’ll be seeing you soon enough.”

I finally gathered everyone together and we headed for the teleportation chamber. Shaun was carrying two ball mitts and a baseball. “Is that what you went back for?”

“Yeah, there’s not enough room to throw down here. I’m hoping to find enough room so you, or someone, can teach me how to pitch and catch.”

“I think we can do that.” We stopped at the top of the elevator, retrieving the weapons that had been left there. “Glory, any misgivings now?”

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