Love Never Changes
Chapter 19

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

With the help we had from the townsfolk, it was easy to get things unloaded. Kasumi and Longfellow headed up to Acadia to get the next load. Her parents decided to help with Brooks going through the things of the Lee’s store. Avery was feeling a little better, thanking me for taking over. She told me that she’d never wanted to be in charge, it just sort of happened to her, and she’d always felt like a fish out of water.

The net result was that two hours after breakfast, my team was headed for the Nucleus. Before he’d left with Kasumi, I had Longfellow show me on the map the quickest way there. It turned out that simply following the road around the north end of the island was about 15 miles, but if we cut across country and followed some of the old trails from the campground we’d cleared out, it was only 10. The difference was that we’d be going along some rather rough trails, because of the mountain Acadia was sitting on.

Due to the distances involved, I told them not to expect us back for a couple of days. We all made sure we had plenty of food, water, and anti-radiation medications, then headed out. I was in my power armor again, too.

Getting to the campground was easy. Once through it, things got a little rougher, as the trails were nearly nonexistent. We’d gone almost a mile along it when I held up my hand, everyone stopping instantly. They were all looking around for the reason I’d stopped. Finally, Glory said, “What’s going on?”

I pointed up, about a hundred yards ahead of us. “Motherfucker,” Glory muttered. Two Gulpers were hanging from trees by their tails. “Do you think they saw us?”

“If not, they’ll know really quickly. Get ready, I’m going to try to take out the big one.” I took careful aim, the recoil smooth so I was able to track and get a second shot off when the creature started to fall. It hit the ground with a thud, dead. The smaller one let go when the first one did, but it took a moment for it to get on it’s feet. That let Deacon and James shoot it. James’ laser didn’t seem to faze it, but Deacon made up for his accuracy or lack thereof earlier, putting a round in its head. That was all the little one needed to die.

Just after their bodies, we found the road. “Okay, we go right from here, around the edge of this inlet, and then just follow it until we get to the Nucleus. You know how we saw the glowing lights on the front of those Anglers? Look at the water.”

“What the hell? Is it full of them?” Glory asked, jumping back.

“No. There’s a damned flower that has that same glow. That’s how they get their prey, an animal just looks at the flower and doesn’t see the ... ah, there, look at that one. No leaves. There’s an Angler under the water there. Be ready with your mini-guns, this could be nasty.” I took aim. I knew my bullet wouldn’t go far underwater, so I aimed for the glowing bait, right at the surface of the water.

I fired, and one very pissed off Angler jumped up and out of the water where it’d been hiding. It took it a moment to zero in on us, which was the same time that Danse and Glory needed to spin up their mini-guns. They each fired 2 twenty round bursts. That took care of that problem.

“I think I hate this island,” Glory said. Deacon nodded.

It was odd, but I almost felt a shiver along my spine when they said that. To combat that feeling, I laughed. “Come on, you’re just a city girl is all. This is fun. Get out, see the world, kill off the evil monsters, commune with nature.”

“If you say so.” She looked around. “You know, if those things weren’t hiding, this would be sort of pretty, and I bet romantic after dark.”

We killed a couple of super mutants on a bridge, crossed a spot where the bridge had collapsed into the stream bed, then kept going down the road. I noticed my Pip-Boy was picking up a signal of some kind from ahead. While there was a lot of brush in the way, I recognized a double-sided drive-in theater. I could see something reflecting off one of the screens, so there must’ve still been power. It was far enough off our path I didn’t head that way to investigate, though.

The roadway along the inlet had suffered considerably more from general collapse and washouts that nearly every other road we’d been on. Just because they didn’t have snow or winter any longer to screw things up with a freeze and thaw cycle didn’t mean that a heavy rain or two couldn’t undercut a road once the drainage ditches filled with debris. We killed a few wolves and a couple more super mutants before arriving.

“Damn, this is a nasty place, boss. The general level of radioactivity here is at least twice that of the rest of the island so far. And it looks like it’s going to keep climbing. Not to the Glowing Sea levels, but still nasty.”

“We doing okay so far?”

“Yeah. Our suits can cut this down enough that Rad-X will actually help, so we should be good for at least half a day before we need a dose of Radaway.”

I rocked forward, since he couldn’t see me nod inside my power armor. “Let’s go see what kind of reception we get from the Children of Atom.”

There was a bridge of sorts, of barrels tied together with planks on top, that crossed the channel. I stopped partway across, looking at where the channel led. “Isn’t that just special. DiMA said it was a prewar naval base. I wasn’t expecting it to be an enclosed and hardened submarine pen.”

“What’s that?” Glory asked.

“I presume you know what a submarine is. This is a place where one could come in, get rearmed, or have work done on it, and if a missile came in with anything other than a direct hit, survive. That concrete over the top is probably 10 feet thick, at least. With the mountains around here, something would have to drop straight down to get it.” She nodded at my explanation.

We finished crossing the bridge and were back on dry land. There was a guard post set up to our left, with barrels of waste nearby keeping the general radiation count in this area higher than normal. To my right were three men wearing armor, carrying fairly heavy weapons, and two people facing them wearing rags. I recognized the woman as the one from Bar Harbor.

The man questioning them had a hard look about him, a full head of red hair, a full, but trimmed beard, and mustache. His armor was decorated with all sorts of pictures of electrons circling a nucleus, and half his face was covered with either paint or a tattoo of what I thought was an electron cloud.

The man in rags said, “Richter, please. You can’t do this. We’ve been loyal...”

Richter sternly replied, “It’s Grand Zealot to you. And your dedication has come into doubt. You need to prove your faith. One of you may return to the fold. The other ... will return to Atom.”

“Richter, this is insane! You can’t expect us to...” He was cut off when the woman pulled a gun of some kind and shot him.

She coolly said, “Will there be anything else?”

Richter smiled. “That’ll be all, sister.”

“Thank you, Grand Zealot.” She walked by and entered through a thick, reinforced door that went into a concrete bunker.

Richter noticed us. “You. What are you doing here? Did Far Harbor send you?”

“Bar Harbor, no. I’m quite certain that young woman you just let in briefed you on who and what I am doing.”

He tried to look stern. “She said that you prevented one of the residents of Far Harbor from killing her. For that I thank you. Sister Harriet does Atom’s will, as do the rest of us. We have had issues with Far Harbor persecuting our missionaries and using profane technology to steal land that rightfully belongs to Atom. However, she also said that you are assisting Far Harbor with their Fog condensers.”

“The land belongs to everyone that lives on the island that is willing to follow the laws of the Commonwealth, and thus the Constitution of the United States. That Constitution gives you the right to freedom of religion. It doesn’t give someone in Bar Harbor the right to kill someone just for preaching, but it also doesn’t give you or your people the right to push people off the island, either.”

He had a flat smile on his face at my words. “You sound like something or someone from the past, not from the reality that we have now. There is no United States. Not any longer, not since President Eden died.”

This could prove interesting. “You seem quite sure of yourself. How is it that you know so much about the history of the United States?”

He smiled, but it wasn’t pleasant. “Brazen thing, aren’t you? All right. I was a soldier before I came to Atom. Lieutenant Brian Richter, Recon. Capital Region. My unit had been on a long-range scouting mission up north when we picked up the trail of a reserve of fusion cores in an old disposal facility. We’d made our way into the containment cellar, only our team engineer hadn’t set the door locks right. Fifteen inches of lead wrapped steel slammed shut behind us and locked tight, not to open until Division.”

He shook his head a little. “I got to watch the rest, all of them, crumble and die, while I lived on two sips of water a day and the occasional roach. The High Confessor ... he was only a Zealot then ... found me a couple of weeks later. They cracked the seal on the door, dragged me back here, where the Archemist nursed me back to health. It’s only through Atom’s blessing that I didn’t die, vomiting my guts onto the floor, forced to eat my own shedding hair. I survived; the rest died. Just as I heard that President Eden died, so there’s no United States. Only Atom’s Glory.”

“Damn. I was really hoping there still was someone else in the chain of command, in the continuity of government. That’s not the best news I’ve had today, Richter.”

“Grand Zealot Richter, if you please. Why is that, and why should I care?”

“If you insist, we can do the title game, but I suspect you’re not going to like mine very well or how it’s going to turn out,” I said, with a slight chuckle.

He looked askance at that. “Oh, and why is that?”

“I’m Governor Tina Wilson, lawful and legal Governor of the Commonwealth of New England States, as established by the laws of the Commonwealth and the United States, and acting as, and upon confirmation by a super-majority of the remaining individual Commonwealths, the President of the United States of America. Not that I particularly want the job, but legally it is mine. You may have been trapped in an area and needed to be rescued, but you have not been lawfully relieved of your oath as an officer and soldier in the United States Military. Now ... Lieutenant Richter ... stand down, and escort me and my party inside to discuss things with this High Confessor Tektus.”

The two men standing behind him took a bit of an aggressive stance when I ordered Richter to take me inside. He just stared at me for a long moment, looking at my face through my screen. His eyes flicked to the rest of my group, then looked again at Danse in his power armor. “You! You’re wearing Brotherhood of Steel power armor. How did you get that suit?”

“I earned it. I am Star Paladin Danse, Brotherhood of Steel, and ... upon confirmation of Governor Wilson as President, Major Danse, United States Army.”

I twisted a little. “Arthur having a little discussion in advance of things?”

“Sort of, ma’am. He realizes that you won’t be able to continue as both Governor and the General of the Minutemen once you’re President, and with the Brotherhood of Steel becoming the United States Army and under your authority, he’s trying to make sure we can maintain some kind of continuity.”

“Oh, sorry, Lieutenant Richter. Didn’t mean to ignore you. Apparently Elder Maxson, soon to be General Maxson of the US Army, is trying to figure out some unit commands in advance.”

Richter looked a bit befuddled. “Um, did he say you’re the General of the Minutemen? I thought they were defunct.”

“I’ll freely admit they had a bad time or two in the past. However, they’ve reformed and are still rebuilding. Amazing what happens when you bring law and order back to an area, kill all the feral ghouls and super mutants, kill or imprison those people who are breaking the law. Now, I admit that so far, I’ve not had issues with those members of the Children of Atom I’ve encountered. But that was with Sister Isolde and her group, in the Crater of Atom itself south and west of Boston.”

“I realize that there are sometimes differences between sects of a religion. I’ve seen more than enough of that in my own time. But Star Paladin Danse has worked with Confessor Cromwell down in the Capital area, said the Children of Atom there were willing to be a part of the greater community. You said you survived, with a natural resistance to radiation. We have a need for such people, Lieutenant, in rebuilding this country. There are areas that are simply too dangerous, even with power armor or hazmat suits and Radaway, for us to go into.”

“Also, forgive my rudeness. I didn’t think about how difficult it would be for you to see through the hazmat suit visors. My other companions are Heavy Agent Glory from the Railroad, Officer James from CIT Security, and John Deacon, my head of intelligence. Now then, about our going in to see Tektus?”

“Grand Zealot, these people are making a...” The man shut his mouth when Richter held up his hand.

I could he was doing a lot of thinking. Finally, he said, “You say you met Sister Isolde, at the Crater of Atom. What was she wearing?”

“Simple robes. And somehow or other, it appeared that her body itself was emitting ionizing radiation. Since we do not have immunity to radiation, when she answered the question we asked, helping us, we quickly left the area after thanking her.”

“All you did was talk?”

“We had no reason to do anything else. I do plan to offer my assistance to her the next time I visit the Crater, if she and the others living there need it.” I was being honest; I simply wasn’t mentioning any kind of time frame. I had no desire to get that much exposure again if I could keep from it.

“Very well.” He turned to the other guards. “You two. Watch the area for others. Let me know if you see anyone following these people. I will take them to talk to the High Confessor.”

I thought one of them was going to argue with him, but the discipline held. Both of them acknowledged their orders. With that, he said, “Follow me,” and headed in. I followed closely behind him, the rest right behind me.

The doorway itself was inch-thick steel. The walls of the bunker were six inches thick concrete. The door opened into a hallway that had a radiation shower in it. Another thick doorway led into in a longer hallway, with a couple of doors on the left, a window on my right. There was a submarine inside the base, apparently in dry dock.

The whole area inside was lit with an eerie, yellowish glow. There were bulbs around acting as lights, but they were filled with radioactive liquid. I checked my Pip-Boy, looking back at Deacon with his Geiger counter. He held his hand out, wagging it, that it still wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. I could hear a voice from inside, from someone standing on the conning tower of the sub, preaching to people who were situated along some shacks and shanties that had been built inside, along the front wall. At the very top of the wall, I could where a stairway led to a door leading further into the base.

The man speaking, preaching, had a bit of a nasally voice, one that would grate on my nerves if I had to listen to it too much. “After years of skulking in the shadows like whipped dogs, our purpose is clear. And I know the key to our victory lies within the Nucleus itself. The people of Far Harbor need only peer out their windows, to look upon the face of Atom himself, given form in holy Fog! They scoff at us behind their condensers, kill our missionaries, slay those who only wish to bring them the Light! We will claim the secrets hidden away by that accursed robot, and with them, we will wipe Far Harbor from the island! Atom’s veil will roll down its streets, holy Fog cleansing the land of their heresy! And when we are finally granted Division, it will be as heroes! A new day dawns, brothers and sisters! Glory to Atom!”

Everyone in the hall yelled back in response, “Glory to Atom!” I noticed that Richter didn’t, though. That was interesting. Richter led us up the gangway of the sub, where Tektus was coming around to the ladder leading up to the hatch.

“Ah, Grand Zealot, I am glad to see you. Have these new initiates completed the quest to Atom’s Spring?” I had a hard time not laughing when I saw how he was dressed. A ragged robe with what looked like the fins from a heat exchanger as a chest ornament and a skull cap with a child’s metal model of an atom sticking out the top and standing at least a foot tall.

“No, High Confessor. These are not initiates. This woman has...”

“Then why are you bringing them into my presence? This is highly unusual.”

Time for me to speak, I gathered. “Good afternoon, High Confessor Tektus. I’m quite sure that you received at least some report from Sister Harriet regarding what recently happened at Bar Harbor.”

“Sister Harriet said that she had been accosted by the heretics of Far Harbor and nearly reached Division through their actions of killing her for attempting to preach our word, when someone intervened. The heretics were put into custody, but this someone also intended to increase the supply of condensers, aiding Far Harbor. What would you know about that?”

I didn’t think it was possible to sound as slimy as he did, but I decided to remain as calm as I could. “Ah, yes. To a certain extent, she got that right. But it sounds like she failed to pass on that the help is not just for the residents of Bar Harbor, but for all law-abiding citizens of the Commonwealth, of which jurisdiction this island lies.”

That made him frown. “What laws? The Commonwealth is a lawless place. We were guided here, many years ago, after our exile from Far Harbor. The first of us, my predecessor Martin and I, had come north at the behest of Atom’s great prophet, Confessor Cromwell, from a small refuge in the Capital wastes. When we arrived on the island, we found a few souls receptive to Atom’s message. Anna ... the Archemist ... was formerly Far Harbor’s doctor before she found the Light. But most, they thought us a menace. We were chased from the town, driven into the wilds. Barely escaped with our lives. Some of us were ... never the same.”

I nodding in understanding. “I am sympathetic to what happened to you in the past, and there is no excuse for it. Not then, definitely not now. But that is no excuse, as two residents of Bar Harbor have found out, for acting against the law. And there is law in the Commonwealth now, law in Bar Harbor, law on this island.”

He scoffed. “There can be no law. What is happening now is the will of Atom.”

“As I just told Lieutenant Richter outside, the laws of the United States are based upon the Constitution. You have freedom of religion, so you are free to worship Atom. You can even seek to convert people to your religion. But just as the law gives you the right to worship him, it also means that people cannot just kill your missionaries. And it does not give you the right to kill them, either.”

He spread his hands open. “Is it not obvious that this island was meant by Atom for us, his children? The glorious Fog has claimed more and more of it for us. Long before we arrived, an ancient robot was master of this place. DiMA. He dwelled in the base’s Command Center, putting years of knowledge into its banks. We arrived and for many years shared this sanctuary. Over time, he came to realize this place was meant for us. When he finally left to found a refuge of his own, it was as trusted friends. Brethren. His sole condition ... we must never access his memories. And we kept that bargain, until he betrayed us by gifting those accursed condensers to Far Harbor!”

“All he did was what he did with you. He saw a people struggling to survive in a harsh environment, and he provided assistance. He did the same for you and yours. With the Gulpers and other creatures on this island, could you have survived and even thrived otherwise?”

Tektus didn’t like that, but he did nod. “I agree that he gave us sanctuary. But now that help is at an end, he has thrown his lot in with that of Far Harbor.”

“No, actually he hasn’t,” I declared.

Tektus was shocked at that. “He has given them condensers. His synths continue to come to his refuge. We could tolerate them; they are not human and leave us alone. But the affront to Atom by diverting his holy Fog cannot be tolerated!”

I sighed. “You know, as I said before, the problem is that what you want to do isn’t legal under the law.” I held up a hand to stay his objections. “Before, you rudely cut off Lieutenant Richter in his attempted introduction of me. My name is Tina Wilson. I am the lawful and legal Governor of the Commonwealth of New England States, the General of the Commonwealth Minutemen, and if you’re not very careful in what you say and do, the woman who will kick you out of this property belonging to the United States Navy, which has never formally relinquished title to it.”

Before he could say anything else, I continued, “Now then, as I said, there are laws here and now, and those laws apply to you and your Children. Just as those laws apply to Sister Isolde and her Children that live in the Crater of Atom south and west of Boston. Just as those laws apply to Confessor Cromwell and his children in Megaton. Just as those laws apply to the citizens and residents of Boston, Bar Harbor, and the Capital.”

“Ha! There are no laws. Our good Brother Andrews had decided to brave the Fog and attempt to bring Atom’s Light to that ghastly town ... and remind the heathens of their trespasses. From what I hear, he’d barely spoken a word before they cut him down in cold blood. For nothing more than his devotion. Beasts.”

“And the man who shot him, the same one who was going to shoot Sister Harriet, is now in jail in Bar Harbor. Arrested under MY authority, and will face justice for his crimes if there is sufficient evidence to convict him of those crimes. No hearsay, but hard proof. Just as, if I actually had hard proof that Sister Harriet had attempted to sabotage the Fog condensers and had done so on your orders, you would also be under arrest. But I’m sure that didn’t actually happen.”

He frowned. “No, of course not.”

“Of course, by your own words, you’ve actually proven my point, which is that law and order is needed here, as well as your own need to co-exist with the residents of Bar Harbor peacefully on this island.” I thought that’d throw him for a loop.

“What? The Fog, this place ... the Fog predates our arrival on the island, certainly, but before us, it was but an occasional nuisance. Yet through our faith, our devotion to family, Atom saw fit to reach across the land. Though ... while I admit that some of our family need assistance with scouring, most of our family has been blessed at birth with an affinity for the Glow. It’s no more to us than a May rain. Warm. Comforting. It’s why a place like this island truly is meant for His Children. Others simply wither away while we gladly await Division. Does that not make it obvious that this is our home?”

“Just as any highly radioactive place could be your home, though. You could certainly move to the Crater of Atom, share the land with Sister Isolde if you so choose to do so. However, that’s not my point. If the Fog is so beneficial and benevolent to and for you, then why would Brother Andrews have to brave it? That would indicate that the Fog is dangerous to you, just as it is to residents of Bar Harbor.”

He smirked, thinking he had me. “Of course the Fog is dangerous, there are numerous creatures that live there that make no distinction as to who they eat.”

“Ah, then you admit that, due to what is a natural phenomenon, since it’s quite obvious that the creatures that are naturally present upon this island are already adapted to the Fog, and that includes the Trappers, who were present here before your people, that in point of fact, this is NOT the perfect and natural home for your people. Thus, it also follows that your argument against the residents of Bar Harbor, who also predated the Children of Atom as residents here, is also flawed, and in fact, you are attempting to unlawfully evict and cause harm to the legal residents of this island.”

“What? No, that’s not right, you’re twisting my words!”

“You also stated that DiMA lived here, sharing this location with the Children of Atom, but at that time, you were not the High Confessor, were you?”

“No, that was Martin, as I said.”

I put a friendly tone in my voice. “What happened to High Confessor Martin?”

He shook his head. “No one knows. One night he was sleeping in his chambers in the vessel, and the next morning, he’d simply vanished. The other zealots and I organized a party to try and find him, to no avail. I wouldn’t be shocked if he took up in Far Harbor or fled to the south. His dedication to Atom had become ... questionable.” He tightly smiled. “He’d done nothing when Far Harbor executed one of our missionaries, so I dare say it’s best that he fled.”

“Why of course, you would say that, for who else profited by his sudden disappearance the most? Certainly not the people of Bar Harbor. They were living peacefully with both the Children of Atom and DiMA on this island. Obviously not DiMA, for you were JUST cursing his name as withholding secrets from you. And unfortunately, not the late Brother Andrews, who was simply following YOUR orders, not to preach the gospel of Atom to the residents of Bar Harbor, but to attempt to cause a fight with someone down there. Perhaps someone who you’d already had a run-in with, yourself, when you tried to cheat him on a trade deal.”

He looked shocked that I would accuse him of anything. “How dare you say anything like that to me, here in our own Sanctuary?”

“Where better to tell the Children of Atom the truth about the vain, vile, and debase man that would send members of his congregation out to cause trouble, knowing that if they did so and were captured, they would no doubt be killed? The way you sent Sister Harriet down to sabotage the Fog condensers, trying to kill the residents of Bar Harbor? If she succeeded, from your perspective, great. If not, her death would be just like that of Brother Andrews. You could use the very deaths of those who’d given you their trust, that you yourself caused by your own actions, to justify your own desire for power. I have the written proof from the records of Allen Lee in Bar Harbor how you, Tektus, swindled the man, causing him to petition to have your members removed from Bar Harbor.”

I started pacing in the little area I had. “Is it not the truth that it is your own fault that the Children of Atom were banished from Bar Harbor? Is it not the truth that you sent Brother Andrews down to Bar Harbor, to attempt to kill Allen Lee? Is it not the truth that you sent Sister Harriet to sabotage the Fog condensers? Is it not the truth that you murdered Confessor Martin because he saw through your schemes, and threatened to remove you from your office as Zealot, because he wanted peace on this island?” By the time I was done with these charges against him, my voice was at a near shout.

“Martin didn’t want peace, but he wouldn’t go to war against the town like I wanted him to do! He was a weak man, a weak leader! This is my island now! Get out of here before I have you killed where you stand! Grand Zealot, get these heretics out of my sight!” He finished with a sneer in his voice.

Richter just stood still, a bit of a shocked look on his face. There were others along the walkways that looked stunned as well.

Tektus was furious now. “Zealot Theil! Assist the Grand Zealot in doing his duties!”

A woman wearing similar armor to Richter started to move towards the submarine, but she was slow. The expression on her face was set in bit of a mask. Richter still hadn’t moved.

“Richter, if you think to test yourself against the will of Atom...”

One of the nice things about being in power armor was that there was also an external speaker. Normally the volume was kept normal, so you could talk to the people around you in regular circumstances. But it could be turned down, in case you needed to only have someone very close to you hear what you said. And it could be turned up, too, as sometimes your troops were nowhere close to where you were, and you needed to be heard by someone a hundred yards or so away.

Which meant that as far as my next few words were concerned, Tektus may as well have had two police bullhorns on full blast right in his ears.

“SHUT YOUR LYING AND COWARDLY MOUTH, TEKTUS!”

It definitely got him to shut up. Actually, it ended up knocking him back on his ass, such that he nearly full off the submarine. Nearly everyone in front of me covered their ears and winced in pain. I turned it down a bit.

“Lieutenant Richter!” That got his attention, and he snapped to attention.

“Ma’am!”

“In the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States, is there freedom of religion?”

“Ma’am, yes, ma’am!”

“Does that freedom to practice religious beliefs give someone the right to cheat, steal, or kill another citizen of this country in the name of their religion, or are they held to the same civil standards as everyone else?”

“Ma’am, the rights of one person or group are not any more important than the rights of any other person or group. So long as they are do not infringe upon anyone else, we are all equal under the law.”

“I’m pleased with your explanation, Lieutenant. You really did study and learn to be an officer in the United States Army.”

Tektus was finally regaining his feet, and his senses. Richter looked at him. “Thank you, ma’am. I noticed that Tektus did not deny any of the charges you laid against him. Are we operating under martial law at this time?”

“On my authority, I have declared that temporarily for all of Mount Desert Island, yes.”

“Very well, ma’am. Ware, Theil. Pending trial before the civilian government, Tektus is under arrest. Secure the prisoner.” The two of them looked at Richter in amazement, but did follow their training and start to move forward.

I heard a scream of rage from Tektus, “HERETIC!”, felt a massive pain in my side like I’d been set on fire, then felt nothing as I blacked out.

I woke up on a bed in a room with a concrete ceiling. A brown-haired woman with deep and blackened eyes wearing a surgical mask was standing over me, watching me. It sounded like it hurt her to talk. “You’re awake. You won’t be joining Atom just yet.”

My voice hurt a bit to talk. “What happened?”

She grimaced in pain as she motioned to someone else nearby. Deacon came up. “The Archemist here has had quite a bit of experience in dealing with radiation injuries. She’s got something that mixes with Radaway that can heal just about any burns from radiation exposure.” He gave me a drink of water, now that I was awake.

“My right arm feels funny.”

“You’re damned lucky to HAVE a right arm. Tektus pulled out a gun that shot intense gamma radiation right into you. Your power armor took the brunt of it, but when it blew out, the radiation pretty much cooked your combat armor and then your arm in it. If he’d gotten off a second shot, I’d be in a world of shit with a lot of people.”

The Archemist looked at her chart, then bent over the bed. “Can you feel this?”

“Yes, you’re poking me with a sharp stick.”

She nodded. “Good. That means there’s no nerve damage. Everything was superficial. It should heal for you without a problem. Can you move your arm?”

It felt heavy and tingly, like I’d slept on it wrong. I could work my fingers and while that hurt a little, it helped me get circulation going. I brought it up, looking at it. The skin was a bright red, like the worst sunburn you could imagine. I realized that I also wasn’t wearing my combat armor or my Vault suit.

“Okay, two questions now. Where are we, and what’s been going on? How long was I out?”

“That’s three questions, boss. But I forgive you. We’re in the area just beyond where the Children live. There’s no radiation here. You’ve been out for most of a day, and you’ll need at least another half a day of rest before we can start heading back to Bar Harbor. And there’s been a bit of a change in the leadership of the Children of Atom.”

I heard a door open behind me, where I couldn’t see. I recognized Richter’s voice. “Is she awake?” Deacon nodded, and Richter stepped up to where I could see him.

“I apologize for your injuries, ma’am. I knew that Tektus carried a gamma gun, but I didn’t know it was so heavily modified that it would injure you, especially in power armor. Obviously, we won’t have to worry about that any longer.”

“Um, sorry, last thing I remember is a lot of pain.”

“Oh, again my apologies. When Tektus shot you, your armor locked up with you in a position such that you blocked most of our fields of fire. Your man, James, jumped into the air and shot Tektus. So, he is dead. I was able to order everyone else to stand down before a general melee occurred. Due to your condition, we got you out of your armor and rushed you here, where you wouldn’t receive radiation exposure while healing. While you’ve been unconscious, Danse, Glory, and two of the Zealots here cleared the automatic defenses of this area. This is part of the former command center.”

“We ... found a wall, in one of the rooms. It was newer than the rest of the construction here. There was a body behind it.” He saw the look in my eyes. “Yes, it was that of Confessor Martin. I don’t know how you knew. That was the last straw for many of the people here. They’re waiting for you to wake up, to tell them what to do.”

“Me?”

Deacon gave a little chuckle. “Yeah, you. Seems that you made an impression on pretty much everyone in the Nucleus. The general consensus was that there was no way you could have made any of those statements regarding Tektus if it weren’t Atom’s will. So, the net result, as least the way I understand it, is that while they haven’t repudiated their religion, they’re putting themselves completely under your charge.”

I looked at Richter. He nodded. “There’s been quite a bit of uproar among the Children. Your comments about freedom of religion hit home with them. They realize that we don’t have to stay hidden away, or be confrontational with everyone. I’ve been talking with Major Danse, since he has met Confessor Cromwell. It seems we’ve been taken in a different direction than how things were done down in the Capital.”

The Archemist said, again with pain in her voice, “She needs to rest now. You can talk to her later.”

I did feel tired. Deacon and Richter told me goodbye and left. The Archemist moved to a position where she could watch me while I slept. But I didn’t sleep, not just yet. “Tell me, Anna, what’s wrong with you?”

“I have old wounds. They never heal. It’s Atom’s punishment of me. I fell in love with a pious man, but the people of Far Harbor didn’t like it and chased us away. That man later left the family.”

“Are the contents of my pack near here?”

She frowned, then nodded. She was in obvious pain, but picked the pack up and brought it to me. I rummaged through it briefly. “Anna, I don’t really know if this will work, but it can’t hurt. Is there plenty of water available here?”

She nodded, but said, “While it appears that Tektus was a vain and vile man, not truly believing in what he preached ... I do not know. My own faith is wavering. What do you know about the us, the Children of Atom?”

“I know the Children worship radiation, which after nuclear war when there’s large areas of radioactive materials around and some people seem to be immune to the naturally destructive effects of that radiation, could be a basis for a religion to start.”

“The main tenet is that our immunity to radiation is Atom’s greatest gift. Locked inside us all are billions of invisible worlds, waiting only to be touched by His Glow in order to be born anew through Division. During the Great War, it was granted to many, though they certainly didn’t realize it. Today it is often a slow process, taking years of exposure to be realized.”

I looked at her for a moment, could see the continuous pain in her eyes from her injuries. I decided it was worth a chance. “Well, I’ve heard of religions being founded on less than that. And with the evidence before your eyes, I could see where it could take hold. You’re the doctor here, so you know about medicines, maybe even some other sciences.”

“As much as anyone. I can treat injuries, help people with scouring and such.”

“I was alive before the War. I’m not like an old Ghoul; you no doubt know that freezing things can keep them fresh for a long time. There was a scientific experiment that I was an unwitting subject of, cryogenically frozen the day the war started. Intense and near instant freezing, so my body wasn’t damaged in the process. A little over a month ago, I was revived into this world. My job before the war is why I really am the Governor of the Commonwealth, but that has nothing to do with my discussion with you.”

“Instead, there is a certain amount of truth, based upon real science, in this religion. The problem is that it’s not just us, people, who are made up of billions upon billions of individual atoms. It’s, literally, everything. Pure water, a single molecule of it, is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. This may not mean anything to you, but in college, I ended up dating a chemistry geek for a bit. I helped him study for some of his tests, and depending upon how you look at it, I have a pretty good memory for facts and figures. There’s a number, it’s called Avogadro’s number, that lets scientists calculate how many molecules are in a certain amount of something. Do you have something to write with and to write on?”

She pulled out a piece of chalk. “On that wall over there, then, write the number 602, and put a comma after it. Now, put up 3 zeroes and a comma.”

“Of course, this is simple counting, 602,000. I do know numbers and how to count,” she told me.

“Then good. Now, put 18 more zeroes in that line, with commas every third zero.”

Anna looked at this number in awe. “Is this how many atoms there are in each of us?”

 
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