Love Never Changes
Chapter 20

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

I was annoyed at the buzzing of the fly. I kept swatting at my ear, but I couldn’t seem to make it go away. I finally ended up opening my eyes, realizing that the buzzing wasn’t coming from an insect.

“About time you’re awake, ma’am. We’re expecting the first vertibird in about fifteen minutes.”

“How long was I asleep?”

“Almost six hours. The doctors both said to just let you sleep as long as your body felt like sleeping, it’d help you heal quicker. I think they were right; your arm looks a lot better to me this afternoon.”

I moved it around. It didn’t have the soreness and stiffness of earlier. “I think you’re right, James. Please tell me you at least either got a nap and something to eat.”

“Paladin Danse, Deacon, and I have been taking two-hour shifts since you fell asleep.”

He helped me up. I went into the private corner and took care of personal business, then walked back out. “It’s not quite what you had, but Brooks found this for you to replace the destroyed piece of armor.”

“What’s that on it?”

“It was signed by everyone in Bar Harbor. Their way of thanking you.”

I nodded. I knew I had to appear in public wearing it, even if once I got back home, it would end up in a display case. There was no way I would actually risk something as precious as that in actual combat.

“I take it, since you mentioned a vertibird, that I’m hearing the Prydwen outside?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He opened the door once I was ready. The citizenry of Bar Harbor was lined up along the pier and town edge, watching enthralled at the sight of the Prydwen slowly working her way up their bay. On the water below, a boat kicked into high gear and headed for the dock. I recognized Kasumi piloting it.

“The big airship, it’s ... it’s amazing! So much more than anything I’ve ever seen before. They followed me here. I ran as fast as I dared, they didn’t have any issue keeping up with me. It’s ... I never dreamed I’d ever see anything like that!”

A vertibird from the Prydwen dropped down, coming in for a landing. “Hello, Arthur. Welcome to Bar Harbor, Maine.”

“Seems that you had a bit of a misadventure, Madam President.”

“Not yet, not until you’re done going west. Only Governor or General or ... well, you know all the rest ... until then.”

“I understand. From what I hear, we’ve got another military base to secure here?”

“Yes and no. Lieutenant Brian Richter of the U.S. Army is already there. Minor detail, he’s effectively immune to the effects of radiation. I’d like to get a crew from CIT and maybe Proctor Ingram to study things, get the reactor there going for additional power. And, of course, we have a bit more territory to clear here, as well.”

He shook his head. “Proctor Ingram won’t be available for ... probably another two weeks or so. I do have a crew from CIT already onboard, though. Including Doctor Fillmore.”

“Is Ingram okay?”

He motioned to the bird, which took off. “Arthur, you know I don’t particularly like it when you surprise me with something.”

“I think you’ll like this one. Danse, have you and this young woman decided to make things official yet?”

Glory blushed a little, holding out her left hand. “He asked me this morning. Since I’m not in the Brotherhood, we did it the old-fashioned way. And it may be just in time.”

“Wait, seriously? Congratulations, then, to both of you. And remind me to not allow you into any radiation zones for several months.”

Maxson smiled, then looked puzzled. “I was going to offer my congratulations on the engagement, but I’m confused about the restriction.”

“No potentially developing fetuses allowed in radiation zones that can cause mutations. That’s going to be a standing order for anywhere in the Commonwealth.”

Arthur looked at Danse and Glory, holding hands and both of them grinning. “Oh, my God.” He pivoted to me. “Governor, I owe you a huge apology. I was listening to you and even following what you said and ordered, but in the back of my mind, I still had my doubts about this being true. Glory is now pregnant?”

Her face had a bit of the radiant glow that an expectant mother gets. “Sure seems that way, Elder Maxson. Your boy here sure hasn’t been shooting blanks with any of his weaponry. I figured out I’m two weeks past due this morning, so we moved the time table up a bit.”

The landing of the vertibird distracted Arthur from anything else he planned to say. I saw six people get off it this trip. There was a man that got off I didn’t know, but I did recognize Allie and Rosalind, along with two smaller figures and Jacquelyn. “Shaun, Nat, just exactly what are the two of you doing here?”

“Don’t worry, Mom. We’re not here without adult supervision. I have an additional update to the program for any workstations you have here for the terminal I sent, and three more of them in case you have that many.” I noticed Shaun and Nat were holding hands.

“Piper sends her love, Miss Tina. She said for you to load us on the next boat home and to make sure you’re on it with us as well. She told me to tell you to get the turkey baster ready, but I don’t know what that means,” Nat said.

“Oh, my God, I can’t believe she said that.” I shook my head. The man that got off the bird laughed when he heard it.

“That sounds just like something she’d say,” he said.

I took a couple of steps closer to him. He was a good six feet tall, fairly good looking, a full head of light brown hair, with green eyes. He was wearing regular pants with a work shirt, but they didn’t look right on him.

“Son of a bitch, you did it, didn’t you?” I ran up to him and gave him a hug. “What’d Ellie say when she saw you like this?”

“Um ... she hasn’t seen me yet. It’s not that I’m exactly afraid, it’s just that when I came back to the surface after Doctor Binet finished the transfer, Maxson was heading up here to help you out and I needed to find out what was going on with my missing person case. I should have expected that you’d end up solving it and doing a lot more, besides.”

“Damn, Nick, you look good. This is going to seriously disappoint someone, though, and not Ellie. Hey, Kasumi! Want to go for a ride on a vertibird?”

While she was running up, I saw the Mariner in the crowd. “Hey, madam mayor, come here. This is Allie Fillmore and Rosalind Orman. They’re both scientists and engineers. Get them hooked up with your folks, they’ll be able to get power going and get the basic infrastructure set up.”

Allie looked excited. “I heard you have another reactor that we need to bring online. We both have heavy duty hazmat suits. We got Vault 81 up and running, so we left one of our subordinates there, so we could come find more challenges here!” I think she was happier than a dung beetle in a field full of brahmin pies.

The Mariner said, “We’ll get you with the people that know where that is, and get things going, then. That thing really is flying up there, isn’t it? Like a ship in the sky.”

“Arthur, you up for a short trip as well?”

He nodded, explaining, “We’re up here for a short period, more or less a trial run to make sure the engines work. I plan on leaving three vertibirds and crews here to support your operations here. I’m certain that having aerial firepower, as well as being able to move materials and personnel from one location to another quickly, won’t hurt. With things working like they are, we won’t dock the Prydwen here, but while we take our short trip, she can do a circuit of the island, get some physical recon done for you if you’d like.”

“Like? Hell, no. Love? Definitely. I presume you have scribes that can mark on maps where they see shipwrecks, shoals, and other features. One question. When we were on the boat coming up here, we couldn’t see too far inland. What’s it look like from up there, between Boston and here?”

“Honestly? Almost as bad as the rest of the country. We could easily see 15 miles inland most of the way. You could tell where the cities used to be. There are still a couple of forests, but there have been some big fires, cleared a lot of area. There are small groups of survivors, we could see a couple of places, but no population centers, certain nothing like what you have in Boston.”

“Welcome to colonial America all over again, then. Okay. Have your pilot tell the Prydwen to do her survey. There’s a military base in the middle of the island that they need to make sure and NOT hit. Same with the observatory, leave it alone. Other than that, ... if your gunners need target practice, there’s all sorts of critters out there that need killing. Watch for the ones hanging in trees, too. There’s supposed to be at least a couple more workstations out there, we need to get those moved. Hell, even the one here could be closer to town.”

Shaun spoke up. “I’ll have someone move it. I’ve figured out an easy way to do that. The ones out in the wilderness still need airlifted, though.”

“You surprise me, son. Thank you.”

He beamed in appreciation of my compliment. “Mom, I’m just trying to help, like you do. I know I can’t do the things you can, but I don’t think I’ve a better example to follow than you.”

I had to give him a hug and kiss on the head for that, so he couldn’t see the tears in my eyes at his statement. After a moment, I asked, “So why did Nat come with you?”

She looked up at me. “Shaun is the smartest kid I know. He’s a lot smarter than any of the kids in my school. And he’s sort of cute. Piper told me I could come with him if Jacquelyn came along as a chaperone. Silly of her at our ages, but she insisted.”

“Very good. You all do what you need with the workstations, then. Mariner, are you done talking to Allie? If so, want to see the island from the air?”

While we were in the vertibird, Arthur used the radio to give Kells some commands. I saw three birds drop, to land at the town. The engines on the Prydwen sped up and she started moving again. I lost sight of her as we went up, over the wind turbine towers, and then landed just outside the observatory. This time there was someone outside watching, who ran inside, probably to warn everyone.

When we entered, there were barely half a dozen created people left. They were all lined up near DiMA, weapons ready. DiMA recognized me. “There is no need for violence, this is the Governor, not an enemy of ours.” The created people lowered their weapons, looking sheepish.

Faraday said, “Sorry. We saw the airship, and even though you’d said the Brotherhood of Steel weren’t our enemies, we didn’t want to take a chance.”

“Caution is advisable. It never hurts to be ready in case of something. DiMA, I have some news for you, but whether you consider it good or bad is up to you.”

“I can tell something must have happened, something serious. You’re not in the same clothing you wore when you visited before, even if those who are with you that I do know are.”

“Yeah. Tektus and the religion of the Children of Atom are both dead. Before you get too upset, note that I said the religion is dead, not the children themselves. As with most religions, when the brutal scientific truth was applied, especially regarding actual atomic structure and what little bit of chemistry and nuclear physics I do know, the religion was found to be completely lacking. Tektus tried to kill me, and failed.”

“I am sorry to hear that. That he is dead, I mean, not that he failed in killing you. I had hoped that we would have a peaceful resolution to things, to keeping the peace on the Island.”

“We’re there. The rest of the former Children have realized that they’re just ... people, like your created people ... someone with something that’s different about them, but nothing terrible. They’re now working to assist Bar Harbor in rebuilding, taking the rest of the island back from the creatures, the Trappers, and most importantly, the Fog. We’ve got, what, forty some odd Fog condensers built now, regained all the old town.”

“That is truly amazing. I appreciate you coming here to see me in person, to let me know. What will become of my refuge here, though, with their spread? These people have, so far as they’ve discussed, planned to remain here, with me. What about them?”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re all citizens of the Commonwealth. I’ve a few people you need to meet, though. This fierce looking guy is Elder Maxson, soon to be General Maxson, of the United States Army. This woman is The Mariner.” I paused. “At some point you’re going to have to actually come up with a name, you know. Maureen, or something like that.”

I turned back to DiMA. “Sorry. Long story behind that. When it came time to make some hard decisions about the future of Bar Harbor, Avery ... fell short. Mariner is now the mayor of the town. Of course, you know Kasumi. What they’ve done, what she and her father are going to do is set up a regular ferry service from here to the Boston area. Probably not every day, like they are now, trying to get supplies and personnel up here to help, but every two or three days, at least. It’s a sixteen-hour round trip,”

I couldn’t help it, I smiled. “And lastly, come on, up here. This is someone that right now you don’t recognize.” DiMA looked puzzled at my statement.

“I sure recognize your face, DiMA. It looks a bit better than mine used to. Funny that there were two of us with the same look. Makes me wonder why the Institute scientists didn’t make us look at least a little bit different, so they could tell us apart. I would guess they knew from our personalities, though.”

DiMA looked at him, his jaw going slack. “This can’t be.”

“Sorry, brother, we’re no longer twins. I always thought I was a discarded experiment, thrown out. It’s nice to know that you actually helped me escape. As you can see, the eggheads have made a few improvements in things over time.”

“Nick ... you’re human again? How?”

“To use the old words, this is a brand-new Generation 3 synth body. Grown specifically for me. Instead of programming it, though, they transferred me into it. Not as resistant to being beat up or shot like the old one, but...” He rubbed his cheek. “Being able to actually feel, to touch, to experience things again. That’s an easy trade. Hell, DiMA, you could do the same thing if you wanted, there’s no reason to tie yourself out here in the middle of nowhere any more.”

“It’s not that easy for me, Nick. You ... you were already a person, before you became my brother. I have never been that way. How could I leave these behind, all my memories, all my experiences?”

“You pick and choose what you want to remember, the good, and the bad. Then you do like the rest of us, you simply forget them. Our experiences, they shape us, make us what we are. I’ve talked with many Ghouls, people who lived through the war, were changed by the radiation. They’re twice our age. You just go with it.”

DiMA sat back in his chair. “I will consider your discussion, Nick. Thank you.”

I said, “DiMA, something else to keep in mind, as well. The ... residents ... of this island will respect your decision, whatever it is. But keep in mind that they are working on their own, now, to reclaim the land for themselves. We know there are workstations on the island, we have ways to make them work again. With the proper components, you won’t have to scavenge new parts, Faraday or you would be able to make them.”

Faraday looked puzzled. “New components? Not ... salvage?”

“And one other detail, Faraday. You already have a chip in you, probably DiMA does as well, but I never did scan him. At the Nucleus, the former naval base, there is a working nuclear reactor. I’ve people that are already working to bring it up and online. That will give the island the chance to put in a small, booster station, so that created people will have access to CIT, and the improvements they’ve made.”

“I will consider your words,” DiMA said.

“Sounds good. I needed to make sure you had that offer available to you. We’ll see you later,” I said, turning to head out.

“One question, if I may. Did you find out what happened to Brother Martin?”

I couldn’t turn to face him. “I know you liked him, wanted to work with him. Tektus was a religious fanatic, and when Martin disagreed with him, Tektus killed him. I’m sorry, DiMA.”

I could hear noises behind me that sounded suspiciously like a robot trying to cry. I went back out to the vertibird, the rest behind me.

“What do you think, Tina?”, Nick asked.

“Well, your missing person case is done, since Kasumi is right here. So, it’s time for you to head back to Diamond City.” I heard him chuckle. “Oh, you meant about DiMA, didn’t you? I just don’t know, Nick. He’s gone from being sort of the god-figure of the island to almost nothing, all at once.”

Kasumi quietly said, “I feel sorry for him. But I lived here a while, I think he brought it on himself. He was trying to keep the peace, trying to make people fit into the boxes he assigned to them, and we just don’t do that. Whether we’re created or not.”

“That, young lady, is a very bright comment,” Maxson said.

We were starting to load onto the vertibird when we heard a voice from the observatory door. “Hey, got room for one more?” Chase came running out as she saw the blades starting to turn. James went to the doorway and helped her get onboard. “Thanks.”

“You sure about this?”, James asked.

She smiled. “Yes, yes I am. I want to help rebuild.” He helped her to a seat and we took off.

The bird took off, heading west before it turned to go north. I was looking down at the mountains, glad we hadn’t had to go over them, when I saw something. “Pilot, you see that plane wreckage down there? Circle it, will you?”

The pilot did so. “What’s going on, Governor?”, Arthur asked.

“I’m not sure. Take us down, into that flat spot over there. Good, thanks.” I unbuckled and hopped out. “Rest of you ... okay, James, of course, but rest of you, stay put.”

I saw three animals in cages, like I’d seen from the air. One of them was a wolf, one was a mutated hound, but the other looked like a regular dog, a brindle boxer. They all actually looked friendly to me. “What the hell is going on here?”

From inside the fuselage of the wreck, I heard a rumbling voice, “Hey, be careful out there, those are my dogs. Are you up here looking to trade for one?”

I saw him step out, but didn’t raise my gun. “You’re a super mutant? Why aren’t you just attacking me on sight?”

“Look, I don’t really want any trouble. I broke off from the group I came here with a long time ago. I used to trade with a couple people from Far Harbor, but I haven’t seen them in a long time. Oh, sorry, name’s Erickson, by the way.” He was wearing the skin and head of a bear as a hat.

“Okay ... I’m a little confused. Why did you leave your group? I mean, specifically? Is there something you can think of that might have made you different?”

He shook his head. “We came from the mainland ages ago. I was like the others, follow the biggest of us, Grun. We found a big building, that way.” He pointed south. “There was something in there, it tasted good. The others wouldn’t drink it. I did. I drank a lot of it, it was a glowing liquid, not just water. The more I drank, the more I felt different. I didn’t want to fight any longer. Now I live here, because humans still run from me, most want to kill me, I just raise dogs, try to survive.”

“Unbelievable. There is something in the water on this island, for damned sure. Shit!” I looked at James, he was also looking around the camp in amazement. “James...”

“Go see if the vertibird has room to carry him, and if not, get another one headed this way now. Just for the record, I don’t believe it, either.” He headed back to the bird.

I gave off a big sigh. “Erickson, normally super mutants tend to be rather violent.”

He laughed, almost like it sounded when Virgil had laughed. “That’s like saying water tends to be rather wet. I know I’m not normal, not anymore.”

James came running back up, an amused grin on his face. “Maxson thinks you’ve lost your mind. But he’s seen weirder things now, since he’s accepting of the Ghouls, and of course, Brian Virgil. Mariner is just muttering under her breath about damn fool crazy mainlanders. There’s another bird on its way here now.”

“What are you two talking about?”

“Erickson, you said you’ve been trading with some people from Bar Harbor. The town is expanding, and one of the things we’re doing is clearing the island, to make it safe for citizens of the Commonwealth. That includes the folks that used to be the Children of Atom, as well as any non-feral Ghouls, since they’re people, too.”

“That puts me and my dogs in a bad spot, then. I suppose I ought to pack up, but I don’t know where I can go. My clan doesn’t want me any more, and I doubt the others will.”

I heard the second vertibird coming in. “I’ve got someplace for you. We’ll take you to Bar Harbor, you can raise your dogs there.”

“But ... won’t the humans object?”, Erickson asked.

“Only once.” I smiled, and Erickson recoiled.

“Oh, my. You look more dangerous than any of my old group, even Grun. And he’s a super mutant behemoth. I barely escaped; he was wanting to kill me.”

“Please don’t take this the wrong way, Erickson, but I’ve killed more than one behemoth by myself.”

“No, no argument from me. Like I said, I just want to live in peace now.”

“Good enough. Grab your dogs and let’s get onto the vertibird.” He picked up their cages, with the dogs in them, and loaded them. They whined a little, he made little shushing noises, like he was quieting a child. He bent over, then realized he couldn’t sit in the seats, and just sat in the middle of the floor. I got in with him. James glared at me, but ran over to the other bird and hopped in, since there just wasn’t room for him.

“Back to Bar Harbor, Lancer.” The pilot nodded.

“Hang on, this is a little over the capacity of this bird for a regular takeoff.” Apparently, Erickson was heavier than Virgil. She almost got it up, then pitched the blades forward so we took off more like a plane than a vertibird. Once it was in the air, she didn’t have a problem, and we followed the other bird back to Bar Harbor.

Word had spread about our unusual payload. The whole city turned out, again. One thing I wasn’t expecting, as Erickson unfolded himself from the cabin, was for Longfellow to walk up to him. Erickson recognized him. “Longfellow? You’re still alive, eh? Good to see you’re still kicking.”

“You, too, old friend.” Longfellow came up and shook his hand. “So, Cap’n, what are the plans for old Erickson, here? He’s a peaceful sort.”

“So I gathered. He likes to train dogs. We’ve a need for guard dogs and companions all over the Commonwealth. I don’t see why he can’t do that here, and also help around town with odd jobs, since I imagine he’s stronger than any three men.” I saw Shaun and Nat coming up, as Erickson pulled his dogs in their crates off the bird.

“Oh, he’s cute. Can I pet him?”, Nat asked, walking up to the brindle boxer.

“He’s a guard dog, miss. Put your hand near his cage, let him get your scent.” She did that, the dog came to the edge of his crate, sniffed her hand, then wagged his tail and tried to lick her through the cage door. Erickson opened the cage door, and the dog rushed out, like a playful pup, licking and playing with Nat. “Well, I’ll be. I didn’t think he’d do that.”

“What’s your normal trade price for a dog?”

“Normally I’d get 300 caps, in either trade merchandise or goods, for one. But for you, with you letting me live here, 100.”

“Mariner, you got an empty building or two that Erickson can live in?”

She was just shaking her head. “First the Children, now super mutants. What is this world coming to? Yeah, we’ve got a couple.”

“Sounds good. Deacon, you’re normally the one with the bankroll. Set Mr. Erickson up with a thousand caps to his name, so he has money to live on for a while, too. I’m sure he’ll be able to find work in town as well.”

I left him figuring out what to do with his good fortune, while Mariner and her council were figuring out what to do with him. I sought out Anna and Teddy. “Hello, doctors. Normally Nick here is the detective, but I have a bit of a mystery for you two.”

“What’s up?”, Teddy asked.

“Something in the water here, basically. You know that Ware and Devin were basically psychotic Trappers until they drank from Atom’s Spring. The hallucinations it caused brought them back to being able to function. Now we’ve got Erickson over there. Pure super mutant, but he doesn’t want to fight, just live in peace. He said he was drinking some good tasting glowing liquid in a big building towards the southern end of the island.”

Teddy frowned. “That’s sound like the Vim Pop Factory. I don’t know where they got the water they used in their mix, but if it was glowing, that’d be Vim Quartz.”

Anna looked puzzled. “I don’t see what good this does us, though. I can’t see any easy or even a difficult way to force Trappers or super mutants to drink something.”

“Probably not. But here’s a thought for you. If it’s in the groundwater, and that’s what’s making the Fog so dangerous, which is what’s actually coming out at Atom’s Spring, then we don’t actually need hundreds of Fog condensers.”

Anna slowly nodded, she understood where I was going with it. “We just need a power supply and maybe ... fifty of them, to circle Atom’s Spring itself. Cut it off at the source, and the rest of what’s here will end up dissipating on its own.”

“I’m going to let you folks handle that. I’m under orders to head back to the mainland.”

“We will. And ... thank you, again.” Anna leaned forward and gave me a small kiss on the cheek, as a friend.

Stepping back outside, I saw several people waiting. “Arthur, I’m curious. How long will the Prydwen be here, and what about the Brotherhood troops down south?”

“We’ll leave a small force here, maybe fifty in total, plus the three vertibirds, to help your ... our ... citizens. I’ll be back in Boston in probably four or five days. We’ll go up the coast another hour, then head back. I’m not expecting to find any more than the wilderness or desolation that we’ve seen otherwise. Then about a week and a half, to get supplies built up and to get Ingram back. The troops that are already operating in your area, they’re yours, Sentinel, until I can return from the West Coast.”

“Now that brings up two questions in and of itself. If you’re leaving three birds here, will you have enough to leave any in my AO? The second is, what’s up with Ingram?”

“We’ll leave ten down there, not counting your personal bird. That’ll leave me with two onboard. I’ll head back down to the Capital and get more from our stocks there, so I’ll have a full complement. I would have thought that your meeting your friend Nick again would tell you what’s up with Proctor Ingram. Doctor Binet figured out how to use the tissue from someone else to reprogram his machine. They’re making her a new set of legs.”

“Damn, I was hoping they could figure it out with cloning parts for people, like Curie had mentioned. I didn’t think they could do the surgery, though, to attach them.”

Nick said, “No, not quite. She’s actually got to be kept unconscious while this is done. They’re not making new legs and then attaching them to where her old ones were, they took off a bit of her stumps, and are using the machines to knit new bones, muscles, nerves, and veins directly onto the existing structures. It’s a lot slower than simply building a body like, well, mine. When it’s done, she’ll need at least a couple of days of intense physical therapy, to learn how to walk again. Took me two full days, and I will not even begin to tell you about what happened when I first ate something. I heard a little from Deacon about you, Piper, and Curie with bodily functions. At least I knew what I needed to do, even if my skills were a little rusty.”

“Well, fine. Kasumi, are we ready to head back to the mainland?”

“Yes. With you not in power armor, we’ll have plenty of capacity for everyone going.”

I surprised Arthur by giving him a hug. “Take care of things up here.” He surprised me by hugging me back.

We had everyone loaded onto the boat within half an hour. There were two unhappy people in handcuffs tied to the back railing, Allen and Sandra Lee. With Chase coming along as well as Duke and the kids, we had a full load. The Mariner looked somewhere between unhappy and pleased that I was taking the Lee’s with us. “What’s going to happen to them?”

I looked at her. “I’m probably going to let them go.”

“After all they did? She tried to kill you! He cheated us for years, would have seen us all die for more caps in his pocket.”

I coughed. “I didn’t say WHERE I was going to let them go, now, did I?”

That shut her up quickly, as she realized we were going to be on an eight-hour boat trip. We shook hands, then I hopped onto Kasumi’s boat so we could leave. Arthur stood at the dock, this time giving me a different salute. His hand didn’t hit his breast, it was palm down and at his eyebrow. I returned it, so he could drop his, but he held it for at least another minute.

Danse quietly said, “Arthur has gone through so many changes in the past few weeks. I’ve known him for years. I think I like him better now than I have at any time in the past.”

I noticed that Nat and Shaun were playing with Duke a little, and then got him to roll onto his back. “Deacon, is it too late to get my money back from Erickson?”

He looked at me funny. “That’s not a Duke, that’s a Duchess.” Nat laughed.

“Of course, she is. You didn’t know that, Miss Tina?”

“Wasn’t really paying that much attention. Um, Shaun ... remind me to have a talk with Diohgi when we get home. We don’t need any litters of puppies just yet.” At my use of the word puppies, Duchess looked at me and whined. “Don’t tell me, your intelligence has been augmented, too.” She barked at that.

The boat was two hours from Boston when I walked to the rear. Allen and Sandra were looking pretty miserable by now. They’d been getting spray on them from the wake, and we hadn’t actually given them any relief from their handcuffs, so they both had soiled themselves. I had made sure both kids were asleep, in case this went south, too.

“So, what am I going to do with the two of you? Don’t even bother to argue that I don’t have the authority to do what I did, you both know that argument isn’t going to work. For years, Allen, you’ve been profiteering off your neighbors. And I found out the real reason you were inciting everyone against the Children of Atom. So, at best for you, I’ve also got one count of manslaughter to add. As for you, Sandra, accessory before and after the fact, and attempted murder for you.”

“Go ahead, shoot us and feed us to the fish. That’s what you’ve been planning on doing all along, isn’t it?”

“It may surprise you, Allen, but on the whole, I’d rather not. If Sandra had actually shot at me and I’d been ready for it, I wouldn’t have had any issue shooting her dead. Same with you, if you’d actually been stupid enough to pull the trigger either on Harriet or at me. But you both managed to fuck that up, too. Keep in mind that I’m perfectly willing to simply push both of you overboard right now, without bothering to put a bullet in you. Who knows, you might manage to survive and make it to shore.”

“The problem is, we don’t have prisons. At this point, they’re a waste of resources. I’d normally sentence both of you to about 20 years in one. But all you’d do is sit in a cell and take food away from someone who needs it. So instead, you’re both going to get something you don’t deserve, and that’s an actual chance to pay for your crimes.”

“You’re so full of shit. You’re just like that bitch, Avery, not able to pull the trigger or do the dirty work that needs to be...” His voice cut off when I pushed him backwards. Since he was still attached to Sandra, she went with him.

“Can’t say I didn’t warn him.”

After half an hour, I had Kasumi cut the throttle, so James and Danse could pull them back up to the boat. They hadn’t realized that when we’d tied them down, we’d also tied them to the boat by a long rope. Allen looked unresponsive; Sandra was coughing up water. “What the hell? Are you going to torture us or just kill us?”

“Proving a point, Sandra. It’s another hour and a half back to Boston. It’s going to be your decision whether you stay in the water or you get back on board. But if you stay in the water, this time you’re not going to be tied to the boat. Oh, and while I haven’t seen any fins, I’m quite sure there are still sharks and other things that would just love to feed on you.”

“Like that fin, over there?”, James asked.

“Pull me in! Pull me in! I’ll take your judgment; I don’t want to die out here!” Like most people who lived and worked on the ocean, Sandra had a huge fear of drowning or death at sea.

“What about your brother?”

“Fuck him! That son of a bitch can die here for all I care. It was his idea to fleece the sheep at Far Harbor, anyway! I went along with it because he’s my brother! We had a boat hidden so when things finally went to shit, we could take our caps and head for somewhere else!”

“You lying cunt! It was all YOUR idea, bitch!” Allen had been playing, which is what I figured he’d do, let us pull them back on board and then reach for a gun or some stupid stunt. But listening to Sandra got to him and his temper. The two of them started fighting in the water. I’d had enough of it, and just cut the rope, motioning to Kasumi to take us away.

About two seconds after I cut the rope, they both realized what had happened. Sandra started screaming as best she could, Allen was trying to push her head under the water. The floundering didn’t last long. I’d though James was kidding about the fin. He hadn’t been. I don’t know what breed of shark it was; it didn’t matter. It wasn’t over large, so I didn’t think it’d mutated much. Either way, the water behind us turned red and that took care of that.

“Shooting them would have been more civilized,” Nick quietly said.

“I actually thought James was joking about the fin. But either way, they were going to end up as fish food. Stupid, stupid, stupid!”

“Not everyone can or will be reasonable. You aren’t going to be able to save everyone.”

My look was grim. “Yeah, Nick, but I can try. Raiders? Probably not. They’ve really pushed things too far for much in the way of forgiveness. Hell, if we could get a bunch of water from Atom’s Spring into Swan’s Pond and make him peaceful, I’d do that.”

“Please don’t even think of that, ma’am,” James said. “I’d hate to have to shoot you in the leg myself to prevent something like that.”

Nick sort of chuckled a little. “You know what scares me is that she might actually think about doing something like that. Well, and how many of us she’d shoot if we tried to stop her.”

“With you being biological now, it’d hurt a lot, too. Hey, I meant to ask you earlier, and it sort of skipped my mind. Why’d you take this step? I thought you weren’t interested.”

He looked off at the horizon. After a minute, he said, “The past is just that, the past. It’s dead. I can either pretend to be a simulacrum of Nick Valentine, or I can actually live my own life. And doing that means I change some things. Oh, don’t get me wrong. If I found out that Eddie Winter was still alive, I’d kill him in an instant. He’s the reason I went into the program in the first place, my girlfriend was killed by him. That was two hundred years ago. What are the chances of that?”

“I remember seeing in the paper that he was an informant. He’d made all sorts of tapes that incriminated others in his crime syndicate. Technically, if he became a ghoul, it’s possible he’s around. And if he is, we’ll find him at some point. And then you can kill him. Until then, it’s time to live your own life.”

“Thanks, Tina. I knew it was going to be a great friendship between us when I saw you through the blood spatter on the window in the Vault. I don’t suppose you’d come back to Diamond City with me when we reach shore, would you?”

“Let’s fly to Sanctuary first, shall we? I have something to do there.”

We docked without any further issues. The kids didn’t even ask me anything about what happened to our guests. Jacquelyn simply looked at James with a raised eyebrow, a nod his reply, and then a smile on her face was her response.

Katie saw me getting off the boat and started spooling the engine up on her vertibird. It was crowded with everyone in the back, but we made do. A short time later we circled once, then landed at Sanctuary. Apparently, the circling was to give someone time to turn on some lights, since it was dark. I was amazed, they’d actually put lights and a windsock up, for a regular landing pad.

After the bird landed, someone in Minutemen garb came up to the door. Seeing that I was inside, he came to attention. “Good evening, General. Welcome home. Normally I’d escort our visitors up, but I believe you know the way.”

“Yes, I do. Thank you, carry on.” He moved back to his regular patrolling. Katie got out of the cockpit and followed us. I noticed her. “We’ll be heading to Diamond City tomorrow, probably mid-morning. You can stand down until then.”

“Thank you, ma’am. We were all on edge here with you gone like that. If I may say so, especially since I work for you, I’ve never seen Elder Maxson so worked up.” At my look of confusion, she said, “Oh, you didn’t know. When Kasumi brought the first batch of created people back, with your request for troops to help, everyone volunteered. And I mean the entire Brotherhood of Steel, all the way down to the Initiates. As did every member of your Minutemen. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, but your status with us has nearly reached mythic proportions.”

“You’re kidding, right? I’m ... I’m just doing what needed to be done.”

Deacon laughed at that. “You just keep doing that, boss.”

I heard a growl from ahead. Nat had been walking with Duchess beside her. I stepped back and reached down, grabbing her collar quickly and just in time. I could feel a growl coming from deep inside her. “Diohgi, chill out. This is Duchess, she’s with Nat. Come on up and say hello.”

He came up then, looking at Duchess. Shaun ran up to him, petting him. I motioned him back, then let Duchess go. They both carefully stepped up to each other, then did that odd little half step to the right so they could sniff each other’s butt. Duchess and Diohgi both turned at the same time to look at me, their heads turned to the side a little like it was a question.

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