Love Never Changes
Chapter 28

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

“I’m impressed. I’ll admit, I didn’t think you’d make it this far. I can tell you’re different than the usual invaders, so I’ll not bother with the usual tricks and illusions I use to scare off the superstitious.”

“Oswald, that’s because we’re not here to invade. You’re not like them, you’re not feral.”

The magician ghoul stared down at me from the balcony stage in King Cola’s Castle. It’d been a pain in the butt to get this far. Feral ghouls all over the place. The sprayers that used to send out a fine mist of water to help keep kids cool in the summer heat now shot out radioactive mist, instead. I was just glad I remembered how to get through the Fun House, the bastard had put a lot of tricks in it.

“They’re not feral, they’re just sick! They can’t help what they’ve become. It’s an illness and it certainly doesn’t justify you trying to wipe us out!”

“Oswald, I have friends that are ghouls, back in the Boston area. Hell, the lady that used to work at the Boston Library now runs a trading spot in Goodneighbor. Look, there’s not a lot of radiation in here right now, other than what you yourself are actually putting out. I’d like to get out of this power armor and just talk to you.”

I heard Deacon whisper to Maggy, “And now you see why I made sure and brought some extra water and Radaway. She’s pulled this shit before.”

Oswald the Outrageous, top hat, tails, and cane, popped a smoke grenade on the balcony. Another puff of smoke, and he appeared about 20 feet in front of me. “My friends are suffering from an illness that affects the brain. We’re going to find a cure, and we are going to drive you out of our home! We’ve defended this place for over 200 years. Do you think you’re the first outsider I’ve met that’s chosen to brand ‘feral’ ghouls as monsters?”

Before he could continue, I said, “Probably not, but I’m the first outsider that was alive when this park actually was open that’s NOT a ghoul.”

He paused. “Excuse me? I’m the magician here, not you.”

“You can blame Vault-Tec for that one. I was 34 when the bombs fell. Hell, I met Mr. Bradberton when I was 12 and both set a record and broke the Nuka-Cade Giddy-Up Round-up. I ended up frozen in cryogenic storage for a long, long time. I only woke up this past October.”

He stepped back a bit. “But ... aren’t you with the Raider group, the one that took over things a year ago?”

“Not likely. Um, Oswald, you’re what the Children of Atom call a Glowing One. That means you’re a ghoul, like everyone else that was changed by the radiation. But unlike them, your body itself emits radiation that in and of itself can be deadly. And I’m going to guess that like other Glowing Ones, you can send out directed energy that can cause a regular ghoul that is dead, but not dismembered, to heal or come back to life. The big difference is, you’re rational. None of the rest are. I know people who’ve been ghouls for, well, 200 years. A feral ghoul won’t hurt them, but otherwise, the ferals have an incurable radiation sickness. I wish it was a disease, I could cure that.”

He staggered backwards, like he’d been hit, falling into a chair. “Rachel ... Rachel left over a year ago, to try to find a cure for this Affliction. She ... I promised her I’d stay here and keep our friends safe until she returned.”

“Okay, so go ahead and do that.” He looked at me in shock. I checked my suit, he was far enough away from me. I hit the release, opening my power armor, stepping around in just my combat armor. “I won’t shake your hand unless I’m in a hazmat suit or power armor, I’m sorry. I’m not who you think I am. It sounds like you’ve been holed up here in the park ever since the bombs fell, so you don’t know what’s been going on in the rest of the Commonwealth.”

He stayed seated, which was good. I could see he was looking at my armor closely. “I’m Tina Wilson. I don’t know if you were from Boston or not, but my father was Captain Mike Shannon, with the Boston Police Department. But this is Massachusetts, so I know you know who the original Minutemen were. We’ve reformed them, as the militia and army for the Commonwealth. I’m their General. Due to a bit of a quirk in the law that I’m quite certain no one anticipated, I also happen to be the Governor of the Commonwealth as well. I’m not here to take this park from you and your friends, I’m here to see about making it, as well as the rest of Nuka-World, safe.”

“By killing all of them? Is that how you make it safe?”

“Oswald, it’s not that I don’t want them to get better, it’s that they simply can’t get better. But you could keep your friends close. Bring them all here, inside the Castle. Then close it up, so they can’t be a threat to anyone else outside. You don’t have to decide this today, either. We came here because we didn’t know you were in here, and we thought these ghouls were like every other feral ghoul we’ve found. I can have some of the ghouls that live at the Slog, or in Goodneighbor, come visit you. Maybe even within a couple of days, if I can get transportation set up right.”

“We’re not here to destroy, or to raid. We’re here to rebuild. We won’t kill any more of the ferals. Until you’ve had a chance to actually think this through, talk to some ghouls that know me, know what we’re doing, all I ask is that you keep the rest within Kiddie Kingdom. You’ve been here 200 years. Give me a couple of days to prove to you what I claim.”

He sat still for a long time. Finally, after a good three minutes, he stood up. His voice wasn’t angry or harassing like it’d been all the other times. “Rachel was going to the town, Bradberton, north of here. That’s where she hoped to find a cure. You say that what I can do, heal my friends, bring them back to life, it’s not magic.”

“I’m sorry, no. It’s a mutation. We don’t know if it was caused by the FEV virus or not, it’s not really something that any of the remaining scientists have done much research on, they just know the mechanism on how it works. Hopefully, you’ll forgive me if this sounds harsh, but doing close in experiments on something that will kill you in about five minutes, fifteen in a hazmat suit, isn’t something a lot of people want to do. And we don’t have that many waldo chambers, for people to operate behind shielding anymore.”

“That you know about those, to me, proves you were alive before the war better than anything else you’ve said.” He sighed. “Keep your groups out of my park. I saw them pass by last night, I recognized you, talking with some of them.” He paused. I knew not to speak while he was continuing to think. “I’ll give you a week. You said you knew people like me, like my friends. Send some of them here, to talk to me. I want to hear it from them myself.”

“Consider it done, Oswald.” I stepped around and got back into my armor. “And ... I’ll send a team up to Bradberton. People that know. We’ll see if we can find something, if Rachel is still up there.” He looked up at me, and I could see hope in his eyes. “I told you I’m the Governor of the Commonwealth. Taking care of all the people here, and that includes you, is my responsibility, my job. I’ll be in touch.”

We left him sitting in the chair. The trip back out of the park went much quicker than actually getting into the middle of the park, where Oswald had been hiding. He sent us a bit of a message, too. He’d turned the sprayers off while we were exiting, but as soon as we were out of the park, he turned them back on.

I pulled my helmet off. The rest peeled out of their hazmat suits. “How we doing on exposure, John? I know you were paying attention.”

“Like usual, you need a bit more than the rest of us. Are we going to the Red Rocket before we go to Bradberton? If so, it can wait until we stop there.”

“Am I that predictable at this point?”

“To us, yeah. Why delegate something when you can do it yourself? Especially when there’s a mystery to solve like this.” I could hear James on the radio, telling Lawton to get someone from the Slog and Goodneighbor here as soon as possible. “In all honesty, I really do think it’d be a hell of a lot easier just to kill him. But ... shit, it’s almost tragic, his story. I can’t imagine trying to hold it together like he did.”

Maggy patted his shoulder. “Up until a year ago, he said he had his Rachel. He loves her. That’d do it, I think.”

Lizzie greeted us at the Red Rocket. “What do you think, Overboss?”

There were now a dozen people working in the field, planting crops. There was a small generator running, producing power for lights. A small building had been erected for storage, and there were guards around to make sure that no critters could come in and wreak havoc. In addition, it appeared there were a couple of brahmin making runs with escorts, carrying scrap out from Nuka-Town and completed items back.

“You’ve gotten this organized fairly quickly, Lizzie.”

“I can’t take hardly any of the credit. There was a Brotherhood scribe came out with a terminal, so we knew what was needed. The people themselves volunteered to come out and plant things. Hell, two thirds of the people planting crops were part of our old crew that figured this was a better life.” She laughed. “Honestly, I like it a lot better, too. Not nearly as stressful, because all we watch for is critters, not worrying about someone getting pissed for no reason and shooting you in the back.”

“We need some lunch, we’ll eat here. Um...” I glanced at Maggy and John. “Lizzie, while we’re eating, I’d like to see you do a little target practice, some aimed fire. I’m curious as to how good with that weapon you actually are.”

“Sure thing, Overboss.” While we rested and ate, she fired at a target far enough away that, after some minor tweaks, I was satisfied.

When we were done, I asked, “Lizzie, we’re going to make a little trip up to that town to the north. We may have to stay overnight. Would you like to come along? We’ve been taking a lot of Maggy’s time, I thought maybe you and she could catch up.”

She grinned. “Sure. I’d like a chance to see how you operate in person.”

Gwen and Piper both gave me a look. I pretended not to see it. I said, “Okay, let’s form up a little different. I’m still on point. Deacon, behind me, Lizzie and Maggy on your flanks. Gwen, Piper, Curie, behind them. James, tail end Charlie.”

“Tail end what?”

I rolled my eyes. “You bring up the rear. Deacon, I’ll let you tell Lizzie and Maggy what will happen to them if they sweep me with their weapon. Let’s go.”

We encountered a farm with several cats running around before getting into the town itself. The town was home for quite a number of feral ghouls. I used it as another training opportunity, dropping back even with John, and letting Lizzie or Maggy deal with what was coming from their own general direction. John leaned over to me, so he could speak without the girls overhearing him. “I appreciate what you’re doing, boss, but I don’t know that it’s going to work.”

“You and Maggy seem to be getting along well. Why wouldn’t that work?”

“I mean adding Lizzie to the mix.”

“I’d ask whatever do you mean, but I won’t insult you. You’re my wild card for this area, my friend. There are a obviously a lot of small settlements and other survivors out here in this Wasteland. I made my initial pronouncement of who was going to do what, in all honesty, a little early. I made a mistake, pure, plain, and simple. I thought the only thing out here was Nuka-World itself. The traders ... we’ll finish this later.” I had been watching what was going on, and finally had to get involved.

My wives were content to let the two new girls do all the shooting, simply maintaining security. What they didn’t see, but I did, was a small wave of ghouls coming at us from around a corner. More than I thought Lizzie and Maggy could handle. Rather than take a chance that either of them would get hurt, I took a step forward and started servicing the targets. None of the attacking ghouls made it more than two steps beyond the corner they’d come around, and that ended things with them in town.

Lizzie looked over at Maggy. “Uh, did she just do what I think she just did?”

“If you think she just shot six ghouls in three seconds, with perfect head shots on each of them, then yes, she did. I’d already figured out that we REALLY made the right choice in what we did.”

“Then what was that about, you and I shooting at the other ghouls?”, Lizzie asked.

Maggy glanced at me, then back to Lizzie. “She’s testing us. You and I, we’ve never had to prove ourselves to anyone before. We just went in, did what we wanted to do, and that was it. It didn’t matter whether it was any good or not. We just did it. She’s actually earned what she is, what she has. We’ve been a couple of self-centered bitches, only thinking about what was in front of us.”

Maggy shouldered her rifle, spread her hands. “Look around, Lizzie. Right now, this is a dead town, in more ways than one. But it’s more than that. It’s also the future. Not because it’s anything special, but because there’s materials here that can be salvaged, used to make all of our lives a little better. That’s why William led a group of people out to salvage probably close to a ton of meat. It’s always been on her shoulders, hers and these people with her. But she’s got more than the Boston area to worry about, more than our Wasteland area to worry about. She can’t do it all alone. So she’s got to have people that she knows she can trust to do the right thing, because it IS the right thing.”

I looked at John with one raised eyebrow, the question obvious. “We didn’t spend all night making love, if that’s what you’re asking,” he said.

Lizzie nodded. “Actually, Maggy, I think I do get it. If we need help, she’ll be there to give it to us. But here in the Wasteland, it’s going to up to us to do the job. We’re not a gang of criminals any more. We’re ... hell, we’re the good guys, aren’t we? I don’t think that really hit with me until just now.”

Maggy nodded. Then she looked back at my wives. “You three, you all know that, don’t you?” She saw the grins on their faces. “I’m jealous of you, a little. I think I know why you love her like you do. I...” She looked at me. “Is this going to sound strange if I say that I love you?”

Lizzie had a strange look on her face. “Maggy, you and I have been through a lot over the last few years. I’ve never heard you say anything like that before.”

John reached out, took Maggy’s hand. “She cares about all of us. I love her, too. But I know that I can never have her. Hopefully, here in the Wasteland, I’ll be able to help you build the kind of city that she’d like. If you’ll have me.”

“Um, Lizzie, you and I, we need to have a bit of a talk, later. I’m ... I’m a bit...”

“Ladies, we’ll be spending the night here. While we’re close to the Red Rocket, I’d rather not go out in the dark. We need to check these buildings out, make sure things are clear for whoever comes along later. There’ll be time to have the kind of talk you want in a bit, if that’s okay with you.”

James had been wandering a little while we’d been talking. “Director, over here. I ... I think I’ve found an answer for Oswald.” I walked over, turning my light on as it was dark inside.

The body of a dead female ghoul was on the floor. It was obvious from the damage to her head that she’d put the pistol she carried into her mouth and pulled the trigger. There was a tape near her, still in the recorder. James pushed play on it.

“I think this is it. I can’t go any further. I can feel it taking me.” She made a growling noise, like a feral. “No, gotta keep it together a little longer. Oswald, I’m sorry. I’ve looked everywhere I could think, but there’s no cure. What towns and outposts I could find said that we ghouls just go feral eventually, and there’s nothing to be done. Maybe it was the misters. Held out...” She made a hideous moaning sound. “ ... as long as I can. I know this isn’t what you’d want but ... I can’t stand the thought of mindlessly attacking everyone around me, so I’ve decided to end it on my own terms. I don’t know why it hasn’t affected you the same, but if you’ve still held it together ... I want you to move on. Leave Nuka-World. You can still make a life out there. It’s not all as bad as we thought. I love you, Oz.”

James raised his head. “I’ll find a shovel, ma’am.”

I opened my power armor and got out. “Thank you, James.” There was a sleeping bag near her body. As respectfully as we could, my wives and I put Rachel into it, closed it up. Lizzie didn’t know what to make of Maggy crying while we did that. After we got her body into the bag, the six of us carried her outside. John and James were working together to dig a simple grave in the soil. It didn’t take them long. It wasn’t the usual six feet deep, but it’d do. We carried the sleeping bag over, then stood back as the men lowered her in. They shoveled the dirt back in, making a simple mound. I realized when they picked up some nearby rocks what they were doing, and the six of us helped make the proper cairn over the dirt.

John pulled out his knife, made a quick chop on the handle of one of the shovels, broke the blade off. He took a piece of strap and tied it to the other shovel, then pushed the blade into the ground, forming a simple cross.

I started to step forward to say some words when Maggy surprised me, speaking first. “None of us here knew this woman personally. We only know that, for more than two hundred years, she and her man survived together. Through the hell of the war, through the hell of becoming ghouls, through uncountable hard times. They fought together, and they tried to find an answer to a question that has no answer, because what happened to them is irreversible. Through it all, the one thing that endured, that kept them going, was their love for each other. Rachel could have surrendered to the change that was coming over her. She would have lived on. Instead, she chose to show her love again for her man, so he could have closure, so he could continue to live.” Her voice choked up a little. “I can only hope that all of us find a love so pure as theirs.”

She couldn’t continue, turned away. Her eyes caught those of both John and Lizzie, and she ran to both of them, putting her arms around both of them as the tears freely flowed from her eyes. Lizzie had finally figured it out while Maggy was talking, she was crying as well, for the innocence that had been lost.

My wives were also crying at what Maggy had said. I turned and took Piper’s hand. She grabbed Curie, who grabbed Gwen. I led the three of them back to the building where we’d found Rachel’s body and began preparing a meal. It didn’t take me long. Dinner was a somber affair.

When we were done, I looked at Lizzie. “You weren’t there when we met Oswald. He’s also a ghoul, but he’s not feral. The rest of the people that were in the Kiddie Kingdom were his friends, from before the war. They’ve all gone feral over the years, like Rachel eventually did. He’s been caring for them, trying to protect them, for two centuries. We went in there, shot and killed a lot of them. He loved Rachel that whole time, and now when we go back in there, he may decide to kill himself, I don’t know. I just want you to think about this.”

“I’m married to these three women. I love them with all my heart. And I only hope that my love for them will be as strong as the love Rachel had for Oswald. Maggy told you earlier that I was testing you, why I was testing you. She was right. It’s really simple when you get down to it. Rachel went out to find a cure, because she was trying to have a future. She didn’t find it in time. Hell, we get enough scientists on it, we may end up finding one, I don’t know. But the thing is ... this world, it’s not the one any of us chose to live in. All we can do is make of it what we will. What you all were doing before was the easy choice. You had some power, so you simply used that power for yourself, no matter that it was hurting other people.”

“Fortunately for you, your friends figured out that having some power isn’t the same as being powerful. I know you helped clear out the bodies of the Pack and Disciples. The faces of all those people that last week were alive and abusing the weak. They’re now dead, because those people forgot one thing. The strong don’t abuse the weak. The strong have the duty, the job, the obligation even, to protect the weak.” I pointed to my suit of power armor. “That doesn’t make me strong.” I hit my chest piece. “This doesn’t make me strong.” I pointed at my rifle. “That doesn’t make me strong.”

I stood up, then, looking down at her. “I make me strong. My love for Gwen, Piper, and Curie makes me strong. My love for James, for John, makes me strong. My love for all the free people of the Commonwealth, and yes, even my love for you and Maggy, makes me strong. When you have that love, like Maggy earlier said she has, then you will be strong.” I sat back down.

Lizzie had tears flowing down her cheeks. Maggy just shook her head in disbelief. “I don’t know how or why, but we ... all of us ... we’re blessed, aren’t we? I don’t know if there is a God or not, not in this hellish world we live in, but we have been blessed.”

“I’m just a woman, Maggy. I get my periods, I have my personal doubts. But when I came up and out of that Vault, I could have simply put a pistol in my mouth and ended it, then and there. Would have been a lot simpler. My world was gone. Everything I knew was gone. But I had a purpose. Find my son, find out what happened to him. While I was doing that, I found a bigger purpose. I know what the world was. I don’t want it to become what it was, but I will fight to my dying day to bring some of it back and to make it better for everyone who lives in it, and fight anyone or anything that tries to tear it all back down again.”

Maggy looked at me, then at my wives. She turned to look at James, sitting quietly in the corner. “Why do you love her?”

“I’m a created person, what used to be called a synth. She freed me, freed all of us. You said you felt blessed. We KNOW she’s our savior. Not in a religious sense, but in a very real world sense. I’m supposed to be her bodyguard. I’m pretty bad at it, even though I was the best Courser for the Institute, because she’s that much better than I am. Than we all are. I have three women that I am engaged to. They all know each other, are friends with each other, and eventually I’ll marry them and they’ll all marry me and each other. And I’ll love them. But it’ll never be as much as I love her. And they all three love her just as much as I do.” At my look of surprise, he said, “Yes, even Chase. She’s done a lot of talking with Jacquelyn and Ellen, seen what you’ve done for all of us.”

Maggy turned to Lizzie. “You just heard what he said. I was behind her when she went into the Amphitheater, saw what she did to the Pack. I went into the mountain, saw what she did to Savoy, to Dixie, to Nisha. John told me what she told Nisha when she first met her. I agree with what he said. I love this woman and I would follow her to hell and back. We’re not kids anymore, Liz. This is our world. It’s time for us to grow the fuck up and make it a good one, so when WE have kids, they’ve got a good place to live.”

“And if he’ll have me, I plan on having some with this guy. But I’m not greedy. You’re my friend, have been my friend for my whole life. We can share him.” She smiled. “Trust me on this one, girl. He’s a keeper.”

“Okay, on that note, I’m calling it an evening. I really do suggest trying to keep as much of your armor on at night as is comfortable, we do need to have watches, since we don’t know what else is out here, so let’s just plan on getting some sleep tonight,” I said. “Oh, and since this used to be a hotel, um ... you three can go upstairs. We’ll wake you when it’s time for your shift on watch.”

Deacon gave me an odd look, but led Maggy and Lizzie upstairs anyway. Once they were out of earshot, I softly said, “And we’ll do two hours on, rotate just among us. James, you get the whole night off as well.” He looked like he was going to protest, but decided against it. “Ladies, go bed down, I’ve got first watch.”

I went outside the hotel. “Wilson to Lawton, come in.” She instantly responded. “Give me an update.”

“The party made it back from Safari Adventure with just over a ton of fresh meat that has been processed and is being refrigerated or frozen. A gentleman and lady from Goodneighbor that are ghouls have arrived at the transit station and will be on the first trip out tomorrow. We’ll have someone escort them to the entrance of Kiddie Kingdom and stop there while they go in. Close to half of the original NWSF has requested to leave that and simply become civilians, some traders, mostly farmers. About a dozen want to go back to the Boston area, and there are farms available there already.”

“Star Paladin Danse was on the last monorail trip here today. He’s going to supervise the thirty Brotherhood troops and ten Commonwealth troops we have here now, and help train the thirty NWSF troops we have left. Scribe Haylen has sent me updates on the Boston area. There is a group of Norwegian ghouls on a shipwreck near Warwick farm, we’ve found someone who can talk to them and they’re cooperating with us. A group of super mutants was cleared out of the factory where Giddy-up Buttercup was made, whatever that is. Another Mirelurk Queen was killed and a workstation retrieved. We found another farm and workstation at a marina on the Charles, cleared out ... let’s see ... three other groups of mirelurks, two groups of super mutants ... some Raiders ... yeah, that’s it.”

She took a breath. “Our forces are doing a four day stand down, rest, get things cleaned up, then then it’s Boston proper, building by building, basically. Everything else has been cleared. We’ve got radios at all the farms ... there’s plenty of Shaun’s terminals for all the workstations ... the tunnel from CIT is on schedule ... there was an election in Diamond City, Geneva is now officially the mayor ... From Bar Harbor, facility in Vim factory destroyed, fifty fog condensers in place around Atom’s Spring and seeing what works ... most of northern half of island cleared of threats, three farms up and working there now, very odd Vault found, Nick Valentine solved the case, but requests info on what to do with robot with brains from quote pre-war diva’s end quote. That’s all the big stuff, ma’am.”

“Well, we’re getting things done. But what’s been the butchers bill, Lawton?”


“Casualty report. You don’t do all that and not lose people. How many of our people did we lose? How many good people did my orders kill?”

“Oh, sorry. You’ll forgive me for saying so, ma’am, but ... I forgot for a moment, how much you care about us.” I could hear through her open mike that she was moving some papers around from notes. “Ah, here we go. We’ve had ... total of twelve injured during all operations while you’ve been gone, only one serious, but we did lose a vertibird.”

“How many killed, Lawton?”

“Um, none. I do have a request here from CIT, from Alana Secord and Jerome Wilson, asking permission to do a production run of 250 synths, to replace battle losses and have a reserve again. Apparently, of the 150 that are at Bar Harbor, they’ve lost almost half of those, and about 50 of the ones that are with the troops in Boston area.”

“Can you set me up a radio relay, so I can talk with Alana and Jerome?”

Things were silent for a minute. “Director, this is Alana Secord. I didn’t know this was possible, to make a radio relay work like this. How can I help?”

“Alana, I just got news of the request for regular synth production. I’ve been busy the last few days, what’s going on?”

“We’ve been using up our stockpiles of Gen 1 and 2 synths to support the ground troops in the Boston area and Bar Harbor. The units that are being destroyed are salvageable, and with the number of units we’re losing, I wanted your permission to produce enough to replace the rest of our projected casualties. With what we sent off on the Prydwen, we literally don’t have any more reserves.”

“There were what, 300, deployed to Bar Harbor and Boston?”

“Yes, ma’am. We’re down to 175 effectives. I agree with your philosophy, lose the robot before you lose the man. Jerome has estimated that if we send another 100 to Bar Harbor, we’ll lose about 75 of them, which is fine, that’ll be enough to finish clearing the island, but we’re going into Boston proper next, and he anticipates we’ll lose at least 100, maybe 150, with the in building fighting from the mutants and Raiders.”

“Two questions. Do we have the resources, without hurting anything else that CIT is doing? And second, how long to make them?”

“Yes, we’re using the robots from a woman named Isabel Cruz, she’s been very helpful with retrieving materials, to haul destroyed synths back for recycling. We have plenty of materials, and the production facility can make 25 per day.”

“Approved. But let’s double that run. Send the first 75 to Bar Harbor, next 75 to Boston forces. I’ll want to leave at least... 50 to 75 ... in Bar Harbor when we’ve got the Island secured, simply to deal with critters that can show up, but once they’re done clearing the island, the rest can come out here to help. We’ve got a working reactor here at Nuka-World, tell Allie I would like a working relay for out here. We’ll need ... another 250 or so to help clear this Wasteland. This area is a lot bigger than I first thought, and there’s a lot more survivors and towns out here as well.”

Alana was quiet for a moment, then her tone was soft. “Director Wilson, I owe you a very sincere apology. I am so sorry that you have all of this to juggle. I promise to help as much as I possibly can to keep our stress off you. We’ll get your synths made, we’ll help rebuild not just the Commonwealth, not just that Wasteland, but the whole rest of the country. I think it really just hit me, hard, what a task you’re facing. Thank you for being there for us.”

“Alana, don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance. That’s what I’m here for. Just keep in mind what you said earlier. We’d rather lose ten or even a hundred robots than just one precious human life. Thank you. Wilson, out.”

I turned my radio off, then sat down on the ground outside the old hotel, my back up against the railing. I took my helmet off, put it on one knee, looked up at the sky. The stars were bright tonight. I just sat there, watching them go by. The sky was starting to lighten to the east with false dawn when I heard footsteps on the porch behind me.

“You’re a sneaky bitch at times.” She reached down, handing me a cup of coffee, then sat on the ground next to me.

“Not the first time I’ve stayed up all night. Probably won’t be the last, either. There are times when you’ve just got to get your thoughts organized because the world can end up coming at you too fast if you’re not ready for it.”

“I had a little of that when my Dad was killed, and suddenly I found myself raising Nat. I can’t even begin to imagine how much you’ve got going on inside that beautiful head of yours, the sheer amount of things you’re juggling all the time now.”

“What’d I say before? Thank God for competent subordinates? We’ve got to be done here in Nuka-World in three days. That’ll give us a day to get back, rest up, and join in dealing with the final cleanup of Boston proper. Things are starting to snowball now.”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry, I don’t have a reference for that term.”

“Sorry, love. Forgot, no snow. When it used to come down, what you’d do is take a small amount, maybe a handful. A slightly wet snow was best. You make a ball out of it, about the size of a baseball. You stand at the top of a hill, put the snowball down, and let it start rolling down the hill. It picks up more snow as it’s rolling down the hill. You have a big enough hill, when you’re at the bottom of the hill, you’ve got a snowball two or three feet in diameter, maybe bigger.”

“You start at the top of a snow covered mountain, you’re liable to have one bigger than this hotel when it hits the bottom.” I took a sip of the coffee. “Right now I feel like I’m the snowball, and I’m wondering how big the mountain is that I’m rolling down.”

She snorted a little. “DiMA is the one who was the philosopher. You’re my ... our ... practical wife. Which means that you don’t shoulder this alone, you’ve got the three of us to talk things out with, and give you advice. You don’t have to take it, but we can be the sounding board for you, to bat your ideas around with.”

“Okay, what do you think about me changing my mind on who’s going to be in charge here in Nuka-World?”

“You’re the Governor, you’re allowed to change your mind. It’s not like these things are set in stone.”

“Even if it means John doesn’t travel with us any longer?”

“He loves you, and would do whatever you asked him to do, because he knows it’s the right thing to do. How was it Bennett phrased it? He’d buy you those ten minutes.”

I heard other steps come down the stairs, move out onto the porch. “Come on out, this concerns you.”

She had picked up a cup of coffee on her way through and joined us on the ground. “Is this something I should be scared about?”

“Not if what you said was the truth.” I took another sip of my coffee, figuring my words out. “Just for background, I found out a few things last night that I didn’t know, nothing bad. The rest of the world keeps turning, even when I’m out having adventures, is all. And the amount of time left for me to have those adventures is getting short.”

She looked at Piper and I with a quizzical look. “I don’t understand.”

“There’s a Brotherhood of Steel mission going on right now. They’re using an airship to cross the whole country, to get in touch with Brotherhood forces in other areas. The purpose of their mission is to gain an accord with those other groups. Upon their return, I won’t be Governor anymore. And before that happens, I have to make sure that the areas that we know about are in the best hands possible. We’ve got three areas that are habitable. The Boston area, Mount Desert Island, and the Nuka-World area. I’m going to designate one person to be in charge of each specific territory.”

“In Boston, there are several small communities. Mount Desert Island has a big town right now, but there’ll be at least one or two more smaller ones, as well as farms. This area already has Nuka-Town, and we know there are other communities out here, we just haven’t found them yet. And I don’t have time to do that.”

Her face was puzzled. “I’m sorry, from what I’ve seen and in talking with the others, you’re an excellent Governor. Why won’t you have that job anymore?”

“Because then I’ll be the President of the United States. All the Commonwealths. The whole damned country. Thank you for that vote of confidence, by the way. I’ve pretty much been making this up as I go. But, as the Marines say, Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome. So, there are going to be three territorial administrators that I’m going to appoint. Mariner gets Mount Desert Island, probably Brooks will take over as Mayor of Bar Harbor. He’s going to hate me for it, but Nick Valentine gets Boston.” I could see in her eyes what she thought was coming. “There’s going to be joint administrators for Nuka-World. William and Mackenzie.” I could see the hurt in her eyes when I said that.

I chuckled a little, glancing at Piper. “You remember, the unconventional relationship conversation? I can see why you were attracted to her when you were younger. Hell, I’m attracted to her, but I’m a big girl and won’t act on it.” I turned back to Maggy. “So, no, I’m not going to ask you to marry me, to marry us. Instead, and you’ll pardon my crudity here, I’m going to fuck you another way.”

Piper giggled at my words, Maggy just looked confused now. I continued, “Instead of simply being the territorial administrator, you’re going get one of my hats. I think you’re big enough to fill it. You’re the next Governor of the Commonwealth of New England States. And by the way, that’s a hell of a compliment for you, considering who I had first planned to put into that job. But there’s a catch. I know and trust John Deacon with my life. He’s going to have to stay with you, not come with me all over the country or where ever the hell I end up going. And yes, I know he’s fallen for you, and will probably end up at some point asking you to marry him, and maybe Lizzie as well, if she gets her head out of her ass.”

“Don’t worry about whether he’s loyal to you or not. He’ll love you, he’ll support you, and you’ll never have to worry about keeping any secrets from him, because he’ll know about them anyway. The man has forgotten more about intelligence operations and spying that we’ll ever know. And he reports to me. At some point, I’ll cut him loose, and then he’s all yours. I’ve only known you for a very short time. I’ve decided that I like what I’ve seen so far. There are a lot of good people out there. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help or advice. Don’t be afraid to ask me. But when the Prydwen gets back, if she’s been successful, then it’s all yours.”

Maggy just sat there, stunned.

Piper reached over to me. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Very much so. I’m sorry, John, I’m not giving you a lot of choice in this matter.”

“Dammit.” Piper and Maggy jumped. “Just once, I’d like to take you by surprise.”

“Situational awareness in a combat zone. Listen with all of your senses, not just your ears. I hope I can pass on to Shaun the lessons that my Dad taught me. Most people hear the floor squeak when someone walks, because of the pressure of the weight that bends the board. What they never hear is that noise that’s made when someone puts their weight on the outside of the board, the nails have their own noise as the pressure is put directly on them. You were two steps behind Maggy the whole way down, and she didn’t know it. She got coffee, and then when she walked out here, you crossed the boards at the trusses. I could feel those vibrations through my back as they were carried out to the sill plates.”

“Fine. I did say at one point that you could teach me lessons, didn’t I? But what do you think this is going to accomplish?”

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