Love Never Changes
Chapter 30

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

“Let’s get back to the surface. There’s a bit of a military action I’d like to supervise.”

Piper shook her head. “Supervise, my ass. How many barrels of water from Atom’s Spring did you have brought down, to dump into Swan’s Pond?”

“Um, just one ... per day, every day, ever since we got back from Bar Harbor. I figure if it worked for Erickson, it might work for Swan. It may not. But the Institute created him, so ... if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and I’ll put him down myself.”

Maggy looked confused. “Hang on. You’re talking about the big behemoth that lives in the pond in the Common? The one that has such a reputation that even regular super mutants leave him alone?”

“Yep. He’s a behemoth, but underneath, he’s still a man. I’m hoping that if the water has worked on him, that Virgil will be able to create a retrovirus. Some of the other super mutants, from what he’s found so far, simply can’t revert. Erickson, for example. He’s the brightest and gentlest super mutant around, but the FEV has altered him too much for him to ever revert to being human.”

She shook her head in disbelief, then turned to James. “I know you said you’ve seen some really crazy and stupid stuff since you’ve been her bodyguard, but I really thought you were exaggerating a little. Now I’m just jealous, a little.”

James said, “What do you mean, ma’am?”

“It sounds like it’s been way too much fun.”

Nick muttered, “Damned excitement junkies! Both of you are cut from the same cloth.”

“I wouldn’t say that, but we both care about people. That’s something I found out about Maggy before promoting her to be my replacement. Otherwise, I would have simply had to kill her, like I did nearly everyone else.”

Nick did a double take. “Wait a minute, what?”

Maggy nodded. “Damn straight. I don’t blame Tina, either. Not after all the shit that Colter and Gage put her and the rest of the family through. Oh, that’s right. She never mentioned that there were THREE gangs in Nuka-World, did she? Only that she’d wiped out two of them. William, Lizzie, and I ran the third.”

“I’m sure I’m going to regret this, but ... how did you go from running a gang to being the second most powerful woman in the Commonwealth?”

Piper filled Nick in on the story while we boarded the bird and headed back to the empty lots north of the Public Library. Katie put us down there. Nick was still laughing when we hooked up with Preston Garvey at the base of the Trinity Tower.

“Good afternoon, General. We’re just about done with clearing this building of super mutants. I used your trick from Mass Fusion, only with a bit more firepower. Six power armor suits dropped off on the roof, working their way down, with forces here to keep the lower floors occupied. We ended up rescuing a radio actor from the roof, and there was a more intelligent sounding super mutant that was sharing a cage with him. We evacuated them both via vertibird.”

“Very good. What about the rest of the area?”

“I’ve troops that came in from the north. There was a group of religious scam artists holding a woman prisoner at the Amphitheater. The scam artists tried to fight back, and failed. The woman they rescued said she was a Cabot, and went to a house close to the river, near the old Railroad headquarters back entrance, and told us to leave them alone. The troops escorting her said there were two robots standing guard. The rest of the troops have cleared Haymarket Mall. Another section went to the south, clearing that way. Both of those sections will pincer in on Faneuil Hall, since that’s also a heavy super mutant area.”

“You’ve avoided the Common itself, then?”

“Yes, ma’am, as you ordered. There’s a Raider spot just south of there that we’ve left alone as well, a place where they stage fights. And also, of course, we’ve left Vault 114 alone, too.”

I nodded. “Preston, you know I had my doubts about you. Sorry, it comes with the job. But, I think you’ve matured nicely. It’s going to be a damned shame I’m going to ruin that for you.”

“Ma’am?”

“This is Maggy Black. When the Prydwen gets back, she’s going to take over as the new Governor of the Commonwealth. The actual Minutemen are going to be disbanded as that group.”

“What?”

“Let me finish. We’ve got to keep things legal, after all. You can’t wander around as a simple militia any longer. They’ll be disbanded, the colors retired with honor. And at the same ceremony, they’ll all become members of the New England Commonwealth National Guard. That way they can all legally operate upon being federalized by the new President, and operate anywhere in the United States as need be. So a very similar mission, new colors, with regular military rank insignia, and a new commanding officer. You’ve earned it, General Garvey.”

He looked away from me. “You know, for a while, I was just grateful to you. Then I was puzzled by you. For a while, I even disliked you, a lot. But ... you’ve been training me, haven’t you? All along. Pushing me to be more than I was, making me grow, and grow up, too.” He nodded, almost a tear in his eye. “Thank you, ma’am. I won’t let you down.”

He realized what I’d said about Maggy. “Either of you.”

Maggy whispered to me, “I don’t know how you do it, but damned if it’s not effective.”

“Come on, let’s go see how much of an asshole Swan is.”

The group with me walked along the street. It was almost strange, not having to cower in cover now. I stopped by the entrance to the Boylston Club. “I want you all to hang back here. Seriously, if it’s not worked, then I don’t want to have to worry about any of the rest of you. And that includes you, too, James.”

“Under protest, we’ll do it,” James said. “But if he’s incredibly active, we’ll be shooting to help you.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, my friend.” I took a deep breath, then turned towards the Boston Common. I used my rifle while at the edge and scoped things out. There obviously wasn’t a super mutant behemoth running around anywhere in sight. That meant the pile of debris in the middle of the pond had to be him. I found it interesting that he had pieces of plastic on his back, the old wings from the swan boat ride.

I decided to not take a chance on surprising him. As I started up the pathway, I yelled out, “Well, I think it’s rather ironic that Edgar Swann is using the wings from a swan boat ride as armor. Rather ingenious, I think.”

The pile of debris moved, then stood up. Oh, shit, he’s not just bigger than a regular behemoth, he’s got a weapon in one hand and armor on the other arm. He opened his mouth, giving a huge roar of anger, waving his arms threateningly.

I felt my heart leap into my throat. For the first time since my first set of power armor had been destroyed, I really felt fear. Swan took a giant step towards me. I could see the weapon he was waving was a giant boat anchor, and it was part of the actual hull from a paddle boat strapped to his other arm as armor. He gave another huge roar, the arm with the anchor in it slamming into the pond and splashing water everywhere.

Fuck it. In for a penny, in for a pound, like the old saying went. My rifle had been in my arms, ready for use. I slung it up over my shoulder, and then just stood there. “I appreciate the theatrics, and it’s worked for you for a long time. Would you care to sit down to discuss things like reasonable people?”

He took another giant step, roaring again.

“Edgar, I realize you have an image to uphold, but seriously, the Raiders are almost all dead now, and I’m doing my damnedest to restore law and order to Boston. The least you can do is come over and have an intelligent conversation with me, so we can figure out together how we can help you.” I walked over to one of the concrete benches and sat down on it.

He stopped, still in the pond. He brought his hand up into the air, shaking the anchor menacingly in my direction. He gave off another roar, but this one wasn’t nearly as loud as the other two. His other hand, the one with the boat hull attached, just sort of hung at his side.

“I realize that in your current state, you probably have the capacity for a rather large amount of food or drink. If you’d like, I can have one of my people over there get you a couple of gallons of coffee to sip on, while we sit and talk.”

His voice was much, much deeper and rougher than Virgil’s was when he was a super mutant, nearly reaching subsonic. I could feel the vibrations as he spoke in the soles of my feet. “You’re ... not afraid of me?”

“Do I look stupid, Edgar? Of course, I’m afraid of you. But I have a problem. I’m the Governor of the Commonwealth. Which means I have either help you or I have to kill you. Of the two, I’d much prefer being able to help you.”

He chuckled. “Heh! Many ... have tried to kill Swan. All ... have failed.”

“I can appreciate that. After all, as Nietzsche said, ‘That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.’ After all the stuff I’ve been through over the last 230 years, I feel like I’m pretty damned strong.”

The tone of his voice changed. It was still deep, but without the threatening rumbles. “230 years? You do not appear to be a ghoul. And you’re quoting Nietzsche?”

“Vault-Tec experiment. I was, like you, an unsuspecting guinea pig. In both of our cases, both the people and the mindset that performed them on us no longer exist.”

“How can you know what happened to me?”

“The Institute, as a group of unthinking and uncaring scientists, no longer exists. There has been a bit of a change of management, to put it mildly. The sociopaths that ran it are all dead. They’ve been replaced by men and women who are condemned to be free; because they have been thrown into a world and are responsible for everything they do.”

“That’s not how the quote goes.”

“I know what Sartre wrote. I thought modifying it slightly to fit the circumstances might be appropriate, so you understand a bit of my position.”

He shook his left arm, letting the boat fall from it. He placed the anchor gently on the ground. He walked as softly as he could across the Common, sitting on the ground about ten feet from me. “You’re the one who is responsible for the daily water drops.”

I nodded. He tilted his head. “Curious. I recognize some of the ornamentation you wear on your armor. Your words regarding the Institute would seem to be belied by their insignia upon your breastplate.”

“The insignia is now that of the Commonwealth Institute of Technology. Just as we are working to rebuild the Commonwealth from the ashes of nuclear destruction, we have already rehabilitated the Institute and returned it to an actual scientific institution bound by ethical and moral guidelines.”

I found it somewhat amusing to see him raise his hand to his chin and rub it in thought. “That’s almost poetic. What do you propose to do with, or to, me?”

“What would you have me do, Edgar? Based upon what I found in the files, you have a brilliant mind, albeit one that was inadvertently caused by an unstable variation of FEV. I already knew that exposure to the water that has been dropped into the pond could potentially assist super mutants in becoming functioning members of society. The problem for them is, the FEV altered them so much that, while they can become civilized, as it were, they can never NOT be super mutants. I also already know that, with proper study and work, it is potentially possible to reverse at least some of the effects of modified strains of FEV. What would you like me to do?”

He blinked a couple of times. “I believe you mentioned coffee.”

I turned my head. “James, would you please go get several gallons of coffee? Oh, just a second.” I turned back to Edgar. “I normally prefer mine black. Would you care for cream or sugar?”

It was frightening to watch him roll backwards in laughter. After several moments, he returned to his seated position. “I like you! Black is fine.”

“Black coffee, James. See if they have a few pounds of cake or cookies as well.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He teleported out.

Edgar jumped backwards a little. “I apologize for starting like that. Teleportation was not in common use when I left the Institute.”

“I understand.” I waved the rest of the group over. “I believe that they were just getting basic robots made when you were there. Things continued to change after that. One thing they did figure out is how to basically create people.”

Edgar frowned. “They had created basic humanoid robots, we called them synths. The first ones were appropriately called Generation One. They had plans to make them appear more human like, with artificial coverings. I know that they eventually hoped to make actual synthetic humans, but that was ... well after my time there.”

“Edgar Swann ... you know, I haven’t introduced myself yet. Forgive my manners.” I stood up and walked over to him, holding my hand out. “My name is Tina Wilson, and as I said, I’m the Governor of the Commonwealth.”

He chuckled as he held out a finger for me to take in my hand and shake.

“This is Piper Shannon. She’s been a reporter for Publick Occurrences in Diamond City and now is one of my wives. This is Curie Shannon. She started out as a researcher in a Vault before the war. Due to various circumstances, she also survived the war, and is now also one of my wives. This is Maggy Black, she is currently my assistant. And this is Nick Valentine, he’s...”

Edgar interrupted me. “I recognize that name. That’s not how you looked the last time I saw you. You were in a box of computer parts in Robotics, and they were planning on putting you into a new Generation Two body.”

Nick frowned. “They did. But what we’ve found out since then is that what you called synthetic humans really aren’t, they’re actually people. And they’ve found out how to take someone who was in a robot body like I had been for a century and move me into a real flesh and blood body again.”

I heard several loud pops coming from behind us. Edgar looked up, startled, then shook his head in wonder. James, two Gen 2 synths with large rolling carts with coffee urns, snack cakes and cookies on them, and Brian Virgil had teleported in. Brian had a full portable kit with him.

The Gen 2’s brought the carts over to us carefully, as the pathway was quite uneven. There was a one gallon empty pitcher, along with three five gallon urns and several regular sized cups on one cart. On the other were half a dozen full cakes of different kinds, along with two trays of cookies.

“The cafeteria wasn’t very happy when I showed up and commandeered everything they had ready for dinner. Brian happened to be there, and when I told him why, he ran to his lab and grabbed some things to bring with him.”

“Edgar Swann, this is James Wilson, he’s one of those created people I was talking about as well. He’s nominally my bodyguard, although whether I need one or not is a point of discussion with him. And this is Doctor Brian Virgil, probably THE expert on the effects of FEV on the human body.”

Brian said, “I would hope so. What was it, two years I spent as a super mutant?”

“Something like that,” I said.

Edgar heard that as well. “Wait! You were exposed to FEV and transformed into...”

“Yes, well, needs must and such. Prior to the change in administration at the Institute, things were probably almost as you remember them. There was an undercurrent of those who were unhappy with things, but the overall drive of the facility remained the same. It’s quite amazing how much things have changed since Directer Wilson here has taken over, and all for the better of everyone,” Brian explained.

I held up my hand. “I know, I didn’t mention that job title. I’m wearing a lot of hats right now, trying to get things going. As life gets better, I’ll be able to pass of some of those responsibilities to others, while I take on other jobs that need done.”

James filled the pitcher with coffee and handed it to Edgar. He carefully took it in his hands, taking a sip that was the size of a good quart. Edgar closed his eyes as the taste of fresh, hot coffee woke up his taste buds. He opened them again, to see James offering him half a chocolate cake. “Chocolate still exists?”

“We have someone who is growing the cocoa beans hydroponically. With the changes that I’ve made in the Commonwealth, there’s a healthy trade going around in food.”

Edgar put the whole half cake in his mouth, then washed it down with the rest of the pitcher of coffee. “Governor Wilson, I have to apologize for my table manners, as my body has certain requirements. But ... this is probably the nicest thing anyone has done for me, ever. I freely admit that I thought the scientists were being nice to me, but they had ulterior motives. From what I’m gathering, it appears that you do not.”

“You’re welcome. I will admit that it would be nice if we can reverse the FEV and for you to maintain your intelligence. However, that’s secondary to the main goal I have, which is to help those people who are citizens of the Commonwealth. And regardless of how you physically look, or your mental status, you are a citizen of the Commonwealth. Feral ghouls cannot recover from their situation, but regular ghouls have all the rights of everyone else. Honestly, if the Raiders would actually surrender and change their ways, I’d consider helping them as well. Most of them, though, won’t.”

He took another quart sized sip of his refilled pitcher. “Are you a politician?”

“God, I hope I never sink that low.” Everyone laughed at that comment, but I noticed that Piper gave me a sly look. “Before the war, I was something almost as bad. I was a corporate lawyer, for RobCo.”

“You’re right. I do hope you never sink that low.” He laughed again. “I agree, I would like to retain the intelligence I have. If it is possible to return my body to something a bit more human looking, I would greatly appreciate that. It would be very difficult for me to utilize scientific equipment in my current state.”

Virgil nodded. “I found that to be true. My fine motor skills simply didn’t exist. I will also note that, should I find a solution to your issue, it will still probably take quite a bit of time simply to do the research. Would you consider moving from here to someplace where it will be easier to access you, and where I can say, quite honestly, that you won’t have a problem with humans accepting your exterior appearance?”

“Can we still get coffee?”

Virgil laughed. “Of course, my friend. It’s actually the old Boston Airport. I’ll also note that if a retrovirus works for you, the physical changes can be ... disturbing. For most of a day, my body changed such that my intestines were rather open and visible for all to see. The medical personnel there are able to assist.”

Edgar looked around the area. “There are quite a number of barrels of radioactive waste here in this area. Do you have any need for them?” I shook my head. “Then allow me to assist here before we change locations.”

He stood up and walked over to where a pile of radioactive waste barrels was sitting. He picked one of them up and gave it a huge throw. I got on the radio quickly.

“All air units, be advised there are aviation hazards between Boston Common and the sea, basically south of the airport. Stay clear of this area for the next bit.”

As Edgar continued tossing them, another voice came on the radio. “This is Lancer Jackson. No kidding! It missed us. I almost thought someone was firing a missile at us, until I saw the second one come flying up. They’re landing more than a quarter mile out into the bay.”

“Sorry about that. We’ve someone doing a bit of cleanup of the Boston Common area. Oh, and to all units. There will be a very large behemoth walking to the Airport. He is friendly, I repeat, he is friendly. Do NOT fire upon him.”

“This is Garvey. I copy. I’ll send a squad over to the Common to help escort him.”

“Thank you, Preston.”

Edgar continued throwing barrels for a few more minutes. When he was done, he came back over. “That was, actually, sort of fun. However, I think I would prefer to lose that ability if possible.”

Brian said, “I actually completely understand. Being immune to radiation is one thing, being able to actually conduct research and interact physically with people is another.”

Piper chimed in, “Especially since Madison’s pregnant, too.”

Brian blushed. “Yes, that, too.” The squad of troops came walking up then.

“Brian, I’ll leave you here with Edgar. Edgar, please feel free to finish the rest, and head over to the Airport when you’re ready. If the rest of you are done, there’s a few places here I’d like to go check out still yet.”

Nick laughed. “Yeah, I’m sort of curious as to what Skinny thinks of the new me.”

We headed down into the station. There was a single gangster on guard. He looked up and saw me in the lead and simply placed his machine gun very carefully on the ground at his feet. “I’m simply on watch up here, in case of trouble.”

“So, you’re saying that you’re all operating above board, now?”

“Honestly, lady, I’d suggest you talk that over with Skinny. There’s not much of a crime business going on in the Commonwealth any more, for anyone. We’ve already heard from Goodneighbor that our gig is pretty well done.”

We went on downstairs, walking by another gangster that was working on cleaning some of the station up. He stopped what he was doing and watched us walk by without saying a word. The minor detail that he was working made an impression on me. There were no other guards, but two other gangsters were also working to get things cleaned up in the tunnels. The Vault door itself was standing wide open, we just walked in.

I heard a female voice from inside that I recognized. “I don’t know, Skinny. Do you think this will be enough?”

“Honestly, Darla, I don’t know. But if we’re going to go straight, we may as well start by doing our part down here. This could be a nice place to live if it was fixed up some.”

He jumped when I said, “You’re absolutely right, Skinny.”

“Oh, geez, you scared me.” He turned around. “You know, I didn’t know when we met the first time what an impact you were gonna make on things around here. But Hancock set me completely straight. Based upon what I’ve heard about you, I’m just glad that you were feeling merciful.”

“You’re welcome. So, I see the two of you are still together.”

Darla smiled sheepishly. “Yeah. I realized that I did need to grow up. I sent a letter to my parents, so they know I’m here. We’re discussing getting together in the spring, before travel becomes too tough for me.” At my puzzled glance, she said, “Skinny and me are going to be parents ourselves.”

I couldn’t help it, I started laughing. Nick and Piper joined me. After I got my breath back, I said, “Congratulations. That seems to be a condition that’s becoming more and more popular in the Commonwealth.”

Nick said, “Damn! Congratulations, Darla, Skinny. I’ll have to see what kind of present I can come up with for the two of you.”

Skinny stopped in his tracks. “What the hell? I recognize that voice.”

“I’d hope so, we played tag too many times over the years.”

“Nicky? In the flesh now? What the hell?”

Nick had a big grin on his face. “Hey, I always told you that if you ate right and lived a clean life, good things would happen to you.” He walked up to Skinny with his arms out, taking him in his arms and giving him a hug.

Darla said, “Are you one of those, what do they call them, created people now?”

Nick nodded. “With the exception that this really is how I looked back when I was a cop here in Boston.”

Skinny was shaking his head. “Well, I’ll be damned.” He looked over at me. “You did this for him, didn’t you?”

I nodded. “I owed him. You know, I never did introduce myself. I’m Tina Wilson...”

I didn’t get a chance to say anything else, Skinny interrupted me, a grin on his face. “Son of a bitch! I should have figured, once I found out about the woman who was doing all the changes in the Commonwealth. I didn’t even realize it was you when I sent that message to Valentine about the drug stuff. Damn, I bet you’ve got some tales to tell about what all you’ve done since you were last in here.”

Nick said, “Actually, Skinny, she definitely does. But the lady and her wives don’t have time to tell them all to you. On the other hand, the main reason I came by here was to see whether you and I were still going to be friends. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll stay here with you for a little while and tell you all about it, so long as you promise not to lock me in any rooms.”

“Hell, no, Nicky. That’d be fatal for me. And I’m finding out how much I’m actually enjoying life on the good side of the law, especially since there IS law now.”

The five of us congratulated Skinny and Darla again, then left he and Nick talking.

“Well, one last place,” I said as we got back to the surface. “I heard there’s a place near here where a friend of yours hangs out.”

Piper looked at me. “I wouldn’t call us friends. Acquaintances, at best. I’ve felt sorry for her for a long time.”

“That’s the reason we’re doing this, though, and not the regular military. I’m not sure they’d be so forgiving,” I said. As we were talking, we’d gotten closer to the area known as the Combat Zone. Before anyone else could react in my group, I quickly brought my rifle to my shoulder and killed two Raiders with single shots. Another one came running out and I took him out as well.

I looked back at the others. Maggy was the only one who’d actually bothered to take her rifle off her shoulder. “Seriously?” Maggy looked around in confusion, then realized what the others hadn’t done. She started laughing.

“I figure you may as well have whatever fun you can, ma’am,” James said.

I sighed as Maggy continued chuckling. “Come on.” We entered the building. Before the war, this had been a theater. The ticket booth was to our left. Behind the cashier cage were two Raiders on their knees, with their hands tied.

I walked closer to them. “So, what’s the deal with you two? Do you have any socially redeeming qualities whatsoever?”

The female Raider snarled, “Shut the fuck up, you cunt. If I was loose from here...”

“I’ll take that as a no, then.” My pistol cleared my holster, fired twice, then went back into it. I glanced over at Maggy. “Any questions?”

She shook her head. “No, ma’am. I already knew you were as ruthless as you needed to be. I also know how forgiving and caring you can be, as well. I’ll admit, sometimes the dichotomy confuses me, though. From what I understand, you and Piper fought your way through a Vault full of gangsters to save Nick Valentine, then you were just hugging the leader of that gangster group a short time ago.”

“I was along then, although I was not in this form. Madam has shown me how to be the best human being I can be,” Curie said.

“That’s because we’re all human be-ings, not human be-dones,” I said.

“Good grief, now you’re becoming a philosopher on us,” Piper said. “Although ... who were those names you were talking to Edgar about?”

“Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean Paul Sartre. Two rather famous philosophers from well before I was born.”

“I should have guessed,” she chuckled. “Here all along, I thought I fell in love with you just because of your sexy body, and it turns out there’s a mind in there as well.”

My tone was a little flat. “You know, I know where you’re ticklish. And how to make you squeak.”

“I surrender! Not that!” She laughed. “At least, not out here in public.”

James said, “So, are we going to do the rest of this, or what?”

“Fuck it. I may as well go out in a blaze of glory.” I grabbed my rifle, ran to the doors to the inner theater that were closed, and kicked them in. I went running into the room, screaming at the top of my lungs. It certainly took my companions as a surprise; it did the same for everyone in the room. On the stage, a red headed woman took advantage of my surprise entrance to hit her opponent in the head with a baseball bat, putting him down.

I pivoted to the right, firing two shots and killing two Raiders that were on that side. I continued spinning around, shooting a Raider that had been to my right as I entered, then two more that were ahead of that one. I got to the bottom of the walkway, my rifle firing twice, once at a Raider that was on the stage and a second time taking out one that was trying to rise up from a seat on the front row. I jumped into the air, my foot hitting the back of the seat, in a flying leap. I landed in a forward roll ON the stage, my rifle again up and firing twice, killing the last two Raiders in the auditorium.

James was applauding. “That is so very appropriate, your performance ending with you on stage. Bravo!”

The rest of my group had witnessed me shoot, but not the rest. “Jesus, Tina, I saw you move some in power armor, but never like this. Damn, girl!”, Piper exclaimed.

From on stage, off to one side, a rather dapper dressed ghoul hollered out, “So, you wanna talk this out like civilized folk? Or you just gonna trash up my theater some more?”

A woman with a lilting Irish accent said, “Oh, just peek your head up, ya damn coward!”

The ghoul stood up. “Well, I guess that couldn’t gone worse.”

“Heh, I dunno. Seemed like quite the performance from where I was standing.”

The ghoul looked at her. “Are you fucking high or something? Why am I asking, of course you are.”

The Irish woman seemed angry now. “Still won the fight, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, and you looked about one slip away from falling onto your own knife. You’re strung out and getting sloppy is what you are. Course, I suppose you ain’t got to worry about that now. Seems this one just put us out of business.” He looked at me. “I’m not sure if I should kiss you or have my little bird here feed you your own entrails.”

She was still angry. “I told you to quit calling me that!”

I looked at him. “I think you should look at the bright side here. I saved your lives.”

“Saved our lives? You just killed our meal ticket! Excuse me if I don’t rush to embrace our savior. They weren’t the friendliest bunch, but keeping those idiots entertained at least kept the lights on. We did used to serve a more legit clientele, but about two years ago a gang of Raiders rolled in and we became a more ... exclusive establishment. At least until you took our entire client base out of the gene pool and put us out of business, that is.”

“Ah, to hell with them! More’ll come! I just need a quick breather and I’ll be ready to go!”, the spirited woman said.

He turned to her. “A breather? What? So you can slam more of that junk into your arm? No, no! You know what? I think this was a blessing in disguise. You caught the end of that bout. What’d you think of Cait’s work?”

So this was the woman that Piper had mentioned. Interesting. “You must be Tommy Lonegan, then.”

“Of course I am. Who the hell else would I be, with this beautiful mug?”

“Well, I saw she could use a distraction pretty well. Other than that, she needs some training and discipline.”

“What the hell you talking about? I’ve never been defeated!”

“That’s because you’ve never gone up against anyone who actually knows what they’re doing. Scum like Raiders aren’t skilled.”

Tommy looked at me. “And while she’s still armed and within closing distance? You are a brave one, ain’t ya?”

“I call them like I see them. And I have both the firepower and the authority to back up what I call, too.”

“Oh, fuck. I’d heard that there was something big going down in town. A lot of regular customers for the Raiders that took over this place quit showing up. That’s your doing, isn’t it?”

“You know the old taunt, you and what army? Well, in this case, it really is, me and my army. I’m Governor Wilson.”

Tommy sighed. “Then I guess that’s it for what used to be the best arena in the area. I’m really out of business, then. I don’t suppose you’d do me a favor, then? Take Cait with you. She can use someone like you.”

“What the hell, Tommy? Ya trying to get rid of me? How about I teach this one a lesson, instead?”

I looked at Tommy. “I know how to teach a mule, Tommy. I promise I won’t hurt her, too much.” He nodded in resignation.

Piper and the rest of my group joined us on the stage. “No one’s put you in the ground yet, Cait?”

“Hasn’t been fer lack of trying, sweetie. Now, is that chick going to join me so I can teach her a lesson or two?”

Piper looked at me, her eyes soft. “Don’t hurt her too much, Tina. She’s been hurt bad enough as it is.” I nodded.

“Cait, just me and you, in the cage. No weapons, no armor. Tommy, please feel free to do color commentary. You might find this ... educational.”

I saw James with his hand at his ear. He looked at us. “Mister Lonegan, I’d say that if you wait about twenty minutes, you’ll have quite the audience.”

“Really?” He shrugged. “Okay, no armor, no weapons. We can have the match start in, say, thirty minutes?”

Cait said, “Fine by me!” She went off to a corner of the stage. I could tell from behind that she was getting some injections ready. She really was a serious chem addict.

I went over to the other side, started taking my armor off and piling it carefully. Curie asked, “You will win, won’t you, madam?”

“Probably. This may sound funny, but it’s actually been a while since I’ve been involved in a regular fight like this.”

Maggy smiled encouragingly. “The way you were dancing when you came down the main aisle, the leaping you did? She’s going to be on Jet or something else. I don’t think it’s going to help her in the least.”

“Yeah. Hey, you know what? I’m not going to wear this Vault suit, either. I found an outfit at Nuka-World, I’ve been keeping it for relaxing. Let me get back in this corner, behind the curtains, and change.”

“It’ll get dirty,” Piper said.

“Clothes wash. And ... I think it’ll help reinforce some things.”

I quickly put the other outfit on. It basically was a sports bra and a pair of summer shorts. I took my boots completely off, so I was in my bare feet. I also found and used the bathroom one last time, getting another swig of water afterwards.

Tommy came hurrying up. “Holy shit! I don’t think this place has ever had a crowd this big, even before the gangs took over. Are you about ready?” I nodded.

I stayed behind the curtain, listening to Tommy. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Combat Zone! I apologize to those of you who’re having to stand instead of sit, we’ve run out of chairs. Thank you, also, for helping ... dispose of ... the previous audience. It appears that you’re all here for THE match of the century. Folks, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!”

“The match will consist of a maximum of three rounds, of five minutes each! There will be no weapons and no armor worn by either contestant! In this corner, we have the undefeated winner of more than a hundred matches here in the Combat Zone, CAIT!”

I could hear some yelling and polite applause. How many people did James get in touch with?

“And in this corner, we have the challenger! The woman that it’s quite apparent to me that you’ve all come to see, the GOVERNATOR!”

He and I are going to have some words when this is done. I stepped from behind the curtain, and the audience started screaming. I heard, “SENTINEL!”, “GENERAL!”, “BULLSEYE!”, “DIRECTOR!” and “GOVERNOR!”, all at once. I decided that I may have to have some words with James as well. I couldn’t see too well into the audience, due to the floodlights, but it was obvious there were a LOT of people out there. I even heard several wolf whistles, and they weren’t all from the men. I don’t think that many people had seen me in anything other than either a Vault suit or my armor.

I padded over to where Tommy was standing by the microphone. Cait was behind him, her eyes a little glassy from the drugs. “All right! There will be no weapons used in this fight! So no guns, knives, bats, brass knuckles, or anything. Just the equipment that mother nature provided you with. That does include your teeth, biting IS permitted! There will be one minute rest periods between each of the rounds. Do either of you have any questions? Okay, let’s shake hands, and return your corner! When I signal, you can come out, fighting!”

I held my hand out. Cait looked at it, then slowly reached out, took it, surprising me by actually shaking it, then went to her corner. I walked back to my side, then turned towards her. I remembered my lessons from long ago. I made three small bows, first to my opponent, then to the referee, then to the audience. Tommy saw that, recognized why I’d done it, and just shook his head.

He held up his arm, then dropped it. Cait came strolling towards the middle of the ring, looking like she didn’t have a care in the world. I carefully stepped forward three steps, taking position with one hand up, the other slightly behind it, my weight balanced between my feet, but ready to shift either way.

“Aw, now darling, you’re just standing there, looking all pretty. It’s going to be a shame when I get your blood all over those pretty clothes,” Cait taunted.

I grinned. “You heard me tell Tommy that I know how to teach a mule, didn’t you? You do that with a big old piece of wood. You take that piece of wood and you whack that mule up side the head. That gets his attention. Are you any smarter than a mule, Cait?”

“If I knew what the hell you’re talking about, you’d be the second one to know.” With that, she started dancing forward towards me, her arms moving out in quick strikes that, if they’d connected, would have probably broken a rib or two. My hands flashed down, slapping her hands out and away, allowing me to get within her guard. I grabbed the front of her corset, bringing my hip in and a leg forward. I could tell that she could see what I was doing, due to her chem use, but I was moving too fast for her to do anything about it. With my other hand, I grabbed her wrist, pulled and bent, flipping her through the air.

She surprised me by landing in a tuck and roll with a twist, so she was then in a three point stance, facing me. “Ah, me little chick, you’re a fast one, ain’t ya? So am I.” She sprung forward, twisting so she could give me a kick in the ribs as she went by. I didn’t cooperate, dropping down under her, my feet catching her in the stomach as she went by. I heard her cough as she rolled over and back to her feet again, one hand rubbing her belly.

 
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