Love Never Changes
Chapter 32

Copyright© 2020 by StarFleet Carl

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Although that came damned close.” I chuckled. “Remember, I’m not actually a politician until there’s an election. Technically, I’m simply a benevolent dictator right now, operating under an actual written codicil of laws.”

She raised a finger to argue, then paused. “Um ... nope, you’re right.” That got a round of laughter, then a raised hand from Alan. She nodded at him.

“Miss Cabot, I’m guessing that since the Director gave us that sample, you don’t know exactly how the serum actually works, is that correct?” She nodded. “Is it possible that we could get a blood sample directly from your father, to compare that to this serum?”

“Probably. I’ll have to discuss that with Jack. There are guards at Parsons where Father is kept, but ... I don’t think there’ll be an issue. Oh, Jack is my older brother, he’s the one who figured out the serum in the first place.”

Clayton asked, “This may sound odd, but ... in my personal quarters, I have something from the old CIT building. It’s a picture of the previous department heads of the Biology and Chemistry departments at CIT. I’ve memorized their names, actually. In the early 1900’s, there was a John Cabot in charge of Biology, and later, in the 1950’s, there was a James Cabot in charge of Chemistry. From their pictures, they’re obviously related.”

“Yes, that was Jack, both times, trying to make sure he stayed on top of any advances that were made in those fields. He was planning on doing it again around the next turn of the century, but changes in government ID’s and such by then made it impossible.”

“Thank you, Em. Is there anything else? No? Then I think we have a tunnel to visit, I believe.” There was a simple ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the opening of the tunnel, and that was about it. Allie had made several electric powered carts, similar to old fashioned golf carts, to transport people and materials in both directions, with Gen 2’s as the drivers. There wasn’t a huge crowd waiting to take the tour of CIT, but there was enough people curious that we’d made sure everyone going below ground understood the rules.

I found it amusing that the electric carts were more interesting to some. I found out why when a group of children from Vault 81 and Diamond City came up to us. Austin Engill and his teacher, Katie were in front.

“Ma’am, we’ve a question for you. These carts are really neat. Do you think we could make a couple for our use here on the surface? It’d make it a lot easier for us to go from Vault 81 to the Diamond City School, and then from there to the classrooms here and in the old CIT building.”

Allie was nearby. “Allie, come here and talk with Austin and Katie. I think they have a great idea. Considering that we have a lot of things that can be recycled, I can see an actual retail market for these as well.”

I listened while they talked to her, and I could see Allie getting excited about it. “You’re right, Director! While the roads are not in the greatest of shape, being able to put treads like from a robot onto a cart, as well as charging stations for fusion cells, will allow us to not only link the farms for transport of goods, but also ... wow, this is...”

Em laughed. “About like when the first automobiles were introduced to the country. The difference is, we KNOW how useful they are already. That was one of the main reasons for the Great War, we were running out of resources. By using electric motors and fusion cells, though, we can charge them from reactors.”

“Considering that there used to be, what, six million people live in the Boston area alone, and now we’ve got ... what, maybe 6,000 total? It’s going to be a long time before we run into the population pressure we had before.”

I shook my head. “Yes and no, Em. That was one of the concerns I had, we weren’t replacing ourselves. We’ve taken care of that, to a certain extent. Remember your basic math. Assume 6,000 people, split between sexes evenly. 3,000 women, and 10% of them get pregnant. That’s 300 babies a year, a 5% growth rate. Keep the growth at 5%, in 14 years the population has doubled to 12,000, 14 more years and we’re at 24,000 people. Certainly still a drop in the bucket compared to what used to live here, but until we can convert radioactive waste to productive farmland, possibly more than can actually be supported.”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry, that’s something I hadn’t considered. Even when I was growing up, we didn’t grow our own food.”

“Oh, hydroponics will help, to a great extent. I’m not as worried about it, not right now. The thing I’m more concerned about is demolition of buildings, before they fall down on their own.” I looked around. “There’s just a LOT to do, is all. And that’s just here in Boston. That’s why we HAVE to have good people in charge of each area.”

That evening, Katie came and picked all of us up and flew us to Sanctuary. Gwen was adamant that she’d be coming along, now that she could leave CIT. Katie also made sure to let me know that it would take both birds to carry all of us if we were in power armor, and she already had a second pilot ready.

Em and Cait got to play with the dogs and kids, while I checked with Sturges about their power armor. He laughed. “Damn, boss, I knew you said six, but I thought you were kidding. With James along, I would seriously hate to be the people that piss you off.”

We also got everyone set with regular combat armor as well. When dinner time came, I was surprised to see two robots coming out with our food. “Wilhelmina, is that you?”

“Yes, it is. I’ve met this charming man here, and he’s told me so much about you, your son, and your family from both before the war and afterwards. He’s also told me how he’s looking after all those orphaned children that are also living here, I simply feel that I must help him with that.”

Em looked at her mother. “I guess changing your clothes, as Curie put it, has been good for you, mother.”

“Oh, Emogene, I was so greedy before. Ha! You may think this is foolish of me, but I feel more alive now that I’m ... well, this way ... than I have at practically any time in the last three centuries. Oh, and good luck with your father. I ... well, our vows were until death do us part. My physical body is dead, so tell him to consider himself free of me. As far as I’m concerned. I feel free of him.”

“I suspect that Jack is going to shit the proverbial brick when he hears that,” Em said.

“Good. He needs to get his head out of his ass. There’s more to this world than studying science all the time.”

Em blinked at her language. Wilhelmina laughed at her expression. “Dearest daughter, I’ve known all those words for longer than I care to think. I’ve just been constrained, due to having to at least pretend to be a proper lady all the time. Not anymore! Oh, and to all six of you, I wish you all the happiness in the world together.”

Em leaned over to me. “Is it possible that putting her into the robot body affected her?”

“Only positively. Seriously, she’s feeling the freedom she hasn’t had for two hundred years, longer than that if you count how long you’ve all been dependent upon Jack and the formula. Tell me, how did you feel inside, when you swore it off?”

She looked at me for a long moment. “I was going to make a flippant comment that you would know better than I, as you had your fingers inside me just after that, and laugh it off, but ... honestly, seriously, I do feel ... free. Does that make sense?”

I gave her a gentle kiss. “Of course it does. You’ve been held as a thrall to the drug. Now you’re not.”

Our lovemaking that night was gentle and caring, more about each of us pleasing all of us. Em got to experience what happens when Piper has an orgasm first hand, which made Gwen and I laugh. Cait wasn’t sure, she’d always had things a bit rough. She was happy to find that gentle touches and kisses could bring her to her peak as well.

Six women in Vault suits, combat armor, and power armor were ready to head to out the next morning. Codsworth had conspired with Sturges, and they’d added another insignia to our armor. They’d taken the universal female symbol in blue, but changed the cross coming down into a sword. Then put white angel wings outlined in black coming from the sides of the circle. Inside the circle itself was a single star, white in the center with red in the background.

“Sisterhood of Steel, indeed. Thank you, Sturges, Codsworth.”

Katie had also been busy. She’d painted that symbol on the two birds we were going to be using. I stopped. “Really, Katie?”

She looked at me. “Ma’am! Yes, ma’am!” She and the other pilot were both wearing a patch with that emblem on their shoulders.

We flew in formation from Sanctuary to Parson’s Insane Asylum. The two birds landing just outside the property brought several of the mercenaries guarding it to that side. The sight of seven people in power armor exiting those birds made them all bring their weapons up. Em took her helmet off.

“Maria! Lower those weapons, now!”

“Miss Emogene? I’m sorry, we weren’t expecting anyone from the family. Neither Jack or Edward told us you were coming.” The dark haired woman turned to her troops. “She’s in the family. Weapons on safe.”

“We’re going in to see my father.”

“Are you sure, ma’am? Normally Edward or your brother tells us in advance if anyone is coming. We’re here to guard him, after all.”

“I appreciate you doing your job and guarding him. But he’s my father, and these people are all with me.” She put her helmet back on and started walking forward.

Maria cursed, then moved out of the way, letting us pass. When I walked by her, I could see her eyes looking at the emblems on my armor, her eyes widening as she realized who I was. I turned to her. “Yes, I’m her. Thank you for guarding Lorenzo. We’ll talk more later.”

The guards inside Parsons had been warned by one at the door that we were coming in. We ran into a little bottleneck when we got inside, as only two of us could fit into the elevator at a time in our armor. There was no way I was letting us down there without wearing it, though. Em and I went first.

The laboratory room looked basically the same to me. “God, I remember how scared I was when I snuck you down here. I was just sure we were going to get into a huge pile of trouble,” Em said.

“Probably not as much as we’re going to be in if this goes south.”

The wall opposite the elevator was filled with bulletproof glass windows. A large room was on the other side. In the middle of that room was another room, with windows in it. It was possible to see inside that second, inner chamber. There was a door leading out of out of the room we were in. It led into a series of corridors that exited on the far side of of the inner room. Large racks of equipment, generating a shielding field surrounding the inner chamber, covered the walls of that room.

In the inner chamber, an older looking man wearing strange looking headgear was calmly standing, watching us. When the seven of us were all down, Em walked over to the console under the window, flipping a switch. The man inside spoke then. “Hello. You don’t appear to be Jack or Edward, so how may I be of assistance to you?”

“Hello, father. I’ve brought someone here to talk to you.”

“Emogene? It’s been ... a long time since we’ve talked. Won’t you come in, so I can give my dear daughter a hug?”

She laughed. “Not just yet, father. We’ve some things to talk about, first.” I moved up to the microphone.

“Hello again, Lorenzo. It’s been quite a while.”

He brought his hand up to his chin. “I recognize that voice. Of course, considering that I’ve only heard half a dozen people speak to me in the last three centuries, it would be difficult to forget someone I’ve talked to. Emogene introduced you to me one time, then neither of you came back to visit me. Why is that?”

“There were extenuating circumstances. Mostly a global thermonuclear war sort of got in the way,” I said.

“That was not for another decade, though.” He shrugged. “Regardless, you’re here now. I do admit to curiosity, though. Obviously, that was more than two centuries ago. How is it that you are still alive?”

“Cryogenic suspension. Don’t worry, Jack wouldn’t waste any of his precious serum on someone who wasn’t family.”

He chuckled. “Of course not. Tina! That’s it, I apologize for not remembering your name immediately. But that’s not your last name, that was Shannon, like three others have on their armor. Interesting. Are you all related?”

“They’re my wives. Just as I plan on marrying Emogene, in the near future. I would hope that we’ll have your blessing for our marriage.”

He sighed. “Yes, well, I don’t know that I can give it, especially since I remain locked in this cage, like I have been for nearly 400 years. I don’t suppose you could see your way to letting me out, could you?”

“That’s why we’re here. To discuss that with you.”

“I admit, I’m surprised. I would have thought that Jack would have filled your head with the tales of how dangerous I am, after all.”

I chuckled. “Lorenzo, I’ve heard those stories more times than I care to admit. Thing is, I know some of them are true. I also know that some of them are bullshit. It’s figuring out which is which that’s the problem.”

“You did say wives, didn’t you? That would indicate there have been quite a number of changes in society upstairs. Is it now an incredibly lawless place, where only might makes right?”

“Nope. I’ll admit that there’s been a lot of destruction, but due to the actions of several people, there actually is a law abiding society still in existence. Just not totally the same laws as before. Marriage was always something left to the states and Commonwealths, so the Governor of the Commonwealth changed that particular law.”

“I see. Or perhaps I don’t. You wouldn’t have come here without a reason. Why?”

“Two, actually. One, you’re now a single man. Wilhelmina’s body is now deceased.”

He frowned. “That’s ... an interesting way of phrasing things. That would imply that she no longer inhabits that body. However, our vows were until death do us part, and if her body itself is no longer living, that would satisfy that requirement. I hope she is happy in whatever new form she inhabits, then.”

“Very astute, Lorenzo. She wishes happiness for you as well. The second reason is that I need to determine whether or not we’re going to free you, continue to keep you down here, or kill you. Please note that the last two are not my preferred choices, but I have to be certain before we act.”

“Again, an interesting phrasing. That indicates that it is your choice, not that of my children, as to what is done. From the implied authority, that would mean that you are the actual Governor of the Commonwealth.”

Em spoke up then. “I always wondered which side of the family our intelligence came from. It’s rather obvious to me, now.”

“Thank you. I don’t suppose that you’d consider joining me in here for a cup of tea?”

I said, “Not just yet, Lorenzo. Tell me about that crown you wear.”

He chuckled. “Jack spent so many futile years trying to understand this. I could have told him everything he wanted to know. Through it, I commune with the ancient minds that founded our civilization. Whether they live within it, or it communicates with them through time or space, or whether it simply holds their memories ... that I do not know. What I do know is that it has widened my horizons beyond the tiny scope granted to normal men. I’ve spent my long captivity exploring the memories of the ancients – their arts and sciences, their philosophy and worldview.”

“So now that you’ve had a few hundred years to study those things, do you remain the paranoid, homicidal, violent, superhuman that Jack has made you out to be?”

“I’d like to think that I’m not. You could always come in here and talk to me, face to face, and decide for yourself.”

“Why, thank you for that invitation. I’ll do just that.” I flipped the switch off for the microphone. “If he gets by me, kill him.”

James simply said, “Yes, ma’am.”

“Em, you know the controls. Push the buttons so I can go in there.”

“Alone? Tina, are you sure about this?”

“No, but it’s really the only way.”

Cait was looking at my wives in wonder. “You’re gonna let her go in there by herself? I don’t understand!”

Piper reached over and patted her on the shoulder. “Tina’s got this under control.”

I waited at each door, while Em hit the different controls. They really had tried to lock this up as tight as they could. Finally I was in the middle chamber, in front of the room that held Lorenzo. I walked up to it and pushed the button, allowing the door to slide open. He looked at me, puzzled.

“You didn’t turn off the Abremalin Field. How can I come out there to talk with you?”

“You’re not. I’m coming in there to talk with you.” I walked forward, through the field, and into his room. “I see that at least you’ve had something to read over the years,” looking at the collection of books along one wall.

“Yes, well, one has to exercise their mind, after all, when in confinement. Just as you must exercise your body, or it will grow flabby. Would you care for something to drink? I have some fine sherry here.”

“Thank you for the offer, but no.”

“Very well, then, please, have a seat so we may converse properly.”

I chuckled. “I’m afraid that your furniture will not hold my weight, Lorenzo.”

“Well, you could always exit your suit of armor. Surely it cannot be that comfortable to remain in for an extended period of time.”

“Technology is a wonderful thing, when it is used properly. When it is misused, then it can become an instrument of destruction or even of evil. But the technology itself is, in and of itself, neither of those things. It’s merely a tool.”

“That’s a fascinating point of view. Are you suggesting that the crown I wear is not a gift from an ancient civilization, and is simply a tool that can be used or misused?”

“It’s obvious to me that’s what it is. I realize that over the past centuries, to you it’s much more. It’s the source of your long life, the source of your powers. The thing is, what Jack and you have both failed to realize is that, even though our civilization itself died when the bombs fell, our sciences didn’t. Mankind persevered. We have tools that can do what your crown allows you to do now, and with proper study, we won’t need those for much longer.”

He scoffed. “Do you take me for a fool? Your tools cannot match the power of my mind, and what it allows me to do. Nor can they duplicate my immortality!”

Before he could go on, I held up a finger. “Wait one on that, before you do anything rash that will also be permanent. Have you studied modern science enough to know what DNA is?”

He had started to get wound up, but my interruption stopped him. “Yes, I do. It’s the basic carrier of all genetic information of nearly all living organisms.”

“Good. Have you also heard of cloning?”

He frowned. “It was something being studied. If possible, it would allow the making of an exact copy of an organism.” I could tell he was getting intrigued by my questions.

“Congratulations. It’s not being studied any longer, it’s actually been in practice and use for nearly sixty years, and has been perfected for both animals and humans. Animals are easy, they live based upon their natural instincts, so once they’re cloned, we don’t have to do anything else with them. Humans, however, have to learn. In order to do so, we can, through technology, implant either an existing personality in a clone, or simply program one in. Thus, we’ve achieved immortality, because if you are close to death, we could clone your body, transfer your personality and memories into the new clone, and you’ll live again ... and again ... and again. Or, we can do what we did with Wilhelmina. Put her into a robotic body, so that she simply has to replace components over the years and decades, never really growing old.”

“Then ... you’re not here for my blood, to make more serum, to live forever?”

“Uh, no. Another feature of your serum is that you’re pretty well immune to radiation. In my power armor, I’m basically that way, we have clothing that can do it, and this is something you’ll appreciate, there are some people born now with that mutation, so they are completely immune to radiation. Even fatally lethal levels for everyone else. So again, we don’t need your blood.”

“I know you have telekinesis, the ability to move things with your mind. That’s cool. We have teleportation. And with proper equipment, what does moving something with your mind give you what we don’t? As for your strength ... shake my hand.”

He actually looked unsure of himself now. “Uh ... you know about that?”

“That’s why I’m wearing this suit, Lorenzo. If you hope to get out of here, then you’ll shake my hand.” I held it out there.

He looked up at me. “I ... I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Shake ... my ... hand.” I moved it again, for emphasis. He reluctantly sighed, then took my hand. It was a simple shake. He looked at me, in surprise. “Just because you have a power doesn’t mean you have to use it.

I could actually see the light dawn in his eyes at that. “I ... I didn’t squeeze. I simply shook your hand, normally. I don’t have to use my powers, I don’t have to let them control me, I can control THEM.” He let go of my hand, sat back heavily in a chair, putting his hands over his face. “Why did I never think of that?”

“You never had the chance or the choice. From what I understand, what you saw in your visions when you first put that crown on would have tempted any man, especially one who had grown up watching his country tear itself apart in a bloody Civil War. You had the power within you to prevent another, if you could only harness it. But it was too difficult then, to tempting to give into the power. And it frightened others, because they didn’t understand it. They didn’t understand you. So they tried to take it away from you, instead of trying to understand why you were doing what you did.”

He put his hands on either side of the crown. “I cannot remove it. It has changed me. It’s not melded to me, not a part of my body, yet I cannot take it off.”

“No, but you can put this on.” I pulled out a vest with two fusion cores in pockets. He looked at it. “It goes over your head, and will fit over the crown, rest on your shoulders. The straps in the rear, they lock in the front. It’s slightly better than an old fashioned strait jacket, in that it will still allow you to move your arms.”

He sighed. “Very well. He put it on, then pulled the straps tight. They came under his arms and locked into place. When it was done, I pushed a button on a control I’d kept inside my armor. A small light came on the outside of the vest.

“Em, go ahead and turn off the Abremalin generators. They’re not needed any longer.”

I opened my power armor and walked over to him, holding my hand out again. “Hello, Lorenzo. It’s been a long time.” He took my hand, simply shaking it, looking at me in wonder, standing simply in front of him. “Now ... trust me on this. Squeeze my hand.”

“But ... but Tina, I ... as I said, I understand the crown now, and I do not wish you hurt you.” I started squeezing his hand, then. “Ouch, that hurts. Stop! Fine, very well, I warned you!” He began squeezing ... and nothing happened other than a normal shake.

He looked down at his hand, nearly hitting me in the face with the crown. “Hey, watch the fancy headgear! That’ll still break my nose.”

“I don’t understand! I didn’t want to do it, but I should have at least broken some of your bones. What’s going on?”

“Come on, let’s go meet everyone else.” I got back into my armor, leading him out of the room he’d been prisoner in for nearly 400 years. “Technology is a wonderful thing, Lorenzo. All the equipment in this room, designed to counter the frequency that the crown emits. Condensed down into that vest. The two fusion cores on it are enough to power it for probably two hundred years. And it’s made of an indestructible material. You can’t cut it, tear it, or burn it. The only way to change that material is to submerge it completely in hydrofluoric acid, which means it’s not coming off you in any way that you’d survive. Unless I decide otherwise.”

“I realize that may sound like you’re trading one prison for another. Thing is, Lorenzo, we could use your help. There’s a lot of people up there that I’m sure the knowledge you have from that crown can help.”

“I’ve often thought about what would happen if I were ever to get free from that cell. I admit that this is one scenario I did not consider.”

He followed me to the lab room quietly. Once there, I got out of my power armor again, as did Em. She looked at her father, putting her hand out, touching his cheek. “Hello, Daddy. I’ve ... I’ve missed you.”

His hand went up, touched hers gently. Tears started down his cheeks. “I’m sorry, my little bunny. I did some bad things, caused my own imprisonment through hubris. I can only hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me, that I can earn what I should have had all along, a place in your life.”

She stepped forward, giving him a hug. He took her in his arms, held her tenderly while they both cried. After a couple of minutes, she backed up from him. “Come, Father, let’s get you back out into the world.” At her words, James turned and took the elevator back up.

She and I got back into our power armor. This series of elevator trips up, the three of us made the last trip up.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Hello, Jack. I figured that Maria would call you. Since this isn’t a regular hospital, we don’t need to have the patient being discharged taken out in a wheelchair.”

“You have no idea what you’re doing! I have to insist that you return Lorenzo to his cage or there will be violence!”

I looked around. Maria was looking very uncomfortable. “By who, Jack? Lorenzo isn’t dangerous. And I think Maria would agree that she’s not going to do anything violent, are you, Maria?” She shook her head no.

Jack spun around. “What? But ... I hired you! You and your mercenaries!”

“You hired her to keep anyone from breaking Lorenzo out. You didn’t hire her to stop a member of your family from voluntarily releasing him. Or to commit suicide, which she also knows she’d do if she instigated any violence where I’m involved.”

Edward was shaking his head. “Jack, I’ve been working for you for too long to let you kill yourself. You have no idea what you’re dealing with here.”

“Done some research, Edward?”, I asked.

He nodded. “Yeah. I remember the first time Miss Emogene brought you home with her, how puzzled I was then. It didn’t seem to make sense to me, why she’d done so. You were so young, but you’d killed those bank robbers. How could that sweet, young, and relatively innocent girl that was sitting at the kitchen counter eating ice cream and making doe eyes at Miss Emogene be a killer? I know better, now.”

“Doe eyes? I haven’t heard that one in a long time, Edward.”

“Let’s face it, ma’am. Even though you didn’t live through the times, you’re right up there with me in what we remember and have in common.”

“Ma’am, Edward?” I had an eyebrow raised in question.

He nodded. “I always know when to give respect, especially when it’s been earned. As you’re the Governor of the Commonwealth, for me to call you by your name seems to me to be disrespectful, even though I really do know you wouldn’t mind.”

Maria heard what Edward said, then really looked at me, realizing what was painted on my power armor. She came to attention, did an about face, yelled out, “FALL IN!” Her troops had been watching, but when they heard her, they instantly responded, forming into two lines of eight troops each, standing at attention with their weapons down. Maria did another about face, raised her hand in salute.

“Ma’am! Lieutenant Maria Alvarez, United States Army. We’ve been out of contact with higher for ... years. My troops and I are at your disposal.”

She remained at attention. Jack was looking at Maria like she was crazy, and wanted to say something, but Edward prevented him from speaking. I popped my power armor open, came around in front of it, and returned her salute. “At ease, Lieutenant.”

She lowered her arm, pivoted, told her troops, “At ease!”, then pivoted again, facing me.

“Lieutenant Alvarez, I’ve met Lieutenant Brian Richter. Do you know him?”

“Yes, ma’am. He had second platoon, on a recon and recovery mission. We were third platoon, on a scouting and exploration mission. After we heard that President Eden was dead, further contact with higher was lost. We’ve ... well, we’ve stayed together as a unit, as best we could, since then. We’ve lost four troops to assorted combat related injuries and deaths, but we ... we always had hope that there would ... there would...”

I could hear the depths of emotion in her voice. “There is, Lieutenant, there is ... now.” I looked behind her, at her troops. “Platoon, attention! Open ranks, march!” The second rank took two steps back. I stepped to the first soldier in line, meeting his eyes, then looking him up and down, then back to his eyes. “Name and rank!”

“Jefferson Bennett, Sergeant, ma’am!”

“Thank you for your dedication to the nation, Sergeant.” I held out my hand for him to shake. He looked a little uneasy, but took it and shook my hand. I pivoted, went to the next soldier in line, repeating myself. At the end of the first line, I went back to the start of the second squad and did it all again. I then marched back to the front. I heard another vertibird coming in for a landing near ours. I resumed my position in front of Maria, did the same inspection with her, shaking her hand as well. I then did an about face and moved back two paces, and turned again. “Lieutenant Alvarez, your platoon!”

She made a tight nod. “Platoon! Close ranks, march! Platoon, present, ARMS!” They all made a sharp salute. I returned it, held it for a five count, then brought my hand down. “Platoon, order, ARMS!”

From where the bird had landed, someone came walking up. I recognized his command voice. “Third Platoon, Attention to orders. Upon dismissal, you will gather your gear and report to the National Guard Training Center for further instructions. Dismissed!”

That allowed them to break ranks, and Brian to walk up to Maria. “Damn, it’s good to see you again, Maria, all of you.”

Jack looked confused. “What was that all about? Edward, when you hired her and her group, I thought you said they were mercenaries?”

His father laughed. “Jack, you never did quite grasp things. They may have been acting as mercenaries to survive, but they were remaining true to their oaths, as soldiers in the United States Army. And you, young lady, have one other title that I didn’t realize. You asked me before if I could give you permission to marry Emogene, to make her part of your ... whatever kind of marriage it is you have. Far be it from me to stand in the way of my daughter’s happiness. And from what I’ve seen, I’m very impressed. I suspect you’ll do more to bring this war torn country back together than Lincoln did, Madam President.”

“Oh, and I don’t know how much it’ll help, but I’m more than willing to work with any actual competent scientists you have.”

“Edward, are you aware where the tunnel opening now is, that leads down to CIT?” He nodded. “Please escort Lorenzo there. I’m quite certain he’ll find plenty of discussion topics with the scientists there. They’ll know who he is, they’re the ones who used modern technology to create his vest.”

“Yes, ma’am. What do you want me to do after that?”

“Help rebuild the Commonwealth. Make it a place we’d all like to live in.” He nodded and started walking with Lorenzo.

Jack just stood, watching, not sure what had happened. Em opened her power armor and walked over to him. “Go home, Jack. Find something else to do. You were smart at one time. I’m sure you can figure out something to do. Good luck.” She gave him a quick and completely fake kiss on the cheek, then got back into her armor.

I got back in mine as well. “Brian, you good?”

“Yes, ma’am. And thank you, ma’am.” He saluted me. My hand clanged on my helmet as I returned it. We got back onto our birds, so Katie could return us to Sanctuary.

That evening, we got a radio call from the Prydwen. She was over Pennsylvania and would be at the Boston Airport sometime the next day. I had Haylen make calls to the different provinces, which is what I’d decided to call them, and have the leadership team join us all at the airport, so we could all get the report at the same time.

The staff at the airport set up a large meeting room in Edgar’s hanger. There were plenty of chairs, tables, and refreshments. I admit that I took a bit of delight in watching the guards escort people into the hanger, as I’d enlisted Edgar in greeting them once they were inside. At least no one fainted, but the general amount of cursing was hilarious.

Of course, what was also amusing was that he would play fetch with the dogs in between times, while Shaun and Nat watched and laughed at all their antics.

We soon heard the sound of the Prydwen returning. She looked pretty, floating up there. I knew it wouldn’t be long before we had a whole fleet of ships. Once the Prydwen was docked, all four of the birds she carried dropped as one, coming in for a coordinated landing outside the hanger.

A lot of people got out of the birds. I only recognized Arthur and Rosalind. There were a large assortment of women and men that got off the birds. And it was also quite obvious that some of them didn’t like the others. Several of them started arguing as soon as they got off the birds, making it quite clear this was an ongoing argument. Members of the airport guards ushered everyone into the hanger. I was amused that those still arguing didn’t even notice Edgar.

I looked at Edgar. He grinned, then gave out a tremendous roar that cut off all arguing, and I noticed made a couple of people leave wet spots on the floor of the hanger. They were looking at him in fright, some of them reaching for weapons they weren’t carrying. Once the screams stopped, he said, in a calm and only slightly loud voice, “Thank you all for attending this meeting. I’m Edgar Swann, the Sergeant of Arms. That means I’m in charge of keeping and maintaining order here during the meeting. There won’t be any issues with that, will there?” He grinned again, this time showing his teeth.

I walked to the front, where a podium was waiting. “Thank you all for coming today. Please, if you could all take seats at the tables, we can get on to business. Please sit at the tables which have the name for your respective Commonwealth. I know that for some of you, this has been a long trip on the Prydwen. I have not had the chance to meet with or discuss with Arthur anything yet, so all I ask is that you be civil in your discussions with me, and with each other. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, is it?”

There were thirteen tables set up. There were at least one or two people at each of the Commonwealth tables, with the fullest table being the one for the Commonwealth of New England States, but there was a problem at the South West table. Six people stood on either side of it, but no one would sit down. I recognized that these were also some of the people who had been arguing from the moment they got off the vertibirds.

“Folks, it’s pretty obvious that you don’t like each other, so sit on opposite sides of the table for now and we’ll figure things out, okay?”, I said.

The man wearing what looked like a variation on regular Brotherhood clothing nodded and sat down, two women sitting next to him. The other group, led by a woman, frowned, then she and the two men with her sat down.

“Okay, as I said before, thank you all for coming. I’m not going to assume much of anything, such as you even knowing WHY you’re here today. I am, however, going to guess that Arthur Maxson or his wife, Rosalind, said something to you such that you decided to leave your own areas and come here, and that each and every one of you, or someone in your group, represents or is someone of authority in your Commonwealth.”

From the table with the South West Commonwealth flag on it, a woman in a military uniform stood up. “I’m Colonel Cassandra Moore, of the New California Republic Army. I am here representing the legitimate President of the New California Republic, Aaron Kimball. I resent being placed at the same table as these ... people ... who are in revolt against our authority in the Republic. While we do understand, and have seen, that in other parts of what was the United States that the Brotherhood of Steel remains a viable and legitimate organization, they are not recognized as such in the NCR.”

“Thank you, Colonel, for making your position clear. I will make note of your points for latest discussion. Please note that I am NOT dismissing them, it’s that there is an actual agenda for this meeting, and territorial issues are further down on the list,” I explained.

She grumbled a little, but sat back down.

“Now, and I realize there is a dispute in the South West, if the representative from each Commonwealth would please stand and at least introduce themselves, I would greatly appreciate it.”

Arthur stood up. “Everyone here has met me, so I’ll go first. I am Elder Arthur Maxson, representing the Columbia Commonwealth. I am authorized to speak and vote on behalf of Columbia.”

A woman with light brown skin that had a young girl about Shaun’s age stood up next. “I am Doctor Sandra Kundanika, this is my daughter, Marie, representing the Eastern Commonwealth. I am married to Lord Ashur, ruler of the Eastern Commonwealth, and have his authorization.” She had a slight Hispanic accent.

A dark haired young man, sitting by himself, rose next. “I’m Paladin Jason Avellone, out of Bunker Beta and Springfield, in what was Illinois. I’m not the Elder, but he authorized me to do whatever is needed for the Midwest Commonwealth.”

At the next table, a middle aged woman wearing an older version of Brotherhood combat armor stood next, helped to her feet by a young man at her table. “Elder Ruby Solo, with Knight Vasquez, from the Plains Commonwealth.”

The next woman to stand up looked rather patrician, not in armor but in robes. “I am Elder Lavinia, of the Brotherhood, from the Montana bunker and I am in charge of law and order in the Northern Commonwealth.” Another woman, in what looked like scribe clothing, was with her at the table.

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