The air crackled and popped.  A thunderclap.  A flash.  A hulking steel figure filled the room.  Nick looked up from his paper.  “Hey there, stranger.”  Ash stood there for a moment, clenching and unclenching her mechanical fists.  Nick raised an eyebrow.  “So, it went pretty well then, huh?”  Ash didn’t say a word.  She lumbered into a corner, and the armor beeped and hissed.  The back opened, petals on a blooming steel flower, and she climbed out of the machine.  Her face was bleak like the Glowing Sea.  Maybe less green.  Maybe more stormy.  “You, uh, wanna talk about it?”  He folded the paper and set it on his desk. 

Ash plopped down on the couch with a heavy sigh.  “I blew it.”  She looked up and met the eyes of the artificial man.  “I lost my cool.  Just about killed him on the spot, Nick.  It would have been easy.”  Ash looked down at her hands.  “I might even have made it out.” 

“Maybe.”  Nick pulled out a cigarette.  “I mean, yeah, in that tin can a yours, you coulda escaped.”  He lit the smoke, took a drag.  Faint wisps leaked out of his tattered chest covering.  Nick never tried to hide who, or what, he was.  “You can’t just shoot the Boogey Man, though.”  He examined the ember at the end of his cigarette.

“Oh, I wasn’t talking about shooting him.”  Nick’s eyes flicked to the hands of the robot in the corner.  the faint click and whir of his eyes searching and finding flecks of white – paint transfer from the life support and bed.  “I let him get under my skin.  Did I tell you that he thawed me out just to see what I’d do?”

“Yeah, I recall something about that.”

“And then he questioned my competence when I said the Railroad wasn’t dead yet.” 

“You are a pretty high-scoring killer.”

“The Railroad aren’t a bunch of two-bit thugs.”  Ash put elbows on knees, and her forehead in her hands.  “I came out of that fucking vault aching to find my son.  I didn’t want…  All of this.”  She waved one hand above her head.  Nick stood, crossed the room, and rested a mechanical hand on her shoulder. 

“Listen.  You remember when we did that Eddie Winter thing?”  Ash looked up at him.  He crouched down to her level.  “You remember how mad I was – am – about just being a copy of Officer Nick Valentine?”  Ash nodded.  “I didn’t ask to be made, but the Institute doesn’t care about that.  We’re the same.  They made you too.  The only question is, do they get to toss you out with the trash?”  Ash clenched her teeth. 

“I thought I could just play all the sides and come out on top without having to kill.” At that, Nick chuckled. 

“You can’t make an omelette without breaking any eggs, Ash.” 

“I want to kill the Boogey Man, but not all synths are bad.  I can’t just go in guns blazing.” 

“Are you kidding?  I’ve seen you do just that!”

“You know what I mean.  Raiders are one thing.  This…  This would be something else.” 

“Yeah.”  He stood.  Took another drag of his cigarette.  “Listen.  So there’s the innocents down there.  Do you know who the not-so-innocents are?”  Ash nodded.  “So we start there.  I’ve seen you out in the world.  You’ll sort it out as you go.  You always do.”  Ash sat up.  She rubbed her eyes.  “Besides, you don’t have to do it alone.”  Ash stood, stretched, and hugged Nick.  He chuckled again. 

“You’re the best, Valentine.”  She paused.  “If you really want to help, I think I’ve got something for you.  It won’t be safe, though.”

“And here I was worried I’d be bored,” he said with a wry grin.  Ash headed for her armor. 

“I just have to figure out how to get you in ahead of the Brotherhood.”  The armor opened up and Ash crawled in.  The plates locked in place behind her. 

“Sounds like a good time.”  Nick dropped the butt of his cigarette in the ash tray.  “And Ash,” he said.

“Yeah?”

“Don’t let all that horsepower go to your head.”

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