Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

New Hire

Posted: January 15, 2017 in Fiction, Gaming
Tags: , , , ,

“I don’t want the stupid nickname.”

“It’s not a nickname, Eddie. It’s your stage name.”

“Whatever. I’m not calling myself Killstreak.”

“Oh yeah you are, buddy. These guys spent a shitload of credits putting you back together. You like having arms and legs?” Eddie nodded. “The, ahem, terms and conditions state that you owe five years of quality action programming.” Lynch took a drag of his cigarette. “And our viewers expect to have colorful characters and dramatic stories.” As he spoke, the smoke leaked out of his mouth and nose. Eddie got the impression that disagreeing with an actual dragon might be safer.

“Can’t I pick my own character though? How am I supposed to get along with anyone when I introduce myself as a murderer?”

“Tell you what. You go down to marketing and run your idea by them.” Eddie groaned a sound not unlike an ancient dial-up net connection. “Hey. Lose the attitude. I pulled your corpse out of the fire at some considerable personal risk. The Network isn’t the only one you owe, buddy.”

“Yeah, yeah. Thanks a million, Lynch.” Eddie had a hard time mustering any sincerity. Lynch wasn’t wrong though. Eddie did literally owe his life to him and the Network. Which network, Eddie didn’t know yet, but it hardly mattered.

“Listen, Eddie, it ain’t all bad news. You’re still you, ya dig? Think of it as your new callsign. Marketing will get you a packet of one-liners and endorsements to memorize. It’ll all be second nature in no time. You go out and find something to kill every week. It’ll be just like your old soldiering days.”

“Yeah, because those were the Good Old Days, ” Eddie scoffed.

“You were good at it. Real good. And we had fun too, but sometimes violence IS the answer, man.” Lynch pulled his feet off his desk and leaned forward. He clasped his hands in front of him. Eddie thought the cherry from that stupid cigar might fall on to his knuckles, but no such luck. “Listen, Killstreak,” Eddie sighed at the name. It sounded like an airbrake releasing pressure. “Get down to Marketing. Get your packet. Pitch your idea. If they like it, I’ll be the first guy to call you Iron Lion.” Eddie stood up. Lynch continued. “Either way suits me fine. It’s a big world and we got a lot of people paying a lot of money to see it through your eyes.”

“All right, Lynch.” Eddie turned his massive steel frame toward the door. He looked back. “I do mean it, man. Thanks for savin’ me.”

“Off with ya. Do me proud.” Lynch shooed him away with a hand. Eddie disappeared into the hall.

* * *

Eddie disconnected the external oxygen supply. The paint booth still reeked of acetone, but he was done getting sprayed and baked. On his right pectoral plate, he had a glossy black three digit operator number. On his left, an energy drink logo. His arms and legs were covered in brand names. They would fade or get scraped off quickly, so he was expected to come in quarterly to get a new paint job. Eddie reconsidered his stance on how annoying shaving used to be. The bits of him not covered in advertisements were done up in a black and gray digital camoflage pattern.

He stepped out of the paintbooth and scraped his presskit off of a nearby table. His mechanical hands dug furrows into the tabletop. “Some adjustment will be necessary,” he scoffed. He connected to the datapad with his palm-jack. Text overlayed his vision. He couldn’t actually see it, but it floated at the front of his conciousness as surely as if he were reading it from a page. New hire SOPs. Training schedules. A list of his ‘preferred brands’: Wilk’s Laser Technologies, Republic Rifles, Pangolin Shielding Inc., Nuka-Cola. Eddie shook his head. He opened his training schedule. The faster he finished his ‘period of adjustment’, the faster he could be back in the world.

“Doctor Ayo!”  Ash’s amplified voice boomed through the atrium of the SRB.  “I’ve found the leak!”  She thundered deeper in to the SRB.  Where was that weasel?  She lumbered into the main office.  “Doctor Ayo!”  He was sitting at a terminal, hands on his chin, reading something.  “Ayo, I’ve found how the Railroad is getting Synths out of the Institute.”  He didn’t look up. 

“So stop them,” he said.  Ash rolled her eyes.  No wonder the Railroad was able to get Synths out of this ivory tomb.  She drew her pistol and shot Ayo in the head.  Blood splattered across the office, and Ayo slumped forward.  She walked over and pulled a Vault-Tec lunchbox out of her satchel.  She flipped the switch on an tiny electrical circuit taped to the lid, and placed it in his lap.  She backed away quickly, then turned and headed for the exit.

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.”

The bed was all white, like everything in the Institute.  Machinery crept up the sides and over the top, maintaining Shaun’s bodily functions.  His heath had been on the decline for some time, and he’d named Ash his successor, pending her proving her loyalty to the Institute’s mission.  Except, Ash hated the Institute.  Ash loomed over the bed, looking menacing as ever in her armor.  Shaun had often said it was unnecessary inside the Institute.  Ash remembered the armed and armored synth guards and the negotiations in the Bio Tech labs too well to believe him. 

“Ash, are you listening?”  Shaun asked.  He coughed weakly.

“Sorry.  A lot on my mind lately.”  She shook her head.  “What were you saying?”

“I need a progress report.  We have quite a number of things I’d like to see completed before I’m gone.” 

“Right.  Where do I start?”  Ash got ready to lie through her teeth.  She’d been a lawyer, two hundred years ago.  She could spin a hell of a story. 

“The Railroad,” Shaun prompted. 

“Right.  Gone to ground.  Prior to my arrival here, Tom had me setting up sensor suites all over the city.  They must have seen me coming.”

“Ridiculous,” Shaun spat.  “I can’t trust my own mother with a simple task?”

“You little… ”  Ash was instantly angry.  “You’re asking me to kill a bunch of people who have consistently slipped through your fingers, Father.”  His title came out of her mouth like a curse.  “Tinker Tom cracked the algorithm that got me in here in the first place.  I’ll find them, but this kind of shit takes time.” 

“Maybe I was wrong to bring you here.” 

“Maybe you were fucking wrong to leave me on ice for forty fucking years!” Ash yelled.  Her heads up display started tracking potential targets.  Guards.  “You let me out to wander, just to see what I would do?”  She grabbed the bed frame with gauntleted hands.  The frame crumpled with her augmented strength.  “And then you order me to kill people who are helping the slave race you’ve created to escape!  I am so goddamned ashamed to be your mother!”  Ash was screaming.  Alarms were lit in her helmet.  This wasn’t going well. 

Ash swallowed her rage.  She let go of the bed and stepped back.  She raised her hands to show the synths that she was yielding.  “Father, the Railroad is not a threat to your operation any more.  The Brotherhood of Steel is not a threat to your operation anymore.  The largest threat to the Institute is now you and me.  I’ll get the goddamned reactor working.  I’ll sabotage Liberty Prime.  I will find the Railroad.  If it’s what you want, I’ll follow in your footsteps.”  She dropped her hands to her sides.  “But I am not one of your minions to be used and abused.”  She turned and brushed past the synth guards at the door. 

“Mother…” Shaun started.  Ash paused.  “You have a lot to do and little time.  Work fast.”  She clenched her mechanized fists. 

“You won’t believe what I’m capable of,” she whispered.  She thundered out of the room. 

“Maxson” sat in his darkened quarters, his face lit green from the glow of his terminal.  He’d only been Maxson for a month.
He rubbed his temples.  The Brotherhood’s sole source of information at this point was Paladin Ash.  He’d promoted her from Knight to Paladin when she’d brought back the lifeless body of the synth traitor, Danse.  Mustering disgust for his old body,
his old life, hadn’t been easy.  But it was what Maxson would have done. 

He’d always believed in the Brotherhood’s mission.  Humanity wouldn’t survive another apocalypse, and the reckless use of new technologies would always be a threat.  Paladin Ash had never disagreed on this point.  She’d never blamed the machines, though. For her, it was always what people did with those machines that caused the danger.  He saw her point, although he still had
reservations.  He had apparently been a synthetic human his whole life, and he’d fought the Enclave and the Institute with all the
ferocity of a lion. 

He leaned back in his usurped chair, lacing his fingers behind his head.  The only thing worse than having to lead the Brotherhood
to a false victory over the Institute was the waiting.  Paladin Ash still took regular shifts doing research patrols and escorting squires,
but she was also using the Railroad’s forces and to reinforce an old military post in the Glowing Sea.  The Institute’s scientific minds
would be relocating just as Liberty Prime was finally set loose on the Commonwealth Institute of Technology.  Ash believed that the Institute could be made into an asset for all the surviviors.  “Maxson” wasn’t so sure.  He’d let her try, though.  She’d called
herself an “angry, vengeful ghost of the innocent.”  He didn’t have to be sure.  He could count on her to destroy the Institute herself if it couldn’t be salvaged. 

Danse paced around the basement of the Memory Den.  Being here wasn’t just betrayal.  It was heresy.  He couldn’t believe he’d been talked into this.  Maybe he could make a run for it.  No.   Glory was at the door.  Besides, he’d given his word.  This was for the good of the Commonwealth.  He knew Ash, and he knew she wanted to help.  From the very first moment she’d set foot in Cambridge, she’d fought for the safety of strangers.  She’d doubtless done it before that.  He remembered that clunky old suit of T-45b she’d been wearing.  She’d waded into the ferals like a woman possessed.  He was proud to sponsor her entry to the Brotherhood.

Did machines feel pride?

He heard the thumping of power armor upstairs.  He clutched the laser pistol in his waistband.  Additional footsteps.  The quiet whoosh of a Mr. Handy.  The Brotherhood hadn’t found him.  Yet.  The noises came down the stairs and became the massive red flames and blue pinstriping of Ash’s armor.  She moved into a corner and ejected from her power armor.  As the back of the frame closed, Ash reached up and yanked the fusion core out.  Danse nodded to himself.  Smart. 

A Mr. Handy floated into the room, holding the end of a steamer trunk.  The other end was held by an Assaultron.  Danse pulled his pistol in a panic.  “Easy, Danse!”  Ash called to him.  He stepped back, but lowered his pistol.  “They’re friends of mine.”

“You have unusual taste in friends, dear.”  Dr. Amari came into the room.  “It’s a bit crowded in here.  Do you mind?”  Ash fiddled with her Pipboy and the two robots left the room.  “Thank you.  Now.  What ridiculous mess can I help you with today?”

“Dr. Amari, do you remember Curie?”  Ash asked.

“Of course I do.  I can still hardly believe that worked.” 

“I’m hoping we can do it again.  It’s complicated.”

“It always is, with you,” Dr. Amari said.  “May I?”  She gestured to the trunk.

“It’s another synth with no mind inside it.”  Ash looked at Danse.  “We’re going to give the Brotherhood proof that you’re gone.  Help me get your new body into the chair.”  Amari stepped back from the opened trunk so that Danse and Ash could pull the comatose body out.  As it unfolded from the fetal position, Danse caught a look at his new face.  He nearly dropped the body.

“Maxson?!” Danse gasped.  “What- how-?”  He let go, stepping back.  “What have you done?” 

“Maxson was a bloodthirsty monster,” Ash said.  “He may have held the Brotherhood together in a dark time, but he’s been preparing them for genocide.  I will not allow it!” Ash’s voice rose as she spoke.  “I won’t let him kill you.  I won’t let him kill Curie, or Nick, or Hancock.  I’ve already lost one family.”  Ash realized she was crying.  She sniffed.  “You’re going to be Maxson now.  We are going to give the Commonwealth a light show, and I am going to undo all the terrible things my… son… has allowed.” 

Nobody spoke.  Ash wrestled the body into one of the memory chairs.  She wiped her tears on her sleeve.  Dirt and soot streaked across her face.  “The real Maxson is dead.  I told him I’d find you, and he tailed me back to the listening post.”  Ash looked at Danse.  HIs jaw clenched and unclenched.  “The cocky bastard came with nothing but a knife.  I caught him with a sucker punch.”

“You’re no better than a raider,” Danse spat.  “You expect me to believe you’re the one to change the Institute, and you stab an unarmed man in the back?”

“He came with harm in his heart.  We both know that.  He was going to kill you for sure.  Maybe me too, when I refused.”  Ash spoke calmly.  “Do you know what I did to the man who killed my husband and took my son?”  Danse said nothing.  “Do you know what I do to raiders who kidnap a settler living in one of the settlements under the protection of the Minutemen?”  He looked down.  Ash continued.  “I’m not trying to win honor.  I’m not the hero of the Commonwealth.”  Ash’s expression turned from dark to absolute black.  “I am the angry, vengeful ghost of the innocent.”

They sat around the table topped with a heavily marked up map of the Commonwealth.  Tiny little flags dotted the map, along with little scraps of paper and green toy soldiers.  A little cannon marked each of the Minutemen’s camps.   Ash had set most of those up herself.  Eight of them were quiet.  Ash had never said so much at one time to any of them, but she had rescued every synth and destroyed every Institute patrol.  They owed her this.  “I have questions.  A lot of questions,” Desdemona said.  “I thought you were on board with destroying the Institute!”

“You’re half right.”  Ash rubbed her temples.  “The Institute needs to be stopped.  But you’re talking about killing more synths than you have ever saved.”

“She kind of has a point, Des.”  Deacon leaned back in his chair.  He was fidgetting with a pencil, looking every bit the bored student.  It was a good act, and Ash knew better. 

“Man, it can’t be done!”  Tinker Tom.  “They got eyes everywhere!  No half-measure is gonna cut it!.” 

“Even if I agree to this, and I’m not, you don’t have the resources to do this!”  Danse.  Ash knew he’d have a problem with this. 

“I have more at my disposal than you would guess, Danse.”  Ash grinned a mile wide.  “I have all of the Minutemen.  I have a score of grateful settlements.  I have the Brotherhood of Steel.  One of my very good friends is the mayor of Goodneighbor.”  Ash paused, and let that sink in.  “I have another thing.  My son has just declared that I’m the future Director for the Institute.” 

The room exploded.  “You’re WHAT?”  “Unbelievable!”  “Knew I should have killed you…” 

Ash stood.  “We can absolutely do this.”  She waited as the protests died down.  Deacon had been silent the whole time.  Ash stared as he broke into a wide grin. 

“This is going to be the best story I ever tell,” he said. 

“No,” Desdemona breathed.

“Yes,” Deacon said with a laugh.

“Factoring new variables,” PAM droned. 

“Desdemona,” Ash said.  “I’d like your help, especially because it’s the only way to save your life.”

“Are you threatening me?!”  She jumped to her feet, slamming her hands on the table.

“You said to play along for the Institute.  You know what my next task for them is?”  Ash pulled out the map that Father had handed her.  The Old North Church was circled on it, with ‘sander’ in blue marker.    “And here’s one from the Brotherhood of Steel.”  Ash pulled out Kells’ handwritten hit list and the holotape that would reprogram PAM.  “I never said a word.  I was careful.  And they all found you anyway.”  Desdemona slumped back in her chair.  Glory rubbed her temples.  Tinker Tom finally broke the silence.

“They was watchin’ our every move.”