Posts Tagged ‘How it should have ended’

“Desdemona and her team are dead, Father.”  Ash lied through her teeth.  And incidentally, her helmet. 

“I wish you wouldn’t wear that thing in here, Mother,” Shaun said.  “It makes you so much less personable.”  He coughed.  “What about Liberty Prime?”

“I figured that would hold.  They need a beryllium agitator to start its internal reactor.”  Ash pulled a long metallic cylinder out of her satchel.  “You know, like the one you want to install in the Institute’s reactor?” 

“Hmpf.  Fair enough.”  Shaun rubbed his eyes.  “It would still make me feel much better about leaving you in charge if you got the Brotherhood dealt with.”  He looked past Ash’s oversized form.  She turned.  A  trio of Eradicators in full armor were approaching.  “What is it?” 

“Acting Director Ayo has been incapacitated.  Possible infiltration,” one droned in a metallic voice.  Ash could not tell which one it was coming from. 

“Has a Courser investiga -”  Shaun’s words were cut off by a muffled boom.  The room rattled. 

“Attack detected,” said one of the Striders. 

“Find out who it is, and STOP THEM!” Shaun shouted.  “You!  He pointed at Ash as the two Striders turned to leave.  “I asked you to deal with the Brotherhood!” 

“You made lots of enemies, dear,” Ash said.  “Maybe it’s your own slaves’ uprising.”  She stepped closer, and put a metallic hand on Shaun’s shoulder.  She pulled the rifle free of its holster with the other.  “Don’t worry, son.  I’ll save the Institute.  But it’d help us all a lot if we could evacuate the science staff.”

“Evacuate to where?”  He tried to shove her hand away.  She didn’t budge.  His eyes widened.  “What have you done?”

“Replacing humanity with a slave race is not the way to save the world.”  Ash squeezed.  “This isn’t the life I wanted for my son.”  Shaun’s face went pale and his mouth worked silently.  “I’ve got a friend working on your terminal now.  The evacuation should sound soon.”  The suit’s targetting computer blared an alarm.  Ash glanced toward the door and raised her rifle.  The targeting computer locked on the heads of thetrio of Eradicators as they reentered the room with raised rifles.  Servos made fine adjustments to her aim, and she squeezed the trigger three times.  Crack! One one thousand.  Crack!  Two one thousand. Crack!  All three collapsed.  That trick wouldn’t work twice today.  Coursers had to be coming, and they’d definitely be cloaked by Stealthboy units.  Her mechanical gaze shifted back to Shaun.  “Give me access, sound the evacuation, and I’ll take you with us.”  Nick would get it anyway.  He was an unparalleled hacker.  This was more about redemption than anything. 

“You’ve doomed us all.  I hope you’re happy, mother.”  He closed his eyes.  “I never should have released you.” 

“The list of things you shouldn’t have done is a fucking long one, kid.” 

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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. 

Desdemona was not happy.  She had played everything so carefully.  She had heeded PAM’s every warning, kept careful track of all of her assets, and burned oh so many resources with safe retreats.  It was all for nothing; everyone knew where she was and everyone had ordered the Professor to kill her.  On top of that, the Professor – a mechanized tornado of destruction – had hijacked her whole operation.  God fucking dammit.  It was like she suddenly didn’t matter.

Wait.  That wasn’t true.  If she didn’t matter, no one would care that she was alive and that clearly wasn’t the case.

Des took a long drink from the ancient wine bottle and leaned over the rail of the bell tower.  This would be her last breath of fresh air for a while, and she was determined to savor it.  She set the wine on the railing and pulled out a cigarette.  The one silver lining in all this was that the professor had gotten her some pre-war cigarettes.  There was a time when she’d have been concerned about the soft orange glow giving away her position, but the dual kill orders from two of the other big three players in the Commonwealth had made her fatalistic.  Besides, her executioner was busy setting up a scam of epic proportions.

She leaned on the railing, and blew a plume of smoke into the darkness.  Fuck it, she thought.  Yeah, they’d save a shitload more Gen 3 synths this way.  She did want that.  She started mulling over alternate names for the Synth Retention Bureau.  Synth Placement, maybe?  After all, the Professor wanted Desdemona to be the new head.

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.”

The footfalls of the power armor shook silt from the ceiling of the ancient tunnel.  Ash felt just a little claustrophobic.  She felt that every time she came here, though.  The culture of paranoia that permeated this place meant she couldn’t use a runner, and she dared not tell anyone that she’d been hacking eyebots and tinkering with robots of her own.  They could have their secrets, and Ash would have hers.  Danse followed her, silently.  He probably felt exposed without his own bipedal tank.  Ash couldn’t blame him.  They were walking into the den of a known enemy of the Brotherhood.  Danse would act to save his life, but he was still loyal to the cause. 

Ash stopped outside the sliding wall.  She reached into a satchel hung at her waist, and pulled out some seemingly ratty clothes.  “You’re going to have to change.”  Danse looked down at his pilot’s uniform and back up at Ash.  He nodded and took the clothing.  He was surprised at the weight.

“What is this?” he asked her.

“Tinker Tom came up with it.  Concealed plates and kevlar.  It’s lighter than normal combat armor, nearly as strong, and invisible.  Until we get you a new frame and some plates, it’ll have to do.”  Danse grunted, impressed.  He pulled the trousers on over his uniform.  “And it wouldn’t hurt to have you looking a little more civilian until I’ve convinced them not to shoot you.”  Ash reached into a different bag, slung higher on the waist of her armored frame.  She pulled out a laser pistol.  Danse tucked it into the waistband at the small of his back before pulling on the dingy grey jacket. 

“Just in case, right?” he said.  Ash nodded.  Danse pulled off his pilot’s coif, revealing a tangled and sweaty matte of brown hair.  Ash turned to the sliding wall and spun the dial, entering the extremely juvenile code.  R-A-I-L-R-O-A-D.  With a click and a rumble, the bricks parted and revealed the entry to the Railroad HQ.

She thundered in, with Danse in tow.  The wall closed again, unnoticed.  Ash held her rifle at parade rest.  This place was a closely guarded secret.  Ash was breaking more than a few rules, but this wasn’t a routine mission.  The armor took up most of the hallway, providing Danse with some cover.  Drummer Boy came running up to Ash like he always did.  “Desdemona needs to…” he trailed off when he spotted Danse.  His hand went for his sidearm.

“Don’t.”  Ash’s voice came out hard and flat.  Drummer Boy froze.  “He’s with me, and this is dire.”  Ash watched his face as his intellect caught up with his courage.  He might be more scared of Glory than Ash, but it wouldn’t be by much.  Especially not when Ash dressed for the occasion.  “We can wait here while you tell Desdemona.”  Not that that would be necessary.  The armor’s speaker carried well in the relative quiet of the cellar.  Drummer Boy nodded and turned, but Desdemona was already in the hall, followed by Glory and Deacon.  Glory had her minigun out, spinning up.  Deacon had his hands at his sides.  Both were equally threatening.

“What the hell is this, Professor?” Des demanded.  “You’re going to blow our whole damn-!”

“Can it.” Ash cut her off.  “I’m going to save your whole damned operation.  Again.”  Desdemona stopped.

“I’m listening,” she said.

“The man with me is a synth.  He needs our help.  I want to give him our help.”  Ash looked back at Danse.  “And I think he can help me save the whole Commonwealth.”  Glory snorted.  Ash glared through her helmet.  Deacon smirked.  Ash forced herself to relax.  “I’d like you all to meet Paladin Danse of the Brotherhood of Steel.”