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Fallout: Project Osiris [Fallout]

Discussion in 'User Fiction' started by JMHthe3rd, Apr 6, 2015.

  1. Threadmark: Table of Contents
    This was originally a CYOA-entry, but I've repurposed it as an independent fan fiction. Comments and criticism are welcome and appreciated.

    [​IMG]

    (Villard Hall, University of Oregon. Location of Vault 9, Capitol Building of the Scientific Republic of Oregon)
    The Scientific Republic of Oregon has thrived for over a century, but lately it has faced many challenges. Vikings raid the coast. Wolf Clans invade from the mountains. And to the south looms the New California Republic, a massive, expansionistic nation that seeks to absorb its neighbors.

    Relations with the NCR have thus far been warm, but some fear this friendship may come with a price.

    [​IMG]

    (Dr. Martin Polakowski, Director of the Advanced Weapons Laboratory)
    Dr. Martin Polakowski is a citizen of Oregon. The Director of the Republic's Advanced Weapons Laboratory, he's responsible for salvaging and maintaining pre-war combat assets. It's work he enjoys. It's a good life.

    But one day a woman from the NCR arrives, speaking of the lifework of a father Martin never knew.

    [​IMG]

    Fallout: Project Osiris
    Chapter One
    Chapter Two
    Chapter Three
    Chapter Four
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2015
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  2. Threadmark: Chapter One
    Chapter One
    Kiger Island, Oregon
    April 11, 2275
    The armor is intact, but the shots banged loose some of the neural network's diodes. I solder them into place and realign the surrounding micro-Tesla coils. Mr. Virgil's mechanical claw reaches over my shoulder with a dual-triode vacuum tube--a good call, since the one by the ancillary processor looks a little fried.

    I switch on the boot sequence and shut the access panel. The sentry-bot's red eyes flicker back to life. Its wheeled tripod feet twitch. Its weapon-mounted arms bend and twist as it runs a servo-systems test.

    "Initialization complete. Processing self-diagnostics. Please stand by."

    "The lasers are useless," Lieutenant Valerie Mauritius says. She's watching the combat robot with one of her sharp little frowns. Soot streaks her cheeks.

    "Aren't you being a little harsh?" I say. "They burned their sails, didn't they?"

    "And not much else." She waves a brown hand at the busy hospital tent across the courtyard. "Four of my men would be alive right now if we'd had a minigun instead of a Gatling laser."

    I begin to protest, but I see the reigned emotion behind her dark eyes and don't want that unleashed on me. And she does have a point.

    Beyond the sandbag defenses of the perimeter walkway, the morning sun glints off the half-sunk hulks which cluttered the muddy water of the Willamette River. Smoke still clings to the muggy air.

    The Wolves are getting smart. This time, they not only covered their longboats in mirrored metal sheets, but also wore them as body armor. The lasers still melted through, but it took longer. Too long. Some of their craft beached on the northern tip of Kiger Island, and a few even got close enough to toss grenades over the fort's brick walls. Fortunately Valerie wasn't hurt. I don't know what I'd do if something happened to her.

    I try to think of something she'd like to hear. "I wish we had plasma guns," I say. When she doesn't smile or nod her head in agreement, I add quickly, "But maybe I can set the beam frequencies to oscillate. That should help negate heat reflection. It'll only take a min--"

    "Just get us miniguns," she snaps. "Vindicators, if you can scrounge the ammo. And more robots too."

    "But we don't have more robots! We're doing good keeping what we have working."

    "Diagnostics complete. Combat subroutines loaded. Unit at 68% operational efficiency," the sentry-bot interrupts.

    "Then get us what you can," Valerie says. "Things that work. This is a frontier military defense. Not a test site for your ray guns."

    She scans the fort's crumbling brick walls, and for a moment looks lost and too young for her command. But she then shakes her head and steps down the rusted steel stairway to the ground. I watch her firm backside sway as she walks. Even under the dirty camouflage ceramic plates and woven polymer of her combat armor, she's gorgeous.

    Some of the other guys don't think so. She isn't soft or curvy or well-stacked; she's petite iron graced with hard, thin muscles. Her face captures the angry beauty of a war elf. Other girls might be cute, but Valerie is a goddess.

    If only she knew how I feel for her, how much I admire her for what she's accomplished.

    One of Mr. Virgil's eye-stalks swivels to me, looks at her and twitches quizzically. His hover jet is a warm and gentle growl by my side.

    "Confidence, dear boy," he says. "Just step right up and proclaim your intentions."

    "But what if she says no?" I ask. "I don't think I could take that kind of rejection. Besides, after this she'll be a war hero of the Republic. Probably get a promotion. What would she see in a wormy little guy like me?"

    "With an attitude like that, I imagine very little," Mr. Virgil says.

    I shove my hands into my lab coat pockets and kick my feet. "Golly, I'd be happy if I could just be her friend."

    It doesn't take long to finish the repairs. Mostly it's just system checks with a little part-swapping. Fort Kiger's six sentry-bots are sturdy machines, and I'm less worried about battlefield damage than plain old age.

    When the bombs fell, our Vault came with a full warehouse of advanced robots and laser weapons. Two hundred years later, that original cache has dwindled to a few dozen units. Components wear out; cannibalization only delays the inevitable. I keep telling the Deans we need to focus on bootstrapping our industry, but they say that can wait until after the war's won.

    I'm not sure it will be. Not by us, anyway.

    On the way out I consider stopping to say goodbye, but through the command barracks window I see Valerie by her desk, talking into her Pip-Boy handset. She doesn't look happy, though no doubt it's just headquarters telling her what a swell job she did. She's not the type to bask in appreciation, though no one would say she lacks ambition. Far from it. She studied, passed the citizenship test and became the Republic's first Worldborn officer. And today, she not only won a great victory, but showed that her kind can be just as good as Vaultstock.

    The southern gates creak protest as soldiers tug aside the rusted steel. I slip on my fedora, light up a cigarette and together me and Mr. Virgil exit the fort and head down the dirt road towards our waiting speedboat.

    The island's little more than a sliver in the middle of the river, but the soil is fertile. Beyond chain-link fences, laborers in orange jumpsuits swing scythes and tie bundles of wheat. Guards with assault rifles patrol along perimeter platforms. The smell of tilled earth makes me think of the simple life.

    Valerie's parents work on one of these farms. I've never met them before, but they must be very proud. Their daughter is a provisional citizen. Their grandchildren will be allowed to vote.

    "The Mauritiuses, they're assigned to Harrisburg, right?"

    "Indeed, sir," Mr. Virgil says as we allow a brahmin-pulled cart loaded with bushels to pass by. "Should we pay them a visit?"

    "We could. I wonder what I should say, though. 'Congratulations on your daughter's victory'?"

    "That would seem in order. And you do have influence. You could transfer them to less strenuous duties. Perhaps to the University?"

    I lift my hat and scratch my thinning hair. "Domestic servants? It wouldn't be fair to them. They've worked in fields their whole lives. They wouldn't fit in with civilized folk."

    "Valerie would appreciate it," Mr. Virgil says. "I don't think she gets to see them very often."

    I'm about to reply when I hear her shout my name. I turn around to see Valerie jogging towards me. She looks angry and exhausted. She'd probably be red-faced if she wasn't so dark.

    "Do you just ignore your PipBoy?" she demands.

    I glance at my wrist. I almost always keep it muted. As Director of the Advanced Weapons Laboratory, I'm always getting engineering memos and requisition requests and other annoyances. Sure enough, the message light in the corner is flashing.

    "It's from Villard Hall," she says. "I've been ordered to report in."

    "Well, congratulations," I begin.

    "You're coming too," she adds.

    My cigarette droops between my lips. "Me? What did I do?"

    Valerie's laugh is more a snicker.

    "You're one of their chief eggheads," she says. "You being at the capitol makes more sense than me."

    "But the Deans won't be in session for another month!" I hate board meetings. But at least I get to take a boat ride time with Valerie . . .

    "I believe this has something to do with the recent emissaries," Mr. Virgil says.

    Both of us turn to the robot.

    "I didn't inform you, Martin," he says, "because you don't like being bothered by this sort of thing, but I've been monitoring official communiques. It seems the NCR has sent a research team from Vault City. They arrived five hours ago."

    "NCR," I grumble. They're a massive country not far to the south. A lot like the Old United States, and just as flawed. I've never been there, but I hear they have no citizenship tests, no genetic restrictions on entering government. Their leaders are elected by pandering to low-IQ mobs.

    They make us Worldborn Rights activist look bad. At least we maintain standards.

    "They probably just want to kill two birds with one stone," Valerie says bitterly. "Pin a medal on my chest, pat me on the rear and shove me back into the fight. Then you get to deal with whatever the Californians want."

    "Oh, boy," I say deadpan. Even their scientists come across as bullies. They think they can lean on us just because their population's twenty times our size. Well, they may be bigger, but we're smarter.

    Valerie and I walk the rest of the way in silence, which isn't too awkward. We've rarely ever talked. Mr. Virgil keeps jerking one of his eyes towards me expectantly, but I ignore him.

    Corporal Adler and Private Best are waiting at the shore. Adler is a big, scarred man, past his prime but an experienced soldier of the Viking Wars. Best is a mousy waif of a girl with wide urchin eyes and a mischievous grin.

    The speedboat's not some Pre-War rust-bucket, but Republic built. Sleek and shiny and whitewashed. I nestle into one of the leather seats. Mr. Virgil secure's himself into the robot docking station so he looks like a metal octopus toadstool growing from the aft deck.

    Much to my delight, Valerie sits next to me. Her armored hip even touches my own. She tugs off her helmet and adjusts the loose bun of her black, kinky hair.

    Adler raises a graying eyebrow but doesn't say anything. My crush on Valerie isn't as secret as I would like.

    The microfusion motor makes a gentle thrum as we slice through the water. Spray and wind flaps our flag--a yellow 'O' against a green background--nicely on the bow, but they also blast me in the face. I toss my soaked cigarette overboard, wipe my glasses and just barely keep my fedora from blowing away. From her driver's seat, Best locks eyes with me through the rear-view mirror and smirks. I return the good humor with a sheepish grin.

    I really should be more friendly with them. Not just because they're my assigned escorts, but because as a member of the Liberal Genetics Party, it's only right I mingle with those I fight for.

    Both Adler and Best are Worldborn, Army-Class noncitizens. Middling intelligence, but real salt-of-the-earth types. Sixty years ago, their kind wouldn't have been allowed beyond the fences of their farms, no matter how high their IQs. We've made a lot of progress, but there are still those who fought tooth and nail against Valerie's promotion. I doubt this recent victory will change their minds.

    If I'm more sympathetic than most Vaultstock, it's because I know that intelligence doesn't entail moral superiority. Even the most brilliant man can be a beast. But I suppose we all live in the shadow of our fathers' sins.

    The boat trip drags on, and after marshaling my courage, I casually shift in my seat and "accidentally" lean into Valerie--just a bit. Our speed bounces us on the river, and as I watch her I find myself wishing she wasn't wearing her combat armor. Maybe a tank-top instead. With nothing underneath.

    A year or so ago, when she was in the Academy, she used to go swimming all the time in a navy blue two-piece. My heart would hammer and my breath would quicken every time I watched her graceful, glistening movements, and I wanted nothing more than to hold her and caress her and kiss her all over her smooth dark body.

    I never went swimming with her, of course--I'm too pasty and scrawny--but I sometimes sent Mr. Virgil by to take pictures of her with his eye-cameras. I have quite a collection in my room. Mr. Virgil says I'm a pervert, but it's better than nothing.

    We're passing by the Harrisburg farms when I notice something awry. Along both riverbanks, a dozen or so Worldborn laborers crouch in the tall weeds. At first I think they're fishing--which is odd enough, since they're suppose to be behind their fence, working the fields--but instead of fishing poles they raise what look to be rifles.

    Which is impossible. Laborers aren't allowed firearms.

    Valerie shoves me from my seat and jumps on top of me. A muffled explosion rocks us, and I hear Adler grunt in pain. Gunfire crackle fill the air. The motor revs into a high whine, and everything tilts right.

    "What's going on?" I ask, trying to peek over the boat's gunwale. A chunk of wood and aluminum explodes next to my cheek. Valerie smashes my head down to the deck. For such a petite woman, she's very strong.

    "Keep down, you idiot!" she hisses into my ear. Through cracked glasses I see Best slumped against the steering wheel, half her brains gone through a fist-sized exit-wound. From the the passenger's seat Adler returns fire with his assault carbine while behind me Mr. Virgil blazes out red light with his laser arm. Bullets gouge into the robot's metal skin. More punch holes through the hull of our speedboat, which I can tell is veering wildly towards the eastern bank.

    I don't know what else to do, so I shut my eyes and scream.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2015
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  3. Threadmark: Chapter Two
    Chapter Two
    Willamette River, Oregon
    April 11, 2275
    Corporal Adler's carbine rips a staccato rat-a-tat-tat. Mr. Virgil's laser is a hissing sear. Enemy bullets pound into the speedboat's hide while Private Best's corpse on the wheel keeps us turning a right so hard that I fear we'll capsize. Another explosion spits a geyser which soaks us all.

    Still screaming, I try to crane my head to see our attackers, but Valerie presses me down. She can't weigh more than a hundred ten, twenty pounds, tops, but her armor adds a bit. And I'm no supermutant. She shouts curses as I struggle. I've lost my fedora, I think stupidly as I watch water gush through little round holes in the aluminum hull. I wiggle until I can see Mr. Virgil, mounted on the aft deck.

    He wasn't made for combat, and it shows. One of his eye-stalks dangles limply. Smoke fumes from his undercarriage. He's my best friend. He practically raised me. I have to do something. I scrabble in my pockets for my gun.

    The boat bounds across something solid, and we're airborne.

    The crash flings us into a world of slime and weeds. I slam on my back, my brain seeming to bounce into the sky. Gunfire pops sharply from somewhere far away.

    My minds idles and stutters, but then I roll over and see my laser pistol sticking barrel first in the wet earth. I have just enough time to snatch it up before Valerie grabs the scruff of my coat and drags me sliding back to the speedboat, which is now on its side like a giant, partly-sunken clam-shell wall.

    I'm lying down, too discombobulated to act. Beside me Best is sprawled in a pose grotesquely seductive. Adler is leaning against the now-sideways driver's seat, his right arm bent in ways it shouldn't. Mud streaks his confused face. Valerie crouches with her 9mm sidearm in a double grip.

    Fire from the far bank continues to plink through the hull, but at least they can't see us. Those on our side of the river, however, I can hear shouting as they close in.

    By the boat's bow a ragged man with a hunting rifle rises from the tall grass and charges. Valerie fires a half dozen shots, and he falls. Two more take his place. She empties the clip into them both. The one still standing staggers, but raises a lever-action rifle.

    Oh, right. I have a laser.

    I've always found energy weapons easy to shoot. No recoil, and even if you miss, you just wobbled the beam until you hit what you want. Coherent, blazing red light sets the man's burlap clothes aflame. He drops his gun and flails back screaming, but as his tunic smolders and curls black, I see the shiny metal breastplate beneath, warping with heat. I focus on his head instead, which after a half-second bursts with crimson steam.

    I freeze as the headless body goes down. I've never killed a man before. The smell is sickening.

    Valerie lunges forward, grabs Adler's carbine and sprays suppressive fire at any upcoming shooters before retreating back behind the boat's bow. Keeping low in the mud, I crawl over Best's body to get to Valerie. Adler's between us. He seems half-asleep. One of his pupils is more dilated than the other. I tug him down so he's lying prone. The cushioned seat where he'd just been leaning pops yellow stuffing as a bullet passes.

    "Call for help!" I cry over the gunshots.

    But she's already shouting into her PipBoy's mic. She waits, and then repeats her message. But over the tiny speaker comes only eerily howling white noise. She tries the boat's radio. Same thing.

    "They're jamming us," I say in disbelief. From the metal armor I know these must be Wolves. And Wolves are savages. Savages shouldn't be able to do this.

    Valerie reloads and looks about skittishly, the whites of her eyes wide and bright in her dark face. There may be a dozen or more of them out there, and she's already fought one battle today. She's about cashed out.

    I gaze into the mud and think. The one with what was probably grenades must on the river's far bank because otherwise we'd be dead. But the enemy on our side have got us pinned down. They don't have us surrounded yet--all the shots have come from the north--but they know their window's closing. Soon they'll have to flank us and start lobbing explosives.

    On the other hand, Harrisburg's river patrol can't be more than a few miles away. They just need to know we're here.

    As always with me, the answer comes like a bolt in darkness.

    I pull pliers from my lab coat and crawl back over Best to the stern. The boat's radio antenna is snapped in half, but it'll have to do. After I unscrew it, I open the engine compartment and disconnect the H-cell microfusion battery. Big as a ham-set and as heavy as an anvil, it nearly snaps my wrist as it plops from its housing into the mud. I'm already turning around to ask Mr. Virgil for his internal oscillator when I realize he's not here.

    My gut sinks. Where's Mr. Virgil?

    I've lost my glasses, but I can still spot the ball of scrap up the slope of the bank, by a barbwire fence. The crash must have flung him from his docking port. I force myself not to panic. His neural network's pretty deep in his chassis. As long as it's intact, he's alive.

    Valerie leans out as she unleashes a burst. A return volley splashes tiny craters in the mud by her feet. She winces as something deflects off her green ceramic plates. "What are you doing?" she snaps.

    "Counter-counter measures. It's called signal agility. We boost our transmitting power and switch frequencies until we find a weak spot in their jamming spectrum. We won't be able to receive, but we may be able to broadcast." I scamper beside Valerie, tug wires loose from the boat's set and add, "I need to go get a part from Virgil. I need you to cover me."

    She regards me with blank perplexity, as if seeing me for the first time, and then steals another glance out beyond the bow. "No, I'll go," she says finally. "Tell me what you need."

    I'm about to argue, but practicality trumps chivalry. She's wearing the combat armor, after all.

    I pass her my priers and I quickly tell her how to open Mr. Virgil's dorsal maintenance panel and remove his oscillator. While she listens, she takes road flares from a supply chest and tosses them around the boat. The tall grass is wet, but the bright magnesium torches soon throw up a thin veil of gossamer smoke. I watch one of the men she shot earlier thrash and moan weakly as small spreading flames envelope him.

    Gripping Best under the arms, Valerie awkwardly drags the body over the now-unconscious Adler and props it by the bow, resting the neck against the nub of the snapped flagpole. She motions me over.

    "Keep behind her. You don't have to hit anything. Just keep them down. I'll be right back."

    I crouch almost in the lap of the corpse, superstitiously fearful of its dead eyes. With no preamble, Valerie sprints through smoldering grass and up the bank. The gunfire gets excited. I timidly lean from cover and shoot my laser in their direction. Smoke and my nearsightedness imbues randomness to my aim.

    I spare a peek at Valerie, afraid I'll see her head pop like Best's. By the fence, she ducks behind Mr. Virgil's shattered form.

    I continue firing. The red light decoheres through the smoke, but I have the satisfaction of seeing a blurry figure run as the fogged beam passes over his head. Valerie may be right about the pitfalls of lasers, but despite their shortcomings, they make excellent terror weapons.

    The burning foliage stings my throat, so I hunch down and keep my head low, not even looking as I hold out my arm and pull the trigger. Best's slumped torso sashays as bullets slam into her back armor. Fear is a funny thing. I've been afraid since the ambush began, but only now do I realize we might not get out of this. We could die on this muddy shore and Valerie would never know how I feel about her.

    But I have little time to reflect on this. I'm slapping a fresh charge into my pistol when Valerie races back down the slope. She grabs her thigh and nearly slips, but makes it to the boat and hands me the small gray box, dimpled on the side with vacuum tube diodes.

    I waste no time. I plug the oscillator into the side of my PipBoy and use the wires from the radio to attach it to the battery and the broken antenna. Valerie doesn't even question what I'm doing. She may have a near-genius IQ, but she's no engineer. She lays down fire with my laser.

    A simple signal has a better chance to break through, so instead of speaking, I use Morse: S-O-S-A-M-B-U-S-H-N-H-B-U-R-G.

    Perhaps two minutes go by as I tap out the message again and again, my world receding to a finger on a button. Then Valerie knocks me down and shouts, "Molotov!"

    Glass breaks. There's a whoosh. By the bow the smoking grass erupts into an inferno which even across several feet nips through my damp lab coat. Valerie grabs my scruff and drags me behind the stern, tearing my PipBoy loose from its connections. She runs back and drags Adler to safety before standing upright with her laser at the ready. I huddle behind her and peek over her shoulder at the wall of flames that's already consuming Best's body. The humid air reeks of burning wood alcohol and flesh.

    Valerie shoots a couple of blasts down the keel-side of the boat. Enemy bullets ricochet off the boat's twin propeller blades, which spin from the impacts. Any second, a second firebomb will crash at our feet. I hug Valerie from behind, and in her ear whisper, "I love you."

    She stiffens. A buzz-saw rips the air. This is it, I think. But the screeching continues, and yet we're still in one piece. Then we see the patrol boat pass us by.

    The soldier manning its bow-mounted Minigun swivels slowly as he strafes the bank. Along the gunwale, a half dozen others fire assault rifles. Across the water there's another, more blurry boat engaging the Wolves on the other side. Over the crackle comes screams of the dying.

    It's over quickly. We're safe. Inches from my face, the back bun of Valerie's hair carries an intoxicating musk over the nightmare smells of battle. I laugh giddily and bury my nose into the kinky blackness.

    "Uh, Dr. Polakowski," says Valerie slowly.

    "Oh, Sorry." Reluctantly, I withdraw my arms from the cold, mud-streaked contours of her combat armor and step away.

    ---

    Mr. Virgil looks like a smashed mechanical cephalopod, but it's not as bad as it could be. His voice modulator is shot, but his remaining eye-stalk twitches as he watches me kneel beside him. I pat his bent hull reassuringly before stepping back down the bank. The Republic has a large cache of Mr. Handy parts. I'll fix him up in no time.

    The medic has already bound Adler's arm and shot him with a stimpak. I watch as his stretcher is carried onto the deck of the patrol boat. A prisoner--the lone survivor among the enemy--is dragged aboard behind him. He was screaming about 'freedom' and 'death to slavers' before the soldiers had the good sense to gag him.

    I myself saw the tattooed barcode on his forearm. He's not a Wolf. He's one of our laborers. All of them were.

    Well, that's ingratitude for you. Here I am, fighting to give them more rights, and they go and pull a stupid stunt like this. But I guess I can't be too angry with them. Having inferior intellects, they're more easily led astray by foreign propaganda.

    I ask a private for a cigarette, and as he lights me up I wonder who put the workers up to it. Their metal armor suggests Wolves, but I wouldn't be surprised if the NCR was behind it. That'd just be like them, sow discontent before an invasion. Either way, the prisoner will tell us. Our interrogators are top-notch. They'll have ways of making him talk.

    It takes a while for the patrol to prepare. Mr. Virgil's no lightweight, so four of them have to carry him pallbearer-style. Another soldier snaps photographs of the carnage, even taking one of me beside the wrecked speedboat. I pose with as much dignity as I can muster, though my white lab coat looks as if it'd been soaked in brahmin dung.

    I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn around. Valerie hands me my laser

    "Thanks," I mutter, slipping it into my coat.

    She gives me a tired smile. A bandage is wrapped around her knee, but thanks to her armor it's little more than a nasty bruise.

    "You did good," she says. "We'd be dead if you hadn't thought of that radio trick."

    I try to shrug nonchalantly. "Ah, golly, it was nothing. I didn't even know it was going to work. But I had to try something and, uh . . ." Puffing my smoke, I grin nervously and rub my wet hair, trying not to be too self-conscious over how bald I must look. "Look, about what I said . . ."

    She holds up a thin, long-fingered hand "It's cool. I know you have a crush on me. You haven't exactly been subtle about it. But you're really, really not my type. So . . . consider yourself friend-zoned."

    I can't say I'm exactly surprised. All her boyfriends have been big tall black guys.

    "So, you're saying we can be friends?"

    She blinks. "Sure."

    "I can settle for that," I say cheerfully. And in the meantime I can work my subtle charm: follow her everywhere, do everything she tells me, and just be an all around nice guy. That's sure to win her over.

    And complimenting her couldn't hurt.

    "Anyway," I go on, "I may have helped out, but you're the real hero. And twice in one day! I know it seems like bad luck, but by gum, you sure came through!"

    She frowns. "I don't think luck has anything to do with it. They didn't set up an ambush with jammers just to shoot up a random boat. You were on board. And without you, half the Republic's ray guns and robots would break down."

    I look at the wreckage and charred grass and the dead bodies strewn down the bank. I'd assumed the Wolves were attacking because that's what Wolves do, and I was just in the wrong place in the wrong time. I think of Best. That bullet that emptied her brains was meant for me.

    "Oh," I say.

    She kneels and picks my glasses out of the mud. She uses her thumb to wipe the cracked lenses before passing them to me and saying, "Yeah, 'Oh.' But hey, they tried to kill you and failed. If I were you, I'd call that a good day."

    The boat ride to Eugene is long but thankfully uneventful.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2015
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  4. Threadmark: Chapter Three
    Chapter Three
    Willamette River, Oregon
    April 11, 2275
    It's been a rough day. My nerves are shot. I sit on the bench by the patrol boat's gunwale, my view of the brown river partly fractured by my cracked glasses. The muggy air is made worse by my muddy wet lab coat, but at least an evening breeze cools through my thin, damp hair. The captain offers a smoke, and as he lights it trembles in my hand. This must be what they call, 'post-combat shakes.' I never thought I'd get that. I wish I had my diazepam tablets.

    Along the east bank we pass the jagged brick and steel ruins of Pre-War Harrisburg. From behind the barbed wire fence of the city's inhabited zones, herds of jumpsuited workers watch us warily. How many of them want me dead?

    The captain pushes up his green Republic Patrol cap and squats by my side. He's clean shaved, his face tight with sun-blasted vigor.

    He sips from his mug and as if reading my mind says, "Don't worry, sir. We'll sort the Wolves from the sheep."

    "The Worldborn aren't sheep," I reply tersely. I peek at Valerie to make sure she heard, hoping I scored points for defending her kind. But across the deck I see her sitting, staring dog-tired out at the trees of the west bank, and I doubt she's paying attention. My comment wasn't purely for her benefit, however. Aside from the captain, the whole crew of seven is Worldborn.

    "It's just a saying, sir. But the Wolves are turning them against us," says the captain.

    "Only a few," I say. "Most Worldborn are good, decent, salt-of-the-earth types. It's only the mental defectives that are being led astray."

    "'Mental defectives' can't operate jamming equipment, sir. Mental defectives know their place." The captain leans close and I smell coffee on his breath. His whisper carries almost subliminally over the motors' thrum. "If you ask me, it's the smart ones we have to worry about." And with that, he gives Valerie a knowing glance.

    I want to sock him in the mouth, but I keep my voice low. I don't want Valerie knowing what her peers think of her.

    "Lieutenant Mauritius is a hero," I say bitingly. "She defended Fort Kriger. She saved my life!"

    The captain nods. "Which means she thinks she's as good as us. How long before she thinks, 'It's not fair that my mom and dad are stuck grubbing on a farm. Why can't they be citizens too?' And soon that'll lead to: 'Why does any Worldborn have to be penned up? Why can't we be like the NCR?' And then those Wolves will whisper in her ear, and the next thing you know, her and her kind will be storming Villard Hall."

    I glare at him. I'm the Director of the Advanced Weapons Laboratory; my IQ is 161. He's a patrol boat captain; his IQ probably isn't much above 130. A few well placed words and I could sink his career. On the other hand, he did save our bacon.

    "I'll take that under advisement," I say coldly and turn away. He shakes his head and returns to the bridge.

    Nursing my cigarette, I watch Valerie. She's taking deep sips from a Vault 9 canteen, her slender brown throat pulsing with every swallow. When she notices my stare, she gives a weary half-smile and gestures with the flask. I nod, and she closes it and tosses it underhanded. When I fumble the catch, her laugh is a grinning sneeze, white teeth gleaming in a dark face.

    I pick it off the deck, open its neck and peer inside. Germs are in there. Valerie's germs. I drink the warm water greedily.

    Though she's always tried to downplay it, she's the darling of the Liberal Genetics Party: an intelligent Worldborn with no family history of mutations. She's made me proud. Her bravery today has advanced the cause.

    But the captain's words rankle in my brain. I imagine Valerie probably does wish her parents could be citizens, but surely she knows that's unfeasible. They're modestly-intelligent laborers; if we made exceptions for them, then we might as well give citizenship to every Worldborn. And then who would do all the work?

    I consider asking her what she thinks, but no. We're officially friends today. I don't want to risk that. And besides, I know her loyalty to the Republic is unshakable.

    ***
    It's nearly nightfall by the time we reach the docks outside the University of Oregon. People call the campus 'the city within the city,' and that's a fair enough description, though the surrounding ruins of Eugene are largely uninhabited. None of the bombs hit here directly, but two hundred years of exposure and scavenging have left the former metropolis little more than a sprawl of hulled-out derelicts.

    The University is a bastion of civilization in the center of all that mess. It's stately halls are well maintained, its lawns and gardens well manicured. In its dormitories live over three thousand citizens, the vast majority the descendants of Vault 9. I am one of them. This is my home.

    Valerie and I step off the boat onto the wood planks of the dock. Behind us the crew carry Corporal Adler to an ambulance. The wrecked Mr. Virgil they load into a pickup truck, where he'll be driven to my laboratory at Cascade Hall. I feel a pang of guilt for not repairing the Mr. Handy unit right away--he's my best friend, after all--but I know I'm too tuckered out to do it properly. He's currently switched off, so it's not like he'll be stuck waiting. And besides, I still have that meeting with the NCR team.

    The vehicles' microfusion engines hum faintly as they drive away. The halogen lamppost above shines too bright for my eyes, and so as we walk down the dock I don't realize at first that the figure standing at the end is my Aunt Aimee.

    When Valerie recognizes her, she jolts to attention and salutes. "Lieutenant Mauritius, reporting for debriefing, ma'am."

    "At ease, lieutenant," my aunt says. "Report to the Collier Infirmary. You look like you've had a bad day. They'll look you over. You can debrief to Major Dahl."

    Valerie looks surprised. I too thought we'd go to Villard Hall together. "Yes, ma'am!" she says finally.

    "And lieutenant?"

    "Ma'am?"

    "You did good work today. You held the fort and brought my nephew back in one piece. Thank you. I have a feeling we'll be adding a second bar to that insignia of yours."

    Valerie manages a weak smile. "Yes, ma'am. Thank you, ma'am."

    Aunt Aimee is smiling too, but it looks stiff on her lined face. Something's bothering her.

    As Valerie walks slowly, nearly limping out of the light, I consider running up and giving her a goodbye hug. Not just as an excuse to put my hands on her--even if only through her combat armor--but also because she looks like she needs it. Her day was worse than mine. But I hesitate, and then she's far enough away that it'd be weird. And besides, I don't want her to think I'm a pervert.

    Instead, I say, "Good night, Lieutenant! And thanks again!"

    In the darkness of the University lawn, she turns and waves languidly. "See you later, Dr. Polakowski. I would say it's been fun, but . . ."

    "Call me Marty," I say.

    She laughs a little and nods. "All right, then, Marty. You can call me Val. Good night."

    When Valerie is out of earshot, Aunt Aimee turns to me. Her nose is an aquiline beak. Her fierce brown eyes are penetrating like a hawk's.

    "Why on Earth did you go to Kriger?" she snaps. "You're one of our chief scientists. We don't need you risking yourself in the field doing grease-monkey repairs. That's what your techs are for. You know, the people who work under you!"

    "Gee, Auntie Am, I just wanted to--"

    My aunt scowls in the direction where Valerie went, though the shine from the lamppost now fogs her from sight.

    "It was because of her," my aunt says accusingly. "No, don't lie. I've heard all about your little crush, and I saw how you were just then. What do you expect will come of this? Do you want to marry her? Ha! Wouldn't that be something? Polluting your genes with some jumped up farm girl."

    I stare at my aunt, horrified. I know she's a traditionalists, but this is too much. "But Auntie Am, she's a citizen! She passed the IQ test!"

    "If you call a 132 'passing.' Three points lower and she'd be an Army-Class enlistee." She grips the muddy sleeve of my lab coat and tugs. "Come on, let's get you to Villard. We don't want to keep the Deans waiting. Now, anyway, Mauritius is a clever girl and a good soldier--and don't get me wrong: I think she's earned her citizenship. Barely. But she's also made powerful enemies today."

    "Wait, what?" I say. "She's a hero! She saved my life!"

    My aunt looks at me askance, with a hint of a smirk. "From what I understand, you had a hand in that. That counter-jamming you did was quick thinking, by the way. But anyway, there are a few among the Deans that were hoping she'd lose the fort. I know, it's crazy, but they really want to discredit the whole idea of Worldborn officers. But she won, so now they're going to redouble their efforts to get rid of her."

    "Pure Vaulters," I say. They're a party of political dinosaurs. Fringe, but they still swing their weight. "I spoke with one on the boat,"

    She nods. "The military's full of them. Poor girl's going to be watched like a hawk. Best thing for her would be to disappear for a while."

    We both go silent as we cross the cracked, Pre-War asphalt of the Riverfront Bridge. A nighttime fog has rolled in, blurring the slowly sweeping spotlights of distant sentry towers. Two guards on the bridge's far end stand to attention as we pass. Both my aunt and I nod our appreciation. The Wolves are sneaky; even here in the capitol, we must remain vigilant.

    That's a maxim Aunt Aimee has recently taken to heart. Since her promotion to colonel, she's done a lot to bolster the Republic's defenses, mostly overseeing the renovation of old forts and the laying down of mine fields. It's not work she enjoys.

    In her prime, she led soldiers in both Viking Wars. She's got a lot of ribbons and tin on her forest green jacket, but I think earning all that undid her. She won battles, but became known for recklessness. The Deans don't like 'reckless,' so they reassigned her to what amounted to desk duty. Also, they never forgave or forgot what she did during the manhunt for Dr. Julian Manfredi--my father.

    When I was three, my father caught my mother in bed with another man. He beat her to death. It was a crime of passion, but my mother was well liked; my father had many rivals. The court sentenced him to death by lethal injection. My father escaped the next day.

    Aunt Aimee was real close to her sister, and against orders stormed off with her company to track him down. A lead told her some Worldborn were behind his jail break and this led her to a nearby plantation. From what I understand, she questioned the farmhands harshly. Too harshly. Some didn't survive. I'm not sure of all the details, but the Deans launched an investigation. She was nearly court marshaled.

    It was all for nothing, though, because she never found him. No one did. My father has been missing for twenty-three years.

    No big loss there, I guess, but my mother is someone I wish I knew. I don't remember her at all, but between my grandparents and Aunt Aimee, I know I would not only have loved her, but liked her as well. This isn't quite the case with my aunt: I love her, but I hesitate to say I 'like' her. She can be a bit of a witch sometimes.

    When we finally reach the wrought iron gates of the capitol building, Aunt Aimee and I are discussing my frequently submitted idea for building dirigibles.

    "But Auntie Am, they'd be untouchable! How can they shoot down things that are a half mile in the air? We can bomb the Wolves and Vikings back to the Stone Age! And the NCR! They won't be able to push us around anymore. Yes, I know, they have vertibirds, but only a few. And we can put lasers on our airships and, Bzzt! them out of the sky!"

    My aunt makes that familiar groan that lets me know what she thinks of that. It's a moot point, since both the President and the Deans had shot down the proposal eight times. Not enough resources, they say. Anyway, I drop the subject because mentioning the lasers makes me think of that assassin's head exploding. I did that. I killed him. The memory of that cooked meat smell heaves my stomach a bit.

    We climb the marble steps. Guards open the ancient oaken doors. We step inside, cross the well-furnished vestibule and enter the long hallway beyond.

    Above, ornate brass fixtures flicker a yellow light that filters through the ubiquitous dust that permeates the air. Portraits of long-dead Presidents, Deans and Directors watch us from ornately carved frames which hang evenly spaced along the floral-wallpapered walls. A protectron robot standing in an alcove swivels as we pass--a single reminder of modernity. Villard Hall dates to the late nineteenth century, nearly four hundred years ago, and possess the same musty gravitas that other old, stately buildings seem to share.

    Such as my lab. That is my true home. I wish I was there and not here.

    My aunt has to review some munition production reports, but before she leaves me she says I should clean up first. After all, it wouldn't do for the Director of the Advanced Weapons Laboratory to go before the Deans looking like he lost a fight with a septic tank. Especially not in front of some smug NCR scientists.

    I make a call on my Pipboy, and in the Hall's locker room take a quick shower. By the time I get out, a servant's left me a pack of cigarettes, my spare glasses and a fresh change of clothes to replace my mud-soaked ones. After a few minutes of worrying over my hair to make it look thicker, I decide I'm ready. Just a one stupid meeting, and then I can turn in to bed.

    The Dean's boardroom is in a sub-basement, but still above the Vault. The old elevator car creaks worrying as it descends, and then the doors open. I walk down another hallway, turn a corner. Two guards with tri-beam laser rifles step aside to allow me to enter.

    The room's well lit and bigger than you'd expect for being underground. Especially now, since it's surprisingly empty.

    President Cage, looking as jovially decrepit as ever, sits stooped at the end of the long, wooden table, alone except for my grandpa, the Chairman of the Deans sitting beside him.

    As I smile and wave to my grandpa, I notice the redheaded lady already standing by my side.

    "Ah, Director Polakowski," the president says in his old man warble. "So glad you could join us. I understand there was a bit of an incident along the Willamette. Oh, my, yes. Hee, hee. But I'm glad you've emerged unharmed . . ."

    But I'm barely paying attention. My eyes are on the lady. I guess she's a few years younger than me, maybe twenty, twenty-one. She's a real cute package, with a bob of orange-red hair framing a heart-shaped face sprinkled with little gold freckles. Behind her narrow horn rim glasses her wide eyes are a striking green flecked with brown that reminds me of the University's forest gardens in early autumn. Beneath her lab coat, her vault-blue jumpsuit is tight enough to show off round breasts and ample curves.

    I'm staring at her. The president's still talking.

    ". . . an envoy from the NCR."

    The lady gives me an adorable overbite grin. I try and fail not to blush. She holds out a hand, and an awkward moment passes before I remember to take it. Her grip is surprisingly firm.

    "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Director Polakowski," the lady says in a melodious Californian accent. "I'm Dr. Peaceman, from Vault City. We need your help."
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2015
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  5. Threadmark: Chapter Four
    Chapter Four
    Eugene, Oregon
    April 11, 2275​

    "My help?" I ask.

    I turn from Dr. Peaceman to my grandpa, and he offers one of his crinkled grins, though it looks strained around the edges. His baggy eyes carry a hangdog droop that tells me he's not sleeping.

    "Pull up a chair, Marty," he says, "This may take a while."

    I take a seat beside him, and Dr. Peaceman sits across from me. There's a coffee urn on the oak boardroom table, and she pours herself a mug and holds it to her broad pink lips. Her green eyes meet my own and seem to twinkle with mischief through her glasses and the rising steam. I tug nervously at my tie. She's gorgeous and looks smart too--and if she's from Vault City, she may even be Vaultstock. But she also represents the NCR. She's the enemy.

    "Well, shall we begin?" President Cage asks pleasantly.

    "Yes, lets," Dr. Peaceman says and leans to her side. I hear the hearty clicks of a briefcase unlatching, and she rises with three heavy manila folders. As she stands to slide one to me, my grandpa and the president, I note her blue vaultsuit is slightly unzipped, displaying a tantalizing view when she bends forward. I try not to be too obvious as I crane my head for a better peek, but my grandpa elbows me in the ribs. Reluctantly, I turn my attention to my folder.

    The cover is blazoned diagonally with the single red word, "SECRET," over the two-headed bear crest of the NCR. Opening to the first page, I read: PROJECT OSIRIS. Wasn't that name from Greek mythology?

    Dr. Peaceman remains standing as she addresses us. "Under 'CORTA,' the 2269 Californian-Oregonian Research Trade Agreement, I am sharing with you this scientific data, though I advise that this is classified and should not be shared with your nation's general public."

    "Go on," my grandpa urges.

    Dr. Peaceman gives me a knowing smile. "Director Polakowski, what are your thoughts on the VED Theory?"

    I stare at her and say, "Excuse me?"

    "The Vacuum Energy Displacement Theory. What are your thoughts on it?"

    My opinion of her drops a few pegs. I understood her the first time, but she may as well have asked me my thoughts on Grognak the Barbarian for all its scientific relevancy.

    "It's a hypothesis, not a theory," I say more sharply than I intended. "It's also bunk."

    She's unfazed. "I read your paper on it. It's part of CORTA's library."

    "I was sixteen. When I was thirteen, I tried to detect ghosts on a tape recorder. Have you read that paper too?"

    "I have." Her smile wrinkles her button nose. "I found it adorable, but that's not why I'm here. I represent a Vault City-based laboratory working under contract for the NCR government. We are very interested in VED, both in your work on the theory and the work of your father."

    Even without looking, I can almost feel my grandpa bristle beside me. He's a gentle, loving man, but unsurprisingly has few nice things to say about his daughter's murderer. I scowl at the girl; cute redhead or not, she's tearing open old wounds.

    "Dr. Manfredi is no father to me," I say curtly. "Notice we don't share last names."

    She pauses, her expression somewhat pensive. "Yet you still carried on his research," she says.

    She's got me there. That's still a sore spot between my grandfather and me.

    "Carried. As in past tense," I say.

    At the end of the table, our president raises his frail hand as if he were an octogenarian schoolboy. "Oh, dear," he says. "I hate to be a bother, but my field is botany, not physics. Would someone be so kind as to tell me what this 'VED' is?"

    "Your packet explains it better than I can," Dr. Peaceman begins, "but--"

    "It's baloney, Mr. President," I say, cutting her off. "My fa--Dr. Manfredi came up with a hypothesis for exploiting flaws in Planck-scale spacetime spin geometries. Conceivably, it'd allow the creation of temporal displacement wormholes. For a while I tinkered with it. It looks fancy on paper, but it makes a whole heap of unfalsifiable assumptions. Oh, and to test it, we'd need a particle collider the size of the Solar System."

    "Project Osiris is not quite so ambitious," Dr. Peaceman replies dryly. "We're more interested in a lower-scale application. Namely, energy."

    "Energy," I repeat. It's stupid, but I'm a little disappointed. A time machine would have been neat.

    "We are facing a crisis, gentleman," she says, maybe overly dramatically. "We've accomplished much in the last two hundred years, but fossil fuels are depleted, uranium is rare and microfusion cells are getting harder to recharge or rebuild. In a few decades, too many parts will wear out, and we'll slump into another dark age--one of which we may never recover."

    "But a workable VED generator--" I protest.

    "Read the packet. It explains everything." A bit of impatience bordering on mania slips into her tone. "You 'tinkered' with your father's work? Well, the Project Osiris Team has tinkered with yours. A vacuum-energy generator is feasible with current technology, and once it's complete both our nations will be drawing clean, cheap, unlimited energy literally out of nowhere."

    "Background quantum fluctuations, actually," I mutter.

    Aside from periodic summary pages, the packet's comprised of research papers, diagrams, preliminary experiment results and a few photographs of half constructed machinery.

    "All right, I'm a little impressed," I say. "But what does it have to do with me?"

    "You're not going to like this, Marty," says my grandpa.

    "We'd like to have copies all of your and your father's notes on VED . . ." Dr. Peaceman says.

    "You can have them. I don't care," I say quickly.

    ". . . and the honor of your presence."

    "Well, I'm here, so--wait, you don't mean . . . ? No, oh no!"

    "They need you in Vault City," the president says, giving me a saggy grin.

    My nerves jam up. I feel clammy. I've never been outside the Republic, and I imagine myself lost in those southern badlands where bandits, ghouls and supermutants roam around killing and eating each other. And that's not to mention whatever hidden crooked plots the NCR has cooked up.

    "But . . . but I'm the Director of the Advanced Weapons Lab!" I cry. "And today I was nearly assassinated! It's too dangerous! And I'm too important! Auntie Am said so!"

    I glower at the foreign witch. "I know what this is! This is a trap! You want to lure me down there so your goons can put the screws to me, force me to spill what I know about lasers and robots!"

    "Marty, calm down," my grandpa says, putting a hand on my shoulder. "If we thought for a moment that's what they intended to do, you know I'd never let you go."

    "But why me?" I ask.

    Dr. Peaceman pushes up her glasses and sighs. She gives me a placating smile, revealing teeth and emphasizing her overbite. Her hands she clasps in front of her as if reassuring a child.

    "Because you're brilliant, Director Polakowski. With the possible exception of your father, no one's more familiar with VED than you. The head of our project has requested that you be assigned as a technical adviser. We wouldn't dream of harming you. We're not like that." Her smile grows warm and almost pleading. "And I may be biased, but I think you'll like Vault City. It's not too different than this University."

    Except it's under the paw of the two-headed bear, I think. Vault City used to be like the Republic of Oregon, with its Vaultstock citizens benevolently ruling over the poor, unfortunate Worldborn. Now it was just another dot on the NCR's ever-expanding map.

    My grandpa coughs. She seems to take this as a cue, saying, "Anyway, I'm sure you all have things to discuss. Mr. President, Mr. Chairman, thank you for accepting my proposal. And Director Polakowski, we may have gotten off on the wrong foot, but I hope to win you over yet."

    When I say nothing, she turns and leaves. The guards close the door behind her.

    "I won't go," I say.

    "I'm afraid you have to," my grandpa says. "She made us an offer we can't refuse."

    "And what's that?" I snap.

    "The NCR's agreed to help us with our Wolf problem," the president explains, as if it's the most sensible solution in the world. "One of their mechanized companies is already on its way."

    I stare at the old fool in horror. "Don't you see what they'll do? Oh, they'll get rid of the Wolves all right, and then they'll raise their flag over Villard Hall!"

    My grandpa sighs. "We hope that doesn't happen. But even if it does, that's better than the Wolves busting through the gates and butchering us. And believe me, without NCR intervention, that's what'll happen. We can't win on our own."

    In my darker moments I've thought the same thing, but hearing him say it is like a punch in the gut.

    "All right, we may not be winning," I admit. "But we're also not losing, either. Just today, Valerie--I mean Lieutenant Mauritius defended Fort Kiger. We're holding the line!"

    "That's not enough, Marty," my grandpa says sadly. "We might kill ten of them for every one of us, but that matters little if they outnumber us a hundred to one. And every year they get more organized and more migrate south."

    "So we're going to be a puppet state like Vault City?"

    "We'll try to protect our autonomy, but if we can't win against the Wolves, the NCR are . . ." My grandpa trails off and chuckles bitterly. He's not as old as the president--and he's certainly aged better--but seeing him now, he looks downright feeble. He shakes his head and continues, "A United States president once advised that a nation should, 'Speak softly and carry a big stick.' That's the NCR, Marty. They're huge; their standing army is bigger than our entire population. They could have crushed us decades ago, and some of them wanted to. But that's not their way. They act friendly and wait for an opportunity to move in. And I'm afraid that opportunity has come."

    I'm speechless. I never realized we were so helpless. With my ideas of bombing the NCR with dirigibles, I never concerned myself with the bigger picture, but I see now that such an attack would only make them really sore at us. And then they'd just build dirigibles of their own. And they could build a whole lot more than we can. Even with lasers, we'd lose.

    The president's shrug is surreal, like seeing an actor briefly wink out of character. "Things change," he says placidly. "There's nothing to be done for it."

    "So you're going to ship me south to help them make a perpetual motion machine?"

    "Marty," my grandpa says, "we'd send you to them if they wanted you to catch moonbeams in a butterfly net. And stop worrying! The NCR's civilized, even if it is run by Worldborn. And you're safer there than here, anyway. The Wolves don't have agents in California."

    "Well, I guess so," I say uncertainly.

    "So, will you go without making a fuss? Will you make us proud?" my grandpa asks.

    I fumble a bit as I light a cigarette. I take a deep drag. It's lousy I don't have a choice, but I guess my grandpa makes some good points. And it makes sense the NCR would want someone as smart as me on their team. And that Dr. Peaceman girl is a cutie.

    I exhale and say, "Ah, shucks, I'll go. I'll show them what an Oregonian scientist can do!"

    "That's my boy," he says and then sighs. "And I'm sorry, Marty, that you have to be dragged into this. Try to think of it as a vacation."

    My walk back to the Advanced Weapons Laboratory is a long one. It's late enough that my scientists and technicians have already gone home, so when I unlock the barred glass doors to Cascade Hall and enter the massive front chamber of the workshop, I'm all alone. The lights are off, but the overcast full moon shines enough through the windows that I can make my way to my rooms in the back.

    Along tables and shelves, the parts and half-assembled chassis of protectrons, sentry-bots and various laser weaponry give mechanical contours to the shadows. I stop by the battered octopus shape of Mr. Virgil and pat his metal skin. I'm taking him with me, of course. We'll have an adventure, though hopefully not like the one earlier this afternoon.

    I brush my teeth, rinse and gulp down two diazepam tablets to take the edge off. I change into my pajamas and then go lie in my bed and amuse myself with one of my Cat's Paw magazines.

    I suppose, in a roundabout way, it's my fault I'm being exiled. When I was a teenager, I wanted to know who I was, where I came from. I'd been told my father was just a scientist who strangled his wife and ran away, but that wasn't enough. I dug into the work he left behind and came across his notes on Vacuum Energy Displacement.

    Wormholes. Time travel. And the math worked. I felt like I'd unearthed a lost treasure, and for the first time I saw my father as a something other than a nebulous monster. I built on his work and wrote my own paper. This was my calling. I grew obsessed.

    When my grandparents found out, they were disappointed. In their eyes, I'd betrayed them by respecting the work of their daughter's murderer. I felt pretty lousy after that and dropped the research. It was crackpot theory anyway, an intellectual sand trap. Soon after, I changed my last name to that of my mother's.

    But now that research is coming back to bite me. If I'd never found those notes and wrote that paper, this lady would never have showed up, and I could stay sequestered in the Republic until I died a senile old coot like our president.

    I'm too distracted to enjoy the magazine, even though one of the girls looks like Valerie. Today's been rough. I feel restless.

    A little scotch does the trick, especially mixed with my nerve pills. Soon I'm nestled in my sheets and falling asleep. Tomorrow is another day.
    ---

    All right, next up: Weaver and Jinx, Chapter Four
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2015
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  6. Simonbob

    Simonbob

    Location:
    Austrlia
    I like this.

    Ok, he's a bigoted guy, with the usual unthinking assumptions, but it's still a nice story. I assume that Valerie will be sent as his bodyguard?
     
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  7. Thanks. I tried to make Martin at least somewhat likable, though he's basically a man-child living in a privileged bubble.

    That's a safe bet. So far I've tried to give the story the feel of a RPG, what with introducing the 'party members' and setting up his 'quest.'
     
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