22 September 2277: Project Purity
Dead super mutants can get mighty fragrant after a few days, so while Ernie snuck off to check that none had either come back to life, or attracted vengeful mourners, I decided to get some background information to pass the time. Haines Senior was too busy pacing in circles to talk, so I asked a rather grumpy-looking Dr Li.
"Is he always this bit between the teeth?" asks I.
"Who – James?" she looks surprised. "He's... very... driven. Determined to change the world. Well, we all were back then, I suppose." And she shrugs, in a sort of tired, worn-out way.
"He was focused on two things, really. Making Project Purity work, and Catherine. When she died, I think..." and she looks away, then back at me, "I think he gave up. I know he wanted to keep his son safe, but I think part of what he did was run away. But it seems that he never really was able to get over the idea. I'm frankly shocked that he waited all this time, and wants to try again."
And she frowns. "Almost like he hasn't grown up in the last twenty years."
So I tell her what I'd gleaned about his time trapped in Braun's dream world. And her eyes go wide, and by the time I'd finished I'd got a little crowd. "So that's what happened," breathes she, "but if he's right, and he hasn't, well..."
I get her meaning. Being trapped for who knows how long in some sort of mechanical version of Vaermina's realm can't be good for you. There's stories about a wizard who stole something of hers and is stuck in eternal nightmare. Not nice.
"What about you though?" asks I, "How'd you end up working in Rivet City?"
"I'm not sure what there is to tell," shrugs she. "I grew up north of here in Canterbury Commons, and –"
"Same as Moira?"
And her eyes light up. "You know her?"
"Sure! She's living in Megaton now. Runs the store. Folks call her, ah, 'The Mad Scientist of Megaton'."
And she actually laughs! "I can't believe it! Moira never wanted to go outside, let alone leave town! We had our own little club as children, me, Moira and Bean... we called ourselves The Mad Scientists' Club after this pre-war book we found.
"The years went by, and I guess we all got itchy feet. Bean started spending more and more time in this old robot shop outside town, Moira must've left after I did, and I basically followed a lead to Rivet City. I'd heard they were looking for scientifically minded people from caravan scuttlebutt, and they were, and that's where I met James and Catherine.
"We worked together for a long time. I think we were really on to something. But then..." and she gestures at the nearest mutant corpse. "So I returned to Rivet City, took over the lab there, started my own research."
And about this time the door opens and out comes Ernie. "All clear," says he, and is nearly bowled by his father. So what can we do? Everyone follows him!
Actually, it was interesting to watch the team Li had scrounged up working. Last time we'd been in here, there'd been a few machines still working, but now with a fair whack of elbow grease and swearing, cables were plugged in, broken bits were fixed or replaced, and things started literally humming.
Not seeing Ernie around I headed into the rotunda, where I found the Haines family having a discussion. Ernie nodded briskly and then started past me.
"Anything I can help with?" asks I.
"Ah... I think there is," James says, "It's not exactly technical, but you seem to be up to some heavy lifting."
"You want me to haul the dead mutants out of the way," says I.
"Better still, outside, if you can," admits he.
So what do I do? Lug dead mutants outside!
Still, I could understand the reasoning. Super mutants are like any living thing, since when they die they rot. Which means bad smells, nasty oozes, and disease. Not conducive to a happy life unless you're a necromancer.
It wouldn't be until later that someone told me about the intercom. I almost jumped when Ernie's voice came out of a little box on the wall. "Flood control's operative Dad."
"Great work son," comes his father's voice, "come back up to the control room for these fuses."
After a little while, the door to the lower levels opens and in comes Ernie, gasping a bit. "Couldn't have given them to me at the time, could he?" asks he in passing.
I was a bit occupied with lugging a centaur outside at the time, so I didn't find out until later that the door to the mainframe needed power to open. There was, also, a distinct thrum in the air I couldn't place. It didn't sound like gunfire, and every time I pulled another corpse out, it seemed to be either louder or closer.
Ernie had relocated to the far end of the entry tunnel. He was looking annoyed. "Give me a hand with this bloody valve!"
So I drop the mutant I was lugging and follow him up to a smashed room with a manhole in it. "Down here," say he, and I follow.
The pipe we were in had a big hole in it with a fine view of the walkway outside. "Time to release pressure," grunts Ernie, "On three!"
The two of us managed to finally get that damn valve twisted, and the thrumming got a lot louder. And a dirty great vertibird – a real, honest-to-gods original of that model I saw in the Museum of Technology – lands right in front of us!
The thrumming I'd heard was the approaching of the machine, more accurately its two rotors beating the air like a windmill. Little wheels extended out on legs to support it, and I saw what looked like dremora running for the entrance. On the flank of the machine, a circle of stars around a white letter E.
And I look at Ernie and he looks at me. "Dad," he says, and that's all he had to say. Because the sounds of the vertibird ebbed enough for us to hear his dad on the speaker overhead.
"...The Enclave? What are they doing here... They're where? Madison, lock that door! Now!"
We didn't have any choice but to do one of two things. One was wait for the Enclave to spot us, and most likely shoot first and ask questions later. The other was to continue down the pipe, which involved jumping from one grating to another.
"What the hell are the Enclave doing here?" growls Ernie, breaking out a big sniper rifle.
"My guess is they want Project Purity," says I, "That way they can enslave everyone in this region. If you're bad, no drink for you or your crops. Like that."
And Ernie just rubs his chin. "I've heard some of the Enclave broadcasts before," muses he. "They claim to be the true United States government; accept no cheap imitations. You're right. This city was the seat of government pre-war, so of course they want to capture it!"
And we descend some more and I realise he's right. If it wasn't for the Crystal Tower being razed during the Oblivion Crisis, for instance, the Thalmor would have had a go at capturing it and, by extension, the stones of the entire Summurset Isles. Old Dagon went after Emperor Martin right in the Imperial City, and it would have been a morale-crushing defeat if he'd succeeded. And the Tribunal of Morrowind basically died when the Ministry of Truth smashed into Vivec at last. It's not just artefacts that have power; places do too.
Eventually we reached the bottom; the pipe bent and arrowed straight to an underground chamber I only recognised from chunks of rotten mutant. However, our attention was caught by another dremora-like figure tromping around the upper level, and we took turns peering at it through Haines' sniper scope.
The fellow was dressed in some sort of incredibly heavy armour, featuring parts that flexed and slid in and out with each movement. The helm had two swept-back protrusions that gave the impression of a dremora's horns, along with a faint glow from the eye holes. It was also hefting a laser rifle, and I heard it mutter, "Goddamn noises in this place, giving me the creeps," in an accent similar to that of President Eden.
The last noise he heard was that of Ernie's sniper rifle nailing him through the eye shield, giving him the deads.
As we stripped the figure, I had my first good look at power armour. It's exactly what it says: Armour so heavy and durable that it needs its own power supply to work a lot of motors and things to lighten the wearer's load. The upside is that there's a little more power than needed, but as I say, we're talking at least twice as heavy as a full daedric suit!
There wasn't anyone else in the lower levels, so we crept upstairs. The door creaked as we pushed it open, and our luck failed us.
"Damnit private, what is it now, potty break?" Another power armoured figure stalked into sight. "I told you to – hostiles sighted! Engaging!"
Sniper rifles aren't much good against someone in power armour who knows you're there. Shock magics, on the other hand, are; according to Haines they briefly overload the armour's systems, giving people time to switch to more suitable weapons. Laser rifles, for instance.
"We need to get to Dad," Haines mutters, but I tell him to hold and cast Watchfulness. "There's three people below us," informs I, "two more at the entrance, and... damnit, I can't see to the control room."
And Haines shrugs. "We'll go in blind, then," and he's off like a shot, pushing the door open to faint raised voices from inside.