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The Last Thing

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“What do you think now that you’ve seen what we do? Will you join us, mother?”

Alright, Kali; gentle but firm. “I think you’re a bunch of amoral assholes with science hard-ons in a giant circle-jerk, science-gasming all over each other.” Nailed it. Shaun made a choking sound that Kali barely noticed. “Synth gorillas? Fucking… I lost my,” – she halted, knew that she uttered the next word at her own peril; skipped it – “…for fucking synth gorillas?!” She shook her head. “Are you. Fucking. Children?!

Her son flinched as she screamed the last word, but while Kali paused to catch her breath, he managed to rally (slightly). “It was not… No. The gorillas are just…”

Kali caught her breath quickly. “An inane glory project made possible by the real work you do here; yes, of course. Why not use the technology from your slave-race-made-from-kidnapped-babies project to make artificial gorillas, just because you can?” Kali looked thoughtful for a moment, before nodding sarcastically. “Yes, when I think of it that way it seems so much better!”

Shaun tried to look scornful, and failed. “Synths aren’t slaves. You saw how they are made; they aren’t people, they’re–”

“A person is anyone who is capable of believing they are a person.” Shit, she should write that down. Later though; busy scolding her sixty-year-old son right now.

Shaun tried to look dismissive, and failed. “A philosophical definition is not very practical for–”

“Maintaining the fantasy that you haven’t invented a new kind of slavery; no, I imagine it isn’t.” Shaun opened his mouth to say more, but she didn’t give him the chance. “Allie Filmore confirmed University Point was the Institute.” Shaun closed his mouth to give her a mildly shocked – and more-importantly disbelieving – look, so Kali decided to explain.

Turning to her left, she asked an imaginary Allie, “‘Shouldn’t the research from University Point have helped with your energy problem?’” Turning to her right, she answered herself (in an inexplicable British accent), “‘Oh, no, University Point was simply a disaster !’” She turned back to Shaun with a self-satisfied grin. “Paraphrasing, but you get the idea.” Even while suppressing the greatest emotional turmoil of her life, she still loved to brag. The grin faded as she concluded, “You lied to me. And committed a massacre.”

“I… Technically, perhaps.” Kali hoped her expression communicated just what a bad start that was. “But what happened at University Point was really the actions of one man, not the Institute.”

“Kellogg.”

“Yes. He failed to follow Institute–”

Kali barked a humorless laugh. “Sorry, no. Kellogg was a well-known variable to you; you knew how using him was likely to turn out and you did it anyway.” She tilted her head as a thought came to her. “And while we’re on the subject of shitty delegation decisions and how the Commonwealth definitely has nothing to fear from you, could you explain what the final ‘purge all surface evidence of the initiative’ step means for the Warwick homestead project? Because I asked your head of BioScience, and he seemed to be pretty okay with it including murdering the entire family.”

Shaun was still a moment, then slowly shook his head. “You must have misunderstood him; I’ve made it clear as director that I will not condone… murder.”

Kali couldn’t help another bark of incredulous laughter. “Really? Willfully using Kellogg aside, you replace people, Shaun. Don’t try to say you don’t; I learned about Roger Warwick off your own terminals, and chanced upon another synth trying to kill his original in an alley on the surface. Unless I ‘misunderstood’ what I saw in that alley, and you don’t actually kill the originals but send them away to ‘live on a farm upstate’ like my first dog, Bangle – and I would enjoy seeing you try to sell that; maybe you’d do a better job than your grandparents did – That. Is. Murder.” She tilted her head. “Even if it is murder-by-super-mutant-attack like you engineered for Roger. Which I suppose is how you plan to clean up the rest of the family when the time comes.”

“No,” Shaun shook his head again, less slowly. “Mother. I assure you the Warwick family is safe.”

After a brief silence, Kali nodded. “Perhaps they are, now that they have your attention. But if it were left to Clayton Holdren – as I’m sure it would’ve been if I hadn’t said anything – would they still be safe? How often is a loose leash – on Holdren, on fucking Kellogg – getting people killed on the surface? How often do you learn about these deaths after-the-fact and just shrug and think, ‘Oops, oh well, what’s done is done’?” She leaned forward, eyes skeptical. “Would you even care before-the-fact if you didn’t know mommy was watching?”

A hint of something genuine – and unhappy – showed on Shaun’s face, and actually lingered as he spoke. “Does it matter how I answer? You seem clearly pre-disposed not to trust anything I say.”

“That does tend to happen when you lie to someone.”

Shaun’s face passed into a full grimace for a fraction of a second. Then he was quiet as he finally – reluctantly – processed the inevitable conclusion to this conversation. “You won’t be joining us.” It wasn’t a question.

“No,” Kali answered anyway.

“You won’t be allowed to return here.”

“I’d rather drive a nail through my foot than come back here.” It wasn’t even hyperbole. She’d done it once – picking up a nail gun that was supposed to be empty, and definitely wasn’t supposed to have a goddamn hair-trigger – and it had hurt far less than being here did.

There was still something she had to say – try to say – before she left though. “Shaun. You were taken. Your father was killed,” she had to pause, then, and her voice was wet and cracked when it continued, “so you could be pulled from his dying arms.” She wiped her eyes, cleared her throat, returned her voice to normal (mostly). “And that was shit. Even not knowing him, or me, that must have been shit; shit enough that you wanted Kellogg dead. Serving the Institute – believing in it – probably made it feel better, made the shit feel like it had meaning, was ‘worth it.’ But it’s… God, it’s decades too late for you to hear this, but… It’s a lie, Shaun. It doesn’t make it better. Nothing makes that shit better. But helping these… fucks who kidnapped you build a future on murder and slavery and… unchecked childish impulses – fucking synth gorillas, Shaun! – that definitely makes it worse.” Her mouth moved soundlessly then, having so much and yet nothing more to say. Hands and arms oscillating between shrug and prayer, she whispered the last, desperate, hopeless plea that remained. “Stop.”

Even through his veil of stoicism, Shaun looked like a man who wanted to angry-cry – which Kali could sympathize with – but all he said was, “Goodbye, mother.”

“Goodbye, Shaun.”


Kali rematerialized twenty feet from where she had left, facing the smoking, sparking ruin of the signal interceptor. It was a view that resonated.

The last thing.

She exited her power armor, though “exited” implied more grace than was deserved. She didn’t immediately fall. After stumbling backward, she regained her balance and managed to stay on her feet long enough to entertain ideas of finding somewhere private. But she had nothing left with which to make such a journey. She had nothing left with which to remain standing. She had nothing left with which to hold it back for even a second longer.

Every last thing.

She fell to her knees, first, then forward, but not far. Her shoulders quickly collided with a pair of T-51 legs; her head bent to an awkward angle to fit between them. It was an uncomfortable position. It didn’t matter. She had nothing left. Here is where it would happen: between the legs of the armor that, for the first time, had done nothing to protect her.

It’s all gone.

Kali didn’t remember taking a deep breath, but she must have, because the scream held for a long time. Distantly, she was aware of people coming – Running? – toward her. People she knew. Some, she even loved, though that awareness felt especially distant. She screamed again; just as long, just as hard. Then again. And again. She lost track of when one ended and the next began. She knew only how each one scraped on its way out, and that it felt… good. Horribly good. The worst kind of good it was possible to feel.