Continued from yesterday.
Second Chance for Paladin Danse
Hours faded into nothingness as they tended to do when she was working, but when she finally emerged from the clean room, she had what the man needed. Funny, she’d brought him to her sanctuary but hadn’t bothered to ask his name.
She was lonelier than she’d thought.
Too much of her life had been in a Vault surrounded by people every waking moment. The solitary days were eroding her judgment.
Shaking away the thoughts, she hung up her clean suit and brought what she’d been working on over to her guest.
She snorted when she saw that he hadn’t made use of the pain killer she’d given him. Sure, it was a bit crude, but it was also safe and effective. She wouldn’t have been carrying it otherwise.
Her bed strained under the weight of him and his armor, so she sat on the floor beside him as she listened to his labored breathing.
Touching a hand to his forehead, she pressed her lips together. Fever burned him. Infection had set in quickly, but it wasn’t surprising given the wound or how he’d earned it.
Tesla injected him with the pain killer. He twitched but didn’t awaken. Another bad sign.
She took his gauntleted hand in hers and sat beside him, watching, waiting and listening. He was quite attractive even with the five o’clock shadow stubbling his jaw. She brushed aside a lock of his black hair and caught herself. Yanking back her hand, she crushed the strange thoughts. Definitely eroding judgment.
His breathing steadied as he eased into the medical induced sleep. Waiting until she was sure he was well and truly under, she refilled the stimpack with the microscopic bots she’d built and injected them into his leg. He cried out, yanked from the depths of sleep, but only for a moment. The drugs pulled him back to them and wrapped him in the pain free depths of oblivion.
She touched her lips to his forehead, and keeping his hand in hers, she sat beside him as she monitored him.
When Danse woke again, he found the Vault woman sleeping on the floor next to him and she was holding his hand. She had a pillow tucked under her head and was nestled into a clean pre-war army sleeping bag. Her rich chocolate brown hair shimmered in the artificial light as it tumbled over her shoulders and spread across the pillow. Soft pink flushed her porcelain complexion, and thick dark lashes lay against her pale cheek. Everything about her was clean, soft and delicate. A rose blooming in the wasteland.
And she’d be crushed just as quickly.
But the protectrons and security wired elevator promised she wasn’t just any Vaultie. Maybe not the Lone Wanderer or the Sole Survivor, but someone not to dismiss, either.
Maybe Nate knew her family before the war. A strange wisp of jealousy nipped him. He frowned and pulled his hand from hers.
Her eyes flickered open, and she sat up as a smile curved her lips. “You’re awake. How are you feeling?”
“Better than I should be.”
“I gave you something for the pain. Not addictive, so I can prepare another dose if you need it.”
His frown deepened. Who was this strange Vault dweller? Was she from Nate’s Vault? Her appearance seemed to coincide with his.
She traced a finger over the sword and wings on his chest plate. Danse suppressed his response as he caught her fingers in his gauntleted hand and studied them. Her fingers were soft and uncalloused. He looked down into her deep blue eyes, swallowed hard, and let go of her hand.
“I’ve never seen that insignia before.”
“Brotherhood of Steel.”
A frown furrowed her brow. “That doesn’t sound familiar. Pre-war?”
“No. From the Capital Wasteland.”
“That explains it. Still, we should get you out of that armor. You’ll sleep better without it, and you’ll heal better if you sleep.”
“I have a hard time sleeping.” He frowned, not sure why he’d admitted that to her.
“Soldier out in the wastes, I suppose you’ve learned to sleep with your eyes open.”
He thought of Recon Squad Gladius and of the tech still sitting in the convoy.
She touched his cheek. “I didn’t mean to bring back bad memories, and you’re safe here. If I don’t need my power armor, you shouldn’t.”
He glanced at the protectrons.
“I’ve programmed them to recognize you. As long as you don’t shoot me, they won’t bother you.”
He wanted to argue, to keep his steel wall, but he knew she was right. And if she’d wanted to kill him, she already would have.
Standing, he took a few steps, opened the armor and stepped out. Danse grimaced as his weight came down on his injured leg.
Tesla slid an arm around him and suppressed a shiver as she felt the heavy muscles of his back flex. She’d never known anyone as tall or as broad as he was. Even without the power armor, he towered over her. It should frighten her, but the tightening in her stomach wasn’t fear.
Danse stiffened as he felt her slim shoulders under him. He didn’t want to crush her, but pain had him leaning against her as he took a slow deep breath. She felt warm and soft as the crisp smell of fresh soap filled his senses.
She let out a breath as she helped him back to the bed. “You’re really heavy, or I’ve come to like my power armor a little too much.”
He kept an arm around her as he settled back on the bed, the heat of him sinking into her and making her stomach flutter. Tesla swallowed and looked away. What the hell was wrong with her? She wasn’t some teenager on her first date. If anything, she should be afraid of him. He could break her in two before her protectrons could get off a shot.
“I won’t be a burden.” Looking down at his leg, Danse’s brows shot up. “Whatever you did, looks like it’s healing. Fast.”
“It’ll take a while for it to heal completely. You need to stay off it for now. That’s the easy part. Walking on it later to strengthen it will hurt. A lot.”
“Pain and I are well acquainted.”
“I suppose you are.” She looked down at her hands. “I’m sorry for that. I wish there was more I could do.”
Danse swallowed as he looked up at her, the genuine concern in her words startling him. “I thought I was going to limp for the rest of my life. Thanks to you, looks like I won’t.” He felt the heat of her sink through his Brotherhood jumpsuit, the scent of her filled his senses.
She smiled and touched his cheek. Yanking her hand back, she dropped it to her side and took a step back from him. “You’ll be fit for active duty soon enough.”
His heart beat faster at the thought of some time with her, then blinked as duty reasserted itself. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. I’m Paladin Danse of the Brotherhood of Steel.”
“Tesla of Vault 010.”
“Not Vault 111?”
“Haven’t heard of that one,” she confessed. “Was it recently opened?”
“Cryogenics vault,” Danse said. “Looks like only one person survived.”
Tesla whispered a prayer then shook her head. “Vault 010 hasn’t had good luck with establishing and maintaining contact with outsiders. Last scout went out thirty years ago and came back shaken. We decided it wasn’t time for us to come back into the world yet.”
“With the Institute, it still isn’t. But we’re working on that.”
She heard the determination in his words. He was a soldier. Using his strength and laser rifle to protect a mostly dead world.
“Your Vault sounds saner than most I’ve come across,” Danse said.
He relayed the stories he’d seen and heard of the various Vaults and the experiments they’d been doing on their captive populations.
Tesla grimaced. “Suppose cryogenics wasn’t so bad. Good thing we figured out and stopped what they’d planned in ours.”
Danse raised a black brow.
“Ours was supposed to study the effects of certain drugs on intelligence, ingenuity, and work ethic.”
“Drugs were a failure?”
“Don’t know. My father got suspicious when a couple of men he’d worked with for years began acting strangely. He hacked the overseer’s computer, and when he learned the true purpose of the Vault, he sent her mission directives to every member of the Vault.”
Danse grimaced. “Can’t imagine the overseer took well to that.”
“It was her and a handful of security officers against the whole Vault. They saw reason, and the overseer was demoted to janitor. Vault leadership is now overseen by research leads who then choose an overseer for a six year term. You can serve as overseer more than once, but not in consecutive terms. It’s worked for us.”
Danse paused a moment as he thought about her words. “Your father hacked the terminal…”
“Brotherhood of Steel,” she interrupted. “I haven’t heard of them before. You said they weren’t pre-war?”
Distracted, Danse launched into his spiel about the Brotherhood, explaining their mission to preserve technology and destroy the abominations of super mutants, ghouls, and synths.
She listened as he expounded on his order, its origins, and its beliefs. She heard the passion in his words that bordered on zealous.
“You feel strongly about the Brotherhood.”
“It’s my life.”
“Tell me more about these synths. That’s not a term I’ve heard before.”
Danse explained about the Institute, the synths they were building, and the threat they posed to the Commonwealth and all mankind. “Abominations. Perversions of science that exemplify where mankind has gone wrong.”
“I wonder how the Institute came to terms with Turing’s polite conversation.”
Confusion puckered his brow, and Danse shook his head.
“Turing was a pioneer in computers, and his work posited that if a machine behaved as intelligently as a human being, than it was as intelligent as a human being.”
Danse frowned. “But it’s not human.”
“Turing also said that if you believe in an omnipotent God, which I do, then you have to accept that He could imbue an intelligent machine with a soul.”
Tesla shrugged. “We wrestled with the ethics of artificial intelligence a long time and never came to terms with it. The ethics committee distracted us with other areas of research.”
“We?” Danse asked.
“The scientists in Vault 010.”
“So what do you research?”
“Human genome, nanotechnology, sub-atomic theory. Lots of things.”
Danse frowned. “I don’t understand anything you just said.”
She touched his hand and suppressed a shiver at the strength in his calloused fingers, but she waited for him to look up at her. “Technology for you and the Brotherhood ended over 200 years ago. For us, it was the beginning. There isn’t much to do in a Vault but work, and almost everyone in our vault is a research scientist.”
“Technology is what destroyed the world. It has to be controlled so it doesn’t happen again.”
“Technology also gave us refrigeration, street lights, and medicine. It helped us keep away predators, keep our children healthy, and keep us fed. It’s not the technology, but how you conduct Turing’s polite conversation.”
He looked at the weapon strapped to her belt. A gun that had disintegrated a deathclaw with a single shot.
She followed his gaze and squeezed his hand so he’d look back up at her. “Be thankful we spent that time researching or you wouldn’t walk again.”
Danse stiffened and looked down at his leg. “What ‘research’ did you use on me?”
His quiet anger made her stomach roil. She didn’t want him to look at her as if she’d just fed him a radroach, but she wouldn’t be ashamed of her work and all the people it had helped. Including him. “I gave you something that will repair your shredded muscle, bone, tendons and nerves. You will walk because of it.”
“I don’t know if I should be angry or…”
She folded her arms over her chest. “How about thankful that you’ll be able to rejoin your brothers and sisters in this Brotherhood of Steel?”
“I…thank you,” Danse mumbled.
She fluffed the pillow on his bed then propped hers up against one the bed’s legs. Sitting cross legged on the floor, she leaned against the pillow and looked up at him. “Tell me about life outside the Vault.”
“You know a lot already.”
“I haven’t been out of the Vault long, and most of that time, I’ve been holed up here.”
“Where are you headed?”
“That’s north of here, but it’s a Gunners stronghold.” Danse shook his head. “Not even a whole Brotherhood squad could get you in there and back out again.”
She pressed her lips together then sucked in a breath. “We were unaware of that. So this mission was for nothing. My escorts died for nothing.”
She looked down at her hands.
“What happened to them?”
“We hired them to take me to Vault 75. Came recommended from a traveling trader we dealt with occasionally.” Tears shone in her eyes as the memories came flooding back.
“Did they hurt you?” Anger simmered beneath his words as he laid a hand on her shoulder.
She put both of her hands over top his and shook her head. “They saw my weapon, my vault suit, and the provisions I’d brought and decided I was worth more to them dead than collecting their fee.”
Danse tightened his hold on her shoulder.
“They waited until they thought I was asleep, but the darkness and all the strange sounds made it so hard to sleep…” Tears spilled over her cheeks and dampened his hand. “When the first one aimed his gun at me, I pulled the trigger on mine. As he disintegrated, the second stood and stared, giving me time to…”
Danse pulled her up next to him and held her.
“I’ve never killed anything before,” she whispered. “Much less another person.”
He stroked her hair as her tears dampened his jumpsuit. “Is that why you haven’t gone back to your vault?”
Her throat constricted. “I feel like something broke inside me. Like…”
He nodded and held her as she cried.
“I won’t lie to you and tell you that taking a life, even justifiably, doesn’t change you. But I would’ve died out there if you hadn’t killed that deathclaw and brought me back here with you. That takes conviction and courage.”
She looked up at him, her soft pink lips slightly parted and her blue eyes luminous even in the harsh artificial light. “Then I’m glad I was there.”
He thumbed the tears off her cheek, swallowed and looked away. “What were you looking for in Vault 75?”
“We recently learned of it and of the atrocities they commit trying to understand genetics. Doubtful that the butchers gleaned any useful data, but if they had, we wanted to make the people’s sacrifices mean something.”
“You’re unusual,” Danse said. “Haven’t met too many scientists that cared about much other than their research.”
“Which is why the world was destroyed by nuclear fire. Some might say like Sodom and Gomorrah.”
“Is that a place in Commonwealth?”
Tesla leaned her head against him and breathed in the rich masculine scent of him. “Cities from long before the war that were destroyed for their evil choices.”
“I see the similarities.”
She relaxed against him. Of course he took her killing two mercenaries in stride. Her vault might not, but he understood. Somehow, that helped. “So what brought you to deathclaw alley?”