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Companionship Through Circuitry

Chapter Text

     The first wave of ghouls was nothing to sniff at, easily dissected and dispatched enough despite the sturdy vault uniforms that they stopped trying to get up and chew at his shoes. Bro made his way steadily along the pathways, slowing now and then to peek into rooms that didn’t sound like there was an occupant within to check for extra things he might find useful or interesting. Slim pickings, but with the promise of the medical bay and the security office ahead, he could cope with the loss of a few potential trinkets.

     By the time he reached the medical bay he’d been splattered with plenty of unsavory things, blowback from the dispatching, but it was worthwhile. The chems lay fairly undisturbed in their cases, warning labels and information packs still tucked away with them. Quick fixes for injuries, infections, and potential tight spots or slow evenings were now at his disposal, and Bro didn’t waste time stuffing his bag tight as he could with capped and boxed products, jamming empty spaces with bandages. If he grabbed much more he’d need a makeshift bag to sling over his shoulder to get out with, but there was no way he was going to leave this treasure behind. If he didn’t use it, he knew everyone in the remnants of the world wanted to get their hands on good pre-war meds. Even with all the time that had passed, they were still more potent and more reliable than the freshly made ones the labs were trying to pump out or the campfire remedies some people had to swear by out here made of fuck knew what radiated sources.

     He knew, realistically, that he should probably take Hal back out and make his way out of here with his ill gotten goods and call it a day. Bro knew. ...But he also knew he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to find just a bit more. He still preferred his sword for most things, but fuck could he not turn down the chance at getting a nice new side piece. There were no doubt electronics and odds and ends in that office as well, probably some clothing in lockers. Maybe one of the people had feet similar in size to his and had left a spare pair of shoes around, his own were getting a bit rough in the treads.

     Come on, stop fantasizing. There were still ferals to take care of, and Hal was probably wondering why he was just standing there instead of hopping to it.

     What started as a steady walking pace gave way to a quicker jog, then a sprint as he heard the shrill cries and hisses in the distance, sword at the ready. He used the momentum to behead a few of the creatures, not wanting to worry about the vault uniforms integrity like before, wanting to render them immobile quickly. He skidded to a staggered halt when he reached a corner and saw a glow, however.

     This feral ghoul was glowing intensely and walking at a slow pace as if weighed down by the radiation it carried, clothing mere scraps on its naked form, remnants of its skin hanging in shreds over exposed muscle and patchy edges of bone on its face.

     “Christ, what did you do, live in the leak’s source for a few hundred years?” he asked aloud softly, trying not to set it off.

     Wishful thinking. The barest sound that was out of place caught the creature’s focus, the hiss turning vicious before it began to run at him. Bro could feel his nose trying to bleed the closer the thing got to him, could taste the copper in the back of his mouth, the taste of bile in his throat as his body raged against the wrongness in the air as much as against the smell of cooked rotting meat that exuded from this thing like an aura.

     It lunged, he dodged, and danced backwards with it charging and missing, trying to find the right way to aim at it. It was stronger than the others, he didn’t think he’d be able to take it down with just a neck strike. No... He’d need to be a bit creative. Turning, Bro ran back down the hallway towards the medical room, listening to the soggy footfalls rushing behind him along with his pulse in his ears. Think, think, think, needed to get this thing away, needed to get a good hit on it, needed to do more than just pepper it with bullets and swing at it. Needed to put it down.

     Once he was in the medical room, Bro vaulted over one of the beds and grasped it, kicking the brake off so he could turn the gurney more effectively. As if expecting a showdown of sorts, the feral ghoul paused and took a deep breath before releasing a pulse of the radioactive energy it held, another shockwave that finally made blood drip from Bro’s nose in a thin rivulet even as he shouted and charged with the gurney, pinning the creature against the wall. Wedging it several feet away and holding it in place with his hips, Bro was able to take the shots he needed more effectively: a few well placed rounds between the eyes followed by a quick decapitation when its head sagged forwards.

     Just in case.

     Are you done playing with it now? came a sardonic voice from the room’s loudspeaker. Or are you planning on taking trophies?

     “Already took trophies from this room,” Bro said after looking for where the camera likely was, shaking his head No for emphasis. “More of those?” he asked, gesturing to the still glowing remains slumped over the end of the gurney and spattered on the wall before slicing his sword through the air a few times, forcing the coagulated blood into the proper channel and clearing the blade of the worst of it. Like fuck was he could to be touching that bare handed. He’d wipe it off on someone’s old dress shirt or something in a locker, or cake it in some dirt before washing it off. Something to create a barrier between himself and the taint.

     He sniffed, then snorted and hocked a loogie, spitting the bloody mass out onto the floor without much thought. Deal with that later.

     I see no further glowing ferals. I do see some in combat uniforms, however. Sword will not be effective. Stealth is recommended , Hal said, though the hisses and shrieks in the distant halls were kind of putting a damper on any planned stealth.

     Bro pointed at himself then, at his bleeding nose, and quirked a brow.

     I doubt you have received a deadly dose. I recommend avoiding further contact with the remains, to ensure this fact. No cuddling the dead things.

     “You’re no fun,” he said, hocking once more and spitting for distance, fist pumping briefly when it hit a far wall. Hell yeah. Good distance.

     You’re disgusting.

     “Humans are,” he said, looking towards the camera to ensure Hal could see him.

     Dirk was not disgusting.

     Ambrose shook his head and snorted in amusement. He glanced towards the hall once more before adjusting his grip on his weapons and heading out again, creeping along this time in order to get as close to the hissing from the security office as he could without setting any of the feral ghouls off. He crawled the last of the way, settling low on his knees to take aim at the first ghoul he saw before frowning.

     God damn it. Major body armor. Of course they were wearing it when they died, riot gear seemed to be the norm, but what he wouldn’t give for an ill prepared security officer feral for once in his fucking life, one who left his untouched armor in a storage container for someone to come along later and take. Someone with broad shoulders preferably.. A second, then a third emerged before Bro finally took a shot, squinting as he aimed for the sweet spot between the disintegrating eyes. It staggered, but didn’t fall. Instead it hissed his general direction and the others looked towards him as if taking cues. Another shot and it finally went down, causing the others to startle and head his direction.

     Cussing, Bro prepared to let loose a few sprayed shots, but didn’t get the chance before he heard a metallic grating noise and the whirr of machinery. A turret. While the turret in the ceiling wasn’t as clear and precise of a shot as Bro’s pistol was, it proved to be effective in sheer numbers of bullets sprayed, managing to hit sensitive spots as much as it hit and tore into aged  body armor. While Bro was grateful, he didn’t know what to make of it. Why had the turret suddenly activat-

     “Hal.”

     As if to test this theory, Bro slowly stood up and dusted his aching knees off before sauntering into clear view of the turret, pistol in one hand while both were raised in a stereotypical ‘don’t shoot’ stance.

     Targets have been eliminated.

     “...Could you have activated that turret at any time.”

     I have full command of the turrets.

     “Multiple?”

     I have full command of the turrets , Hal repeated over the speakers.

     “...Why didn’t you just clear some of these fuckers out for me,” he muttered in annoyance, approaching the first ghoul and crouching to check its body and pockets for anything useful. There was rarely anything good on dead ghouls, but sometimes they died with useful things strapped to their bodies. In this case, the most he found was some gum that had definitely seen better days and key cards he didn’t have a need for now that Hal was sitting pretty in the mainframe. 

     With them looked over, Bro turned his attention to the desks and drawers in the office, wanting to check for keys before he got started plundering this location as well. By the time he finished scouring and searching every nook and cranny of the room, not only had he filled his pockets with some extra ammunition, but he’d found a better condition pistol that fired beautifully and some goodies to tinker with that should enhance it somewhat without ruining its durability. Bless properly stored weapons. It made him feel a little nostalgic leaving his own gun behind, but that was just something that happened out here. Find better, take better when you can.

     Feeling that he’d looted more than enough and dealt with plenty, Bro stretched and settled into the creaking office chair at a functional computer and decided to talk to Hal.

     I think I’ve taken everything not nailed down. Are you ready to get back in your glasses?

     There is one area I would like you to check for me before it is time to leave.

     That was unexpected. Bro lifted a brow and continued to type.

     To check for you? Why can’t you check it yourself, is there not a camera inside?

     There is a camera inside, which is why I want you to go look for me. I have seen a file room, and one of the files said Dirk Strider on it. There is not a digital copy in the mainframe that I can find, so if this is correspondence it may have been personally written by Dirk himself or about Dirk. I wish to know what it says.

     Where is the file room?

     An area tainted with water, but the file in question and perhaps more seem to be safely above the water line.

     Water. Radioactive water, no doubt. Bro grimaced and ran his tongue over his teeth, still tasting a bit of blood from earlier behind his lips. How high is this water line, I’m not signing up for a swim.

     Over your head at its deepest, knee high at its shallowest.

     Excuse me, over my head??

     Yes, the deepest regions of this vault appear to be flooded. The most you will encounter is knee high I believe. You need to go downstairs to obtain this file access.

     And after I get this file, you’ll get back in the glasses and we can go, right? How radiated is this water, should I be worried?

     The radiation level is tolerable for someone of your size and stature, though I would not recommend drinking it or bathing in it for prolonged periods of time.

     Right then. Get the file, download you, and then peace out, Bro finished, slapping the keyboard to send the message before peering at the location on the map Hal presented to him. Okay. A bit of legwork, probably a few more critters to deal with here and there, but not bad. He could find this place easy peasy.

     Once he got moving to find the stairs, it was actually easier to follow his nose than anything else. The smell of mildew and stale water was stronger this direction, and the first wet step Ambrose hit made him frown as it was rusted and coated with a faint slime of age long passed. He backtracked a pace or two to sit down and peel his boots and socks off, tying the laces together and slinging them over his shoulder with the socks tucked into a toe before rolling his pants cuffs up as much as he could. They’d still get soaked no doubt, but damn it he tried.

     The bottom step gave way to nearly thigh depth water, and Ambrose cursed under his breath for Hal’s misguided assumption that it was only knee deep.

     “Whose fucking knee are we talkin’ here, a mutants??” he muttered sourly, gripping at once clean ground with his toes to keep from sliding on the slick surface as he began to slosh his way along. With a bit of hunting, he found several offices, and eventually the one that he remembered from the map. True to Hal’s word, there was a folder on top of a file cabinet marked Dirk Strider. Ambrose snatched it before looking into the drawers above the water, curious to see if anything else had survived the flooding that might be useful, but didn't’ see anything beyond Ms and Ns. He glanced around once more in the room before calling it quits and vacating the area with the file clutched tightly in his hand, ascending the watery stairs and walking a ways barefoot so he’d dry off more before putting his socks and boots back on.

     If you proceed forward four rooms to your right, there is a terminal you can access to download me , came Hal’s voice from the hall speakers a few dozen feet away. Unless you would rather remove me closer to the exit.

     He’d rather have Hal back sooner rather than later, honestly, which was a thought that surprised him. Having the all seeing eye aspect was useful, but the brief time spent apart was strange after the time spent traveling together.

     ...Was he really that lonesome, now that Dave was gone? He had to be, considering the main things on his mind was getting Hal back and settling down to write a letter again. His comfort habit that was probably going to bite him in the ass eventually. Not writing wasn’t an option, though. Even if Dave just burnt the letters, just having someone else out there in the world that knew he was alive, that had a safe space available, was important for survival.

     ...Or would Dave even consider the space safe anymore?

     Rather than putting Hal back into the Furby, Bro plugged the shades in directly and let him download himself back into his portable home. The lights flickered briefly, but without the hissing and snarling of feral ghouls in the distance it wasn’t nearly as threatening as before. When the dancing figure left the screen behind, returning to the shades, they began to faintly glow as systems came back online. They were honestly still stupid looking, but once Bro put the shades back on, it felt like coming home in a strange way.

     Welcome back.

     “I believe that’s my line,” Bro said, tucking the connection wire back where it had come from and heading into the empty halls. His boots tapped and crunched dust and debris underfoot, but at least he wasn’t as soggy as he could have been. An improvement. Though, speaking of soggy-

     “Hal, run a system check on me if you would. Do I need to take any meds soon? That water was awful.”

     As I said before you should be fine, low level exposure won’t do much damage short term.

     “And long? I plan on livin’ a long life, Hal.”

     You should probably use some chems then.

     Bro clicked his tongue and smirked. “That’s right, I nearly forgot the rest of my treasure trove… Damn, gonna be a good night tonight.”

     When do you intend to check the file? Are we going outside first? I want to see.

     “Let’s get outta here and somewhere further out to settle down for the night, then we can flip through the file all you want and get all the gossip about this Dirk guy we can find.”

     Hal was quiet as they exited the vault. It was a little worrisome, normally he was chatty and full of wisecracks, but Bro guessed that file really meant a lot to him. The travel to new shelter was simple enough, Bro deciding to bed down for the evening in an open building that had enough cover for him to rest and relax comfortably. There hadn’t been any sign of pests or people to bother him, and between finally getting to stretch out on his bedroll and getting a drink of water and a bite to eat, he was pleased enough.

     “Right. Let’s take a peek at this bitch,” Bro murmured as he plucked up the file once more. Hal’s sensors lit up and focused in on the name before adjusting the zoom back to normal so Ambrose could see properly to open it up.

     … This must be the incorrect Dirk Strider, he was not involved in experiments like this , reasoned Hal as Ambrose continued to read down the file, flipping the pages as he finished.

     “I think it’s the same guy. How many Dirk Striders would there’ve been?” Bro said, tapping at the page. “See? You’re mentioned here. The AR line of artificial intelligence.”

     This still doesn’t make sense. Dirk was never involved in psychological experiments.

     “Vault Tec had a record of runnin’ some weird ass experiments apparently. I’ve heard of some strange ones people’ve found paperwork about, or who even survived and escaped from,” Bro said with a shake of his head. “And Vault Tec was the biggest thing for ages.”

     I still don’t believe-

     “Start believin’,” Bro rumbled.

     Dirk Strider had been propositioned for use of variants of his AI to help run various experiments, it seemed like. The proposed experiment for that vault didn’t have time to get off the ground before the war happened, leaving it to run the solo experiment by Vault Tec proper… but some of the implications of the proposed experiment were chilling.

     I was meant to be an android, an artificial intelligence, not some proctor for human suffering.

     “Maybe your lil robo siblings were gonna be used instead. You with the wrinkles ironed out and the quirky attitude in check.”

     Lobotomized you mean.

     “More or less, yeah,” Bro said as he continued to read, this time aloud to himself. “Subjects would be required to perform specific tasks under the guidance of the AI system, with increasing hostility towards a proposed target. The proposed target would be chosen at random, and switch periodically. The more often the same target is picked, however, there is a chance that the hostility levels from before would remain just as high as it had left off, resulting in damage or even death to the target. The proposed experiment is trying to gauge how long it would take for instigated hostility to die down between new and old chosen targets, to see if rage and hatred can lessen over time, or if it continues in a solid wave one initiated and rewarded.”

     Hal was quiet again, and Bro continued to read till he reached the end of the file.

     “So he was studyin’ rage on the side? Or was buddy buddy with people who were at least.”

     Why would an AI be required for this type of test?

     “It says here that the AI would be used as a directive because it would be an extension of an authority figure. I guess it’s also playin’ on how much authority figures weigh in on what people do, and ‘cause you’re so human like you’d be more adept at gettin’ people to follow your orders,” Bro mused, before finally setting the file aside and digging into his bag. Chems first, more food and drink after to get rid of the rush of nausea that always came with any kind of IV fluid, especially one that left such a bitter taste in his mouth.

     After the treatment, Bro sat back and cracked open his water again, taking a slug before popping open a second can of beans to enjoy while he was fully stocked. Living the high life, he rolled to his stomach and took out his paper and pen, starting to write to Dave once more.

     You are aware of the chances of receiving a letter back at your rate of travel are slim to none, correct?

     “You’re gonna make me smudge,” Bro murmured, going back to make a letter stand out properly before continuing to write. “And yeah, I know.”

     Why do you continue to send all these letters, then? It’s a fruitless task.

     “Why do you keep lookin’ for info about this Dirk fellow if he’s already long dead? Fruitless task,” Bro snarked right back, frowning and pausing his writing a moment later. “...Okay, that was kind of a dick thing to say. I’m sorry, Hal.”

     Do you believe it’s possible for someone like myself to have hope, Bro?

     “Hope?”

     Yes, hope, as a concept. I think it’s possible for artificial life forms to have hope, even if it’s slim hope. Though that is, as far as I have been able to tell, a distinctly human trait. Is my hope different from yours?

     “Depends,” Bro said, resting his chin on his folded arm. “What’s your hope?”

     I have found myself holding out hope that Dirk survived somehow, or at least some imprint of himself has. Some record of his thoughts, his brain, his feelings. I would have liked to be able to converse with him freely once I was functional and in my body.

     “Only converse? It sounds like you love the guy,” snorted Bro.

     Love?

     ...Fuck him, did he really have to explain the concept of love to an AI?

     I’m just fucking with you, I’m aware of what love is. I’m uncertain if I’m capable of feeling it though.

     “I think you love him. Or loved. Whatever. Past tense, present tense, I dunno how hung up you are on him.”

     Quite.

     “Right. So. I dunno if this is any help at all but like… instead of worryin’ about all that, why not look at the obvious?”

     The obvious?

     “He made you. You’re already his imprint of his brain. You said he made you at thirteen right? You got him at his most formative, excited stage and got to see him change into who he was last before the war. Even if he’s gone, it’ll never be forever. Because you’re here.”

     Hal was, again, quiet. When Bro blinked next, those bright red eyes focused in on his own from within the shades, so similar to Dave’s and yet by now so different that it was like night and day.

     Thank you, Ambrose. That is quite the food for thought.

     “...Did you just-”

     Don’t get used to it.

     “Sure, Hal.”