The great minds of the 21st Century created fantastic technology that their ancestors couldn’t even image. They shot machines into space, built robots too small to see, and harnessed the power of the atom! They also made all of the horrors that ruined the world, and many of those scientific horrors still plague us today. Forced Evolutionary Virus, Nuclear Warheads, Orbital weapon platforms. It’s chilling to think that the minds who created such things might still be out there… but they are. Still thinking up new ways to kill, torture and mutilate.
About three hundred and fifty years ago, America was celebrating a war that they won by using the first Atomic bombs. The whole country was inspired by the potential that Atomic energy promised. They dreamed of a future where atomic rocket ships flew through the sky, atomic cars raced through the streets, and giant robots defended America’s shores… with Atomic death rays.
At first that view of the future only appeared in movies; the old two-dimensional holo tapes of the twentieth century. But by the middle of the twenty-first century, the future had arrived, and it looked exactly how America thought it would. What had once been science fiction had become science fact.
The wasteland holds monuments to some of the people who brought about that future. The RobCo factory still stands, as does the old Chryslus Factory, Poseidon Energy reactors, and of course Vault-Tec Vaults. The big boys all built their facilities to last. But some of America’s greatest pre-war minds engaged in secret work that was best kept out of the public eye. These masters of the ethical paradigm shift called themselves… The Think Tank.
This group of egg-heads engaged in the sort of radical, theatrical, “unpossible” science that was once the stuff of comic books. They concealed their laboratories deep within a complex called Big Mountain, where their innumerable crimes against humanity and nature were hidden beneath miles of stone.
There they constructed facilities to research new ways to fight America’s wars. Titanic robot scorpions with laser stingers. Cybernetic enhancements for man and beast. New stealth suit technology that was surprisingly talkative for a stealth suit. Innovative new toxins to kill foreign soldiers by the thousands. Every day at Big Mountain was like a science fiction double feature! No. A triple feature.
Their work wasn’t theoretical, it was applied science. Applied with extreme prejudice. Big Mountain maintained its own prison camp where imprisoned Chinese and Chinese-Americans were kept as human test subjects. DNA splicing, automated lobotomy machines, and old-fashioned target practice for new-fangled guns were just a few of the indignities forced on the unfortunate prisoners.
The exploding collars that modern slavers use were widely used in the camp at Big Mountain. There are even a few of those old prisoners still alive in that camp today; turned into ghouls when the bombs fell two hundred years ago, and they have spent the centuries trapped in Big Mountain by their slave collars. A horrid fate, even for suspected Commies.
When there weren’t enough Communist prisoners for their experiments, the Think Tank had no problem using unsuspecting American citizens. They distributed their technologies around the country to military towns like Hopeville. In one instance, they even provided a resort town with fabulous devices like holograms, self-sustaining vending machines, and the most advanced autodocs in the wasteland. But the Think Tank took its pound of flesh. The experimental technology turned entire cities into proving grounds, often with disastrous results. The sandstorms over the Divide are courtesy of the Think Tank’s meddling, as is a peculiar red mist that chokes the life out of anyone who ventures into the wrong part of the wasteland.
Most of their attempts to put science to benevolent use ended up going horribly awry. They designed a series of body-suits to autonomously transport wounded soldiers away from battlefields, but they ended up as ambulatory body bags for the vengeful bones of long-dead men. Even something as harmless as a toaster became a bloodthirsty killing machine once the Think Tank began experimenting with automated personality modules.
Sometime before the Great War, the scientists of The Think Tank developed a weapon so powerful that it blew the top of their mountain right off. Since then, Big Mountain has been a huge crater that forms a natural barrier between the Think Tank and the rest of the wasteland. Keeps most folk out, and mercifully keeps the Think Tank inside.
The six scientists who ran the place back then survived the Great War inside a massive dome at the heart of the Big Empty. Over the years since, everyone else who inhabited the place has met their end either from radiation, or more gruesome means, but those six scientists were mighty tenacious about continuing their research for as long as possible. As their bodies aged, they decided to preserve their precious brains in new mechanical bodies.
Transferring a living brain into a robot body is a tricky task. These men (And woman) survived the process, but it seems like a few chunks of brain got left behind in their old gourds. The resulting monstrosities became demented parodies of their once brilliant selves. The long-term effects of floating in biomed gel hasn’t helped them any either.
They go by mysterious code names like Doctor Zero, 8, or Klein. Their original names are lost to them, maybe a bit of brain damage during their transformation, or it might be some math nerd’s idea of a joke. Klein is some sort of de facto leader, mostly by default, since the others are too incompetent to do much more than break things around their lab, rant about Communists, or indulge their remaining biological urges.
At some point after they transferred their brains into those floating cases, Klein had a falling out with a Doctor Mobius, and Mobius set up shop in a region of the Big Empty that he calls… The Forbidden Zone. From there he pesters the Think Tank with an army of robot scorpions.
It all sounds silly when you’re nice and safe out here in the wasteland, but there are people who’ve been inside the Big Empty, have seen firsthand the nightmares within. Just about all of them ended up captured by robots, and had their brains scooped out. Normally getting its brain pulled out would spell the end for a body, but the automated surgeons in the Big Empty are programmed to cram in a bunch of electronics and a Tesla coil that keep people scurrying around without their brain. The Think Tank calls them “Lobotomites”. They are the brainless workforce, keeping the remains of the glorious Big MT together. Beyond their janitorial duties, they just shamble around growling, and attack anyone they see who still has a skull full of grey matter.
An energy barrier around the crater prevents the Lobotomites from escaping, and keeps the Think Tank trapped inside too. But any creature that still has its brain inside its body can walk right through that barrier. Many of the evils of the Mojave came out of Big Mountain. Those giant poisonous bugs, the Cazadores, were engineered by one of the crackpots in the Think Tank. And that same fellow thought it would be a bright idea to crossbreed a rattlesnake with a coyote, and the resulting abominations escaped to plague the Mojave. They slink around the desert at night, preying on the unwary. Many travelers have died with the sound of a nightstalker’s rattle still echoing around them.
There have only been a handful of people who got inside the place, and back out with their brains intact. The lure of buried relics from before the war is powerful temptation for folk who are so enamored of the past that they can’t appreciate the wonders that the present holds.
A disgraced Brotherhood of Steel Elder went there in search of the means to help the Brotherhood defeat the New California Republic. The place was a like a bank vault, just waiting for him to crack it open. Elijah‘s Brotherhood training with pre-war technology allowed him to easily outmatch the Think Tank, and have the run of the place for a while.
He not only found arcane gadgets, but also learned about another hidden treasure trove of pre-war wonders. By the time he broke out of the Big Empty, he had everything he needed to pull off a heist at some legendary city of gold.
The Think Tank is a little eccentric but they’re still dangerous. Elijah was a rare man, an expert in the equipment found around the Big Empty. Others who stumbled across the Think Tank had a harder time evading them.
A man like Elijah drew plenty of attention, and one of the Brotherhood splinter groups sent out an assassin to stop whatever he was up to. That assassin, she didn’t fare as well. Got caught by the Think Tank, and had her brain all poked up by one of their malfunctioning autodocs. She made it out of there eventually, with most of her brain still working. Then she headed off after Elijah again, this time with a better stealth suit, and an ever-growing grudge against the man.
The only other humans who’ve set foot in the Big Empty and walked back out (mostly) intact are a pair of couriers. One of them wasn’t so much concerned with buried technology as he was with speaking to people who were alive back before the war. The Think Tank might just be brains in jars now, but they were once red-blooded Americans in the days when great nations stretched all the way over the continent. It’s hard to find a person who remembers that firsthand, and the Think Tank had five of them in one room. To a man trying to reawaken a nation, that’s an opportunity worth braving the lobotomites and roboscorpions.
The other courier seems to have stumbled across the place by accident. No grand quest for knowledge, vengeance or truth. Just bought a ticket to the midnight show of a sci-fi marathon that went on longer than expected.
Even though they are just a fragment of their former selves, the Think Tank used to be some of the greatest minds that humanity had to offer. They brought about achievements in science that prove humanity is the most advanced life form on Earth. But Earth is just one small planet in a vast universe, and we are not alone. We have been visited by a malevolent race from beyond the stars who are as far above us as we are above the amoeba. For centuries they have observed us from afar with envious eyes.
But that- is a story for another day.