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Dr. Ericka Elwood-Woodlum was a CIT graduate, co-founder and project lead of Cambridge Polymer Labs, LLC, and wife of Jon Elwood, a fellow graduate.

Background

Cambridge Polymer Labs was a privately-owned company established by Jon Elwood to research experimental smart materials that could be used to enhance the functionality of existing suits of power armor. The last military contract before the war was the development of nucleostrictive lining for power armor, allowing the power armor's lining to convert ionizing radiation into electrical energy fed directly into the suit's batteries.

Ericka was instrumental to the project, hypothesizing that a known piezoelectric material, lead zirconium titanate (PZT), combined with a polymer of gold and lithium hydride might produce the desired effect.[1] Initial tests proved the method is sound. Unfortunately, due to the low shear modulus, the nano weave started to break down quickly under extended use. The team changed the dosing pattern on the gold to produce thinner strands through the material. The increased surface area would help dissipate the thermal energy, much like a heat sink.[2]

This approach successfully created an efficient material with a lifetime of years, rather than days, at a negligible cost to harvest rate. Unfortunately, Colonel George Kemp, the military liaison for the project, rejected it out of hand, as the new material shredded under intense use. It was unsuitable for use as power armor lining and the colonel threatened to pull funding. The team returned to the drawing board.[3]

The colonel's growing anger in each conversation with the project members was well known. As such, when he called the laboratory for a status update on the morning of October 23, 2077, Elwood immediately picked up on his unusual calm. The colonel, well aware of the incoming nuclear warheads, requested that Elwood keep his team working in the lab until the project was completed.[4]

He soon realized that it was a warning. Cambridge received a direct nuclear hit, but the laboratory building was spared the nuclear devastation, thanks to other buildings shielding it from the blast and its own reinforced structure. Elwood immediately issued an e-mail to the entire team, mandating overtime and lying that the project was nearing completion (leaning on his wife's authority) and promising coffee, donuts, and Spuckies for the entire team to breeze them over. What was happening outside was just training exercises performed by the United States military. In the meantime, he scrambled to find a ham radio and re-establish contact with the military, as all external connections were fried by the EMP.[5][6]

Only one person on the team was privy to the truth: His wife. He asked her to maintain the lie to avoid a panic among the researchers and ensure the completion of the project, as it was the only thing the military was willing to accept in return for extraction. Conning them was out of the question, as lying about the possession of vital military assets or intelligence was tantamount to treason.[7] Despite the assurance, Ericka was still skeptical. They'd been working on the problem for weeks and were unable to find a way to prevent the nanoweave from falling apart under the strain of use. Even if they found a solution, it could take days to program the new dosing pattern. The lie couldn't hold up that long and even if it did, she questioned the morality of keeping them away from their families in a time of need. However, she eventually went through with this plan.[8]

Deterioration

She wasn't aware that Jon was shot while scavenging for the radio and supplies. A stray bullet hit him in the shoulder on the way back, compounded by his exposure to nuclear fallout. He decided to keep the team sealed inside the lab, even as tensions inside the laboratory increased and his condition worsened. The wound refused to heal on its own.[9] Days of extended isolation wore the researchers down and the promises of being released home when the project was completed started to look like a thinly veiled lie issued by an insane slave driver.[10] The team was rapidly fracturing and falling apart, with some trying to escape the lab on their own. Some of the staffers tried to drill through the cleanroom to get out of the laboratories, stopping at the hardened outer wall that was impervious to their tools. Wilfred Bergman, an Anchorage veteran and a talented IT specialist took the isolation particularly hard and started discussing taking a more oblique angle. His deteriorating mental state was a eureka moment for Ericka. In order to solve the thermal dissipation problem, the team could attempt to change the dosing pattern so that it would produce nanoholes angled towards the surface. That way, the material might be able to reflect the most direct radioactive particles and trap only those coming in at an oblique angle to the material. It would achieve a lower energy harvest, but the heat dissipation issues would likely be solved.[11]

Unfortunately, it came too late to save the research team. Months of seclusion and exhaustion caused Bergman to snap when he realized that radiation has been seeping into the laboratory area, courtesy of its internal reactor. The shockwave cracked the containment lining, endangering the entire team, but Jon Elwood still refused to unlock the cleanroom. In desperation, Bergman started hacking through security protocols to seize control over the facility and release the entire team. Elwood tried to keep him at bay, but his condition deteriorated rapidly, as the festering wound in his shoulder turned septic.[12][13] Elwood tried to discourage him, mocking Bergman's service in Alaska during the Anchorage Reclamation as a distraction and claiming the intrusion countermeasures installed by CIT were undefeatable.

The confrontation between them doomed the research team. Bergman locked down the isotope containment room to contain what he believed to be the source of the radiation and demonstrate his ability to Elwood, inadvertently dooming Mary Goodman to die of radiation poisoning and locking the team out of the only source of U-238 needed to complete the project.[14] If Elwood did not release the team from their dungeon, he would trigger a security breach alert in the laboratories. In doing so, the facility's defense systems would activate and initiate a sweep of the area, attempting to destroy any intruders (i.e. the science team), but also releasing the locks on the cleanroom and other doors. Bergman was the only one with military training. The rest of the science team was terrified, particularly when he refused to believe that the completion of the project would result in Jon letting them go.[15][16][17]

It was January 16, 2078 when the hammer fell. Jon Elwood was dead, unable to meet Bergman's demands, and Bergman was about to trigger the security breach. The desperate science team tried to reach his laboratory through the crawlspace, but they were too late. At 4:17 AM, Bergman triggered the automated defenses, ensuring the demise of everyone associated with the project.[18][19][20] Ericka was killed by a gun Jon rigged up for self-defense.[21]

Appearances

Ericka Elwood-Woodlum's skeleton appears only in Fallout 4.

References

  1. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Ericka's terminal, Project Thesis
  2. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Ericka's terminal, Thermal dissipation
  3. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Ericka's terminal, Tensile strain
  4. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Bergman's terminal, Call from Kemp
  5. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Director's terminal, It was a warning
  6. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Bergman's terminal, [J.Elwood] - Mandatory Overtime
  7. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Ericka's terminal, [J.Elwood] - Confidential
  8. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Director's terminal, [E.ElwoodWoolum] - RE: Confidential
  9. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Director's terminal, We have to finish the project
  10. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Goodman's terminal, [J.Elwood] - Lockdown status
  11. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Ericka's terminal, Trapped
  12. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Director's terminal, Can't hold out much longer
  13. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Director's terminal, [W.Bergman] - I'm getting us out
  14. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Bergman's terminal, [J.Elwood] - Hacking Admin
  15. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Ericka's terminal, We're so close
  16. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Director's terminal, [E.ElwoodWoolum] - He's locked us out
  17. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Bergman's terminal, [E.ElwoodWoolum] - Isotope Containment
  18. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Director's terminal, Ericka, please read
  19. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Director's terminal, [E.ElwoodWoolum] - Are you there?
  20. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; Ericka's terminal, [W.Bergman] - I'm getting us out
  21. Suicide note
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