Twenty minutes later, Jaime Summers had learned two things: one, that nanotechnology was a fascinating and exhaustive topic when Will got started on it, and two, that Will had hidden approximately half of his life from her. The way his speech touched on prototypes, lab work and secret meetings with government officials had her almost convinced that she had to be the most gullible person in the universe to not even suspect any of this, but on the other hand, she wouldn’t have believed any of it two days before. Her world had become bigger, weirder and a whole lot scarier, and she wasn’t quite sure yet how she would deal with that. The thought weighed heavily on her mind when Will took his car down the ramp to the parking garage built under the apartment complex where he lived, and only the challenge of navigating the garage and finding his assigned parking spot got Will to briefly stop talking at all. Jaime's continued silence, which she had maintained the whole ride there, inevitably led to Will talking again.
“You...you haven’t said anything for a while,” Will said.
"Not a whole lot to say," Jaime said.
"No questions?" Will asked. "Anything you want me to explain again?"
"Just -" Jamie sighed. "It's hard for me to accept this, Will. I get that you think all of this is exciting, but this...this is my worst nightmare, Will. And that's all I can think about, that this is - “ she took a breath to gather her thoughts - “actually, this is worse than the worst thing I can imagine happening to me, because before today, I couldn't have imagined this ever happening to anyone, let alone to me." She put a hand on his, resting on the steering wheel. "You understand, right?"
“Yes,” Will lied.
"Will..." Jaime said.
“Yes,” Will said, not looking at her. “I mean, of course I, I understand, it’s…” He did the thing where he slowed his breath and counted up and down in Latin - Jaime had heard him mumble it often enough, though never quite as clearly. “I understand,” he finally said, hands wrapped tight around the steering wheel. “I’m...I’m sorry it had to be this way.”
"Me too," Jaime said, rubbing Will's hand. "I wish you could have told me the truth about...about all of this before. Or at least before you...did this to me.” She fell silent for a moment. “You did it to save me. But I don’t feel very saved right now. I feel like...like I was finally getting my life together with you, and now it’s all broken again.”
“It’s not fair,” Will said.
“That’s not on you,” Jaime said. “This isn’t about fair and unfair for me. I’m scared, Will. I haven’t stopped being scared since I woke up, no matter how much you have tried to explain things and make it seem better. I just woke up with this terrifying new life that I apparently have no choice about and is everything I hate, and it’s put not just my life but Becca’s life in danger.” She sighed. “I...I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can be okay with any of this. I just know I have to try to...do what I can about this.” She leaned her head on his shoulder. "And I want to do it with you, Will. I believe you when you say you were trying to save my life, and you still want to help.” She gave his hand a squeeze. “I want to get back to just you and me, Will. We'll get there together. Okay?"
“Okay,” Will said, a hollow little sound. “Jaime…” He sighed again. “Jaime, why don’t you go on ahead, you know the way up. I’ll be with you in a minute, I just...I need to...I have to finish up something.”
"Okay," Jaime said. She gave Will a peck on the cheek. "I love you, Will Anthros."
That made him smile a bit. “And I love you, Jaime,” he said.
Jaime smiled right back, and opened the door. "Maybe I'll make myself something to eat after all." She unbuckled herself and climbed out. "See you upstairs," she said, leaning down to give him one more smile before closing the door behind her.
Jaime made her way to the nearby elevator, its interior built from matte brushed metal and spotless mirrors, then pressed the button for the top floor. She smiled at Will one last time as the doors shut in front of her.
When he was sure she was gone, Will collapsed against the steering wheel and cried.
If Jaime had been in a better state of mind, she might have been deeply unsettled by the fact that her new artificial hand still opened the thumbprint lock on Will’s apartment door. As it was, the door clicked open for her and the lights automatically went on inside, illuminating the black and white temple of polished surfaces and no handles. Jaime made straight for the liquor cabinet, selected a tumbler from the bottom and a bottle of St. George gin from the top, and a minute later dropped onto the black leather sofa, drink in hand. She’d have to check her bedroom drawer to make sure she had everything here for spending the night and freshening up in the morning, but right then, three fingers of gin on two ice ovals were much, much higher on her list of priorities. She looked past the matching black leather lounge seat kitty-corner to the sofa and out the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking San Francisco; she took a sip of her gin as headlights illuminated the streets heading uphill in the distance. The TV, mounted halfway down the adjoining wall to the window, clicked on at a touch of the remote. Behind her stretched a desert of floor tiles, twice the size of her bathroom at home with only an austere dining table and chairs on it that Jaime knew were more used for work than entertaining.. And behind that, Will’s TV chef kitchen, one extra step up on a platform for added class.
She had heard Will enter; in fact she had heard the elevator descend, ping open at the bottom, then rise again, but she wasn’t in the mood to dwell on it. Will pulled off his jacket and hung it next to the apartment door on a little rack before noticing her sitting in the middle of the apartment.
“Oh,” he said when he saw the drink in her hand. “I could,” he continued, “I mean, I would have...whipped up something. I’ve been practicing.”
“Thanks, but…” Jaime raised her glass and smiled. “This is more what I need.”
“Right,” Will said. “So, uh, food,” he added. “We’re ordering in, I think. Whatever you want.”
“Will,” Jaime said. “Just relax. I’m not mad . Just...confused and scared. But not of you.” She rubbed the sofa next to her. “Take a seat.”
“Yes, well,” Will said as he approached. “I’m trying to relax, Jaime. It’s just that, well, I actually am really hungry. I haven’t had a sit-down meal since…” Will fumbled for something with his empty hands, and then sat down next to Jaime, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his thighs. “So, whatever you want, Jaime. I mean it.”
“...sushi?” Jaime asked, smiling at him.
“Excellent,” Will said, smiling back a bit. “I’ll go make the call.”
Will did make the call while Jaime sipped on her gin; if nothing else, it still tasted the same to her and produced a warm, familiar buzz in her head. She hardly noticed Will sitting back down and turning on the plasma flatscreen TV opposite the couch; the image was that of some nature movie still paused on his DVD player from the last time they’d sat down here. Will produced another large remote and resumed the movie. When the narrator began to explain the specialized gliding feathers that enable owls to fly silently, Jaime took the chance to slide herself a little closer to Will, and he didn’t retreat from her. Then she put her arm - her real arm - around his shoulders and rested her head next to his. By the time the doorbell rang about forty-five minutes later, the movie had reached the part where it earnestly pleaded for increased conservation efforts for endangered birds, while Will’s right arm had snaked all the way around Jaime’s back and drawn her into a tight embrace.
“Don’t go anywhere,” he quipped. “I’ll get it.”
Will untangled himself from Jaime and rose up. His right side was still hot from her warmth, and he felt that slowly cool off as he navigated his way out of the seating area and past the TV wall to reach the door. His hand reached for the security panel mounted into the wall, the display waking up as it sensed the approach of his hand, and his fingers came close to the flashing green button that would buzz the sushi delivery guy into the building.
At that point, a bullet passed about six inches in front of Will’s face and punched a new peephole in the door.
Will half-fell, half-threw himself to the ground, eyes clenched shut in reflex against the wooden splinters and dust that he thought he felt on his face. “What was that?” he heard Jaime ask, and when his eyes flew open, he saw her on the sofa, drink still in hand looking at him with a confused expression.
“Get down!” Will shouted, crawling across the floor towards her.
Jaime looked around. “What are you -”
“ Get down! ” Will screamed again, reaching up to pull her down to the floor with him - and a moment later a second round blasted through that enormous floor-to-ceiling window and buried itself in the sofa.
“Holy shit!” Jaime shouted, and dropped to the floor herself.
They both layed stationary on the floor for a few seconds, but no more bullets came their way. Down the hallway, the stairwell door slammed shut as the delivery guy made good his escape. Jaime looked at Will, her eyes wide and breathing short.
“What - what do we do now?” Jaime asked, her voice very far from steady.
“Uh - uh…” Will looked around, then stared into Jaime’s eyes - or rather, one eye in particular. “A little help, Jonas?”
Far away, in the bowels of Wolf Creek, the Operations room had started working that exact same question the instant the feed from Jaime registered what the Wolf Creek staff could clearly tell was a bullet impact. Camera feeds, telemetry from the bionics mounted in Jaime, and emergency traffic from all over the city instantly appeared on a half-dozen screens. However, only Nathan Ambrose, the duty officer, and Jonas Bledsoe were present, and time was not on their side.
“Talk to me,” Jonas Bledsoe said, stepping up next to Ambrose.
“Registering two gunshots on the externals, Sir,” Ambrose said, quickly rotating a wireframe model of Will’s apartment on his screen. “Perimeter cams aren’t picking up anyone outside, penetration on the armored glass rules out anything below a .308. I’m trying to get a fix on the field of fire but the interior cams aren’t good enough to trace the impact holes. Team One is gearing up, they’re fifteen minutes out by helo. Still acquiring the target.”
Bledsoe took a seat next to him and looked over the dozens of hits the computers had cranked out already. “There’s no time,” he muttered, and took an extra moment to reconsider his next few words. “Put Tin Man in full combat mode.”
“...copy, stand by for combat mode,” Ambrose said, clearing his screen and switching to a display of Jaime’s vitals. A couple clicks highlighted an option in a drop down menu, and brought up a PIN prompt. He took in short breath and turned to Bledsoe. “...confirm combat mode?”
Bledsoe didn’t flinch. “Confirming Six - Sierra - Zero - Hotel.”
“Copy, Six - Sierra - Zero - Hotel,” Ambrose repeated as he entered the code. One last moment of indecision, and then he punched the enter key. “Combat mode engaged. Tin Man is live.” He drew in another breath, this one much longer. “Here we go.”
Will knew it was coming, but even he wasn’t prepared for how quickly it happened. A moment ago, he was looking Jaime in the eyes as they both stared at each other in wide-eyed panic. Then time ticked over and he was holding on to someone - something - entirely different. The scared and shaking young woman exhaled, but didn’t relax; instead, it seemed like Jaime’s whole body tensed up to fight, her expression flattened out as she ceased to notice Will was there at all.
Jaime cocked her head to the side - the right side. “Orders?” she asked. A second later, she replied. “Understood.”
And with that, one arm snapped out and grabbed Will by the collar, yanking him roughly to her side and then pinning him to the floor underneath her. In reflex, his arms flailed against hers, but the more he struggled, the more her augmented right hand weighed down on him like an industrial press. He looked up at her and saw her head swivel from left to right, scanning the environment for every last detail. When her head was turned all the way over her right shoulder, it tilted downwards and her eyes fixed directly at him. The face that looked down on him was a Jaime Summers Halloween mask that showed no expression at all, with the corners of her mouth in perfect line with her lips. It stayed that way even when she opened her mouth to speak.
“Get on the sofa and hold on,” she said.
“...hold on for what ?” Will blurted out, the filter between his brain and mouth long gone.
Jaime ignored his question, his concerns irrelevant to the mission at hand. Her eyes fell upon a spot on the floor that looked good for what she was planning to do; with no warning, she took her hand off Will’s chest, hauled back her right elbow and then snapped her arm downward, punching through the tiles and burying her fist into the concrete floor below. Satisfied with that, her eyes flicked back to Will. “Do it,” she said.
Will picked himself off the floor, only for her hand to snap onto him again - his shoulder this time, pressing him down hard enough that he couldn’t help but cry out.
Jaime fixed Will with that dead-eyed stare again. “And stay low.”
As Will maneuvered past her and pressed against the sofa, he saw her dig the heel of her left foot into the hole in the floor. Her whole body was tensed, just waiting for the right moment to move, and he realized that he hadn’t seen her take a single deep breath since the activation - or, really, take any breath at all. Knowing why didn't comfort him much.
“I’m sorry,” Will whispered.
But Jaime wasn’t listening to that; one last look at Will confirmed that he was on the sofa and clinging to it as well as he could, and that was all she needed to see. He thought he saw something ripple through her just before she snapped from crouched to fully upright and spun around on the spot. The next thing Will knew was that the sofa bucked under him and filled the whole apartment with a terrible screech as its metal feet scoured tracks through the floor tiles. Then there was a crash that showered Will with splinters of wood and concrete, rocking the sofa from side to side, and finally the cushion that he had dug his fingernails into ripped free when the sofa stopped, throwing him clear to the floor. The floor, Will quickly noticed, was not the white ceramic tile of his own apartment, but the dull grey carpet of the hallway outside. With shaking hands and racing heartbeats, Will pushed off the ground and rolled onto his back to trace the path the sofa had taken. The apartment door was in too many pieces to count, the largest of which would have fitted nicely into a ring binder, and the sofa’s steel frame had also taken a large bite out of the doorframe and the wall to its side, though not without losing much of its leather covering and stuffing in the process.
What he couldn’t see was Jaime; a moment later, there was another loud noise, crashing glass followed by the echoing sounds of traffic from the streets far below. Will crawled forward, catching a fresh, sharp wind that helpfully told him about all the little cuts and nicks on his face and throat. By the time he was close to the doorframe, he struggled to his knees, then took a very, very careful peek into the apartment. Jaime was still nowhere to be seen, but one of the armored glass panels leading out to the balcony was missing, busted clear out of its frame.
Jaime had made it out. She had just taken a different exit.
Sara Corvus was used to waiting, but she was running out of time. After the close encounter on the back country road, the closest she had dared to get to William Anthros was roughly half a klick, several blocks out - a rooftop perch far enough away to not get tangled up in whatever security perimeter Berkut was running, high enough up to match his penthouse and with a good angle on the glass front. If you could call whatever those panels were made of “glass” - she was pretty sure it had deflected her first shot just enough to miss him, obviously hadn’t helped the second, and god damn it why was this so fucking hard ? But she couldn’t let the frustration get the better of her, and so she stayed in position, body flat on the blanket on top of the rooftop gravel, her eye fixed on the rifle optics she barely needed, her fingertip on the trigger, just waiting for something, any sign of movement -
Anthros’s girlfriend. Sara had her dead in her sights, but she hesitated. Just seeing her walk around with Anthros less than a day after the collision that had almost killed her told Sara a lot: she had survived the trip to Wolf Creek, Anthros had butchered her up into another doll, and they trusted her enough to let her go outside. The most comforting thought Sara could muster was that Jaime Sommers had been quote-unquote repaired, fitted with some demilitarized version of bionics that Jonas Bledsoe would be willing to jam inside a civilian. That would have been the course of action most adjacent to “decent” and “humane” when it came to treating Anthros’s girlfriend. But civilians were supposed to stay down and duck behind cover when bullets started flying. So watching said civilian spinkick a fucking 300 pound sofa clear across the room and through the door as if it was nothing, well, that told Sara that this was the wrong time for optimism.
Then Anthros’s girlfriend launched forward, jumped through one of the intact armor glass panels to the balcony outside and booked it for the balustrade, vaulted over it with a hand on the rail for a quick reverse and then pushed off the damn wall, flinging herself clear across the street onto another empty rooftop.
“...fuck,” Sara said.
San Francisco whipped past her in a blur as Sara swiveled to draw a bead on Sommers, but she already knew that there was no way to get a snap shot on a moving target at this distance. The sirens in the distance and police scanner feed in her head told Sara knew she was out of time for repositioning to draw her into a killzone. And even if there had been time - no. Sara moved her finger away from the trigger. Not without a chance to see what Anthros and Bledsoe had done to her, without a chance to talk to her. No, she had to stay on task, push aside the red mist and think forward, keep her mind on the whole situation and not just her newest - if pretty fucking big - problem. The suppressor on her rifle was barely warm; she quickly unscrewed it, released the long scope from the optics rail on top of the rifle, then popped out the takedown pins. Everything found its place in the large carrying case at her feet, and Sara Corvus was nothing if not professional when it came to her tools.
Two shots - those two shots stayed on her mind when she got to her feet and hefted the case from the blanket she had rolled out on the bare rooftop. She had all the casings, that was good. Those fancy bullets she had added to Anthros’s living room decorations would be sure to give the Berkut lab boys a couple days of work, but she was certain that her tracks were sufficiently covered when it came to where those bullets had been procured. What really worried her was the sound; two shots, popped off so quickly, that could bring a lot of attention down on her, and attention was the last thing she wanted. It bothered her more than the cold wind blowing across her face, which she hardly noticed at all; attention meant 911 calls, cops coming to check things out, people on the street wondering what that was and coming over to take a look. Still, even with everything going sideways, she couldn’t give in to panic; she had her plan and she was sticking to it. She had it figured out. She just had to go through it, step by step by step, until she was safe and out and in a place where she could think.
Down the stairs from the roof access door, past the service room and down another flight; open the door to the residential hallway, making sure to reset the fire alarm at the door so nobody would suspect her tampering with it to get to the roof in silence, and then, well, then it was just a matter of calling the elevator and riding down to the lobby. There was a cab waiting for her right there, and she quickly got in and breathed out a little when the doors closed behind her. With a start, the cab started moving, taking her downwards. She tried to do her best not to acknowledge the little perspex dome in the corner of the cab’s roof. The security cameras in the building were working, the recording equipment wasn’t; nobody would be the wiser until someone pulled the tapes. She could take the car to a little garage she had rented with a preloaded debit card, fake name to go with the fake smile, nothing that traced back to her. Once there, she could stash the car, the gun and her outfit, switch out everything just in case, and then come back later in a couple of days to clean up, if nobody had found it, in the meantime. The CheyTac would be a hard thing to write off, but -
The doors opened, and Sara barely had time to register that there was somebody outside - that Jaime fucking Sommers was already outside - before two hands hooked into the doors and she received a kick in the chest that flung her against the back wall of the elevator cab hard enough to start the bleating alarm and switch the lights inside to their low red emergency mode. It would have cracked her ribs, if they were still made out of bone. Sara had to push that thought away just like the automatic damage reports scrolling across a corner of her blurred vision and the shifting patterns of light in front of her. Her arms rose in front of her face from old reflex, absorbing an elbow strike just in time; Sara ducked under the third attack and punched forward, but Jaime was a millisecond faster and stepped out to the side, retaliating with a knee strike that forced Sara into the back corner, followed by an overhead fist that she barely dodged by diving to the ground. Sara had no hair in the back of her neck to stand up, but proximity sensors told her to get ready for Jaime lunging at her; the answer was a kick, enough to lift Jaime off the ground and throw her back ten to fifteen feet, hopefully without crushing her sternum. With a grip for the cab’s handrail, Sara pulled herself to her feet just in time to watch Jaime tuck into her landing in the empty lobby, rolling to foot, knee and hands like a sprinter ready to launch.
“Stop!” Sara yelled out, holding her left hand forward. The gesture seemed to mean nothing to Jaime. She just sprung forward into a dead sprint right at Sara, who barely got to dig in her heels before the next assault hit her block. One, two, three times Jaime came at Sara, her right arm striking out, reeling back and slamming forward again so quick that Sara could barely keep up deflecting it with both arms. On the last strike, Sara finally got the angle she was building towards, deflecting the punch to Jaime’s left and grabbing her upper arm in a bid to pull Jaime forward into a toss. That plan lasted about as long as it took Sara to see Jaime’s leg shooting up over her back as she bent forward, lashing out with a scorpion kick that was just the blink of an eye behind Sara’s face. Sara had to let go and Jaime turned the momentum into a flip that found her back on her feet, albeit with her back to Sara - and that, in turn, became another kick that only missed because Sara had already decided to back up rather than try to counterattack.
“Stop!” Sara yelled again, and that almost seemed to work; Jaime dropped into a ready stance without committing to another direct attack, and for few seconds the two women circled each other ten feet apart.
“Jaime Sommers, right?” Sara said, keeping her guard up. “I’m not here to fight you.”
Jaime took another step to the right, then planted her foot on the ground, scooting it an inch back until she had her stance just right. Her eyes oscillated between Sara’s hands and feet, trying to discern even the slightest sign of an upcoming move, while her left arm trembled in place.
“I know what they've done to you, Jaime,” Sara said. She looked her in the eyes, straight through to Bledsoe. “I can help you.”
Jaime cocked her head to the right. “Orders?” she asked.
“You don’t have to do what they say,” Sara said. “You’re not one of them.” She took a breath. “Thirty seconds. Give me thirty seconds to explain. We can help you.”
Jaime’s head straightened again. “Understood,” she said. “Kill Sara Corvus.”
Sara opened her mouth to plead for Jaime to hear her one more time, but she stopped herself. “Bastards,” she muttered, raising her arms to defend herself again. “I’m coming for you, Jonas. That’s a promise.”
“Killcode,” Bledsoe muttered. “Ambrose, I need something -”
“Already on it,” Ambrose replied.
Sara Corvus was in deep shit, and she didn’t need the warning icons on her HUD to tell her that. She was running too hot, too fast, too hard, and still barely keeping up with the unflinching killing machine that was trying to ram a couple pounds of titanium-reinforced carbon through her skull. With every blow she was losing ground, stepping back, dodging and blocking, and still that...that thing was coming at her with full speed, pistoning its right arm back and forth with unrelenting force. There was a pattern to it, Sara found, or rather a loop, a chain of six moves that Jaime Sommers kept throwing at her again and again, but Sara was quickly running out of lobby to retreat to. Just a glance to the side - something she thought she had heard - and it hit her, that jackhammer fist skipping over a forearm block that was just a moment too slow. Jaime’s fist banged against Sara’s chest, actually lifting the bionic woman off the ground and tossing her back while her counterpart fought to keep traction on the lobby floor. For a moment, Sara could do nothing but vaguely try to tuck into whatever landing she was going to get, which ended up being against the pushbar door to the building’s fire stairs. Sara felt the door give against her back, fly open and dump her out the other side, sending her tumbling down while the automatic fire alarm started blaring.
By the time she managed to actually tuck and roll and come to something of a stop at the bottom of the stairs, Sara Corvus counted the third time she should have died. But there was no time to celebrate that, not with Jaime Sommers a half second behind and burning to make Number Four stick.
Sara Corvus ran. She kept running, taking the stairs four at a time, trusting her body to take care of the balance and the impact of her feet against the edges of the steps, using her arms only to bounce off the walls when her path veered close enough that it threatened to reduce her speed. Within seconds, she was out of staircase and faced with another fire door; this one she threw herself at, busting it open and spinning herself into a fall that she barely managed to tuck into a roll. Back on her feet, she barely had a moment to register the smell of exhaust and stale air that permeated the underground parking garage before her vision was filled with Jaime Sommers leaping at her. There was no time to dodge or duck or even shift more than a few inches before impact, which sent both of them to the ground into a vicious rolling tangle of knees, elbows and foreheads; when Jaime briefly ended up on top, she seized Sara’s head and pulled it up, only prevented from slamming it back into the concrete below when Sara twisted her hips and kneed Jaime in the side. Finally, Jaime gasped, and Sara knew that she had found at least one weak point; it gave her enough room to push Jaime off her and roll away to the other side.
The red HUD screamed at her to finally pay attention.
She hadn’t loaded up before this, just regular maintenance-level food intake, not the kind of boost to her blood sugars that would have let her take on another augment in a straight-up brawl. There was only so much the Ichor could buffer. If her bionics kept burning glucose at this speed, she’d either have to stop in ten to twenty seconds and get her skull caved in by a bionic killing machine, or pass out from hypoglycemic shock, with probably the same outcome. Sara chose to go down fighting, or at least moving; for some reason Jaime had held back her left arm the entire fight except for balancing, and if that meant what Sara thought it meant, then maybe there was one last Hail Mary to try. Dodging and weaving between Jaime’s blows, Sara backed up again, but this time she knew where she was going, even faked a stumble that saw her ending up sitting against the driver’s side door of a powder blue sports car. The wide-eyed look of fear on her face was quite real, though: she saw the end coming for her in the form of Jaime’s right fist, and only ducked away at the last moment. The fist kept going, though, crashing through the sheet metal of the car’s door, ripping up the faux leather of the seat behind it and sending the lights and horn blaring. In a flash, Sara rotated to her knees and threw a punch at the door herself, bursting the safety glass, then slammed her fist down with as much force as she could muster, crumpling the metal on top of Jaime’s dug in arm.
Then Sara stumbled back, taking herself out of Jaime’s kicking range, and took a moment to catch her fucking breath, having spent about a half hour of oxygen on three minutes of fighting. Groggy from the effort, Sara reached into her jacket and fumbled for a foil pack from the inside pocket; tearing off the top, she squirted six ounces of glucose paste into her mouth, gulping down what she could. Gradually, the symbols in her HUD backed down from blazing red to stern warning orange, and she dropped the packet on the floor. She forced down one last mouthful of the sickly sweet refined sugar and then wiped her mouth with the back of her left hand, determined to make her exit from the situation.
That thing she had trapped just in front of her wasn’t Jaime Sommers. Not that Sara had made the effort to get to know Anthros’s trophy girlfriend before setting out on her plan, but this...this was not a person . It was a killer robot irrevocably stuck in a stubborn attempt to kill her, and no matter how many times it futilely tried to dislodge its trapped primary weapon, it kept on going, first almost comically like a flopping fish, then with its legs scrambling for any kind of hold and leverage - the whole time staring blankly into Sara’s eyes, fixated on her orders, her target. Sara only felt bitter satisfaction that she’d made the right bet - the left arm was not bionic, and contributed nothing to getting the machine unstuck. Sara turned to run, but then she heard the sound of rubber screeching over concrete. She looked over her shoulder to see that the sports car had moved - that, in trying to tear loose, Jaime Sommers had dragged an entire damn car with her, and was already positioning herself for the next attempt. Her jacket had already lost its sleeve somewhere inside the twisted metal, and the ragged edges had sliced open the smartskin to expose the milky-white artificial muscles underneath. It took Sara a moment to realize that Jaime wasn’t just trying to tear her arm out of the door, or tear the door from the car; she was trying that so hard that the sharp metal was biting and sawing through the twitching bundles of electroactive polymer, and given a few more minutes of effort, Sara was sure that the shoulder joint would give, too. The computer in Jaime’s head was telling her to kill Sara Corvus, and even if it meant tearing her arm off, Jaime Sommers could not disobey. And no matter how persistently the machine tried, it seemed unable to decisively free itself.
Sara turned and stumbled away from the scene in a trance, that swimming head feeling of being close to an explosion, and there was no way to sort her thoughts, to think straight, after a fight like this. Old instinct made her tap all over her body, trying to locate injuries or pieces of shrapnel or any other hazard that could still take her out, but aside from the torn smartskin on her forearms and the zoo of blinking HUD symbols slowly settling back into regular colors, she seemed to be okay, for a certain very conservative value of “okay”.
“I’m sorry,” Sara coughed, far more short of breath than she had realized. And then she ran like hell.
The whole way out, she heard the helicopter; she couldn’t not hear it, even if she still had her natural ears, and running towards the sound - even if it was the only way out - was a deeply unnatural act. Three seconds to the fire exit. Sara steeled herself, picked up her speed and busted through the door in front of her. The glare of the helo’s spotlight was almost immediately compensated by her eyes, letting her glance up briefly to see that these were, indeed, Bledsoe’s goons and not the police. The rotor wash kicked street trash at her as she vaulted the handrail before her and dashed towards the next alley. She had to get away from them, from their spotlight, their guns and most importantly their -
The light and the sound drowned out everything else. Even the shadows the spotlight was casting around her were pulsing in a very particular pattern, and any and every reflective surface around her fed the sequence into her system, much faster than she could ever hope to close her eyes - and if that wasn’t enough, the modulated sound pattern did the same thing to her bionic ears. Sara knew what this was - the kill-code hardwired into her systems - and braced herself for her bionics shutting themselves down if the Hail Mary didn’t kick in.
Even before she finished the thought, her vision started flickering and her hearing stuttered in and out. Her heart leaped in her chest, but it was only a moment of panic. Her feet stayed underneath her and her vision, though impaired by the flickering shutter effect of her eyes rapidly cycling on and off, stayed with her. They couldn’t disable the kill switch, but they could interfere with it, introducing a different pattern that stopped the code from hitting her systems in time to keep her moving. Her vision turned to shit and she hadn't had a headache like this since Iraq, but she was still moving. And move she did, straight under the Berkut helicopter as fast as her legs could carry her. Without clear vision, she misjudged a turn and ricocheted off the corner, and her vault over the retaining wall was less parkour and more headlong dive, but after a roll in some San Francisco alley muck she was on her feet again and running up the street towards the bright red MUNI sign that meant safety.
Antoine Ginsburg was having one of those days where his job was to be on a helicopter - not in it, strictly, but leaning out the open side door with only a safety harness to keep him from falling out, rifle in his hands. He had his earmuffs on, so the only things he could hear were the muffled thud of the rotor above him, the whine of the turboshaft engines behind him and his own breath. When he saw the fire exit bust open, he added his own voice - picked up by throat mike, cleaned up and retransmitted - to the mix.
“Ops, eyes on target, over,” he said, and his index finger moved from the side of the gun’s receiver to the trigger.
“Copy, pulsing now,” came Nathan Ambrose’s reply, and within a moment the helo’s spotlight started flickering while the PA system kicked out bursts of electronic sound patterns far too unpleasant to be called noise.
This was the part where Sara Corvus - who, as of three minutes before, had been dead and buried - was supposed to simply drop to the ground, every system safely shut down, to be restrained and retrieved and then very, very thoroughly examined back at base. It wasn’t a sequence of events that Ginsburg particularly liked, but it made sense to him, and it was his job to bring it about, by hanging out the side of the helicopter and keeping his rifle aimed at Sara Corvus.
Except Sara Corvus didn’t drop to the ground. She ran - straight under the chopper.
“Fuck!” Ginsburg snapped. “Up, up, take her up!” he shouted, then held on to the side door rail above him as the helo strained upwards, trying to clear Sara Corvus’s maximum jump height. That was the right thing to do, the right order to give, but it stole a few precious seconds from Ginsburg’s attempts to keep his rifle on target, and by the time the helicopter settled into its new flight level and swung around to get a better angle at the back alley, Ginsburg had lost her.
That warranted another “Fuck!”, and even when he clicked the optic on his rifle to light-amplification mode, his scan of the alley showed no trace of Corvus.
“Go up to five-zero-zero and kick the FLIR in, we’re looking for hot and fast,” he radioed on the internal channel to the pilot, then clicked his set over to the broadcast channel. “Ops, this is Team One Actual, do you read, over?”
“Operations reads you Lima Charlie, go ahead, over,” Ambrose replied.
“Operations,” Ginsburg said, “Operations, be advised that we have lost the target. I say again, we have lost the target, no eyes on at this time. Entering search pattern now, over.”
“Copy target lost, Team One,” Ambrose said. “Cancel search pattern. Your orders are to extract Tin Man and exfiltrate the area ASAP. Acknowledge orders, Team One, over.”
“Team One copies orders to retrieve Tin Man and exfil,” Ginsburg replied. “Anything else we should know about this situation, over?”
“Operations cannot advise further at this time, Team One,” Ambrose said. “Report when you have Tin Man. Out.”
And at that point, it was time for the third “Fuck!”.
“You heard it,” Ginsburg said, switching back to internal comms. “Set her down on that lot, we’re going in.”
The building’s underground parking garage had been designed for many things: capacity, ease of navigation, fire and earthquake safety, and last but not least, price. It had done pretty well on most of these points, but where it had utterly and unashamedly failed was in being conducive to good signal reception. This much was what Antoine Ginsburg had expected when he retraced Sara Corvus’s steps from the fire exit down into the belly of the building, and it was easy to tell he was out of signal when the fancy symbols on his tactical display disappeared, leaving just a small blinking “LOST DATA” in the upper right corner of the HUD built into his ballistic goggles.
“Fucking shitshow,” Calavera muttered to himself behind him.
“What did you expect?” Sagabaen replied. “Corvus and a plan. Never worked, never will.”
“Kill the chatter,” Ginsburg said, eyes fixed forward.
“They’re not wrong,” Jordan weighed in. “How the hell did we get blindsided on this?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Sagabaen said.
“Just save it, guys,” Ginsburg said. “Coming up on the door to the garage. Be ready for anything, hooah?”
“Hooah,” Sagabaen and Calavera replied, each in their own quiet way, while Jordan said nothing.
“Sage, take point,” Ginsburg said. “Calavera left, Jordan right.”
That needed no reply, just a quiet rustle of gear as the broad-shouldered filipino soldier squeezed past Ginsburg and took up position next to the door ahead; Ginsburg went to the other side and put his off-hand on the door handle, ready to yank it open, while the other two stacked up behind Sagabaen, passing a clap on the shoulder all the way through the formation.
“On go,” Ginsburg said. “One, two, three, go!”
With one smooth motion, he ripped the door open as quickly as he could manage, while the rest of the team poured through the frame and moved to their assigned positions. When Ginsburg went in last, he just saw Sagabaen ahead with his shotgun, taking a knee behind the cover of a structural pillar, while Calavera and Jordan were still advancing through the aisles to the left and right respectively. Ginsburg swiftly followed Sagabaen’s path and sped past him, sprinting for the next pillar, and slammed into cover there. There was no threat or trap in here, only the echoes of a repeated thumping, and the sight of that sound’s source brought them all out of cover, converging back into one group out in the open against every bit of training they’d had.
Jaime Sommers had dragged a car sideways for sixty feet. That would have been remarkable enough, had it not been obvious that dragging a car sideways for sixty feet was the last thing she had tried to achieve; the twisted metal on the car’s left side told a tale of hundreds of attempts at ripping her arm free of the wreck, and were it not for the vagaries of auto engineering and lack of leverage, she very well might have actually succeeded at ripping a poster-sized piece of the car’s side off the chassis. As it was, she’d done an equally destructive if not quite finished job on herself; with a proper toolkit, the combat algorithms might have actually tried to dissemble the reinforced shoulder joint on her trapped arm, but lacking that, they had instead tried to rip it free, one way or another. The jacket and the smartskin underneath were total losses, cut to fine ribbons, while severed strands of electroactive polymers, Ichor hoses and fiberoptic cables bloomed from each side of the cut that reached almost all the way down to the artificial bones, all encrusted with a quick-clotted mix of Ichor and blood. And roughly every two seconds, Jaime tried again, and again, and again.
“Pretty fucked up,” Calavera said.
“Why is she...still doing that?” Jordan stammered.
“Gotta kill Corvus,” Sagabaen explained. “Gotta reach Corvus to kill her. Gotta get free to reach Corvus.”
“Holy shit,” Jordan said. “We have to...”
“Miss Sommers,” Ginsburg said, stepping forward. “Everything’s alright now. It’s over. You can stop.”
Jaime didn’t stop, didn’t even pause, because that would have required that she acknowledge what Ginsburg was saying.
“Oh my God,” Jordan said.
Ginsburg, however, knew what to do, even if he didn’t like it. He dropped his gun into its sling and retrieved a laminated card, studying it for a moment before he looked at Jaime again. “Tin Man Override,” he said out loud, “Six - Sierra - Zero - Hotel.”
At that, Jaime instantly stopped, and her head rotated to look at Ginsburg. “Override in effect,” she said, then cocked her head to the side. “Orders?”
“Stand down, Tin Man,” Ginsburg said.
“Understood,” Jaime said.
And then, finally, mercifully, she passed out.
Commentary: The First Big Fight
You can’t have the pilot without the confrontation between Jaime and Sara. The problem is, as portrayed in the show, it doesn’t work. Sara’s motivation and objectives remain unclear throughout, Jaime’s reactions to having her boyfriend murdered right before her are inappropriate, and a 2007 TV stunt budget does not make for a very convincing portrayal of two characters with bionics trying to fight one another. So here’s what we did differently.
There’s a previous confrontation at Jaime’s bartending job that we just decided to cut out in the rewrite because it didn’t fit the tone we wanted going forward. (Plus eliminating the guy Jaime takes out in the back alley there, for much the same reasons.) In exchange, we inserted an earlier scene as the aftermath of the collision that almost killed Jaime, to show off Sara’s capabilities earlier and also to make her agenda clearer. Our version of Sara Corvus is after Will Anthros’s life specifically. She’s damaged and ruthless and not in a good place about it, but she’s not blasé about her goals and reluctant to use more force than she has to. This was something we especially wanted to emphasize in this rewrite, taking Sara from a kind of enigmatic, cool, almost predatory presence to someone with a goal and the means to get it who is nevertheless still a few steps away from being the ice cold killing machine she can come across as. On the other side of the equation, the introduction of the controls on Jaime’s system allows us to split the difference on making our version of Jaime less surly and aggressive while also making her a more credible physical threat to Sara despite her lack of training. All of this was somewhat implied in the original fic, but way too obfuscated and frankly up its own ass, so one of our big goals with the rewrite is not only to get the story and the details straight, but also to clarify as much as possible for the reader what is actually going on.
The show doesn’t really have time to establish a good sense of the difference in power between Sara and Jaime, but this is stuff we need to write about, so we have to figure it out. To that end, our fight ends up looking a lot more dynamic, faster and more viciously inhuman. To clarify: Sara has the edge in raw physical strength and resilience due to her more extensive augmentation, and also brings professional close combat training to the table. (We’ll get into more details in future chapters of Recycled where we show her time at Berkut.) Jaime has two advantages: one, the controls come preprogrammed with a variety of attack moves and can react and make decisions faster than a human being can, allowing her to react to counters literally as fast as her limbs can be moved. It’s hindered by the rather limited algorithms employed to do so, making her movements more predictable - especially to someone who combines bionic speed and strength with fighting experience like Sara, which is how Sara can keep up and defend herself. This is, however, where Jaime’s second advantage comes in: her bionics are more advanced and efficient than Sara’s, allowing her to sustain the fight much better than Sara, who finds her systems quickly taxed by operating at maximum power without having specifically prepared her energy reserves for the fight. Technical aspects aside, there’s also that Sara’s objective all along remains simply escaping the scene, while Jaime under controls is utterly focussed on killing Sara. This is a fight Sara knows she can’t win, because even if she does overcome Jaime, it’ll just end up with her hurting somebody she doesn’t really want to hurt and giving Berkut more time to send reinforcements. So she has to employ some lateral thinking and situational awareness to make her getaway.
We’ve talked a little about the power system on the bionics before, but in writing this, we looked at another potential issue: heat dissipation. At first glance it seemed like a nice enough idea; saying that the bionics are overheating was an easy shortcut to tell you, the reader, that things were getting serious, that the tech has tangible engineering limits, plus it could produce some neat visuals. Imagine a bionic limb hot enough to have its own thermal distortion, plunged into cold water that flashes to steam around it, and that’s the in-character Clever Idea to get back into the fight. Sounds great, right? Except...we figured out that a) EAP packs that are efficient enough to produce the kind of power our augmented characters display wouldn’t really heat up that much unless they were literally operating at peak output for hours, which simply isn’t possible with the total energy they have available, b) if they did heat up that much it would be impossible to shield the organic parts from all that heat, c) the parts involved in bionic limbs all have a much higher temperature tolerance than tissue, so it wouldn’t even get to plausibly malfunction before it kills the user by hyperthermia and d) even if it did somehow get that hot without killing the user it would then be a complete bitch to cool down. Quenching in water, if a limb was hot enough to flash that water into steam, would induce temperature shocks that are likely to be really, really bad for the materials, worse than the gradual heat buildup in the first place. The two most available passive methods of heat transfer - radiation and air convection - both really, really suck for serious cooling. (Convective is better than radiative in an atmosphere, but still limited by the low specific heat of air. Radiative is always super-bad because most things are not ideal black-bodies, but the only realistic option for spacecraft, hence those big black radiator panels you see on just about everything.) The superior active method is evaporative cooling. That’s a solved engineering approach, though - we call that “sweating”, and it’s really the best we could do for bionic limbs, too.
Bottom-line: overheating just isn’t enough of an issue to factor in as a serious primary limitation of the bionics, and if it was it would be so difficult to deal with that the whole system would probably never have gotten off the ground to begin with. So yeah. Goodbye, pie in the sky, we’ll stick with the already outlined problems of generating and storing enough power for all these bionic beatdowns. Because any way you slice it, super-strength and super-speed don’t come for free.
And if you’re wondering why Controls!Jaime punched a hole in the apartment floor, it was to anchor her foot for the spinkick against the sofa. Just a little Newton’s Third Law Tax so we could have her do the superhero landing pose in the fight later.