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From Blue to Red Again

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"...Hands behind your back." The cop waved on one of his cohorts, flanked by anti-tank gunners. "Cuff her."

Julian was still getting his bearings, his brain swimming in a sea of signals all fighting for dominance. Diagnostic error: SUBPWRLT_80 not detected. Diagnostic error: Dynamic range insufficient to capture data. Diagnostic error... "Armitage!" he screamed, cutting through the voices in his mind.

Her gaze swiveled to meet his. Get out of here! she pleaded with her eyes. He had to understand. If she drew their attention to him, he was screwed.

But he was too groggy to even try to guess her meaning, and in any case it was too late. "Don't let that robot get away," a voice said, and two more guns were trained on Julian. "It's an illegal model."

Shit, no. With the cop inches away from cuffing her, she thrust out a leg and caught him hard in the stomach, sending him flying. I can't let them get to him. Power surged through her arm as she flipped a mental switch she hadn't thought of in months, and hydraulics in her skin ripped through scarred-over flesh. She aimed at the cops targeting Julian, kicking the laser into action with a mechanical whine just in case the motion hadn't gotten their attention.

Sure enough, they switched to her as their target, and this time Julian got the message. Praying that Armitage had had time to fit his shocks, he smashed a window and leapt from the apartment, an instant before her laser tore through the side of it.

The shocks in his legs held. He was crouched on the street, skinless, half-built, as the ashes of one vaporised cop slowly drifted down from the building above, flecking his plating with black.

He'd also landed slap-bang between two police cars, whose occupants now had their guns pointed at him.

They weren't kidding when they said they had us surrounded, he thought, making a fist experimentally and feeling electricity coil beneath the casing. For a moment, his nerves shivered with it: the strange, heavy, ecstatic burden of being alive once again. Guess it's time to see what this body can do.

 

The holding cell they'd put her in wasn't like any she'd seen in her time on the force. Instead of the usual concrete room painted in some drab, supposedly aggression-defusing colour, she'd been taken by elevator to a depth that she estimated at several hundred feet below sea level, to a chamber that gleamed disarmingly white and resembled, in those ways in which it did not resemble a hospital, some sort of nuclear bunker.

At least the process of being held was what she'd expected: a great deal of waiting around with nothing to do, until someone eventually showed up and decided to give her some insight. The identity of the bone-thrower, however, threw her for a loop all over again, as the door to her chamber opened to reveal a figure she hadn't seen in some time and hadn't expected to see again.

"...Lieutenant Randolph, sir?" The sir was reflexive: she'd absorbed that much protocol at least, and didn't think to differ in the midst of her shock that, of all people, the head of her old division would be visiting her here.

"Armitage." He closed the blast door behind him, letting out a heavy sigh as it slammed. "It's always a shame to lose a good officer. But if there's one person I regret having lost in all my years in the job, it's you."

"I don't understand why you're here," she said softly. "Dealing with prisoners isn't your jurisdiction." If this was important enough for the Lieutenant to see her personally, the news was either going to be very good-- or very bad.

"Because," he replied, looking weary, "I believe you deserve to be dealt with in your final hours by someone who'll afford you a modicum of respect."

Final...? She didn't speak the word out loud, but it showed all over her face.

"You must know by now that we have no way to detain you safely, not long-term. Even this cell is just a temporary measure." He indicated their surroundings. "And even if we did, the law doesn't provide for it. In the eyes of the government, you're not a person capable of standing trial; you're a robot to be wiped clean and repurposed. Your containment here is only for as long as it takes to decide whether you actually can be repurposed safely."

Armitage did know the standard procedure for dealing with robot criminals. She also didn't approve of it, which was why, in the cases she'd had to deal with involving robot-assisted crime, she'd always tried to find excuses to kill the robots at the scene. At least that way they got to die as themselves. To be stripped of your identity and recycled, treated as if the sum total of your mind and experiences were nothing more than interchangeable software, destroyed when it exceeded its usefulness: she found the thought abhorrent.

That it could happen to her, at the hands of people who'd worked with her, known her as a unique and living being, was something she'd always known deep down but refused to contemplate.

"Many of my other officers called you a cynic," he said, seeming to read her mind. She supposed he hadn't climbed to the top of the department on the strength of his stunning good looks. "But I watched you, and I saw the truth. If anything, when it comes to certain matters, you're more of an idealist: not the best trait for a cop to have, but I understand it. You see what it's like to live a robot's life, and you know the treatment you're getting is unjust. --And for what it's worth, I agree with you in this case."

"So help me, if you think it's not right! You know what I'm being charged with, right?"

"Many things. But chief among them, the manufacture of illegal robots and procurement of parts for the same."

"Right. My only crime here is attempting to reproduce."

A sad, bitter chuckle escaped Randolph. "That's always been your only crime, Armitage. It's no different now than it was then."

Except, to me, she thought, it makes all the difference. Because this time, I was fighting to save my own kind.

"Wait." Something here stood out as fishy. "You said it yourself: my kind are illegal. I can't be"-- she hated to say the word --"repurposed back into society. There's no place for me. What could I even do?"

The twinkle in his eye told her that even now, he still admired her deductive reasoning. "If you were any other illegal robot, it would be that simple. We'd simply have you put down." He noted her scowl at the euphemism, and amended. "--Killed. But after your exploits back on Danich Hill, all of Mars knows you're capable of things far beyond what any ordinary robot can do. It's my opinion that the military wishes to take control of you for the purpose of eliminating any remaining or future--" He coughed. "Domestic dissidents."

"You mean Thirds," she said instantly. Only a modified Third like her had the speed, the strength, the weaponry to reliably hunt down other Thirds, at least ones who were prepared for it. The first generation hadn't been: they'd lived in ignorance, some not even aware they weren't human. But now that knowledge of the Martian campaign to eliminate Thirds was widespread, any "dissidents" would be taking special measures to stay alive. "They want me to kill Thirds."

"Strictly speaking, they want your body to kill Thirds. You don't come into it. But yes."

The flash of light behind her eyes was not an illusion born of her anger; it was real, something in her systems, a deadly weapon powering on. In that moment it was impossible to see her as human at all, and that might have contributed to the speed with which Randolph felt for something in his pocket, and a translucent screen slammed down between them just as Armitage lunged towards him.

Her body hit the barrier hard, but she seemed not to notice, launching into a frenzy of pounding and screaming. "You bastards! You fucking bastards! We're just dolls to you, we're just pawns in your monstrous game! You call us monsters, but you're the fucking monsters! What do you even mean by humanity? You're not-- there's nothing--" She sank against the screen, her screams devolving into sobs as she continued to pound.

Randolph walked over to the screen and placed his hand where she huddled, her image fuzzy through the force field. "Armitage. Don't hurt yourself."

"The fuck do you care if I hurt myself?" She looked up suddenly, her eyes taking on a sardonic gleam. "Oh, right. I guess you all won't be able to use me if I'm dead. So why don't I just finish it now?"

"Armitage--"

"There's one weapon you can't take away from me, isn't there?" She forced open the panels in her wrist with a tearing sound, and stared into them: the three bright shafts, thrumming with power. Suicide. She could do it now, right in front of him, strip him of the satisfaction of exploiting her body, if she could only get over the obvious and compelling implication that she would be dead. "--Fuck. Fuck. I don't want to die." She pressed her face against the barrier, fingers curling in a vain attempt to claw into it. "Fuck you, I don't want to die!"

The phone in Randolph's pocket vibrated.

"--Lieutenant Randolph, sir, this is Security. We're ready to transfer Prisoner 00146281 back for further processing. If you'd please vacate the room now, so the EMP doesn't damage any equipment you might be carrying..."

"Understood." He gave the desperate, panicking woman on the floor one last look. "I'm sorry."

She reached out after him as he headed for the door. "No-- no, I don't want to go like this!" The lasers hummed in her wrist, a reminder of the alternative. Die at your own hand, or become their weapon. Die at your own hand, or become--

A million stars shot through her braincase, and the lights went out.

 

She awoke strapped to a chair, in a room whose perimeter she could barely see. Only the area immediately around her was illuminated: a spotlight, dwindling, like a coda to her life. Or maybe her sight was the thing dwindling.

The world came and receded in small starts, jolts of knowledge without context. The rattle of gunfire... a man eating an ice cream. float difference(float a, float b){ ...cold liquid, numbing. No, that last one was inside her. A dark cold feeling spreading through her mind, like tiny lights going out all over a city, like the senseless encroaching fear of monsters that hounds a child at night rising up and becoming real, opening jaw s a▐▐nd le░”#^*t t in‹¶g o¼‹u t

+%silence

 

{she tried to scream oh god, oh god but the words were sucked up}

{pieces of her mind were being taken one by one and all she'd ever wanted was to ░ ▐