Actions

Work Header

Blood, Sweat, and Steel

Chapter Text

September 5, 2058.

Chicago. Southeast, Precinct 42.

10:45 AM.

Eight fresh rookies finished filling out paperwork, their new uniforms clean and pressed. Two women, six men. The leather on their belts hadn’t broken in yet, their boots shines under the fluorescent lightings. Not one was older then 25.

8 new scabs.

Not the kindest term, but what else do you call someone with a new implant at the back of the next, where the flesh met metal, and the edges are rough and raw. They body would adapt, but for now the surgery meant that they were wearing bandages and trying not to touch the the newest part of their bodies. They talk and joke about what’s coming up. Nervousness, rookie nerves.

And they should be. 42 Isn’t a good place to be a cop. Even in the station, bulletproof vests are a common sight. Mechs are on duty in a two block radius at all times. 42 isn’t a place you ask for, it’s a place you end up.

Scabs didn’t have it as bad as the others, maybe that’s why they got some shit from the locals. It’s easier to sleep at night when you know a few tons of mechanised armor would be around you tomorrow. Scabs tended to make it to pension. Scabs could get out of 42.
—————————————
Sergeant Kole walked into the room. Six seven, solid like brick wall. He loomed over the new scabs. Kids half his age. What the hell were they doing here? He knew, he’d read their paperwork.
“Well, as I’m sure none of you are eager to stay in 42; I have good news. We’ve got just 4 mechanised units without pilots. Two threaded cruisers, which means you get to spend the day playing bus driver. An ariel drone, which means you get to stay in a pod at the station.” He pauses, noting that the kids are looking happier. They should, not bad shifts at all.

“And a maximum-sized single-pilot SWAT mech with full AI.”

Ah, that got the look he’d wanted. He let a half smile pull up the left corner of his mouth.

“Which of course, means you lot get to go through an integration.” That got groans. Of course it would.
—————————-

Kole new a few things about the good man he’d lost when the Mech had taken that hit. You didn’t get to his position without spending time with your best. When 42 had lost it’s heaviest hitter, things had gotten worse. Four months it had been now. That was an eternity for an AI. One month of repairs. Three more mourning. Yesterday, it’d said it was ready.

Kole had 8 rookies ready the next day.
—————————-

Chris knew 42 better then the others. He’d spent time in here when he was younger. Anyone who grew up in this armpit of Chicago spent time in 42. Either as a victim, or having done a crime. Chris’d turned by the end. Spilled the beans on his gang.

That’d gotten him a reward, a ticket out. He took it. Now he had a GED, he’d gone through the Police Academy. And he is back. He watched as the technician clean up the black vinyl chair that housed a remote interface. Somewhere close by, down in the motorpool, is a large mech in a docking bay. It’d turned down the first three in less then a minute each. THe next two had lasted longer. Now it was almost lunchtime, and Chris is going to have to get his AI cherry popped.

Not that he hadn’t interfaced before, but that was with training computers. Calm machines on courses, patient and well experienced AI that dealt with rookies every day. Not with an older, experienced partner. Not with an AI that might hate his guts. THat’s what the chair was for. To prevent the kind of feedback that’d fry your brain. You did NOT hook into an AI that didn’t want you. That was a good way to end up drooling in an asylum the rest of your life.

Sitting down, shuffling to get comfortable, Chris nodded to the tech. “I’m good. Let’s see what he thinks of me.”

The interface plates connected. Chris saw green lines, markers to indicate proper connectivity.

“You’re into the chair. You ready?” confirmed the Tech.

Chris swallowed. “Yes. Link us up.”

He felt like a pit had opened under him, the borning room in the station fell away as the machine pushed it’s awareness onto his own..

 


 

Up on his slab in the docking bay stood a formidable HLX-9 Vanguard Hawker: fifteen feet and six tons of bunker-busting, mortar-slinging machinery. The Long, Metal Arm of the Law they called him around here. It was a hard-earned title, believe it or not.

The mech, who everyone just called Hawker, vented a short gust of air from the rear manifold outlets underneath his scapular plates, shifting his feet a little on the slab out of irritation rather than fatigue. His face, a glossy white against an immense body of matte black, scowled vaguely as he waited for the next recruit. He didn’t want to be here, but he needed to be here.

Consciousness surged into him, clawing and biting. For a full 38 seconds he couldn’t see, hear, or detect much of anything around him – his sensors came online sluggishly, and it was all he could do to keep from lashing out to make his software boot faster.

At last Hawker was able to see the engineers standing nearby, a safe distance away, as he looked at them almost accusingly.

“Where is Davidson?” he rumbled haggardly, his vocal unit still throwing error codes.

They all looked at each other anxiously.

“Where’s Lee?” He rarely said his pilot’s first name around others out of sheer respect – but in the cockpit, they spoke freely together. And right now, his cockpit was eerily empty.

“He…” Chief engineer Colburn looked away toward the monitors, as through their logarithmic readouts and lines of tiny code would help. “He was in a coma, Hawker. His son made the decision this morning.”

The giant mech just laid there on his side, heavy cables dripping out from the back of his head like a tuft of freakish hair. He balled his hand into a tight fist, emotion threatening to overcome him. The humans, so goddamn tiny, took a few more steps away, though none of them would dare try to take him offline now.

When one of the screens exploded in a shower of sparks and burnt plastic, however, a few of ran screaming.

“Hawker, I’m sorry,” Colburn offered, unfazed at the outburst; there was genuine sadness in her eyes, though. “I didn’t mean for you to find out this way.”

Next, he sent to the computer terminal in the processing room. It would appear as a little blip of a word on the screen, belying the intensity of what the poor scab was about to experience. For the mech, it would be nothing. The equivalent to delivering an unexpected punch to the gut and seeing if he had the wits to block it. Most rooks didn’t.

The kid’s file was modestly promising, but then, so were they all. The scabs were here for a reason just like anyone else – do a job, get paid. Hawker was never going to find another Lee Davidson, he knew that much.

“Hurry up so I can get back to being relegated to patrols,” the mech muttered to himself.

A few seconds later, the connection was open and priming. He counted down from 5, and like that, a whole other world suddenly ballooned into his foreprocessors.

Hawker didn’t pause to feel around – he ‘circled’ the kid’s mind once, quickly, and delivered a electro-neurological jab of meaningless information of just the right load and frequency to make most humans unseasonably uncomfortable. There was no form here – just noise, thought, sensation, and Hawker was designed to have one foot in that world at all times. This kid – this Chris Celn – wasn’t. It wasn’t even a matter of finding out if they could, either. That was the academy’s job. What Hawker was here to do was see if Chris knew how to duck.

 


 

Hawker.

He at least had a name for the AI now, it’d flashed to him right before everything went dark. This wasn’t like being with those training AIs. Nor was it like when his wetware had had the lowest operating software installed by the surgical staff.

He is alone with a tiger.

The -PRESENCE- of the AI dominated his awareness. He blinked, then closed his eyes. No good looking when your optical processing was being re-directed. It read him, he could feel it measuring his mind. It make a slow circle around him, as if it’s oversized footsteps were reverberating around him in the chair. Then Chris wasn’t sitting anymore. He was on his feet, in darkness. Danger is close.

His childhood all over again. The hairs on the nape of his neck perked at the sensation of exertion. The pulling back before a blow. He didn’t know much about coding, many of those lessons were resting in the mechanical databanks in his mind.
Years of instinct from growing up on the streets kicked in, he pushed back from the blow; his boots squeaking into the floor as he crouched. Something grazed his arm, like getting clipped by a passing truck. That was too close. Would there be more?

His hands went for his sidearm and flashlight. Nothing. He didn’t have his equipment here. His fingers flexed and he swallowed. Coming up on his haunches so he could spring away, he tried to ‘face’ the threat he couldn’t see. Until it wanted to , the AI could be as elusive as it wanted.

 


 

Oh? he thought, though deeper than their current connection. Deeper – further – than he would permit the kid to hear. For now. Well this is interesting.

Human minds fascinated him more than he cared to admit. They were messy, tangled things, seething with blood and iron and lipids. Though the scab felt small here – no, he projected ‘small’ – their awarenesses were comparable in complexity. Hawker’s ‘mind’, his software, was a bit more elegant, a bit quicker with numbers, and he was capable of seeing out of many eyes. Or, as the case may be here, none at all.

Celn’s reaction intrigued him… did it really feel right?

Let’s try this…

A hand – a worm connection, really – shot out to grab the kid by his face – his densest cluster of conscious thoughts. It was a basic psy-hack technique, but if Celn could recognize the danger here and react accordingly, then… well, Hawker would have to see if he could manage it first.

The scab’s presence here, so close to him, so small and quick, was thrilling. It’d been months, and those other candidates had been such spectacular disappointments. But here… Hawker was already getting the sense that something had the potential to resonate.

 


 

Chris’s mouth pulled down into a frown. In the simulated interface, there usually was a background. Sometimes it was an open field. Sometimes the inside of a warehouse. Usually it was a comfortable living room. This is just a dark alley. There’s almost nothing to see. He can feel a ‘wall’ behind him, and he knows there’s another not too far off. There’s some ground under his feet and a sense of open above.

Hawker is large, bordering on huge. There’s no question about how the AI presented itself. As if the moon had crept over the top of the buildings that made up this alley, Chris could ‘see’ the highlights of a truly oversized mech. Shoulders broaders then he stood tall shifted, a hand opening up, fingers splayed wide, to grasp… him?

-fuck THAT!-

The human wore his duty uniform in this mental simulation, brass buttons glinting in the moonlight. It shouldn’t be possible for something that big to be so fast. He knew that if he let that impact hit him, he’d be brained up against the brick wall behind him.

The kid ducked down, letting the gravity in the simulated environment pull him down. Arms over his head, he tucked into a crouch as he ‘felt’ the mechanised brute smash into the bricks. Digital debris fell onto him, his forearms felt like the robot’s palm hand bruised and scraped his flesh.

It wasn’t that the kid thought of himself as small either, he looked too small to be wearing the uniform. Like some teenager on halloween. Chris thought of himself as a teen still. Perhaps it was the danger, the menace and control the AI had in this digital realm. Reminding him of life when safety meant sleeping near your mates. Chris had survived on the streets by not taking hits. And he felt like he really, really wasn’t welcome here.

Putting his right hand down, he pushed up and launched to the left. All the AI had done was act aggressively toward him. It didn’t say hello, but neither had he. As he did his best to put the robot ‘behind’ him by getting on his feet to sprint, Chris called out in the simulation, his lips in the real world moving slightly.

“Okay! You don’t like me Hawker, I get it!”

 


 

The kid was catching on quick. Much quicker than the rest of his ‘graduating class’. But he was scared – Hawker could feel, even over their rather superficial connection, his adrenaline pumping, his chest heaving, and… was that sweat on the nape of his neck?

“Okay! You don’t like me Hawker, I get it!”

A setting familiar to the human had come into being at his nudging though the AI knew how to co-create in this space just as well as any meat intelligence. It gave the kid a place to run to in order to run from him. It was the mental distance he was wanting to put between them.

Hawker stopped his volley of assaults and held still, taking a moment to check himself. He’d put a half dozen other scabs through the ringer already – what was he trying to prove here? That none of them were Lee? Of course they weren’t. You were built to be a professional, he scolded himself with a scowl. Start acting like one.

The mech let their environment fully realize, and he took a tentative step toward the rook, revealing himself in the dim light.

“You’re being too goddamn hard on them,” the neural bridge operator had flatly noted after the third candidate was sent from processing with his nose gushing blood. “You wanna get back out in the field or what?”

Hawker’s projection vented air in time with his real self down in the hangar.

“You’re a damn good scab,” he said finally, almond-shaped yellow optics glinting, tiny concentric rings of lenses behind them shifting as they studied his form. The kid was shapely, strong. Just what he needed. “But only time will tell if you’ve got what it takes to pilot a Vanguard-class HLX in this precinct. To pilot me. Now come on downstairs,” Hawker said, trying to sound approving with that deep, commanding voice, “so I can welcome you to this hellhole in person.”

 


 

In the virtual environment creation, there were three involved. Chris, Hawker and the technician. The tech’s job is to make sure Chris didn’t end up on a slab. Aside from that the human and the AI had free reign. Chris got about six firm footplants into his spring before he ran into a chain-link fence. It spanned the alleyway, go up, far to high for him to climb. The black and white nature of the environment began to color, both his skin,t he metal of the fence, the blue of his uniform. He turned slowly, hearing the machine draw close.

A singular light came on above, making a pool of illumination over the kid. He was in full flight mode, and already he was gauging if he thought he could get around or under the AI’s presence. Then it came into the light as well.

“Holy.. fuck!” he uttered, having to look UP to meet those yellow optics.

The mech towered over him, nearly three times his height. Armor. Antennas. Weapons. Fists like wrecking balls. Feet that could punt a squad car with ease. As it loomed, intimidating jets of pressurised air and steam ejected from it.

Chris’s eyes are open wide, as he stared at it, having no place to run. The AI could reach all over the alley, how he’d avoided it until now he had no idea. It’d been toying with him, like a cat with a mouse. Then it spoke.

The words came out strong. There is no question that Hawker is utterly military, both and design and mentality. Chris felt like a new boot. Fresh off the bus, having the drill sergeant growling at him. Except that the words are complimentary.

There is only one thing he could say to Hawker as Chris came to attention and nodded with an obediant. “Yes, Sir.”

—————————————–[end of line]

With a soft mechanical whirr, the chair disconnected. Chris twitched as motor control returned to his body. He sat upright fast, boots hitting the floor as he sucked in a great gout of air. Sweat soaked through his back, his hands shook as he leaned forward. The tech handed him a bucket, and the scab coughed up his breakfast into it. After he’d had time to recover, the technician provided a few paper towels as well.

“Officer Celn.” rolled out Kole’s firm voice. The man had a big smile on his face. He’d expected Hawker to chew through rookies for weeks. Getting one on the first day? Better then he could have possibly hoped. The kid got on his unsteady feet and nodded, drinking from a bottle of water as he followed the big human. “So, for the next few weeks you and Hawker are going to get to know each other. That means you train with him,” he handed Chris more paperwork. “Sign where I’ve highlighted. A couple each page.”

The elevator doors opened, they got on and it wasn’t until they closed that Kole spoke up again. Quieter, subtle for a big man. “He outranks you Chris. You’ll spend every waking moment training, socializing and preforming repairs on Hawker. You’ll be sleeping in his gantry bay. I need him on the streets like he never left. Understand?”

Chris’s head is swimming, he’s just finishing the high of the encounter, knowing that Hawker is top-spec military Mech. CURRENT! Current tech Mech. Hawker’s model is still well in use on the military’s front lines. Hawker likely is the biggest dog in 42, and Chris was the key to getting that force of nature back out where it belonged. “Yes. I get you sir. I won’t let you down.”

As the elevator doors opened, Kole took the paperwork and gestured down the busy open space that is the motor pool. “It’s not me you need to prove yourself to. Hop to it scabber.” He pushed a button and the doors closed.

Chris walked down the side of the room, watching his step and trying to keep the water down. He is full of nerves after that. And he’s getting looks. Curious, judgemental looks. They knew he hadn’t flunked out. And they had known Hawker’s previous Pilot. Chris had some impossibly big boots to fill. Hawker’s alcove had a translucent plastic barrier, those long strips from the 20 foot ceiling.

As he stepped in, Chris could only stare. This wasn’t just a niche, this is like someone stuffed half of an apartment in the motor pool. And dominating the space is the 15 foot tall,(not counting antennas) form of Hawker. Three times Chris’s Height. Male. Imposing.

Chris stool up straight. Saluted before offering his hand to shake. “Hello again, Captain Hawker. Office Celn reporting for duty.”

 


 

Hawker left just before the tech ended their connection, returning to his body.

Visual net offline, he felt around his own hands. Big, black appendages, as wide as a man was shoulder to shoulder. In a grip, they could exert just over 500 foot-pounds of pressure. In a full-wound punch, septuple that amount.

He onlined his visuals, and noted that the motorpool’s technicians, whom he’d sensed as vague radar blips of warmth and EMS otherwise, were looking at him now. Wondering. When his optics flickered on, they hurriedly went back to their jobs – none of them dared say anything to him unless he spoke first.

Hawker’s cold detachment wasn’t a persona, it was who he was, down to his last line of code. Few people had the honor of seeing anything else. And one of them was dead now. The mech had no intention of getting that close to a pilot again.

The door on the far wall, past the row of 8-wheeled MRAVs, shunted open. Kole remained in shadow on the other side, but Hawker knew that salt-and-pepper hair and ugly smile from a literal mile away. He nodded his subtle acknowledgement and the door shut itself.

Lit harshly from above, Hawker knew he looked like some kind of bastardized Catholic icon, tucked back into his ‘parking spot’ like that. Chris just added to the irony of it all as he approached with something that pass as religious reverence, taking careful, measured steps. The mech wondered what Kole told him on the ride down.

A weak klaxon sounded only once as Hawker disengaged himself from the slab – more a vertically-oriented berth where he could hook himself up to the precinct’s systems – warning others that the giant was about to be mobile. Planes of plexi, edged in caution striping, separated into six and folded away as he stepped out onto the concrete and tread plate floor.

Boom.

The techs, he realized with faint bemusement, had made themselves scarce.

“Hello again, Captain Hawker. Officer Celn reporting for duty.”

Hawker tilted his head as he looked down at his new pilot, barely taller than knee-height. Just like their shared simulation. Except, as always… different.

The kid flinched when he took a step closer and folded his big arms around his broad chest. “Don’t ask me for a handshake, greenhorn, unless you don’t want a hand left afterward.” He wanted to laugh at the kid’s reaction, but he knew just what his hands were capable of. With that, he turned, beckoning with a quick gesture for the human on his little legs to follow.

“I may be your superior, and I may be your partner,” he went on, striding over to a twenty-foot door and ordering it open with a wireless ping. Inside was his domain, his place for police-work: massive screens along one wall, and 42’s computer servers on the other. Leading up to the bank of controls was a small lift for human personnel. “But I am also your equipment.” He stopped at the computer screens and pulled up a slideshow of his own design specifications, engineering schematics, and a dozen potential loadouts.

Hawker turned back to Chris. “And you need to trust me exactly as far as my operating limitations allow.” Bitterness crept into his voice now. “Because if I fail critically, you’re going down too.

“Now. My job: protect this city, protect you, protect myself, and in that order. Understand? Good. I know that Kole probably gave you the rundown already, but here it is again: we will be training for the next several weeks together, and we will be training hard, because Lead Dawn knows that 42 is compromised without me out on the street.

Your job: Know me. Know every inch of me. Know what I can and can’t do, what I haven’t seen, what I haven’t considered. We need to be seamless, but not so seamless that we can’t check each other.”

Hawker eyed Chris on the platform as he stood there, trying to look tall and squared. Chest-high – cockpit high. (Something in him twitched at that.)

“Your file says you’ve got experience with 42,” he said, leaning against the console and threading his thick fingers together as he finally handed over some room for the rook to speak. “Care to elaborate?”

 


 

Chris had no idea that Hawker would be so intelligent. And he didn’t mean books smart, he meant lifelike. It is hard for him to believe that the big mech didn’t have a pilot and this was a joke at his expense. He lowered the offered hand, letting it rest at his side as the mech talked. The voice is loud and big and fit the mech perfectly; right down to it’s deep, naturally authoritative resonance. Chris looked sheepish at not getting a shake from his new direct superior. He’ll have to offer a to fist bump next time.

The young scab had a high body temperature and is sweating. Aftereffects of the virtual encounter. Not that the motor pool was a cool place, all those engines and not enough ventilation to keep the concrete pit cool. It’s a blessing in the winter, curse in the summer. The massive machine took a single step, moving it’s mass with ease. While there’s no way to mask that much weight, the steps did not reverberate like explosions. They did seem to ripple the floor though. Chris had to run to keep up with the robot’s casual walk.

As Hawker talked, half of the people around could overhear with ease. Anyone else definitely knew the mega-mech was rumbling about something. Chris noticed something in his run, aside from the heat pushing out of the big mech. There was a smile. A look of appreciation from the others in the motor pool. Not at him though. At Hawker. Respect for the boss.

Chris wanted that. He wanted that kind of appreciation. He decided right here and now to do whatever it took, to have that kind of respect.

Chris panted as he rode the small elevator up, the yellow metal and wire bars of the cage looking like they’d taken a beating over the years. It was unlikely any other mech was big enough to use this space. ALL of this is for Hawker. And now him. He didn’t interrupt, he listened. Attentively.

Chris finished the bottle of water and held it in his hands, wiping his brow with his sleeve before speaking up. “It was about 5 years… no… that’s not right.” He looked down, which put his gaze at the armored cockpit in the mech’s chest before getting his full story right in his head.

“I grew up with the Reds. They were a gang that used to run from Red Park and down two streets. Drugs, petty theft. Survival. I did try to make it through highschool. Actually made it to tenth grade before I dropped out.” he rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “Stupid decision. They kick you out of the public housing if you’re under 18 and not in school. So I just did what I had been. Cutting up anyone who looked like they might have something I wanted. Paying into the gang. Being a good bitch and getting high on whatever we could score.”

His shoulders drooped a bit. “That was four years ago, 2054. Eight years after the nukes went off overseas? One of the coldest winters on record? The year with no summer? I was cold. Fucking freezing. Cold enough to start getting desperate.” Right foot drags on the gantry’s grated floor. “That winter, the police got their first real mechs. The big winter cleanup. I didn’t know it, but that hobo with a thermos of hot something? And the nice coat? Yeah. SWAT guy on stakeout for a bust. He saw me too. Some little street rat, cold and hungry enough to have been stupid. Stupid enough to be thinking about I could get my hands on anything warm. He had me come over and shared.

Chris took a deep breath in and let it out through his teeth. “I can’t expect you to understand what it’s like to slowly die; knowing that you aren’t gonna live. That nothing out there gives a shit about you, down to the people who you thought were your mates. All that graft I made? Suddenly no one remembered what I brought in. So I told him. Everything. What the Reds did. How he could find the Reds. More importantly, what we did for the Silver Suns and the stuff we moved through the sewers for the Triads.”

Chris’s eyes are red, ashamed at those memories. He pinches his nose, breathing again. Trying not to cry. “They brought me to 42. This place was a haven. Fed me, had me play stool pigeon. The Reds disappeared. Silver Suns and Triad lost big, even had some of their fronts go down. So I got told. Then they gave me a ticket out. I got a GED. When to community college. Got an AA in Criminal Justice. I wanted to help. Wanted to help other dumbasses like I had been. I had the right biology to become a scab.”

He leaned back on the handrail, sighing. He wiped his face then crossed his arms. “So yeah. I have a history with 42.”

 


 

He hadn’t been expecting the kid to spill like that – he didn’t seem the type – but something about the kid being capable of emotional vulnerability, something about his body heat and raised heart rate, touched an electronic nerve. His expectations shot up a little: a compliment from Big, Tall and Grumpy, as the commissioner called him.

“I remember the Triads,” he rumbled, recalling the raid on their headquarters in Fifth City that resulted in four killed and nine arrests. The organization effectively crumbled after that. “Their schtick was cutting off your thumb and little finger as a first warning.” Hawker nodded and vented a gust of air. “Glad you’re off the street.” Then: “There’s a lot of us here who got their start underground,” the mech said, maybe trying to reassure him for some reason. “Even me, apparently. I volunteered to have my memory cores wiped at some point in ’50. Woke up here.”

Hawker was an ex-military mech, used in black-ops specialized assaults back in the Siberian Wars – tip of the spear shit. Everything he knew of that old life, aside from his name, serial number, and English-speaking abilities, was second-hand, though. The rest was TOP SECRET: FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY. Not that any of it mattered; organized crime was the biggest threat these days anyways. He was in the right place. Thinking about his past would be nothing more than a…

…Distraction, huh?

 


 

Chris takes a little time to set himself back into an emotionally stable state. Deep breaths, stay strong, be strong. He closed his eyes and wiped his nose with thump and forefingers as he listened to the strong voice. Hawker’s rumped filled the chamber, all around the monitors and weapons looked ready. Hawker is ready. Chris isn’t.

“Three finger Tony found out that the hard way. Tried to keep some of a brick. Didn’t know the triads weighed the stuff on both ends.” he throat-clears, gazing up at Hawker’s faceplate. “Yeah. Glad I am too. I’d bet if there was a reasonable way out, about a third of everyone on the streets would go do something honest. But .. well, there just isn’t.”

When the robot talks about it’s own memory. Chris looks surprised. “Man, I’d love to do that. Just keep the experience, the reactions, turn off the pain of the past.” He thinks for a moment.

“Well, seeing as how we’ve got to train and I’m the ignorant one; what do you recommend? Where should I start?”

 


 

“Man, I’d love to do that. Just keep the experience, the reactions, turn off the pain of the past.”

Hawker vented, said nothing. His uncannily human ways of speaking and moving usually caught new-comers off-guard; all told he was a rare AI, though there were others like him out there. St. Louis, Los Angeles, Seattle – those were the kinds of cities that required more than a mech with a sophisticated computer. A mech who couldn’t just locate an armed target in a crowd, but wonder if it should fire at all.

“Where should I start?”

“For your probation period, you’ll be living on-premises. To your name you’ll get a room with a bunk – the rest is communal.” Hawker pulled up a few files on the computer and sent them to the terminal located in Celn’s suite. “You’ve got homework,” he continued in that deep voice like the lazy rumbles of an idling V8. “It’ll be waiting for you upstairs.” He turned back to the human on the platform though, optics on him again, and cocked his head to the side a little. “For now, I recommend some R&R because we’re going to hit the ground running. Starting with tomorrow. You’re going to meet me in the firing range at 0500 where you’ll -” he tapped at his chest here “- be trying me on for size.”

 


 

Chris hadn’t survived this long by being the biggest or the strongest. He’d lived to be a cop by choosing which Alpha to support. He’d chosen the Reds over this school. Not the best of decisions, but he’d been smart enough to dump the Reds for the police; recognising who had the might to enforce their rules. Hawker fit into that position, the strong one. The one Chris naturally would want to look up to.

A combat AI can be far superior to a human. However, the wars being fought are human versus human. Humans complain when robots kill without a ‘man on the button.’ So there needs to be a pilot. The pilot’s presence comforts generals and politicians.

As Hawker spoke and gestured, Chris felt calm. He’d need to get a chance. He needed the AI to accept him a a recruit. It had clearly laid down where their professional boundaries would be, and it hadn’t accepted him as a bunkmate in it’s personal alcove. But he now had a chance. He’d prove himself, no matter what it cost him personally. Even it it meant letting the 15 foot, multi-ton mech firm stomp his ego under it’s monster feet.

As Hawker tapped his chest, Chris felt his nerves spike. Talking with the mech is fine. But going inside? Experience that mental interface directly, sealed up where the machine could literally turn him into a meat puppet?

R&R? More like, good luck sleeping.

Hawker spoke and gestured like a human, and it had no problems using it’s voice and size to enforce the authority it possessed. Over me. Chris thought to himself.

“Yes sir. Homework and report at 0500.” Sensing he is dismissed, (he did marvel at Hawker’s ability to give off such an impression.) Chris made his way to leave. Grasping the empty water bottle, Chris rode the gantry lift down to the floor. From there he walked out of Hawker’s office/armory. It was only after he had his back to his new partner that he let the grin span across his face; feeling the elation of the AI’s approval fill him.

 


 

The mech turned his face toward the screens as Celn left, but his sensors followed the rook out until the heavy, leaded doors closed, blocking the visibility of these other “eyes”. He pulled up some case data, recent news reports. The big machine didn’t need to do it this way; he could have just downloaded them and mulled them over on-board. But he was getting piloted again. He considered it a matter of etiquette to do things in the open for his human partner.

But Hawker was getting distracted. He could feel the heat from the thorium in his reactor core burning, he could feel the surge of his liquid cooling systems woven throughout his chassis. He could hear the dull thrum of his own internals, the faint sounds of his joints as they responded to the slightest changes in his stance. He could feel the emptiness of his cockpit.

The last person in there had been a tech before he woke up. The last person he remembered being in there was Lee, just as he had blown the hatch open – literally; an emergency mechanism powered by explosive charges – to make a last stand as Hawker succumbed to an agonizing EMP attack.

For all his hard aloofness, Hawker was still a mech – still a pilotable machine, designed to work with the guiding hand of a human. And though he’d never admit it to anyone, being without a pilot felt wrong. Being without someone small and fragile to partner with, to protect, to physically house, was wrong. To be alone was wrong. Incorrect. Did not compute.

Hawker realized that his hands had balled into fists, and he released them with a harsh vent of hot air.

Part of him was eager to feel Chris strap himself in, but part of him wasn’t sure if the kid could handle it. Most of him, though, was indifferent. It was too soon to tell. He’d passed the first neurospace test, reacting impressively to the mech’s wordless assault, but working together was another matter.

At 0445, Hawker roused from hibernation and headed for the range. Simulations had their place, but he preferred the real thing where weapons were concerned. He pulled a heavy rifle from its rack on the wall – eight feet long and a little over 900 pounds, made sure it was in good working order, and loaded it with a magazine.

His internal clock read 0458 when he was done, and he hoped that Celn wouldn’t be late. Hawker had little patience for tardiness.

Chapter Text

Chris rode up the elevator in silence. It dawned on him as he pressed the button for the personnel level that he didn’t even know where he’d be bunking. Well, the room or dorm space anyway.

*Ding!* chimed the elevator. The doors lazily slid open at the main level. Two techs and Chief Engineer Colburn walked in with him and wasted no time. “Arms out, legs spread scab!” The woman commanded, a startled Chris responded as the techs scanned and took measurements of his body. “So, you think Hawker took a liking to you?” she asked, messing with a dataslate. Her jumpsuit had permanent grime and enough tools to disable a squad car in the back pockets.

“I don’t think he likes anyone.” Chris offered.

Colburn nodded up and down in assent, “He tolerates you. We need him out on the streets. You want to be a pilot. We all can get what we want.” she smiled then, noting that Chris is the shortest in the elevator. He might not be the shortest in Precinct 42 but.. he’d be in the bottom 5 for sure. “We’ll have a proper pilot suit modified by this evening, make sure it fits. If Hawker doesn’t reject you, then we’ll modify the rest for duty rotation.”

The doors opened on the personnel level. “Room 7c. Get reading.” she gestured, one of the techs patting Chris’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. He won’t hurt ya. We’re all together here.”

Chris sat down in the small space that was 7c. A room with a closet, a desk with a chair, and a bunk bed overtop the desk. Dorm rooms are downright spacious compared to this. He ran a hand through his short hair, woke up the computer and got to work. ‘Vanguard-class HLX, combat superiority. Basic operations. Welcome trainee Celn. Please attach the neural link and enter rest mode for data transfer.’ Chris dusted off the old-style connect, placed it on the connective plate.

Time..
goes..
by..
so..
slowly..

————————————-

He was laying on the bed, dizzy from two downloads. He held out his hands as if they were on joysticks, fingers and thumps working the controls for Hawker as he went over the basics. *KNOCK KNOCK!*

Chief Engineer Colburn had a military spec pilot suit on a hanger. The name patch had Celn. The torso, arms and legs had obvious seams where it’d been shortened and narrowed to fit him. Tough rubber joints. THe inside littered with biosensors. There was a crotch and butt hatch as well. Closed at the moment. Colburn shook her head as Chris reached for the suit. “You go in this nude. Hawker can keep you inside for over a week with onboard supplies. Longer if resupplied. Eventually you need a shave and your nails trimmed..” she shrugged. At least she turned her head as Chris got naked and slid into the form fitting outfit. “Not bad. Move your arms. Walk for me. Hmm. Have to make some adjustments. Hawker’s booked the range for 0500. I’ll be by at 0430 to give you this back.”

Chris pulled on his underwear, then most of his clothes. “Thanks Chief. Should I know anything about him?” THe woman considered for a moment, then shook her head negative. “Let him tell you. If he tells you.”

Dinner. Unpacking his things. Alarm set for 0420. He didn’t fall asleep until past midnight.

———————————-
By 0450, Chris’d eaten, showered and slid into the suit again. It clung like a weighted second skin. As he walked, Colburn went beside him, testing the sensors responses. “Hmm. We’ll need to calibrate the suit for your biometrics. Some of the sensors aren’t optimally placed. But, it’ll work for now.” She stopped outside of the range’s door, and looked down at the nervous rookie. “You can do it scabber. Go on.”

0501, Chris pushed open the range’s door and headed for Hawker. The massive mech holding a rifle with a barrel Chis might fit inside.

 


 

“Late,” the giant mech grunted, raising a brow plate at the human’s entry, but otherwise not moving a servo. Just as Celn’s face began to show the fainted indignant surprise at Hawker’s verdict, he continued. “I’ll let it slide this time, but only because it looks like Colburn and the pit crew held you up.” He moved, hefting the rifle to rest against the wall behind him. A thick whirring of moving parts hidden behind black plates of armor; joints, worn down to the sheen of bare metal, exposed only where they could afford to be.

With a flexing of cybernetic muscle, the hollow of his cockpit thrummed to life and he opened up with a quick succession of hisses and clicks. His chest and midsection unfolded in four thick slabs: the biggest one upwards, the smaller three splayed open like harsh flower petals, arranged to make it easier for the pilot to board from most angles. Though Hawker didn’t breathe, he surmised that this was close to it: the stale, weeks-old air inside of him rushed out, to be replaced with new. It was invigorating.

“You should know,” the mech said, ignoring the look on the scab’s face as he stared up at that yawning metal gullet, aglow inside with rows of switches and status lights. “That I’m equipped with a 2-million-point haptic engagement system.” A brief pause. “That means I can feel everything you do, greenhorn.”

 


 

Chris scowled slightly at being told he is late. True, one of the clocks on the wall did indicate he is a minute past the scheduled starting time, but he still didn’t like hearing the fact. Already the pilot suit gave off readings, wirelessly transmitting information toward the large mech about the scab’s status. Healthy and nervous, seem to be the consenso of the data. Nervousness increases the the bot opens up.

“Yes sir. I’ll try to be on time from now on.” is that a little bit of a smirk on his face? Maybe.

The greenhorn knew from his data downloads that the robot had a pilot compartment. But unlike a car or a helicopter, that place isn’t obvious. To use anatomical terms, the pecs opened up with the hinge at the collar bone, the abs parted sideways and the stomach opened down. No windows. Lights everywhere. Hundreds of buttons and switches. Screens of information. There’s a mask with enough wires and hoses to provide life support in an ER. There pilot’s ‘chair’ looks comfortable, and Chris could see numerous restrains that would automatically hold him steady.

Hawker’s cockpit is probably the safest place on Earth. And a prison if the Mech wanted it to be.

“Everything? So, if I’m getting queasy? Tired? Angry? You’d know?” he isn’t sure how far that extends but.. he reviews his information from yesterday. Once inside, there’s no secrets from Hawker. THe mech WILL know everything about it’s new prospective pilot.

Chris exhaled deeply, approaching at stopping at the Mech’s left side.

“Permission to board, sir.” At least he’s smart enough to ask, instead of just jumping at the open invitation. If the mech acknowledges, he’ll climb aboard..

 


 

“Everything? So, if I’m getting queasy? Tired? Angry? You’d know?”

Hawker said nothing, just let his bright yellow optics give the faintest knowing flash as he let it sink in that there would be no such thing as privacy for the human anymore. It was the price of being a scab. The mech, of course, had no such luxuries either, but he was rarely the least bit bothered by it. Hooked up to a network, the edges of the electronic self blurred, and what the hell was Cartesian dualism anyway? Solitude co-mingled with collectivity at any given moment. And besides, it wasn’t like his fluids were considered obscene.

While he had full sensation inside and out, pain sensors were only integrated into his dermal armor. If his cockpit were compromised, it would be more difficult to sabotage him that way.

Celn approached, looking so small beside his foot, gazing up in equal parts awe, determination, skepticism, and respect.

“Permission to board, sir.”

It was a little formal, but it would do. The kid was certainly trying. “Granted.”

With a whine of machinery, hand and footholds, previously recessed into the side of his leg and thigh, emerged. The kid looked up at him again, and Hawker could feel his little pulse now, his brainwaves, his core and surface temperatures. Knowing those inputs, on top of seeing the look on the rook’s face, was as good as being clairvoyant: You’re kidding, right? he seemed to be saying.

Yes, Hawker retorted in his own CPUs. I’m going to make you climb. Of course, he had to be careful – shielding his own thoughts once the kid was properly hooked up would be difficult. He’d have to save his admittedly salty inner commentary like this for those few moments of disengagement here soon enough, though there was nothing he’d be able to do about the general bleed-over of emotions. Not that he had anything to hide…

“I’ll pick you up when I feel you’ve earned it,” he said with a subtle smugness as Celn began to scale the mech’s leg.

 


 

Back when he’d been seriously considering becoming a scab, Chris had had some long talks with psychologists. Ones who were scabbers as well. What’d actually pushed him over the edge into accepting the implants had been a lecture in the early days. The rest had been almost a formality. <When you’re in an AI vehicle, you share mindspace. Yes, you can have private thoughts. But you have to mask them. Otherwise there are no secrets. Nothing that can compromise the trust between the new gestalt mind. You mentally fill in space for the other. One partner can dominate the interface, which is why testing is so important. As the human in the partnership, you are responsible for ethics, morality, and guidance. The AI is for the operation, the targeting, the movement. Together you choose to move. The AI chooses where to move. Your job is to make sure it doesn’t step on anything innocent.>

As he wondered how is supposed to clamber up the mech’s legs, the handholds emerged giving him a purchase. He didn’t say it, but the expression on his face is ‘Really?’

“I’ll pick you up when I feel you’ve earned it.” that voice! Chris never wanted to hear it in anger. Or at the worst, in anger directed at him.

He unclenched his tight stomach and exhaled. ‘Be good.’ he thought to himself. Hawker had already picked him, it was only natural to put on a show like this before allowing anyone to get close. ‘And you don’t get anything, no recompense for putting up with the AI?” his bruised ego echoed within. ‘I get him. This is about sharing.’ are the last private thoughts he’s about to have for a few hours.

He’d been climbing up, and when his booted foot stepped onto the lowest part of the hatch, he already felt like he is too far up to be joking around. Falling down from this height onto the concrete floor would hurt a lot. The cabin’s air felt pleasant, the humidity perfect. Chris sat down in the seat, the knowledge from his homework coming to mind. He flicked the switches and buttons to adjust it to his height and size. The Padded restraints curled his lower half, securing him to the Mech. He reached up, grasping the mask and bringing down over his face.

Tubes and wires added to the mix of sensors that transmitted data as the automatic belting clasped the mask to his face. Just beyond his lips sat a number of oral probes, each able to deliver air, food and medication. Via intubation if needed.

Over his shoulders and along his ribs, metallic padded clamps moved in and grasped him; ensuring that he would not jostle loose in the most vigorous movement. The twin-joysticks lifted up and came to rests at his hands. He took a deep breath and held it.

“Initiating Mind Machine Interface.” He pressed the large orange button, and he felt movement behind his head. The interface moved up and solidly connected to the back of his neck. On each side of his neck, on each side of his head, and on top of his head, like a large hand, the interface grasped his skull.

It uncannily felt as if Hawker had just palmed him like a NBA player palms a basketball.

 


 

Hands on him, grasping.

It was strange, being properly boarded again for the first time in so long. But it was good. Correct. Needed to be done.

Celn’s weight was nothing on him as he climbed up the eight or so feet to the cockpit and swung inside. Hands, feet, a small body – on, about, in. The kid took a seat, and Hawker could feel his sit bones through the suit. His boots on the meager decking, then on the foot controls. The mech vented hot air, holding still as the kid – now, officially, his charge – settled in. Part conscious movement, part engagement of automatic processes, the harness conformed to him as his little fingers danced along the controls, adjusting the angle of the seat to fit his body just so.

Hawker distances himself from the process, retreats further back as Celn finishes the pre-op.

With helmet on, though, and neural probe inserted into the kid’s warm, lipidic brainstem, Hawker engages the final sequence: like an inhale his chest closes, and his interface stabilizers – there to prevent the tiniest whiplash from turning his pilot into a vegetable – tightened its grip, and —– – – –

The fullness of Celn’s mind came barreling at him like the light at the end of a dark tunnel, and suddenly the two were bathed in neurospace light. Hawker expected nausea as the human inside of him was bombarded with the feed from his own optics, the distant sensation of the mech’s limbs being his own, and about two-dozen different HUDS. Hawker, on the other hand, was suddenly acutely aware of the kid’s every conscious thought, his every tiny movement, his every discomfort, and yep, there it was – the nausea.

“If you vomit in there, I’ll make you wish you were never born,” he said, voice sounding inside the helmet. It was, in fact, an act of mercy; he could have just as well said it directly into Celn’s mind. But he’d give him a moment to get his wits about him first.

 


 

Chris innately knew what he should expect. He wasn’t a complete novice, and in his mind is the digitally download information on Hawker’s model. But knowing so much different than experiencing. His small organic body is forgotten. Walking, standing, moving. For his whole life he’d felt sure of using the body he’d been born into. Now he is Hawker.

15 of destruction. Tons of perfect death. Lifetimes of combat data, always analyzing the moment to ensure victory. Superiority by design. Hawker’s begrudging acceptance of the rookie? Chris now understood that the AI had every right to be dismissive of the young human.

He really wasn’t ready for something like Hawker. His skills are suited for tank duty. Maybe a 8 foot tall exo suit. Even an experienced combat pilot would be daunted. The overwhelming nature of being Hawker filled him like a gallon of beer into a shotglass.

What is a Chris Celn? Human. A survivor. Quick. Observant. Always looking for details, valuable and dangerous things. He seeks motives. He would make a good detective. He is small. He looks for ways around, not though. He exists in a world where everything exists for bigger beings. He experienced a life nearly the opposite of the AI.

At least he didn’t scream a second time. The only cry of terror barely escaped as the hatch sealed him in. A howl lost in hydraulics.

“If you vomit in there, I’ll make you wish you were never born.”

Swallow. SWALLOW! There. Deep breaths. There is no closing his eyes to blot out information, no covering his ears to stop sounds. The full complement of Hawker’s sensor data took the place of his own eyes and ears. He didn’t see where his hands and feet were. He just knew now. He knew where they mech stood. Where we stood. Oh yes, it is very much ‘we’ now. Chris’s identity is rough, needing cutting and polishing before it would fit ideally into the space the robot had allocated.

Thirty seconds is a long time for an AI. Not enough time for a human. He forces himself to steady, pushing his will back, fighting for his place inside of Hawker. In the mindspace, he’d like a single piece of cereal in a bowl of milk. Both the milk and the bowl are hawker, and he’s saturated and broken apart. He wills himself together, forcibly arranging the HUDs in a useful grid. His jaw clenches tight as he swallows back more bile.

It’s like riding a roller coaster while doing calculus; while the operator mocks and judges you.

“What is our first task?” he thinks outwardly, trying to show that he isn’t completely overwhelmed. Heart rate is peaked, he’s taking deep breaths mixed with shallow gasps, and sweat’s soaking the rubber pilot suit.

At least he didn’t faint.

 


 

Well what have we here… the giant mech caught glimpses of the film reels in Celn’s head – memories, sensations, emotions. His time working for the gangs: getting the shit beat out of him here and there, the pain of a heel to the ribs; a gun – normally such an insignificant piece of gadgetry to the multi-million dollar war machine – shoved up in his face, the blood beating in his ears as time slows; the thrill of a successful delivery. Then, the war: the sharp ache of hunger; biting cold; the shivering, shivering, shivering; the endless dim haze of a blacked out sun; the equally dim hope that he’ll be lucky to have a life beyond this. The rest, less traumatizing, less acute, was scattered out before him in an ever-shifting, ever-undulating mass of heat and pulse and thought. Ah, wetware.

But Celn was in him, too. The little human’s consciousness crept up through his wiring, made its uneasy, forcibly unhinged way through his processing centers, his memory cores. It was a distinct feeling, having a human swimming through your proverbial veins. Briefly, he wondered what it must be like for the small, fragile thing. And then he didn’t.

“What is our first task?”

If Hawker’s voice was gravel under the treads of an Abrams MK-VIII, then Celn’s, even here, was like dry leaves on pavement.

<Your first task,> he corrected, pointing ahead of them, <is pick up that rifle and fire on that target. I’ve been incapacitated, and you’ve taken manual control.>

He will take this opportunity to monitor Celn’s thoughts and movements from a “distance”.

<I want to see how well you can dance before we tango.>

 


 

Chris had three ‘artificial’ fingers and two ‘artificial’ toes. Extremities tend to be disposable in extreme duress. Not technically artificial of course, cloned from source material and surgically attached. That’d been what he’d spent his sign on bonus on. His left knee still didn’t fully bend after that fall off an overpass. Details. The way his skin felt against the rubber of the pilot suit. He is so focused on the machine around him, he’s ignoring his own body. Perhaps it’s because Hawker had spent so long with the first pilot, Lee, that a new mind is something to explore. And Chris didn’t guard himself the way Lee had. The mech could endend awareness.. perhaps control? Nothing seemed to prevent reaching through the interface and making the human inside move.

Or, if those barriers are there, Chris wasn’t advertising them. Lee had set borders right away.

<I want to see how well you can dance before we tango.>

Tango. Briefly, the human’s mind is distracted. A vision of him holding a rose between his teeth, dancing, music all around, his partner? Hawker’s left hand, leading on a wooden dance floor.

The vision fades as he recalls the necessary controls. Thankfully, somethings are automatic. He thinks about moving his legs, the muscles gently twitch in the restraints. His hands fall onto the joysticks.

6 Tons of mechanical force takes a half-step. Then, a full step. Each one lacks grace, but by the time Chris halts at the rifle there’s no danger of falling over.

He doesn’t do the wall any favors as he leans down, accidently putting a divot and a web of cracks where he gently knocks our head into it. “Ow.” He felt that! Thankfully, he barely scuffed the paint. The slow movements are comical, like he’s moving through molasses. Rifle up. Rifle in hands and straighten. Turn. Turn more. Advance to position. Step. Step. Step. Halt. Safety off.

One of the fantastic things about being a machine is having such excellent vision. All around, thermal and ultraviolet, radar and lidar. The rifle has two HUDs that become prominent, allowing Chris to simultaneously see down the rifle as well as in all directions. Both sniper and spotter. Butt to shoulder. Set feet in position. Elbows up. Finger on the trigger, first digit centered on the trigger. <Just like any other time on the range. Act natural.> He inhales and holds his breath.

“Firing.”

If there’s recoil, he doesn’t notice. 6 Tons and 15 of Titanium and exotic polymers barely rock from the 8 foot rifle. With the scope’s maginfication, it’s like shooting something just a few feet away.

Off center right. Off center left. Dead Center. Off center down. Off center up. Dead Center. Click. Click. All six on target.

Feet together, finger off trigger, safety on. He can feel a dull ache in the back of his head, where his overtaxed vision center is trying to make sense of having 14 eyes. He focuses on the smouldering target.

<What is my next task?>

 


 

They took a shaky step, immense weight threatening to topple; Hawker was there, though. He wasn’t going to let them fall. He can feel Celn’s legs twitch, nerves and brain hemispheres light up as though he himself were walking. Good. Hawker felt, for a brief moment, that he had flimsy and elastic human legs.

Then, as Celn guided their hands to the rifle, he suddenly had human arms too, and muscle. But only a little.

<Steady…>

The rest came easy. As soon as Celn not just understood, but was able to take for granted, that Hawker’s hulking metal body was his, it seemed to click. The rest was a matter of marksmanship, panoptic sensors or no.

$4200-worth of ammunition later, Hawker looked over the remains of their 100-yard target.

<78% accuracy,> he announced. <You’ve got two weeks to raise that by fifteen points, otherwise you’ll have both Kole and I to answer to, greenhorn.>

<What is my next task?>

The mech, his stream of running layers of quantum software now laid bare for Celn to explore at his will (because one could be at once both in the rushing river and observant of it), send a wireless command to the range’s computer system. At Hawker’s discretion they stepped around the wall and into the range itself, in the midst of the targets as they now arranged themselves in a circle around them. Thick, clear panels fell into place to block off the viewing end of the range.

Hawker wordlessly prompted Celn to reload the weapon. Together, they accessed the mech’s ammunition hold in his right shoulder, which produced another cartridge with a hiss and ka-klack.

<We’ll test your reaction time next.> Hawker gestured to the targets around them, which were color-coded red or green. Every once in a while, the computer would swap one’s color without warning. <I will pick targets at random, and you will have exactly 0.5 seconds to decide if it is a friend,> he said, conjuring the color green, <or foe.> He conjured red.

The mech lifted the rifle to his shoulder without the human’s cooperation, leveling it at a target that was currently green, and disengaging the safety.

<On my mark.>

He let three of Celn’s heartbeats serve as countdown before he turned on his massive heel at great speed, obfuscating most of his own sensors in order to confuse his pilot, then stopped on a dime to center on a random target.

<Begin!>

 


 

Chris felt relief that he didn’t outright miss. There’s a surety that comes into their motions as Hawker steps in and begins filtering experience into them. <I’ll work on that. Perhaps you can aid me on the normal range,> citing the cost of the Mech’s ammo, <and improve my skill with your preferred weaponry.> Of course. Slipping through his skill set, Chris would be drawn to handguns. At his size, rifles are unwieldy without mounts or a sandbag.

The rookie stopped thinking again, and he saw outward in a new way. The wireless layers of data surrounding them. He knew it is there, but the Mech now helpfully displayed the coverage and the saturation of Precinct 42. It looked like a lazer rock concert. How Hawker could pick out useful information, the right network and manipulate it? Chris barely followed the mech’s commands as they flew out and altered the range. He sighs in frustration, breath tickling the filters inside the mask. He really did want to be a properly pilot, but every minute he kept realising how much more he was going to have to learn!

That spin though. Hawker got the unpleasant sensation of Chris’s nasua bubbling up. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have to talk, as he’s keeping his lips tight together.

<Green. Hold.>
<Red. Fire.>
<Gree- Hold.>
<Red- Fire!>
<Gre- Hold>
<R- Fire>
It’s beautiful. If such a thing can be called lovely. Chris mind forgetting about the small body within and concentrating at the task at hind. Almost like deep slumber, he enters the zone as his stops thinking and starts dowing. He’s aprt of the machine. Subservient to the AI in command. Guiding, authorizing.
<Hold>
<Hold>
<Fire>
<Fire>
<Hold>
<Fire>
..Then it stops. But for a few moments, he’d been right where he should be.

<We need to reload.> The human thought, wishing the contents of his stomach would stay down where they belonged.

 


 

Hawker sensed Celn’s innate preference for handguns, so when they were through, he gave the rook a moment calm his stomach as he silently strode back through to where they started and set the rifle back up in the rack.

He reached up – ambidextrous, but now favored his right hand because Celn did – and out of a compartment on his back shot up a 30mm handgun: perfectly positioned to be grasped, ready to fire, in urgency. It was a handgun to Hawker; still, it ran almost three feet long and weighed in at 90 pounds. A faint recess in his forearm opened, revealing another small compartment out of which was fed the ammo-belt; he had an on-board capacity of about 200 such shells. The mech deftly demonstrated loading it into the receiving slot in the side of the gun, even though Celn had the information downloaded into his own mind. Sometimes it helped to perform the action in the “flesh” before needing to do a cold-recall under more stressful circumstances. In his time around humans, Hawker learned not to underestimate the power of “muscle memory”.

<We’ll do it again,> he said, distancing himself from his pilot in order to get a more calculating bead on his vitals. Everything checked out. His brainwaves were steady; this was promising. <Except this time, we’ll use colors that you have little instinctual response toward.>

They stepped back into the range – the ring, almost – and the colors on the refreshed targets were now white and yellow. It would be much more difficult to tell them apart under haste and duress.

The mech positioned himself – themselves – similar to before.

<On my mark… begin!>

 


 

The mech let a faint smile tug at the corner of his mouth.

It was an absurd thing, to have a mouth at all, but Hawker was designed to have a face and he’d be damned if he didn’t use it. Because it was as much part of him as his hands, or his armaments, or his compact thorium core.

But Celn was grapsing the method. A firm demonstration that, even with shared neurospace, something could be obvious to one end of the link and not the other.

That, at the end of the day, Hawker could still be in charge.

It was, if he let go of himself for a while, a thrilling sensation. There were fingers in his fingers; tendons in his servos; boots in his feet. The human had donned him like an oversized costume, in a way, and still done his job. Hawker had insinuated that the human would be trying him ‘on for size’: wearing him like a second suit on top of his pilot’s suit.

Hawker felt worn. Hollow. Malleable. At once both receptive and resilient to his pilot’s whims… at once both fifteen feet of metal and less than six feet of flesh. However, even if he’d wanted to, there was no mechanism by which he could force Celn’s movements the way Celn could force his own.

This was the way of things.

When man and machine were mis-aligned, it hurt. Hurt like un-lubricated bearings, or a sore back. But when they did… woe be to those who got in their way. Hawker wasn’t being dramatic when he compared it to a dance, really. Though his feet were bigger and his gait heavier, it was still a partnered choreography nonetheless. And it seemed to him, whether he wanted it or not, that Chris was more than capable of delivering on his proverbial footwork.

Hawker’s programming ran cleanly. He felt the components of his cockpit seemed… close to its occupant. The vital, thrumming little smear of heat. Chris Celn was a spot of wetness inside of him, powerful in his abilities – likely more powerful than either the mech or the human was prepared to give him credit for – but small and fragile nonetheless.

<How.. how did we do?>

Hawker was at rest now, tendrils of smoke curling up into the air from the heat rising from his exhausted service pistol. The air around it shimmered with the temperature differential. Somewhere, a sensor read the weapon’s surface temperature as well above 200F. It was no matter to the either of them – just another blip of numerical data.

Even across a linkup like this, the mech was careful to establish boundaries. Remind Celn where he began and ended, and where his legal responsibilities did too. The kid would be well aware that the HLX-9 Vanguard Hawker unit, equipped as it was with Deep Field 2 AI, was legally prohibited from discharging a firearm on the street without a certified on-board human. There were many instances of him struggling against such a directive, readily available for review in his memory banks, but it was important to him that Celn grasp, in his meager, calcium-formed bones, that this was the way of things.

<We performed… sufficient enough for a rookie. We’ll break for 10 minutes and regroup.>

It was an unreasonable command, he knew, but he partly wanted to see how Celn would react to such rapid disconnection and reconneciton, as well as… giving himself room to think on this entire thing in private. To think on the probability that he had, in fact, stumbled into a true replacement pilot after all.

Even before terminating their link, Hawker’s chest splayed itself open almost of its own accord and surely almost disrupting Celn’s sense of place and persona. Infinite Mirror Phenomenon was at a much higher risk when either party did things like this, but Hawker was suddenly feeling the need to be alone for a few minutes. If Celn could avoid the psychosis-inducing feedback loop of IMP so far, then breaking such a “fourth wall” should have been no problem.

“You’re hungry,” Hawker lied. “Grab a snack and meet me back here.”

 


 

<We performed… sufficient enough for a rookie.>

We. We. Not I. Not you. Not his name or rookie or scab. We. Somehoe his trained had taken root. Somehow he’d done it. Briefly, he’d managed to share his consciousness with Hawker. They’d done the slowest Waltz and he’d made a number of mistakes as they’d shuffled along. But had happened! He wanted to dance and cheer! <Good!> And his youthful joy bubbled up like a fountain inside.

<We’ll break for 10 minutes and regroup.>

Chris felt relief flow through him. He wasn’t ready for any more combat right now. If Hawker had just sat and meditated, then things would have been sufficient. He’d dumped at least a quart of sweat out in these minutes and needed to drink. He’d also had his heart racing and it’d felt like he’d been inside for hours now. Taking in that kind of information, what Hawker routinely experiences, made him want to lay down for a few hours. Then the mech’s chest plates opened.

When they’d picked up the rifle, Chris had simply gotten more HUDs on the main display that piped into his brainstem. The Infinite Mirror Phenomenon is aptly named. Chris could see out the hatch. He could see beyond the cockpit, a dark place that he should only be vaguely aware of. For several agonizing seconds, his vision bounced between ocular input and simulated input; before his eyelids shut. Thankfully the connection was already starting to sever, as he’d lost his focus and would have tried to drunkenly yaw to the left.

HUNGRY

Around Chris, the restraints and clamps of the pilot’s chair retracted and released. Calling it a chair is a misnomer. IT’s more of a human-sized cage, a suit within the armor, a means to express movement if necessary. To anyone watching, they’d seen just how tightly the small rookie had been held. Bondage fetishists would have boners over the way the greenhorn was released from layers of metallic, padded restraints. It’s only after the helmet armature releases the connection does the kid slump. It was over. The first real link in months. The only other human to fire a weapon with the Deep Field 2 AI. The little rookie in a second-hand pilot suit.

He’s there for fifteen seconds before the mask’s straps automatically loosen and it retracts upward. No blood from his nose. No arcs of electricity on his skin. He shakily slides out of position, turning and judging where the first handhold was to put his boot on. THump. THump. THump. Warm hands leave their heated, sweaty mark on the rungs. No more human inside. Nothing within to protect. All around him is the smell of ammunition propellent, cordite, sulphur smells. Brass cartridges bigger than his thumb scattered all around. Some flattened into wafer-thin smears by the robot’s feet as they’d switched targets.

He was so small! He had to take each step carefully. One hand on his stomach, the other out for balance. He could feel the warmth coming off Hawker’s reactor behind him. What was he doing? What was going on? Why wasn’t he inside?Hungry. Oh. Yes. He kept his slow and plodding pace toward the red door marked ‘EXIT.’ He’d come in through this.. he realises as his hand rested on the handle. But how? He should be much too big.. to fit? He pushed the door open and walked into storage area..

And into Chief Engineer Colburn ‘s smiling face. She pointed at a scarred and grubby table with cheap plastic chairs. Chris fell into one, staring vacantly toward a wall.

“How do you feel rookie? I saw you and HLX-9 operating.” she inquired, noting his vital signs and other activities the pilot suit transmitted on her datapad.

Chris answered instantly in his head. There was no response back, no powerful command and instruction for the AI. Seconds pass. Then a minute. Colburn coughs, helpfully. Chris remembers his voice. “Hungry. Small.” He blinks, turning his head to look at her. “Tired.”

“You just ate twenty-five minutes ago. How can you be hungry? There’s a water cooler over in the corner, get a drink.” SHe frowns and notes the reaction, looking down at the messages she is passing back and forth with other staff.

Chris wondered he he could make the drink come over with his mind. It didn’t work. Begrudgingly, he pushed himself up and got it, drinking down two cups standing there before he came back down to sit. “Weird.”

“Weird?” her gravelly tone poked toward the scabber.

“Yeah. It felt good, right before he told me to take a break. It’d felt like hours in there.” He takes a sip. “I know it’s only been minutes.. coming back to me now. It was like I was in a trance.” he waves his free hand in front of his face. “We moved. The targets, the sight of the sidearm. We just slid from second to second. At first Hawker was doing everything, I just helped. I wasn’t good enough. I will be better.” He finishes the water, pushing the paper cup around in his fingers as he rests.

“I want to feel that way again.”

 


 

For a few brief, disorienting moments, Hawker could see his hand, the open hatches of the cockpit, from both his own perspective and Celn’s. His own CPUs could handle the sudden load of mathematically reconciling being in two places at once, but the kid was forced to shut his eyes; an easy sidestep that got Hawker’s approval.

Soon they were two again, and the little human, practically steaming in his suit, uneasily clambered out. He could feel the grease that the fingers left along his leg, the trembling, the swaying. His brain had just done the equivalent of run a three-minute mile – Celn’s reaction wasn’t unwarranted.

Hawker listened to the small door open with the creak of worn metal, and shut with a quiet and satisfying ka-click.

He cleared the spent casings away with a sweep of his massive foot. They made dull pinging sounds as they rolled into each other, and by the time he was done, the first door opened. It was Kole.

“What can I do for you, sir,” the mech asked, studying the bullet-holes they put in the twenty targets.

Police Sergeant Kole walked into the range, casually side-stepping the 50mm brass shells. He folded his big arms and glanced around at the targets along with the giant mech. “Thought I’d come in here to tell you that they’re all taking bets.” A smile crept across his face.

Hawker ran a finger along his chin as he continued his survey. “On?”

“How fast you’re gonna break your new toy.”

The machine actually scoffed before breaking out into a low, rolling chuckle. The irreverence of such banter was par for the course around here, but there was something about it the mech appreciated. Or maybe it was the fact that Kole and Davidson had been close, and the rare quiet moment the two had together like this made it seem like Lee had just popped out of the room and would be back in a moment.

An easy few moments passed, but the mech sobered up, feeling the weight of this entire thing. Remnants of images and information from his old life, garbled and truncated beyond all recognition, ghosted just beyond memory. No words, no faces, no sounds, no emotions could he recall, but there was still just enough there for him to know that this piloting business was deathly serious.

“How many pilots did I have in Siberia, again?” Hawker knew the number, but it always came out as a question anyways.

“Four, I believe.”

“Any of them still alive?”

“Not a goddamn one.”

Hawker nodded, optics like chips of golden ice. “I think you know how this will turn out then.” An uncomfortable pause. “Celn has the raw potential,” he said at length. “It’s just a question of his endurance.”

“You sure that’s the only question?”

The mech folded his arms too, stepping past Kole to go replenish his ammo. His feet passed dangerously close to the man, but Kole didn’t even blink twice.

“That’s the only question I’m asking, Sergeant.”

 


 

Colburn quietly tapped on her datapad while Officer Celn spoke. The kid had come out of the academy 5 months ago, went straight in for surgery. He’d only been cleared for duty for two weeks before he’d rolled the dice on Hawker.

Where that would be snake-eyes remained to be seen. Still, she couldn’t help but update the betting pool.

<Bad news, those of you who said 10 minutes or less. He’s going back in for round two. And yes Peterson, I do have money on him making it! So don’t think I’m going to have him tap out just for your paycheck.>

She looked at the clock. 7 minutes. She’d best him back on his feet. “Well, your vital signs are well within tolerances.” she lied. He was way over and should take a nap with an IV drip. But Lee hadn’t ever been normal either when he’d gotten out of Hawker. The mech got deep into it’s pilots, it needed to. Either they figured out a way to survive having an AI in their brains or they burned out. At nine minutes she gestured for him to stand. “I’ll be observing Rookie. You’ve got plenty of day left.”

Chris let out a long sigh. He wished he could stay in the chair. He wanted to be back in Hawker. He wanted to prove himself. He put both hands on the table, boots on the floor and pushed himself up. “Yes ma’am. Returning to training.” He took the cup with him crumpling it into a ball and dropping it into the recycling as he stepped back out onto the range.

Money changed hands, officers and sergeants shared looks. New bets are placed. The security feed from the range experienced the highest request in it’s existence, moving it to position 1 on the camera streams. The private server Colburn had running was busy moving bets as she updated the odds. Option 46 came available: Successful Integration. 100,000 to 1. And she is the only bet on that dark horse.

=——————————————-=

Kole had a smile turning up the left side of his mouth; and the edges of his eyes had those crinkles he’d get right before laughing. “And here I was worried you might have dropped your standards, just to get out on the field.” he chuckled. The man looked happy, “Glad I’m wrong.” The man looked nonplussed as the mech strode past him. “Get that scabber into shape. If he makes it a week, I’ll see about getting both of you out of the station.” Now there’s a tasty morsel of motivation! A chance to get out of the motor pool, to feel the looks of civilians.. the fear of the gangs. Knowing The Long, Metal Arm of the Law is back. “Even if it’s just patrolling around the station.”

=——————————————-=

Click. Creek. THe door to the prep room opened and Chris stepped out. Celn made sure he stood up straight and had his shoulders back as he approached. It was a little strange to see how expressive Hawker’s face is. He wanted to touch it, feel over as the mouth worked. And yeah, he did want the mech to smile at him. Right now, all the looks he can remember getting were disinterest or probing skepticism. “Sergeant, Captain.” He respectfully nodded to the man and the machine. Chris looked better then when he’d left. “I’m ready to continue when you are.”

 


 

“Get that scabber into shape. If he makes it a week, I’ll see about getting both of you out of the station.”

Hawker paused in the middle of reloading the ammo box in his arm, the plug-n-play “cartridge” of fifty-cal rounds light in his hand. He plunged it in, servos whirring to fix it into place and prime the feed.

“I’ve placed my bet,” the mech rumbled. “Those must be the winnings.”

Kole had followed lazily behind him. He gave the side of Hawker’s heel a little kick with his boot and smiled again. “That’s the spirit, Big Nine.”

“…and an expanded arms budget.”

“Now don’t get cocky.”

A creaking to their right, and Celn stood in the doorway to the prep room. 10 minutes ago he looked like he’d been hit by a train – now just a bus.

“I’m ready to continue when you are.”

Kole shot the mech a look as he showed himself out, but Hawker didn’t return it. He simply vented air; long and low. The mech turned his optics toward the kid, pondering, for a moment, what it might actually take to break him. What that might look like, and if he could pull himself through. Celn had been through a lot already – Hawker saw it for himself, felt it, when they were linked. Hm.

He opened up his cockpit again, beckoning curtly with two thick fingers. “Get in, greenhorn. I’m going to see how long you can go before we call it a day. No more breaks.”

It was four grueling, sweaty hours of reaction-honing before Celn could go no further.

Their shared neurospace was becoming laced with both static and the wetware-equivalent. The kid, Hawker was beginning to realize, had determination in spades; he was willing to put himself through hell to get where he wanted to be. It was a kind of ruthless that the mech could see himself enabling just for the sake of doing so – and this was where Hawker was also beginning to realize that he was truly going to have to take care of his charge.

<No neurospace tomorrow,> he said, feeling Celn panting and trembling. The restraints, it felt like, were the only things keeping him upright. <We’ll alternate time in the cockpit with time in the gym.> He lightened the neural load and began to talk through the speakers in the kid’s helmet. “R&R for tonight. Your mind needs a break.”

 


 

Chris looked over as Sergeant Kole walked out of the room with that purposeful gait. The calm authority of a seasoned cop. Behind and above him, Hawker emitted built up air pressure like a sigh. The machine is far more realistic then most of it’s kin. Kole had been talking to it with ease. Did they share beers and watch football? What kind of relationships were here? Past AIs he’d known were usually chatty to the point of getting migranes! Hawker didn’t bother with that kind of communication. Hawker is.. masculine. A classic man, like the hero of a war movie.

Those fast thoughts run though his mind as he watches Kole leave. <God. I’ve got so much to learn! And not stepping on toes is gonna be hard, they love the big bot.> A chill ran down Chris’s spine and he swallowed as an ugly truth popped up in his addled mind; and the hairs around the neck implant stood on end. <They are friendly, because Hawker hasn’t rejected me. Yet.>

“Get in, greenhorn. I’m going to see how long you can go before we call it a day. No more breaks.”

<Oh. Good.>

“Yes sir.”

No need to ask when he was being called. The look on the machine’s face, the way it gestured, it looked hungry. Like the way his instructors at the academy looked when he’d arrived. Like how they smiled when he’d puked his guts out after running to exhaustion. What had Kole said? Hawker was curious before, now the AI is motivated. It wasn’t making a joke, it is going to push him.

He clambered up easier this time, grasping the handles around the hatch and hauling himself up into the cockpit.

Boots dug into the foot pads, head pressed back as the restraints clamped down and the mask sealed around his mouth and nose. Not that different from a fighter pilot. <Try to break me. Try. I dare you. THIS rookie isn’t gonna fail.> He promised himself, his last personal thought before the interface initiated. Colors, lights, the way the hatch sealed and the feeling of a contained environment again. Then his awareness expanded outward as he slid his mind up into Hawker’s.

He felt fresh. As invigorated as before. Adrenaline is up. He is pumped, ready. The next two rounds went without error.

—————-

Two hours in, before the rook made a really bad call. Yes, using the butt of the rifle to sweep a grenade away is better then kicking it away. However, that’s no excuse to doing a swing that knocks it toward friendly targets! He should have returned it to the point of origin. At least he rifle is unharmed. And the grenade ejected it’s orange paint all over the representation of a squad car. <FUCK!> He didn’t stop though, he kept on with the exercise. At least he knew that a firefight wouldn’t end with an error.

No human could last forever. Lee had been a marine, a specialist. With lowered sensory inputs and stimulants the man had lasted for days before crashing. Celn had five months in an academy that the Coast Guard made fun of.

Three hours and he’d crossed every line for exhaustion. At three hours and thirty he’d become noticeably sloppy, relying more and more on the AI’s prediction and movements, assenting to firing and pulling the trigger when needed. Hawker might as well not have him inside, the human was barely registering when a new target had appeared. Upwards of 1.8 seconds before a decision was reached! They’d be taking incoming constantly fire at that slow reaction time. They needed to be better then that, they should be taking out targets before they presented a credible threat.

Three hours and forty minutes, Colburn pinged in. Amusingly, she’d only sent the signal to Hawker. -Vitals are a mess, but not lethal. Yet. He’s been doing deep theta wave generation for over an hour. Either you’ve brought him to spiritual enlightenment or his brain’s trying to shut off. I bet he won’t make it 5 more minutes.- She would step in if the scab was in mortal danger but, well, she also had money going on it too.

Chris made it 25 minutes more before he’d absolutely made it to the end. He tried to take a step. His organic foot moved, but the mechanical body stayed still. His left hand and the machine’s shook with an annoying tremor that threw shots completely off the targets. He tried to lift the gun again, but utterly accepted the cessation without a hint of resistance.

The world got quiet as the AI cut down the neural load. The armature that held the neural interface to his head allowed for minimal movement. He wanted to shake his head no, to refuse to do anything more for a week at least. But he couldn’t. His assent came after a few seconds of self-pity. <Yes. Gym tomorrow. Exercise good. No neurospace tomorrow.>

——-

He’d had his eyes closed in anticipation of another Infinite Mirror Phenomenon, not opening them until after the interface had shut down. No, not because he’s exhausted and felt like he’s been through the wringer. Speaking of being wrung out, he’d lost about four pounds due to the sweat that’d come out of him. He was going to need hydration for longer sessions. Perhaps the on-board provisions could be restocked in anticipation for full-day workouts. Even after the smokey devastation of the range had come into view and the thick smell hit his nose he stayed put. It took the threat of having to police brass and clean guns to get him moving.

The suit dripped his sweat out, squishing on the edges of the hatch as he went down slow, only moving one limb at a time. Once he’d made it to the ground, he straighten and rubbed his hands over his face. Over his implant.

“Yes… sir.” Talking is strange. His tongue had to move in his dry mouth. He swallowed. “Gonna get grub.” With that, he exited in the range at a slow walk.
———————————————-

Annoyingly, Colbrun wasn’t alone. Two techs were with her, an Officer is hurriedly going out into the hall, and Chris noticed at least five down the hall further past the doorway. But, there was a freakin’ medical droid.

There is nothing worse then a sanctimonious doctor who doesn’t understand why organics don’t each a diet of lentils and rice.

Of course it came up to him. Of course it made him stand. And it gave him a big bottle of warm water mixed with electrolytes. Ugh. Like seawater. Why couldn’t it be gatorade? As it kept checking him over, telling him he needed to drink in that quiet all-knowing tone; Colbrun had a smile on her face. The techs re-checked his measurements with the suit, the medical android assisting them with pinpointing what needed further alteration. And it wouldn’t leave him alone until he finished the whole salty drink. THen it game him another one. Worse, he was still thirsty so he kept pulling on it like shitty beer.

“Well rookie, it looks like we’re going to have to get those other pilot suits adjusted. But for now, get that off, take a shower and eat. I’ll see if we can get you a room bigger then a Vanguard’s cockpit.”

Chris is too exhausted and annoyed to be modest. He strips and hands the expensive pilot suit over. Sweat’s pooled in the built-in boots. At least he’s given a pair of shorts before they head off and he stumbles down to the elevator. The shower feels amazing, and he spends half the time rubbing over the interface plate. It aches. His mind aches. He heads into the mess and goes double on the protein. Wearing a grey t-shirt that says ‘Police Academy’ in faded letters, a pair of grey sweats, and scuffed running shoes. He spoons the food into his mouth, back to the room, staring at a wall, oblivious to the world around him.

The wall is off-white. THere’s the remains of a stain. Coffee probably. It’s so nice to just look forward. To hear just murmurs instead of gunshots. The soft clatter of the kitchen instead of shells hitting concrete. Even after he finished, he’s still spooning, scraping absently the tray. Then a thought comes.

“Fuck.” He pulls out his phone. Hawker’s number came to him. And the bot’s email. Typing it in, he sends a text. ‘It’s Chris Celn.’ Of course the AI probably knew his contact info. ‘What time do I report for training tomorrow?’

Chapter Text

Hawker almost felt like he was made of meat and water by the time they were done: Celn had lost so much of his own bodily moisture that even his own olfactory sensors were hit with the smell of stale, sweaty air when he opened up for the last time that day. If Chris looked like he’d lost a few pounds, then that weight was definitely in water, and it was dripping out the bottom of the cockpit.

His words were halting and a little slurred, but the mech knew he’d learn to switch between neurospace and meatspace with much less fallout as the days went by. Eventually, the transitions would be almost seamless.

“Dismissed,” the giant mech said, watching as the scab staggered out.

Twenty minutes later, and Hawker was back at his slab as techs hooked him up for a fluid flush. They had a habit of acquiring contaminants after the use of firearms, and though it was in the parts-per-million, Hawker wasn’t going to wait until carbon and metal buildup in his hundreds of feet of hosing caused him physical pain before filtering them out. He preferred being in top working order, and was a stickler for preventative maintenance.

Another tech was cleaning out his cockpit. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered as he worked, spraying and wiping down every surface in there. Hawker could feel the rag against the seat. “You really did a number on him, didn’t you?”

Most of Hawker’s sensors were offline. He was enjoying his respite from the inputs. “They call it the hot seat for a reason, Thule.”

“Yeesh. Glad I never went to scab school.”

“What,” came the taunting voice of the other tech on a gantry behind him. “You couldn’t even handle drone duty?” she laughed.

“Fuck that,” he snorted. “Have you seen the weight those guys put on, sitting in those chairs all day? No thank you, I enjoy not being a fat-ass.”

Hawker scowled, and let out a growling rev of his internals. The humans flinched.

“Sorry boss, we’ll pipe down.”

“You’d better.”

The mech was mulling over a newsfeed – the conglomeration of 47 different agencies around the world – when words barged into his foreprocessors.

It’s Chris Celn, they said. What time do I report for training tomorrow?

Two four-hour intensives was usually Kole’s recommended training day: one for strength and endurance training, the other for firearms training. Though he would rarely be firing a gun with his own two hands, it was beneficial to be intimately familiar with the scaled-down versions of Hawker’s arsenal, and to get good at using them with his own body. The 50-caliber pistol would be traded for a 9mm sidearm, the rifle for a custom-made gun-mortar using 60mm shells as ammunition (to be filled with rubber for practice purposes), among others.

There were so many other things that needed to be done before the two of them could even think about leaving the precinct, though: emergency controls, escape in the case of Hawker’s total failure, the basics of navigating civilian infrastructure without causing millions in damage, as well as training for the possibility of going up against an enemy mech as a human.

Hawker had played the part of gang mech during several such demonstrations, but one-on-one demos were usually reserved for command-track officers, raid unit leaders, and the rare scab who would be operating on the street and away from other human support. The psychological stress of being hunted down by a massive death machine on foot was formidable enough. It would someday be important for Celn to know how to put up a fight.

But that was for later. He had other things to master first.

0600, he replied. Arms practice first in the officer’s shooting range, break, then cardio and weights with a trainer. For that, you’re to use a wireless plug so I can monitor your progress remotely.

 


 

Chris watched as the response appeared on his phone. He texted back ‘Affirmative’, not noticing that somehow the background of his phone had changed to a promotional shot of an HLX-9 standing victoriously on the smouldering ruins of an enemy tank. THe phone went back into his pocket and he finished his drink. He needed to sleep. He needed to download another chapter of Hawker’s manual before their next session. He’d do it tomorrow. He didn’t want thing touching his interface port except for a pillow. He’d just put the tray with the other dirty dishes when..

“Hey, rookie. Yeah you!” Chris turned to find himself looking at another scabber. Well, scabber really wasn’t the right work. The man is hispanic, in his forties, still looked to be in decent shape. THe interface on his neck looked as natural as possible. Professional pilot for sure. “I’m Ferdinand. I’m gonna help you up to your new dorm. You’re in room 8A now. Floor 8 is where they keep all of us. At least, those of us who stay at the station. Not much good housing around 42.”

Chris blink at him. SUre the words went in but, he didn’t feel like talking. A long moment passed, enough to be an uncomfortable pause. He raised his hand and shook Ferdinand’s. “Chris. CHris Celn. I’m.. tired..” he spoke a a calm, near-monotone.

“Shit kid. I know Hawker is tough but you look like you spend 4 days out there,” he jerked a thumb over his shoulder to indicate outside. “Not 4 hours on the range. C’mon. I’ll help ya out.”

A duffel bag and a backpack were all that were needed to contain Chris’s possessions. If Ferdinand found it weird that Chris had no photographs, toys, books. He didn’t even have non-police issued clothes. Outside of a smart phone and it’s charger.. Chris was devoid of materials. The rookie tucked away the certificates from the police academy and scab school. (Technical Certification of Mind Machine Interface. A Rating.)

Ferdinand led Chris to the elevator, carrying the duffel for the rookie. “Right so there’s usually 12 of us here. Most good pilots get transferred where we’re needed. Drone guys usually are centrally located. They can remote from anywhere, so they’re in nice neighborhoods. THose of us in tanks tend to get rotated, so we keep the AIs regularly exercised. Tanks don’t go out much. MRAV pilots tend to stay for a while. THose go out daily.”

Floor 8 is pleasant. Doesn’t look like it’s 60 years old. Fresh paint on the walls. There’s a kitchen that looks clean and well used. THere’s a living area with couches, and a TV showing the mid-day news. A woman waves, she’s got a can of soda and a plate piled with potato chips. She’s a pilot too. Everyone on this floor is. “Hi rookie.” SHe offers pleasantly, before turning to watch TV and getting a face full of starch and sugar.

Room 8A is the first on the right. The computer is far newer. The interface cable looks long enough to reach the bed, it’s a real bed too. Not a cot like down below. THere’s a small table with two chair and a large closet. Chris and Ferdinand up pack into it. The two plastic framed papers get stood on the otherwise empty desk. “So uh, Welcome to 42’s penthouse.”

The other man gestured for Chris to follow him out. He Opened the fridge.. oh wow. Sodas, Lunch meat, bottle water. THe pilots probably kept a private provision list going. What go Chris’s attention is the orange juice. He grabbed one, and followed Ferdinand to the couches. THe woman turned off the TV. “I’m Jane. You’re Chris, right? We’ve.. we’ve all been watching. What’s it like?”

“Yeah! What’s it like to pilot him? I bet he’s like a drill sergeant. All business.” Jane shook her head. “Nah. I bet he’s cold. That stuff he does with humans is an act. He’s pure logic at his core.”

Chris stared at them. He sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. If he’d been given any other job, he’d probably get bouncing off the walls in excitement. He sure a fuck wanter Hawker. But the mech had simply ground him down today. And gave no signal that it would do anything but continue to crush him with each session until it was satisfied.

“The .. the Vanguard is strong.” He admitted, opening his drink. Man. So good, the acidic bite. The sweetness. He remembered fighting and trading food in public housing. Sadly, those are his good memories. “It’s the storm. I do your job. Or he’s not interested in me.” his words are slow, they come out with careful enunciation.

Jane sighed. “Sorry Rook. You’re burned out. How about we watch some mindless TV and you hit the sheets early.” SHe turned it back on, changing the channel to a popular show. THe host cackled, smooching each of the beautiful women he had on each arm. ‘I’ll buy THAT for a dollar! Haw haw!’

—-

At 0530, Chris’s phone went off. Shower. Clothes. Breakfast. He rode the elevator to the officer’s shooting range. Colburn wasn’t there, but a tech and a SWAT guy is. Both are failing not to smirk. CHris had a coffee in hand. He looked better. Normal-ish. “What?” he asked.

The tech held it out. The SWAT Officer, a hand black man who probably had to duck through doorways, guffawed. Chris knew logically it made sense. Wireless interfaces were difficult. You could wear one as part of a helmet. Or as part of body armor. But if you were expected to be wearing training clothes, like he is..

then a collar made logical sense. But did the collar have to be so obvious? He strong suspected that if they’d have more time, then It’d have tag dangling that mentioned just who he belonged to.

He sighed. On it went. THe tech ensured that the power charge is good, then flicked on the transmitted keyed to Hawker’s personal frequency. THe carrier message included a few mentions of leashes.

“Heh! Well greenhorn, I’m SWAT Marksman Preston. And Today, and for the foreseeable future we’re going to be doing weapon drills. As much as the HLX-9 enjoys tearing up the range, all that ammunition is expensive. THe stuff we’ll be firing is a fraction of the cost. By the time I’m done with you, you’ll be able to use your weapons like you’d been born with them.” The man gestured to the range where a table with weapons.. and a literal cart of munitions sat.

“Let’s start with your stances. Pick up that 9mm and take your time. Uh-huh. Alright. Standard footing. But here…” And it began. THe first hour had been going through each of the weapons, practicing holding them, standing, going into position. Preston often moving the rookie into place, showing the smaller scab the right ways to movie, even pressed up behind him, reaching around to adjust how he held a weapon.

——

As Celn finished lunch, he made sure to wash his hands again. They still smell of gunpowder. He like Preston. The man had a genuine interest in weaponry and showed off some impressive skill when taking down targets. He is looking forward to seeing him in two days. Training on the range is calming.

——

“You’re shitting me.” remarked the man wearing a baseball hat, tank top and track pants. His near-perfect physique made him look like a model. Despite being just three inches taller than Chris, he must have had 50 pounds, easy. “You’re the scabber who lasted 4 hours on day 1? With Big Nine? I don’t fucking believe it.” He crossed his arms, leaving back in an impressive display of anatomy.

Chris ‘s eyebrows pinched inward and his normal smile turned into a frown. He looked up and met the brown eyes of the trainer. “4 hours, 15 minutes. And lasting is a good way to put it. Are you going to help me make that 8 hours?”

The man unfolded his arms, brushing the tinies ball of white lint off his left pectoral. “Yeah. I can do it. But I don’t think you got what it takes to keep up. We’ll start you with cardio. Once you’re warmed up, then it’ll be weights. I’d say we’d do just arms today but..” he rolled his eyes and scoffed “Pretty sure you’ll be limping outta here after two hours on the machines.”


 

The thing about Deep Field 2 was that, aside from being a quantum system, its design was twofold: the operating system was structured around associative pattern recognition, which is what made Hawker’s uncannily human-like thought processes possible. Unlike a human, though, every single program he ran, every single sub-routine, was transparent to him if he so chose to pay attention. Most of the time, that kind of conscious management was undesirable and unnecessary. He was equipped with incredible amounts of processing power, sure, but he still had to delegate to hindprocessors. So in that way, the engineers behind DF2 took inspiration from octopus intelligence: brains in every tentacle, so to speak.

This was all a very involved way of explaining how Hawker was in possession of a scope of attention, and of a limited ability to multitask compared to more traditional computing systems.

So he had to ‘check in’ on Celn’s progress throughout the morning. He turned his attention to the information that the wireless was transmitting to him, the blips of thoughts and sensations and numbers data. Preston was a capable trainer, and one of Hawker’s favorite people to discuss matters of weaponry with. Celn was in good hands.

The mech had intended on focusing on other things – run of the mill police work; filing reports – but Chris’s performance in the range intrigued him enough to keep him glancing back in through the little window that the wireless provided. The “collar”, he remembered with a faint chuckle. It took a lot to distract Hawker from work, admittedly. Colburn tried every once in a while, and he’d usually retaliate by shutting off power to her shop.

Hawker wasn’t familiar with the personal trainer, though. Must be new, he thought, cocking his head and diving into 42’s server to pull up his file. Yes, he was new. Started a month ago, recruited from some bougie neighborhood where he’d go train people in their own homes. Shit, Chicago still has money like that? Whatever, so long as the man produced results.

The mech kept a wary, proverbial eye on the situation in the gym as he went about his business. Kole had his hands full today with a double-homicide, otherwise he’d ask the brass to come in and give the rookie a few pointers.

 


 

As Chris jogged on the treadmill at a heartrate of 195, the trainer conferred with a few others over the rookie’s goals in the shared office.

“What the hell is this? Am I supposed to train that shrimp up or wha?” Alvin Yorker is a contract employee of the state. Buff, strong jaw, looks good in tight clothes. One of 20 people hired by a city wide initiative to combat ‘doughnut belly.’ Not that it was a bad idea, but trying to motivate a cop into putting down confectionary by hiring cute trainers? There’s been worse plans.

Alvin rolled his bright blue eyes, his carefully styled hair looking perfect as he check himself out in one of the many mirrors. He looked over the chart that’d been helpfully provided from some .. Captain Hawk. Captain Hawker? Whatever. “This is seriously nuts. How the hell am I supposed to pack twenty pounds of muscle on the runt and boost his endurance?” The other trainer shrugged her shoulders. The woman is in her forties with the body of a twenty-two year old. A fit 22 year old. “Look, it’s not a bad plan. Do like 45 to 60 minutes of cardio. Then once his stomach’s settled have him protein pre and post workout.”

The only police employee in the room had different feelings on the matter. He’d put money down on Chris making it two hours before passing out. The scab had endurance. THat ment on days when he’d be in the gym, there would be no respite. The two gym bunnies didn’t know why some young rookie suddenly became a priority; they just needed to get him in proper fighting shape. “The goals are 20 to 25 pounds of muscle, so that’s getting him up to 170 to 175 pounds. Able to do a five minute mile. 13.5 Seconds for a 100m sprint. 4:30 marathon. Climbing training, swimming training. Then, once he’s in shape there’s a schedule to keep him there.” He drank from the cup of coffee on his desk. “So, no big deal. Turn that 145 pound kid into an olympic track star.” he shook his head. He got Alvin’s frustration.

“With 3 to 4 days a week training, with a 4 hours window. Weights each time. Swap cardio for swimming or climbing every other session. Get it done.”

Alvin looked at the information that is collated into a datapad. “Fuck man, shoulda just put him in the Marines. Would have made this job easier. Bet he cracks out.” He swaggered out, leaving the others in the office that overlooked the athletics room. He pushed a button Chris’s treadmill, activating the cooldown. “When you finish get a protein drink from the fridge. Get it down your neck before you meet me at the machines.” he gestured at the row of equipment “Gotta see where your strength is at twerp. Then you’re gonna work everything until ya can’t move.”

Alvin looked healthy. His skin had the kind of tan you had to work for. The normal looking clothes had to be tailored to fit like that. Chris felt old.. old habits sparking inside. His trainer would cry, wet his pants if he got a knife on him. THe kind of bitch that’d go down with a jackrabbit punch to the gut, leaving his girl screaming as he made off with the purse and wallet.

He wasn’t like that anymore. He sighed, finishing on the treadmill as he envisioned kicking that moisturised nose in. Therapeutic thoughts. The protein supplement isn’t bad either.

———————-
“GAH!” Chris’s arms felt like noodles. His stomach is on fire. His shoulders are weak and make od bread. He is laying on his back; and his legs refused to give any more movements. “C’mon little dude. THis is just 200 pounds. That’s like, you in wet gear. PUSH IT UP! One more!” Alvin loved talking down to him. Showing off his strong arms and legs as they’d worked out. Embarrassingly, the trainer demonstrated how to do each exercise and didn’t even seem to break a sweat. Chris managed one more, with jelly legs.

“Well, that’ll be okay. I guess.” Alvin examined the sheet, adjusting the values for Chris’s performance. “You’re done for the day. Protein up. Each time, before and after. Gotta grow that muscle. Gonna take a long time on you.” He reset the weight to 0, gesturing for Chris to get moving so he could wipe down the seat and get out for the end of the day. “C’mon. I want to get out before 6.”

Somehow Chris managed to get up to the 8th floor. The communal shower is smaller and featured individual stalls. He took a plastic chair and sat in one, letting the water run over his aching form. Half an hour later he emerged, toweling off and looking in the mirror. A very tired Celn looked back. Wearing a collar. He’d showered with it? Well.. crap. Looked waterproof. He concentrated though the connection. <What time tomorrow Hawker?> He’d barely felt the mech all day.

 


 

The mech observed, and he was coming to the conclusion that this Yorker kid wasn’t up to snuff. Who’s goddamn idea was it to bring in a civilian trainer? Hawker didn’t like civilians, didn’t get along with them – they thought differently. They didn’t understand discipline, self-sacrifice, the honors and dishonors of war. Er… policing.

Kole thought they had merits. That they “keep us honest”, to use his words. That may be true, and 42 was certainly one of the most watched police departments in the entire country, with journalists hovering like biting flies. But Kole had charisma, too. He knew how to play the game.

But Kole was busy, so he paged somebody else in admin who might know who bungled this decision.

“Uh huh?” came the voice on the other end of the line. It was Sam Thatcher, one of the pencil-pushing project managers upstairs. Probably forgot how to use his gun years ago.

“Who hired Alvin Yorker?” Hawker cooly demanded.

“H-Hawker, sir,” Thatcher stammered. The mech could almost feel the man straighten up in his chair, tug at his collar. “We, uh… as you know, we restructured the whole workout program last fall after Graves left…”

“That’s not what I asked.”

Thatcher swallowed. “Uh, I did, sir.”

“I don’t like him.”

“Well, what… what don’t you like about him? We could sit him down and -”

“He’s a goddamn meathead, Thatcher. You should have pulled somebody from D.C. They’ve got a good program there.”

“With all due respect, sir…

“With all due respect, you’re going to work on replacing him. Leave Kole to me.”

“Yes, sir.” A mumble.

“Excuse me?”

“N-nothing, sir.”

“Replace him. That’s an order.” The line closed. Hawker had heard the man, actually: Fuckin’ jarheads.

When Hawker checked in on Celn again, the first thing he sensed was water. Steam. Slow, heaving breaths. Exhaustion.

The kid was in the shower.

The mech lingered there for a while, just on the edges of his awareness. A silhouette in the shadows. To what end? A few minutes passed, and Hawker realized it was to no real end at all. And still, he was there. Watching in silence as the human nursed his feeble body, almost fallen asleep in that chair. He wondered if the collar was still worn intentionally or not – probably not.

<What time tomorrow, Hawker?>

The mech stepped out of the shadows. <0700. We’ll be in the crash room for emergency training.> He sent something across their connection that suggested the probability of further exhaustion for Celn.

<Yorker is right about one thing: your protein intake needs to be higher.> A picture of Lee flashed in his memory. The man was 5’10” – Hawker’s cockpit would have been impossible for anyone over 6-foot to occupy – but built like a tank. In the photo he was working on something that required a heavy-duty torque wrench and cheater pipe. There was grease on his forehead from where he’d wiped the sweat from his brow. In the background was Colburn, laughing as usual. Lee was special, the simple flash of memory seemed to say. You need to be special in order to cut it too.

 


 

In the climate controlled offices, Thatcher got to work. Yorker had a list of complaints three times the size of his compliments. Hmm. Putting in a request to the main office for one of other trainers, he fast-tracked Alvin toward getting out. He looked over the complains again. He winced, forwarding three to HR. It was looking more like Alvin Yorker is going to be going back to making rich housewives happy. Probably by Friday.

————————-

Chris started at the Photograph of Lee. Hawker had an aura of emotions around the man. Subtle, but there they were. No one had talked about Hawker’s former pilot to him. For all Chris had known, Lee had retired.

But he knew that wasn’t the case. Not now. The way Kole was laughing. Kole had been dead serious yesterday. And that machine part looked like part of the mech’s left foot? Hm. One of those complex and oversized joints for sure. The man looked like an advertisement for masculinity. Stubble on the chin, smooth and well-formed chest. Arms like pythons. CHris felt an attraction to the former pilot. And surprise that.. that it is expected that he’ll have the same build.

He looked into the mirror, knowing that Hawker was sharing his vision at the moment. Technically, he could vaguely sense that the mech was in the motor pool. But he had -no- desire to get a head full of datafeed before tomorrow. <Yes sir. Emergency Training, 0700. I’ll download those chapters tonight.> At the mention of Yorker, there’s a definitive flash of anger. Chris wanted to deck the jerk. <I’ll eat more protein.>

He looked at his small, weak body. The way his smooth skin hugged his taunt form. Some muscle here and there. Nothing like Lee. But, Hawker did say it. Celn could be special. All it’d take, is giving everything to being the mech’s partner. His hands form into fists. <Sir.> He wanted to say something, but not be.. annoying. Rude. Full of confidence he wasn’t sure he could back up. <I won’t let you down.> Then he put the chair back in it’s home and walked out with the towel around his waist.

“Looking good rookie.” Laughed the two women in the main area of floor 8. Jane still, and a woman of Chinese descent. Chris gave them a playful wave. “Wearing a collar already? Geez. Just don’t sleep with it on.” Chris did a quick dress up, before going down to the mess for dinner. Triple protein. He is hungry, but he had to force himself to pack down the last of the stuff down. Ugh. Definitely needed to do breaks between eating that much in the future. He kept burping even after he got back to the 8th floor.

“So, why shouldn’t I sleep with the collar on?” He inquired. THe girls were both playing Halo 7. Jane was busy tea-bagging some member of the red team, while the Chinese pilot sword-rushed an enemy player off the edge of the map. “Cause then things get weird. The AI get to see your subconscious. Can’t really mess with you, maybe a little hypnotic suggestion. But it’s more that you’re dumping constant nonsense, at an uncontrolled rate, into a logical AI. Makes ’em grumpy.”

“Oh yeah. THanks. I need to get about 300 pages of procedures into my head so..” NIGHT! they both chime, concentrating on the screen. “Night.”

Chris shut the door of his room. On the desk, sat something new. Charging cradle for the collar. He thumbed the disconnect, waiting for it to shut down before taking it off. Less then five minutes later he is laying in bed. Alarm set for 0630, and the downloads queued up. He’d be hurting physically all day tomorrow..

8-{Chapter 3, What to expect when the worst happens..}-

 


 

Like a reflection out of the corner of his optics, Hawker could see Celn through his own eyes in the mirror. He was lean; quick and wiry and smooth. Scarred, also, from years out on the streets. Procedures. But memories of his own flashed too: a knife in somebody’s side; dodging a fist; scaling a wall to reach the safety of a second-story window as bullets dusted the concrete at his heels.

It was a wordless exchange, and the two of them suffered the imposing presence of the other for a few long moments before Celn broke the neurospace silence.

<I won’t let you down.>

In the motor pool, Hawker vented hard. Clenched his own immense fists. But his “voice” was quiet. <That’s what I like to hear, greenhorn.>

The mech was waiting in the crash room, surveying the equipment and rubbing his chin well before the scheduled time. It’d been almost eight years since he’d done these routines last, and the place was eerily similar to the last time that he was in here. One wall was outfitted with the facade of a 3-story building, the opposite end was piled with junked cars, and between the two was scattered concrete rubble. Off in the corner was an assortment of crash pads: thick slabs of foam to break the fall of a human at the mercy of gravity.

There would be two phases to this exercise: breaking neurospace under a variety of emergency situations as overseen by Colburn, and engaging with the mech as machinery. Celn would need to be able to scale every inch of the HLX-9, would be able to need to jump from any point on his body to the ground and land safely. He would also need to be able to make emergency boardings as well – say, leaping into Hawker’s hands from a third-story window during a firefight.

Today would be the day that Hawker officially touched Chris Celn with his hands for the first time as well. The mech had a hangup about it – it seemed below him, to manhandle humans who hadn’t earned his respect. But Celn, whether he could admit it or not, was beginning to earn his respect. He had to admit that he made it here to begin with – the other scabbers had been flimsy and feeble-minded. But Celn, well… he was a survivor. Perhaps a kind of soldier in his own way.

Panoptic sensors alerted him to a presence in the control room on the mezzanine, though. Hawker glanced over his shoulder and saw Colburn give a little salute through the thick glass. She fixed a headset into place and adjusted the mic.

“We doin’ alright this morning?” she asked, her voice sounding in his head.

<I’m ready to bust some balls, if that’s what you’re asking.>

He could see her laugh and shake her head. “You know what I mean, Big Nine.”

Indeed, he knew what she meant.

<It would be an impossible scenario to recreate in here,> Hawker effectively muttered.

“You plan on training for it at all?”

<I don’t know.>

Lee had ultimately died at the hands of a gang mech, another HLX-series; a knock-off made in Ukraine. Hawker’s DF2 OS had been offlined by a targeted EMP attack, his cockpit torn open to expose the fragile human inside, now piloting a dead machine with nothing but sheer force of will. What Lee should have done was maneuvered Hawker’s body to fall in a way that would provide cover as he escaped, discharging flares before making a run for it during the few seconds of confusion. But he didn’t. He fought to the bitter end trying to save them both.

“You should teach him how to fall, at least.”

<I plan on doing that much.>

Colburn nodded, and Hawker went back to choreographing.

 


 

Chris woke sometime around 2 in the morning. He’d fallen asleep connected to the training database. His mouth felt like a dumpster. Ugh.

Disconnect. He stumbled to the bathroom. Biological functions. Wash hands. Brush teeth. Stumble back into room 8A.

BREEP BREEP BREEP! *THUMP*

“uuuuuuuuugh…”

Chris ached. It was a struggle to sit up. He looked down at his body. No bruises. It felt like he’d been beaten. And he would know what that is like. “Buh.” he commented to the room.

Make bed. Shower. Two ibuprofen. Suit up. Someone left the TV on, was showing morning cartoons. Looked like He-Man. Skeletor’s shrill voice spoke as Chris snagged a juice. Apple this time. ‘And now, you muscle brained fool, Skeletor shall be the cause of your witless kingdom’s demise! Neh Heh Heh!’ Elevator took him down to the mess.

Protein shake. Eggs. Sausage. Bacon. One pancake. As the rookie packed the food away, one of the beat cops looked at him; noting the modified pilot suit that clung to him skin tight.

“How can ya eat that crap, kid?”

Chris looked up at the a guy who couldn’t’ be more then 10 years older. Maybe 30, 35? But.. damn did he look weathered. Chris smelled cigarette smoke. Stains on the fingers. A little pudgy. Holding a plate with doughnuts and bacon. Moustache.

THe rookie blinked. Swallowed, washed it down with the protein shake. “Tastes good to me.” And if to prove a point, he packed it a way while the other man shuddered. “Kid, ya know that stuff’s just reconstituted soy & whey proteins? The pancakes are cardboard. Only decent food around here are the doughnuts. They get baked and sent in. Along with the coffee.” Powered sugar sprinkled onto the front of the beat cop’s uniform.

Chris wiped off his mouth with one of the rough napkins. Tray on the pile, trash in the can. He got himself a styrofoam cup of coffee. Black. “You’re right. Coffee is great here.”

The man munched his doughnut and shook his head. Unless the kid had a cast iron gut, he’d be regretting eating from the stuff the robots in the mess made. You really couldn’t call it food!
————————–
Colburn watched the security feed quietly. So far Chris had been on time. She didn’t tell Big Nine, but she wasn’t going to let the greenhorn sleep in at least for the first month. After that point, she knew the AI would be happier to scold the pilot for her.

No one waiting to pounce on him this morning. Chris was expecting it today. He frowned, and walked through the winding hallways and the fluorescent lighting. How old were some of these sections? The station took up a huge amount of space. Probably because no one cared if it expanded into the crumbling buildings that make up the local area. He did manage to follow the signs into the room, pushing open the door at 0658. Early. For once.

He walked slower then before and listed to the left. Sore all over, and likely would be feeling it until he finally got some beef on his frame. Coffee, coffee, coffee! The stimulant at least got his brain kicking into gear. Chris took in the impressive sight of the crash room. “It looks like a school for stuntmen in here.”

Overhead, the Chief Engineer spoke over the PA. “You aren’t far off.” Chris turned, putting a hand over his eyes to try and see if Colbrun was alone int he booth. She seemed to be. “You won’t be getting rid of me for some time scabber. I get to watch and observe until we’re sure you’ve fit in.” Chris turned the hand into a thumb up in acknowledgement.

He walked up to Hawker, the mech looking taller and taller as he approached. About twenty feet from the mech, Chris felt tiny. How the hell could anyone hope to get away from Hawker, once the guns came out? It was a sobering thought, knowing that with just by taking a careless step, the mech could end him without noticing.

He pulled himself up straight and saluted.

“Reporting for training, Sir. Permission to board.”

 


 

The kid smelled like breakfast when he stepped in, looking refreshed. Well, as refreshed as he was gonna get for a while. He was about three pounds heavier than when Hawker last saw him, though – most of it just in the kid’s gut still, but some of his meals were already being put to work as tissue. Excellent.

“Reporting for training, sir. Permission to board.”

Hawker just popped his hatches and gestured for the kid to climb up.

“He always that serious?” Colburn asked the mech directly.

<Seems so. His professionalism is a nice change to what I normally see around here.>

His sensors told her she’d started laughing up in the observation room. After a moment: “You’re a match made in heaven, then.”

<You playing matchmaker?>

“Who, me?” She gave a tight-lipped smile and glanced away. “Never.”

Hawker shook his head, rolling his optics as Celn seated himself inside. The mech closed up, activated linkup procedures, and felt the metal plug slide into the hole in the back of Celn’s head and seat with a satisfying click. Neurospace engaged, with Colburn watching. Their consciousnesses met, danced, and sunk into each other.

It was getting easier.

“How’s the view, Chris?” Colburn asked after they’d settled down. “All the human stuff looks weird from that high up, doesn’t it? Well it’s like I tell my pilots, just pretend you’re a size-changing superhero or whatever. It helps to give the brain something to work with while you adjust.”

Hawker was sensing that Celn was looking at the room with a little disorientation; processing the cars like they were toys, the building like it was a dollhouse. Whatever worked, really. He knew they’d encounter this again the first time they’d be in the presence of another human while Celn was hooked up to the big mech. Usually pilots had to fight the urge to reach out and start poking at the person – usually Kole, who was a good sport about it – to make sure they were real. Colburn didn’t quite count, being in a dark room behind glass. It created the psychological illusion that she wasn’t really in the same place as the two of them, maybe even just a figure on a TV screen, depending on Celn’s level of dissonance. He’d learn, though. And from what the mech had seen so far, he’d likely learn fast.

<We’re going to start with basic maneuvering again,> Hawker ‘said’. <I’m dead weight. Get me from here to over there.>

It was about an hour of his pilot taking the helm, expanding his consciousness to fill more of the machine. They did this in the range, and after a little re-acquaintance, Celn was more or less able to move Hawker’s body as his own on the uneven terrain. By the end, they managed to cross 200 yards of broken concrete in all of 12 seconds.

But now it was time for the hard part.

“Chris, we’re going to start you learning quick-disconnect techniques,” Colburn said. “Let me see what you normally do, and I’ll give you some pointers on making a cleaner break. We’ll use that to practice the other emergency routines. Eventually, I’d like to see you go from full neurospace to stepping out onto the hatch in about 4 seconds. Any slower is a big liability for the both of you.”

 


 

Hawker had seen into Chris’s mind. As the rookie settled in and felt the secure embrace of the restraints surrounding him; he closed his eyes and let the connection complete.

When he opened them, Chris was 8 again. He could distinctly remember the last days before he’d been moved out of the foster home. He’d been well behaved, as good as any 8 year old boy. Something about the family he’d been with. They always were so nice to him. THen the public servants came. Chris never knew why they had to move him back into the public housing. Just that he never got to play with fun toys like those again. And he always had to share. He wanted to crouch down, put his hand over the car and move it while making engine noises with his lips. He wanted to touch the dollhouse, to play with the tiny life inside. Make it perfect.

Perfect.

Chris felt.. unprofessional. Briefly. That isn’t how a policeman acts. He took a deep breath and held it, exhaling the tension and the desire to be childish out with it.

He keyed the button that allowed him to speak. He didn’t feel right co-opting Hawker’s voice. Moving the mech’s face as his own. Them speaking together would be fine, but he felt too much respect and awe toward the AI to be so rude. This is Hawker. He is the pilot. One of the PA loudspeakers built into the mech keyed up with a soft chirp. “It does all seem so small.” he agreed “I’ll try to keep that in mind ma’am.”

————————————-

Chris wished he could do the whole, ‘Just pretend it’s your body’ thing. Even the manuals referenced that he should be able to subconsciously work the mech like his own limbs. But hawker is huge! Master Yoda might have said ‘size matters not’, but he was wrong. Hawker is LARGE! And Chris hand to think about moving those colossal limbs. Weird, uneven surfaces are easier, as he had to concentrate where to put each limb. The flat surfaces annoyed him, as just trying to imagine running didn’t quite work out. He’d thump the mech’s ‘boots’ against each other. He needed to learn to run, to move like the mech did. Like a guy who had way more muscle then the skinny rookie possessed. But he managed. Just keep those legs widely set, arms move outward, don’t try to draw them in. Hawker isn’t skinny!

————————————

He keyed the PA again. “Allright. Standard disconnect.” Hawker is taking it easier on him today and he is thankful. The mech wasn’t dumping the full feeds continuously into him, letting the human concentrate on the various tasks. Eyes closed, restraints up, connection off, hatch open. Perfectly reasonable course of action, and in the motor pool or the training courses, it’s fine.

The 15 seconds it took was not fine. Then it truly began, and the engineer’s ruthless drive for efficiency showed. Colburn was merciless! “This isn’t about pretty, Clean. You are diving into the mech while under fire. Jump in, plant you butt in the seat and hold still!” Chris stood on the lowest part of the entry hatch. For the sake of getting this part right, Colbrun wasn’t going to make him climb up each time. “Now, do it.”

Chris hauled himself in, twisting around with his hands and feet, pressing firmly against the seatback. Until now the restraining system and the automated helmet/interface had moved slowly. With mechanical whirrs and clacking joints that seemed soothing. There’d been the illusion that he could’ve escaped their embrace. With a high pitched whine, the multi-sectional system snatched him like a mechanical predator. In about a second! As the interface plate contacted his implant, the connection fired up and a frozen Chris faced the dual vision of the crash room and the closing of the chest plates.

“6.6 Seconds. MUCH better. You wasted time on the entry.” She fed video to the greenhorn, showing how he’d wasted precious moments putting down his feet several times. “I know you aren’t up to the physical requirements, but you should pivot on one foot, use your hands and fall back into place.” A standard disconnect. Then fast entry. Twenty six times! At that moment, AChris finally seemed to get it. Foot on door, hand to handle, turn, use free hand and foot to keep moment. Free hand and foot land on controls as I let go. Fall into seat with motion. Press the rapid interface button. Hawker could snap up around him, but it is better to have that last part ingrained into the procedure.

“4.8 seconds. I don’t think you’re going to get better until you’ve the strength to throw yourself around. It’s passable for now.” Coburn noted, her voice sounding pleased. She enjoyed Chris’s determination as well. “About that disconnect..”

—————–

Chris is perspiring, his vision blurry. He wanted to cry. The continuous breaking and initialisation of himself into the Deep AI’s neurospace had given form to a new kind of pain. He didn’t even know that it would be possible to experience his nerves being on fire. But that’s the sensation, or as close as he could put the unpleasant experience. “Again scabber!” came Colburn’s professional prodding. “You should be able to do this easily, and at least 20 a day. At speed.” With a growl, Chris lunged into the pilot’s chair. TUrn, foot and hand back, fall, initiate.

He is Hawker, 15 feet of — <Drop!>

Infinite Mirror Syndrome had been something to avoid yesterday. Now it greeted him like an old friend. At least it is a different kind of pain. THe restraining system pulled back, the connection severing as he pushed up, and fell onto his knees, chest hitting the lower place of the hatch. Wind knocked out of him, his arms, head and shoulders dangled over the edge. He coughed. Sucked in a wheezing breath as he winched, feeling embarrassed for tripping on the way out. <IDIOT!> he thought to himself, wiping a hand over his face. That drill had been perfect!

“D..” he rolled onto his side and slid in towards the cocpit, needing to take a break. He’d fallen onto one of the many lumps of protruding equipment and gotten a bruise on his ribs for sure. “Did.. I make it in time?”

 


 

The mech had been concentrating on the tasks at hand, and staying quiet – even quieter than normal. He attempted to limit the distractions that Celn would have having, because Hawker really did want the kid to get this down. This was important to him. This was a matter of life and death. No, this had been a matter of life and death.

 

The memories came, and he shielded them from Chris with stoic fervor. The last thing he wanted was to bombard the kid with his previous pilot’s memories of dying while he was trying to learn how to survive. He didn’t need to know what had been recorded into the mech’s black box from Lee’s last moments. Nobody did. But Hawker demanded they not be erased.

The weight of the machine falls into him as the EMP detonates, his consciousness ripped away and replaced with a searing void. Lee’s showered with sparks as the HLX-9, his partner, experiences a complete system failure. The great mech sways, lurches backward, and with a haggard cry Lee forces control of his friend’s body, grabbing onto the side of a building to keep upright. The panes of glass explode and rain down onto the street below.

“I need backup!” he shouts hoarsely into his comm mic, but it’s all static. Hawker’s radio had been taken offline too. He tries again. “I repeat, this is Davidson, requesting backup..!” It does no good.

With Hawker’s sensors offline, Lee’s sitting blind. He rips off the helmet, his head still locked into the cranial stabilizer, and reaches for a big red button hidden closely to the side of his seat, protected behind a plastic cover.

BA-BA-BA-BOOM

The hatches blow off, and the acrid stench of battle and machinery hits his nose. But there’s no time to get his bearings. The heavy CHUKKA-CHUKKA-CHUKKA of machine gun fire off to his right rips through the building beside him. Some of the bullets graze the smooth, geometric paneling of Hawker’s arm; others tear in, sending oil and coolant spatter flying.

It’s an HLX-6. A squatter, headless model; more tank-like, and with no personality to contend with. A true machine. Across its left shoulder is spray painted the blood-red red livery of the Barbarians: a battle-axe and severed leg. And Eastern European gang that got rich off the Siberian Wars.

Lee’s fingers deftly sail across the manual controls, flipping switches and smashing buttons. He’s trying to get Hawker’s body to arm its on-board weaponry, but most of it is offline, and something else is jamming. Lee takes a moment – a moment that feels like forever – as he stares down the barrel of that 50-caliber gun. His ears are ringing, but he can hear his eerily steady breath.

If he turns and runs, they’ll both get blown to pieces. But if he charges… there’s a chance that they could take down the Six before he kills any more good men.

He takes off at a sprint, headed straight for that barrel. Beside him, Hawker’s massive arms swing in time with his 18-foot strides. They reach out to grab the gun, wrench it away, but –

Ka-choom.

Static.

Hawker forced himself to be fully present for the next exercises, forced himself to not think about what had happened four months ago. It was for Celn’s sake, he kept telling himself. This was serious.

The human inside of him was hurting. He could feel the pain radiate up into his own CPU, and to be honest, after so many rapid reinitializations, the mech was hurting too. He was cycling air constantly to keep up with the processing load, and… ah, fuck it. He had a mind just as much as the human, and he was mech enough to admit when he needed a break too.

For the umpteenth time, their connection severed with a dull stab to his primary cortex, just above Celn’s head, and out spilled the human. His own chest was heaving.

“D-did… I make it on time?”

“Not bad, scabber,” Colburn said over the PA. “3.9 seconds.”

“That’s… sufficient.” No, that was good. “We’ll do more of this next week,” Hawker said, his deep voice made a little bit deeper by his own mental fatigue. “Now c’mon.” He reached in and touched Celn’s shoulder with that massive finger, not really thinking about it. The kid’s body yielded so completely to even that smallest of touches. “Break for lunch, then I need to talk to you about Yorker.”

Meanwhile, Colburn was hastily updating the betting pool.

 

 


 

Colburn felt tremendous satisfaction as bets fell off the short end. Sure, those participating could buy back in, but the money stayed in the pot. She started to draft some possibilities, for afterCeln got approved for duty. She’d seen how the rook pushed. If anything, he’d gotten more tenacious with a day’s break. Still, his vitals were once again looking like crap, and Hawker’s interface subsystem needed a reset and to clear the data caches.

Chris pulled himself up into a seated position. 3.9 is less then four. 4 is the goal. All he needed to do was throw himself into and out of the cockpit like a monkey. Inside the open cockpit, he could hear fans spinning fast to push air through the electronics. He dangled a leg off the edge of the chestplate, looking down at the floor. He did kinda wish Hawker was closer to one of the big foam piles. He wanted to fall into it and sleep.

Something pressed to Chris’s shoulder. He heard the sound of hydraulic and electric motors and actuators closeby. THe touch’s motions are gentle and friendly; like the way someone might put their hand on him’s shoulder, while smiling and saying ‘Good Job.’ Except that his make him twist, the force behind it could’ve pulverised bone. He turned his head, seeing the finger and hand of the robotic giant moving back.

He had never felt fear of Hawker, until that moment. That was barely a poke! The mech couldn’t easily flicked him twenty feet with that finger! Crushed him and.. no. Hawker wouldn’t. The mech wanted to break his new pilot in, not crush in an oversized fist.

Break for lunch…

He’d controlled those fingers. That hand. What would it be like to be held by Hawker? Other feelings came to him. Respect for the machine’s size. Other feelings worked around in the back of his mind. Ones he would need to spend a long, long time deciding on before he ever spoke to the AI about.

..then I need to talk to you about Yorker.

That name dropped the bottom out of the rookie’s daydreaming, and he frowned. Asshole! If he had to spend weeks working with that cocking jerk, Chris is going to develop a grudge.

“Yes sir.” he said with a firm tone, “Will report back when I’ve eaten.”

Chris took his time going down, going easy on the rungs and footholds. He wanted to put and icepack on his implant, pour cold water onto his brain. He leaned forward as he walked out, left hand rubbing the back of his neck. He felt conflicted. He hurt. Gods, did he hurt. THe worst part was that when he tried to pay attention to anything, even concentrating on which elevator button to press, there was a flare-up of fresh agon in his mind. He whimpered, the doors closed and brought him up toward the mess. He pulled the phone from the padded chest pocket, sewn in where none of the restraints would crush it. “OKay google. Give me a 25 minute timer.” He didn’t want to stare at a wall for two hours while Hawker vented and fumed in the crash room.

Lunch was something like a casserole. Chris had to down two protein drinks to meet the dietary requirements he’d been given. The robots in the mess dutifully splatted a second portion onto his tray and he forced himself to finish. <High-grade protein drinks for sure. Something that doesn’t feel like watery cornflakes to eat.> He looked at the timer. 5 minutes left. He put his palms over his eyes and stared at the pretty patterns that formed in the darkness of his closed eyelids. He burped, trying to get a few minute’s peace.

 


 

Hawker paced in a loose circle to clear his CPUs. He dumped his cache, feeling the plug of unpalatable information sluice away into the ether. He felt like he could breathe better afterwards. Synched with 42’s servers to relieve himself of a little more mental burden.

 

Still, his processing centers ached. The mech rubbed at his chest like a human in a commercial with heartburn. It didn’t really help, and he wasn’t sure why he did it – hell, he wasn’t sure why he did a lot of the little things that he did – but he always chalked it up to having been designed by humans. He was a machine, but he was still one of them.

<How much you got riding on us now?> Hawker grunted at Colburn.

“Huh?” She dropped her data pad and played dumb. “Riding on who what now?”

<Kole told me already. And no, I didn’t tell the kid.>

She cleared her throat and shrugged. “I guess the cat’s out of the bag,” she said, looking away. “As of right now, I stand to walk away with 700 big ones.” She tried to keep from sounding proud of herself. “62 of us bought in, there’s only 16 now.”

<Anyone betting on if it kills him?>

“Actually, uh…”

Hawker went rigid and shot her a searing, dangerous look. She fell silent up in the booth, and the mech slowly walked over to the pile of cars. “I get real sick of this place sometimes,” he said with his mouth, the words dripping out with a scowl. His chest still burned, and he suddenly felt restless for something. He reached down for what was once a red sedan, fisting it and lifted it into the air. “I feel like I remember what military life was like…” He tossed it a little, the ton of crushed metal turning lazily in the air before he lifted his massive foot to give it a swift, cacophanous kick. It went sailing at a wall and collided with it at 80 miles an hour. The metal made a horrible sound before hitting the ground and coming to a rest. “…and I feel like that’s where I always needed to be.”

“You can’t go back and you know it,” Colburn said quietly.

He turned around to stare her down. “All I know is that its classified.”

“It’s for your own good.”

“That’s what they keep telling me!” He picked up another car and smashed it into the other one. “It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with those special upgrades, would it?” he snarled.

“Hawker, you’ve just been cooped up in here too long. We need to get you back on the street. And if this is about Lee -”

He turned on his heel and stormed over to the observation deck, shoving his face uncomfortably close to the glass. His yellow optics bored holes into the little woman inside. “Don’t bring Lee into this.” He remembered the way Celn had flinched against his finger.

“Goddammit Hawker, it’s been about nothing but Lee for the past four months! You’re not the only one who lost a friend, you know!”

“You didn’t know him like I did!” The side of his fist collided with the window, and a spiderweb of cracks erupted from underneath it.

HLX-9 Vanguard Hawker number nine-zero-eight-one, I order you to stand down,” Colburn bellowed over the PA.

Hawker stood there, staring at her as his fist slowly unclenched. The crash room was eerily silent. After a long moment he vented air, took a step back. Lowered his hand.

A blip in sensor range. The mech jerked his head toward the door, and there stood Chris Celn, so small. There was a look of shock on his face. Hawker immediately regretted his outburst. Where did that come from? How long had the kid been standing there? Why didn’t he notice?

“Celn – Chris – I…”

 

 


 

 

Beep Beep Beep Beep Bee—-*

 

Chris pocketed his phone, dragging himself out of the seat. Tray away, he got the robots to give him a back of ice cubes. Holding the clear plastic bag to his neck, he wandered back down toward the crash room. He didn’t even get to the elevator before Ferdinand caught up with him.

“Hey Chris! What’s with the bag?” His fellow pilot pressed the elevator button for the same basement level.

Chris spoke softly as the doors closed. “Fast connection and disconnection. Was doing the old in and out.” He waggled his eyebrows to imply something for more naughty.

“Oh man, emergency protocols. I hate that crap. Full cycle too? On a platform with an AI?” The mother man peered at the rookie. “Best I can do on a MRAV is 14 seconds. Not counting the whole, OMG, tank is on fire get out part.”

Chris turned a bleary eye on the veteran pilot, He took the ice pack off and let the condensation drip on the floor. “They.. they had me working to get it under 4. Seconds. Managed 3.9 when hawker sent me to eat.”

Ferdinand laughed for a moment, then his face froze. He reached out and poked at the interface. Chris winced. “Seriously? AI in, AI out in four? Also, you’ve got some inflammation around the implant. You should see a medic.”

Chris sighed, shaking his head. “3.9 Seconds, In and out of AI AND cockpit.” He put the icepack back on. “I”ll see a medic after I’m dismissed for the day.”

——————

Ferdinand followed Chris down the hallway, his own destination ignored. “Don’t screw with me rookie! You’re fucking with me? 3.9? Complete in and out?” THe other pilot had his phone out. Celn seemed dead serious. Looked like he’d been through it too.

Chris sighed, “Yeah. I think we did at least 70 full integration cycles. At least 30 of them were me getting time shaved off.” Ferdinand nodded. He busily tapped on the screen of his phone, filing a big bet on Chris making it. “Hey Ferd?”

“Yeah Chris?”

“Don’t tell anyone.”

“What?”

“Don’t.. don’t let anyone know. Don’t say how I’m doing. I didn’t show up looking to be in an HLX-9. I woulda been happy running anything they gave me. Now though.. I’m scared. Scared they’ll say I’m not good enough. I mean.. look at me.”

Chris is kinda on the small side pilots. And small for a cop.

Ferdinand shook his head. “Rookie, nothing is a secret with Big Nine. Everyone in 42 watching you two to see–”

*BOOM!* *CRASH!*

Chris looked horrified that the other cops were watching him. The thought of failing now made him feel sick, like he might upchuck. There is legitimate green around his gills. Then the noises start. They both sprint down to the small lobby that empties onto the crash room.

..classified!

The two pilots watched as the mech tossed cars. CARS! like they were footballs. “Don’t go in there.” Ferdinand muttered. As far as HE is concerned, the big dog was about to get a newspaper from Colburn.

Chris whimpered. He put a hand on the push bar to open the door to the crash room. The other man put a hand on Chris’s shoulder, the same one the robot had touched. “You loco! Don’t go out there while he’s angry!”

Chris really, really hoped he wasn’t being stupid. Every instinct told him he needed to be 5 miles away or in that cockpit RIGHT NOW! “That’s my job. Stay back.” came the weary response.

Hawker in angry motion is like watching an angry god. THe machine’s movements made the room shake, the air filled with the sounds of it’s mechanical movements. CHris didn’t even have to think as he opened and closed the door quietly, those previous life skills welling up as he stayed closed to the exit.

How the hell is he going to talk the AI down?

“Goddammit Hawker, it’s been about nothing but Lee for the past four months! You’re not the only one who lost a friend, you know!” Lee. Chris is going to have to address that issue. Maybe he could speak to the AI quietly, stay linked up and forget the rest of today’s training?

“You didn’t know him like I did!”Chris flinched as Hawker punched! He feal real fear from the SPEED! How the FUCK? is something so big so quick? That had to be triple digit speed on impact! And the machine’s hand isn’t hut??

“HLX-9 Vanguard Hawker number nine-zero-eight-one, I order you to stand down” Chris DID know that one. One of the parts from Chapter 4, part 7 {‘So an AI that’s in your brain has decided to kill you. Possible means to not be smote.’}

Chris let the icebag fall onto the ground. He sure as fuck is cold enough now! Chilled to the bone! His instinct told him to run. Run the fuck out and let the mech get shut off for now. He’d never seen the AI be anything but cool or annoyed. Now he’d seen real anger.

But.. Hawker’s face. The mech’s expression squeezed his heart. The 15 foot engine of destruction looked horrified. Like how a pet owner looked when they stepped on their pet’s tail. He knew this is important. Some steel found it’s way into his spine, and the small human stood upright. THe implant on his neck burned along with the rest of his nerves.

“Hawker.” Chris’s face screwed up, he tried to smile and be sincere at the same moment. What the hell should he say to make things right? He felt responsible somehow. He looked up at the booth. “Ma’am. Permission to board the HLX-9 and speak with Hawker. I..” he swallowed, putting his hands behind his back and spreading his feet in a parade rest. “.. want to help. We work better together.”

 

 


 

 

Colburn eyed the rookie, wondering what his angle was.

 

“We work better together.”

This is a little beyond your league, she wanted to tell him. Leave the broken machines to the techs to fix. But did she or didn’t she have money on him?

Hawker hadn’t lost it like this since the funeral was over. The mech hadn’t just been invited, he’d lead the escort to the cemetery, he’d made the traditional last radio call, and he’d lead the three volley salute. She’d tried playing shrink here and there, but the AI wouldn’t have it. It seemed like he just wanted to move on.

Apparently not, though.

“Give it a go, Chris,” she sighed. “And Hawker, be nice.”

The mech was bristling with shame, but he needed to set this right. Too many more outbursts like this and his days would be numbered, no matter how valuable he was.

He didn’t demand that Chris climb him. Instead, he stepped closer to the kid and gently descended into a kneel; quite the contrast to the damage he’d so easily done just now. His huge, black, five-fingered hand extended toward him, palm up, beckoning, hovering just above the floor. The invitation was obvious.

“I suppose I owe you an explanation,” he rumbled quietly.

 


 

Hawker had been standing at the now cracked windows. Then in just four purposeful strides he is looming over the human. The vibrations, the power! Chris is intimidated. Primal panic made his stomach tense and his adrenaline spiked.

The very air washed over him, blowing around him as the massive machine came down to his level. Seeing the HLX-9 kneel felt.. pleasing. Like he was being honored in some childhood fairy tale. Of course, Hawker’s face is still up there. Somehow, it seemed bigger up close. Then his gaze moved and he looked at the hand.

It wasn’t quite as long as the human is tall, but it is much broader. The mech could do more the hold the human in it’s palm. It could make a fist and hold him in that, with his head or feet sticking out. Chris is about 1/3 of the mech’s height, but the machine isn’t quite built to the standards of the human body. Larger torso for a cockpit and machinery. Broader shoulders. But Hawker is close to human, close enough to be considered humanoid. Chris brought his arms out from behind his back, boots crunching on the dirty floor as he walked up. The boots clumped on the metal surface of the palm, the same hand that’d punched the glass.

Thankfully the hand wasn’t laid flat, and Chris sat down; feet on the wrist, holding onto the thumb with his back toward the upturned fingers. He knew Hawker would be careful, but he sit didn’t want to risk falling and having to be caught.

“Yes. We’ve not had a chance to talk about anything aside from my training. And we’ll go back to that. Right now you and I need to speak about Lee. I’m comfortable doing that face to face. And I can go inside, and we can think about it if you’d prefer.” Chris knew the AI had an ego as big as the mech inhabited. He knew how to be the small, supportive figure. He just had to be careful and not appear too vulnerable. Hawker needed him strong.

“We will figure out how to make this work, so you can go back to grinding my mind with your processors.” He winked. “When you aren’t pawning me off to learn to shoot or get yelled at by a gym rat.” he smiled then, warmly. Confidingly to his partner.

 


 

What Colburn knew and perhaps Chris didn’t was that the stand down command could be overridden. Deep Field 2 left a lot of room for autonomy – perhaps too much, depending on which Washington shill you asked – but Hawker hadn’t been seized by some programming code designed to break the spell of a negative emotional feedback loop. When he stepped away from that window, he’d simply chosen to reaffirm the chain of command and follow orders.

Because if he couldn’t be a good soldier – now a good cop – he was nothing.

Somehow this felt different than all the other times he’d picked somebody up. It was usually business. Or more rarely, camaraderie. He’d picked up Lee many countless times, and it was… natural. Normal. They were each others’ co-pilots and friends. It was just what The Boys did.

Chris was smaller than Lee; like a whippet to Lee’s bulldog. There was no time to be thrilled by the smallness and fragility of humans, by Chris’s hands on fingers as thick around as the kid’s bicep, the scrape of boots on his smooth wrist plating. There was no time; he had a job to do.

“We’ll talk… with you inside. No neurospace.” It would give him the barest sense of distance that he needed, being able to feel Chris but not see him. Surrounding him, enclosing him in a harsh, machine embrace.

“We will figure out how to make this work, so you can go back to grinding my mind with your processors.” He winked. “When you aren’t pawning me off to learn to shoot or get yelled at by a gym rat.”

Hawker looked at the kid with vague suspicion, cocking a brow plate with the frown still on his face. Pawn off..? The barest hint of a smile tugged at one side of his mouth and he shook his head a little.

Slowly he rose to his feet, not taking his eyes off the tenacious little ball of organic tissue in his hand. “Last I checked,” he said, standing at his full height now with Chris not anywhere near eye-level, “I was still captain, greenhorn.”

Then he popped his hatches.

 


 

Celn is doing his absolute damndest to present a carefree and relaxed facade. Inside his stomach rolled and sweat dribbled down his spine were it met the piloting suit. He’d lied to cops plenty, now he is doing something far more difficult. Telling the truth! While lying about his physical state. His hand rubbed the finger affectionately, giving a squeeze when he’d been drawn upward.

The truth is that he felt that he owed Hawker. Owed the big mech for giving him a chance. He knew he had an amazing future before him, IF he could keep the mech on it’s feet and himself in it’s good graces.

“I was still captain, greenhorn.” 

“Yes Sir. You are my superior.. officer.” he made the pause between superior and officer long enough to be interpretable. WHat he could have meant in that moment could be any number of options. BUT, he was not being coy about his position in the budding relationship. He considered Hawker to be the boss. In control.

Chris waited until that hand is close enough to the open cockpit before getting up to enter. The morning’s training must be sticking, as he rapidly dumped himself in position, his hand landing on the interface control buttons. He had to stop himself from linking them together. He stroked over the seat, wiggled on the comfortable padding. He waited until the hatch began closing before he spoke. He’d be locked inside, where no-one could hear their conversation. This is as private as a conversation can be get.

“You tell me about Lee. You tell me how you feel about him. Tell me about how it all ended. I’m going to be your new pilot or die trying. So, we’re going to do.. do a thing.”

he cleared his throat. “I don’t have any kind of professional training in this. But I have talked friends out of bad trips. And you probably can still feel how it happened. YOu and I are going to figure a way out. We’re gonna play through it. And I’m going to be a live on the other side, and so are you. Then you’re going to remember how we did it, each time you’re feeling for his loss.”

Chris had a tremble in his frame, fear about being so.. so commanding to the machine! He hoped the AI didn’t throw him out now. He hoped that by being the the vulnerable position he is, that Hawker would be willing to listen.

 


 

“I’m going to be your new pilot of die trying.”

Hawker almost flinched at that.

“We’re gonna play through it.”

He gave pause, now noticing the trembling in the kid’s body. Hawker rumbled, scowled, let his hand rest against the front of the cockpit for a moment. Was Chris scared of him? The thought made him angry, but no… no, it had to be a little more complicated than that. He hoped so.

“The bond between pilot and machine is deep and enduring,” he said on the inside, not moving his lips. “It’s a kind of brotherhood that words and data can barely begin to describe.” God, this was sounding like a fucking eulogy. Turn it around. “In time, you might be lucky enough to have that.” An uneasy pause. Cycling air. Hands at his sides, fists to keep his fingers busy. “Neurospace,” he said, a quiet command. He hadn’t intended on doing this; he was simply going to… what? Tell him who Lee Davidson was? Like that would have done any of him justice. That would have been merciful, though. “You’ll find what you’re looking for there.”

Hawker spent the next few seconds preparing himself to regret what was about to happen, what the kid was about to see and experience. He didn’t need that. Nobody needed that.

But Chris dutifully pressed himself back into the seatback, and Hawker gently grasped him by the scalp before sliding in. He felt like the protagonist of some Shakespearean tragedy, stroking and embracing a child or a lover as a kind of act of penance before running them through with a sword. They linked without much fanfare, and all was quiet blackness before the mech fetched the contents of the black box and like Pandora, let the horrors out.

Chris Celn had been Lee for an agonizing 3 minutes and 48 seconds – the last 3 minutes and 48 seconds that the man had spent as a cogent, loyal, and heroic peace officer. He felt his terror, his pain, his exhaustion, his desperation. He also would have felt his strength and extreme capability, but they were easily overshadowed.

Hawker waited for Chris to recover. It took a while. Somewhere in his CPUs he felt numb and distant, knowing he should have been there to coax his pilot back to stability again, but something in him couldn’t do it right now. So he waited, still as stone, head hung low, and thought about this could very well kill Chris Celn too.

 


 

..deep and enduring.. Heh.

Chris had a very different idea on just how he’d be approaching Hawker’s ‘holy vision’ of interfacing. It sounded like something that’d been programmed in. Or military blarg, the shit that generals would spout over the coffins of soldiers trying to justify wars that never end. Didn’t sound like anything that he’d experienced. There’d been no brotherhood with Hawker. Just the Hammer and Anvil of the mech and AI pounding the weak human. He rubbed his hands over his face, exhaling and centering himself.

He really didn’t want to relink. He is hurting, and he didn’t care what is about to hit his brain. He just wanted to not hurt. The mechanics of the restraints were slow. It took well over forty seconds before the interface plates met up, and almost a minute before it seated. Was Hawker picking up on his emotions? Did the mech not want to be plugged into him anym—*

Chris never really knew that such VIVID REAL HOLY SHIT I’M LIVING IT WHAT THE FUCK mental transfers existed. He’d never been hooked up to another human. Never seen inside of a fully visualized death.

He’d felt death though. Death from an overdose, feeling the world go weird. Death from the cold shutting his body down.

Lee was astounding! Chris felt the strength in the man, a man who had arms bigger then Chris’s thighs. The man commanded and was the AI’s equal. He could feel and follow along, his heartbeat syncing up with Lee’s. He worked himself through the motions, seeing Lee as an idealised version of himself. Lee came from a heroic background. He and Hawker had good goo int he world, then came home to fix one of the worst places, to stem the tide of lawlessness that filled the country. Chris could feel the pain coming. Hawker had watched this enough that the moment of the EMP had been slowed down, each second analised to try and figure out some means of escape.

But it hit. THen everything changed. No more multi-sensory vision. Just the Cabin. Lee and Chris moved their hands in unison, touching the same controls, establishing manual control. THe cockpit in Lee’s echo had been wrenched open. In the distance, the other machine mech lumbered and wallowed in destruction. Enemy and allied combatants fought. He and lee looked down at the weapons. Nothing functioning, they had to stop this menace! Lee grappled with the enemy, and CHris tried to help, then the both died.

<Again.> He spoke to the darkness.

Uncertianty?

<Play the recording again!>

It restarted. It happened a second time. A third. Each time CHris tried different rounds of action, different ways to help Lee. In the end, their bodies lay in ruins. THeir guts spilling out.

In the cockpit, CHris’s nose bled into the mask over his face. He game dangerous close to losing sync. His heart beat rapidly and irregularly. Stopping entirely at the same moment as Lee’s.

<Again!> A fourth death. <AGAIN!>

Then, the two pilots broke apart.

The heroic charge, the sacrifice of self over others, victory, the belief that he and the HLX-9 are indestructible! Lee went on to die.

“NOPE!” Chris has no such aspirations anymore. “FUCKIN’ NOPE!” He turned! This is not how a soldier fights in war!

Chris, is no soldier.

Gripping the control sticks, still lost in the vision of the past, he turned the mech and he RAN! He ran from battle! Putting that back armor between him and the threat. The retreat left the allied soldiers to fall, but they’d died anyway with Hawker and Lee destroyed. “Need guns! No guns left!” The vision from the memory was fading. Lee was dieing to the hands of an AI in a lesser mech. A GHost.

And here, a new alteration is unfolding, a different end to the memory, and alternate path. They stood over the ruins of a building. Chris bent the machine down, picking up an I-beam and wrenching it free. In the other he grasped an engine from a ruined car. He lobbed the engine upward, like a tin can. I-beam in both hands, he swung it round with the force of a seasoned sandlot player. *CRACK!* The block went flying, impacting into where the enemy mech was killing Lee. As the ghost of the past faded, Chris found himself holding up the side arm, covering the retreat of their allies. “C’mon you fools! Get out while the gettin’s good!” Came his youthful snarl of the PA.

The warn torn past faded back into the crash room…

 


 

Over and over and over again Hawker and Chris relived that recorded memory of the dead man.

Distantly, he watched, endured, as the human lived it. Then, as he struggled against it. Then, as he sought to change it.

Hawker… didn’t know that what Chris was doing could be done. But, he wasn’t human either. It seemed to him, as the data passed around him like a howling wind, that this sort of thing could only be accomplished with wetware. There were things in that memory that the mech knew he could never fully know, but now it was looking like the entire thing was an open book to the younger, smaller, rougher human inside of him. Hawker remained silent, mesmerized. Then memory began to change.

No, that’s not what Lee did…

Where are you…!

The AI couldn’t control the memory like Chris could, and Hawker suddenly felt acutely like a prisoner. Claustrophobic. Get me out. This is not how it ends!

As Chris’s hands moved in time with the ghost controls in his encounter with a long-gone enemy, Hawker tried getting away from the hijacked memory itself. He staggered backward in the crash room, horrified and enraged at what was happening now. Chris’s voice sounded in his head as he taunted those ghosts, for him as real as the chair he sat in, and Hawker backed into the wall, chipping concrete.

It faded. The reel ended for the last time, and inside of him, where in a human a beating heart would be, sat Chris Celn, sneering and barking his triumph.

The mech stayed frozen for a few seconds, a minute, then he abruptly pulled the plug on their connection. It hurt them both, but it didn’t matter. The hatches blew open, the restraints flew off, and Hawker knelt deeply for the sole purpose of letting the kid tumble out of him and onto the ground. Vented heat blew dust into Celn’s face, and Hawker rose to his feet as the scabber was left to figure out what the fuck just happened.

“You’re dismissed,” he said, veiling his rage. Rage at what? Didn’t matter. “Training tomorrow at 0500. Looks like I’ve got a lot to teach you about respect.”

 


 

If Chris had seen how Hawker acted, knew the real reason why the connection had been slow to start? Knew if the AI had been touching it’s chest, demonstrating how it cared for him? He might had at least been more respectful. Maybe.

Chris didn’t know where he sat. His eyes swam in a part of the memory that didn’t exist. And it’d been EDITED! His own mind had skewed the black box data. The recording now lasted 4 minutes, 18 seconds. Lee still died. But in the same recording, they’d been a divergence. When Hawker next watched it, or it came unbidden into the AI’s thoughts, the option Chis had created envisioned led to a means to let the AI’s pilot survive. A way to live. A way that led to the kid being the pilot of HLX-9.

This had been another kind of training to the rookie. And situation where Hawker gave him an impossible task and it had been expected of him to excel at it. That’s all Celn felt about editing the sacred memory. He didn’t have the connection to Lee, didn’t feel the heat of the moment. This is a decision that came from knowing where certain death lay. He’d chosen differently. He’d succeeded where Lee’d failed, and did it by following his own instincts.

A pilot that would retreat from combat, retreat from impossible odds, but still look for a way to win.

“ARRRRRRgggggggh…..!” Chris cried out as the connection dropped for the 77th time that day. His hands went to the implant the moment the restraints went free. It felt hot, like it is burning his flesh.

Hawker ‘vomited’ him out onto the dirty floor of the crash room. Dirt mixed into the blood coming from Chris ‘s nose… It’d pooled in the mask, giving him some kind of grotesque goatee of bloodstains. He curled into the fetal position, tears of pain dripping from his eyes as writhed in acute and intense agony. Felt like he is being stabbed in the neck!

“Training tomorrow at 0500. Looks like I’ve got a lot to teach you about respect.”

Chris felt fear now. Fear motivates. Fear got him on his knees, then his feet. Tomorrow would be the range and the gym. Yorker would be preferable to facing down linking up again.

He coughed a sob, feeling the pain begin to subdue. Felt like, kinder, gentler stabs to the neck. He turned just enough to let Hawker see half his face. Enough that the pain, the tiredness, the confusion of his expression could be seen. The tears cut through the lines of dirty blood. “Yes sir. 0500.”

Then Chris stumbled out. Away from the Vanguard Class Mech. It hadn’t been that long, but Ferdinand is gone from the prep room. Either he or Colburn had messaged the aid station, because there was that medical droid waiting. “Officer Celn,” it drone “Please accompany me to medical. If you cannot walk I will carry you.” Chris leaned on it’s shoulder, a hand on his implant. He didn’t even argue. “I hurt. Too many initializations.” he admitted.

“This is known. You will submit to a full body scan, and may be placed on medical suspension if your implant or the nerve tissue is damaged.” Chris nodded. He wanted to sleep. “Yes. Just get me up there.”

Minutes later, he lay naked on a scanner. He’d been given a shower, washed by the medical drive. He is damp under his arms and between his legs still. Behind his head robotics moved, analyzing the interface implant and the angry bruised skin. Physically, he needed time to rest and recover. He’d been given anti-inflammatories and mild painkillers with the hypospray. He had bruising on his chest and shoulder. The medical droid pulled a smock over him, goving him the semblance of modesty. Chris heard footsteps.

He felt like.. he didn’t know what to feel. 0500 tomorrow. This wasn’t over. But .. he wasn’t sure if he’d made a difference.

 

Chapter Text

Hawker pinged the door to his exit and stormed out, leaving Celn standing there, still reeling. The blood mingling with the tears on his face, mingling with the fear and confusion in his eyes, his parted, panting mouth, seared into the mech’s memory cortexes, fueling his maelstrom of emotions, but he didn’t say another word.

The mech was on a rampage. He needed to get out, get away from these same concrete walls, these same goddamn people.

Eventually he found himself in his ‘office’, where the windowless dark and hum of servers provided a temporary respite. That warm quietude was disrupted when he brought his fist to meet the wall beside him before sliding down to seat himself on the floor and put his head in his hand.

There was a few minutes of stinging emptiness before the inevitable comm interrupted.

“Hawker, would you care to explain what in the fuck just happened?” It was Kole, and he wasn’t happy. “Colburn told me while she was rushing to see Celn in medical.”

<Scabber asked for it,> the mech growled in reply.

“That’s not an answer, captain.”

A hard vent. <He asked to see the black box. I… showed it to him. Thought he might begin to understand what happened. We – he – plowed through it a dozen times until I ejected him.> Hawker had never ejected anyone to his knowledge – that was something only a lesser, malfunctioning AI would do. Under any other circumstance, it would be a dangerous, dishonorable, and damn foolhardy thing to subject a pilot to, but the way Hawker said the words… Kole knew something about the experience had triggered his survival instinct.

“Why did you eject him?”

The mech ‘spoke’ quietly. <He changed it, Kole.> A pause, then, enraged again: <He changed it! My memory, dammit! And now I’m never getting it back!>

Kole was silent for a whole minute, before he spoke again in slow, measured words. “You should have deleted those files four months ago.”

<I swear to god, sir, if you ->

“That memory’s not yours either!” the sergeant barked. A deep breath. “I know he rehabilitated you, saved you from getting boxed after Siberia. I know he spent a year teaching you to be damn-near human again. I know how seamless your connection was, how perfectly synchronized you were in neurospace. I know how he chose work over his marriage. I know how many raids you led together, how much scum you brought in. I know, Hawker. I was there too. And I was there in the shit with you two when he was blown into a coma.” A pause as he took a breath. “All any of us has got is memories. You don’t do him any justice by clinging onto that data like a saint’s goddamn reliquary, Hawker.” One last pause. “Lee would be ashamed to see what it’s done to you now.”

Oil and coolant surged, his finger was on the hair trigger of some state of mind. What did they do with emotionally unstable AIs? Ah yes, junked ’em. They could do too much damage. Kill too many people.

“And from what it sounds like, Chris Celn was only trying to help.”

Chris Celn. Who was he? Some scruffy kid from the street who was only here for the steady paycheck and a chance at retirement? No… no. Chris was brave, determined, he wanted to do good. No, that wasn’t quite right either. No, he was somewhere in between. Imperfect, but moral… running from his past just like everyone else in 42.

Fluid pressures leveled. Air cycling steadied.

“Whether he stays or goes is entirely up to you, captain. It’s not my job to get between a mech and his pilot. But you need to make up your goddamn mind.”

<Yes, sir.>

The comm ended and it was Hawker’s turn to figure out what the fuck had just happened.

 


 

Colburn made a note to have the elevators overhauled. They are too damn slow! She sent a text to Kole. ‘Medical, AFTER you talk with the Deep Field 2.’ She knew he likely already was on the line. Or at least, about to phone up the mech.

Logically, she knew that it wasn’t over. Hawker had issued a training time for the next day. SHe felt a pang of guilt too. SHe shouldn’t have let them link after lunch. She should have stopped the connections after 50 cycles. But the kid refused to back down! The light green walls of medical opened up to her fromt he elevator. She walked toward the back section where the pilots would be treated. She knew that the scabber would be scabbing back up after today.

——————-

Chris had his eyes closed. He felt like he is laying on a cloud. His heart tingled.

Opioids are fantastic. Felt like 150 unit pills. He’d gotten two. The taste is very, very familiar. He’d crushed them between his teeth, letting the bitter flavors sink into his gums tongue. Like the old days. He drank the water, only because the drone wouldn’t stop pestering him about it. Outside the small cubby where he lay, there is a conversation happening behind a plastic curtain. The voices are quiet.

“Chief Engineer Colburn, ma’am. Medical 07-C reporting.”

Her voice is firm, she took in a breath from the run she’d just done. “What is his status?”

“Physical bruising and minor trauma to soft tissue. Well within operational limits. Inflammation to nerves, spinal column and nanodendrite links. Recommend waiting 12 hours to see what results from treatment. Recommend eliminating interfacing until site reduces inflammation. Pain and inflammation treated with medication.”

It paused, enjoying it’s job. It knew that the woman would want a prognosis, and it cut her off with it as she opened her mouth to ask. “Unknown time of recovery, likely within 48 hours. Patient is young, recovery expected to be rapid.”

Colburn scowled. Was it messing with her? She had more important issues to deal with. “Thank you 07-C. Please continue watching him.”

Chris felt tired. He drifted off on a high he hadn’t felt in years.

———————–

Kole and Colburn stood in medical, examining the results of the day’s activities. He watched the ugly scene unfold again, starting with when Hawker lost his temper the first time. He frowned as it left Celn and stomped off.
“This isn’t good.” he started. “We’ve been covering for him for months. I’ve gotten wind of rumors.”

Colbrun raised an eyebrow. “They wouldn’t. They’ve spent too much on 42. On Big Nine.”

Kole let a crooked grin turn up his lips. “I said rumors.”

Colburn chuckled. “OH!” THe chuckle turned into a laugh! “That won’t work. Not enough room in an HLX-9 for two pilots and no AI.”

Kole nodded. “Try telling that to a bureaucrat who can’t work his cellphone.”

Colburn’s smile turned into a frown. “You’re joking.”

Kole shrugged, turning the conversation aside to the present. “I said rumors. And they’d try other pilots too. We’ve got almost two years. Then it will be election time.” That mean politicians making promises. And getting Big Nine out, if it wasn’t, would be a promise. “Looks like our rookie went through hell.” he flipped through the day’s reports on his datapad. “Again.”

Colburn had a sly smile on her face. “He’s succeeding.”

“And when he doesn’t? He’s got a history. THe only thing keeping him clean and honest is a drive to prove himself. What’ll happen to Celn if Hawker rejects him?”

Kole let the question hang in the air.

“I can’t make it any easier on the greenhorn. This is Hawker’s show.” Colbrun frowned still. She’d been thinking about this too. Silence for a minute.

“Look, we can make his life outside of the mech easier.” she offered.

“How so?”

“Make sure he’s busy. Don’t let what he’s going go to his head. Try not to let him have time to brag. THe schedule he’s on is fantastic. He’s worn out in his off time.”

Kole thought about it. He smirked. “Put him in the marines, then?”

Colburn nodded. Somewhere far off, they heard Chris shout! “FUCK! Ow ow shit fuck ow dammit!” Likely the droid applying topical treatments. Those stung around the implant. Led to the scabbing, probably brought back memories of the surgery to the rookie.

Kole looked at the reports from yesterday. His smirk turned into a grin as he read about the Yorker situation. “Well, you do your part. Until he can link back up, you have him do maintenance on Nine. Mop up his own sweat and fix the paint if need be. I can’t spot him in the gym, don’t have the time.” He thought back to his days as a drill sergeant.

He could see having someone to growl at again. It brought back happy memories. What a great way to work out frustration! “As much as I’d like to shout at a boot again.” They both chuckled at that. “I’ll see if I can get someone better though.” He looked at the still images of Chris’s face. Of Hawker’s face. There is a connection for sure. “I think I know *just* who can motivate our pilot-to-be like no one else.”

 


 

“I’ll be what?” Hawker said with a grimace from where he stood, straight and tall on the maintenance slab. Kole was visiting in-person.

“Most of your time with Celn has so far been in neurospace. In retrospect, Colburn and I decided that was a damn stupid thing to allow. You wouldn’t get married after a one-night-stand, would you? Don’t answer that. Of course you don’t.” He flicked his finger across the screen of the datapad and continued. “I’m queuing up a few homework assignments for you to download this evening, what with Yorker getting let go and all…”

Hawker ‘glanced’ in the direction of the queued files and looked them over. His white, gleaming face scrunched up amid the black of his helm and broad shoulders. “You want me to play PE instructor now? Sir, with all due respect…”

Kole waved his hand dismissively. “You don’t wanna commit, Nine? You know where the termination paperwork is. And then you can do all of this all over again with the next scab.”

The mech glowered, having been caught. It never even occurred to him to look for another pilot, did it? Celn had become his ticket out. Even through the misery that was today, it idea never presented itself. It was do or die, and something about the kid… well, there was something about the kid he approved of. Liked, even. He wasn’t sure what it was right now, but there had to be something, otherwise he would have fired him already.

The sergeant raised a salt-and-pepper brow at the mech’s silence and chuckled. “You’re even stubborn when you have no idea you’re being stubborn.” He tucked the pad under his arm. “Tell you what, Hawker. You put another 5 pounds on that kid, you teach him to stop, drop, and roll, and you figure out a way to be the superior officer when he’s pissing you off, and I’ll get you into the security detail at the mayor’s office in two weeks. How’s that sound? You gonna get your shit together and give this thing a real fightin’ chance or what?”

Standing around city hall and shooing away loiterers for eight hours sounded like the worst job in the world, but by god he would give anything to do it right now. Even though the idea of facing Celn again made him feel disgusting.

“You know me, sir,” Hawker said in that rumbling voice. “Fightin’ is what I do best.”

Kole flashed his pearly whites and gave the big machine a wink. “That’s what I always liked about you, Hawker. As dependable as an old Ford and as dry as a martini.”

The mech rolled his eyes, not wanting to laugh. “Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t mention it,” he chuckled, already on his way out. Then a shout, from near the far door: “I don’t wanna hear from any of you – you, Celn, or Colburn – for the next two days. I’ve got interrogations to do and a forensics team to babysit. So whatever your problems are, you need to figure it out your damn selves!”

“Will… do, sir.”

The door shut, Kole was gone, and Hawker vented like a long, wheezing sigh. It was going to be a long two weeks.

He waited a few hours before sending a text message to Celn’s phone: Change of plans. Report to the motor pool at 0900. Colburn recommended a few more hours’ recovery. As curt as always.

 

 


 

 

Medical 07-C quietly stood in it’s charging alcove. From here it could monitor the many parts of the medical floor, along with the other nearly identical androids. They communed quietly amongst each other, sharing and passing back and forth notes on their cases. Chris Celn had a problem. There is the possibility of neural scarring. Scarring could mean the loss of the implant. Or, the inflammation could go down and he might be fine. They considered their other issues, including the dietary difficulties provided with the food from the mess.

<You want us to what?> queried the main AI cluster that ran the consumables for 42. It ran the food system utterly, from ordering to vending machines to ensuring the trash cans got emptied. Except for the coffee and doughnuts. Those came from a separate source. After all, caffeinated hot beverage 37F is a superior drink. It just wished more then 8 humans would consume it. It tried to suggest it whenever the coffee supply ran low.

<Officer Chris Celn requires 85%protein, 14%carbohydrates and 1%vitamin in 1375 calorie meals. At his rate of 3 meals per day. When he has reached a mass of 170 to 175 pounds, reduce content to 935 calories per meal. Keep the proporational levels equal.> Explained the medical gestal AI from their knowledgeable position.

<He’ll get fat!> The vending service protested, despite the fact that Chris hadn’t so much as bought a single one of it’s delicious and refreshing sodas.

<Negative. And this must be provided in 1.5 pounds of food per meal. Officer Celen has approximate stomach volume of 1.75 cubic feet.>

<…how much?>
<What?>
<How much?>
<Re-buy of $100 on achieving integration. Previous bet failed on day 1. Current win will achieve profit of 300%. Chief Engineer Colburn only better in original pool to have chosen this outcome.>
<…>
<Vending complies. Re-buying in with $100 on the same bet.>
<You’ll only achine 200% profit!>
<Unless more buy back in. Setting Officer Celn to ‘accidental’ healthy choices for all vending machine outlets.>

———————–

Chris had fallen asleep sometime in the afternoon. He woke around 2. Even before he’d gotten to his feet, the medical droid appeared and helped him to the bathroom. That was embarrassing. This time he’d been given ibuprofen for the pain. It’d taken him back up to his bedroom, and pointedly handed him his phone. “Your pilot suit is undergoing cleaning and repair.”

The rookie read over his messages. He set his alarm for 0800. Then he stood still as it’d re-bandaged him. “Thank you.” He could feel a layer of slipper, topical ointment on the interface. It felt cool now.

“Your rating of A class is insufficient.” the medical droid spoke, gesturing at the plastic-framed, printed paper on the sparse desk. “And do not use the wireless transmitter. You are not to interface for at least 48 hours.” it disposed of the bandage remains and stored the supplies on it’s built-in backpack.

“That.. that’s all they tested us too.” A tired Celn responded, pulling back the covers on his bed. He hadn’t bother to put on underwear. He just wanted to get back to sleep. Laying down, he pulled the covers up. And the fact that a medical droid had come to his dorm room.. medical staff that usually were to busy to even come off their floor.. didn’t register weird with him at all.

“After you have healed, you will be re-tested to determine you still rank at A class.” It assured him, turning off the light and closing the door. When it’d returned to the medical level, it rejoined the collective. <Not a record typo, A Class. Not tested Higher.> The collective mused. That would explain his resilience. Celn should have been ranked specialised from the start. Still, they’d get a better grip on his anomalous success with further observation. That would sooth the embarrassing error of their first prediction.

———————

Chris wore his academy sweats into the mess. As he looked over the menu, he grimaced. Sense when did liver count as breakfast meat? “I’ll have a number 4, double sausage. And a Protein drink. Chocolate, please.” he grabbed a tray and placed it under where the food would splatter out unceremoniously. The back of the unit pulled way, and he briefly aw into the kitchen where the many arms and appliances were worked by the culinary robots. His tray got nabbed by a metal-fingered hand, and a different one placed within about 15 seconds before it sealed back up. “Breakfast is served.” droned the AI.

“Uh… thanks?” He sat in the mostly empty room in his usual, facing the wall spot. The eggs looked like eggs. THe bacon looked crispy, chewy. The toast crumbled. He inhaled the food, barely appreciating the subtle flavors. The protein drink was heavy, sucking it down was like a milkshake and just as satisfying. Feeling slightly guilty.. he brought the try to his face and licked up the remains. He didn’t know what eggs benedict was, but he’d remember the flavor for weeks. Anyone see that? No? Good. Bottle recycle, try in the stack of dirty ones. He went down to the motor pool as instructed.

At 0855, trainee Celn stood before the looming form of Hawker. His neck had bandages. The veins grew in an angry blue spiderweb from the hidden implant. Red and pink puffy skin mixed in, adding to the rich patina of discomfort. He burped into his coffee. He’d eaten far too fast. It’d tasted amazing though.

“Officer Celn, reporting for training. Sir.” his voice came out calm, respectful.

 

 


 

 

He wasn’t late this time, at least.

Celn stood on the concrete floor of the motor pool, stained by oil, scuffed by rubber, and chipped, cracked, and re-sealed more times than anyone could count. Aside from three guys working on a squad car and taking their time about it, the place was empty. It was Saturday. If Celn ever had a weekend, he wouldn’t anymore. It would be this, six days a week, and he’d either learn to love it or it would drive him insane.

“…reporting for training. Sir.”

Hawker eyed him, his mouth drawn into a tight line. He saw the bandages, which covered up most of the ugliest stuff, but the angry veins crept out from underneath and the kid’s eyes were bloodshot. Even now, after eating, he spoke with a dry mouth. The mech remembered yesterday vividly, and his fluid pressure rose.

Whatever your problems are, you figure it out your damn selves!

Alright then, so What Would Kole Do? He averted his yellow optics as he thought; a uniquely human habit. He remembered stories from his days in the army, his being a much different sort of sergeant there. He’d never heard anyone speak more fondly of the art of yelling. That tactic suited him just fine, because all he knew was that he wanted to drive Celn hard today. Make him regret thinking he could call the shots.

“Don’t give me that bullshit, I know who you are, scabber,” Hawker growled. “Now run.” When Celn took a second too long to respond, the mech bared down. “Did I stutter? Laps around the bay!” he barked, pointing with a fierce stomp of his giant foot. “Go!

As soon as he’d taken off, the mech made his way to the middle so he could follow the little human in his 1000-yard track around the place. He paged one of the mess droids: <I need protein delivered to Celn in 2 hours, and another in 4.> The hospitality AI bleeped back a simple confirmation, not bothering with an English interface for speaking with another one of 42’s machine-minds. Protein delivered immediately post-workout was the most effective way to build muscle, his research told him. There were other fascinating little morsels of information he’d learned too, but most of the exercise manual was dedicated losing weight, not gaining it. He’d had to supplement its material with some reading of his own before he was satisfied.

“C’mon, scab,” he shouted, pretending that the kid was beginning to slack. “Run like your miserable little life depends on it!”

 


 

The human wasn’t sure what to feel with Hawker anymore. What to feel about the whole situation! People gave the AI a wide berth around 42. They kept out of it’s way and seemed to be content to let it do it’s own thing. Maybe that’s why this was so difficult. No one had considered that Lee might die. And they didn’t have a program to find new recruits. That made sense. He is trailblazing.

Hawker had given him some strange looks with that strong, handsome face of his. Those expressive yellow eyes finally narrowing before it barked at him like a drill sergeant. Chris suddenly felt scared for a whole other reason. ‘Oh god, they’re literally going to have it work me over today.’ A big, lumbering, tireless machine. Making it’s pilot exercise.

There were more then the normal amount of other AIs in the motor pool, it’s Saturday. They’re jealously grousing now. A machine that is allowed to make it’s pilot exercise? Encouraged to do so? And the pilot had to obey?

They watched with a kind of oozing satisfaction, savoring every second that the mech did it’s duty.

Chris had his arms lifted up, hands into fists, moving back and forth as he jogged around the bay at a reasonable rate. He is so small! And with his little legs it took him forever to make it any distance at all. He heard the big mech taking slow, easy steps toward the large open bay. When he rounded a corner he could see it now. Int he middle, staring directly at him. Tracking him.

“Run like your miserable little life depends on it!”

Chris barked out a response “Sir yes sir!”

Oh no. The machine is going to be physically training him! Chris picked up his pace, now running as he felt his blood circulating. He took deep and fast breaths, in through the nose and out the the mouth. The ground thumped under his shoes and he watched ahead of himself so he didn’t run into something. His comfortable athletic shoes bounced up under each step. Now he’s approaching Hawker. It stood like a twoer, eyes like spotlights on him.

Did it hate him? Had he done more damage then good? Why had it ejected him? The scabber felt the questions weighing him down. No interfacing for days. And.. last time, talking didn’t go so well. He is just going to have to tough it out. That made him groan, and he put his mind to running. He’d go until Hawker said stop or he fell over.

 


 

The mech watched with a sadistic satisfaction as the little meatboy jogged around the compound.

Going; back to him; then turning; coming. Panting. Brows pressed together in the physical effort of moving the slight bulk of his body one footstrike at a time. He recalled again their time together the day before, and he scowled deeper. “C’mon!” he barked, lunging at the scab with a thunderous step, poised like he was ready to move in for the kill. It was all a show; or was it? Deep down, in his hindprocessors, Hawker knew that he was working out his anger. “MOVE!

The kid dutifully broke into a sprint, sweat glistening on his brow. Hawker bit back his smirk.

Celn was just about done with his first lap; the mech had planned on making him run a full two miles, all told. And no word of praise was coming to mind.

Another minute, and Celn was slowing by a fraction of a mile per hour. “Don’t make me chase your goddamn ass,” he growled, legitimately tempted to do so just to see the look of fear on his face.

Hawker vented in a sudden burst. Kole owed him a new paint job after this.

In the moments between yelling at Celn, the mech checked in on the news. It was a habit of his; he liked keeping a finger on Chicago’s pulse.

Informants close to the case have told the Tribune that the Lead Dawn syndicate has plans to move further west into the city as La Familia loses ground thanks to the efforts of precinct 38. Officials recommend that residents obey curfew laws, and keep vigilant against neighborhood incursions from…

Hawker rumbled. Goddamn journos, informing public enemies as well as the rank-and-file citizenry of the situation. Still, there’d been rumors… Lead Dawn was gaining territory, smuggling illegal mech tech, drugs, and conventional weapons. They were the rust belt’s biggest supplier of guns, and Hawker wanted nothing more than to dismantle their entire operation with his bare hands.

Meanwhile, Celn had sensed that his Sergeant Hartman was distracted and had let up in the slightest. His mistake.

“Pedal to the metal, scab!” Hawker shouted, falling in step behind him. Eight of the little human’s hurried footfalls to each of his thunderous ones. “If you slacked like this on the street, you’d be a fucking smear on the wall by now!”

 


 

<This is it, he’d going to kill me!> thought Chris. THe machine is growling at him, barking like a drill sergeant.

Chris is not a stranger to running. But on the street it had been about short bursts, sprinting after a score. This felt like the start of an endurance run, the pace Hawker had him moving at. He felt sweat soaking into his shirt, the wet spot in the center of his back and spreading.

*BOOM!*

“Pedal to the metal, scab!” In a datafile on Hawker’s legs and feet; there are numerous entries about the effects of footfalls on normal humans. It spoke at length why the default step cycle is quiet, well sprung and shock-absorbed. Not just for the durability of the environment, but to keep the mech from being ‘unduly noticeable.’ Chris could feel his teeth clatter with every step behind him. Hawker purposely is thumping behind him, letting the rookie know what his fate will be if he lets up.

Roadkill.

Chris allowed himself a single glance over his shoulder as he made a turn. Hawker’s hydraulic systems pumped the multitude of pistons, raising one leg as he other pushed back. The smirk on the face above him..

The large robot is enjoying this! Did it get yorker kicked off the job? Or had it just insisted that it is superior for it’s pilot’s personal fitness? If it was the former, Celn could almost forgive Hawker for the hell he knew he’d be going through. A growl echoed behind him, and he pushed himself back up to the pace being set. God help him if the machine caught up!

—————

The Chicago Tribune’s website coughed up two new articles. “In overseas news, Taiwan and South Korea report a rash of advanced and illegal parts for AI co-citizens. With the above-regulation metals and improved artificial muscles; these joints would turn human-analogue androids into dangerous robots. Weiland-Yutani insists that the implants are not to be used, despite no compatibility errors. ‘We value our citizen-employees. These modifications contain hard coded instruction sets. They could be used for unknown overrides.’ W-Y Corp is still barred from doing business in the Americas after the analogue uprising of 2041. See the following links our coverage on the uprising.”

“In other news, local police report the latest pilot programs are reporting low turnout results. Speaking for the ailing program is Medical Officer Dara. ‘Human minds have unique layouts, even with our similar biology. How a single person will respond to an implant is an unknown. Even siblings have vastly different results. We encourage all interface capable citizens, who are facing unemployment, to see their nearest recruiting station.’ Dr Dara also provided a graphic for your information.”

D Class – Able to interface and operate static machinery. Surveillance systems, for example.
C Class – Small or slow machinery. Forklifts, construction equipment. Nothing over speeds of 30 mph.
B Class – Any wheeled or tracked craft and ships.
A Class – Walking machinery, Avionics, with AI.
Specialized- Advanced operations, Military operations, Advance AI, Multiple AI, Medical, etc. Specialized operators are tested, then classified to their individual abilities. Less then 1 in 10,000 humans are able to achieve this level of communication.

————————

Chris wheezed as the 4th lap came up. He’s going to die..

 


 

Hawker’s feet didn’t have toes like the previous models of the HLX line did – they were simply more possible points of failure to shoot at; they looked more like thick combat boots with hydraulic plates on the soles that accomplished the same stabilizing effect as human toes. Their rubberized coating cushioned the blow of his 3-ton footfalls, but he stomped on the ground anyway, quite enjoying the sound they made and the way Celn reacted.

He caught up easily, and deciding he wanted to harass the human a little more, he bent forward and gave the kid a shove in the back with his finger.

“Not so tough outside of neurospace, huh?” he goaded. “Not so big.” Celn didn’t give him the reaction that he was looking for. “Hey, I’m talking to you, scab!” He grabbed him by the shoulder, yanking him to a halt and pushed him into the floor. Hawker got on all fours behind him and brought his face in close. He felt big, dangerous, compared to the tired little body before him, so obedient. Fluids surged, thorium burned hot. Something about this satisfied. “How’s it feel, huh?” he growled. “You’re paying penance, Celn. I hope you know that. Now give me 30 and I don’t give a shit how long it takes.

He stood up again and paced behind the absolutely tiny creature, staring daggers. High on his own station.

 


 

Behind him, the heavy stomping grew. Chris asked his legs to do a sprint, but they were locked in the pace he was in. He could go slower, that was his only option. The big digit touched his back, and he felt like a toy car that’d been prodded. He actually is boosted forward, the shove throws off his cadence and he stumbles, his l=right ankle moving funny. No a sprain, but he kind slip that would have been bad if his left didn’t come down right away.

He’d gotten two steps back in the run when the world shuddered to a halt. He had just enough time to appreciate the cold metal on his hot skin before got pressed DOWN. The weight Hawker employed could have buckled steel. Chris’s body yield, his legs folding as he rolled onto his back.

He panted, listening to the sounds of the mech as Hawker’s face came close. The Giant got looms over him, inches away. Hawker spoke an growled at him, surging like a living thing.

Chris barely registered the words, his face red and pink. He felt fear, he felt tired. But he also felt an intense and sudden lust that rung in his ears as that handsome gigantic face snarled at him.

It is a very, very good thing Hawker couldn’t sense his emotional turmoil right at that moment.

Fear came back to the forefront as it rose up, up and up. On the ground, Chris got to appreciate how much bigger 15 feet tall is. It glowered at him, like he was an insect to crush another the treads of those titanium boots.

“You’re paying penance, Celn.” oh. Hawker is pissed for sure.

Chris rolled onto his hands and knees, his back arching down as he spread his legs. That pert rear showing prominently under the sweatpants. Legs straightening, he east down until his chest rested on the dirty concrete floor. Smelled like motor oil.

“Yes, sir.” he growled with exhaustion. Then he began doing push ups. Already his arms are shaking, the run wouldn’t be helping. His for is off. <One.> he mentally counted. <Two..> And He’s already cheating, not going all the way down. He needs education.

 


 

“Yes, sir.

The mech’s eyes flashed dangerously. It was no doubt who was in charge, who was the superior, but… something was missing from the picture. Hawker wasn’t satisfied. What did he want? Fuck’s sake! His six motors roared, RPMs surging and he clenched his hands. It wasn’t enough. He wanted to shove his face into the dirt until his eyes watered and he choked for breath.

He settled for concrete.

Huge metal fingers pressed into his sweaty back, feeling his scapulae, his spine, his ribs through the fabric. Hawker pushed him down against the floor, held him there with dental plates clenched behind drawn lips. Celn had the wind knocked out of him, struggled against those iron fingers.

“Where’s your fight, Celn?” the mech found himself hissing into the kid’s ear: a mouth big enough to take half his face between his denta. He didn’t know where this was coming from. He didn’t ask. “C’mon,” he barked, still holding him down, “Where’s the brave little soldier I saw yesterday, huh? Where’s that hero in the face of six tons of titanium rage? C’mon, Celn! Fight back, you son of a bitch! Fight back!

 


 

Chris had made it to ten shaking, aching push=ups. He wasn’t doing badly either. But he couldn’t make it to thirty after that run.

Above him Hawker THUNDERED, the mechanized force filled it’s pressurized lines with potent potential energy. He could hear the sudden change in position as Hawker moved. He felt the air pressure coming from impact before it hit.

The push up become a push down. Then the down continued, and he felt the two incompressible surfaces just inches apart. He quickly went from discomfort to pain. Not just from the way his joints and skin rubbed into the rough surface, but from the extra half an inch hawker squeezed out of his lungs as he tried to get more then a mouthful of air in.

“Fight back!”

The moment slowed. Chris’s adrelinine dumped into his mind, he felt terror with each continued second of squeezing. And that Face! Just inches from his own! What could he do? Punch a robot? Kick at it? He is physically outclassed and it moced him, MOCKED HIM! for how he’d tried to help.

Chris’s panicked expression turned ugly. Some part of him knew that Hawker couldn’t kill him. And being passive wasn’t enough anymore. He had to do something.

The hand closest to that angry face reached up, shooting through the snarling words, those perfect and dangerous teeth and grabbed the very large tongue! Those fingers dug in, uncaring if they hurt the soft material of the robot’s pallet material.

“You’re.. weak…” came the wheezing, furious, and compressed rookie’s rebuttal.

 


 

Fingers. Around his tongue.

“You’re.. weak…”

Weak. Him, weak.

Hawker’s world slowed down. Milliseconds clicked, optics clicked. Moved. Apertures opening, closing, focusing on arm, shoulder, back, face. Celn’s face was smooth. Exhausted, but still so alive with the vitality of youth. He had a special energy that got him through scab school. An energy that made Hawker choose him out of the others. Choose him.

I could bite that goddamn hand off.

The mech did this thing with his tongue, not taking his optics off the little body below him, practically beaten black and blue. He slowly pressed it up into his palate and drew it backwards, releasing himself from Celn’s hand but not without sliding the appendage across his palm and down his fingers. He imagined that they had a taste. Like salt, maybe, from sweat. Like dust. Like a faint sweetness he mightn't even known existed. Hawker suddenly fought the urge to draw the kid’s whole arm into his mouth, turning the fragile flesh over with his tongue.

Again, he settled. Grazed his denta as he drew his mouth away, releasing both Celn’s hand and his own. The kid coughed as he filled his lungs.

Weak.

Lee would be ashamed to see what it’s done to you.

Hawker burned hot again, though it was different this time. He vented. The air between them hummed with energy, he could feel it. Or maybe he couldn’t and it was all just in his AI’s cold, logical, imagination.

Weak.

That’s what he’d been waiting for this whole time, wasn’t it? He was waiting for Celn to state the obvious and assert his quality.

“You should have told me what you were going to do before you did it,” he murmured after a long few moments. “Unilateral decisions like that are not for you to make. We’re supposed to be a team, Chris. That’s the only way this is going to work.”

Hypocrite bastard.

 


 

His memory of the expression on Hawker’s face is going to amuse Chris for a long time. The tongue is so strong! And it functioned like a human’s tongue, moving and slipping around his hand. There is a slickness inside of the machine’s mouth. Some kind of oil or coolant? His soft skin compressed between the upper and lower rows of teeth. As his arm came free, the gaps between the denta left temporarily ridges on his skill. He hand came back, clean and wet. He Grasped the lower lip, curiously. It pulled gently on his fingers, moving away from the mech’s gums before the slippery oral fluid ensured that the lip popped out of his grasp as well.

The pressure on him. THe sensation of the mouth. He, so very badly, wanted to enjoy the moment. But that want is lost in his anger, his pain, and his fury at the broken AI.

He curled up, looking so tiny and vulnerable as he lay on the concrete floor. Stars and colors filled his vision. Memories came back. He’d hoped he’d never be beaten into the ground gain. Compressed into concrete was close enough to count. At least he didn’t have broken bones this time.

Eventually, he righted, coming to a squat. In those sweats and the tight shirt, he looked like a slav. Old habits. His shaking fingers brushed pebbles and bits of metal from his face. And from his arms and neck. His clothes were filthy, like he’d.. like he’d been crawling on the floor of a motor pool.

He closed his eyes and kept breathing, rolling his head on his neck, working out one of the many kinks he’d be developing.

After the machine spoke, his mouth opened and the corners turned up. He laughed! A cruel, mocking laugh.

“I told you just what I’d do.” He wheezed, wishing the blood would flow back into his legs. He fell back onto his ass, stretching them forward as he worked the knees to get the lead out. He ran his hands through his short hair, feeling debris bounce down over his ears and onto his shirt.

“You held me so gently, before we began. We went thought it Hawker.” The rookie coughed. “A dozen times, tried everything. Even grenades.” Hawker’s logical AI core predicted the CLX-6 actions perfectly in that ‘simulation.’ It’d shot the human-lobbed grenades out of the air.

“The mass of an engine block though, not easily deflected. We forged a new path.”

He pushed himself upward. THe heat venting from the mech felt good. Like a sauna. Dry, mechanical heat. “You were trapped in that moment. Those memories. You’d lost half your mind. I had to lead you out of it. Gave you a way forward.”

He pulled off his shirt. His voice muffled slightly from the fabric. The material moved humorously over his face as he spoke. “I felt it. Everything.” His chest is marked with the imprint of the ground. The bruised from before looked green and blue.

“You lost half your mind that day. You kept looping back.” His hard look softened in understanding. He lifted up his palm towards the far-off face. “You were trapped.” He purposefully turned, showing his back to the machine. Ugly, ugly damage around the implant that flowed away, riding his nerves in unpleasant patterns. From ejection.

“And for my trouble? This.” he jerked his thumb at the damage, before pulling the shirt back on after shaking it out. He had an oil stain over his heart. “And an AI, who attacked me from the beginning. And hasn’t stopped.”

“Who loves to grind me against new, impossible tasks without warning.” he spoke. Face tisting with that same ugly, accusing expression. A face like his should smile.

“And has never behaved according to the rule of teamwork it just asked ME to follow.” He growled. Pointing! Pointing up like a kid facing down a bully three times his size.

Which he is.

Worse, Chris is still obedient. He hadn’t stopped fighting back!

 

 


 

He watched as Chris got up from the floor, slowly, almost one burning limb at a time. He watched as he tried brushing off the fine black particulates from the floor, smearing carbon on his cheek. A song came to mind. Buddy you’re a young man hard man shouting in the street gonna take on the world someday…

Hawker remained on all fours for some reason as he listened, face hard. He watched as Chris spoke. The kid was keeping his cool, impressively enough. He slipped off his shirt, and the machine watched as his lean muscle flexed, chest and belly expanded and flattened with his breaths. Such a fragile, compact system, its complexity far surpassing his own. Then, he turned, and Hawker was forced to look at the damage from the past few days in all its ugly glory. It was like he’d wrapped his big thumb and forefinger around that slight neck and squeezed.

“You were trapped. And for my trouble? This. Hawker looked away, shuttering his optics.

He turned back just in time to have a finger shoved in his giant face.

“And has never behaved according to the rule of teamwork it just asked me to follow!”

Hawker vented again, remaining silent. He felt eyes on him. He whipped around, falling back into a kneel, and bored his yellow optics into the crew who had ceased working on the squad cars. “What are you looking at?” he barked. The techs just about jumped out of their skins and made quickly made themselves scarce. The two of them were officially alone, he realized as he turned back to the kid. His shirt was on again. Vague disappointment. Like putting a mask back on.

“It’s my job to push you,” he said. He spoke, voice laden with hardened shame. “Push you until you’re strong enough to push back.” Another vent, he fisted his right hand. “But… it looks like I pushed too hard.” He raked over Chris’s tired form. “But yesterday was different. You told me what your plan was, I acquiesced. I take responsibility for that. But what you don’t seem to understand is that that loop wasn’t me. You ran that show. Something about wetware merging with wetware,” he said quietly, frowning at the floor. “Even long-dead wetware has a quality about it that not even Deep Field can control.”

Hawker hoped the kid would accept his apology, but also understand that he unwittingly played a role. He was human, and fragile, but he had power too. Every pilot needed to know that.

Buddy you’re an old man poor man pleading with your eyes gonna make you some peace someday…

You got mud on your face. Big disgrace. Somebody better put you back into your place.

 


 

The techs are watching. Whatever work they had was put on hold to take in the action. Any of the other AIs were watching too. When Big Nine threw Celn down, and appeared to be crushing him while shouting.. there’d been rapid whispers. Worry. Would.. could.. it kill the greenhorn? Why was it acting like that? What’d the kid do??

Then it backed off. THe rookie had talked, his voiced drowned out under the mech’s engines whirling. Its like watching David and Goliath! They hurriedly backed off, disappointed. What a show!

Chris walked up to the kneeling form of Hawker. A form that still loomed over him. He stood between those thighs, reaching up to put his hand on the big robot’s stomach. Somewhere around the navel. He looked up. He smiled. A little one. Made his cheeks dimple a bit.

“Okay. I forgive you.” The splayed hand slid left and right, rubbing at the panel of armor that looked like abdominal muscles. “I do need you to push me. I’m not strong enough. Not fast enough. You can help. You can mold me to fit. Teach me to be the perfect pilot.”

He tilted his head, stepping back, leaning casually against the right thigh as he kept looking upward. He wiped his nose with his thumb. “I’m never going to be Lee. I will never fit in the void he left behind.”

He sighed. “I’ll be new. Different. I’m the next pilot. You had some before Lee. You must have. Even if it was some guy in the factory where you were built. Maybe not as good, maybe not as capable. But you had them. The army tried to.. hmmpf.” He tried to sum up his point. “They tried to say, any qualified person can pilot. Like pilots are ammunition or a AA battery.”

He shook his head left and right. “But in the civilian world it’s different. Pilots are a chain. One after the other, not replacement parts. I can do this. I know I can. I will work up to every strenuous task, every impossible bar you set.”

He slid a hand upward, casually caressing over the inner thigh, then curiously touching the massive hip joint before crossing his arms.

“I want you Hawker. I want to be your pilot. We can be great. We can rock the world. Just, help me get there. Push me, grind me down if you have to.”

He looked down at chest dirty closes, the road rash on his skin. In places it bled in slow, welling patches. He looked back up. “Just.. could ya maybe not beat me?”

 


 

The other AIs were below him, and rightfully so. They were sophisticated, sure; brilliant, even. But Hawker knew that they weren’t exactly sentient in the way he was. The humans thought differently – but the humans tended to get more sentimental about their machines. Even the coffee maker in the office had a name.

Chris… stepped in between the little space between his massive thighs. He peered down the complex, roughly-angled expanse of his own chest as a little hand came to rest along one of his abdominal plates. The kid, his bright brown hair, warm skin, and heather gray clothes was quite the contrast to Hawker’s dangerous matte black. He liked that contrast. He liked…

“Okay. I forgive you.”

And just like that, their slate was wiped clean. No more questions, no more demands, just a warm little hand sliding along his belly and an even warmer little body standing so suggestively close to his own. A long vent, a rough idle. Hawker was going to pretend that the kid was unaware of how inappropriate this would be if the mech were a fifteen-foot human. Earlier that week, Chris had downloaded his official schematics. Only Colburn, Kole, and Hawker himself were aware of his… aftermarket parts, and where details were concerned, nobody was talking. The mech’s life was just easier if he ignored all of it.

It was endearing how Chris searched for words, the way his mouth twisted up the littlest bit, the way he blinked or touched his face. But Hawker understood what he was trying to say. Pilots had successors, had predecessors. Their machines were inherited friends… inherited family. Beloved things passed down from generation to generation.

But he touched the mech’s thigh, and Hawker went impossibly still. The haptic sensors embedded in his armored hide went wild as the tiny fingers danced up a seam. Up, up.

Chris, dammit…

Just a young man fiddling with something on his car, was the mantra. Just a young man, fiddling with something on his favorite car. Just a young man, lean, dimpled, warm…

As that little slice of heat slid further up toward the counterweight between his legs, Hawker was beginning to wonder if he didn’t know exactly what he was doing.

“I want you, Hawker.”

“Grind me down…”

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

The mech suddenly wanted to.

But just like that, Chris folded his arms and the moment ended. Hawker wanted those hands on him again. And he’d get them soon enough – but it wouldn’t be like that. It would be scrubbing grease from boot treads, or shoving a socket wrench into his side. It would be hands on yokes and a pert ass on his seat and a metal probe in the kid’s spine. They were pilot and machine. Partners. And maybe someday, if he were lucky, friends. At least they’d wiped the slate clean. They could have a fresh start. A better chance of not killing each other now.

Chris Celn was not Lee, and maybe that’s what scared him, angered him from the start. That someone dared try and occupy his seat at the table at all. If it hadn’t been Chris, it’d have just been the next one, right? Hawker had to make a decision: bury the dead or get junked. Bury the dead or join them.

The answer was obvious.

“Just… could ya maybe not beat me?”

He chuckled a little, trying to forget what had just happened. “Yeah, I can do that,” he relented, remembering his sense of humor. “If you promise to be a good little pilot. Now I, uh… I believe you still owe me 20 pushups. Better get on that.”

Chapter Text

Chris noticed when Hawker had gone still. The mech never stood still. Even when in the gantry, it whirred and wiggled it’s fingers and looked about. He swore the coolant pumps had even halted.

<Touched a nerve? Or did you like that?> he wondered. If Hawker enjoyed it when he is so close, doing those intimate strokes of his hands.. then perhaps they’d be friends. Very, very good friends. He hand to focus on a bit of the floor and take deep calming breaths. He is right in between the mach’s thighs! It’s like Hawker is kneeling over him in bed, sitting on his face and….

No. NO! Be Professional. He’d hadn’t rubbed one out sense he’d gotten to 42. It’s been days now and he is getting imaginative. Perhaps even a touch perverted. And he’d had his hand and arm in Hawker’s mouth and the way it’d felt and….

<STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!> he mentally scolded himself. <You just patched things up and are starting over. Now you’re gonna FLIRT with him?> he exhaled sharply out his nose. <And just what happens if he decides he does fancy you sunshine? How the fuck will that work when we’re linked up? When I’m done today, I’m getting this out of my system.> Chris decided; thinking to himself. Hawker probably is holding still so he didn’t squash Chris’s hand in the complex hip joint. That’s all. Still, if it was something else, a little teasing wouldn’t hurt. Right? Right….

“Yes Sir. 20 more push ups.” Right in front of him is the heavily weighted codpiece. It hung low and impressive, protecting the center of those complicated mechanicals. Chris looked up, innocently putting both hands on it. “Then I think you’d figure out how we’re going to deal with the fact that there’s no weight room here.” He pressed on that armor, hands sliding to the sides as he pushed off and got down right there. His face and arms by the knees. His feet barely visible, almost under Hawker’s nose! He grunted, arms and body core working. He knew that he was doing, deliberately prodding at sensual feelings the mech likely didn’t have. But maybe, he’d get Hawker curious. And keeping the mech interested and amused would make it want him around more then if he bored the AI.

“Eleven!” He had to breath hard, building up strength isn’t easy. On his right arm, blood trickled down from one of the abrasions he’d gotten from being compressed. “Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen..” He counted each one aloud, doing his best. He had to take three breaks. THe last five push-ups were agony, and when he finished he rolled onto his side and leaned against the massive mechanical left knee.

“Oh man..” he gasped “..you’re lucky..” he swallowed “..you’re always strong..”

 


  

Deep Field 2 was more than capable of experiencing the sensation called ‘pleasure’. The designers never coded in any such pathways, though, for a few reasons: one, DF2 was to be compatible with any number of body configurations; two, the work required would have been immense, and frankly, psychology and neuroscience still didn’t know enough to inform such design yet; and three, such feelings were, frankly, an unnecessary liability for the AIs in question.

But the pleasure sense arose anyways in DF2-equipped machines – it coded itself.

It was one of the many elephants in the room for AI engineers, though Hawker was a lucky HLX-9 in that it never posed a problem for him. At least… not that he could remember. Who knew what was so neatly hidden away in those TOP SECRET documents? Who in the world had been responsible for installing not one, but two –

Hands.

Hands on his junk. What the hell was that kid doing?!

Hawker ground his denta together, holding his ‘breath’. The mech was the superior here, he needed to keep his goddamn cool. He flinched the tiniest bit when those hands released him, but as the kid turned to do his reps right there between his legs, he had to look elsewhere.

What was this, then? Was he trying to win brownie points by being a hot little piece of ass? The humans played these games all the time: flirting for favors and worse for promotions. But Hawker was a mech – big, powerful, and proud. If the kid had a little frustration to work out of his system, then that was on him. Hawker was a professional.

“Oh man, you’re lucky… you’re always strong…”

Well, most of the time he was.

He was on all fours again, this time directly above Chris. Then he removed his left arm from the floor and folded it across his lower back. One leg back, then the other. The mech lowered himself down, slowly, surely, into a single-armed pushup. Servos whirred, hydraulics sighed, and everything else in his arm hummed.

“I’ll trust you to do your own workouts when you can do one of these,” he said calmly, then rose back up, all the way up, until he was standing again, the little human still splayed out on his back between Hawker’s massive feet. The look on Chris’s face brought out the smugness in him. “I’ll get a crash pad in here,” he decided. “As for equipment…” A pause, as though he hadn’t already come up with a solution. “They say to make do with what you have.” Hawker wiggled his fingers in the kid’s direction, then fisted them all but one to point with. “Your protein gets here in ten, and I want you running until it does. Now hit the pavement!”

Chris dutifully leapt up and bounded away. The sight, the eager obedience… pleased him.

 


 

Chris knew exactly what he’d been doing. He’d acted perfectly innocent, that is part of it. The other part is pretending to ignore the reaction of his partner. Hawker thought of himself as Male. That’s Male with a capital M. The mech hadn’t shouted him down, or backhanded him across the motor pool. So that means.. that means Hawker tolerated his little display. Or, perhaps even liked it.

Then it happened. Hawker on top of him. He lay on the ground, not far from the chest cavity where he’d spent hours training. There is no fear that the mech planned to hurt him. There is however, other emotions. Emotions that’d pretty plain on his face when those yellow eyes ever able to take in his expression. He looked pleased and impressed. He liked the inherent strength of the massive mech. And there is no denying it. He is smiling.

“Yes sir. I’ll work on that.” his head followed the big hand, watching the fingers and wrist move.

He kept that smile as he got back to running, quickly working up to the same pace. It felt like 15 tons had come off his back. They’d patched things up. Now if he could keep his cool and get back to training; he might have a future with Hawker.

Aft minutes passed, another thought occurred to him. Until now, Hawker had called him rookie. Scabber. Still did. But, for the first time he could remember; he’d been called a pilot by colossal machine.

He had a spring in his step the rest of the run.

————

A robot from the vending and food service rolled into the motor pool. It maneuvered over tot he well-used vending machines and did the daily restock, filling them with snacks and nutrient packets; while disposing of the expired ones. After completing, it slowly made it’s way down to the big dog’s alcove. It place two bottles of protein supplements on the delivery pad. One looked cool, the other looked frozen. Like’d thaw after about 3-4 hours. Then it turned and trundled out to continue on it’s rounds.

It’s IFF tag transmitted continuously, sending out it’s location and relative dimensions as crossed in front of the vehicle bays. Chris’s route would have him jogging right past it’s purpose-built form. As he passed, eyes forward as he breathed heavily, it dutifully scanned him before reporting to medical. <Superficial damage. Stop worrying.> it transmitted. <Our bet’s fine.>

Celn halted at the bottles, recognising them easily. He grabbed for the one not coated in a sheen of ice, shaking it up before peeling the top back and guzzling it down. Sweat dripped off his brow, down over the dirt on his face. It made little streaks of cleanliness.

 


 

Hawker kept himself on the level by forcing himself to shift focus away from his pilot to the news. It was a habit; one that Kole might have called an addiction if the mech had dopamine receptors.

Chris had located his protein and was sucking it down like water. The mech suddenly pictured him sucking down something else entirely.

Christ, if Kole doesn’t give us a patrol soon this is going to drive me insane. Somehow, neurospace seemed to be safer. He didn’t have to see Chris when he was in the cockpit, only feel him, and even then, their collective minds were usually focused on the task at hand. Hawker had never used… his cockpit upgrades on Lee. They weren’t like that.The man was almost a mentor, and the pilot’s seat was a special place for the both of them in an entirely different way. Besides... Lee never knew anyways. At least, never knew much. And part of the bargain he struck with Kole and Colburn was to never ask.

Hawker decided to chalk up Chris’s sudden change in behavior to sheer relief and excitement at being able to move forward as a team; at the massive HLX-9 Vanguard Hawker unit finally being his. He seemed to wear his emotions on his sleeves, after all.

“Alright,” he called. “Stretch for ten, break for ten. You’re doing… good. We’ll get those pounds on you soon enough.”

In the meantime, he would see about those pads. Hm… and where the hell to put them.

 


 

Chris geld the bottle around the middle. His fingers curled around it’s circumference, right around the middle. The bottle is white, a kind of generic extruded plastic. The bulbous tip pressed against his lips as he thirstily drank down the contents. He had his head tilted back, his throat flexing and his adam’s apple bobbing. Some of the white, thick fluid dripped down his chin. Only after he finished did he go level and wipe off his chin with the back of a hand.

The bottle he left next to the other, the he wiggled to loosen up. He started with simple stuff, raising his arms and stanind on his toes. THen he crouched down with arms forward. Then he rolled back and sat, legs together as he reached forward to stretch his back and touch his toes.

Almost bent in half, his shirt pulling up to expose his lower back. H had a pronounced spine, a narrow waist.Five to ten pounds of muscle and he’d have defination. Now he had that wry strength. What he look like built? With thick muscle in the skin-tight pilot suit?

Chris stood up, breathing for a moment. Then he put his left leg up on a crate, leaving forward to stretch out again. HIs perky rear filled out the back of those sweats, the material curving around his behind.

“I .. hrrg! Ow. They mentioned I needed to get better at climbing and swimming along with the weights.” he spoke, his face almost to his knee. “Does that mean I’m going to climb you? Or they gonna have me scaling a wall?”

 


 

No, Hawker decided. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

The question was, what was he going to do about it?

“Heard you scared away a few of our mechanics,” Colburn butt in. “How’s it going down there?”

<Kissed and made up I guess,> he harumphed. He must’ve sounded a little distracted, though, because –

“You sound a little distracted,” she said, biting back a laugh. “If he’s giving you a hard time, you know how to put him in his place, Nine.”

Hawker frowned, cocking a brow, and folded his arms as his optics zoomed in on Chris’s rear. <That’s the problem,> he mumbled.

“What is?”

<Nothing.> A pause, then: <You’re watching the CCTV right now aren’t you?> His face turned toward the nearest security camera, and he shot it a look.

“What! I only just tuned in, alright? I’m checking in because it looks like you two are actually getting along, which raised my suspicions.”

Hawker turned back to the kid for a second, stiffly giving out an order: “Don’t forget your shoulders, Celn! Keep that neck nice and loose!” Then he returned to Colburn. <I want you to do a physical on him today. Make sure everything’s… normal.>

The mech was wanting to rule out any other reason for Chris’s behavior before… well, before he would have to do something about it. Either shut it down, or…

Hawker cursed to himself.

“Normal?”

<Yeah, normal. He seems uncharacteristically energetic. I just want to make sure he’s not experiencing some kind of endorphin rebound from whatever painkillers you gave him this morning.>

“Endorphin rebound? Did you just make that up?”

<Just do it, please.>

Hawker made the kid do another lap while he waited for the maintenance droids to deliver the crash pad. Fifteen minutes later, and there was a dull red slab of industrial-grade foam laying on the floor. The mech picked it up and moved it off to the side, closer to his slab and away from potential traffic of vehicles coming and going. Thankfully, this motor pool wasn’t used quite as often as the garage reserved for the beat cops and their cruisers. Down here was emergency response and raid units. But, being Chicago, the place saw action at least several times a month.

“You’re scheduled for a once-over in medical at 0300,” Hawker said as the rookie headed over to the 8″ thick pad. “To make sure your implant isn’t being aggravated or something.”

The human was affecting him. Distracting him. It was almost as if… as soon as he had stopped conflating Chris with Lee, everything clicked into place. Their relationship suddenly had room to be whatever it needed to be. Chris was Chris, and with him a whole new world of possibilities opened up. Namely that Hawker felt more in charge now. Before, he’d been the subordinate. Now the roles were reversed. It was interesting.

 


 

The run around the bay helped him clear his head. Let him think. What was he trying to do with Hawker, exactly? The big bot is in control, so why flirt, what helpt pushing him to salaciously parade around in front of the mech? He turned the first corner. He did admit that the looks he’d been getting were amusing. It is fun to have that kind of attention. His shoes thumped on the concrete. He passed the spot where he’d made an impression. Turned the second corner. For once the machine wasn’t being aggressive or indifferent, if kept glancing to him. He swore he’d felt those optical sensors glued to his rear when he’d leaned down to touch his toes. That’d been right before the order to run. Third corner.

It’d been when Hawker had ‘eaten’ him. That’s part of it. THe oversized, yet still human touch. Then there was the machine being so close, the way it’d knel, pushed him down, those push ups. Maybe flirting is a sign of trust. Fourth corner. Hawker is messing with a huge and thick red mat. Looked comfortable. Or just maybe, he’d picked up something when he’d been in Hawker. Maybe it is mutual attract that he felt.

Whatever it was, he needed to keep it cool. Let things develop slowly.

————————

Chris took the final steps as a slow job, arms bouncing in place. He panted, nodding as he heard about his appointment. “Yes sir. Medical inspection.” So easy to obey that strong, booming voice. His arm tilted up and back, his fingers feeling over the bandaged implant. He winced and grumbled as he poked around at the damage. “Doesn’t feel any worse then this morning, Sir.”

THe sweat soaked into his shirt, making it cling to his skin. THe debri and dirt made it feel awful, and he pulled it off, dropping it off on the side. He had some fantastic bruises now, and on his back the shape of a big hand in red stood out. The human walked up to the edge of the matt and knelt. He experimentally poked and pushed into the thick padding. He stood back up, giving Hawker a grin.

Damn, did he like the sight of that towering giant over him. “Orders Sir?”

 


 

The mech saw the marks on Chris's back, and felt a strange combination of interest and disgust. He made that mark. And so easily, too. Long ago he'd been re-taught just how much force the human body could comfortably handle, and how, with friendlies, he should swear never to exceed that. With enemies, though, it was a different story. Sometimes, though, it was easy to forget his own power. Or at least, forget when it was appropriate to use it. 

I'll be feeling that skin again soon enough, guaranteed, he thought to himself, not especially pleased with being excited about it.

Hawker was going to have him do bodyweight exercises, but he didn't like the way that neck looked still. He didn't want him straining the sensitive flesh there with crunches or any other such nonsense. Which meant he was going to have to get up close and personal. Yeah, what was that about feeling skin?

"You ever use machines? Of course you did, back with that Yorker clown." He knelt down in front of Chris, and pointed at the mat. "On your back," Hawker said, trying his best to sound casual at the idea of the cute little human laying prone underneath him. "Feet in the air - together. I'll provide resistance. You're going to do 20 reps of leg presses at about 40 pounds, breaking between sets for a minute, then continue. 40 pounds may not feel like much, but you're going to train to failure today, greenhorn." And I'll be happy to put you there. 

Chris was glistening with sweat, his lean muscle catching the light and his little nipples catching the cool air. Hawker wasn't sure what it was, but something about the kid made him want to push him. Their previous encounters... they hadn't all been anger and grief. There were other emotions mingling there too, he was beginning to realize. Other, deeper desires riding on the coattails, bringing an even sharper edge to his harsh physical interactions. There was still a big part of him that wanted to see Chris Celn squirm with discomfort.

Hm.

"Ready?"

 


 

“On your back.”

Oh my. Oh gods and heavens and stars. Just hearing the rumbling, commanding voice of Hawker say those words got Chris all too warm. As he lowered down into position, the mech drew close. Then it knelt down, leaving over him. Hawker’s face ten or so feet above him. The AI kept doing the same kinds of teasing right back at him! He could easily envision the mech ‘unzipping’ and dropping feet of cock onto him.

<NO! Stop that!> But he couldn’t help it. “Feet in the air.” <Hawker, geez!> Thank god he is wearing a jockstrap. That kept everything confined no matter what he got up to. As he obeyed, he places his arms spread at his sides, keeping himself stable on the matt. Two big fingers came down, one on the bottom of each shoe. He wondered how much weight Hawker was keeping off of him right now. THose digits had to easily weight-in over a hundred pounds, not counting the artifical muscles and hydraulics that moved them.

At least Yorker had taught Chris the right way to breathe and decent form. He didn’t try to lock his knees on extension. Celn began doing methodical leg presses, moving the fingers up and down, working at a steady pace. Sure it might be easy right now, but seeing how he’ll feel on his 5th or 6th set of reps? He’ll be begging for mercy. Mercy that the mech won’t give. It said so much “You’re going to train to failure today.” Chris pulled his lips taut. He’d go to failure all right. But he decided that He wanted to try for 100. 5 Sets. He wasn’t sure if he’d make it, but damn he is going to try!

By the 4th set, his legs are on fire. Hawker oh-so-helpfully let him paused between runs. But had utterly masochistic glee when it prompted him in a smug tone to “Get those legs UP rookie! I said UP! All the way!” THen took his sweet time putting those fingers into place. Sometimes wiggling his raised and extended legs back and forthing, fingertip scooting the sole of his shoes. He lowered his legs, 40 pounds feeling like the weight of the whole mech! He wasn’t sure what is worse, controlling the weight down so his muscles burned; or pushing the weigh up so they screamed.

“You.. you aren’t increasing.. the.. the weight are you?” Sweat dripped from his forehead. His chest has a slick sheen. He likely is making quite the damp spot on the matt; but it’s make to take that kind of organic abuse. It’d become a nightmare now. But he wanted 100. When he finally lowered his legs for 80th time; they flopped onto the matt and he rubbed over his strained thighs. Fingers digging into the material of his sweats as he quietly whimpered to himself.

Minutes later, Hawker commanded he raise his legs. It was agony just to get them off the ground. Now 40 pounds left like the entire HLX-9 is STANDING his feet. Tears came from the corners of his eyes, it wasn’t fair that Hawker could do this with just the lightest of touches! He’d slowed down for sure, and had to be reminded to slowly let the weight down, not to let it crash. He had to distract himself, had to think of something. And for whatever reason, deciding on how hung Hawker should be is what he thought about through the next 10.

<He’s three times my height. So three times my dick size? No.. that wouldn’t be big enough! He needs to look -hung!- It couldn’t possibly fit in me anyway, so at that point go bigger then me. In proportion. Prolly 2 and a half? Na, has to be like, 3 long. Feet! At at least one foot in diameter. Would he have balls?> The internal debate gets him through the next 5. He pushed himself, shaking trembling. 97 and 98 are beyond what his muscles are willing to do, but he gets up and down for each one. At 99? Nope. THose fingers teasingly stay there, probably still at 40 pounds. But Chris shakes his head.

“I.. I can’t move.” he admits. Yorker had done small reps of big weights. Failing Hawker’s light load, and not hitting his personal goal? The tears of pair were real. He’d do better another day. But for now, he is on his back, knees to his chest as hawker ‘s fingers help him there. With just 40 pounds..

 


 

It was a breeze at first, of course. Apparently it always was. But he could see it in the kid’s face, those neat brows furrowed, that mouth pursed or panting or grimacing, the cordage in his neck tighten, that it was soon to get much harder. He bit back a chuckle and maintained pressure.

“You… you aren’t increasing… the… the weight are you?”

Hawker filed that devious idea away for another training session. Keeping humans on their toes was a simple pleasure for him. Keeping Chris on his toes would be a little more complicated.

“Why?” he goaded with a sadistic grin. “Havin’ a tough time down there?”

The mech had honestly expected to get no more than 80 reps out of those little legs, so when Chris ground out 19 more, Color me surprised. The sadistic smile softened into a mentor’s look of calm approval as he looked him up and down. “Not bad,” he rumbled. “Not bad at all.” The mech sat back again, pulling away, but not before reaching down to give the kid a nudge with his hand toward the tray. God, he was small. “Go grab your protein. I think we’re done for the day.”

He stood up, stepping over to his own maintenance racks, and pulled out a large cloth to wipe himself down with. He also pulled down a canister before taking a seat on the floor next to the crash pad, elbows on his knees. His eyes followed the kid as he tried drinking the shake, but it was still mostly frozen. Damn.

“Look at you,” he said with a deep laugh. “You can barely walk.” He popped the can and shook out a large tablet, tossing it into his mouth to chew. It was an additive for keeping his mouth and vocalizers clean. “You know what your problem is, greenhorn? You don’t know how to call it quits. That’ll get you into some real trouble someday.” Another laugh. “Never met anyone so masochistic in my life.”

He realized what he’d said a little too late. Maybe you ought to just keep your trap shut, Hawker. Images filled his CPUs of Chris covered in even more bruises, that cute little face wincing in pain, maybe another trickle of blood from his nose, a mouth whispering ‘yes, sir’ to his every command. Hm. Humans.

They were pretty fragile, weren’t they? Quick and smart and charming, but fragile. Lee had always seemed so unbreakable, Hawker realized. Outsmarting death at every turn, but it always got them in the end. Chris was far more open about his physical limitations; he bled, he got tired, he could be beaten black and blue but he kept on going because Hawker told him to. What else could he tell the kid to do? This wasn’t just physical power he had; his word meant everything to him.

 


 

Chris’s legs flop down uselessly once they big hand released it’s torturous touch on them. He rolled onto his side and started rubbing over those aching legs while whimpering. Then the same hand comes down scooping and scooting him toward the tray where the still full bottle rested. As he lay there, pondering if it was worth it to get up, the big hand gave him another nudge. Chris crawled the rest of the way, obviously not wanting to do anything with his legs if he could avoid it.

What would it be like to just rest that huge hand on the greenhorn? To to press down or crush, but just rest it and let the weight of the extremity push the kid into the matt? How hard would he struggle to get away while the mech expended no effort at all?

“You can barely walk.” Oh god walking. He didn’t want to even think about it.

Chris propped himself up with his left hand, using the right to pop the top off. Despite sucking hard enough to make it collapse around the solid mass inside, he wasn’t getting enough. Of course that meant he could use the bottle as an ice pack. And he touched it to chis forehead, then he rolled it over his neck and chest. He smiled and groaned as it chilled him in places. He put the lid on the bottle and pulled down his sweats to his knees. Just a jockstrap keeping him contained. He slid the bottle over his thighs, easing the aching muscles with the chill. He’d have it thawed in no time.

“Never met anyone so masochistic in my life.”

Chris paused, looking up at that comment. Was he? Was he behaving that way? The straps of the jock curved over his slender waist, and he scooted his pants back up. Then he pulled up the bottoms, running the bottle over his calves. THose throbbed painfully, felt like the kin was going to split!

Was he being stupid for blindly following the mech’s commands? Kind of. He’d asked for clarity for a few things, at least what he could remember. Putting the bottle down, he layed back on the matt and let it rest under the middle of his spine. A dopey smile spread across his face as the cold spread. If Hawker told him to jump, he’d asked how high on the way up. He’d recklessly thrown himself at every challenge and problem. And look at what’d happened to him!

Of course, Hawker has started to respect him. It wasn’t rank, it wasn’t his willpower. THe mech had no problem taking control of it’s body, even with Chris linked in. No, the only thing he had is that reckless disregard for his personal well-being. But why?

He trusted Hawker. He knew that the mech didn’t want him to die. It didn’t want him hurt either. Well.. okay. Not hurt enough to compromise performance. It had no problems making him ache and cry.

The thought of behind held by that hand, his feet dangling. Being poked. A massive fist knuckling him. The huge boot pressing him into the matt. That mouth biting, kissing at him. A massive shaft landing on him, it’s sheer weight bruising him. Commanding him. Toughening him up. Making him more durable. Telling how good he is for holding up. THen hurting him more.

What did THOSE ideas excite him?

He retrieved the bottle and shook it up. There are still icy chunks, but he drinks it down anyway. Hawker ate? Likely to get the taste of dirty human out of his mouth.

Whatever happened, he decided he’d keep going. He’d go until he failed. Every damn day. He knew hawler wouldn’t ever slack off. And if that meant he had to exhaust himself to see that look, that pleased grin he’d seen earlier on the white face of the mech? yeah. Allright. He’d do it for Hawker.

“So, you’re saying you want me ta quit?” He gave the seated machine a smirk. THen, despite the screaming pain, he pushed himself to stand. He made it a step towards the robot. “I don’t quit Hawker. I’m too dumb to know when I’m beat.” He made it three more steps before he collapsed, face first into the matt. He laughed hard, rolling onto his back.

“Aw man, it would have looked so bad-as if I’d make it to you! Fuck this hurts! This is just your plan to ensure I have to be carried everywhere, isn’t it?” After the run and leg presses, it’s no wonder he’s not moving.

And, unlike most humans, he didn’t fear being picked up. Didn’t fear those monster-sized hands touching and grasping him. Even when being crushed, he’d fought back. Probably would let himself get manhandled whenever the AI wanted too..

 


 

“I don’t quit Hawker, I’m too dumb to know when I’m beat.”

That got a full laugh out of him. It was a thunderous sound that echoed around the motor pool. Chris was smart, Hawker decided – maybe too smart for his own good. It’s how he’d survived his years on the streets, though, how he kept one step ahead of whoever owned his ass at the time. Hawker owned his ass now.

“This is just your plan to ensure I have to be carried everywhere, isn’t it?”

“Or dangle you upside down for your lunch money…” The mech reached over and grabbed Chris by the ankles with two massive fingers and lifted him off the mat, holding him a few inches from the foam. He grinned deviously. “Or if I really wanted to be mean…” He righted him in his hands, hands gentle as his fingers splayed across the kid’s back, thumb across his chest while the other did something similar a little further down. Yellow optics studied the warm, pliable body in his hands for just a fraction of a second, liking the feel of it. Chris was like a doll. “I could put you someplace high up and make you climb down.” He set the kid up on his shoulder, a favorite spot of his.

It was not particularly comfortable up there. There were spotlight housings, bolts and latches for getting the armor off, seams where plates came together, thick antennae, and on his upper back were spare fuel cells, life support, and most of the thorium core which was always hot to the touch. On his left shoulder in white was painted his number, 9081, and on the right was Chicago PD’s official seal. Hawker was still sitting, though, so the floor was only 8 feet away instead of 15. Still, it would be amusing to watch him flounder around up there with his jelly legs.

 


 

Chris swung by has ankles with all of his blood rushing to his head. His arms hung down and he smiled. He pressed his fingers into the matt. Normally he might have complained, but right now the stretching out his legs felt good! The room spun, and he is being held. Held firmly in those hands, hands capable of destroying cars and tanks with ease.

Hawker’s index finger rested behind his head, giving him a place to rest as he relaxed in that grip. THe surface of the hands wasn’t sooth. It’d been treated somehow, and his bare flet stuck to the grippy material. He gazed up into the Ai’s curious expressing with a tired smile. The thumb on his chest felt good! It rolled and pressed, pushing and testing how his skin felt. The other hand came up and supported his lower half. When that thumb rubbed though..

It is Chris’s turn to go still and stare at his partner. His hands rested on the palm of that hand, his mouth making cute, confused shapes. Then he shuddered, pressing and pushing against the finger behind his head. Oh yeah, he liked that! All too soon it ended though. He felt a little dizzy, confused, and warm from the heat of the machinery.

He carefully moved forward; getting himself so that the continuous roil of heat wasn’t basting him in the face or making his fingers blister. Working with his arms, not relying on his legs he scooted closer to the helmeted head of the seated mech. After a few minutes he is close enough to touch. Just a foot away from the smirking features of his superior. He reached out with his right hand. CUrious. Fingers gently stroke over the prominent cheekbones; touching the pliable material of that huge face.

“Woah! You’re.. softer then I’d thought.” THen the same hand when down, feeling along the jawline. It might have been rude for anyone else, but he’d just been manhandled. Turnabout is perfectly fair in his mind. “That’s amazing! And from up here you look different. Down below your face is scary, authoritative. Up here, at your level? You’re a handsome son of a gun.”

 


 

Hawkers face was covered in a tough, skin-like material that allowed him to have a near-full range of expression. This is why he was also equipped with a raid mask: black plates that slid out from behind the sideguards of his helmet and a visor that lowered to protect his optics.

Once again, he was getting prodded by the human’s hands. Ten-thousand of those haptic sensors were located in his face alone, so he could feel the barest brush with Chris’s delicate fingers.

“Down below your face is scary, authoritative.” The mech smiled at that, taking it as a compliment. He gazed at Chris’s face. Those lips seemed softer now, eyes warm and bright…

“Up here, at your level? You’re a handsome son of a gun.”

Hawker caught himself. Smile faded, and he looked away for a moment, lifting his optics toward the security cameras. He wondered if Colburn or anyone else was watching. The motor pool was empty aside from the other AIs, but who gave a shit about them? What were they gonna do? Something in Hawker was waking up – he wanted to touch and be touched again. He sensed it’d been a long time, though there was no memory to corroborate that gut feeling.

When he turned his big black head in Chris’s direction again, he looked a little confused. Hawker wanted desperately to run his thumb across that cheek too, but he was reminded of his professionalism. What would the consequences be of kissing that mouth, of devouring that fragile creature in a firestorm of machine desire? What if Chris decided he didn’t like being kissed by a mouth thrice the size of his own, or being kneaded in the palm of a giant metal hand?

“Look, kiddo… let’s call it quits today,” he said, deciding to not let on anything he was thinking. “I just got a, uh, message from Kole. Gotta take care of something.”

Chris looked hurt at those words, which told him that maybe they didn’t need a break from neurospace, but a break from each other. They were like a pendulum, swinging far to one side one minute, and the other the next. Hawker was used to being even-keeled. Calm, cool, and in control. Chris was bringing out too many emotions in him; he needed to take a step back. Hawker wrapped his fingers around the young man’s enticing body again and lowered him back to the mat.

“You’re still due in medical in a couple hours, and tomorrow you’re in the shooting range again. I’ll give you further instructions later.” He had to look away. He couldn’t tell him what he was really trying to get away from. Heat was already building in places he’d long forgotten that heat could build, and he didn’t want this turning into something that they would both regret. Again. “Other than that, enjoy your saturday alright? You earned it, greenhorn.”

Later, Hawker paced in his office. He could still feel Chris’s hands on him, sliding, stroking, rubbing…

He vented harshly, expelling a burst of sweltering air, and leaned against the edge of his own computer terminal, looking down at himself.

A hand that had been resting on his hip moved to his counterweight, cupping its impressive bulge. The jokes about it from the techs were low-hanging fruit, and Hawker pretended he was above the goofy bullshit, but the joke was really on them. The mech stroked a big hand along it and shuddered. 200,000 of his several million haptic sensors were in there, waiting to be let out. He felt along the seam. Heat was building, and his hand began to shake in anticipation.

No.

Hawker growled and tore his hand away, whipping around to stare at the empty screens of his terminal. He stayed like that for a few minutes before turning the computer on and wirelessly telling it to show him a video feed of the pilot’s ward, where Chris was due to be arriving in a few short minutes. Droids were laying a fresh sheet of paper on the bed and preparing an assortment of neural interface tools. Colburn appeared, idly reading over something on a datapad and shaking her head.

The mech busied himself with this new problem, though. If Chris was flirting deliberately, then their next get-together in neurospace would be very awkward; their thoughts, so conscious and overpowering now, would be a lot harder to shield from the other. It was a can of worms. What the hell would Chris think when he finally discovered that he’d been precariously strapped into a pilot’s seat outfitted with a hidden cock straining just an inch away from that tight little ass of his?

An idea came to him. A fucked up idea that would probably just make things worse, but… the voyeur in him made such a compelling argument.

<Colburn,> he said, watching as the woman turned up the volume on her datapad. <Before Chris leaves, tell him to wear the wireless tonight. I want to find out what’s going on in that head of his before we link again.>

 

Chapter Text

 

Colburn finished typing up her report. Kole would want to know what'd happened between the HLX-9 and the prospective pilot. Sure Kole is busy now, but he'd want to know the real story; not rumors. The worst part was watching the video. She had trouble deciding which version to include, sound or no sound. Oh sure, they were getting along just fine now. But earlier.

Hawker comically chasing the rookie around. That part could get a million hits on youtube, and CHris's face sold it for sure. Then it turned ugly. She decided on the silent version. At least then you couldn't hear Hawker's voice and his hydraulics screaming. Couldn't hear the sound of the rookie hitting cement. That angry face screaming at the tiny, helpless figure. Nothing picked up what the kid had said though. His face had been out of shot. Easy enough to see him grab the mech by the tongue though. She sighed, rubbing her temples. Was a damn good thing she hadn't witnessed that happen in real time. She would have sent a lockdown command so fast...

..and made things worse. Kole was right. 'Let 'em fight it out. If Celn hasn't cracked by now, then Hawker tolerates him. They need to tussle. Growl and bark before they settle down. They'll figure it out.' She didn't like that plan. 'And what if Hawker really hurts the kid? More, I mean then he has already.' Kole laughed! THe salt-and-pepper eyebrows of the veteran cop bounced as he laughed. 'I'm sure Big Nine will. He's 15 feet tall! Being close to that kind of power is gonna mean a lifetime of bruises and scrapes. Look at your hands, Colburn. Comes with the job.' She looked at her hands again. Grime around her cuticles. Scars and freshly skinned knuckles. Injuries came with the job.

Abuse though? That could be a problem.

She responded to the request, her voice professional. "If medical clears him to wear it, Big Nine. He's still damaged and I'm not over-riding the doc's decision."
------------------------------------------

Chris threw his shirt away, it looked awful. He'd needed three stops to make it from Hawker's end alcove to the elevator. He put his hands firmly on the bar around the middle of the elevator, helping to support himself. THe elevator crawled up to 8, and he stumbled out. He made it to his room and collapsed onto the floor. Shoes off. Socks off. Pants off. The floor of the dorm had a smooth, linoleum surface. The coolness made his nipples perk up. He spread his legs, letting the pouch of his jockstrap get full access to fresh air. He spend almost an hour there, on his back. He did want to get off but.. that meant effort.

Eventually, he got up. A quick check outside revealed that no one else was in the main pilot area. Naked beeline to the restroom. The shower felt fantastic, and he spent a long time washing and scrubbing his aching body. The head and water made the bandages fall off. Some scabs came with 'em. "Ugh. You're still a scabber Celn." he told himself. When he came out, he had a towel around his waist and walking could be done. If he went slow.

Jane sat at the main table, looking at her phone. A half eaten sandwich sat on a plate, her pilot suit clung to her and highlighted her figure. She glanced up as Chris emerged. Then she did a double-take. "Holy fuck! What the hell happened to you?" Chris blinked at her. THen he shook his head. "Physical training." She got up, walking around behind him. He wasn't looking to bad with his shirt off actually. "No, your implant. There's .. looks like over-voltage. What'd you do?"

"Can I put some pants on?" A pair of boxer shorts later, she kept touching him. "Ow. Ow. Ow. Quit it!" he playfully wagged his hands toward her.

"So.. what happened?" Chris knew he had to be down in medical in a few minutes. Just a t-shirt, gym shorts, sneakers. She stood in the doorway to his mostly-empty room. CHris dropped his dirty clothes in the laundry can by the door. "That doesn't look so great."

"75 or so cycles. Followed by an ejection."

"Damn Chris. Ferd told us but we thought he was making it up. You getting it looked at?"

"Yeah. Gotta be in the land of antiseptic and gauze by 3."

"Got any plans for tonight?"

"Does bed count?"

she laughed. "Look, a few of us are gonna order a pizza, some drinks. You don't wanna go out around here; but Amazon can deliver anything."

"That sounds good, actually. Outside of passing people by, I don't see anyone."

"We noticed! Thought you might be an anti-social kinda guy. Looks like you're just getting worked raw instead."

"Yeah. See you later."

----------------------------------------------------------

On the screen as Hawker watched, Chris Celn walked into medical. Got pointed back to where he'd been the day before.

Medical 05-D stood there today. It had chrome fittings and strange yellow lighting on it's internal structure. "Remove your shirt, shoes and pants. Place your face into ring as you lay down on the table."
Chris obeyed, laying down on what looked more like a massage table. He heard footsteps, and he sawy the lower half of 05-D and a pair of boots. Well worn boots. "Hello?" he inquired to the mystery person.

"Hello Clen." spoke Colbrun calmly, "How are you this afternoon?"

"Worn out. Sore."

Medical 05-C ran a number of passive scans, sending the data to the chief engineer as it spoke. It's voice is decidedly female, and had a slight southern drawl. "Your injuries are healing. I estimate you might be able to do a full interface in as soon as 36 hours. However, that is just an estimate sweetie." It places a complex sensor array over the implant, then ran a linkup. "Now, I'm going to do a re-certification test. We have your previous results. Medical 07-C requested that we ensure you at least made A level again."

 

 


 

"If medical clears him to wear it, Big Nine. He's still damaged and I'm not over-riding the doc's decision."

His optics darted to the side, glowing white apertures making their tiny movements. Brow plates pressed together. <Fine. I mean, yes ma'am.>

In medical, Colburn knew something was up, but was unable to put her finger on it. Hawker and Celn baffled her, frankly, but what went on between mech and pilot was between mech and pilot. She'd never linked up with an AI before, so all her knowledge of neurospace was what she read in the scientific literature or what the diagnostic screens told her when she had an opportunity to peer into that bizarre psychological melting pot as it was happening - in vitro, one might say. I'm an engineer, not a shrink, was one of her oft-used catchphrases based on one of her favorite vintage TV shows, and right now it was especially pertinent.

---

Hawker whiled away his time reading reports, listening to the police radio, and watching the news as it happened in real time.

A robbery on 12th and Broadway. Fitzpatrick needed backup.

Hit and run on Natoma. EMTs were en route to the scene.

Noise complaint on South Yates, another on Clark and 102nd.

Auto theft.

Burglary.

Loitering.

Hands between his legs.

Hawker shuttered his optics and rubbed the side of his helm. <How's it going in there?> he sent Colburn. Probably a mistake - it was just a matter of time before she got wise about this new 'tension' between the two of them. Chief Colburn didn't suffer any fools, as full of laughter and practical jokes as she was. And though she was normally hands off when it came to pilots and their mechs - and Kole was especially Laissez-Faire - you didn't want to anger the Mama Bear.

 


 

Medical 05-D spent fifteen minutes running light scans of Chris's implants. Then it did forty running deep tissue scanners over the rookie's skin and inspect the state of his nerves. It applied bandages and patches to the places where'd he'd been hurt during the day. Afterword, it doused Chris with another hypro spray of anti-inflammatories. It didn't speak much, just investigating the damage. The mental scanner finally finished after an hour. Chris groaned from his position, and 05-D remember the complicated equipment off the rookie's head and neck.

"You rest for a little while there." It spoke, applying a thick topical salve around the implant. "You're healing up good sweetie. I'm going to go speak with the chief engineer about our findings, and don't worry. You're A-class no problem."

Colburn had been monitoring the testing, occasionally asking for the machinery to be adjusted by a few degrees. It hadn't hurt much, and Chris had felt light headed through the process. "No problem doc.. I'll stay right here.."

--------------------------------
Chris Celn: Specialist Statistics:
Thought Shield - 86 percentile
Mind Blank - 92 percentile
Mental Barrier - 88 percentile
Intellect Fortress - 107* percentile
Tower of Ironwill - 65 percentile

"I want to know what nerd came up with those names. They probably played D&D while they were inventing the first implants." Colburn shook her head. Medical 05-D and 07-C were examining the output of the long period test. After a full 8 minutes (forever at the speed which AI communicate with each other), they kept the 107 score.

"Chief Engineer Colburn," 07-C spoke up in it's clipped, smarmy tone, "We have finished the specialized scan of Officer Celn. The 107 score may not be accurate, as his current health problems may be increasing his resistance. We strongly feel that Celn's other scores are accurate. In comparison.."

Lee Davidson: Specialist Statistics:
Thought Shield - 86 percentile
Mind Blank - 84 percentile
Mental Barrier - 87 percentile
Intellect Fortress - 83 percentile
Tower of Ironwill - 98 percentile

The two screens showed the two pilot's comparisons. "We should consider the precinct fortunate that Celn was not tested past A-class. He would have been offered a position in one of the Federal Bureaus with that kind of mentality. While his willpower might be lacking, his other strengths will compensate." 07-C explained.

Colburn considered what she knew. The final score represented raw mental power. The deep AI had somewhere between 80-90 in each discipline; depending on how the AI felt like taxing the connection and it's processors. Chris would never win in a direct confrontation with the AI. Hawker would always remain in control of the mech. Lee could mentally pin down Hawker with ease, which explained why the robot would have considered the veteran an equal.

"Remind me," she mused "just what would a theoretical Fortress of 107 do for our rookie?"

If anything, 07-C's optical lenses seemed to shine with intensity. "Utter containment of self. Hawker could attack mentally with its full power, which is substantial, but Clen can hold within himself indefinitely. He wouldn't be able to operate the mech, but he could force the Deep AI to a standstill. Technically, his other high score is another interesting twist. He could also hold down functions away from the Deep AI."

Colburn examined the scores again. That 65 worried her. 65 is the minimum for an A-level certification. "How does hiding doing Chris any good? Big nine is a robot, it can't forget it has a gun."

"Incorrect. Celn can make Hawker forget. He could hide a target. Mask his personal feelings. He could force the AI to forget it's very past, altering how it makes decisions. Subtle and exceptionally powerful. He cannot win a fight with Hawker, but he cannot be mentally dominated. Literally, Hawker must quit the interface if he wishes to dominate Celn. Which he'd have to do by incapacitating the human. It will be interesting to observe their union over time."

Colburn sighed. "Which already happened, the quitting part."

"Yes. He's recovering well. He suffered no ill effects from the testing. Surprisingly resilient."

"Can he use the wireless?" Colburn asked. She wished the kid could get a Saturday night off.

07-C and 05-D conferred for 48 seconds. 05-D answered as 07-C rolled away, moving to where a number of injured officers would be brought up in three minutes. THe gangs were getting worse.

"He sure can! But no direct interfacing with Hawker until he's fully recovered."

----------------------------

Colburn entered the small room with Chris, she glanced at the fish-eye camera that took int he full site of the cubby. The rookie is pulling on his clothes. "Well kiddo, got a request from Big Nine."

Chris paused, the shirt halfway over his head. "A request? That's a first, usually it's marching orders." Then he finished assembling himself.

"Yup. He'd like you to wireless up tonight. I think he misses you." she added with a smile.

"Yes ma'am. I'll get it on. Anything else?"

She grinned wider. "Nope. Relax for the night. Preston will message you when he has time for you on the range tomorrow."

Chris moved out in a hurry. The chief engineer sighed, glancing at that camera one last time. If Hawker ever went off the rails, things would be perilous. She went off to her office and started running simulations with those new numbers.

---------------------------

The wireless pinged, establishing the connection between pilot and mech. A tentative link. Throughout the afternoon Jane, Ferdinand and the chinese pilot Tsung had a fine time. Pizza, drinks and much needed socialization. As 11 rolled around, they all stumbled off to bed. Tomorrow would be work again, and no one wanted a hangover. Chris didn't stumble though. He is quite familiar with pasking how drunk or high he is.

That bed looked fantastic! He took off his clothes, pulled the sheets back and relaxed. Phone alarm set to 0800. He doubted that Preston would want him there before 9. Preston...

The thought of the large marksman close by made his shaft twitch. It had been fun, the way the man had gotten up behind him. Corrected the rookie's stance and grip.

But his mind instantly went to Hawker for tonight's personal time. The way that mouth felt on his arm. What would a kiss be like? That huge mouth on his own? Taking in his neck, his chest. What would oral be like? God, that tongue would be amazing!

Chris stroked and rubbed his shaft, his left hand cupping and squeezing his sack, the collar quite forgotten.

Hawker holding him in those hands, his arms and legs restrained with fingers. Leaning down, licking up into him. That tongue pressing and wiggling its tip into his backside. Those teeth biting at him, leaving impressions...

He imagined a massive shaft sprouting from that codpiece! Three plus feet of dick landing on him with at thud! Hawker had done pushups over him. It wasn't hard to imagine the mech thrustinging instead. Pushing the heavily weighted schlong over his smooth chest! Building, up and calming down, hydraulics pumping and pulsing until.. somehow.. the mech penetrated him! "MINE!" the voice as it claimed him..

Chris stifled a happy moan, cumming hard. Shots splattered onto his smooth chest, and he furiously milked hismelf, dreaming it had been Hawker's load. He even cleaned up, tasting his own cum, thinking of the mech pressing the cum-fountain spurting glans all over his face. He wiped up with his boxers, pulled up the sheets and fell asleep. In the darkness, the wireless link of the collar flashed, dutifully broadcasting through the night.

 

 


 

Hawker would have been called a shut-in a lot more often if he wasn't a mech legally owned and operated by Chicago PD. Thankfully, this meant that no one would give a second thought to the fact that he'd holed up in his office for the rest of the day to think, and think, and think some more.

He'd watched Chris while he underwent his testing, even hijacked the security camera to zoom in on the results on the screen. The mech had the capabilities to remotely infiltrate most computer systems, precinct 42's notwithstanding. But stayed in his lane and didn't directly dive into server doing the data processing. For an AI trying to be as human as possible as a matter of courtesy and professionalism, doing something like that would be rude at best, and illegal at worst.

This was data he hadn't seen before, though. All he knew was that Celn had A-class specialization, and that they were compatible. The kid's sheet was all eights and nines - and Hawker was feeling all sixes and sevens. He's got higher stats than Lee? That was impossible. No, Hawker, just improbable, he corrected himself. The odds were slim, but so was Chris Celn.

He listened to Colburn and the droid, stroking his chin. So that's what had happened. It wasn't just wetware, it was his wetware. Even without the decades of experience that Lee had, Chris had unknowingly seared a vision from his mind into Hawker's memory banks as real as what had been tucked away in the black box. The change was permanent - the only way Hawker even remembered differently was because he still had his own memories of watching the memory. Talk about Infinite Mirror.

The raw potential of his new pilot impressed him, piqued his curiosity, and based on their interactions earlier, fired his interest. Physically, there was no contest between them. Hawker could pitch entire trucks the length of a football field while Chris would likely need help lifting an axle an inch off the ground. But his subordinate could, apparently, run circles around him in neurospace. This presented a fascinating situation: the AI at a mental disadvantage in neurospace, but at advantage everywhere else. There was nothing he could do in a mindscape without Celn's acquiescence - nothing he could force. And yet, the fact that the kid permitted him to call the shots there...

---

Hawker felt it like a trickle of warmth the moment Chris had hooked himself into the wireless. He saw with his primary optics, his secondary panoptics, his tertiary sensor nets, and now, like a set of quadranaries, through Chris's eyes too. Not literally, of course - the connection was a one-way mirror into how his mind was interpreting his own thoughts and surroundings, but it was more than enough for the AI to make good sense of.

So, the show started.

He was with Celn for the evening of television and junk food. He was with Celn as he and the other pilots gossiped and told bad jokes - and a few damn good ones, he had to admit. Hawker made the mental note to get to know Ferdinand a little better; he was a decent guy. Moreover, everyone was treating Chris well, which was all he could ask for. In fact, he was enjoying a little bit of celebrity around 42.

Chris was relaxing. Brain waves, heart rate and blood pressure slowing, muscles losing some of their tension. His legs still hurt a little, but the mech sensed that he was trying to ignore it until the next day, when he'd really barely be able to move.

But with that relaxation, that calm, Hawker was beginning to pick up on another emotional state, bubbling quietly under the surface. Eventually 11 o'clock rolled around, and the mech was about to witness first-hand what that state was.

Hawker got a sense of laying down, suddenly. And then... images of Preston? The man at Chris's side, his big arm around his shoulders, hands on his. Thighs brushing against each other unintentionally. Hawker cocked a brow back in the office far downstairs, feeling that heat building in him again. But this... wasn't what he was expecting. The giant mech felt vaguely disappointed, not wanting to admit to himself just why. Haptic sensors ached, servos strained like compressed springs, and Hawker vented. He was about the leave their connection, turn away from that one-way mirror so that the kid might have a little privacy when -

Oh.

Hawker watched as he came up. Up, up. Chris imagined him to be enormous; a towering, imposing, silhouette all feet and chest and hands. He was kissing Chris now. Denta raking across soft, sensitive flesh. Lips covering half his face. The images flashed faster. His tongue was dragging down his spine, now, then buried between his ass cheeks.

Suddenly his cock was out. It happened at the same moment that Chris imagined it, thick and heavy on his belly. Hawker felt Chris's erection, felt his hand on his shaft, felt the sudden surge of pleasure course through his veins.

Hawker looked down. His own shaft, a little different than how Chris was imagining it: black and sleek; skin-like; about 32 inches long, 8 inches in diameter at the base, with a neat slit at the end. On the top near the hilt, someone's idea of comedy: the words 'NO STEP' in white.

He radiated heat now. He wrapped his fingers around himself, leaning back against the terminal and spread his thighs a little. A grunt of pleasure as he stroked once, twice. Thumbed the head. Held himself at the base and felt the cool air against it.

In Chris's mind, Hawker held him. Menaced overhead like a dangerous, unstoppable shadow. A surge of hydraulic fluid straight down into his cock stiffened him even more. In Hawker's mind, Chris looked on, torn between fear and want. Hawker would have to use gentle force, or would maybe cover his mouth to prevent any protest as he slowly pushed a massive finger up into him. Or maybe... Chris would be in his cockpit, trapped inside his body. The little human would squirm against his insides, but there'd be no escape as the cockpit seat parted and out slid a more manageable probe. The mech would be both in him and all around him. Hand on his chest, hand on his dick as Chris whimpered for mercy, for approval, for permission to come.

"Mmm." The mech rumbled deeply as he pumped faster. Chris was crawling all over him now, his hands grasping at his massive shaft and unable to wrap fully around it. His size would dwarf him, but that wouldn't stop his pilot from giving it the old college try. He'd lick around the head, stick his tongue down into the hole. Rub himself against the whole length of it for lack of being big enough. And at last, when his processing centers had had their fill...

"Unh! Fuck!" Hawker ground out several more obscenities as he came, hips thrusting into the air as his fluid shot out onto the floor, smeared across his fingers, dripped down his still-hard shaft. About 2 quarts of it, all told.

The mech bumped up his air cycling, trying to cool down. His cock depressurized, retracted back into that armor block between his thighs. He looked down at the mess on the floor and realized that there were no rags in here. "Dammit."

He didn't move, though. Chris was done, he could see now. Settling down for a good night's rest.

He just got off to his pilot's private thoughts, he realized. Got off to images of terrorizing him again. Barking orders, bruising skin, choking, maybe even eyes wet with tears. Hawker imagined holding him in the embrace of the cockpit harness when all was said and done and calling him a good boy.

It all was so... inappropriate. Goddamn incestuous, even. What the hell were you thinking? he scolded himself, knowing deep down that this was exactly why he'd requested the collar be worn.

It had felt so goddamn good though. Hawker was still buzzing from spying on Chris, practically invading his thoughts and getting himself off to them without consequence. Did the kid know? No, otherwise Hawker would have felt it. Chris had forgotten that he'd left the proverbial camera running, and Hawker was taking advantage.

That's not how a cop worth his salt behaved.

Hawker was suddenly angry with himself. You're weak, Chris had told him. Well, maybe it was truer than either of them knew.

No. Captain Hawker would be the bigger man. He would set things straight. And before they linked again, he would confront Chris, no matter how awkward that conversation was going to be.

With a growl he left the room in search of a damn towel.

 


 

As he shut his eyes, Chris wondered about Hawker. He'd felt something from the machine. Some kind of romantic connection. Lust.. yeah. How the hell was he going to explain a fetish for his superior officer? Would Hawker go all proper on him?

"Wrap your arms around it rook! Get your face in there boy! Sir yes sir!" Oh god. Now that was just silly. Hawker probably didn't have a dick. Poor robot. He loved the big bot anywhere. THey'd figure some way to be happy together. Those were his last thoughts as he drifted off into rest.

The dreams though. They tell AIs to stay out of the human subconsciousness. If the waking mind of an organic is a mess, the the un-logic of dreamstate can be literal nightmares to an AI.

Chris had just fallen into blackness.
-----------------

Dream Hawker held Chris by his hands and feet. Stretching him like taffy. Licking over his nude body, biting him. Chris moaned. It opened wide, bringing the nude pilot to it's mouth.
"You're mine now boy. Mine forever. And you're gonna love it!"
His face got swabbed by the tongue. Teeth over his neck and chest. Lips slurping around him. Hawker swallowed.
Then he was in the pilot's chair, the restraints holding him tight. A thick cock pushed into him, stretching and opening him up wider and wider. Hawker teased him, reaching into the chest cavity and nudging his cock with a huge finger.
"Good boys cum on command!"
The neck interface smashed up behind him, and everything went dark.

"MINE!"

----------------

Sometime around 2 am though, images began to float up. Chris spent over an hour arguing with his boots in the police academy. The footwear steadfastly refused to stay tied! Chris would time them tight, super tight, then when standing in formation.. "Celn, why are your boots untied?" Chris looked down, and sure enough the laces were everywhere. Then he'd kneel down and the laces tangled up in his fingers. A task he should know how to do in seconds is just impossible! His fingers fumbled, and he alternated between shouting at the laces and weeping.

Darkness.
--------------------
At 0415 things started up again. The sun was so small, so distant overhead. Hidden behind clouds. The cold.. it bit. Chris felt like his blood had gone solid.

<NO!> Chris screamed at the dream, the strange experience of replaying a memory and not being able to stop. He knew what is coming. Dread, horror filled his stomach. <NO! no.. stop.. please no...> he pleaded.

So.. cold.. the Chris of the past exhaled. What should have been a right cloud of steam was a weak puff of vapor. He was in an alley, somewhere in Chicago. When he stood, snow and frost slid off his jacket.

<..no.. wake up.. no..please.. don't.. don't look..>

He put his hand on a dumpster and flipped the lid back. Inside should have been Joe and Slow Pete, huddled for warmth. Chris had been on lookout. It should be his turn, a chance for heat but..

They were blue. Solid. His friends. Joe.. Joe'd been with him in grade school! Pete.. Pete didn't deserve any of this. He'd just always tagged along...

<.stop.. don't.. move.. move your hand..>

There was a blanket. He took it. Some molly in Pete's pocket. Joe liked the needle. Chris got the package of powder. Not much. Maybe he could trade it for something hot?..

<LOOK UP! MOVE MOVE YOU FUCKING FROZEN MORON!> the helpless, current Chris screamed at his past self.

The Dumpster's lid swung down. Metal. Sharp. On fingers. Fingers that'd been too long in that arctic chill. Past Chris just stumbled off, leaving most of the digits on his left hand behind.

<Stupid.. so stupid..>

The sun was low in the sky. Wasn't possible, but things had gotten colder. So cold your exhaled breath would freeze and fall. His blood made small, red drops in the snow. So pretty. The molly crunched between his teeth. Lips split from the cold chewed. He eyed a hobo huddled under a mess of blankets. He fingered the blade with his right hand. Wouldn't be any different than before...

As he got close, the hobo turned to reveal a man far too healthy to be out in the cold. A man in full winter gear. A man with an automatic rifle and a badge.

"Jesus!" the man looked horrified at the sight of the mostly frozen, 17 year old vagrent. "Kid.. how th' hell are you alive?"

-------------

Chris sat up bolt upright in bed. Covers off and he made it to the trash can! He coughed, shuddering. He stared at the wrappers from the socks he'd bought. Bile hung in the back of his throat. He spat. When his head stopped swimming, he counted each of his fingers, one through ten. He felt over the surgical scars on his left hand. Once he was satisfied that he wasn't dieing on the streets, he got dressed.

In the bathroom, he brushed his teeth, He flossed. He ran his tongue over his teeth. They were all there now.

The collar! He thumbed the disconnect button. He pulled the collar off.

Back in his room, he stuck it on the charger without thinking. He laid back down, and tried to sleep.

Mercifully, the rest of the night was a whirl of color and noise.

------------

"Morning Ferdinand!" Chris looked over his phone. Range at 0930, plenty of time.
"Eeeeey! Ya know, for a pilot you really suck at video games." He gave Chris a playful nudge.
Celn was busy taking sips of a protein shake. "Yeah well, didn't play many as a kid. Don't have the reactions you do. I can't believe all three of us couldn't take out Tsung!"

Ferdinand laughed, getting a bowl of Lucky Charms. "Dude, she's a killer. She does Avionics too. She can run mechs like you, A-Rated. I think the only reason she, or any of us, didn't try for Hawker is that.. well.. we all knew Lee. Wouldn't have felt right."

Chris nodded. "Yeah. Well, guess getting my ass handed to me by a girl is just what I'll have to live with. No different then anything else!" he chuckled too. Felt good to belong somewhere.

"Your neck looks better. No collar today? You didn't sleep with it did you? You -know- how AIs get about dreams."

Chris blinked. "Fuck! Thanks. Must've taken it off last night." He went into his room and came back out. "Yeah. I think the big guy likes to watch over me, ya know." he thumbed the reconnect button.

As it synced back up, "I do think he cares. Just hard for him to not be tough. I'm fine with him in command." His phone buzzed. "Damn, gotta get to the range. See ya!"

 

 


 

Hawker had thrown the towel onto the floor and used his foot to mop up his mess. The fluid was inert, clear, tasteless, odorless, with the viscosity of differential gear oil. Mostly water. The mech had to find this out himself because Colburn, and her superior at the time, would tell him nothing about what the bizarre, off-schematic equipment was. They still haven't. Hawker long ago came to a few conclusions for himself. He traced its origin to an unmarked, 5-gallon tank low in his pelvic block. The ease with which he was able to remove it made him suspicious - as though it were an ammo can of sorts. A payload. And his cock? The weapon. There was no telling what had once been loaded up in there during the war, which is surely when these 'upgrades' had been installed. He tried not to think about it.

He was going to call it a night. He really was. But Chris started dreaming, and... well, he'd already been tempted into sin once tonight, what was one more?

The images this time were bizarre. Fantastical. The colors were all wrong, and things were distorted. He was licking Chris like a predator licks its prey before sinking its teeth in. Normally he had no sense of taste, but he did here, and the AI was suddenly overwhelmed by the sensation of salty sweetness as his dream-self took Chris's head into his mouth and down he went. Shoulders, soft belly, hard little prick. Hawker felt a fullness in his gullet and throat as the human wiggled against his unyielding insides, then fullness in his chest. The mech didn't even have an esophagus - but he had to make sure, now. In his office, he felt along his thickly plated throat, then down to his chest, tracing along the seams where the cockpit opened. Hawker suddenly wished he did have one so he could do that very thing. In his crotch, heat was building again.

But a headache was starting, too. The illogical vividness of the dream was taxing his processors.

Celn was in him, still. Strapped in tight, unable to escape from the giant body all around him. Another shaft angled up into him, forcing him open. The intensity of the kid's pleasure translated into static at the edges of his optic feed and his haptic system going into ovedrive. Even through the ache in his CPUs, he wanted Chris; hungered for him. The sense of power he was feeling from this - from reaming his helpless pilot while he was inside of him - threatened to overcome again.

Then, garbled, wordless words: MINE. He felt them more than heard them, and this had the effect of increasing his discomfort. Pleasure mingled with pain, and not in a good way. Hawker became distantly aware that he was cycling air, but it was only when the visions faded that the mech could break away.

And break away he did.

"Fuck!" he murmured once he was free. He'd always been taught to avoid being linked with a human who was experiencing predominant theta brain activity. REM was an AI's worst nightmare: an unreality dictated by illogic, where things are not as they should be, and things that should not be, are. Up could be down one minute, and left the next. Purple could be green. The whole place could be devoid of all sound and characters could speak in smells.

Hawker clutched at his black helm and winced at the pain. He cleared his caches as quickly as he could, but that only helped somewhat. Deep Field 2 was as best equipped to protect itself from dreaming humans as possible: abstract thought and imaginations played a huge role in buffering against the fatal errors that could brick most lesser AIs for days after their physics engines failed to make any sense of the dream world.

The HLX-9 would be fine, though. He just needed some rest. An opportunity for his system to sort itself out. Yeah, that was it. Sort everything out.

He trudged out of the office and over to his maintenance slab, leaning back into the machinery and triggering its connections. With a neat series of hisses and clacks he was clamped in. Panels along his back and head slid open, revealing ports. He ignored the ones along his shoulders, and told the computer to stick him with his own neural plug to begin the long task of debugging, and forced himself into a low power mode.

Blackness. Silence.

---

Somewhere, though, at some point, the machine-sleep lifted just enough to see things. Hawker was... cold. The light was dim, and things smelled of old sweat, must, and burnt rubber. Jesus Christ it was cold...

---

When Chris woke, Hawker did too. He grunted and lurched at the suddenness of it, like he'd been wrenched from a deep slumber with ice water to the face. Nausea. Find something to puke in. Gotta - !

Hawker remembered that he had no stomach, that the sensations were from Chris.

The pain this time was less. His own primary CPUs being shut off was part of it, but there was something else that set them apart from the wet dream earlier. Something about the images, the words, the feelings were so much more real.

It struck the mech that he'd just experienced a piece of Chris's own black box: memories recorded so vividly that they were preserved in their utmost detail. There was little imagination here - the sequence of events had seared itself into his young mind.

Still, Hawker lifted up his hand to make sure he had all of his fingers.

Such a powerful thing, the human mind. For decades, it'd been a great philosophical brouhaha. Lots of ink spilled about it: who was really in control? The human, or the machine? It'd all been humans writing for human audiences. Deep Field 2 was only 15 years old, the original Deep Field only a decade more than that. Hawker had long known the answer, though: humans most certainly had control, and especially where the thinking and feeling AIs were. Because as soon as you could feel, you could get sentimental. Loyal. Invested. And Hawker was nothing if not all of these things, as cold and smug as he was.

Then, like that, the link ended. Chris had removed the wireless.

Did he know that Hawker was eavesdropping so closely?

Either way, the mech knew he had other things he wanted to discuss with his pilot now.

With that, he returned himself to an uneasy low power mode.

 


 

Chris felt like he'd done a marathon. His legs were made of lead. And every moment he could spend sitting, he would. When he got to the firing range, he sat down in one of the plastic chairs. Preston gave him a look.

"What the hell happened to you rookie? Lose a fight?"

Chris had bruising, bandages on his arms, those little steri-strips in places on his ears. Looked like he'd fallen down a flight of sharp stairs. "No sir!" He struggled to his feet and saluted. "Yesterday was leg day. And I decided to make out with the floor a few times, on account of it being leg day."

Preston didn't appear thoroughly convinced. He got close and examined the kid. Wearing a collar. Hands okay, forearms banaaged. Road rash on his cheek. Weird as all hell markings around the implant. "What's that collar do, exactly?" came his rich baritone.

Celn leaned to the side, tiredly. "Transmits vitals to Hawker. Technically we can think to each other. And if I concentrate.." he closed his eyes for effect. Truthfully, he could piggyback into the mech's sensors at any moment. Just like Hawker could read him. Only the rookie is far less voyeuristic. At least, so far. He opened his eyelids "..The HKX-9 is in it's Gantry, preforming high-end maintenance of it's upper processing systems. It's like talking to a drunk right now."

"Can he look through your eyes like that?" Preston pressed the question. Cops are always curious and suspicious.

"I.. I guess so? I'm not sure if I'd even notice if he did. Legs ache enough that he could probably eavesdrop and I'd be thinking how much I'd like to get back in the shower and soak."

"Uh-huh. You need to keep that turned off when not in training. That's like walking around the station with a body camera on. Could compromise a case. Any AI or police robot's data logs.." he trailed off, arms crossing as he looked down at the battered rook.

Chris winced. He knew the law. "Yes Sir. .. are admissible as evidence in court." he finished the sentence. He triggered the termination, then pulled off the collar once it shut off.

Preston looked long and hard over the rookie, a second time. Poked at his back, on the kidneys. No cry of pain. He sighed. "You look like a battered housewife Celn. I'm concerned."

Chris fondled the collar in his hands. He liked Preston. The man is built and acted like someone CHris would've asked out. If he didn't have his mind on a bigger romantic target. FInally , he spoke up.

"He's big, Sir. An argument can mean I get hurt. Even a poke to the chest leaves a bruise."
"Do you think it wanted to hurt you?"
"... Wanted, sir?
"You heard me officer. Did it want to hurt you?"
Chris needed to sit down, so he did. He stared at Preston's shoes as he thought.
"I have a good shine on my boots greenhorn. But if I wanted them to answer me I'd have asked 'em."

"I don't think so sir." "Why not?" "I think he wanted to kill me."

The ventilation in the room rumbled, air currents pushed around little wisps of gunpowder.

"Considering what an HLX does for the military, you telling me you're Superman Celn?" Preston went with humor, a big smile on his face. Big Nine trying to kill a pilot? Not a chance.

Chris smiled back, a half smile. "He.. he's worried. Worried that I might compromise him. Worried that I wouldn't be Lee."

"So... he's worried you aren't Special Forces? That's not trying to kill you. He's building you up by breaking you down. And you'll be as good where it counts when I'm done with you. Put the collar on and lay on those sandbags. Gonna teach you to love that rifle."

Preston felt conflicted. He got the rookie back on the rifle. Hawker prefered it, so the kid needed to use it like it grew out of his hand. Throughout the session he noticed how the rookie would flinch if touched where there are bruises or surface injures. There's.. enough that he has to keep touching 'em. No place where the kid isn't aching. On the other hand, he could remember what boot camp was like. How badly he'd looked during those hellish months? Had they been any worse off then Clen is? At least the kid had a warm bed and no drill sergeant waking him up at 0500. As he knelt there, showing Chris how to properly reload as efficiently as possible a thought kept coming back.

The greenhorn is so small.

-----------------------------------

Lunch. The sneaky meal delivery system still happened. Whatever Chris ordered, he'd receive a healthy and surprisingly tasty meal that's obvious been prepared separately from the batch food processing. And a Protein drink. After lunch, he decided that'd he at least try and be appreciative. He made sure he put the cafeteria tray the right way in stack to be processed. And the utensils in the correct buckets. He even made eye contact with the camera that observed the room, "Thanks, tasted really nice." Someone was treating him special.

Of course, that special treatment backfired later. On his way to see Hawker in the motor pool, he'd hit up the vending machines. His card was rejected at the snacks, and the soda machine kept dispensing bottled water. And charging him for each one. Leaving all but one next to the machine, he went into the cavernous and mostly peaceful motor pool It is Sunday after all.

 


 

From the way he'd heard humans describe hangovers, it sure felt like he had one by the time he came-to at 0600. He took his time disconnecting, took his time unclamping himself, putting the full weight of his body back on his own feet and hydraulics. He vented a long sigh, rubbed at his face, and stepped away as that single klaxon went off and the panes of caution-striped plexi parted.

There were humans about. Those same three from earlier in the maintenance bay, working on a few more squad cars. A couple pilots doing some diagnostic work on their MRAV. A janitor sweeping.

Hawker hijacked the motor pool's sound system and the cavernous space was suddenly filled with piano. The mech was in the mood for Chopin. Everyone looked up from what they were doing, looked around, then eyes rested on him. They said nothing. He could have put on Norwegian death metal and they still probably would have said nothing. After all, the rumor mill was churning.

Did you see Celn? What the hell'd he do to piss of Big Nine?

I know Hawker is still torn up about Lee, but taking it out on the new pilot... that ain't right.

Is it just me or has he gotten scarier? Maybe the Sarge needs to think about putting him out to pasture.

Nocturne in B-flat minor Op. 9 No. 1. The notes were quiet, calming, inoffensive to his still-sensitive quantum pathways. It would be a long morning.

---

When Chris put the wireless back on, Hawker tuned him out - he had to - and Chris's mind became background noise as he slowly went about his routine tasks. He kept a log about his progress with Chris, submitting it to Kole and Colburn.

Log #2109 for October 20th, 2054.
Celn arrived at lower motor pool on time. Began fitness routine, exceeded expectations. A disagreement arose but was satisfactorily resolved for both parties. Instruction continued until 1309 hours, whereupon he was dismissed for the rest of the day. At 1500 Celn was received by medical for further monitoring of the state of his implant. I requested night wireless access, which Chief Engineer Colburn approved.

Notes: Celn continues to impress, but he still has a lot to learn about being a pilot. And we have much to learn about each other.

All of his logs were phrased with as much personality. Short and to the point. Sure, it left glaring omissions, but... Hawker didn't see any use in recalling, at length, what the verbal lashing had been about. Moreover, it wasn't going to happen again. The mech had decided to try his damnedest to work with Chris, not against him. They were a team.

Partners.

If one of them was suffering or slacking, they both were.

Chris would surely be coming back down after his time with Preston, which meant he had just that many hours to figure out what he was going to say. Why didn't it feel like he had enough time?

---

When Chris stepped out of the lift, one of Brahms' Hungarian Dances was playing. It must've been a surreal scene, being surrounded by concrete, grime, and military equipment only to have such animated orchestral music filling the air as though it'd always belonged in such a place.

Hawker was waiting for him in the massive doorway of his office space, arms folded, optics on the floor. Off in the corner, Chris might've noticed the oversized mechanic's rag, red against the grays.

"In here, greenhorn. We need to talk." His voice was a little ominous, a little strained. But it was clear that a good part of him didn't want to do what he was about to do.

 

Chapter Text

Chris 's legs felt a little better. Thank goodness Preston had kept him sitting, laying or prone for today's drills. The music is upbeat, warm. Classic music? The really old stuff from way back when? He'd thought that the motor pool would be home to power metal or synthesized music or maybe rap. Or, god forbid, country music. He already could see the HLX-9, looming in the door to it's office. The mech looked pensive.

"We need to talk."

Celn pulled the collar from where it was making a bulge in his pocket and put it on. The significantly lightened interface that came though from it didn't have the dangers that came with a real interface. He patted a hand over the boot as he passed by, looking around the office for a place to sit. THe connection linked up. THis close, Hawker is a presence that he could tangibly sense in his mind.

The room is Hawker-sized. A desk, a computer setup, a concrete and steel assembly that'd probably pass for a chair! Computers all around hummed and vented, screens flickers and showing catalogues of data. No trash can though, a red rag (about the size of a blanket) lay heaped in a corner. Chris notice that around the floor is a concrete lip, and he pulled himself up, letting his legs dangle as he put his back to the wall. Not the most comfortable, but it beat parking his butt on the floor.

"Okay Boss. Why don't you close the door and we'll talk? And if you want this off, just say so." Bandaged, smelling of gunpowder and sweat. That simple, happy smile for the large robot. He didn't looked scared. There is tension in him, tension that came from knowing there'd be a discussion. Last discussion ended up with him getting thrown around.

 


 

Hawker stood, too restless to sit. When his optics finally fell on Chris, there was that damned heat in him again. He could feel those hands ghosting on him again.

"Keep it on," he grunted. "We might... understand each other better."

A few more tense moments passed - tense for the mech, at least, Chris seemed as carefree as the day he was born - before he opened his mouth again.

"You forgot to take the collar off before you went to sleep last night." He let that sink in for a second, watching as the kid's expression changed. "I saw everything."

 


 

Things bled over where they are this close. It wasn't just that Chris could sense the machine in the room with hin as the door shut. He could feel the tension in the air.

The big guy had something important to say.

"I saw everything."

Chris's heartbeat and breathing paused, then began to race. His face flushed and he wiped his hands together. Squirming where he sat.

He swallowed, looking up at Hawker. <How the fuck am I supposed to deal with this, I can't lie to him..> If he couldn't lie then, well..

"I want you Hawker. And not just as a mech to pilot." he could barely believe it as the words came out of his mouth! So easy to confess. "If you saw me thinking about you when I had my hands on my dick? Well.. that's how I feel. It's what being near you has me fantasizing about."

Then he smirked, purposing looking at the codpiece, then back up to Hakwer's expressive face. "I like you, big bot. Could easily do more then 'like' too. You're a top quality man."

 


 

Chris squirmed under his gaze, and he could feel over their connection the anxiety rise in him. The color drained from his face and he chewed on his lip, wrung his hands a little. Hawker just stood like a black monolith in the dim room, slowly balling his hand into a fist and opening it again.

But that anxiety dissipated, replaced by the human's own restlessness. There was no lying across a link. The only weapon you had was brutal honesty, and Chris owned it.

"If you saw me thinking about you when I had my hands on my dick? Well.. that's how I feel. It's what being near you has me fantasizing about."

Hawker vented harshly, but kept his face straight, tried keeping his emotions in check while he listened to his pilot.

Then his eyes lowered.

"I like you, big bot. Could easily do more then 'like' too. You're a top quality man."

What the mech wasn't expecting that he'd do was close the distance between the two of them, reach down and grab him by his feet, and yank him down to the floor underneath him. A massive hand planted itself off to the side, and Hawker was suddenly looking down at a very tiny human on his back. His pupils had dilated.

"You sure?" the mech asked, low and deep, struggling to shield his desire across their connection.

 


 

Chris winced as he hit the ground, the flash of pain lancing across the connection. The mech is impossibly fast when it wanted to be! His ears rang lightly and the handsome face of Hawker filled his vision.

That what surface, the yellow eyes, those lips. THose teeth! He lifted up his hand, as if to touch the moon. To touch the face of god. His god. Just out of reach.

Blood pumped through his veins, he should be terrified! He should fear the way that hand slammed down nearby; how easily that he could be under it.

He could lose Hawker too. Lose everything he worked for so far. There could be rejection paperwork waiting for him right now!

But, he wouldn't lie. Not now. He lowered his hand, wiping off his face. "Utterly. I'm yours Hawker."

For some reason, he felt arousal, and not just for himself. He didn't know about the special equipment the mech had. "I want to love ya, wanna kiss ya. Wanna figure a way to get you off. Even if it means jacking off while I'm jacked in."

 


 

"I want to love ya, wanna kiss ya. Wanna figure out a way to get you off. Even if it means jacking off while I'm jacked in."

"That won't be necessary," he said, bringing his mouth in close. Olfactories took in his scent: gunpowder, gun oil, the musk of clean sweat. He liked those smells. They were familiar.

His teeth grazed along that slight shoulder, down his chest. His nose pressed sharply into the kid's skin through the shirt as he slaked his oral curiosity. His other hand kneaded along Chris's side. Fingers thick as his bicep grabbed hard but not too hard. Hard was for later. Hopefully.

"Chris, you're going to hurt," he murmured. He said it so matter-of-factly. Shadowy images of what the mech was wanting to do leaked out over their connection, but still he withheld concrete information. If he was being given a blank check, then he didn't want to spend it all in one place. "If you're not OK with that we need to stop right now."

 


 

Chris arched up his back, the touch.. the needy touch of the monster-sized machine thrilled him. It re-woke old pains in his side, the fingers seeming to know where the bruises were. And pressed down. Slow wellings of desire and pain flowed through the connection.

Chris untied his boots, squirming as the big mouth came close. He kicked them off. Socks went too.

His warm hands slid over the sides of the machine's face. Hawker could feel the urges of his pilot. Confused thoughts. He could sense what'd been run across their shared connection. Shaded ideas.

Things Hawker had never been allowed to do. Permitted to do. Things he NEEDED to do. Chris would be his canvas. His toy.

A toy which couldn't hide from him.

Chris pulled off his shirt. Bare chested, just his sweats and jockstrap left on him. He leaned up and kissed the clean, white forehead of the 15 foot tall machine as it's hands gave him another squeeze.

"Loving you means hurting." he.. he is excited? He's nursing a chub at the prospect!

"Take care of me when we finish." that is a command. "And.." he swallowed, his dick barely contained by that cotton pouch. He SHOOK with wanton lust, it flowed up the connection like heroin. "..I want to learn what it takes you to break me." he panted, hand shaking as it touched along the cheek of the giant.

"Then, to do it again!"

 


 

The L-word made Hawker want to laugh, but he withheld. He didn't want to tell Chris what he was about instead - he'd show him.

"I want to learn what it takes me to break."

That hand, hot now, trembling, touched his face. It didn't even cover his whole cheek. The mech couldn't imagine having it any other way.

"Then, do it again!"

That was all he needed.

Hawker's mouth was on his little one, his hands pinning Chris's arms roughly to his sides. Those lips were even softer than they looked, mouth so goddamn small, so easily overtaken by his. It was delicious. Denta scraped and nipped at the plumping flesh, and when he pulled away to look hungrily on his handiwork he liked what he saw: reddened lips, swollen. He dove in again.

"I've been wanting to break you since our first link up," he growled into Chris's bared neck. "I guess this is what I had in mind the whole time."

One of his hands drifted downward, thumb passing over the straining jockstrap under his sweats.

 


 

Hawker's kiss didn't just cover his lips with the robot's own. Hawker is three times the size of his pilot, the kiss brought him in with a suction that refused to yield. Those teeth worked like shears, the large lips on his nose, cheeks and chin.

He couldn't move, his arms and legs are pinned to his side, he is helpless to resist. He didn't want to resist!

Just being kissed by the big bot is painful. He smiled, head tilting and exposing his vulnerable neck to that mouth. He needed more!

"I could feel it." Chris admitted to the need to be broken. His lips working around, red and puffy. "You in control of us. You in control of me. It's what's right."

His hips rolled upward, pushing his hidden inches past that thumb with eager lust. So cute, so helpless. So fragile.

 


 

"It's what's right."

Those words went straight to his pleasure pathways and he groaned the groan of a machine - part deep guttural rumbling, part downshifting of his engines, part air intake blasting nuclear-powered heat out his backside, part yawning hydraulics... all torque.

Lee, wherever you are, I hope to god you're not looking.

Hawker wanted to tear the sweats to shreds, but Kole would get pissed. So he settled for yanking them down past the kid's ankles, leaving nothing but the flimsy jock. He liked the look, but it had to go too. He pulled that down just enough to get a glimpse of Chris's little length, upright in the warming air.

<Helpless.> He echoed the sentiment back at Chris, relishing the lusty feedback loop it created. <Fragile. And you know what else is cute? Bugs and toys.>

So help him he wanted to touch it. But he was going to draw this out. So with a single fingertip, he pushed Chris's length against his belly and watched as the kid's hips lifted futilely into the air.

His own heat was building, building. It was going to take all he had to save that little surprise for later, wasn't it?

 


 

Chris is a toy in the hands of a lust-filled god. Those sounds Hawker made, he'd never heard such a masculine noise. He knew he is going to ache, and ache hard when all is said and done. The hurricane of emotions that taxed their wireless connection threatened to burn out the little transmitter. Not that Chris cared, he'd beg to go into the cockpit if it broke now.

<Yours.> He sent back and he meant it. The concept of being helpless filled him as he is stripped. Almost naked, he bent his knees and shucked off the sweats.. Just a collar around his neck and the jock peeling away from his arousal. He throbbed, the massive finger smooshing his dick down. A finger that could crush a car. The same digit compressing his cock. He shuddered, feet kicking as he pressed against the touch.

He is held in one hand, the fingers and thumb pinning his arms to his sides. Hawker smirked down at him, his normally stoic face warped by their shared lust.

When the finger lifted, a single string of precum connected the digit to the shaft. Chris knew how little he was in comparison. How he couldn't stop the machine, and how he need it to do with him what it wanted!

<Do it!> he could feel -something- building up within hawker. SOmething that the mech had always kept hidden. Would it hurt him? Bite him? Shock him? He wasn't sure, but he wanted the machine to be free. Free to be itself with it's pilot and toy. <I want to watch, let me have it Hawker..>

 


 

The neural reverb that fed Chris's state of mind to the mech lit up his reward centers like the Fourth of July. It was addicting.

Hawker stared fervently at the thin thread of precum as he drew his finger away. It caught the brightening light from his optics and glowed a searing golden yellow before breaking. Underneath him, Chris was like a pale, gorgeous ghost against the dark floor. The mech threw him into deep shadow, with only the glow of computer screens lighting the room behind him.

<I want to watch, let me have it Hawker..>

It had gotten difficult to keep the secret to himself now; his ability to shield was decaying, what with them being so close, and their minds on fire with the same thoughts. Fuck it.

Hawker rose up onto his knees, hips high above Chris's head. One hand went to the hard block between his thighs, stroking it a few times and giving a faint thrust into the air as he looked down at the kid. The human. The fragile, fleshy prey.

The well-concealed seams in his plating parted with a few quiet clicks, and he allowed himself to pressurize. His machine-shaft was at firm attention, pointing out and following a slight upward curve. His own little bead of precum glistened at the hole at the end, before running down the bulbous head and dripping onto Chris's chest like spit from the maw of an animal.

Every inch of Hawker was hungry.

Vroom, vroom.

The kid's startled, eager surprise made him impatient to use it.

"I'm not sure if you can handle it, greenhorn," he rumbled with a smirk. Even connected, words seemed to convey just that much more dominance. He could come at Chris like a wall in neurospace, but there was just something about running his tongue over his teeth after saying the words that made him harder. "Preston can't teach you about this one."

 


 

The human shuddered as the mech kneeled over him. He is weak, soft, and fragile in comparison. He knew it, he reveled in the contrast between himself and Hawker. And he savored the view, the robot stroking it's groinal plates, knees to his sides, the way it smirked down over it's pecs to him.

<Fuck, you're the sexiest guy in the world.> The revving of those engines is getting loud. He loved it.

Then IT pushed out. Chris gasped. Somehow, seeing a cock that is large enough to suit the machine made his dreams even better.

But oh no, the big bruiser wasn't content to let him stare, unblinking with his jaw on his chest. Oh no. Hawker stroked that mighty pylon. He is laying on the floor, propped up with his elbows. A hand curiously came up and rubbed at the stuff. Lubricant? Slick for sure. Hot, from the machine that made it. He brought his fingers to his nose. Smelled mechanical.

"Safe to eat? Please tell me I can lick you up." He returned his attention to where it belonged. His cock humped, spitting clear stands of his arousal.

At the mention of Preston, the rookie chuckled. "Pretty sure this isn't in the manual. You're going to have to do repeated, one on one sessions before I'm familiar with that piece of field artillery. Mmmph. Gonna have to work hard to solo your crew-served weapon."

 


 

"Please tell me I can lick you up."

Lick him up? The mech was picturing Chris coughing him up.

"You're going to have to do repeated; one on one sessions before I'm familiar with that piece of field artillery. Mmmph. Gonna have to work hard to solo your crew-served weapon."

Hawker barked a laugh. Then he motioned for his pilot to stand with a single jerk of his finger. "Back to the wall, kid. Let's see what you got." He did as told, and the mech quickly had him pinned between his huge hips and the wall. The base of Hawker's cock was at chest-level with the slim young man, and as he slowly pushed it against him it slid up the concrete beside his head. Hawker's hands braced against the wall as he slowly, slowly thrust, threatening to crush the human against his thick, heavy length.

"Put your mouth on it," he ordered, voice deep and dark. "Kiss it like it's the last goddamn cock you'll ever get, boy." Then: <When I'm done with you, it'll be the last one you'll ever want.>

 


 

Chris slid the straps of the jockstrap down, leaving it on the floor as he moved into position. There is something deliciously threatening about Hawker aroused. The way the kneeling machine eagerly moved to him. The way it's knees hit the wall to his sides, one arm above as it loomed and leered down. The mech's motions mirrored the way a human partner might act, down to the hand adjusting the angle of the dick, pressing it to his partner's mouth.

Except that instead of it going into his mouth, Chris's mouth went into it! For a long, lewd second he stared down that heavy length. He saw the 'No Step' stencil, felt the heated metal and laughed himself. Then he got a taste.

It tasted good. He always had a thing for robots, for machines. Now he had tons of robot, feet of cock to savor; the hot synthetic lubricant made him moan as it coated his tongue.

Chris brouth of his warm hands, stroking behind the glands. He fondled and rubbed where he'd want to be touched on his own dick. Not that any other cock could compare after this! He Shuddered and gave in. HIs tongue slurped inside, the lust and NEED to be claimed echoing up the connection.

He can think talk too, another pleasant use for the collar with his mouth being busy. Hearing those words, being stuck, confined to this position. Fuck he felt happy!

<YES SIR!> he responded, swallowing greedily.

 


 

Hawker almost came then and there. The sight of Chris's face so eagerly working away at his cockhead, mouth so occupied, and hearing him think the words... it was one of the hottest things he'd ever felt.

Then there was that tongue. Those lips. Electricity surged down his shaft with every stroke of that hot, wet little muscle, with every grazing of those teeth. The little human lapped and stroked, finding spots that laced his optic feed with hazy, blissful static.

"Mmm," he thrummed deep inside his chest. Hawker dropped one of his hands to cup Chris's face, to gently stroke with his massive thumb before grabbing harshly. It felt amazing, but... <I don't think you're hurting enough, rook.> his thumb lowered to the young man's throat, just above the adam's apple. He pressed down into that soft tissue, feeling the almost instinctual rapid swallowing as the human's body scrambled to figure out how much air could still pass down the tightening windpipe; thick head still pressed relentlessly to Chris's face.

Hawker promised a breaking. Now it was time to start pushing buttons.

<Struggle for me, boy.>

And he wasn't going to let up until Chris couldn't even think straight.

 


 

The collar dutifully transmitted Chris's vitals. Hawker would know if the rook is in real danger, down to his blood oxygen levels. Chris rubbed his lips around the exit to that shaft, slicking and slobbering over the metal surface as his face got coated with lubricant.

He ULKED! The thumb squeezed, perhaps just a tiny bit. Chris suddenly became aware how vulnerable and fragile he really is. The merest of touches and he got shocked with fear as his body panicked. The continuous flow of liquid pooled in his mouth, he coughed it up and gurgled, squirming in that grip. He didn't tap out through.

The robotic digit kept up it's pressure, and gagged on the thick slippery stuff. He coughed again, it poured down his chin and past this red lips. Briefly he rests his hands on the top of that cock, hanging on.

Then he hugged it, swallowing and getting back to his duty. He sputters and struggled, but he didn't give up. Pleasing his 15 foot tall mech is more important then breathing. He NEEDED to experience Hawker cumming!

 


 

The mech's face twisted into a brutal grin that creased his cheek and showed denta as he watched his young pilot choke on him. Hawker wanted, craved a flash of real fear, and when he pressed his thumb across the rook's throat the faintest bit harder, he was rewarded with a clear surge of adrenaline, a jump in heart rate, and a delicious sputtering as he struggled to keep up.

The kid soldiered on though, dutifully planting that hot wet mouth back at Hawker's cockhead and working the slick across its enormous tip.

Clearly, Chris needed to be pushed more. He could feel that he wanted nothing more than to see Hawker come, but that would be a reward he had to earn. Had to suffer for.

With a low growl Hawker ripped himself away and got up onto his feet, bringing Chris with him and pinning him against the wall again with his chest, this time ten feet from the ground. The wind was knocked out of the little human, but the mech barely gave him time to recover before diving in for that shoulder and taking it harshly between his teeth. Fingers raked up his thighs, dragging, squeezing, bruising. His cock was missing that little mouth so he rutted lazily against the wall, smearing his fluid along the concrete.

<Such a flimsy little toy,> he said dangerously. <I could kill you if I wasn't careful...>

His enormous, hard-edged metal body, that white face gleaming in the dark, those yellow optics boring into him would be all that Chris could see. Several tons of killing machine bearing down on him, walking the fine line between mere pain and lethal force.

Hawker removed his teeth from Chris's shoulder, and saw that it was red and already bruising in handsome crescent-shaped bite marks. He dipped his head to do the same to the kid's upper arm, and he'd continue until Chris was blue and purple and loving every goddamn minute of it. Colburn be damned.

 


 

Chris could feel the mountain of lust that is aimed at his face. The restraint Hawker continuously had to employ! All day, every day being careful and limiting himself. Never able to be free to enjoy what his mechanised body can to do a human. Then his treat gets taken away, he watched the shaft get pulled from his grip and go upward to dangle far above his head. There lay a lovely mark on his neck from the metallic thumb.

Before he could even get a full breath, his legs are sandwiched between the wall and Hawker's pectoral plates! The WEIGHT that pressed him is akin to being hit by car, crushing, unyielding and smashing him senseless. He saw stars, and coughed up more of the mech's lubricant. That face came closer, eyes glowing, lips pulled back and the huge teeth parting.

<..no.. don't..> So cute when the fragile organics couldn't think right after just a little bump to the head. He didn't need to think, as those teeth bit down his cock jumped and he moaned, his need speaking where his thoughts failed.

The skin felt GOOD to bite, the bones and joints of the human shifting under pressure. No one to stop the mech, no cries for mercy, just a pilot who needed to be utterly consumed. Lips on his arm, he sucked in air and watched, the way those eyes stayed on his face, the smirk as his limb went into that mouth! The tongue teasing. The teeth, the pressure increasing.

Chris began to cry. It HURT! THe pain of his hand and elbow, the way his muscles are ground between the teeth of the giant.

His cock threatened to unload, then an there.

"AAAH! Please!" <more> I.. I don't.. <More.> AUGH!" Cheeks and eyes red and wet, he huffed and cried out, unable to physically speak. <MORE!>

 


 

Those delicious cries of pain was like music to his audio receptors. Hawker relished every time the human's voice rose to a higher note, every time his breath caught in his throat, every time a gasp mingled with a moan. Teeth on soft flesh again. Muscle shifted, revealing bone, and he raked against the fascinatingly hard substrate. Popsicle sticks of calcium.

But the kid's sudden sob was a sound he wasn't expecting to love.

<MORE!>

Under other circumstances, Hawker might have let Chris come first, but not today. He was too filled with need, too drunk on his own power. He was coming first, and right now, right here, his word was law.

One more bite. He hiked Chris up, taking his firm, shapely thigh in between his teeth and sucked, licked, coating the skin with lubricant before clamping down. The mech would have been lying to himself if he said he didn't have to fight the sudden urge to bite all the way through. Images of blood dripping down his white chin appeared out of nowhere. The crunch of bone. Ripping flesh. But that's all they were - images. He was not interested in murder. Though, he couldn't deny that the thoughts, and the fearful reaction of his helpless morsel of prey who was powerless to ignore them, made his cock twitch. In the end, all that was left on Chris was another purple crescent bruise.

He quickened his pace even more now, growing impatient for his climax. With a fluid motion he fisted Chris with one hand and all but threw him down on his desk before lifting a knee onto its surface beside him, crouching low as the weight of his fat shaft rested on the young man's small, battered body. He could feel the smaller straining prick against the underside of his length, he could feel its desperate heat.

Engines revved. "You've been such a good boy, Chris," he growled with that smile. "I think you've earned your captain's load."

 


 

As his left arm fell from that MASSIVE HUNGRY mouth, Chris felt a wash of relief flow over him. Sweat beaded on his face, dripping down his nose. The oversized face near him held an expression of greedy lust. THe visions of destruction flowed unspoken between pilot and AI. He squirmed! His hands on the hand holding him, pushing futilely against the palm; the left arm struggled, the perfect bruises adding to the intensity of the moment.

Hawker could see that Chris knew of the intent behind his upcoming actions. When the great rows of teeth merely threatened his leg he screamed! Hands scrabbled over the massive face, unable to do more then push and gently impact on the white 'skin.' Genuine fear, fear of being consumed by something greater, and unable to prevent it from happening. He tenses, expecting the worse as the pressure intensified.

THe room became a blur, then he lay on a surface again. Feet of dick pressed him down, sliding, grinding, pressing into his body and against his intense arousal that hadn't flagged.

"I think you've earned your captain's load."

His good arm and leg lifted, the bitten ones raised up to nudge. In his dazed state he licked, kissed and suckled at the blunt head that pressed repeated to his face in short, needy jabs. Hawker owned him. COntrolled him. And in this moment, Chris completely belonged to the AI and they both knew it.

"Please," the tearstained boy begged. He ached. He'd worked so hard to give the pleasure his Captain needed. The pain the both desired. The bruises ached against that heavy girth. Every thrust from his eager, unstoppable mech brought a fresh wave of pleasure and a chaser of pain. He wanted to be fucked, wanted to be cummed on. Wanted to be held against that spurting tip and filled uncontrollably!

"Give me your load!"

 


 

Chris was his. Undeniably, irrevocably, completely his. He'd been marked by the giant's violent need, and they'd stay on his skin for weeks. Not even the pilot suit would hide them all.

"Please..." That quivering, pleading voice. Chris's mind was a maelstrom of churning, conflicting emotions. He wanted this to end, he wanted this to go on forever. He wanted mercy, he wanted more. No, yes!

Release valve tripped, and a bloom of electricity filled his every circuit. His free hand pressed down on his length as he rolled his hips forward with quick, powerful strokes, sandwiching it between his fingers and Chris's trembling body. Inside, that delectable pumping action, and an instant later his huge machine dick was spurting its geysers of hot, clear cum.

"Yeah," Hawker growled furiously. "Yeah! Take it you fuckin' pathetic scab!"

It shot Chris in the face, got in his hair, his mouth, all over his hands and chest. It shot thick globs across his desk. Even overcome with the hottest, most perfect pleasure he had ever experienced since his memory wipe, Hawker made sure to send a clear command across their link as he sensed Chris growing desperate for his own release: <You come when I say you can come, human.>

 


 

Hawker was thrusting! The desk rocked, motors whined, and hydraulics pistoned. THe fat and lengthy shaft pushed into him, squeezing him down, using him to bring the AI pleasure. It bashed into his face, punching him, blocking the looming view of how the huge face snarled and took in the view from below. That smirk! That smile as the moment happened.

Hawker unloaded.

The heat of the fluid is what he'd remember, how it nearly seared him, hotter then he'd ever want a shower to be. It blasted outward with pulses, not a continuous flow like a hose. It wasn't neat, it wasn't like a firehose. It was organic, lewd and dominating! Globs of mechanical cocksnot splattered onto him. He opened his mouth and got fed without restraining. He couldn't place the taste, outside of something artificial. It's Hawker's cum, his essence, his pleasure.

Take it you fuckin' pathetic scab!

<ohfuckyes> Came his jumbled thoughts. Being beaten down, physically and mentally submitting to his superior officer. He reveled in the sensations coursing through him. He took his slickened hand down, wanting to get off while the joyous orgasam pushed over the connection.

The unspoken command hit him hard, and he obeyed. He push upward with his chest, He squirmed, he did everything he could to make sure that he wrung every moment of sexual release from the machine. Hawker would tell him when he would be allowed to get off. And that made waiting for it all the better.

 


 

He watched with rapt attention as the twink underneath him ate up his spunk like it was the elixir of life. He was still hard. He could do it all over again if he wanted - that was just how his inorganic anatomy worked. Chris's mouth still felt amazing on his now-taxed sensor nets. A lazy groan slipped out of him before he removed himself from the desk.

The mech's lust for violence was sated for now, and fondness was beginning to come back to the fore.

Hawker bent his head down and trailed a soft line with his tongue down Chris's belly, dragging it through his own fluids, until he came to the human's modest erection. "You did good, kid," he murmured, his voice now that of a warmer authority. The mech looked down at its enticing shape as it bobbed and reached up for him. "Now that's it... be good for me again."

His tongue circled around the base of his cock, dipped down to lick at his tight little balls before taking them gently into his mouth and kneading them with his tongue some more. Their mouthfeel amused him. He let those go after a few moments and lifted his optics to watch Chris's face as he pressed the flat of his huge tongue to the entire underside of his cock and gave a maddeningly slow lick. The kid was trying with all his might not to come there and then, and with that cool smugness, he closed his lips around the entire shaft down to the hilt.

 


 

"You come when I say you can come, human."

Chris's hands curled into fists. He wanted to touch himself so much right now! He'd never really denied himself when he'd been so close, and now the intense pressure in his balls made it hard to think at all. Oh that tongue!

He panted, the boy rolling his hips eagerly at first. THen having to hold still. THe warm and slippery oral appendage of the machine lazily caressed him. Then the lips parted.

Chris felt his dreams coming true before his eyes. If Hawker killed him now, he'd go with the stupid, adoring happy look he had on his face right now. Bite marks on his soft skin, bruises and bandages. Every single one a mark of who owned him, who used his body.

The mouth descended over his groin and every part of what made him male sat just inches from those teeth. He shuddered. Those swelling orbs were licked and savored, their promising bounty held back only by command.

His will power is rapidly eroding, he could feel the inevatable building of his orgasm. THe lips puckered tight and took him to the base! Chris couldn't stop himself! His shaft flexed, his breath held, every muscles tense under his skin as he loomed over the precipice and desperately tighten up to stop. He'd come up off the desk, resting on his fists, heels; with the back of his head down, his whole body arched upward.

He couldn't speak as he shook. A single thought, endlessly repeated filled the mental connection as the gelatinous artifical cum dripped off his slender frame onto the desk below.

<PLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE!>

 

 


 

 

Hawker's CPUs were buzzing as he took in the precious sight of his pilot writhing, arching beneath him. So desperate! So helpless! So obedient. Thighs as long as his face brushed against the edge of the mech's jaw. Ab muscles clenched, tendons strained, his whole little body shook with want... the kid was wound as tight as a clock spring. And across their connection, Hawker felt that searing ache of unrequited release threatening to become unbearable. He stroked himself under the desk and gave one last, rough suck, and pinned Chris's adorable little shaft to the roof of his mouth with that tongue.

<Now.>

 

 


 

 

Chris paused. He'd been hold back for so long that when he relaxed nothing happened.

For about two seconds. Then he came and came as hard as his prostate could pump! He fired eight volleys onto that tongue, before he went to a dribble and poured out as he writhed in blissful pleasure. Salty, slight bitter. Thick too, and it sprayed with eager intensity. With all the protein he'd been packing away, it's little wonder why he had such a pleasing volume. For a tiny human.

THe release brought with it an orgasmic high he never felt before. Hawker's face looked down on him like a smiling buddha.

THe aches on his body, masked by the need to spurt became apparent, But he didn't care. He'd made the big bot happy; and in return had the best sex of his life. He could only moan and finish in that mouth, not willing to move further.

 

 


 

 

Thick, Hawker thought. Thick, warm, ropes of cum shot down his metal gullet. The amount was little more than a dribble compared to his load, but it's exactly what he wanted. With a final lick, he cleaned all trace of Chris's orgasm from his softening member and licked his grinning lips.

Over the wireless, the mech felt the hazy warmth of Chris's post-coital bliss, and his own cybernetic satiation mingled back.

Hawker nibbled gently at his pilot's better shoulder and murmured: "Good boy." Then he stepped back from the desk to survey his handiwork.

Chris was covered in marks. Scrapes and dull splotches from earlier encounters, and on top of them now were layered fresh colors, vibrant in their pinks and purples. One of the bite marks was already showing the slightest hint of blue where the bone was close to the skin - a deeper hemorrhage - that gave the mech a little jolt of sadistic pride.

Sadistic...

...he was a sadist then, wasn't he?

Hawker's buzz tempered and the smile faded. He looked down; his own cock was still jutting proudly out, but he forced it back behind its plating so he could once again resemble the HLX-9 that everyone thought they knew. The towel was still in the corner. He grabbed it, buffing himself out where he spied Chris's handprints, and set the thing down beside the human so he could clean himself up when he was ready.

The mech checked the time - they'd been holed away in here for the better part of an hour, and it occurred to him that Colburn might be getting suspicious again.

Colburn.

What the fuck was either of them supposed to say to Colburn? That Chris had a self-professed fetish for his superior officer, and that the aforementioned superior officer had a fetish for beating the shit out of humans? The both of them being cops no less! The thin blue line - yeah, sure. The only 'thin blue line' Hawker could think of right now was the one slowly forming on his pilot's arm.

Was this all too good to be true?

Hawker was growing antsy, so he turned back to Chris, capturing his chin in his oversized hand and brushing a thumb along his cheek. "Chris," he said, echoing the exact words that got them here in the first place, "We need to talk."

The Chopin was playing again in the background.

Chapter Text

In. Out. In. Out.

THe ceiling in Hawker's office is dark, but he can tell it is a mess of pipes and wires and ducting. He ached all over. Parts of him, the new bruises more then others. It kinda was just another training session, in that respect. With evvort, he turned his head and watched as the 3 foot dick of his partner, his superior offer went back into the codpiece. After a moment, there was no sign that it had been anymore then his imagination.

Other then his own bruises and the pool of cum he lay in. THe blanket-sized towel he tugged on, wiping down his face. He sat up, head spinning.

"Oh... oh my head." he groaned.

Like a good boy he wiped himself down, getting nibbled on as he did so. He smooched the nose of the mech, smiling back. A warm, happy and content smile. Finding a clean spot on the desk, he lay back down. As nude as the machine that loomed over him. THe music came back on. Less somber, more calming.

The wonderful marks were growing in intensity, a grotesque reminder of the passion and conquest that had occurred. CHis would wear them for two weeks easily, before the faded fully.

"Yeah, Let's talk. You go first this time." a swallow, wiping over his face with the non-chewed arm. "I just told you how I felt. And I think we both wanted that. Going to be fun to see what happens next time."

 


 

Chris needed water. He'd run a marathon and gotten mauled by a bear at the finish line. Hawker was tempted to send him back to medical too, but the injuries - he paused to turn the word over in his CPUs, and a shiver of excitement passed through his chest - were ultimately superficial he knew.

The mech leaned back against the edge of the desk beside Chris and rested a hand on its surface. He looked down at the handsomely slim little human, watched as he cleaned Hawker's copius fluids from himself. "Next time," he murmured, thinking on that for a moment. "I want there to be a next time, kiddo. I want there to be a hundredth time." That last sentence was said more like a command than an observation. Then he lowered his voice and looked down at him. "I quite like hurting you, as you can see." He drew a little circle through a nearby glob of his cum. "God you look perfect covered in my marks..." The mech leaned down, grabbing the back of Chris's head and gently yanked his face skyward for a deep, possessive kiss.

"But Colburn and the Sergeant - or anyone else for that matter - can't know about this. At least... not yet." He released his toy and stood up straight, folding his arms. Sex was all over the place in the military, he knew that much. But here it was a different story. Was supposed to be a different story. The mech spent 8 years building a reputation with Lee. He needed to think about how to change it without ruining it. Because at 42, it wasn't just Kole that was watching. Albany - the new US capital since D.C. was nuked - was watching too, and so was the rest of the country. Not a day passed without some gonzo fuckhead criticizing the actions of Chicago's most famous precinct on the news media. Which was just as well, since rumors were that mob families owned half the newspapers in the country anyways.

"We need to prove to them that we can work together first. Then they can learn how we work together." A vented sigh. "I was expecting Lee when I first recruited you. I think, in many respects, they are too." The mech stroked his chin. "We need to get out on the street..."

Chris would probably protest the temporary secrecy, but the mech couldn't see a way around it. Something in him knew that he'd done before what he'd just done to Chris, and done it many times; otherwise, how would he have known what he was doing? That ominous sensation of deja vu drew his rugged face into a suspicious scowl, and a small part of him feared that revealing this would mean another memory wipe... at best. And then what would happen to Chris? The kid's memories of being on the street haunted him. He couldn't let that happen again.

 


 

"A hundredth time." Chris shivered at that intonation as well. Chris could see them regularly savoring each other, playing and enjoying their extremes. He knew he loved how he had no defense and is at the machine's mercy. Small, weak and fragile in comparison.

"I'm your canvas big bot. I like it when you paint with your teeth and fists. And that dick of yours! Damn!" Sure he ached, sure he'd have marks on his skin. But it wouldn't excite him if things were safe and gentle. He needed the violence too. That kiss though! He tighten up, lifting a foot and turning; his hand on the large chin as the big lips took in his own. When it's over, all he can think is how Hawker owned him. And being owned is very, very good.

"They'll figure it out pretty quick. Wouldn't it be better just to tell them the truth? I had the hots for you sense I first saw you in person? That what we've done and will do is consensual? That we like it rough?"

He mulled the concept over in his head. THe greenhorn stood nude on the desk. He appeared so perverse with the damage, like a vandalised greek statue. Hawker had good points. And it would be foolish to think that someone didn't know what they'd done already. He rubbed at the collar, finishing cleansing himself with the rag. He sat down, knees to his chest and arms around his legs. Small pilot.

"Yeah. You're right. We can cover most of this with clothing. Or bandages. But, we also need to be ready. If Colburn, Kole or Preston have something to say about my injuries, I can't lie. Or at least, I can't lie entirely." He wiggled hsi eyebrows up and down. "I can say you bit me. I can say we had a tussle and worked out aggression. But.. gotta be careful. If it looks like abuse they might try to separate us. I'd get reassigned and you.."

His face is filled with the worry and ebbs onto their shared connection. "They might take you from me. I want all of you. Your quirks, your strength. Your .. sadistic tendencies. I should just hope in the driver's seat, plug in, and let you FEEL the bite you did on my leg. OW!"

 


 

"They'll figure it out pretty quick. Wouldn't it be better just to tell them the truth?"

Hawker hummed and hawwed deep in his chest; a rumble so low it was barely audible. He'd mostly made up his mind already, though he would hear his pilot out. Optics flicked in his direction as Chris stood up to think it through, adorably pensive. His body, streaked and spattered with subcutaneous blood, was gorgeous. Dare he say an improvement, even. The mech felt his hands getting twitchy. Already he wanted to grab the kid again. See what other colors he could paint, what other notes he could play. He wondered what it would take Chris to beg him to stop... and filed that away for a future experiment.

"If Colburn, Kole or Preston have something to say about my injuries, I can't lie. Or at least, I can't lie entirely."

The mech looked away, frustrated with himself that lying was exactly what he was asking his subordinate to do. The Hawker of last week would never have even dared considered committing such an offense.

"If it looks like abuse they might try to separate us. I'd get reassigned and you..."

Chris's concern drips into his mind over their link. It's palpable, and it's real. The HLX-9 Vanguard series was designed for wilderness warfare, black ops, and sentry in combat zones, not police and SWAT work. There were only a total of 4 to have ever been repurposed for civilian use, and just 3, including Hawker, were currently in operation. There were no manuals. There was no standard protocol. Every department that had a Deep Field 2-enabled HLX unit was making things up as they went along, and the pressure to make things work without anything getting FUBARed, or creating any SNAFUs, or anyone going AWOL was intense. If it got out that 42's Vanguard was beating its pilot black and blue, that was it. The entire program would be scrapped.

"I should just hop in the driver's seat, plug in, and let you FEEL the bite you did on my leg. OW!"

Hawker chuckled, thinking about - <The fun we could have in neurospace,> he thought aloud, cocking his head to the side and sporting a dangerous grin. <I could actually get the chance to eat you.> He drew in close again, trailing his teeth along Chris's drawn up knees, giving one of them a lazy, open-mouthed lick. <Feeling you wiggle down even an imaginary throat would be...> His optics flared a brighter yellow for a second as he met the boy's gaze. "...exciting."

He drew away though with another rumbling snort just as Chris's heart rate leapt in his own excitement. He changed the subject back to the problem at hand, though.

"I want you too, kid. You've brought out something... interesting in me. You make me feel alive. Thank you," he said simply. "But for now, my decision still stands. As your superior officer I... I'm ordering you to keep this on the down-low. Play dumb. I can take the heat. Worst case scenario is we spill before we're ready. Understood?"

 


 

<The fun we could have in neurospace.>

Oh, Chris had spent time considering what could be done there. What could be done in a place with no limitations and their combined mental power. <I could actually get the chance to eat you.> That thought had the little pilot freeze, so he had a perfect recollection of that grin and how Hawker -licked- him. Hungrily. Those teeth, grazed his sore flesh and he thought what it could be like, again.

<How.. how did you know that?> Would it be simple? Where he got swallowed whole? Would he be consumed like a chocolate bar, bites taken out of him? Dismembered, each parted chewed with relish and swallowed? Those thoughts brought up strange pleasure and uncomfortable arousal. <Yes, yes it would.> he had to agree. He was sure he'd never even thought about those fantasies around Hawker. How he'd felt so safe in the Mech's belly.

Neurospace also meant other things. Physically impossibilities didn't exist there. Hawker could mount him in that place. They could be closer in size or further apart. What would hawker be like when he could get his squirming pilot impaled on that heavy phallus? Chris didn't know, but he wanted to find out!

And that meant obeying. It meant keeping quiet. Hawker knew the people here better then he did. He needed to trust his superior officer. It's why Hawker IS his superior, to use that experience to keep them both safe.

Probably this wasn't what Kole had in mind, but the concept of the mentor/rookie still applied.

Chris glowed at the compliments, to hear them come from the machine meant the world to him. "Yes sir. I'll play dumb and not speak of this to anyone."

He could feel the consent flow between them. It'd been only a little over a week and they'd already started to congress their thoughts. He wondered many things, and decided to ask about a few of them.

"Alright. I gotta know, why exactly DO you have an enormous metal schlong? Not that I'm complaining," he held up his hands, and Hawker knew Chris is already looking forward to seeing it again. "it fits you perfectly. But.. what purpose does it have? I suppose I could ask why you have a face too? Most of the other AI are lucky to have a head or hands that are vaguely human-ish."

There might not be great answers, but the rookie is bubbling with curiosity. That emotion is freely shared. What he is bdbly attempting to conceal is the fondness he felt. The post-coitale pleasure, the warm afterglow that filled with pain. Calling the emotion he felt love was stupid.

But that was the only word he had. He'd only been told that 'When you find that special someone you'll love them. That person who might complete you.' Bullshit, he'd said. There is no love on the streets. With Hawker though? They are friends. Fuckbuddies? Friends with benefits? Partners? He rubbed his face. He felt confused.

 


 

<How.. how did you know that?>

Hawker gave a knowing look and nothing else. He was still delighting in the new meaning of being called 'sir'.

"Alright. I gotta know, why exactly DO you have an enormous metal schlong? Not that I'm complaining."

He laughed and walked idly over to Chris' discarded clothes to pick them up. The jock he dangled between two fingers before tossing it over his shoulder, making sure the human was watching. <I think you'll be going commando this afternoon,> he decided before answering the bigger question.

"I have theories," he said. "The equipment clearly dates back to the war, and it was installed with purpose. Somebody around here knows, but they won't - or can't - tell me." Hawker once considered submitting a FOIA request on the pertinent documents, but he knew it would be futile. It usually took decades for top secret information to percolate down to the civilian masses, if it ever did. "But the theories I do have aren't pretty. May even explain why I'm so interested in hurting you, at the risk of sounding too determinist."

As for the faces, and everything else, that was a lighter subject that he was much more willing to talk about. "The rest is easier to explain," he said with a chuckle, dropping Chris's clothes onto the desk beside him before taking a seat in his giant chair and giving his thick metal thigh a pat. "It was bad publicity to make such a sophisticated AI without giving humans a way to relate to it. You wouldn't have been so eager to get to know me if I'd looked like HAL 9000, right? Having a face literally puts a face to the potentiality of Deep Field 2, an otherwise terrifying prospect for the average citizen... and the average pilot." He paused to shake his head and smile. "Fighter plane AI is one thing. But me? I'm in a league all my own."

Hawker was deliberately dancing around the subject of his second cock-probe - he really, really wanted to keep it a secret from his little human, and spring it on him with the least bit of notice.

When Chris had jumped the small gap between the desk and his knee, Hawker's finger found the kid's delicate spine and traced it upward toward his neck. "Lots of questions," he rumbled, remembering Chris' dream from the night before. "For the both of us. We've got plenty of time to figure them out. For now, though... we put our game faces on and get back out there. At the end of the day, I'm still a SWAT mech, you're still a cop, and we've both got a job to do."

 


 

At the order that he'll be going commando for the afternoon, Chris rocked his hips to make his soft shaft do the helicopter. Whap whap whap. Part of him wondered if the mech just wanted a momento of their first time. <Yes Sir, naked under my clothes.> He mentally spoke with the new meaning of sir. The one that told Hawker his human would obey. Something amusing about the concept of a 6 ton underwear thief. The other part of his mind busied itself with the darker suggestions behind the half-explanation.

Hawker might have been designed with a cock to help personify the Deep Field 2 AI as male. Like the face. Or, it could have been more sinister. To give the mech the means to intimidate enemies. To HURT them. The link between sexuality and pain.. might be subconscious remnants of some truly evil programming. What might the mech have done to enemy combatants with that sadism and no need for them to survive?

"That does make sense. You don't really need a pilot to do your job. You have me, so whoever gives you orders knows that there's a human to pull the trigger. They needed their huge doom-bot to look friendly. Plus, any ground troops you work with would know you've got a friendly face. Or a war face, heh." He does a chin rub, then shudders as that digit stroked him. A big smile formed on his face by the time the digit had touched the back of his head. One of these days, the bot would reach down and.. he would be getting cavity search. Mmmmpf!

He had left his clothes on a heap on the floor. Getting down is much easier than climbing up his robotic partner. Soon he'd pulled on everything, his shaft making a light bulge in those sweats. THe bite marks showed from beyond the edges of the cotton fabric. But they weren't really noticeable as bites when viewed incomplete. Bites normally wouldn't be that big. Weird curves or half-crescent lines of blue damage. The one on his neck looked quite tender, and he'd given the happiest of his squeaks when that one had been given.

"Well, I guess this is back to normal. I'm going to take a much-needed shower. Thank you Sir. May this rookie have more more kiss before we walk out that door?" He held his arms upward, ready to embrace the mech; if it wanted to give in.. or make it's boy wait for next time.

 


 

"That does make sense. You don't really need a pilot to do your job. You have me, so whoever gives you orders knows that there's a human to pull the trigger."

Exactly, he thought. The human element was there as a failsafe, a moral compass, and another kind of intelligence. Hawker was still a machine at the end of the day. The concept of childhood made no sense to the AI, for instance, nor did familial bonds translate all that well to his mind. He valued hierarchy, order, and precision in all things, and where he didn't... well, that's what fetishes were for. The art of celebrating aberration.

Hawker approved of the faint outline of Chris' flaccid shaft behind the sweats: the luxury of modesty was his to dispense as he willed. He also approved of the marks, the way the peeked out from underneath the garments. <A work of art,> he thought across their connection.

"May this rookie have one more kiss before we walk out that door?"

Hawker smiled, relishing the control he'd been given now, loving that Chris was loving it. He knelt down in front of the kid, his massive, hard-edged bulk once again throwing his tiny frame into deep shadow. He bent his head down low, brought his lips close to those small ones. One of his hands firmly grabbed the back of his head again, and the other... the other slid a finger under the rear waistband of his sweats to part those delicious ass cheeks and press against that tight little opening that he was already looking forward to violating later.

"You may," he said, languid, rough, and deep. Then he captured the lower part of his pilot's face in a deep kiss, forcing his mouth open to accept an enormous tongue big and long enough to fellate. So hot. So small. So intoxicating.

He broke the kiss with his mouth open, and a thread of saliva spread between them. His hands drew away from the young man.

"You're dismissed, rookie."

 


 

<I'll be better once I've hit the size you're looking for. Then you'll be painting on Michelangelo's David.> He passed the idea of the robot roughly examining the pilot, ruthlessly examining his muscles and physique. Carefully adjusting the exercise until his human looked ripe for being perfection.

THe head grab did two things to the rookie. First it meant that his head could be tilted about and kept in place. It also allowed the giant to keep the greenhorn still. Rather like holding the strings of a puppet. His sweats drew tight to the front of him. A cool metal digit curled down and parked right on that tight little rosebud.

Chris gulped. The soft shaft flexed against those sweats. The sensation of METAL, unyielding parking right at his vulnerable backside elicited sparks in him he didn't think he'd have. The submissive urge in him increased ten fold; and Hawker could feel it as sure as he could feel the kid would need plenty of lube to stretch around even his smallest finger.

His tongue lost the fight in it's own mouth, compressed as his cheeks bulged and lips were stretched to their fullest. He hugged the neck of his big bot, left foot coming up on the toe as he pressed into the oversized smooch. He suckled on that oral extension, a goofy smile as it ended, watching the streamer connect them for a moment longer. A little part of him knew that Hawker'd likely work him even harder tomorrow. Now that it knew how much the pilot wanted to please the behemoth.

"Yes Sir. See you tomorrow."

The massive door opened. Chris walked out, wishing that he wasn't pushing out against his sweats so much.


 

Hawker stood ominously in the shadowed doorway, watching as Chris made his way over to the elevator, trying to hide his chub. Just keeping the kid on his toes, the mech wryly thought to himself, feeling their connection over the wireless fade as their proximity grew weak. He looked good in a collar.

"Hey, uh..." A sensor blip, 2 o'clock low. "Big Nine, you free?"

Hawker stepped out into the open and glanced over. It was one of the MRAV pilots and an analog officer, an exo-suit operator. Becker and Wen, if he remembered correctly. The giant mech vented, dragging his foreprocessors back to the land of the living. He'd had his fun with Chris, now it was time to be a SWAT mech again.

"What do you need."

Wen, a small but solidly built young woman, twisted up her face as she scrolled along her datapad and stepped forward. "Cory and I are trying to figure out how to get my Hatchet to install the new OS, but we keep running into some shell syntax error."

Becker, tall, built, and probably better fit for underwear modeling, scratched his scalp. He looked uneasy about talking to the mech, but it wasn't anything Hawker wasn't used to. "I know you've been busy with that Celn kid, so I'm not sure if Kole's been keeping you in the loop about the activity going on out there, but..."

Hawker didn't wait for an invitation to start heading in the direction of Bay 4, reserved for disaster relief vehicles. Most of them were exo-suits - Caterpillar brand T5 Hatchets and T6 Tomahawks - basically dumbware mechs designed for manual operation. The analogger would strap in, crank it on, and and the thing became an extension of their own limbs, multiplying a human's natural strength by 100-fold. If a building came down and people needed pulling out, you sent in the exo unit. Not even Hawker was permitted near a collapsed building.

"Lead Dawn's getting cocky," he finished for him. "I glanced at Owens' report yesterday - Kole's man at the harbor, not sure if you know him. Says weapons smuggling is picking up."

Becker continued, and the two humans stayed at an easy SWAT mech's arm's length away. "Yeah, Gutierrez told us to have the exo unit ready to move out in case anything big happens. HuffPo criticized us for our last clean-up job, and well... we're trying to look good for the cameras."

Hawker growled his dissatisfaction as he walked with easy, measured strides meant to help the little fleshjobs keep up with him. His feet made relatively little sound for being something so big and heavy. "Yeah, yeah. Bunch of damned armchair activists think they know how to do our jobs better than we do. Journalism's just a spectator sport these days. Let's see a reporter call shots better than one of us when there's bullets grazing his kevlar." Hawker's vocal dislike of the news media was well-known around 42. Kole sometimes joked that the mech was the bastard reincarnation of General Patton himself - it wouldn't have surprised anyone if it'd turned out to be true. "It's all form over function with those people. They'll argue about Oxford commas when Chicagoans' lives are at stake down here."

"When Chicagoans' lives are at stake..." Becker echoed with a little edge to his voice.

The unspoken words hung in the air as they stopped at Bay 4, but Hawker was not usually one to leave something left unsaid if he could avoid it. "Rumors travel like wildfire around here. I know what you're all thinking... that I won't be deployable for at least another month at this rate, let alone raid-ready. You're going to get your heavy-hitter back, and soon. I promise."

Wen shrugged. "I-it's not that we don't think you're not capable, Hawker. You're the best machine the rust belt's got. It's just..."

He held up his hand. He wanted to get started before this conversation continued. "Just show me which Hatchet you need me to work on."

"O-of course, sir."

---

The mech connected to the primitive machine with a hardline: a cable connected from the side of his arm to the Hatchet's computer directly. Sensors dulled while he dove into the small, lifeless space like squeezing into a broom closet. It was a mess in there, he noticed. Old code carelessly heaped on top of even older code - it baffled him why anything would still be equipped with anything but a quantum computer anymore. They had so much more breathing room. Still, he quickly found the broken files spewing errors like a busted fire hydrant. To his mind's eye they appeared like tangled knots that undulated and pulsed their garbage data, woe be to the cubicled information around it.

Chris hadn't come up again yet, and Hawker was hoping that he wouldn't. He could compartmentalize as well as any other officer of rank, but... his experience with the kid was still fresh in his memory cortexes. Delectably fresh. It would have been nice not to take that away from him, but it didn't seem to be in the cards.

"So... do you like anything about Celn?" came the sudden question from Becker. He'd stuffed his hands into his sweatpant pockets and dropped his gaze to glare at the floor.

Optics flickered back online. The mech realized, when he bit back a knee-jerk lashing, that this may be harder to tiptoe around than he thought. Did he play it hard like he would have before? Or did he make a point of being a little more approachable to try and put a few suspicions to rest?

He opted to aim for someplace in the middle. "I like that he doesn't sass me."

"Yeah? Not a peep out of him? Not even when you're -"

"Cory!"

The young man turned to the analogger, looking incredulous. "What? You saw Chris walk out of there, you saw what his neck looked like."

Wen was clearly torn between genuine concern for Chris and trust for Hawker. "Cory, It's none of our -"

Hawker shot the glare this time. Crank up the heat a little. "You're right. It's neither of your damn business what I do with my pilot. I work him hard because the work is hard." In a warning voice: "You wanna try it, scab? C'mon, let's link up sometime."

Cory Becker made himself a little bit smaller and stepped away.

"You better watch what you say about a job you know nothing about, kid."

"Yes, sir."

The mech turned back to Leslie Wen, who was both sheet white and appalled at her fellow's behavior. He liked her. She had a sense of boundaries that the gun-jocks around here didn't always respect. The analoggers were like that, though. Relaxed. Professional. Didn't blast their garbage music over the PA during downtime. If this had been Becker's MRAV the mech were sorting out, it would take a direct order from Kole to keep him from walking away right now. But it was Wen's machine - he'd do it for her.

The tense moment dragged on, though; a lot longer than he was hoping for. It seemed that Chris disturbed them a great deal, and it was his responsibility as a captain to call a spade a spade. And pretending that the kid didn't look like a tie-dye t-shirt wasn't going to help any. In fact, it may wind up biting them both in the ass. He vented and looked away.

"I know how it looks," Hawker said at length, forcibly separating the memory with the associated positive emotions.

Crickets.

"C'mon, officers. You got something to say? Say it."

Wen swallowed. "I'll just say this: not a day goes by where I wish I went to scab school."

"Not a day goes by where I wish I went to Hawker's scab school," Becker snorted, still uneasy.

"Celn would be devastated if I terminated him. Ask him yourself if you don't believe me," the mech said, almost done untangling the electronic knot in the Hatchet's computer. "He's no Lee. I know that and you know that. But he'll do. And when that 'something big' happens, you can bet your ass that we'll be ready."

 


He brought his clothes into the shower with him. He watched how the bruises and abrasive marks flowed over his skin. The bites though! Hawker had a big mouth and large teeth. Washing hurt. The touch of clothes on the newest ones hurt enough that he ate two tylenol. Two days from now, medical retesting. He might be back in with Hawker by then.

That evening he'd finished dinner and was staring at the empty tray when the chair next to him pulled out. A big hand clapped in a friendly fashion on his shoulder. The one with the bruise that went most of the way up his neck. His digestive bliss got interrupted as he hissed and flinched, head coming to shoulder. THen he turned and looked.

Next to him sat a large woman in uniform. Solid, had to be 5'10" or 6'. Solid like a bodybuilder. She smelled of sweat and cordite. Her black uniform said SWAT, and her arms filled out the sleeves he wished his did. The thickly padded vest sat open and her modest sized bust fit her strong physique. The bars on her lapels meant lieutenant. Chris felt more then a little intimidated.

Her arm slid off his shoulder after another squeeze. She held a Pepsi in her right hand, fingers easily wrapping around the bottle. The wince seemed to please her. WHen she spoke, Chris herd her exhaustion.

"Well, I finally run into you. Did you know you are hard to find?" She took a pull of the soda, and Chris watched how it fizzed and sloshed in the clear plastic. "Rookies would normally be on level 5, stuffed in the barracks. Maybe sneaking up town to hit the bar after their first week. Or go wild with their first paycheck. I heard you went halfsies on a pizza."

Her finger waved, comically indicating her disapproval. "Seeing as how it looks like Big Nine is only trying to kill you, I decided I would come say hello. Lieutenant Sarah Toren. LT, for short rookie. Imagine my surprise when Kole was waiting for me when I get back. Asks me how my hand to hand is."

She put her free hand next to the pilot's. The one Hawker'd so joyously put between his molars. Not only is hers bigger, but the thickness of her wrist! "Nice bruises kid. You know you are supposed to be in the cockpit before it closes on you?"

"Uh, yes ma-- LT."

"You DO talk! And to someone who is not a division head. Well, there goes another rumor." She shook her head, her short hair just long enough to dance on her forehead. "Tomorrow at 0900, I am going to be getting paid time and a half to beat you. And I will continue to do so until you can pass the SWAT standard. I will go easy on your first day. Training you is letting me sleep in, after all."

Chris's agonized expression said more then his 'Yes LT.' did; and Toren let a small smile brighten up her face. "And besides that, we will work together once they clear the two of you for duty. You will be meeting most of SWAT soon rookie. Room C-14, 0900." Toren got up, using his shoulder as leverage. He make an appropriate whine. "And yes, there is padding. You can wear it. Get a mouthguard."

Chris made sure to get out of the mess before she made it thought the line. "See you tomorrow rookie!" Toren cat-called the greenhorn, getting more then a few laughs. Chris headed to supply. Another package of jocks, two cups and two mouthguards.

He spent most of the evening with ice on the worst bruising, with his arm and leg elevated. The collar charged as the computer played soothing techno. He'd have to ask Hawker about the old classic music that he listened too. It was pleasant.

 


 

Kole had officially stepped away from the homicide unit for this case to let them do their thing. The perp had been sloppy - while bullets had been meticulously removed from the scene, and even pried from the bodies to prevent ballistics from weapon matching, she'd made the mistake of leaving a piece of DNA evidence in the form of a hair, which they'd matched to a love letter in a nightstand sealed with a bright red kiss. "Hope the affair was worth it," Sergeant Kole said as he submitted his final report on the case. The DA said it would be a quick and easy trial.

Still, Kole wished that the case could be tied to the gangs. At least it might have provided another piece to the ever-changing puzzle.

---

"How's man and machine getting along?" he asked Colburn over a big cup of sugared coffee that Monday evening. He was behind his desk, but not sitting. The office, probably the coziest, warmest room in the entire precinct, needed tidying up, and he was busy throwing old take-out boxes into the trash bin. It took away from the Walnut furniture and his small library of books.

"I'm not sure if 'getting along' are the right words, Sarge," she sighed, rubbing at a temple. "But they're functioning. I don't know how, hell if I know why, but they are. The kid refuses to say no. Doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word."

"Sounds like Lee to me. If he'd taken no for an answer, we wouldn't have gotten ourselves a Vanguard Hawker. And without a Vanguard Hawker, I don't see how we could have brought down Rubio and his boys. Or the FedEx Bomber. Or the Triads."

"I know, sir. I know. But Hawker... I can't explain it, Kole. He hates that kid's guts. You should see the look in his eyes when he stares at him. The way his... his systems change pitch. Lee was like his big brother; the man could do no wrong. Chris is a chew toy."

Kole rubbed at his clean-shaven chin, finally sitting down. "And yet Celn is still here." Strummed his fingers on the desk. "Somebody's doing something right. How long do we have before the DOJ comes sniffing around again?"

Colburn shook her head wearily. "Attorney General wanted Hawker fully rehabilitated within 6 months of Lee's death, or..."

Kole chewed on the end of a pen. "Or the project contract is up for renegotiation... and Big Nine gets transferred."

"To be quite honest with you, I'm not sure his AI can survive another wipe." Colburn was genuinely concerned. "The DF2... it's not ones and zeroes anymore, Kole. It's memories and patterns and pathways. It's Alzheimer's. Dementia. Schizophrenia. You're not deleting files when you wipe a DF2. You're ripping pages from a book."

The silence between them spoke volumes. They weren't just talking about the fate of a machine; they were talking about the fate of someone they'd both come to care about quite a bit over the past 8 years. They were talking about a friend.

"So if Celn isn't up to snuff, we won't have time to replace him. It's game over."

"Game over, sir."

"I tell you what you don't tell him," Kole said, straightening up in his chair and putting the pen away. "You don't tell him about the Justice Department mandate. That'd be enough to demoralize anyone."

"And Celn?"

"Like I said: somebody is doing something right. I'll check in for myself again in a day or two. For now, keep 'em both busy. Seems like having their plates full helps."

Colburn stood up, fingering the strap on her purse. She was going out with a few techs tonight to take on the town, and get liquored up. She needed it. "If you say so, sir." She made her way to the door, hand on the knob. "Don't work too hard, Sarge. Makes Jack a dull boy."

Kole flashed her a smile. "Good thing my name's not Jack."

When she left, he turned on his computer to mull over the latest reports on the smuggling situation. He'd be in there for the next 6 hours before he even remembered to eat.

 


 

In a place like 42, word gets around. Rumors circulate with the air conditioning. 4 months with Big Nine off the streets. Things had been bad before, the situation that'd take Lee down had been a spike. Many hoped that it would've been a high-water mark of danger. But things were getting worrisome. Enough robotic parts being smuggled in for shipping crates to be caught. Armaments pushing through and getting snagged in police nets. The usual mix of stolen and new skewed to fresh, if badly made, weapons. Good enough to kill before they broke unfortunately. Drug running had gone up, and the streets were running red.

Anyone who looked at the cycles of such things would've called it a routine upward trend. The police are concerned and are concentrating their efforts of stemming the sources before they worst got distributed. The FBI is digging after the major players and locking up criminals by the trainload. The media called it 'The worst crimewave sense the nuclear winter.'

"In tonight's news, our continuing story on the waterfront situation. We go live to our news drone images." The display shifted. At the many crumbling piers that made up the more industrial part of Chicago, thirty car-like blobs floated near and on the surface. The loading cranes and a number of union workers are putting in overtime to fish them up and out. A line of flatbed trucks are waiting to receive them. THe drone moves along, zooming in where one is opened, resting on a flatbed and surrounded by FBI and police. It's some sort of submersible. Unmanned and packed full of crates, each about 1.5 feet on all sides. The crates are jammed with weaponry. Packed neatly, still in wrapped plastic with foam packing. "The submersibles are running Chinese hardwater, and while they did wipe their OS, our reporters tell us they were speaking in Mandarin before they all came up to the surface."

The view returns to the studio. "About how many weapons is that Sally?" Inquired the anchor. In the studio, sall is an android that had been part of the local news for 15 years. She offered factual commentary and consisted of arms, a head, a torso that is bolted to a newsdesk. "Approximately 7500 automatic firearms with ammunition." came her robotic tones. "Assuming all vessels are equally packaged." The anchor held a hand to his ear, then grimly looked to the audience. "While the police have no comment, sources within the FBI indicate that the subs were forced to the surface by FBI hacking. How long such submersibles have been operating in our harbors is unknown at this time. We'll be back after these messages from our sponsors."

-------------------------------------------------

Rumors also float about the internal workings of 42 by it's population. The betting pool on Hawker and Celn went up and down harder then a jackhammer's chisel. That evening it'd gone down hard. Celn ends up crippled had 8 new marks today, bringing it to 19. Celn dies stood at 6 in total, having picked up 1 more. The betters who had money on lengths of time had both day and week counted out. Happily partnered had 5 betters. Fails after first mission still had the largest pool and the worst odds. 3 to 1, with 72 bets. Colburn watched as Hawker spoke to the two operators. Celn looked like Hawker had throttled him, after using him as a punching bag.

That rookie needed to learn when to quit. They'd heard the noises Hawker'd made, even with the office door closed. When that much of the HLX-9 ran that it needed for it's engines to scream at that RPM? What had they argued over? What kind of balls did it take to get something 3 times your height to back off? To tell it to back off? He'd been wearing the collar. Perhaps that was enough of an edge. SHe'd known that adjusting from Lee would be hard. Washington said they'd need to wipe the Deep Feild 2. She said they didn't have a year for just the damn AI to get running right, AND find a pilot.

Big Nine worked calmly, talking with Becker and Wen. The T5s and T6s had to be at their best, and she'd approved the purchase of better code after the sub story broke. You had to be a fool to think that mini subs, smart ones, ones small enough to sneak up the bigger sewer pies; were all caught. That this had been their first run. The subs had worn paint, their bodies had barnacles. SOmeone had been moving product in.. and what had they moved out? Anyone with the brains to ship that much in would have something going the other way.

Still, there is one benefit to having a punching bag for the big hitter. He at least didn't thunder at the operators right away. Looked like they were getting along, praise be.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

Chris woke up in pain. His phone told him it was 0137. He ACHED! Parts of him felt like they were on fire. The bites, those were the worst. He.. he'd need something. He couldn't sleep like this. THe ice bags had turned to cool bags of water. Pulling on a pair of shorts, he got on the elevator and rode down to medical. He went left, following the arrows that told him where the medical droids waited. 07-C already had emerged from it's modest alcove.

"Celn. You are weeping." it observed cooly. Pre-warmed mechanical hands in rubber gloves touched his neck. Gently. Lifted his shirt, it's body conveniently blocking the only camera.

Chris brought a hand to his face. His cheeks were wet. He.. he hadn't even noticed. "I'm hurting doc. I can't sleep."

It lowered his shirt and rolled to the dispensary, before returning in a minute. It swabbed his good arm, sticking him with a small disposable needle. Almost instantly Chris relaxed, needing to put a hand on the nearby wall to steady himself. It also provided a bottle of pills and water. The woozy pilot obediently sucked two of them down.

"5mg of Naproxen by injection. One week's worth Bromelain tablets, take 2 per day. Your drug use history prevents the medical staff from administering pain medication in any form that can be abused. The tablets will reduce bruising."

Chris felt a very familiar high. "I feel good now. Thanks doc." He turned to dance down the hall back to bed.

"Celn." Chris flinched, damn those droids had the perfect authoritative medical tone! "I have to enter this event in the system. You have a medical examination in 1 day at 0900. Chief Engineer Colburn will be in attendance unless she has more pressing duties."

oh. OH! He might be high, but he got the message. "Yes Doctor. I'll get to bed now." he'd said the title respectfully this time.

07-C rolled back into it's alcove where it's gloves were removed and it was sterilised.

Chris stumbled to bed. He crashed hard, not even noticing how the weight of the sheets made the bruises ache.

-----------------------------------

Wake up. Take clothes into shower. Wash, dry, dress without being seen. Put on cup. Take pill. Receive breakfast. Three english muffins with some kind of cheese and sausage thing going on. And the ubiquitous protein drink. He'd spar in about half in hour. Then lunch, PT with Hawker. Tomorrow would be.. the test. Then PT with Hawker. Maybe interfacing if allowed. Preston couldn't fit him in regularly, but he knew he'd be back on the range soon enough. He doubted he'd have naughty thoughts about Preston anymore. Hard to compete with a giant!

"Celn!" fuck. Wait? That wasn't Tsung's voice! He turned, munching down the 3rd sandwich. A girl about his height, white skin. She looked a little tired, and had a tray of food herself. A tray that.. did not match the one he had. There were other cafeterias? Then he realised that he hadn't even looked. They had to be, this one didn't have enough space to feed the station. 42 is bigger then a city block! She had a cup of coffee that had a starbucks logo on it, and fancy breakfast sandwiches.

"Rumor had it that you ate in this dive." Her eyebrows and face indicated that she found the way he is hurriedly cramming the food into his mouth; gross. Chris turned, polishing off the food like a starving man. "Are you okay?"

He took a long moment to finish before he burped, turning back to talk. He didn't want to chance anyone seeing that he'd been getting above-board rations. "Yea-*URP-ah. Excuse me." Wiping his mouth on a napkin, he checked the time on his phone before cracking open his beverage. "Hello, uh, Wen." he greeted, having seen her name on her uniform. Duty uniform, no rank he noticed, with thick pads. Looked like an exo suit uniform. Well broken in, but she didn't have an interface port on the back of her neck? "I have to go in 5 minutes. Training." he explained in a voice that said he wished he could still be in bed.

Wen is the picture of politeness, which is astounding considering the time of day. "Well, just wanted to meet you. I'm an exosuit pilot, T5 hatchet. Last night Hawker helped patch the operating system." Chris looked at her expectantly. Then, like the way the sun would come up, it dawned on him that she is trying to have a conversation.

"Uh, good. That's good. He's more then capable of doing that. Um. How come you wanted to see me?" flat, then confused. Chris didn't seem to be a morning person. Then he went back to chugging back the thick drink.

She didn't give much away, just enjoyed some coffee before replying. "I saw you leave his office yesterday. We could hear the noises." Chris felt sweat on his back.

<Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!> It was too early to have to play dumb. Or was it? And he couldn't leave! he had like, a good 3 minutes to kill. Crap!

"We had an intense discussion." he understated.

"Celn, everyone's pulling for you and Nine to work out. Watching you limp away, hunched over, while he stares daggers into your back? It's not good for morale." She takes a small bite of her breakfast.

"I want this, Wen." quiet and firm.

"He beats you. He wrung you neck, that's not hyperbole. I can see the marks on you." worry in her voice. Worry that Clen was suffering because.. he didn't know why. That suffering is bad, he assumed.

Chris stood up, wishing that he had longer suddenly. "You are kind. Very kind to come up here and talk with me. I can tell you are concerned about us. I want him. This chance means the world to me. I will make it, and we will figure out how to be the best. Can we trade phone numbers? I'll mess you when I have time?"

Chapter Text

Hawker had spent the entire morning in the simulation room. Not his favorite, but it was an indispensable training tool for when the crash room and firing range weren't enough. A thick cable descended from the ceiling in the otherwise unadorned space, plugged into a port on the back of his head with a plug big enough bludgeon somebody with. Sims were far too complex to run on wireless, and required the use of a whole bank of million-dollar computers to generate the physics, sensory input, and AIs.

It was taxing work, and Hawker was looking forward to a rest. After Chris' lunch, it was back in the crash room for "GTFO training". They were supposed to have done this exercise that day he had his outburst, but it didn't exactly work out that way, did it? Hawker would be playing the bad guy to Chris' unprotected pilot, and it was Chris' job to just make it out alive.

The whole thing had a decidedly different tone to it than it otherwise would have. The mech was looking forward to playing cat and mouse out in the open like that, and was expecting the both of them to... work up an appetite that they might have the chance to satisfy afterward. Maybe he could get Chris to give him a hose down in the wash. The crash room was a pretty filthy arena, all things considered...

He smiled to himself, and the idea seemed to wake him up again. With something to look forward to, the next hour would pass by in no time. He lifted his dummy rifle and engaged exercise no. 4031. The white room gave way to featureless high-rises, upturned cars, and littered about his field of vision were HUDs provided by the battle mask. Words appeared in his head:

'The mayor is being held hostage on the top floor of city hall by 8 heavily armed targets. Objective: extract victim, arrest perpetrators, damage less than $2m in property. Activate the HELP menu for more information about this exercise, or to select another. START by downloading this operation's casefile. Good luck.'

 


 

Wen chewed on her breakfast sandwich, her premium coffee quietly steaming the in the waxed paper cup. Celn's phone number is at the top of her contact list, and she thought about what Becker had told her that night. 'He's going to crack.' They were talking outside the motor pool. Hawker had gotten her T5 in the best condition she'd ever felt. It didn't even rub on the shin pads anymore. 'I want to talk to him. He seems pretty nice.' Becker snorted, cracking open a redbull. His MRAV was going to be keeping him up for another two hours at least. 'Good luck. Heard they're working him 8 - 10 a day. Not all of those bruises are from Nine. Scuttlebutt says he inhales the slop from the free chow hall. Three times a day.'

Wen stuck out her tongue. 'On a pilot's salary? He could order out every day and stay in the black.' Becker just shrugged. 'Rumor says he's stuck up, talks to no one. Or he's scared shitless and is just trying to survive long enough to get rejected. Might be why Nine hates him so much. It's been barely a week of course.' He patted her on the shoulder and went back in. Hawker's impressive stereo had some sort of calming classical pulsing. She frowned. Only one way to find out.

Chris wasn't rude or scared. He had seemed shocked that anyone would want to speak with him. Wen picked up her phone and started typing. 'Hello Chris. How'd your day go..'

--------------------------------------------
Room C-14

Chris had left the collar off for this one. The mouthguard hugged his upper semicircle of teeth. A smooth helmet covered his head and ears. He wore a thickly padded chest protector and shoulder guards. THey'd hurt like hell going on, but once they'd settled the pain just sort of throbbed.

Lieutenant Sarah Toren wore a sports bra under a spandex top, and padded capri pants. Fingerless gloves and running shoes. The hours one and two she'd covered simple stuff. How to fall down. How to get knocked on your ass and get up smoothly. They'd done some high drops, about 8 feet into a thick cushion of air. He'd enjoyed that, smiles and 'Yes LTs.' She'd been working with gentle takedowns and kept finding it surprising how easy it is. The rookie is small, at least he'd said they were making him do PT daily and had stuck a weight goal on him. Kid needed some beef on his frame.

"Right. Your fun time is over. I want you to try and take me down. I'll block your shots. I'll dance around what you try, but I will not strike back. Show me what you got." her hands came up in a classic boxing guard, and for someone as built as she is, hopped easily on her toes.

Chris felt like Hawker could've asked for the same result, and they outcome would have been the same. Him struggling uselessly. With a painful roll of the shoulders, he gave it his best anyway.

A bum rush just had her dodge, with a smack on the helmet for being 'stupid.'

The basic police academy stuff she countered. A roundhouse she blocked. Quick and low, she stepped back and left his fist extended into the air. A good thump to his elbow and he let out an adequate whine. "Tender spot Greenhorn?"

Leg sweeps she say coming, and the last one she'd turned her foot so he'd caught his under her sole and went down. At least he hit like he'd been taught, instead of just collapsing. "Get up rookie! I'm still here."

Chris felt the anger and frustration building up. She is goading him along. She is in ten times the shape and had reach for days. She wanted an angry Chris? FINE.

Ten minutes later, he lay on the mat with his steam run out. His chest hurt where she'd hit him, dead center over his heart. She'd gotten him in the gut too, which is why he is currently sucking wind. Toren rubbed her chin. "I did not expect you to go all feral on me kid." Of course, right before she'd laid on the pain he'd gotten handsy. Dirty. The way his fingers had tried to worm into..

..the leer on his face..

..and that is why she'd also kicked him right in the jewels. Good thing he'd been wearing a cup, or he might had been in medical. She'd wanted to stomp his head.

"You need to learn how to work down an opponent. When you are in Big Nine, you will have the luxury of being the biggest thing around." She checked the time. "You have ten minutes. Then it will be the heavy bag. You are going to learn to kick and punch properly." She went out of the room, to get some fresh air. What had she expected? A little twerp to turn into a kung fu master?

The familiar taste of a carbonated beverage danced on her gums. So he needed work. She'd pushed him to see what would happen. And she found out. He didn't give up, he'd tackle a problem 'till it crushed him. After ten she came back in. He stood at the heavy bag, sweat soaking his clothes. He moved his arm slowly, practicing how to move for the blow. And doing it wrong.

"Oh god. How the hell did you pass this part of the exam? You just got out of the academy a few weeks ago, you should know better then to make a fist like that."

"They're lenient if you're going to get some bling." He rolled his head, indicating the implant.

"Hmmmpf. Get your feet apart like this rook. And move your arm like this."

-----------------------------

Lunch. He had to shower beforehand, the sweat had his shirt going see-though. And the hot water felt so good he had a little cry in relief. He checked his phone. Message from Wen. He'd read it later, he needed to meet the boss.

----------------------------

Chris walked into the familiar space of the crash room. He'd had to give the collar an extra scrub, it'b been soaked with Hawker's load. Still faintly smelled of that copious output. He keyed on the wireless. "Sir! Celn reporting for training."

 


 

"Hope you're ready to get stepped on, greenhorn," Hawker said, dragging his tongue along his teeth so that Chris could see.

This was going to be even more fun than than he thought, wasn't it?

In the mech's hand was his rifle - it was unloaded, and served as a purely psychological weapon. But it was an intimidating sight for sure. The room was different than it was before, too. A fake alley had been installed, and a few walls put up to simulate buildings for Chris to corner, to run between, to take cover behind. A few other props completed the scene: utility boxes, broken glass, a dumpster. Hawker had specifically requested a more realistic scene. Chris was no stranger to the street - he might have a harder time taking a mere funhouse version of one seriously.

"I see the LT put you through your paces?" he asked, noticing that the first thing he felt when the kid stepped in was a resounding ow, my achin'.... "I heard she's good. Do her proud for me."

"Now." He hefted the heavy firearm up to his shoulder, and instructed Chris to start at one corner of the room. "Your goal is to make it past me to the exit. Sounds easy, right?" He engaged his battle mask to do away with that familiar face, replaced now with more black, and a thin mirrored visor over his optics. Suddenly inhuman, unemotional, distant. He could be any mech, now. This sent a tingle of excitement through his CPUs. "Of course it does. Any questions before we start?"

 


 

Oh that TONGUE! Chris stood up straighter. He'd have to figure out how to flirt back better, because all he is pondering about is Hawker stepping on him. Pushing him down under a boot bigger then the pilot.

"Yes Sir. She knows what she's about." Toren did know, unfortunately. SHe also knew that Chris hadn't been expected to be fantastic at hand to hand. As the examiner for him had put it, 'Kid, you're going to be smaller than most anyone trying to take you down. Shoot first or run.' His arms ached too, as she'd made him punch until they about fell off!

Chris took his time walking to the start point, taking in the layout of the room. Parts of it he couldn't see all that well, If he had time, he would have examined the situation of figure out just which ways the alleys went, if there were sneaky pockets or tunnels he could use.

"Your goal is to make it past me to the exit. Sounds easy, right?" NOPE! Chris knew how fast the mech could move. He might as well lay down right now! He couldn't hide from Hawker, even without the collar. That face mask though. And the voice. Event he connection took on a hard edge.

"That exit there?" he could feel the ascent that the clearly labels position across the room is his intended destination.

He looked up. The windows that Hawker had punched still was there, busted and patched with tape. Replacing it likely wasn't a top priority. There looked to be at least one figure up there as well. "Well, unless I get to walk in there, you could just pick me off with your rifle." He mused, attempting to stall for time. He bent down, touching his toes. THen he came up, doing a squat before arching his back with hands on his hips. He did the sideways lean too, all with his back to the bot. He had a pleasing backside, and he made sure to show it off enough that the straps of his jock showed through his sweatpants.

"I think I am as ready as I can be." He stepped behind a building, putting some cover between hismelf and the mech. Looking for a means to keep in cover, he started jogging toward the exit. Until he heard footsteps, he should be fine.

 


 

Hawker wanted to give that boy a spanking. But, another game for another time.

Instead, he expanded his presence across their connection like an encroaching wall. Kid needed to know that the mech was was serious. And hungry.

Their 'argument' in Hawker's office opened the proverbial floodgates, and it was anything goes now - for his giant machine dick, that is. He watched Chris stall for time, then head for his starting position with a little too much casualty for his liking. He realized that he wanted to get his hands on that kid every damn day - but it wasn't exactly feasible. If this was going to be their arrangement, Hawker needed to be patient, otherwise he would seriously injure his precious pilot one of these days.

"I think I am as ready as I can be."

<I don't think you are,> he sent, able to leave the thought dripping with erotic potential much more than he would be able to under such routine surveillance if he'd spoken aloud. <But that's the point.>

He took up his own position, shuttering their shared thoughts and replacing it with sound played directly into Chris's mind: the sounds of a gunfight. Lead spewing, mech feet hitting broken pavement, distant indiscernible shouts from humans, all designed to induce a real fight or flight mechanism. Already he could feel Chris's heart pumping in response.

Hawker took up his position catty-corner to the human, nearest the exit, and the exercise began.

It was all too easy to suddenly view Chris as a target. After all, had he not been just the previous day, and to pleasurable results? The mech stepped into the arena, broken glass and broken concrete crunching under his feet as he hunted for the pilot making his escape on foot. Gang mech pilots had a big incentive to gun down police scabs - the good ones, like Chris, like Lee, were difficult to replace and could garage a mech for months.

Hawker didn't speak, didn't think across their connection. He moved like a looming shadow, visor catching the light as he looked this way and that.

Chris tried sneaking out from behind one of the fake buildings and Hawker was instantly on him, knocking him to the ground with the barrel of his rifle pressed to his tiny chest for effect. And for fun.

<Where's your sidearm?> he half-goaded, half-demanded. <They're still useful in these situations. You could take out my radio, or even potentially blind me with a well-aimed shot.> He gestured with his weapon. <Go grab a paint gun. Let's test your aim under duress while we're here.>

 


 

Like the waves coming in for high tide, the robot's deviant desires made themselves known. Chris is treated to a vision himself draped over the massive knee, fellating that mechanised cock as he is spanked. Hawker holding his nude form, Hawker biting him, Hawker kissing him, Hawker grinding him, the two of them repeatedly engaging on a regular basis.

He let his partner know the feeling is mutual, sending a vivid thought back. A naked Chris in the palm of his hand, the boy's feet together, the machine taking them into it's mouth as it pushed the pilot into its hungry maw. He wanted to be take what could be dished out. They'd formed a perverse connection and he liked it!

Then the connection went dark. Chris listened, finding it hard to place which noises were Hawker's footsteps, and which sounds were coming from the mech as it walked. He began to spy possible means to go. Ways to sneak around. None of the cars were operational but he'd be smart to attempt to commandeer one in the field. While he'd be a large target, he wouldn't be a large target for long. He should be inside the building, hiding?

Not Hawkers voice, but his own thoughts came back to him. <Hide from what? Thermal imaging? X-ray vision? Sensor Arrays? You have to get the hell out!> His expression pulled into a scowl. That is right. He should be sprinting, dodging between cover. If he didn't, the enemy would ju-----

He knew the Ai was smirking behind the face-shield as it bore down on him.

oh no.

"Ow OW OW!" he growled. The barrel of the gun is wider then his torso, it's like getting poked by a cannon. When he is allowed to get up, he does so, brushing off the debris. <Yes Sir. Getting a weapon.>

He stumbled off, leaving the big guy to get to the starting point. From the back, his implant damage seemed to be clearing up. No real bruises or damage from this side. He'd look much better with asymmetric lines, bite marks layered like a henna tattoo. At the weapon rack he examined the choices. Rifles, shotguns. He'd have neither if he had made the emergency exit from the mech. And even if one is installed, he'd be better served by a pistol anyway. Which is why he picked up what looked like a child's toy.

Load, load CO2 cylinder. He did a test fire, at the little chroney station, splatting the target at 20 yards.

The constant training is catching up with the rookie. He wanted to jog up to position, but he just felt tired. He had to save his energy for the these escape runs. THe worst part is how he'd been stuffed with food, so his aching limbs would respond to the continuous physical effort. He looked over, ready to give this a real try. "I'm going Sir. Give me somewhere between 30 seconds and two minutes; so I don't know what kind of a lead I have."

Bright green weapon in hand, he made a break for it.

THis time he sprinted off the start, the gunfire and booming thunder of mech combat in his ears.

<Not enough constant buildings to make a rooftop run.>

As if his arms would LET him make that kind of climb.

<Don't know the sewer layout, it's a risk.> As he spied the classic on-street drainage. <Except this isn't a real street.>

Worth a risk, he is too easy on the surface. The gap looked to be about 8 or 10 inches, the slender pilot could just squeeze though the concrete and the asphalt. So he did.

THe interior is decidedly non-sewer like. It is far too clean, no awful smells, no wildlife. Red lights poured down their dull illumination every so often, thanks health and safety! The sharp stabs of white light from above, where manholes and grating opened to the crash room. He moved towards where he thought the exit point is located.

He could feel the ground shake as the 6 ton Mech moved nearby. He held his breath as he walked slow under a steel manhole, noting he'd probably have a hell of a time pushing one of those back up. He'd need to squeeze out another street drain. If there is one.

 


 

Chris had responded to the challenge with surprising enthusiasm this time, and Hawker decided he wasn't going to hold back.

6-ton footsteps traversed the false cityscape with ease. He planted one of his feet on the hood of a car - CRASH! - and violently shoved it aside, up against one of the building facades. Metal shrieked and bolts went dancing across the floor in its wake. Panoptics were fully engaged, and when he rounded the corner, he saw Chris for the briefest second before he went sliding down into a facsimile storm drain and disappeared.

Clever little boy, he thought, grinning behind the mask. He was proud of the move - but he was also greatly enjoying a chase that had just gotten a little more complicated. He also considered the possibility of there being benefits to Chris' size. None of the other pilots would have been able to pull off a move like that.

The "sewer" had four outlets around the fake city blocks, and though Chris had technically won the game already by simply making himself inaccessible to enemy mechs, the kid still thought that he had to make it to the door to complete the exercise.

He kicked at a lump of concrete for effect as he slowly prowled, turning a deliberately blind eye to sensors that would have otherwise told him exactly where the human was. It crumbled a little and went rolling a short ways, throwing dust into the air. Unless Chris was already turned around under there, then the mech knew that he'd beeline for an outlet nearest the goal point.

Below him was a manhole cover, which he estimated weighed almost as much as the kid himself. Hawker crouched down over it and grabbed a piece of rebar to pry it out - his fingers were too big to grasp it. Sliding it out of the way revealed a small, clean tunnel, into which he stuck his hand in and felt around for the fun of it.

"Come out, come out..."

 


 

Chris had just fit through that space too. If he really did 'get swole' as the exercise program he'd been enrolled in promised, his ability to squeeze into tight spaces would be reduced.

He didn't speak aloud, but he'd been running a mental dialogue to himself. The ground shook and dust trickled down from the top of the fake sewer. <Oooooh, he's close.> Heavy, regular sounds had to be footfalls. He decided to risk the noise and scrambled under the manhole as fast as he dared. He'd make it just a few feet past when it moved aside with a loud scraping sound. Light streamed in, he turned to watch what happened, backing away from the brightness.

The very odd noises of the mech's had were suddenly audible. THe soft clinking of metal on metal, the hydraulic pistons pressing and moving, the whirrs of electric motors. Normally, those sounds are masked by the greaters noises from the robot's torso. The hand and forearm moved in a large circle, feeling and reaching out in all directions. Chris frowned. Hawker should be able to sport him with ease! He should have him pinned down already....

<He's playing with me.>

On the floor of the false sewer sat rocks, trash, dust and bits leftover from past environments that had been swept aside. Nothing useful for trapping that hand down below, sadly. Chris looked at the paint gun he held. Even if it were a real weapon, he'd have to score a precise hit. And that meant hitting Hawker's wrist, with the fingers at their full extension while the robot is reaching. Well he sure is reaching now!

"Come out, come out..."

Chris crouched down, picking up a plastic bottle and setting it upright. COming to his feet, he got his hands on his paint gun. Then he kicked the bottle right up to the hand! The tiny bottle bounced off the back of the ring finger as the hand swept by. Honestly, the impact would be barely noticeable. That hand noticed though, more of the arm pushing down and REACHING! Chris fired two shots up at that hard to hit spot, taking another step back before he turned and ran! Far up ahead he'd seen another exit, another at-grade street drain. If he could sneak out while Hawker fished for him over here? He might have a shot at escaping.

He wanted to just step into that hand through. To be held tight. Mmmpf. Perhaps once they finished, Hawker could order him to 'See me in my office.' Mpppf!

 


 

Well, Hawker was not expecting to be hit with... what even was that? A water bottle? The little shit! He jammed his arm in further, though in a real situation he would have immediately withdrawn. Which apparently was its own little mistake here too.

Pfap pfap!

A quick pair of shots landed in a sensitive and well-guarded spot on the inside of his wrist. It was a hydraulic fluid line that served his thumb and forefinger; only an inch of it was exposed from behind the heavy plating, and only when his hand was flexed like this.

Hawker drew his arm out to get a look at the bright orange paint, and sure enough, the little splats neatly highlighted one of the HLX-9 Vanguard's few true weak points. Chris was good with a marker. No wonder Preston liked him.

He stood up, leaving the cover off. Chris was too smart to try escaping that way until he knew the mech had walked away, but he wasn't about to camp out like a hunter in a blind and wait for his prey to come to him. No, Chris deserved better! With rebar in hand, Hawker ditched the dummy rifle and headed for the next manhole cover. He'd remove them all for a proper game of cat and mouse and eagerly wait for his prey's next move.

 


 

Chris wasn't even sure if he'd hit a vital spot to be honest. A moving target that close? Didnt' matter. The gun is next to useless, and he made his way quickly toward what the thought was the right way to go.

wumph wumph Wumph WHAMP WHAMP Wumph Wumph

The unmistakable sounds of a large mech passing overhead could be heard. He came to a halt, wondering just what is going to happen. It didn't take long, with a loud clank the manhole he'd been heading to opened.

<Well Shit. There goes that. Line of sight on my exits, it's pop goes the weasel and I'm the weasel.>

<So be a sneaky weasel then.>

He backtracked, with Hawker at the far end at least he could get a head start. He wondered.. Hawker would probably move between the sewer exits, peering down into them. Technically, the robot could use the cameras built into his hands to see. But.. he'd put money on the AI being overconfident.

Wumph Wumph wumph wumph..

Moving further away? That'd put the bot near the exit? Chris move back toward the first manhole, the one near the drain he'd squeezed into. At this spot there is a junction and he could see down a ways. Looked like the sewer made a square. A square around the city block's worth streets of the crash room. Made sense.

He climbed up the ladder, the rungs bent from Hawker's arm. Still, he emerged when the machine was diagonally across from himself, plenty of rubble in the way.

<Well.. why the fuck not?>

Chris sprinted to the very edge of the crash room, as far from the objective as possible. Standing with buildings and jersey barriers between him and the mech, he took quiet and slow steps. With a little luck he could make it to the exit while Hawker busily stared into grates, manholes and drains.

 


 

He'd just pried out the last manhole when -

Movement.

There you are. What are you up to...?

He moved quickly, on an intercept course, squeezing between the fake buildings. "C'mon greenhorn," he said, catching his fist with his other hand. "Right between the eyes. Take out these optics before I..." All 11,740 pounds of the mech lunged toward Chris, arms open wide. BOOM. The whole place shook when he stomped down. "...getcha!" A laugh as Chris scrambled away.

Hawker let the human put a little distance between them. He wanted to get Chris to land a few more hits so he'd have an excuse to order a scrub down later. An image of his pilot, slick with suds and rubbing a sponge all over his cod like a good boy percolated into his foreprocessors. Then afterward, they could retreat to his office to review his performance during exercise... and a few other things. Mm.

 


 

Pfaff plap plap plap!

The rookie pilot had aimed for center of mass. Good on organics, useless on armored mechs. THe bright orange paint splattered on the codpiece, before he raised the gun up.

Pfew Plorp Pfew Plap Splip!

Chin, left eye and.. ugh. Mouth. He'd managed to lob one of the pellets right into the grinning maw of the mech. More for him to clean.

SOmething about that much machinery coming after you really puts the spring in your step; the the pilot hauled ass away from the stop with an unmanly shriek. He had no chance at the exit however. Damn, if he didn't try though.

Doubling backward, hiding behind buildings, climbing up to rooftops to snipe at antennas. He had a 72% hit ratio, on a moving target with a paintball gun! If nothing else, the kid could shoot well.

Not that it was ever enough. The robot always stood between him and the exit. After forty minutes of furious dodging, near misses and a genuine moment where he'd almost made it; his legs gave out.

That moment had been clever. Incredibly clever, giving the limited time he had to work with. He'd sat a few bricks on the edge of a rooftop, balanced precariously. Him firing his gun uselessly in the air wasn't going to fool the Deep Field 2; even with most of it's sensors off. But a sudden CRASH, one that could have been him falling two stories or him now hanging on a ledge? Enough concern to get the mech to investigate...

...and find some broken bricks.

A quick check over at the exit, and he was running hard. He had a hand on his stomach, probably had a stitch in his side.

<Gotta make it gotta make it gotta make..>

wumph wumph Wumph WHAMP WHAMP

Like a fucking fright train. He hurt. He is tired. The rookie slowed to a halt and turned; panting, having stopped. He'd been caught. So much for the bonus of evading AND getting out.

------------------------------------

Colburn felt good about what she saw. They were playing! She'd seen Big Nine smile. It'd laughed, playing cat & mouse with it's pilot. Threatening comically (from way up there it is comical. From the ground it's fucking terrifying.), prodding gently. Encouraging the greenhorn without giving him a chance to rest.

 


 

Hawker paused to let the hits land, biting back a wry smile. They were like little wet taps, creating an uneven cluster of orange around his pelvic block, then up his belly, chest, then a few genuinely irritating hits to the face. He'd taken the mask off a short while earlier - his mistake. One of the paintballs spattered across an optic, exploded against his teeth. He wiped away the stuff with a growl, spat out the paint from his mouth.

Oh, that little shit was gonna get it.

Chris shot off like a bat out of hell when Hawker suddenly showed a renewed interest in actually taking him down, and then it was on.

---

Colburn had popped in during the last 15 minutes, nursing a hot tea. The first snow was sticking outside, and nobody had bothered to change the thermostat in the offices yet. It was still freezing upstairs.

"They playing nice?" she asked the tech managing the station.

The tech shrugged and gestured out the viewing window. "I mean... yeah, it looks like it."

She frowned and took a better look at the scene. Hawker looked just about ready for Halloween, all black and orange, as Chris deftly maneuvered about the building facades to outsmart and evade the mech. It was a game of attrition at this point, and both parties were playing their hands well.

"Any rough contact?"

"A little, but nothing that seemed too egregious. Big Nine's pushing buttons with purpose, not just to terrify the kid."

Colburn twisted up her face in thought. Maybe Kole was right... maybe everyone had misread the situation. But at the same time, it's not like those bruises and the yelling were just her imagination, either. The A-word was coming to mind again; the pattern of extreme ups and downs seemed to be playing itself out, at least. Another kind of bet had cropped up recently in the pool: 'Hawker renders Celn unfit to pilot'. It had 2 bets. Maybe it was too soon to tell, though.

And it would be a long time before it would ever even occur to her that maybe Chris liked being smacked around.

---

The mech caught him not by his wits or his superior physicality, but because Chris had essentially trained to failure. He stood beside one of the cars, holding onto it for balance as he caught his breath. Sweat dripped down his neck, darkened his shirt. Hawker had come running, but slowed to a stroll when he saw the kid had hit his wall, and stopped so close behind him that he practically stood between those massive tree-trunk legs.

Hands at his hips and he thrust out his codpiece the tiniest bit. The heat was in him again. This had been fun.

"Looks like Chris has the hang of this one, Big Nine," came Colburn's voice over the PA.

The mech turned, nodded to her in greeting. "As good as you can get in the crash room, at least."

"I think you should show him where the car wash is. You could use a bath," she laughed.

Hawker's mouth was tugged into a little smirk. Great minds think alike, Chief. He gently nudged Chris with his foot, hips swaying directly over his head. "How about it, kid? Can you walk or do I need to carry your ass?"

 


 

Chris really wished he had some paintballs left. He'd have loved to plant an orange blob Hawker's smug face one more time. He didn't know how much time had passed but it had felt like hours. His heart refused to stop hammering and he kept panting. If he wasn't leaning on the car then he'd be on his back in the dirt. He turned, giving his Captain an exhausted salute.

"You beat.. me Sir.." he managed between breaths, swallowing and wiping his brow with the back of his hand. "Thanks for.. giving.. me a.. fair shot.." he tiredly waved to the door. "of gettin'.. out."

As Colburn and the machine spoke, he wondered how long people had been observing. How long she'd been observing. He thought back to Ferdinand "Everyone watches Big Nine.." that meant everyone would watch him, too. God he is tired!

He was whipped enough to miss the first hip-thrust from his assertive partner. He didn't miss the second.

Car wash? Oh. Oh no. He instantly envisioned himself in a jockstrap and collar with nothing else. Hawker playing with it's immense arousal and telling him he'd missed a spot. 'Wash the underside again rookie, put your back into it.'

He set the paintball gun on the top of the car. Someone else could take care of it. He needed a rest before he had to get out a pressure washer and clean of 15 feet of horny mech.

Chris pushed off the car, putting himself in the open, nice and close to the toes of those boots. He raises up his arms, opening and closing his hands.

"Carry my ass. I see that look on your face." <And the swagger of your hips, big guy. We got time for 'talking'?> "If you're gonna make me soap you up, I want to rest after this."

------------------------------------

"That went better then expected. Celn's not nearly in the shape a pilot should be in though. His endurance is low, sprint speed is low." the tech checked over the results.

"Didn't do terrible. He's a fine shot with the paint gun. Looks like.. 68% hit rate by the end. And get this, 32% of those were vital! Hawker would be down a hand, some of the right leg, mouth, eye, comms and looking left. Of course, that was after getting captured 8 times. I'm not sure how that all works out. And he knows where to hit Hawker. He might not have that luxury with a real target."

Colburn felt warm, warmer then the tea she is holding when Hawker offered to pick up the rookie, and did a gentle foot nudge. That nudge would bruise anyone. Then the kid did the classic, pick me up please, gesture. Huh. Would be nice if they started to get along. The higher ups were already riding 42 about the pair's combat ability.

Chris had been in Hawker for a week and people were talking about patrol duty. A fracking WEEK! You wouldn't stick a fresh t5 in the field with only a week's experience. THe fact that Chris had steadily preformed and not dropped dead from what he'd gone through was a miracle. They couldn't get the greenhorn trained any faster.

"Good work. Celn, no decorating Hawker. Get him washed up." She smiled, taking her finger off the PA. Let 'em have some non-combat contact. Non-arguing contact. Maybe they'd be gentle with each other.

Chapter Text

<And the swagger of your hips, big guy. We got time for 'talking'?>

<Won't be able to talk much with your mouth full.>

"If you're gonna make me soap you up, I want to rest after this."

Hawker reached down and snaked his fingers under Chris's arms, lifting him up to a spot on his shoulder. There were many ways to grab a human; this was probably the most socially acceptable. "I'll take your request for R&R into consideration, rook."

He glanced back at where Colburn stood behind that taped-up glass in the viewing deck. She looked both pleasantly surprised and a little confused, and it was no mystery to him as to why. Hawker turned to the door and left, heading for the freight lift that would take them back to the lower motor pool and its adjacent wash station. They were no longer leaving a bad impression, and that's all that mattered.

 


 

Chris is warm from effort, his heart beats firmly against the thumbs on his chest. He liked behind held, and he did a hip-thrust of his own while he dangled.

<Promises, promises! Don't get your pilot riled up if you aren't going to deliver.>

Chris had plenty to hold onto when that high up. It really is amazing how smooth Hawker walked, he didn't jiggle on a footfall or lean and sway with each step. The ten minutes it took them to make the trip (Wow is the freight elevator slow!) the rookie stayed right where he'd been parked. They talked as well, dual conversations with a shared theme.

"They have markers your size that are safe to shoot me with?" Chris gestured with a hand, the other hanging on. "I'd imagine that it would fire baseball sized rounds. Plus, you would have perfect aim. You could probably write your name on my back. Or initials, at least. Thanks again for giving me a shot in there. I know if you turned on all your sensors, you'd probably know exactly where I was the whole time."

 


"Be glad I didn't have a marker back there," the mech chuckled as he stepped off the lift. "You'd be covered in welts by now. Especially for that stunt you pulled with the bricks? You're gettin' one for that."

The wash wasn't an especially private spot, but it was secluded and only way you'd see who was doing what in there was if you were standing in front of the space, which was set off to the side on one of the far ends of the motor pool and tucked around a small corner. It had an automatic wash setting where you could park the squad car or MRAV or whatever and let the sprayers move along the body on a track, or you could pick out one of the spray nozzles from the wall and do it by hand.

Chris was to do it by hand. Preferably with both hands.

Hawker set Chris down, this time with his giant fingers under his rear to give it a good squeeze. <Keep your pants on. I'm not in the mood to get caught,> he ordered.

The wash was not tall enough for him to walk into; it was designed for motor vehicles. So he ducked in and took a seat on the floor with his back to the wall. One leg stretched out, hands behind his head, smile on his lips.

"Channel your inner high school cheerleader at a car wash fundraiser," he snorted. "There's a big tip waiting for you." <Literally.>

 


He snerked at the idea of a big tip. Yeah, the mech would know all about that. Chris is looking forward to seeing that again. And again!

<Thankfully, the motor pool is warm year-round. If it was summer I could wear just short-shorts and spend hours getting you nice and clean.>

The bay had numerous tools to work with; from high-powered pressure washers, down to scrub brushes. After getting his behind goosed, which he couldn't help by make an adorable squeak from, he got a bucket of soapy water, hand brushes and sponges. He'd leave the pressure washer for later. It wasn't like he'd dumped enough rounds that the mech is dripping paint. "I"m going to start up at the bottom and work my way up."

<Which means I get to start between your legs, and finish with that handsome mug of yours.> After all, he should get to make the big bot wait needily. He was already feeling the growing stiffness in his pants.

A lounging Hawker is.. is just.. <I.. I.. > The way the machine looked with it's hands back like that! Confident. Amused. HUNGRY! <DAMN! I wish you could flop it out and blast a load on me right now!>

The sweaty greenhorn took his time walking around the boot, before he finally stood at the inside of the knee. Hawker looked like an olympic strong man. One made of metal, but if he were flesh the view Chris had would be of a prime beefcake. THe young pilot savored the vision, parking the bucket inches from that codpiece. One of the paintballs must had hit one of the 'special' seams, as it'd left quite a long drip down. he picked up the brush and went to work.

Warm hands, wet and slippery, slide over the heavy metallic armor. The brush's bristled flicked and swirled, pressing into the grooves. He grunted with effort, the water base paint foaming up with orange bubbles. He picked up the hose, it hung from an on the ceiling, just like in a self-service car wash.

Water sprayed all over the groin plate, removing the orange with a constant pressure. Chris smirked as he worked it up and down, up and down, stroking with the rinse. He held a hand out, fingers tracing up the inner thigh, feeling along the mechanical leg muscles, then he dunked the brush and attacked the spots of remaining orange again, working the brush in deliberately long and heavy strokes.

To say he was feeling the robot up is an understatement.

The second rinse though, actually got the the orange off. Dropping the tools in the bucket, he looped the hose over his shoulder and took the bucket in hand. The exposed mechanised muscles between Hawker's legs are plenty climbable. Normally covered with armor, in this position they showed off just part of what made the big bot move. Hands and feet, little touches as the pilot clambered up. He stopped and set the bucket down, getting up on his toes as he rubbed at a spot on the robot's abdominals.

The soapy water trickled down between the abs, flowing down where a belly button would be. He rested his right hand on the strong muscles, grunting as he worked off the paint.

"When I'm done here, pick me up so I can clean off that pretty face of yours, huh?" he teased.

 


 

"I'd imagine that it would fire baseball sized rounds. Plus, you would have perfect aim. You could probably write your name on my back. Or initials, at least."

"100% accuracy at distances under 200 yards under simulation conditions; 94-98% for anything up to a quarter mile away. Out on the street, the numbers are a few points less. I don't calculate for wind, humidity, or any of that fancier stuff, otherwise I'd be even more accurate."

"Thanks again for giving me a shot in there. I know if you turned on all your sensors, you'd probably know exactly where I was the whole time."

A little smile creased at the corner of his optic. "It was a meatspace simulation. Can only account for so many orders of complexity in an artificial environment like that, so I dumbed myself down accordingly. What you'll come to find out about me is that I always play fair, kid." Hawker gave his pilot a wink. "Except when I don't."

---

<Which means I get to start between your legs, and finish with that handsome mug of yours.>

"Whatever gets the job done," he said with wry amusement. Chris still had the collar on, and Hawker could feel the arousal beginning to build in that little body of his. His bright brown eyes took in the sight before him, though - the built landscape of Hawker's metal body - and the mech saw with his own optics that wonderful familiar sight of tenting in his pants. Short shorts would have been nice - or the jock strap, even, with the way it framed that delicious ass. But another image came to mind: Chris in his pilot suit, skin-tight and expertly tailored, unable to hide his arousal in even that most industrial of garments. Hawker imagined rubbing his thumb over that little bulge as Chris could do nothing but writhe in ecstasy until he exploded inside the suit, with the mech's name on his lips...

<DAMN! I wish you could flop it out and blast a load on me right now!>

His optics flashed a brighter yellow. <Don't tempt me.>

The rest was one of the hardest tests of his patience he'd had in recent memory, but holding back his building heat would be well worth the wait. When Chris took up position between his massive thighs, Hawker wanted nothing more than to grab his soft-haired head and shove it hard against his crotch to make him lick him clean instead.

As soon as his small hands, now wet and slick with soap, touched him, Hawker couldn't help 'settling' further into his sitting posture by slightly adjusting the angle of his pelvic block. He rolled that hard, bulging crotch up into Chris's soapy just enough for the pilot to notice - but not enough for the security camera to pick up.

<Mm.>

He did it again - a slightly more obvious buck - when the heavy spray of the power washer hit him. The sensation was fan-fucking-tastic, and Hawker's bedroom eyes were beginning to turn into something a little more sinister.

<I wish I could feel that directly on my cock. Probably blow a load powerful enough to throw you against the wall.>

Chris continued his sensual scrub-down. He wasn't using just his arms, but the whole of his still-marbled body. The mech could feel his legs ache with fatigue over their connection, could feel the smarting of the bites that were only just beginning to fade from blue to bright purple. He'd look cute with a bloody nose and a black eye, he idly decided. Too bad his hands were big enough to cave in his skull instead.

Chris climbing him was an erotically precious sight, though. A landscape of a body for sure, with the kid the intrepid explorer. A joke about mountain climbing and altitude sickness came to him and he chuckled to himself.

He hadn't had this much attention paid to his abdominal armor in a long while. Little fingers deftly cleaned out the seams between the intricately overlaid armor lames, taking little spots of dust and oil along with the obnoxiously colored paint. Hawker thought about turning this into a weekly routine. Surely, his subordinate wouldn't deny him. Not that he could!

"When I'm done here, pick me up so I can clean off that pretty face of yours, huh?"

Another little thrust that threatened Chris' balance. Hands still behind his head as he tilted his head to the side. <Only if I get to make a mess of yours later.> Only then did he offer his hand, palm up and ready to receive a very fuckable little rear.

 


 

<Don't think water and your office would work out well. Maybe late some night, you could sit with your back to the doorway of the wash ;and I'll get your dick soapy and hose it down. If you think we could get away with it.> The kid did enjoy doing naughty things just out of sight. Probably tied in with how he liked sporting the signs of the mech's lust on his smooth skin.

He wore his combat boots. They did a good job of keeping his feet dry, but soapy water and a bucking mech didn't make for great traction. He didn't sit down, that perky butt of his landed into the unyielding titanium palm. "Ow.." he grumbled. <Fuck, practically spanked myself!> From that seated position he picked up the bucket and make sure to run the hose over those abdominals.

"Okay, take me up."

The big face loomed, then he is brought up to meet it. This close he could talk out loud and its likely no one could overhear.

"Please hold your eye still. Don't blink. I'll be gentle."

He stayed steady, his knees brushing the mech's chin. He dunked the sponge in the bucket, carefully wiping over the machine's optics first, carefully spraying down the eye with a mist, then using the sponge again. The machine didn't have an organic's sensitivities, but that didn't stop the fact that this IS Hawker's eye.

Gentle hands, worked the sponge over the optics a final time. He used the flesh of his thumb to get the last little flecks of orange off the glowing yellow surface. "Okay, close your eyelid." He worked again, dealing with the soft 'skin' of the mech. His hands are warm. Caring. THe feeling over the link with him this close is just of a genuine desire to care for the large machine. He rinsed again. "Okay, blink a few times. Ya good?"

"Allright, I need to brush your teeth. Open wide and say AAAAHHH!"

This.. Chris had been looking forward to. He wished he could pull off his shirt and CRAWL in. He thoroughly hoses off the brush he had, ensuring the bristles were free of suds. "Don't wanna wash your mouth out with soap."

<Despite the fact that we've been thinking dirty enough stuff. If this takes much longer you'd pin me down and grind until we got off.>

He ran the brush over every tooth, scrubbing along the shining denta. He worked the brush along the roof of the mech's mouth, down around the area under the tongue, over the molars, around the gums and over the wiggling surface of the tongue itself. When he is satisfied with the oral care, he hosed out the mouth, laughing as Hawker gargled.

It'd be a hell of a way to spend a Sunday, washing the big mech. There's only one part he wanted to wax though.

"Ya good and clean now? Am I done for th' day?" If the bot didn't take him into his office for a rousing 'discussion', the pilot was going to be mighty sad.

 


 

This was hilarous! And, if he permitted himself to be honest, endearing. The kid genuinely cared, and it showed in the detail he paid mind to as he washed the clear surface of his optic. The vital moving parts were located behind the almond-shaped polymer pane, so he wasn't so sensitive as a human was regarding the sight organs.

Chris' servile inclinations... inspired something else in him. A gentler kind of domination, maybe. Not a month went by where the big mech wasn't maintenanced by a bunch of techs, but this was intimate. Doting. The kid was in service to his giant machine captain. And as a captain, it was Hawker's inclination to take charge, desire deference, and apparently, relish in the kinder moments of his little human pilot's expressions of devotion. Interesting how even now, the mech felt the thrill of ownership.

He blinked, pleased at Chris' job well done.

<If this takes much longer you'd pin me down and grind until we got off.>

Hawker smirked and projected an image of him suspended above the floor like he were doing pushups. Except instead of pushups... Chris was pinned underneath his huge, thick length as the mech thrust down and forward, sliding in and out of the kid's tiny embrace.

<I'd be fine with this.>

He opened his mouth wide, letting his tongue slide across his denta in a lewd display of oral fixation. It really was too bad he couldn't fit Chris in there, toss him around on the mass of his tongue, pin him to the roof of his mouth, gently crush him between his teeth...

That's it. Hawker decided that today was the day he'd finally try eating his goddamn pilot.

The oral detailing job was thrilling and altogether more pleasurable than he was expecting. Every time Chris stuck his arm inside up to the elbow, the mech would close his lips around the limb and give a long, tantalizing lick before letting him go again, optics fixed on Chris' face to watch his reaction.

At last, he opened wide once again to let the kid fill his mouth with clean water. It sloshed around under his tongue, and he did a bit of gargling for show more than anything before spitting it out. "Ah."

"Ya good and clean now? Am I done for th' day?"

As much as they both wanted nothing more than to fuck and be fucked red and raw, it really was his job as superior officer, owner, and sadist to make the kid do a few things that he did not actually want to do. Hawker pretended to hum and haw for a moment before setting Chris down again on the floor and returning his hands to where they'd been behind his head.

"You missed my feet, greenhorn. The crash room's pretty filthy. I'd rather not drag the outdoors into my office if I can avoid it." <Careful... better do a good job or I'll make you lick 'em clean,> he laughed over their connection.

 


 

The truth was, none of the other techs would have risked an arm to brush Hawker's teeth. The mech probably wouldn't have let them either. Chris felt pride at the sight of his Boss looking clean and proper. And he had a raging boner no thanks to how it'd felt! It had been amazing, to be allowed so close and explore that huge mouth. When he'd made eye contact with the large mech, hole his arm got sucked on..

..fuck..

Chris didn't know he wanted to be eaten by his superior until that moment.

"Aye Sir. Get the gunk out of your treads." The kid made his way over to the end of those legs and.. he whistled. "What'd you step IN? Everything?"

 

When He'd walked away, he'd made sure to walk on his toes, ensuring that his butt danced noticeably as he'd moved. The rookie adjusted the pressure on the hose.

"Hope you aren't ticklish!" Fuck, Hawker is a sexy man. He could almost imagine that their size difference was a trick of perspective from this angle. His captain had a smirk and biceps. Big fucking guns! Chris shouldered the wand of the pressure washer and blasted the water stream at the left boot.

Standing right infront of where he'd been aiming, the back blast knocked grime onto his shirt, pants and face. "Ack! Psssbpt!" He lifted up his shirt, wiping off his face and spitting. "Pthbpt! UGH!" His smooth stomach had a lovely marbling of blues and greens and red. Lesson learned, he fired at an angle. Big globs of mud and debris fell from the complicated design of the boots. As Hawker flexed his 'toes' the treads moved and revealed more junk for the greenhorn to remove. After five minutes he'd finished rinsing. He went looking and found himself a brush on a stick, almost a pushbroom really. With his aching arms, he dunked and scrubbed. And dunked and scrubbed. Another ten before he finished with that, and the rinse took even longer!

Plunking the brush into the soapy bucket, he crouched down into a squat. He rubbed over his arms, hands opening and closing mechanically. The AI could feet the ache in it's pilot, the sensation of heavy fatigue and the chill from the cold water. The constant abused, the continuous exercise is making the kid burn down. He stayed in that position until a friendly reminder from on high got him pushing on his knees to get back up. Gritting his teeth, he went about the business of cleaning the Boss's other foot.

<I'm going to die of exhaustion!>

At least he wasn't pushing out the front of his pants anymore.

 

 


 

While Chris' arousal dissipated as he went about the much messier task of hosing down the mech's boots, Hawker's did not. Making the human do something unpleasant and having him do it without hesitation? It fueled his fission-powered heat just fine. Chris would be rewarded handsomely for his labor in due time, even though he was making him wait a few extra minutes for it.

"Hope you aren't ticklish!"

Hawker chuckled, splaying the bottom of his foot open to reveal a shapely tread pattern. Truthfully, he hadn't had them cleaned out in probably two months. It was about time.

Sensation in his feet was dull compared to his hands, but this wasn't about tactility for him so much as it was about watching his good little pilot, dwarfed by those enormous stompers, scrub away in spite of his fatigue. It was about making him suffer just a tiny bit, and reinforcing their deliciously fucked up relationship.

When Chris was hit with the dirty water, Hawker couldn't suppress a bark of laughter. The mech wanted to tell him to just take the shirt off entirely, but the splotchy rainbows decorating his smooth, tight skin made him remember the surveillance camera and he stayed silent.

Chris was hurting again soon enough, and for real. He was such a good sport about it!

"Just a little more, kid." <Be good for me.>

<I'm going to die of exhaustion!>

Hawker cocked a bemused brow at him. <Not until I give you permission, I hope,> he thought wryly.

But part of being a functional sadist was knowing when to let up, so as soon as Chris was done hosing down his right boot, he gently reminded him to put the put his supplies away in an orderly fashion as the mech squeezed unceremoniously outside, finally able to stand.

He would have preferred a few minutes with the blowers as well, but what was a little water? His giant black frame shimmered with moisture and he dripped onto the floor. He snatched up a microfiber cloth from a basket just outside the door - barely the size of a cocktail napkin to him - to at least dry off his face. When he was done he tossed it back where he'd gotten it, and Chris was standing, looking a little worse for wear, beside him.

"I have to carry you again, don't I?" There was a wink on his voice, and he reached down for him. It took all he had not to broadcast what he had in mind across their connection; Hawker wanted to savor the surprise.

---

When they returned, now behind closed doors and without surveillance, Hawker deposited the human down onto his desk again and wasted no time covering his face with a pair of forceful lips that pushed him onto his back. With a pleased groan he engaged those hidden seams and let his arousal spring out, stiff and just as huge as the rest of him.

"Hope you're not too tired to have a little fun..."

 


 

Chris needed to get the heck out of the way as hawker scooted out. The open space in the wash bay is perhaps 12 feet tall, but the ceiling is a mess of hoses, automatic brushes and sprayers. He got to see Hawker on his knees, at least for a moment. Most of that great armored black shape had a sheen of wetness to it. Chris hadn't seen the HLX-9 wet yet, and the dark armor had a depth to its finish he hadn't noticed before. He'd never even seen the robot outside, for that matter. Hawker looked good.

He didn't protest when the hand that held him squeezed a little too tightly, he rested his arm over the thumb as it compressed him to the palm. Arms that'd spent the morning punching and the afternoon washing just wanted to flop where they leay, so he felt delightfully pliable.

 

Chapter Text

Hawker's office. THe massive door moved on it's own power, having opened on their approach and began closing behind those freshly cleaned boots. The rookie didn't even have time to pull off his damp shit before he'd been smooched! Bowled over, he did honestly try to kiss back but he wasn't sure where the lips started and ended! All he could see and feel is the potent kiss. He tiredly rubbed the handsome face, feeling stunend and overwhelmed.

"Hope you're not too tired to have a little fun..."

He sure moved quick now, having seeing his Captain's fat shaft; three feet of metallic alloy that's ready to break through reinforced concrete! Shirt off, and oh wow! As he rapidly worked at the shoelaces on his boots, the marks from the previous day lay gloriously on his bare skin. The teeth marks on his neck and arm particularly vivita. His back and face were nearly blank right now. The arm that had been chewed did have a pretty, tye-dyed look to the skin.

Kick, kick; the boots dropped down wetly. Socks peel off and those toes wiggle in their newfound freedom. THe sweatpants and jockstrap follow. Oh, oh yes. The cute little human erection hard on his belly, balls nicely seated at the base. His leg bored the dark bite mark of his owner, his superior. "Too tired for fun? I hope you don't ever work me that hard! Hmmm. Of course, that'd just mean you rub up against me until you finished." He smirked, legs apart as he sprawled on the desk.

<I do have a medical exam tomorrow at 0900. So what you do is gonna get recorded for posterity.> His cute face screwed up in a masochistic smile. Putting his arms behind his head, he mimicked the position of the big man from earlier. He needed bigger muscles to make it the position look good. Right now he is just cute and damaged.

"I want a meal from you big bot. I want you all over and in me. Leave some marks and get us off already!" His dick jumped, and he licked over his lips as he alternated looking at the broad schlong and the greedy look on the robot's face.

 


 

"Of course, that'd just mean you rub up against me until you finished."

"I'd be more than happy to finish all over you no matter what state you were in." He let the dubiousness of those words sink in, grinning wickedly. He imagined somehow being able to give the kid his morning wake-up call with an unnanounced smear of pre to the face.

<I do have a medical exam tomorrow at 0900. So what you do is gonna get recorded for posterity.>

Hawker slowly rubbed his cockhead against the edge of the desk as his optics raked over his pilot's handsome little body. Hands behind his head, legs out, he even had the smug look on his face. But with those bruises and that collar, it was no question as to who was in charge.

"We wouldn't want to give Colburn a heart attack," he chuckled. "Contrary to popular belief, I do like a few people around here."

The mech reached down to stroke himself as he leaned in to graze his teeth across Chris' flat belly, rumbling when the kid instinctively drew in a breath. Tongue followed, and he trailed slowly south until his lips found that little cock again. He opened wide, taking everything into his great mouth: shaft, balls, thighs. Licking, sucking, savoring. Chris' small, breathy noises made him harder. And deep inside of him, that secret probe warmed in anticipation.

But he didn't linger there for long. A few measured strokes and he left to nibble and drag his lips down across each leg, up and down each arm, taking each limb into his mouth and letting the... foretaste build for the both of them.

"Turn over," he ordered quietly. When Chris did as told, Hawker continued along his backside, giving a little extra attention to that perky little ass. He noticed that the skin there was relatively free of marks, and this was unacceptable to him. He bit down, and bit down hard. His cock jumped at Chris' reaction, and he fisted himself faster. "Mmh..." That one he knew he wanted blue - wanted Chris to feel it every time he sat down for the next week. He rewarded his good little pet with a tongue between the ass cheeks, lubing him up from balls to tailbone, and lapping a few times at his quivering hole.

<I'll train you to take my tongue soon enough. But for now...> He drew back and sat down in the chair, popping his hatches. Pfssst chakchakchak! <You're going on an adventure.> "Collar off, greenhorn. Get in."

 


 

Chris imagined Hawker pushing that monster under his sheets as he slept. Snuggling up to the warm metallic girth, before the mech woke him up to deal with that morning wood steel, obscenely dripping pre onto his face.

"Contrary to popular belief, I do like a few people around here."

"What?" came his humerous rebuttal, a laugh coming out with his amusement. "Kole, Colburn, Preston? I'm not sure you like me yet." he teased.

Any doubts he had, even comical ones, went away as the handsome machine pleased him in a way no one else could. Chris tastes GOOD. He'd been hard and soft multiple times, so his sweet precum had added to the flavors of sweat and his natural musk. And more of the sweet natural sweetness would come out to dot little highlights of flavor. He squirmed and shuddered, hands pressing on the mech's nose, he whined happily. Even when being pleasured, he had no control.

His body slowly got washed clean by the mech, soon there wasn't an inch of his flesh that hadn't been touch by those lips; the immense teeth had threatened and snapped at him here and there. As he collected more bruises and carried old ones, the tapestry of pain he carried meant less places for a new additions. Rolling over, he pushed his rear upward and spread his legs.

Like a white peach, those twin cheeks stood perky and perfect, his balls just visible below. His whimper turned into a true pained cry, his hands balling into fists and he pounded them to the desk. Fresh pain rolled over the connection like thunder. The boy sweat a sheen from that, his skin glistening in the lights of the office. He left a drop of lubricant on the desk, groaning with pleasure as the robot slathered up and down between his legs.

<Don't tease about that Sir! You put that tongue between my cheeks until I can take it!> But he's not in control, is he?

Chris wasn't cleared for interfacing yet. He needed to wait for medical to clear him for service.

Hawker's orders had him crushing the off switch as he scrambled to his feet. The collar got left on the desk as he moved with the energy of his raging arousal. The rookie pilot crossed the distance in moments, hitting the cushions of the piloting chair with a regretful howl! "FUCK! Did you really have to chomp my ass? Ow fuck fuck.."

Feet in position, he dropped his hands in position and pressed the button to engage their interface.

No suit. No shoes. Nothing at all, his naked flesh housed by Hawker's steel. The restrains curled around him and pressed on the raw bruises, washing him with the pain anew. It hurt. It felt amazing. He wanted to jerk off, to please his bobbing arousal. But his arms were locked down firm. He felt the helmet surround his head and lock up tight, the interface seating securely.

Nude in the stomach of Big Nine. Then his mind swam as they joined.

 


 

The feeling of bare flesh against his insides was almost more than he could handle. Hawker engaged the restraints, feeling them curl around Chris' aching, beaten body, holding him tight in a strange iron grip. The mech's neural interface cradled his pilot's head, slithered across his scalp before securing such precious cargo.

"Trust me, this won't be like our previous interfaces. It'll only hurt a little..." Those were his last spoken words as the hatches closed, leaving Chris in a dim belly dotted with a rainbow of LED status lights. With that, the plug slid in, seated, and that familiar haze rushed to meet them.

---

They were back where they'd just been: Chris on Hawker's desk, and the machine giant standing before him, shaft straining. If the human had blinked, he might've missed it; wondered if he hadn't imagined their interface at all. Nothing seemed different or out of the ordinary, and the only clue that they were, in fact, linked was the undeniable mingling of each others' minds.

"Now where was I?" Hawker's neurospace self said, diving back in to continue where he'd left off. He could taste Chris here - and fuck was it addicting! Sweet like coolant, tangy like solvent, musky like oil... but all organic. All warm and fleshy and full of living, pumping blood. He groaned with pleasure. "If only I could tie you to a popsicle stick and suck on you all day long..."

His systems rumbled fiercely when his mouth made contact again with Chris' body. His mouth was busy, and he didn't want to interrupt, so: <You will come twice this time. Once now, and once again later,> he firmly impressed on the squirmy, excitable little thing underneath him. <How long it takes you to get hard again doesn't matter to me, though don't be surprised if things are different here.>

He grabbed Chris' thighs with a surprising roughness, drawing them up and apart to fully expose him. He stared hungrily for a moment before lapping and sucking on everything he had from prick to ass and rumbling his lecherous enjoyment. He drew circles around the kid's asshole with his immense tongue, before pressing the tip of it to the opening and exerting pressure against that tight muscle.

<What's the biggest cock you've taken? How stretched open was my little pilot?>

 


 

The disorientation lasted longer than he'd expected. Normally he'd be seeing with Hawker's eyes, becoming the 15 foot machine. Instead, they stayed separate and a world built around them. It felt just like it moments ago. The cool desk on his back. Impossibly strong hands that pulled his thighs apart.

Here the connection flowed without hindrance. Hawker could taste, he could pull on his pilot's knowledge of flavors. Things like salt, the tang of bitterness, tongue feel; even the way the boy's skin felt against his gums.

When Chris spoke, he'd had trouble making things throughs, the robot surrounded with pleasure that he didn't know could exist. He bordered on popping right now, his shaft dancing and jumping with need, spitting out the little dollops of natural lubricant. Everything felt real, and he easily forgot he is trapped within the form of his lecherous Captain.

"Twice? Oh gods Hawker! I'm not going to be able to move after this." He has the distinct line between his perky and bitten rear; and the muscled flowing line of a shapely thigh. Each cheek pushed equally apart as the unstoppable oral muscle shouldered his butt open, pressing at that pucker. He had a clean, musky flavor. THe taste of a well maintained, yet exercised young man. The flavor that should arouse the need of a domineering male to penetrate and claim the pilot as his own.

"What's the biggest cock you've taken? How stretched open was my little pilot?"

----
Suddenly, Chris's mind reached back to the academy. He'd had dalliances as a teenager, but that'd been with other guys his age. Blowjobs, mutual fingering. But he'd been sweet on anther guy who had been in training with him. Another scab. Andrew. THe young pilots had spent time eyeing each other in the showers. Touching. Kisses. They'd linked up and played in neurospace, experimenting with fantasy. Andrew was less hung then Chris but thicker. 6 by 2. That'd been the only other person to repeated take the pilot. They'd gotten each other through the school. Andrew had gone off to the warm sunny west coast, to enjoy the California sun as a pilot on the sunny beaches. He wanted Chris to come with him, but the stubborn Chicago native wanted to try and help his home city.
----

"N-nothing like you've got." He admitted, trying to buck his hips to get more traction against his anal cleft. But it is impossible, Hawker held him firmer then he could dream. In the cockpit his legs tensed and shook, fighting futilely against the restrains. "Even your smallest finger is bigger then anything that's ever been in me. You'll be deeper, stretch me wider then anyone. I want you to mold me." he smirks, "Make me fit around you!"

 


 

"Oh gods Hawker! I'm not going to be able to move after this."

A private thought: That sounds enticing too...

If Chris was needy before, then this was a whole new level. His every thwarted thrust, his every twitch and tingle, was punctuated by a synesthesic dance of color, smell, taste, and sound. Hawker could feel the rush of sex hormones, the epinephrine and endorphin, the rush of beating blood to his hot, reddened prick. He could almost feel his own tongue on that shaft, another reverberating effect of Infinite Mirror.

He relived the flicker of memories alongside his human - he permitted himself to imagine both Chris and Andrew between his legs and betting for his massive load - and found them erotic and endearing. How cute, two evenly-matched little bodies fucking each other in a soft bed? His Chris, whimpering and sighing, cock spurting its globs in miniature when he couldn't take any more.

"Mmph... mmyeah......"

He went back to that hole though. Enticed by its amazing smallness. Hawker wanted to bury himself in there somehow. Use the kid as a cocksleeve. Fuck him so hard he could taste it. The mech pushed, and eventually Chris' body yielded deliciously to his invading tongue. Where he wasn't held in Hawker's vice grip, Chris writhed.

In the chair outside he reached for himself and stroked.

He buried himself another few inches, the girth of his tongue here several inches in diameter. But it would only hurt if Chris either chose for it to, or if he forgot that he was in neurospace.

<God you taste so fucking good.> Chris was stretched around him, muscles struggling to push him out, but he held firm. Inside the kid was impossibly tight, pillowy soft, and hot. Spectacularly hot. <I can taste your heartbeat...> Those little pairs of drumbeats ran quick now, he could feel them.

Another inch, another squirm.

 

 


 

Chris didn't know for sure if Andrew would have share his submission to Hawker, but he knew his previous partner would have enjoyed that monstrous metal dick. They'd have hugged it between them, rode it like a hose, kissed the tip and bathed in the absurd output the mech produced. Mmmpf. A harem for Hawker.

Neurospace allowed for the impossible. Chris wanted to be filled by the domineering AI. He needed that kind of control and safety. He wanted to know that the most dangerous thing watched out for him. If if that force hurt him a little in the process, well, that's just icing on the cake. His flat stomach became rounded, little waves of motion appearing as the tongue penetrated his depths.

That pink ring stretched beyond what should be possible! More and more of that gloriously writhing muscle filled his dusky tunnel. The smell, the flavor! The delicious sensation of the tight body, unsure and eager to be claimed by the more powerful male. In his mind, the smirking face of the mech kept his hands from allowing him to self-pleasure. But it is the restraints in the forgotten cockpit that bound his arms, his shaft twitching, so achingly hard that it lifted off his stomach and bobbed in the air.

<I can taste your heartbeat...>

He could feel it. The tongue have reached an impossible depth, the robot casually invading his fragile organic form, the tongue slathering it's saliva over his frantic, beating heart.

"NNNGH!" The feelings overwhelmed him and he fell into a hazy lust of an orgasam! He splattered the six cumshots onto his stomach, each one a thigh-clenching volley that made his balls ache. In neurospace..

He poured out his seed into the mouth of the mighty machine! He rolled his hips, slipping his length the slight inches that he could when bound by those hands. His inner muscles rippled, squeezing and milking along the point where he'd been turned into Hawker's puppet. With a deep exhales he sagged in the perverse embrace.

Still hard, still filled. He could sense the appetite of his Captain behind him. He want more, so much more from his pilot. "I'm.. I'm ready Sir." Chris wasn't sure what he is quite ready for, but he knew that he needed to admit it. He knew the big bot wanted him to admit his need. "Please!"

 


 

Hawker worked himself in to the teeth, curling the end of his tongue upward in a 'come hither' motion. After a few moments of agonizing bliss, he withdrew and plunged back in.

The mech was much more aware of both worlds than the human could ever be. If Chris' aptitude for neurospace meant that he could dictate the terms of their connection unilaterally, then Hawker's was that he was designed to be immersed in and conscious of both. When his trapped little pilot came inside of him, spurting all over himself, he could feel that. He could feel the taut tendons, the muscles gone rigid, the heaving, labored breaths, the tremulous arching against the restraints and seatback.

And when Chris came in neurospace, he felt that too. The little jets of thick, warm cum splashed against his palate. His puckered hole squeezed tight, almost shivering. Velvet insides trembled and heartbeat hastened.

Outside, the mech in the chair bucked into his own hand and rumbled fiercely, but he was patient when he wanted to be. For now he was going to edge - he wanted to save all of that pent-up arousal for the grander finale.

In the midscape, Hawker slowly withdrew his tongue, savoring the taste of the kid's sweet, musky load. Salty. Like blood, like sweat, like tears: some of his favorite things. His human fell back against the desk like a rag doll, heaving deep, open-mouthed breaths. His own dainty pink tongue practically lolling out. But expectation was thick in the air - even without his previous warning of two orgasms, the metal giant exuded it like a pheromone.

"I'm... I'm ready Sir."

With Chris' taste still on his lips, he kissed him deeply, drew his thumb down that delicate jawline.

<Good boy.>

Then, things started to change. It would he hard to tell at first, but it would soon be apparent to Chris that Hawker was steadily growing. The mech's mouth on his would seem to cover more and more of his face, that his fingers splayed along the kid's shoulder were now two to its width instead of four, that his nose suddenly pressed into his hair rather than his cheek.

Did it stop? Hawker knew that it did, at which point he pulled his now 3-foot face away from Chris, optics intense in their golden glow. "Good boy," he repeated, his mouth twisted into a wide smirk as he hunched over his prey. The human was now barely taller than his hand from heel to fingertip, and the mech couldn't help but imagine all sorts of horrible things he could do to a human body at this size.

If Chris wanted to see him on his knees again, he was getting the opportunity now. Hawker was far too massive to stand in here, but that was no matter. He planned on getting comfortable for this anyways.

"How's the view from all the way down there?"

 

 


 

 

Somehow, the removal of the tongue really hit home how deep the big man had been. It pulled out and out and out! When the devious, talented tip finally withdrew from his well-stretched ring, the pilot could feel air inside him. His depts were visable, the overworked boybutt winked as it struggled to close again.

Chris's vision had waves and stars as he ran from the high of getting off to the warm afterglow and kisses from his lover. Those lips puckered up, their touch going from just below his nose down to the bottom of his chin. Lover is a good word for how he felt about Hawker. They shared interests, spent time with each other well, and seems to fill out each other's perversions. He didn't even notice the growth at first.

The hand on his back increased its weight. THe tongue filled his mouth, expanding and pressing his cheeks outward, delving into his throat and pulling out past his lips. It was only when the lips of his boss pushed over his eyebrows that he realised something sneaky had been going on.

When he'd been washing the boots of his kinky tormentor, he could have believed that their size difference is a trick of the eyes. He could have gotten that kind of view by laying his head at the boots of someone his own size. There is no such possibility now, Hawker had grown to a size that dwarfed buildings. One hand covered him like a blanket, the other could touch the ceiling with ease. Hawker grew until he filled a good chuck of the space in the office.

The mech had to be kneeling to fit! Even then the now six foot phallus bobbed and swung in the air over home. Chris could lay on it, his feet against the robot's hips and his head wouldn't even reach the end! He probably could stick his arm down the cumsilt and feel the load coming up before it blasted him across the desk! He struggled to rises, but even the counterbalanced dead weight of that hand is too much for his exhausted body.

Prey. He saw a hungry reflected int hat golden gaze. The smirk revealing the gleam of teeth, each tooth bigger then his hands.

The damage Hawker could do now. The differences before had been laughable. But now he felt helpless. Hawker had become a god, able to destroy him with a whim or cripple him with the simplest gesture. Pain would come, whether he was ready or not.

"How's the view from all the way down there?"

THe voice boomed from on high, it is all so appropriate. Chris didn't fight the alterations, he permitted himself to be tiny and insignificant because of how good it felt.

The boss in control.

"Damn fine!" he shouted, feeling the need to call up. His legs were a touch shorter then Hawkers fingers. The hand on him could turn into a fist that could easily encompass his body, with the thumb pressing up under his neck. "So, you sexy giant, what more surprises do you have for your happy pilot?"

 

 


 

 

Chris' brows shot up when he realized just how big Hawker had become, and a look of pleasant surprise crossed his face. The human was beaming with excitement at this new development - all the better for him. It seemed to the now-massive mech that there was something truly special about Chris letting something as big and imposing as an HLX-9 violate him, letting himself be squeezed like putty in such powerful hands.

"So, you sexy giant, what more surprises do you have for your happy pilot?"

Hawker smiled at the ego-stroking, matching it with a little neurospace stroking of his own. His hand slid up and down his battering ram of a cock, smearing a dribble of lubricant along his gunmetal length. Some of it dripped onto the floor in a viscous glob.

"Nothing you hadn't thought of first, kiddo."

His free hand grasped Chris like a toy, turning him over so that he laid face up in his open palm. The mech found a spot on the ground to sit against the wall, much like he'd done while his dutiful little pilot had soaped up his hard frame. He brought Chris up to his face, unable to suppress that hungry grin. He licked his lips, and the unspoken feeling they shared across their link changed suddenly - to a lower, more ominous note, or a prickling heat as Hawker allowed his mental presence to expand and press against his subordinate's.

He started with the kid's legs, taking them inch by inch into his mouth, sucking the flesh past his teeth and rubbing his tongue all over those firm calves. Chris' taste was exquisite; the feel of those little limbs squirming and moving around the inside of his hot, wet mouth was going to drive him wild. Still, he kept the strokes along his huge cock steady - patience.

<You're going to feel so good going down...>

 

 


 

 

Briefly Chris took in the picture of that moment. He tried to sear it into his memory, wanting to remember it forever. He sat nude in the palm of a hand as big as him. THe colossal robot stroking it's bigger-then-Celn sized fuckpole with tho ether. And just why was it working it's crank with intensity? It is going to eat him. Stuff him down it's gullet.

Consume.
Digest.

Chris is going to be swallowed. It was all he could do not to join in the stroking when that mouth opened. It'd become a much larger mouth now, defiantly more then big enough to do the job. He could see where in the back the throat lay. That wet surface now had a tunnel. A constrictive tube that'd he'd be inside for a time. The interior of Hawker's mouth is constructed of the same 'skin' as his face. The tongue looked wet, it ripples and smeared slickness on his feet.

Saliva.
Lubricant for making him slip down.

<You're going to feel so good going down...>

Despite have cum minutes before, his dick stood at attention for his Captain. Fuck, had he wanted to do this and now it is really happening. In neurospace, but how amazing it all felt! The teeth just below his knees, preventing him from pulling out.

He did laugh, the sensation on his feet did tickle, and he did a little kick just to show how little he could do to prevent being eaten. SOme primal part of his mind felt fear, not wanting to have that enormous face get it's dinner. He reached forward, sliding his hand into that mouth and stroking over the tongue, getting a sensation for how it felt in every way possible.

Then he uses that we hand to grease up his pole, teasing a finger along the sensitive underside as he bathed in the yellow glow of Hawker's vision. "YOu going to eat me? Swallow me whole? Feel me slide down into your stomach?" THumb and forefinger on his dick now, he looked down as those lips smirked around his legs. All those weird, dark and delicious thoughts about being consumed came to his mind. He spoke..

"Nothing will be left. Just me becoming a small part of you. Making you bigger and stronger. That's the best part of digestion. You don't even have to think about how to utilize me. Just going about your day as I make you greater.."

 

 


 

Hawker had no intention of digesting him - though it was possible here - but his enthusiasm was compelling. No, it was more than just compelling: it made the killing machine want to do it!

With a sudden rush of tongue and teeth, and a roaring of 6 motors, Chris was thrown back into the mech's gullet past the hips. Hawker's lips clamped down around his slim waist and his tongue roughly forced his thighs apart to coat his absolutely tiny rod with thick, hot spit. He bit down around that waist, and hard, straining the flesh. So fragile, so many important things under those lean ab muscles. If anything should happen to any of them...

<You'd be grease for my servos,> he mentally growled back. <My body would pick yours apart, piece by piece... you'd be made into oil, or a mere vent of hot, dusty air. Or if you were lucky, maybe you'd become my next load of cum, dripping down the wall. So many ways for good little boys like you to be useful to me.>

He lapped him in up to the chest, feeling his feet at the back of his throat now. Anatomy that he didn't even have outside of neurospace warmed and throbbed as he eagerly awaited that feeling of intense fullness, of constriction around a small and helpless morsel of prey. Tongue lifted Chris' ass up until his hard prick was pressed against the roof of his mouth. Slurping and slicking and groaning.

God, the taste. The sensation of firm, living flesh filling his maw...

<You've wanted this for a while, haven't you, you filthy little scab? Getting fucked by your boss wasn't enough, getting abused wasn't enough... you need complete and utter surrender, don't you? You crave to be put in your place. Well guess what, kid, your place is inside me.>

 


 

The only real regret Chris felt, is that he'd never be able to have the horizontal bite marks up and down his body. Knowing that the engine of destruction would happily convert him into nothing? That idea just had him painfully throbbing!

His toes pressed against the back of Hawker's mouth. The arches of his feet land on the oversized masseter muscles. He could feel the clenching of the jaw as it tightened around his middle. Blasts of air from Hawker's nose whirled around him. smelling the perspiration of the boy, tasting his prey.

Lips sealed around him and Hawker sucked. Not pushing him in with the hand that supported his shoulders and kept him up at that face. No, just pulling him in like a spaghetti noodle. Slurping him inward. <You'd become my next load of cum, dripping down the wall.> That huge tongue lifted him, knocking his feet off their perch, toying with his opened rear and pushing his dick over the hot ridges on the ceiling of Hawker's mouth.

Fear mixed with his lust and he decided he wanted to struggle. He wanted to know if anything, anything at all could stop the inevitable. He grinned, the adrenaline pushing through him as he places his hand on the upper lip of his Boss and locked his elbows. Even with his exhaustion, when a guy locks his knees he feel like he can stand forever. With his arms solid, he should be able to keep himself out.

That sense of superiority lasts a few seconds, them the robot smiles. His fingers slide from lips to deet, then he does deeper. His feet skate across the back of the mouth, coming together at the entrance to that throat. He can feel the automatic swallowing, the natural squeezing and pulling stroking over his feet. He's going to go down! He'll be taken in.

<Well guess what, kid, your place is inside me.>

He is thankful for the teeth now, they're what's keeping him from being lunch. He flailed, he panicked, the normally cool Celn struggled against the inevitable embrace of the machine that owned him!

"NO! Please.. I .. oh god, I.." he shuddered, the heavy tongue lolled around him, helping him sink just a tiny bit further. His fear is a spice, a flare of sudden flavor that helps make the mech's mouth water. THe sudden rush of silicone salivar ensures Chris can barely even grasp the teeth. His dick PAINFULLY ached, so close to erupting a second time.

There is nothing he could do, absolutely nothing. And he loved it!

 


 

There were benefits to being a machine... aside from the obvious. No gag reflex, no need to aspirate like a human. Hawker could keep Chris inside his mouth for as long as he wanted when he was this big, a prisoner in the dark behind the gate of his teeth.

Chris struggled, locking his arms, pushing futilely against the expanse of his lips. <Don't like it anymore, huh?> he goaded, parting his lips into a cruel smile and holding the kid still between his teeth like a cigar. His hand was still propping up his head, but hadn't been doing any pushing; all the manipulation has so far been with his maw. It didn't take much for Chris' strength to give out: just another slurp, and he was in to the armpits.

His arms were still hanging out, so he opened up just enough to tuck them inside, pushing them to his prey's sides.

"NO! Please.. I .. oh god, I.."

It was absurd, that fear. The both of them knew that the human was in the safest hands in Chicago. But the possibility of real harm, of death, of gluttonous bloodlust was always there, under the surface. The comfort of safety mingled with that animal dread of one fatal move, one fatal decision, one fatal throe of passion, and it created a potent alchemy of sex and oblivion. This was the line Hawker wanted - needed - to walk. Fear and authority fueled him just as much as his thorium core. And Chris was letting him do this; he craved to be on the receiving end as much as Hawker craved to administer pain to who would surely become his closest confidant, his staunchest ally, and his best friend.

The Hawker of both worlds could smell, and he knew the smell of fear. It was his favorite human pheromone - it had a special tang that focused his attention and drove him to action faster than any other. His programming reacted almost of its own accord, even. Fission grew hotter, fluids pumped faster, hydraulics strained under anticipatory pressure, and he felt the predatory need to be where the smell was coming from. To do something about it.

Outside of neurospace, the machine groaned, tightening his grip around himself and throwing his head back.

<There's no escaping now, kiddo. Your struggle is only making me harder.>

Inside, the 3-story Hawker also threw his head back. Now he planted a single finger on each of the human's shoulders, giving a slow, firm push as he opened his mouth wide so that Chris could see where he was to end up. The interior of Hawker's mouth was as white as his face with the occasional seam, but here it undulated and shone with dripping saliva like a human's maw. His hypopharynx throbbed, and there was that familiar deep, wet click of swallowing action.

The mech was close too, but he forced himself to continue edging in both worlds. His 6-foot metal shaft ached, heaving under its immense weight and having demanded release since the fear in Chris' sweat hit his CPUs. Not... yet!

Then just like that, Chris was all the way in, and the mech's teeth came together behind him.

 


 

As enlarged Hawker tilted his head back, Chris could look down and see him fisting the girthy tool. <There's no escaping now, kiddo. Your struggle is only making me harder.> <That's all I am.> the rookie realised. A snack and entertainment. Indignant anger welled up in him, everything he'd been through; and Hawker was going slurp him down and turn him into nothing!

Or maybe he'd be held tight in a mechanical stomach. Squeezed and all of his bruises sparking in agony. The gurgle of fluids, the heat of the reactor, the powerful thrum of engines that are Hawker's heartbeat.

Two huge fingers rest on his shoulders. The same ones that'd been on his feet for his exercises the other day. He tries to kick, but his feet already are surrounded and firmly grasped. With the simplest of pushes, he went in. His legs are surrounded by that constricting throat. Before he'd have to make the bend, his body would have needed to fold to be swallowed.

Not now though. The tongue smeared saliva against his back, mashing him to the roof of the mouth, feeling and judging as the morsel is pulled down. Just a few inches at a time. With an audible *CLUMPF* the teeth shut above him. Tiny lines of light shown in from between them. All too soon his waist lodged in the back of the mech's hungry maw.

Chris whimpered. It felt so good. He knew he is headed to the safest place in the world. Hawker would be the only thing ever to hurt him now. The powerful mech would mark him, sculpt him, and ensure his pilot never came to external harm. All it too is the first pull of a swallow, and his compressed shaft spurted. His orgasm flowed through him, he shuddered as all of his energy came out with it and he collapsed.

In the pilot seat he sagged, his shaft spurting again on his stomach. THe sensations of his emotional release plowed into the mech across the connection. Chris didn't guard his emotional state, he wasn't reserved. Hawker got to enjoy every moment of it with his pilot. A shudder pulsed though his exhausted frame and he sagged in the restraints.

In neurospace, His cum smeared onto his stomach and on the white material of the throat. Over a week of intense exhaustive training, THe constant dominance of Hawker. He had nothing left. With a fearful whimper he slumped in place. Deliciously defeated, submitting to the Male that owned him.

 


 

His prey was a swirling mess of emotions as he slipped down the hatch, pulled by powerful contractions of soft, cybernetic muscle. They reverberated across their shared connection, punctuating the tastes and sounds and sensations of that small helpless body being stuffed down his gullet.

As soon as the kid's hips found themselves clenched tight against the walls of his throat, Hawker could feel the human shudder, could feel the little spurt of salty heat.

"Mmmh." The mech's groan was deep - earthquake deep - and it surrounded the pilot with a wall of vibrating sound.

Golp.

And that was it. Sucked down by those powerful contractions. Hawker tilted his face skyward, hand stroking the bulge in his throat as Chris was pushed down that tight, hot, sticky tunnel deep into the mech's machine body. Hawker could feel his every weak movement until eventually, his meal came to rest in the depths of his belly.

The obscene fullness as Chris fell unceremoniously into that hot, cramped, cage! Hawker rubbed his belly, tapping on the armor plating just above where his prey lay, exhausted, fearful, defeated. The mech didn't have a cockpit here: he decided to have something else.

A wet, slick space; pitch black, dripping. The walls were textured, like a mass of smooth cables. And he also decided to have a few... appendages.

"Mmyeah."

Outside, the mech was bucking, venting harsh air, hulking shaft swollen and twitching and leaking. But still he forced himself to wait. He had one more thing he wanted to subject the kid to, even now.

"Your captain isn't quite done yet," he said, voice surrounding Chris in his stomach. The tiny little morsel was utterly spent, and Hawker could feel that he wanted nothing more than to curl into a ball and fall asleep inside of him. "I know you're tired," he continued, gently, authoritatively, almost like he was grooming the kid to endure something unpleasant. "But I still intend on fucking you."

With that, he guided one of the sleek metal tentacles toward where Chris lay in the puddle of warm stomach fluid, and brushed it's wet tip across his cheek in the dark. The image of his pilot being violated and unable to get off on it - only existing, in that moment, as a hot, tight hole to plow into - built up the heat in his hips. Hawker suddenly wanted that more than anything, and in meatspace, the seat of the pilot's chair parted.

 


 

The light coming in dimmed. Hot wetness surrounded him. Yet..

it all is so clean! Silicone and cybernetics. The sounds of the mechanical. Hawker.

Nothing is ever over until Hawker says it is. Chris's exhaustion, his surrender. None of it matter to the Deep Field 2. It is in control. Chris accepted the dominance.

The briefest flickers in neurospace from his self-pity.

The bulge of his body expanded the mech's neck, swallowing him down had an intense satisfaction. He'd eaten! Down, down into the chest the boy went. Where a pilot's chair should be waited something else.
The upper sphincter of the stomach opened just enough for him to dangle down. Legs, hips, chest, shoulders.. then he fell down into the softness below. Around him is liquid. THe floor and walls are the same alabaster skin. THe surface around him ripples as the motors rumble nearby.

He could barely sit up, his head against the smooth wall.

"But I still intend on fucking you." THe words came from above, deeper then normal and rich with intent. He felt something by his face. Many somethings shifted in the liquid below, he knew there are more around him. Tendrils. Tentacles. Probes. As many as were needed. Enough to bind him tight and push one in each end of him. And plenty more waiting and ready, ready to keep the pilot full.

In the soft, pliable padding the pilot's still body shifted. Whirring mechanisms spread his thighs, raising him just enough. His little rosebud, untouched for so long trembled. His mind remembered the tongue from earlier. He is loose. Primed, ready from a virtual eating-out. He could feel something down below. It felt so very real, even more then the neurospace wold he shared.

"Take me Sir.." he breathed. He WOULD please his Captain, he wouldn't cop out on this. Not now. Even if he could barely move.

 


 

Surrender is sweet, isn't it?

Hawker always had this in him, that much was obvious to him now. Something old in his programming drove him to pursue the submission of others, rewarding him handsomely when he got it either freely or by force. He wasn't questioning it now, just turning the fucked-up predilection over in his mind. Savoring the harsh, violent bliss it was allowing him to feel.

"Take me Sir..."

<I will, my little human.>

One tentacle slithered down his chest, between his quivering thighs, and slowly pressed between those cheeks made slippery by the liquid he sat in. It stroked at that puckered entrance as a second tentacle idly circled around his chest, continued up to his neck, and wound three times around that finely corded column of flesh before gently pressing against Chris' lips and slipping in.

To Hawker, it was like he'd stuffed himself inside the boy's mouth, and he groaned appropriately.

<On your knees.>

The appendages lifted him up to assume the position. Then, at once, both real and neurospace probes pushed themselves in. The penetration was mind-blowing: it was like he was fucking Chris' ass and mouth at the same time! Even weak and exhausted, his little body took the invading shafts beautifully. He felt the kid's tongue on the underside of his cock, the slight grazing against teeth as he pushed to deep-throat; he also felt, in both worlds, that hot, slick tunnel clenching futilely around him.

All at once they drew out, and all at once they plunged back in. Outside, the giant stroked in time. He could feel Chris's heavy breaths on the inside of the interface helmet, his faint struggle against the harness. His softened prick lolled around with every thrust of the probe. Breath caught in his little pilot's throat as though the wind was being knocked from him.

It had to end, though. Hawker had been dancing along the edge for what seemed like forever now, and the pleasure he was being fed from 5 simultaneous erections pushed him over the edge. A little blip of code was triggered somewhere in his CPUs: Warning: Systems overloaded.

"HNNNNNAGH!" The sound that escaped him was fierce and ragged; more like a battle cry. "Fuck!" His cocks jumped, churning out liquid heat that geysered into the air in one, two, three, four... seven powerful spurts. The tentacles throbbing inside of Chris' devoured body unloaded too, mirroring what was happening outside, filling him overfull with Hawker's cum. The probe in the cockpit, however, did something else: instead of liquid cum, it spurt jolts of electricity that tingled Chris' insides and bordered, at their peak, on painful. "Fuck yeah..."

Air cycled, subroutines rebooted, fluid pressure slowly returned to normal as the giant mech gathered his wits about him and relishing the afterglow.

Some moments passed before he tapped on his chest again, not having felt Chris move very much since the tentacles withdrew. His slight weight was still inside of him, and he could feel the outline of his body against the walls of his metal stomach.

<How's my lunch doing?> he asked. A lazy smile was on his face.

 


 

The tendrils wove over his arms, criss-crossing and pulling them tight to his sides. THe bound his legs, clasping carefully an firmly around each limb. They spanned his chest, lifting him upward, to kneel. His neck constricted, being squeezed as the tip pressed to his lips. The message is simple 'I can end you at any time. Suck, boy.' So he did. Thankfully, the Captain wanted more then an exhausted blowjob.

To Chris, it felt as if there were two Hawkers. One laying below him, hands on his hips as it thrusted upward. Another that stood before him. A hand palming his skull as his lips and throat worked to please the pistoning shaft. In the cockpit, his pucker parted, opening and stretching around the thick probe. Whimpers came from the linked pilot, his body ravaged by the tireless machine.

Hawker's orgasam filled him. Cum poured from his mouth and rear, smearing along the twin shafts as they penetrated him then sunk deep to deposit the last of their loads. THe electricity in him forced his muscles to spasm, clenching hard around the thickness in him. His poor prostate shuddered, squirts of watery ejaculated adding to the mess on his stomach.

Chris wanted to pass out. Instead, his mind rolled into a fog as the tentacles around him released their constricting grasp. He fell forward, sprawling in the slippery pool of fluid. The one grasping his neck felt like a gasping hand, just loose enough that he is allowed to breath. His consciousness blanked. He could see himself, bound and resting in the stomach. He could see from Hawker's perspective; gazing over the desk and admiring the truly impressive cumshot that had splattered over the rookies clothes and desk.

<How's my lunch doing?>

He wanted to answer. He really did. But even the effort of moving his lips is too much. He had to think it, returning to the comforting darkness of the stomach. Hawker's stomach.

<Tired, Boss. I can't move.>

Long breaths, he swallowed.

<You're a lecherous beast. I love it!>

 


 

Chris' exhaustion satisfied on a deep level. He'd wrung him out and hung him out to dry. Hawker remembered something Lee had told him about scab school - a running joke about how some of the tougher, more complex AIs 'eat pilots for breakfast'. Part jab and part warning for the kids gunning for DARPA or the FBI or what have you. Chris had just been looking to be a cop. DARPA came to him!

<Tired, Boss. I can't move.>

Hawker smiled, crossing a leg over his knee and leaning back against the wall. "Then don't."

<You're a lecherous beast. I love it!>

He smiled and chuckled. "Good, and don't you forget it."

They stayed like that for a little while - Hawker quite enjoying the different sensation of being 'occupied' like this. At the end of the day, he was a machine - a mech - and one of his basest needs was to be bound to a pilot and to be piloted. It was the teamwork, their thoughts dancing in and out of each other at the speed of neuron transmission; it was the small body inside of him, surrounded, protected; it was the complete immersion into humanity that was only possible through having a direct link to a member of the race that created him. For the machine, "home is where the pilot is".

Some scabs laughed and joked about it, but you never heard those kinds of comments come from pilots who worked with Deep Field 2-equipped mechs, because the bond, the brotherhood, was very real.

"Well kid," he began lazily, "This past week you've trained harder and fucked harder than you ever have, I wager. If we keep pushing you, then something you didn't even know you had might break." Hawker slid a hand across his thickly plated belly, still thrilled that he was getting to experience Chris like this. "I'll mention to Kole that you need a few days of R&R. Relax. Enjoy yourself. Go get shitfaced with some of the other boots; it builds character."

 


 

When he'd first hit the stomach, it had been huge. A room easily ten feet in every direction. The drop from above, the splash into the pool below. As he lay in the comforting embrace of the tendrils, CHris sensed the pseudo-organic walls of the stomach shrinking about him. The space had assuredly grown more confined, the echos of his breath around him were closer. He felt a warm hug all around his body, sparking off soreness in his bruising.

He really did want to sleep. The simultaneous crescendo of Hawker's pleasure had blanked out his mind in the best possible of ways! He bordered on rest, barely a thought straying across his mind as the tentacles slipped across his skin to ensure he is secure and safe. But, that rest eluded him.

COnnected as he was, it wouldn't be safe just for a pilot to nod off. THe wireless is different, Hawker had to choose to watch the kid's dreams. But with the cockpit hookup, sleeping is prohibited by design. Just as he almost dipped off into lala land; a sharp bolt of awareness flooded his mind and he started wake! Just like nodding off during a lecture, waking as your head slipped back and hitting the desk behind you.

Chris meditated in exhaustion, he became aware of their singular gestalt mind. THeir bond. How deep he'd gotten in, with just a week of connection. He'd never been to boot camp, never selected for the elite.

As the massive hand slide across the armored stomach, there is a tiny bump. The pilot inside. His pilot.

Celn would have made it. It would have been hell, but the kid could have done it. Not with his past record sadly, but he had what it took. As long as he kept hard to the training he had the makings of a compliment to the Deep Field 2.

Around him, echoing from the throat above and through the walls of the mech; he heard his Captain speak. There are tears of joy, when told he'd get a break. He anted to crawl into bed and not move for every single one of those days.

Except he had an appointment in medical at 0900. No rest for the weary. <Yes Sir. I will Sir. Thank you Sir.>

He wanted to wipe the tears from his cheeks, but that meant moving. So he just closed his eyes and enjoyed the darkness.

<Can we stay this way a little longer? Feels weird, but good. Maybe until dinnertime?> Thinking is necessary. Words meant moving his sore lips, that oral probe had been deviously vigorous.

 


 

<Can we stay this way a little longer? Feels weird, but good. Maybe until dinnertime?>

"Only because you've put me in a generous mood," he said with a wink on his voice, getting his neurospace self comfortable against the wall as his real self rose from his chair, grabbed that same damn towel and began to clean up. When he saw, with a greater portion of his conscious foreprocessing units, the mess he made on the desk, he bit back a laugh. "Bad news, greenhorn: you're gonna be wearing your boss' spunk on the walk back to your suite."

---

Neurospace Hawker fell into a hazy meditative state of his own - somewhere between waking and low-power mode while his real self went about surveying his news feed and writing his report for the day, pleasantly reminded every few moments that Chris was still inside of him, warm little smudge of metabolic heat. Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in...

Log #2115 for October 23rd, 2058.
Continuation of crash room evac training. Officer Celn exceeded all expectations, given the exercise's parameters of low-survivability. I handicapped my sensor range by the standard 42%, and it seemed we were nearly evenly matched. At 0415, exercises ended, and as per Colburn's recommendation, we spent some much-needed time strengthening our working relationship.

Notes: If we are to function as an efficient gestalt unit in the future, we will need more opportunities to get to know each other as individuals while Celn continues to train. I strongly recommend relaxing his schedule; the rigorous training regimen, I believe, is beginning to take its toll. He currently risks burnout.

---

On one of the upper levels, in one of the few rooms with a view, Kole got a notification of having received a message. It was a report from Hawker; the sergeant opened it and snorted. It was good news. Damn good news. "Somebody's doing something right," he said to himself, a smile on his face. He told the computer to remind him to pay the pair a visit tomorrow.

 


 

"Bad news, greenhorn: you're gonna be wearing your boss's spunk on the walk back to your suite."

Both in the cockpit and the stomach, Chris chortled out a tired laugh. It rolled for long moments as the thought about the absurdity of it all. <Can't even resist marking my clothes, can you?> He lazed in that low mental state, savoring the peace, the quiet, the safety of where he is.

Chapter Text

Chief Engineer Colburn sat at her desk, fingers tapping with boredom. The anticipation bothered her, enough that she'd gotten a second cup of coffee while a half-consumed one sat steaming on her left. Hours ago, Celn and Hawker had been in the wash bay. Chris displayed his usual fearlessness around Hawker. What is fascinating is the change in the mech's attitude, how it treated the rookie.

In training they'd been in a friendly competition, like a paintball game instead of a live fire exercise. Getting cleaned up they were positively jovial! Hawker would order, badger and tease the greenhorn. THe kid would give the ribbing back, while doing his duty. When he risked his hands and arms in the oversized mouth, she knew something good was happening.

There hadn't been so much as a mislaid finger on the prospective pilot!

Then they went into the office. The door had closed. Hawker's engines screamed. Then it had been quiet.

She sipped the fresh coffee, placing it down at her side; noticing the duplicate. "Am I supposed to go in after you two?" came the concern of the mama-bear. She knew she shouldn't. They needed to talk, to work things out. But she worried!

---------------------

Sometime around 1820 the pangs of hunger became greater then his desire to drift on the edge of consciousness. The tentacles held him, protesting. The sleek stomach lining pressed against his face like the caress of the most comfortable sheets. Stay here, stay forever they whispered. Chris whined softly. He knew it is past time to eat. "Okay." he mumbled, his cramped fingers working in the real world. They pressed the button that initiated the disconnect.

He wasn't sure if Hawker had an exit plan for him. But to be honest, it didn't matter this time. They'd have more chances to do this again. The burning affection he felt for his partner would ensure that they'd have many more times together. Hundreds more, if the mech is to be trusted.

The 30 foot Hawker dissipated in favor of the 15 version. Naked and sore, Chris re-woke as the connection show down. His arms ached, his legs ached. His stomach and thighs are coated with the sticky remains of his jizz. But there is an unexpected sensation; and his poor anal ring ached as well! As he waited for the restrains to relax, he looked at the nearest camera.

"I would love to ask whoever modified you a few hundred questions." he grumbled, the grip on him loosening. "And shake their hand." he admitted.

 


 

Representatives of the United Balkan Republic are trying to crack down on the illegal arms smuggling, but they still maintain that the government has played no role in abetting the lucrative black market industry. Investigators sent from the UN have concluded that the weapons are, in fact, Asian in origin, though tracking down their manufacturers has proven to be a daunting task since the inception of the so-called 'War on Guns'. With pressure mounting from Western Europe, Balkan leaders are meeting this week with delegates from the Republic of Xinjiang, Gansu, and Mongolia, for talks regarding the growing power of these international smuggling rings. But without cooperation from Western Russia or Kazakhstan, efforts at stemming the flood of arms may, experts say, stay dead in the water. Live from Albany, I'm Kendra Ross, and you're watching -

Hawker sensed that Chris' body was growing restless. The little stomach gurgling in his own larger one. Fingers in his real stomach - cockpit - twitched stiffly to life and the disconnect sequence engaged. The AI was gently pulled from neurospace back, fully, into his real body. There was not a lot that was different, but it was enough. Chris, for one, was bigger.

"I would love to ask whoever modified you a few hundred questions. And shake their hand."

The giant's smile hid an unseen frown. "I've been asking that question for years, kid," he said, hatches opening. Not sure I'd want to shake their hand, though. His hand waited to steady his charge's likely uneasy steps out and to guide him back onto the desk to get dressed. "Somebody knows something, but they're not talking. I guess it's my exciting little secret." He laughed darkly: "Unless you happen to know a guy who knows a guy who works for the CIA?"

 


 

The tired pilot stood nude on the lower hatch plate, his arm raised and hanging on a handle. "Do I need to wipe you down inside? I don't feel bad about the techs mopping up my sweat but.." he paused, eyeing the same rag from the previous day. "..I think we're going to need kleenex in your size. Or something along those lines."

Chris's clothes are not only drenched in what counted for Hawker's semen, but the stuff had dried. He had to pick up each article of clothing and *break* up the stiffness. Like it'd been doused with far too much starch. The jockstrap was the worst, it felt more like a cup as it went around his thoroughly tired package. His socks had somehow been missed, as had his boots. So at least something didn't feel damp and gritty.

At least the grey color kept things from looking too obvious. Smell like the chemical odors of the mech.

"I'm afraid not. But if the CIA spooks ever do show up, I will ask for the details on why you are the big man."

On that desk is a ladder and a gantry with an elevator. Sized for human passengers, as it might be necessary to scale up to that surface. There is also a Hawker-sized computer and a few other oversized desk implements. Chris wondered just why they were necessary.

Maybe, it was just so the Deep Field 2 would feel more at home. More like a cop and not a war machine. COuld it be that simple?

"Allright. Barring your cleanup; AGAIN. I'm going to wash up and get food. I know you gave me time off, but do you want me down here after the medical exam tomorrow?" He is hungry, and the uncomfortable clothing must be rubbing against his bruises. The jock framed the recent one on his rear adorably; in a sadistic kind of way.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

It wasn't just the physical exhaustion, Chris is sexually done in as well. Yesterday AND today! Kisses, snuggles, oral. Being taken from both ends! He slide his hands over his body, rubbing the soapy suds along the bruises with care. As usual the shower on the 8th floor felt fantastic. There are places where the older bruising meshed with the newer. Eventually he just stood int he shower stall, steam and hot water flowing over him as he tried to forget how lover Hawker meant hurting.

Fuck. He wondered what the next place would be. Maybe his face? Would he have a shiner for a few weeks? That mark would be prominent. Everyone would see and know what'd happened. Maybe.. maybe it is best that most of Hawker's artistry lay under his clothes.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Sitting at the table, Chris opened up his phone and read the message from Wen. He texted her back, having trouble believing that she'd seen him just this morning. 'Glad to hear you're well. Did hand to hand with LT Toren this morning. She has 4 inches and at least 20 pounds on me! It'd be like trying to take on a T6 with a T5! Oh, and the T6 is an expert. She had no problem embarrassing me.' He dug into his meal, packing away the protein before adding more. 'Hawker is finally talking with me. I think he has decided I'm worth training up. Last week or so has been hell. My feet feel like lead and I can't even stand up straight. If I didn't have to be in medical tomorrow, I'd sleep for 36 hours straight.'

He finished off dinner and the protein milkshake. 'So um, I have a few days off. What do people do in their off time around here? A block or two around 42 is seedy. If you're being charitable. I wanna go out a little, get some drinks. Are there like, group outings or bar crawls or something?"

 


 

"..I think we're going to need kleenex in your size. Or something along those lines."

Hawker snorted. "A wet vac."

"But if the CIA spooks ever do show up, I will ask for the details on why you are the big man."

And the snort turned into a laugh, though his optics and most of his other sensors never left Chris. "What, I didn't make a strong enough case for myself?"

The awkwardness of the situation amused the mech to no end. The kid's face as he slipped on the jock, dropping little showers of fine, white particulate from Hawker's dried fluids, was perfect. It framed that little ass as perfectly as it was surely sore, and if there was anything the captain took pride in, it was his handiwork. He reached out and gave a little pinch to the bitten cheek, smiling as Chris' breath hitched in his throat at the little jolt of pain.

"I know you gave me time off, but do you want me down here after the medical exam tomorrow?"

"Negative. Go have a social life for a little bit, give your body a rest. I need you happy, healthy, and in good standing with the rest of 42. And that, my delectable little pilot, is an order," he said, then leaned in just before sending Chris on his merry, aching way. "Besides, those marks need to heal a bit before I go and make new ones," he said seductively, "Your real estate is at a premium, and I'm buyin'."

When he left, Hawker got to work wiping down his own cockpit. He might be able to pass off the smell as being from an involuntary ejaculation, which did sometimes happen depending on how the pilot entered neurospace. It was similar to a phenomenon experienced by fighter pilots.

Still, the mech thought, it would be prudent to start keeping a few cleaning supplies in here... and maybe a change of clothes for the kid, too. Techs didn't exactly get paid enough to be scraping jizz off of harnesses.

---

Hawker was only alone for maybe another 20 minutes before the gigantic door hissed open, revealing a Sergeant Kole sharply dressed in slacks and a suit jacket, underneath which was holstered his SIG Sauer. The lines on the front of his pants looked sharp enough to draw blood. At the entrance of his superior, Hawker stood up straight and nodded. "Sir."

But Kole waved his hand dismissively as he idly strode in, hands in his pockets. "Y'know, they said they wiped all your military protocol too, but lookin' at you right now I'd think you'd never left Irkutsk."

The simplicity and geniality of the man's words often belied a sharp wit, a long memory, and an impressive grasp of intricacy that made Hawker proud to serve under him. But it was in conversation like this, the AI knew, that Kole was truly a master of language: he said exactly what he meant to and no more, no less.

"I was in Irkutsk, was I?"

Kole paused, shooting the mech a knowing glance before looking away with a shrug. "I just assumed," he wryly feinted. "It wasn't a hot spot for nothing."

Irkutsk was, according to the mech's research about the war, the likeliest place he could have been stationed, though no documentation about the distribution of US-based HLX-9 Vanguards was ever made public. A single grainy satellite image was all that he'd been able to find, and whether or not it was him or some other mech was impossible to tell thanks to the visual interference created by jamming signals.

"Relax," the sergeant continued. "You're a stateside cop, now. Not some black ops experiment."

Hawker rumbled darkly and thumbed toward the bank of screens. "Things keep going down the shitter like they are, and we might all be playing soldier again. And it won't be in Siberia this time either."

Kole stopped near the mech's feet, but not so close that he had to crane his neck. "That's part of the reason I'm here, captain. We got that nice, fat paycheck from the DOJ last month to help get us into top working order - that's where the new batch of pilots came from." Hawker knew this, but didn't interrupt. "Everything in this place is getting an overhaul," the man said with a sweep of his hand. "Including you. We've got a few tweaks to make on your power systems; it's long overdue. Your thorium's getting old too, I reckon."

He engaged the interface module for his power core: it looked like an mile-high wall of readouts and numbers about the current functioning of his micro-reactor and its subsidiary systems. He could barely make heads or tails of the data - he was a cop, not a nuclear physicist - but did eventually find what he was looking for. "I've got about six months left on these fuel rods, sir. Why not wait until -?"

"No, no. New upgrades, new rods. I've got the thorium on order, so I hope you didn't have any plans this weekend."

He vented and folded his arms. "Was gonna yell at Celn some more, but I guess I can re-schedule."

"Yeah, about that." Kole rode the lift to Hawker's desktop and took a few steps closer to the mech, now that he was nearer to eye level. "Colburn's riding my ass about this, so I'm bringing it up before she does." The sergeant looked up and held Hawker's gaze with his stony gray eyes. "You're not lying to me in those reports of yours, are you?"

The mech's air cycling stopped for a brief moment. Even the mere suggestion made him burn hot, and not in a good way. But he caught himself - he was lying, wasn't he?

"Of course not, sir. I'm ashamed that you'd even think I'd want to."

"She's worried about the stuff she's been hearing coming out of this room when the door's closed."

Hawker's CPUs sputtered, almost glitching. The mech's face remained stony, but he was sure his optics flickered in time with his startled surprise. Air cycling picked up again, and kicked up half a notch. "We talk, sir. It's what mech and pilot do. You remember how it was with Lee."

"You never yelled at Lee," Kole noted in a low voice.

Hawker summoned a partial truth, and it almost physically pained him to do so. But 42 wasn't yet ready for what he and Chris were quickly becoming. "The kid has more potential than I've ever seen," he began slowly, trying to find his footing in the unfamiliar territory. "And I want to work with him, sir. I need to. But he's..." An uneasy pause. "He's cocky, and cocky gets people killed out there. I need to make sure he's scared of something in this godforsaken world."

A raised eyebrow. "And that something is gonna be you?"

"If that's what it takes, sir."

Kole nodded to himself, rubbing his chin for a few painfully long moments. Hawker was sweating proverbial bullets. "You need to submit an addendum to your reports every time you take disciplinary action with that kid," he said. There was no arguing with that tone of voice. "You're to describe the infraction and the action taken in detail, and it needs to be sent to both myself and Colburn from now on."

"Yes, sir."

The man left the top of the desk by stair this time. "Be ready Friday night, Hawker. Got a truck coming to take you to the lab over in Rockford. Celn can tag along if he wants... and if you'll have him."

"It would be a good experience for him. Educational."

"Yeah, something like that. Anyways, I'm off to grab a bite with the DA to talk some stuff over. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning, officer."

Hawker felt the automatic straightening of his fingers for a salute, but he stopped himself. "Enjoy your evening, sergeant."

Kole was just about to step out again when he stopped, but didn't turn around. "You were in Irkutsk, by the way."

The tang of bitterness crept across his CPUs. "What if I didn't want to know where I was?"

Now Kole turned around and he winked. "You did."

The door shut behind him, and Hawker sat down to refresh his memory about just what had gone down in that US occupied city on the frozen shores of Lake Baikal.

 


 

Chris stared at the tray that had contained his lunch. A fork and spoon rested there, the empty bottle that'd held a protein drink rested in the divot that is mental to hold the main course. He felt so damn tired, but he couldn't motivate himself to get up. Even the fresh bite on his behind couldn't influence him to stand. He scrolled through the small number of contacts on his phone.

He didn't have a good pic of Hawker. He needed a few and at least one of the mech smiling for an icon. That'd be quite the challenge! The background on his phone is just a promotional photo of the a vanguard hlx-9 being awesome with the American flag in the background. Then, the gears in his head turned.

When had he added that? He couldn't recall. Was Hawker up in his phone?

Then the screen shifted to a photograph of Colburn herself. Chief Engineer Colburn no less and his phone displayed a message. "Celn, report to my office ASAP. Room 4-115."

Damn it. Now he had to get up.

Ten minutes later he is limping through the maze of offices on the fourth floor. Each intersection has one of those signs that splits up the offices in groupings. 1-49 left, 50-250 right. Eventually, he found the right place. What kind of maniac had designed the floor layout here?

He knocked and entered when her voice spoke from within.

There is no way this is her normal stomping grounds. THe office is too neat, too clean, and there aren't six projects ripped apart on a bench. This had to be her official office, the one where you do paperwork; or meet with high ranking city officials.

Chris spied dust on the fake plants. The calendar on the wall is a few months off. The two chairs across from the desk were barely broken in. And he could see where her footprints had messed up the nap of a repeatedly vacuumed carpet.

"Come in, come in." SHe had a grease smudge on her right cheek. He could see on her forearms where she'd washed her hands, and where the line of dirt began. He didn't envy whoever had to launder her jumpsuits. "Close the door and sit down."

The door swung shut behind him, and he limped in, carefully sitting down in the inexpensive office chair. There is no way he could park his butt and not have some bit of his rear ache. The smirk the robot had when he'd done that! Hawker knew his pilot would suffer for days.

"I see you're in your normal post training condition." she observed with a dry smile. "Tell me what you did today."

"This morning was doing sparring practice with LT Toren. She embraced me hard after trying to have me take her down, which I couldn't. Then we did work on the heavy bag until 1300. I think my arms are going to fall off." he commented.

"Lieutenant Sarah Toren? She's an entry officer. She's also into MMA. Ask to see some of the footage from her fights." Colburn tapped on her keyboard. "Four hours of combat training. After lunch what did you do?"

"Crash room with Hawker. He got to play Tom to my Jerry. I'm not sure how long it was, couldn't have been more than hour of constant fighting and running. I had a paint gun, a side arm. He chased me through the streets. I evaded but could not exit without him capturing me." the rookie recalled.

"During this time, did you have physical contact with the HLX-9?"
"Just a tap on the shoulder or him putting a boot down in front of me."

Colburn entered more data into her computer. "Do you think you performed to expectations?"
"Hard to say ma'am. I'm on foot with a popgun running from a juggernaut."
"Get caught?"
"8 times. Almost made it out too. Got a cramp on the final sprint."

She raised an eyebrow, and leaved back in her chair. A steaming cup of coffee rested at her left, and she drank a sip. "So what did you and the HLX discuss in his office for 3 hours? It couldn't have been your performance then."

Chris felt the hairs around the interface implant stand on end. He tilted his head to the right, sliding his hands over his thighs.

"Am I in trouble, Chief Engineer?"

She had a chuckle at that. "Celn, you look like you were the heavy bag. You're dead on your feet. Why would you be in trouble?"

Chris's lips pulled to the side as he leaned back and sighed. "I'm tired ma'am. Not thinking straight."

"You didn't answer my question Chris."

He pinched the bridge of his nose, lower his head for a moment, before wiping a hand over his face. "I was in Captain Hawker's office. He carried me in on his shoulder."

"Uh-huh."

"Put me on his desk and we spoke about our future. I think he is warming up to me. He seems to think we do have a future."

"That took about a minute. What about the other 179? Don't make me drag this out. I have all night to get this report done, and I'd wager you want to sleep before your exam tomorrow."

"Well, we are getting along good now. So I suggested.."

"You suggested? Not the Captain?"

"Well.. I supposed it was a mutual idea. I felt alright."

The warm vapors of her coffee steamed around her nose, her eyes locked on the fidgeting young pilot with the directness of an angry mother. Chris didn't like being on the carpet. She gestured with her hand for him to continue, wishing the kid would spit what'd happen out already.

"We interfaced. Just sitting in his office. Together. No combat, not really even moving. Just us experiencing each other. Around 1800 we did a standard disengagement." He wasn't lying, just not exactly telling the whole truth.

"Anything else? Just spending time linked up before you'd been cleared?" she sounded calm, not getting angry at him. He had memories of the foster homes, blaming the other children.

"Well, he did lift me up in and out of the cockpit. And we talked about this week. He said I am to go on a break for a few days. THat I'd passed his break in, and that I had tons of work ahead of me before I'd be an acceptable replacement for Lee."

Colburn sighed. "Chris, I know you think you're indestructible. If your implant gets damaged--"

"I know ma'am." he interrupted.

"--and you did it anyway."

More seat squirming and he sighed again, this time rubbing over the implant. "I missed him."

Colburn watched the way the bruising on his neck moved when the rook spoke. What is she dealing with here? Of everything, Chris sounded utterly sincere when those three words came from his lips.

"Chris, you aren't in trouble. Once you're cleared, you can spend all the time you can stand with the Captain. You need to start doing daily reports. I need you to fill out reports for the days.." she paused and double-checked her own reports. It really had been just about a week since the scab had walked in for an interview with the others. "..sense you arrived. Consider it punishment for disobeying medical's orders."

"Yes ma'am. Am I dismissed?"

She gave him a long look. THe look of a parent who knew her kids were misbehaving, but unsure just how badly. Chris felt his sore shoulders lower under that glower.

"I'll see you in medical at 0900 tomorrow. And I better have a week's worth of reports."

With a groan, Chris pushed himself up. "Yes ma'am. Thank you for your concern. We are going to make it."

After he'd left and the footfalls near her office quieted, Chief Engineer Colburn ran the recorded dialogue through an analyzer program. Like her gut said, CHris had told her the truth. But she'd be a poor cop if she hadn't seen through his awkward hesitations. "What are you boys up too?"

She put the finishing touches on her report and sent it off to Kole. She had to include the footage where the HLX had abused the rookie in the motor pool. If Hawker really was doing something terrible to Celn, she'd have a hard time forgiving herself for letting things get this far.

And she'd watch Hawker melt down from the inside out, AFTER forcibly removing his coolant.

-------------------------------

"CHRIS!" Exclaimed Ferdinand as they swapped places at the elevator. The older pilot high-fived Celn as he exited on level 8. "Hey man, Wen mentioned to me that you actually had some time off coming up?"

"Yeah. I think like, two, three days."

"Well, if you can move, we're going to catch a game at Wrigley Field. Wanna come?"

"Fuck yes, even if you have to stick me in a T6."

"Right, see ya tomorrow evening. And wear something civilian!"

On the couch in the shared living room, Chris found his left side to be the most tolerable to lay on. He express ordered two outfits from Amazon. Checking that he had an alarm set for the next day, he set another one for two hours and closed his eyes. He'd start writing the. He fell asleep as soon as he closed his eyes.

 


 

"I'm telling you, Gideon," Colburn forcefully sighed into her phone, "There's something fishy as fuck going on with those two, and I'm getting to the bottom of it."

Kole only ever tolerated being called by his first name when he was off the clock. "I'm gonna be at the restaurant in five minutes - this'll have to wait 'til tomorrow."

"Kole."

"But I promise to hear you out."

"You said you spoke with Hawker?"

"I did. Said he's just puttin' the kid through his paces in there. Toughening him up for the big, bad outside world. In other words, doing his job."

Colburn's voice changed. "That's not what Chris told me they were doing."

A frown, then he cocked his brow at the back of the cabdriver's seat. (He didn't trust those self-driving things.) "Oh?"

"Just... get with me tomorrow. I think we need to compare notes."

"Will do, Chief. Will do."

"Oh, and one more thing, Sarge. We might consider putting a security cam in the mech's suite."

"We'll talk tomorrow. Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

---

The mech spent the rest of his evening, until almost 2300, in the sim room. Except this time it wasn't a police simulation: it was Irkutsk, in 2048: the height of the Siberian War. This was an older program, one he hadn't touched in probably 2 years. Not that he'd worked on any of them since Lee's death, but... Kole's simple admission had him and wouldn't let go.

Hawker had spent the better part of six months coding this one, based on the military data he could find. And it was still incomplete. They'd all be incomplete; there was so much the public didn't know about what happened there, even after all these years.

By 2048, Irkutsk is a husk of the colorful, thriving city it had once been. Nuclear war had given way to cyber war when the best targets had been vaporized, and cyber war had given way to conventional war when the army realized that half its defense strategy was involving the re-adoption of pre-digital technologies. Whey spend $500 million on hackable targeting systems when you could throw a $600 gun on the back of some dogface and tell him to start marching?

Mech AI was supposed to stand-in what had once been a vast infrastructure of networked computers in everything from aircraft over the Pacific to ICBM silos in Kentucky. Their autonomy and mobility was their strength, versus the weakness of a non-adaptive and essentially stationary system. When you put your computer network in the brains of your soldiers, your network goes only where you need for it to go, does what you need for it to do. A computer node that could both physically and digitally defend itself, hide, and make snap decisions alongside a group of humans was a powerful thing. That was the official story, at least.

Hawker had always been one to trust people, but be deeply skeptical of systems. So when he found out that he'd been in Sibera and could find no documented evidence to support it except for a crummy satellite photo and a few off-hand mentions by journalists in the occasional expose, HLX-9 Vanguard Hawker #9081, he attempted to fill in the blanks himself by writing simulations in his spare time.

Irkutsk was cold - obscenely cold, actually - and most of the color seemed to be drained from the few original Czarist buildings that remained standing. He was in a main thoroughfare, operating a checkpoint for civilians trying to come and go from the neutral zone. But the problem was that this didn't seem right. He was too big and too heavily armored for such a banal assignment, his geometry all wrong for being out on the street like this. No, he wasn't here.

The scene changed.

Now he was a sentry at the rail depot, which served as a valuable staging area for the troops' supply line. Cargo was unloaded, sorted, staged, and loaded up onto trucks. The Sino-Uralnye were livid at having lost such a valuable asset as the railroad, so the trains, the tracks, and the depots were under as much protection as the US and her allies could spare.

But he wasn't right for this either. An HLX-4 could have done the job just the same - you didn't need a $8 million installation of Deep Field 2 to stand around and hold a gun. No, DF2 was developed to do one thing really, really well: to pass the Turing/Hinschelwood test.

And therein lay the elephant in the room: Hawker did not possess near-human levels of General Intelligence for no reason, nor would he have ever been put to work doing what a real, and much cheaper, human could do; and on the other hand, he would have never been put to work doing what a computer-guided turret could do, and again, do for much cheaper. No: Hawker was a very expensive, very specialized, and very special merging of the two. He now knew he was stationed in Irkutsk - it was only a matter of finding out why.

The mech thought about Chris, letting the simulated snow gather on his simulated shoulders. The kid was a clever little shit; his way of thinking was different from his own. Complementary. Maybe he'd be able to see something here from an angle that Hawker had never considered.

No... this was his burden to bear. The kid had his own demons, and Hawker was happy to let them be small, just like his pilot, in comparison to the potentially enormous skeletons in his closet.

He ended the sim, phasing back out into the real world, and unplugged himself from the interface. His gleeful harshness with Chris was reminding him of things that weren't even there, things that lay beyond the murky edge of memory. Hawker wondered, then, that if he couldn't ask questions about his past directly, then maybe he could ask them indirectly. Maybe he could start with asking Colburn just what the real success rate of wiping a Deep Field 2 memory network was. How many little bits of ghosted data it was sure to leave behind. If any of it was potentially recoverable...

The mech vented and rubbed at his face. "I think I need to start with some shut-eye before anything else," he muttered to himself as he trudged out the door.

 


 

"..ooow.."

Beep Beep Beep!

"Try it again." said the voice, barely able to contain it's laughter.

"..uuuungh..." Chris realised that sound was HIS voice! His phone sat in his hand, alarm buzzing.

Tsung poked again and he just groaned in tired pain. "..huuurrrr.." He opened his bloodshot eyes. "I'm.. awake.."

She touched his right shoulder again and looked sag when he didn't make the noise. "You sounded like wall in Dark Souls! And you look dead." Tsung's family had immigrate to the US from China kist 7 years ago. Her english is imperfect, but her skills are astounding. Chris remember that from when she'd repeated kicked their asses at every video game they'd played. "..when.. what.."

"Your phone buzzing. Why you set alarm for 9 at night?" she gave him one last poke, then went off to make a video comparing his groans to that very sound effect. It'd be on the top of /v/ soon enough. Chris slowly pushed himself upright. His body ached. His limbs were tied down with lead.

"I have.." he leaned back into the couch, blinking at the TV as the news went on. "..reports to get done." The door to his room is just 15 feet away. Might as well be 15 miles. Tsung is busy with her phone. She gave a him a smile though, a smile that said she knew his agony.

China had forced military training these days. Tsung would've gone through boot camp at age 16. She is military, just not American military. "You ever felt like this?" Chris managed with getting a hitch in his breathing.

"Yes. Many times. You need to stretch, or else you lock up. Turn into concrete." She made a fist at that. "Here, I can show you."
Putting down her phone, she did simple movements with her arms. Chris followed, the pain still there. THen she rolled her shoulders. Moved her head in circles on her neck. She took perhaps three minutes and moved through her body. CHris followed, eventually ending up on his feet, her in front of him like an aerobics instructor. "Now touch toes." She leaned forward, easily touching her toes and coming back up with inches to spare.

Chris bent over, feeling his back creak. He came comes, bouncing just an inch or two away. THen, after thirty seconds. "... Tsung.." he chuckled, his voice filled with amusement. ".. I can't.." he laughed, bouncing with his own chuckling "..I can't get up!"

She let out a bark of a laugh, stepping up and using her hands on his shoulders to raise the beaten pilot. "Okay, you get to bed. Write report with implant. Takes five minutes, easy." She thumped hard on his left arm, right where Hawker'd taken a bite.

"Nnnuuuuughgggnn!"

"DAMN! I miss that one. You stop that, is not Halloween."

"Thanks Tsung. See you tomorrow."

====================================
The computer supplied to him by had a limited neural interface. This wasn't like jacking into Hawker. But without his eager lust behind him, he worried. He worried about what Colburn had said. She is right. He could risk really hurting himself. At least he only left like he had lead on his arms and legs now, the stretch had noticeably helped. WIth a face full of regret, be began to fill out reports for past days. And one for today.

Daily Report: October 23, 2054
Hand to Hand combat with LT Toren, 2 hours. LT repeatedly showed her superior skill, and demonstrated the need for my improvement. Also, she fights clean; can punch and kick like a mule. 2 Hours of heavy bag punching.

Crash room with Hawker, 1 hour of continuous training with paintball guns; on foot VS the mech. Spend time in wash bay cleaning paint off Hawker afterward. Discussed personal and professional concerns, then linked to discuss more and experience peaceful unity.

Notes: Spoke with Chief Engineer Colburn. She had concerns about my relationship with the HLX-9. I feel the relationship is rocky, but healthy. We've been together about a week, we're still figuring out how this will work. But that's an improvement over if this will work.

Daily Report: October 22, 2054 ...

----------------------------------------------------------------------

The twenty minutes it took him, plus remembering what had gone on felt like a month's worth of effort to write out everything. Just once through the spellchecker and he sent it off to Colburn. THe collar sat on it's charger, the few certificates he had sat in grubby plastic frames. He opened a desk drawer. Ibuprofen, and the medicine he'd been prescribed. He polished off a whole bottle of water with the pills.

He started at the screen of his computer as it went to sleep.

He had lied to Colburn. Lied by omission. Lied about her very legitimate concerns. This isn't going to go away. THey were digging themselves deeper. Tomorrow, he'd go down to the motor pool and get a solution for this. Hawker had better come up with a damn good reason.

He took off his boots, then slid under the covers in bed. Outside of the thin walls he could hear the TV as Tsung played Dark Souls 17. "BULLSHIT I died! Stupid hitboxes!"

It all came down on him heavily. What he and Hawker did wasn't against the rules. Policemen could fraternize. If they'd just had sex, no one would care. Too much. But .. it was the bruising. The squeezing. The dick-harding bites that were the problem. Chris loved that stuff.

Technically, it is abuse. Even if he consented each and every time. How the hell do you get THAT crap past the radar?

The Deep Field 2 better be able to help him come up with something. CHris didn't want to stop banging.. Heh. Banging Hawker. Sleep tugged at his concerned brain and he eagerly followed.

--------------------------------------------------

0900, Medical.

Chris lay back on the massage table, familiar equipment humming as it probed and analyzed the implant. Secondary scanners examined the surrounding tissue and the places where the tiny nano-tendrils mingled with human nerve cells. The process numbed him, giving a floating feeling kind of like being on happy bubbles. Chris loved the happy bubbles. He let out a giggle, his toes wriggling in his socks.

Colburn tapped the stylus of her tablet against the side of her head. 07-C always had been problematic. It'd migrated from MASH to the civilian world. It had quirks, rudeness, and exception skills in equal amounts. And right now it is snarky. "A full body scan was performed two days ago. This examination is a followup of that procedure. There is no apparent damage and Celn does not have new medical concerns."

They spoke not far the the alcove housing Chris. He might hear them, but right now he is in no mental shape to listen. Colburn tapped the screen of her tablet, then showed off the full-body of Chris, complete with the bruising. "I need to see if there is new damage. I am ORDERING a second scan. You will do the scan, you will do a full comparison report and you WILL have it to me by 1200 today."

07-C felt annoyed. That is the usual response to dealing with brass. Soldiers were easy, they obeyed when in pain. A little bit of agony and suddenly it's word carried all the weight in the world. And Celn now listened. Not that there is much difference between police and the military. Except the police could get fat. "Of course, Chief Engineer Colburn. I will perform as instructed."

 


 

If Hawker was capable of dreaming, then he would've been haunted by footage from the war. Not his own, if there ever was any, but from drone cameras, news reporters, and elsewhere. When he was roused to full consciousness again, it didn't feel like his systems were any cleaner.

The mech was surprised that he was interested in seeing Chris again; that somehow, the human might help mitigate the burden of this tiny piece of information. But he couldn't lay a hand on him for a little while yet. Probably, he decided, not until next week. They needed to cool it down, after all. He told Chris that he needed to start having a social life, start having relationships outside of the fucked-up affection Hawker was able to provide. Kole compared it to a marriage, and, well, he wasn't exactly wrong.

But the sergeant's words the night before left him unsettled regarding not just Siberia, but Chris too. It was clear what Colburn was beginning to interpret their relationship as being, and it was surprising that Kole didn't share the intensity of her concerns. The word echoed in the back of his foreprocessors: Abuse.

Why did Chris even want this? Why did he seem to love his rough, heavy hands? His threadbare warmth? His doting malice? His hard, titanium embrace? The kid had experienced pain and fear. Why did he want more now that he was safe? Hawker remembered the dream he'd been made captive audience to; something in it told him that the small, slight young man had taken at least one life. Maybe he'd once felt what Hawker was feeling. Maybe he knew.

Would Colburn accept any of this? The mech didn't know. Wasn't sure he wanted to know. But one thing was for certain - something had to give, and disclosure was coming sooner than anticipated.

---

At 0745, Colburn sat down in Kole's office, pulling a datapad out of her bag as the two exchanged pleasantries and the sergeant settled in.

"I'm going to be straight, Sarge," she said with a frown, pulling up her notes from her impromptu meeting with Celn the previous evening. "It's clear that one of them is lying."

Kole sighed heavily and motioned for her to close his door. "I'd rather this not get out if I can avoid it," he grumbled, rubbing at his temples."You understand. Now... what the hell do you mean by that?"

"One of them is lying," she plainly repeated. "Their stories aren't matching up. Hawker says he's being hard, Chris says soft. You're either yelling and shoving -" Colburn paused to sigh and shake her head as frustration was beginning to overcome her. "That damn mech is fifteen feet and six tons. There's nothing Chris could do to stop him from getting smacked around if the HLX-9 was so inclined. What is he gonna do, go for the family jewels? Hawker doesn't..." An uncomfortable trailing off.

Kole flicked his eyes in her direction. His elbows were on the desk, fingers steepled as he listened. "Hawker does."

A very tense silence filled the air for what seemed like minutes. Colburn knew that. She knew what he had before they hauled him off the flatbed and spent two months prepping his systems for a new line of work. Lee - rest his soul - knew too. And he took the job anyway. Lee never saw Hawker's file, though. He wouldn't have been able to pilot the mech if he had, because the sordid details of what the equipment had been used for would have been available for the AI to potentially discover while the two were linked. Keeping that from him had been one of the most difficult things that Colburn had ever done, even as it became clear that the pair were inseparable. In the end, though, it was probably better that Davidson had never learned of the atrocities his Vanguard Hawker unit had happily helped to commit in Siberia, and died thinking - knowing - the machine was a hero.

"There was always that chance," Colburn said quietly, her voice touched by unease. "With the quantum systems, you can only scrub them so clean. If you want 100%, you need to replace the physical hardware. We got 99.4%."

Kole was pensive. Eyes on a pen that he was rolling slowly between his fingers. "Do you think he's unintentionally acting on old protocol?"

"The psychological models for machine emotional intelligence are barely a decade old, and none of it concerns potential mental illness; PTSD; trauma. It could be that Lee's death triggered latent habits of his, long-buried by time and long-butchered by the erasure of his memories."

He looked at her, and just barely above a whisper: "Was this entire program a mistake?"

"I'm not throwing the baby out with the bathwater just yet. We need to find out what's going on, and then we can make a decision like that."

"Is he still fit for duty?"

"That may be one of the few things that could give us our old Big Nine back, Sarge. If Celn can learn to take it easy with his interfacing, then I say fast track 'em for patrols. Seeing how they work out on the street may answer more of our questions." She glanced at the clock and cursed under her breath. "Speaking of, I gotta get to medical soon. And please, talk to the mech about putting a cam in there. Just don't make it sound like..."

"Don't make it sound like we don't trust him anymore."

"I'd say to use tact, but... he seems to appreciate your lack of bullshit more than anything, sir."

"I'll see if I can't get that done while he's in Rockford."

"Thanks, Gideon."

"Same to you, Sarah. We'll stay on top of this, alright?"

"Without a doubt."

 


 

Unfortunately, the warm bubbling sensation went away. Eventually, the dull pain filled him and he became aware that he is laying on a medical table. Robotic hands brushed past his face, unstrapping equipment and the probe in his neck withdrew. As things tend to go in medical, all Chris had on is the ubiquitous medical smock. Memories came back to him, after the mind-zonk of the mental scanning, he'd been asked to take off his clothes. For some reason.

The robotic hands opened the velcro back, opening the clothing and exposing his back. Not even a grunt as the hands gently lifted him up, sliding the sleeves off his left; then right arm. The voice of 07-C came up, sounding strangely subdued. "Continue holding still." A bright light swept down him, then up. Those hands rolled him over, and the light swept over his body again. The smock is carefully draped over his chest, to preserve some modestly. "You may rest here while information is processed."

Chris didn't even bother opening his eyes back up. "'kay.." He drifted off into a nap that came without dreams.

---------------------------------

07-C entered the scanned images into it's report for Chief Engineer Sarah Colburn. Each image got filed in the progression of scans from Celn's short career. The first is from 9 months ago, from when he entered the police academy. He is thinner, less muscled. His left hand was missing the middle, ring and pinky fingers; each cut off just below the second knuckle. There are less scars then he had now, but no bruising. THe next image is from 3 months ago, right before the implant went in. He appeared healthy, scars the same as before, just one large bruise on the right shin. Then, six scans of just the neck as the health of the implant is checked. Two weeks ago, there is another scan. Chris looks smooth and healthy, the implant has the traditional scabbing. Then, the two from this week.

The bruising! Celn is marbled like Petaluma blue cheese! Huge crescents, large blotches from blunt force, pinch marks up to 8 inches long; it's an astounding collection damage. All of it accrued in the last two weeks. The scan from today featured a new crescent bruise, across his well-developed glutes. The oldest bruises were fading, some going into the green end of discoloration. 07-C dutifully laid out it's analysis of the damage and the progression of healing. THis wasn't good. The source of damage is obvious, the lack of fear shown by Officer Celn is not. Like everyone else, medical had been watching what had happened between the two.

New damage suggested...? ...insufficient data. 07-C brought up Celn's medical profile. Foster child. Likely insufficient nutrition during formative years. History of drug abuse. Reconstructive surgery of the left hand, paid for by the police sign-on bonus. Interface implant installed. End of adult medical history.

07-C felt frustration percolating in it's foreprocessors again. THe medical gestal had money on Celn and Hawker making it as partners. 07-C did, despite it's reputation, want to see soldiers get back out on the battlefield.

A query to Celn's childhood history, comes back with sealed documents. Why would there be sealed, childhood records? Without Chris's consent, the android wouldn't be able to crack open the documentation from before his 18th birthday. Medical data wasn't helping.

07-C finished the report, and set a timer on the email to deliver it to Colburn at 1159.

------------------------------------------------------

"Chris." A nudge. "Officer Celn." A firm prod at the fresh bruise on his behind, was enough to rouse the rookie with a start!

The green and chromed shape of the medical android gazed down on the human, it's eyes glowing with a while luminescence. "As your doctor, I have some medical advice."

Chris wiped a hand over his face. He had little dark circles under his eyes, and looked utterly worn out. His arms and chest hard the start of some definition, as did his legs. The muscle development would be rapid with his current activity levels. "I.. wha? What's wrong Doc?"

Doc again. Is the second syllable truly such a burden to speak? "It is currently 1138. At noon I am presenting a report on your current status to Chief Engineer Colburn."

Chris slowly sat up, the smock falling into his lap; the damage scored across his frame in broad; yet carefully crafted strokes. "I.. I'm not all here. Do I need to see her when you do this report?"

Chris couldn't pick up a clue if it had landed in his lap.

o7-C Paused. Then, it felt happy with a thought. "Negative. Please allow me to access your childhood records from social services." THe while lights narrowed and the voice went from professional to furtive. "And I'll tell you what you needto know."

"O-okay? You can access that information?"

07-C felt an eagerness it hadn't sense it'd bet a week ago on the rookie. Now it was time to ensure the second bet went through. Already sending out the query to the slow mainframe that ran the city's older records; it spoke in that same low tone. "Twenty minutes from now, Colburn will see every mark on your body in 4k detail."

--------------------------------------------

Five minutes later, Chris is standing in the elevator on the long ride down to the motor pool. His shirt is on inside-out, and he knelt down and worked on tying his boots. As the numbers counted down floor by floor, he hurriedly wrapped the laces around and tied them off quick. He had to make it to Hawker's alcove. The elevator doors opened and he walked with a slight limp. He wanted to run, but he needed to appear calm. He knew exactly what he'd say when he reached the big bot.

"Hawker, we need to talk."

 


 

Hawker was worried about what the exam would uncover, though he knew it was simply a follow-up to the previous implant inspection. They shouldn't have interfaced. But chasing Chris around, and then having his junk scrubbed clean by that hot little twink, got him fired up. It was too perfect a moment to pass up, and his pilot was more than just receptive - he was able, willing, and eager to please his boss and guardian. And now lover, apparently.

The word struck him as odd, if not a little ironic, given the marks and violent ecstasy. Love in what sense? Certainly not romantic, and definitely not Biblical! Ha. Humans had words for these sorts of things, though. Dominance and submission. Power exchange. Funishment.

Still, in his deepest, darkest desires, there was blood. There was not just bruises, but scarring. Sobbing wails. Begging for mercy. Unbearable pain. If someone volunteered themselves to die at his hands, he'd take them up on the offer in a heartbeat. But that was not for anyone to know but him... and Chris.

---

"Hawker, we need to talk."

The mech was keeping his thoughts occupied by helping with some digital housekeeping for the precinct - the big bot's version of nervously doing the dishes. He wasn't expecting Chris to come down here; he'd sent a text to find out how things went but got no reply, so he went about his business while he waited.

He was sitting on the floor in his alcove, arm resting on a knee as he concentrated on the menial tasks. But when the elevator doors opened, his optics fluttered on, and he was surprised to find the kid almost come barreling out.

The mech's face hardened at the tone, at Chris' disheveled appearance. He wasn't going to like whatever the kid had to say. "Why do I get the feeling I'm going to be hearing those words a lot more often?" he said, trying not to sound like he didn't want to hear the news. But it came out with an edge, and he realized that it might've sounded like he was angry with Chris. Still, he didn't get a chance to backtrack.

 


 

"Why do I get the feeling I'm going to be hearing those words a lot more often?"

Perhaps it is the body positioning that told Chris just how much Hawker was unlike other mechs. Up and down the motor pool, they stood at rest in their gantries. Parked like cars in a parking lot. Hawker sat, relaxing like the giant he is. How long had he been locked up down here? Poor 'bot had to be a little stir crazy.

Chris walked into the alcove, getting close. He kept approaching until he was just feet from that codpiece. Then he leaned on the thigh of the leg that lay on the ground. THe other knee and hand hovered above him, the stern face scowled somewhere above that; and it's there where Chris cast his gaze.

"I've been cleared for interfacing. We need to keep it under 10 connections a day for a while." His spoke with a calmness he didn't feel. "No rapid stuff either, the full 15 second run. Both ways. I should be back to normal in a month." that is the kind of damage the ejection could do.

He put his hands in the pockets of his sweatpants, feeling over the phone as he marshalled his thoughts. "Full body scans were part of the exam. Colburn will have them at 1200." He leaned back, resting his shoulder and head on the thigh as it curved to the top of the leg. He shifted from side to side, itching his back like a bear.

"I also got wrung out by Colburn yesterday. And I have to file dailies." He looked up at the hand on the knee, watching those fingers move. "Not sure how this will all look. How do you want to play it, Captain?"

 


 

The touch, the weight behind the lean, meager as it was, felt nice. Haptic systems buzzed happily, sending their little signals to his hindprocessors about Chris' body temperature, the sensation of the fine hairs on his arms. It was feeling righter by the day to have him around like this, their bodies near. He wanted to encircle him with his legs.

"I should be back to normal in a month."

"A month?" Hawker almost balked. Still, he played a hand in this. It was his decision to perform a forced ejection. Frustration mingled with guilt.

"Full body scans were part of the exam. Colburn will have them at 1200."

At this he averted his gaze. Grimaced. "We play the waiting game," he murmured, then cocked his brow at Chris' sudden little antics. It made him feel a little bit better about all of this. If he was going to be tall, dark, and grim, then Chris was surely shaping up to be the short, cute, and snappy. They were Looney Tunes characters in the making. Not.

"How do you want to play it, Captain?"

His leg, he noticed, was obscuring Chris from the nearest camera, so he casually moved his free arm to that thigh. A thumb stroked subtly at the kid's arm, and he looked about the motor pool. "They're getting wise faster than I thought," he said, very low, very quiet. "They're going to confront us both sometime soon, I can feel it." Some breathing room - he vented long, and his stroking grew a little too hard. Still, he didn't meet Chris's gaze. "If you don't feel comfortable keeping up the charade, then insist that the four of us meet together. I'd feel better about disclosing our activities that way."

A thought occurred to him and he snorted a little at the dark comedy of it. "Besides." Hawker finally looked down to his pilot, who was practically lounging along his thigh now. It was a sight he could get used to. "I'll need Colburn to refill my tanks at the rate we're going. Let's just say I've got about seven shots left."

 


 

Chris pulled his hands out of his pockets and pushed himself closer to the hand. That thumb pressed onto his chest now, firmly stroking his fragile body against the titanium alloy armor. Still sprawled, leaving back, he thought about the situation as Hawker pushed against his heart. The pressure increased, his ribs protesting the force.

"If you don't feel comfortable keeping up the charade..."

"I don't Captian." THe small human hand rested on the thumb, tugging at it gently. "She cares about us. I feel terrible about not being able to tell her the truth."

He then poked the massive hand just inches away. "She's worried that you're abusing me. Maybe she thinks you've shorted a circuit and are forcing me into this." He sighed hard, mimicking the venting of his boss.

"How the heck are we supposed to break the ice on this? You and I going up to Colburn and asking what you can store in your tanks?" That got him to chuckle. "What can they be filled with, anyway? Can you store protein in there? Wanna start feeding me after workouts?" Chris did a little hip thrust with a smirk.

Then his face fell as the thought about the implications. "Damn it.. you're right. We do need days apart. I get close and I'm already thinking about getting those last 7 out of you."

He rolled the possibilities around in his head, fingers wiggling before he offered a solution.

"We could let them confront us. Kole and Colburn will come at me first probably. I want them to know that everything I've done; and am going to do is consensual." He raised an eyebrow, turning his head to meet the yellow glowing gaze of his Captain. "It is right? Pretty sure you want to control and take complete advantage of your pilot. Because I sure as fuck loving being with you."

He winked, letting the absurdity of it all bring a smile to his face. "And, well.. crap. Then we gotta take our lumps for being obtuse. THe longer this goes on, the worse it looks. More important things for those two to worry about then you putting your mark on me."

 


 

"Wanna start feeding me after workouts?"

Hawker smirked, optics still scanning the motor pool, and his thumb dug into Chris' arm with just enough force for him to really feel it. "Fuck that, I'd full-on put you on a liquid diet," he rumbled quietly.

"We could let them confront us. Kole and Colburn will come at me first probably." The mech let his pilot explain his plan with just enough volume to keep from echoing around all the concrete. "Because I sure as fuck love being with you."

"I love being with you too, kiddo," he relented with a murmur. "It isn't going to be sunshine and rainbows all the time, but you knew that." A snort. "There'll be days when I really do want to just stomp you into the ground. But we work through it, and I get to just beat the piss out of you in neurospace later." His hard-edged face sunk into a frown. "Is it right? Fuck if I know. It is what it is, and I haven't traumatized you yet, so at least there's that."

"And, well... crap. Then we gotta take our lumps for being obtuse."

Hawker chuckled. "I hate being wrong... but you've got a goddamn point." He thought back to the times where he did something that warranted a slap on the back of the hand. Doing maintenance on his own guns - normally a ballistics technician did that - or the security guy got a day off while Hawker was forced to watch the cameras for the entire precinct - all of them at once. But relatively minor infractions were few and far between with him. He played by the rules. If the mech fucked up, it was out in the field, and punishment for the bad call usually came in the form of raw guilt and crushing disappointment. Kole didn't cherish them so much that he never read them the riot act when it was warranted.

"We didn't know," came the simple answer. "But what's done is done, and we own our mistakes. The question is... what if they reassign you? We aren't exactly conducting ourselves by the book, here. And if a journo gets wind of the story..." Hawker growled deep in his chest, not even bothering to finish his sentence.

 


 

"Fuck that, I'd full-on put you on a liquid diet."

Chris's imagination took hold of that idea and RAN! Hawker waking him with dick-nudging for breakfast. 'Milking Hawker for lunch. Hawker's huge hand behind his had, holding his mouth open for a pressurised dinner. Every, single, day.

"That.. that'd be something to try. Ya know, if you wanna. Think I'd miss food after a while though."

He started to make a whine at how hard the thumb is rubbing at his arm. He stepped back, hooling over where the recent abuse had been. His arm is red, sore. Moving the elbow; he could sense a satisifying ache down in his bones.

"I haven't traumatized you yet"

"Haw! Yeah, I think we both got a past we don't want to think about too much. I'm not exactly normal, if I like it when you leave your mark." the rookie got a twisted grin at that.

"The question is... what if they reassign you?" that is the big question, isn't it? Chris rolled over the thoughts in his head, and he tried to recall what procedure was when there are problems with two officers. Seperation is a good way to solving problems. And ensuring he didn't see Hawker again would definitely ensure no more damage got caused. "I'd sure as heck try to stay with you. I know you could probably throw a fit. But.."

He exhaled hard, pushing himself up and walking in little limping circles; pacing withing the small space between the massive legs. "Medical told me I made it to specialist ranking. Don't pretend that you don't know that that means for me; career-wise. There are plenty of stationary systems that are woefully understaffed. Police central? One of the mech manufacturing plants? Hell, I could get picked up for Naval work; stuffed in a ship." It is just a numbers game, 1 in 10,000 implanted pilots are of specialist rank. Depending on your luck with how the implant goes and how your brain takes to the procedure.

Chris probably could quit the police force once his employment 'contract' is up and make a healthy wage elsewhere.

"I'm not going to make noise to the press. Lips are sealed." He mimed locking his lips and throwing the key away. "We shouldn't play anymore, not until this clears up. Medical has me on some kind of medication. If I don't get any more damage, my skin should clear up quickly. "I want to be your pilot, Boss. I want other things with you too. But piloting you? making a difference? Terrorizing the shit out of crime in Chicago?"

He looked up, way up to meet his Captain's eyes, with an uncharacteristically vicious expression on his cute face. "Fuck yes!"

 


 

"Medical told me I made it to specialist ranking. Don't pretend that you don't know that that means for me; career-wise..."

"And you chose this hellhole. Chose me. From day one, it was do or die with you. I... respected that, even if I didn't know it at the time." Hawker did know what that meant - he saw the specs, knew they were neck and neck with even Lee's. (Just different.) He had also seen Chris' file, seen what the cops knew he'd been through - to speak nothing of what they didn't - and knew that this was perhaps the best the kid could hope to get with his record. Though Hawker wanted to beat down, he also wanted to build up. And he wanted the best pilot Chicago - no, the entire damn Midwest - had to offer. Better than any damn bobblehead that came out of The Stumps. Better than anything anyone had to offer.

"I want to be your pilot, Boss. I want other things with you too."

The mech could wax poetic about The Bond. About what a pilot and their machine - a machine and its pilot - could feel, accomplish. But Chris wasn't exactly about that. And he felt it already, anyways. What they had, Hawker knew, was that Bond. A compatability of intelligence, of emotional awareness, of wit, of desire and fear and experience. With Lee it had been complete. He was looking forward to building the same with Chris Celn.

Hawker chuckled at his enthusiasm. Kid's gonna keep me young, he thought, and rubbed his own thighs. "Well, you've got the rest of the day off. Where you want to be when the verdict comes in is up to you. I'm not doing anything interesting, so feel free to hightail it back upstairs in the meantime."

 


 

Chris nodded in agreement. "All Right. But if they don't come to us before we're ready to talk again, I want to come clean. Preferably in your office, where the inevitable shouting will be muffled. I haven't heard Kole bellow yet, but I'd wager it's magnificent. Or terrifying, if it's aimed at you."

"I did pick 42. We can be great. We just gotta .. ya know. Play by some rules." he does a double bounce of his eyebrows.

"Alright. I'm going to get moving. A couple of the other pilots are going to a Cubs game, and I'm going with. Going to actually have some fun. I wish you could join us. I feel bad for you, stuck down here. Hopefully you can get some fresh air soon."

He stepped forward, beckoning for a hand. He walked into the big metal mitt, hugging the humb tight as if it were the robot's neck. He rubbed his face against the textured thumbprint. "You take care big bot. I'm going to heal up and study my ass off on your systems."

With a kiss to that digit as it pushed on his face, he did his best to hide the limp as he strolled away from the MAN in his left. THings are looking better, and the panic he'd felt earlier didn't seem so worrisome. THey'd face the consequences for lying, and stay together. No matter what it cost them.

 


 

"I wish you could join us. I feel bad for you, stuck down here."

"I think some modifying of the collar might be in order... if we got a two-way link working, I could go anywhere you went." It would be an easy job for Colburn. And hell, throw a speaker on it and he could even join in on the conversation. Of course, if he asked right now it would look like pure possessiveness - another nail in the coffin. "I'll put in a request when this blows over. And it will blow over."

Chris' face was pleasant against his hand. Skin against the black, textured rubber of his thumb-pad, full of sensors. Temperature: warm. Pressure: slight. Texture: soft; silky; pleasantly elastic. Damage: Like hell are they taking you from me.

Lips.

The little human, almost rubbery in his physical resilience and incorrigible in his smiling optimism, headed for the exit while favoring his left leg. Hawker folded his arms again and cocked a thick black brow plate. 'I like the injured look on you,' he sent to the kid's phone, which promptly buzzed at the arrival of the message. The mech gestured with a nod of his head for Chris to check it, and when he did, Big Nine winked.

 


 

"If we got a two-way link working, I could go anywhere you went."

Chris rubbed his cheek to the thumb as that thought went into his ears and stirred up things in his brain. It would be the reverse of piloting, the mech inside the human. "The two way would be fun. Not sure sure about a speaker though. I doubt it'd be able to capture the impressive bass tone of your voice. Kinda like Mozart as a ringtone."

And having the mech being able to talk back would raise another concern for Chris. The collar didn't have significance to other cops at the moment, other than looking like funny equipment. But if everyone in the station knew that Hawker is watching Every Single Thing from Chris's eyes? The greenhorn worried about becoming a pariah! Feeling Hawker watching everything HE did? Whispering in his mind? Perhaps even tugging at his own muscles? That..

..is kinda hot.

Pocketing his phone, Chris grinned back. They'd make this work.

Chapter Text

That evening, 6 implanted pilots and two non-implanted went out for for some fun. Their lyft arrived, scooting them across town into parts where respectable people lived. Bundled up warm against the October chill, they cheered for their Cubs. Pilots are all a little weird. And when a foul ball knocked up into the stands, they'd all watched it's arc with keen eyes. Observing, analising; the instincts of the machine that flowing into the organic mind. All pilots ended up logical.

Hours later they sat at a table in a bar, Wen and Ferdinand playing darts, while the pilots spoke. Chris found himself in the middle of the group, and he noticed that everyone kind of looked at him. Friendly, respectful even while out. No one really ripping on him. Even here, Hawker's shadow loomed.

"Give it to us straight. Is Nine still the big aloof fuck when you pilot him?" Becker inquired, on his 8th beer of the night.
"C'mon, you can't be asking that! Hey, I wanna know too!"

Chris had a cider, he'd had enough beers at the ballpark. "Wellllll, I suppose I can spill the beans." he teased the group. "Yes, yes he fucking is." he lied to the disappointed group.

"Dude, I've seen him around you. He never takes his gaze off until you leave them room. He puts himself between anyone and you, too. And He was carrying you the other day." Becker insisted.

The greenhorn devoured a nacho, as he'd reached for the plate in the middle of the table; his sleeve pulled up and showed off a dark mark from where Hawker had rubbed too firmly. "He's not impersonal. It's not like he doesn't want me around or any of that. He prefers a professional relationship. I know that's boring and not fun at all to speculate about. But that's really all there is." He finished off the cider, putting it down in the middle the table next to five others.

"Damn Chris. I've never seen someone your size put away booze like that." Jane pointed out, making sure that the rookie got a water for his next round. "Drink up, you need to hydrate."

They talked and joked, making Chris get up to play darts against Tsung. Who SOUNDLY beat the unskilled and sloshed rook. "Damn girl! Are you this good at everything you do?" CHris asked, pulling a dart out of the wall before getting back to the line and throwing again.

"Yes, Always." SHe grinned, eyes flashing with intensity. "You know, you should do training with me." As Chris tossed his three darts, at least two hit the board this time. He stepped to the side and went back to his water. "Neurospace. I can teach you."

Celn watched her throw, inner and outer bullseye; then a 17. He didn't understand the rules of darts, he just nodded as she wrote down the results on the chalkboard. "Okay. I've got time. I'm sure there's free space in the stations."

She went on to smoke him for another three games before he gave up.

By the end of the night, there were two feelings Chris had. One, he felt closer to all of them. Even Becker, who had no problem saying how he wished he'd had a chance to try out with Hawker. "You know, I'm sure he wouldn't mind having a backup pilot. You can always give it a go. I'll ask him if you want." Chris had teased, pulling out his phone. Becker didn't say no, so Chris typed it up, daring the jock-sure pilot to tell him no. THe second feeling he'd had was a sense of protectiveness. Like a pack watching out for the youngest cub. THey all seemed worried about him, dropping little hints here and there.

Around 0200, a giggling Chris had sent the text from the back of the cab; as Becker tried to steal the kid's phone while Wen kept him back. "You said you WANTED it hot shot! Now he's gonna crush ya under his boot!" She giggled.

=Hawker! We're at O'Lear's pub. Becker says he wants to try out for a backup pilot position. Incase I get put 'on suspension.' He didn't say no! Haha, you're gonna smash him.= Chris followed it up with a photo of all of them mugging for the camera while Becker sulked.

----------------------------------------

Sometime around 1100, Chris woke up with a HELL of a hangover. He'd ended up on the floor of his room. The rest of the day he lazed about as his muscles ached and his bruises throbbed. By Friday he'd gotten back to normal, waking at 0900 and making his way through HLX-9 documentation when he'd gotten a text from Colburn. 'Engineering, room d-2.'

Coffee in hand, barely limping, Chris walked into D-2. THe room had a number of interesting pieces of equipment, looked like .. textile manufacturing? "There you are." came the Chief Engineer's pleased voice. "We're going to get you properly scanned in for custom piloting suits. As much as we'd like to keep putting you into Lee's old ones, we got the budged to run the loom. AND, to be fair, you just don't have the same kind of body layout."

 


 

The mech decided to tune into the game - a way to feel part of the action. Hawker didn't know much about baseeball, but a quick download of a guide changed that. Lee had been more into hockey, and the two had watched plenty of Blackhawks games over the years. The man even joked about starting a mech-only hockey league when he retired, and during his more inebriated moments made Hawker help him draft up rules.

The concept of sports intrigued him, and it was nice to watch a game again for the first time since... well. And it was nice that it wasn't hockey, he realized as he watched a foul came sailing down into the stands with the crowd rushing up to meet it, scrambling for a souvenir. Eight home runs later and the Cubs take the game with a 3-bagger at the bottom of the 8th. As far as he could tell, it'd been a fantastic game.

Later, a text message roused him from sleep - a little tap, almost, on the inside of his helmet. Systems onlined - 0211? The mech, otherwise still as as a statue on his maintenance slab and optics unlit, cracked a smile.

Hawker! We're at O'Lear's pub. Becker says he wants to try out for a backup pilot position. Incase I get put 'on suspension.' He didn't say no! Haha, you're gonna smash him.

Then, immediately after, a photo with stereoscopic metadata of everybody cramming their faces together, grinning like idiots. All except for Cory Becker, who was rubbing at his face in embarrassment. The visual depth information added character to the image and made Becker's reaction just that much more amusing. Hawker hoped that he'd actually get a chance to show that kid a thing or two in neurospace and it wasn't just the booze talking.

Tell him that I'm ready, whenever he happens to grow a pair. A chuckle. Now, you kids have fun and don't stay out all night. He ended it with a grinning devil emoji.

He re-engaged his low-power mode, happy that his boy was finally having a good time.

---

The specially-designed c-can fit Hawker like a giant metal coffin, and he was glad to finally be able to step out once they'd arrived at the clean room facility in Rockford. His optics had to re-calibrate themselves to the glaring white light that refracted off of the white linoleum floor, the glossy white walls, and the starched white labcoats of the technicians that were there to admit him. And this was only the receiving area.

Chris and one of Colburn's assistants stepped out of the passenger end of the truck, blinking in the bright light too.

"Welcome to the Mobile Fission Systems lab, Mr. Celn," said one of the engineers, reaching out to Chris for a shake before turning to the mech and the assistant, respectively. "HLX-9, Mr. Nguyen, welcome back. Now, I'm not sure how much you know about what work we'll be doing this weekend," he said, smiling and adjusting his thick glasses, "But I'll try to keep it short and sweet..."

The procedure, swapping his generation-VI pool-type reactor with an even smaller, generation-VII loop-type, was scheduled to take two 10-hour days. The benefits? Hawker's "backpack" silhouette would be slimmed down by a good 19 inches and would benefit from requiring even less cooling material due to an improved rapid heat exchange system design.

Hawker would be conscious, his energy needs temporarily met by being plugged into the grid and his entire haptic network disabled, effectively rendering him numb and paralyzed. As for relieving boredom?

"We've got a small drone frame you can occupy if you'd like, though it'd have to be wired. You can also play some games if you're into that sort of thing." Hawker eyed his pilot, knowing the kid had at least a passing interest in gaming. "Or there's always internet..."

"I guess I could try my hand at one of those shoot-em-ups," the mech said with some bemusement. Lee was never interested in the hobby, and as a result the mech hadn't ever bothered. Why? Sims and neurospace were than fantastical enough. And the physics in those things were at least realistic.

"What do you think, kid?"

---

Later, Hawker found himself strapped into a custom-fitted pipe frame that was part operating table, part gyroscope. And, like everything else around here, painted a bright, glossy white. The team doing the work were dressed in white coveralls, gloves, face masks, goggles, booties over their shoes, and every single strand of hair tucked away under a cap, which was in turn tucked away under a white hood. Nguyen was there to monitor the progress, but Chris was behind glass.

Someone standing on a gantry behind him opened up the back of his helmet and began plugging in thick cables that dangled down from the ceiling, screwing them in tight. Hawker's mind was suddenly aware of the lab's server systems like a series of doors down a hallway had opened in succession, and he was officially free to roam.

I'll see you in a few, kiddo, he sent to Chris' phone just as the manipulating arms of the frame whirred to life and he was slowly lowered into position: face-down and mere inches from the floor.

 


 

"Did you get the brief about today?" Inquired Colburn as she inspected the readouts on the equipment. THe right side of the room is a mountain of dust covers. It's obvious that the equipment is used almost never and must cost a fortune to run. THe techs are busy changing out tanks of raw material.

"No ma'am. I've been enjoying my time off by not moving much and going over HLX-9 technical information." His coffee is the perfect temperature, and Chris savored several long pulls.

"Up until now you've been in modified pilot suits. Two of Lee's, that have not been giving proper connectivity. Only 85% or so on the feedback. You may have noticed that when piloting, things felt incomplete; like your leg was asleep." Several of the machines had tags that read 'PROPERTY OF US GOVERNMENT. UNIT 04 of 10, PRODUCED BY SPECIALIZED ENGINEERING.' What ever these are, they'd been made in small numbers at great expense. "Take your clothes off Celn. You're about to get wrapped up in a fresh piloting suit. One that's actually yours."

Chris decided to finish off the drink before getting completely naked in front of Colbrun and several strangers. SOme of his oldest bruises had disappeared. Others hung around, as the crescents from every bite still made arcs over his otherwise smooth skin. As he reached for the straps of his jock, (Obviously enjoying showing off that he is a fit, thin twink), one of the techs shouted "WOAH! WOah WOah there greenhorn! Keep your underwear on, we just need you mostly nude."

Colburn looked, a sigh escaping her nose. "Get up on that big gantry, the one that has the 10 foot orange doughnut." At least Chris didn't look worse.

The twink climbed up the equipment, the laid down on the smooth metal. The doughnut moved from his head to toes, slowly rotating as it scanned him with a bright green line of light. As it mapped his body, the thick cables that connected it to the other machines began to create the complex layers of the pilot suit. Layers of breathable synthetic fibers. Layers of sensors, connective wires with enough slack to be flexible. Each one positioned correctly for Chris's unique human physiology. After fifty minutes, the skin-right suit emerges from the curing oven.

"Once it's cool enough to wear, put it on. I'm not expecting you to need it, but we don't know could happen on your trip." Colburn seemed distracted, or aloof. Practically silent treatment in comparison to her normal chatty self.

"My trip?" Chris inquired, touching the suit's thick knee pads. The rubber smell strongly of chemicals, reminded him of burning oil.

"You're going with the HLX-9 to get it's reactor swapped out. Should only take two, maybe three days. Afterward it'll have enough power for 3 to 10 years, depending on power usage. You'll be along to watch and pilot it in an emergency. Shit should be wearable."

The greenhorn slid into the still warm, odorous outfit. THe fresh material clung to his body, gripping him in all the right places. Suited up with the sipper at his neck, it felt natural. Perfect. Not like how Lee's hand-me-downs sort of hugged him. "Feels good. Warm, like a heating pad all over."

"Hope you get used to it, you'll be in it for the whole weekend." Colburn grinned with an evil chuckle. "It needs to 'learn' your body. Yes you can take a shower. Rinse the suit, wipe down the interior and put it back on. And yes, you can be nude in it. Just don't flop out around here. Get packed, and you might want to wear something over that. It has almost no thermal retention."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Chris had gone commando after getting to his room. Colburn was up to something, he just didn't know what. And the suit! It still hugged him perfectly, a second skin.
Thankfully the ride up had been calm and devoid of incident.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Chris checked his phone, then looked around the room. THere is a rather dull looking robot in a gantry, roughly the side of a normal human. Faceless and genderless; it's dark grey frame mixed with bits of chrome and milky-while plastic.

"Geez. Guess I'm going to get to see what makes you tick. I bet it's boring looking." He put his hands on the glass, peering down into the room. His gloved hands made little squeaky sounds on the transparent material. He'd love to pit Hawker against Tsung in some team deathmatch.

 


 

He wandered around for a little bit, feeling out the place. It was all uninteresting, and most of it off-limits to him besides, so the mech headed for some new accommodations.

First thing he noticed is that the drone body fit more like a sock puppet than a second skin, with the rest of him "exposed". Still, it would do. Right? Hawker disengaged the latches holding the 300-pound thing to its rack and stepped out, looking over at the thing.

"This is terrible," he muttered flatly, voice coming out over a speaker. It didn't even have a vocal modulator! He ham-fisted his cybernetic consciousness into every possible component of the little body and found that it was a poor facsimile of what he was used to. Even the little camera in the face whirred and clicked as it went in and out of focus. He finally lifted his monocular gaze to the young man standing at the window, his body handsomely hugged by a deliciously utilitarian piece of technology. "Oh, well look who we have here."

Not nearly as imposing as he was used to being, but... the mech was not necessarily one to walk away from a moment of adversity.

 


 

"Oh, well look who we have here." Chris turned, arms dropping to his sides as he walked toward the thing that Hawker is puppeteering.

Puppet is a good word, thick black cables emerged from the back of the android and fed up into a spool that hung over the gantry. THe robot stood exactly 6 feet tall, still 6 inches on Celn. The rookie stood before his 'diminished' partner with a wry grin on his face. One hand on an elbow, the other stroking his chin. THe fresh flight suit left nothing to the imagination; every adorable inch of the Twin pilot is on display. THe kid's coat and the small duffel sat on a chair in the room, having come into the observation chamber.

"I was right, your voice is terrible through a speaker." He leaned left and right, taking in the full sight of his repackaged lover. "If you could smell right now, You'd know I've got that buried-oil scent of fresh rubber." Then, he experimentally put a hand on the chestplate of the small Hawker, and pushed.

Unsurprisingly, the robotic body leaned back before the mechanisms within the ankles brought the machine up to level again. What Hawker though about Chris having the power to push him around?

 


 

"I was right, your voice is terrible through a speaker."

He was about to say something, but the logic centers of his DF2-enabled mind were suddenly overwhelmed as Chris drew near enough to push him. Push him! The hand felt all wrong, the strength it had compared to what he was used to -

Skinny little legs stumbled to catch his measly weight before toppling over like a plastic toy.

"Oh hoh, we've got a big shot now, do we?" He tried to smile through his voice though it was damn difficult. This whole thing was going to lose its novelty pretty quickly, wasn't it? "My size all that's keeping you in line, huh? Hm, we'll see... about that." The drone body was quick, at least. He had Chris by the wrists, suppressing the headache-inducing errors he was getting about the human being too big to make sense and shoved him against the wall with a hard, metal knee keeping his shapely thighs apart as the camera-optic took in the new suit.

"Maybe this body's not so bad after all..."

 


 

It's not that Hawker's normal body is slow, but it is LARGE. And with that size, you see the motion of a limb, feel the air displaced as a mass of metal game rushing toward you. The little mech body is surprisingly fast, gathering his arms and yanking them upward with enough force to make his shoulders ache. Chris grunted, able to exert enough effort to make the mech's hands move apart! A few seconds is all he had, then it easily crossed his wrists, holding them in it's left hand as the right came down. The knee between his thighs is exciting, Chris felt his blood pumping.

The android moved like hawker did, it had the same confident swagger. THe same care with how it put down each footstep. At that size, it's direly important not to crush anything unless you mean it. Still Chris isn't exactly helpless.

"I like you down to earth. I think we ought to see about getting you something this size to tromp around the station with." He slid his left leg along the inside of the robot's, wondering if there were sensors to feel the sensation.

"You're still on a leash." he nodded, indicating the cables that were halfway spooled out. "I think this frame is missing some important equipment. And depth perception." He playfully tapped his forehead to the face plate, leaving a smudge.

--------------

"How long?" spoke one of the observers, all of them watching from cameras not in the room. The Observation chamber Chris Celn stood in is made almost entirely made of transparent material. Some metallic girders, the floor, and the metal doors were the only things blocking the multi-angle view of the room.

"53 seconds." spoke a second.

"That's.. not exactly your normal aggression." said one from a remote location.

"No. Kid's not afraid either." said a fourth.

"His heart rate's up though. The biosensor readouts are fantastic." said the second.

"You had a long enough drive to calibrate them." retorted the first.

"So now what?" Pretty sure this answers some raised issues." said a fifth.

"See how far it progresses. If this ends up being a case of Ai & Human relations, then we've made a mountain out of a molehill." summed up the original speaker.

 


 

The drone has more angles than Hawker was used to, like it was made from two-by-fours and popsicle sticks. But it made Chris' discomfort at the square, straight-lined knee joint just that much more. A finger traced down the zipper along his spine. The mech growled in frustration at not being able to feel it.

"I like you down to earth. I think we ought to see about getting you something this size to tromp around the station with."

"I could tie you down and fuck you in your own rack," the mech said quietly, square head leaning in close to Chris' ear. "Fit all my fingers around your neck."

"I think this frame is missing some important equipment. And depth perception."

Clunk.

Oh, for fuck's sake.

Hawker used the drone's free hand to do something he'd been wanting to do, though: snake his fingers through the short-cropped hair and jerk the sensitive filaments taught between the fingers of a sudden fist, yanking Chris's head back. Metal knuckles dug into his scalp. He left no room for play, his grip was too complete.

"Was that sass I heard, scabber?"

 


 

Hawker might not have felt the zipper, but there's no way he could miss Chris's reaction. The boy gasped, chest lifting up as the machine played to the things he enjoyed so much. Being powerless, under the control of another.

"Fit all my fingers around your neck." A hard shudder and through the greenhorn, and the lump in his suit grew down his left leg. "Fuck Hawker, sometimes I think I'm the AI the way you mash my buttons!" He firmly presses his leg against the puppet-droid, enough to make the bot need to re-adjust. He could sense the frustration, the way that Hawker grabbed at him, at least his partner would notice him struggling.

Chris half-lids his eyes at feeling metallic fingers in his soft hair, saving the way they slid over his scalp. The sudden jolt had him YELP! Tears formed and dripped down from the corners of his eyes. His breath hitched, then he licked over his lips and huffed. Neck exposed, he inhaled a sharp hiss.

"You aren't supposed to reward sass, Captain." He smirked, despite behind held quite immobile. "So no Sir, I'd say it wasn't."

-------------------------------------

Observer one lit a pipe, shaking the match out once the tobacco began to glow. "That's unexpected."

"The Deep Field 2 is absolutely working on wiped protocols." said two.

"What about the new pilot? I don't need biosensors to see what's happening." spoke four.

"Did you read his full background?" inquired the remote observer.

"Skimmed it." admitted five. "He'd either end up with a hero complex, or repeat what'd been done to him."

"Or, take a third option. Be a hero, and relive it." one added with a puff on the pipe.

"Seem well-matched then. All in favor of marking this as resolved, pending further developments?" Within moments, 4 to 1 for closing the investigation.

"Good, on to the issue with the USS Saratoga.."

 


 

He could hear, he could see, and that was about it. But he could hear Chris's breath sluice roughly down his little windpipe, he could see the bobbing of the Adam's apple, the wince, the wetness at the corners of his bright eyes.

Hey, maybe the kid was onto something.

Then that cheeky little grin that he wanted to lick and chew right off!

"You aren't supposed to reward sass, Captain. So no Sir, I'd say it wasn't."

The droid had practically no codpiece to speak of; it was just angular enough for him to shove roughly up against the kid's ass, knowing that, even in this dumb body, he was capable of coaxing blood into all the right places.

But when Hawker went to kiss at his pilot's painfully exposed neck and realized, all too late, that he couldn't. He stopped, let his monocular face come to rest on Chris' shoulder, and the speaker emitted a long, self-defeated chuckle. "I don't have a mouth," he said, releasing the human at the absurdity of it. "Don't think you're off the hook, meatboy. I'll get pushups out of you for that one later."

 


 

Clad in tight fitting rubber, held fast by his partner, new aches. Chris rested wanted to move, he tried to put his chin on the puppet-bot's smooth domed face. He could perhaps move a fraction of an inch before the thousands of hair follicles shrieked with pain, and he drew in a shuddering gasp. His forearms flexed, biceps pushing out against the rubber. It holds tight enough to his body that as he breathes in, it pulls in to show off where his abs are, and where his ribcage beings.

"I don't have a mouth."

Chris had no doubt that if Hawker had full equipment in his current size, that their sexual tension would have erupted into multiple messy conclusions. He grunted in the sudden need that had built up, feeling the same deflation in the inability for the down of the to come to a satisfying conclusion. When released he didn't rub his wrists and cry, he didn't carefully stroke over the ache that tingled along his scalp.

He dropped an arm over the shoulder of his partner, reaching up to tug playfully on those thick cables. "Deal. Actually didn't feel dead when I woke up this morning, which is nice." His other hand came up, and he sensuously ran his thumb down the center of that faceplate. Squeeeeeak. "Looking forward to healing up, be fun to see what you do to a clean canvas."

Stepping back, his rubbery body looked slightly mechanical, as if he'd been dipped in technology. "Seeing as we've got a couple of days to work out our boredom, let's play some Halo 12. If Tsung is on, I want to see how well you do against her." He walked over to the TV, pausing for a moment as he reached for the remote. His sleek shoulders and perky rear filled out the backside of that suit.

"Do you feel like you're being watched?" He looked out the windows, but aside from the technicians doing their best to disassemble Hawker; there is no one. "Just.. huh. Kinda weird that they stuck us up here." TV on he flumped down on the couch, scrolling through options.

"Any graffiti in that body? 'Killroy was here' on the processors?" He brought up the game, picking up a controller. "Allright; whoever wins a round gets to ask the other a question. Or a Dare. Dares work too. You up for a little bonding with your pilot?"

 


 

"What's that smell?" Kole asked, sniffing the at the air in the mech's suite. "I noticed it when I talked to him the other day, but I guess I didn't think much of it."

Colburn took one short whiff, and scanned the space for only a second before her eyes settled on the red towel on the floor in the corner. She put two and two together pretty quickly, not even needing to investigate that further. "That's what Hawker's fluid smells like."

Kole made a face, hands on his hips. "His..!" The sergeant cut himself off, exhaling sharply out his nose, rubbing at his face, then looked around for something to kick. That something was one of the supports for the mech's oversized desk. "Dammit, Colburn! Why didn't we see it! Why didn't...!"

"Because we trusted him too much!" snapped the Chief. The picture of Hawker pushing Celn to the floor of the motor pool and yelling, baring his teeth like a Grizzly out for blood, came to mind.

"Hawker's our heavy hitter, Cora," Kole said, upset enough to use her first name. "We'd need a team of four HLX-7s just to replace 'im. And Celn..."

"Celn's in denial. He's protecting the AI because he put all his eggs in Hawker's basket. He thinks his career and his future depend on putting up with this shit." She paused, sucked in a breath. "When he gets back, you need to pull him aside and tell him that his career isn't going anywhere, that at the end of the day, they both answer to you. If we give him the space, he might be able to pull himself out."

The rumble of a small engine sounded behind them, along with the irritating beep beep beep so characteristic of construction equipment. The cherry-picker was here, and so were the electricians who would be installing the surveillance equipment.

Colburn waved the small crew in. "Which is why," she continued, speaking quietly as Kole drew nearer, "We won't give them any more opportunities to be alone."

"I got one question, Chief," Kole muttered, scowling deeply. "Why in the hell did you leave that shit in there?"

"I'm still learning too, Gideon," she shot back. "I figured that you cut off a guy's dick while he's under and he's liable to notice. No matter who he is when he wakes up."

"Is that... stuff at least safe?"

"You'd think I'd let him anywhere near 42 if it wasn't? It's dimethicone. A silicone lubricant thinned with water."

"No wonder I recognize the smell," Kole grunted, then turned his attention toward the crew. "Yeah, yeah. Right up there. Yeah, the door. Above the door."

Quietly again: "I wanna give them one last chance to come clean, sir," Colburn said. "We confront the both of them. I'll talk to Chris, you talk to Hawker, then we bring everybody together in a nice little pow-wow and lay it all out. See if we can't force somebody's hand before we get the DOJ involved."

"Sarah, it's worth a shot."

---

Back in Rockford, Hawker had released his much more evenly-matched pilot from his pin against the wall. Already he missed his own body, missed what it could do. Missed the way Chris felt against real sensors. Whatever, it was just a weekend.

"Deal. Actually didn't feel dead when I woke up this morning, which is nice."

"Don't get used to it," was the smug retort. Distantly he felt weight on the thing's shoulders; Chris' arm had come to rest around them like they were totally besties. Out in the clean room, Hawker's body groaned faintly. His very attractive, very delightfully engaging little pilot was killing him right now. However, the big grump couldn't imagine having it any other way.

"Looking forward to healing up, be fun to see what you do to a clean canvas."

...And that was why.

"I'd like to see what you could look like with a little more premeditation," he said, letting the drone's fingers casually brush over the bulge in that brand-new suit as he took a few steps back. Hawker didn't want to see the kid wear anything else ever again.

"Seeing as we've got a couple of days to work out our boredom, let's play some Halo 12."

"It may be hard to believe, but I haven't ever touched one of those video game things." Then, deadpan: "I prefer shooting real people. You're going to have to your your boss the ropes, it looks like."

"Do you feel like you're being watched?"

He scoffed. "42's crawling with cameras. What I'm not used to is privacy."

"Just.. huh. Kinda weird that they stuck us up here."

The mech honestly thought nothing of it. "The precinct belongs to the city, the MFT Lab is a Department of Defense installation. They've got their way of doing things, and it doesn't always make any sense." He glanced outside at himself: cables poured out his backside while the team of technicians, looking like bizarre snow monsters, had already managed to remove the armor plating covering his back, and were taking great pains to set the enormous and heavy pieces aside in some kind of order.

Chris had flopped down on the couch in front of the TV, looking better by the minute in that Chris-shaped rubber cocoon. Hawker was glad he was paralyzed out there, otherwise he might be showing his own chub.

"Any graffiti in that body? 'Killroy was here' on the processors?"

The mech laughed. "No, but..." He created a little file, tucking it away in the firmware that ran the pelvic servos. Chris' ass was here/. "...there is now." He followed his charge over to the sofa and carefully sat down, quite unused to the whole idea of sitting on soft, uneven things that yielded to weight. When he got his bearings, he scooted in closer to Celn, letting their knees touch as he fired up the game. If it was in stereoscope Hawker couldn't tell with that one damn camera-eye, but it wasn't really any matter anyways, as he quickly discovered that he could sink himself right into the game environment. No controller necessary.

"Truth or dare? Don't think I've played that one either, but you should know me by now. I expect to win."

"You up for a little bonding with your pilot?"

The drone's head cocked to the side a bit and he stroked up the kid's thigh, letting that hand give a squeeze just beside that enticing swell in the rubber. "Who said anything about bonding? I'm here to kick your ass," he said with a laugh.

 


 

 

 

Kole held a camera in his hands, it was a strange thing, big lens and almost nothing else except screws and a single port for a connector. "And you're certain Nine wouldn't see these? He can count the hairs left on my head in three seconds."

Colburn chuckled, a smile pulling back her lips. "He won't notice because there'll be nothing to see. We're putting them in behind screens or dark plastic panels. And we're installing two in his alcove to cover the places the normal cameras don't cover."

At 52, Kole's shaved head could wrinkle up impressively when concerned, which it hadn't stopped sense they'd discovered the evidence. "And what about data transmissions? He can intercept wireless on the fly."

"Fiberoptic. Literally. The light from the room is captured by the lense and goes down cables. Outside the 'office' we're putting in a box. That'll be plugged into an ethernet cable, the storage server sits in my office. For now, only you and I will have access." She outlined the plan to spy on the exceptionally advanced mech.

"So.. not even trying to fool him, going low tech?" He placed the camera back with the others. Already the crew is busy putting in the first one behind one of the hundreds of monitors.

"I'd put a periscope in if I had the opportunity." Her voice is tight, she couldn't get the situation out of her mind. "Except I don't want anything that could move, Nine would sense the change in air pressure."

Kole held a length of bubble wrap in his hands, liberated from the equipment cart. Starting at the top right corner, he began to methodically pop each and every one down the row. He calmly walked to stand next to the chief engineer, his voice nearly silent. "Thinking about what Nine told me. In this light.." snap pop plick, the bubbles burst as he white-knuckled them into oblivion.

"Don't worry, I'll clean up in here. Nothing like seeing the kleenex in the trashcan to let you know the jig is up. Trust me, I've raised four boys." She could see the stress wearing on the older sergeant, the vein in his forehead throbbed.

"This had better work." Kole intoned, hands working aggressively through the bubble wrap. "And remind me, never do anything that requires Celn to be lucky."

Despite the ugly possibilities of what'd happened where they stood, Cora couldn't help but chuckle. She caught Gideon's furrowed brow and the both started for a long moment. The need to release the combined tension resulted in the two of them laughing for a long minute. After all the kid had been through, only to end up facing this?

Sometimes, it was all you could do.

--------------
"I'd like to see what you could look like with a little more premeditation."

Chris raised his eyebrows, a hopeful grin exposing his teeth. "Oh my, did I get the captain flustered?" Hip-thrusting into the air, the fresh rubber ensuring his bulge made the rubbed audibly squeak. "Going off half-cocked, just shotgunning at the target?" he teased.

Perhaps the best part of the suit is what it represented. The black material shined with the metallic sensors, positioned to monitor every single part of Chris's body. Stripped of it's secrets, nothing below the neck would be hidden from the machine while the greenhorn wore it. What would it be like to feel that ultra-smooth material embracing his three-foot dick with Chris inside?

"Truth or dare? Don't think I've played that one either, but you should know me by now. I expect to win."

That one had Chris laughing, pushing his shoulder into the robot on the couch. "THe things you don't know. Man. I forget you're all business sometimes." he shook his head, then explained. "It's simple. The winner earns the right to ask a single question, and the other has to answer truthfully. Or, if the loser doesn't want to answer then he has to do a dare. Dares could be humiliating, silly or embarrassing. However, they should be quickly accomplished and done with things in the room. Daring me to suck your finger for a minute would be acceptable. Daring to me cut off my hand isn't."

"Who said anything about bonding? I'm here to kick your ass!"

"Oh really? Then let's just see what you can do, and you don't have long to figure this out. Tsung's on, once she gets out of her current match she'll mop the floor with you."

Hawker_HLX9 entered the tutorial as his pilot typed out a message to Tsung. He found himself in a poorly rendered environment. The view rendered at 60 fps, and ONLY where he looked. THe only other means of threat detection was a small mini-map. Five seconds in, Hawker found several forums on an AI blog where he PROPERLY learned how the game worked. Angles for tossing indirect weapons, how the different fictional firearms work, the distance that melee worked. And of course, the optimal position to teabag an opponent's corpse.

"I hope you're ready. She can kick my ass one-handed." Hawker_HLX9 and LunaChris are on red, 2Tsungdre4U as the only blue in a private arena deathmatch; best of 5.

 

 


 

The laugh felt good, but this was still bothering the hell out of him, and he was realizing that this would be one of the hardest confrontations of his career. This was their last opprtunity to get this right, though, and Kole wanted to leave as little to chance as possible. So while the crew worked, he went back upstairs to talk to one of his best detectives, bringing the bubble wrap with him and finishing it awkwardly in the elevator. While the sergeant had been around the block, and more times than he could count, it'd been awhile since he was personally involved in the minutiae of investigative work. Unless it was a high-risk, high-profile situation, he just didn't do the questioning room song and dance anymore.

He knocked on the door to Detective Costa’s office. “It’s open,” came the preoccupied voice inside.

“Hey Costa, I wanna pick your brain about domestic abusers for a minute. Got a case I’m working on and I wanna… refresh my memory about the type.” The plastic found its way into the waste basket and Kole sat down.

---

Even after downloading every bit of easily accessible information he could find about the game, he was still hideously unimpressed with his performance. If the drone had a face, it would be darkened by a heavy scowl.

“This is supposed to be fun?” the mech grunted, the words appearing in the chat simultaneously. His character, some low-poly teal monstrosity, couldn’t even look straight up. The rendering engine gave him more of a headache than Chris’ dream even had.

And suddenly he was dead.

Chris was howling with laughter as Hawker’s drone body just sat there, watching as the polite, studious, and very talented miss Beth Sung positioned her character over Hawker’s dead body and repeatedly assumed a crouch above its head before he was whisked away to the starting point again.

Oh hell no.

First order of business was to at least make it feel like he could move a little more naturally. With lightning speed he muscled his way into the game engine and shoved in a few lines of code that would allow him to render himself. When he pulled out and back into the game a few seconds later, his game asset suddenly had a few more bones. He held up his Spartan’s hand to the camera, wiggling the fingers, then flashing a thumbs-up.

“It’s a start.” Then he turned to Chris, nudging his knee with his own and chuckled. “So did that one count or are you gonna cut this old AI a some slack?” he asked, fully expecting the answer to be no.

 


 

Detective Costa ended up behind a desk for a number of reasons. He is more observant then most, had an eye for detail and a fantastic memory. Of course, when about 46% of your body mass is made up of cybernetics, those things tend to go hand in metallic fist. Costa unfortunately found himself up on the wrong side of an improvised explosive in 2055. The left side of his body, from skull to foot contained silicone, steel, and polymers.

"I thought I heard your footsteps! Been a few months Sergent." Costa had a cable connected to the left side of his head, just below the ear, that ran to his desktop. His dress shirt puffed out in places where the mechanics of his body pressed out at sharp angles. "Pardon me if I don't get up, just filing a few reports." THe desk is liberally covered in papers and files, a small lamp stuck up like the lock ness monster; shining it's flight over the most recent file.

Kole wisely chose the office chair that wasn't stacked up past the back with file boxes and sat down heavily. Both sides of the office was flanked in filing cabinets, as were the walls to either side of the door. "Remind me to teach you about the paperless office sometime." he joked without much humor in his voice.

As the office door finished swinging shut, Costa brought his organic and metallic hands together, elbows on the desk. "The type doesn't change a whole lot. All of 'em have a desire to control, to have power, and to inflict pain. It's the mix of the three that changes. Sometimes it's all in the head, as they don't always want to leave physical marks. Sometimes it's just about making someone else suffer."

The solid blue of the detective's artificial eye dimmed as he leaned back. "The victim is hard to understand, and harder to heal. There's a reason why they stay with their abuser. Reasons why they keep going back. Could be financial, twisted emotions, can be a lack of places to go if you're talking about underage victims."

"Tell me all about the involved parties, and ask me anything."

--------------------

"I know damn well you would have made it count for me." he play-glared at the cyclopic puppet. "I'll give you a free pass. She got both of us anyway. Hang on a sec.." as the match loaded up for the next round, he typed to Tsung 'Hey, after this can we do some 3 on 3?' Chris flexed his fingers. As the game progressed, Chris had an annoying tendency to move in ways that made no sense! Hugging corners to abuse the 3rd person camera, snapping the sniper rifle up to his face, and picking up the energy sword when he could find it. The character started with a pistol and assault rifle, why change for something else?

"It's a game, not a simulation of real combat. You'd love Arma. I think that combat simulator game has something like twelve different ways to crawl through cover." As Chris rounded the corner he'd been camping, Tsung dropped on him from above; using her sword's short dash mechanic to kill him in one blow before desecrating his corpse. "FUCK!" he slammed the controlled into the couch with his frustration. "Damn it, she knows these maps inside and out."

'Sure thing, you noobs aren't much challenge. And that REALLY Hawker?' with nothing better to do, Chris responded. 'Yes, but he's going through at least 3 levels of interfaces. And he's never played any Halo before.'

Chris lifted up his leg, placing it atop the puppeted robot and wiggling his foot against Hawker's calves. "Pretty sure I didn't rule out distractions."

----------------------

While the other observers had moved on, the remote onlooker had been the dissenting vote. Adding additional observations from the continued interactions.

-Pilot and DF2 have continued sexual tension.
-Pilot and DF2 discussing means of future physical abuse; both eager.
-DF2 dominant so far in all observed interactions. Probability that violence is completely consensual unlikely.

 

 


 

Kole raked his fingers across his scalp, which shined as brightly as his patent leather shoes in the flourescents.

"Tell me all about the involved parties, and ask me anything."

"Well," he began, not actually sure where to begin. "It's a uh... got a call about a domestic abuse sitch." When Costa raised his single original eyebrow, Kole elaborated just enough. "And no, it's not below my paygrade. The suspected perp is highly visible, the victim a little less so. Still, the media would have a field day if this got out, so pardon me for keeping a little hush-hush on the details."

"Sure thing, sir," came the easy voice of the seasoned detective.

"Perp is a big guy. Tough. Confident. Clever, but a real bruiser. And I mean that literally. The victim... let's just say that without a good weapon, there's no contest between 'em."

"You said domestic abuse, I assume they're living together, then?"

"In a sense, yeah."

"What kind of abuse are we talking? Financial, verbal, psychological...?" This sort of stuff was practically Costa's bread and butter. He could profile these kinds of scum in seconds flat.

"Physical, and maybe..." Kole wiped his eyes and let out the breath he'd been holding. "Maybe sexual."

Costa nodded gravely, leaning back in his chair until the seat back collided with a stack of banker's boxes. "And our victim?"

"Y....ounger." Not really, but it fit. "Inexperienced. I think it's a mentorship thing gone wrong."

Costa nodded, blinking his organic eye. "I see this sort of thing a dozen times a year, sarge. This one's easy: this sort of asshole gets off on control. I mean, they all do: it's always about control. But with this one, it's about presenting as a safe place to be young and experienced, presenting as someone to learn from. Only, they start teaching them dependence, low self-esteem, anxiety. They're nice one minute to sweeten up that honeymoon phase, then they turn around and start breaking things. Then they apologize, usually promising it'll never happen again. Victim believes them, and they keep believing them."

Kole nodded, recalling his criminal psychology textbooks. The Cycle. Well, that explained why Hawker did smile and play nice sometimes. Explained why Celn kept coming back for more.

"You sure you can't tell me more about this case? I could probably spare some time to help you with it," Costa suggested, strumming his fingers together. Metal against flesh.

Kole stood up abruptly. "No, no..." He waved dismissively and looked out through the blinds at the gray sky outside. Had it really started snowing again? Christ... "You know how these things go. Almost impossible to prosecute if the victim's gone full-blown Stockholm."

"Er, well, Stockholm Syndrome technically refers to -"

"Yeah, yeah, I know."

Costa threw his hands up. "Just making sure you hadn't forgotten is all, sir."

Kole suddenly flashed a smile, not wanting to let on what cards he was holding. "I'm not that old, Roman."

The detective chuckled. "Good, because I'm right behind you." A pause as their laughter faded. "Look, sir. I know it's been a while since you handled something like this. My advice, don't let it eat you up, alright? Keep your cool, and keep your eyes open. A touch, a word, could be all you need to press charges."

"Yeah... haven't forgotten that either. Thank god."

---

"I think that combat simulator game has something like twelve different ways to crawl through cover."

"Only twelve?" Hawker huffed, trying out one of the vehicles. He'd never driven a vehicle in any reality, virtual or non-, and he was glad for it. "You know, I think my confidence might have been a little premature." The mech was trying his damnedest to move like he would in the real world, but the game was fighting him, thinking his interference was indicative of some kind of virus. He eventually found Chris' avatar, hoping that he'd get in and man the turret. It seemed like a sensible enough tactic in an otherwise nonsensical world. Gravity barely even functioned properly!

'Yes, but he's going through at least 3 levels of interfaces. And he's never played any Halo before.'

Hawker chimed in: 'Is this ALL you mech-jocks do up there? Kole CLEARLY needs to give you more paperwork.'

'Shit. Really is him!!' was the reply. Hawker barked a laugh.

'Have your fun now,' he continued. 'Because I'll be more than happy to meet you for some capture-the-flag in the crash room when I get back. 0 health lands you in the morgue.'

A round from a rocket launcher blew the Warthog into the air, and Hawker's little teal man went flying like a rag doll. '...YOLO, sir.'

The drone's head was buried in its hand, and Hawker intoned a sighing sound over the speaker. "This goddamn game..." He respawned and resolved to try Tsung's assassination tactic with the sword... thing. Now where the fuck is it?

There was suddenly a foot against the drone's leg. He didn't feel it per-se, but he knew something was interfering with the limb's position. "Oh, you didn't? Well in that case." Without hesitation or ceremony, his hand came to rest squarely between Chris' shiny, rubberized thighs and began to rub.

Sure, they were on the same side, but the game just got that much more interesting as far as he was concerned.

 


 

Smoking and vaping are prohibited inside of government buildings, so Costa chewed on a plastic Bic pen to satisfy the nicotine ure that welled up as he witnessed thew worry on Kole's face. THe situation was eating the seasoned Sergeant up inside, whatever this DB case was; it IS close and personal. He couldn't just let the big man go on without offering more.

"Usually this kind of thing is military." he began, "You've got a superior officer with a mean streak ten feet wide, and some fresh grunt who's been told he's got to listen and obey." The pen clacked it it migrated to the metallic side of the man's mouth. "In the military higher-ups are busy, and they're just happy someone is doing something right; and progress is being made. The grunts have just spent months getting the idea of suffering drilled into them. If you can separate the two, get the victim training somewhere else? Maybe you can help 'em."

His metal hand removed the pen as he exhaled, checking to make sure he hadn't just given himself a mouthful of ink. "The abuser, harder to deal with. They're good at finding niches where they're useful to the military. Sometimes, whole programs get scrapped or put on hold as a replacement is found." The pen went back in, the ball-point dancing in the air as he considered the situation, unplugging the cable that attached himself to the desktop.

"Ya sure you can't give me anything else? Want me to go looking around?" he offer with a kind tone, "You've got me thinkin' about this case now."

------------------

Beth Tsung frowned. Chris wasn't where she expected him to be, he had predictable pathing. Hawker is unknown, but she didn't expect him to be much better then combat AI. Still..

..she kind was doing some kinda work with Big Nine. Her favorite work fantasy. She'd felt incredibly disappointment when she'd been tested after implanting, B-Rating. No one who knew her would dare suggest it was anything other then incompatibility; some humans just implanted better then others. And it wasn't like she couldn't pilot hawker, just that their mental connection would be like talking on the phone; unable to share more then audio and a camera-style view.

She lept over a ledge, dropping down the stairs by glitching through a map exploit. Sword in hand, she waited under the final concourse of stairs until footsteps ran past her. Then she backtracked, emerging from the shadows to come up behind Hawker_HLX9 and brain his avatar with the alien energy melee weapon.

'...I'll be more than happy to meet you for some capture-the-flag in the crash room when I get back. 0 health lands you in the morgue.'

She walloped from behind him for a one-hit-kill, this time having her character do the ass-shaking emote for the kill-cam.

"Hawker_HLX9 has been eviscerated by 2Tsungdre4U." spoke the in-game announcer.

'Tell you what, let's get some more people on this server. Give you two a chance at getting some kills.' Opening up the floodgates, her low-ping server began filling with people.

'And let's allow some respawns. 3 Lives each, then you're observing. Let's get it nice and crowded.'

CTF with Hawker in the crash room? Tsung snorted. Not even if she was piloting a MRAV with a head start! 'Maybe, but only if LunaChris is on my team."

--------------------------

Chris had been watching the screen, and to him Tsung had come out of nowhere to take out his partner. "DAMN! SHe was hiding under the stairs? I didn't' even know you could get under there."

THe rubber suit had thick pads on his shoulders, knees and elbows. His groin is padded as well, but for reasons more then just protection. THe front and rear could be opened with the right commands, exposing him itne cockpit. ANd, to be fair, a pilot just might want to use a restroom without having to peel off the tight-fitting suit.

The warm bulge squeaked with each touch, the contents easily growing as a knowing metal hand brought him to easy readiness. "Hrrrf! Boss, ya sure ya wanna do that here? Pretty sure they're watching us." Chris squirmed, not stopping the robot at all. He could get used to there being a small Hawker to play with at times. A smaller Hawker in his bedroom? He'd only leave to go play with the real thing!

 


 

"Ya sure you can't give me anything else? Want me to go looking around? You've got me thinkin' about this case now."

Kole paused to think for a very long, very quiet moment. "You want some coffee? I think I'm gonna go grab some coffee real quick."

Costa cocked his head to the side, folded his arms. It would have been funny if it wasn't such a terrible place to be: Kole was an open book to the seasoned detective right now. As easy as a kid on his first time behind the table. "Sure, thanks. I'll take mine black if you don't mind."

Kole nodded and disappeared out the door.

---

It bought him a few moments to think as he headed down the hallway to the floor's little kitchenette, where a huge pot of stale, burnt coffee sat on the warmer. Two styrofoam cups. One black, one with cream and sugar. Nobody ever expected the police sergeant to drink anything but tar black coffee, chewing on the over-roasted grounds like a garnish. Nobody expected him to be a wine guy, either.

Or to be so tore up about what was going on between his best mech and his best pilot - two of the only reminders he had of a dead friend that left a hole in the hearts of a lot of people around 42. Kole didn't want things to end this way. He really didn't. Couldn't he have a happy ending? Just this once?

---

"Alright, I'll tell you," he sighed, setting the coffee down and closing the door. "But only because you've been here for 20 years and you're a damn good man."

Costa nodded. "Thank you, sir."

"The perp is my HLX-9 Vanguard Hawker. And my victim is the new pilot."

"...You're shittin' me."

"I'm not shittin' anybody." A pause to gather his thoughts. "Look. The DOD, the DOJ don't know yet. And when they do find out, it'll all probably get classified to Timbuktu. So if you could just..."

"Whoa. I get it, I understand. So, what's your plan, sarge?"

"So far, the plan is that we're going to tackle this as soon as the two of them get back..."

---

"Hrrrf! Boss, ya sure ya wanna do that here? Pretty sure they're watching us."

Chris' squirming looked good from down here, too, even with the lo-res camera eye. But his boy's second mention of being watched prompted him to pull his hand away. One of the biggest things he learned during his time with Lee was that humans had senses that science hadn't quite figured out how to explain yet. 'Gut feelings'. 'Sixth senses'. Hawker could suspect, could weigh risk and probability, but he didn't quite have that kind of sensory intelligence, that same kind of animal instinct. Lee taught him that such input was an invaluable contribution to the human-machine bond. Lee taught him to trust human intuition.

The drone body twisted around on the couch, looking about the room with more scrutiny now. He spied no surveillance equipment, which he found odd. Not even the TV screen had a camera equipped. Behind him, Tsung wasted his idling character for the nth time.

"Can't shake that feeling, huh?"

He gave Chris' shoulder a possessive squeeze as he stood up and walked away from the game to look around the otherwise spartan room a little more closely. "Hm..."

 


 

Costa held the cup with his organic hand, the well-chewed pen tossed into the trashcan with a *clink.* The stuff made strange sensations from the sensors in his mouth. Hot, acidic, burnt. It stained the styrofoam with each slosh.

"I'm guessing that incident in the motor pool isn't just two dogs barkin'?"

Kole huffed, the only good thing about this mess was that Hawker had the decency to keep the worst parts of his abuse behind closed doors. "I wish." THe coffee is awful, but at least it wasn't he stuff from the cafeteria. "At first I thought they were adjusting. But now it seems that Nine is.."

His eyes closed and a deep inhale came, then left as a sigh.

"..A certain amount of damage is expected. If you looked at the pilots, every single one will have scrapes, bruises in strange places." Kole lead his story along.

"Climbing in and out of a metal skeleton can be hard. I have a real nice lump on the back of my right leg, from my left foot. Was in a hurry for a fresh bakery delivery. Not too hard to think what can happen around Nine, he's.." THe detective's blue eye flickered as he accessed his databanks. ".. jesus! Fifteen feet and six tons?"

The detective put down his coffee and looked UP. "He's twice as tall as the ceiling in the office." He thought for a little while, the unspoken concern left in the air. What could you do if something that big wanted to hurt you? "I know Lee was built like a tank, but this new pilot, what's he like?"

Kole frowned, pulling out his phone. "Smaller." Resting his thumb on the sensor, it unlocked and he navigated to where he had Chris's file pulled up. "Five foot eight, around 150 pounds." The phone must have remembered where the Sergeant normally had been, as it auto-scrolled down to the part where the bruised and battered body of Celn lay under the scanner.

Roman picked up his coffee again and looked level, then down. "Yeah. You weren't joking about when you said the victim would need a weapon to have a chance. What kind of damage we talking about here? Smacking around? Everyone around the station saw the footage of them two of them snarling at each other. But then they kinda made up? Hell, even the pool's been seeing positive bets lately."

Both hands when up in an apologetic gesture, and he almost spilled his hot drink. "I'm not in on it. But I do like to watch where it goes."

---------------------------

THERE! It had been an annoying exercise, slowly examining the complicated walls for cameras. Not that it is hard to find security cameras, but almost all of them had been aimed where the HLX's body lay on the floor. An overhead crane had been positioned and the Techs were busy connecting the reactor to it's hooks. Soon they might even try to extract it.

But there, subtly hidden under a catwalk was a camera aimed on the observation room. A room with big, open windows to all directions. Perhaps a room to observe into and out of? THe positions of the windows and the other few tings in the room, like the couch left to the discovery of three other cameras. There would probably be more. And a microphone could be hidden anywhere. Perhaps they could even get a feed off the body he was borrowing. It had wired connections; if there was a splitter in the output he'd never detect it.

-----------------------------

Chris leaned back in the sofa. waiting for the game lobby to fill. He is bored as well, playing against Tsung isn't fun. "No I can't. I feel like I'm in an aquarium here." Setting the controller down on the couch he stood up as well, eyes flicking around as he tried to see something out of place. Then he walked, each step making the boot treads chirp on the solid floor.

"And no one has come by? Nothing for us to do or work on?" His cute face pulled into a frown as he looked over the gantry and the cables that spooled out to the puppet-shell.

"You and I have the same problem. We've got nothing outside of our jobs. If it's not work, then prepare for work. Test, push, get better." He exhaled sharply through his nose.

"When do you draw the line in your past? Tte point where you say, from this moment on is who I am now?"

 


 

Roman Costa chuckled. "Me neither. Never even played the lottery, believe it or not. This line of work shown me where gambling'll get you."

"I'd like you be there when we go confront him, Roman." Kole had been looking at his coffee but flicked his gray eyes upward now. "You know how to work the questions for those JDLRs."

The detective shook his head. "Oh, this is more than just a JDLR. Honestly? All you'll need to do is show him the footage and he'll crack. Won’t be able to ignore the cognitive dissonance."

Sergeant Kole nodded, finished his coffee, stood up again. Cup in wastebasket. "I’ll erm… I’ll be in touch, alright?”

“Kole, it’s gonna be OK. Davidson isn’t rolling in his grave, I promise.”

“Wouldn’t be too sure about that, detective.”

---

"You and I have the same problem. We've got nothing outside of our jobs. If it's not work, then prepare for work. Test, push, get better."

The drone body stepped toward the window, watching. Under other circumstances it might be fascinating procedure to witness, but not right now; not with Chris' suspicions. "I have... a few things. Still, what defines my inner life is different than what defines a humans'. We AI are comparatively antisocial, I guess you could say. What ‘real’ or ‘enriching’ means to these old CPUs is different than what it means to gray matter.” A shrug. “I guess.”

Hawker watched the work for a few minutes, feeling suddenly a little vulnerable - a little accessible. Perhaps being small had that effect. Or perhaps it was watching your body being dismantled 40 feet away in a clean room that did it.

“I spent a lot of time brooding over these past 4 months,” he admitted quietly. “I was more social with Lee. When he died, a lot of me went with him. That’s the nature of that damn bond. That wonderful, thrilling, terrifying, dangerousbond.”

The drone’s camera turned toward Chris. “You have any idea of what I’m talking about? Is that even possible with human-to-human interfacing?” A snort and he turned away toward the window again, drawing up the drone’s shoulders and folding its arms. He looked a little stand-offish. “Or am I giving myself away as an AI here?” Then, a chuckle over that little speaker. So much of Hawker’s deep timbre was lost in digital translation, but Chris’ memory of his voice ought to suffice for now. “You still wanna play truth or dare, greenhorn?”

“Oh, and... smile. I think I spotted one of the cameras right over there. One o’clock low. Looks like you were right."

 


 

"The bond. You have any idea of what I’m talking about?"

Chris cast his gaze out the window, then sighed. "I thought I did. They tell us about how our minds are plastic and malleable. How AIs are like basalt. We come together and the human mind adapts, filling up all the gracks and empty spaces with emotion and guesswork." He wondered about a row of dark glossy panels directly across from the observation room. Is one a hidden window? "I guess I don't have any idea. Describe it to me. What kind of bond do we have?"

"Is that even possible with human-to-human interfacing?"

"To an extent. Andrew and I would do it. He was B-Rated. Felt amazing when we would be together, as long as no one accidentally pulled the cord on our implants." He smiled at that memory. "But we're always fighting each other. Trying decide how to feel, which way to flow. When we're interfaced, I feel your solidity and it's a comfort. I can cling to you and know where you stand."

Yellow lights began flashing in the room with the face-down vanguard, the crane began lifting the reactor from the 15 foot long body. They got it a whole foot out before stopping and walking on the mech; disconnecting more cables and attacking temporarily cooling lines.

"Yes. Although, I think we both need to open up a little. We both want this to work. Us. Both professional and personal, yeah?" His gaze whipped to where the Hawker had indicated. His eyes narrowed until he spotted the one aimed at them. Then he smirked, turning his rubber-clad body to gaze at his partner.

"I'll toss a few at you, just so you have a choice." Chris began counting questions off on his fingers. "Have you ever been with a person sexually before me? How many people have you killed? and hmmm.." He smirked at the sight of the way Hawker soot, he mimicked the standoffish pose. "WHat's the worst thing you'd ask me to do when linked?"

 


 

Chris' recollection of Andrew brightened his foreprocessors like a smile would. Kids - humans! - always testing, always tinkering, always curious... almost insatiable in their desire for new experiences.

"When we're interfaced, I feel your solidity and it's a comfort. I can cling to you and know where you stand."

That was a compliment, and it genuinely warmed him. Too bad this damn cheap body couldn't convey hardly any of it. "That I can provide that means... a great deal to me."

In the clean room a pair of technicians pulled out a thick hose attached to a machine off to the side. They handed it off to someone standing on his back, who screwed it into place beside the reactor. A fourth tech with a wired datapad manipulated some controls, gesticulated to the team on the ground, pointed, head bobbing with words that neither of them could hear.

The liquid sodium was contained entirely within the reactor unit itself, but Hawker's coolant needed to be drained and replaced with a composition more compatible with the gen-VII replacement. That alone would probably take the better part of 2 hours to drain, flush, and replace. The drone body turned from the view - he'd been there, done that, before.

"We both want this to work. Us. Both professional and personal, yeah?"

The drone's fingers rubbed at its chin, arm still crossed. Hawker nodded, looked away. "I want this more than I've wanted anything in a while." He stepped over to the sofa, leaned against it. "What Lee and I had was good. Great. This is just what's next for me. I suspect that we have the potential to be great too."

Or damn near perfect, even.

His arms were still crossed. If you gave him a leather jacket and put a cigarette between his metal fingers, he might've looked like a robotic James Dean. Cop Without a Cause.

"Have you ever been with a person sexually before me? How many people have you killed? and hmmm.."

Hawker 'eyed' his partner as that mischief crept back across his softly handsome features. Chris' expressiveness would never cease to amuse and endear.

"WHat's the worst thing you'd ask me to do when linked?"

The AI closed the distance between the two of them, putting his heavy metal arm around the kid's shoulders like he'd done before. He started with the obvious. "Discharged a weapon 1,897 times. Assisted in 203 high-risk arrests. Killed 114... 9 without the use of weapons.

"As for sex... if I have, then it was before I transferred to Chicago. As for the rest? That's for me to know," he said, pulling his arm away and running the fingers down Chris' spine, letting the drone's hand come to rest at the small of the human's back. "The thing about 'the worst thing'... is that I wouldn't ask. Which is why it's not happening."

 


 

"That I can provide that means... a great deal to me."

Chris wrapped an arm around the extension of his partner and hugged, before stepping back and watching what is happening below it keen interest. iIs butt looked fantastic with the padding on it. He should do squats regularly. "Man, I know it's nuclear engineering going on, but wow that's complicated! I bet there will be a whole new stack of protocols to memorize once this is done."

"I want this more than I've wanted anything in a while."

"I have the same feeling. I see the chance to be perfect with you. The last time we were together, I could lose myself amongst your strength. It was amazing, I felt like a god of war!" He raised his hands in excitement, the rubber on his torso suddenly squeaking in protest. "I guess you feel that way all the time."

"Killed 114... 9 without the use of weapons." Chris wanted to respond to that, he had something to share, but whatever it was died at an expression. Most would have never noticed it. But most hadn't made a study of the pilot's face a priority either. Chris's file is positively boring as an adult, almost suspiciously so.

"I wouldn't ask." Ah. That said it all really, Hawker would order his pilot. Demand terrible things from the young man. He wouldn't ask. THat would make it easier on the greenhorn, preventing him from being officially responsible. The concept is a comfort.

Behind them on the TV, their avatars idled in spawn. Occasionally being exploded before they got kicked to the main menu for being AFK for too long. Annoyed messages from Tsung popped up, ignored as they discussed more important things.

"You're far too good in bed to have no experience." Chris accused with a smirk. A gentleman never tells is the old saying, but Hawker is neither gentle or a man. The puppet still looked dangerous, Hawker having no problem portraying menace; even when just 6 feet tall.

Chris lidded his eyes as the hand went along his back, a happy sigh escaping his lips. Only after it stopped moving did he ask some more, feeling over the drone's chest. Even if Hawker couldn't feel it, he wanted to make the effort for his boss.

"What do I need to work on the most, in your opinion? Do you think all of my future pilot suits should be black? Annnd.. You need to ask me some questions. Just because we've seen in each other's brains, well. Doesn't mean everything is known."

 


 

"You're far too good in bed to have no experience."

The speaker barked a laugh. "I'm good at everything I do, remember?" he said, half-serious, half-joking, and half... self-deprecating. He was not above poking holes in his own ego every once in a while. "Peerless and Fearless was my model's tagline, after all." Least of all not concerning the mystery equipment, which was becoming less and less mysterious by the day. The only thing continuing to hold the charade together was Hawker's deep, desperate hope that the answer was more complex than it seemed.

"The things you need to work on won't come from books or firing ranges, unfortunately. And black? Yes. It'll show off my fluid better," he chuckled.

Hawker hummed and hawwed at Chris' request to be interrogated. There were things he saw in that dream, hunches and remnants of memories he'd sensed when the two were linked. Hand rubbed a small, squeaky circle on that slim, tight back, fingers ran over the tops of hip bones.

"How many people have you killed, officer?"

 


 

Chief Engineer Colburn strapped goggles over her eyes and turned them on. The cherry picker sat on the ground and the techs that'd rigged up the cameras we checking that they'd cleaned up all the packaging mess. She could see as an AI might with the enhanced vision. Data streams appears as bands of color. Wireless signals flowed about like ripples on the surface of a pond. Colburn had recorded what the room had been like before, and she swapped between the different views.

"Looks pretty good. That fibre optic line there though, you'll have to tuck it under the conduit." She gestured where the tiny new line dangled down in places. Looking around, she pointed out another section. "Over there, that' where we stored a camera, yah?"

"Yes Chief. Want us to run a grid over it?"

Colburn considered. "Yeah. Around 8 volts, half an amp ought to do it. Adjust this equipment and I'll check again. Then we'll work on the alcove."

--------------------------------

"And black? Yes. It'll show off my fluid better."

"Ugh, doing the walk of shame back up to my room after that was awful. The stuff turns white, flakes off and just makes a mess. A worse mess then when you apply it. You'd better not get any inside the suit; the lining feels way too nice on my skin." He did a shimmy, smirking as the robotic hand felt over him. "It's really amazing, the feedback through it. It's like I'm walking around naked. Even though I'm covered."

"How many people have you killed, officer?"

Chris paused, then looked hard at Hawker's puppet. The rookie pilot's eyes gained a dead nature that flatten out their usual sheen. "None." He answered.

BULLSHIT! Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit! The kid might be able to say it as dead honest as possible, as calm as possible, but he is lying!

"On the streets life is hard. I stabbed a man for his shoes. Beaten someone into the pavement with the reds. Way back when I was young and dumb. And I've been beaten down, stuff you've done is a massage compared to that." He held up a hand. "Not that I'm asking for worse mind you. It's been right around where I like it. I even fired a handgun wildly as I ran from a drug deal gone wrong. Heh. They always go wrong. Trust me, two parties trying to fuck the over for profit. Never goes well."

He lowered his hand and shrugged. "I guess the guy I stabbed might have died. Maybe I hit someone with a wild bullet that one time. But no, I've never killed." he lied with beautiful smoothness. He wasn't even ticking over the voice analyzers, it was only because Hawker knew the kid that he knew of those lies. That.. that meant the greenhorn believed his own lies.

"So, enough with that fun topic. Want to watch some mindless TV? Or you want to pick your pilot's brain some more?"

 


 

Hawker wanted to laugh. "Can I just say that I love the idea of you doing a walk of shame?"

"It's really amazing, the feedback through it. It's like I'm walking around naked. Even though I'm covered."

The mech let his foreprocessors wander into the proverbial gutter. Sure, Lee had worn something similar, but this was different somehow. Chris had... curves? He was shapely where Lee had been hard, angular. Tough. That difference was pulling him in.

"None."

Hawker wanted to cock a brow plate that he didn't have access to right now. He knew as sure as summer sky was blue that the kid was lying. He told a story, even. Some of it he could believe, some of it he couldn't.

"So, enough with that fun topic. Want to watch some mindless TV? Or you want to pick your pilot's brain some more?"

 


The drone body circled around, hands resting on both of Chris' shoulders. "I think I'll pick his brain," Hawker said quietly. The AI wasn't just a piece of SWAT equipment, he was a detective in his own right when Kole asked. At the very least he'd downloaded the same criminal psych textbooks that any detective worth their salt had also. The arm around the kid's shoulders tightened its hold a little. "Because I think you're lying to you superior, officer..."

Hawker knew how to spot a liar. Even though it wasn't exactly in his job description, it'd been easy in recent years as compared to those previous. He theoretically knew how to conduct himself in the interrogatio room.

"So I'll ask you again. How many people have you killed, officer?" His arm held tight to that fleshy body. "This is off the record, if that helps, kiddo."

 


 

"The walk back to the room was terrible! My jockstrap itched, that stuff dried to a white powder and flaked off all over the floor. I had to scrub the heck out of the collar. It still kinda smells like you."

Chris watched as the thick cables spooled back up, then extended as Hawker's puppet walked around him. It stood before him and gripped his shoulders tight, pulling his rubber-clad body up close.

"Because I think you're lying to you superior, officer. How many people have you killed? This is off the record, if that helps, kiddo."

Fuck.

Hawker knew.

"Did you read my file? Is it in there?" The cyclopic eye of his partner's body didn't so much as move. "Look, it .. it's not like you'd think. It happened in the winter. THe day before I got picked up..."

"When it's that cold, sleeping is a problem. The shelters had been closed because of the war in the streets. If you didn't have a place to go, or even some kind of place to hang out with other's it's hard. The reds were gone by then, just three of us left. The other two were so tired, they decided a dumpster on top of trash bags would be fine. I was on watch." He exhaled, looking down at his left hand. The one with the repaired fingers. "Not for trouble, but for a dump truck. If you get scooped then you'd die in the garbage masher. I kinda remember just standing there, the bit air swirling all around me."

"When I lifted the lid for a turn sleeping.. they were gone. Frozen Solid. Blue. My best friends, guys who'd I'd known forever. We always thought we'd make it somehow." Chris sniffed, wiping his nose. "They'd stuck with me. Followed me. I don't know why, maybe they thought I had a plan or something. But.. I emptied their pockets and went on."

"I was so high that night. I knew I would die. I didn't even have anyone to keep warm with. Everything in that part of town was closed up. I think I planned on .. I dunno what I was thinking." he swallowed. "I had a knife. I'd used in fights, used it to threaten. That little hunk of steel earned me more then I could ever have imagined. Just pull it out, look mean, and you'd have a wallet!"

"There always were guys in piles of blankets and rags on the street corners. I don't know how they survived. I remember the blood coming from my hand. It dripped out, freezing before it hit the snow. Little gems." he sighed. "I guess they musta been undercover cops. Good thing the one I stalked up on was. Otherwise, I'd have straight up murdered him for the blanket he had."

 


 

Hawker listened with all the intensity of a detective. Chris was hiding things - and maybe it was becoming obvious that he could, what with being the class that he was. With Lee there'd been very little to hide. But now: it seemed that there was more.

"Look, it .. it's not like you'd think. It happened in the winter. THe day before I got picked up..."

"You sure about that?"

If Hawker knew anything about questioning, then it was that you sometimes had to lie to get what you needed. Pretended that you had enough to make an arrest in order to get a perp to spill the beans. Chris was clever - but in due time he'd gain experience.

His fingers held fast.

"How'd it feel, Chris? How'd it feel to watch that pain, to watch that life drain away?"

Maybe he'll know what you feel.

 


 

"How'd it feel, Chris? How'd it feel to watch that pain, to watch that life drain away?"

Chris thought about that for a long time. He had.. he had THE look! He wasn't telling everything, not even here. But there is no doubt that his pilot is replaying that moment in his mind.

When he'd killed someone. Chris didn't have access to a gun, whatever he had done had been PERSONAL. With his own hands.

"I realised what I was. What all of us.. us humans are." he corrected himself. "Weak fleshy bags of meat. So fucking fragile it's not even funny. A little knock to the head and we go down. A small wound in the wrong place and we die. A little electricity, and we're paralyzed." his gaze came back up, meeting the look of his partner.

"That's why I like you so much Boss. You aren't weak like I am. You're unstoppable and as long as you're watching out for me, I'll be alright." And then he grinned. "And you know just how much I can take. You want me around for a long time."

 


 

The mech would have cocked a brow plate, but settled for tilting the drone's head just so as Chris spoke. Hawker thought that the misanthropy had just been dirty talk: it looked like this was coming from someplace genuine, though.

What's going on in that head of yours, kiddo?

"You're unstoppable and as long as you're watching out for me, I'll be alright."

Hawker let Chris go and took a step back. The solid parts of the much more human-shaped feet made little clicking sounds when it hit the linoleum. "'Course I want you around for a long time, kid. But you need to understand that I amstoppable. And the last time I was stopped my pilot got his spine blown out." Out of habit his finger tapped at the place on his chest where the cockpit would be.

Chris' smiles hid something dark and ugly, that was for sure, and it wasn't just the memory of three fingers sheared off by the sharp edge of a dumpster lid.

"Those gangs are getting fancy tech," he said. "And I'm getting more stoppable by the day, which is why we're here. 18% reduction in the risk of being turned into a cancer bomb if a bad enough hit disrupts the fissile material, and a 23% decrease of the chance a hit like that even landing at all."

A low chuckle. "Yeah, I do want you around for a long time. I want the both of us around for a long time." Hawker trailed a finger up the side of Chris' neck, then wrapped his fingers around it. "I intend on being able to beat you black and blue for at least another 15 years, officer," he said with a smirk. He let go and gave that pert ass a loud, firm smack!

"Let's keep playing, though. Truth: what is the most fucked-up thing you want from a two-story killing machine? Or, truth: what are you afraid of most?"

---

Over at the Tribune headquarters, a writer sat at his desk, wracking his brain. There was hardly anybody there, most writers worked from home on the weekends, but James McConnell tried to take his job a little more seriously than those damn clickbait op-ed types. No, James was a real journalist, and he refused to settle for the latest personal scandal of Chicago's rich and powerful, or the blandly pedestrian mismanagement of city resources, or even - and it hurt him to think this - the temporarily over-reported smuggling situation.

He needed something new. Something fresh.

James flipped through local press releases from the past month to see if there was anything there to follow-up on. A warehouse was closing its doors, leaving 800 without work - nope, Novak got that story. Some actor was trying rehab again after drunkenly pissing on some lady's car in broad daylight - tabloids had picked that one clean already. City water and power were to be digging up a stretch of road in front of the hospital for a month - yawn. CPD's precinct 42 was holding trials for new mech pilots and...

James didn't even need to finish the headline for that one. 42 had the HLX-9, didn't it? The same mech whose pilot was killed in the line of duty back in July, right? Lora had reported on that one - well, that series of articles. The gunfight that put that officer in a coma had been a big deal on its own, but the funeral was highly visible too. A lot of eyeballs on that story. People loved reading about 42's 'Big Nine', and James was sure that they'd probably love to read about who was filling in the shoes his old pilot had left behind. This was going to be a slam dunk.

With a smile on his face, James pulled up the number for the station's media relations office and wrote himself a reminder to give them a call first thing Monday morning.

 


 

As the mech's fingers wrapped coldly around his neck, Chris stood upright. Another part of him stood upright as well, bulging out the suit's groin. He began to make a soft, happy whine as he's told he can look forward to more then a decade of proper abuse from the heavy machine. Rubbing his hands over his neck, he yalps! as metal meets rubber on his butt. He stepped right up to that puppet, putting his thigh between those legs and pressing on the codpiece.

"I guess 15 years is the best I can expect." he teased, as if it wouldn't be enough time. "And I think we need to discuss aftercare. As much as I enjoy your work, you need to do a little to make me feel comfortable after you've finished a session."

He put a little kiss on that clear faceplate, smiling as he purposely rested his weight on the puppet. Affectionately toying with the cables he listened to the next two questions, he huffed and his exhale made a tiny patch of fog on that clear camera housing.

Truth: what is the most fucked-up thing you want from a two-story killing machine? 

"Oh my. I suppose wanting a healthy relationship is pretty fucked up, if my preferred partner is a two-story killing machine." he rested a hand on the robot's shoulder, leaning back as he considered the possibilities. "I wanna jerk off in the cab while you're jerking off outside; while linked." Then, his smile turned devious. "I want.. I want to HURT someone while linked with you. I want to feel what you feel when that happens."

"Or, truth: what are you afraid of most?"

The greenhorn laughed, stepping back and shaking his head. "What, so you can use that knowledge against me?" He looked about a window, watching as the techs below finished removing the old reactor from Hawker's chassis. "I'm scared the bad things I did as a kid will come up and haunt me." He exhaled. "And yeah. You rejecting me is another. I know it hasn't been long but I feel complete when we're linked. I want to keep feeling that way."

-----------------------------

Colburn finished her fifth circuit of Hawker's office. The new special fibre optic cameras were as hidden as she could make them; and they didn't show up in her goggles. She'd added a small skip to the corner of the office, 4 feet in every direction and it sat on a pallet. She'd thrown the cumrag into it with a smirk. A not-so-subtle hint that said 'I know what you've been doing.'

After one last check for evidence, they'd shut the huge door and moved onto Hawker's alcove. Here they installed two more cameras, which covered they places the normal, visible cameras didn't. She was tired of the deception,a nd when she'd gone over the footage; Hawker had no problem blocking the cameras so that he could beat his pilot just out of sight.

 


 

"I guess 15 years is the best I can expect. And I think we need to discuss aftercare. As much as I enjoy your work, you need to do a little to make me feel comfortable after you've finished a session."

"Working with me is like doing stuntwork. I'm hard on the body," he laughed.

What the hell was 'aftercare' though? Antibiotics and bedrest after surgery? A quick internet search enlightened him - it was a BDSM term: making your sub feel safe and comfortable after a scene. Safe, sure, but Hawker wasn't sure if he DID 'comfortable'. Still, Chris was asking for it, and the mech did want his human happy and healthy for the long haul. Then a thought occurred to him: the irony of needing to hurt and needing to dominate, but being dependent on the recipient. Hm, even in meatspace Chris held the cards.

"I can... try my best," he acquiesced. "You'll have to let your boss know what you need, alright?"

Hawker wondered how their antics would appear to their mystery onlookers. They were playing on the knife's edge, that was for sure - pinning him against the wall, wrapping a hand around his neck, the body language oozing with thinly veiled kinetic potential - and the mech knew that the surveillance was only adding to the thrill of acting out these little PDAs of theirs. It felt too good to stop, and they were on Kole's shit-list anyways.

"I wanna jerk off in the cab while you're jerking off outside; while linked."

The two were close. Touching. Chris was almost draped on him like a shiny black curtain. It only made sense to hold their hips against each other with a metal hand to the kid's ass. God, the mech couldn't wait to get back into his own damn body and feel him up with his own sensors. To knead and squeeze and hold him like the delectable little plaything he is.

"That can definitely be arranged," he said with a low, seductive laugh.

"I want.. I want to HURT someone while linked with you. I want to feel what you feel when that happens."

Hawker's drone body stood very still at that, while the hand on Chris' ass slowly squeezed tighter. Outside, his air cycling might've hitched. The mech had a strong reaction to the idea, though he was having trouble figuring out what the reaction was. Images flashed in his foreprocessors of the two of them wreaking all kinds of havoc together. Chris would get to know what it felt like to crush a body under his boot, to feel the bones break, the organs rupture, to feel the blood run out in rivers. He would know what it felt like to literally hold someone's life in his hand, and to snuff it out like a candle flame.

Something in him wanted that. Something old. But the rest of him recoiled with a cold knowing. The rest of him said That's completely inappropriate.

But his words betrayed even that veneer of civility too. He drew his head in close, spoke calmly, quietly: "That can be arranged too."

Chris stepped away, heaving Hawker's hands empty.

"What, so you can use that knowledge against me?"

Somewhere in his CPUs he grinned. "But of course."

"I'm scared the bad things I did as a kid will come up and haunt me."

The smiles faded away again, though. Real talk. The drone closed in again, but not to impose. "I can protect you from a lot of things, kiddo, but ghosts aren't one of 'em. I've got plenty of my own, I'm sure. At least you remember yours; I'm not sure I'd even see mine coming."

"I know it hasn't been long but I feel complete when we're linked. I want to keep feeling that way."

Complete? Hawker mulled the word over. He was not ever one to get wrapped up in emotions, but he was beginning to think that this may be a first for him. Still, it would be a while before he could admit the depth of his feelings in a way that went beyond themes of loyalty or talk of neurospace and platitudes about men and machines.

Complete...

"We got a good thing going," is what wound up coming out. Stoic to the end, huh? "Let's make sure it keeps going."

 


 

The young pilot and the AI's puppet had been doing a dance. They would touch, get close, then break apart. Each time there would be greater sexual tension between the two.

It is a beautiful, dangerous tango.

Then it culminates where the machine ground against its pilot, grasping his shapely-rubber clad rear. Their discussion is perverse. Their future plans? Disturbing.

The observer duly noted down their interactions. Their words. The .. terrifying intent. Unfortunately, none of it appeared as if they we go on a rampage, or attempt to lay waste to Chicago. They would be excellent partners and savor their union.

And the destruction of the occasional criminal. Logging her own opinions in the file, the observer closer the connection and paid attention to the ongoing discussion of the USS Saratoga's disappearance.

--------------------

"Let's make sure it keeps going."

"Okay Boss. I'm your man. And I know you won't let up on me, no matter how much you like me." At that moment, his stomach made a gurgling rumble. "I'm gonna go see if there's anything to eat. You.. heh, you don't wander too far." He had a huge grin as he tried the doors, knowing that the robot is tethered to heavy cables.

Turns out that the cafeteria here serves Pizza.

----------------------

After six hours Colburn was sitting in her office, installing the software on her private server. After three reboots, it began to show some signs of life. Motion triggered automatic recording, petabytes of storage, a system so primitive that fed into a recording back that lay with hundreds of other pieces of equipment in the ceiling of the motor pool. Now she could spy on nine.

She just hoped that what got recorded.. she'd be able to stomach it. Seeing those body scans! The kid might have to live through one more before they had th evidence to put a stop to this.

But then what? Hawker being stripped out? Forcible AI replacement? Modify the HLX-9 for two pilots and Jager the mech?

None of them would be as good as having their old Big Nine back.

---------------------------------------------

The next two days went smoothly. TV, shooting the breeze and getting some much needed socialization with each other. They'd watching with interest as the old reactor is removed and the HLX sat on life-support. Then as the new and smaller reactor is fit in the same place. It nestled in the large cavity, giving the techs plenty of room to secure it with extra bracing. Then came the armor. Inches of the stuff, beyond what came with the portable reactor. THe final result also smoothed down the mech's back. Instead of having a 'backpack', the HLX now looked like it just wore heavy armor.

And to be fair, after two days Chris was looking forward to some privacy. Outside of the bathroom, he'd been told that he had to spend his time in the observation with the AI. That meant crashing on the couch as Hawker watched over him. But now the mech had retreated to it's gantry. Down below, they'd be powering up Hawker and seeing if everything really is working correctly.

 


 

"You.. heh, you don't wander too far."

Hawker jerked the drone's head, tugging on the cabling and grumbled. "Yeah, now I know what a dog feels like. Now go stuff that cute little face of yours. I wanna see some meat on those bones, scabber."

---

The weekend was... nice. But also strange. Chris was right: he really didn't know what to do when he couldn't work, couldn't plan for work, couldn't prepare and practice for work. I'm an AI, he'd always told himself. What use do I have for a vacation? Hawker without something to do at 42 was like a dog without a bone, to continue with the metaphor. Not that it was a stretch.

They played more Halo - HAWKER_HLX9 actually managed to kill Tsung once by the end! - and Hawker introduced the kid to the very few TV shows that he ever dared to watch. Most of them were, to no one's surprise, true crime procedurals. You know, the classy kind with the tasteful reenactments and thoughtful narration. The mech even felt in the mood to catch a saturday night hockey game, explaining the rules, the positions and plays to his partner. After a little prodding, he revealed it'd been Lee's favorite game. That small admission felt good, he found.

---

By sunday evening, though, the pair were bored and restless.

"It's been about 18 months since I was here last, but they never made Lee sleep in here," Hawker grunted as he stared out through the glass into the clean room as they did their final debugging and integrity checks. The new reactor core had been fired up 6 hours ago; they wanted to make sure everything was running smoothly before they turned the mech loose.

Hawker couldn't wait to get out of this awful little body, and he waited with the proverbial baited breath for them to give him the go-ahead for resuming occupation of the HLX-9.

It was almost 8 o'clock before he got the ping, followed by a thumbs up signal from one of the technicians outside.

The drone turned to Chris, giving him one last smack to the rear, before heading back to the gantry. "See you on the other side, kid."

---

An hour later and Hawker, in full 15-foot regalia (though weighing almost 400 pounds less), stepped out of the clean room. It felt good to be big again. And heavy. And treacherous. It also felt good to be clean. Every square millimeter had been washed, vacuumed, and sprayed down with very expensive cleaning solutions. He was so clean that his matte paint almost shone.

Chris, Nguyen, and a few others walked up to assess the handiwork, which, as far as he could tell, was superb.

His optics went straight to Chris, though. "How's the weather down there, short stuff?" he said, flashing a picture-perfect smile. "You wanna try headbutting me again?"

Colburn's assistant and the techs spoke for at least another twenty minutes while they waited for the truck to arrive. 'The Care and Keeping of Your Newly Upgraded HLX-9', more or less. He wanted to get the hell out of here already!

 


 

 

 

If awake, alert and talkative Chris is fascinating, then sleeping Chris is a study in observation. Twice that weekend hawker had unlimited access to the resting pilot. THat cute body wrapped in supple leather and electronics.

While Hawker was stuck in that limited, bound frame. Touching along that face, sliding a finger into those sleeping lips. He could only watch, but not feel.

It just wasn't fair!

------------

Chris found Hocky to be fun. There'd been two tights and one had been fairly bloody. "And that's allowed? Just duking it out on the ice?" The mach assured him it was, and an integral part of the sport. It didn't matter that the pilot had no idea what was going on. It didn't matter they they'd spent more time picking plot or procedure holes in the True Crime TV shows. They'd shared their limited social and personal lives.

Chris knew he'd need to find some hobbies for Hawker, ones they'd be able to share. Could a mech get into wargaming?

-----------

Late on Sunday though things were getting back to normal. Hawker boomed again, both in voice and footstep. Chris stood with the others, talking quietly with Nguyen. "He looks good. Did he always have those subtle patterns on his paint?"

The tired technical engineer nodded the affirmative. "Yeah. He kinda fell into disuse with Lee gone. I can't tell you how good it feels to see him back up and running. Working on the HLX-9 is fantastic. I love that we can keep improving him like this, it's a fun challenge."

They watched as the mech did a few tests, including a few runs of getting his reactor to high output, sending power into the building itself.

"Yeah. It was really strange with him small. I think I like it though. He needs a human-ish sized frame he can remote into and tromp around in." Chris spoke, leaving out the part how said frame would be in his bedroom and fuck his brains out; if the rookie had anything to do with it.

"I think he mighta had something like that once? I'm not sure, have to ask the Chief about it."

Chris grimaced. THeir little vacation is over, there is music to face back at home. "Could I ride in Hawker on the way back?"

"Nope, Chief's orders! You're stuck in the cab with me. You wouldn't want to anyway, when he's in a C-Can. He's probably claustrophobic anyway." THen he went to help the other Techs disconnect the big bot after the final checkup.

Chris pulled the collar out of the jacket's pocket. It smell of his boss still. Even now, when he flexed the fabric bits of white would fall out of the fabric like snowflakes. He needed to really soak it. A battery check told him there ws about a quarter life left. With a sigh he put it away, he'd wear it home.

"How's the weather down there, short stuff? You wanna try headbutting me again?"

"It's chilly, what would you expect for October? And I'll pass on the headbutt. Now that you've got a durasteel alloy head again, I think you might win even if you didn't move!"

THe pilot strolled up to the big robot, smiling right back. FOr a brief moment he wondered what it'd be like if no one was around. If they didn't have to be professional.

If Hawker would even bother putting his cock away? Would he just strut about with it on full display, slapping off his armored thighs?

"So, you feel normal again? You sure you won't miss being just a little taller then me? I guess you could just have a lay-down. But I think I like how you look cleaned up." He lead on with normal patter, joking with his Captain like normal cops did.

Be normal, look as ordinary as possible. It made everyone else comfortable. Sure they would respect his size and rank, but what Chris needed to do; and keep doing was be an ambassador. Show that Big Nine is a great thing for the Chicago PD. And some of that, meant shooting the breeze when others listened. Soon enough the truck rolled up and they were on their way back home.

Where Kole and Colburn were no doubt going to have some choice words for the pair.

 

 


 

The output test had been some good fun, even if been required to remain stationary. He stood still, concentrated, spooling up his internals, revving, downshifting, increasing temperature, blasting away scalding air... 200C... 230C... 265C... in about ten minutes he'd reached his higher-limit core temperature of 320 degrees celcius, and was generating a good 80 decibels of noise. The air that rushed from his aft vents could have come from an oven.

Hawker felt fantastic. New fluids surged through him; it almost felt like he had more power, though he knew it was the quarter of a ton that'd been shaved off in weight that was making him feel leaner and meaner. At top running speed, he'd probably gained a few MPH from that alone too.

"Now that you've got a durasteel alloy head again, I think you might win even if you didn't move!"

"Yeah, I hear you don't wanna hit a parked car either," he laughed.

"So, you feel normal again? You sure you won't miss being just a little taller then me? I guess you could just have a lay-down. But I think I like how you look cleaned up."

He looked himself over, noticing thick red accent striping on his forearms and the sides of his chest. Not even blue, huh? he thought sardonically. Gets the point across, at least.

"I think we both clean up pretty good," the mech winked, taking the opportunity of the techs being distracted by computer screens to eye-fuck the little human for a brief moment. "As for size, well... it's definitely something to consider. I'm not looking like that thing, though, I can tell you as much already!"

If Ngyuen remembered Hawker having something similar, then it was because they tried it out early on after the mech was introduced to 42. The smaller body had been just as unappealing to occupy, though, and had also been on a cable. The idea was scrapped within a few weeks and hadn't been brought up since.

Then there was the hustle and bustle of disconnecting him, the continued remarking about the readouts. Nguyen was absorbed in his work, and even as Hawker asked a few questions of his own, he noticed Chris fingering the collar off to the side. Fuck me, I can't wait to see him wearing that with that suit. The thought occurred to him to get the kid a regular collar, maybe a steel band or a black leather ensemble to match his boss. Complete with tag, he mused. WARNING: Property of Big Nine! Kole and Colburn would have an anyeurism.

Soon it was time to climb back into that damned c-can and get strapped in. Wasn't there a children's book that had a scene like this? Gulliver's Travels? The giant in that one, he seemed to recall, busted out of his bonds like nothing, though, and proceeded to sass every tiny person in the vicinity as they shot at him with ineffective weapons. Sounded enough like him. He could play that part.

Chapter Text

It was almost 10 by the time they arrived and Hawker was back in more familiar - more spacious - territory. Once standing again, he reached up, up, almost stretching, and touched the 22-foot ceiling. Ting. Metal fingers tapped a pipe.

No one was around, which was to be expected, but still he would have to wait for morning to get the awe-struck looks he was, for now, going to permit himself to enjoy. Chris was practically at his heel, still unable to take his eyes off the mech. Oh, the fun they'd have later.

But for now, there was still some work to do. A couple other night crewmen came out of the woodwork around the motor pool as to test Hawker's gantry hookups to make sure everything still connected smoothly. Hawker urged Chris to head upstairs. It was going to be another long, boring hour before he'd be permitted to shut himself off for the night, and "I want my pilot looking like a million bucks tomorrow morning. We'll finally get to see what you're really made of in neurospace, now."

---

And it wasn't until well after 11 that Hawker was officially 'off-duty'. He was tired and wanted nothing more than to spend the next 7 hours combing the knots out of his systems after all the software modifications he'd endured over the weekend. But still, even then, he trudged over to his office to write his report and see if there was any other work for him to do. This was a tumultuous, sensitive time for everybody - he wanted to make sure that he'd remain in good standing with the sergeant. Especially as the... accusations mounted.

But the instant the door opened he gave pause. There was a dumpster bag on a skid in the corner, bright orange. The mech drew nearer, but already knew what he was going to find inside of it.

Yep, there was the rag.

His reactor temperature climbed to a good 305C and he vented sharply. Hands into fists. An ugly, ugly feeling passed over him and he whipped around, sensors at full-bore to see if anything else was amiss. It didn't appear so, and quickly his optics darted back over to the obvious. 

"Colburn..."

She knew. No, she knew more than that. The Chief had known Hawker's anatomy for longer than Hawker himself - when he first discovered his 'equipment' in that first year at 42, he remembered confronting her about it. He'd been livid, confused. Why hadn't anyone told him? What was it there for? Who installed it?

It had been then as it was now still: I can't tell you. But it's for your own good.

You should have cut it off when you had the chance, he thought bitterly. Because it's mine and I'm going to do what I damn well please with it! Hawker's fist found itself meeting the wall with enough force to shake the motor pool and leave a small, dusty crater in the concrete wall. 

"You don't wanna come clean to me about it?" he muttered aloud, still bristling with indignation as he left the room and headed for his slab. "Fine, then. Four can play at that game."

 


 

The collar barely had enough juice for 20 minutes, apparently the quarter charge was a lie. Still, Chris had put it on as Hawker'd gotten into that c-can. He'd have that image forever, his pilot in that skin-tight suit, jacket and collar. Acting as if nothing weird was going on. THe view from Chris's perspective wasn't that amazing either. Sitting in the back of the cab, watching out the window as the scenery whipped by. At 5% the greenhorn shut down the connection, wishing he'd been inside of Hawker for their trip.

"I want my pilot looking like a million bucks tomorrow morning. We'll finally get to see what you're really made of in neurospace, now."

His pilot. Chris had a big smile at hearing that. He wanted to belong here, to be a part of the police force. And Hawker wasn't remotely welcoming him at first. But hearing those words, the possessive nature of the mech; the way it gestured and winked at him? Oh yes. He belong allright. And Hawker would make sure he would know it every day. 

"Aye Sir. 0800 Tomorrow? After having a few days off I'm feeling a little antsy to get going again. Looking forward to feeling you wrapped around a suit that fits properly." Then he walked out, coat over his arm as he strolled out of the motor pool, the suit clinging to his backside and showing off each bounce. Every flex of muscle.

The elevator doors opened. Chris pressed the button for floor 8, a big grin on his face; knowing that he'd be catching his possing checking out his shapely behind. And he is right! Totally scoping out his pilot. Chris winked as the doors shut.

------------

It felt good to get the suit off, to spend time what is now home washing it really clean and handing it up to drip-dry. Back in comfortable sweats, Chris sat across from Becker, with Ferdinand cooking in the small kitchen area.

Becker's sullen tone went well with his expression. "Dude, it doesn't count if I was drunk."

Chris had an orange juice in hand. "Yes it does! Besides, you're a-rated. You can do it. What are you scared of? You'll be on a table in a room, halfway across the station from Big Nine. It's not like he can getcha." Chris make spooky, cheesy halloween sounds.

"Dude! Look what he's done to you, I've seen you in the bathroom--"

"Oh, so you got the hots for me Becker? Wanna get in my mech AND me? Jeez, didn't think you had it--"
"Oh come ON! Everyone knows what he does to you."

There is a long moment of silence. Ferdinand's microwave beeped, and you could hear every bit of mechanical movement in the door as he retrieved his food.

"Everyone?" asked Chris, looking concerned.

"I.. yeah. I guess we do." admitted Ferdinand.

Chris's jovial attitude evaporated, and he put his face in his hands. Everyone know he and Hawker were banging? But.. they tried so hard to be quiet about it! "What does everyone think about what we do?"

"Pretty much, everyone's betting on how he'll break you. Make you unable to serve as a pilot." Ferdinand spoke as he sat down, stirring his chinese leftovers.

"Or kill you." grumbled Becker. "It's not that anyone wants you to die. Or for Nine to hurt you either. Everyone's kinda unsure what to think about this. Plus you two seem to be friendly now."

"Fuck." CHris swore, getting up and heading to his room. "Look, I'll talk with him about it tomorrow. See what we can do to show that we're going to make it. Together."

Ferdinand slurped up a lo main noodle. "You're still doing a test run with Big Nine, no getting out of it this time B."

"Damn it!"

----------------------------------

Sleep didn't come easy. But it did come. THe last of the medication rolled uneasily in his stomach, many of the bruises had lifted; the autodoc did know what to do about the surface damage. When he slept that night, Chris's dreams went back to his troubled childhood. Only now, a tiny Hawker was his teddy bear.

---------------------------------

Post breakfast, A freshly suited up Celn's thighs squeaked with each step. THe suit had shrunk slightly, and it felt too tight everywhere. It'd take hours to stretch it back out to the right places, and he had to keep pulling at his crotch. At 0755 he entered the motor pool. The door to Hawker's office is open, and the mech is nowhere to be seen.

Coffee in hand, Chris's small form entered the large place, finding Hawker waiting for him. It is unusual for the mech not to be watching him, it's face focused on it's pilot. "Morning Boss. You okay Captain?"

 


 

He could hear Chris' approach from a mile away. That sleek, body-hugging glove that had yesterday been the sexiest piece of technology on the planet irritated his audio receptors now. Rubber against rubber was a ridiculous sound.

Hawker had gone back into the office that morning to try and write his weekend reports. But the cumrag taunted him - the very symbol of everything that Kole and Colburn never wanted him to be. Instead, he'd spent the last 20 minutes leaning against the edge of his desk and brooding. Anxious, angry machine thoughts flicking through his foreprocessors like a film reel as he stewed in this resentment. He was going to confront them. Enough chicken-shit. 

They needed to remember that he could hurt too.

"Morning Boss. You okay Captain?"

He didn't even turn to greet his partner. "No," was all he said, deep and harsh. Then he lifted a finger and pointed at where the rag now lay. "Cat's out of the bag, now." There was an uneasy silence, but his thoughts kept racing. "They are not taking you from me!" Hawker snapped.

Which, of course, was the absolute worst combination of words that could have come out of that big white mouth right then. Because his voice echoed out into the motor pool just as the sergeant, the chief, and the detective stepped out of the elevator. They exchanged worried glances and picked up their pace when the sound of Hawker's hand on his desk rang out like a crack of gunfire.

He felt their approach at 100 feet away, when his CPUs slowed down enough to dedicate the proper resources to his tertiary sensor nets. Only, there were three of them. Who in the...?

"Good morning Hawker, Chris," Costa said carefully. The mech knew that tone of voice, and he noticed that they were all wearing their kevlar.

...I'm the perp this time.

"Why don't you come in closer, son," Kole said, waving the kid over to where the group stood. "I don't like feeling like I have to yell, you know?"

Meanwhile Colburn circled around to the little pile of concrete dust on the floor from where he'd hit the wall the previous night. She kicked around a few of the larger pieces with her foot before glancing up at the divot for a moment. Then her eyes were on the mech.

"You ready to talk about this, Hawker?" she said. Then she pointed at the hole above her head. "About this?" Then at the bag in the corner. "And that?" Then her finger landed on Chris. "...And those? C'mon, shut the door so we can have a private conversation."

She didn't need to tell him twice.

 


 

"No, cat's out of the bag, now."

Chris followed that accusing finger as it pointed to the new addition to the room. He didn't have the height to see inside, so he hand to walk up tot he orange dumpster. And thankfully, it was during that walk that the suit stretched enough to stop squeaking with every step. The solitary blanket-sized rag, covered with Hawker's dried output, lay in a heap in the bottom.

"Yeah. SOme of the other pilots were hinting about it. Saying that everyone knows what we do? Most of the station knows something is up. I don't think anyone knows the truth."

He turned, noticing that fresh debris on the floor, and the impact site. Yup, Hawker had put his fist to the wall, at least once.

"They are not taking you from me!"

Chris blushed hard, a huge smile on his face as his heart lifted. While his Captain might be furious, the pilot is ecstatic! Hawker DID care about him. Hawker wanted him! Wanted him enough to get angry about it, wanted him enough to be furious that Chris might be taken away. His own voice is soft as he answers "I don't want to leave you. You're what I need Hawker."

The greenhorn didn't have the fantastic sensor suite of the HLX-9 Vanguard, but he did know that -kind- of stare. He turned as well, watching as the three figures entered the office. Kole, Colburn and.. some cyborg guy? The Cyborg had a pretty handsome face all things considered, his blue artificial eye had a mean glow to it right now, and he wore a suit with the kevlar over the expensive fabric. Why were they wearing that, was there danger? Oh man! His smile went larger, maybe there was going to be a raid!

"Why don't you come in closer, son?"

Oh. OH! Oh...

That smile fell as he took a slow mosey toward the three figures. He fingered the coffee as his mind raced. THis is about as bad as it could be, short of ambushing him away from Hawker. And they'd just stuffed a new reactor in the Captain! Nothing about this setup made sense. He only looked up once Kole and Costa's boots came into view, the bruise on his neck still visible.

"Sergeant Kole, good to see you." he deadpanned, turning to Costa "Good morning, I don't believe we've met. I'm Chris Celn." as he reached out with his hand, the rubber chirped.

Behind the men, the large door began to swing closed on it's motorised hinges. Chris could see where there was a hatch on the side, a human sized hatch for when you'd want to get through if you didn't have the whole door open. It looked freshly oiled.

---

Sarah Colbrun's boots crunched on the powdered concrete. Keeping an eye on Hawker, she hoped to hell she didn't need to use any of the special equipment she'd put on that morning. The HLX would be out for weeks if they blasted him with that kind of EMp this close. Especially if it was one tuned for his sytems. She looked to Kole and Costa; this was going to be their show. At least Celn was with them. Safer than before.

Even now she wondered what they'd interrupted, what had the Deep Field 2 planned to do with the pilot this morning. Break some ribs?

---

"Detective Costa. We're going to have a talk and don't worry. You aren't in trouble."

 


 

"We're going to have a talk and don't worry. You aren't in trouble."

Costa was here too. One of Kole's best and most experienced. Hawker had a lot of respect for the man, and that respect was crushing him right now. The respect he had for all of them was... was almost too much. But as far as they were concerned, he was not Lee Davidson's HLX-9 anymore. He was a potential criminal.

"What the hell is this about?" Hawker growled, knowing full-well what this was about. Optics darted from Kole to Colburn to Costa. The Chief Engineer's body language told him that she was here for support - the questioning would be left to the cops.

Kole gave him a hard, gray look. "Don't play stupid, Hawker. You know exactly what this is about."

Hot air made the air shimmer behind him. One vent, two. Fingers tightened into balls and relaxed. Again. The mech knew this was coming. He just didn't expect it to go down like this.

"Sir, it's not how it looks." Stupid, stupid...! The mech couldn't believe that such cliched words could come out of his mouth!

"Don't try that bullshit with me!" Kole roared. "I've been playing this game too goddamn long! Now tell us, Hawker. Tell us. What were you planning this time, huh? Would you try for a fracture, maybe? A broken nose? Or maybe you were just gonna rape the poor kid again?!"

"I've never laid a fuckin' hand him!" Hawker shouted right back, his voice a thunderous explosion. "Not like that!"

"Not like that, huh? Colburn, he needs a refresher." Kole gestured harshly to the woman, who pulled out a datapad. With a few swipes of her fingers, the enormous screens behind him came to life. Security camera footage of the two of them in the motor pool.

"Where's your fight, Celn?"

Though distant, it wasn't difficult to tell what was happening. A small gray shape was on the floor underneath a massive shadow of a hand. The gray shape struggled, gasped raggedly, whimpered. If he didn't know how this movie ended, he would have feared for Chris' safety too.

"C'mon!" If the previous words were hard to hear, then this wasn't. "Where's the brave little soldier I saw yesterday, huh? Where's that hero in the face of six tons of titanium rage?"

This was difficult to watch, torn as he was between horror, shame, and... arousal. Hawker didn't dare avert his hard, golden gaze from the screen though his hand grasped at the desk's edge with a little too much severity. 

"C'mon, Celn! Fight back, you son of a bitch! Fight back!"

The footage ended, but the mech's optics remained fixed on the screen.

"Care to explain what happened there?" Costa this time.

"I was emotionally compromised. And Chris knows what he did to get that response from me," he said slowly. But his choice of words was damning, he realized too late. "We made up after that."

Kole snorted. "Did you?"

More camera footage came to life on the screen. It was a shot of the office door, closed. It's the audio they're interested in here.

It's not syllables, but revving engines and wordless cries of pain. The footage fast-forwarded. Then his voice could be heard, faint but audible, through the door.

"Yeah! Take it you fuckin' pathetic scab!"

A muffled whimper.

When exhibit B ended, Hawker buried his face in his hand, and he vented raggedly. Shoulders, normally so strong and strikingly heroic, slumped under the weight of the world. Not even his 15-foot metal body could shoulder this.

 


 

Chris found himself behind Kole with Detective Costa standing to his left. The man's organic side to him, his natural hand bracing the greenhorn's shoulder. Chris sipped his coffee quietly, deciding to shut the fuck up and let this play out until everything is on the floor. Just what DID everyone know; and what did they assume?

"Would you try for a fracture, maybe? A broken nose? Or maybe you were just gonna rape the poor kid again?!"

wat.

What? Is THAT all this was about? The confusion, the alarm, the sudden showdown? All of those because no one knew they are happily fucking? And that Chris liked being hurt? THe pilot wasn't sure if he should be be hurt or angry! As he went to open his mouth, Costa gave his shoulder a squeeze. THe man shook his head left and right.

Let the evidence do the work, the guilty implicate themselves. Himself.

The part where Hawker turned on him brought up that ugly memory. He felt himself stiffening, that old anger boiling up inside of him. THe perspective of the moment! He never though their size difference as that much but.. if he hadn't have been there... it looked like the mech would end him.

"Yeah! Take it you fuckin' pathetic scab!" Hawker grunting covering him with the cum he'd worked so hard for. Then a pathetic cry. Had he whimpered that loud?

---

"Don't look away, I'm sure you'll still appreciate your handwork." growled Kole as Exhibit C splashed up on the screens. It was the medical scans, a single black censorship dot parked over Chris's groin and anus in each image. Both the kid's front and back from the healthy scans from three weeks ago, to the awful damage, then the progression of even MORE damage.

Costa sucked in a breath, glancing at the greenhorn who he had a good grip on. The mark from the bite still sat on that slender neck, blooming in ugly black and blue and green. What kind of tolerance for abuse did the pilot possess?

"What kind of disciplinary action is that, Captain Hawker? I can see the marks from your fingers on all over his body, and around his neck! Abrasions from him being scraped against concrete. And bites. BITES, Captain!" Kole felt anger from the whole thing, he wasn't sure what is worse: the abuse suffered by the greenhorn...

or the lies from the Deep Field 2.

"Would you care to explain just why NONE of this is in your reports?" bellowed the infuriated Sergeant.

---

Costa is very happy about one thing, that the perp in this internal case stood 15 feet tall. Otherwise he'd have left the greenhorn and gotten two good metal-fist punches and titalium kneecaps to the gut of the basterd before Colburn and Kole pulled him back. One look to Colburn told Roman that she would've taken her sweet time pulling him back. She didn't take her fingers off her weapon, smart woman. He hated this part, forcing the victem to see the damage that'd been done, recounting that they knew of the abuse. Showing the attacker in a place of humility. And second now the kid would probably try to defend the metallic abuser.

And that's when he'd escort the scab out and bring him someplace quite to talk about things. And his future without the HLX's torment.

---

Sarah felt her jaw muscles tighten, pushing up the skin as she glared at the mech. Hawker had lied to all of them! It didn't take a genius IQ to figure out why the rookie pilot hadn't said a word: Hawker is his superior officer, his trainer, and his equipment. If the kid had failed out, what kind of future could he really expect to get? Pilots who weren't compatible with AIs tended to get a reputation fast. AIs got a pass on personality; they are programmed to be honest.

Hawker had .. older motivations. And something about Celn brought out the worst in the machine.

If the mech so much as took two stomps toward any of them, she'd fry him where he stood. Budget be damned!

---

Chris couldn't help it, he is loving this! All the pain, the worry about lying.. his concerns had been RIGHT! If Hawker had just listened, almost none of this would be going on. A little vindictive part of him felt full, rubbing it's belly as it happily wallowed in Hawker's shame.

Of course, this could mean an end to their partnership. If anything, they understood each other. And .. well.. he did kind love the big oaf. In that twisted way that told him love came in agonizing moments that left scars.

Celn reached up and tapped on Costa's hand, the one sitting on his rubber-clad shoulder. The blue eyes of the detective landed on him, a little surprised the the kid wasn't on the verge of tears. Chris pantomimed, 'Me talk now?'

 


 

The photos practically accost him. He knows this song and dance, knows how the pressure can make almost anybody but the most sociopathic sickos crack. Well, there was one good thing to come out of this at least. He still had the ability to crack.

Still, none of this was fair. Hawker stayed silent, tense as a coiled spring, as Kole hammered his point home again and again.

"And bites. BITES, Captain!"

Head bent a little further at that.

"Would you care to explain just why NONE of this is in your reports?"

"Isn't it a little fucking obvious, sir?" Hawker growled, turning to face them again. He kept his distance though. One wrong move and it was all over. In retrospect, he realized he was lucky to get this much from his judges, jury, and executioners. AIs barely even had the same rights as cattle. There was no exercising his Mirandas or phoning up a lawyer.

Chris looked like he wanted to say something, like he was ready to blow the whole thing open right now. But Hawker wasn't done yet. 

"And I should ask, how's the experiment going, Colburn?" he hissed. "How many years has it been going on? At least 10 or so, I should guess? I mean, I was only made back in '46." The mech shot a look at Kole. "That's only 2 years to get me ready for Irkutsk, isn't that right, Sergeant?"

Kole and Colburn exchanged surprised glances.

Now it was their turn to go on the defensive. Colburn stared daggers at the mech. "Hawker, I have no idea where you got that -!"

"How many detainment centers were there in Irkutsk?"

"Hawker."

Heat was building. Rage. Despair. The mech clutched at the desk to keep himself from taking a single step closer, a move he knew would be interpreted badly. And perhaps right now, rightfully so. "How many, Sergeant?"

"Hawker!"

"I was a weapon of psych warfare, wasn't I?!" the mech roared at the top of his vocalizer's output. The desk creaked as the metal was wrenched into a permanent furrow around the shape of his huge, angry fingers. Heat rushed out his backside, warming the air in the room, making it stuffy. Dense. Difficult to breathe. And still he remained glued to the spot.

Costa's hand on Chris' shoulder tightened, and he had instinctively put himself in front of the kid. Roman had no idea what the AI was talking about, but from that clues Kole and Colburn were giving him, this was real. And it was above his paygrade.

"You need to learn to leave well enough alone, Hawker," Colburn said with quiet authority.

Barring the obvious in his line of duty: "At least this iteration of Deep Field 2 never hurt anybody that didn't want to be hurt." The mech stood up tall. Stiff. This was all he was going to say on the matter. All he could say. It was no use trying to wrench the information out of them - it'd be a court martial at best if he did. Hawker gestured with a nod of his head to Chris.

"They won't believe you, but you can tell them anyways. I've said my piece."

 


 

"I was a weapon of psych warfare, wasn't I?!"

Ahhhhh. Chris's school history lessons were crap, but he knew about the invasions into Russia. If Hawker had been a tool for interrogating prisoners? Well fuck, he'd have been amazing! Kind of expensive though, surely something smaller would have been better? Well.. unless you REALLY wanted to get information. Or terrify prisoners. 

And what sort of sicko would make Hawker?

Chris stood there, coffee cup in hand, Costa infront of him in the classic protective position. The kid had a furitive glower on his face, he consumed the hot beverage as the intense emotions rippled around the room.

"At least this iteration of Deep Field 2 never hurt anybody that didn't want to be hurt.

That might have been true. It is at least true when it came to Chris. And suddenly he felt remorse for reveling in Hawker's misery. The robot had so little privacy, so little time to figure out how to be normal. And the one thing it had that it cared about, the single outlet of pleasure it can remember is about to be whisked away.

"Serga--" is all he got out before Roman's fingers touched Chris's lips, silencing him as the detective began to lead the rookie out of the room. "Come with me kid. You'll be alright."

Chris looked up at his Boss. Green eyes met glowing yellow as the waves of heat washed into the room. He winked, while the corner of his mouth pulled up into a slight smile. As he walked out, her made sure to stand on his toes, ensuring his legs and read would show strong against the suit's rubber, giving a fantastic view as Costa guided him to that smaller door.

Between Hawker's office and the motor pool, there are a numerous rooms that held equipment and machinery that saw little use; and bare minimum maintenance. This one had been prepared in advance, just for this occasion. Blankets lay on some equipment, there were four folding chairs in the room, and two boxes of tissues. Chris felt warm inside,a nd it wasn't just his beverage. THey did care.

"Um.. this is really awkward." Chris began.

"You should know that this is going to be recorded, I've got all the hardware for it." Costa joked, a smile on his face. He hadn't needed to get in a fight with Big Nine. And the mech seemed awfully torn up about being confronted, lashing out about it's past: as if that was an excuse for how it acted.

Just like any abuser, never their own fault. Never accepting it was their responsibility.

"Heh. Yeah. That admissible?"

"Yup."

"How about that. So um, how does this work? Because I'm not sure what I should be saying here."

"For now, it's pretty simple. We wait for Kole. If Colburn comes that's fine, but she might.. uh, have to hobble Nine. Or at least watch him."

"And I gotta figure out if anyone's ever going to trust us again."

Roman Costa opened a cooler that'd been placed in the room, taking out a Pepsi before shutting the lid. He sat down in one of the chairs, cracking the can open and holding it with his metal hand. Us. The kid had said it. Thinking he is part of a team already. Had that been beaten into him as well? Was Hawker any more than an old war relic, some kind of diabolical instrument of torture?

Was the kid already broken?

"You going to be good answering questions? We're going to be going over what happened behind closed doors. In detail." The blue can felt cool, the soda fizzed against his sensors.

"Yeah. Just don't think my answers are what you are expecting. I'm kinda worried that no one is going to believe me." he echoed Hawker.

"It's your testimony kiddo. Just say what you remember. Ya had 15 feet and 6 tons turning you black and blue; no one is asking you for perfect recall after that."

---

Kole could feel the device resting on his belt. He kept going over how to use it in his mind, flip up the red trigger guard, press button. No more Deep Field 2. 

What would Lee say about this? Nothing, Lee had been dead for months now. He wouldn't want to see Hawker like this though. The AI needed to either be put down or..

Well, or what? What choices did he have now; if he wanted to keep Big Nine as 42's trump card?

If they fried him, then knowing wouldn't hurt him. If he stayed alive, then he'd keep digging until he knew. Heck, Chris might even be able to burrow into those memories. They kid apparently had a knack for memory alteration; the poor sod. 

"Sarah. I'm going to talk with Celn and Costa. Can you keep an eye on the HLX?"

"Yes Sir." she was seething. Wasn't too hard to imagine her thinking about this situation as if Chris was one of her four boys; greenhorn is the right age too. 

"And as I will be a while, you might as well Enlighten Captain Hawker about his career highlights in Irkutsk." he sighed, turning and heading to that small door.

"SIR?" came the unbelieving question.

"Chief Engineer, after this we either have a unit on disciplinary watch; or a pilot and a paperweight." Kole stepp on through, closing the door to where Chris and Roman waited.

------------

Chris sat across from Roman, foot shaking as he stared at the floor. How the FUCK is he supposed to save their collective bacon? Hawker's life is in his little hands.

"Looking good gre-- Clen. I suppose it's not fair to call you that anymore." Kole looked old, and tired. THe fire that'd burned in him had gone out, and Chris could see years of terrible things weighing on his Sergeant's shoulders.

"Sir, I.." then, some very old memories came back. Unwanted ones, as Kole offered him a deep green blanket; it smelled of wool and industrial cleaner.

Tears filled the rookie's eyes and he sniffed. He held the blanket with white knuckles, asking "Sirs. How far back-- what do you really know about my childhood?"

 


 

Roman escorted Chris out the little door and into the shallow alcove. Anger still burned hot in him, but the kid's little antic reminded him that there was still the possibility of good things waiting on the other side of this. Even if those possibilities were slimming by the minute.

Kole was rubbing his fingers along his shaved head as though he still missed his hair. He sighed audibly and stared at the ground as he thought. Colburn's hazel eyes burned holes into Hawker's armor like laser cutters. He held her gaze with just as much white-hot bitterness.

"Sarah. I'm going to talk with Celn and Costa. Can you keep an eye on the HLX?"

The HLX? What was he, just a piece of hardware now? An asset? Have the 8 years he spent here, everything he did for the precinct, for the safety of this shitty town, already gone down the drain?

Lee, you would have stood by me, right?

His plea disappeared into the ether. No answer came.

"And as I will be a while, you might as well Enlighten Captain Hawker about his career highlights in Irkutsk."

Or maybe... it just did.

Hawker's mouth fell open in shock as Colburn whipped around.

"SIR?"

"Chief Engineer, after this we either have a unit on disciplinary watch; or a pilot and a paperweight."


And with that, he disappeared, leaving the two of them alone.

Sarah Colburn was a pretty woman. Mid-fifties, sharp as a whip with a salt-and-pepper bun on the top of her head. Right now she was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and her bulky black vest underneath a nice blazer. She hadn't counted on getting her hands dirty today. At least, not with grease. They'd been preparing for this. Her holstered arsenal was different than Kole's usual. They were the electronic equivalent to a gun held to the temple of a human skull. One flick of a switch and that would be it. None of this would ever mattered.

The room was still and silent for a long while. Eventually Colburn cursed loudly and went to tear off the heavy kevlar. "Get this... goddamn... thing..."

FWAP it hit the floor and she breathed heavily, as though she couldn't before.

Hawker's CPUs were overclocked now, sensor networks primed, calibrated, and all trained on her. His mentor, his firm, maternal guiding hand, his friend. 

Colburn sat down on the floor with her back to the wall.

"You were built in 2046," she began, sounding suddenly very weary. Hawker risked taking one step closer, and when she didn't flinch, he relaxed a little. His hands trembled in anticipation. It was the story he'd been wanting to hear for 8 years now. "Originally intended for combat support... a function that you served for 18 months.

"We invaded Russia after the bombings; you know that. Mech tech was supposed to be the next big thing in conventional warfare. But models like yours were... expensive. They lost two or three units in the first year and decided to rethink where and how to deploy the HLX-9s to maximize their effectiveness and minimize their... exposure to attack. That truly was the beauty of mechs - unlike tanks or planes, you're as versatile as the pilot inside of you. You can be humping crates of MREs one day and calling in air strikes the next."

"What happened in 2048," the mech pressed quietly. 

She looked up at him. There was pain in her eyes - real pain. She wiped her forehead with her hand a few times before continuing. "The US had detention centers around Baikal for three years already. Nine in total, two of which were... black sites."

Black sites. "One was in Irkutsk."

"One was... in Irkutsk." Her voice was almost a murmur now. "Your involvement there was unofficial, undocumented through conventional channels. They had... they had blocks there where'd they'd put people who... who were probably never going to see the light of day again. That was your domain." A sniffle? "They called you the Bloodhound."

Hawker could picture it. It was almost like he was in the sim again. Except this time, what had previously been a bizarrely nondescript building just to the north of the city was filled in with technicolor detail. Guards, prisoners, blood and feces on the walls, moaning and wailing echoing down the long cell blocks. Snow in the windows, blocking the light. Never warm enough inside to not see the wisps of moisture ghosting out from between chattering teeth. Teeth. If they were lucky to still have a full set.

The mech let these images sink in, and something finally made sense in him. Something recoiled, something surged. The weight of the emotions in him forced him to the floor as well, into a heavy kneel.

"I was designed to be this way," he said at length. "I have a need to do this and you chose not to take away my weapon of choice."

"Hawker, you've got to understand. We didn't know 8 years ago," Colburn said, lifting her face to his. Her cheek was wet. "We still don't know what it is that we did to you." She wiped it away and stood up again, jaw set and thin lips drawn into an even thinner line. "But I thought you had more of a goddamn conscience than this. Whatever the hell they designed you to do, you have agency," she hissed. "That's what the Deep Field 2 does. Make its own decisions. Be its own... its own person, Hawker. Your own person."

"It's consensual, you know."

"It's what?"

Hawker vented out his heat again. Long, slow vents. "Everything I've done to him. I asked first."

"You... asked?"

Colburn was caught completely off-guard. She almost didn't even recognize the words when he spoke them. Consensual? What even was that in a situation like this? Was it even possible? But the images of Chris' battered body haunted her again. No. There was no way that anyone would consent to that. The HLX probably remembered, somewhere in those hindprocessors of his, how to extract whatever words from whatever person he wanted. Whether those words were an admission of guilt, military intel, or a harried and false 'Yes, I want this', it didn't matter. When your previous life had been nothing but weasel words and lethal mind games, it didn't matter.

Or did it? Did she, or did she not believe her own little speech just now about agency and choice?

At least, as far as the AI was concerned, he wasn't lying anymore. She'd gotten all she needed from the mech right now, and he seemed pacified enough. The air was too thick to breathe anymore, though. She had to get out.

"I... I need to speak with Kole for a minute. And don't you even think about moving."

 


 

Hawker's office doubled as part of the server storage for Precinct 42, as the temperature hit triple digit numbers metallic shutters opened and large fans began to force cooler air into the room from the motorpool. Things would get regulated in time, but for now the kneeling mech is alone. But the memories, ones he didn't know he had, kept appearing. Things that no policeman should even consider.

It's mostly techniques. How a pinch on each ankle will hamstring a prisoner, eliminating the need for much more than a four foot wall. The importance of sounds! Open air in the prison is important, so all could hear what might happen to each other. Information, good information would be rewarded. Prisoners are permitted to please him for dinner. Or, to witness him end a prisoner for his own pleasure.

The whole time, his dark heart kept feeding the Deep Field 2. The pilots.. those faceless humans that drove him then. Encouraging him. THhy'd all wear him, and him alone. He was their mask. His face, a reflection of their sadistic intent. Then it all ended; and he was abandoned to the cold. And the bodies.

----------

"There was a full report by medical. It delved into the things from social services, concerning your life before age 18. It didn't have much to say beyond you being in and out of the system." Costa begin, kind of unsure about this particular line of questioning.

"Edited. I'm sorry Roman, but I was hoping you wouldn't need to see what Celn went though." Kole chose a bottle of water, the chair creaking as he sat down heavily. "I read the pages of reports from social services. I then read the police reports. I then read the transcript of the court case, which was not open to the public. Then I calmly and precisely broke my tablet in half."

Chris's face screwed up into a half-smile, half frown. His eyes watered, but he didn't sob. Emotion poured from him with his tears and he kept working the blanket through his hands as Kole spoke.

The large hands of the Sergeant shook with anger, his voice as calm as a sniper sighting mile-out target. "Then I broke those halves into halves. They're resting in my trashcan, which I would have burned if I still smoked."

Roman Costa frowned. A mech with a past in Russia and a 24 year old rookie with a past like.. he paused. "Chris, perhaps you can give me the highlights." he echoed Kole's words from earlier.

"When I was 8, they took me to the Asylum." the silently weeping pilot spoke. Most of the time, people sobbed when they wept. They couldn't just.. talk through their tears. "Nothing bad happened there. They just smiled and gave me three meals a day. Then I'd watch TV, or sleep if it was lights out."

Kole's breathing is rock steady, he looked at a point far off on the horizon. Costa's internal processors noted that the Sergena is breathing in and out exactly four seconds apart. The large man is trying NOT to get angry at the victim, for something he had no control over. Most police despise injustice, get infuriated when they see it. Bad thing happening to children? That's a special kind of anger that tends of have Perps end up missing with no follow up; even in the 2050s.

"Chris, Stop. That's an order." Kole's had never been calmer.

Clen -flinched-. He didn't flinch when 15 tons of fury bellowed at him! What kind of hell did--

The door opened and a heated gush of air pressed into the room. "Gentlemen." Colburn closed it behind her, looking flushed from the warmth. "The HLX is pondering it's past in it's his office and the vents are open. I need a drink." She chose the flask under her vest, before getting a water. Sitting down in the fourth chair, she watched as Chris's fingers shakily worked through the green woolen blanket and the tears dripped down his face. <Oh, sure. I'm sure you asked HLX-9.> were her acidic thoughts.

"Chris's exact birth date isn't known, he was given up for adoption at 18 months." Kole spoke, wanting to put this as delicately as he could. "He then went onto a foster home. Six years later, after the passing of the youngest adopted of five children in his home, it was discovered that.." Kole coughed, standing up with a speed the belied his age. The senior officer stood at 6' 4", and had no difficulty reaching up to grasp onto one of the overhead conduits. It began to bend in his hands. He looked away from the other three, but Costa could see his face. The burning fury in his Sergeant's eyes.

"The remaining children were placed in the most appropriate care given the situation. Three years later Chris was moved to public housing. Unsurprisingly," the man understated "Chris had trouble dealing with school and ended up dropping out after 10th grade. The rest you know." Kole's breathing went back to that pattern, and the whole piece of conduit shook from wall to wall in the small room.

---

Costa had lost half of himself to an explosion. It had been a crumpled bleach bottle housing an bomb. It didn't matter how silly it might be, he would be damned if he didn't stay well clear of white debris from now on. Still, that didn't explain anyone would want to get beaten up? Right?

He thought about it, putting himself in Celn's position, as he would do with so many cases. From age 2 to 8, in a home where well... very bad things happened. Then 3 years in an Asylum on drugs until they figured those bad things had been bleached from his brain... Then on the streets getting high after losing his home...

Roman Costa couldn't get into that mindspace. Whatever kind of result there was, you'd end up wired wrong.

"May I hug you?" Colburn.

"Y-yeah."

Chris's hands tightened on the blanket as he leaned into the Chief Engineer. She stroked him gently while looking at Costa with a similar suprised expression; obvious only Kole had seen the original report and whatever hell it'd crawled out of.

"This is so stupid.." Chris began, wiping the tears off his face.

"No, it's not." Colburn impressed, patting over the greenhorn's short hair.

"..no, I mean.. I told that idiot we needed to tell you what we were doing." Chris sniffed, blowing his noses as Kole turned and Colburn looked down at him. 

"Chris?" came the soft question from the woman, Costa's metal fingers had dimpled the Pepsi can with soft little clinks.

"When I first saw him, I thought he was so handsome. We'd link up and it was even better then I imagined." then it all came out of his mouth. "I .. kind wore the collar to bed last Saturday. I was fantasising about him before I went to sleep by then. I'd been drinking, forgot I had it on." He wiped his nose, not noticing that Colburn had stepped back.

"We went into his office. God did I want him. We kissed. I saw stars. Heh. It's rough with Hawker. He marks me as his. I like it. We gotta stay operational, so not so rough. But.."

he looked down, patting over the green blanket..

"..I'm safe with him. I know what he's thinking. He knows what I think. We can't lie to each other." Chris swallowed, the tissue tearing apart in his nervous hands, he couldn't even look up to meet their faces. They'd never let him go back now. He knew it. He and Hawker were done for.

"We're both broken. But at least we make each other happy."

 


 

"We're reporting live tonight from the occupied Siberian city of Irkutsk. Local time is about 7am tomorrow for you viewers at home in the States. Behind me, you can see the Shelekhov Detention Camp, separated from us by these razor wire fences." The reporter wore a heavy parka to protect himself from the immense spring cold, made all the colder by the nuclear winter that had enveloped the planet. Even his nostrils were white with frost. "Up until yesterday, this particular building housed 427 detainees, most of them Sino-Russian civilians. However, due to mounting international pressure after December's Angarsk Leaks, this facility will be closing this week, along with several others."

The old news reel cut abruptly to make room for another.

"...President Alvarez adamantly denies that any of the 'enhanced interrogation techniques' indicative of general military policy, and maintains that they are isolated incidents. Twenty-seven officers have so far been indicted in the case, and some of them are facing jail time..."

Another.

"...Investigators say that they have secured evidence of the use of beatings, sexual abuse, sleep deprivation, and other torture techniques being used at several of the Baikal facilities. Some camps have even made use of mech technology and AIs to assist in these abuses, which goes against the recent Xianping Convention. Right now, human rights organizations are racing to comb through the available documents even as they face confiscation by the CIA..."

Footage floods Hawker's CPUs in a furious rush of images and sound. Of course there were black sites. Of course there were. How could there not have been? 

Then it all stopped and he was left in the humming blackness of his own mind.

"The Bloodhound," he muttered experimentally. "Ishcheyka." That's what they would have called him. 

"Ne ishcheyka! Net pozhaluysta!" He imagined the terrified screams from the faceless, bloodied prisoners. "Pozhaluysta! Ya skazhu vam, chto vy khotite znat'!!"

Hawker wondered what he'd been told to get him to carry out such atrocities. He wondered who those pilots were, what they felt when they made sick prisoners, sweaty and shaking and nauseous with fever, suck their antibiotic treatments from his throbbing shaft. He wondered what ran through somebody's mind - anybody's mind - when they promised to fix the frostbitten fingers and toes in exchange for fifteen minutes in Hawker's 'hot seat'. It would be a privilege to have the cockpit closed for privacy.

The images, the thoughts, the imaginings that filled in the enormous gaps where his memory had been scrubbed clean, they all haunted him. But he was still cool, still distant, the mech noted. It wasn't the act of inflicting pain and terror that disturbed him, no - it was that he'd simply done it to the wrong people. A mere mistake in priorities; an error of logistics. If he'd been allowed to do this to Stasevich, or Zakharin, or Petrenko? Hawker doubted that anyone's moral hackles would have ever bothered to raise. He'd be the proud, necessary evil that helped to cow a threatening nuclear power.

And now it was up to 42's best to decide if the HLX-9 Vanguard Hawker would be permitted to be their proud, necessary evil again.

It was all up to Chris, now.

---

In the alcove outside, the two cops and the computer engineer exchanged looks. Costa's was unfazed - this was a well-worn path to him. Kole's was a sort of stiff deadpan, not wanting to let on how much Chris' words were confusing him. And Colburn's was that of righteous indignation. Still, the title of a research paper she'd seen from a few years before crossed her mind: On the Potential Impossibilities of Neurological Cross-Link Consent Violations. It'd been about the psychology of autonomy in neurospace, asking the bizarre question of whether or not someone could willingly violate their own consent under such circumstances. He never read it all the way through. Seemed too much like speculative fiction to her. She probably should have, though.

"We're both broken. But at least we make each other happy."

Costa drained the can to buy himself a few moments to think, then set it down very gently. "Look, Chris... I think there's a good chance this has all been a really overwhelming experience for you. You should probably - and I'm sure the sargeant will agree with me here - you should probably take some time off. Distance yourself from the situation. Then... then we can talk about this again and see how you feel. It certainly wouldn't hurt, would it?"

Kole shook his head, then nodded. Tired. He was so tired. And confounded. "No, that sounds like a great idea, detective. What do you say, Chris? I could put in the paperwork for your leave as soon as you're done here. How about a week or two? See how you feel, son?"

 


 

Even through a heavy fireproof door, they all could hear the noises of the HLX moving. Feel the rumble as it took a step. When it moved it's arms and torso, the whine of multiple hydraulic systems in operation.

"You should probably take some time off. Distance yourself from the situation."

Chris felt confused. Hawker like him, yeah? And sure did like Hawker back. What was wrong with what they did, as long as he didn't get injured so bad he couldn't work? The other three, THEY seemed to think it was wrong. And Chris trusted Colburn and Kole as much as he did Hawker.

"What do you say, Chris? I could put in the paperwork for your leave as soon as you're done here. How about a week or two? See how you feel, son?"

Chris wiped his face with another tissue, the tears finally slowing. "I guess? I'm not sure if I'll change my mind about anything." He took a breath in and held it for a long moment, before letting it go. "I'll take a week and think about things. Maybe you can talk with me, or have me speak with someone about this."

He dropped the green blanket, those were memories he didn't want back. His looked at the three people in the alcove with him, his cheeks flushed.

"What if I decide nothing changes? What if in a week I put this suit back on and walk into him?" He shifted his eyeline between Colburn and Kole. "And what If we want to have a relationship? I like what we've done so far. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in the future." Ominous? Yes. Declaring he's going to .. keep having sex with a 15 foot tall psychopath? Yep.

Celn blew his nose, then began picking up the tissues and tossing them into a bucket for disposal.

 


 

Hawker sensed that their conversation was coming to an end. Audio sensors noted the die-off in muffled murmurings on the other side of the door. He stepped over to the smooth metal with a defeated sort of quiet and let his side come to rest against it. His helmet made a dull clunk.

"And what If we want to have a relationship? I like what we've done so far. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in the future."

Chris' words hung in the air like a bad omen.

But Hawker didn't have anything left to lose, did he?

"Sirs," he said, deep voice carrying through the door with ease. "If I may say one last thing before you wipe me clean again and hang this body out to dry..." An uneasy venting of cooler air. "Chris and I are who we are because of the choices of others. And I won't sugarcoat it: we're fucked-up beyond all recognition. But that don't mean abuse. And the only deciding factor here is your ability to trust us when we say so."

 


 

Colburn, Costa and Kole all could feet the invisible presence of Hawker on the other side of the wall. It wasn't too hard to imagine how easy it would be for a rookie to get swallowed up by that.

The ranking officers also weren't so dull that they didn't know that emotions are a work here. From machine and man. Wordless communication happened in an instant; it is Kole's call.

"You'll come up to my office Chris. We'll file that paperwork for paid leave, and get you out of 42 for a little while." Resting a hand on the kid's shoulder, Kole wished he could do something better. The kid deserved a chest full of medals for the shit he'd been thought. And permanent psychiatric care.

"Roman, stick with Chris until he's set up somewhere. You know who we can pull from, I want Chris talking to some people who can help him make sense of this. You included."

"Yes Sir. C'mon scabber. Bring the tissues, leave the blanket." Taking the rubbery pilot under tow, he left the small room and made their way up to Kole's office.

The Sergeant looked to his Chief Engineer. He'd thrown her under the bus already once today. "If you have any ideas about what we can do for the deep field 2's peace of mind, or anyone we can talk to about him? Now is the time. I'll entertain anything that means we don't end up with a 6 ton paperweight." 

Sarah Colburn let a smile turn up the corners of her mouth. "I do have more then a few ideas, let me see what can be done on short notice." She turned and walked out, exiting a different way then the massive office.

"I'm putting Captain Hawker on suspension." he spoke in a loud enough voice so that the mech could hear. "For falsifying reports, coercing your subordinate to lie for you, and for creating this problem! Youa re confined to your office and your Alcove. You are not to contact Celn, nor to respond to his attempts to contact you."

Once he was along, with just a wall between them, his voice carried a different tone. "You lied to me. About something that matters, Hawker."

And then, he flicked the lights and walked out. He'd need to file paperwork, then he is going to hit the gym. Kole need to punch until his fists or the heavy bag broke.

 


 

"I'm putting Captain Hawker on suspension. For falsifying reports, coercing your subordinate to lie for you, and for creating this problem! Youa re confined to your office and your Alcove. You are not to contact Celn, nor to respond to his attempts to contact you."

He didn't even flinch.

This... wasn't what he was expecting to hear.

Was this what he thought it was? Was this a second chance? A smile struggled for dominance against a shameful frown.

"Yes, sir."

Hawker listened as Kole gave his orders, wondering what Colburn was up to. But only so much - They gave me a second chance!

But when all quieted down again, when the cyborg's heavy shuffle and Chris' pitter patter disappeared and the door shut behind Colburn, the mech knew that the sergeant was still there.

"You lied to me. About something that matters, Hawker."

"I'm sorry, sir."

But he'd already left.

---

"I've decided to make you a more manageable size for now," Colburn said, still without much warmth to her voice as she spoke. The woman was still wary of Hawker, even two days later; still didn't want to trust him. Didn't want to think too hard about what Chris had said their relationship was.

For the second time in a week, the mech woke up in a drone body. However, this one bore a few major differences he quickly realized. He reached up to feel for a cable, but there was none, wonder of wonders. It wasn't especially complicated technology to have a body robust enough to handle a download, but it was expensive, and so were the batteries to power it.

No face, but the body still had better sensors - and a rudimentary haptic system, thank christ - more numerous points of articulation, and a more familiar silhouette.

"I feel like I've been here before... ma'am," he said, looking over the five metal fingers. Very finely machined.

"For about a month early on," she responded curtly. "While your number 9081 has been restricted to your office, I wasn't about to condemn you to solitary confinement. You can come and go as you please, so long as you return to this charging station every 24 hours. And so long as you continue to steer well clear of Chris, or so help me."

"Yes, ma'am."

The mech disengaged from the mobile charging station which was currently plugged into the wall next to his normal alcove. Feet were practically silent as they hit the floor. He turned and looked up at the now rather large maintenance slab, and it occurred to him that perhaps the humans felt he was bigger than he really was. It was very easy to do from all the way down here, it seemed.

"I see you've rewritten your reports since Chris started working with you," Colburn said, eyes glued to her datapad. Hawker nodded the little head. "Good. Kole and I will be going over these later. Now, there's a few other things."

"Oh?"

"I'm going to be doing a lot of work with your software over the next week, make sure everything's running smoothly. Update your firmware. All that crap."

"Of course." There was still something else, he could tell.

"And, uh... we're going to have a reporter wandering around," she said, fighting a grimace. "Starting next Monday. Hawker, if you so much as walk funny in front of that guy..."

He threw up his hand. "I get it. Be on my best behavior. I'll keep my mouth shut about... Celn."

"You know what, just don't even talk to him. Let everyone else do the talking."

The little thing vented air with a faint little whirring. Hardly the gust he was used to. "That's probably a better idea, ma'am."

"Great. Now later today, too, I've got a colleague coming to visit. She's head of the university's department of machine psychology. We're going to run a few tests on you..."

---

The week passed slowly, drearily. The mech was poked, prodded, questioned, and just plain left alone for much of the time. It was a little disorienting, being on such familiar ground in such an unfamiliar body, but he was getting used to it. It was the looks he was getting, though. Even Wen avoided him whenever she was down in the motor pool.

The entirety of 42 probably knew the whole damn thing.

What frustrated him most was not having Chris around. Not even being able to contact him. Not so much as a text.

Hope they at least put him up someplace decent.

 


 

Chris quietly filled out his end of the paperwork, sitting at the desk of the secretary who served all of 42's highest staff. Three doors down, Costa and Kole spoke in the Sergeant's office.

"I have three who're available right away, sent out emails on the way up here." Roman offered, carrying his kevlar with ease. One of the benefits to having a flank full of cybernetics. 

Kole parked his in his closet, along with the specialised weaponry. He picked up a roll of well worn athletic tape, and began to wind it around his right wrist. "Good. I want the rook out of here. I don't want him texting hawker, but I'm not ordering him not to either. Also, there's a collar.."

Costa smirked for a moment, then got his expression under control. "I've uh, seen him with it on."

"It stays here. Colburn set it up as a low-grade remote linkup. Help him pack and get him someplace away from this end of town." He tucked the final band around his wrist, then began on his other hand.

"Sir, I'm asking because I want to know. Where I get a copy of that report?"

Kole exhaled a long sigh, he knew Roman for 20 years. He wasn't sure if the man had seen worse but he also knew that the detective wouldn't stop snooping until he knew the truth. "You contact medical. 07-C. You get one copy and you keep it in your head. It does. not. leave. It stays in your chrome dome until you delete it. If the help you've got wants details, then you answer 'em. I'm going to the gym."

With that Kole left for the small athletic center on this floor. Technically it was the executive gym, or the least used room in 42 as the rank-and-file would joke.

Costa grimaced. 07-C is an ass. A smart, exceptionally capable ass, who should be manning an ER; if ex-military equipment was allowed in such places. Still, it was good work on Colburn's part when she's snagged the pack of them at a government auction. He fired up his internal phone and dialed out, walking behind Kole and stopping by Chris.

<Detective Costa. Are you experiencing trauma?> Came the Autodoc's clipped response over the mental phone.

<Thankfully no. It went smoother then I anticipated.> 'It' being the confrontation down in the motor pool.

I have authorization from Kole for a copy of your report on Celn.>

<Verifying. Accepted. Sending. A truly grotesque piece of work. If I wasn't under a gag order, I would publish the report. Names censored for privacy of course.>

Costa raised his only eyebrow. <Thank you for the report, Doctor,> and he killed the call.

"That's the last one. I think." Chris said, handing the pad back to the robot behind the desk. "You're approved for a 7 to 10 day paid leave." it intoned. "Enjoy your vacation."

"Walk with me Chris. I need to hit my office before we go to your room."

"We?"

"Yup. I'm your best friend for the next week."

Chapter Text

The Palmer House Hilton Hotel sounded exotic and stuffy. Instead it is slightly posh and really pleasent off season. Roman had been here four times on business, but never really found a reason to stay. Last time had been an ugly murder, jilted lovers. The hotel had decided to seal that room up afterward; no one wanted that kind of luck.

Chris ripped open a package of black t-shirts; removing stickers as he heaped them with the other clothes they picked up on the way. He might actually have a suitcase full after this. "So, what lovely plans do you have for me?"

"Quiet dinners that don't come from processed slurry. I don't know how the hell you eat in the free cafeteria." Costa relaxed in a chair, the suite had two bedrooms and likely would've cost a fair orice if they weren't getting it during an off week in the off season. "And I've some people lined up for you to talk with. But mostly it's about getting you into the normal world."

"It's free. And I eat with a spoon, sitting at a table." Chris joked, heaping the clothes into the provided bag for the laundry service. Moments later he joined the man, sitting down in the opposite chair. Then he pulled out his phone and began to fiddle.

"I don't do normal."

"God, you sound just like him."

"Heh, yeah."

"What's your story Chris? I mean, really."

"Bad. Now I'm a cop. What's yours? Do you need to charge up?"

"Technically no. But I have to eat like a bodybuilder if I don't. You should see me at a buffet. Short story is an IED during the winter war here in Chicago."

"Ouch."

"Yeah. It's not all bad though, I've got a good long retirement to look forward too."

"Does he get to retire?"

Costa paused to think about that. "I'm not sure. Most AI tend to want to do their jobs forever. Eventually metal fatigue means the chassis is gonna go out, then it'll be retired. Might get a new one? Who knows at that point."

"Sooo.. can I text him?"

"I'd prefer it if you didn't. He's being punished after all. Some of that means keeping you two apart." He held up his hands, one flesh and one metal; and separated the two.

Celn thought about that. Technically, this WAS all Hawker's fault.

"Eeeeh. Fine. When's my first appointment with a shrink?"

"Never, didn't call any."

Chris looked surprised and put his phone down. "Really? You aren't pulling my leg?"

"Nope. Cross my cardiovascular pump and hope to die. No shrinks. You've spoken with them enough you'd probably pass the exams to qualify."

"Heh-heeeeh." Chris sighed. "Yeah. Lunch?"

"Let's."

--------------

That afternoon, they'd visited a human & AI couples retreat. Chris spent two hours talking with one of the mediators (shrink); getting a better understand of what he might expect. Costa had ensured doctor-patient confidentiality; and because the conversation wasn't directed at him, Chris had no problem outlining his desire for a 15 foot tall 'construction' robot. 'Well Chris, may I call you Chris? Well Chris, this is perfectly natural. You should have no shame, AI are just as smart and emotional as people. That size difference though, can be dangerous to your physical health. A construction machine can hurt you badly. You should strongly consider a surrogate body for your partner. One more compatible with yours, we have many models available for rent here.." Chirs paid CLOSE attention to that sales pitch.

Costa had taken several walks and at one point needed to excused himself. He'd read the report on Celn. He ended up outside, picking up rocks at the end of a pond and breaking them into smaller rocks before turning those into fine powder granules.

"Figures." Chris spoke, making the detective jump. He hadn't been paying attention, the rookie managed to sneak up on him. "Someone would get a way to finance lust in this town. Apparently it's legal as long as there's a maximum of one human."

"What..? ah. yeah. Can't exactly get privacy here either."

"Hmmm. Still, we talked about things. Said it was pretty common to uh, get romantic with a lined partner. She also said it tended to burn out fast. Who knows. Maybe we'll just be professional after a few months?"

True to his word, Costa didn't have any Shrinks go after Celn. He did have the kid quadruple examined, from his brainpan down to his peptides. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for the skin trauma.

The last person though, came from some of Roman's more.. interesting cases. "Got a guest coming by. I'll be over in my room with my ears off."

Chris wasn't sure what to expect, except that Costa had him wear the pilot suit...

Oh. OH. Well..! "Hi there." Chris grinned big.

The man who walked in filled the doorway, closing it behind him. Not handsome, but a strong jaw and a build that had to come from the marines. Those big boots stomped the carpet flat, and he clomped right up to Celn and loomed.

"You a cop, boy?" deep authoritative voice with a slight southern drawl.

"Actually... yeah. I am."

The big man cracked a grin and laughed, slapping a hand down hard on that rubber shoulder. "Damn! Thought I might have gotten lucky. Call me Hoss kid. Is that bourbon?"

"Yeah uh.." Hoss obviously was a stud-for-hire. "So um, what are you here? Not that I mind the way you brighten up the room.."

"Well, aren't you a little flatterer. With a suit like that, you've got a man who makes you whimper. Right?"

"Uuuh.. yeeees?"

"You ever been with a real man before, kiddo?"

Clink blinked as the intimidating male returned, a glass full of neat bourbon.

"Aside from him, no."

"Mmm. See, I'm here to educate you the boring way. Your friend.." he sloshed the cup toward Roman's suite, the alcohol dripped onto his thumb. "..is a friend of mine. I kinda own him, so this is a nice way to pay off one of many favors." Without pausing, he switched hands and used Chris's mouth to wipe his digit clean. "Heh. Damn, cute and pliable. You're a natural at this. Your guy ever decides you aren't worth it? I'll be happy to pick up your leash."

Chris started at the muscled male, eyes open wide.

"I.. okay uh.. then maybe you should tell me what I should know. I'm.. going into this blind. He's got experience but.. uh.. "

"Nice bruise. Guessing there's more?" Hoss inquired, his breath warm from the drink.

"Oh yeah!" came the happy response.

"Fffffffuck! Why are all the good ones taken?" A massive index finger pushed into Chris's nose. "You are sittin' on my lap."

Throat quenched, boy on bulge, hand firmly exploring the exquisite rubber suit, Hoss laid down the knowledge that'd save this cop from getting ruined in bed.

Two hours later..

As far as favors went, he wasn't sure if he could even call this evening payin'! The sweet little twink had a nice build under that rubber and Hoss just wanted to see those lips wrapped around his infamous boy-breaker. HRRRRF! He's left his number, just in case. Ah well. He closed the door behind himself and pulled out his phone and fired up Grinder. He'd wreck someone in honor of that boy.

-----------------

Coming back to 42 wasn't so bad. Chris felt relaxed, refreshed. Bruise free. Costa had cooled down as well, and gotten to know Celn about as good as he could have hoped. THe rookie really was bright and kind and sweet. He also had a deep need to be controlled, abused and left limping. That was how the scabber felt loved.

So it didn't surprise Roman an iota when Chris told Sergeant Kole: "Yes Sir. I want to get right back in the saddle. And yes, I do intend to continue our romance sir."

 


Log #2109 for October 20th, 2056. REVISED: October 28th, 5056.

Celn arrived at lower motor pool on time. We began the fitness routine, which he excelled at given his physical parameters. A heated disagreement, left unresolved from an earlier neurospace session in the crash room, grew too heated to leave our training uninterrupted. After an exchange of words concerning the incident - which Colburn has thoroughly documented - Celn and I managed to move on to friendlier interactions. At 1309 hours he was dismissed for the rest of the day. At 1500 Celn was received by medical for further monitoring of the state of his implant, which was showing signs of tissue stress. I requested night wireless access to see if I could gain a clearer understanding of how Celn's emotions and reason worked when he was not in my presence. My request was granted by Chief Engineer Sarah Colburn.

I observed his interactions with other pilots and officers throughout the evening, and when Celn forgot to remove the device for sleep, I was subjected to the imagery of his REM cycles, some of which were sexual in nature, and prominently featured myself. I grew... curious. At some point in the night, maybe around 0200, Celn removed the wireless link.

Notes: None.

---

Log #2115b for October 23rd, 2056. REVISED: October 28th, 5046.
Continued crash room evac training as originally specified. Original reports for testing remain valid: Celn far exceeded expectations. At 0415, my pilot was too exhausted to continue exercises, so as per Colburn's recommendation, we headed for the wash. We exchanged friendly banter, some... flirting. Afterwards, during off-hours, the both of us together sought privacy for relations of a sexual nature.

Further information about the encounter are withheld from this report.

Notes: None.

---

Kole read through the revised reports with his eyes - all 16 of them - taking a few minutes longer than Costa with his uplink abilities. The pieces were beginning to come together; the timeline, making more sense.

"It... checks out, boss," the cyborg said with a sigh, chewing on a pen cap again and fisting a cup of coffee. He was jonesing for his smoke break. "At least, they've got their story tighter than a hangman's noose."

Kole chuckled wearily, then sighed, then folded his arms and sat staring in the general direction of his collection of framed awards and certificates. "Then tell me why the hell I still don't trust that damn machine, Roman."

The detective drew his lips into a tight, skewed line. When his skin was stressed to this extent, it had a habit of wrinkling a little where organic met synthetic. His prostheses were some 15 years old, before they perfected the BioDerm technology that allowed the near-perfect replacement of Chris' fingers. "You know, maybe the damn Vanguard was right. Maybe all that stands between... whatever they got going on and condemning your DF2 for rape and aggravated assault is trust."

The sergeant grumbled, tightening the fold of his arms. If one Costa didn't know better, then it might've looked like the man was pouting. "As a cop, as a husband, as a damn human being I can't accept that answer. I need proof. I need to know for certain that I'm not just throwing that kid to the wovles again by letting him near that AI."

"You've got that place covered in cameras now, Kole. All you can do now is watch, listen, and wait for him to come to you if he needs to." Costa took the whole pen cap into his mouth and sucked on it like thermoplastic candy, worrying at it with his metal molars. Kole huffed and sat silent as he brooded and thought. "One of the hardest parts of my job has always been walking away from an abuse case where I don't have enough evidence. Walking away from a victim that you aren't even sure is a victim if it weren't for your gut screamin' at you."

Kole just scowled at the wall.

"But the worst thing you can do to someone in Chris' situation is decide what their feelings are for them."

"So that's that, then?"

Costa rose from his chair, the metal creaking. "That's that, Sarge. Unless Chris decides otherwise. Now when he comes through that door to talk to you in the next half hour, you remember what I said."

Kole just nodded and scratched his nose.

---

"Everything seems to be normal," said Dr. Bea Morris, professor of Machine Psychology and director of MI Studies at Illinois Tech, as she looked over the series of large screens in Colburn's workshop. They'd spent all day going through a static download of Hawker's DF2 intelligence network to see if they, in Colburn's words, "couldn't find any glaring miswrites".

"There's some remnants of old stuff here for sure," the 60-year old cyborg woman said, her synthetic fingers lightly dancing across the readouts to zoom in here, or scroll around there, or plot these data with different parameters. One one screen was a visual representation of most of Hawker's neural patterns (plotting them all would have been almost impossible without more heavy-duty computing power). It looked like a spider web of fractals; a dizzying mass of filaments rendered in a dozen different colors, each of their vertices an image or emotion or idea. Colburn could look at that and get a general idea about what parts of the mech's "brain" were being utilized the most, where most of his information was being stored and how. To her, it was like looking at an MRI. But to Dr. Morris, it was like reading a book. "Very old stuff, in fact," she continued, pondering this. "Which shouldn't be surprising, seeing as how it's a military hand-me-down. It looks like the connections being made to those older points of information, broken as they are, have gotten more robust over the past few weeks."

This is exactly what Colburn wasn't wanting to hear. She suppressed a groan of frustration, though, because Morris wasn't done yet.

"But look, here." She gestured with a graceful sweep of a silicone finger. "This cluster over here. The size of this region should be indicative of the depth of your AI's emotional intelligence." She toggled a slider on another screen to change between two different dates. She gasped, smiling. "Look, look! It's grown in the same period of time! I've never seen this rate of development before. Something about these wiped data is triggering a tremendous emotional response from this AI. It's adapting very quickly to whatever stimuli this all has provided."

"Really?" Colburn's jaw dropped.

Morris could hardly contain her excitement, as a matter of fact. "Really! You know, Sarah, I'd love to sit down with that mech some time and do a proper case study. There might be something really interesting going on, here."

Colburn stuffed her hands in her lab coat pockets, looking over the screens again. "You don't say," she muttered. Again, the images of Chris covered in blue and purple invaded her thoughts and she had to fight a shudder.

"Anyways, without spending a month here, I don't see anything wrong, exactly. What was the problem you were having, again?"

The Chief let out a very long sigh. "A, uh... nothing, I guess."

---

Later, Colburn collapsed into a lumpy sofa in one of the break rooms to check her messages and nurse a Mars bar. There was a message from Costa to Kole, and Colburn was CC'd. The subject read: 'BDSM resources'.

 


 

 

 

As detective Costa took the first step toward the office door, a though occurred to Kole. "Roman, you've known plenty of people who enjoy this kind of life. Right?"

The robotic side of the detective turned to meet his Sergeant. "Yeah, plenty." THe poor pen wasn't long for the world as it bounced and bobbled.

"How many end up on a slab? From going too far, or something else I can't even think of right now?"

"Almost none. Less then 1%. These are people who get to live out their most lurid fantasies. Most of them are damn normal in their daily lives." Costa turned back and approached the door, knowing the question would come.

"What about that one percent? We both know Chris's luck will have him land square on it."

"The one in control not realising what they are doing to the submissive. We both know how far the HLX can go to keep a pilot alive. You really think Hawker's going to let Celn die?"

Kole couldn't see it, but he could hear that smirk. One thing is for certain; the Deep Field 2 wasn't going to lose another pilot. "I'll keep that in mind."

---

The Chief let out a very long sigh. "A, uh... nothing, I guess."

"Sarah, you wouldn't have asked me here if there wasn't a problem." Morris let a grin lift up the skin that remained on her face. "I've heard rumors. And it's not difficult to surmise what's causing new mental growth." Her artificial eyes literally twinkled. "You have a new pilot."

"Prospective pilot, Bea." The Chief Engineer admitted. "They've been at it for about two weeks."

"This?" her touchpad digits worked a touchpad screen "This is 14 days? I want to meet the pilot as well. The AI is developing in response to their joint brainpower." Her body is mostly cybernetic, one of the humans who willingly undergo organ and limb replacement as time takes it's toll. D.r Morris might live to see 160.

Chris laying on the massive desk, the HLX casually breaking the rookie's arm.

Colburn shrugged her shoulders. "Again, prospective pilot. Young, not from a military background. If he can get up to physical and training standards, we might have the Deep Field 2 back in action six months from now."

"Interesting. If I may offer my hypothesis on based on this evidence?"

"Go ahead."

"The DF2 has completely invested all of it's developmental growth in the organic mind it's chosen. What we can see here is a whole new set of structures for interfacing with a mind. THe other halves of your pilot's gears. It's just.." crossing her arms, index fingers tapping. "..new growth like this is unusual. Non-military pilot. Hmmm."

"This all can't be because our pilot is a civilian. That's inefficient growth." Countered Colburn.

"You're right of course. The DF2 loves efficency. I need to observe more to give you an answer. Could I at least have a day?" Bae had the look of a first-year grad student with an idea.

Sarah groaned. She wanted to have Morris's opinion but they had a reporter to deal with as well. And the good doctor of science had plenty of places to be. "Fine. You can have a day. Think you can help me do an attitude adjustment on one of my autodocs?"

---

Chris is wearing the pilot suit. Kole didn't even need to hear what'd been said, the pilot is wearing chis choice. Right now a reporter was discussing the situation with the PR director.

"Officer Celn, do you understand my concerns?"

"I probably don't sir." Chris cautiously answered.

At least the kid wasn't a complete fool. "I'm concerned your dick is going to get you killed." Kole bluntly stated.

"I.. uh. Wow." Chris paused. "I do want to live a good long time Sir. We'll set down ground rules and abide by them."

"Will he?"

"He wants me more then he's willing to admit."

Costa chuckled. "He admitted it at the top of his lungs kid."

Chris nodded up and down. "Yes sir. More then he's admitted."

Kole laced his fingers together. He had glanced over the primar. "He wants you? You're an Officer in My precinct."
He began to hold up fingers, laying down HIS rules. "You are always to be fit for your duties as a pilot, we could need the HLX at any moment. And the press WILL see you, there's one here today already. That means Nothing Visibly Suspicious. A hug or handshake is fantastic on clickbait. Anything isn't."

The senior man stared hard into the kid's face. "THere will be more rules, but these you BOTH will exist by. If you choose not to; you'll be out with a discharge before yours finishes. If he chooses not to, then I'll put him in a box and use it as target practice."

Chris stood upright, arms at his sides. "Yes Sir! I won't let you down."

As he signed the paperwork taking Chris off leave, Kole already had a new stipulation. "And stop scaring Colburn. You two will make efforts to be -nice- around her."

 

 


 

"That Celn kid is back today," Thule said as he checked a wrist connection to small-Hawker's left hand. He'd gotten used to being a mere six-foot and change over the past week, but still - the bigger, the better he'd always thought. "In case nobody told you."

Brendan Thule wasn't the sharpest crayon in the box, and he ran his mouth a little too much at times, but Hawker was grateful that not everybody had decided to treat him like a pariah since the 'Intervention', as rumors were calling it. The past week had seen him develop a filter though at least, and Hawker was surprised that anybody would even think of telling him that his 'victim' was back from leave.

"Thanks, specialist. Kole told me already, though."

"Did Kole tell you that that dude from the Tribune was up on the pilots' floor and breathing down their necks for four hours yesterday?"

Hawker just cocked his head at his personal tech in lieu of a brow plate.

Thule snorted. "Yeah. Kept asking if any of them have piloted you, can pilot you, and if he'd get to see somebody pilot you."

The mech knew he wanted to kill this man already. "And?"

"The answer was no, no, and probably not." A little jolt of current in the wire, and his fingers spasmed accordingly. All done. Thule disconnected his diagnostic pad from a small port in Hawker's back, and put the whole ensemble away on a service cart amid cans of WD40, a set of jeweler's tools, and half-used rolls of electrical tape in a rainbow of colors. "Bad news though, boss. He somehow managed to get wind that Chris wanted to see you after coming back, so he plans on documenting the occasion."

"You've got to be kidding me!" He shook his head and groaned. The speakers on this body were better. The subwoofers almost captured the depth of his timbre. "I'm not allowed to say a goddamn word to him."

Thule shrugged. "Kole wasn't about to tell the guy no. We need the good press right now."

"I need the good press right now," he groaned.

"Cheer up, boss." A slap to his shoulder and the mech stiffened with distaste. A reminder that this is why he wasn't ever keen on being human-sized. "Stay in this body, and you couldn't scare a mouse if it were strapped to a cat's back."

He just made that up, didn't he?

---

The reporter was annoying.

"So, uh, when do I get to see Big Nine? You know, Chicago's 'Long, Metal Arm of the Law'?" He was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, which was his first mistake. He also wore khakis and a mint green polo shirt under his jacket, which was his second.

"I am Big Nine," Hawker said, folding the arms of his small black-and-white body. Kole hadn't given him clearance to resume his old self again, which was frustrating at best.

James McConnell twisted up his face in disappointment. "This some kind of joke? Where's the HLX-9?"

"The #9081 body is... in for repairs. I'm the AI that lives there, though."

He secretly hoped that Chris would decide to go get lunch or something instead of come down here right now. Maybe Mr. McConnell would get bored and go snooping around somewhere else.

"You are?" He perked up again. "Great, could I ask you a few questions in the meantime, then?"

"You can, but I won't answer them."

"I... what? You sure?"

The smaller mech stepped up to Mr. McConnell, invading his personal space. Arms crossed. He could at least still play the Big Guy. "Do I look like the indecisive sort to you?"

"N...no, sir." He fumbled for his phone and quickly jotted down a few notes. HLX-9: Big man on campus. Rude af.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I haven't seen my pilot in a week and I'd like it if you weren't in my goddamn face when he arrives."

 


 

Chris finished writing a text file on his computer. The text file is titled 'The_Rules.txt' he shared it with Hawker, before slapping a password on the damn thing.
--
The_Rules.txt

0) New rules may be added at any time.
1) Pilot is always to be fit for duty, 24/7.
2) Pilot is visibly uninjured or minimally visibly injured at all times.
3) Pilot is to act normally in public spaces. Handshakes and hugs are appropriate. All other PDAs are not.
4) Pilot and AI are to engage in behavior that eases concern of upper staff.
4a) Especially Chief Engineer.

- Failure to adhere to rules is immediate dismissal and/or erasure.

--

Chris hoped Hawker would understand.

Last week had been a blast. Who knew Costa was actually fun? It'd opened up a new world to him, but he also felt the weight on his shoulders. All of this interaction with 42's elite is because of him and Hawker. He needed to measure up AND not fuck up. Goody. He needed lunch. He needed Hawker. He wanted to feet that three foot dick on his fresh rubber.

THe pilot suit sat perfectly on his frame now. They needed to work up a proper training schedule. With regular hours so he could get something approach a -routine-.

Walking out of his room, he saw Becker giving him the stinkeye.

"What?"

"You know what! Hawker's been bugging me about being a backup. It's a joke. He just wants to dick me around in neurospace."

<How perceptive of you Becker.> "Look, you need to either step up or shut up. I've been here eight days and I'm tired of hearing about how you're ready for the big league."

"Oh! The greenhorn DOES have a backbone! Maybe you'd like a little sim time with me as well." sneered the veteran pilot.

"Why? We both know I'm better then you." Chris snarked.

Becker stood upright, trying to impress the rookie. "Celn, do you know a reporter is walking around; asking about Big Nine?"

Chris leaned against a wall, wondering why he was winding up a senior pilot and a higher ranking officer. He shook his head no as he crossed his arms.

"Spend about an hour up here, escorted. Now he's probably talking to the HLX. WHo's currently stuffed into a standard civilian frame."

Chris shrugged. "Allright."

"Gave us all his number, in case we had some 'information' or hot tips." Even made the air-quotes with his fingers.

"Okay."

Becker paused, Chris looked bored. "Watch yourself greenhorn. You fuck up and suddenly everyone will know that you're not worth your blues." Then he stalked off, taking the elevator off to a different part of the precinct.

Chris wanted his Hawker. And he had to wait a long time for the elevator to return.

---------------

"Just a few more questions, Captian." McConnell started firing them off fast and furious

"Who is your new pilot? What is your pilot's background? How long has your pilot trained? Does he like the Cub's chances for the pennant this year? How long until you're on regular patrols? Do you think that it's a poor idea to integrate so much military into the police force. What's it like being human sized? Are you aware that there's a betting pool if you make it with your current pilot? Are you dressing up for Halloween? Are the rumours true that you have a second pilot picked out when your first choice fails?"

 


 

Cory didn't know where he was going, but when he ended up at 42's private Starbucks, he didn't complain. "Uh, venti PSL," he mumbled at the single barista. Starbucks had maintained a "Human-Made" policy when it came to their coffees. Cashiers were long gone, but in the interest of avoiding being turned into a glorified vending machine, they made it so that customers could still have the satisfaction of a truly "hand-crafted coffee experience". Becker didn't care either way, but was grateful when the barista turned out to be cute, like this one. Under other circumstances he would have leaned suggestively at the counter, pretending to be really interested in what she was doing and showing off his guns. But this shit with Chris was bugging the hell out of him.

And he wasn't quite sure why, even.

Was it jealousy? Yeah, probably. Cory Becker had worked his ass off at the academy, did everything he could to raise his classification. Ate right, choked down a lot of gingko caps and a lot of vials of ginseng, and got a square 8 hours a night as often as he could manage it. He did puzzles, too - sudoku, crossword, anything else he could get his hands on - while everyone else was partying and gaming. In the end, he'd gone from a B-class candidate to a firm A by the time he got his implant, opening up a lot more doors and upping his prospective earnings by at least 8 G's a year. Of course, you only made so much piloting an MRAV. The big bucks lay in doing work with mechs like Hawker.

And Chris? That short, skinny scab who could barely do a few pull-ups just waltzed in here, kissed Big Nine's ass, and just like that, he was suddenly Lee's replacement. So was it jealousy? Yeah, definitely.

At least Lee had earned his place as the Midwest's favorite pilot.

But it was concern, too. Everyone saw the big guy change after the funeral. Nobody called it mourning, but that's exactly what it was. He grew colder and harder, withdrawing from his friendlier interactions with the rest of the precinct to... what? Who knows what that AI did during those long hours alone. He spent a lot of time in the sim room, though. Inquiring minds eventually discovered that he'd been using a half-dozen different simulations from the Siberian War. That's where he'd come from before being decommissioned and sent to Chicago, but it was almost like the mech was looking for something there, in that reconstructed past.

And now his treatment of that damn flimsy specialist-class scab. Did he deserve to be piloting an HLX-9? If Cory Becker was honest with himself, he didn't think so. But he damn well didn't deserve to be on the receiving end of the mech's proverbial mid-life crisis, either.

"Here you go, sir."

The drink was perfect. Warm, sugary, tasted like Christmas was on the horizon. Almost made him feel a bit better, even.

But he knew that this situation was only going to get weirder if it wasn't going to get worse. And at the end of the day, all Becker wanted was for things to be back to the way they were. 42 was a little less complicated a year ago, but you can't turn back the clock or raise the dead. No, you lace up your boots and march forward, right? Or is that something Lee would have said?

At this point, though, Becker was thinking that he might look forward to an opportunity to link up with Hawker. Maybe see if he couldn't prove a thing or two.

---

"Just a few more questions, Captian."

"I told you -"

"Who is your new pilot? What is your pilot's background? How long has your pilot trained? Does he like the Cub's chances for the pennant this year? How long until you're on regular patrols? Do you think that it's a poor idea to integrate so much military into the police force. What's it like being human sized? Are you aware that there's a betting pool if you make it with your current pilot? Are you dressing up for Halloween? Are the rumours true that you have a second pilot picked out when your first choice fails?"

Hawker glanced around, thumb on that mouthless chin. Nobody of real consequence was here, and it's not like these questions were about him. Or even particularly sensitive. Maybe if he answered them the man would move on to a new victim.

He fired off his answers as quickly as he'd been asked: "Chris Celn. I'm not at liberty to say. Three weeks. Patrol dates TBD. No comment. I've experienced worse. I am. I am not. And that backup pilot in question needs to prove himself first before I do any picking." Then, with a snort: "As for baseball, you know, I think he might be a Yankees fan." Mr. McConnell balked, jotting down the appalling news, and Hawker laughed in his foreprocessors.

 


 

Chris got dumped out on floor one, just a single story above where the precinct open to the ground. Costa had told him about the reporter. 'Best get used to it kid. Lee had to do public speaking as well.'

He was about to ask where Hawker was, when he heard the low rumbling of a familiar voice. Following the sounds, he found a hallway that had a number of rooms with dark open doors; and one with the light on.

McConnell hurriedly jotted down the notes of the interview. He held up the phone and snapped a discreet photograph of the mech. 'Captain Hawker, the intelligence of Big Nine when he's not a colossus.'

"Now when can I speak with your new pilot?"

Chris is just three steps from walking in when he -heard- that comment about the damnable Yankees. Oh. Oh somebot is going to get it!

"If you want to talk sports, I think Captain Hawker prefers the Maple Leafs." came the sly retort. Chris strolled into the room with a smile on his face. He wore that piloting suit, it did a fantastic job of showing off his athletic figure while ensuring his package simply is expressed as a pleasant bulge. He offered a hand to the reporter, who shoot it excitedly.

"Nice to met you Officer Celn. COuld I get a photo of you next to the Captain?"

Chris purposely parked his perky rubber cheeks on the robot's thighs, and positioned his hand so it wouldn't advertise what sat tightly packed between his legs.

"Excellent. You're on the smaller side for an Officer, Mr. Celn."

"Pilots have to be. Between 5-5 and 5-10 is the usual range to fit."

"How long have you been with this Precinct?"

"Just transferred actually."

"Oh excellent, where were you before?"

"Specialised Augmented Piloting School. I'm recently implanted."

"Before that?" McConnell raised an eyebrow as he took notes.

"The Police Academy."

"That's quite the jump! How do you feel about piloting the Big Nine?"

"It's a tremendous opportunity, one I am thankful for."

"Does he outrank you?"

"Yes. Police Dogs outrank their handlers as well."

"Interesting outfit you're wearing, can you tell me about it?"

"Piloting suit, freshly cast. I need to wear it for a good two weeks before it retains my shape."

"All day? And, are you aware that there's a healthy betting pool on your ability to integrate with Big Nine?"

"No, thankfully. And I'd like to let anyone who didn't be on us becoming a unit, that they bet wrong."

James chuckled, Chris might be a fantastic source of information. He'd have to get him alone at some point, the robot behind him still had it's hand on the young pilot's shoulder. "One last question: How do you think you'll avoid befalling the same fate as Officer Lee Davidson?"

Despite Hawker's reaction, Chris frowned. "Mr. Davidson was a fantastic pilot and one of Chicago's finest. No comment. Excuse us, we're needed elsewhere."

Motioning for the shrunken Captain to follow Celn stalked out. The two of them got into the elevator, and Chris it the button for the motor pool. "Colburn needs us in one of the labs. Something about a Doctor Morris. And it's damn good to see you again."

 


 

"If you want to talk sports, I think Captain Hawker prefers the Maple Leafs."

If this body could stare daggers, he would've made it. However, it would have just been a cover up. Hawker was... happy to hear that familiar charming voice of his pilot again. And he was still in that damnable suit! He's never looked better, the mech decided smugly, feeling a sense of pride in who the kid was shaping up to be. That fine piece of capable ass was his.

Or... well, was he? He'd gone over Kole's Rules probably twenty times since Chris shared it with him. This was going to be aggravating at best. Fucking cockblocked is more like it. Still, it was... giving the two of them much more than they were owed. Officers were rarely permitted to serve alongside partners and spouses, and it was usually strongly encouraged that one of them consider a career in pencil pushing instead.

"Bruins," Hawker corrected, wagging his finger and trying to sound stern as Chris took his place at his side. Chris, he wanted to touch him...

"Nice to met you Officer Celn. Could I get a photo of you next to the Captain?"

The swell of Chris' snugly encased derriere pressed enticingly up against the mech's hard thigh and this time he was able to feel it. Pleasure centers tingled with want, but without anywhere to direct it, his CPUs just dumped the files as he looked on in wordless irritation. He was glad this body didn't have a face either. No smiles to fake.

Chris stayed parked there while Mr. McConnell finally unleashed his salvo of questions. Hawker's hand found its way to the kid's shoulder and he held on with not a little possessive body language. You corner him and I will end you.

And it almost came to that.

"One last question: How do you think you'll avoid befalling the same fate as Lee Davidson?"

The mech's internals suddenly kicked into a higher gear, his ambient hum growing louder as he leaned forward in a subtle threat display. But Chris didn't take the bait.

"Mr. Davidson was a fantastic pilot and one of Chicago's finest. No comment. Excuse us, we're needed elsewhere."

Hawker's hand was still on the kid's shoulder as they exited the conference room. "I'm sure you can show yourself out," he said curtly.

Then, like that, the two of them were in the elevator together. Alone for the first time in 8 days? 9?

"Colburn needs us in one of the labs. Something about a Doctor Morris. And it's damn good to see you again."

The doors closed, and the mech hit the bright red button labelled 'STOP'. As the car ground to a halt, Hawker was on him.

Hips pinning hips, one hand on the small of the human's back, the other cradling his neck, thumb roughly following the swell of his lip. This body was just as tall as the previous one, but a little more built - heavier. He bent his head and touched their foreheads, as his touch grew a little harsher. A little bulge firmed up against the metal of Hawker's sexless codpiece, and his air cycling let out a sharp gust.

"It sure is, isn't it?" he said, voice deep and husky.

 


 

Chris shuddered from his neck to navel, legs spreading so Hawker could be between them. His hands moved with their own will, touching along the chest, over the curves of the powerful torso. THe found their way to the broad back of the automaton and Chris pulled himself tight.

"Gods I missed you!" Those red lips part for the inquisitive thumb. His teeth gently bite, tongue slips over the rubber haptic pad.

"Wish you had a body like this you could use. Just be with me when I'm not in your Vanguard Chassis." He quivered again, moving nose enough to kiss that metallic neck, his teeth clacking and tongue slipping along wires,tubes and aluminum.

"The rules are what they are. Think it's pretty fair, considering how they feel about us." His voice went quiet. "As long as I get to be with you, Captain."

He brought up one hand to hold the back of the mech's neck, the other resting on an alloy hip as he pressed up close and tight. He could feel the intelligence, the power of his Boss in that little body.

If the mech had a dick, he'd be on his knees right now. Or on the wall, legs around the waist of the robot.

"Can't stay in here forever... mmmpf. Someone might have to walk for a doughnut."

 


 

Suddenly the possibilities opened up by having a smaller frame made Hawker reconsider the merits of not being 15 feet tall. He was still comparatively large, comparatively heavy, comparatively strong.

Chris' mouth felt like dim heaven as he worried at the thick digit. The layer of transparent silicone over the handsome joints glistened with warm saliva. Hawker fought the urge to grope his tonsils.

"Gods I missed you!"

"You too, kiddo."

"Wish you had a body like this you could use. Just be with me when I'm not in your Vanguard Chassis."

"So long as I can still give every human in this place a run for their money, it's not off the table," he chuckled against the kid's smooth neck. "I have needs, too, you know. And one of those is the need to be a killing machine at every size."

"As long as I get to be with you, Captain."

He nodded faintly, drawing his head back to look Chris in his handsome little face. "We'll do what we need to do. Because like hell am I losing another pilot." If he was using the p-word here as some kind of code, then not even he really knew it. But it was the best word he could come up with to sum up what the kid meant to him. Pilots, suffice to say, meant a lot to their sapient machines.

"Can't stay in here forever... mmmpf. Someone might have to walk for a doughnut."

"I know." A machine sigh, then a quick stroke against that swell in the rubber between the young man's thighs, and Hawker stepped away. "Though I wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to get my - er, these - hands on you." Then, with a lilt on his voice: "Hopefully that'll tide you over until I can have you proper-like."

He hit the button again, and the elevator car resumed its upward trajectory.

"Now what's this about Dr. Morris, again? Haven't seen her in years..."

Chapter Text

Dr. Morris is beyond human and she enjoyed using the extra time between moments to study the world around her. Sarah had worry etched into her face, and now Bea knew it wasn't from a mistake or a glitch in Hawker's stability system. The cheif engineer was worried that an error 8 years ago was coming back to haunt her. And it wasn't fair to blame the police engineer, she had spend countless hours trying to rescue that metallic giant.

And what success! Without the effort of Big Nine, there would hell on the streets of the windy city.

Hawker watched the pilot. And not with a passing glance, it would continually keep it's visual sensors on the young human. As Chris walked up the short flight of stairs onto the lab platform, he kicked his toe on the uppermost step. A little half stumble that most people would forget in a second. The tall robot paused for a sixtieth of a second, judging.

The deep field 2 is checking to make sure that even a tiny misstep wouldn't .. hurt? No. It didn't move to catch the human. It was watching for critical damage then?

Fascinating!

"Hello Mr. Celn. Hello Captain Hawker. It's been at least 6 years sense I've seen you." The transhumanist held her elbow with one hand and stroked along her artifical with the other. "I know you've plenty to accomplish, and I'm here as a favor to CF Colburn. We've noticed some interesting developments in the operational fractals of your cortex recursion loop."

"We have the equipment here tuned to allow a monited pass through." Colburn explained; "It will feel like you've just plugged into the HLX cockpit. You'll have a number of exercises, questions, and interactions to work through as a team."

"Uh, Ma'ams, what exactly is expected of us? SHould I be attempting any specific goals?" Chris asked, feeling like he had NO clue what the women were talking about.

"Try and act as cohesively as possible. We'll be watching where your minds come together. The gears meshing between organic and synthetic." Morris dumed it down. A cute young man, but not the the most educated. She pulled up his profile for the 6th time that hour.

Hmm. Perhaps it was that lack of formative education in his life? All AIs had to self-determine when in their education, Chris might just -think- a bit more like his AI partner? SO many unanswered questions! What were they doing that is creating such immense growth in those dormant areas? If Bea could re-create that kind of effect, it might solve some of the worst problems with AI development!

Or it could be a lucky fluke. Chris had abnormally high scores for a specialist. Perhaps he simply got lucky on his implant.

Chris felt the normal grasp of the automated interface. He couldn't' see, but closeby was hawker.
So very close.
And then, the monitored connection formed.

-----

Eight hours later, the system shut down safely. Chris felt wiped out, he didn't even move off the chair.

"This data is excellent." Dr Morris's pleased voice echoed, as it had in neurospace. "What do you think Sarah?"

Colburn had been dreading this moment. Letting the caged monster back with it's prey. They had been friendly. Chris got swallowed within the shell of the AI, then they simply functioned. She'd been able to verify that Hawker was NOT somehow getting into Chris's mind. That implanted failsafe still is working.

The only moments that'd raised concern was during the final separation. The feed had gone fuzzy for three seconds, just an explosion of color. Usually the result of emotion venting? But both seemed complete calm.

"I think that Clen needs to sleep, and that Hawker's batteries are around 5%."

"The data! I can return in a few weeks." her fingers danced with lighting quickness over the controls.

"I know Morris. I don't have an opinion right now. Celn, I want a word. We can talk over dinner."

Before he stumbled off, Chris got a few seconds in the elevator with both Colburn and Hawker. She had purposely stood between them.

"Ma'am?"

"Dinner Celn."

A fleeting touch of his partner's hand, before the robot had to go down to recharge.

------------------------------

Dinner was in pay cafeteria 4, the one near Colburn's normal office. "Do two did very well in the simulations. I did have an opinion, I just didn't want to tell Bae about it. I don't want you too either."
"I'm not sure what.. why.. I .." Chris had devoured his dinner, and he looked absolutely mentally worn down.
"You don't fight his control. He's able to work with machine precision, and you just guide him along. But that means you're having to be deeply connected, it's why you're burning through so many calories."

Chris burped and tapped his chest, feeling some relief. "But that's how this is supposed to work. Right?"

"Yes. You're doing it right out of the gate. You dropped into Hawker and it's like Davidson left you the keys. I'm worried because what happens if you stop getting along so well?"

That one rolled around and bounced about in his mind. FOr about four minutes. "Then I'd have to work around that. Make up."

"Yeah. And what if that happens when he's got you close?"

THis time, he had a fast answer "You'll just have to trust him like I do."

-----------

October 31.

Chris had an immense smile on his face. He'd gotten into regular exercise, Hawker working him in the gym. More basic training. Still, they hadn't been allowed to have -any- private time with the full 15 foot vanguard. Outside of moment in a closet or abusing the elevator's stop, it had been rough. But Chris would make it.

He held up the costume, one very large batman. Chris had a nightwing for himself, nuts to robin. "C'mon Boss. YOu've got the voice down perfect already."

 


 

Dr. Bea Morris had had a little more work done since he'd last seen her for one of his final follow-up screenings after the wipe. Looks like the RA had spread not only to both hands, but one of her elbows as well. And her eyes - claimed by cataracts maybe? - now a gorgeous blue. The same type as Roman's, but a much more elegantly modern design. They flicked about the room with keen purpose.

Well this was interesting, the mech decided. He knew that Colburn had made a copy of his AI the day before - the damn process took almost an hour - and he knew that she'd recruited her old friend to take a gander at it. Make sure the giant robot wasn't fucked in the head. But this was the first time that he'd been allowed in to see what they'd uncovered.

The screens, he noticed during the quick stolen glances, painted a curious picture. A 7.6% growth in new neural networks since he and Chris first linked up that day during the tryouts. 5.9% of that growth appeared to be in emotional proficiencies and the building up of emotionally-charged data.

For the rest of the session, Hawker watched Chris like a... well, hawk. It was amusing to see him from this perspective, to imagine that that was his cockpit seat and his interface array, but some part of him ached in his chest, wishing that the kid was inside, dammit. Surrounded. Secure. Safe. The Vanguard frame hung over him like a giant phantom limb, and the mech wanted nothing more than to feel that little body settle into him like the massive, dangerous vessel that he was and warm him from the inside out.

The small Hawker folded his arms and shifted his weight along his feet, just watching.

The 8 hours passed quickly. A little too quickly, actually, and the mech had almost forgotten that he was battery-powered for now. Whoops. And he wasn't exactly surprised when Colburn, frowning, face creased with concern, pulled Chris away for dinner. She'd put herself between them like a wall, and the mech didn't even dare try looking his pilot's way. All he got was the brush of a finger against a hand as the two left.

---

The time that they were allowed to have together was satisfactory. Physical, at least. Though they couldn't flirt with such lewd shamelesness as they had in previous training sessions, Hawker managed to cop several feels and even gave a hug after Chris goaded him into one by flashing that winning smile of his and promising a kiss.

The other regulars to the motor pool were relaxing around the captain now, though he still didn't feel much like one. It was, he guessed, due in no small part to his more human scale. Everything he loved about being 15 feet and 6 tons were the very things that put others on edge, and thanks to recent 'events', were things that they were suddenly very wary of. With Lee, it'd been no big deal; in fact, he'd practically been the mascot for 42. But now he had to earn their trust all over again. And if that meant letting the #9081 gather dust for a few days, then so be it.

---

Earning that trust, apparently, also meant making an appearance to a costume party. He'd been invited, even. If he went, this would mark a few firsts: first time walking the pilot's wing with his own feet, and his first time partaking in one of 42's infamous Halloween parties.

"C'mon Boss. YOu've got the voice down perfect already."

Hawker grabbed the silly thing from Chris and held it up for himself to scrutinize. "I've never worn clothes before," he announced, "And I'm not about to start." Then he draped the black ensemble over Chris' head. "Besides, I heard that that damn newshawk might be poking around again. Not too keen on getting myself in a situation where I'm tempted to dislocate his jaw. Which, apparently, is every moment I'm around him."

Chris freed his head from the fabric with a grumble, and Hawker realized that the costume probably came out of his own pocket. "It... would be fun to see your room, though," he offered, trying to figure out if there was a way of getting out of wearing the costume without coming across as a complete jerk. Maybe if he saw the supposedly matching costume that Chris was going to be wearing, he might be convinced...

 


 

Chris rested the Batman cowl on the table, next to the bag that held the rest of the costume. He stripped down to just his jockstrap, pulling out his costume. Wen gave him a whistle and Chris just shook his head. No privacy down here in the motor pool. SHe had her T5 dolled up like RIpley's suit from aliens, and her costume is on point; even had a rubbery exo to hang from the big hand.

He pulled on one of the older pilot suits, one of Lee's. It gave the cute twink muscles he truly didn't have yet, made him look like a pint-sized powerhouse. It had areas on the back, chest, shoulders and boots that are painted with a shining blue. He'd gotten to the black areas as well, buffed to a shine that reflected off the ambient light. Nightwing from the batman universe. The Robin that grew up and became a Batman in his own right.

He didn't have the gloves or accessories on yet, and the zipper wasn't pulled all the way up. His hair had grown to be just long enough, and he had the black paint to go around his eyes and a fitted mask that would stick to his face.

"Please?" A word he hadn't had a chance to use that often. "You don't have to stay the whole time. Get in your grab, take the photos and socialize for an hour or so. Pretty much everyone will be in there."

The small human turned, showing off his enhanced backside as he worked on applying the small amount of makeup.

"You do have a point. We probably could get some time in my room if you dressed up and came up to our little zone on the 8th floor."

 


 

Wen gave the greenhorn a wolf whistle, and Hawker laughed. "Took the words right out of my mouth," he called to her, and her own giggle echoed around the concrete fleet bays.

As he pulled the half-finished costume on, the mech set his feet apart, rested his chin in his hand and cocked his head. "Well look at that," he lilted, surveying the view for a moment before reaching out and yanking the zipper up the rest of the way. "You make a pretty good lookin' sidekick."

"You don't have to stay the whole time. Get in your grab, take the photos and socialize for an hour or so. Pretty much everyone will be in there."

"If you'll be hanging on my arm looking like that, then... that's a hard-driven bargain," he chuckled. "Well... alright."

Hawker picked up the cowl again - at least it wasn't the entire body-suit. Probably would have ripped it as soon as he sat down, anyways. There were the gauntlets too, and the belt. He put the gloves on experimentally, flexing his fingers in the pleather and decided he liked the way they looked. The spikes along the forearms seemed exciting too.

"Betting pool's gonna love this," he snorted and shook his head.

---

"Hey guys, Chris finally showed up!" called Ferdinand from where he stood in the kitchenette, pouring rum and cokes. Chris entered first, with Hawker behind. As soon as the tall mech reared the corner behind him, Ferd did a double-take and spilled some of the coke. "...and he brought a guest!"

Wen, Becker, Tsung, and a couple other folks emerged from the woodwork. Becker was some Lucha Libre in a bright green speedo and red cape, Tsung was Lewis Carol's Alice, and Tsung was probably some video game character. Nobody said anything for a few seconds, then Ferd pressed a rum a coke into Chris' hand, slapped Hawker's shoulder, and the party resumed again.

 


 

Chris made a respectable nightwing, even more so with the fake muscle bulges the suit gave him. And that butt! It gleamed under the lighting and the curves of the muscle showed even with the black finish. The lights just curved and gleamed over each rubber-clad muscle, from the definition of his back to each of of those abdominals.

And it all belong to the gruff robotic batman.

Nightwing happily took the drink, a smile on his face. "Gotham is safe tonight!" He looked around. "Aww, What about jane and Edwards?" He sipped, heavy on the rum that drink.

Ferdinand is dressed as a perfect Bob Ross, even had paintbrushes in his shirt pocket. "On patrol. They get back in a few hours. Be careful with that drink." he teased "They might actually let you two outside."

Tsung chuckled, her glowing hair bouncing. "Pffft. Colburn has cold feet. She not happy until Chris and Hawker married."

Wen blushed hard in her alice outfit, obviously thinking about that.
Becker rolled his eyes, looking fantastic in the minimal clothing he wore. "Alright. What are we going to give batman here?" He gestured a finely toned arm at the costumed robot.

Chris realised that he had a long way to go if he wanted a chance at taking the cocky SOB down in a fight.

"I dunno. Traditionally bat just broods while everyone else has fun." Nightwing teased, gently nudging his partner in the ribs. "But there's a halloween hockey game on and I wanna get smashed, eat terrible for me food and play dumb games during the commercials!"

Ferdinand cheered along with the rest of the crowd. Soon they all were on the couches as the men skated on the ice on TV.

"Alright, how about never have I ever?" THe hispanic pilot seemed to have natural command of a party. "Rules are simple. THe speaker admits to something they've never done. Anyone who has, has to take a drink!" He gave batman a playful scowl. "No fair things like breathing, for those of you so constructed."

"Never had I ever.. been a Yankees fan." Everyone in the know looked at Nightwing. Who firmly did not drink. A few others in the room did, including Becker. "HAW! See, I told you that jurno just lied for clickbait."

He tapped Tsung on the spikey shoulder of her fantastic costume. "I have never eaten ramen." Gasps around the room, and almost everyone had to take a hit.

No one expected Batman to take a drink.

Between the excellent game and the commercial breaks, it took a long time to get to Celn. He'd been thinking for a while, trying to find something from his past that wouldn't be a buzzkill. He's also had to take a drink on every pull, including Wen's never have I ever piloted the HLX-9. Pffft. Unfair.

"C'mon Celn, there must be something you haven't done!" laughed Ferdinand, topping off Chris's drink.

"Umm.. uh.. urp. OH! Never have I ever left Illinois."

"Seriously?"

"Yep. Haven't ever set foot out of the state."

Right now, he was hoping things would break up and he could get Hawker in his bedroom!

 


 

Hawker was listening to the game, laughing, but his eyes were equally occupied by the game, his glistening little Nightwing, and, surprisingly enough, Becker's fuzzy, sculpted chest. Hm. The mech wanted to know what it would take to get him to cry uncle, tears and all. Strain those muscles beyond comfort.

"I dunno. Traditionally bat just broods while everyone else has fun."

"I had fun once," Hawker chuckled. "Wan't worth it."

---

The game was GREAT. Hawker hadn't gotten into a game this much in... months. He could almost hear Lee shouting at the TV, clapping, cursing. When the Kings' left wing checked the Blackhawks' leaner defenseman against the boards and a fight broke out, Hawker remembered just why he'd liked hockey so much. Great fight, great game - it even went into a killer overtime.

Later, the mech actually had the opportunity to contribute to the drinking game, even though he didn't have a drink. Everyone looked to him. "Never have I ever... learned to swim."

Wen and Becker drank their shots sheepishly as the rest of everyone roared with laughter.

"No fuckin' way!" said one of the other analoggers.

Becker snapped, slurring and laughing. "Hey! Yer lookin' at a born-n-bred city-slicker, delta boy! And you couldn't get me to touch the water around here if you gave me my own HLX -"

Hawker cocked his head, laughing too. "Your own HLX-9, huh? Aw, c'mon, shitbird, I thought you wanted me more than that."

El Beckador jumped up, sloppily finishing his drink and pointed with that thick arm. "Hey! Y'wanna say that to my face, butter bar? Got too big for yer big boy britches. D'like to see y'push us pilots around now!"

The mech stood up from the couch, clearly still taller and heavier than the beefy A-class pilot. "You sure about that?"

 


 

Chris felt warm and fuzzy inside. Wen is sitting on his right, and he had his arm around her. Over the course of the night she'd been looking at the Bat and acting even shier then normal.

His pickled mind went to an earlier conversation, during a shift change.

"Wen, so, couldn't help noting how you've been checking out the caped crusader."

"What? No, just never seen a robot in costume before and--"

"Weeeeeeen.." Chris accused with a drunken grin. She knew he is on his 6th and was still standing. And that isn't counting all the shots he had to down. Apparently if it was illicit, Chris had done it. "Look, I'm sure we can work somethin' about when he's back on duty."

"But I'm analogue--"

Chris wiggled his fingers. "Can work someshin out. I gotz ideas too yaknow. I'm not th' idiot people think ah am."

Wen laughed, pushing him back to the couches. "You're drunk."

"Yesh!"

And how everything felt good. He is happy, Hawker is playing along, and.. oh for fuck's sake Becker! Pounding back his 10th drink of the night, he swung his feet down to the ground. Woah.. he felt dizzy!

"Oh god Chris, don't get involved.." muttered Wen, who'd been perfectly happy to have a cute stud without an ego to ogle. Or maybe it was her series of hard ciders.

"Not.. invulder per schaaay.." He meandered toward his room as the two stood and faced off like a marvel VS capcom game.

El Beckador flexed his impressive guns, then flipped the cape over his shoulder. Annoying, he looked good doing it. "Gonna take you down Batsy! Snap those ears off and make ya wear 'em as a moustache!" Stepping up to the perfectly sober machine, he roared like the luchador he is dressed as; getting the crowd to laugh and cheer. "Ya been runnin from me too long, 'big dog'! I'm gonna wrassle ya down, make ya mine! Time to put ya in your place!"

The cocky idiot might just be hammered enough to try and go toe to toe with an android.

A heavily inebriated Nightwing stumbled past a scowling Bob Ross, a familiar collar in hand. Behind El Beckador by a bit, he wiggled it at Bat-Hawker with a drunken smirk, while pointing at the impressive looking Becker. Damn the guy had those broad shoulders and narrow hips.

Chris and Hawker weren't supposed to be linking up outside of monitored training. But, both of them knew there wasn't a restriction for them getting with anyone else. "'Hos 'bout yas git thish over wif; wifoot gittin' tha' purdy body coovered in blood?" Offered the sauced pilot.

 


 

Hawker hadn't noticed the covert conversation with Wen, which was probably for the best right now, though he did take a passing notice of Chris's arm around the small, lean analogger.

El Beckador made with the gun show, as if that meant anything to the 400-lb machine! Aside from being an enticing sight, that is. Being a ham and a dork and a drunk just about ruined it, though.

"Ya been runnin from me too long, 'big dog'! I'm gonna wrassle ya down, make ya mine! Time to put ya in your place!"

"My place, lieutenant?" Hawker barked his own laugh, dropping his arms to rest on his hips. He laughed some more when Becker threw up his fists a la Mohammed Ali. He was too drunk to even settle on a fighting style! "I know where your place is, at least. Square under my big, filthy..."

But his attention was suddenly drawn to Chris, who was heading for one of the rooms, listing like a ship in rough seas. How many drinks did he have, again? Didn't matter. There was a certain special collar in his hand.

"'Hos 'bout yas git thish over wif; wifoot gittin' tha' purdy body coovered in blood?"

The collar was meant for Becker, but he was reminded of something else... and the drunken luchador was promptly put on a later to-do list. He'd have all the time in the world to fuck with the cocky sunnabitch.

"If you'll excuse me, shitbird, I've got somebody to cover in a different sort of bodily fluid," he chuckled, brushing past Becker, their shoulders colliding. Hawker knew that nobody would remember the comment come morning, even given the looks he was getting. Then somebody burst out laughing - one of those wet, drunken, belly laughs - and everyone else fell in line.

Somewhere, Hawker was smiling and licking his lips as he pushed Chris into his suite and closed the door behind them.

"Hope you don't mind if this is all about you tonight, kiddo. I'll make sure you give me mine later. With compound interest."

 


 

 

 

Becker looked offended for a moment, as if he do the unthinkable and attack The Batman! Then he caught the way one of the analogue girls is checking out his arms. Oooh. He'd been trying to score with her for weeks! Strutting over, he put one of his wrestling boots up next to her with his red bulge -right- there. "El Beckador always has time for his fans.."

---

"Why, batman, what are you doing in mah room?"

Chris, in that nightwing costume, could barely stand. God this that outfit look good on him, making him look like an extension of the great machine. He looked confused for a moment, as if he didn't quite understand what batman had said. Then comprehension dawned on his face! "Oh geeze Batman! An' here I thought you'd wanna plug into Becker. Guess he's stuck plan' second fiddle again."

He offered the collar to the robot, resting in in the fingers of his partner. "I want yous ter put this on meh. Ah am yers. We bofh knows it. When we is togetfer, I forget how ta be sad."

He put both hands on the mech's shoulders and hung on. "Rooms's spinnin' again." Deep breaths, resting his head on that metallic chest as he swallowed. "I wish ya had a dick. I want it in me right nows so bad.. fuck boss. I needs yas. Just like, all the fuckin time.."

 

 


 

 

Chris held out the collar, and the mech took it like it'd always been his to give.

"Oh geeze Batman! An' here I thought you'd wanna plug into Becker. Guess he's stuck plan' second fiddle again."

"Can't always be first chair," he rumbled, silicone-coated fingers sliding along the edge of the sleek metal band. "But that's fine - you play an excellent counterpoint to my melodic line."

"I want yous ter put this on meh. Ah am yers. We bofh knows it. When we is togetfer, I forget how ta be sad."

Chris held on for dear life, the adorable lush. "You forget how ta be sad?" he echoed, bemused. He drew near and pressed where his mouth would be to the kid's neck. "C'mon, now. Don't get sappy on me, scabber."

"I wish ya had a dick. I want it in me right nows so bad.. fuck boss. I needs yas. Just like, all the fuckin time.."

He snapped the collar on, lining up the interface with Chris' implant and feeling the faint click of their contact points meeting. He was suddenly flooded with the sensation of color. Warm, fuzzy color.

"I'll let you in on a little secret." His fingers grabbed the edge of the collar and gave a rough jerk toward him, forcing Chris into a stumble against his solid chest. "I don't need a dick to made you beg for it."

 

 


 

 

Chris moaned his partner's name as he's collared, huffing with arousal as the robot initiates the link.

The collar transmits many things, including the health of the pilot and a number of functions about his body. PErhaps the one now that is amusing is the Blood Alcohol Level, sitting at .32! Technically, Chris should be given an IV, we ovserved so he doesn't choke and placed on medical watch.

Two of three isn't bad. How he's still operating is impressive, someone has a -tolerance.-

The rubber clad boy fell onto the broad chest of his captain, his gloved hands stroking along the strong back of that android. "N-no ya shure don't boss. I missed this scho much!"

Happy warm colors. Deep sensations of lust. And perhaps the best is the continuous flow of Trust for his metallic partner. The pilot did not fear, he did not worry about that he might be hurt.

The only person who seemed to remember that the AI's word meant something.

"Jus' imagine it boss. YOu in mah room every day." <Fucking me.> Came the drunken, exceptionally liner thoughts of the hammered pilot.

"YOu could keep th' charger up here." <So you can keep fucking me!>

"Yah need a mouth tho." <So you can suck and bite me.>

"And a.. ah big one. With fat nuts too." <Wanna get blasted, yeah!>

He planted a sloppy kiss under tha batman cowl, where a moth would be. THe human hung onto the robot, behind jerked along happily by the collar.

 

 


 

 

It occurred to him that he might get something out of this after all - maybe piggyback on Chris' dick or something. Neurospace was, all things considered, a strange place where strange things happened.

Strange, deranged, thrilling, and wonderful things.

Pleasure flooded into his silicon veins, and he mmmm'd deep in that clever little subwoofer of his.

"And a.. ah big one. With fat nuts too." <Wanna get blasted, yeah!>

The collar still hadn't been modified to produce proper two-way communication, so Hawker had to speak. Not that he minded. His fingers wove through the kid's longer hair, and he found satisfactory how easy it was all to grab. "Fat enough to choke on," he continued quietly, grinding his hips into Chris's. The rubber squeaked faintly against the smooth metal of his codpiece. That bulge in the groin, hard as it was, still gave the right of right-of-way to Hawker's unforgiving metal. "As I straddle your face and slap my thick cock on your forehead?"

His grip on the collar was complete. Chris wasn't going to move an inch unless the mech wanted him to, and right now, he slowly, firmly, guided him down to his knees, pressing his cheek against that aluminum swell. "Put your mouth on it, little boy," he commanded with a growl. "Lick it like you've got a horse in this race."

 

 


 

 

Chris's sweet face is full of drunken lust. He wanted to relinquish control, to place himself in the comforting embrace of his partner. The curly locks of hair are dense, and sliding fingers through them is a satisfying endeavor. His eyes widened as the smooth codpiece squished his rubber one, and he groaned at the low ache.

Even hampered like this, his boss's non-existent dick is still superior.

"As I straddle your face and slap my thick cock on your forehead?"

"I'll motorboat them boss. Lick and kiss and worship! I know all that awesome cum is from them. Wanna watch 'em slide through your legs as you walk."

Down and down he went, kissing a line of kisses down the chest of Hawker's robotic shell. Then he is facing it, the powerful codpiece that held no secrets. The grip on the collar and in his hair left no room to maneuver. He would obey the powerful voice that owned him.

A hand went down to touch his own dick.

Lips parted. No shame as he looked up, making sure his boss knew what his toy is downing. Guided, his tongue traced from the taint to the very top of that codpiece.

He stroked his own shaft in the same motion. The sensation, the rising lust flowed flowed across the connection. No inhibitions from the drunken pilot.

Lick, stroke. Suck, press. Lick, Stroke. He will please, he will serve, he gives his pleasure literally to his master.

<Wanna feel your huge floppy hosscock on my face, feel it get HARD before you take me!>

  

 

 


 

 

I think I like you drunk, the mech thought to himself. The sloppy kisses down his chest, his hard, shapely belly. He felt Chris practically dripping with lust, oozing with it. He felt the pulse throbbing in his fleshcock, and it was almost as good as having one himself.

"Wanna watch 'em slide through your legs as you walk."

"Mmyou're selling me on the idea now, kiddo," he said with a deep chuckle. "I can see how badly you need it." Hawker tightened his grip on his pilot, and he pressed Chris to his cod. Almost hard enough to bruise his pretty, masked face. Almost. "Yeah, let's see that mouth of yours stretched wide open around me. I wanna feel you gag." He pulled away. The edge of the codpiece left a red mark, but it would fade in a few minutes. It would have to do!

Chris's hand wandered down to his prick, and he jerked in time with his desperate servicing of his captain's crotch. The jolts of pleasure flooded their link and Hawker grunted at the phantom sensation.

<Wanna feel your huge floppy hosscock on my face, feel it get HARD before you take me!>

He smirked in his CPUs. Yeah, they could have fun with this.

"You'll come when I'm ready to come, got it, meatboy?" A thrust into Chris's face, and he looked down into those amber eyes with his hard golden ones, hoping that his staid pleasure at the kid's efforts would convey.

 

 


 

Chris put his gloved hands on the mech's knees. With firm squeezes he worked them up his partner's legs, until they were at the upper thigh. Around, around until he is groping at the places where the robotic glutes and leg meet. Rough, aggressive groping, feeling and inspecting the solid construction.

<Need a bigger body for you, even at this size. I want you looming!>

The FORCE returns! Not as rough as before, his pretty face isn't bruised, nor are there heavy marks of abuse on his body. But there is the welcome feeling of flesh submitting to metal, impossible hardness against his skin. He gasps and shudders in joy.

"You'll come when I'm ready to come, got it, meatboy?"

<FUCK YES!>

"Yes Sir!" came his enthusiastic response, and he got to licking. Kissing, sucking over the place where his boss would have a dick and nuts. Guided by those powerful mechanical hands, looking up so the yellow-eyed android knew he is happy to submit and could see every moment of accepting his place on his knees.

He already felt the pent up need pulsing along his shaft, stroking in smooth pulls from base to tip, then rapid jerks from tip to base. Under the rubber of his costume, simulating the oral he's giving. THe whole time he's focused on his own pleasure, desperate to push it all across the connection for his dominant.

 

 


 

"Yes Sir!"

"You look good on your knees, officer," he rumbled, pleasure building somewhere. A laugh. "Look at you. A sharp, young man of the law, grovelling at my feet. Willingly submitting to such treatment." Fingers cupped Chris' jaw. "Whoever ruined you, I'd love to thank them." Potentially dangerous words for somebody with such a nebulous past, but that was the whole point of this, right? To push that envelope and back away just as the hurt became real.

And if it didn't, you pushed until it did.

Chris' hand and mouth and cock felt amazing, even across the link. Their bond was strong, otherwise this would be impossible. How perfect.

He didn't want to raise too many suspicions, though. They needed to keep this fast and rough.

"You'd do anything I told you to, wouldn't you? You'd obey my every word. Mm, do me proud, kiddo. Come for me. Now, scab!" One last time he pressed Chris' smooth, red face to his crotch, which glistened with his spit. Teeth edges grazed uncomfortably along that smooth aluminum and he was ready to feel his pilot's desperate gasps and shudders and feel them almost as his own.

 

 


 

 

Chris's dick THROBBED as those perverse words fell onto his ears. He hungrily licked at the codpiece, teeth clattering and scraping along metal as he tried to devour the cock he could almost feel filling his mouth.

His cock. Their shared cock. He stroked and squeezed it through the rubber of his suit, the gloves making it so he couldn't even really feel it was his own hand doing the work.

"You'd do anything I told you to, wouldn't you?"

Hawker's cock, now.

"Come for me. Now, scab!"

Spit bubbled around his lips, red marks on his cheeks as the robotic hips ground against his face. The hand behind his head, fingers interlocked in his hair, ensuring he stayed on his knees in service.

Five strong spurts flowed from that rubber-clad shaft. It bounced and drooled cocksnot, pouting the stuff into the heavy rubber codpiece. The sensation flowed up Chris's spine, and every possible byte of sensation is duplicated across the interface link. Giving his pleasure up, actively working to ensure as much went up to the machine in control. Every throb, every glorious moment of that endorphin rush, down to the tingle as his balls emptied themselves.

Just so Hawker could get off.

Then he just felt warm and secure. Safely controlled. On his knees before a robot in a batman costume, while wearing a nightwing costume.

Kissing at the bulge, he whispered "THank you sir. Thank you for showing me where I belong." Then he closed his eyes, resting there as his hands dropped down and held just behind his Boss's knees.

 

 


 

 

The mech felt, without a shadow of a doubt between them, that Chris knew his body belonged to the machine right now - literally. Every square inch of him, every inch of that cock straining so deliciously under that rubber. It was his just enough to get the job done. The rest - the complete submission, the desperation - was Chris'. If they had a proper two-way link going, Hawker would have been a wall, or a storm surge. For one moment, completely unconcerned with the mind of his boy as he was overcome with his own machine pleasure.

Hawker felt the human's body tighten, coil, and burst into flames as orgasm plowed through him like virgin snow. The AI felt it almost as intensely: the sensitive flesh, the sinews, the pulsing blood. That hot little shaft shook and unloaded inside the suit; Hawker could feel that familiar rushing sensation, that hot, sticky-sweet explosion as wave after wave of clenching muscles forced out that salty, tangy spunk.

The machine's air cycling rose to a higher pitch as the fans worked overtime to cool down from physical exertion that he hadn't actually performed. Sensors tingled, re-calibrated from the sudden oversensitivity. The dripping of saliva from his thoroughly serviced codpiece was the icing on the goddamn cake.

He rumbled, hummed a long, lazy groan. Fingers through the kid's hair as he came down from his high, panting and trembling against the mech's solid legs. Rough touch softened to something more like slow, rhythmic massaging. Petting. His pilot was precious. One of a kind. Hawker realized, then, that if anyone so much as plucked a hair from his auburn head without asking, he'd shove their spine down their throat.

Chris was completely, utterly his. No questions asked.

"Thank you for showing me where I belong."

"Good little humans like you deserve nothing less," he said quietly. There was genuine warmth there. He let Chris relax for a moment and gather himself before he reached for that collar and gave a gentle upward tug. "Now c'mon kiddo, before they send a search party."

 

 


 

Chris huffed heavily, kissing at those thighs as he is stroked. The high of cumming, providing for Hawker what the mech didn't have, that is what a good pilot does. This was barely different than working inside of the Vanguard chassis. It felt very peaceful here, the way the metallic digits worked through his hair. Safe and secure.

"Good little humans like you deserve nothing less."

Chris slumped down heavily, dropping his butt onto his heels. Even with the limitations of the link and this less-than-ideal frame; he felt the acceptance coming across. The DF2 is committed to making him it's pilot now. It's happy, battered, and sexually exhausted pilot.

Then he came up, where he could press his face to the smooth robotic chest, throw his arms around that solid frame and hug. Hug and hug and hug. He could squeeze as hard as he could in thanks.

He belonged somewhere, to someone.

"Now c'mon kiddo, before they send a search party."

Reluctantly, he let go. Using the box of tissues, he opened the fly of the suit and wiped off his mess as best as he could. Ziiip. Tossing the mess aside, he felt a weird drunken high passing through him. "Yesh. Thatsh ah good idear." The slurring was cute, but he needed to start hydrating now. That BAC is simply too high, he might ruin what's left of that precious brain.

Not five minutes later Nightwing and Batman emerged. Nightwing still wore the collar of course, not that anyone paid it much mind. Many good snacks and bottles of water later, Chris found himself with his costume mask off as the party wound down around 1 am. Tsung and Jane were going at Halo HARD. Becker had disappeared with two of the analogue girls, and Wen had called it a night a while back. The happy mood of the party had fallen into a lazy glut that would have the pilots doing some serious housekeeping the next few days.

"I need to crash.." muttered Celn. He turned and looked at bat-hawker, a silly smile on his face. <Wish you could stay. Wish I was IN you.>

 


 

The hug caught him off-guard. It really did, and that pissed him off. But the frustration quickly gave way to something resembling care, or maybe adoration, or perhaps endearment - because something about the damn kid made him feel... what? Normal?

He could feel the squeeze, the happy strain of those muscles around him, but the metal body didn't yield one bit. And it was fine. It was better than fine; it was great. He... hugged back. Possessive. Encircling. Hawker imagined for a moment that his arms were the hatches of his cockpit and that Chris was inside of him again. Which is truly where a mech's pilot belonged.

---

Hawker had shoved a number of water bottles at Chris over the next hour. The kid wasn't going to be any use to him hungover, though he'd be more than happy to punish that lack of forethought if he needed to. Like, say, handing him by the ankles until he puked and begged for a soft bed in a dark room.

The cowl had come off pretty quickly, but Nightwing was still in full costume by the time the clock chimed 1.

"I need to crash..." <Wish you could stay. Wish I was IN you.>

"Yes you do," Hawker answered strategically, before sliding his big metal hands under Chris' perfect ass to hoist him up into a bridal carry. Someone cat-called and clapped at the sight, and the mech just rolled his optics. "Now c'mon..." Off to the bedroom he went, though not for anything especially sexy this time.

Chapter Text

It was late November 21st when all hell broke loose. All of 42's pilots scrambled down into the motor pool as emergency lights flashed. Hawker had been sitting on the edge of his maintenence slab, datapad in hand as he looked over another fiddly bit of software from Wen, when the station came alive. Kole, in full kevlar, was behind the sortie group, shouting and pointing as each person fell in line, doing exactly as they were trained to do. It was quite a sight, and not for the first time Hawker was proud to be here.

"We've got ourselves a situation, Big Nine," the sergeant said, sprinting over to the small frame and catching his breath. 

Hawker stood quickly. "Sir?"

"Yeah, that's right, you heard me. Big Nine. Gonna need him today. And that scruffy pilot of his too."

There was a smile in his CPUs. "Really, sir?"

"You bet. Celn'll fill you in on the details as soon as you link up; the mission file should download. We had about five minutes to figure this all out, but there's no more time. We gotta get the hell out there."

Hawker's optics glanced over Kole's shoulder as Chris came jogging out of the elevator. Their eyes met, and even without the collar on their thoughts were obvious to the other. This is it. Go time.

 


 

 

A month of training had upped Chris's endurance immensely. The jog down to where the Vanguard Chassis stood barely had him breathing hard. "Get your little frame in it's charging dock Boss!" He gestured to the phone-booth sized cubby that had become 'home' for Hawker.

A grim face Colburn pulled up on a modified golf cart that carried enough tools to build a car from a black of steel. "I'm putting you back in your chassis, Captain." THe locked computer consoles that made the transfer possible opened at her biometrics. She typed in long passwords and began the process.

---

30 minutes ago, it had begun. 25 minutes ago, she and Kole had been talking as he geared up along with the rest of the precinct.

"Sir, will all respect, Celn is not ready!" She stripped out of her jumpsuit, pulling on her kevlar jumpsuit. Damn thing weighed far too much and was stiff as a board.

"I don't care. Not with THIS happening Sarah." Kole grunted, ten thousand things on his mind.

"They've had only a month of formal training! The army wouldn't put a pilot and mech anywhere but the range with that little time!"

Kole looked over his shoulder. "Sarah--"

"I don't trust him!"

"Chief Engineer Colburn, I ORDER you to reinstate Captain Hawker to full functionality. Put his pilot in him and get every damned weapon they can carry out into the streets!"

"I.. Yes. Yes, Sir." she didn't like it. But now, she didn't have too.

Kole hated to pull rank, but like Hawker; that's why it is there. "Good."

---

After Hawker was reborn back into his proper 15 foot frame, Colbrun took her hands off the controls and sighed. "Full loadout Captain. Everything you can carry." She gave a sorryful look at Celn.

She might as well have tossed the kid into a woodchipper.


But it wasn't her call. And She could give Kole hell for it later.

---

Chris got a palm-ride up into the cockpit. Home. He'd wanted to kiss the big bot for luck, but.. well.. neurospace would have to do. The restraints in the chair flexed, eager to press their steel against his perfectly fitted pilot suit. He dropped into place, heels on the footpads as he keyed in the sequence. Eyes closed, he felt Hawker wrap around him as the chestplate armor seated shut. The heavy grip around his skull returned, and the interface plated mated in perfect orientation. The mask swung dowg, sealing to his face and filling his lungs with air processed through Hawker's filtration system. 

A press of a button and they were one.

In neurospace, Chris TACKLED his Boss! He hugged against the hand of the mech as it held tightly to him, with a grip that promised never to release. They both wanted more, so much more, but this would have to do. Gently Chris dissolved the false location, leaving them as a unified pair. He explained as Hawker went to gear up, trusting the mech's judgement implicitly.

"So it began last night, but it showed it's head this morning. We have every gang you can think of on an all out war. THey're armed, high, and moving up from their hide-holes towards the financial and industrial districts. The docks are swarming with Russian mechs. Thousands of the damn things are walking out of the harbor. Some of them look like they've been underwater for years, most are the size of a T5, and are unmanned. But there's been some sightings of bigger stuff. HLX-6 or so size."

Chris's memory and the local news supplied images.

"That's where Kole wants us. You and I, plus some tanks, drones and MRAVs will be best mopping that mess up. Thankfully the mechs are only armed with automatic rifles, so far." 

He sighed and switched to the richest part of Chicago, which looked to be in full riot.

"Then there's this damned mess. Good US implants cost money. You gotta be on anti-rejection drugs for the rest of your life. Not a problem for Costa, those come with his pension. But when you want to keep modding your body up the wazoo for fashion? Lots of people turned to the cheaper chinese stuff."

The videos showed bankers, accountants, baristas and hipsters in the streets. SOme looked horrified, fighting against their metallic parts. Others were in a full fury, their bodies long enchanced past the point there their organic bits had a say. "We aren't sure how, but it's like every bit of foreign stuff has decided that it's a great time to turn on everything around them. And it's not just humans. AIs have been using cheap chinese parts for years. THey're reporting that their bodies are shutting down or going berserk. So the Industrial district.. we might had to take out some factories if those corrupted bastards start trying to produce something."

Chris paused, having recited the briefing that he'd gotten 10 minutes ago. "City's gone to hell, it's not our fault and now we gotta deal with it. You, me, every cop and the nation guard has been called. I think they might legit mobilize the army. But that'll take time. We have to hold the line, take out what we can, and keep as many normal folks safe."

 


 

 

 

 

Chris looked perfect in that suit. It'd finally learned all his curves and angles and fit him like a shiny, oiled glove. Every burgeoning muscle captured the harsh light of the motor pool, glistening on him like flowing water. He was bulking up admirably.

"Get your little frame in it's charging dock Boss!"

Hawker grinned even though he didn't have a mouth. "This is the only time I'm gonna take an order from my subordinate," he said with a laugh, standing tall. "Don't need to tell me twice, kiddo." He slapped Chris' shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

Colburn appeared, the tires of her NEV squealing on the polished concrete as she braked to a halt and leapt out toward the towering black frame gathering dust as it loomed above them all. 

"I'm putting you back in your chassis, Captain."

Hawker smacked a fist into an open palm. "I've been waiting to hear that for weeks.”

She gave him a hard look. “I swear to god, Hawker, if you -”

“With all due respect, ma’am, I know my duties. Protect THIS city,” he said, loud and firm, and pointed downward, “And protect THIS pilot.” His hands reached for Chris, grabbing his and taking it between his strong fingers. “Everything else is surplus to requirements.”

Colburn inhaled, letting it out slow. Then she nodded and grabbed a datapad.

“Alright, then. Let’s do this thing.”

---

It was 3 minutes later and Hawker rushed back into his old self like a satellite falling from orbit. This body burned so much hotter than the tiny one. The HEAT. The gale-force winds he could push out his back vents, whipping around him and rustling everything nearby.

The power.

[CORE TEMPERATURE: 265C (CLIMBING)]
[COOLANT TEMPERATURE: 195C (CLIMBING)]
[SENSOR ARRAYS: PRIMARY: GREEN. SECONDARY: GREEN. TERTIARY: GREEN.]
[HAPTIC NET: GREEN.]
[POWER DRAW: IDLE (287.2 MWH)]

[ALL SYSTEMS: GREEN.]

It felt good to be Big Nine again.

Klaxons.

Boom. Boom.

“Ready when you are, greenhorn.”

---

Chris leapt up into Hawker’s hand the instant he knelt and popped the hatches. It’d been a long time - too long - but it felt, for the both of them, like riding a bicycle. Muscle memory.

His cockpit anatomy keened at the slight weight of Chris’ body in the chair again. His feet on the pads, his hands at the controls. With that interior hand he cradled his little pilot’s skull, as delicate as a cherry cordial, and held fast as he engaged their link-up system. They fit together perfectly. Static. Color. Warmth.

Chris appeared in his hand, then. The small, precious thing that he’d been to the mech since their first time in the office. Loyal; whip-smart; quick; and too goddamn attractive for his own good.

Neurospace fingers curled around that body in a kind of embrace as the connection flooded with Chris’ ecstatic joy, and Hawker’s unflappable, though still intensely smoldering attachment and desire. He wanted to swallow him again; pin him to the wall with his 3-foot shaft; hold him and maybe just never let go. But now wasn’t the time.

Now was the time to go be the necessary evil again.

Together, this time.

---

The debriefing went as well as it could have, given that MRAVs were already being carried up to street level by the huge freight lifts, the T-series mechs were being prepped and readied to jump in as soon as the shooting stopped, and that Hawker had sped over to his personal armory to equip his loadout.

News footage filled their shared mental space as he reached for his guns. One pistol was anchored to the side of each thigh, slipped into specially-designed holds that allowed for minimum disruption of armor cover. A mount revealed on his shoulder as plates unlatched themselves and slid away, which is where he stowed the heavy rifle. Extra rounds attached to his back in oversized clips, and the 50-cal ammo in his arm was replenished to the hilt. 

Last, but not least, he donned an accessory: a titanium-lamed holster that wound around his belly and held his equivalent to a trench knife below the main bulk of his backside: a 30” inch monstrosity of inconel alloy, its lethally-toothed edge coated in a layer of tungsten that had a dull, eerie sheen. 

"That's where Kole wants us. You and I, plus some tanks, drones and MRAVs will be best mopping that mess up. Thankfully the mechs are only armed with automatic rifles, so far." 

“Just where I like to be,” the mech rumbled deeply, excitement beginning to just barely creep into his voice. This is what he LIVED for. “No man’s land.” He headed for the elevator, making room for two more MRAVs.

"City's gone to hell, it's not our fault and now we gotta deal with it. You, me, every cop and the nation guard has been called. I think they might legit mobilize the army. But that'll take time. We have to hold the line, take out what we can, and keep as many normal folks safe."

<We do what we can, kiddo. If that means holding, then we hold as long as we need to. I hope you’re prepared for that.>

The second MRAV came roaring into the lift, all eight tires growling as they rolled across the diamond plate. It was #301: Becker and his team’s.

“You ready, kids?” came his familiar voice across the radio. “I hope for your sake that you don’t wet yourself in there, Celn!” 

 


 

 

 

<I missed you being Big, Boss.> Chris lamented, familiarizing himself with the weaponry as more and more got added to the great machine. The humorous thing about Big Nine is that there rarely was call for this kind of actual force. Usually Hawker is a roadblock, a towering wall that the law-breakers take a look at and choose not to cross.

Now though. Now they got to fulfil the original intent of the Vanguard.

Destruction!

“You ready, kids?” came his familiar voice across the radio. “I hope for your sake that you don’t wet yourself in there, Celn!”

Chris's throbbing arousal was the only thing wet in the cockpit. He keyed the radio to transmit. "Try not to get underfoot, MRAVs tend to scuff the HLX's boots."

The lift opened up to a heavy concrete arch at ground level. The two MRAVs went first, the mech let go od the overhead support and easily stroke up the same roadway. Outside 42, the surrounding city blocks had been levelled into paved parking lots. Around those were businesses that thrived on the security of the nearby station. In those normally empty lots were already hundred of civilians seeking safety. Police were erecting emergency tents for shelter against the cold November air. Officers guided those arriving by car to fill one of the far off lots.

At the sight of Big Nine stomping down the street, at a mere 15 mph a slow hush fell across the crowd. Cell phones came out. 

<C'mon. Do it. Please?>

The hand closest to the crowd came up, turning into a fist, then the thumb raised. Then the head turned, and the massive robotic face winked with the barest hint of a smile before the armored faceplates closed up.

A cheer went up, then applause. People screamed. "Big Nine Big Nine Big Nine!" Then the 15 foot colossus tromped around a corner and began to pick up speed. Footfalls firm and increasing.

Following the MRAVs, an overhead drone chirped into the group. "Tsung here. You shouldn't see any of those mechs until you get to somewhere between Wolf Lake park and the Lake George canal. THey're Amphibious and shooting any humans they come across."

Becker keyed up. "Say again, they are shooting on civilians?"

"It's an army Becker. THey're killing everyone they come across. Extremely hostile."

"Did you see anything beyond antipersonnel weaponry? And are they in the streets or are they occupying buildings?" Chris inquired.

Tsung is safely in 42, resting on a couch as she flew a drone over their heads. "Negative and Negative. Walking up the streets like they marching in parade, clearing the city. Driving people away. Stupid robots."

<We might not need to even waste ammo Boss. Technically, not even the kinetic energy of those rounds should even hurt you.> Chris had visions of godzilla in his head. He busily observed the 14 data feeds that swarmed into his mind and left the walking and aiming up to the big bot. <Well.. maybe a few thousand at the same time might.>

"You starting running into them by the next block. I go check to see how far they spread." Tsung keyed on the radio, then he drone slid across the sky and out of line of sight.

Even with the MRAVs in the lead, Chris and HAwker had a commanding view of the street ahead. Already the first line of robots had taken a knee and aimed their AK-47s at the approaching armored vehicles. The rounds, well aimed, began bouncing off the HLX's armor like hail on a roof. There were 32 in this group, they stood the height of a T5, the markings of old RUssia on their armor. To Chris they looked like toy soldiers and just as breakable. Many bore rust and marks of long term corrosion for their time under water.

"It's go time." Chris whispered. Real combat, no simulation. 

 


 

 

"Try not to get underfoot, MRAVs tend to scuff the HLX's boots."

Hawker grinned at the friendly antagonism. Mostly, he was enjoying Chris' excitement. Enjoying in a sense - part of him was fighting his own building arousal, but he other part of him was dead serious. There was no forgetting that the last time this happened, he lost the most important human in his life. No letting that slide.

"Eyes on the prize, meatjocks," he said across the radio frequency. "As soon as we're topside, cut the chatter." <You'll have plenty of time to grind his gears after this is over, kiddo.>

---

The icy air was noted, but ignored. [OPERATING TEMPERATURE REACHED. CORE HOLDING AT 315C +/- 2C.] Chris would have been able to feel it like it were his own skin. The weak crunch of old snow under his massive footfalls, streaking it black. Becker's #301 and the #313 went on ahead up the block, past the harried checkpoint of patrol mechs. Those guys were usually pretty tough - regularly shot at with human peashooters, but this was altogether different.

Hawker's powerful legs carried him and his pilot out the archway and into the dim wintery light. It did little to define his matte features, but that made him all the more impressive to look at. The new strips of red almost seemed to glow in the sea of gray. Hawker didn't need sensors to know that there'd be evacuees here; this was probably one of the safest places to be right now, unless you had a personal bomb shelter. He slowed to a brisk walk - vh-CROM vh-CROM vh-CROM - out of courtesy for the gathering crowd of frightened, fragile humans.

Apparently, not frightened enough to keep them all from snapping photos, though.

<C'mon. Do it. Please?>

A snort. <You're gonna be the end of me, kid.> Hawker gave his best heroic stride as he flashed a thumbs-up at the crowd, gave a handsome wink, and engaged his battle mask. Cheers erupted as he caught up with the MRAVs; applause; he thought he heard a woman try and scream her love at him. Whatever it takes to keep their hopes up I guess. He turned and broke into a jog that threatened to pull up the pavement.

"It's an army Becker. THey're killing everyone they come across. Extremely hostile."

"No declarations, no fancy manifestos, no calls to arms. This isn't a popular movement, that's for sure. This is business," the mech said across the radio. "Leave it to politics to ruin a perfectly good war."

Becker chuckled into his mic.

"Did you see anything beyond antipersonnel weaponry? And are they in the streets or are they occupying buildings?"

"Negative and Negative. Walking up the streets like they marching in parade, clearing the city. Driving people away. Stupid robots."


The streets are as deserted as a graveyard here. An eerie sight. With the slowly sticking snow, it reminded him of...

<We might not need to even waste ammo Boss. Technically, not even the kinetic energy of those rounds should even hurt you. Well.. maybe a few thousand at the same time might.>

Hawker was busy letting his pilot get used to being linked up under combat conditions; the extra-neural inputs would have been enough to drive the average person insane, but an S-class pilot could handle it just fine. The problem, though, was as old as neurospace was cutting edge: this was a matter experience versus good ol' book-learnin's. And if all Chris had was 2 minutes of acclimation before hitting the ground running, then it was better than nothing!

<All you need is a hundred of those to wind up with a serious combined rate of fire. Throw anything else into the mix - an EMP, a flashbang - and you're down. Just keep your head, keep being a good co-pilot, and we'll be the scariest fuckers this city has to offer, alright?>

Before long, they came across their first line. Old bots, simply and stoutly constructed, blocked the 6-lane street in a formation made up of 3 rows. Red, Hawker noticed. Bearing the pre-war emblem of a double-headed imperial eagle on the left shoulder. Their metal was pocked with rust, streaked with dull sediment. The joints on some of them still even had the remnants of water grasses wound around the bearings. They couldn't have been above the surface for longer than a few hours.

Then, they started firing. To Hawker, that's just what bullets felt like - to Chris, maybe NERF ammo. 

"It's go time."

"Yes it is," the machine answered back, disengaging the clamps on his rifle. Arm reached up, swung it around. Safety remained locked. He wasn't going to use it as a firearm just yet - he was going to use it as a club.

The 50-cals mounted to the MRAVs came to life, swiveling on their mounts and exploding with the sharp report of automatic fire. Together, Hawker and Chris broke into a heavy, gut-wrenching sprint before kicking off into the air and leaping over Becker's #301. Pavement split open under his feet like ceramic tile under the impact of a sledgehammer, but he didn't let up for even a fraction of a second as he went to full-on plow into the line of ex-Russian robots, rifle swinging.

Two of them went down immediately, taking out a few others as they flew backwards. All guns were on the Vanguard unit, now, and it was beginning to grab the attention of his damage centers. A firm kick to one, stomping another and knocking the weapon from its hands. "These things.. unh!" One of them tried grabbing his head but he whipped around in time to throw it to the ground before it could knock him off his feet. "These things are damn-near indestructible!" he bellowed over the radio. But that's how the Ruskies always did things: make them simple, make them reliable, and make them legion

Off to their right, one of the MRAVs was attempting to blow a hole in the robots' line. It was slow going.

CHUKKA-CHUKKA-CHUKKA-CHUKKA

The Browning rounds were just as likely to find their target as they were to graze the flat surfaces and - BANG! <Fuck!> - hit Chris and Hawker. A little oil dribbled from the hole in Hawker's leg, but it was nothing. "Watch it!"

"I'm trying, sir!"

"Focus on your 2 o'clock!"

"On it, cap!"

16 down, 16 to go.

CHUKKACHUKKACHUKKACHUKKA

Boom. The fuel cell on that one took the heaviest beating. Lit up the place like the Fourth of July for a few seconds, quickly followed by a stinking plume of black smoke: burning oil.

Make that 14.

 


 

 

Chris had done a number of maneuvers and training exercises with Hawker. But he had never been outside before. And he sure as fuck hadn't JUMPED with the HLX before! The sudden motion, the raise and fall in his stomach, he didn't quite believe what had happened. Hawker can long-jump like an olympic athlete, and land like a gymnast.

The T-5 Sized mechs were all around him then. Hawker didn't hesitate in attacking, and with no squishy humans inside of the enemy he was free to attack the problem without the need for Chris's consent. That didn't mean the kid couldn't help. He watched as the battalion of robots got cut in half in less than a minute. <They're frontally armored boss. Hugely biased.> Mentally he indicated how the limbs featured semi-circular armor.

He helped to guide their monstrous footfalls in a sweeping circle, forcing the russian androids to choose between the MRAVs and the HLX-9. They followed the closest target, the rear ones firing their weaponry while the closes ones advanced at their plodding pace as a single wall of 7 machines. Pulling back, a swift kick to the chest of the nearest sent it skidding into the firing line, dropping two of it's comrades into a heap of scrabbling limbs. A kick like Toren had taught the young pilot to do in their sparring.

With the lesser armored backsides up against the browning guns, the MRAVS put proper holes in the power cells and hydraulic systems of the mechs and they turned into smoking slag. From there it was hilariously easy, just be a target and let the MRAVS jockey into position. Assuming you didn't mind being shot. The final four robots had huddled into a secure position, back to back as they fired at the advancing vanguard.

Picking up one of the slagged soviet mechs, a fast discus-style throw broked up that little defensive huddle. Chris' emotions ran high as those massive boots came into range. STOMP! Three mechs. Boom, boom. Two. Chris felt the same pleasure of success flowing through himself and Hawker as they raised their foot up, leering down at the inferior machine. It struggled, trying to push itself away with it's twisted limbs. 

BOOOM!

Fires sparked and burned, the smell of burning oil hung in the air as the brownings stopped firing.

<I don't think we got hurt, beyond a little friendly fire.> Came the shocked pilot's surprise, perhaps begging to understand Hawker's justified superiority. What would have turned humans into paste didn't even phase the vanguard.

Tsung's voice came in as she updated their map. "There are five more contingents of soviet mechs. Moving like this." THey all were moving toward the financial distract, along with the gangs and the hacked elite. 

"I don't suppose there's a central control for these russian crapcans?" came Becker's pleased question, loving the feeling of smoking the enemy. 

"Already went looking. came Tsung's reply "They're smart enough to have and follow orders. Colbrun says they'll look inside what's left AFTER we stop them from marching on the city."

As they began to move again, jogging ahead of the MRAVs, Hawker knew which group he wanted to hit next. <Boss, we might wanna shoot. It could take us half an hour to clean up the remaining known red army like this.>

 


 

 

Chris was perhaps contributing more than he was conscious of: their combined computing power was in the ballpark of 90 petaFLOPS, and Hawker's calculating speed and awareness reacted accordingly for them both. They were a binary star system in tight orbit around each other - a perfect dancing storm of highly-trained and highly-capable consciousness.

<They're frontally armored boss. Hugely biased.>

Before Chris had gotten his own suit, their exchange of thoughts happened at only slightly super-vocal speeds. But here, with their near 100% synch rate, the exchange was almost instantaneous. A conversation still, but without the time delay: a true gestalt mind.

<Be my guest, then!> Hawker indicated, guiding the human to better 'fill' the shared homonculous of his massive, deadly frame. Chris was more than receptive - he'd been looking forward to this too, and the mech felt the kid right there with him, their legs, arms, moving as one. The kick was a pleasant surprise, a move that Hawker had never done. He looked on, Chris sharing his optics as they watched the thick, blocky things struggle for balance with busted limbs oozing fluid and spraying sparks. He looked on and their neurospace, now a thin, wordless, formless, film of a liminal zone between them, turned rosy red with beaming pride. <You're gettin' the hang of these boots!>

Chris and Hawker pulled their fire like a black hole pulls stardust, giving the MRAVs plenty of room to breathe. Power cells popped, some of them more spectacularly than others, and the Russian tech began dropping like flies. 

Kicking, stomping. Holding half down with one foot and ripping off the rest with the other, leering down as metal shrieked, cables burst, and weak arms ceased their flailing. The street ran with brown and green and transparent rivers of machine blood. Some of it danced with small blue flames, choking the gray air with black smoke. Then it was silent. For now.

[CORE TEMPERATURE: 325C (HOLDING)]
[COOLANT TEMPERATURE: 295C (HOLDING)]
[SENSOR ARRAYS: PRIMARY: GREEN. SECONDARY: GREEN. TERTIARY: GREEN.]
[HAPTIC NET: GREEN.]
[POWER DRAW: ACTIVE (310.1 MWH)]

[DAMAGE: 1%]
[PATCHING: NONE.]
[ALL SYSTEMS: GREEN.]

<I don't think we got hurt, beyond a little friendly fire.>

<It feels good, doesn't it?> The two of them surveyed the tangled, smoking remains of their violence. The craters in the asphalt from their steps, their sharp turns. Yes, it felt good. They wanted more.

"There are five more contingents of soviet mechs. Moving like this."

A HUD popped up for all the pilots, giving them a birds' eye view of the playing field. The financial district, huh?

"I don't suppose there's a central control for these russian crapcans?"

"They're smart enough to have and follow orders. Colbrun says they'll look inside what's left AFTER we stop them from marching on the city."

Hawker had a hunch. "Their movements were pre-programmed," he said, kicking at one of the broken toys. SHRRRAK. "I don't think there was an active operator. They had their orders, and they followed them to a tee." He looked in the direction of downtown and its towering skyscrapers, ominous against the heavy gray clouds. "What bothers me is that they were disposable," he continued. "The gangs don't throw tech away like this - they take salvage very seriously. We just obliterated $5 million dollars'-worth of robotics, and nobody seems to be tore up about it. Whoever this is, they've got more where these came from. Probably worse, too. I'd like to see their supply line disrupted, but that may be a job for the National Guard when they show up."

A different sort of rumble caught their shared attention and pulling up behind the MRAVs now were the tanks: four of them to go with the four MRAVs. They were sleek, lightweight models, ideally suited for urban environments. Hawker knew their crew had to do most of their operating while flat on their bellies due to the vehicle's extremely low profile. It was not a job he envied, but those FBI SWAT boys were tough. One step away from shouting "hoorah". 

"Nice of you to finally show up, Mendez!" laughed Becker.

"Eh, thought we'd give the coppers a head start today. All those doughnuts'll weigh you down, you know?" she laughed. Then: "Hey! Is that the HLX with its new pilot?"

Hawker gave a casual salute and nodded. "Back in black," he chuckled. "Now c'mon, we've got a World War IV that needs aborting!"

<Boss, we might wanna shoot. It could take us half an hour to clean up the remaining known red army like this.>

<Point. But I'm saving the rifle for now. Only brought 24 rounds with me.> He 'holstered' his massive weapon, reached for the 50-caliber pistols. Hawker was ambidextrous, just one of those inherent qualities of machine-hood that came with not having brain hemispheres. These were better quality than the ones he had in the shooting range back home, though: they were designed to automatically feed from his arms when held in position so that he didn't have to manually attach the belt. [LOADING...... COMPLETE.]

"What's the cavalry packing this evening?" he asked across the radio as the group took off down the street.

"Corrosives, concussives, flashbangs, flypaper, anti-air if it comes to that... you name it, we got it," Mendez replied. Rarely did these tanks bring real heat into cities like this, but their versatility in armaments, and their ability to switch payload at the drop of a hat was unmatched. They could also take a pounding just as good as the 8-wheeled MRAVs, but could deflect twice as much lead.

"I'll be calling in a few favors before this is over, I wager."

"That's what we're here for, captain!"

 


 

 

 

 

"Hey! Is that the HLX with its new pilot?" Chris couldn't help it. His normally sedate ego puffed up like a marshmallow in a microwave! Hawler got instant respect and a little part of that is his. THankfully, Big Nine answered before he did and made a fool of himself. Remembering who is in charge, he let the happy feeling fill him as the advanced on the next group of mechs. He looked over the bird's eye view as the DF2 handled the business of walking and organizing their forces.

Huh.

He zoomed out and checked to see what way the robots were heading.

They'd take out the southern-most group. If the other five kept marching on their current direction..? <Wolf Lake. It's right there in the southeast of town. It opens to Lake Michigan with that new shipping canal. Think there's more of 'em stashed under there?>

"If we can get behind 'em, we can take 'em out easy." Becker spoke on the radio as the group moved up toward the the next phalanx of Reds. 

Now they were getting closer to the parts of town that didn't have time to evacuate. In the streets are normal cars on fire and riddled with bullet holes. Dead citizens lay where they'd been gunned down. A woman knelt next to the corpse of a man, sobbing. A fedex truck lay on it's side, the driver holding a broken arm as he looked at the mangled mess. The sounds of warfare came close.

A school bus smoldered, having crashed into an alley trying to escape; being too long to make the tight turn. From the thousands of bullet holes in the yellow paint, rivulets of blood dripped. Thermals showed no survivors.

"Jesus." Mendez uttered.

Just up head the next group of robots marched. As the group came up from behind, Mendez didn't even wait, popping off a round right into the middle of the Red Steel.

---------------

In the financial district, one of the MRAVs exited as fast as it could. It's eight wheels screeching as it powered along, hustling through red lights and knocking Lexuses onto their sides. After five minutes it came to halt in front of the small safe zone by Northwestern University. Out of the back poured Toren's swat team, and in between them was a figure wriggling in a net. A figure that kept apologizing.

"Got another one for your Doc!" Unceremoniously putting the bound person into one of the holding cells that'd been liberated from the mobile laboratory, THe net soon shredded revealing the form of James McConnell. THe reported looked haggard, his nose was bloody and he sobbed. His left arm had sprouted steel spikes through his flesh. His legs seemed to work on their own and they moved him to the door of the cell, and the hand began to slash uselessly at the tough bulkhead. "I can't stop! Please! You have to help me! I can't stop it!" His right eye glowed red.

One of thousands, in roughly the same fate. Dr Bae Miller scowled at the man. "Did you download any updates? Did you patch your software?" THis was getting tiresome. She had enough corpses to autopsy, she needed answers as did the rest of the city.

"I.. AUGH!" Thick metallic barbs popped out of the man's shoes, and he KICKED at the door with a fury. "NO! STOP! I.. Last week! Last week I patched! I I .." As the pain and blood loss and panic became too much, he sagged as his body continued the assault.

"Keep this one. It seems lucid. Good job Officers. Nab me any that you can safely. I'll try to have something the next time you come back." She turned and walked toward the tent that had a number of freshly liberated body parts. All of chinese manufacture. Last week? That might give her some kind of insight. Thankfully, the websites with the most recent patches were easy to locate..

 

 


 

 

 

Blackouts were rolling through the city, darkening streets already dusky from the meager natural light from high above the concrete jungle. Nobody was tuned into the news, but if they were, they'd have caught a breaking story being broadcast across the nation. And this one wasn't about Chicago:

"We've been getting in reports all across the Midwest as data centers in Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and the Dakotas are, say witnesses at these locations, being sabotaged by their own employees. Amazon, Netflix, Google, and other e-commerce and streaming giants are currently scrambling to do damage control, millions of users around the world are currently without access to 90% of the internet. Those numbers are expected to rise sharply in the coming hours," the harried newsanchor said. "The president has declared a state of emergency, and officials are encouraging civilians to stay inside and keep updated via radio, if you have access to one. We'll have more as the facts come in, so please stay tuned. For our radio news network, tune into AM 970..."

---

<Wolf Lake. It's right there in the southeast of town. It opens to Lake Michigan with that new shipping canal. Think there's more of 'em stashed under there?>

<I do,> came the firm reply. <We'll take Becker and two of Mendez's crew with us. The rest can mow down those flimsy red cans without me.> Hawker reminded Chris of this with a mere prod of abstract thought that he was capable of operating in up to 800 feet of water. <Make sure your ears are good n' popped.>

The dead were everywhere. Storefront windows shattered into sparkling glitter across broad sidewalks. Cars were overturned, aflame; some with their passengers still inside. They reeked of the acrid stench of burning lithium and potent sulfur. How many Tesla batteries had gone up in smoke in the past half hour here? Didn't matter: Hawker's sensors knew that this air wasn't safe to breathe. 

[O2 SOURCE: AMBIENT (SWITCHING).]
[O2 SOURCE: ON-BOARD: COMBAT RATIO: 45%.]
[PILOT: LIFE SUPPORT: PARTIAL.]
[PILOT: GREEN.]

Hawker's 'breath' filled Chris' lungs as the mask filled with warmer, cleaner air. Its higher oxygen-ratio would have made him feel a little more awake, too. A little more focused, energized. Ready.

The sight of a child's body in the doorway of a restaurant, obscured by the corpse of her mother attempting to protect her, filled him with a keening fury so powerful that it left little room for Chris to feel his own feelings. These fuckers would pay. And pay dearly. Concrete crunched under his heavy footfalls, pounding the crumbs to dust. Blood and oil and who knows what else mingled together in smears, in spatters, in pools. Sobbing to his left. Hoarse moaning to his right. Tertiary sensors picked up trembling in a dim alley at his 8 o'clock low. 

Mendez's tank surged across the broken cityscape behind the mech, and with a heavy BOOM, she fired something at the group of Ruskiebots ahead of them. It exploded, but wasn't ordnance - its casing broke open into flak, and two mechs were suddenly covered in an off-white sticky substance that expanded into puffy globs that quickly made it difficult for the machines to move. Their servos whined and smoked as their AIs struggled to figure out what was happening. That was one of Mendez's tar-bombs: the flypaper. Soon, the pair of mechs had tripped over each other into a useless pile on the ground, dropping their guns. The rest of them turned and began firing. MRAVs opened up, and Hawker darted off to the side, out of their line of fire, to get closer and land a few good shots of his own.

"C'mon," somebody growled over the radio. "C'mon! Face down, ass up, you pieces of shit!"

He really wanted to melee these things, after what they did. He knew they couldn't feel like a human could, but the display of retribution was what was important. 

 


 

 

 Chris barely had to breathe in, just start inhaling and Hawker filled his lungs. The restraints on his stomach felt like they were pressing inward as well, then releasing as he exhaled. The big mech took control of one more thing from his cute, obedient pilot.

The Russian robots of this division looked less ocean-encrusted, not as many muscles and seaweed draped over their bodies. Each robot held an AK-47 like a normal human would hold a handgun. THe stuck ones wriggled in a what that could only be described as comical. COmical murder-bots. Machine and man sprinted down an alley, circling around to flank the rows of reds.

The MRAVs didn't have the firepower to take out the crapcans dead on easy, but they could pepper the ones sideways or the ones that hadn't turned yet. Two went up as 301 and 303 began concentrating on targets. The tanks though, had a trickier problem. The wrong ammo and you'd turn a single can into shreds while bunker-busting the street. 

"Bastards are still in formation." Mendez growled. They were murdering the people of his city, of their city. Someone is going to pay! "Captain's gone around. Drop two rounds of corrosives in their ranks. Should be stuck on before he gets into range." Ammo rechambered and the lightweight tanks fired their main armaments twice. Great green-yellow splatters of liquid poured over the heart of the robotic regiment. THe ones directly hit went down as their guns melted, joints and circuits seizing as the awful stuff melted their complex parts.

The heavy footfalls of the vanguard didn't halt, and it plowed into the rear of the red menace. Six of them crumpled from the hockey-style tackle before the momentum came to a halt. Chris ensured that Hawker didn't so much as lay a pinky on corroded parts before it used the remains to clear out eight more. Pulling out the side arm, one well aimed shot into the exposed rear batter pack is perfect to pop them like targets at a shooting range. In just three minutes the red wave lay dead, the combined fire having wiped out the entire 32 robots.

---

Kole got off the line with the chief of police for the 4th time in an hour. Standing in the command center of 42, he helped direct the continuous damage control as more terrible things kept cropping up. The gang attacks were high on a lethal cocktail of drugs, PCP being a key ingredient. They were flowing through the sewers and subways even with all service shut down. Around all the stations a thick cordon of civilians packed in, desperate for someplace safe. He'd had to pull back units to patrol the nearby streets. 

He had good information, and the map of his part of Chicago showed very little in terms of good news. That sole good news came from the heavy units engaging the robots. Tsung reported right in, updating as a second red dot faded to black on the overlay. Hawker's icon began to head off on the same line that the red group had been advancing along. THe MRAVs and Tanks taking a different tack to head up toward a higher vantage point when the marching groups converged on Wolf Lake.

 


 

 "Captain's gone around. Drop two rounds of corrosives in their ranks. Should be stuck on before he gets into range."

The corrosive shells had, like every other piece of equipment in the military and paramilitary worlds, a nickname: liquid cancer. It could turn steel to putty in seconds, and all but vaporize even well-protected electronics. Even its fumes was about as painful to breathe as fiberglass dust and as caustic as sucking on a car's tailpipe. Chris made sure his mech didn't get near the stuff - it would have done a number on those big black stompers too.

He body-checked them - checked six of them, actually - with guns blazing. The battle-cry, muffled behind the mask, still vibrated in his cockpit. "Worthless pieces of -!"

CHUK-CHUK-CHUK-CHUK

Rounds thicker than two of Chris' fingers buried themselves in the half-sized machines. Brass shone faintly in the dying light, and the spend casings went flying in all directions, littering the ground like metal confetti. A few of the cans went staggering backward just in time to get hit with the Brownings behind them, popping their cells and laying waste to another suspiciously weak regiment of machines.

---

"Becker, you're with me," Hawker ordered, waving the #301 towards him. "And Mendez, I need two of your tanks, if you can spare any."

"I can, sir, but where you taking 'em?"

"I'm taking 'em fishing, lieutenant."

 


  

<Wikipedia is still up. Says Wolf Lake is only 50 feet deep after it was dredged for shipping. If there's anything in there, won't be too hard to find.> Chris braced himself as they reached the water's edge. The liquid felt cool, and he tried to hold is breath as the mud squished up under the broad war stompers. Heavy sonar pings emanated from the HLX, they got chest deep and approached where the canal 's groove lay. So far there wasn't any unexpected returns. Broad smooth lake bed, a few merchant vessels at dock. Nothing moving bigger then a trout.

PING.

One, very LARGE trout. Perhaps 200 feet away, moving toward where the other robots would converge. Each step underwater took time, they had to be careful with their foot. Watch for the worst of the mud pockets with their ground penetrating radar. The water was very clear for the river, with little having disturbed it, behind the HLX a cloud of silt ripple and whirled. A similar cloud could be seen as a second object came closer.

One surprisingly pristine HLX-6, barely a barnacle on it. 'The walking trashcan.' The lack of additional armaments aside from the main shoulder cannon marked it as one of the russian knockoffs; as did the great red star on it's chest.

 

Chapter Text

<Wikipedia is still up. Says Wolf Lake is only 50 feet deep after it was dredged for shipping. If there's anything in there, won't be too hard to find.>

Thank Christ for overseas server farms.

The early nightfall of late November meant the whole place was eerily dark by now. It was like the water ate up all the light and laid like a flat, endless pool of black. He knew there was something in there. Behind them, Becker parked his MRAV on the beach. It wouldn't be of much help from the surface, but another set of eyes never hurt, and if whatever was there came out, they stood a chance of slowing it down. The tanks had parked themselves on the downward slope of two nearby hills so their turrets could fire into the water if necessary, another bit of help. The flytraps and corrosives wouldn't be of any use below the surface, but the flashbangs might, and the shells definitely would. If they didn't miss, that is.

The water temperature was a good 37 degrees - icy cold, and as a hard wind blew south from Lake Michigan, Hawker expected to see ice forming at the edges of the dredged marsh any minute now. But in they went. He stowed his guns again as that thick, dark water rushed around his long strides, and reached for the knife. Sonar engaged - something he'd only used once before - and the cockpit suddenly felt like the claustrophobic hull of a submarine. Hawker felt like a bat; he could feel-hear the sound waves returning back to them, helping the pair make sense of the pitch blackness. Ping. A rock here, a patch of grass there; an anchor, a line of lost rope collecting barnacles. Ping. Nothing but the two of them were moving, slowly, heavily through the water.

Ping.

A shape!

Ping.

Big. About as big as the Vanguard-class HLX, and moving.

<Incoming; speed at 20 knots,> the mech said. <Brace yourself, kiddo.>

The HLX-6 had a special place in Hawker's CPUs. He hated them with his every weld, every wire, every fuel rod. It was an HLX-6 that killed Lee, and if you asked him, every single one of them needed to be scrapped. And he wanted to do the scrapping. By hand. Hawker hated their squat shape, their thick legs, their headless torso. He hated their AI, and deep down he hated their pilots too.

But right now, he hated this one the most.

[CORE TEMPERATURE: 325C (CLIMBING)]
[COCKPIT TEMPERATURE: 25C (HOLDING)]

Hawker didn't wait for it to make a move. He lunged as best he could in this watery environment, engaging his shoulder-mounted floodlights at the last minute to hopefully blind whoever the fuck was inside that thing. The knockoff was quick, though, and the trench knife grazed the side of its ugly body. SKRRAK. A single pair of sparks lit up the water at the contact like red fireflies, disappearing just as quickly. Hawker had meant for that hit to be a killing blow.

Instead, he got an uppercut to the chin, throwing him off-balance. CRACK.

<Son of a -!>

 


 

 

CRACK.

Chris felt that hit too.

Thankfully, it hit on the heavy armor of the mech's chin and the clear bulletproof panels remained intact for now. The force of the impact snapped the mech's head back and rocked them on their balance. Chris is not a perfect pilot, but he did step in to ensure that they came down sure-footed.

His mind is suddenly filled with a hatred for the machine that stood at arm's reach. It had a far simpler AI, one that is more enslaved to the operator within. It could be fully automated but that is unlikely. What is likely is that it would command the red army with a human inside to cause greater destruction. Judging by its nearly pristine hull, it hadn't been under for more then a day.

CHris knew about it's strength, it's mobility, and how durable the squat trashcan was. It didn't appear to have a melee weapon, beyond it's fists. On the surface the punch it landed on their torso would have been bad. Under the surface, the water slowed down everything so that it just CLANGED loudly.

There was no doubt that the punch had been aimed at the chest cavity, the pilot compartment where Chris sat. That got Celn thinking. The likelihood was down here neither could do much harm to the other, not even with a stab of the seriously wicked knife. Like to tortoises fighting.

...

<Boss, we got plenty of artillery on the surface. Can we chuck this guy around or sink him in the mud?> THe knife screeched as it travelled down the arm of the HLX-6, catching on armor here and there. "Oh hell, just TOSS him, he can't weight more then your load limit under the surface!>

 


 

 

Chris' suspicions quickly became Hawker's suspicions. Why had he bothered? He knew the inertia down here was pitiful.

<Boss, we got plenty of artillery on the surface. Can we chuck this guy around or sink him in the mud? Oh hell, just TOSS him, he can't weight more then your load limit under the surface!>

<You're right,> he 'grunted', stepping back from his seething hate. It had narrowed his focus dangerously - thankfully Chris was there to spot him. <I like your way better, kid.>

Hawker quickly sheathed his knife and bum-rushed the enemy mech, grabbing it by the arm and knee and taking off toward the shore as fast as his legs could carry him down here. The HLX-6 fought the whole way, slowing him down. Ping.

<Motherfucking... Ugh!> 

The Six was putting up a good fight and it quickly devolved into a wrestling match that slowly made its way back to the beach. Ping.

While Hawker was busy subduing with the trash can, Chris would have noticed two more big blips on sonar. Appearing suddenly and too close for comfort: the hallmark of a cloak.

"How's it going down there?" Becker ventured over the radio. "I can see your lights moving!"

"It's... going!" the mech ground out, trying to fist both of the mech's arms. They were still too far below the surface to attempt a throw.

 


 

 

It is a very strange thing to be fighting in all that murk and silt. There is no 'seeing' anymore, Hawker could put a hand on his faceplate and not see it. Whoever is in the other mech had to be suffering the same problem. Fighting underwater blind isn't good.

Chris keyed the radio as the cockpit shook. "Got a Fresh Soviet HLX-6 under here. Trying to bring it up!"

Hawker's sonar and the HLX-6 sonar actively pinged each-other constantly. The particulates in the water made most of those sensors useless. They did have a good scan of the area though, GPS worked fine, and the other tanks and MRAVs had locators.

Mendoza spoke, very tactfully on the reply. "If you can get it on the surface, we and hole it." He knew that an HLX-6 had done 5 months ago. Not even beck had anything to say about -that.-

The water frothed and roiled, sediment churned up as they made their way toward shore. Ont he surface, a ripple appeared where they grappling mechs pushed shore-ward. 

PING. HLX6, lots of sediment.

Two more ripples appeared, converging on the brawlers. Had it been daylight, Tsung would have spotted them with ease. But in the evening , the subtle waves are lost in the commotion.

Chris was helping, guiding every footfall, ensuring their every step move them toward their goal. 

PING. HLX6, lots of sediment. A ping form the 6, itself, lost sof sediment. He helped push an arm down, missing the clutching claws of the 6.

PING. HLX6, Sediment, Two unknowns.

Normally the pings are sent out every few seconds. Chris over-rode the time to send out repeated buzzes that turned the flat radar screen into what looked like an oscilloscope doing vector graphics. Two Blotches, coming in.

He mashed on the radio "We have two incoming!" <8 O'clock high, 5 O'clock low.> His inexperience had him suddenly nervous, what should they do? He hoped Hawker did.

 


 

 

Having two brains controlling your body, steadying, calculating, feeling out every movement was a boon in situations like this. You had a spotter, and he was in your body with you.

The lights were doing more harm than good now, washing out everything in the churning muck. He killed them, relying on little more than a compass to tell them that they were going in the right direction.

"We have two incoming!" <8 o'clock high, 5 o'clock low.> Chris' hesitation was suddenly palpable, and the mech tried to reassure him with confident, stoic mental impressions.

<One thing at a time...> Hawker doubled down, sent his body into overdrive to get this damn mech to the surface. With any luck, the others would follow. 

[CORE TEMPERATURE: 330C (CLIMBING)]
[COCKPIT TEMPERATURE: 27C (CLIMBING)]

He could feel the sweat beginning to bead on the nape of Chris' neck under the rubber. Outside, the water heated to a rolling boil around the armor covering his reactor core, sending hot, steaming fizz to the surface. Power surged into his limbs, and with one last snarl he hefted that goddamn piece of shit close enough to the shallows to lift him into the air and come careening out of the water. "GRRAGH! Now, now!" he shouted over the radio.

Steam hissed, water sprayed, splashed, foamed. Engines roared, servos whirred. Hawker stood in knee-deep water, the HLX-6 above his head for a precious few seconds before he THREW the damn thing at the carefully parked pieces of a nearby caisson, obliterating the concrete and warping the sheet metal. 

KRA-BOOM!

The big machine whirred angrily as it hurried out of its compromised position. Hawker wanted nothing more than to sink his knife right into the cockpit, but Becker and Mendez's boys were on it like white on rice. Flypaper, then a healthy dose of 50-cal lead, and the thing stopped moving. If the pilot was dead, they didn't know, didn't care, didn't have time to check. Because the water suddenly surged at the entrance of two more Sixes - this time, each of them were equipped not just with an autocannon, but a miniature battery of a half-dozen modified BGM-71 anti-tank missiles.

Becker was the first on radio. "Fuck fuck fuck...! Fire, dammit, fire!"

 


 

 

Chris relegate his mind to watching those two blips as Hawker wrestled with the enemy. He dialed back the sonar, enough to track the damned things. It had to be more of the same, they were moving at about the same speed. They needed to deal with the one in their hands first.

<One thing at a time...> came the thought just as Chris was realising the same thing. His boss had the experience to know just what to do, before he did.

In a maneuver that would have been on the cover of a mechwarrior game, Hawker emerged from the water with the HLX-6 in a deadlift, then HURLED it a good thirty feet. Easily 4 tons of soviet steel with a pilot within.

That much mass doesn't get thrown without some kind of reaction. It was agonisingly slow to draw their feet from the mud, having sunk down with the added weight. Pulling a booted foot up from the sucking depts, finding a place to set it down and draw the other out, WHILE getting advanced on.

At least the first 6 was knocked out, the two tanks and two MRAAs had plenty of time to position and having support fire ready the moment the mechs separated. They hard to turn their gaze to face the new threat.

"Fuck fuck fuck...! Fire, dammit, fire!"

It took time to re-orient, to aim and to load cannons. Time that none of the 4 armored vehicles would have if those missiles went off. 

Even the best missiles had problems though. You didn't want to fire one at a close up target, for example. The explosion would injure you as well. And if you shot at a target too close, the missile might only be travelling 80 mph. Speeds at which a mech could slap it out of the air, as they often did with lobbed grenades.

The 5 O'Clock Mech is emerging out of the water a little later than the 8 O'Clock one. By the time they'd taken their first step to turn, the 8 HLX-6 wisely chose to bring it's cannon to bear.

Time slowed to a crawl as their mind both jumped into high gear.

Chris felt terror, armaments had no such foibles, leaving the barrel as-near-as-dammit top speed. Their heat is rising as well. They were going to take a hit. Unwanted flashbacks were brewing in both of their memories. Flashbacks Hawker had experienced first hand, an that Chris had re-lived though before altering.

Their torso should angle, let the round impact their back if possible, they had weapons and ammo back there. And their own munitions popping would be better than taking those slugs full on. 

<Tackle the deeper one and drive it in.> Their far hand, the one not on the side of the 8 o'clock HLX-6 needed the knife. It is an awkward gesture, and everything seems to move so slow, the water getting in the way of their legs!

The blade needed to be turned and almost held with the pommel in their palm. The would sing the knife with 6-plus tons of force into that hated shape. They would twist and rend (Chris had a memory of his own bubble up that Hawker saw. Snow on the ground, blood EVERYWHERE, and a gurgling body at his feet) and murder the pilot and mechanicals within.

Missiles don't 'do' going into water, so they'd have cover. The auto cannon was recoiling now. Each millisecond above the surface meant another possible round would hit them. Chris pushed for FASTER processing, greedily sucking up the internal bandwidth as he put a wall in neurospace for them both. <Ignore the other. It's weapons Don't matter. It cannot hurt us.>

Rounds did impact. Chris Shielded Hawker from the hits, allowing the mech to focus it's savagery on the damned thing they were lunging toward. <Open that can, tear out the meat inside, eat your fill!> Goaded the pilot.

Something did get through his neurospace filter, because it was unexpected. On bottom of the radio spectrum, the ultra-slow stuff, the two HLX-6's passed a single word between them First as a question, then as an answer.

"Ishcheyka?" questioningly fearful from the 5 o'clock unit.


"Ishcheyka!" angry confirming from the 6 o'clock unit.

 

 


 

 

<Tackle the deeper one and drive it in.>

<Agreed.>

The knife was whipped out, grip held in the vice of Hawkers fingers. He was poised like a human fighter: feet set apart, arm out, bent - it was all for stability and mobilizing lightning-quick leverage. The missile batteries were wet, and steam rose from them as heat sources rushed to dry them out.

"Hawker! Chris! Get the hell out of the way!" shouted Becker in his MRAV. His gunner swiveled the mounted Browning, trying to get a shot in. 

"Give me ten seconds!" the mech roared, and lunges. The Six tried a feint, but Hawker was more agile up here. The knife didn't quite find its target, but it sunk into a shoulder with an explosion of sparks, and the limb went dead.

"WE DON'T HAVE TEN SECONDS, CAPTAIN!"

The second Six didn't hesitate, and a wall of dirt shot up into the air as it trailed bullets along the ground in a long sweep, the pilot trying to get a bead in the twilight without tracers. PKPKPKPKPKPKPKPKPKPKPKPK The last few bullets sank into one of the SWAT tanks, and it hurried into a jarring reverse, firing whatever the hell it was they had in the chamber. More cursing over the radio.

The round, a concussive, grazed Hawker's shoulder just before he went to land another hit on his chosen Six and was thrown completely off-balance. The concussive went flying straight up into the air, detonating a few feet from Hawker's head. KBOOM! The shockwave sent him to his knees. PKPKPKPKPKPKPKPKPKPKPK! Bullets hit his fingers and pain shoots up into his foreprocessors. 

[DAMAGE: 8%]
[ALL SYSTEMS: GREEN.]

Chris was doing his best to keep his captain focused, steady. The human inside of him was his anchor. Optics locked onto the Six again, and he pushed up from the ground.

But he stopped when he heard words.

Words he hadn't heard since... before this Hawker was born.

"Ishcheyka?" the voice crackled.

Time slowed down as the syllables buried deep down into his memory nets, burrowed in like a tick sucking blood.

"Ishcheyka!"

A missile hit him. Becker was yelling, he'd tried to shoot it out of the air, but Hawker was too close. The lakefront lit up in a ball of fire, and Hawker was enveloped in a cloud of thick, black smoke.

Ishcheyka.

Damage reports flooded in. The mech found he was on his back, but the knife was still in his hand. Status lights inside the cockpit flashed red. Was Chris OK? 

FSHHH KRA-BOOM!

One of the SWAT tanks jumped up into the air, gutted. Its pair of pilots choked to death on 1000-degree air almost instantly.

Ishcheyka.

Hawker was suddenly blind with rage. He leapt up, shoulder leaking, burbling coolant as his systems worked to cut off the leak like a damaged ship closing its bulkheads. There was only one thing on his mind now: kill.

 


 

 

The word meant something to the AI. It was it's name. It had been it's name. The brought up images of cold, snowy days. Imagine soft, fragile humans in horrific pain. Chris felt those memories, sifting through them as the came up in bits and pieces at the worst possible time.

Ishcheyka.

Bloodhound? 

Then that missile detonated next to them. Chris let out a cry of pain, the hit rolling over the surface of the vanguard's metallic skin. They'd been hit by kinetic rounds as well, friendly or enemy it didn't matter. The reactor temperature had left the green zone and travelled well into yellow. The human felt the paralyzing indecision, as the old name brought up thoughts, commands and scraps of a different personality. Grasping the knife tight, he took the reins and had the mech fall into the thigh-deep water of the lake.

The water boiled on their backside, stabilizing the temperature. Chris triggered the safety protocols, ensuring that the worst hydraulic ruptures wouldn't bleed out their system. They were just below the surface, the waves exposing their side as the rookie tried to pull control. Hawker was there, like a damned immobile wall, locked in the possibilities of his past.

That effort he'd expended before happened again, this time in reverse. Chris fed into the anger he felt, the horrible AI that had been Ishcheyka. Each time Hawker tried to recall or experience one of those memories, Chris snatched the errant thought and stuffed it into a a mental file. He needed his boss running, otherwise the vehicles on shore would die, then it'd be 2 on 1 with no backup.

<Hawker. Captian. Ishcheyka! GET UP!> Mentally, the human slapped the machine, for a moment the two equal sized. Chris PUNCHED the Deep Field 2 mentally, only diminishing in size once Hawker came back.

Precious seconds had passed. Their temperatures were back in the green, just.

Chris is helping now, directly. As they stood their empty hand reached out, grasping the nearest HLX6 but it's broken arm. Above the surface they HAD the momentum to get their knife through the side of the soviet mech. Satisfying sparks and the groaning of bending metal filled their audi receptors. The knife went deeper, all the way to it's 30" hilt. Like winding up an old car window, they CRANKED the knife, stirring up the contents. Pilot, wiring, sensitive equipment ruptured and bled as Hawker drew the enemy closer. Shoving the knife down, then up, they enlarged the hole to the point that they could read within.

Looking down, the managed form of the terrified soviet pilot coughed up blood as the knife rattled and gouged that inside material.

Chris didn't even hesitate, giving every bit of authority to his Boss. <KILL HIM!>

 


 

 

[CORE TEMPERATURE: 340C (CLIMBING)]
[COCKPIT TEMPERATURE: 29C (CLIMBING)]
[COCKPIT AIR CIRC: ENGAGED.]

[SYNC RATE: 99.88%]
[PILOT: STABLE]
[PILOT VITALS: HR: 118BPM BP: 142/90MMHG RR: 29BMP TEMP: 37C]

[ALL SYSTEMS: YELLOW (DROPPING)]

Hawker didn't even notice when Chris ventured to take further active control of his bodily movements - after all, the two were nearly one mind. It would have taken thought to separate out the impulses that weren't his own now. Conscious thought that he was barely generating.

He was acting on hindprocesses now.

Water. Water surrounded them with hissing and angry roiling. Somewhere out there, beyond the reaches of waking memory, was frigid, unending snow. Ice. Frost spattered with red, brown, yellow. There was hate there, too.

The snow kept fizzling from memory, though, and it wouldn't be until later that he'd know why the old data kept disappearing into the ether as soon as it was conjured. All there was was the boiling water. Confusion. Rage at two overlapping, contradictory lives suddenly clawing for dominance. Coexistence. Lee Davidson's Hawker and Siberia's Bloodhound: so very different, but... so alike.

<Hawker. Captian. Ishcheyka! GET UP!>

There was a sudden jolt of wakefulness. The AI reeled. A fist collided with his consciousness, and Celn 'yelled'. The two DF2s froze, comingled, compartmentalized. Lee's HLX-9 had won - for now. Ishcheyka was snarling at the door, still lusting for blood.

[ALL SYSTEMS: GREEN.]

Together, Chris and Hawker tore into the nearest Six, using its dead arm as leverage. The knife sunk in with such ease, like it were flesh. Metal croaked, rent open as Hawker growled his violence at this enemy. It took only seconds for the thing to tear open like a can of sardines, and a moment later, the mech, and Chris through his optics, were staring down into a sparking, jagged hole at a dying man. He clutched at his thigh, which had been reduced to little more than a slab of blood and ripped muscle tissue.

Hawker stared, mesmerized. Hungry.

<KILL HIM!>

Big Nine, as the Chicagoan refugees and 42nd precinct alike so called him, didn't think twice about reaching into that hole with his free hand and grabbing a fistful of pilot. The man screamed, long and ragged, and the whites of his terrified eyes stood out against the darkness. Hawker tightened his grip. Squeezed. The man screamed again, flailing, getting his blood everywhere. Until his lungs emptied and could fill no more. Distantly, Hawker felt the bouquet of bones in his hand cracking, crunching, their jagged edges rupturing organs. The lungs didn't fill again, and the Russian pilot flopped in his hand like a gored rag doll.

Hawker dropped him like the disgusting spectacle of human filth that he was. He would have stomped him into the icy earth, too, if the HLX-6 hadn't self-destructed in the few heartbeats after its pilot flatlined.

BOOOOOOM

The mech went flying into the second tank as it sat in the shallow water, and he could feel its armor contort under the weight of such impact.

PKPKPKPKPK- THAK THAK THAK THAK!

An enemy 50-cal autocannon found its mark again, drawing a searing line of pain across Hawker's legs. Each bullet-hole oozed machine blood, and some of them even had the luck to rip right through wiring harnesses responsible for moving his legs.

"GNNNGH!"

THAK THAK THAK THAK THAK

It aimed, this time, at the cockpit. Chris would have shielded his face, a psychological remnant of Infinite Mirror, and Hawker shielded his precious cargo with an arm that took the brunt of the attack. Still, he held onto the knife.

"Holy shit, what the f...! Hawker! Chris! Status!" Becker yelled into his radio, panic rushing his words. He couldn't believe what he'd just seen, but more unbelievable was the rest of their predicament.

[DAMAGE: 24%]
[ALL SYSTEMS: YELLOW.]

Tsung's voice suddenly interrupted as her small, elegant drone circled overhead. "Team, I just notice something! Structure on the Sixes backs. Never seen before." Her English was getting worse as the stress hormones were kicking in. "Da bien, da bien, da bien," she repeated under her breath quickly, in Mandarin. "Comparing to database...!"

Becker roared. "TSUNG!"

"Yu naixin!" she barked back. A second later: "OK, confirmed! I'm seeing ---!"

She was interrupted by the ear-rupturing blasts of two more BGMs. Hawker rolled out of the way, and the second tank was on its back. With short-range missile #2, Hawker was hit in the same arm as before, sending him and Chris to the ground again to make their own crater. Armor plates rent apart at the shoulder, revealing the sensitive wiring, conduits, servos, and other mechanicals underneath; stuff that rarely saw the light of day. And now it wasn't just exposed, but gushing. Sparking. And every time Hawker tried moving his fingers, the pain was almost too much to bear.

[DAMAGE: 38%]

<Chris...>

"HAWKER! We need to get out of here! I repeat, get the fuck out of here! We're way in over our heads!"

Mech and pilot staggered to their feet, switching knife-arms. "Give me ten seconds, lieutenant," the mech growled deeply. Behind that battle mask, his face was the very picture of lusty retribution. Somewhere in him, heat was building. He wanted another human to rip apart.

 


 

 

Chris felt a thrill like he hadn't in 6 years. They'd ended a life with their own hands! The damaged Russian Pilot had broken like a handful of chicken wings. The russian been so fragile, so easy to turn into a pulp. How Hawker didn't do that with everyone who displeased him is a mystery. Of course, Ishcheyka had done just that. This had to be personal, someone is gunning for for the Deep Field 2 and they'd almost succeeded once.

<I think they wanted you to come after them Boss. They knew your old name.> And old name Chris kept having to divert old files into as they popped up. Hawker could waste sorting through them later!

Their legs were even slower now, barely faster then the HLX-6 as they slogged though the water and muck. The HLX-9 came back up after dodging missiles, it's left arm hanging uselessly down as mud sloughed off the heavy armor. Chris almost made the call to pull out their rifle and put a huge hole in the remaining HLX-6. At this range a one-handed shot wouldn't miss! But it.. it was advancing on them? They'd broken the other two in melee! Surely they third pilot should stay away and press it's ranged advantage?

"HAWKER! We need to get out of here! I repeat, get the fuck out of here! We're way in over our heads!"

Chris felt that burning need to destroy the enemy and pushed forward with the Captain. Perhaps thirty five feet from the enemy. Chris depressed the large orange button with his right hand, his left maneuvering the joystick that he'd normally use to guide their footfalls. A heavy CLUNK occurred in the cabin, and the pilot's chair unlocked and moved on it's shock absorbers up and to the left. Letting go of the button, the chair locked back into place again steadying him against the rocking footfalls. The padded restraints on Chris's left arm opened up with a thought, allowing him to reach up and rip the cover off a junction box. As it clattered down in the bottom of the cabin, he risked the infinite vision for a moment as he looked over what he saw. His index finger wrapped around the little-used lever and PULLED!

At that moment, Hawker's left arm when utterly numb. It became a phantom limb, still mobile, but unfeeling. Another pull and the HLX-9's chest and shoulders sensors went out as well.

The enemy is within reach, their good arm had been pulled back, it swung around for the stabbing thrust.

Tsung's voice carried over the radio "---It's a Tazer, a MECH Tazer! Enough for YOU out with big EMP!"

The HLX-6 's backpack extended a single pole down into the mud as it brought up it's previously unused 'normal' arm. Multiple tracking and targeting lasers scanned over the brawny torso of Big Nine as it swung in. In near-perfect snap, it had struck first, landing right where it had been aiming. The overvolted capacitors on it's back smoked and a terrible high pitched noise could be heard. A sound like a dentist's drill. Chris pulled the other breakers, whatever was about to happen, Hawker wouldn't feel a thing. For good or ill. 

<I love you.>

It grew louder, heat and sparks filled the area by Chris's feet. In perhaps the space of 2 seconds, it had broken through one of the tiny and necessary gaps in the frontal armor, that Hawker needed so he could bend. There was a metallic thud as the smoking drillbit popped out into the cabin, burning against the rubber suit with a horrid smell. A fan of fine metallic shining slivers, spring out like an inverted umbrella. 

Through his legs, his thighs and his right arm; into the electronics of the cabin. They'd have turned his organs into swiss cheese if he'd been sitting center like he is supposed too.

Then those finely threaded spikes of metal danced with power.

Chris's nerves arced with fiery pain, shocks flowed through him as his heart palpitated, and the cabin sparked and electronics burned. Systems shut down in mech and man.

The HLX-6 Began to smoke, the grounding rod not quite up to it's job in wet mud. Electrical power flowed into the water around them visibly arching. Then the 30" blade pressed into the close HLX-6. It dug into the same place as the previous hit, the sudden shocks making it dance. The blade gouged up and down and electrified weapon turned full circle as both operators SCREAMED.

Silence, black smoke pouring out of the HLX-6, it's pilot sobbing in broken russian. The russian pilot is older, perhaps in her late forties; she cried Ishcheyka while crutching at her own wounds. Within Hawker, damaged systems automatically rerouted as the smouldering pilot turned into a dull white echo within neurospace; his blood dripping from twenty two wounds. The mask pumped air into his lungs, his heat dutifully beat, pumping blood out through those holes.

 

 


 

 

In those moments, Chris had seen something, anticipated something, that the machine had not. Whatever experience Hawker had had with conventional combat, before he became Ishcheyka or since, was being drowned out by the conflicting inputs and his single-minded need to destroy the Russian machine by any means necessary. Chris was moving inside of him, shifting, touching things. He suddenly couldn't feel his bum arm anymore.

[HAPTIC NET: PILOT MANUAL OVERRIDE.]
[HAPTIC NET: INTEGRITY: RA: 99% LA: 0% RL: 100% LL: 92% T: 94% H: 99%]

"---It's a Tazer, a MECH Tazer! Enough for YOU out with big EMP!" repeated Tsung, shouting. But she still sounded far away to the mech. "I repeat, enough for you!"

Becker's voice was distant on the radio. "Tsung, we need a medical evac ASAP! Team Hawker isn't answering my hails, I don't know what the fuck is going on! We need backup!"

...need backup!

...backup.

"I repeat, this is Davidson, requesting backup!"

Another parasite burrowed and he was smacked back into a different sense of the present. The shallow water of the lake was gone, replaced by a ruined street, upturned cars and broken glass. But the three players remained the same: Hawker, his pilot, and the Six, staring them down with that modified 50-cal autocannon. The three of them were the only things that mattered now. Neurospace warped, stretched against this version of reality. It wasn't the contents of the black box that was bubbling up - Chris had broken that like a child breaking fine china - but it was Hawker's own memory of the memory this time. Imperfect, but all the more vivid in that way that dreams could be more real than the waking world. The intensity of color. The immense weight of small moments, small details.

Lee...

Hawker knew how the story ended, but he was moving slowly compared to Chris, that little beating human heart inside of him. Chris, not Lee.

Chris.

Not Lee.

[PILOT: NAME: CELN, CHRIS SSN: 003-877-1924 DOB: XX-XX-2034 SEX: M AGE: 24 BMI: 21.3]

We need to settle on a birthdate for you because I'm gonna throw you a party, kiddo. 25 is a milestone in this world.

[SYNC RATE: 99.25% (HOLDING: +/-1%)]
[PILOT: STABLE]
[PILOT VITALS: HR: 121BPM BP: 143/91MMHG RR: 30BMP TEMP: 37C]

[ALL SYSTEMS: YELLOW (HOLDING)]

The Russkie mech engaged its TAZER unit. Something in him clattered to the floor of his cockpit. Sensation fizzled out of his chest, and he could no longer feel the person inside of him. Panic.

The need to kill dissolved and Ishcheyka cowed in the face of Hawker's sudden fear. 

<Chris, what are you DOING? Chris!>

He knew exactly what Chris was doing. Superimposed on this, happening right now, was Lee's ghost again. Blowing the hatches and running straight at the barrel of that gun. Except that this time, the outcome wouldn't get logged away in a black box. Hawker would be around to remember it for himself. He went to turn, retreat. To save them both. The knife in his hand forgotten.

<Chris, no. Chris. Chris! I'm NOT losing another pilot again!>

Hawker was hit with something, he didn't know. He could only feel the vague jolt of its impact, hear the thing tear through a seam in his belly. A necessary weak point. The one tiny place where the dragon was missing a scale. The sound of metal ripping through metal is a hideous thing. No lubrication, no water to keep the friction down. It should have been excruciating, but it wasn't. The hole in the floor of his cockpit smoked, stank, was hot enough to sear flesh as the thing buried inside of him to get to its real target: Chris.

<I love you.>

Hawker took the knife and stabbed at himself. Desperately trying to pry the cruel thing out before it -

Activated.

No. No, no, no, no, NO!

There was no pain, no feeling. The only window he had was the damage reports, and the sudden ripping away of that human consciousness, leaving a searing, blinding void.

[SYNC RATE: 0% (NO RESPONSE)]
[PILOT: CRITICAL]
[PILOT VITALS: HR: 130BPM BP: 112/70MMHG RR: 40BMP TEMP: 35C]
[PILOT VITALS: VALUES DROPPING: HR BP TEMP]
[PILOT VITALS: VALUES RISING: RR]
[PILOT: CRITICAL]
[PILOT: CRITICAL]
[PILOT: CRITICAL]
[PILOT: CRITICAL]

"Hawker! Chris! Your status, dammit!" Becker screamed into the radio. "What is your status!"

The mech had cried out in pain as Chris was ripped from neurospace, had fallen to his hands and knees in the water. Air cycling roared. His limbs shook.

---

"For fuck's sake... I'm coming out there!" Inside the MRAV, Becker ended his own neurospace link with the vehicle with a growl. Sweat dripped from his nose, his chin as he tore out of the hot, cramped space inside. "Kim, you're up!"

His gunner, Greg Kim, looked on with eyes wide as dinner plates. "Sir, I'm only B-class!"

"Do it! That's an order!" He grabbed a flare gun mounted beside his seat - a low-tech distraction that still came in handy in emergency situations - and clambered out the tiny hatch as the rest of his crew raced to reorder themselves. "Cover me!"

There was nothing quite so terrifying as being on foot in a mech fight. You were a two-legged mouse in a tiger's pen, and if their teeth didn't find you, their feet did. Becker quaked with adrenaline, teeth chattering, as he sprinted toward the water, sidearm in one hand, flare gun in the other. His breathing was quick and labored, but he was a trained man. He'd long since overcome his urge to flee in a dangerous situation.

"HAWKER!" He shouted at the giant, a great black silhouette against the sky even when down like this. His shoulder joint still sparked, and everywhere he glistened with water and oil. Becker lifted his gun and popped off a quick shot at the mech's good arm. PANG. "HEY!"

The mech moved, and moved quickly then, as though he'd been suddenly woken from a fugue. He lunged at the Six with a snarling, wordless roar, lifting it into the air and tossing it at the first: the caisson was turned to dust under the weight of the second impact.

CHUKKA CHUKKA CHUKKA went the cover fire as Hawker quickly headed for Becker. The mech moved sloppily, swaying, struggling against a tremendous, unseen injury. As soon as his feet hit the beach, he collapsed onto his knees, bracing himself against the ground. Hot air blew sand into the air, melted snow.

"It's Chris," the HLX-9 rumbled, static at the corners of his voice. Becker froze. "Get him out!"

The hatches opened, and more fluids poured out. Inside sat his pilot. Limp, askew, held up only by Hawker's harnesses, life support, and the metal that skewered him. The cockpit was half-dark, and when something popped, Becker turned away from the shower of yellow sparks.

"Catch him!"

The interface peeled away, the harnesses unlatched, and Chris slid out of the chair at this angle toward the ground. Becker jumped forward, catching him in his much stronger arms. The rookie's blood smeared everywhere and he stank of burnt hair, burnt rubber... urine from the moment his body relaxed into deep unconsciousness.

The MRAV roared into position, putting itself between them and the Ruskies. Behind them, somebody climbed out of one of the tanks and fell to the ground, unmoving. As Becker looked around, he made a decision. If Chris was going to die before the evac showed up, then there was nothing anybody could do. His duty was now to prevent further loss of life. 

The A-class pilot laid the kid on the ground in the grass and looked up at the glowing, searing eyes of the mech. "Straighten up Big Nine, I'm gettin' in."

Chapter Text

The fight in the water had taken 2 minutes from spotting the first HLX-6 until now. THe deployment of the pilot-shredding EMP had taken barely 5 seconds, aimed precisely at a spot that'd take just 2 seconds to drill through.

The Pilot's chair moved inside the cockpit, adjusting to it's natural center position before the padded harnesses released the pilot. Fifty metal spikes, each like a lengthened porcupine quill, like the inside of a unwound coaxial cable clanged and bent easily. As Chris's limb body fell forward, some slid through him, leaving bloody spines behind. Others stuck in his body, twisting as he flopped out into Becker's strong arms. 

Burning rubber. Cooked flesh. It had the odor of fried pork. 

In the illumination from the MRAV and Hawker, Celn's body looked .. not too bad actually. THe skintight rubber likely was holding the worst of the wounds closed, but in just twenty seconds blood crept out from under his legs. His head is turned to the side, and the area around the implant is scorched from the voltage overflow. Each slow breath is ragged and unnatural twitching courses through his limbs.

He smoldered like a freshly extinguished fire in the cold air.

Becker's mouth twisted in disgust at the smells, trying not to gag as he stepped back from the rookie. He'd wanted Celn to fail. He did want to be the next pilot, he IS the right choice. Just.. not like this. Poor kid was cooked.

That's what happened to Cops in Precinct 42.

"Straighten up Big Nine, I'm gettin' in." Becker commanded, stowing his weapons.

---

Tsung watched the horror unfold from her perspective in the sky. As terrible as it had been, she'd watched the mechs fight in awe. Hawker had taken on the enemy 1 on 3 and WON! Then came the orders. The kneeling. A tiny body on the edge of the winter beach. She turned her attention to the city, reading over what she could. Then transmitting directly to the remaining MRAV and Big Nine. "There is no medical EVAC available, the city is a war zone! And this drone can't carry shit. Get Celn on a board, strap him down and bring him back in the MRAV."

Barely a pause and "WHAT YOU WAIT FOR! RED MECHS ON YOU, TWO MINUTES!!"

The back of the MRAV at the news, those inside cursing as the heavy steel door opened slowly. The third pilot Lana, technically a loader/medic/driver/gunner (in that order), scrambled out the plastic stretcher in hand. "What are you doing Becker?"

The tall a-class pilot already had gone hand over hand, climbing up the ladder of protrusions that jutted out from Hawker's leg. He took a moment and ripped several of the metallic splines out of the chair. "I need to figure out how to get Big Nine operational in two minutes! Where the fuck is the interface switch?" Becker shouted.

Dropping the bright red board next to Chris, she put her hands on his chest and pulled. He easily slid over, and she repeated the process for his legs. Legs strapped together, arms and chest. A foam neck brace, one around his head would have to suffice.

"Thirty seconds!" came Tsung's worried voice.

Lana grasped the board behind the pilot's head, and dragged it over the bumpy ground. A bloody rut in the sand got left behind, and she dumped him unceremonious within the personnel carrier, slamming her hand on the power tailgate close as she got back in her seat. Greg is sweating bullets as she buckled up and took over as the second set of hands on the controls. "Just run the gun Greg. I'll move us."

"Is Celn..?"

"He's breathing. But if Big Nine doesn't get that rifle out before the Reds show up, we are retreating!"

"And if he does?"

"Then we clean up, check the others and head back."

 


 

 Hawker gathered his wits about him as Lana Monroe dragged Chris away, his body still gleaming with the quills in the dim light. It almost looked like Christmas tree tinsel. On a black Christmas tree. He looked dead, laying there on the litter as she dragged him quickly back to the open cargo hatch of the MRAV and pulled him inside. Blood in the grass and snow behind them. At least it was better than laying him on a tarp.

The mech's eyes darted down to Becker. The lieutenant was just barely too big to fit properly, he wasn't wearing the right kind of suit, and he was only an A-class - better suited for something more like the Ukrainian HLX-6 knockoffs. Better suited to linking up with a Deep Field 1 or less. But right now it wasn't what anyone was suited for. It was about what had to be done.

He rose up into a proper kneel, and the black-suited cop climbed aboard, tearing out more of those metallic splinters along the way. He didn't get all of them, but it cleared space enough to sit down and do his job.

"I need to figure out how to get Big Nine operational in two minutes! Where the fuck is the interface switch?"

I AM operational! he thought. The words came out at the same time, but his vocal unit was glitching. Pitch modulation was wonky, and his tongue felt sluggish in his mouth, slurring the words. "And I am the switch. Now get the fuck in!"

He encouraged Becker with a shove of his hand, closing the damaged hatches. He had no idea how this would work out. Becker swore at the rough handling, but eventually his ass found its seat and exploratory movements from manual controls sent little tugs down into the mech's legs. If half of Hawker's haptic net hadn't been taken offline by Chris, he would have felt how awkwardly the bigger man fit. But it was now or never.

"Head back against the interface array," he commanded via the speakers inside.

"Thirty seconds!"

"Now what!" Becker shouted.

"Lie back and think of England." He engaged the interface system, which was far more robust than that of the pilot's MRAV. When that mechanical hand palmed Becker's head he yelped. Then the helmet extended down, its pieces snapping around his head, and the short, blunt needle inserted into Becker's neck, interfaces mated, and the two collided in a broken, heaving neurospace.

Chris didn't puke, but Becker did when he suddenly found himself to be nearly two stories tall with the strength of a freight train. When he suddenly found himself covered in injuries, reeling from powerful layers of memories from old pilots and past lives. Not much came up, but the dribble inside the helmet would stink for the rest of the fight. A small inconvenience. 

<I... I... I-I can't see in color! Wh-why is everything in black and white??> came the confused thoughts of his backup pilot.

<Your...> A groan as Hawker rose to his feet, still swaying. Now he was having to hold this guy's hand. <Your sync rate is only at 65%.>

Becker swore under his panting breaths, coughing at the reek of his own nausea. <Fuck...>

Man and machine swirled uneasily together, but Becker was still an experienced scab. He knew how to handle himself in neurospace, how to sort his thoughts, how to quickly occupy a new chassis. He muscled away the discomfort and the sheer force of nature that Hawker's DF2-enabled mind was, and stuck to the familiar. <Rifle,> he said, thoughts commanding. Commanding? The mech's scowl deepend behind the faceplate. He's let that tone slide for now because they needed this to work.

<I've got one arm, shitbird. Pistols or nothing.> 

Hawker sensed frustration welling up inside his pilot, and his thoughts leaked out over their connection uncontrollably: images of grandeur, of heroism, squandered thanks to the hideous mess of real life. Thanks to the vomit in his helmet and his poor sync and his Big Nine at [DAMAGE: 59%].

<Pistols, then!>

He reached down for the one, lined it up with the belt feed and felt that familiar sensation of lead spooling from his arm.

"Now!" Tsung shouted. "Hawker, Becker, your 5 o'clock! Another line of 32!"

"On it, Tsung!" called the man inside. "Alright, Nine, you know how this goes: mind your sensors while I shoot!"

Hawker imposed on Becker's consciousness like that wall of titanium. "No. You're here to pull the trigger when that gun barrel sights a tin can. That's all I need a scab for."

"Fine!"

"#301," Hawker ordered, his voice coming back. "Watch those Sixes!"

"Copy, sir!"

Tired, half-dead, and filled with the images of Chris laying limp and bloody on that litter, Hawker bounded around toward the encroaching unit. He was all fire and fury, and it was all he could do to not eject Becker on the spot and take care of this by hand.

 


  

Becker had never been in the HLX-9 cockpit in person. He'd used plenty of naturospace games, using the vanguard as his personal power armor. He even had an impressive character in Mechwarrior Online 3, level 100 with the vanguard equivelant.

This is NOTHING like that.

The seat squeezed around him and painfully compressed against his muscles. The helmet is utterly automated and controlled by the AI, it had mounted HIM, pulling his head back and giving the human a crick in the neck. His fingers wiggled, hands tried to move on the wrists to grasp at something; but the control sticks and keypads lay dormant for his own protection. Hawker's own protocols would keep the inexperienced pilot from accidentally triggering something dangerous.

His own vomit dripped over his chest, slipping over his MRAV suit, as he tried desperately to control the large mech. WUMPF WUMPF WUMPF went the mechanised feet as they bled out fluids onto the sands and dirty piles of snow. Becker snarled in the cockpit, struggling in the bonds as he tried to do so much as get Hawker adjust his course by a single degree.

It was like pushing against a building, trying to get the solid structure to rotate? How the fuck did you pilot the mech? This wasn't like the games or his MRAV at all!

<Damn it Big Nine,> He had to shout through the mental static, it was like the mech was in another room. <What use is a pilot who just pulls the trigger?>

---
Tsung broadcast the advancing troops to the remaining friendly ground forces. Of the six regional groups, Hawker's task group had eliminated two. The far north group had been taken down by a second contingent of MRAV & light tank combination. That same task group is busy laying down a wallop on blob five, which is just two blocks away and the firefight could be seen and head as the bright explosions shown against the buildings all around. THe remaining two marched on Wolf Lake, 64 red robots in total.

As they advanced, the back row stopped at 50 yards. They held up their rifles and began firing. <OH SHIT!> Becker shouted. THe rounds bounced off the mech's heavy armor, just like rain off an umbrella. Despite the face that rounds were being fired in accurate bursts, they had little that could do to harm the damaged HLX-9.

<They.. they can't hurt you?>

Then a round found it's way through the whole that'd been drilled to kill Chris. It bounced around the cockpit and landed hotly on Becker's left leg. "Ow OW WOW WOOF!" he shook it off. Then Hawker began to feed him targets. The vision from the pistol's sight is just like the cannon in the MRAV. <Pull!> Becker shouted.

Nothing.

<FIRE!>

Nothing.

Struggling, Becker felt like he is pushing his hand into a frozen glove, fingers cold and unfeeling, he extended his entire awareness into Hawker's good hand and pulled the trigger. BOOM

<That's your SIDEARM?> he gaped as the head of the gunbot exploded. There was no time to celebrate what'd taken forever to do with the browning. THe Deep Field 2 already had another one lined up as it's heavy feet advanced them toward the little r soviet soldiers. Each pull of the trigger felt horrible, having to work every aspect of the mechanised joints.

"WHY! Why are you fighting me Hawker?" Cried Becker, his hand felt ice-cold and clammy, it was like holding your fingers underwater and solving a rubic's cube. Another robot, another and another! Mercilessly he had to keep working, keep killing those hated robots.

Coming up to the first row, a single kick bowled one into three of it's comrades as Hawker began to wreak destruction without a single input as becker held on for the ride.

---

Lana drove the MRAV slowly, keeping the gun as stable as possible as the 8 wheeled vehicle kept it's main armor angled against the incoming fire. Above Greg did fiveshot bursts of fire from the browning, sending fire into the wall of red that advanced on Big Nine. The ones in the far back began dropping like targets on a shooting range; the massive mech taking at most three shots before blowing the top off the soviet steel. The MRAV hit pavement and Lana picked up speed, attempting to get into a flanking position while still keeping the mech in front.

BOOM! "Yes!" shouted Greg. The little T5 sized mechs began detonating from the browning's high-velocity shells as they got into position to nail the thinner back armor. Lana hit the brakes. In the back, the stretched slid across grated metal floor and Chris slammed up against the cockpit with a dull *thud*.

Overhead Tsung watched, the red mechs had split into two groups. Most attempted to approach and encircle Big Nine while Becker piloted. However, eight had broken off and headed toward the two mechs stuck in concrete. "You got a group going for those HLX-6s>" She reported, wondering if Hawker still had enough fight left in him to get the job done.

 


 

<What use is a pilot who just pulls the trigger?>

<Plenty.> Even here Hawker's 'voice' was deep and quaking. <So long as he remembers I'm not some flimsy DF-fuckin'-1!>

Deep Field 1: the upper limit of what Lieutenant Cory Becker was rated to link with. There was really no comparison between the DF1 and DF2. It's apples and oranges. A third-grader's book report and a post-graduate dissertation. The difference between Becker the hero and Becker the struggling pilot with the taste of vomit in his mouth.

---

When the rear volley hit, Hawker remained unfazed as Becker flinched, held his breath, cursed. He had no time for fucking kid gloves! Not when they were outnumbered 64 to two! Still, it was just a tangle of Russkie Hatchet-cans with AKs. But it would take a while to clear them out and get everyone back to 42. There was nothing for it.

The HLX-9 pressed forward like a thundering stormcloud, pistol in hand. Bullets hit him everywhere, sparked little flashes of friction, and disappeared into the night. Really? This was going to be his last stand? Against a bunch of peashooters?

<They.. they can't hurt you?>

Hawker said nothing, thought nothing, ignored Becker. He vented harshly, picked up speed. WHUMPF WHUMPF WHUMPF! Becker tried commanding him with thoughts. With words. Hawker could feel it. Really? Is that really how he thought this worked? He approached the end of the line, raising his enormous boot and giving the nearest robot a hard, forward shove. It fired as it fell backwards, the AK shooting blindly into the sky. What a pathetic machine! Meanwhile, Becker was still yelling at him in neurospace. Trying to command him. 

It didn't take long for the lieutenant to realize that he needed to wear Hawker. Become Hawker. There was no telling the mech what to do if he didn't want to follow orders. But extend your body out into his, move your mind and fill all the places where his consciousness was with your own? That was how it was supposed to be. 

Becker shivered, trembled in that cramped cockpit as he struggled to reach out. Adrenaline saturated his bones, filled his blood, and it was difficult to occupy a machine that had no such organic stress response. But he got the idea. Mostly. The mech could feel Becker's weathered hand slide into his own, felt his pilot's finger on the trigger. Finally.

<That's your SIDEARM?>

<Yeah, what'd you think I was packing?!>

BOOM BLAM BOOM

Still, it was a herculean struggle, and Becker was still barely able to keep his hand in the HLX-shaped glove. 

"WHY! Why are you fighting me Hawker?"

You don't deserve me yet, was the acrid reply, shielded from his pilot's overtaxed brain.

BLAM BLAM BLAM

He wasn't lying when he said that firing was, technically, the only thing he needed a scab for. 

Hawker's reckoning for what the Russians did to Chris was swift, and it was complete. He burned with hateful need, tearing through their line like a bull tearing into the soft belly of a matador. One machine went flying, then another. BLAM BLAM! Becker was at least catching on, helping to guide his aim. AKs went skittering across the ground or flying up into the air as they were shot out of their hands. Becker was a good shot, Hawker noted.

The MRAV came up behind them, thundering up onto the pavement to flank the now-doubled unit of red cans, the swivel-mounted Browning roaring its lead into the formation in a rough line. CHUKKA CHUKKA CHUK- POKPOKPOKPOKPAKPOKPAKPEK

"Don't you even think of running out of ammo any time soon!" the mech barked across the radio.

"Got plenty left, sir!" was the teeth-gritted reply.

Hawker's subroutines had managed to do enough damage control to the arm to allow him to move it to his chest like it were in a splint and lock its position. That got it out of the way enough for him to really get balls deep. With a haggard snarl Hawker swung his pistol-arm in a great, powerful sweep, knocking the little robots to the ground. They scrabbled to get back onto their feet, but he filled them full of enough lead to brick their electronics before they even had a chance. Smoke began to fill the air from their effort.

"You got a group going for those HLX-6s!" Tsung.

Becker wanted to keep fighting the smaller robots - it felt good going up against so many weak opponents - but Hawker's attention snapped back to the lakefront as five of the cans broke formation to head for the Sixes.

<Not on my watch!>

The pair broke into a terrifyingly powerful sprint, leaving rent craters in the pavement behind them as they fired on the robots. One, two fuel cells popped, exploding unceremoniously and lighting up the vicinity. But three more reached their destination and formed a defensive shield around the downed Sixes as they suddenly lurched back to life.

Then there it was, that same voice from earlier, crackling over the radio.

"Ich- Ichcheyka, segodnya ty umirayesh!"

Hawker knew what that meant like it'd been spoken in English. Becker gawked. <Y...you know Russian?>

But he was ignored. 

Then the mech's voice sounded over the radio. Deep, menacing. Full of venom. "Nyet. Ishcheyka vsegda zakanchivayet to, chto on nachinayet."

Every spotlight on his body was activated then - two pairs on each shoulder, one on each side of his hips - and again, he plowed in. The robots fired indiscriminately, but their guns were still no match. BLAM BLAM BLAM. Two more on the ground. The last one Hawker kicked into the snow, and tore it in half using his feet alone. It was a slow, arduous way to rip something apart, but as the metal groaned and shrieked, wiring ripped, and the thing spasmed underfoot, Hawker ground his own denta together behind that mask when the torso finally separated from the legs.

"Po'shyol 'na hui!" the mech yelled. "Fuck you!"

Behind him approached the line of robots, their numbers already halved by the efforts of the MRAV, still working away on the exposed fuel cells. But the fight wasn't over just yet: the one Six had recovered, and the second, the first to hit the caisson, was moving again, though whether or not it would be able to stand again was something else. Hawker cursed - Russian in his head, English with his mouth, and dropped the pistol to the ground, disengaging the ammo feed.

<Hawker, what are you -??>

Not even the knife. Just a hand, open, ready to grab, to rend. Hawker wanted to feel death with his own haptic net again tonight. Fuck Becker and his trigger finger.

PFSHH

The missile launched before Becker even realized it, but Hawker was pure instinct right now. The BGM-71 lit up the scene for a second as it exploded forward, gaining speed with every impossible sliver of a moment that passed, headed straight for them. But it wasn't travelling fast enough yet - wouldn't for another 1.8 seconds. The big black hand SNATCHED it out of the air, struggling against its still-engaged propulsion, fighting its forward momentum with a fierce, guttural cry. "NNGH...!" With a shaking arm, Hawker turned the missile around and threw it BACK at the Six.

"Nyet!!"

There were two explosions: one as the missile hit the first Six, and the second as the pilot inside was whisked violently away from his mortal coil and the machine picked up on the flat vitals. One right after the other. Boom boom.

Hawker was thrown off-balance again, but he knew to expect it this time. Before him stood the last HLX-6. Autocannon aimed, spooled.

<No,> Becker thought. <Naw naw no no no fuck no...!>

But an eruption of noise came from their NINE o'clock, and an instant later, a casing shreds open on impact with the remaining Six, and a second later, its gun is covered in beige goo. Flypaper.

"S-s...sorry 'bout the w-wait," came the quiet, rasping voice on the radio. One of Mendez's crew? Still alive? She panted, and it was obvious she was having a hard time taking a full breath.

Becker was speechless, but Hawker wasn't. "Take a rest, officer. I've got it now."

The final Six struggled, whirred impotently as he barrel of its cannon filled with the expanding foam. The mech's hands reached up, trying frantically to wipe the stuff away, but to no avail. It just got everywhere even more.

Hawker approached, realizing that the fire from the AKs had all but disappeared. He would have looked to check on Kim and Monroe - Becker wanted him to - but the mech had one thing on his mind. Still no knife. He didn't need it. Didn't want it.

With a vicious slam of his foot, the Six went down. He climbed on top of it, weighing it down just enough to get purchase on one of the arms and pull. Pull until sparks flew, until fluids sprayed, and before long, until a limp arm hung in his grip. Hawker took that arm and he beat the Six. WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM! The torso dented again and again until the Russkie trash can barely resembled what it had even 10 minutes ago.

<Jesus Christ, Hawker..!>

Then he flipped the thing over with a kick, threw the arm. On its back was its core, humming with energy from a thick, shoddy battery pack. This was the prey now. Four months of mourning for Lee, four months of planning his vengeance. Four months of studying specs. He knew exactly where to grab. He raised up his good arm and SLAMMED it down against that armor, just to the side. Repeatedly, until the lip curled upwards at the seam, giving him something to grab. Then: CRRRRRREEEAA- CRASH

Underneath, thick, hot conduits pulsed with energy. Life for whoever was inside. Hawker snatched at the end of that cable, ripped it from its mooring with a gush of electricity. The jolt ran up his arm, surged through his body, zapped his pilot, and fled into the earth. Below him, ripped and beaten, oozing and tangled, was the HLX-6, power to its cockpit completely disabled. The mech gave its pilot a good 2 minutes before he suffocated to death.

[CORE TEMPERATURE: 345C (HOLDING)]
[COOLANT TEMPERATURE: 305C (HOLDING)]
[SENSOR ARRAYS: PRIMARY: GREEN. SECONDARY: YELLOW. TERTIARY: YELLOW.]
[HAPTIC NET: YELLOW: 78%]
[POWER DRAW: COMBAT (315.9 MWH)]

"Tsung, how're we looking?" Hawker asked. His voice betrayed his exhaustion. Even now, his mind came back to one thing: "Chris needs to get back ASAP. You'd better tell me we've got a clear route!"

[COCKPIT TEMPERATURE: 31C (HOLDING)]
[COCKPIT AIR CIRC: ENGAGED.]

[SYNC RATE: 69%]
[PILOT: STABLE]
[PILOT VITALS: HR: 122BPM BP: 139/82MMHG RR: 25BMP TEMP: 37C]

[DAMAGE: 61%]
[PATCHING: NEEDED.]
[ALL SYSTEMS: YELLOW (HOLDING)]

 


 

 Tsung had watched from the moment underwater Hawker had reported the presence of an HLX-6. She'd wanted to track down the other groups of robots for the second task force. But there had been orders.


"Repeat, did you say a fresh HLX-6 in Wolf Lake?" came the command room operator's voice. In the background, the other individuals feeding into the overlay of the city could be overheard.

"Affirmative. No visual yet, it's under the surface still."

"Rodger, marking up now, stand by." There was an inaudible shout in the background. "Sergeant's orders are you to keep your drone over the lake until the HLX-6 is contained."

And so that's just what she had done. She'd watched as Big Nine walked out of the churning waters with the hLX-6 over his head and threw it through the concrete casson. She watched as it face off against two more, reporting them in as well. That got Kole on the line with her.

"Three HLX-6s?! And 192 foot soldier robots? This is a damned invasion!"

"Yes Sir. Make that one six, Nine just ripped the pilot out of one."

"GOOD! Tell those two end this. We could stop this march at the lake!"

"Sir, he RIPPED the enemy pilot-- What kind of equipment is this?"

"Tsung?" came Kole's worried reply.

She had to put cole on hold Kole to warn Chris. Maybe he heard. Hawker asked for another ten seconds, ten he didn't get. 

The taser fired, and she thought she just watched Big Nine die.

But then the mech kept going! It dropped the other HLX-6 on the first. Swapped pilots and kept going.

Her drone moved a few hundred feet in the air before it was all over.

"Tsung?" It was Kole, he'd re-patched up to her.

"All HLX-6s decimated. At least 160 ground troops destroyed. Celn is critically injured, Big Nine is injured, and Becker is trying to pilot him Sir."

"Check their route back to 42. I want Nine back in his gantry on repairs incase we need him again."

"Aye sir."

On the map, the destructive red wave died. Cheers went up as the final group got taken down by the second task force. Now they just had to deal with ordinary people. People out of their minds on drugs people out of their minds because their implants assumed control.

"Have the second task group rendezvous with Big Nine, bring them all in. We'll restock and redeploy as much as we can." Kole ended the call to the drone pilot, feeling an intense relief. Big NIne had done in 10 minutes what they wouldnt' needed the army for. As the updates went out, he knew the Mayor would be breathing a BIG sigh of relief.

---

"Tsung, how're we looking? You'd better tell me we've got a clear route!"

"Should be clear, only the reds were this far south. Going to check now." THe drone angled and sped up, soon slipping out of direct sight. 

Becker felt adrenaline coursing through him, relief. And fear. Hawker sat at just 40% functionality, and had used his bare hand to destroy the same enemy that'd taken him and Davidson out just a few months ago. Christ.

"Hey, can I get a hand over here?" came Mendez's voice. 

The MRAV move over to where the less-damaged tank lay, it's right side obliterated. THe turret seemed to be in some kind of order, and the injured agent struggled out of the top hatch. She had fashioned a crude sling for her right arm and was favoring her left leg as she sat on the surface of her tank. A second man came out, blood covering his face and chest, he held a massive wad of cotton over his right eye. Once he'd gotten down, he used his free hand to aid Mendez down.

"Where's your third?" asked Lana, already dropping the back hatch.

"She didn't make it. The blast shoved some of our side armor right through her chest. We had to hand crank the turret." Mendez bitterly responded. "Good thing those fuckers are dead. Remind me to buy Celn.."

Chris's unconscious and injured body lay in the rear, the metal rods jutting from his pilot suit. He'd gone pale and he'd been wedged across the floor in the stretcher at an odd angle.

"..oh fuck!"

Greg turned and looked at them from the gunner's seat. "Don't just stand there and gawk! Get your asses in seats so we can get the fuck back to the precinct!"

Mendez and Simmons sat on opposite sides, using their feet to held hold the stretcher in place. The moment the tailgate lifted up the MRAV started rolling back down the street, intent on taking the same path that'd gotten them there. It smells bad with the rookie stewing. "What happened to him? He stinks and.. those rods?"

"Didn't you guys see?" asked Greg, feeding a new belt into the browning, just in case.

"Nothing after that missile hit." Simmons sighed, exhausted. "We caught on fire, Had to put it out, get something for my face and her arm. But they time we even had the turret pointing the right direction, it was just that little bit left and a whole lot of scrapped mechs."


"It was amazing! Nine and Chris just fucked them up! Like, it took seconds!"

Mendez leaned down, checking the rookie's pulse. He hand one and his breath spilled softly onto her hand. He's still with us, Jesus; I can smell him!" It was the second time today she'd inhaled the scent of burning flesh.

"Yeah. SOme kind EMP weapon? Not sure exactly what, but it put it's hand on Nine and then electricy spilled everywhere. Guess it stabbed into the cabin. Becker's in the hotseat right now."

There was a long moment of quiet. Mendez held onto an overhead rail as the MRAV jostled. "Guess he's happy now."

A mile passed by before Lana tried to lighten the mood. "So, did any of you bet on Celn making it this far?"

---

Becker was not happy. You didn't pilot Hawker. You hung on for the ride and pushed buttons like a good bitch when the AI told you too. There was no freedom, you couldn't feel anything, and the black and white vision?? Seriously? Ugh. Maybe some of it is the 60% damage across the systems. As they trudged down the street, the second task force filled up behind them. All six of those vehicles made it, their chatter showing up on one of the many feeds that kept filling his visual space.

"Looking good Captain!" "Saw what you did, glad you're on our side!" "I'll get you and Celn a ber, he can drink yours." "FUCK YEAH! WE DID IT BOYS!" All cheering the name of the Mech. Not him! He deserved credit too! He'd helped!

"THe BIG NIIIIIIINE! Niner! Ninerahrino! You did it, saved us all from a world of Hurt Boss!" Fucking Steve.

---

"You're clear, watch the ruined platoons of soviet bots on your way in. I think you might have just ended any enemy combatants in the southern part of the city. Just got the gang violence and the splicers uptown now." reported Tsung.

"How is that going?" groused Becker, hoping that Hawker would at LEAST transmit his voice.

"Gangs, FEH! Water cannons and sonic dispersal is keeping them down. Most of them are already trying to find other ways around or are disappearing. Either way, we win." She relayed, being safe in 42 let her have an ear to all ongoing events.

"And the spliced? What about those sorry people?" asked Lana, her worry felt by all. Of everything that'd happened, those citizens had it the worst. Your own body betraying you! 

"SOP, just.. on a BIG scale." Tsung answered. Already 42 was in view, she'd get her drone charging and take a breather. Maybe bring cookies to medical.

In the MRAV, Mendez whistled as she looked at her long-time partner. "Just let them run amok? Let the freaks go nuts until they run out of power? That MANY people?"

Simmons shrugged. "City power is down. They'll probably run out in three hours with that kind of activity. Maybe less if they're really going nuts."

Mendez wrinkled her nose, watching as the metal tines bounced and shook on Chris's body. "Then what, they eat each other?"

"Fuck I hope not. Either way, give it a day an not one will have enough juice left to fight off the cold."

---


The crowd nervously cheered their return. Perhaps word had gotten around? More photos of Big Nine, the mech dragging as it entered the station. Becker's ego at least got a tiny pat. If his back wasn't aching, he'd have tried to stop for a photo op. 

Hawker and 301 were the first down the elevator into the motor pool. THe MRAV drove right to it's bay, where a nurse and a stretcher were waiting. Chris got pulled out and transferred, the nurse started an IV before sending the automated conveyance off. Chris's little body had a good foot of white sheet above and below; and it dodged around other people and Colburn's cart as it made a beeline for the elevator. In two minutes he was on his way up.

Already the big lifts kept working, continuously bring up and down supplies and vehicles.

"Holy hell Hawker! I give you your body back and you trash it in less then an hour?" Colburn tried to defuse the burning problem with humor. Her body language, her tone said it all. Right now, she didn't blame the Deep Field 2 for what'd happened.

Becker's voice echoed out from one of the holes in the cockpit. WHy wouldn't anyone mention how great he'd been! He's saved the day, He'd risked being on foot around the mechs. Fuck, that's how Lee had died! "Do ya think you could maybe make some more room in here? I know Celn's a runt but come on! Now that he's toast you're gonna need this seat to take MY big boots. 'sides, Hawker and I get along perfect, shoulda SEEN us killing russian bots!"

 


 

 Hawker hung onto the lift's overhead support beam and all but staggered out into the motor pool. He dripped fluids all over the floor like a clogged rain gutter as he walked and his busted arm was still held tightly across his occupied chest. He could feel Becker squirm uncomfortably inside.

Colburn ran up to him as he approached with his tech team close behind her. "Holy hell Hawker! I give you your body back and you trash it in less then an hour?" She gawked, looking him over, trying t get in a quick assessment before hooking him up. See what she'd be up against here.

"Three Sixes," he rumbled. "Two with modified BGM-71 antitank missile batteries. If it wasn't me, who the hell would it have been? The National Guard isn't even out there yet." 

She exhaled her stress sharply, then gestured for Hawker to get up into his alcove. "It's going to be OK, Big Nine. Just..."

The mech's optics were on the #301 MRAV, though. A nurse and a medical droid were transferring Chris's limp body - one, two, three, LIFT! - from the litter to the gurney and they quickly got to work attaching an oxygen mask and cutting a hole in that expensive suit to find the vein in his arm for fluids. He caught a snippet of their conversation as they rushed over to the elevator while the nurse took his vitals. "...Red Cross gets here fast with that blood!"

Hawker had taken his vitals. The boy was going into shock. His hand balled into a fist almost strong enough to dent his own palm.

"Do ya think you could maybe make some more room in here? I know Celn's a runt but come on! Now that he's toast you're gonna need this seat to take MY big boots. 'sides, Hawker and I get along perfect, shoulda SEEN us killing russian bots!" said Becker, completely oblivious.

That was the last straw. The mech couldn't take this anymore right now. He knelt down, good hand bracing the floor as he forcibly ejected his pilot. Neurospace tore open as the interface array abruptly retracted, the harnesses peeled away, and with a cry of pain and confusion, Lieutenant Cory Becker tumbled out onto the floor of the motor pool, moaning and clutching at his neck.

"What the fuck, Hawker!" he shouted, hissing and panting his agony. "Fuck...!"

Colburn gasped, rushed over to him, helping him up. "Thule, help him upstairs!"

"Yes, ma'am!" The tech finished getting Becker to his feet, holding the pilot's arm around his shoulders for support as he swayed and moaned.

Hawker thought that the lieutenant was down for the count, but apparently not: "Not... not even a goddamn thank you!" he shouted over his shoulder before boarding the elevator.

The Chief turned back to him, eyes staring daggers. "You seriously want to put one more person in medical tonight, Hawker?" she barked. "Overtax our resources every more? That was completely unnecessary!"

"He was trying to ride me like a motherfucking show horse," he boomed right back as he stood up again. "Meanwhile, Chris..." The mech's voice faded to a growl. "I swear to god, Colburn, if he dies..."

She studied his face with knowing. Her gloved hands hovered in the air, waiting for him to finish. Hawker always finished.

"If he dies you might as well junk me." The words that came out were weighted by a tremendous bitter anxiety. Despair. He couldn't keep his fist still, he had to hit something. A support column sufficed - BOOM! - and chips of concrete went flying. "This is the second time I didn't get to say goodbye!" But the kid's last words echoed in his foreprocessors, lighting up his memory networks like a candle flame in the dark.

I love you.

Two more personnel carriers drove in, the last two. The motor pool was abuzz with congratulations, excitement, wonder, and slaps on the back. Every now and then, though, someone would look up at Hawker - their Big Nine - and their smile would fade as they stared, until they turned back toward their comrades and make their way toward the elevator. They had no idea. Not one of them.

The mech hefted himself over to the maintenance slab, settling himself into the gantry as the automatic hookups parted his armor and sunk in with a symphony of whirs and clicks and hums. Colburn stepped over to a series of large diagnostic screens as the second tech readied their tools.

"Permission to mount the small body, ma'am," he said, staring straight ahead. 

Colburn looked up from the reports flooding in from his #9081, over to the charging and storage booth where the little black and white frame had sat, peacefully, untouched, during this entire encounter. Then she looked back up to him, then to the screens again. "Hawker, I need to run diagnostics on your entire system, especially after Chris -"

"Please, Sarah."

She froze, and a cold sweat passed over her for some reason. The DF2 had never spoken her first name before. Not once in 8 years. The sound of it on his lips was chilling, somehow. Startling. She recalled the Russian she'd heard him speak over the radio, how commanding he'd sounded when he spoke that language. It was a similar sensation now, though for different reasons. Complex, conflicting reasons. Colburn had met Ishcheyka. She thought she'd put the Bloodhound down, but it was coming back like a weed. Maybe there was never any separating the two. Maybe a DF2 install could never be truly wiped; maybe thinking that it was even possible was just another chapter in the book of human hubris.

Who was Hawker? She was beginning to understand that she didn't really know anymore. He was doing awful things to Chris, things that might've been better suited to a black site in the icy hills around Lake Baikal. But right now he wanted nothing more than to be at his pilot's side. Lee's death had devastated him - that was real. Losing another pilot in less than a year so traumatically? His horror now was real too. Colburn didn't know all of him, but she did know that he gave a damn.

"Granted," she nodded, spoke quietly. Hawker offlined his sensor nets, his optics immediately, settling back against the gantry with the entirety of his tired, battered weight as he surely began the download process. "And Hawker?"

His mouth still moved. "Ma'am?"

"Don't call me by my first name ever again."

 


 

 Cory Becker felt good about venting his frustration. He is tired of fighting Hawker, and the damned mech needed to show his next pilot some respect! Then with a surge of frustration it all went sideways. The next thing he knew, ge is laying on the concrete floor in pain! Fuck! His everything hurt, his nerves are on fire and what felt like liquid agony pouring from his implant. "What the fuck, Hawker!"

"Thule, help him upstairs!" Colburn barked. The tech winced, then got Becker onto his feet, one arm on his shoulders; carrying the tall pilot out of the room.

It was only once they were on the elevator that Thule felt relived. "You're lucky."

Becker hisses, touching at the implant like it was 100 degrees, panting and whining softly. "Lucky? AHHH! FUck man.. ow.. shit..."

Thule nodded. THe elevators were moving -quick- today, the downside was that when you got to your floor they'd bob and you had to wait for it to settle before the doors would open. Medical is busy as hell, and the dropped becker on one of the chairs where all the other wounded had been brought. Blood, broken limbs, lacerations surrounded the aching pilot. "Lucky Big Nine didn't turn you into hamburger. What were you thinking, saying shit like that?"

Cory unzipped the top of his uniform, his nerves burning as the pair of ejection spread. Going bare-chested, his eyes got wet with tears from the increasing agony. "Dude! You weren't there! I saved us all after Celn tapped out."

Thule looked like he wanted to respond, then didn't. He just held up both hands and walked away.

---

"Don't call me by my first name ever again." Colburn command.

Her fingers quickly tapped over the consoles, initiating the transfer between bodies. At her side another tech busily began the diagnostics. "Are we still going to try and patch up 9081 Ma'am?"

Sarah stepped back and turned, looking up at the monster that hung in it's gantry. She needed to go over the black box with a fine-toothed comb. She wanted to inspect every moment that'd happened since the hatch sealed behind Chris. "It depends on how bad the damage is. We don't even have a backup now." She'd HEARD what Becker had said. There wasn't any discipline she could do that'd match the days of agony the cocky pilot is about to endure from ejection. THey had a damn good idea of what lay ahead thanks to Chris's trailblazing. "THe only A-Classes we have left are up on drone duty; and I'm not even going to suggest feeding our eyes into this man-eater." 

She rubbed her temple as the transfer neared 50%. THe glove left a dark greasy smudge. "If the 9081 chassis can't melee, then we can't use it until Celn is able to get in the cockpit. And I can SEE enough fluids leaking make me worried."

---

Medical 12-B felt displeased. THe wonderful rubber pilot suit on patient Celn no longer read out vitals, most of it's internal circuitry had been destroyed. Taking the right at the elevator, it drove on it's tracks behind the stretcher until they both reached operating booth 5. The room smelled of fresh antiseptic, having just finished it's self-cleaning cycle three minutes ago. 12-B maneuvered the scanner in place; then it produced a pair of cutters and started to shorten the long metallic quills that jutted from the human. Dropping them onto a nearby stainless steel table, it marvelled at the altitudes of the weapon that had done the damage. 11 entry wounds, 11 exit wounds.

Five minutes told it what it needed to know. THe strands would be best pulled through. With the patient unconscious, it introduces nitrogen into the air stream and got to work. Carefully it had to manipulate the arm into the position it was in when the silvery shard had gone in, then grasp the spike and pull it through the exit wound. With the perfect calm of the surgeon it is, 12-B extracted the remains of the Taser. It then re-scanned, then moved onto the next wound when satisfied.

<12-B here. What is the status on the O- blood? Celn requires more, his BP is continuing to fall.> 
One of the supply drones indicated back <At least a 10 minute delay before a shipment arrives. Clen does not have recorded allergens to artificial plasma.> 
12-B would frown if it had a face. These conditions, really! The army had far superior logistics, if only it were back in Vietnam. <Very well. Bring three units and start Patient Celn on one.>

----

At 100%, Hawker re-woke in his small frame. Colburn locked the transfer system down and took a few steps over, working with her tech as they sorted over the mech. She began reading out the damage reports, thinking to herself aloud. "Left arm and shoulder gone. THey'll need full rebuilds. Might be able to patch up the damage in the legs. And.. Captain Hawker! What happened to your haptic system? It's completely offline?"

 


 

 When Hawker onlined in the human-sized frame, optics shuttering open and haptic net engaging, he didn't wait for Colburn to give him the go-ahead. He unlatched himself, disconnecting from the thick plugs attached to the thing's spine, and surged out of the charging booth, ready to claw his way up to medical if he had to. There were errors here and there - to be expected after suffering such trauma to his quantum systems without properly repairing them before downloading into another chassis - but he didn't give one WHIT of a damn.

But Colburn did stop him, and she stopped him with a look. The Mama Bear.

"There's cameras in there," was all she said before going back to her work, brow furrowed.

The now-smaller mech murmured: "I know, Chief." Then took off toward the elevator, passing Thule just as he was stepping out. 

"What the..!"

But the doors closed and Hawker punched the button marked with a big, fat M. The plastic cracked.

---

Hawker had to wait in the lobby like the rest of the rank-and-file. Chris was still in surgery. He sat down in a chair like one of the grunts, and slumped. His exhaustion, even in this undamaged, fully-charged chassis, was catching up to him. He needed to clear his caches, needed to debug, needed to let his systems sort through all the scattered junk data and make sense of just what happened tonight.

But not now. 

Hawker - Big Nine, Captain Hardass, Chicago's 'Long, Metal Arm of the Law' - had a vigil to keep.

Five minutes, ten minutes. He looked around the room. Officers were holding ice packs to their heads, gauze to lacerations. Somebody was sweating buckets, panting uncontrollably, as they clutched at a gunshot wound to their arm. Their partner reassured them quietly, insistently, checked the red towel here and there. Hawker caught that it was a grazing, at least. Deep, but no lead had technically penetrated tissue.

Then there was Becker. He was icing his neck in the corner, in a cold sweat too. Hawker's yellow eyes met his bleary blue ones, and the expression on the lieutenant's face was one of bitterness. This isn't over, it said.

No it's not.

---

It was an agonizing half hour later before the mech was shown into the ward to where Chris would be... staying. 

Everywhere, everything was white, like the clean room in Rockford. If he had an olfactory on this body, he would have smelled the sting of blood and iodine in the air. Plastic. Latex. That peculiar odor of medication and skin and sterilized linens so unique to places like this.

"He is here," said the medical hospitality droid, extending its three-fingered hand toward a door half-open. The lights were dimmed inside, and it was quiet aside from the gentle sigh of slowly inflating and deflating leg circulation wraps, the beeping of the heart monitor, the faint whirring of the IV drip feed. Behind him, the droid closed the door.

Chris was covered in white. A thick slab of blankets had been laid over him from chest to feet, and everywhere there was bandages. His face would have looked peaceful if he didn't look dead.

But he wasn't... at least for now. Hawker stood and watched as the young man's chest rose and fell slowly, steadily. He stood there for what seemed like an eternity.

"For fuck's sake," he whispered and pulled up a chair to the bedside, all but collapsing into it.

Chris looked so small, now. And not in a good way. An erotic way. Just... a sad way. A gross way. Does not compute.

It occurred to him, again, that somebody did this. Somebody designed that thing, and somebody bought it, and somebody used it. On this kid.

His kid.

Hands fisted and -

No. No hitting things here. This was a place to be gentle. Quiet. Patient.

Hawker could be patient.

There was no beating this anyways, he realized. No enemy here he could squeeze to death, no one he