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Becoming the Protector of the City

Chapter Text

Penny opens her eyes.  Her sight is blurry.  She sends the command for her ocular receptors to readjust focus.  They do, after a strange lag that bothers her.  Penny initializes a system diagnostic to find out what’s going on.  Something feels off, but she can’t quite articulate what.  The diagnostics scan takes longer than usual, like it’s been a while since it’s functioned properly.  Penny feels herself frown.  That can’t be right.  Even when she is in her ‘offline’ state, she always has background systems working, monitoring, keeping her functioning at capacity.  They wouldn’t just be shut off, not unless…

Spotlights.  An arena.  A figure in red and gold.  The excitement of a tournament battle.

Tension on Floating Array’s cables.  Reports that the individual blades are no longer under her control all competing for her attention.  The sensation of wire twisting around her limbs.  The screeching of metal tearing.

Penny sucks in a breath to her artificial lungs.  Her chest heaves.  Her body is there.  Attached to her.  She’s attached.  Her head is attached to her body and her arms and legs—spinning through the air, going away, away from her—are there.  There.  Attached.  Penny struggles to move.  She wants reassurance.  The sensation of movement.  As a whole.  Not witnessing her parts move on their own.  Unity.  Being.  She’s herself.  She’s herself.  She’s herself.

Yanking one arm up uproots numerous wires and cables Penny realizes have attached her to a large computer bank.  She doesn’t care, though she normally would have felt bad.  She wants, she needs, confirmation.

Warning alarms blare.  Penny ignores them.  She pulls her other arm free, and then uses both hands to detach the cables plugged into her legs.  She slides her fingertips over herself.  Her motion processors aren’t calibrated properly.  Her hands move jerkily.  It doesn’t matter.  She can feel herself, her wholeness.

She catches the echo of running footsteps only after she recognizes that someone has come into close proximity to her.  Penny attempts to brace her body—prepare for battle—but no part of her listens to the command properly.  Her legs slide out in opposite directions, one shoots off a green laser that blasts into a wall.  Penny yelps.  That’s new.  That’s new, right?  That wasn’t one of her abilities before.  She attempts to access her memory banks.

The Vytal Festival Arena.  Pyrrha Nikos.  White noise increasing in volume.  Distant screams.

No, no, no.

Penny scrambles.  She needs to fight, to protect herself, to, to, to…

“Penny, darling, you’re safe.  Please, you need to calm down.”  The voice is familiar, and kindly, but Penny can’t quite place it.  She tries to retreat, and does manage to put an approximate two inches between herself and the person.  Penny trembles.  She doesn’t want to be hurt.  She doesn’t want to be hurt.  She doesn’t want to be hurt.

“Penny, please,” the voice; a gentle plea now, “I can help.”  A hand is held out to her.  Her sight isn’t focused, but she recognizes the shape.  One of her oldest memories comes back to her.

Safe.  He is safe.  He is home.

Penny manages to take her father’s hand.

Softly, Pietro runs a hand over her cheek.  She hears his relieved sigh, and then he shuts her off.


The next time Penny wakes up, it’s only her consciousness that comes online.  Her physical apparatus has been manually turned off.  That makes Penny feel something, but, without her complex emoting system active, she can’t quite comprehend or express the panic.

An incoming message chirps.  Penny, are you receiving this?  Please respond.  It repeats five times over in her mind before she remembers how to mentally text a response.

Message received.  Sending confirmation.

The next message comes almost instantly.  Do you know who you are?

Penny.  That’s what she was called in the first message.  It feels fitting.  It’s the right designation, she’s sure of it.

Do you know what you are?

I am the first synthetically created person capable of generating an aura, she recites one of her Base Facts, the absolute truths she knows about herself.

Very good.  I am going to turn on your auditory receivers in 5…4…3…2…1…

“Penny, can you hear me?”

The sound waves enter her.  Penny processes them, runs a diagnostic check on her hearing systems, gets a conclusive result, and sends ‘auditory receivers functioning at 100%’ back.

“Very good, darling.  Next, I’m going to reactivate your voice.  I want you to give me verbal confirmation this time.”

Penny recognizes the alert telling her another system has come back online.  Her first reaction is to send another text transmission.  She stops and reminds herself she’s supposed to talk.

How?  The question arises in her.  She knows she’s herself and she’s supposed to communicate with something Not Her, but the exact process of doing that vocally alludes her.  She sends the query to her memory banks, which send back a step-by-step tutorial.

Cautiously, Penny activates her mouth.  She opens and closes her jaw, runs her tongue over her teeth and her lips, while also slowly adjusting to the sensation of moving a part of her.  She signals her vocal box to operate.  The first sounds she makes are a garbled alphabet, meant only to remind herself of how each letter falls off the tongue.  Once she’s done that, Penny carefully organizes the sounds into the words, “Speech systems fully functional.”

She hears a relieved exhale that the owner of has likely been holding in.  “Alright, good.  How are you feeling?  Do you need a break?  You’re doing very well, sweetheart.”

“Why?”  She articulates the question as soon as it comes to her.  “I don’t understand.  What is the purpose of a ‘break’?”

“To rest, if you feel overwhelmed.”  There is a pause.  “This is the second time you’ve come back online.  The first time, you overloaded.”

Penny responds, “I have no recording of an overload in my memory banks.”

“That’s because I’ve manually restricted your retrieval access to only your default files.”  There is a sigh.  “You went through quite an ordeal, Penny.”  A very long pause follows that statement.  “You died.”

Processing that statement is a struggle.  Penny tries over and over again, but fails.  “I don’t understand.  I am not dead now.  Death comes after life.  If I am alive now, how could I be dead before now?”

There is a hesitance in the voice as it speaks, “After…after the incident, we recovered your core.  It was intact.  I was able to build a new body for you around it.”

“Oh.”  Penny thinks about that.  She can’t remember what she looked like Before, but that’s because she doesn’t have access to those memories.  She doesn’t like that.  Knowing there is a Past Version of herself, but not having access to it.  “I would like you to remove the restriction on my memory banks, please,” she requests.

Silence answers her.  At first.  Then, “All right.  We’ll start at the very beginning and work our way until…until that day.”

The first memory restored to Penny is what the face of her father, the person who’s now speaking to her, Pietro Polendina looks like.  He was the first thing she ever saw.  He’d been in front of her as she initialized for the very first time.  He’d smiled so wide, so proudly, when she opened her eyes and looked back at him.

Next comes the year she spent living in her father’s lab, as she adjusted and learned about life.  Combat training started precisely a month into her second year of existence, by the order of General Ironwood.  Penny remembers looking up at the sky above the training courtyard and wondering at how much more lovely it was seeing it in person than illustrated in a book.

A long series of memories play out in Penny’s mind and reorganize themselves into their proper places in her memory banks.  The process becomes repetitious.  Penny concentrates less on it.  She enjoys remembering, but she knows enough to feel like herself now.  She wants to open her eyes, move around, and be herself again.

If she could gasp, at that moment, she would have.  One of her memories from her trip to Beacon Academy for the Vytal Festival grabs her attention.  There’s a face, a face she hardly believes she forgot.  Well, technically speaking, there’s four faces and the other three do eventually come to mean something to Penny too, but this is the face of the very first person to call her friend.

Ruby Rose comes in and out of Penny’s memories.  There’s too few instances of her, in Penny’s opinion.  Little gemstones snuck in between the hours of monotony of her daily life under the supervision of the Atlesian Military while in Vale.  Remembering Ruby again makes Penny feel happy, which makes her realize her emotions have begun functioning again.

Penny takes a breath.  “I believe I am doing much better now, father.”  She pauses.  “When I am back to full functionality, may I request a visit to my friend, Ruby?  I very much want to see her again.”

“I—“ Pietro inhales sharply.  “We’ll discuss it when we’re done here.”  He pauses.  “How about we take a break from memory restoration and get you up and moving around again?”

“Okay.”  Penny recognizes that something isn’t quite right, but she’s uncertain about pressing the matter.

They quickly check her sense of taste with a lemon drop, one of her favorite candies, and her sense of smell with a candle scented vanilla and strawberry, one of her favorite smell combinations.  Finally, Penny is able to open her eyes and look around.  She focuses her sight on Pietro and smiles at him.  He smiles back.

Penny watches Pietro disconnect her right leg from the computer bank, waits while it recalibrates itself, and then moves it around to test it out.  They repeat the process with her left leg, and then her arms.  Finally, Pietro goes for the cable attacked to her main processor.

Penny stops him.  “We haven’t finished the memory restoration yet.”

“I know, but perhaps we could do that tomorrow?  It’s getting late and—”

“I would like all my memories back.”  For the record, Penny doesn’t consider herself capable of being ‘snippy’.  It is rather impolite.  This is the closest she’d ever gotten.

Pietro runs a hand over the top of his head.  “I know.”  He exhales.  “I’ll admit, I’m a little bit scared.  I designed you to have perfect recollection, which means…”

“I’ll remember my death,” Penny finishes for him.  She looks down at her hands.  “But it’s mine to remember, and,” she turns her head back up to face her father.  “You’ll be here beside me to whole time.”  She tries a shaky smile.  “So, nothing will go wrong.”

“What I ever did to deserve your unwavering faith in me, I don’t think I’ll ever know.”  Pietro chuckles.  “But, if you’re ready?”  He asks for confirmation.

Penny nods.  Then, she remembers the last day of her life.

Before today, when it starts again.

Chapter Text

Ding-dong.

The back door’s bell rings.  Penny places a bookmark in the novel she’s reading, closes the book, and gently puts it on the coffee table.  She slides her legs down from their comfortable position slung over the arm of her favorite reading chair.  She stands and, though she doesn’t have muscles that need stretching, stretches anyway.  It’s something Penny always noticed Ruby did if she’d been sitting in the same place for an extended period of time.  When Penny asked her friend about it, Ruby said stretching helps her body wake up.  At the time, it struck Penny as a very human thing to do.  Now, when she has the chance (and even if no one is around to witness the action), Penny stretches.

Since it’s the back door, which is reserved for automated deliveries to the pharmacy, that rang, Penny goes to answer it instead of informing Pietro first.  Technically speaking, Penny’s father has never placed restrictions on whether or not she’s allowed to answer the door, but Penny herself doesn’t particularly want to be seen by a person right now.  Not while she’s in her ‘default mode’.

Though, while he’s building her, Pietro has complete control over Penny’s physical look, he purposefully chooses not to decide her aesthetic without her input.  That means, until new clothing options are delivered for her, Penny has to spend a few hours in a simple, white nightgown and without any major customizations (like hair). 

At the very beginning of her life, Penny wasn’t uncomfortable with someone who wasn’t her father seeing her in this state.  But, as she learned more about the world (and about concepts like ‘nudity’ and ‘modesty’), the idea began to cause her discomfort.  In her default mode, Penny is at her most robotic.

Penny has artificial skin, yes, and even freckles (those were the first thing she asked Pietro to give her back when they finished with the core systems reboots).  Her eyes, despite being an uncanny shade of light green, are one of her most human attributes.  But her limbs, without sleeves or paint to conceal and mask their base appearances, are very clearly metal.  Her elbows and knees, unlike a human’s, are distinctively separate sections from the rest of her arms and legs.  A slim line (that they always eventually cover up) marks the distinctive place where her neck segment locks into her torso.

Penny flexes her fingers.  Sure, they have a covering of (fake) skin, but, if one looks closely enough at the joints, they can make out the intricate mechanical pieces moving beneath.  Without hair, proper clothing, or any sort of adornments, Penny feels like she shares more in common with the Atlesian knights than actual people.  And, she just doesn’t want to be seen like that.  Penny used to feel a sort of camaraderie with the knights.  They’re robots built to defend and protect, just like her.  Then, Penny learned they’re not.

The Atlesian knights can’t think like her.  They don’t feel emotions like her or learn like her.  All they can do is follow orders.  Sure, Penny can follow orders just fine, but she’s more than that.  She wants to be more than that.

The few times people (who aren’t her father) have seen her in her default mode, Penny has wondered if that’s what they’re seeing.  She doesn’t want them to.  She really, really doesn’t want them to.

Relieved it won’t be a real person on the other side, Penny opens the back door.

The Atlesian knight offers out a large stack of packages.  “Delivery for Pietro Polendina,” it states in an emotionless monotone.

“I can take those,” Penny tells the knight.  It hands over the packages to her, and then promptly leaves.  “Thank you!”  Penny calls after it, which gains her no response.  She sighs.  She knows better than to try, but she can’t help herself.

Is it human to want someone who truly understands what it’s like to be her?

Penny shakes the question out of her head and goes to tell her father that the clothes from Atlas (General Ironwood could be convinced that she be allowed to pick out her own outfits, but not that anyone but himself could choose their manufacturing origin) have arrived.  One of Penny’s fondest early memories is trying on numerous outfits to show off to her father.  She hopes to repeat the process now.

The door to Pietro’s office is ajar.  His voice drifts down the hallway to Penny as she advances on it. 

“No.  James, no.”

Penny hesitates just outside the room, unwilling to do the impolite thing and interrupt what sounds like a conversation between her father and General Ironwood.

When Pietro continues with, “Yes, I understand.  I know time is of the utmost importance,” Penny realizes he’s talking to Ironwood over his scroll’s comms.  Ironwood isn’t actually in their home.  Penny exhales, relieved.  It’s not that she doesn’t like General Ironwood.  He was the one to green light her very existence.  She owes him everything.  It’s just…he has a tendency to…

Once upon a time, Penny thought Ironwood having a significant amount of cybernetic parts himself would make him understand her more than perhaps the average person would.  She hasn’t exactly been right about that, but she can’t bring herself to admit the opposite is the most likely truth either.

“I will keep you updated on her progress, but you have to understand, James, she’s barely begun to recover.  Penny needs more time to heal before starting combat training again.”

Penny’s breath catches in her throat.  An abrupt thought tells her to march into her father’s office and declare she’s ‘combat ready!’ right now, but a strange, apprehensive feeling keeps her in place.

“Alright.”  Pietro moves around his desk.  Penny scrambles to remain out of his sight line.  “I’ve been wanting to ask you, how’s the arm working out for Miss Xiao Long?  I can suggest some adjustments if she—yes, I know communication with Vale is spotty and she’s not a top priority.  I simply thought that—yes, very well.  Good day to you too, James.”  After hanging up, Pietro sighs.

Penny thinks about what she just heard.  Xiao Long is the surname of Yang, Ruby’s sister.  Why would her father make an arm for Yang?  Has something happened?  Would he tell her if she asked?  Penny considers it.  Then, she considers how her father has deflected every one of her attempts to inquire after Ruby.  It makes her uneasy not to say something, but being lied to is just as uncomfortable for Penny as lying itself.

Penny waits ten minutes before poking her head around the doorway into Pietro’s office.  “Father?  The clothes from Atlas have arrived,” she informs him.  She hopes he doesn’t ask how long she’s been by the door.  Her father is the one person who always, always knows what her hiccups mean.

“That’s wonderful news, darling!”  Penny may not be best at reading emotions, but even she can tell Pietro isn’t as cheerful as he sounds.  “How about we go get you dressed?”

Feeling somewhat guilty, Penny smiles in what she hopes is a reassuring way.  “I would like that very much.”


“Hmm.”  Penny taps her index finger against her chin.  She gazes at her reflection in the mirror.  “What would Ruby think?”  Penny swishes the skirt from side to side.  She herself thinks it looks nice.  The different shades of green are pretty. 

Her first ever outfit only had a small amount of color.  Back then, Penny hadn’t really minded.  Then, she’d gone to Beacon and seen all the varied and vibrant outfits other people were allowed to wear, and been jealous.  Her own beige and grayish getup seemed positively dull in comparison.  It’s not that Penny doesn’t like creamy whites, ivories, or beiges.  They’re all fine hues.  It’s just those shades are the default for almost every robot in Atlas.  Having other, vibrant colors makes her that much more distinctive from them.

“I think…I think Ruby would want me to wear something that would make me happy.”  Penny tells her reflection, who pouts back at her.  Sure, Penny can accurately predict what her friend would likely say to her in this situation, but it wouldn’t make Ruby magically be there to tell her herself.

Penny blows a raspberry.  She hasn’t tried pushing him on it again, but her father’s evasiveness on The Ruby Topic irks her.  She understands that the fact she’s not actually dead anymore may come as a big shock, but she doesn’t think it’s a bad one.  Penny hopes not, at least.  She hopes Ruby will be relieved and delighted to know she’s alive.  That she’ll want to see her again.  Maybe enough to even visit Atlas.  Yes, it’s an expensive trip from Vale, but Penny and her father receive a financial allocation from the military for all expenses related to her.  They could excuse it as Ruby being some sort of special training partner.  Temporary, of course—Penny would never ask Ruby to permanently leave her teammates and friends—but it would mean they’d be able to be together again.

“Darling, are you almost ready?”  Pietro calls from the hall outside her room.  “I think I might just take a nap if I’m going to be waiting so long.”  He chuckles.

“Yes, father,” Penny answers him.  She takes one last glance at her new outfit in the mirror, smiles at herself, and goes to show off to her father.

“You look absolutely lovely in that, darling,” Pietro compliments Penny.  “How do you like it?  Everything comfortable?”

Penny nods.  “Yes, sir.”  She pauses, and decides to probe what her father will tell her.  “I tested out my dexterity.  I should be capable of combat in this dress.  The fabric is sturdy, durable, as well as soft.  It does not scratch my components one bit.”

“I’m glad to hear that.”  Pietro strokes his beard.  He has the look on his face that he gets when he’s trying to conceal his emotions from Penny, which bothers her.  “But don’t you worry about being combat ready just yet.  All you need to focus on right now is your recovery.”

Penny bites her lower lip.  She doesn’t want to argue, but she disagrees.  Pietro always tells her to speak up when she disagrees, Penny reminds herself.  “Father, I am fine.  My systems are all functioning normally.  Combat should be well within my capabilities’ parameters.”  She hesitates.  “As well as contacting my friend, Ruby.  I understand that me being alive will shock her and—”

“Penny.”

“—I’ve prepared a short explanatory speech that you can give her ahead of time—”

Penny.” 

“—You always said that my connection with people would be my greatest strength.  Ruby is my first friend.  She—”

“PENNY!”  Pietro snaps.  He winces when he sees her startled expression.  In a lower voice, he continues, “I’m sorry, darling.”  He exhales a breath, takes off his hat, and holds it between his hands.  He looks down at it as he speaks.  “We still have quite a few diagnostic tests left to run.  Nothing should come up during them, but I worry.”  Pietro turns his head up to meet Penny’s gaze.  “I love you more than anything on Remnant, Penny.  I wouldn’t be able to bear it if something happened to you again.  I know you want to start doing things like you used to, but give this old man a little time.  Just to confirm everything’s truly all right.  Please?”

Penny looks down at her hands.  “Yes, father.” 

“Thank you.”  Pietro sounds relieved, which makes Penny even more guilty for what she’s thinking of doing.


Careful to avoid the squeaky floorboards, Penny sneaks out of her and Pietro’s apartment and into the pharmacy proper.  She hesitates by the closed door of the examination room, and listens.  On the other side, she can hear the low murmurs of her father and his patient.  They went in less than fifteen minutes ago, which means she has at least another half hour before they finish the checkup.  Longer if the patient’s prosthetic happens to be one of the more complicated ones.  Penny sets an internal timer to alert her five minutes before she thinks they’ll finish and continues on her way.

She knows Pietro loves her, that he wants her to be well, but his tendency to worry can be...suffocating isn’t the right word, but Penny doesn’t like describing her father as overbearing either.  She knows it’s because he cares deeply and wants her to be safe, but still.  Penny is capable.  More capable than some humans even.

And, at the very least, she desperately wants to talk to Ruby, to tell her she’s alive.

The back storage room of the pharmacy has a cross-continental call station.  With the CCT Tower and most broadcast centers up in Atlas, there are few to none options left in Mantle for long distance communication.  So, some years back, Pietro invested in setting up a small station here in his pharmacy to give the locals the chance to reach out to their loved ones elsewhere.

Luckily, he’d given Penny the login credentials back before what happened at Beacon.  Of course, he assumed she wouldn’t go behind his back—which Penny does partially feel bad about—but this is important

Penny sits down at the call station.  She notices a thin layer of dust on the keyboard.  That’s odd.  Usually it sees enough use that dust doesn’t have time to accumulate.  She banishes the thought to the back of her mind.  She’s on a time limit.  She can’t waste precious minutes on something so unimportant.

Penny opens a call window.  She types in Ruby’s contact information and hits the ‘send’ button.  She sits back in her chair and mentally runs through the explanatory speech she’s prepared for the moment her call is answered.

The computer beeps an error.

 

Communication Operations Unavailable.

 

Penny frowns.  She retypes in all the necessary information and tries again.

 

Communication Operations Unavailable.

 

Penny checks for system updates, reboots the computer, and relaunches the call program.

 

Communication Operations Unavailable.

Communication Operations Unavailable.

Communication Operations Unavailable.