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Prototype

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Eyes opened and immediately drew shut, blinded by the harsh lighting above. It took more than a moment for them to adjust, and when they did, they somehow knew something was wrong. The room was unrecognizable. Small, rectangular stainless steel sheets lined the walls of the octagon-shaped room, illuminated by the many lamps around and the large glass window overhead. She tried to sit up but was held down against the cold metal table by plastic and leather restraint straps. From what she could tell with the limited movement her head was allowed, leather barely covered her skin, leaving her body exposed to the cool temperature of the room. Confusion and fear danced on her face. She had no idea where she was. Diving deeper into her thoughts in a desperate attempt to figure out her situation, she found no memories to rely on: none of her situation, and none of her life. Any memories held before the second she awoke were completely wiped out. She knew nothing about herself.

Her eyes darted around frantically. She observed her surroundings as best as she could. Machines and cabinets lined the walls, all wood and metal. Many of the machines were connected to her with what looked like microscopic needles, though to her, they felt more like metal ports clicking into outlets. The one true needle she found was shoved into a vein in her forearm, connected to a long tube leading to a monitor. There were six all around her: one for her heart, one for brain activity, one for her blood, one for the muscles, and the last two for the remainder of her body. Her breath quickened in horror. Whatever and wherever this strange place was, she knew she had to escape as soon as possible. Knowing the answer was one part of the solution; she still had to figure out how she'd free herself from the straps holding her down.

"...the experiment..." she suddenly heard through the wall. She didn't try to understand how she could possibly hear through what appeared to be six-inch thick steel plating as two other voices followed, all three getting closer to the room. "Hopefully the results from these tests are an improvement from the last. Sekar will be on our backs if everything isn't up to par." They were right behind the door. She shut her eyes and did her best to calm her expression as much as possible to retain the appearance of unconsciousness. The door slid open and three people entered the room, all dressed in suits and lab coats. The oldest man approached the unconscious woman and pressed two fingers against her carotid artery. "Stable," he said, his voice raspy. "Nearly five months of continuous work. I believe 0016 is ready to be tested."

"She'd better be," the sole female's voice complained. "Let's just hope that with the design's modifications, she won't run off like the others."

"Or worse: die like the last two did."

"Nonsense!" the third person's voice yelled in a whisper. "0016 wouldn't dare defy the Black Ghost, not if she values her existence." He stepped over to the lab table and laid down a large syringe filled with a thick pearl-colored liquid. "She's the most advanced model yet. Fit body, no need for cryogenic stasis, resistant to wear and tear... Sekar should be more than impressed with our work." He wrapped his fingers around the woman's wrist and undid the restraints holding her arm down. Picking up the syringe, he inserted the needle tip into her vein and squeezed every drop of the liquid into her. "Let's just allow this to flow through her and take effect, and the sedative should gradually wear off." He tore the needle from her skin and strapped her arm down again, disposing of the used syringe. The three looked down at her one last time before they turned around and left the room to report back to their leader.

Her eyes opened when she heard the door slide shut. 'Sedative... I'd be asleep...' She questioned what they were talking about for only a moment, not wanting to spare what she felt was her only time to escape. The woman slowly forced herself up to a sitting position, gritting her teeth as wires snapped and the leather straps across her form tore in half. The buckles on the straps over her arms popped and struck several machines lining the walls, cracking the screen of the one monitoring her brain activity. She planted her feet on the floor and pushed herself off the table, stumbling when the full force of her weight was truly felt. She waited until her balance was stabilized to move, and when she stepped forward, she shivered. She noticed a large locker next to her brain monitor and pulled the door open, the door flying off its hinges, and took out a set of surgeon's scrubs to wear. As she pulled the shirt over her head an alarm sounded, and a red light flashed near the window. Her blood froze as she searched for some kind of exit, her eyes landing on a vent gate. It looked just too narrow for her to fit through, but as voices grew louder outside, she knew there wasn't another choice. "0016 is active! How is she moving already?"

The door slid open and scientists poured into the room just as her lower half vanished into the ventilation shaft. "Call Master Sekar immediately!" one of them yelled. "Call the robot soldiers!" She was relieved to find the shaft much wider than she first anticipated, but annoyed that she didn't know where she was going. Just follow the light, she told herself, light means outdoors, outdoors means freedom. She moved faster until she found the light getting brighter and more blinding, and kicked the ventilation cover off. Bare feet planted on the rocky surface. She drew in a deep breath, taking in fresh air for the first time in who knew how long. The solace of freedom was short-lived when she saw more than a dozen tanks trailing her.

Her first instinct was to run. She didn't know where to, but anywhere was better than her current location, in her mind. She took a step forward, and then the shooting began. Bullets whirred past her before she could register it and she shielded herself with her hands without thinking. A bullet slammed into the back of her knee and she tumbled to the ground, hitting several jagged rocks as she rolled to a stop. To her amazement she quickly stood again and continued to run, finding no signs of trauma to her body other than torn clothing. She gave constant glances over her shoulder at the second battalion that chased her. The tanks, the memory loss...none of it made sense. She cursed herself for being unable to remember anything, any sort of clue that could guide her, and her legs quickly grew tired. The cliffside sat under her heels and a small portion cracked off, falling hundreds of feet into the waiting sea below. The tanks still approaching, she prepared to jump.

"Stop," a voice commanded her, and her body obeyed without question. The top of each tank lifted and soldiers quickly poured out, surrounding her with their guns drawn and pointed in offensive action. One man in particular stood out to her, dressed in a uniform like the others, his shoulders decorated in a plethora of stripes and medals. He marched in her direction with his hands folded behind his back, observing her with his single eye, the other concealed behind a patch. Two soldiers flanked him on either side, and all three stopped in front of the woman. "Don't be afraid, my dear," he said to her, his tone much calmer than before. "You have nothing to fear from us. We're only here to help you."

The woman gulped, her stance tense. "...Where am I?" she asked after struggling to find her voice. "Who are you people? Who am I? Why am I here?" The sound of her own voice surprised her, clad in a fairly noticeable Australian accent.

He took another step forward. "Everything will be explained if you come back inside with me." He offered his hand to her, which she flinched at. More earth crumbled under her weight and fell into the ocean. "Please calm down. All we want to do is help you."

She wrapped her arms around herself. Her eyes widened as she stared at his hand, then at the soldiers ready to fire at his command. They may cease fire if she went with them, she contemplated, and if she didn't... But what were his true intentions? She glanced over her shoulder to the ocean again, which grew rough with the darkening day. The waves were twice as large now, crashing into the cliffside and tearing the rock apart, just waiting for her to fall into the spiked rocks below. Her eyes returned to him. It was either death or an explanation, and his offer seemed genuine enough. Biting her lower lip, her mind juggled the options.

"...Alright..."

Hesitating, she stepped forward and laid her palm against his gloved hand, and their fingers intertwined. "Lower your weapons!" the leader yelled to his soldiers. "She is not the enemy!" His men immediately obeyed and took on a calmer stance, then cleared a path for them to the waiting car. The men that flanked him before gave them room and climbed into the front of the car. Escorting her into the back seat, the leader sat beside her and directed his men to take them back to the entrance. Tension still wrapped around her like a thick blanket, easy for the commander to sense when he cleared his throat. "Allow me to introduce myself," he began. "I am General Frost, one of the top commanders of the organization known as Black Ghost."

"Black Ghost?" she repeated as the car stopped in front of a small building. General Frost stepped out first, then offered his hand to her as the woman climbed out. With a snap of his fingers a coat was brought to her and draped over her shoulders, hiding her shredded clothes from the viewers that watched them enter.

"Yes," Frost nodded. "Black Ghost is a military organization. We use modern technology to assist other countries with border protection and maintenance of world peace." The two descended through a dim-lit stairwell. "As of this year we've provided assistance to over 100 countries, and have prevented the world from falling into the grips of a massive war." The woman's mouth opened to ask another of the hundreds of questions she had about everything, but Frost silenced her when he raised his hand and gestured to a hall at the end of the stairway. "We've arrived." They tread through the small hallway and halted at a large door. "All of your questions will be answered once you step through here." He stepped to the side and stood at attention as the large double doors swung open. More soldiers stood at attention on either side of the room, which light immediately filled.

"Welcome back," a voice boomed, quickly grabbing her attention. The woman stared at a man donning a white suit and black shirt and tie, an appearance much more normal than the robot and human soldiers that had chased her. "I was quite worried after hearing you'd ran off. I thought something happened to you. Tell me, how are you feeling?"

"Confused," she answered, pushing her hair away from her face. "I woke up to find myself strapped to a table like an experiment. And when I try to leave, I have an army sicked on me." She began to shake. "I can't even remember my own name or life! What kind of person can't remember anything about themselves?"

The man approached slowly to keep her from getting scared. "My dear, you have nothing to be afraid of. You're completely safe here."

"Who are you?"

"My name is Sekar. I'm the leader of Black Ghost. I believe General Frost has briefed you on what we do?"

She nodded. "He did. He also said any questions I have would be answered once I met you." She paused, unsure of how to address the man. "...Mister Sekar, how did I end up in this place? And why can't I remember anything about myself?"

Sekar continued where he left off, pacing the floor as he spoke. "We found you washed up on the shores of our island around six months ago. My men were patrolling the shoreline at that time and discovered your body in a bush. You had no form of identification on you, nor were there any boats or aircraft around to indicate foul play, so your origins remain a mystery. And you were severely injured, barely alive. I had a team of medical professionals and scientists treat your wounds and keep an eye on your status. They were to notify me the second you regained consciousness; unfortunately, we both know things didn't go as planned. I became very worried when I was informed that you were attempting to run away."

"If you were so worried, then why did you have your men shooting at me?"

His eyes narrowed. "My orders were strict: to retrieve you without firing. I'll reprimand those who disobeyed my order. Please, accept my humblest apologies for my soldiers' disobedience." His apology and bow surprised her. "In terms of our search for information on your identity, I'm afraid we have nothing to go on. We were able to calculate your age range in the early twenties, but that's as far as we've been able to go. We sent word out to fifteen countries and are awaiting responses from them." Her eyes drew to the marble floor. She was so sure she'd find out her name, those of her family, where she came from. "If I may," Sekar interrupted her thoughts, "I have a suggestion. As you can tell by now I'm a wealthy man, and as such, can acquire anything I desire. There is one thing I wish for, though, that cannot be bought." He paused momentarily. "You see, my wife recently passed away, and we never had any children. I've always wished for the chance to be a father." He came closer to her, wiping a smear of dirt from her cheek. "And I want to give you a family again."

"A family..." His offer was more surprising than his apology. "That's a kind offer, sir, but..." She averted her gaze. "What if I say yes, and then we find my real family? I'm sure they're just as worried and are still searching for me. I don't want to lose that chance." She said the words more for herself than to him, knowing if none of the fifteen countries had found anything in six months, there was little hope of them finding a family member in the future.

"Take as long as you need to consider the offer, Sienna." Her head perked up. "It's the color of your eyes. A beautiful name for a beautiful young woman. In the meantime, why don't we get you settled into more proper lodgings? I'm sure you'd rather sleep in a warm bed than a cold hospital room." The mention of a regular bed brought a small smile to her perplexed face. Sekar snapped his fingers, immediately summoning his general to the room again. "General Frost, show Sienna to the suite we've prepared. I'm sure she could use a refreshing shower and meal, no?" Sienna nodded at the thought of food, suddenly realizing how hungry she'd become.

General Frost saluted her. "If you would follow me, ma'am." She followed him to the large double doors again and they turned down a different, longer hallway. It was a fairly silent walk through the base, down more flights of stairs, until the surroundings took on a more residential appearance. They passed several doors before stopping at the last door at the end of the hallway. "These are your lodgings. Master Sekar hopes everything is to your liking." He waited beside the door, waiting patiently for Sienna to look inside. When she did, he saw amazement and awe take over her expression. The suite put five-star hotels to shame with its decor. Everything was perfectly tailored to suit whatever needs Black Ghost felt she may have, from exceptional ventilation down to the intricate design threaded into the pillows on her bed. "Your bedroom is completely private," Frost explained. "It's cut off from the laboratories and research facilities for your comfort. Your walls are reinforced with the latest in soundproofing technology to keep the noise out. You'll have your own personal maids who will tend to the housekeeping for your suite. They'll come every morning at eight to wake you and help you get ready for the day." He gestured his thumb to a blue button on the wall next to the bed. "If you're ever in need of any assistance, just press this call button, and someone will be sent to take care of you." He watched Sienna wander to the center of the suite. "Dinner will be served in one hour, if you're hungry. I'll be back to escort you to the dining hall then." General Frost bowed to her and spun around to take his leave.

She found herself somehow able to take in all the information without being overwhelmed. "Thank you, General," Sienna told him as he left. The door closed and she immediately felt the need to shower after she felt the tattered remains of her sleeve slide down her arm. Turning on the water, she stripped herself of the marred clothing, stepping into the shower when the water reached the ideal temperature. Sienna was sure if she remembered all of the showers she'd ever taken in her life, the current one was the best of them all. As her hand ran through her hair with conditioner, she realized it was the first time she'd really felt it between her fingers. It was much longer than she noticed - most likely from how long she was unconscious, she assumed - but easy to comb and braid when she finished her shower. The surprises continued to surface when she ventured to the closet and stumbled upon the hundreds of outfits hanging. Picking out an outfit and shoes, she laid them on the bed and dressed herself, and ceased all movement when her gaze landed on the reflection in the nearby full-length mirror. Sienna hesitated in her steps as she walked to the mirror, not knowing what to expect of the reflection. She now understood why Sekar gave her the name Sienna; the color swam vibrantly in her irises, complimented by the olive tone in her skin and her black hair. She was taller than she felt most women would be, and the broadness of her shoulders amplified her height. Reaching a hand to the mirror, Sienna almost didn't hear the knock on the door. "Come in." General Frost entered the room, offering her a small smile when he saw how content she looked in her new clothes.

"Dinner is ready, Sienna," he said to her, and beckoned the woman out of the room. He escorted her down the hallway past Sekar's auditorium, the scent of cooking leading them to the dining hall. Her stomach growled from the smell, already anticipating the coming food. It stretched into awe when they reached the dining hall, the woman finding it to be a massive room crafted from granite and stained glass on the floors and walls. The ceilings measured at least fifteen feet high in her mind, and an elaborate chandelier hung over a long wooden table. Even from afar she was able to see all the detailed decorations, from the swirls of red in the marble flooring – something she never thought existed – to the carvings in the crown molding lining the walls. Its style differed tremendously from the other rooms she'd seen, and Sienna made the assumption that Sekar purposely kept the research and development portion of the building separate from the living facilities. As her eyes wandered the room, she spotted several men emerge from a set of doors on the adjacent wall, hands filled with trays of food, and from the smell flowing out of the area she knew it was the kitchen.

"It's hard to believe we're in the same building," Sienna told the general as he led her to the table. Soldiers poured out from an entryway on the opposite side of the room and immediately got into position along the sides of the walls, standing at attention. Sekar and one last soldier made their appearance, the soldier running to his post, and the Black Ghost's leader approached the table. The organization leader had changed attire, favoring a more formal suit for the first dinner with his new companion.

He raised both arms in a welcoming gesture. “You're looking much better, Sienna,” he said, and offered his hand for her to shake. She hesitated for a moment before taking it in hers and completing the greeting. “I hope you found the suite to your liking.”

Her grin stayed faint. "Yes, thank you very much."

“Please, no need to be so formal with me. This is your home now. He gestured for everyone to take a seat and General Frost pulled out a chair for Sienna. Once she was seated, he did the same for Sekar before lining up with the rest of the soldiers. Sienna watched him and raised an eyebrow, which her father quickly took notice of. “There is no need to worry, my dear. General Frost is merely allowing us some bonding time.” Sekar clapped his hands twice and the servants began to lay out the food. The woman's eyes widened again. Every inch of the table was covered in appetizing dishes, ranging from whole game birds to catches from the sea and an assortment of pasta and vegetables. There were plenty of choices for beverages, but to keep from overwhelming herself too much at once, she stayed with a simple glass of water. “You get first pick.” Sienna didn't hesitate and reached for the nearest bowl of pasta, serving herself a decent portion. The more she ate and drank, the more the compound leader noticed the young woman start to relax and open up to him. “I know your first day here has been rather unsettling and much to absorb,” he started as they neared the end of their meal, “but I want you to know that if there's anything you ever need or want to know, you're free to ask me.”

Sienna placed her glass on the tabletop. “Again, thank you. I owe you my life.” She fell silent for a moment and stared down at her near empty plate. “I wish I could tell you about myself, Mister Sekar. You've been so kind with taking care of me and pouring all this effort into finding out who I am...though I must say, the name you've given me has begun to grow on me." Biting into a stalk of asparagus, Sienna tasted the sour juice and puckered her lips from the bitter taste.

"I can tell you don't enjoy asparagus," Sekar queried, his lips curled up in a grin. "I'll be sure to tell the chef to remove them from future menus." She nodded in agreement and reached over to the platter of broiled flounder to serve herself a piece. "We can learn more about you in time - your likes, your dislikes, your dreams." Sekar leaned back in his chair, watching the woman's gaze focus on him. "While we await information on your true identity to surface, I'd like you to be as comfortable here as possible. This is your home now, and you living here means you should be happy. Should something trouble your mind, I want you to feel free to tell me." He waited for Sienna to finish her plate as dinner wound down before snapping his fingers, ordering the servants to clear the table. “Would you like any dessert?” She shook her head, feeling full from the enormous meal prepared specially for her. “Well, then, how about a tour of your new home? We can't have you getting lost in the compound.”

"That sounds lovely," Sienna answered.

General Frost helped her out of her seat and waited for Sekar to stand, then walked out of the dining hall with them into the hallway. General Frost walked behind them, always staying within a few steps of the organization leader. “You now reside on a private island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The nearest major land mass to us is New Zealand, though it's still over three-hundred and seventy miles away.” The general trotted ahead of the two and opened a set of double doors, then swayed his arm for them to continue on. “Welcome home, Sienna.” There was no hiding the awe in her gaze. The size of the fortress alone was enough to stun anyone, but it was the facility as a whole that captivated the young woman. Light from the almost fully set sun poured in through large skylights positioned over the main lobby, illuminating a spacious lounge area. Sekar gestured his hand to the left, leading his new companion through another set of doors and revealing a massive training area. “This is where my soldiers are trained in combat. The space is yours to use whenever you like.” They went back into the lobby and walked across the room to another concourse, which split into four other hallways. “Down the first is a pool area. The second houses a library, and the third a computer lab. All for your free use.”

The brown-eyed woman glanced down each hallway, her eyes stopping on the last to the left. “Where's this one lead?” she asked, pointing to the darker corridor.

The two men remained silent, instead choosing to bring her down to the end, where an elevator awaited them. Sienna stepped in first, followed by Sekar and the general, who pulled the single lever on the inside. The lift crawled downward, gently rumbling as it descended. “This floor,” he continued, “and the one below it are dedicated to our medical, bio-research and robotics departments.There isn't one like it in the world.” The elevator stopped and the three exited, treading down another long hallway and moving through a set of automatic doors. The interior immediately changed from a miner's setting to a hospital environment, with white tiled floors and steel-plated walls and ceilings, and the scent of disinfectant roaming the air. Sienna became hesitant when she toured the medical facility. Chills waved down her back. The walls were familiar. It took a moment, but it clicked: this was the area she'd woken up in. Her arm shuddered, brushing up against Sekar's. The older man immediately sensed her distress and gave her a tender pat on the shoulder. “Don't worry, Sienna. I didn't bring you here to be strapped to a table.”

“Thank goodness.” Though his reassurance calmed her, it wasn't enough to fully deter the chills. They turned right and entered a small conference room, where three men and one woman in lab coats were standing around a computer. All four of them glanced away from their work when they heard Sekar enter the room and saluted him, then bowing respectfully to Sienna.

“I'd like to introduce you to the team who saved your life,” Sekar said, gesturing his hand to the doctors from left to right. “These are Dr. Karen Gulaba, Dr. Jesus Rodriguez, Dr. Edmund White and Professor Daniel Carter.” The M.D.'s shook hands with the two before taking a seat, Dr. Rodriguez returning to the computer.

“I'm terribly sorry for this morning's situation,” the professor apologized. “We had you in a medically induced coma, and when you were taken off your medication, we didn't think you'd awaken so quickly.” Sienna's brows furrowed at his words, which he quickly picked up on. "You haven't been told the full extent of your injuries, have you?" He scratched at his still-growing beard, sweat accumulating on his forehead as he exchanged glances with his colleagues. "I'll be blunt, Sienna, but what you're about to see may shock you. Please, sit."

Chapter Text

Beeping invaded the silence of the lab. An older man stood hunched over a metal table, busy with connecting wires and adjusting steel plates. "Almost done, and...there!" He closed the primary plate on his subject's skin and screwed it closed. "Go ahead and flex your wrist, Pyunma. Tell me how that feels." Pyunma held his right arm in his left and rolled his hand, opening and closing his palm several times. "Any discomfort or creaking you can detect?"

"None at all. It actually feels better than it did before. Thank you, Doctor." Pyunma flexed his hand one more time before hopping off the exam table. He pulled his arms over his head and stretched out every limb, the built-up tension leaving after hours of having to stay still. "I can almost say I feel like a new person." Twisting his torso, Pyunma let out an exasperated sigh. He'd had to hold still for almost three hours to allow Professor Gilmore to work on upgrades to his inner cybernetic workings, and though he was a patient man, even Pyunma had his limits on how long he could remain like a statue without his arms cramping. But the suffering was worth the final result. His upgrades were the last of his 00-cyborg siblings since their time of peace came. Following the defeat of both Black Ghost and the Mythos cyborgs four and a half months back, the proto-cyborgs went into hiding with Doctor Gillmore. They found refuge in a small town in northern Hokkaido, isolated from most of the humans on the island, in a research facility disguised as a luxury home in the mountains. Everything dedicated to cybernetic research was hidden well below ground, allowing Gillmore to conduct his research as he pleased without worry of him or his successors being detected.

The battles they all endured left the 00-cyborgs worn down to the bone. Once they were all settled in the home, Doctor Gillmore set each of the cyborgs up in the facility to examine their bodies. Though they were still alive, the majority of their systems were in bad shape, and the scientist took it upon himself to upgrade each of their bodies. He held a meeting with them in the common room one morning to discuss how they would go about being 'upgraded' - a term the larger half of them despised hearing. They were still human, after all, but even stubborn Jet knew their humanity was more of a figurative term than a physical aspect they could focus on. 001-004 weren't even from the same part of the 20th century as the others, and combined with the heavy use of cryosleep, synthetic growth hormones and many other scientific factors almost none of them understood, the lot had to face the hard truth that they weren't entirely human anymore. Even 009 started seeing the effects of constant experimentation on his own body. There were nights he found himself unable to sleep, days he went without eating, and one time he went swimming and stayed underwater for who knew how long. And after every fight against the Black Ghost and Mythos cyborgs, not once did he ever see a sign of exhaustion or aging across his face. The same could be said about the elder cyborgs, especially Albert and Chang; they had at least thirty years on him, neither he nor his young companions ever saw crow's feet or age spots appear on their skin. But everyone chose to retain what little humanity they had left in them - no matter how long their lives were extended - even if they had to be upgraded like a computer.

Doctor Isaac Gillmore examined each of the cyborgs before determining the order he'd upgrade them in. One at a time, they were checked out from head to toe, and he took notes on the key pieces of their cybernetic makeup that required repairs. Francoise and Joe required the least work, so their servicing was done first to allow them to assist the doctor in the others' repairs. Joe only needed a simple maintenance check, since his system was the newest of the proto-cyborgs' designs, and Francoise's linkup abilities were the only thing needing improvement. The upgrade allowed her to hack into computers with a simple touch and easily override any security systems, which was a great asset to have should any surviving piece of Black Ghost manage to track them down. Another important factor she asked to work on were her combat skills. Though she hated admitting it, Francoise knew she lacked the knowledge and technique in fighting her brothers possessed, and wanted to become more of a protector like them. Joe promised to help her learn how to use her dancing skills to gain the upper hand against an enemy.

After they were taken care of, Francoise and Joe assisted Doctor Gillmore with upgrading the others. Jet was first. The fuel tanks in his legs were beginning to fall apart after half a century of use, so they were replaced with the same high-grade titanium used in modern day fighter jets, letting him fly even faster than before while conserving fuel. Nobody asked how the doctor obtained military-grade fuel tanks. Chang's upgrades came next. He'd complained of discomfort in his throat and chest, and it was discovered that the protective lining used to insulate his esophagus from the flames he blew was deteriorating. Instead of simply replacing the lining, it was completely separated from his stomach and given its own connections at the base of his throat, and a new flame retardant was developed that he could consume to keep his insides from incinerating. The upgrade not only saved his esophagus, but allowed him to blow hotter flames without worrying about hurting himself. Geronimo's repairs were one of the more intricate and trickier of the upgrades. The steel sewn into the muscles underneath his skin was unfurling, and if it were left alone for any longer, risked puncturing his vital organs. Francoise and Doctor Gillmore spent thirteen straight hours removing every single steel fiber from Geronimo's musculature, then replaced it with a stronger, flexible tungsten-platinum blend. The switch allowed Geronimo more strength in what he lifted without needing to monitor the way he bent or twisted his body. Albert followed after him. The method of performing his upgrades were different from the others: most of his limbs were purely robotic, so there were no worries of accidentally slicing through a blood vessel. The worry only came when Gillmore hoped Albert would appreciate his more human look in comparison to the giant walking gun he was used to seeing in the mirror every day. The part that had him biting his nails the most was wondering what he'd think of his new eyes: a vibrant steel blue with working pupils that expanded and contracted, just like real eyes. GB's cells were given a small boost to let him change his appearance faster, and he often tested it on his friends to see how believable he could be with his newly expanded arsenal of disguises. Pyunma had water pressure sensors and distorters installed into his hands and on either side of his neck to let him manipulate water as he pleased, and when he tried it out for the first time following his surgery, he was more than pleased with the results.

Ivan's upgrades were the only ones Francoise and Joe could not assist him with. Being a baby made the procedure the most difficult, and as he explained to everyone, was the primary focus of the project. Ivan's body couldn't keep up with his brain; the long periods of sleep were proof of that. Doctor Gillmore's explanation of the upgrades to Ivan were something many scientists and normal people would consider controversial; then again, the initial experiments performed on the infant to make him what he was were well beyond that. The group held a vote before proposing the idea to Ivan, who needed a week to consider it before ultimately agreeing to the terms. Shortly after Ivan's transformation into a cyborg, his father developed a trial drug to induce rapid growth, something more than any growth hormone on the known and black markets could develop. It was expected to force his body to grow years in a matter of weeks, and by the end of the accelerated growth, he'd be the size of an average ten-year-old. Doctor Gillmore managed to get his hands on a sample of the drug and finished its development. Ivan was injected with the serum, and with substances to put him into a medically-induced coma, and to rapidly heal his body as it tore itself apart from the extreme growth. To further keep his body safe, Ivan was placed inside a specially crafted pressure chamber for the entirety of his upgrade. He was expected to be asleep for at least three months, and as the end of the period approached, Isaac was starting the plans for his physical and speech therapy.

Francoise was a much quicker learner than the men expected. By the time the first month passed she was able to successfully dodge many of Chang and Jet's attacks with little flaw in her movement. The second month had her targeting them and practicing in multiple mock scenarios, ranging from one-on-one battles to herself against everyone. She was able to hold her own by the middle of the third month, and even had GB on his toes when she was able to detect him in nearly all his disguises. The only thing she couldn't do physically was keep up with Joe and Jet's accelerated modes, though her eyes were beginning to learn how to track their rapid movements on the battlefield.

The cyborgs were settling into near-normal lives as they were repaired and the months passed. Jet made regular trips to New York City to visit the suburbs he grew up in and sent back plenty of pictures for his new family to see. Pyunma was occupied with the Peace Corps before his repairs and flew to the Congo to help the town he fought for many years before, and ended up dismantling the junta set up by rebels, giving the people control back over their lives. Everyone was off doing their own thing at one point or another, whether it was volunteering at orphanages or taking a personal vacation to rejuvenate themselves, and the long period of peace was nice to have after having their lives ripped from them. They were allowed to act human, if only for a moment.


"I was in a coma?"

It was the first thing out of the doctors' mouths following an apology for frightening her. "A medically induced coma, to be exact," the sole female doctor began to explain. "We had to allow your body the best chance to recover, so we took the stress of breathing off of you. Frankly, it's amazing you survived. You were unrecognizable when we found you." Before Sienna could ask the doctor what she meant, a motorized projection screen came down from the ceiling. The room darkened and a projection turned on, and Sienna's face turned white. A shriek escaped her when she started examining each picture of severe injuries to her entire body. "Both of your legs were broken, the left in five places. Your skull was badly fractured, which is what we believe to be the cause behind your memory loss. The worst of it all was your intestines leaking from your abdomen, and some shrapnel sticking out of your back near your spine. You were covered in bullet wounds as well, leading us to believe you got caught in some gunfire before we found you. Your right lung was punctured clean through by both the bullet and the shrapnel." Sienna couldn't look at the pictures anymore and buried her face in her hands. The doctors took the hint and turned off the projector, putting the lights back on.

Doctor White sat beside her and pat the top of her hand with his. "But look how wonderfully you've recovered. You're our little miracle!"

"I can't thank you all enough for saving my life," Sienna told them. "I'd be dead without your help. Wherever my family is, at least they'll know I'm alive and well." If they were ever able to find them," she said to herself quietly.

Sekar and the doctors led her on a tour of the remainder of the bio-research ward. The further they walked in, the longer she was left mouth agape and captured in awe of all the machinery. She was sure that even if she still had her memory, she never would've seen a finer hospital. They stopped after turning down a large hall, and when the doors to the last room swung open, the eerie air from before returned. Sekar sensed the woman's distress and laid a hand on her shoulder. "It's nothing serious, Sienna. The kind doctors just want to do a little check-up of your internal organs, make sure everything is at one-hundred percent."

"That's all? Your silence made it sound much worse." All the doctors except for Gulaba entered a sub-room with all the viewing monitors, while doctor Gulaba led Sienna behind a curtain with a medical gown in hand. She helped Sienna change into it and led her to the large MRI machine in the center of the room. After laying her down, blankets were placed over Sienna's body and the woman joined her colleagues in the sub room. A speaker shrieked to life in the upper corner of the room. "Can you hear me alright?"

"Yeah."

"Okay. We'll be inserting you into the machine before starting it up, so don't be scared when it starts making weird noises." Sienna nodded as the tray she laid on began to slide into the scanner. It stopped halfway down her body, and as expected, she heard a whirring sound erupt from the insides of the machine. "Just relax and lie still. It'll only take a couple of minutes." A low buzzing filled the small space as she drew in a breath, her eyes staring up while she waited for the scan to commence. Her eyes closed the longer she laid in place. A lump formed in her throat after a minute, followed by a slowly growing discomfort in the front of her skull. Her eyebrows scrunched together. "You're doing great, Sienna, but you look a little uncomfortable. Try to stay relaxed for me." The buzzing grew in volume, turning into a roaring motor that shook behind her eyes. Sienna cringed, the blankets balling when her hands clenched tight around them. Her brain rattled inside her skull, banging on the bone like concrete. Her legs curled inward. "What's wrong? You're tensing up," she barely heard over the intercom as pain spread all throughout her body.

"The...buzzing... Turn it OFF!" Sienna thrashed inside the scanner, throwing her hands out to either side of her body and pushing on the plastic. "Get me out of here!" She couldn't find the strength to crawl out of it; all her energy was sucked away by the extreme agony coursing through every single vein in her body. She grabbed at her hair and skin, feeling herself burn up and sweat profusely. "PLEASE!" Her hands flew out again, and the MRI scanner was consumed by a blinding explosion. Sekar and the doctors ducked under the desks, shielding themselves from broken glass and wires flying everywhere. When the blast calmed Professor Carter looked over the desk to see what was left of the scanner, and only found mangled metal and plastic pieces scattered all across the room.

Sekar stumbled out of the sub-room. "Sienna!" he yelled. The doctors followed him into the rubble, but immediately halted their tracks when all five pairs of eyes landed on the patient in question. Her eyes were still shut tight, jaw locked tight, and she floated two feet above the ground with her hands out on either side of her. "Sienna, you're-"

The woman's head lolled to the side and she collapsed into the rubble. The doctors rushed to her side and one scooped her into his arms. They ran to the nearest examination room and ripped open her gown to check her body for injuries. Blood oozed from her nose and ears as she was poked and prodded, Sekar wiping her face with a napkin. Sienna attempted to fight for consciousness, reaching her hands to her face and rolling her head to see what was happening. A needle was shoved into the vein on her left arm and she screamed. Her palm flew open and the doctor responsible for her IV was sent into a metal cabinet by an invisible force. The others stopped when they witnessed their colleague be thrown by nothing, and they all took a step away from her. Sienna sat up, panting and huffing in pain as she and everyone else watched the IV needle twist and bend in her arm, hooking through the vein. Another yell erupted from her throat and she fell backwards with another agonized scream. Sekar held her down by her shoulder and grabbed her face. "Sienna, you need to calm down! It's the only way we can remove the IV without hurting you! Take some deep breaths!" Her body shuddered as she tried to slow her breathing, and after a few minutes her heart rate was under the control. The needle unfurled and she immediately ripped it out from her vein. Panting, she buried her face in the crook of Sekar's neck and held onto him tight.

Doctor Rodriguez wiped his bloodied lip on his lab coat sleeve. "You...you bent the metal!" She shook her head. She had no clue what was going on. Pulling her gown closed, Sienna pulled her legs into her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The others remained silent, waiting to see what she'd do next. Minutes passed without Sienna doing or saying anything, and the tension thickened the air. Doctor Rodriguez scoffed and reached into his coat pocket, pulling a small handgun from its confines. Sienna immediately scooted as far from him as she could, hoping Sekar or anyone else would stop him from pointing the weapon at her. Carter and White stepped to either side of their patient and restrained her by her arms, keeping her in place.

"W-wait! What are you doing?"

"Just testing a theory." He pulled the trigger. Her eyes closed and she held her breath. The bullet fired at her. Sienna broke free from the doctors' restraints and shielded herself with her hands. The flying bullet slowed down and clanked against an invisible barrier before hitting the floor and rolling to Sekar's feet. He knelt down and picked it up, examining the bullet before handing it to Doctor Rodriguez. The man set his gun down and stepped closer to Sienna, showing her the metal fragment. "You dented the head all the way in, like a crater. My theory is correct." His eyes flashed to Sekar. "A word, sir?" The Black Ghost leader pat Sienna's shoulder once before leaving the room for a moment with Doctor Rodriguez as the others helped her back into her clothes. She was wary of the doctors now, ripping her clothes from their grasp every time they handed her something. Sekar and Rodriguez returned after a few minutes. "...I think it's time we held conference with General Frost and the other scientists."

Sienna jumped off the exam table and stood in the middle of the room, hands balled into fists. "Will someone tell me what the fuck is going on? What happened back there? What...what happened to me?" Sekar rushed to her without a word and embraced the woman as she freaked out in his arms.

"Sssh, relax first. How about we take an hour to rest before the conference, hmm?" Sienna nodded as he pet her hair, her heart rate normalizing after a few seconds. Sekar let her go and gave his attention to the doctors. "Take the hour to gather everyone. Sienna and I will join you before dinner."