Saturday, September 15, 2012

Lucky Lot


Roll: 2, 2, 1 - Cyberpunk, A Space Station, Weapons of Mass Destruction

“They’re at it again,” Lot declared as she entered the inner security chamber.  Her voice never rose above a casual comment, but it carried.
“What?  That’s the third virus this week.”  Leaving his own console behind, Morris crossed to meet her at her terminal, rubbing the numerals from his vision.  He stood on the other side of the monitor; nobody stood behind Lot, especially if they had balls to be crushed.
Lot slid onto the cracked leather stool with perfect grace, already typing before her weight settled.  “Life support will go down in five.”
“Seconds or minutes?”  With Lot, a calm tone did not declare a need not to panic.
The eerie mechanical irises of her eyes lifted from screen to him, grey and disapproving.
“Minutes then.”  Morris pushed his hand through his hair.  “It feels like it’s personal.  I always thought that we’re such a blip on their radar.  Hell,” he added, pulling a pack of PurLite cigarettes from his pocket, “We don’t even rank with our own anymore.”
She was back to work, typing away as she zipped through lines of code and files to find the root.  This version of the virus was bound to be as erratic as the last two, so finding it on-course was impossible, but there was always a root to pull.  “Speak for yourself.”
Cigarette halfway to his mouth, he stared.  “...Charlotte.”
“Charlotte,” he warned again.  He knew better than to touch her, but he didn’t train his voice to command soldiers for two decades without being able to put a little fear in even the hardest person.
She blinked and kept typing.
“Shit, Lot.  What did you do to piss them off?”
Her fingers stopped for just a moment.  There was no sound to signify it; the touch keyboards were silent even when there had once been a room full of them at work.  But he saw her arm muscles tense.  “I’m still breathing.  For what that’s worth, anyway.”  Her hands went to work again.
Realizing he chewed the filter off of his cig, he tossed it in the waste bin.  “So now they try to take down one hundred and twenty two thousand of us for one...”  Irritated as he was, he couldn’t find a word for it that wasn’t unnecessarily cruel.
Her flat tone could have been discussing the day’s menu.  “One hundred and twenty two thousand saved, from life support going down anyway.”  Already on her feet, Lot headed for the door without a moment of hesitation.  No pomp or celebration.  Back to duty.
He went against his better instincts and stepped in her way, though he gave her enough space to stop moving before they would touch.  Fool he might be, he wasn’t suicidal.  “Lot.”
It was the first time he could remember hearing irritation in her voice since...  Leaning to catch her gaze, he waited for it to focus on his face instead of calculating past his ear before he continued.  “I think it’s time you tell me what Project Mary really was.”
“Later.”  Knowing he wouldn’t try to restrain her, she stepped around him and slipped through the door.

Charlotte sucked in a breath that only half-filled her lungs, the muscles catching painfully.  

It was getting worse by the week.  
Six months passed from when they saved her from the science station and no one had once asked her about the project.  Six months since they found her dying in the science lab with a Project Mary toe tag and brought her back to duty on the Corona.
Six months since they did exactly what the Rebels expected them to.
The heat of the shower turned her skin crimson but it was the only way she knew how to bathe anymore.  One hundred and twenty two thousand of us for one...  Morris’ words burned into her, hotter than the spray.
In six months, she heard every term in the book muttered under the breath of those she “served” with: technomutt, cyberfreak, robocunt (her favorite), and so forth.  The Commonwealth Of The New Technological World banned physical cyber enhancement a decade ago, but it didn’t stop the Rebels from playing TechnoGod, with her and hundreds of other prisoners over the years.  Most of them died from the experiments.
But she was special.  Lucky Lot survived.
That was her old moniker; the new nickname she used for herself was worse than all of the stupid comments any of the Corona crew could ever say.  How could they know?
She was Dead Cyborg Walking.

“Permission to be excused from the ship, sir.”
Commander Morris noticed the change in Charlotte’s posture as she took military resting stance in front of his desk.  Instead of seeming cold and distant, her nerves showed.  Watching her for a short time, he sipped his Darjeeling.  “You owe me a story, Lot.  I won’t excuse you until you get it, so if this is a ploy to get out of-”
“On the contrary, Theodore.  I think that when I tell you about Project Mary, you will be all too ready to let me go.”
The use of his given name for the first time in several years brought him up out of his chair.  To cover the sudden, frantic movement, he offered to fetch her tea.
And for the first time since her return to the Commonwealth, she accepted.  When they were both settled, she leveled her metallic stare upon him.
It still took everything he had not to shy away from the look, and knowledge that her mechanical eyes were able to see too much about him.  “What did they do to you, Lot?”
“You all think they enhanced me to make me stronger,” she began, warming her fingers on the ceramic in her hands.  “But you were wrong, and I’ve never corrected you.  My enhancements were never to improve me.  They were to keep me alive.  Until I could serve my purpose.”
He frowned.
“You see, Theodore...”  She relished what would be the last time she held permission to use his given name.  “...I’m dying.  My human body is wasting away of a disease that they invented, a virus.  And when I die, and the cybernetics lose power, I will no longer be the only victim.”
As his hands began to shake, his teacup rattled in the saucer and a single word burst from his lips: “Mary.”
The lenses behind her gaze shifted with a click, resisting but unable to stop a single tear that slid down her cheek and into her mug.  “You see... The Rebels are smarter than we give them credit for.  They let you save me, only to damn yourselves.  This is why they keep attacking life support.  They’ve decided I wasn’t wasting fast enough.  They’ve decided that... it’s time to end the war, no matter the cost.
“And I’m their checkmate.”