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 abot, 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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
“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.
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.