That evening, 6 implanted pilots and two non-implanted went out for for some fun. Their lyft arrived, scooting them across town into parts where respectable people lived. Bundled up warm against the October chill, they cheered for their Cubs. Pilots are all a little weird. And when a foul ball knocked up into the stands, they’d all watched it’s arc with keen eyes. Observing, analising; the instincts of the machine that flowing into the organic mind. All pilots ended up logical.
Hours later they sat at a table in a bar, Wen and Ferdinand playing darts, while the pilots spoke. Chris found himself in the middle of the group, and he noticed that everyone kind of looked at him. Friendly, respectful even while out. No one really ripping on him. Even here, Hawker’s shadow loomed.
“Give it to us straight. Is Nine still the big aloof fuck when you pilot him?” Becker inquired, on his 8th beer of the night.
“C’mon, you can’t be asking that! Hey, I wanna know too!”
Chris had a cider, he’d had enough beers at the ballpark. “Wellllll, I suppose I can spill the beans.” he teased the group. “Yes, yes he fucking is.” he lied to the disappointed group.
“Dude, I’ve seen him around you. He never takes his gaze off until you leave them room. He puts himself between anyone and you, too. And He was carrying you the other day.” Becker insisted.
The greenhorn devoured a nacho, as he’d reached for the plate in the middle of the table; his sleeve pulled up and showed off a dark mark from where Hawker had rubbed too firmly. “He’s not impersonal. It’s not like he doesn’t want me around or any of that. He prefers a professional relationship. I know that’s boring and not fun at all to speculate about. But that’s really all there is.” He finished off the cider, putting it down in the middle the table next to five others.
“Damn Chris. I’ve never seen someone your size put away booze like that.” Jane pointed out, making sure that the rookie got a water for his next round. “Drink up, you need to hydrate.”
They talked and joked, making Chris get up to play darts against Tsung. Who SOUNDLY beat the unskilled and sloshed rook. “Damn girl! Are you this good at everything you do?” CHris asked, pulling a dart out of the wall before getting back to the line and throwing again.
“Yes, Always.” SHe grinned, eyes flashing with intensity. “You know, you should do training with me.” As Chris tossed his three darts, at least two hit the board this time. He stepped to the side and went back to his water. “Neurospace. I can teach you.”
Celn watched her throw, inner and outer bullseye; then a 17. He didn’t understand the rules of darts, he just nodded as she wrote down the results on the chalkboard. “Okay. I’ve got time. I’m sure there’s free space in the stations.”
She went on to smoke him for another three games before he gave up.
By the end of the night, there were two feelings Chris had. One, he felt closer to all of them. Even Becker, who had no problem saying how he wished he’d had a chance to try out with Hawker. “You know, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind having a backup pilot. You can always give it a go. I’ll ask him if you want.” Chris had teased, pulling out his phone. Becker didn’t say no, so Chris typed it up, daring the jock-sure pilot to tell him no. THe second feeling he’d had was a sense of protectiveness. Like a pack watching out for the youngest cub. THey all seemed worried about him, dropping little hints here and there.
Around 0200, a giggling Chris had sent the text from the back of the cab; as Becker tried to steal the kid’s phone while Wen kept him back. “You said you WANTED it hot shot! Now he’s gonna crush ya under his boot!” She giggled.
=Hawker! We’re at O’Lear’s pub. Becker says he wants to try out for a backup pilot position. Incase I get put ‘on suspension.’ He didn’t say no! Haha, you’re gonna smash him.= Chris followed it up with a photo of all of them mugging for the camera while Becker sulked.
Sometime around 1100, Chris woke up with a HELL of a hangover. He’d ended up on the floor of his room. The rest of the day he lazed about as his muscles ached and his bruises throbbed. By Friday he’d gotten back to normal, waking at 0900 and making his way through HLX-9 documentation when he’d gotten a text from Colburn. ‘Engineering, room d-2.’
Coffee in hand, barely limping, Chris walked into D-2. THe room had a number of interesting pieces of equipment, looked like .. textile manufacturing? “There you are.” came the Chief Engineer’s pleased voice. “We’re going to get you properly scanned in for custom piloting suits. As much as we’d like to keep putting you into Lee’s old ones, we got the budged to run the loom. AND, to be fair, you just don’t have the same kind of body layout.”
The mech decided to tune into the game – a way to feel part of the action. Hawker didn’t know much about baseeball, but a quick download of a guide changed that. Lee had been more into hockey, and the two had watched plenty of Blackhawks games over the years. The man even joked about starting a mech-only hockey league when he retired, and during his more inebriated moments made Hawker help him draft up rules.
The concept of sports intrigued him, and it was nice to watch a game again for the first time since… well. And it was nice that it wasn’t hockey, he realized as he watched a foul came sailing down into the stands with the crowd rushing up to meet it, scrambling for a souvenir. Eight home runs later and the Cubs take the game with a 3-bagger at the bottom of the 8th. As far as he could tell, it’d been a fantastic game.
Later, a text message roused him from sleep – a little tap, almost, on the inside of his helmet. Systems onlined – 0211? The mech, otherwise still as as a statue on his maintenance slab and optics unlit, cracked a smile.
Hawker! We’re at O’Lear’s pub. Becker says he wants to try out for a backup pilot position. Incase I get put ‘on suspension.’ He didn’t say no! Haha, you’re gonna smash him.
Then, immediately after, a photo with stereoscopic metadata of everybody cramming their faces together, grinning like idiots. All except for Cory Becker, who was rubbing at his face in embarrassment. The visual depth information added character to the image and made Becker’s reaction just that much more amusing. Hawker hoped that he’d actually get a chance to show that kid a thing or two in neurospace and it wasn’t just the booze talking.
Tell him that I’m ready, whenever he happens to grow a pair. A chuckle. Now, you kids have fun and don’t stay out all night. He ended it with a grinning devil emoji.
He re-engaged his low-power mode, happy that his boy was finally having a good time.
The specially-designed c-can fit Hawker like a giant metal coffin, and he was glad to finally be able to step out once they’d arrived at the clean room facility in Rockford. His optics had to re-calibrate themselves to the glaring white light that refracted off of the white linoleum floor, the glossy white walls, and the starched white labcoats of the technicians that were there to admit him. And this was only the receiving area.
Chris and one of Colburn’s assistants stepped out of the passenger end of the truck, blinking in the bright light too.
“Welcome to the Mobile Fission Systems lab, Mr. Celn,” said one of the engineers, reaching out to Chris for a shake before turning to the mech and the assistant, respectively. “HLX-9, Mr. Nguyen, welcome back. Now, I’m not sure how much you know about what work we’ll be doing this weekend,” he said, smiling and adjusting his thick glasses, “But I’ll try to keep it short and sweet…”
The procedure, swapping his generation-VI pool-type reactor with an even smaller, generation-VII loop-type, was scheduled to take two 10-hour days. The benefits? Hawker’s “backpack” silhouette would be slimmed down by a good 19 inches and would benefit from requiring even less cooling material due to an improved rapid heat exchange system design.
Hawker would be conscious, his energy needs temporarily met by being plugged into the grid and his entire haptic network disabled, effectively rendering him numb and paralyzed. As for relieving boredom?
“We’ve got a small drone frame you can occupy if you’d like, though it’d have to be wired. You can also play some games if you’re into that sort of thing.” Hawker eyed his pilot, knowing the kid had at least a passing interest in gaming. “Or there’s always internet…”
“I guess I could try my hand at one of those shoot-em-ups,” the mech said with some bemusement. Lee was never interested in the hobby, and as a result the mech hadn’t ever bothered. Why? Sims and neurospace were than fantastical enough. And the physics in those things were at least realistic.
“What do you think, kid?”
Later, Hawker found himself strapped into a custom-fitted pipe frame that was part operating table, part gyroscope. And, like everything else around here, painted a bright, glossy white. The team doing the work were dressed in white coveralls, gloves, face masks, goggles, booties over their shoes, and every single strand of hair tucked away under a cap, which was in turn tucked away under a white hood. Nguyen was there to monitor the progress, but Chris was behind glass.
Someone standing on a gantry behind him opened up the back of his helmet and began plugging in thick cables that dangled down from the ceiling, screwing them in tight. Hawker’s mind was suddenly aware of the lab’s server systems like a series of doors down a hallway had opened in succession, and he was officially free to roam.
I’ll see you in a few, kiddo, he sent to Chris’ phone just as the manipulating arms of the frame whirred to life and he was slowly lowered into position: face-down and mere inches from the floor.
“Did you get the brief about today?” Inquired Colburn as she inspected the readouts on the equipment. THe right side of the room is a mountain of dust covers. It’s obvious that the equipment is used almost never and must cost a fortune to run. THe techs are busy changing out tanks of raw material.
“No ma’am. I’ve been enjoying my time off by not moving much and going over HLX-9 technical information.” His coffee is the perfect temperature, and Chris savored several long pulls.
“Up until now you’ve been in modified pilot suits. Two of Lee’s, that have not been giving proper connectivity. Only 85% or so on the feedback. You may have noticed that when piloting, things felt incomplete; like your leg was asleep.” Several of the machines had tags that read ‘PROPERTY OF US GOVERNMENT. UNIT 04 of 10, PRODUCED BY SPECIALIZED ENGINEERING.’ What ever these are, they’d been made in small numbers at great expense. “Take your clothes off Celn. You’re about to get wrapped up in a fresh piloting suit. One that’s actually yours.”
Chris decided to finish off the drink before getting completely naked in front of Colbrun and several strangers. SOme of his oldest bruises had disappeared. Others hung around, as the crescents from every bite still made arcs over his otherwise smooth skin. As he reached for the straps of his jock, (Obviously enjoying showing off that he is a fit, thin twink), one of the techs shouted “WOAH! WOah WOah there greenhorn! Keep your underwear on, we just need you mostly nude.”
Colburn looked, a sigh escaping her nose. “Get up on that big gantry, the one that has the 10 foot orange doughnut.” At least Chris didn’t look worse.
The twink climbed up the equipment, the laid down on the smooth metal. The doughnut moved from his head to toes, slowly rotating as it scanned him with a bright green line of light. As it mapped his body, the thick cables that connected it to the other machines began to create the complex layers of the pilot suit. Layers of breathable synthetic fibers. Layers of sensors, connective wires with enough slack to be flexible. Each one positioned correctly for Chris’s unique human physiology. After fifty minutes, the skin-right suit emerges from the curing oven.
“Once it’s cool enough to wear, put it on. I’m not expecting you to need it, but we don’t know could happen on your trip.” Colburn seemed distracted, or aloof. Practically silent treatment in comparison to her normal chatty self.
“My trip?” Chris inquired, touching the suit’s thick knee pads. The rubber smell strongly of chemicals, reminded him of burning oil.
“You’re going with the HLX-9 to get it’s reactor swapped out. Should only take two, maybe three days. Afterward it’ll have enough power for 3 to 10 years, depending on power usage. You’ll be along to watch and pilot it in an emergency. Shit should be wearable.”
The greenhorn slid into the still warm, odorous outfit. THe fresh material clung to his body, gripping him in all the right places. Suited up with the sipper at his neck, it felt natural. Perfect. Not like how Lee’s hand-me-downs sort of hugged him. “Feels good. Warm, like a heating pad all over.”
“Hope you get used to it, you’ll be in it for the whole weekend.” Colburn grinned with an evil chuckle. “It needs to ‘learn’ your body. Yes you can take a shower. Rinse the suit, wipe down the interior and put it back on. And yes, you can be nude in it. Just don’t flop out around here. Get packed, and you might want to wear something over that. It has almost no thermal retention.”
Chris had gone commando after getting to his room. Colburn was up to something, he just didn’t know what. And the suit! It still hugged him perfectly, a second skin.
Thankfully the ride up had been calm and devoid of incident.
Chris checked his phone, then looked around the room. THere is a rather dull looking robot in a gantry, roughly the side of a normal human. Faceless and genderless; it’s dark grey frame mixed with bits of chrome and milky-while plastic.
“Geez. Guess I’m going to get to see what makes you tick. I bet it’s boring looking.” He put his hands on the glass, peering down into the room. His gloved hands made little squeaky sounds on the transparent material. He’d love to pit Hawker against Tsung in some team deathmatch.
He wandered around for a little bit, feeling out the place. It was all uninteresting, and most of it off-limits to him besides, so the mech headed for some new accommodations.
First thing he noticed is that the drone body fit more like a sock puppet than a second skin, with the rest of him “exposed”. Still, it would do. Right? Hawker disengaged the latches holding the 300-pound thing to its rack and stepped out, looking over at the thing.
“This is terrible,” he muttered flatly, voice coming out over a speaker. It didn’t even have a vocal modulator! He ham-fisted his cybernetic consciousness into every possible component of the little body and found that it was a poor facsimile of what he was used to. Even the little camera in the face whirred and clicked as it went in and out of focus. He finally lifted his monocular gaze to the young man standing at the window, his body handsomely hugged by a deliciously utilitarian piece of technology. “Oh, well look who we have here.”
Not nearly as imposing as he was used to being, but… the mech was not necessarily one to walk away from a moment of adversity.
“Oh, well look who we have here.” Chris turned, arms dropping to his sides as he walked toward the thing that Hawker is puppeteering.
Puppet is a good word, thick black cables emerged from the back of the android and fed up into a spool that hung over the gantry. THe robot stood exactly 6 feet tall, still 6 inches on Celn. The rookie stood before his ‘diminished’ partner with a wry grin on his face. One hand on an elbow, the other stroking his chin. THe fresh flight suit left nothing to the imagination; every adorable inch of the Twin pilot is on display. THe kid’s coat and the small duffel sat on a chair in the room, having come into the observation chamber.
“I was right, your voice is terrible through a speaker.” He leaned left and right, taking in the full sight of his repackaged lover. “If you could smell right now, You’d know I’ve got that buried-oil scent of fresh rubber.” Then, he experimentally put a hand on the chestplate of the small Hawker, and pushed.
Unsurprisingly, the robotic body leaned back before the mechanisms within the ankles brought the machine up to level again. What Hawker though about Chris having the power to push him around?
“I was right, your voice is terrible through a speaker.”
He was about to say something, but the logic centers of his DF2-enabled mind were suddenly overwhelmed as Chris drew near enough to push him. Push him! The hand felt all wrong, the strength it had compared to what he was used to –
Skinny little legs stumbled to catch his measly weight before toppling over like a plastic toy.
“Oh hoh, we’ve got a big shot now, do we?” He tried to smile through his voice though it was damn difficult. This whole thing was going to lose its novelty pretty quickly, wasn’t it? “My size all that’s keeping you in line, huh? Hm, we’ll see… about that.” The drone body was quick, at least. He had Chris by the wrists, suppressing the headache-inducing errors he was getting about the human being too big to make sense and shoved him against the wall with a hard, metal knee keeping his shapely thighs apart as the camera-optic took in the new suit.
“Maybe this body’s not so bad after all…”
It’s not that Hawker’s normal body is slow, but it is LARGE. And with that size, you see the motion of a limb, feel the air displaced as a mass of metal game rushing toward you. The little mech body is surprisingly fast, gathering his arms and yanking them upward with enough force to make his shoulders ache. Chris grunted, able to exert enough effort to make the mech’s hands move apart! A few seconds is all he had, then it easily crossed his wrists, holding them in it’s left hand as the right came down. The knee between his thighs is exciting, Chris felt his blood pumping.
The android moved like hawker did, it had the same confident swagger. THe same care with how it put down each footstep. At that size, it’s direly important not to crush anything unless you mean it. Still Chris isn’t exactly helpless.
“I like you down to earth. I think we ought to see about getting you something this size to tromp around the station with.” He slid his left leg along the inside of the robot’s, wondering if there were sensors to feel the sensation.
“You’re still on a leash.” he nodded, indicating the cables that were halfway spooled out. “I think this frame is missing some important equipment. And depth perception.” He playfully tapped his forehead to the face plate, leaving a smudge.
“How long?” spoke one of the observers, all of them watching from cameras not in the room. The Observation chamber Chris Celn stood in is made almost entirely made of transparent material. Some metallic girders, the floor, and the metal doors were the only things blocking the multi-angle view of the room.
“53 seconds.” spoke a second.
“That’s.. not exactly your normal aggression.” said one from a remote location.
“No. Kid’s not afraid either.” said a fourth.
“His heart rate’s up though. The biosensor readouts are fantastic.” said the second.
“You had a long enough drive to calibrate them.” retorted the first.
“So now what?” Pretty sure this answers some raised issues.” said a fifth.
“See how far it progresses. If this ends up being a case of Ai & Human relations, then we’ve made a mountain out of a molehill.” summed up the original speaker.
The drone has more angles than Hawker was used to, like it was made from two-by-fours and popsicle sticks. But it made Chris’ discomfort at the square, straight-lined knee joint just that much more. A finger traced down the zipper along his spine. The mech growled in frustration at not being able to feel it.
“I like you down to earth. I think we ought to see about getting you something this size to tromp around the station with.”
“I could tie you down and fuck you in your own rack,” the mech said quietly, square head leaning in close to Chris’ ear. “Fit all my fingers around your neck.”
“I think this frame is missing some important equipment. And depth perception.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
Hawker used the drone’s free hand to do something he’d been wanting to do, though: snake his fingers through the short-cropped hair and jerk the sensitive filaments taught between the fingers of a sudden fist, yanking Chris’s head back. Metal knuckles dug into his scalp. He left no room for play, his grip was too complete.
“Was that sass I heard, scabber?”
Hawker might not have felt the zipper, but there’s no way he could miss Chris’s reaction. The boy gasped, chest lifting up as the machine played to the things he enjoyed so much. Being powerless, under the control of another.
“Fit all my fingers around your neck.” A hard shudder and through the greenhorn, and the lump in his suit grew down his left leg. “Fuck Hawker, sometimes I think I’m the AI the way you mash my buttons!” He firmly presses his leg against the puppet-droid, enough to make the bot need to re-adjust. He could sense the frustration, the way that Hawker grabbed at him, at least his partner would notice him struggling.
Chris half-lids his eyes at feeling metallic fingers in his soft hair, saving the way they slid over his scalp. The sudden jolt had him YELP! Tears formed and dripped down from the corners of his eyes. His breath hitched, then he licked over his lips and huffed. Neck exposed, he inhaled a sharp hiss.
“You aren’t supposed to reward sass, Captain.” He smirked, despite behind held quite immobile. “So no Sir, I’d say it wasn’t.”
Observer one lit a pipe, shaking the match out once the tobacco began to glow. “That’s unexpected.”
“The Deep Field 2 is absolutely working on wiped protocols.” said two.
“What about the new pilot? I don’t need biosensors to see what’s happening.” spoke four.
“Did you read his full background?” inquired the remote observer.
“Skimmed it.” admitted five. “He’d either end up with a hero complex, or repeat what’d been done to him.”
“Or, take a third option. Be a hero, and relive it.” one added with a puff on the pipe.
“Seem well-matched then. All in favor of marking this as resolved, pending further developments?” Within moments, 4 to 1 for closing the investigation.
“Good, on to the issue with the USS Saratoga..”
He could hear, he could see, and that was about it. But he could hear Chris’s breath sluice roughly down his little windpipe, he could see the bobbing of the Adam’s apple, the wince, the wetness at the corners of his bright eyes.
Hey, maybe the kid was onto something.
Then that cheeky little grin that he wanted to lick and chew right off!
“You aren’t supposed to reward sass, Captain. So no Sir, I’d say it wasn’t.”
The droid had practically no codpiece to speak of; it was just angular enough for him to shove roughly up against the kid’s ass, knowing that, even in this dumb body, he was capable of coaxing blood into all the right places.
But when Hawker went to kiss at his pilot’s painfully exposed neck and realized, all too late, that he couldn’t. He stopped, let his monocular face come to rest on Chris’ shoulder, and the speaker emitted a long, self-defeated chuckle. “I don’t have a mouth,” he said, releasing the human at the absurdity of it. “Don’t think you’re off the hook, meatboy. I’ll get pushups out of you for that one later.”
Clad in tight fitting rubber, held fast by his partner, new aches. Chris rested wanted to move, he tried to put his chin on the puppet-bot’s smooth domed face. He could perhaps move a fraction of an inch before the thousands of hair follicles shrieked with pain, and he drew in a shuddering gasp. His forearms flexed, biceps pushing out against the rubber. It holds tight enough to his body that as he breathes in, it pulls in to show off where his abs are, and where his ribcage beings.
“I don’t have a mouth.”
Chris had no doubt that if Hawker had full equipment in his current size, that their sexual tension would have erupted into multiple messy conclusions. He grunted in the sudden need that had built up, feeling the same deflation in the inability for the down of the to come to a satisfying conclusion. When released he didn’t rub his wrists and cry, he didn’t carefully stroke over the ache that tingled along his scalp.
He dropped an arm over the shoulder of his partner, reaching up to tug playfully on those thick cables. “Deal. Actually didn’t feel dead when I woke up this morning, which is nice.” His other hand came up, and he sensuously ran his thumb down the center of that faceplate. Squeeeeeak. “Looking forward to healing up, be fun to see what you do to a clean canvas.”
Stepping back, his rubbery body looked slightly mechanical, as if he’d been dipped in technology. “Seeing as we’ve got a couple of days to work out our boredom, let’s play some Halo 12. If Tsung is on, I want to see how well you do against her.” He walked over to the TV, pausing for a moment as he reached for the remote. His sleek shoulders and perky rear filled out the backside of that suit.
“Do you feel like you’re being watched?” He looked out the windows, but aside from the technicians doing their best to disassemble Hawker; there is no one. “Just.. huh. Kinda weird that they stuck us up here.” TV on he flumped down on the couch, scrolling through options.
“Any graffiti in that body? ‘Killroy was here’ on the processors?” He brought up the game, picking up a controller. “Allright; whoever wins a round gets to ask the other a question. Or a Dare. Dares work too. You up for a little bonding with your pilot?”
“What’s that smell?” Kole asked, sniffing the at the air in the mech’s suite. “I noticed it when I talked to him the other day, but I guess I didn’t think much of it.”
Colburn took one short whiff, and scanned the space for only a second before her eyes settled on the red towel on the floor in the corner. She put two and two together pretty quickly, not even needing to investigate that further. “That’s what Hawker’s fluid smells like.”
Kole made a face, hands on his hips. “His..!” The sergeant cut himself off, exhaling sharply out his nose, rubbing at his face, then looked around for something to kick. That something was one of the supports for the mech’s oversized desk. “Dammit, Colburn! Why didn’t we see it! Why didn’t…!”
“Because we trusted him too much!” snapped the Chief. The picture of Hawker pushing Celn to the floor of the motor pool and yelling, baring his teeth like a Grizzly out for blood, came to mind.
“Hawker’s our heavy hitter, Cora,” Kole said, upset enough to use her first name. “We’d need a team of four HLX-7s just to replace ‘im. And Celn…”
“Celn’s in denial. He’s protecting the AI because he put all his eggs in Hawker’s basket. He thinks his career and his future depend on putting up with this shit.” She paused, sucked in a breath. “When he gets back, you need to pull him aside and tell him that his career isn’t going anywhere, that at the end of the day, they both answer to you. If we give him the space, he might be able to pull himself out.”
The rumble of a small engine sounded behind them, along with the irritating beep beep beep so characteristic of construction equipment. The cherry-picker was here, and so were the electricians who would be installing the surveillance equipment.
Colburn waved the small crew in. “Which is why,” she continued, speaking quietly as Kole drew nearer, “We won’t give them any more opportunities to be alone.”
“I got one question, Chief,” Kole muttered, scowling deeply. “Why in the hell did you leave that shit in there?”
“I’m still learning too, Gideon,” she shot back. “I figured that you cut off a guy’s dick while he’s under and he’s liable to notice. No matter who he is when he wakes up.”
“Is that… stuff at least safe?”
“You’d think I’d let him anywhere near 42 if it wasn’t? It’s dimethicone. A silicone lubricant thinned with water.”
“No wonder I recognize the smell,” Kole grunted, then turned his attention toward the crew. “Yeah, yeah. Right up there. Yeah, the door. Above the door.”
Quietly again: “I wanna give them one last chance to come clean, sir,” Colburn said. “We confront the both of them. I’ll talk to Chris, you talk to Hawker, then we bring everybody together in a nice little pow-wow and lay it all out. See if we can’t force somebody’s hand before we get the DOJ involved.”
“Sarah, it’s worth a shot.”
Back in Rockford, Hawker had released his much more evenly-matched pilot from his pin against the wall. Already he missed his own body, missed what it could do. Missed the way Chris felt against real sensors. Whatever, it was just a weekend.
“Deal. Actually didn’t feel dead when I woke up this morning, which is nice.”
“Don’t get used to it,” was the smug retort. Distantly he felt weight on the thing’s shoulders; Chris’ arm had come to rest around them like they were totally besties. Out in the clean room, Hawker’s body groaned faintly. His very attractive, very delightfully engaging little pilot was killing him right now. However, the big grump couldn’t imagine having it any other way.
“Looking forward to healing up, be fun to see what you do to a clean canvas.”
…And that was why.
“I’d like to see what you could look like with a little more premeditation,” he said, letting the drone’s fingers casually brush over the bulge in that brand-new suit as he took a few steps back. Hawker didn’t want to see the kid wear anything else ever again.
“Seeing as we’ve got a couple of days to work out our boredom, let’s play some Halo 12.”
“It may be hard to believe, but I haven’t ever touched one of those video game things.” Then, deadpan: “I prefer shooting real people. You’re going to have to your your boss the ropes, it looks like.”
“Do you feel like you’re being watched?”
He scoffed. “42’s crawling with cameras. What I’m not used to is privacy.”
“Just.. huh. Kinda weird that they stuck us up here.”
The mech honestly thought nothing of it. “The precinct belongs to the city, the MFT Lab is a Department of Defense installation. They’ve got their way of doing things, and it doesn’t always make any sense.” He glanced outside at himself: cables poured out his backside while the team of technicians, looking like bizarre snow monsters, had already managed to remove the armor plating covering his back, and were taking great pains to set the enormous and heavy pieces aside in some kind of order.
Chris had flopped down on the couch in front of the TV, looking better by the minute in that Chris-shaped rubber cocoon. Hawker was glad he was paralyzed out there, otherwise he might be showing his own chub.
“Any graffiti in that body? ‘Killroy was here’ on the processors?”
The mech laughed. “No, but…” He created a little file, tucking it away in the firmware that ran the pelvic servos. Chris’ ass was here/. “…there is now.” He followed his charge over to the sofa and carefully sat down, quite unused to the whole idea of sitting on soft, uneven things that yielded to weight. When he got his bearings, he scooted in closer to Celn, letting their knees touch as he fired up the game. If it was in stereoscope Hawker couldn’t tell with that one damn camera-eye, but it wasn’t really any matter anyways, as he quickly discovered that he could sink himself right into the game environment. No controller necessary.
“Truth or dare? Don’t think I’ve played that one either, but you should know me by now. I expect to win.”
“You up for a little bonding with your pilot?”
The drone’s head cocked to the side a bit and he stroked up the kid’s thigh, letting that hand give a squeeze just beside that enticing swell in the rubber. “Who said anything about bonding? I’m here to kick your ass,” he said with a laugh.
Colburn chuckled, a smile pulling back her lips. “He won’t notice because there’ll be nothing to see. We’re putting them in behind screens or dark plastic panels. And we’re installing two in his alcove to cover the places the normal cameras don’t cover.”
At 52, Kole’s shaved head could wrinkle up impressively when concerned, which it hadn’t stopped sense they’d discovered the evidence. “And what about data transmissions? He can intercept wireless on the fly.”
“Fiberoptic. Literally. The light from the room is captured by the lense and goes down cables. Outside the ‘office’ we’re putting in a box. That’ll be plugged into an ethernet cable, the storage server sits in my office. For now, only you and I will have access.” She outlined the plan to spy on the exceptionally advanced mech.
“So.. not even trying to fool him, going low tech?” He placed the camera back with the others. Already the crew is busy putting in the first one behind one of the hundreds of monitors.
“I’d put a periscope in if I had the opportunity.” Her voice is tight, she couldn’t get the situation out of her mind. “Except I don’t want anything that could move, Nine would sense the change in air pressure.”
Kole held a length of bubble wrap in his hands, liberated from the equipment cart. Starting at the top right corner, he began to methodically pop each and every one down the row. He calmly walked to stand next to the chief engineer, his voice nearly silent. “Thinking about what Nine told me. In this light..” snap pop plick, the bubbles burst as he white-knuckled them into oblivion.
“Don’t worry, I’ll clean up in here. Nothing like seeing the kleenex in the trashcan to let you know the jig is up. Trust me, I’ve raised four boys.” She could see the stress wearing on the older sergeant, the vein in his forehead throbbed.
“This had better work.” Kole intoned, hands working aggressively through the bubble wrap. “And remind me, never do anything that requires Celn to be lucky.”
Despite the ugly possibilities of what’d happened where they stood, Cora couldn’t help but chuckle. She caught Gideon’s furrowed brow and the both started for a long moment. The need to release the combined tension resulted in the two of them laughing for a long minute. After all the kid had been through, only to end up facing this?
Sometimes, it was all you could do.
“I’d like to see what you could look like with a little more premeditation.”
Chris raised his eyebrows, a hopeful grin exposing his teeth. “Oh my, did I get the captain flustered?” Hip-thrusting into the air, the fresh rubber ensuring his bulge made the rubbed audibly squeak. “Going off half-cocked, just shotgunning at the target?” he teased.
Perhaps the best part of the suit is what it represented. The black material shined with the metallic sensors, positioned to monitor every single part of Chris’s body. Stripped of it’s secrets, nothing below the neck would be hidden from the machine while the greenhorn wore it. What would it be like to feel that ultra-smooth material embracing his three-foot dick with Chris inside?
“Truth or dare? Don’t think I’ve played that one either, but you should know me by now. I expect to win.”
That one had Chris laughing, pushing his shoulder into the robot on the couch. “THe things you don’t know. Man. I forget you’re all business sometimes.” he shook his head, then explained. “It’s simple. The winner earns the right to ask a single question, and the other has to answer truthfully. Or, if the loser doesn’t want to answer then he has to do a dare. Dares could be humiliating, silly or embarrassing. However, they should be quickly accomplished and done with things in the room. Daring me to suck your finger for a minute would be acceptable. Daring to me cut off my hand isn’t.”
“Who said anything about bonding? I’m here to kick your ass!”
“Oh really? Then let’s just see what you can do, and you don’t have long to figure this out. Tsung’s on, once she gets out of her current match she’ll mop the floor with you.”
Hawker_HLX9 entered the tutorial as his pilot typed out a message to Tsung. He found himself in a poorly rendered environment. The view rendered at 60 fps, and ONLY where he looked. THe only other means of threat detection was a small mini-map. Five seconds in, Hawker found several forums on an AI blog where he PROPERLY learned how the game worked. Angles for tossing indirect weapons, how the different fictional firearms work, the distance that melee worked. And of course, the optimal position to teabag an opponent’s corpse.
“I hope you’re ready. She can kick my ass one-handed.” Hawker_HLX9 and LunaChris are on red, 2Tsungdre4U as the only blue in a private arena deathmatch; best of 5.
He knocked on the door to Detective Costa’s office. “It’s open,” came the preoccupied voice inside.
“Hey Costa, I wanna pick your brain about domestic abusers for a minute. Got a case I’m working on and I wanna… refresh my memory about the type.” The plastic found its way into the waste basket and Kole sat down.
Even after downloading every bit of easily accessible information he could find about the game, he was still hideously unimpressed with his performance. If the drone had a face, it would be darkened by a heavy scowl.
“This is supposed to be fun?” the mech grunted, the words appearing in the chat simultaneously. His character, some low-poly teal monstrosity, couldn’t even look straight up. The rendering engine gave him more of a headache than Chris’ dream even had.
And suddenly he was dead.
Chris was howling with laughter as Hawker’s drone body just sat there, watching as the polite, studious, and very talented miss Beth Sung positioned her character over Hawker’s dead body and repeatedly assumed a crouch above its head before he was whisked away to the starting point again.
Oh hell no.
First order of business was to at least make it feel like he could move a little more naturally. With lightning speed he muscled his way into the game engine and shoved in a few lines of code that would allow him to render himself. When he pulled out and back into the game a few seconds later, his game asset suddenly had a few more bones. He held up his Spartan’s hand to the camera, wiggling the fingers, then flashing a thumbs-up.
“It’s a start.” Then he turned to Chris, nudging his knee with his own and chuckled. “So did that one count or are you gonna cut this old AI a some slack?” he asked, fully expecting the answer to be no.
“I thought I heard your footsteps! Been a few months Sergent.” Costa had a cable connected to the left side of his head, just below the ear, that ran to his desktop. His dress shirt puffed out in places where the mechanics of his body pressed out at sharp angles. “Pardon me if I don’t get up, just filing a few reports.” THe desk is liberally covered in papers and files, a small lamp stuck up like the lock ness monster; shining it’s flight over the most recent file.
Kole wisely chose the office chair that wasn’t stacked up past the back with file boxes and sat down heavily. Both sides of the office was flanked in filing cabinets, as were the walls to either side of the door. “Remind me to teach you about the paperless office sometime.” he joked without much humor in his voice.
As the office door finished swinging shut, Costa brought his organic and metallic hands together, elbows on the desk. “The type doesn’t change a whole lot. All of ’em have a desire to control, to have power, and to inflict pain. It’s the mix of the three that changes. Sometimes it’s all in the head, as they don’t always want to leave physical marks. Sometimes it’s just about making someone else suffer.”
The solid blue of the detective’s artificial eye dimmed as he leaned back. “The victim is hard to understand, and harder to heal. There’s a reason why they stay with their abuser. Reasons why they keep going back. Could be financial, twisted emotions, can be a lack of places to go if you’re talking about underage victims.”
“Tell me all about the involved parties, and ask me anything.”
“I know damn well you would have made it count for me.” he play-glared at the cyclopic puppet. “I’ll give you a free pass. She got both of us anyway. Hang on a sec..” as the match loaded up for the next round, he typed to Tsung ‘Hey, after this can we do some 3 on 3?’ Chris flexed his fingers. As the game progressed, Chris had an annoying tendency to move in ways that made no sense! Hugging corners to abuse the 3rd person camera, snapping the sniper rifle up to his face, and picking up the energy sword when he could find it. The character started with a pistol and assault rifle, why change for something else?
“It’s a game, not a simulation of real combat. You’d love Arma. I think that combat simulator game has something like twelve different ways to crawl through cover.” As Chris rounded the corner he’d been camping, Tsung dropped on him from above; using her sword’s short dash mechanic to kill him in one blow before desecrating his corpse. “FUCK!” he slammed the controlled into the couch with his frustration. “Damn it, she knows these maps inside and out.”
‘Sure thing, you noobs aren’t much challenge. And that REALLY Hawker?’ with nothing better to do, Chris responded. ‘Yes, but he’s going through at least 3 levels of interfaces. And he’s never played any Halo before.’
Chris lifted up his leg, placing it atop the puppeted robot and wiggling his foot against Hawker’s calves. “Pretty sure I didn’t rule out distractions.”
While the other observers had moved on, the remote onlooker had been the dissenting vote. Adding additional observations from the continued interactions.
-Pilot and DF2 have continued sexual tension.
-Pilot and DF2 discussing means of future physical abuse; both eager.
-DF2 dominant so far in all observed interactions. Probability that violence is completely consensual unlikely.
Kole raked his fingers across his scalp, which shined as brightly as his patent leather shoes in the flourescents.
“Tell me all about the involved parties, and ask me anything.”
“Well,” he began, not actually sure where to begin. “It’s a uh… got a call about a domestic abuse sitch.” When Costa raised his single original eyebrow, Kole elaborated just enough. “And no, it’s not below my paygrade. The suspected perp is highly visible, the victim a little less so. Still, the media would have a field day if this got out, so pardon me for keeping a little hush-hush on the details.”
“Sure thing, sir,” came the easy voice of the seasoned detective.
“Perp is a big guy. Tough. Confident. Clever, but a real bruiser. And I mean that literally. The victim… let’s just say that without a good weapon, there’s no contest between ’em.”
“You said domestic abuse, I assume they’re living together, then?”
“In a sense, yeah.”
“What kind of abuse are we talking? Financial, verbal, psychological…?” This sort of stuff was practically Costa’s bread and butter. He could profile these kinds of scum in seconds flat.
“Physical, and maybe…” Kole wiped his eyes and let out the breath he’d been holding. “Maybe sexual.”
Costa nodded gravely, leaning back in his chair until the seat back collided with a stack of banker’s boxes. “And our victim?”
“Y….ounger.” Not really, but it fit. “Inexperienced. I think it’s a mentorship thing gone wrong.”
Costa nodded, blinking his organic eye. “I see this sort of thing a dozen times a year, sarge. This one’s easy: this sort of asshole gets off on control. I mean, they all do: it’s always about control. But with this one, it’s about presenting as a safe place to be young and experienced, presenting as someone to learn from. Only, they start teaching them dependence, low self-esteem, anxiety. They’re nice one minute to sweeten up that honeymoon phase, then they turn around and start breaking things. Then they apologize, usually promising it’ll never happen again. Victim believes them, and they keep believing them.”
Kole nodded, recalling his criminal psychology textbooks. The Cycle. Well, that explained why Hawker did smile and play nice sometimes. Explained why Celn kept coming back for more.
“You sure you can’t tell me more about this case? I could probably spare some time to help you with it,” Costa suggested, strumming his fingers together. Metal against flesh.
Kole stood up abruptly. “No, no…” He waved dismissively and looked out through the blinds at the gray sky outside. Had it really started snowing again? Christ… “You know how these things go. Almost impossible to prosecute if the victim’s gone full-blown Stockholm.”
“Er, well, Stockholm Syndrome technically refers to -”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.”
Costa threw his hands up. “Just making sure you hadn’t forgotten is all, sir.”
Kole suddenly flashed a smile, not wanting to let on what cards he was holding. “I’m not that old, Roman.”
The detective chuckled. “Good, because I’m right behind you.” A pause as their laughter faded. “Look, sir. I know it’s been a while since you handled something like this. My advice, don’t let it eat you up, alright? Keep your cool, and keep your eyes open. A touch, a word, could be all you need to press charges.”
“Yeah… haven’t forgotten that either. Thank god.”
“I think that combat simulator game has something like twelve different ways to crawl through cover.”
“Only twelve?” Hawker huffed, trying out one of the vehicles. He’d never driven a vehicle in any reality, virtual or non-, and he was glad for it. “You know, I think my confidence might have been a little premature.” The mech was trying his damnedest to move like he would in the real world, but the game was fighting him, thinking his interference was indicative of some kind of virus. He eventually found Chris’ avatar, hoping that he’d get in and man the turret. It seemed like a sensible enough tactic in an otherwise nonsensical world. Gravity barely even functioned properly!
‘Yes, but he’s going through at least 3 levels of interfaces. And he’s never played any Halo before.’
Hawker chimed in: ‘Is this ALL you mech-jocks do up there? Kole CLEARLY needs to give you more paperwork.’
‘Shit. Really is him!!’ was the reply. Hawker barked a laugh.
‘Have your fun now,’ he continued. ‘Because I’ll be more than happy to meet you for some capture-the-flag in the crash room when I get back. 0 health lands you in the morgue.’
A round from a rocket launcher blew the Warthog into the air, and Hawker’s little teal man went flying like a rag doll. ‘…YOLO, sir.’
The drone’s head was buried in its hand, and Hawker intoned a sighing sound over the speaker. “This goddamn game…” He respawned and resolved to try Tsung’s assassination tactic with the sword… thing. Now where the fuck is it?
There was suddenly a foot against the drone’s leg. He didn’t feel it per-se, but he knew something was interfering with the limb’s position. “Oh, you didn’t? Well in that case.” Without hesitation or ceremony, his hand came to rest squarely between Chris’ shiny, rubberized thighs and began to rub.
Sure, they were on the same side, but the game just got that much more interesting as far as he was concerned.
Smoking and vaping are prohibited inside of government buildings, so Costa chewed on a plastic Bic pen to satisfy the nicotine ure that welled up as he witnessed thew worry on Kole’s face. THe situation was eating the seasoned Sergeant up inside, whatever this DB case was; it IS close and personal. He couldn’t just let the big man go on without offering more.
“Usually this kind of thing is military.” he began, “You’ve got a superior officer with a mean streak ten feet wide, and some fresh grunt who’s been told he’s got to listen and obey.” The pen clacked it it migrated to the metallic side of the man’s mouth. “In the military higher-ups are busy, and they’re just happy someone is doing something right; and progress is being made. The grunts have just spent months getting the idea of suffering drilled into them. If you can separate the two, get the victim training somewhere else? Maybe you can help ’em.”
His metal hand removed the pen as he exhaled, checking to make sure he hadn’t just given himself a mouthful of ink. “The abuser, harder to deal with. They’re good at finding niches where they’re useful to the military. Sometimes, whole programs get scrapped or put on hold as a replacement is found.” The pen went back in, the ball-point dancing in the air as he considered the situation, unplugging the cable that attached himself to the desktop.
“Ya sure you can’t give me anything else? Want me to go looking around?” he offer with a kind tone, “You’ve got me thinkin’ about this case now.”
Beth Tsung frowned. Chris wasn’t where she expected him to be, he had predictable pathing. Hawker is unknown, but she didn’t expect him to be much better then combat AI. Still..
..she kind was doing some kinda work with Big Nine. Her favorite work fantasy. She’d felt incredibly disappointment when she’d been tested after implanting, B-Rating. No one who knew her would dare suggest it was anything other then incompatibility; some humans just implanted better then others. And it wasn’t like she couldn’t pilot hawker, just that their mental connection would be like talking on the phone; unable to share more then audio and a camera-style view.
She lept over a ledge, dropping down the stairs by glitching through a map exploit. Sword in hand, she waited under the final concourse of stairs until footsteps ran past her. Then she backtracked, emerging from the shadows to come up behind Hawker_HLX9 and brain his avatar with the alien energy melee weapon.
‘…I’ll be more than happy to meet you for some capture-the-flag in the crash room when I get back. 0 health lands you in the morgue.’
She walloped from behind him for a one-hit-kill, this time having her character do the ass-shaking emote for the kill-cam.
“Hawker_HLX9 has been eviscerated by 2Tsungdre4U.” spoke the in-game announcer.
‘Tell you what, let’s get some more people on this server. Give you two a chance at getting some kills.’ Opening up the floodgates, her low-ping server began filling with people.
‘And let’s allow some respawns. 3 Lives each, then you’re observing. Let’s get it nice and crowded.’
CTF with Hawker in the crash room? Tsung snorted. Not even if she was piloting a MRAV with a head start! ‘Maybe, but only if LunaChris is on my team.”
Chris had been watching the screen, and to him Tsung had come out of nowhere to take out his partner. “DAMN! SHe was hiding under the stairs? I didn’t’ even know you could get under there.”
THe rubber suit had thick pads on his shoulders, knees and elbows. His groin is padded as well, but for reasons more then just protection. THe front and rear could be opened with the right commands, exposing him itne cockpit. ANd, to be fair, a pilot just might want to use a restroom without having to peel off the tight-fitting suit.
The warm bulge squeaked with each touch, the contents easily growing as a knowing metal hand brought him to easy readiness. “Hrrrf! Boss, ya sure ya wanna do that here? Pretty sure they’re watching us.” Chris squirmed, not stopping the robot at all. He could get used to there being a small Hawker to play with at times. A smaller Hawker in his bedroom? He’d only leave to go play with the real thing!
“Ya sure you can’t give me anything else? Want me to go looking around? You’ve got me thinkin’ about this case now.”
Kole paused to think for a very long, very quiet moment. “You want some coffee? I think I’m gonna go grab some coffee real quick.”
Costa cocked his head to the side, folded his arms. It would have been funny if it wasn’t such a terrible place to be: Kole was an open book to the seasoned detective right now. As easy as a kid on his first time behind the table. “Sure, thanks. I’ll take mine black if you don’t mind.”
Kole nodded and disappeared out the door.
It bought him a few moments to think as he headed down the hallway to the floor’s little kitchenette, where a huge pot of stale, burnt coffee sat on the warmer. Two styrofoam cups. One black, one with cream and sugar. Nobody ever expected the police sergeant to drink anything but tar black coffee, chewing on the over-roasted grounds like a garnish. Nobody expected him to be a wine guy, either.
Or to be so tore up about what was going on between his best mech and his best pilot – two of the only reminders he had of a dead friend that left a hole in the hearts of a lot of people around 42. Kole didn’t want things to end this way. He really didn’t. Couldn’t he have a happy ending? Just this once?
“Alright, I’ll tell you,” he sighed, setting the coffee down and closing the door. “But only because you’ve been here for 20 years and you’re a damn good man.”
Costa nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
“The perp is my HLX-9 Vanguard Hawker. And my victim is the new pilot.”
“…You’re shittin’ me.”
“I’m not shittin’ anybody.” A pause to gather his thoughts. “Look. The DOD, the DOJ don’t know yet. And when they do find out, it’ll all probably get classified to Timbuktu. So if you could just…”
“Whoa. I get it, I understand. So, what’s your plan, sarge?”
“So far, the plan is that we’re going to tackle this as soon as the two of them get back…”
“Hrrrf! Boss, ya sure ya wanna do that here? Pretty sure they’re watching us.”
Chris’ squirming looked good from down here, too, even with the lo-res camera eye. But his boy’s second mention of being watched prompted him to pull his hand away. One of the biggest things he learned during his time with Lee was that humans had senses that science hadn’t quite figured out how to explain yet. ‘Gut feelings’. ‘Sixth senses’. Hawker could suspect, could weigh risk and probability, but he didn’t quite have that kind of sensory intelligence, that same kind of animal instinct. Lee taught him that such input was an invaluable contribution to the human-machine bond. Lee taught him to trust human intuition.
The drone body twisted around on the couch, looking about the room with more scrutiny now. He spied no surveillance equipment, which he found odd. Not even the TV screen had a camera equipped. Behind him, Tsung wasted his idling character for the nth time.
“Can’t shake that feeling, huh?”
He gave Chris’ shoulder a possessive squeeze as he stood up and walked away from the game to look around the otherwise spartan room a little more closely. “Hm…”
Costa held the cup with his organic hand, the well-chewed pen tossed into the trashcan with a *clink.* The stuff made strange sensations from the sensors in his mouth. Hot, acidic, burnt. It stained the styrofoam with each slosh.
“I’m guessing that incident in the motor pool isn’t just two dogs barkin’?”
Kole huffed, the only good thing about this mess was that Hawker had the decency to keep the worst parts of his abuse behind closed doors. “I wish.” THe coffee is awful, but at least it wasn’t he stuff from the cafeteria. “At first I thought they were adjusting. But now it seems that Nine is..”
His eyes closed and a deep inhale came, then left as a sigh.
“..A certain amount of damage is expected. If you looked at the pilots, every single one will have scrapes, bruises in strange places.” Kole lead his story along.
“Climbing in and out of a metal skeleton can be hard. I have a real nice lump on the back of my right leg, from my left foot. Was in a hurry for a fresh bakery delivery. Not too hard to think what can happen around Nine, he’s..” THe detective’s blue eye flickered as he accessed his databanks. “.. jesus! Fifteen feet and six tons?”
The detective put down his coffee and looked UP. “He’s twice as tall as the ceiling in the office.” He thought for a little while, the unspoken concern left in the air. What could you do if something that big wanted to hurt you? “I know Lee was built like a tank, but this new pilot, what’s he like?”
Kole frowned, pulling out his phone. “Smaller.” Resting his thumb on the sensor, it unlocked and he navigated to where he had Chris’s file pulled up. “Five foot eight, around 150 pounds.” The phone must have remembered where the Sergeant normally had been, as it auto-scrolled down to the part where the bruised and battered body of Celn lay under the scanner.
Roman picked up his coffee again and looked level, then down. “Yeah. You weren’t joking about when you said the victim would need a weapon to have a chance. What kind of damage we talking about here? Smacking around? Everyone around the station saw the footage of them two of them snarling at each other. But then they kinda made up? Hell, even the pool’s been seeing positive bets lately.”
Both hands when up in an apologetic gesture, and he almost spilled his hot drink. “I’m not in on it. But I do like to watch where it goes.”
THERE! It had been an annoying exercise, slowly examining the complicated walls for cameras. Not that it is hard to find security cameras, but almost all of them had been aimed where the HLX’s body lay on the floor. An overhead crane had been positioned and the Techs were busy connecting the reactor to it’s hooks. Soon they might even try to extract it.
But there, subtly hidden under a catwalk was a camera aimed on the observation room. A room with big, open windows to all directions. Perhaps a room to observe into and out of? THe positions of the windows and the other few tings in the room, like the couch left to the discovery of three other cameras. There would probably be more. And a microphone could be hidden anywhere. Perhaps they could even get a feed off the body he was borrowing. It had wired connections; if there was a splitter in the output he’d never detect it.
Chris leaned back in the sofa. waiting for the game lobby to fill. He is bored as well, playing against Tsung isn’t fun. “No I can’t. I feel like I’m in an aquarium here.” Setting the controller down on the couch he stood up as well, eyes flicking around as he tried to see something out of place. Then he walked, each step making the boot treads chirp on the solid floor.
“And no one has come by? Nothing for us to do or work on?” His cute face pulled into a frown as he looked over the gantry and the cables that spooled out to the puppet-shell.
“You and I have the same problem. We’ve got nothing outside of our jobs. If it’s not work, then prepare for work. Test, push, get better.” He exhaled sharply through his nose.
“When do you draw the line in your past? Tte point where you say, from this moment on is who I am now?”
Roman Costa chuckled. “Me neither. Never even played the lottery, believe it or not. This line of work shown me where gambling’ll get you.”
“I’d like you be there when we go confront him, Roman.” Kole had been looking at his coffee but flicked his gray eyes upward now. “You know how to work the questions for those JDLRs.”
The detective shook his head. “Oh, this is more than just a JDLR. Honestly? All you’ll need to do is show him the footage and he’ll crack. Won’t be able to ignore the cognitive dissonance.”
Sergeant Kole nodded, finished his coffee, stood up again. Cup in wastebasket. “I’ll erm… I’ll be in touch, alright?”
“Kole, it’s gonna be OK. Davidson isn’t rolling in his grave, I promise.”
“Wouldn’t be too sure about that, detective.”
“You and I have the same problem. We’ve got nothing outside of our jobs. If it’s not work, then prepare for work. Test, push, get better.”
The drone body stepped toward the window, watching. Under other circumstances it might be fascinating procedure to witness, but not right now; not with Chris’ suspicions. “I have… a few things. Still, what defines my inner life is different than what defines a humans’. We AI are comparatively antisocial, I guess you could say. What ‘real’ or ‘enriching’ means to these old CPUs is different than what it means to gray matter.” A shrug. “I guess.”
Hawker watched the work for a few minutes, feeling suddenly a little vulnerable – a little accessible. Perhaps being small had that effect. Or perhaps it was watching your body being dismantled 40 feet away in a clean room that did it.
“I spent a lot of time brooding over these past 4 months,” he admitted quietly. “I was more social with Lee. When he died, a lot of me went with him. That’s the nature of that damn bond. That wonderful, thrilling, terrifying, dangerousbond.”
The drone’s camera turned toward Chris. “You have any idea of what I’m talking about? Is that even possible with human-to-human interfacing?” A snort and he turned away toward the window again, drawing up the drone’s shoulders and folding its arms. He looked a little stand-offish. “Or am I giving myself away as an AI here?” Then, a chuckle over that little speaker. So much of Hawker’s deep timbre was lost in digital translation, but Chris’ memory of his voice ought to suffice for now. “You still wanna play truth or dare, greenhorn?”
“Oh, and… smile. I think I spotted one of the cameras right over there. One o’clock low. Looks like you were right.”
“The bond. You have any idea of what I’m talking about?”
Chris cast his gaze out the window, then sighed. “I thought I did. They tell us about how our minds are plastic and malleable. How AIs are like basalt. We come together and the human mind adapts, filling up all the gracks and empty spaces with emotion and guesswork.” He wondered about a row of dark glossy panels directly across from the observation room. Is one a hidden window? “I guess I don’t have any idea. Describe it to me. What kind of bond do we have?”
“Is that even possible with human-to-human interfacing?”
“To an extent. Andrew and I would do it. He was B-Rated. Felt amazing when we would be together, as long as no one accidentally pulled the cord on our implants.” He smiled at that memory. “But we’re always fighting each other. Trying decide how to feel, which way to flow. When we’re interfaced, I feel your solidity and it’s a comfort. I can cling to you and know where you stand.”
Yellow lights began flashing in the room with the face-down vanguard, the crane began lifting the reactor from the 15 foot long body. They got it a whole foot out before stopping and walking on the mech; disconnecting more cables and attacking temporarily cooling lines.
“Yes. Although, I think we both need to open up a little. We both want this to work. Us. Both professional and personal, yeah?” His gaze whipped to where the Hawker had indicated. His eyes narrowed until he spotted the one aimed at them. Then he smirked, turning his rubber-clad body to gaze at his partner.
“I’ll toss a few at you, just so you have a choice.” Chris began counting questions off on his fingers. “Have you ever been with a person sexually before me? How many people have you killed? and hmmm..” He smirked at the sight of the way Hawker soot, he mimicked the standoffish pose. “WHat’s the worst thing you’d ask me to do when linked?”
Chris’ recollection of Andrew brightened his foreprocessors like a smile would. Kids – humans! – always testing, always tinkering, always curious… almost insatiable in their desire for new experiences.
“When we’re interfaced, I feel your solidity and it’s a comfort. I can cling to you and know where you stand.”
That was a compliment, and it genuinely warmed him. Too bad this damn cheap body couldn’t convey hardly any of it. “That I can provide that means… a great deal to me.”
In the clean room a pair of technicians pulled out a thick hose attached to a machine off to the side. They handed it off to someone standing on his back, who screwed it into place beside the reactor. A fourth tech with a wired datapad manipulated some controls, gesticulated to the team on the ground, pointed, head bobbing with words that neither of them could hear.
The liquid sodium was contained entirely within the reactor unit itself, but Hawker’s coolant needed to be drained and replaced with a composition more compatible with the gen-VII replacement. That alone would probably take the better part of 2 hours to drain, flush, and replace. The drone body turned from the view – he’d been there, done that, before.
“We both want this to work. Us. Both professional and personal, yeah?”
The drone’s fingers rubbed at its chin, arm still crossed. Hawker nodded, looked away. “I want this more than I’ve wanted anything in a while.” He stepped over to the sofa, leaned against it. “What Lee and I had was good. Great. This is just what’s next for me. I suspect that we have the potential to be great too.”
Or damn near perfect, even.
His arms were still crossed. If you gave him a leather jacket and put a cigarette between his metal fingers, he might’ve looked like a robotic James Dean. Cop Without a Cause.
“Have you ever been with a person sexually before me? How many people have you killed? and hmmm..”
Hawker ‘eyed’ his partner as that mischief crept back across his softly handsome features. Chris’ expressiveness would never cease to amuse and endear.
“WHat’s the worst thing you’d ask me to do when linked?”
The AI closed the distance between the two of them, putting his heavy metal arm around the kid’s shoulders like he’d done before. He started with the obvious. “Discharged a weapon 1,897 times. Assisted in 203 high-risk arrests. Killed 114… 9 without the use of weapons.
“As for sex… if I have, then it was before I transferred to Chicago. As for the rest? That’s for me to know,” he said, pulling his arm away and running the fingers down Chris’ spine, letting the drone’s hand come to rest at the small of the human’s back. “The thing about ‘the worst thing’… is that I wouldn’t ask. Which is why it’s not happening.”
“That I can provide that means… a great deal to me.”
Chris wrapped an arm around the extension of his partner and hugged, before stepping back and watching what is happening below it keen interest. iIs butt looked fantastic with the padding on it. He should do squats regularly. “Man, I know it’s nuclear engineering going on, but wow that’s complicated! I bet there will be a whole new stack of protocols to memorize once this is done.”
“I want this more than I’ve wanted anything in a while.”
“I have the same feeling. I see the chance to be perfect with you. The last time we were together, I could lose myself amongst your strength. It was amazing, I felt like a god of war!” He raised his hands in excitement, the rubber on his torso suddenly squeaking in protest. “I guess you feel that way all the time.”
“Killed 114… 9 without the use of weapons.” Chris wanted to respond to that, he had something to share, but whatever it was died at an expression. Most would have never noticed it. But most hadn’t made a study of the pilot’s face a priority either. Chris’s file is positively boring as an adult, almost suspiciously so.
“I wouldn’t ask.” Ah. That said it all really, Hawker would order his pilot. Demand terrible things from the young man. He wouldn’t ask. THat would make it easier on the greenhorn, preventing him from being officially responsible. The concept is a comfort.
Behind them on the TV, their avatars idled in spawn. Occasionally being exploded before they got kicked to the main menu for being AFK for too long. Annoyed messages from Tsung popped up, ignored as they discussed more important things.
“You’re far too good in bed to have no experience.” Chris accused with a smirk. A gentleman never tells is the old saying, but Hawker is neither gentle or a man. The puppet still looked dangerous, Hawker having no problem portraying menace; even when just 6 feet tall.
Chris lidded his eyes as the hand went along his back, a happy sigh escaping his lips. Only after it stopped moving did he ask some more, feeling over the drone’s chest. Even if Hawker couldn’t feel it, he wanted to make the effort for his boss.
“What do I need to work on the most, in your opinion? Do you think all of my future pilot suits should be black? Annnd.. You need to ask me some questions. Just because we’ve seen in each other’s brains, well. Doesn’t mean everything is known.”
“You’re far too good in bed to have no experience.”
The speaker barked a laugh. “I’m good at everything I do, remember?” he said, half-serious, half-joking, and half… self-deprecating. He was not above poking holes in his own ego every once in a while. “Peerless and Fearless was my model’s tagline, after all.” Least of all not concerning the mystery equipment, which was becoming less and less mysterious by the day. The only thing continuing to hold the charade together was Hawker’s deep, desperate hope that the answer was more complex than it seemed.
“The things you need to work on won’t come from books or firing ranges, unfortunately. And black? Yes. It’ll show off my fluid better,” he chuckled.
Hawker hummed and hawwed at Chris’ request to be interrogated. There were things he saw in that dream, hunches and remnants of memories he’d sensed when the two were linked. Hand rubbed a small, squeaky circle on that slim, tight back, fingers ran over the tops of hip bones.
“How many people have you killed, officer?”
Chief Engineer Colburn strapped goggles over her eyes and turned them on. The cherry picker sat on the ground and the techs that’d rigged up the cameras we checking that they’d cleaned up all the packaging mess. She could see as an AI might with the enhanced vision. Data streams appears as bands of color. Wireless signals flowed about like ripples on the surface of a pond. Colburn had recorded what the room had been like before, and she swapped between the different views.
“Looks pretty good. That fibre optic line there though, you’ll have to tuck it under the conduit.” She gestured where the tiny new line dangled down in places. Looking around, she pointed out another section. “Over there, that’ where we stored a camera, yah?”
“Yes Chief. Want us to run a grid over it?”
Colburn considered. “Yeah. Around 8 volts, half an amp ought to do it. Adjust this equipment and I’ll check again. Then we’ll work on the alcove.”
“And black? Yes. It’ll show off my fluid better.”
“Ugh, doing the walk of shame back up to my room after that was awful. The stuff turns white, flakes off and just makes a mess. A worse mess then when you apply it. You’d better not get any inside the suit; the lining feels way too nice on my skin.” He did a shimmy, smirking as the robotic hand felt over him. “It’s really amazing, the feedback through it. It’s like I’m walking around naked. Even though I’m covered.”
“How many people have you killed, officer?”
Chris paused, then looked hard at Hawker’s puppet. The rookie pilot’s eyes gained a dead nature that flatten out their usual sheen. “None.” He answered.
BULLSHIT! Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit! The kid might be able to say it as dead honest as possible, as calm as possible, but he is lying!
“On the streets life is hard. I stabbed a man for his shoes. Beaten someone into the pavement with the reds. Way back when I was young and dumb. And I’ve been beaten down, stuff you’ve done is a massage compared to that.” He held up a hand. “Not that I’m asking for worse mind you. It’s been right around where I like it. I even fired a handgun wildly as I ran from a drug deal gone wrong. Heh. They always go wrong. Trust me, two parties trying to fuck the over for profit. Never goes well.”
He lowered his hand and shrugged. “I guess the guy I stabbed might have died. Maybe I hit someone with a wild bullet that one time. But no, I’ve never killed.” he lied with beautiful smoothness. He wasn’t even ticking over the voice analyzers, it was only because Hawker knew the kid that he knew of those lies. That.. that meant the greenhorn believed his own lies.
“So, enough with that fun topic. Want to watch some mindless TV? Or you want to pick your pilot’s brain some more?”
Hawker wanted to laugh. “Can I just say that I love the idea of you doing a walk of shame?”
“It’s really amazing, the feedback through it. It’s like I’m walking around naked. Even though I’m covered.”
The mech let his foreprocessors wander into the proverbial gutter. Sure, Lee had worn something similar, but this was different somehow. Chris had… curves? He was shapely where Lee had been hard, angular. Tough. That difference was pulling him in.
Hawker wanted to cock a brow plate that he didn’t have access to right now. He knew as sure as summer sky was blue that the kid was lying. He told a story, even. Some of it he could believe, some of it he couldn’t.
“So, enough with that fun topic. Want to watch some mindless TV? Or you want to pick your pilot’s brain some more?”
The drone body circled around, hands resting on both of Chris’ shoulders. “I think I’ll pick his brain,” Hawker said quietly. The AI wasn’t just a piece of SWAT equipment, he was a detective in his own right when Kole asked. At the very least he’d downloaded the same criminal psych textbooks that any detective worth their salt had also. The arm around the kid’s shoulders tightened its hold a little. “Because I think you’re lying to you superior, officer…”
Hawker knew how to spot a liar. Even though it wasn’t exactly in his job description, it’d been easy in recent years as compared to those previous. He theoretically knew how to conduct himself in the interrogatio room.
“So I’ll ask you again. How many people have you killed, officer?” His arm held tight to that fleshy body. “This is off the record, if that helps, kiddo.”
“The walk back to the room was terrible! My jockstrap itched, that stuff dried to a white powder and flaked off all over the floor. I had to scrub the heck out of the collar. It still kinda smells like you.”
Chris watched as the thick cables spooled back up, then extended as Hawker’s puppet walked around him. It stood before him and gripped his shoulders tight, pulling his rubber-clad body up close.
“Because I think you’re lying to you superior, officer. How many people have you killed? This is off the record, if that helps, kiddo.”
“Did you read my file? Is it in there?” The cyclopic eye of his partner’s body didn’t so much as move. “Look, it .. it’s not like you’d think. It happened in the winter. THe day before I got picked up…”
“When it’s that cold, sleeping is a problem. The shelters had been closed because of the war in the streets. If you didn’t have a place to go, or even some kind of place to hang out with other’s it’s hard. The reds were gone by then, just three of us left. The other two were so tired, they decided a dumpster on top of trash bags would be fine. I was on watch.” He exhaled, looking down at his left hand. The one with the repaired fingers. “Not for trouble, but for a dump truck. If you get scooped then you’d die in the garbage masher. I kinda remember just standing there, the bit air swirling all around me.”
“When I lifted the lid for a turn sleeping.. they were gone. Frozen Solid. Blue. My best friends, guys who’d I’d known forever. We always thought we’d make it somehow.” Chris sniffed, wiping his nose. “They’d stuck with me. Followed me. I don’t know why, maybe they thought I had a plan or something. But.. I emptied their pockets and went on.”
“I was so high that night. I knew I would die. I didn’t even have anyone to keep warm with. Everything in that part of town was closed up. I think I planned on .. I dunno what I was thinking.” he swallowed. “I had a knife. I’d used in fights, used it to threaten. That little hunk of steel earned me more then I could ever have imagined. Just pull it out, look mean, and you’d have a wallet!”
“There always were guys in piles of blankets and rags on the street corners. I don’t know how they survived. I remember the blood coming from my hand. It dripped out, freezing before it hit the snow. Little gems.” he sighed. “I guess they musta been undercover cops. Good thing the one I stalked up on was. Otherwise, I’d have straight up murdered him for the blanket he had.”
Hawker listened with all the intensity of a detective. Chris was hiding things – and maybe it was becoming obvious that he could, what with being the class that he was. With Lee there’d been very little to hide. But now: it seemed that there was more.
“Look, it .. it’s not like you’d think. It happened in the winter. THe day before I got picked up…”
“You sure about that?”
If Hawker knew anything about questioning, then it was that you sometimes had to lie to get what you needed. Pretended that you had enough to make an arrest in order to get a perp to spill the beans. Chris was clever – but in due time he’d gain experience.
His fingers held fast.
“How’d it feel, Chris? How’d it feel to watch that pain, to watch that life drain away?”
Maybe he’ll know what you feel.
“How’d it feel, Chris? How’d it feel to watch that pain, to watch that life drain away?”
Chris thought about that for a long time. He had.. he had THE look! He wasn’t telling everything, not even here. But there is no doubt that his pilot is replaying that moment in his mind.
When he’d killed someone. Chris didn’t have access to a gun, whatever he had done had been PERSONAL. With his own hands.
“I realised what I was. What all of us.. us humans are.” he corrected himself. “Weak fleshy bags of meat. So fucking fragile it’s not even funny. A little knock to the head and we go down. A small wound in the wrong place and we die. A little electricity, and we’re paralyzed.” his gaze came back up, meeting the look of his partner.
“That’s why I like you so much Boss. You aren’t weak like I am. You’re unstoppable and as long as you’re watching out for me, I’ll be alright.” And then he grinned. “And you know just how much I can take. You want me around for a long time.”
The mech would have cocked a brow plate, but settled for tilting the drone’s head just so as Chris spoke. Hawker thought that the misanthropy had just been dirty talk: it looked like this was coming from someplace genuine, though.
What’s going on in that head of yours, kiddo?
“You’re unstoppable and as long as you’re watching out for me, I’ll be alright.”
Hawker let Chris go and took a step back. The solid parts of the much more human-shaped feet made little clicking sounds when it hit the linoleum. “‘Course I want you around for a long time, kid. But you need to understand that I amstoppable. And the last time I was stopped my pilot got his spine blown out.” Out of habit his finger tapped at the place on his chest where the cockpit would be.
Chris’ smiles hid something dark and ugly, that was for sure, and it wasn’t just the memory of three fingers sheared off by the sharp edge of a dumpster lid.
“Those gangs are getting fancy tech,” he said. “And I’m getting more stoppable by the day, which is why we’re here. 18% reduction in the risk of being turned into a cancer bomb if a bad enough hit disrupts the fissile material, and a 23% decrease of the chance a hit like that even landing at all.”
A low chuckle. “Yeah, I do want you around for a long time. I want the both of us around for a long time.” Hawker trailed a finger up the side of Chris’ neck, then wrapped his fingers around it. “I intend on being able to beat you black and blue for at least another 15 years, officer,” he said with a smirk. He let go and gave that pert ass a loud, firm smack!
“Let’s keep playing, though. Truth: what is the most fucked-up thing you want from a two-story killing machine? Or, truth: what are you afraid of most?”
Over at the Tribune headquarters, a writer sat at his desk, wracking his brain. There was hardly anybody there, most writers worked from home on the weekends, but James McConnell tried to take his job a little more seriously than those damn clickbait op-ed types. No, James was a real journalist, and he refused to settle for the latest personal scandal of Chicago’s rich and powerful, or the blandly pedestrian mismanagement of city resources, or even – and it hurt him to think this – the temporarily over-reported smuggling situation.
He needed something new. Something fresh.
James flipped through local press releases from the past month to see if there was anything there to follow-up on. A warehouse was closing its doors, leaving 800 without work – nope, Novak got that story. Some actor was trying rehab again after drunkenly pissing on some lady’s car in broad daylight – tabloids had picked that one clean already. City water and power were to be digging up a stretch of road in front of the hospital for a month – yawn. CPD’s precinct 42 was holding trials for new mech pilots and…
James didn’t even need to finish the headline for that one. 42 had the HLX-9, didn’t it? The same mech whose pilot was killed in the line of duty back in July, right? Lora had reported on that one – well, that series of articles. The gunfight that put that officer in a coma had been a big deal on its own, but the funeral was highly visible too. A lot of eyeballs on that story. People loved reading about 42’s ‘Big Nine’, and James was sure that they’d probably love to read about who was filling in the shoes his old pilot had left behind. This was going to be a slam dunk.
With a smile on his face, James pulled up the number for the station’s media relations office and wrote himself a reminder to give them a call first thing Monday morning.
As the mech’s fingers wrapped coldly around his neck, Chris stood upright. Another part of him stood upright as well, bulging out the suit’s groin. He began to make a soft, happy whine as he’s told he can look forward to more then a decade of proper abuse from the heavy machine. Rubbing his hands over his neck, he yalps! as metal meets rubber on his butt. He stepped right up to that puppet, putting his thigh between those legs and pressing on the codpiece.
“I guess 15 years is the best I can expect.” he teased, as if it wouldn’t be enough time. “And I think we need to discuss aftercare. As much as I enjoy your work, you need to do a little to make me feel comfortable after you’ve finished a session.”
He put a little kiss on that clear faceplate, smiling as he purposely rested his weight on the puppet. Affectionately toying with the cables he listened to the next two questions, he huffed and his exhale made a tiny patch of fog on that clear camera housing.
Truth: what is the most fucked-up thing you want from a two-story killing machine?
“Oh my. I suppose wanting a healthy relationship is pretty fucked up, if my preferred partner is a two-story killing machine.” he rested a hand on the robot’s shoulder, leaning back as he considered the possibilities. “I wanna jerk off in the cab while you’re jerking off outside; while linked.” Then, his smile turned devious. “I want.. I want to HURT someone while linked with you. I want to feel what you feel when that happens.”
“Or, truth: what are you afraid of most?”
The greenhorn laughed, stepping back and shaking his head. “What, so you can use that knowledge against me?” He looked about a window, watching as the techs below finished removing the old reactor from Hawker’s chassis. “I’m scared the bad things I did as a kid will come up and haunt me.” He exhaled. “And yeah. You rejecting me is another. I know it hasn’t been long but I feel complete when we’re linked. I want to keep feeling that way.”
Colburn finished her fifth circuit of Hawker’s office. The new special fibre optic cameras were as hidden as she could make them; and they didn’t show up in her goggles. She’d added a small skip to the corner of the office, 4 feet in every direction and it sat on a pallet. She’d thrown the cumrag into it with a smirk. A not-so-subtle hint that said ‘I know what you’ve been doing.’
After one last check for evidence, they’d shut the huge door and moved onto Hawker’s alcove. Here they installed two more cameras, which covered they places the normal, visible cameras didn’t. She was tired of the deception,a nd when she’d gone over the footage; Hawker had no problem blocking the cameras so that he could beat his pilot just out of sight.
Hawker wondered how their antics would appear to their mystery onlookers. They were playing on the knife’s edge, that was for sure – pinning him against the wall, wrapping a hand around his neck, the body language oozing with thinly veiled kinetic potential – and the mech knew that the surveillance was only adding to the thrill of acting out these little PDAs of theirs. It felt too good to stop, and they were on Kole’s shit-list anyways.
“I wanna jerk off in the cab while you’re jerking off outside; while linked.”
The two were close. Touching. Chris was almost draped on him like a shiny black curtain. It only made sense to hold their hips against each other with a metal hand to the kid’s ass. God, the mech couldn’t wait to get back into his own damn body and feel him up with his own sensors. To knead and squeeze and hold him like the delectable little plaything he is.
“That can definitely be arranged,” he said with a low, seductive laugh.
“I want.. I want to HURT someone while linked with you. I want to feel what you feel when that happens.”
Hawker’s drone body stood very still at that, while the hand on Chris’ ass slowly squeezed tighter. Outside, his air cycling might’ve hitched. The mech had a strong reaction to the idea, though he was having trouble figuring out what the reaction was. Images flashed in his foreprocessors of the two of them wreaking all kinds of havoc together. Chris would get to know what it felt like to crush a body under his boot, to feel the bones break, the organs rupture, to feel the blood run out in rivers. He would know what it felt like to literally hold someone’s life in his hand, and to snuff it out like a candle flame.
Something in him wanted that. Something old. But the rest of him recoiled with a cold knowing. The rest of him said That’s completely inappropriate.
But his words betrayed even that veneer of civility too. He drew his head in close, spoke calmly, quietly: “That can be arranged too.”
Chris stepped away, heaving Hawker’s hands empty.
“What, so you can use that knowledge against me?”
Somewhere in his CPUs he grinned. “But of course.”
“I’m scared the bad things I did as a kid will come up and haunt me.”
The smiles faded away again, though. Real talk. The drone closed in again, but not to impose. “I can protect you from a lot of things, kiddo, but ghosts aren’t one of ’em. I’ve got plenty of my own, I’m sure. At least you remember yours; I’m not sure I’d even see mine coming.”
“I know it hasn’t been long but I feel complete when we’re linked. I want to keep feeling that way.”
Complete? Hawker mulled the word over. He was not ever one to get wrapped up in emotions, but he was beginning to think that this may be a first for him. Still, it would be a while before he could admit the depth of his feelings in a way that went beyond themes of loyalty or talk of neurospace and platitudes about men and machines.
“We got a good thing going,” is what wound up coming out. Stoic to the end, huh? “Let’s make sure it keeps going.”
The young pilot and the AI’s puppet had been doing a dance. They would touch, get close, then break apart. Each time there would be greater sexual tension between the two.
It is a beautiful, dangerous tango.
Then it culminates where the machine ground against its pilot, grasping his shapely-rubber clad rear. Their discussion is perverse. Their future plans? Disturbing.
The observer duly noted down their interactions. Their words. The .. terrifying intent. Unfortunately, none of it appeared as if they we go on a rampage, or attempt to lay waste to Chicago. They would be excellent partners and savor their union.
And the destruction of the occasional criminal. Logging her own opinions in the file, the observer closer the connection and paid attention to the ongoing discussion of the USS Saratoga’s disappearance.
“Let’s make sure it keeps going.”
“Okay Boss. I’m your man. And I know you won’t let up on me, no matter how much you like me.” At that moment, his stomach made a gurgling rumble. “I’m gonna go see if there’s anything to eat. You.. heh, you don’t wander too far.” He had a huge grin as he tried the doors, knowing that the robot is tethered to heavy cables.
Turns out that the cafeteria here serves Pizza.
After six hours Colburn was sitting in her office, installing the software on her private server. After three reboots, it began to show some signs of life. Motion triggered automatic recording, petabytes of storage, a system so primitive that fed into a recording back that lay with hundreds of other pieces of equipment in the ceiling of the motor pool. Now she could spy on nine.
She just hoped that what got recorded.. she’d be able to stomach it. Seeing those body scans! The kid might have to live through one more before they had th evidence to put a stop to this.
But then what? Hawker being stripped out? Forcible AI replacement? Modify the HLX-9 for two pilots and Jager the mech?
None of them would be as good as having their old Big Nine back.
The next two days went smoothly. TV, shooting the breeze and getting some much needed socialization with each other. They’d watching with interest as the old reactor is removed and the HLX sat on life-support. Then as the new and smaller reactor is fit in the same place. It nestled in the large cavity, giving the techs plenty of room to secure it with extra bracing. Then came the armor. Inches of the stuff, beyond what came with the portable reactor. THe final result also smoothed down the mech’s back. Instead of having a ‘backpack’, the HLX now looked like it just wore heavy armor.
And to be fair, after two days Chris was looking forward to some privacy. Outside of the bathroom, he’d been told that he had to spend his time in the observation with the AI. That meant crashing on the couch as Hawker watched over him. But now the mech had retreated to it’s gantry. Down below, they’d be powering up Hawker and seeing if everything really is working correctly.
“I guess 15 years is the best I can expect. And I think we need to discuss aftercare. As much as I enjoy your work, you need to do a little to make me feel comfortable after you’ve finished a session.”
“Working with me is like doing stuntwork. I’m hard on the body,” he laughed.
What the hell was ‘aftercare’ though? Antibiotics and bedrest after surgery? A quick internet search enlightened him – it was a BDSM term: making your sub feel safe and comfortable after a scene. Safe, sure, but Hawker wasn’t sure if he DID ‘comfortable’. Still, Chris was asking for it, and the mech did want his human happy and healthy for the long haul. Then a thought occurred to him: the irony of needing to hurt and needing to dominate, but being dependent on the recipient. Hm, even in meatspace Chris held the cards.
“You.. heh, you don’t wander too far.”
Hawker jerked the drone’s head, tugging on the cabling and grumbled. “Yeah, now I know what a dog feels like. Now go stuff that cute little face of yours. I wanna see some meat on those bones, scabber.”
The weekend was… nice. But also strange. Chris was right: he really didn’t know what to do when he couldn’t work, couldn’t plan for work, couldn’t prepare and practice for work. I’m an AI, he’d always told himself. What use do I have for a vacation? Hawker without something to do at 42 was like a dog without a bone, to continue with the metaphor. Not that it was a stretch.
They played more Halo – HAWKER_HLX9 actually managed to kill Tsung once by the end! – and Hawker introduced the kid to the very few TV shows that he ever dared to watch. Most of them were, to no one’s surprise, true crime procedurals. You know, the classy kind with the tasteful reenactments and thoughtful narration. The mech even felt in the mood to catch a saturday night hockey game, explaining the rules, the positions and plays to his partner. After a little prodding, he revealed it’d been Lee’s favorite game. That small admission felt good, he found.
By sunday evening, though, the pair were bored and restless.
“It’s been about 18 months since I was here last, but they never made Lee sleep in here,” Hawker grunted as he stared out through the glass into the clean room as they did their final debugging and integrity checks. The new reactor core had been fired up 6 hours ago; they wanted to make sure everything was running smoothly before they turned the mech loose.
Hawker couldn’t wait to get out of this awful little body, and he waited with the proverbial baited breath for them to give him the go-ahead for resuming occupation of the HLX-9.
It was almost 8 o’clock before he got the ping, followed by a thumbs up signal from one of the technicians outside.
The drone turned to Chris, giving him one last smack to the rear, before heading back to the gantry. “See you on the other side, kid.”
An hour later and Hawker, in full 15-foot regalia (though weighing almost 400 pounds less), stepped out of the clean room. It felt good to be big again. And heavy. And treacherous. It also felt good to be clean. Every square millimeter had been washed, vacuumed, and sprayed down with very expensive cleaning solutions. He was so clean that his matte paint almost shone.
Chris, Nguyen, and a few others walked up to assess the handiwork, which, as far as he could tell, was superb.
His optics went straight to Chris, though. “How’s the weather down there, short stuff?” he said, flashing a picture-perfect smile. “You wanna try headbutting me again?”
Colburn’s assistant and the techs spoke for at least another twenty minutes while they waited for the truck to arrive. ‘The Care and Keeping of Your Newly Upgraded HLX-9’, more or less. He wanted to get the hell out of here already!
While Hawker was stuck in that limited, bound frame. Touching along that face, sliding a finger into those sleeping lips. He could only watch, but not feel.
It just wasn’t fair!
Chris found Hocky to be fun. There’d been two tights and one had been fairly bloody. “And that’s allowed? Just duking it out on the ice?” The mach assured him it was, and an integral part of the sport. It didn’t matter that the pilot had no idea what was going on. It didn’t matter they they’d spent more time picking plot or procedure holes in the True Crime TV shows. They’d shared their limited social and personal lives.
Chris knew he’d need to find some hobbies for Hawker, ones they’d be able to share. Could a mech get into wargaming?
Late on Sunday though things were getting back to normal. Hawker boomed again, both in voice and footstep. Chris stood with the others, talking quietly with Nguyen. “He looks good. Did he always have those subtle patterns on his paint?”
The tired technical engineer nodded the affirmative. “Yeah. He kinda fell into disuse with Lee gone. I can’t tell you how good it feels to see him back up and running. Working on the HLX-9 is fantastic. I love that we can keep improving him like this, it’s a fun challenge.”
They watched as the mech did a few tests, including a few runs of getting his reactor to high output, sending power into the building itself.
“Yeah. It was really strange with him small. I think I like it though. He needs a human-ish sized frame he can remote into and tromp around in.” Chris spoke, leaving out the part how said frame would be in his bedroom and fuck his brains out; if the rookie had anything to do with it.
“I think he mighta had something like that once? I’m not sure, have to ask the Chief about it.”
Chris grimaced. THeir little vacation is over, there is music to face back at home. “Could I ride in Hawker on the way back?”
“Nope, Chief’s orders! You’re stuck in the cab with me. You wouldn’t want to anyway, when he’s in a C-Can. He’s probably claustrophobic anyway.” THen he went to help the other Techs disconnect the big bot after the final checkup.
Chris pulled the collar out of the jacket’s pocket. It smell of his boss still. Even now, when he flexed the fabric bits of white would fall out of the fabric like snowflakes. He needed to really soak it. A battery check told him there ws about a quarter life left. With a sigh he put it away, he’d wear it home.
“How’s the weather down there, short stuff? You wanna try headbutting me again?”
“It’s chilly, what would you expect for October? And I’ll pass on the headbutt. Now that you’ve got a durasteel alloy head again, I think you might win even if you didn’t move!”
THe pilot strolled up to the big robot, smiling right back. FOr a brief moment he wondered what it’d be like if no one was around. If they didn’t have to be professional.
If Hawker would even bother putting his cock away? Would he just strut about with it on full display, slapping off his armored thighs?
“So, you feel normal again? You sure you won’t miss being just a little taller then me? I guess you could just have a lay-down. But I think I like how you look cleaned up.” He lead on with normal patter, joking with his Captain like normal cops did.
Be normal, look as ordinary as possible. It made everyone else comfortable. Sure they would respect his size and rank, but what Chris needed to do; and keep doing was be an ambassador. Show that Big Nine is a great thing for the Chicago PD. And some of that, meant shooting the breeze when others listened. Soon enough the truck rolled up and they were on their way back home.
Where Kole and Colburn were no doubt going to have some choice words for the pair.
The output test had been some good fun, even if been required to remain stationary. He stood still, concentrated, spooling up his internals, revving, downshifting, increasing temperature, blasting away scalding air… 200C… 230C… 265C… in about ten minutes he’d reached his higher-limit core temperature of 320 degrees celcius, and was generating a good 80 decibels of noise. The air that rushed from his aft vents could have come from an oven.
Hawker felt fantastic. New fluids surged through him; it almost felt like he had more power, though he knew it was the quarter of a ton that’d been shaved off in weight that was making him feel leaner and meaner. At top running speed, he’d probably gained a few MPH from that alone too.
“Now that you’ve got a durasteel alloy head again, I think you might win even if you didn’t move!”
“Yeah, I hear you don’t wanna hit a parked car either,” he laughed.
“So, you feel normal again? You sure you won’t miss being just a little taller then me? I guess you could just have a lay-down. But I think I like how you look cleaned up.”
He looked himself over, noticing thick red accent striping on his forearms and the sides of his chest. Not even blue, huh? he thought sardonically. Gets the point across, at least.
“I think we both clean up pretty good,” the mech winked, taking the opportunity of the techs being distracted by computer screens to eye-fuck the little human for a brief moment. “As for size, well… it’s definitely something to consider. I’m not looking like that thing, though, I can tell you as much already!”
If Ngyuen remembered Hawker having something similar, then it was because they tried it out early on after the mech was introduced to 42. The smaller body had been just as unappealing to occupy, though, and had also been on a cable. The idea was scrapped within a few weeks and hadn’t been brought up since.
Then there was the hustle and bustle of disconnecting him, the continued remarking about the readouts. Nguyen was absorbed in his work, and even as Hawker asked a few questions of his own, he noticed Chris fingering the collar off to the side. Fuck me, I can’t wait to see him wearing that with that suit. The thought occurred to him to get the kid a regular collar, maybe a steel band or a black leather ensemble to match his boss. Complete with tag, he mused. WARNING: Property of Big Nine! Kole and Colburn would have an anyeurism.
Soon it was time to climb back into that damned c-can and get strapped in. Wasn’t there a children’s book that had a scene like this? Gulliver’s Travels? The giant in that one, he seemed to recall, busted out of his bonds like nothing, though, and proceeded to sass every tiny person in the vicinity as they shot at him with ineffective weapons. Sounded enough like him. He could play that part.