Back on the Road
Near the Free City of Foundry
Thursday, February 23, 2051
The Texan APC is on the road, speeding for the Foundry border with its cargo of medical casualties and accompanying nursemaids. The big deisel engine purrs like a contented cat, with only the occasional coughing up of a hairball, as it pulls you down the deserted highway at seventy miles per hour. The casualties all lie next to each other on the rear seats, whose backs have folded out to form two bunk beds, one on either side of the cabin. Mac and Wormwood are on the left side of the vehicle, tended to carefully by Pacoy, while Eris lies on the lower bunk on the right side, clutching her arm in pain and just barely awake, starting to come out of the near-coma the drugs Pacoy had pumped her with begin to wear off. Mac, his eyes now working but his back burnt rather severely, lies on his front on the lower bunk as Pacoy works on him; Wormwood lies above, his legs bandaged but still needing dire medical treatment before they can be salvaged.
Pitbull, meanwhile, sits in the driver’s seat, plugged into the APC’s controls and guiding the big vehicle through the beginnings of traffic towards its destination. Seranya pokes her head into the driver’s compartment again, possibly the fourth time in the past ten minutes, and sits down at the passenger’s side console, looking out at the evening sky.
Mac grumbles, his dangling arms toying with the scorched fringes of his jacket. “Mind avoiding some of the road pimples, eh Pitbull? Can’t say having our doctor looking at my back while riding on a pistol is comfortable.” : “OH… So that IS a Pistol in your pocket?” Pacoy asks with a grin as he works on the patients. Mac plays at shrugging, wincing in pain. “No quick draw jokes from the peanut gallery back there.” Pitbull just resumes blaring his grinding and painful chrome-metal noise, this particular number being “Systematic Evisceration” by Black President Conspiracy. His cigarete hangs from the side of his mouth as he holds the machine steady on the ruined roads.
Wormwood stares at the ceiling of the APC, listening to his team-mates’ banter and trying not to think about the pain in both legs, only mildly softened by the pills Pacoy gave him. He also tries not to think about the future if he can’t get his legs fixed – a life without the ability to create his Art wouldn’t be a life at all, and he can hardly collect the raw materials for an artwork while limping and unable to climb. Shaking himself out of his gloom, he rolls on his side. “Hey Eris, how you doing? You’re one of the in-crowd now, you know. You’ve been wounded in service. Does DreamCorps give out medals for that or should we give you one of ours?” “Don’t let Wormwood pin anything on you or stick you with something sharp and metal. Just trust me on that on.” Pacoy continues to try and keep spirits light. Wormwood laughs, “Yeah, I suppose so. Anyhow, Eris, just how many bugs did you have planted in the old car?” He’s hoping she’s still so out of it she’ll be honest, but not really caring right now if she isn’t.
Pitbull hums along to the next tune, “Countermand” by Circuit Grin, as he continues to listen to the conversation playing out behind him. Wormwood yells towards the front compartment, “Pits, for chissakes can you play something that doesn’t sound like it came from the soundtrack to a B-list war sensie? Or something, y’know, that is actually cheerful?”
Pacoy continues probing Mac’s injuries, wondering why the fool didn’t wait for him to disarm the mine. The flesh around his back, sizzled and burnt to a crisp, looks a bit like pork that’s been left on the grill thirty minutes too long. A few small fragments of landmine can be seen poking out of his back, and as Pac’s cut start removing them, he notices one bit of metal that seems to be not nearly so small, right over Mac’s spine. “_What the_…” Mac’s eyes narrow. "What? Pacoy, what? You can’t say that when you’re trying to patch someone up. There’s a rule, right? "
Eris leans upwards on her good arm, grimacing in pain as she looks up at Wormwood past Pacoy. “Urgh. They’re called micro-recording devices in the industry, not bugs. And too damned many. Ones with the kind of resolution that’s fit for broadcast aren’t cheap.” “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John starts blaring in the song’s place as Pitbull looks back around at Wormwood with a shit-eating grin. “Cheery enough for ya?” Mac’s face lightens a bit. “That’s a bit more like it!”
Wormwood returns his attention to Eris. “I’ve got a few myself if it’ll help. We should compare notes sometime – I’ve got a bit of experience at reality-show style recording, but ‘d love to pick your brains on professional editing and production techniques. I’ve a sensie in the early stages of making, back in Night City, that will knock your socks off.” He turns, “Oh and Pits…you officially suck, bro!” “Fuck off! Elton John was my mamma’s favorite singer back when I was a kid! You dissin’ my momma, lil’ man?” Pitbull growls, the grin still plastered on his face.
“This looks like…” Pacoy hesitates, “Cyberware. High-end stuff. Some kind of reflex servo maybe – I need to take a closer look at this.”
Eris leans back. “Ugh.” It’s not a sound of pain this time. “I’ve read your file, Randall. That’s… not really the kind of thing I’m interested in.” Despite the perplexing situation before him, Pacoy can’t help but to grin “We’ve all been there, sister.” Wormwood smiles narrowly, “That’s a pity, really, Eris.” He then ignores her (and Pitbull) entirely to lean over his bunk and look downward. “I though Mac didn’t hold with ’ware much, Pac? You never said he had a reflex augment, Mac. Holding out on us?”
Mac’s eyes narrow. “I think Pacoy took a shot to the head or something. I’m not augged. What sense would there be in holding out on you guys! Probably piece of the mine’s actuator or something.” "Hey, Eris, I think the only difference between what the pair of you do is that you cut away for adds, cut out the X rated action, and have a higher viewership than "one"" Pitbull barks out amidst laughter. “And what’s up with Mac havin’ ’ware?”
Pacoy taps the device with his scalpel, making an audible thunk, “This is your replacing your spinal column, Mac. Is there any chance you got augmented without your recollection? Like passed out at a party and work up in Tijuana with super powers kinda thing?” Mac blinks. “When would that have happened? I don’t remember being blacked out at all… no super powers, either. You’re positive my spine’s been replaced? My spine? And you’re.. tapping on it? Isn’t that… a bad thing…?”" “Come to think of it, Mac,” Pacoy ponders aloud “All of us are boosted in someway, and we’ve gone up against some pretty high-end augmented adversaries, I can’t remember anyone every getting the drop on you. It’s weird that the thought of cyber hasn’t come up in regards to you yet.” Mac looks over his shoulder at Pacoy. “Pays to be observant in my line of work, pal. Only reason I’ve lasted as long as I have – aren’t too many private dicks in Night City, you might have noticed. People like their privacy.” Wormwood whistles low, “You had your spine replaced, Mac? that’s like, mil-grade or something. The kind of shit Able would have – isn’t it, Pac?”
“It looks real extensive – and majorly high-end. A chop-shop didn’t do this. I doubt a military contractor did it, either. Someone who had really knew his stuff and had a lot of resources put this thing together. I don’t think it’s just the spine.”Pacoy answers. Eris leans over, looking at Mac. “Someone stole your spine without you even knowing it? I’m not sure I’d call that very observant, Mac.” Mac scowls. “Look, lady, nobody stole my spine! I think I would have noticed!” He grumbles. “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for this… I’m not augmented. Remember, back in the casino, when you guys had your augments disabled? That didn’t affect me.” “It wouldn’t if it was well shielded, Mac. Look at me, I had my reflexes auged years ago, but you’re faster than me. Faster than Able even, I’d say.” Wormwood points out.
Mac gives a weak smile. “Yeah, but you’re just slow in your old age, Worm. Nothing strange about that, yeah?” There’s a quite visible concern and worry spreading across his face, however. Wormwood gives one of his trademark grins, “Wanna open him up some, Pac, see what else got slipped in there while he was drunk in Chiba?” Honestly concerned for his friend, Pacoy defaults to his standard defense mechanism of humor, “And your taste in music, clothing, and personal style: that just isn’t normal, Mac.” Pacoy’s grin spreads, “I mean, Pit is addled in the head, it’s given that he calls that hideous cacophony of his ‘music’, but we never really had an excuse for you…” "Shit, I’ve got the Armatech “Speed Demon” and the Cyber Design “Speedware”, straight from my first day of militant induction, working it’s magic everyday for me, and you’re still faster than me, Mac!" Pitbull points out, as he lights another cigarette from the one he had just finished.
Mac looks horrified. “Open me up? What kind of friend are you! And besides, you’ve been to my clave – they’re all like that! It’s classy. I swear, it’s like Seranya’s the only one who hasn’t turned on me!” “Birds of a feather, eh?” Pacoy says with a mocking laugh.
Seranya steps back into the rear compartment, attracted by the commotion around Mac. She shuffles up, slowly and shyly, and puts her remaining hand in Mac’s own. She looks down at the wounds on Mac’s back. “You’re not supposed to be open like that.” “Man, Mac, I ain’t against you! If you were auged, android, alien, the demon that comes from when you burn 666 noir films at the same time, you’re still Mac to me!” Pitbull laughs as he switches the music, to “There’s a Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered, Honey, You Just Haven’t Figured It Out Yet” by Panic! at the Disco. “See? I even played something that won’t bleed your ears!”
Mac looks confused. “I thought Pacoy was going to be patching me up, not performing exploratory surgery. Is it bad? Was it just my spine, Pac?” He smiles. “Thanks Pitbull, that’s actually… sweet, coming from you.”
“Yeah, Mac. You’re you even if you’re really like that “Stepping Razor” chick under your skin. I was only funning. But…wouldn’t you want to know if you were?" Wormwood asks. Mac looks thoughtful. “I mean, if someone stole my spine… yeah… I’d want to know. Pac, you’re… good with your hands, right? And we have some pain meds? I think… it’d be okay if you saw how bad it is – just break it to me gentle, yeah?”
“I mean, I’m awesome and all, but we are in the back of a poorly driven stolen APC,” Pacoy points out “It looks like a majorly extensive job to me, but this is a job that needs space and tools. I think I’ll poke around at what I need to – maybe a quick peek – then patch you up as best I can until we have time. hell, it hasn’t hurt you so far, right?” Mac nods. “Yeah, but some more burn ointment wouldn’t be amiss. That’s the last time I play minesweeper on anything more than my computer. I mean, it’s wierd. I can feel some of what you’re doing, but… other times, not so much.” “The girl’s meant to say that, not you, Mac,” Wormwood quips before guffawing then stopping suddenly as the pain of moving quickly hits his legs.
Oh, My! Pacoy’s face flashes with shock as a realization hits him, “Mac, you’re eyes… I wonder how identical they are to the med-trainers!” Mac laughs hard. “Damn, its a good thing that they shut down your legs instead of your mouth, Worm.” Mac blinks. “Wait, Pacoy, you’re telling me I’ve got augged eyes as well?” Pacoy shines a a penlight into Mac’s eye, then repeats the zap with a doohickey from his robotics kit, then breathes a heavy sigh, “Mac, my friend – welcome to the wonderful world of the highly augmented. You’ve been here a while, though, I suppose.”
Wormie asks, “Mac, how can you have cyber-eyes and not know? Wasn’t it a dead giveaway when you can see in the dark and zoom in on stuff? Or didn’t you know you could?” Mac blinks. “Damn… I wish I had half a notion of when the heck this happened. Do you think it was after I met you lot? I mean, I haven’t slept a wink since then, but… I don’t remember any of this.” He shrugs. “I can’t zoom or see in the dark or anything, Worm. Am I supposed to be able to? I mean, I got blinded by a damn grenade.”
Wormie does a double-take. “Wait, what? Go back some. You’ve known us all for months Mac. You haven’t slept at all in all that time?”
“Let’s get back to the spine before we patch you up,” Pacoy suggests, flipping Mac over. Scalpel back in hand, Pacoy cuts into Mac from the rear, carefully cutting away only the dead or dying skin that the hospital would need to peel off his back anyways. The whole surgical session is likely to take a while, but some results are nearly immediate. Peeling away some of the flesh from his spine, Pacoy is able to make out a small engraving on the composite – ‘X4-USSC-37-S/I-2’. “Wow..”
Mac looks over at Wormwood. “I’m sure I’ve slept, yeah. Months of not sleeping would mean I’m dead. It’s just insomnia – can’t remember when it happens, ya know? What’s up, doc?”
The muscles of Mac’s back that are peeled away from his spine at first appear the correct color, texture, and consistency, but when you slice into one just a bit, something looks strange. Looking a little closer, Pac notices that there are little gray strands interlaced with the muscles, and the deeper muscle tissue is unnaturally pale. “This looks very extensive, guys. It also looks deliberately concealed.” Wormwood whistles low again. “Damn, I was only kidding about being a cyborg under your skin, Mac.”
Mac blinks, stunned. “Concealed… that would explain why I didn’t know about any of it… but… what… why?” He looks up towards Siri, then towards Wormwood. “I don’t understand.” Pitbull turns around from the driver seat, his face contorted in concern. “I’m hearing that Mac might be fully bionic. Am I wrong?”
“Guys… I think this is a little beyond cybernetics at this point. I think we are in Siri territory, what with the intentionally disguised tissue and organs.” Pacoy sounds honestly scared and turns to Siri with a near whisper, “Seranya, you wouldn’t happen to know your primary serial number off-hand, would you?” Seranya squeezes Mac’s hand, smiling a little bit as she looks up at Pacoy. “My chassis’s original serial number was P52-SF-84901-A-1, but it was reset to X1-G-14-SB-3 when I was refurbished after an accident. I have parts labeled with both.”
“Okay, so you don’t have a long lost sister, Mac. Take that how you want it.” PAcoy offers shakily, his own humor not quite working to muster his nerves this time. “How about long lost cousin?” Wormie asks. He turns to look at Mac and deadpans, “Don’t worry, big guy, cousins are legal out here in the wastes, I hear.”
Mac’s eyes appear to dim in the light of the APC. When light returns to them, he looks up at Seranya. “You knew, didn’t you? How? When did you know?” He looks around. “I’m sorry guys, this is just a lot to digest…” Seranya leans down and hugs Mac, above his burns. “You’re my little brother. I knew when we first met.”
Wormwood has been too busy having a chuckle to really get what Pacoy’s been saying. Now he stops and the smile slips from his face. “Pacoy, you’re really saying Mac’s not even a little bit human? He’s something like Siri?” “Her brother from another mother-board…” Pacoy nearly whispers in response.
“Oh shitake mushrooms, and I thought my life was screwed up.” Wormwood murmurs, then just stares at Mac’s back and the gleam of synthetics there. After a while he brightens. “Mac, if you didn’t know what you were…then it’s probable you’ve got some deep knowledge of capabilities you’ve never used.” Mac looks up from where he had been staring at Seranya’s good hand. “I suppose I might… but… what else am I going to remember? What else did I forget? I’ve always wanted a sister.. I mean, I never thought I could have one, but… Pac, you’ve got to fix her other arm up for me, alright?” “Well… Yeah, I mean, she’s family now, right?” Pacoy still bearly muttering.
Wormie begins to smile again. “Chill, my friend. It’ll come. In the meantime, take some time to feel deep burning embarassment at all the ‘androids are or are not people’ debates you and Pacoy have had.” Mac looks over at Wormwood. “I still maintain that they are, although that seems rather… self serving… at this point, doesn’t it?” He visibly deflates. “All I know is you are and have always been my friend, Spock” Wormwood says, then collapses giggling onto his bunk. Hearing Worm say exactly what he was thinking, Pacoy’s defense mechanism finally kicks in, “Nope, Worm all of that stands.” He grins ear to ear “When we get home, start divvying up his stuff. Who calls dibs on Anita?”
Pitbull, feeling that weird feeling in his stomach and behind his eyes that everyone keeps telling him is “empathy” and “his conscience”, peeks into the back again. “Hey, Mac? Do you need like a hug, or a beer, or uhmm… something? That’s gotta be a lot to take in, y’know?” Pitbull growls, uncomfortably.
Eris is lying there, staring at Mac like he’s the most interesting thing in the world. Her eyes are almost glowing with intensity, and there’s astonishment on her face even through the drug-fueled haze. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a robot who didn’t know it was a robot before.”
Mac looks over at Pitbull. “I’ll take a beer – my… sister has got the hug thing down, it seems. I’m… adjusting…” His head snaps around to Pacoy. “Hey! Damn… wait… what in the name of spit shine and polish is Anita going to think…” He turns to Eris. “I told you, doll – you stick with this crew, you’ll see all sorts you haven’t seen before.”
“It’s the 21st Century, Mac” Pacoy says still grinning “I’m sure you’re not her first battery-operated lover!” “Yeah, she’s just gonna ask if you can go all night, Mac” Wormie dissolves into further giggles – pain and the drugs combining with the shock at Mac’s nature to make him more than a bit light-headed. Mac’s eyes bulge as he restains himself from laughing, doubling over until the pain is too much to bear from laughing and his pre-existing burns.
Pitbull’s face scrunches into a pensive demenor, before remembering. “Shit. Don’t know why I offered the beer. We haven’t had that since we left. But I do still have that hard whiskey you got for me before we hit Rising if you wanna have at that.”’_made of plastic and elastic
he is rugged and long-lasting
who could ever ever ask for more
love without complications galore
many shapes and weights to choose from
i will never leave my bedroom
i will never cry at night again
wrap my arms around him and pretend…._” Pacoy sings some ancient, half forgotten tune.
Mac wipes what he used to consider tears from his eyes, looking at them quizzically. “Save it until you’re done driving, Pits – I’ll want to get good and drunk with you lot, assuming I even can. I got to say… if I’m a robot, it’s a hell of a job by whomever put me together if I fooled myself. I guess the question is – why? To what end?” Wormwood stifles giggles and says, as seriously as he can, “Mac, brother. It’s like Able and his forgotten past, yeah? We’re a team, we’ll help you if you want to find out. My personal promise on that.” Pitbull pulls out the bottle anyway, and takes a swig from it when he thinks no one is looking. Damn feelings and shit.
Mac nods, reaching his hand across the cabin, offering it to Wormwood, flexing it as he does, marvelling at the fluidity of motion. “That’s a deal I’ll take, brother.” He cocks his head. “Seranya, after this is done, do you think you could come home with your little brother and take care of him?” “Hey, Mac – you may be non-human, but the rest of my friends are sub-human, I don’t plan on treating you any differently.” Pacoy says honestly. Wormie starts giggling again at Pacoy’s words.
Seranya squeezes Mac one more time, then stands back up, just holding on to his hand. “I’ll do whatever I can, but I still need to get back to my master.” A grin splits Mac’s face. After he closes his mouth, he probes his teeth with his tongue. “I guess this kind of explains why I eat as much as I do and don’t gain any weight, huh. Well, as long as you don’t think of me any different, Pac.” A cloud crosses his face. “That’d be the man who put me together, wouldn’t it, Seranya? I suppose I owe it to him to stop in and say thank you, but… I have a bad feeling about it.”
“Oh, you misunderstand, Mac,” Pac says with a mock-evil grin “I said I wouldn’t treat you any different, I made no promises on what I was thinking!” Mac just smiles. “You’re a card, buddy. How about you put old humpty dumpty back together again, eh? Or at least make it so it doesn’t sting when I put my shirt back on?” Pacoy just nods as he gets back to work.
Seranya smiles, getting a far-off look on her face. “He’s a good Master.” Her smile begins to fade. “But I haven’t seem him in a long time. I miss him.” Mac looks forward, doing his best to ignore Pacoy’s work on his back. “We’ll find him for you, Seranya, if we can. So, Pitbull, how’s the traffic looking up there?”
Traffic on the road ahead has been getting steadily thicker over the past few minutes as various roads all merge into one, heading straight into the heart of the city. The free city’s namesakes are readily evident,smog-spewingi smokestacks growing high up into the night sky. A fire seems to burn directly ahead in the heart of the city, a dull red glow emenating from the horizon. This is the Steamworks, the largest factory complex on the continent, with everything in one place required to go from raw ore to a cybernetic battle tank. The soot and smog rolls across the urban terrain like a blight, making everything appear in the same shades of gray as those in an Edgerunner’s heart.
A sign ahead glows dimly in the night, the barely-neon light reading out weakly:
Welcome to Foundry.
Pitbull lights another cigarette, savoring the combined flavors of the whiskey and the menthol as he squints at the city before him. “We’re there, dudes.” Mac looks at the end of Pitbulls cigarette quizically. “That we seem to be – I say we get Wormwood to the hospital, see if we can get him mobile again. At the very least, we can get a wheelchair and a parking sticker, right?” Wormwood snorts, “Then over to Radio City to get Mac fixed up.” “Patches, band-aids, and re-stock what we can.” Pacoy agrees.
Mac looks to Eris. “Can you arrange for some extra funds from the sponsor of this little trip? I could find some way to make it worth your while, I’m sure.” Eris lies down, obviously tired from the excitement, closing her eyes. “No renegotiation in the field and doped to the gills. We’ll talk after medical puts me right as rain.” She closes her eyes, smiling a little smile – satisfied that even if they don’t make it to Omaha in time, she’s got the story of the year locked up in her skull already.