Wednesday, February 22, 2051
The Lazarus team stands at a now-silent intersection of two highways, the overpass sitting in still rubble around them. Fires from a recently-crashed dune buggy still rage, while several recent combatants bleed out under the desert sun. Wormwood leans against the big Amur SUV, his hand in the grip of the pocket doctor, trying to recover from the pain and blood loss caused by a heavy machine gun bullet ripping through his palm.
Most of the team has gathered to look down into a hideaway created in the ruins of the overpass. The mutilated face of a young woman stares out from the dark crevice, the skin on one half of her face completely ripped away, leaving a metallic skull grinning up at Mac and Wormwood. Her one pale blue eye blinks while the metallic gray one just stares upwards, motionless.
Mac stares at the woman, searching her one eye for something, anything. It’s days like these that I realize there’s little justice in this world, for a dame to get harmed in a way like this… “Miss, c-can you hear me, miss? Are you okay?” Pitbull stares with trepidation, not sure if to help her or shoot her down. I watched Terminator. I think I know how this shit’s goin’ down… Pacoy reaches Wormwood, medical supplies ready “Let me take a look at that, Worm.” Wormwood flinches as the little pocket doc does its best on his mangled hand. “That’s some heavy cyberware that girl has,” he observes. He calls out to Mac, “Hey, try offering her some water or food. I’m not even sure the nomads out here always speak standard American, so gestures might work where words don’t.”
Mac nods back to his friend, digging through his pants pocket for a ration bar, unwrapping the corner of it and holding it out to the girl. “C’mon, Moll, we mean no harm.” He ensures to keep his hands away from his armament as much as possible. He puts one hand to his chest, looking at her intently, introducing himself as “Mac,” before gesturing to her, then back to himself and repeating this several times. Feel like I’ve gone off the preserve and am living with the animals, now… Pitbull steps closer to her, weapon trained on her. “We will not hurt you, but no sudden moves, right?”
Pacoy inspects Wormwoods hand “This might hurt a bit, but it should work – I’ve done this on ’bots plenty of times…” he says, trying hard to suppress a grin as he patches the hand up. Wormie yelps at one probe of his wound, “Ow! Do I look like a droid, Pac?” “Nah,” Pacoy smiles at Wormwoods reaction “Most of them are in a lot better shape!”
“Pits, don’t point your weapon at the lady! She’s harmless!” Mac stops looking at the woman for a second, his hand waving down at Pitbull’s gun. Pitbull grimaces as he realizes that he isn’t inspiring a lot of faith with keeping a weapon pointed at her. “Not so sure myself. How do we know she hasn’t been rigged to explode. Saw that shit in Tiahuanna.” “Well if she’s rigged to explode, why are you stepping even closer?” Mac throws a quizzical look at Pitbull, before his eyes widen at the realization of what he’s said.
The girl darts forwards, a slender hard reaching out to grab the ration bar. The hand is well formed, with smooth skin almost free of blemishes; there’s not a single callous on it. The fingernails are smoothly painted a light blue, matching her one good eye; Mac can just make out dirt and what might be blood hidden under her fingernails. When she grabs the bar, her hand brushes Mac’s own; her skin is cool to the touch, and there’s something about it that’s just a little off. Mac can’t quite put his finger on it, but it’s almost as if the skin doesn’t pulse with life.
Her actions, movements, the way her eye is darting around the intersection – it speaks volumes for her state of mind. She’s scared, possibly even terrified – but like her hand, Mac senses that there’s something just a little off about it. There’s just something not right about her.
“‘Cause I’ve got enough body armor to survive it, and the know-how to see if she has the infected stitching of potential explosives being sown inside.” Pitbull says as he watches her snatch the ration from Mac’s hand, close enough to observe her for marks and stitches.
“Wow,” Pacoy says, noticing the girl in better detail, “I wonder how much of her is real any more? This looks like phenomenal work.” “Well spit on my shoes and say it’s raining…” Mac whistles back to Pacoy. “You ever dealt with a walking dead girl before?” He turns his attention towards her, digging out another ration bar. “Don’t worry darling. You’re safe here, we won’t hurt you.” He makes what he hopes are soothing motions, beckoning her to come out.
Wormie tilts his head quizzically as he watches the girl. He sends via subvocal comms, “She’s traumatized, guys, but Pac’s right – I think there’s more metal than flesh there, in her head too. It’s like she’s remembering she should be traumatized, or pretending to it.” Mac nods, sending back, “She doesn’t feel… alive. There’s something there, to be sure, an intelligence, but… she’s not alive now, even if she ever was.” “Nothing like this Mac,” Pacoy says in wonder “This looks like a real miracle of technology, and I don’t use that term lightly! I wouldn’t mind finding out who did the work on this one!"
The girl shoves the ration bar in her mouth, wrapper and all; it doesn’t take long for the whole thing to disappear, her metal chompers making short work of cutting it down to bite-sized pieces which she swallows with gusto. As the last bits enter her gullet, she looks back up at Mac. She takes a tentative crawl forwards, then vocalizes for the first time. Her voice is at once both soft and harsh, like a low-bandwidth recording of a young woman. She stutters half her words, her remaining facial muscles twitching occasionally when she speaks. “Who- who aaarrre you?”
Mac sits down on his tucas amid the degree, holding the second bar out. “My name is Mac. Mac. These are friends. Wormwood, Pitbull, Pacoy. Friends. Who are you?”
Pitbull sends a HUD message to the entire team. “The last thing we need is a wild card like her on the crew. I’ve never trusted much in areas like this, and I’ll need a damn good reason to start now.” Mac smiles as he HUD’s to Pitbull. “C’mon big fella, cute little girl like this don’t make you want to cut a rug, settle down and start a family of little jarheads?”
“Guys,” Pacoy seems amazed “I don’t think this is a girl. I mean not in the ’Hey guys that hooker looks like a Tranny’ kinda way, but I’m pretty sure this is an amazing android – designed to look and act like a human – it might not even know it’s an it… be careful!” “Don’ even take out my dick for longer than to piss out here in the badlands. I save my urges for after. I’ve actually shot people in Mexico mid-coital, y’know.” Pitbull HUD messages back in reply.
As Pacoy finally finishes working on it, Wormie flexes his hand and winces at a stab of pain. “Thanks, Pac, that’s good work. I can use it, which is better than I hoped for, and at least I know the hole’ll heal under the spray bandage now. I owe ya one, my friend. Seriously.” Wormwood backs that assertion up with a solemn nod of the head. “Yeah, yeah.” Pacoy nods distractedly to Wormwood, “Flesh heals, modern medicine is awesome. Sure. But this, guys – this is amazing! By the looks of it, I’d guess it’s an older model – maybe 15 years. Beyond Cutting Edge at one point, and still incredible. I need to find out where this come from!”
Mac blinks a few times. “An android? All the way out here? Who’d get rid of one of those? Aren’t they expensive?” He looks back at the damedroid, attempting to communicate in the same way as earlier. “Mac.” He holds his hand out to the girl, beckoning for her to come out.
“Either way, she’s too much of an unknown. She could attempt an attack on all of us. I intend to finish the mission with as few of us dead as possible.” Pitbull sends, via HUD text to everyone. Wormie does a double take. “Hey, maybe those guys we wasted were trying to get their property back. Oops, our bad.” He grins, “Finders keepers, and no Candy to make a stump speech about it. It’s yours as far as I’m concerned, Pac. Call it a first share of the loot.”
Mac waves Pacoy over. “You could ask her, y’know. Or at least buy her a drink before you try and flip her skirt up to find her maker’s mark.”
The mechanical girl backs into her hole, away from the Lazarus team. Moments later, a hunting rifle – one bastardized from spare parts of possibly five or six other weapons – comes flying out of the hole, landing at Mac’s feet. The girl comes out shortly afterwards, steadying herself on one obviously mechanical arm before getting up to stand on two perfectly formed, human-like legs. The artificial arm, like her weapon, appears to be cobbled together from a multitude of sources, and was certainly not factory installed. The hand, for example, is a simple three-fingered claw with one finger a large ‘scoop’ opposed by two thinner, more mobile phalanges.
Pacoy studies the bot with interest as Mac pulls it from the rubble, then silently comms the team “I don’t want to spook it, if it thinks it’s a girl, I want to roll with it. Any “memories” programmed in could be useful to us.” Pitbull looks on her stone faced, debating on compassion or survival. “Pacoy, I’ll let you keep her along, but anything happens with her, or by her will be on your head. If she attempts to murder us all…” “Ummhmmm” Pacoy mumbles distractedly, “My head, gotcha.” Wormie heads towards the Amur, “Does she get a seat or shall I clear space on the roof rack, Pacoy?”
Mac stands, eyes not leaving the girl. “What’s your name, doll?” He casts a glance at the gun at his feet, sending a quick HUD message to Pitbull. “Hey, you like guns, right? New one for your collection.” Pitbull looks at the ramshackle rifle that was thrown at the ground, before picking it up and appraising it…
Pacoy straightens up and shifts from calling the android an ‘it’ to acting like it’s a real woman. “Miss,” Pacoy starts, extending his hand, “my name is Pacoy, I’m a medic. Can you tell me who you are? I can take a look at that hand for you.” Mac throws a HUD message to the rest of the team, “I’d bet Pacoy wants a look at more than her hand…” The young woman nods her head, acting a little shy as she turns to Pacoy. She raises her mechanical arm, pointing at her ravaged face.
The girl looks up at Mac, her face going into a frown. “I-I aaaam Seranya.” She doesn’t seem to like talking all that much. Mac smiles. “Nice to meet you Seranya. Would you let Pacoy here take a gander at you, make sure you’re okay?” He moves to keep an eye on Wormwood, sending a wry comment. “I think she eats food, just like we do.”
Wormwood, having hurriedly cleared the sixth seat in the big Russian SUV, heads towards the nearest crashed buggy, his pistols out and ready, to inspect the wreckage. Pacoy orders the kestrel to provide support for Wormwood as he makes introductions with the fembot. Reaching the first wreck, Wormie moves in cautiously to make sure the occupants are dead.
Pitbull considers her mismatched and rigged weapon. This a desperate tool of a desperate survivor. I’m having my doubts on if she’s actually a walking trap, but I’m still not convinced that there isn’t something… malicious about her.
Mac looks away from Wormwood temporarily. “You think she’s fit for travel, Pac? Are we taking her with us?” “Damn, Guys” Pacoy says apologetically “I know we are on a time-sensitive mission, and this thing is potentially homicidal, so I’ll leave it to a vote: We can take it as a refugee, I can disable it and throw it with the gear, or we could even shut it down and stash it someplace safe until we can come back. I won’t let my curiosity ruin our mission.”
Wormwood makes it to the closest buggy – the burned-out wreck that had already been there when the team arrived on-site. It’s a twisted thing, without much in the way of possible salvage. The thing looks like it was taken right out of the shop, a job half-finished – parts are simply missing, including and one door looks like it was half-on even before the crash. The pintle mount for the machine gun the other buggies had been firing is empty, and the only supply the buggy seems to have had was a full supply of vegetable oil for fuel, which is still slowly burning away.
The girl angrily points her mechanical hand again, this time reaching out and poking a spot on her left, mechanical cheek with one of her slender fingers. She opens her mouth, mimicking speech. Pitbull turns to look back on her, watching Pacoy speak to her as though she were living. All I know is, we can’t afford to hesitate if she shows any signs of malice. I don’t want her here, but this is a team effort, I suppose, and they trust her. I just hope my sudden break of strategy from survival doesn’t cost us dearly… “If we go with Option A,” Pacoy cautions, “I say we try and conceal it from Eris, or at least not tell her straight out. She’s sharp, I’m sure she’ll catch on, so no sense in lying about it, but we don’t need to tell her, either.”
Wormwood sends over comms, “Nothing interesting in the droid girl’s buggy. I’m heading over to the one Pits creamed. Pac, Eris will already know, the way she’s got us all wired for sound. Take the droid, at worst she’s a future bargaining chip.” As he says that, Pacoy looks up at one of Eris’s ever-present camera drones, recording the entire field of goings-on. Eris herself is standing nearby, carefully watching the girl, her lips moving as she subvocally records notes and voice-overs of the situation.
“Ah! I think her speech ability is compromised!” Pacoy realizes, finally paying attention to the droids pantomimes, “I can fix that back at the van, miss.” Wormie comms, “Guys, any chance you can load her up and bring the van over in case there’s anything worth taking?” Mac nods. “Lets get her loaded up, Pac – take a look at her when we’re on the road. Pits, can you bring the van around?” Pitbull nods after a moment, and starts his trudge to the van, brain wracked with worry and concern.
The robot girl, Seranya, nods gratefully to Pacoy. Her malfunctioning vocal processor speaks out, the soft purr of her voice distorted by frequent clips and skips. She almost seems in pain as she says the words. “Thaannkk yoouu.” Mac heads with the girl and Pacoy back to the van to assist in getting her loaded in properly and the van started and moved over to Wormwood.
As Wormwood approaches the second buggy, he can already see that it’s a rather different situation from the first. The buggy is on its side, a result of flipping over end-over-end after the driver bit the dust while at high speed, but the rugged little thing is still mostly intact. The driver looks like he might even be alive, though unconscious. As for salvage, this wreck still sports a machine gun on its pintle mount. The driver and gunner both probably had personal weapons on them when they died, but they apparently weren’t stowed very well – there’s no sign of them now, and if they fell out when the buggy tipped end-over-end they’re likely buried out there somewhere under the sand. Some supplies didn’t get tossed away, mainly food and water, but they don’t appear to have been outfitted for a long expedition – or, if they were, the supplies are trapped under the desert sand along with the lost weapons.
Wormwood stops about four yards away and comms “hey guys, I found a live one!”. Then he calls out softly, “Hey buddy, I’m coming over. One wrong move and I’ll double tap you, so don’t even breath wrong.” He begins to move forward cautiously.
Pitbull comms Wormwood as he shuts the door to the Amur and starts the engine, “Leave him to me. I’ve got… experience with this.”
Reaching the buggy, Wormwood first checks both occupants for a pulse. The gunner is dead; if he had survived the bullet wound, the crash would have been enough – a large section of his skull is folded inwards, with various fluids leaking out. The driver is still alive, but unconscious and bleeding out – if he doesn’t get fist aid soon, he isn’t going to survive. Wormwood comms “Yep, one still alive but maybe not for long. get over here!” He binds the live driver’s wrists with cufftape – just to be sure – and waits beside the buggy for the rest to arrive.
Seranya, led on by Pacoy and Mac, steps up to the Amur. She looks at the big SUV with something approaching reverence, a little smile playing upon her broken face. Her eye scans the side of the vehicle, caressing every detail – even the bullet holes, both the old ones and those fresh from the gun battle back in Night City. She rests her mechanical arm on the side of the car, her tendril-like fingers dancing upon its skin before she finally gets in. Pitbull gives a hard glance at her as he gets out of the vehicle and begins to make his way to Wormie’s wreck. He moves with the urgency of a summer stroll as he still rolls over the information in his head. “Keep me posted on her movements guys. Anything out of the norm she does, I wanna know.” Pitbull comms the entire team. Mac swings the door of the Amur open, dangling his legs from the side, keeping an eye on the proceedings, the surrounding area, and their new acquisition, while making idle chat with Eris.
“Miss, I’m going to help this guy, real quick, then I’ll help you.” Pacoy assures the fembot. Eris sits next to the robot-lady, touching her shoulder gently. Seranya seems a little comforted by the gesture, but is looking out into space as Mac and Eris talk in quiet whispers.
Eris quirks an eyebrow at Mac. “So, what are you going to do with her? There’s no law out here to hand her over to; are you just going to escort her around from now on?” Mac looks over to Eris. "Same thing I’d do if she were a real lady, Eris. Keep her alive until she can figure out what to do with herself. Like as not, Pacoy’s her best chance, so I’ll be sticking with what he’s got in mind. "
Looking around, Wormie has an idea. Freeing a belt from the buggy’s engine, he wraps it in cufftape to prevent any oil or debris getting on the man’s wounds, then uses the belt and more cufftape to create temporary bandages and a tourniquet. At least the guy won’t bleed out before the others arrive.
Hearing Wormwood’s dilemma, Pacoy drives the van over to him, keeping an eye on the fembot as he drives. The Amur slows to a stop next to Wormwood a few minutes after he finishes his rush patch-job on the man’s wounds, covering his torso and parts of his face and skull with bandages. The driver seems mostly stabilized, but whether he’ll survive or not is a question for the future – and the only question that’s likely to be answered by him for a while, as he steadfastly refuses to regain consciousness even after Wormwood’s delicate prodding.
As the rest arrive, Wormie stands, “I can’t wake him up but he’s not going to die right away.” Pitbull catches up as everyone arrives. “Is he ready for a talk?” Pitbull growls darkly. Wormwood shakes his head, “He’s out cold, Pits. We’ve some stims in the van though, you could give them a try.” “Stim him. He has a date with us on a tight schedule.” Pitbull growls, folding his arms across his body-armored chest.
Pacoy take as quick look at Wormie’s patch job, adjusts a bandage, makes sure he is bound and injects him with a stim before nudging the guy with his foot. “Listen, guy” Pacoy says to wounded prisoner, “You can talk to the short guy, or the big guy’ll do something nasty – like clamp jumper cables to your scrotum or ask me to surgically remove an organ, or something equally horrific. Nobody wants a mess and I have pressing matters on my mind, so I’ll go along with what ever is quickest.”
The prisoner moans as the stim works through his veins, bringing him to conscious, sober thought in moments – but not quite dulling the pain or putting his skull all the way back together. His eyes burn bright with intelligence as he stares up at Pacoy, but as he speaks they quickly shift to fear. He nods, slowly. “I- I’ll talk.”
Wormwood makes a face as he pops his claws, “You mean I don’t get to peel his dick like a banana?” Mac cringes, covering his face and ears inside the car, curling up a little. “Was that… necessary?” He peeks out at the horizon from time to time, but still seems greatly ill-at-ease. Pitbull flashes a brief frown at his compliance. “Damn. Was kinda hoping to get a chance to fire off a few rounds and start poking your wounds and scrotum with the muzzle…”
Pacoy nods to the prisoner and heads back to the van. Adjusting the seats, he pulls out his tools, getting to work on the droid. This might hurt a bit, but it should work – I’ve done this on ’bots plenty of times the joke replays in Pacoy’s head ironically. “Sorry for the delay, miss. Let’s see what we can do for you.”
Pitbull leans in close enough to let his breath hit the guys nostrils and growls his words like a starved dog. “Where ya from? Why were you chasing the girl, huh?” The man spits out some blood, just missing Pitbull’s face as he attempts to speak. “We ’dopted a stretch of 71, got a grow op. Steel brat broke out of the shop, stole the buggy she were working on.” He moans in pain a bit. “We was just taking her back. She ours now; salved her fair and square.” He spits out some more blood. “Guess she your problem now. Watch out for ‘er – she don’t obey too good. Always goin’ on about having to go back ta her master.” He gives a funny smile. “Don’t believe he dead. They made ’em stupid back then.” He leans back, quiet.
Pitbull gives a feral grin. "Interesting. Did she ever give a name to this “master” of hers? Did she ever name his location?" He drops a HUD message to Pacoy: “Tend to her needs and watch her closely. Leave the medi-kit. I’ll clean up the mess and keep him living.”
The man leans back, going quieter as the quick stim drug begins to wear off. “Name o’ Brin. Always callin’ him Sir. Never got a location off her – just some random string o’ numbers, and her pointing west.”
Wormwood smiles, coldly, “Thanks, guy. We’re taking your nice machine gun, but we’ll leave the food and water. You should be ok enough to crawl to that other buggy way over there in a few hours if you take it slow.” He walks away from the wounded man, “Enough of this. Pits, can you grab that MG and then we’ll get moving again?”
“Thanks, brah.” Pitbull growls before punching the guy on the head, knocking him back out. “Alright. Who’s driving, now that I got a turret?”
Mac looks on as Wormwood comes back to the van, his leg still dangling through the open door. I’m not sure what’s more merciful – to end that man’s suffering now, or fill him with the hope that he might live. He casts a look at Seranya as he settles into the driver’s seat for the next leg of their journey. Wormwood shrugs at Mac and climbs into the SUV, favoring his injured hand.
It takes Pitbull a few minutes to rip the machine gun – slightly cobbled together, just like the earlier hunting rifle – off of the nice stabilized mount it had in the buggy. He carries the heavy gun and two boxes of belts of ammo back to the Amur; he knows immediately that he’ll either have to fire out of the sunroof by hand or have Pacoy rig up some kind of mounting system to fire with real accuracy while on the move. Mac starts up the Amur and the vehicle begins to roll out into the badlands, beginning the final leg of the journey to Rising. Eris leans back, eyes closed as she mentally reviews and edits the footage her camera drones provided for her as Pacoy leans over the newest member of the crew, his robotics repair kit open on the floor in front of them while his nimble fingers dive deep into the vocal synthesizer of the mechanical girl.