Introductory post for a PBEM RPG I'm in. Pretty long, all things considered. Peace.
Back into the Beast ~Taylor
The knock should have told her what to expect. In hindsight, it was jarringly obvious. Civilians didn't knuckle tap once on apartment doors. Ordinary knocks came in threes, or twos at the very least.
Taylor sat up on the sofa and turned off her television set, wishing she could chew at her lower lip. She hadn't buzzed anyone into the building. She picked up the aluminum bat lying at her feet before going to answer.
She stopped four feet from the door. "Whaddya want?"
"Opening the door would be a start. I thought we had trained you to develop manners." Military arrogance through and through. Shifting the weight of the bat in her hands, she brought her eye level with the peep-hole in her door, and confirmed what her ears had been telling her. Male, and either military or a professional con-man.
"If you're really who you want me to believe you are, you know that's not gonna be enough. Show me something official, or quit wasting my time." As she spoke, Taylor made sure her dead-bolts were locked. When she looked back, a ring dominated the peep-hole's field of vision; silver, three green stones arranged in a triangle. Earth Defense, officer's training; a drill sergeant for drill sergeants.
What school he'd graduated from she couldn't identify. "Just a second," she sighed, undoing the locks and security chains. Without the fish-eyed perspective of the peep-hole, he was as tall as her. Features, sharp before, now looked as if they'd bruise and break at the slightest touch. His suit, clinically white in the hallway, gleamed in the semi-darkness of her apartment.
Holding the door open, she stepped back to let him by, propping the baseball bat into a nearby boot. A conservative smile on his lips, he took in her undershirt, her boxers and the bat with a glance.
"That's cute," he said, tone playful, indicating the weapon. Taylor bared her teeth, wishing briefly they were still combat issue. "The kitchen's on your left. Wait there while I put on some pants." Locking the door behind him, she walked over to her sofa.
Brushing crumbs off a pair of thin jeans, she watched the suit walk through her kitchen, a look of mild amusement on his face. Definitely not a borg then. "I wasn't aware Earth Defense made house calls," she said, zipping her fly as she walked towards him. "Especially to scrap metal grunts. What do you want?"
"A coffee would be prime."
She briefly considered asking him to suck her off, just to see if it would take the smile off his face. "It would be. Why are you here?" Arms crossed on her chest, Taylor leaned against the sink.
"We like to check up on our own once in a while." He strolled over to the cabinet that held her computer and television and fiddled with a few keys. Running his hand across the back of his head, as though smoothing down his solidly gelled hair, he turned back to her.
"It’s nice to know you’re still cared about, isn’t it? Two creams, one sugar if you don’t mind." Speaking as though he was answering an actual inquiry, he moved back across the apartment and into the washroom.
He switched the lights on and let the water run just long enough to dampen his finger tips. Walking back out, he picked up a towel and slowly dried his hands while he approached the pile of clothes shoved into the corner opposite the kitchen. "Interesting, how you’ve brought out the colour of the walls."
He turned back to her again, tossed the towel on the arm of the sofa. "How’s business been lately?"
Taylor stared at the towel, frowning. Six years ago, when her body-model had still been combat viable, she'd... She'd have been saluting him. She'd have been idly wondering how to feed him his own heart, but she would still have been saluting him. Now, six years later, the largest part of her muscle grafts gone, the heaviest of her sub dermal armour removed...
Not much had changed. She was still cyborg. They could still do whatever they pleased.
"There's no cream or sugar. You'll have to take black..." Face expressionless, she met his eyes. "Sir." Dropping a cup in its cradle she started the coffee machine, handed him the cup when it was full. His smile was just returning to its usual, conservative dimensions as he took it.
"No need for that. You’re not military anymore; just a civilian trying to make her way in the big world." He sipped cautiously, making a faint slurping noise. An expression crossed his face for a moment that could have been either surprised approval, or subtle repugnance. "Speaking of making your way, if you’re schedule’s not too tight; we were hoping you might be able to squeeze something else into it."
"Be more specific."
He opened his mouth, seemed to consider something, closed it again. He hesitated a moment longer. "Something of ours has... gone missing. We feel that you would be our ideal choice to... reacquire it."
Taylor repressed the urge to roll her eyes at the cheap dramatics. "Who stole it, what was it and how will you make it worth my time?"
"Yes. No point in beating around the bush I suppose." He readjusted his weight and leaned against the counter, "The package is a prototype borg we’ve been developing for some time now. Perhaps you’re familiar with it." It wasn’t a question. "The Matteo TX-34."
"All I know is that..." It replaced me and every other TX-33 in service. It landed me in this rat-trap shit-hole, and left me in a job that just affords me basic maintenance. Taylor swallowed reflexively. "All I know is that it's scheduled to mainstream with ED four months from now. Has any agency claimed responsibility? How many units were stolen?"
"No. No group has taken credit for it, and we doubt that anyone will. There’s only the one unit missing, assembled and stored at their head laboratory in France." He reached into his jacket and produced a thick manila folder and a small cardboard package, "That should tell you what you need to know about it."
Taylor leafed through the folder. Technical specs? If the unit was stolen, why would she need technical data? Or the pilot's military history, psych profiles, training schedules... The folder dropped on her counter, she thumbed open the package, and emptied it into her hand.
A dark purple Toshiba, shaped like an old style discman fell into her palm. One of those PC-cell phone hybrids. She looked over at her own computer, grey-beige tower fifty times bigger and not half as fast as what she'd just been given.
"The device is constantly connected to V-net," the suit explained. "If and when the Matteo makes attempts to jack, its location will be recorded via the cellular computer. Should you need to contact us, it’s the only programmed number on the phone. There’s also a credit chip in the box that you can use to access your initial spending and traveling fees."
"How much is on the chip?"
"$300,000, just to get you started. Should you require more for an unforeseen reason, funds can be transferred over and deducted from your final fee. We will be monitoring your spending, so try not to get too clever."
Taylor smiled. "Of course." Three hundred thousand for pocket money; that meant the military wasn't just looking in France anymore. She sighed. This was going to get complicated. "How much am I payable on delivery?"
"Well", leaning back off of the counter, he brushed a tiny wrinkle from his jacket, "that really all depends on what condition the unit is returned in." He placed his arms behind his back, "But based on the initial fee, I’m sure you can put your own conclusion together."
Taylor half-growled at the pointless evasions. "I'm a real bad guesser, when it comes to numbers. If you don't wanna say it out loud, paint me a picture." She slid the Toshiba across the counter. "Assume I bring it back without a scratch."
The unnamed officer sighed heavily, and his eyes unfocused for a split second. "Figure that you would be able to re-modify your body to incorporate all the convenient bells and whistles you once enjoyed, and have more than enough left over to live out the rest of your life extremely comfortably."
The corners of her mouth rose insistently. "Boy, if I could do it, I'd be whistling." Her smile disappeared. "Anything else you want to tell me? Something that isn't in the pilot's psych profile or the machine's schematics, maybe?"
He hesitated, as if considering leaving an afterthought as just that, "It went missing four hours after its activation. Cameras and sensors at the labs went down, and when they came back up, the unit was gone."
Spreading his unoccupied hand apologetically, he took another sip of coffee. "It points towards theft, but the developers feel that the Matteo would have resisted... rather successfully."
Unless the pilot wanted to be "abducted", Taylor thought, which would mean this AWOL soldier had powerful allies. A possibility. Remote, but still a possibility.
"Some of the technicians are considering the possibility that one or more of the programs uploaded that morning were corrupted. Given that, it’s a possibility that the psych profile may have holes or gaps. If we gain any new intelligence, we will keep you informed," he finished.
Taylor nodded. If the pilot's mind had been touched by bad code, he'd be a simpler job than otherwise. No easier to track than a regular AWOL, but less likely to surprise you with truly lateral tactics. Unlikely, say, to stick C4 in his optical implant and wait until you're right on top of him...
She rubbed absent mindedly at her neck, nerveless fingers against unfeeling skin. "I want to hear as soon as possible if he's been hacked- if those files are corrupt. I'll keep you posted the second something like a trail starts forming."
"So..." She indicated the door with one hand, held out the other for the half finished cup of coffee. The suit half-smiled again.
"Indeed. I’m sure you’re very busy," he simpered, placing the mug on the counter, just out of arm’s reach. He paused once, before leaving, just inside the apartment, and turned.
"We’ll be in touch." The door gently closed behind him, and soft footsteps quickly disappeared down her hall.
When the ambient noise of the apartment had swallowed his departure, Taylor picked up his mug and locked the door. She collected the hand towel he'd touched and looked around her apartment.
The credit chip and cell-PC sat on the counter, deep purple on scarred wood. She took a sip of the lukewarm coffee, and grimaced, swallowed it. Familiar, but far too bitter. The rest she emptied into the toilet.