The desires of metal and flesh
By Blood Shinobi
It was late evening in the city of Detroit, and only minutes had passed since Malik and Adam had returned from China. Despite the setbacks the mission had been a success. On their way home however, their chopper had sustained a mechanical failure that prevented Malik from reaching the landing pad of Sarif headquarters. As an alternative she had to put the vehicle down on a civilian airstrip on the outskirts of Detroit. There was no one around to help them refuel and repair the chopper. The agent and pilot were going to have to travel via another method. However, while flying above Detroit, Adam had listened to the radio about violent riots taking place near Sarif Industries. Adam needed help, and contacted Pritchard, the head of cyber-security division.
"Come in, Pritchard. Malik and I just returned from China and we were forced to set the chopper down on a small airfield four clicks south-east from our designated landing zone. Things are looking rough downtown. Can you check the satellite feed and tell me of a safe path to get to Sarif Industries as quickly as possible?"
"Sorry to disappoint you, Adam. While you two were busy on your 'vacation' on the other side of the world, things have become quite messy here in Detroit. Violent riots between supporters and protestors of augmentations have broken out. The police are stuck in the middle trying to round everyone up. Heavily guarded roadblocks and barricades have been set up to prevent the riots from spreading. There is no path that is either safe or quick."
The technician's answer did not sit well with Adam who muttered under his breath."Can't we go through the police blockades if we identify ourselves as Sarif employees?"
"Not likely. The police are on full alert and will probably arrest you as soon as you approach. They're putting in their big toys to quell the riots as we speak: everything from tear gas, water cannons, tazer grenades and even boxguard droids. Reports of wounded civilians and officers are rolling in steadily. No casualties so far, luckily, although there have been some sporadic gunshots, and a few fires have broken out. I sure am glad I'm safe up here."
It was tempting for Adam to throw a snide remark about Pritchard's safety, but he had to focus on other matters. He promptly assessed the situation, weighing the risks and opportunities alike. He was confident he could have found a way to bypass the barricades and anyone trying to get in his way, if he'd been alone. However, he couldn't guarantee Malik's safety on a journey like that, and there was no way he'd risk her. She was a chopper pilot and not a trained agent.
"Then what are you suggesting? You've got to give me something to work with, Pritchard." As Adam pressed on, he the rapid-fire clicking of Pritchard's fingers on a keyboard as the cyber specialist hunted for a solution.
"Well, it's not like I'm predicting the weather forecast, but I've been following police broadcasts and satellite feeds for the past two hours. The riots appear to be slowly and steadily loosening up. I suggest you and Malik find a safe haven and bunker down for the night. Hopefully things will look better in a few hours. I must warn you though; there are news of looters, criminals and other trash taking advantage of the chaos, so I would stay clear of the densely populated streets and shady alleys if I were you."
"Adam," Malik, who had quietely listened to the exchange of words between the two men suddenly intervened and offered an alternative, "My apartment is not too far away from here. We can go there."
"Your apartment? How safe is it?"
"It's located in a gated community. The apartment itself is at the top floor, and has a high grade security door that can withstand any assaults and hacking attempts from pesky rioters." a half-hearted smirk escaped her lips. "When you work for Sarif Industries you can afford some better than average stuff." Despite the serious situation she still had some spirit left to humor herself. Her answer satisfied Adam, who relayed it to Pritchard.
"Okay, we're heading over to Malik's place. Inform me immediately when the riots are about to clear up. We must return to Sarif Industries as soon as possible."
"Alright. In the mean time you two enjoy your little 'date' then." Pritchard added a characsteristic sarcastic remark.
Adam pretended he did not hear that and ended the conversation. "Pass over the coordinates to your apartment. I'll take point. You stay close to me." He said to Malik, who tapped several buttons on her wrist computer. A few seconds later, the coordinates appeared on Adam's interface, informing him which direction and path to follow." Let's move!" The two of them ran off.
The alleys and streets were surprisingly and conveniently nearly empty of people. Adam did not care where the citizens were, whether they were actively participating in the riots or staying indoors, as he long as he could avoid trouble. Occasionally, Adam and Malik passed by several civilians who mostly ignored the strange duo, only giving them odd glances before minding their own business. A small group of men, however, armed with blunt objects, stopped the duo's progress in the middle of an alley. The thugs demanded Malik and Adam hand over any valuables, or there would be a lot of pain. Adam attempted to solve the situation by negotiating with them, using a fine mixture of threat and reason in his choice of words and tone. His words fell on deaf ears. The men moved in closer, brandishing their weapons. Adam instead took a more direct solution by throwing himself at them head on with nothing but his fists.
An impressed and worried Malik personally witnessed her co-worker and guardian's fighting prowess, as Adam moved and struck like a black lightning. Dexterously, he dodged their clumsy attacks and lashed out with precise and powerful punches and swings. His fists seemed to be everywhere at once; blocking, disarming and striking with such style and swiftness that Malik found it nearly impossible to follow his moves. Shortly thereafter, their assailants were all either unconscious or groaning in pain as they lay on the ground. With the situation solved, Adam and Malik double paced towards her home.
Shortly, they arrived to a big apartment building within a gated area. From there on, Malik lead Adam up several sets of stairs until they arrived on the top floor, where the door leading into Malik's apartment was located. "Home sweet home," smirked Malik who used a keycard followed by an access code to open the sturdy door. The pleasant feeling of safety greeted her as she and Adam entered the apartment and closed the door behind them. A parched throat reminded her that she hadn't had anything to drink for hours.
"I'm heading to the kitchen. Can I get you anything, Adam? You're my guest, and I'm your accommodating host."
"No thanks, I'm good."
While Malik occupied herself in the kitchen, Adam went to the biggest area of her apartment, the living room. Malik's place looked like a cozy and decently-sized penthouse that was very modern but still had a swing of old fashion to it. An elegant cross between antique and futuristic. There was a glass door. He opened it and stepped out to a balcony that offered a grand view over the city. The view of the shining stars in the cloudless night sky mingling together with the city lights could be described as spectacular, if it weren't for the fire and smoke pillars in the far distance. Rather than peaceful silence, there was an unsettling chaos of sirens, yelling and the occasional gunshot. It was as if a war zone had erupted in central Detroit. The chaos had a strange beauty of its own. Frustration bit at Adam's patience. If it weren't for the riots he could have been reporting to his boss, David Sarif by now.
Malik returned from the kitchen and joined him on the balcony, holding a drink with ice cubes in it. She let out a relaxing sigh as she took a few refreshing sips from her drink, leaning herself onto the railing. "Thanks for protecting me earlier. Those were some impressive moves you did back there. You delivered quite the pain train to those guys. I've never seen anyone fight like that."
"Just another day at the job," Adam responded with his characteristic monotonic voice.
"You let them all live. But you could've killed them if you wanted to, right?"
Adam nodded. "I've met many criminals, from simple purse snatchers to inhuman serial killers. Most of the men we met back at the alley were ordinary citizens believing they could take advantage of the disorder without suffering any legal consequences. They acted tough, but I could tell they were scared. They wielded those weapons for intimidation and make us surrender our money and other belongings without any real harm done to either side. But I wouldn't take any chances to let them hurt you."
"I guess that makes you my knight in dark armor then." Malik finished the rest of her drink, leaving the ice cubes rattling at the bottom of her glass. "I'm sorry," she said.
"About what?" he inquired with a raised eyebrow.
"For being a burden to you earlier. If it weren't for me you could work your way through the riots somehow and meet David," Malik responded, her voice laced with shame.
"Don't let that drag you down. The success of a mission is important, but the safety of my team has even higher priority. I don't abandon my team mates so that they might get robbed, or worse." Adam put emphasis on the last word.
His response managed to cheer Malik up once more, as noted by her smile when she looked up to him. "We're a team? I've never thought of it like that. But I like the sound of it."
"Who else can I rely on to spontaneously fly me across the world?"
Malik chuckled. "I need to switch into something more comfortable. This flight suit is too hot. Excuse me for a moment." Both of them went back in, with Malik disappearing through another doorway.
While he waited, Adam took the liberty to start up the large TV and switch to 'Picus TV' news channel so that he could follow the progress of Detroit's riots. The live news was reported by the mystifying and beautiful woman, Eliza Cassan.
Adam spotted movement in the corner of his vision. As he craned his neck, he caught a glimpse of Malik's tanned and fit form through partially opened door, wearing nothing but dark undergarments. As quickly as she had appeared, she was gone. Adam felt a subtle warmth grow within his cheeks, and he chose to look the other way. It was the first time in many months he saw so much bare skin on an attractive woman in person. If the fact that the woman was Malik his chopper pilot and co-worker made his unintentional lecherous moment better or worse, he couldn't decide.
Malik returned to the living room, having taken off her flight suit in favor for something lighter and general, but not too casual. Her new set of clothes consisted of loose fitting jeans and a white tank top that together accentuated the short haired woman's tomboyish appearance. "Ah, that's much better. If I were alone I would probably be wearing simple sweat pants and a t-shirt while gorging myself with chocolate ice cream in front of the TV." She slumped down onto the couch, with Adam sitting close to her.
Both of them set their gaze on the TV. The evening was still young, and neither of them wanted to sleep. Thus, they had to make the best of it and pass the time together until it was safe for them to move to Sarif Industries. Adam thought it would not be right to only talk about work while at Malik's. The woman in his company had flown him across the world at more than one occasion. Malik was offering her home to him, and he barely knew her. Who was she really? Perhaps it was time to talk lightly about common and private matters.
"So, Fly Girl, who is the lucky guy who gets to have his own chopper pilot for a girlfriend?" Probably not the best of questions to break the silence, but now it was out in the open.
"Hah, there's no lucky one anymore. I've been single for almost a year now." Malik shrugged. "I'm glad it's over."
"Oh?" Adam, surprised by the last part of her response, inquired a little deeper on the subject instead of moving on.
The woman pondered silently for a short moment to collect bits of her memory. "You remember me telling you about the small augments I have? Well, prince charming could not accept 'my improvements'. He was paranoid about the notion of augmentations making us lose our humanity, and the government would probe our heads for secrets. He even said I wasn't human anymore. And just like that, he packed his stuff and left me. Last time I heard of him I learned he's a member of Humanity Front." Malik smirked with sadistic glee. "Who knows, maybe one of the guys' asses you kicked at the manufacturing plant earlier was his."
"Yeah, maybe." To think that someone would break up with Malik, or anyone for such petty reason was revolting. Malik had, however, mentioned something that Adam wanted to hear more about. "Did you believe what he said about you not being human anymore?"
"Honestly, I don't think too much about it. I'm only a pilot, remember? The small augs I have in my head make it a little easier for me to pilot my vehicle. My boyfriend treated me like I was some soulless killer robot." Malik scoffed. For a brief moment, she unwillingly recalled the bitter memories of her previous relationship. Her lightly tanned face was then softened up by a playful grin. "Alright, spy boy, I believe I've earned the right to throw the question over to you. How human do you feel?"
Unlike Malik, Adam was surprisingly quick to come up with his own answer regarding such deep question. "I hope you're not expecting a simple answer. What is it that makes us human in the first place? Is it our flesh and blood? Our genes? Instincts? Emotions? Or something we have not yet discovered?" Adam's golden, augmented eyes narrowed into sharp slits as he gazed upon his black, robotic arms. "My limbs are no longer covered in warm and soft flesh. There are no bones or veins within. All of it has been replaced by these cold, lifeless metal appendages."
"God, that sounds horrible." Malik expressed her empathy, noticing the contempt in his voice. "Is your entire body like that now? Cold and lifeless?" She didn't want to pursue the topic if it made Adam uncomfortable, but she hoped that perhaps she could help him come to better terms with his new self.
He shook his head. "It's mainly my limbs, though I do have some 'accessories' inside my torso and skull as well. Many of my organs were damaged in the attack. My heart for example, was thrown away like a wet paper towel and replaced with an augmented pumping device. To answer your question, I'm part machine now, but I still consider myself a living human because I'm in control of my thoughts, emotions and actions. That's what matters." His voice was calm, yet the tone rich with confidence.
"That was a great answer." Adam's response moved Malik to smile warmly. "Quite inspiring, I must say. I had some doubts before and after I acquired my augs. The berating and break up from my boyfriend really didn't help either. I've accepted them as part of me now. It's like wearing glasses; after you've been wearing them on your nose for a while you won't notice them at all. It means-" She then suddenly stopped in mid-sentence. Shamefully, she looked away and palmed her face. "I'm sorry, Adam. That was selfish of me to say. My augs aren't even visible from the outside, while yours are-"
"It's okay, Malik. No offense taken," Adam calmly interrupted her without showing any sign that he had been insulted.
Malik let out a sigh of relief, and turned to look at him again. The remnant of a passing flush was visible on her lightly tanned cheeks."It's troublesome, you know?" She pointed at the TV that showed a live stream of the riots in central Detroit. "This world has enough discrimination against people with different religions, genders, skin colors, political opinions, sexuality. Now augmentations are being added to that list. Will this lead to hate crimes against augmented people? Will augmented people seek out other augmented to live with? The thought has crossed my mind to be honest, for I don't want to date another bigot scumbag who will shun me like the plague the moment he finds out I have a few, small mechanical pieces inside me. I should find myself a guy who is augmentated too to spare us both the awkwardness."
Somehow, her small signs of frustration and anger amused Adam. It was rare to see this side of Malik. "Hm, maybe there will be an online dating site for augmented people only." Although Adam was known for his serious attitude that left very little room for humor, the corners of his lips curled ever so slightly upwards, which didn't go unnoticed by the female pilot.
"That's a good one, Adam. You know, you should smile more often. What about you? Any thoughts about sharing your life with an augmentated woman?"
Malik's question made Adam hesitate somewhat to answer. It was his turn to bring out memories that he wasn't proud of. "I don't think I'm much for relationships. Even when I was part of the police force I didn't share my life with anyone so easily. My past with Megan was somewhat conflicted. I prioritized duty over her. We had something going, Megan and I, but it didn't really involve dating, gifts or flirting. Whatever it was, it belongs to the past now."
"I understand you miss her. We all do. Do you feel lonely?"
"I can't really say I feel lonely. I'm a loner. Solitude has its own comfort. It's just who I am. Why do you ask, Malik?"
"I feel lonely, somehow. Part of my social life has been missing ever since I became single. I have my co-workers, several friends, and my cat. Heck, I even chit-chat with my chopper from time to time." A brief moment of silence followed. "I miss doing it."
"You miss talking to your chopper?"
"No!" Malik struggled to hold back a nervous chuckle. "You know, doing it."
"I see, you miss having sex." Adam replied in a rather laid-back manner, in stark contrast to Malik.
"Yeah, that. No matter how much we become augmented, becoming more machine and less human, our bodily and mental desires should never go away. Don't you miss it too? Does your...," Malik shyly gestured at Adam's groin. "Does everything down there work?"
"If you're referring to my dick, then yes. It was barely even scratched after I was attacked. It's still 100% organic."
"I see. No need to augment something that's already doing great, eh?" His female co-worker wittily replied.
At that point, Adam began to notice a pattern with Malik's behavior and choice of words. He used his social enhancer built into his eyes to scan her involuntary reactions, reading the movements and dilations of her pupils, the red tone growing on her tanned cheeks, her increased heart rate. She was nervous about something, yet she did not stop.
"Malik...if I didn't know any better I'd say you're coming on to me." His composed words hit the other woman like a bullet.
"Oh! No! No, that's not it. No, it's just that I-I think you look hot with your augmentations considering what happened. I mean I thought you looked great even before, andandand... Oh god I'm blabbering now, aren't I?"
"Relax, I'm not interrogating you." He chuckled, amused by Malik's shy demeanor.
"Do you think...we both desire to be desired? Is that something you think you and I can help each other with, between us augmented, even if only for one night?" Her words, merely a whisper, held a deeper meaning hidden by the shade of hesitation and morals. The furtively slow, yet suggestive stroking of her hand on Adam's thigh shed light on what she desired from him. Adam could sense the tension emanating from his friend. She knew she was treading risky waters and her only option was to continue swimming, lest she would sink and perhaps never resurface. Boldly, she slid closer and brought her smooth lips to tenderly kiss his stubble-covered cheek.
There was no noticeable reaction from Adam that Malik could interpret to whether she should continue or back away. Thoughts raced and screamed inside her head. Was she following what she truly wanted, or making a mistake? Adam's passive attitude quickly put Malik at unease, and shattered what little courage she had mustered. Her hand retreated, and she pulled herself away to the other edge of the couch. "Oh god! I'm sorry for coming onto you like that. It was a mistake. Can we keep this to ourselves? I could lose my job because of this."
While remorse tore at her from within, and fear of the future haunted her mind, Malik barely heard Adam as he moved in behind and wrapped his arms around her stomach. Contrary to her expectations, his limbs did not feel cold, but instead surprisingly warm.
"Didn't I tell you to relax?" She heard his soft voice behind her. His warm breath caressed the sensitive skin of her ears, sending a shiver through her body. Malik turned around and smiled as she looked up to him. Robotic digits were brought through her short and black hair. Her cheek was caressed. She brought her hand up to hold onto his, letting flesh and metal join together. For a moment, the man and the woman gazed at one other. Though both of them remained silent, their eyes spoke a purposeful language.
"Fly Girl," he said.
"Spy Boy," she replied.
The two of them traded the goofy nicknames they had somehow come up for each other during their previous flight to China. The exchange of nicknames served as one last verbal confirmation for them to throw away principles and embrace each other. Adam related to Malik. Both of them had suffered and lost something because of their augmentations. She needed him, but he suspected he needed her more. Both of them sought something from which only the other could provide. Their desires involved something deeper than just intimate body contact. They wanted to feel attracted, beautiful and wanted, even if it was only for one night. Without further ado, a grinning Malik took Adam's arm and led him to the bed room.
The night was theirs. David Sarif may have to wait a bit longer before getting Adam's report.