a/n – Er, well, yeah, so...This is a dark-bunny that has been hopping around in my head for a while. Very, very AU. (Apologies to; Peter Hamilton and Martin Caidin.)
Not quite Here, and not quite Now...
The SoCal Robotics Challenge, and a girl watches a team work on their 'bot. She's pretty, in a wholesome, Midwestern way, all blonde hair and perfect white teeth and generous curves of honey-toned skin. It's almost the face and body she was born with, but then, this is L.A.
Howard ceases to be creepy when he's working, face intent behind the welding mask as he delicately solders connections. Raj monitors the screens, mutters minute adjustments. Leonard, face underlit by his own screen, hacks and patches code.
At least Raj can talk to her now. Leonard doesn't so much any more, and she understands why. Since the accident, things have never been the same, no way to pick up their not-quite relationship.
She knows that he is seeing Stephanie again, had met her while he was visiting the hospital.
"It's time." Leonard says. Pause. "Sheldon?"
Sheldon's head tilts, small increments. And then he pushes himself upright out of his wheelchair. His movements are stiffer, now, which is hardly surprising.
Stands behind his podium, and his face is all shadow and angles, his eyes heavy-lidded, mere slits of blue. She sits behind him, can see under his arm to the arena below, watch his hands as they rest on the black box in front of him...
...It isn't the largest 'bot in the competition, but it has speed and precision, and sheer savagery. Checks and weaves and moves, lures larger 'bots into traps and corners and direct confrontations with each other...
...The drunk driver had come out of nowhere. Metal and glass and the crunch-smash-grind into darkness...
...blades shriek across metal, sparks and the whine of tortured hydraulics...
...there had been flames, too. And so much blood...
...jagged-tooth edge bites into something, spray of oil and fluid...
...There had been sirens, and somebody moaning...
...klaxons and flashing lights and the crowd screaming, faces painted in neon and distorted by glee, rage...
...no pain, though. Just cold, the chill of steel and night and nothingness...
...final shatter-snarl, and the last machine slides to a halt, spewing wire and small parts across the arena...
...they had wanted to turn the machines off. 'Total paralysis', 'irreversible organ damage'...But it seems that little things like that don't stop one of the most brilliant minds in the world...
...hands lift away from the box, precise and controlled. He hasn't touched a single switch. He hasn't needed to.
He is a genius, of course. You don't win the Wiener and McCulloch Award at the age of fourteen for nothing. His first PhD was in cybernetics, his second revolutionary in the field of neuroprosthetics. And his work on positronic-synaptic interfaces had seemed likely to result in the Nobel Prize for Physiology one day.
If one body fails, you simply build another.
An unlikely player on the circuit, he still attracts too much attention for comfort. He avoids the party after the bout, merely accepts his winnings and allows Penny to push his chair back to the small, anonymous van parked at the edge of the lot. They have said their awkward goodbyes to the others – Howard has taken the 'bot back to repair the outer shell, Raj and Leonard have detached and packed the control unit into the little case that rests in Sheldon's messenger bag. And now they have gone back to their nearly-normal lives, Chinese food and video games and stunted forays into dating.
They order Chinese, too. A meal for two, though only half of it will be eaten.
"You think it will be tonight?"
"I do. This last event was too public."
It is past midnight when the men break into the van, the security lock blown and the door wrenched open. Three stocky figures in dark gear – professionals with guns.
"You've perfected the cybernetic-neural interface, Dr Cooper."
"I have already said that I will not turn my research over." Words are precise, just the slightest drag and hesitation in his speech. "I never intended my work to have a military application."
The taser hits him in the chest, network of sparks, and his entire body convulses, drops.
"You don't get a choice, tin man." The man says. "Toss the place for his 'ware and files."
One of the others pulls back the curtain, gives a start.
"He's got a girl in here." He gives a sharp laugh, "Maybe he's not a robot, after all."
"He's not." Penny says. "I am."
Her punch shatters his jaw.
Not machines, this time, but people, who are so much easier to break. Contingency Plan Junior Rodeo.
She strides out of the yard, leaves the blazing van behind her, his long body unwieldy in her arms. She cannot cry, does not breathe. But she can walk. Can walk forever, if need be. Can carry him away from this place, into the peaceful night.
"Sheldon, don't you dare be dead."
One eye opens.
"You called yourself a robot." His voice is weak, but severe. "That's inaccurate. You're a cyborg, Penny. You still have your own brain and spinal column..."
His own legs are more metal than bone, now, and still not quite perfected, because he had had to direct that work remotely. But for her...he had done the work himself. And she can walk, run, even dance, but...
"I can't feel." She says. "I can remember, but I'll never..."
"Never is a term subject to alteration." He says, more strongly. His blue eyes are direct, clear. Human. "One day, I will give you back the world."
She can't cry, but she can smile.
"And in the meantime, I'll never need to diet, and I'll always look twenty-four. Yay me."
"Definitely your own brain." He mutters, but the corners of his own mouth turn up.
"Go to sleep." She says, "I'll wake you before dawn."
"Hmph." Settles his head on her shoulder, cradling the messenger bag. "We'll need to get another van."
"One that I don't have to push out of the lot this time. You still owe me for that pair of heels..."