And here's the third chapter of Recycled. You should be read up to Big Sister chapter eight. We're taking a bit of a break from Sara's story here since the next chapter contains revelations that require a little more development in the main story - don't fret, we're looking into a few alternatives for supplementary content. That said, enjoy!
December 23rd 2004, 1422 PST (Zulu - 0800)
Wolf Creek Facility, California, USA
Augmentation Lab 01
Sara Corvus was awake.
It had taken her a while to realize she was awake, because she hadn't felt anything, seen anything, or heard anything. But when she had felt something along her spine – felt pressure, as if she was lying on something – she realized that she was no longer dreaming.
She was blind, deaf and paralyzed. But she was awake.
Slowly, more sensations flooded in. She could feel herself breathe. Warmth covering her chest. She heard an echo of a whisper that became the trampling of a distant herd of elephants before settling on somebody working over her head with a pneumatic chisel. And when that faded back into something that sounded like people talking on the other side of a wall, she saw light.
A historic moment played out in the intensive care unit of the augmentation lab, and it drew quite a few spectators. The centerpiece was the heavy-duty institutional bed holding Sara Corvus. Physically, she was fully restored, if you graciously overlooked details such as her hair only slowly growing back after being shaved off for the surgery. She was hooked up to a spider's web of cables, wires and plastic tubes, and several monitors were mounted above her head showing a dazzling array of data. Reading that data, then, took someone like Dr. William Anthros. This was the moment of truth for the young surgeon, but as his constant glances at the monitors confirmed, everything was going quite well. Standing next to him were the two staff members who would be involved in Corvus's rehabilitation: Dr. Ruth Truewell, a field psychologist on loan from the CIA to observe the process, and Mr. Kim, a recent arrival about whom Will knew approximately nothing. Further in the back stood a 'nurse' – if a pistol-packing guard with medical training could be called that.
Will waited for Corvus's eyes to open; he tried to keep on a kind smile as she looked around the room.
"Hello, Sara," Will said. "My name is Dr. Anthros. I'm here to make sure that you're alright. Do you think you can speak?"
Corvus managed to shake her head weakly; only a weak gargle escaped her throat.
"It's alright," Will said, and then retrieved a penlight from his coat. "Can you follow the light with your eyes, please?"
He held the light in front of her and switched it on; Sara dutifully followed it, but the light looked…weak, as if the center of her vision had suddenly darkened. The effect quickly disappeared when Will switched the light off.
"Your throat is still adjusting, Sara. Try saying something again."
What happened? Sara tried to say. Her voice upgraded itself from gargling to stroke patient within two words.
"Again," Will ordered.
"…at happened?" she said. Is that – that's not my voice, she thought.
"You were injured on a patrol," Will said. "We brought you here and saved your life."
Instead of memories, Sara had a headache; the basics were there, then it got a little fuzzy with talking to Diaz in the hospital, and after that there were only single blurry images. "Water," she moaned. "Can I have some water, please?"
"Yes, in a moment," Will said. "Do you feel any pain, nausea or dizziness?"
"Headache," Sara replied. "My arms and legs, they are…tingling."
"That's normal," Will said. "Okay, that's all quite alright, Sara. We'll get you something to drink and then you can go back to sleep and rest a little. You must be tired."
"No," Sara said, surprising herself with how strong her voice suddenly sounded. Hadn't she been barely able to speak just a minute ago? "No, I'm awake and I –"
Her eyes fell down the length of the bed, where she saw her arms lying on top of the blanket that covered her. Her right hand was twitching. She looked to Will, who seemed concerned by this development.
"I'm not doing that," Sara said.
"This isn't authorized," Will said to the people standing with him. He turned back to her. "It's just, um, a muscle spasm, Sara. That's not uncommon with your kind of injuries. Uh, Smythe, can you get us some relaxant? Don't worry, Sara, we'll give you something that will help you sleep…"
Sara's eyes scanned the room. Her heartbeat was dead even, but she could feel her mind sharpening again. No windows in this room – paneling didn't look like any hospital she'd ever been to – solid metal door on the exit…
He has a gun, Sara heard something inside her whisper even as the twitches of her hand grew into a full-blown spasm.
"Smythe, come here, now," Will ordered. Sara's eyes flicked over to him, and she saw him and the other people move away from her bed. The look on the woman's face was…it was fear.
"What's going on?" Sara demanded, and tried to sit up. Slowly, she was willing her arms to move, but it seemed like they were made of lead.
"Smythe!" Will barked, and the guard moved in with a syringe of something that he started injecting into one of the IV bags attached to Sara.
"What's going on?" Sara screamed. The guard leaned over her, trying to force her down with one arm. "Let me go!"
With no warning, her left arm turned from lead weight to a pure extension of her will. It shot up from her side and grabbed Smythe's wrist. Sara saw her hand clamp closed on the man's arm, and he let out a blood-curdling scream at her touch. Sara's eyes widened in shock, and Smythe stabbed the syringe in his right hand at her. Before Sara knew what was happening, her right arm went up, and the syringe glanced off it. Then it drew back and the palm of her right hand slammed forward against his chin like a hydraulic piston. Even in her confusion, Sara could hear bones snap from the attack, but she felt no pain from the impact at all. Smythe immediately stopped struggling and collapsed like a side of pork cut off from its hook.
"Everybody out!" Will screamed. "Everybody out now!" They made for the door, and after one final fearful glance at Sara, Will closed the door behind him.
"What did you do?" Sara screamed after them. Her left hand finally let go of Smythe's arm, letting him slip to the floor. Sara reached for the mess of cables attached to her and started removing them, ignoring the beeping from the panel above her. Panic couldn't overtake her, but it could make her ask a lot of questions – and something was very wrong here, with this place, with these people, with what they had done to her.
Sara Corvus was no longer afraid. No, now she was angry.
"Seal it off!" Will shouted at the lab workers when he cleared the outer door of the airlock. With a few bright red levers pulled, bolts slammed into place and valves hissed until the containerized laboratory – built as a self-sufficient unit for emergencies – was completely cut off from the outside, with heavy steel doors and a hermetic air seal containing the mess inside. The labs were organized at the very bottom of the underground facility as a precaution, and so the view of the shaft with the central spire and the modules hanging off it above was quite intimidating – not that anyone had the time to appreciate the view. As expected, klaxons were already blaring, and following his cue, Colonel Bledsoe and his soldiers were already standing outside on the massive concrete disc that constituted Wolf Creek's 'floor', preparing to go in.
"What do you think you're doing?" Will asked him.
"We have a man down and an experiment on the loose," Bledsoe replied. "We'll go in with strobes and take her down. And the next time you wake her up, Dr. Anthros, maybe you should consider restraining her."
"Wait!" Truewell said; Will looked at her like he only just realized she was there at all. "We need to take a step back here, alright? If you go in there and fight her…"
"We're not fighting anyone," Bledsoe said. "Particularly not an augment. See these lights?" He tapped the flashlight mounted underneath his carbine. "They'll shoot a strobe pattern that will signal her systems to shut down. She'll hit the floor, we get our man out, and then Dr. Anthros can bring her back after we've properly secured her."
"But you still have guns," Truewell pointed out.
"I'm sure the strobes will work," Bledsoe said, shooting an acidic smirk at Will, "but I like being prepared."
"Listen," Truewell said, "do you have any idea what's going on inside her right now? If you attack her and treat her like a monster you need to put down, you'll just traumatize her further."
"The emotional wellbeing of that…operative…is secondary to getting our man out and treated for his injuries," Bledsoe retorted.
"I can talk her down," Truewell insisted.
"You're here to observe, Dr. Truewell," Bledsoe said. "I suggest you observe that I don't gamble with the lives of my men. Now get out of our way, we're going in."
It was said at Wolf Creek that Professor Anthony Anthros had the almost-supernatural power to appear wherever he was needed, even if the laws of physics frowned on that. More rational-minded employees attributed that to Professor Anthros regularly prowling the facility and keeping a watchful eye on all alerts, such that he could rush to see the situation for himself before anyone got around to specifically informing him. Here, too, he appeared from the nearby elevator just in time, flanked by an irate-looking Antonio Pope. Anthros wore his tweed suit like body armor, and his wrinkled face that usually performed a "kind uncle" impression had hardened into a mask.
"William!" Anthros barked. "Explain to me what the devil is going on down here!"
"Her right arm experienced abnormal activation patterns," Will said. "Somehow, this caused the rest of her systems to start up."
"Or put another way," Bledsoe threw in, "she woke up, took my man down and now she's loose in there with full power and a gun. We're going to go in and pacify her." Anthros threw a glare at him, so Bledsoe hastened to append a few words. "With your approval, of course. Sir."
"Dr. Truewell," Anthros said. His face was still the model of restraint even as his voice quivered with anger. "You seemed to have a different idea."
"I can talk to her," Truewell said. "She's doing this because she feels threatened. If I can explain to her that we're not trying to hurt her, I can get her to calm down and let us get Colonel Bledsoe's man out of there. Frankly, Sir, I don't see an alternative if you ever intend to work with her after this."
"Dr. Truewell, in this facility, only one person does not need to bother with explaining alternatives, and that is me," Anthros replied. "Frankly, I will send you back to Langley if you take that tone with me again. Now, give me an objective appraisal of what you think will happen if Colonel Bledsoe proceeds according to the contingency plan."
"We will confirm for her that we're her enemies," Truewell said. "And these strobes will shut down everything, right? You're talking about paralyzing her and putting her in total sensory deprivation until you switch her implants back on." She paused briefly. "Have you ever been in a sensory deprivation tank? The worst five minutes of my life. How long will it take until you let her see and hear again, Sir? She's in a very fragile state of mind and the last thing we should do is add more trauma to that."
"Still not very objective, but I think we might get something from your sincerity," Anthros said. "Colonel Bledsoe, prepare your team. Dr. Truewell, I'm giving you five minutes to show me that you can get results. Go in there, talk her down, and get my man out of there. If I think for a second that you can't control the situation, I will send in Colonel Bledsoe's team. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Sir," Truewell said.
"And William," Anthros said, "I suggest you have a better explanation for what happened in there when this is all said and done."
"…yes, Sir," Will said.
At the fringe of the conversation, Jae Kim stood and tried in vain to gather his thoughts. He was wondering how she had gone out of control…but then, seen from another angle, he was very impressed with how she had managed to activate the bionic limbs this quickly. Even if they had wanted her to be able to move, this was supposed to take at least a few days of adjustment and training to gain even rough motor control. Being able to access the combat programming – definitely way ahead of the schedule.
"You look satisfied," Pope said, and Kim finally noticed the soldier standing next to him.
"This is a horrible turn of events," Kim said, at once feeling a little embarrassed that his emotions were bringing out the Chinese accent again. "But I try to see the good in it. If she can do this now – then she will be unstoppable with training."
"Do you know anything about how this happened, then?" Pope asked.
"If you're implying that I –"
"I'm not implying anything," Pope declared. "I'm asking."
"No," Kim said. "No, Mr. Pope, I have no idea how she was able to move."
"I see," Pope said. "No matter. We'll find out."
"I did not sabotage this test," Kim said.
"We'll find out," Pope repeated.
Inside the lab, Corvus staggered to her feet. It felt like she was walking on stilts – whatever they had done to her had clearly messed her up extensively, but she gritted her teeth and soldiered on. The guard who had tried to attack her was still alive, but bleeding quite badly from his shattered jaw; Sara didn't quite process how hard she must have hit him to do that. She literally couldn't believe that it was possible to punch someone hard enough to do this kind of damage, and so she quickly rationalized that he must have hit it on the bed's frame on the way down or something like that. She yanked the gun out of his belt holster – a flimsy thing that easily snapped when she pulled hard enough – and checked the gun. Looking at it brought more headaches, and then – then she saw something that wasn't supposed to be there. And yet she saw it, hovering over the gun, rattling off its minutiae like a spectral Jane's guide.
"I'm not crazy," she told herself as she lurched around the bed. On a whim, she snapped the gun in her hand up and fired at the security camera across the room, shattering the housing and destroying the electronics within on her first shot. "Whatever you did to me, it's not going to work!" she shouted at the room. "You're fucking with the wrong marine!"
She figured they would try to come back in through the door. It wasn't going to open from inside, but maybe she could surprise them coming in and slip out that way. There was preciously little in the room that she could make use of, but her mind easily sketched out uses for what she did have. She grabbed the bed by its side and heaved it upward, turning it on its side to create a bit of cover for herself. She was in the middle of stripping the knocked-out guard for spare ammunition when she heard the crackle of a PA system coming online.
"Sara?" a woman's voice said; Corvus guessed it belonged to the woman who had been in the room with that Doctor. "Are you alright?"
Corvus dragged the unconscious guard with her behind the bed.
"Oh, I'm just fine," she shouted back. "A lot better than you thought I'd be, huh? So you either let me go, or I'll shoot my way out – your choice."
"Let's talk about that, then," Truewell said. "My name is Ruth."
"Nice to meet you, Ruth," Corvus replied. "Now help me get out of here or I'll help myself."
"Sara, you've got a more pressing problem than that," Truewell said. "There's a team of soldiers out here, and you've got one of them down on the ground next to you. I'm the only chance you have to get out of this without a fight."
"So, what, I talk to you or they're going to kill me?"
"Look, Sara, they don't want to hurt you, but that man needs medical treatment and they are going to do everything to get him out." After a moment, Truewell added "Just like you did everything to save Private Diaz."
"Read my file, huh?" Corvus said.
"Your packet, your personnel file, your AAR and the commendation," Truewell confirmed.
"Okay. Listen, you started this crap," Corvus said. "I didn't walk in here and start taking hostages. I don't know where I am and who the hell you people are! So you can see where that leaves me."
"Yes," Truewell said. "In need of a friend. Talk to me, Sara. I can help you."
"I think I'm not being clear enough," Corvus said. "How the hell am I supposed to trust anything anyone says when I don't even know who you people are?"
"We work for the US government," Truewell said.
"Uh huh," Corvus replied.
"Sara, I promise you'll get answers to your questions," Truewell said. "But right now, they see you as a threat. They're not going to tell you anything while they're planning how to take you down. I can keep them from putting that into practice. And if we can make a deal that lets them get their man to safety – then that's a basis for negotiation."
"Fuck negotiation," Corvus said. "They get their man, I get answers. Here's how this is going to work. You – and I do mean you, in person, Ruth – come in here. Then your friends can get their man out. If I see something I don't like" – Sara trailed off. Was she really doing this? It felt like she was bargaining for an escape from a bank robbery gone bad – and those kind of crime movies tended to end with a sniper taking out the bad guy. Except…she wasn't the bad guy, and this wasn't a bank. Goddammit, she thought, how the hell did I get here?
"Sara?" Truewell called. "Are you still there? You were saying something."
"Yeah, I'm still here," Corvus said, checking the gun again. "And I said that if I see something I don't like – well, I won't hesitate, alright?"
"Alright. Then that's the deal. I'm going to come into the room now. And you won't shoot me."
"I don't want to shoot anyone," Sara said. "Look, just get in here and you can have your man."
"I'll be right there."
The second Truewell got off the microphone, she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned to see Colonel Bledsoe holding out a tactical vest and a holstered gun.
"Just in case," he said.
"No, I'm going in unarmed," Truewell said, and noticed that both Bledsoe and the elder Anthros were looking at her; the young Doctor Anthros was nowhere to be seen. "I don't want to look like a threat. And I'm not taking a gun."
"Right," Bledsoe said, drawing the gun back. "You're right. It's a bad idea to add another weapon to that situation, it's too volatile already. The last thing I want is her loose with two guns. It's bad enough that we're handing her another hostage on a silver platter."
"That, and I don't want to shoot her," Truewell said.
"Are you sure that feeling really is mutual?" Bledsoe asked. "If she shoots you, you'll wish you were wearing the vest. Police negotiators do it, it's just common sense. Take the vest."
"That is Doctor Truewell's choice," Anthros said. "Get my man out, Doctor. I'll leave the 'how' up to you."
"Yes, Sir." She turned to Bledsoe again. "Just be ready to move in when I tell you."
"Always," Bledsoe said.
Truewell opened the lab's inner door and looked around. The bed was overturned as a makeshift bunker in the corner where it had once stood, and a small trail of blood told of a body being dragged behind it. She couldn't see Corvus, but odds were very good that was hiding behind the bed. Truewell hated admitting it, but right there, she was developing a very strong urge to rethink her approach. She could feel her heart all the way up to her throat, and that she was standing in a room with the only exit behind her didn't do wonders for her mental state, either.
"Come in and close the door behind you," Corvus ordered from behind the bed. "I don't want anybody else coming in until I'm sure you're on the level."
"I'm closing the door now, Sara," Ruth said, turned around and eased the massive steel portal into its frame. The bolts locked it shut there, loud enough to give her another sweat attack on her palms. "Okay, the door is closed. Can I take a look at the guard now?"
"Yeah," Corvus called. "Come over here. No sudden moves."
The view behind the bed was grisly. Smythe was on the ground and not moving; Truewell couldn't even see if he was still breathing. Above him loomed Corvus, and Truewell froze at the sight. Corvus was still clad in her hospital gown, but with Smythe's belt fixed around her waist and his gun in her hand, aimed straight forward at Truewell. There was more than a little blood on her, and her eyes seemed to move constantly even while her hands stayed steady. It was, to sum it up, the look of someone who had been pushed to her limit, and Truewell prayed that she could still reach her.
"I'm Ruth," Truewell said.
"I figured that out," Corvus replied. A nervous smile showed on her face. "He's still alive, if you're wondering."
"Can I check?" Truewell said.
"Go ahead," Corvus replied. "Nothing funny."
Truewell nodded and took a knee next to Smythe. She felt for his pulse, found it and got back up again.
"Okay, he's alive," Truewell said. "You've got me, so can the soldiers get their man out now?"
"One moment," Corvus said. She got up carefully, and Truewell noticed that Corvus checked over the bed to make sure there were no surprises waiting for her there. With her gun still aimed at Truewell, she did a quick pat-down, but soon seemed satisfied that she wasn't concealing any weapons. "Okay, turn around."
Truewell turned around, and Corvus wrapped her left arm around her neck in a loose chokehold. "We're walking back and then we're sitting down," Corvus said. Then, more quietly, she added "I'm sorry."
"Sara, think about this," Truewell said. "I'm trying to help you. Taking me hostage is not going to help you." If she could just keep it together a little while longer…
Corvus maneuvered them back into the corner, and true to her word, she sat back down, forcing Truewell to sit in front of her. Back behind cover with a human shield and a gun aimed down the only possible approach, Corvus finally seemed placated. "Okay, call them in."
"Colonel Bledsoe," Truewell called out. "You can come in and retrieve your man."
In mere seconds, the door opened again, and the clacking of many boots sounded before the first soldiers peeked around the bed carefully. Looking at them, Corvus got another headache, and then there were more of these hallucinations that told her more than she ever wanted to know about…G36C carbines, it read. It actually got worse there; looking at the men spreading out before her, the hallucinations started listing their names and ranks.
"Yeah, that's right, I've got a gun," Corvus told them. "Grab your buddy and get the fuck out."
To their credit, none of the soldiers answered the provocation; two of them kept her in their sights, while the other two grabbed Smythe and carried him off. That done, the two remaining soldiers made for the door.
"Hold up," Corvus called. They froze in place. "We're all leaving this room. Anybody tries to lock me in, I will shoot."
"Hold your fire," Truewell said. "Do what she says." The soldiers stayed where they were, but they didn't prevent Corvus from getting back on her feet, either. One of them walked ahead, the other followed walking backwards to cover Corvus, and Corvus followed them, still keeping Truewell in front of her as a shield. Truewell could feel Corvus breathing down her neck, and the arm around her neck was warm, if unexpectedly dry. They were about halfway to the door when Corvus's breathing got more intense. Truewell couldn't see it, but behind her, Corvus squeezed her eyes shut.
"Goddammit…" Corvus whispered through gritted teeth.
"Are you hurt?" Truewell asked.
"No, I'm just running out of adrenaline," Corvus said.
"Lean on me," Truewell said. "I'll help you."
Outside the lab, Corvus and Truewell were greeted with a ring of soldiers; aside from Colonel Bledsoe and his team, the entire area had been evacuated. Corvus looked around and took in the view, particularly the wide open shaft stretching upwards from one concrete disk at the bottom to another at the top. On the gangways that crossed from the sides of the shaft to the central spire and the modules hanging off it, she spotted at least another dozen soldiers, all aiming rifles down at them.
"What's your next move, Corporal?" the old man apparently leading the soldiers asked; the hallucination that hovered next to him read 'Colonel Jonas Bledsoe'. That's who Ruth was talking to inside, Corvus thought. She noted that his rifle was slung; instead, he was aiming a pistol at her.
"You have your man, now I'll have my answers," Corvus shot back. "So, where the fuck am I?"
"You're in a classified US government installation named Wolf Creek," Bledsoe replied. "Northern California, about 200 feet underground, at the bottom of a gauntlet of security measures designed to stop people from doing what you're doing right now. Was that clear enough, Corporal Corvus?"
"Bullshit," Corvus replied. That was, at this point, simple protective reflex; she wouldn't have known where to start in pointing out the problems with that tidbit of information, had somebody asked her.
"If you've got a better explanation, I'm all ears," Bledsoe said. "In the meantime, you're threatening a civilian and aiming a gun at me – which, I'll admit, is a lot farther than I thought you could get. If you wanted to prove that you deserve to be in this program, Corporal, you've succeeded. But I'm going to ask you nicely to give up the gun, release your hostage and come with us. You're in no shape to fight."
"What fucking program?" Corvus shouted. The anger was going strong, but it wasn't enough; much as she wanted to prove these people wrong, she felt like she was just a few steps away from collapsing.
"You're out of free answers," Bledsoe replied. Truewell gave him a 'What the hell are you doing?' look, then another in case the first one hadn't gotten the message across. "Stand down and we'll talk. You have my word on that."
"And if I don't trust you to keep your word?" Corvus said. "You've still got a few dozen of your men aiming their guns at me."
Bledsoe slowly reached for the radio unit clipped to his vest and pressed the send button.
"All units," he said, "stand down from alert and return to your positions." The soldiers around him slowly lowered their weapons, and a glance upward confirmed that the snipers were moving away. Bledsoe met Corvus's eyes over the sights of his pistol. "See? Now it's even, Corporal."
"Sara, please," Truewell whispered. "We can help you."
"He won't let me walk out, will he?" Corvus whispered back. "Okay. Okay. I'll play nice."
Corvus unwrapped her arm from Truewell's neck, letting her go. Truewell took a few steps before two soldiers ushered her away. Without her support, Corvus found it difficult to keep standing, though by some miracle her hands weren't shaking. After a few long seconds, she took her left hand off the pistol and held it up in her right one, almost stumbling when she took a step back. Immediately the soldiers were on her, and she saw Bledsoe lower his gun, though his face didn't seem to relax. At this stage, Corvus expected some degree of 'pacification' (read: beatdown) from the soldiers that swarmed her, but instead, they grabbed her by her arms and supported her, even as they retrieved the gun from her right hand. With a bit of cooperative effort, they maneuvered her into a waiting wheelchair, and Corvus finally let out a breath she'd been holding.
"Sara!" a grating voice called from the sidelines; Corvus turned to see Will approaching, bearing hands full of medical gear. "How are you feeling?" he asked. "Are you in pain?" To the medical personnel that followed him, he gave quick orders. "We need to get her hooked up again, check the IV ports for injuries, start her on a glucose drip and get me a system readout as soon as possible." After a moment, he added "And somebody get her a glass of water."
At the sidelines, Truewell sat on one of the enormous spire supports, cradling a cup of hot coffee with her unsteady hands. Her chest was tight, as if her body was tensed for a blow that wouldn't quite come. One benefit of psychological training was recognizing the signs of her own distress. If she had the choice, she would have gone to the surface, run into the woods and let the tension go with a nice scream. She was just bottling it up, not giving her body the chance to work through the trauma, but she couldn't afford the impression of weakness now. The reason for that stood next to her; Professor Anthros wore a small smile and laid his hand on her shoulder. Truewell pretended that that was comforting even when her body didn't want to be touched.
"Impressive work, Doctor," Anthros said. "I will make sure to put in a good word for you with Langley."
"Thank you, Sir," Truewell said. "What will happen to Sara Corvus now?"
"My son will see to her health for the moment," Anthros said. "Oh, don't worry, I have no intention of overreacting to her outburst. In fact, I understand her reaction quite well. As soon as she is physically able and cooperative, we will begin with her training as planned."
"And if she doesn't want to?" Truewell asked. "If she's not willing to cooperate?"
"Well, I'm sure that we will find a way to convince her," Anthros said. "Again, Doctor, you sound like you already have an idea of your own."
"I can just tell you what I see, Sir. I'm here to observe because Berkut does not have any psychologists of their own to begin with. What I've read – and what I've seen – paints Corvus as a difficult personality. She's highly individualistic, burned out on the military in general and resents taking orders. And, well, she's determined and cool under pressure. If she feels like a prisoner here, she'll likely attempt to escape again, but the next time she'll be fully recovered and have a plan."
"Hmm," Anthros said. "And you think Colonel Bledsoe would not be able to stop her?"
"Sir," Truewell said, "I think she'd die before surrendering again."
"That would be regrettable," Anthros said. "So, when can you start?"
"Beg your pardon?"
"You're capable, you're read in and you have an existing relationship with Corvus," Anthros said. "That puts you in the enviable position of being my first choice for the job by a fair margin. You have, even if you did not realize it, already provided your application. Name your price and your conditions, and I will see to it that you're transferred to Berkut, Doctor Truewell."
"I can – I should start right now, Sir," Truewell said. "Where did you take her?"
"To laboratory three," Anthros said. "I believe they're about done with stabilizing her."
"Then I have to talk to her," Truewell said.
"Very well," Anthros said. "We will discuss the details of your position here at a later time, then."
Augmentation Laboratory 03 looked a lot like 01 (and 02, and 04, for that matter), to the extent that walking into it, Truewell felt like time had simply been wound back to an hour ago. Corvus was in a new bed, connected to a fresh assortment of cables and IV lines. Well, to be fair, there was one difference: Corvus was no longer lying more or less peacefully in the bed. Instead, she was sitting up, with her knees drawn in. Her arms were wrapped around in front, tensed as if Corvus was preparing to pounce on the next person to get in range. Her head was low; when Truewell entered, Corvus raised it just enough for her piercing eyes to become visible. Truewell noted that there was an empty plastic cup lying across the room. Obviously, nobody had felt the need to sound the alarm for that, though they had left Corvus alone.
"Hey," Truewell said. "How are you doing, Sara?"
"Great," Corvus replied flatly. "Incredibly great. I'm the happiest girl on the planet."
"I'm sorry for how we treated you," Truewell said.
"Oh, that?" Corvus scoffed. "Why should I be upset about that?" She took a breath. " I've only been kidnapped and experimented on!" Corvus fumed. A wayward glance at the cup lying across the room told of her reaction to seeing Anthros again. "Doctor Asshole was here earlier, talking about what he did to save my life. He's got good reflexes, I'll give him that."
"He told you about the augmentations," Truewell said.
"He cut off my arms and my legs and my eyes and my guts!" Corvus spat. Her right hand balled into a fist. "Did he expect me to be fucking grateful? That smug motherfucker is proud of what he did to me, what he turned me into..." Corvus trailed off and suppressed a sob. "Now look at me."
Corvus squeezed her eyes shut and tightened her lips. It looked like she was trying to wring out a few tears, but Truewell knew that wouldn't happen. In the long list of things they had taken from her, the ability to cry was a mere footnote.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Truewell asked. After a bit of hesitation, she closed the distance and sat down at the foot end of Corvus's bed.
"Whatever," Corvus said, turning her head away. "There's nothing to talk about. He tore me apart and turned me into...a thing."
"Sara, you're still you," Truewell said. "The augmentation doesn't make you any less of a human, or a person."
"I'm not going to lie to you, Sara, this won't be easy," Truewell said. "This will change your life, and it's going to be tough to adjust for you. But being confused, scared, even angry…those are all normal reactions to what happened to you."
"You mean what was done to me," Sara spat back. "By you and your friends."
"Sara, I had no part in that," Truewell replied. She felt her own posture tighten up, an unconscious reaction to how Corvus looked at her. "I work for the CIA, not for Berkut."
The second she said that, Truewell saw the gears start turning in Corvus's head. No doubt she was still in the dark about her situation, a move from Anthros and Bledsoe that was certainly intentional. But on the other hand, that gave Truewell a potential handle on Corvus as a trusted source of information.
"Assuming I believe you - then what are you doing here?" Corvus asked.
"I'm here to observe the procedure and report back on how Berkut treats you," Truewell said.
"And what do you see?" Corvus said.
"A lot of people who are so convinced of the obvious righteousness of their actions that they don't need to justify anything they do," Truewell said. "Arrogance, hubris, and blatant disregard for you as a person. And a wounded soldier who's being left alone with a lot of pain and a lot of questions."
"I can manage pain," Corvus said, withdrawing a little. "It's - it's not knowing what I am. I woke up and I'm no longer me..."
"If that's how you feel, then we can talk about that," Truewell said. "The important part is that you talk about it with someone. I've worked with a lot of people who were wounded in the line of duty, and it's never easy to adjust. And it's even harder for soldiers like you. You've been taught for years to tough it out, to keep quiet about your problems."
Corvus didn't reply.
"But please trust me on this, Sara," Truewell said. "Bottling up your feelings won't help you. You've experienced a trauma, and you need to work through it – at your pace, but you need to work through it. I've helped other people through this. I can help you, if you want it."
"Fine, I'll think about it," Corvus said, sounding half-sincere, half-eager to get Truewell out of her face about the matter. "But I can't do anything about that right now." She thought for a moment. "I want to know how this is going to work. Starting with how long they're going to keep me in this cage."
"Dr. Anthros wants to keep you here for observation," Truewell said, "but I'll see about getting you moved to regular quarters as soon as possible."
"Regular quarters," Corvus scoffed. "I bet that's something to look forward to. At least I'll be away from that creep."
"I think there's a sublevel or two near the top of the facility that's essentially just quarters. They're furnished apartments, with a bathroom, TV and a kitchenette. But I don't have one, so I can't tell you any details."
"Where do you live, then?" Corvus asked.
"A little motel room in the nearest town," Truewell said.
"I – I don't like rooms without windows," Truewell said. "I tried sleeping here for a night. I just couldn't get any rest, so I drove into town at 2 AM, found a motel, woke up the motel owner, apologized a few times for waking up the motel owner..."
Corvus's expression did not move.
"It's hard out there for a claustrophobic," Truewell said.
"Maybe you should see somebody about that," Corvus shot back.
Truewell smiled. "Why do you think I went into psychology, Sara? Helping people is great, but when I started, I just wanted to help myself. And I am in therapy and I have made progress, but therapy isn't a cure-all. I've learned how to deal with my phobia. And part of it is allowing myself to have limits and feel afraid…appropriately." Her smile withdrew a little, tempered by bad memories. "It was a little difficult to explain to my college love why I broke out in tears when he held me too tight once."
"That would freak me out, too," Corvus said. "So, except for you, is this whole place staffed by assholes and robots?"
"They're not the most sociable bunch," Truewell said. "But hey, that's why I'm here." Truewell grasped Corvus's left hand. It was warm and smooth and dry, as if it had come out of an oven ten minutes ago. "I'm here for you, Sara, okay? If you have any problems or issues, or just want to talk…"
"Okay, enough with the touchy-feely now," Corvus replied. "Anyway, thanks for…well, keeping my dumb ass from getting shot. I've got a lot to process, but - looks like I have a good taste in human shields."
"Yes, but we're not doing that again," Truewell said. "I'll be honest, I'm still shaking from that."
"I've had better plans," Corvus said. "But for what it's worth - I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Sara," Truewell said. Corvus's hand tightened a little, but she was clearly still conscious of how careful she had to be not to hurt Truewell. "I forgive you."
Sara stifled a tiny laugh. "It sounds just a bit ridiculous when you say it out loud," she said, "but thank you."
"Helps, doesn't it?" Truewell replied with a smile.
"I guess," Corvus said. "Well, Ruth, I hate to throw you out, but I have a date in five minutes, so you'll have to leave."
"A date?" Truewell asked. "You work fast."
"Not like that!" Corvus coughed. "This Kim guy announced himself for 4 PM. I got that he wanted to talk to me about the physical therapy stuff. Do you know anything about him?"
"He's Chinese," Truewell said. "That's the only thing I've found out so far about him."
"Keeping secrets is a hobby for your friends, huh?"
"It's that kind of place," Truewell said. "And about that - do you have any hobbies? I'd like to get you something to pass the time with - I wanted to request a TV, but I thought I'd ask you first."
"TV's okay, I guess." Corvus shrugged. "I like drawing things."
"Like people?" Truewell asked.
"More like bridges and buildings," Corvus said. "Lately I've gotten a lot of practice with bridges."
"Okay, I have – "Truewell said, rummaging through her things. "I have this notepad and…this ballpoint pen." She held the two items up. "Um, I can run out into town and see if they've got art supplies, or maybe someone here likes to draw and can spare some, I could ask around –"
"That will do," Corvus said, quickly taking both. "Now, do you mind?"
In the few minutes she had, Corvus worked quickly. It was tempting to try and get some rest, but first she had to write. She didn't know how reliable her own memories would be, so putting her thoughts to paper seemed prudent.
Was talking to Diaz in hospital. After that? Anthros mentioned that I was injured on patrol. Try to remember!
Woke up in facility. Underground, heavy security. Went out of their way to not shoot me. Names mentioned: "Wolf Creek" (facility), "Berkut" (organization). Possible location in N Cali? Cannot confirm.
Was operated on. Artificial body parts (where did tech come from?), known: arms, legs, eyes, probably more. Definitely feel stronger. Hallucinations. Can't feel a lot of my body. Took down a guy in five seconds, automated response?
Dr. (William? Don't remember clearly) Anthros. Claims he did the surgery. Creep.
Colonel (Jonas? (hallucination)) Bledsoe. In charge of security? Hardass. Claims DoD involvement, ex-military or pretending to be.
Dr. Ruth Truewell. Psychologist? Trying to get in my good graces. Claims to be CIA. Need to find out who is really involved here.
? Smythe ? Took him down. Haven't seen since, might be injured.
Tons of soldiers
Mr. Kim? Physical therapy?
The door opened; Corvus quickly stuffed pen and notepad under her blanket. The man who entered was just a bit shorter than her and dressed in black from head to toe. Black boots, black slacks, a black thermal shirt - and he had matching raven black hair, slicked back and bound into a small ponytail. Having spent a few months in forward deployment in Iraq, Corvus immediately spotted that he also sported a very smooth shave; this was a guy who took the time to lather up every morning. He probably used a straight razor, too. He regarded her with a serious gaze from behind his East Asian features.
"I am Jae Kim," he said. "I will help you regain your strength."
"I am Sara Corvus," she replied, "and I don't need your help."
"Then how is it that you are lying in that bed when you were already making your escape earlier?" Kim asked.
Corvus glared at him.
Kim shook his head. "You're in much better condition than anyone with your injuries should be," he said. "But the weakness you felt earlier will not just go away. The more you work with me, the sooner you can walk out of this room."
"Well, whose fault is it that I'm here to begin with?" Corvus asked. "I didn't ask for this."
"You had no choice," Kim nodded. "But I cannot change what happened. You must focus on recovering from it. If you refuse to cooperate with me, I cannot do anything about that; you are my patient and I am opposed to using threats or violence to get my way."
"How kind of you," Corvus spat.
"If you change your mind, you can send for me." Kim's eyes narrowed. "Does your arm still tremble?"
Corvus held up her right arm to show it.
"Steady as a rock," she said.
"Can you flex your fingers?" Kim asked.
Corvus balled her fingers into a fist; strangely enough, her middle finger stayed upright. Kim raised an eyebrow at that.
"You've made your feelings clear," he said. "Move that finger, too, please."
"I can't," Corvus said, looking at her hand and the frozen finger. "Great technology you guys have there."
"Do you allow me to inspect it?" Kim said.
"Make it quick," Corvus said.
Kim walked to the side of her bed; his stride suggested military drill, but the frequency was off. Duh, Chinese, Corvus thought to herself.
He grasped her arm by the wrist with his left hand and took hold of her finger with the right. "The third knuckle joint is out of alignment," he said after feeling it for a second. "Likely a manufacturing defect triggered by striking Corporal Smythe. I can reset the finger, if you permit it."
"You may wish to look away," Kim said.
Corvus's look pointedly snapped up to him and then back to the hand. She wanted to see this, because all of what he had done so far felt like nothing. She had to see it. And so she watched him pull the finger out and bend it back. The mere sight made her slightly queasy; getting her finger bent like that seemed like part of a particularly nasty pain compliance hold, so much so that she could easily picture herself on her knees begging for the pain to stop - if, indeed, there was any. With another powerful and deft pull, Kim reseated the finger and then let go off it. Corvus flexed it; it seemed to work okay now, and that was enough for her.
"It should be alright now," Kim said. "I will leave you to your thoughts."
"Actually, Jae, there is one thing you could help me with," Corvus said.
"What is it?" Kim asked.
"Get that son of a bitch Anthros in here," Corvus said. "We need to talk."
Character Commentary: Ruth Truewell
Why are we spending so much time with Ruth?
In the series, we'd classify Ruth as cold. The way she dresses and styles herself, the way she acts and talks, everything she is speaks to distance. She is Berkut's psychologist, but apparently quite capable in field operations, proving to be a good shot and handy with improvised explosives during the second episode. In the third episode, she comes up with some incisive comments on Heaven Van Fleet's emotional development; in turn, Heaven half-jokingly asks if Ruth is lesbian. (No, we did not find that funny at all.) We looked at this package and tried to figure out how it all fits together.
First off, we did a bit of a personality transplant. You'll find that our Ruth, while she strives to be professional, can be very empathetic and get people to open up to her. In the series, that was part of Antonio's Pope vaguely-defined shtick, but we thought it made more sense to give that trait to the trained psychologist - after all, that's all about making people feel safe and secure enough to open up to you. (In turn, our Pope got the stony-faced professionalism and cutting insight, which goes better with our background for him as a military investigator.)
Getting back to the why, we felt that Jaime and Sara needed someone they could talk to within Berkut to justify them integrating into the organization. In the series, Jaime was chatty with Nathan (but didn't go beyond that) and Antonio Pope approached her under false pretenses, thus hobbling whatever trust Jaime could have in him from the start. Sara carried on a secret relationship with Jae Kim, but that fell flat for us because we didn't see any of it really play out. (In our opinion, characters reminiscencing about the past is less effective than showing that past. Hence the preponderance of flashbacks in our stories.) And, well, Jae Kim never was particularly well-defined. We're working on that.
Ruth made a good candidate, then. As Berkut's psychologist, it's her job to get close to them and to help them work through their feelings. How close, though? That question immediately opens up several juicy conflicts. How much of the closeness is the job, how much is Ruth genuinely looking for friends - and how much could it be viewed as deliberate manipulation to strengthen the loyalty of both bionic women to Berkut? By making Ruth an outsider to Berkut, we can keep her ultimate loyalties in the dark a little while longer.
One thing we made up out of whole cloth is Ruth's claustrophobia. As phobias go, it's certainly widespread enough. Although it's a complex spectrum out there, Ruth suffers from both conditions commonly called claustrophobia: a fear of being unable to escape confined spaces, and a fear of suffocation. These phobias often combine with social anxieties - claustrophobia attacks cause physical distress, and many sufferers are afraid that people who will witness these symptoms will think badly of them. This is, however, a learned response to the phobia that develops over the sufferer's life - in a seeming paradox, this can lead to severe claustrophobics acting similar to agoraphobics and becoming scared of leaving their "safe" home. (As a point of order, agoraphobia is not fear of open spaces as such - it is fear of crowds and potential social embarrassment.) If you put stock in evolutionary psychology, some scientists have theorized that claustrophobia was an adaption to living in caves, where being constantly aware of one's surroundings and mindful of escape routes was an important survival skill.
As with many phobias, there's no silver bullet in therapy, but for many people, a combination of drugs and controlled exposure has proven helpful. Behavioral therapy depends on which form the patient suffers from, but can often be done with relatively easy means. For example, many sufferers of the "no escape" type have found it helpful to train themselves by riding elevators, working their way up from simply stepping into one to riding it for one floor up to using it regularly. In this way, claustrophobics can slowly recondition their bodies and minds to accept that they are not in danger in such situations. Suffocation fears are a bit harder to nail down and therapy must necessarily address the specific situations these patients are afraid of. Learning to deal with physical contact and water confidence courses are common. As with all such therapies, the pace must be set by the patient, and it is recommended that patients keep diaries of their thoughts and feelings along the way to help both them and the therapist gauge their progress.
Drug therapy focuses on anti-anxiety medication and combating the physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat and excessive sweating with beta blockers - in a vicious circle, phobia sufferers who experience this physical reaction of their body will then often suffer from anticipatory anxiety, which worsens the attack in turn. Ruth doesn't seem to take any medication, so depending on your personal level of cynism, she either thinks she doesn't need them, has made bad experiences with these or is afraid of being seen as unreliably if she medicates openly. As seen in Paradise Regained, recent stress has made her slide back into a smoking habit she apparently kicked some time before. This, too, is unfortunately true to real life - quitting tobacco is difficult even when measured against other addictive substances, and backslides are common. After all, there is no true cure for addiction. Once you're hooked, you may be able to quit, but the urges remain with you.
As Ruth told Sara, it was trying to deal with and understand her condition that steered Ruth toward her career. Ruth aimed towards a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D) degree and worked as an intern for the Veteran's Administration, where she came into contact with many military veterans in need of psychological treatment. Her interest in how people reacted to such high stress situations as combat ultimately led to her taking a job as operational psychologist for the CIA, where she quickly established herself as the go-to woman for evaluating field agents the agency considered "fragile". Ruth's tradecraft skills come from rubbing shoulders with veteran agents and keeping herself in a constant training cycle, though she would acknowledge herself that despite being (by now) a veteran agent herself, she still lacks some field experience. We think this is a good take on having a CIA agent who's not your everyday fictional "secret operative" type - and hey, it's at least as realistic as anything in Burn Notice.
Finally, on a meta-level - hey, this show is called "Bionic Woman". You betcha we're paying attention to the female characters. Given that women in the US military are still not allowed into "frontline combat" type professions, it is sadly realistic that Berkut, an organization that recruits extensively from military special forces units, is almost entirely male. Our goal, then, was not to make Berkut more egalitarian than the real military, but to find sensible reasons for the female characters to be there, and sensible things for them to do that would naturally put them in the spotlight. And having Ruth caught between being the confidante of the bionic women on one side and working directly on Bledsoe's orders on the other side - it doesn't get much more central to the plot than that.