Hello, sports fans! Sorry for the long delays - other projects and our lives have kept us quite busy over the last year. We're still here, though, and now that we're done with this chapter, we'll get back on the pilot rewrite plan. Keep the faith!
After the meeting with Dr. Anthros, Sr., Ruth only delayed long enough to retrieve her briefcase from her office before returning to Sara Corvus' isolated lockdown ward at the bottom of Wolf Creek. Knocks and authorizations were exchanged, and the door pushed open wide enough to admit Ruth. Sara stood at the far end of the room in her Army-issue sweatclothes, wet hair still hanging down to either side and over her face. Her arms were folded in front of her chest, with her right hand balled into a fist. Thanks to her bionic augmentations, there was no sway, no shivering, but Ruth could see the coiled-up strength in every part of her, just aching to move. In contrast, Sara's head hung low, her eyes flicking from side to side as she scanned a piece of the floor, over and over. Her breath was almost imperceptibly low.
Ruth carefully slid over to the table against the opposite wall from Sara's bed. "Hi, Sara. I'm just coming in here to...be here if you want to talk. Don't think you have to, though, I've got some paperwork that needs doing."
"Stop lying," Sara whispered through clenched teeth. "I know what a suicide watch is."
"That's what this is, for sure," Ruth said. "But...I'm also here if you want to talk." She looked at the two armed men standing in the room with her and Sara. "Do you want me to send these men outside?"
"Ma'am -" one of them started to say, but Ruth cut him off with a raised hand.
"I can do that, if you want me to," Ruth continued.
"Then do that," Sara said. Ruth caught in her eyes the same glint as in their first encounter, a prisoner testing her cage.
Ruth nodded. "Sergeants, wait outside."
"Ma'am -" the first soldier said again, but this time Ruth added a harsh glare to her interruption.
"Go. Now," she ordered.
The two guards exchanged a glance, but said nothing else; the airlock hissed open behind them, and out they went, sealing Ruth back into the lab with only Sara for company.
"What do you want from me?" Sara asked, now glaring directly at Ruth.
"Like I said, to talk," Ruth replied as she took a seat next to the table and started unpacking her briefcase. "Do you want to talk?"
"I want answers," Sara said. Her fists unclenched, her arms swungs free and she took a tenative step forwards. "No lies, no secrets, no sparing my fucking feelings. Answers. You got those?" Another step brought her around the bed - close enough to sit down across from Ruth, or to pounce at her.
Ruth wasn't fazed. "I do. Not all of them - Dr. Anthros hasn't seen fit to tell me everything - but what I do know, I will try to tell you." She paused and looked away for a moment, before returning her eyes to Sara's. "Are you sure you want to know everything? Right now, at least?"
Sara's body went from zero to sixty in an instant; before Ruth could even flinch, Sara had her hands on the table and tossed it to the side, scattering the contents of Ruth's briefcase onto the floor. "Stop fucking with me!" Sara screamed.
Ruth's reaction was immediate - she raced for the door. Not to get out, though; she jammed her foot against the heavy door and held it shut. "Stay out!" Ruth bellowed. "I am fine! Stand down!"
"Ma'am -" the Sergeant shouted again, this time muffled by the heavy steel door.
"Stay out!" Ruth shouted again, and after one more abortive attempt to push in, the door slid closed and locked itself shut. Ruth turned around to see Sara still standing in place, staring at her with a look of confusion on her face. "If you could refrain from throwing things, please," Ruth said with a nervous smile. "There is an emergency cutoff for your bionics - a pattern of flashing lights that disconnects your arms and legs from your brain. If you have another outburst like that, they will charge in here and hit you with it so you can be locked down - and neither of us wants that." She gingerly let go of the door. "So, please, Sara. Take a seat if you want to talk."
"...I don't want to sit down," Sara growled, but relented enough to go grab the table and right it again. With a heavy breath, she knelt down and quickly grabbed everything off the floor, roughly shoving it back onto the table. When she got up again, she pushed out a quiet "Sorry" before turning away from Ruth and eyeing the nearest wall for a good punch. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm not...I swear I'm not like this all the time."
"You were...violated," Ruth replied as she retook her seat. "That'll make anyone angry - and depressed."
"Why am I here?" Sara asked.
"Well, that's a complicated question," Ruth replied. "You're in this room right now because people are afraid of you escaping or hurting someone in your current state. You're here at Wolf Creek because you're a participant in this military program." Sara scoffed and tightened her fists at the word "participant". "And you're in the program because you were sitting directly on top of an IED when it went off in Iraq, you were on the program's approved subject list, and Dr. Anthros, Jr. intervened to save your life." That drove Sara's rage even higher, but Ruth quickly replied to head that off. "I'm not saying that he didn't do other terrible, horrible things to you, but that is a fact."
"Participant," Sara snarled. "Approved subject. I don't remember signing up for this fucking raffle. So why? Why 'save my life'? Thousands of Marines got fucked up in this sandbox. Why me?"
"I don't know all the details of that, I'm sorry," Ruth replied, "but I know that it had something to do with the extent of your injuries, and your biological suitability for the implants."
"How many others are there?" Sara asked.
"Fuck," Sara said. "They couldn't find anyone who wanted this shit? Jesus Christ, all this...this fucking Star Trek bullshit to turn me into...what? You guys aren't the 'kindness of your hearts' type." She paused for a breath. "Do you have any idea what I can do if I just...go? I know I'm stronger and faster than...anyone. What the hell kind of job do they need someone like me for?"
Ruth shook her head. "I don't know, Sara. I was brought in here just to watch your psychological health."
"Then find out," Sara said. She turned to face Ruth again. "I don't think you like being in the dark any more than I do."
"No, I do not," Ruth replied. "But this is still a military project, and if I am not cleared to know, then…"
"Then they can get fucked, because I'm not leaving this room until I get answers to all my questions," Sara said. "They would have done this with more people if they could. They need me for something. I think it's only fair I know what that is. Can you work with that?"
Ruth nodded. "I think so." She scooted her chair a little closer to Sara. "Now, do you want to talk about how you're doing, Sara?"
Sara turned away again and crossed her arms in front of her chest. "...not so good," she admitted. "Have you ever -" she began, then trailed off, softly shaking her head.
"Ever what, Sara?" Ruth asked softly.
"Thought about killing yourself," Sara said. Her arms tightened around her. "When you walk on a bridge over a river...have you ever looked at the railing and wondered what happens if you climb on it and jump off?"
Ruth sighed. "I...that's a complicated question." She looked at Sara for a second. "Tell me about your thoughts about this, Sara."
Sara stayed in place for a few seconds, pondering her next action. The tension faded from her body and she turned around, drew up the empty chair and sat down across from Ruth. Her folded hands rested on the table, tapping it once, then twice, until she looked up and met Ruth's gaze.
"After the shower," she said, "when you left me here. I realized that I really was dead. Everything that was really me...got smeared over a back alley in Fallujah, according to you. I've seen what's left. And then I thought about where I was, and how everybody acted." She shook her head. "I'm dead. You couldn't do this to me if anyone still knew I was alive. Everyone I've ever met, everyone I've ever known, they all think I'm dead. My parents got a visitor from a smart-dressed Marine with a flag. So you can't let me go again. And I've been thinking about it, since I woke up, about what I'm going to do and how I'm going to get out of this, but what's the point? Best case, they kill me. Any other case...they strap me down and try to...try to fix me. Beat the 'me' out of their new weapon until even my shadow is gone." She lowered her head again. "And then I thought," she whispered, "how hard can I punch myself?"
Ruth took Sara's hands, and paused to see how she accepted that. Sara didn't react, staying perfectly still. "Yes, Sara, you have been declared dead, and I'm sorry about that, but...you're not dead, and…" Ruth put on her fakest smile, "...perhaps, someday that can be changed."
Sara scoffed. "Yeah, when they invent a time machine."
"But for now, you're not dead, Sara," Ruth says. "I can tell you, for sure, that your brain, your mind, those are intact. And I promise you, Sara, that I will not let them 'fix' you or change who you are," Ruth said as she squeezed her hands, her voice taking a determined edge. "I am here to protect who you are, and there is nothing more important to me than that. Understand?"
"I don't think you can keep that promise," Sara said, then looked up with the thinnest of smiles on her face.
Ruth scowled and curled her lip. "I'd like to see them try. After today? If they want to try to do anything, they have to get through me."
"Yeah," Sara said, with her smile widening. "All those Special Forces guys outside? You could hold them off for ten, fifteen seconds, easy."
Ruth let herself smile a little as her eyes softened. "You don't know everything about me, Sara," she said. "Besides, I managed to block the door, didn't I?"
Sara had to stifle an actual laugh at that. "You sure did," she said. The smile actually seemed to creep up a little before Sara forced it back down. "What I said earlier still stands. I'm not leaving until the brass tells me what's going on. And they better tell me something I like. Is that clear?"
"Crystal," Ruth replied. She opened her briefcase and looked around inside of it for a moment. "Uh, where is my pad of paper?"
Sara grabbed the briefcase and lifted it off the table, revealing the notepad (and some sheets of paper) beneath it. "Sorry about the mess," she said.
"It's okay," Ruth said with a smile. "So, what exactly do you want to hear?" she asked, pulling a pen out of her bag.
"Okay," Sara said, leaning back into her chair with a pause for thought. "Let's draw up our list." She grabbed her chair and scooted around the table next to Ruth, turning the notepad so they could both see the notes. "First, I need to see a complete file of everything they did to me. And I mean complete, I don't care if they think that's too technical, I'll have one of those assholes explain it to me. But I want to know about everything they did. Second, what do they want from me? What are they doing, what do they want me to do, where do they operate, who signed off on all this crap? And third - actually, you know what? Let's make point three about what I want…"
An hour later, Ruth emerged from the lab with a very comprehensive agenda / list of demands from Sara. She wasn't sure how much of it she'd be able to get from Professor Anthros - even half would be pushing it - but it made for a good starting point, and more importantly gave Sara some agency in how she would be treated here. The nice feeling of accomplishment from that drained quickly, however, when she came face to face with Colonel Bledsoe outside, flanked by the two guards she had sent outside.
"Anthros's office," Bledsoe said, eyes fixing on her. "Right now."
Ruth stood there for a moment, debating what to say in response. There were a few different reasons for the stern, frustrated look on his face, and Ruth had good responses for all of them. Ruth knew that responding defensively would make her look just that, though: defensive. And so she kept her mouth shut and just turned on her heel to walk alongside Bledsoe down towards the elevator.
The conversation didn't improve much on the elevator ride; at first, Bledsoe didn't speak at all, preferring to stare dead ahead. When he did open his mouth, he still didn't look at her. "Three times today she could have easily killed you," he said. "Why do I get the feeling you don't care about that?"
"Why do you think she's only either docile or murderous?" Ruth shot back.
"Oh, I believe she doesn't want to kill you, you two being best friends now and all," Bledsoe said. "But bionic augmentations and a temper are a bad combination. I don't know how much she can control it."
"Treating her like a human being instead of a lab experiment would certainly help with that temper," Ruth replied. "Something that no one here seems to have been interested in doing prior to my arrival."
"She wasn't supposed to get out of bed until next week," Bledsoe said. "You tell me we've got a wounded soldier in there, and I believe you. But we've also got a malfunctioning high-tech weapon system in there, and that concerns me. There's only so much we can...contain. And until I'm sure what we've got on our hands, I want to limit the potential for accidents. I don't appreciate you overriding my orders for cheap points with her. You're gambling with more than your own life here, Dr. Truewell." He paused briefly. "Just think about it. Her opinion of you isn't the only thing that matters."
[i]Cheap points,[/i] Ruth thought dismissively. "Her mental state is all that matters to me - and if you're afraid of what she might do with your 'weapon system', then it should matter to you too."
"That's why we're going to see the boss," Bledsoe said, and that was that.
The boss was in his office, with his back to the entrance and a glass of whiskey in his right hand; the tumbler sat open on his desk when Bledsoe and Ruth entered the room. Professor Anthros swirled the whiskey in his glass one more time, then took a sip and turned to his subordinates.
"Dr. Truewell," he said, "the woman of the hour. Care for a drink?"
"No, thank you," Ruth said as she came to a stop in front of Anthros' desk, pad of paper in hand.
"Very well," Anthros said, putting his own glass down on the desk. "I know your answer, Jonas, so let's get down to business. Dr. Truewell, I've just finished reviewing your conversation with Corporal Corvus. Perhaps we should discuss what is appropriate to tell her and what is not before I let you loose again, hm?"
"If you want, sir." Ruth kept her voice even and non-threatening. "I am aware that Sara was not yet authorized to know about the killswitch encoding, but, if I may, Sir, what use is an electric fence if she doesn't know it's live?"
"It compromised our security posture," Bledsoe said.
"Well, let's not be too hasty," Anthros said. "Dr. Truewell's question deserves an answer. What use is the failsafe, indeed? Of course, you can conceive of it as a deterrent, a motivator perhaps? But what I believe Jonas wishes to express is that it is also our one reliable method of controlling her. I don't expect you to be familiar with the technical details of the bionic augmentations installed in Corporal Corvus, Dr. Truewell, so suffice it to say that within the limits of what is technologically feasible we have equipped her with the means to withstand and overcome all manner of...adverse influences. Not exactly bulletproof, but certainly much harder to kill than anyone else in this world. No reliance on external systems, nothing to jam, nothing to intercept. After all, it is foolish to design a weapon with a known weakness - the enemy will surely find out and use it against us. The failsafe, then, is something that we hope cannot be duplicated. A very particular countermeasure, if you will. And part of its value is - or at least, was - its secrecy. You've gotten to know Corporal Corvus, well, so have I, observing her. She now knows that this system exists, and has an idea as to how it works. Do you truly believe that telling her about it gained you a useful amount of trust, or is it - perhaps - not the case that you have given her just another obstacle to plan her escape around? Because if she does figure out a way to overcome it, then controlling her - stopping her, in the worst case - becomes much more difficult. Do you follow, Dr. Truewell?"
Ruth remained politely silent through Dr. Anthros' long and rambling explanation of something she was already very well aware of. "I do follow, Prof. Anthros," she finally said, "but her knowing about it has not compromised its effectiveness. She has no way of seeing with her eyes closed, and the failsafe has been tested to respond to even a half-second of the killswitch pattern. Unless she plans on making her way out of here blindfolded, it still remains completely effective - she just now knows that if she tries to run, we have a way of making her stop. Instead of seeing herself as all-powerful, she knows that we have something that can stop her cold. If anything, Prof. Anthros, I've increased our control over her."
"I see," Anthros said. "I take it you consider Colonel Bledsoe's men and the other security measures ineffective at deterring her, then?"
"Unhurt, yes," Ruth replied. "I think we'd all rather not have to subject her to a second surgery to repair any injuries she sustains trying to escape. If she knows we have a completely effective way of rendering her immobile, she's less likely to try to escape at all - which means we avoid having to use more forceful methods of keeping her here."
"I see you've given it some thought," Anthros said. "I will defer to your insight into her motivations in this matter, Dr. Truewell, but I would like to briefly discuss your motivations, too. In your conversations with Corporal Corvus, you were quick to put yourself apart from us and act as an ally to her. Yet here you are arguing about the most effective way to deter her escape, and then there is the matter of the extensive list of demands you helped Corporal Corvus draw up. Where do you see your goal in all this, Dr. Truewell?"
"What I said in the room with Sara - making sure she remains mentally stable," Ruth said. "That is what you brought me here to do, correct?"
"It's what I intend to keep you around for," Anthros said.
"Then I need to earn her trust," Ruth continued, trying to keep the condescension out of her voice. "Without her trust, my job is made considerably harder. She would refuse to talk to me, and the isolation alone would quickly worsen her mental state. And, to be honest, Sir? She doesn't like any of you, and I don't entirely blame her. But she needs someone on staff here that she believes is on her side." Ruth took this moment to extend the pad with Sara's list of demands to Anthros. "Speaking of which, here is a list of her demands. I've marked on there which ones we should extend, which we should deny, and which we should hold back as rewards for good behavior."
"I'm familiar with the demands themselves," Anthros said, taking the notepad and immediately putting it aside. "I will review your recommendations at a later time." His eyes turned to the glass of whiskey again, but he left it on the table. "Until I have finished this review, you will not reveal anything else to her. Tell her truthfully that I am making the determination, and that she will have her answer soon enough. The items I deem acceptable I leave to your discretion to distribute as you see fit - whether it is one big package, or doled out in installments. Objections?"
Ruth took a deep breath - she hated when superiors asked for dissent when they really only wanted agreement. "No, Professor."
"Then that is all, and I will see that you receive my review of the demands before the end of the day, Dr. Truewell," Anthros said. "Thank you for your candid opinions. You may leave now."
Ruth simply nodded and stepped out of the room.
Bledsoe seemed to relax a little with her gone, though he made no attempt to move from his position near the door. Anthros took it as a cue to take another sip from his glass.
"I need your threat assessment, Jonas," Anthros said.
"Corvus or Truewell?" Bledsoe asked.
"If you can separate one from the other," Anthros replied.
"Corvus will definitely be a big problem if we let her," Bledsoe said. "If anything, the file didn't do her justice. She's a planner, a manipulator, and I'm not seeing a lot of scruples."
"Sounds familiar, doesn't it?" Anthros said.
Bledsoe smirked. "You see where it got me," he said. "She's the kind of player I don't want on my team and really don't want on the other team. In the short run, we might keep her happy with concessions, but we already know what she wants and that's something we can't give her. So either we use her as long as we can and then dispose of her, or…" Bledsoe paused for a moment. "Or we change her outlook. But that's not going to be very nice for anyone involved."
"That's a choice we can make once we see how effective she is in the field," Anthros said. "And Truewell?"
"Doesn't seem to be picking up on how Corvus is manipulating her," Bledsoe said. "Maybe she doesn't want to, maybe she really thinks she's doing the right thing. Insubordinate, and frankly incompatible with the command climate around here. She seeks to have soaked up Corvus's attitude towards your son, too."
"That's the risk we took bringing her in," Anthros said. "Someone with her empathy won't have the stomach for everything we do here, even if she is CIA. That used to mean something, didn't it, Jonas?"
"No comparison to the 70s," Bledsoe said. "I need her to stop undermining me, Tony. That just encourages both of them to keep pushing boundaries."
"Humor her for a bit longer," Anthros said. "The situation is under control for now - not how we thought it would work out, but all things considered, we could be in worse shape. With this...list of hers, the ball is back in our court. Once Corvus is more stable, we can work the limits back in. For the time being, Jonas, just make sure everyone else is safe. If Dr. Truewell wishes to endanger herself, then that's her choice, don't you think?"
"As long as it doesn't blow up," Bledsoe said. "Anything else?"
"One thing," Anthros said. "I want you to draw up a plan for containing Corvus without the failsafe."
"Acceptable losses?" Bledsoe asked.
"In the face of letting this loose?" Anthros said, then finished the glass. "We're all expendable."
While Ruth was gone, Sara kept busy with the pen and notebook - but not in writing. Instead, she filled the pages with sketches. These were the places she had been, buildings and roads and bridges, memories that seemed far away now. Just for fun, she added little doodles of the people she'd met there in the corners of the drawings, but Sara wasn't a big fan of the faces she drew. Her eyes were on the structures, on the landscapes, and on the lighting - especially the shadows. Drawing with a pen, all she had to work with to give depth to the lines were little cross-hatches, tiny lines crossing one another, loose here and dense there, creating a sense of texture and light. They were also, not coincidental, a wonderful place to hide what she was really drawing: plans of the Wolf Creek facility. She hadn't seen much, but the few minutes of free view of the central spire had given her more than enough to start laying out the basic dimensions and shapes in her head. What she already knew were the routes the builders had intended for people to take, but what she needed to figure out were the ways nobody had thought of. That required getting a better idea of what this body was capable of - but that's what she ordered those files for.
Sara's clandestine sketching was interrupted by the thunk of the inch-thick locking bolts in her cell's door. While the reminder that she was a prisoner in more than just a metaphorical sense here wasn't welcome, the advance warning to hide her work was. Sara just managed to finish her drawing and put the notebook away by the time the door was pushed open by Ruth, her back against the doorway and her arms full.
"Let me help you with that," Sara said, jumping up from bed and heading over to help Ruth. Sara grabbed the thick stack of file folders from Ruth's right arm, but then her eyes fell on the styrofoam take-out box in the other hand. "On second thought, let me help you with that." Easily balancing the folders in the crook of her arm, she grabbed the container, undid the latch with her thumb and flicked the top off. "Okay," Sara said, "didn't know you could get takeout steak around here. That's neat."
"It's not takeout, it's from the dining hall," Ruth replied. Sara's excitement waned a bit at that before Ruth could continue. "But I made sure they cooked it correctly and didn't just turn it into shoe leather, so, enjoy."
"I think I will," Sara said and then walked back to the table. The styrofoam container went there, while the stack of files went onto the empty bed, where some of the files on top promptly slid to the side despite Sara's attempts to corral them. "Hey, did you bring any ketchup?"
Ruth gave Sara a raised eyebrow as she took a seat across from her. "Ketchup for a steak?"
Sara smirked at her. "No shit, my dad once ordered kobe and he put ketchup on it," she said. "Also, I thought if you add ketchup to those powdered mashed potatoes, that's almost a whole real vegetable, right?" She sat down at the table opposite Ruth, then unrolled the napkin to reveal a translucent baggy with white plastic cutlery inside. "Seriously?" Sara said, then shook her head. "No big girl knives for me, huh?"
"They wanted to take away your pens, too, and just give you felt-tip markers," Ruth replied as she folded her hands in her lap. "You're still on suicide watch, be glad you're not eating that with your bare hands." She still smirked at Sara.
"I'd eat steak with my feet if it came down to that," Sara shot back. With some effort, she cut into the meat, finding a last, brave garrison of pink meat surrounded by the forces of gray. "Well, I've seen worse," she said, then put the piece of meat into her mouth and chewed it, pushing it from one side of her jaw to the other as she evaluated the morsel. "Is your dining hall out of pepper?" she asked. "Also, chef's cuts require an actual chef to make them. But not bad, overall." After a moment's pause, she turned her attention back to Ruth. "What are you eating?"
"Not hungry, after this morning," Ruth replied with a shiver. She looked up at Sara. "You seem to be doing a lot better, Sara, than when I saw you a couple hours ago. How are you feeling?"
"Scared, nervous," Sara said, then added "Hungry." She started to cut another piece of steak, but stopped midway through. "Can we just...can I finish this before we talk?"
Ruth nodded. "Whatever you want, Sara." She stood up and walked towards the bed. "I'll just put the files in order for when you're ready to go."
"Thank you," Sara said. Then she went back to the steak, which now looked a lot like work. She sighed and resumed eating, accompanying the bites of semi-tender meat with sporkfuls of the bland mashed potatoes. The hunger wasn't a joke: the meal made her feel full, but not sated, more like filling a gas tank than a stomach. It would have to hold her over, for the time being. She dropped the dirty knife and spork into the styrofoam box, then latched it closed again. "Okay, so," she began. "What files did they give you?"
"Well, this was one area where I was able to get everything you asked for," Ruth replied, grabbing most of the stack of files to the table, and dropping them with a thud. "Here is everything we have on your augmentations."
"I guess I asked for that," Sara said. "What else?"
"I have the basics on what we're doing here," Ruth said, handing over a rather thin folder. "And I have your personnel files. Both ours, and your Marine Corps file." She kept her eyes on Sara as she mentioned the last one.
Sara seemed to be still processing that last one when she spoke again. "Can I see that?"
Ruth nodded, and silently slid the last file across the table. It was the only one that wasn't in a standard manila folder; instead, it was printed with a familiar-looking array of check boxes and acronyms to Sara's USMC-trained eyes, complete with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor on the top. As she flicked through the pages, her eyes froze on one entry.
CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF THE BRONZE STAR WITH V DEVICE
FOR VALOR IN CONNECTION WITH GROUND OPERATIONS IN OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. LANCE CORPORAL CORVUS DISTINGUISHED HERSELF ON 15 NOVEMBER 2004 WHILE SERVING AS BRIDGE RECONNAISSANCE TEAM LEADER. WHILE ASSESSING THE STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY OF A DEMOLISHED BRIDGE NEAR FALLUJAH, LANCE CORPORAL CORVUS AND HER TEAM CAME UNDER FIRE FROM A GROUP OF HEAVILY ARMED INSURGENTS. DESPITE THE SUDDEN AMBUSH, THE CRITICAL WOUNDING OF THE TEAM'S MACHINEGUNNER AND THE NUMERICAL SUPERIORITY OF THE ENEMY FORCES, LANCE CORPORAL CORVUS ENSURED HER TEAM'S SAFETY AND RALLIED THEM INTO DEFENSE. IGNORING MULTIPLE GUNSHOTS THAT IMPACTED HER BODY ARMOR AND HELMET, LANCE CORPORAL CORVUS RISKED HER LIFE TO PROVIDE BOTH COVERING FIRE AND AIMED FIRE, KILLING TWO OF THE ENEMY NUMBER AND WOUNDING SEVERAL MORE. THROUGH HER VALIANT ACTIONS, THE INSURGENTS WERE FORCED TO RETREAT. LANCE CORPORAL CORVUS'S BRAVERY, QUICK THINKING AND SKILL WERE INSTRUMENTAL IN DEFEATING THE ENEMY FORCES DECISIVELY. HER DEDICATION AND COURAGE UNDER FIRE REFLECT GREAT CREDIT UPON HERSELF, THE 5TH COMBAT SUPPORT BATTALION AND THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS.
If Sara had been standing, she would have had to sit down, and if she still had tear ducts, she would have misted up; as it was, only the stunned look on her face remained.
"It's a good story," she finally said. "I guess the pogues are good for something." She looked back to Ruth. "What's in your file about me?" she asked.
"Mostly physiological data," Ruth replied, her voice dropped out of respect for Sara's emotions. "And the report on your...retrieval." She paused. "I don't think it would be very good for you to read that quite yet, Sara."
"Hm," Sara said, giving Ruth just a slight nod. "Okay, one more thing. What are we doing here? I know it's in the files, but just give it to me straight."
"This program - Berkut - was established to research the potential of human-to-computer technology," Ruth replied. "And the bionic hardware you've been...given, I guess, is the product of that research."
"That's great, but doesn't explain all the Army guys and their guns," Sara said. "Or why I'm here. What do you want me for?"
"Colonel Bledsoe is responsible for the Army guys and their guns," Ruth replied. "But why you're here? Well...part of it is to conduct final phase testing of the bionic hardware. Your augmentations are, to be blunt, a testing platform." Sara scowled and opened her mouth, but Ruth cut her off. "But. We are not the only ones developing this technology, and other advanced biotech, chemical, and high-energy technologies - and some of these groups are not very nice people. Colonel Bledsoe and Professor Anthros have allowed me to tell you that you will be asked to undergo missions to stop these technologies from falling into the wrong hands."
"I don't think there are right hands for this," Sara said. "And I've been picked for this instead of SEAL Team Six, because…"
"We could send them, or some other special operations forces, but without the augmentations? The chances of all of them making it out alive - or even completing the mission - are...not very good," Ruth said. "You can run faster, jump farther, and take more punishment than any normal human now, Sara. And that's what it'll take to stop these threats."
Sara mulled it over for a few moments, tapping her fingers on the table as she eyed the tall stack of folders containing the details of every violation these people had put her through. Even if Ruth seemed on the level - for a government agent in some conspiracy theorist's wank dream - there was no escaping the fact that she had been kidnapped and experimented on and violated by these people. No matter how much they claimed to be serving the greater good now, nothing could make Sara forget what they had done to her. But, if this were true, and there were even worse people out there with tech like this, or even more dangerous things…
Ruth's eyes were waiting patiently for Sara's return. "Give it to me straight," Sara said. "How much of this do you actually believe? I was in the Corps for a long time, I know that people like you lie to people like me to get us to do what you want all the time." She leaned back in her chair. "People like you said there were WMDs in Iraq, too."
Ruth winced at that particular reference. "Yes, that is not one of our prouder moments," she replied. "But this one, this is real. 2002, Barcelona. Somehow, ETA got their hands on a supply of volatile nanoparticles. Their plan was to hook half a ton of that into the AC of a subway station. If they had succeeded, it would have destroyed the lungs of everyone in the station. You've already met the men who stopped it - Captain Ginsburg and his team." Ruth pulled another file out of her briefcase and set it down before Sara: inside were pictures and reports backing up everything she just said. "So, yes, this threat is real."
Sara took the file and leafed through it. A terrorist attack in 2002 that never made the news? But the more she saw of it, the more she wondered just how much effort it would take to make a fake file this detailed, stage all the pictures, come up with all the dry technobabble to back it up. After today, after learning what had been done to her, it all didn't seem quite so impossible anymore. "Where are these weapons coming from?" she asked, finally.
"That's the thing, not all of these are weapons," Ruth replied, and pointed to a line in the report. "These nanoparticles were meant to be used in a chemical plant. They're perfectly safe, if used correctly." She paused to let Sara see for herself, and when Sara looked back up, Ruth continued. "There is no secret evil organization making super-science to destroy the world. What there are is many different groups, abusing what science has created to kill and terrorize."
"And you want me to go out and stop the ones your guys can't handle," Sara said. "I need some time to think about it, and to go through the files for myself. But." She nodded towards the stack of files on her bed.
"You want to know what's been done to you," Ruth said.
"Yes, I do," Sara said. She leaned over, grabbed one of the bionic augmentation files and slid it over the table towards Ruth. "So, how much of this crap do you understand?"
"Some," Ruth replied, not picking up the folder quite yet. "College was a long time ago, but I remember some of my biology. The technology, though...wouldn't you rather have someone who helped develop the tech explain it to you?"
Sara's expression darkened. "I'm not talking to that creep Anthros."
"No, no, I would never ask you to do that," Ruth replied, her brow furrowing as well. "I meant...someone else."
"I'd prefer you," Sara said.
"Are you sure?" Ruth asked. "Like I said, I'm not really the best person -"
"Very sure," Sara said.
Ruth nodded, and in a return gesture, stood up and carried her chair around next to Sara. "Then we should get started." Before taking her seat again, though, Ruth walked towards the secured door. "And I should get some coffee brought down here."
"I'll take a tall latte with caramel," Sara said, not looking up from the folder in front of her, but when Ruth turned over her shoulder, Sara gave her a smirk.
The next hours rushed past Sara, the passing time measured in the slowly shrinking stack of unread files. She had asked for everything and almost gotten it: nearly endless stacks of technical descriptions and cutting-edge theoretical background that might as well have been written in Cantonese. With Ruth's help, she at least pieced together executive summaries of the things neither of them could understand in detail, and the occasional excursion into basic electric engineering or materials science gave her something to slowly digest. In those moments, it was difficult to keep things in perspective. The technical achievements were remarkable, lightyears ahead of anything else in the wild - but they had made sure she would never forget what it was all being used for. The grumbling of her stomach and the increasingly frequent yawns from Ruth finally got Sara's eyes off the pages and onto a clock: 2:46 AM. She turned to the pile of still untouched files and fished one out at random.
"Anthrocyte Cluster Implementation, Volume 3," she read off the title, then met Ruth's bleary eyes. "God, he has an ego, doesn't he?"
"...perhaps," Ruth replied, her exhaustion possibly having compromised her usual diplomatic tone.
Sara thumbed through the file. "Blah blah, super-healing, blah blah," she said. "What are you reading?"
"Uh…" Ruth's eyes wandered up to the top of the page. "Methods of translation from muscle neuron impulses to sub-millimeter bionic control." She paused. "How you can control your limbs so precisely."
"Fascinating," Sara said. "And I've got a feeling that even if I knew all the words, I still couldn't make heads or tails of most of it. I mean, just take this" - she dumped the newest file and dug into the 'read' pile for a moment - "here, the material specs. I don't have a PhD, but I know what compressive stress is and what these kinds of numbers look like in the real world. If this file is right, then the carbon compound they're using for the bones has a compressive yield strength just north of 130,000 PSI. That's close to titanium - the shear modulus in some directions is actually even better - except it's half the density. If this was on the market...they would be filthy rich. I don't know how they made it. I don't think anyone outside this base has an idea it's even possible. This is decades ahead of anything you can get off the shelf."
"Mm-hmm," Ruth mumbled, still reading her file.
"Ruth?" Sara asked, snapping her fingers. "Are you still with me?"
"Huh?" Ruth asked, then snapped bolt upright. "Yes! Yes, Sara, I'm here. That's…a lot of strength?" She gave Sara a questioning look. "I studied biology, not engineering."
Sara glanced over at the small graveyard of coffee cups on Ruth's side of the table. "Do you want to take a break?" she asked. "It's getting pretty late."
"I'm here as long as you want me here, Sara," Ruth replied.
"I appreciate that," Sara said with a smile. "But you can't help me if you're too busy trying not to fall out of your chair. You should get some sleep. The files aren't going anywhere."
"Are you sure?" Ruth asked.
"Very sure," Sara smirked.
Ruth nodded, and hauled herself up from her chair. "Good night, Sara."
"Good night, Ruth," Sara said. "I'll see you tomorrow?" A sarcastic chuckle escaped her lips. "It's not like I'm going anywhere, either."
"Sure thing," Ruth replied. "I'll be here...well, it's already bright and early, but I will see you in the morning." She turned and walked for the door, triggering the intercom to signal to be let out.
Sara heard the terse conversation between Ruth and the soldiers outside, as well as the door cycling open, Ruth walking out and the door sealing behind her, but she wasn't listening to it. Her mind, still well awake and fired up after everything, was set on the pile of files. With a soft sigh, she pulled another one out. Only three dozen or so left to go. Piece of cake.