"You made me weak." Tex stalked across the grass, the nubs of her toes digging into the dirt and pulling up patches of grass. Excellent traction. Remember to make Simmons transplant grass later, see if he'll do it. Sarge looked up from the engine he was tinkering with and met Tex's gaze.
"This body. It's like a watered-down drink compared to the body I used to have, and you did that on purpose."
"Maybe," he mumbled.
"Is it just a point a'pride to ya, or is this some dastardly Blue scheme to try and run you in here again to take us out?"
Tex spread her arms. Servos whined a little. Could oil that right up when I try and fix her - no! Resist the Blue scheme!
Tex said, "I demand good work. I don't care about your stupid Blue versus Red battles."
"Red vs Blue," he muttered.
Her helmet seemed to glare as it caught the sun, but she just kept going with her thought. "And yeah. Pride."
"You don't care about the war a whit."
"No. I've been around too long. You're a flash in the pan, old man. The Freelancers were really competitive. There was this chick named Carolina - "
Sarge cocked his head, knocked a wrench against the engine experimentally, and stood up. "They're all dead now?"
"Most of them."
"How's a grand army like that go from being the best to being dead?"
"The same way any army does, idiot. People kill 'em. Listen, there was this chick named Carolina and she thought she was tougher than me. Almost was, too, but she didn't know I had a robot body and I didn't tell her. I liked her to think that something with flesh had beaten her. And now, I've bargained for a new body that isn't half as strong. What good is that to me? Getting Ome...O'Malley back is your problem too, Red."
"That body is fine! Highest quality robot kit. Which is the only quality." He was gesturing around with the wrench.
"Highest quality? I can barely lift a Warthog." She stepped forward.
He was getting scared now. "You're just like Lopez! Same kinda model. And he's strong!" He lifted the wrench to emphasize the word.
Her hand darted out and grabbed his wrist. A moment later she had the hooked end of the wrench pointed at his throat and his elbow caught between her arm and his chest. She bore down on him, forcing him back toward the engine. She was almost strong enough but he could feel the weak spots in her metal bones, the gears that weren't engaging.
"All right, all right." He raised his free hand and felt behind him with his toes. He was off-balance. Gonna fall over in a moment if she didn't -
Look up. A slight delay, a slight heaviness in her jaw on the opposite side. He'd have to recalibrate her eyes. For now, though, he brought his heel down hard on a switch on the engine. A gout of flame burst out of a pipe. Tex jumped backwards and let go of Sarge's wrist, pushing him away in the process. He chuckled. "Don't get yer britches out of order, I'll still fix ya. Why is pride so darn important?"
"I don't know. Never really thought about it. Probably because I was too busy being better than other people - " without missing a beat she lunged forward and headbutted him. Her helmet filled up his field of vision before he felt the impact rock his chest and force the air out of him. His shin caught on the engine. He tripped backwards, landed on his back on the ground, and realized that his hand was empty. She'd yanked the wrench away as he moved. Now she stepped slowly over the engine, which was dribbling oil and a slowly fading burp sound. Have to work more on that project before I try to mount it on the chupathingy.
Tex pointed the wrench at him, leaned down to knock it against his helmet. "Are we going to do this or not?"
"Fine," he growled. "No guarantees. You're cheap."
She sat down on the ground next to the engine. "I thought you said I was the best."
"The best robot kit Command sends us? Still cheap."
He put the wrench to work and stripped off a panel between her shoulder blades. Sure, the machinery inside looked basically like the stuff inside Lopez, but Sarge had made so many minor adjustments to both of them at their birth that the similarity was slim. Building robots was more an art than a science, although of course art was vastly superior to science to the extent that an art could be encompassed by the all-encompassing, undefeatable super-subject that was science. Sarge enjoyed his work. He liked to tweak, and if tweaking meant that the next person to come along would have trouble figuring out how the thing worked then that person obviously did not deserve to be on a Red team messing with Red robots. Because only a Red could ever get ahold of a Red robot.
The thorny question of whether Tex was Red, or half-Red, or Blue, or pay-per-kill, was irrelevant to Sarge. His thought process was only a backseat driver to what his hands were doing. Sometimes they chimed in with something useful at an intersection, but more often he ignored them and just followed the road. Tex was a scenic drive. Sarge found a smooth-sided wheel inside her shoulder and wiggled it, then pushed it to the side. Something in her arm clunked.
Tex almost purred. "That felt like an improvement."
Sarge nodded to himself. "I know what I'm doing. You're bound to experience some catharsis. Lethargy. Theology. Somethin with tees."
She stretched her neck and leaned back. He shifted his hands fast to avoid getting trapped against one metal skin layer or another.
"There's some other weird stuff with this body too," Tex continued. She sounded much quieter than usual, almost musing. Tentatively he started looking at wires in the same shoulder, examining each color and almost able to smell the difference. Heat washed out of the hole in her back like from the small engine. Curse you, fascination with robots! part of Sarge's brain said. The only thing that can overcome my hatred for the enemy!
Tex said, "Sometimes I still feel like I'm a ghost. Really...distracted. Like I'm about to drift off."
This was not interesting to Sarge. "And?"
"And?" She snapped.
He was focusing on a mesh of tiny pins up toward her neck. "And did you get any mechanical problems with that?"
"Then don't ask me. I didn't specialize in emotional. Ask them Blues. Or Donut. Ain't you Church's girl?"
"Aw, Donut's scared of me. I don't think he'll help."
"How's this?" Sarge banged an access panel shut, and Tex lurched forward.
"Oof. I guess that's a little better? I'd have to test it out to see though." He backpedaled fast. His shotgun was comforting but it wasn't right to hit a girl. They were too fragile-like, and he was pretty sure shooting counted as hitting. Besides, Tex could hit hard enough that he'd need more than one shot anyway. Great. Blue trap, I knew it.He put a hand on the gun magnetized to his back, but she didn't get up.
"You gonna go now?" He made it sound like a threat. Get off my land. "It's not quite done yet since I haven't either looked lower than your shoulders or have any fishing line in stock, but you should be a bit less, er, weak."
She cocked her head. "I'd say thanks if you shouldn't have done this weeks ago."
He pushed on her to get her to stand up, then realized that she was neither a stubborn horse nor a member of his team and stepped back, expecting a fist to the face. Tex did not fit into Sarge's equations on how to deal with girls. She had, briefly, matched pretty well with the 'how to deal with robots' ones though.
He put on his best Blue-defying voice. "Still proud, I see. Couldn't get that out."
"Nope. I guess it's just part of what makes us human. Huh, that sounds familiar. Does it sound familiar to you?"
"Huh," she said again, and nodded as if she found his answer comforting.