MEANWHILE IN ITALY

A Gunslinger Girl fanfiction, based on works by Yu Aida.


CH02 – A Brave New World

"Three thousand repetitions between metres one-fifty and two hundred?"

"I like to think our methods are somewhat more refined than those of Mr. Huxley, though the concept is broadly similar…"

Sitting in this cold white room, on this cold white chair, flicking through the conditioning component of his freshly minted cyborg's documentation folded inside its white-bound file; Doctor Bianchi's words floated unbidden across Danilo's mind. The assertion had rung true, and the amount of data he was being informed had been imprinted on this girl was frankly staggering; certainly more detailed and direct than a generalised dislike of the countryside, or aversion to being alone.

Glancing over at the lumpen, softly breathing form laying in the room's solitary bed, part of him remained dubious the medical staff were truly capable of pulling off such a feat without hitch or hiccup; or if they even had. His eyes flashed quickly to the long pane of thick, mirrored glass through which some of their number were even now invisibly peering in on this scene, safe in the darkened observation room. Holding the hidden gaze for another second his attention strayed further around to the reinforced corridor access, currently locked, and unbidden a hand moved to touch at the firearm now tucked below his left shoulder. The sleek plastic shape was heavy, magazine fully loaded with one in the chamber; not quite as comfortably reassuring as his previously issued Beretta, but…

Danilo shook himself, he knew what he was here to do; and the gun choice was purposely new, modern, full of freshly developed materials and all the better for it; he had not exactly cried at consigning the heavy, bulky Beretta of his former employment to the annals of personal history. This firearm's manufacturer had known their business and done it correctly, and as long as the Social Welfare Agency staff had similarly undertaken theirs there was nothing to fear.

Speaking of…

He turned back to the open lever-arch folder, identified by a sticky printer label on the spine as containing part one of four of his cyborg's handover package; replete with annotations, notes and appendices from the various medical staff and engineers involved in her build. Their writings were fronted by a table of contents, with a thin sheaf of papers stacked in behind detailing what was known of his future charge's former life. That had been skipped over as all but irrelevant, though he had skimmed the interpretive report attached by Bianchi on how it may effect the girl's behaviour further in the future.

Giving a second reading of that a miss, he rifled further through more hole-punched pages to the performance sheet in the hope of making some better sense of it than his previous brief pass had allowed. That intention was however interrupted by a mumble from the bed. Looking over he was greeted by open eyes, a hand wiping at tears running down each soft cheek onto the stiff pillow case.

"You're awake."

The eyes flicked across, focusing while he carefully and unhurriedly arranged the pages in the folder and closed it, before placing it on the bedside table. Freed of its burden the handler-to-be reached down pick up a grey box; one of those he had acquired from the armoury the previous evening. Its twin now rested all but empty in his room, but this one remained unopened aside from the quick once over it had received upon collection. With the same methodical slowness he stood and walked around to the foot of the hospital bed, forcing the girl there to sit up against the headboard in order to keep him in sight, one arm holding the starchy sheet against her chest.

Coming to a halt Danilo flicked an impassive eye over what was presented there: dull, mousy, shoulder-length hair, and light brown eyes set into an expectant, worry-edged face; any potentially hard lines blunted by the same softness which rounded out broad shoulders.

Finally he broke the silence. "Do you know who I am?"

"Yes sir."

The silence hung again, before his eyebrows rose expectantly. "…and that is?"

"Oh, umm, you're Danilo Olivetti, my handler."

The ex-Guardia man gave the girl a curt nod of confirmation. "And do you know who and what you are?"

"I am C. Raych, a general combat second generation cyborg of the Italian Social Welfare Agency, sir."

Another nod. "And your role is?"

"To protect Italy and serve the Social Welfare Agency and my handler, sir."

So far then, so good.

Resting the case he carried on the end of the bed, Danilo reached up to release its clasps before opening it out to display its contents to the girl in front of him.

"Now, do you know what this is?"

There as a momentary pause as the firearm within, identical to the one he carried under his arm, was studied.

"Yes sir. It is a Steyr M9-A1 service pistol. The M9-A1 fires nine millimetre ammunition from a seventeen round magazine. Its unloaded weight is eight hundred and fifty-one grams and it has an overall length of one hundred and seventy-six millimetres. Improvements of the A1 over the original M9 pistol include revised grips, a forward mounted STANAG 2324 Picatinny rail and the inclusion of a +2 magazine butt-plate as standard. It is also available in… umm, would you like me to go on sir? I can if you would like."

Danilo closed up the case and the girl's face fell as the final catch snapped shut, then he placed it on the bed. "No C. Raych, that will be fine. This pistol is yours, so read the instructions and take good care of it."

The face lit up again. "Yes sir! I will, I promise!"

So that was it. Deal sealed. Apparently he was, by the unofficial but generally accepted measure of those staff and handlers he had talked to, officially in charge of a cyborg now.

In the meantime Raych started to reach forward for the case, but a raised hand stopped her movement. "Not just yet. Now, out of bed."

"Huh?"

"Out of bed."

She reddened.

"Now."

Slowly, reluctantly, she slid from under thick sheets to stand naked and shivering beside the mattress in cool hospital air.

"Now, turn around… right around, slowly."

Standing back, Danilo watched as she did as instructed. The file had set her height at 166cm, and if it were not exact then she was close enough that he would also not be willing to argue the point. Weight though had been more difficult to get a handle on in terms of how it would translate into the artificially composed and internally armoured cyborgs' build. Now however, under cold fluorescent lights, his girl was revealed to be heavier set than most of her peers he had seen ranging around campus in his short SWA tenure. Not overweight per-se, but with heavy breasts set above a protruding belly and as she finished her turn the handler stepped forward to pinch flesh between his fingers, causing Raych to redden further, and turned to the mirrored glass.

"Doctors? What is this?"

Inside the observation room, Doctor Fernando Bianchi took a moment to readjust his expectations. The man's action was unusual on a number of levels, and the sentiment was echoed from the back of the room by the whispering voice of Priscilla as the SWA's lead intelligence analyst stated her own surprise to Ferro, the support team manager sat beside her at the small table.

Further along the glass, the stubble chinned Doctor Donato also looked over, leaning clear of his microphone's pickup, "First one I've seen do that," and Bianchi nodded agreement. The vast majority of handlers tended to try and ignore their observers, pretending the room was inhabited only by themselves and their new charge. Some cyborgs bought it, some did not… Jethro Blacker's had infamously knocked on the glass to ask the time after her handler disappeared from sight, leaving her to navigate across campus under her own steam; but few, if any he could remember had purposely highlighted that there may be others looking on.

Fortunately Bianchi's fellow medico recovered quicker, and shrugging, stepped forward again to key the inter-room microphone: if that was how Olivetti was going to play he saw no need to argue. "Raych needs to step into the Gen 1 girls' shoes and we upped her armouring scheme to suit and it had to go somewhere; it won't adversely effect her performance if that's your concern."

The doctor let go of the mic, carefully leaving out Raych's donor body having afforded them the luxury of that shape to begin with, one of the reasons she had made the candidate list, and the medical staff's head gave his colleague a nod of approval.

On the other side of the glass that explanation seemed to content Danilo also and, releasing his cyborg he stood to walk back around the bed. Lifting the black nylon duffle which had been placed behind he set it atop the sheets. "There a clothes in here and a photo of how to do your hair. Get dressed and I will be back to collect you in ten minutes."

Relief washed across his charge's face. "Yes sir."

Retrieving his folder, the handler turned on a heel and headed for the door as, inside the observation room, Bianchi released the lock remotely. Four quick steps had him into the corridor outside and through the adjacent entrance to join the watching SWA staff, as the girl's door swung itself shut with a heavy clunk of bolts. Inside, four sets of eyes two male, two female, swivelled to look at the new arrival.

"I wasn't told about her carrying any extra weight."

Now alone, Raych had managed to get her bag open on the second attempt and was beginning to unpack its contents. Priscilla looked like she wanted to say something, but a motion from Ferro stopped her. Turning away from the scene Donato started to reply, "It's not fat if that's the concern; the cyborgs aren't even capable of producing or processing it."

"And you're sure it won't impact her performance?"

"Not at all. She was on the heavier side pre-conversion, so if anything it should make it easier for her to acclimatise to the cybernetic body."

"What she may have more trouble with are those," Bianchi pointed to where, in the room over, Raych was extracting one of the sets of black leather boots Danilo had bought the previous day. "We're making leaps and bounds, but fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination are still tricky right after wakeup. Some handlers find that a hobby or musical instrument helps to an extent, we can give you a list of..."

"I know, I did read the manual." The new handler scowled however, harsh light through the glass picking out lines on his face; that was not what he had wanted to hear. "Surely you have some way to calibrate them."

"Why do you think she hasn't bent the bed frame in half?" growled Donato.

"So what you're telling me is that the process isn't capable of fine adjustments yet."

"Where are you planning on taking her first?" Interjected Ferro, and out of view Bianchi gave her a tight smile of thanks. "Some of our facilities prefer to be notified if they are going to receive new cyborgs for the first time."

Pausing briefly to address the change of tack, Danilo turned to the new speaker. "I was going to take her for a drive around campus first, get her familiar with where she needs to go, then probably go to the indoor range and break in that pistol."

"You may not need to bother with that first part…" Bianchi had turned back to the cyborg's wakeup room and was speaking to the glass, beyond which Raych had managed to put on a set of underpants, but was now ineffectually batting at the clasp of her bra. "…Priscilla, could you go and help her?"

"Sure."

With that the pretty analyst pushed back her chair and headed for the door without another word.

"She really needs to learn to do these things herself."

The doctor turned to Danilo. "Eventually, but for the first few days she will require assistance. I believe she has a room mate?"

"Yes, Pagani's cyborg."

"Good."

In the far white room Priscilla appeared through the door and, with a cheery smile, stepped over to take both halves of the bra clasp from Raych's struggling fingers, quickly hooking them together.

"She's a multi-million Euro weapons system; surely getting dressed shouldn't present this much of a challenge."

"Like I said; fine motor skills… but back to what I was talking on before; you probably don't need to bother with the drive around campus," continued Bianchi, sidestepping another potential argument. "We've added a layout map to the standard knowledge package the girls get."

"I obviously had not got as far as that part of her file yet."

"It's recent, so the rundown would be toward the back."

"That would explain it," now the handler turned from the window to the head surgeon. "It's a pity you can't do that with, say, a map of Rome."

That brought a wry snort. "Baby steps, Mister Olivetti; I said it was a recent development… believe it or not most of the advances we make here are evolutionary and incremental rather than revolutionary. Raych may not have been provided a full map of Italy in her base knowledge, but sometime in the future another girl will be."

"I assume it's possible to rewrite that new data onto an existing cyborg?"

"Not without completely rebooting her, no. No matter what you might think this is not The Matrix; these girls still have human brains, not computers, in their skulls… however the best science-fiction is rooted in science-fact, and we're doing our best to move it along. Unfortunately real life takes a little longer to manipulate than putting words on a page."

By now Priscilla had her temporary charge dressed in black leggings, a poncho-top, and had moved on to letting Raych try to do up her boots. On the third unsuccessful attempt, the elder woman gently took over from a dejected looking cyborg.

"Oh don't worry sweetness, it'll come in time."

The girl however still looked unhappy. "I don't think I can protect Danilo like this."

"Patience; the first few days are always difficult, but you'll start to get the hang of the fiddly things eventually… he knows that too."

If not, I'll make sure he finds out.

Finishing the first set of laces, the young intelligence superintendent moved onto the girl's other foot. Leaving the upper two hooks of the high combat boot undone she twisted the tough strands once over themselves, before wrapping them around Raych's calf, causing the top of the leather to flare out, and tied off with a loose double bow.

Slapping the footwear on either side with her hands, the woman stood up with a grin. "There, that looks better! Hot tip: never lace this sort of boot all the way up or you'll look like you just walked off a parade ground."

She gave a conspiratorial wink which was answered by an awkward smile. "Now lets see what we can do about your hair."

"Oh! Umm, Danilo left me a photo of how to do it."

"Did he now…"

The girl rummaged in her bag and Priscilla took the proffered picture depicting a high-set, low-maintenance top-knot. Not imaginative but, well… 'low maintenance' was probably the key here.

"It's not exactly…" she decided not to rock the boat further. "…lets do this."

Extracting a cheap brush and elastic tie from the bag, the woman ran the former through the girl's hair to straighten out any knots before putting it down and slipped the elastic circlet over her wrist. Then she gathered up the shoulder length strands, working inwards so they pulled back from Raych's forehead and neck to the top of her scalp before, with a deft movement, winding them together in a tight bun which was fastened in place with the tie.

"Done! There, you look good now, very avant-garde."

"Is that a good thing?"

Priscilla paused, 'avant-garde' was not really to her personal taste but… "I think it's what your handler wants."

Raych edged a timid smile.

"Do you want to see what else he has in this bag?"

That was met with a more enthusiastic nod. However, before either could move, there was a clack of electric bolts withdrawing and Danilo entered the room.

"Ten minutes are up, pack your things C. Raych."

"Yes sir," the voice was quieter again.

As she started to do as instructed Olivetti turned to the room's other adult occupant. "Thank you for your help Priscilla."

The woman forced her own smile. "No problem. If Raych has any issues you need a hand with, you know where to find me."

"Of course."

Looking back to his new charge, Danilo found her standing quietly with her bag in one hand and the case containing her Steyr in the other.

"Come on then."

Handler leading, the Social Welfare Agency's most recently minted fratello turned through the door toward the world outside, its younger component trotting a respectful step behind and to the right of her instructor; leaving Priscilla alone in the cold cell.

Showing discharge papers, signed earlier with Bianchi and cleared by Ferro, along with his ID badge to the guard at the wing's front security station, Danilo stepped out into cool autumn air and paused to scan the car park for where he had left the Civic.

The medical building was one of the more recently constructed on campus; which was not saying much as some buildings dated back almost to the Middle Ages. While it had received a partial refit when the medical arm moved in, its car park remained a sprawling expanse of gravel. Behind her handler, Raych shivered under the loose fabric of her top, before following at his heels as he started moving again.

In stark contrast to the parking near the handlers' building, the metal here was somewhat less expensive and the small Japanese hatchback was found squeezed between an aging silver Alfa Romeo 156 estate and a somewhat newer Fiat. As they approached the handler hit the key fob to unlock it and pop the boot.

"Is this your car sir?"

Halting at its tail, the man lifted the hatch before answering. "It is, but don't get too attached; it won't be with us for much longer… put your gear in here."

"Yes sir. Do you not like your car?"

"I'm buying a newer, better one…" he closed the boot, effectively ending the conversation. "Get in the back."

"Yes sir."

Pulling out of the park they travelled in silence, accompanied only by the humming engine and rumble of tyres on coarse bitumen, until Danilo turned down toward the indoor range's sunken bunker.

"Do you know where we are?"

The girl craned around the front passenger seat, fetching up against her inertia-reel seatbelt but wiggled in its grasp until she could just see out the windscreen. "Yes sir. We've just come from the medical wing and that in front of us is the armoury and small arms range. It contains fourteen lanes for the use of SWA personnel, as well as firearms and ammunition for operational personnel. It is considered good practice for fratelli to store their long arms here and not in the cyborg dormitory."

Seemingly Bianchi's conditioned map worked then.

In the front seat the handler hid a thin smile; that last bit had been interesting. During orientation he had been informed the SWA would prefer anything more potentially powerful than a sidearm were stored in the armoury, rather than within easy access of unsupervised cyborgs, but he had not realised the idea was programmed into the cyborgs themselves as well.

Another recent addition?

In the silence there was a small noise from the back seat. "Umm, was that correct sir?"

"Yes, it was correct. Well done."

As they pulled into a spare parking space, the girl beamed.

"Out, and bring your gun."

Leading again, Danilo made his way down the armoury's sunken stairway and through into its vinyl floored, concrete walled entrance; deserted bar the range clerk behind his counter. With some luck at this time of day the firing line proper would also be quiet enough that the fratello could practice with minimal distraction. Positioning Raych on the long bench against its back wall, away from the hanging TV set, the handler turned toward the other man.

"Four hundred rounds of 9mm if you would, and targets."

"Practicing together?"

"Not for me, only for the cyborg."

Producing a clipboard with the appropriate form attached the clerk, a different one from the previous evening, handed it across his counter before craning to look past his client to the girl seated behind. "Haven't seen her before; she new?"

"Fresh out of the hospital today." … surely staff should be briefed on who was who, particularly new fratelli.

"Right. Shouldn't be too difficult right now, but if you can; try and grab a lane with spares on either side of it."

"I'm sure she won't need that."

"Better safe than sorry… people tend to get pissed off if someone else holes their targets."

Accepting the completed form back, the clerk left to fill the request and Danilo watched him go. Actually, he did intend to find as isolated of a lane as possible, just not for the reasons being insinuated.

Eventually the SWA staffer returned with eight, fifty-round boxes of ammunition and slid them to the waiting handler, then bent down under the counter to produce two pairs of eye glasses and one set of ear protectors.

No earmuffs for the cyborg then… he didn't remember seeing anything in the specs… The handler however shook his head. "We won't be needing those."

"Careful, the cyborgs are tough but the boffins haven't figured out how to armour the eyes yet."

"I know," the reply was slightly testy, "but we have our own."

That got a shrug. "Alright then, well best of luck."

"Raych, come on."

As hoped the range was empty save for a blond haired man and red-headed girl at one end, another fratello… Ricci from memory… the handler standing close over his charge as he explained one action or another to her. Both looked up curiously as the new pair entered, but Danilo headed for the range's far extremity, clearly telegraphing he did not wish to be disturbed and they went back to whatever it was they had been doing.

Gesturing to a lane right next to the wall, he turned to his own cyborg. "Set yourself up in the end bay."

"Yes sir."

The shooting positions were divided by transparent, bullet-proof plastic; albeit now starting to scratch and craze, allowing a handler to practice at the same time as his girl whilst keeping an eye on her. Following instructions, Raych put her pistol case down on the counter between one of those and dull, damaged concrete. Placing his own empty equipment bag on the seating bench against the back wall, Danilo took a box of ammunition and brought it to where his charge had the pistol and three magazines out of their case. Like him the girl had donned glasses, but her hearing protection remained stowed and the handler shifted it away… he had bought it on force of habit, guess that made the new set his now after all.

"Load up."

"Yes sir."

Carefully, as if needing to think her way through each action, she opened the box and started clumsily seating rounds into a magazine.

"No, not like that, like this."

"Sorry sir."

Taking the magazine off her, Danilo held it so she could see what he was doing and started quickly thumbing rounds in until it was full.

"Now try it again."

"Yes sir."

Picking up the second empty magazine, Raych started again, emulating what she had just been shown. The process was still slow, a parroted copy rather than true understanding, but at least now she wasn't fumbling the little metal shapes, and repetition would eventually solve the rest.

As she slid the last round into place, her handler stepped forward to hook a paper target to the rail on the roof and ran it out to the full twenty-five metre mark.

"C. Raych, load your pistol."

"Yes sir."

Picking a magazine the girl carefully inserted it into her gun and pushed it home with a click.

"Shooter ready?"

"Yes sir."

"Then fire away."

Cradling her M9 in both hands, the new cyborg arranged herself into a textbook shooting stance, took aim and…

Bang!

The paper stayed where it was, pristine, flawless… impact free.

Maybe the medicos really did have trouble calibrating these things.

Standing, Danilo wound the target in to the seven meter mark.

"Try again."

Bang!

Well, there was nothing wrong with her stance. "Make sure your sights are aligned, triangle over what you want to put a bullet in… then take a breath, hold and squeeze the trigger. Try to feel for where it breaks."

"Yes sir."

Bang!

This time a small black hole opened up in the edge of the target paper, outside the vaguely human-shaped lines.

"And again."

Bang!

No change.

"Keep going."

Carefully and methodically, Raych fired off the rest of the magazine, then the second. As the gun's slide locked itself back for the third time, another box of ammunition was dropped on her bench.

"Reload and keep trying."

Another fifty rounds stumbled off toward their inevitable demise against the backstop, some passing through paper on their way and others merely disappearing in a little geyser of disturbed sand. As the girl paused to reload her magazines again, Ricci and his charge started to make their way back down the firing line. However, instead of exiting out the door halfway along its length, the pair continued to close on the Olivetti fratello, until Danilo caught the other handler's eye and shook his head. Halting, the man nodded his understanding; right now a lack of distractions would be best. Saying something to the red head beside him they made an easy about face and beat their retreat.

As the stack of fresh 9mm rounds slowly dwindled other range users came and went, but Danilo, sat arms crossed against the wall behind his charge, directed them away. Occasionally a cessation of fire would be ordered to alter a technique slightly or change targets, each quickly removed from sight and a fresh silhouette run out. However as successive sheets of paper were liberally peppered with widely spaced holes the handler felt his composure slipping more, and the brushing off became increasingly sharp and irritable. As the four hundredth shot's casing bounced off the floor with a tinny ring he told his girl to make her gun safe whilst he stood to go collect more rounds; which went the same way as their predecessors.

The worst bit was that she didn't seem to be improving any, though it was difficult to tell. Even if it were not his own good money seemingly being thrown after bad, the exercise was feeling increasingly fruitless.

Eventually the Steyr pistol's slide locked back for the final time. Pulling the last target in the man sighed at its scattergun pattern of holes; backed by the pop and bang of fire from further up the line.

Oh for fuck sakes… surely the boffins could do a better job than this.

Gritting his teeth he looked at the dejected girl beside him. "Put your gun away and go wait by the car." He didn't trust himself to say anything else.

Raych could only nod before turning back to the bench as her instructor watched. It wasn't her fault, that he knew, but that knowledge did little to ease rising frustration. These girls were supposed to be the ultimate killing machines, and the second generation at that with all the bugs worked out to boot, but…

As she disappeared through the door outside, Danilo ran out a fresh target from the still sizable stack to twenty-five meters… then drew his own pistol and rapidly emptied the magazine into it, firing until the slide locked back. Scowling he brought the paper back in… going by the result he too needed time to get acclimatised to the Steyr, but the shots were a whole order of magnitude tighter than anything Raych had managed; this one actually looked like a moderately respectable grouping.

At least now though he felt a little better.

Still tight faced, the ex-Guardia man collected a dustpan and broom and started to clean up his fratello's spent brass, trying to relax into the mindless work. Some resented this part of their time at the range; however after the kick and noise of a session there was a certain therapeutic calm to be found in the broom's swish and tinkle of metal.

With a little luck, by the time he was done he would have simmered down enough to at least look at his charge again.

Emptying a final dustpan load into a hopper, he replaced it on the wall and picked up the spent targets. Half a second of contemplation later he tore them up and deposited the scraps of paper in a bin. Today was probably best forgotten about, so write this one off and try again tomorrow: a fresh day and a fresh start.

The range was starting to fill up now and, keeping his eyes straight ahead Danilo headed back for the entrance, stopping briefly by the clerk's office to return the unused silhouettes.

"So, how'd she go?"

"She'll get there… I'll need another box of JHP as well."

"That good huh?"

He could only grimace in reply.

"…and make sure those don't wind up in the cyborg's gun until..."

"I know the regulation," the words came out sharply, sharper than intended, "she's not to carry on campus."

The clerk held up his hands. "Just making sure, I'd hate to see her in trouble in her first week."

Outside the girl in question was standing, shivering slightly, beside her handler's car and Danilo took a deep, calming breath before climbing the stair toward her.

She flinched slightly as the Civic's locks clicked open. "Take a seat, we'll get something to eat and call it a day."

"Yes sir."

"But make sure you clean that gun up tonight: fresh start tomorrow, and it will be a busy day."