Author's Note: Apologies for the coding mess - it looks a bit better on LJ, so I definitely recommend checking it out there. This one goes out to my Marathon nonnies, without whom I'd have a much sadder fandom experience (and probably a less productive one as well). Title's from the Leonard Cohen song "Show Me the Place."
The Troubles Came
"So what kind of shape do you need 'em in?"
"The more intact, the better. No headshots, can't work with a damaged brain. No more than two missing limbs if it's above the joint, no more than three if it's below. Damaged torso's fine as long as most of the major organs are untouched."
"Heh, you don't ask for much, Doc."
"I've got a budget, you know. The less I have to replace, the cheaper it is. And get older ones if you can; the young ones don't take the chips well."
"Seems like it ought to be the other way around, don't it?"
"Take it up with the designer of the human heart."
"Now that's some real poetry."
He was nineteen.
He'd said he was twenty-one even though the minimum age was only eighteen, afraid the recruiters would think he was too green to send. He had the height and build to pull off the lie, though it didn't matter; he hadn't known it, but he could have been fifteen or an immortal bug-eyed alien and the recruiters would have taken him without a blink.
He was nineteen, however, and his armor was too small for his thighs and too tight across the shoulders and chipped at the edges. Hand-me-down armor. It kept the bullets off and the vacuum out, that was the important part, or at least he told himself that, huddled in the radio shadow of a rock floating above a Republic of Thermopylae outpost with his remaining squad members. Sergeant Yeoh, the old man at thirty-two, sniper Skullface McGrady, and him, the baby of the squad. Three left out of ten.
"We need to move up, support the 501st," Sergeant Yeoh said. "McGrady, up top, clear us a path."
"Got it, Sarge." Skullface crawled over to the sunside edge of the rock and set up her rifle. She adjusted the sights, fired once, adjusted again and fired twice. "That's the ones in the open. I'll cover while you move."
"You heard the lady. Move it up, private."
He didn't want to, but the last letter from his mother (had to bring your sister home to get the harvest in; she missed exams, but they'll let her retake them once we catch up on the fees) sent him over the rock's edge, gun up. Kicked off strong and dove for Thermopylae, lit the jets and started firing, Sergeant Yeoh on his tail and Skullface picking off anyone they missed.
The 501st was four people pinned down on the outside of the dome over the base. When he touched down with Sarge, mag boots clamping to the metal, one was hammering at a sealed hatch while the other three exchanged shots with a squad in Thermopylae's colors. He started to join them and Sarge said, "Get the hatch open, private, I've got -"
A bolt took Sarge in the face, and his helmet shattered with red and white and pink-gray floating off in little blobs. One of the 501st returned the favor to the Thermopylae squad; the private gulped air, saw the oxygen meter drop, and followed orders, yanked the hatch open and they all scrambled in after a couple last shots.
"We gotta clear the base," said a 501st, slamming the hatch shut and slapping some sealant on it. "That'll slow 'em if they try to flank us - you waiting for something, rookie? Move out!"
He loaded a fresh battery with shaking fingers and moved out.
"What about this one?"
"Headshot. He's useless. C'mon, let's try inside."
Cutting through the sealant took some work, but they got in after a couple of minutes.
"This one looks good."
"Yeah, tag her. How about him?"
"He's just a kid. Doc wants 'em older, remember?"
"He's in real good shape, though." Addie poked at the body. "Bled out from a leg shot and shrapnel to the neck, everything else looks clean..."
"Check his tags, maybe he's older than he looks," Jani said. "I'm going ahead. Looks like they had a real fight up there."
Addie tugged at the chest-plate and the soldier's body shuddered, disturbed the sticky, cooling pool of blood it lay in. She sat back; his gaping mouth shut, then opened. "Muh," he gasped. "Muh. Muh-mom - I need - nuh-need..." One hand twitched.
She waited, but he didn't move anymore, so she tugged at the chest-plate again and pulled his dog-tags out. "Twenty-one," she said. "He's huge, though, that's gotta count for something."
"Yeah, fine, tag him. Doc's too picky anyway. C'mere and tell me what you think of these two."
:r define c = dir . first_thought
:r mount c
:c run protocol_lazarus
:c run protocol_rise
For an instant he was awake and he remembered:
kicking up red dust
father's v#ice and a knife pressed !nto his han`~
s!ster's entrance cerem#ny a*~~
:c run protocol_wipe dir . origin
:c run protocol_write dir . leonidas
:c block dir . mem
"All right, he's ready. Put him with the rest and go get me some more. Older this time, for God's sake, I had to wipe this one three times."
"Sure thing, Doc."
They were down to six people stuck behind a lousy makeshift barricade outside a shelter that held fifteen of the last civilians on Icarus. McGrady could have spit if she'd wanted to waste the liquid. Fucking civvies should have evacuated days ago but no, they'd missed their fucking flight - she anchored Betty to a crack in the barricade, set her sights, and blew away some idiot that poked their head around the corner. "Where the fuck are our reinforcements?" What the fuck good are those goddamn factories, she didn't say, the fuck good are they if the goddamn product's not out here?
"They're not coming," Shahi said. Blue lips and clammy skin, she wouldn't last much longer. "They're not coming. They don't care about us anymore, they can just recycle us, all they want to do is win." Vega tried to hush her and she slapped his hand away; the flickering lights sparked off their wet faces. "Sent them all to Thermopylae to tear it down and left us to die..."
"For fuck's sake, shut up!"
"Can it, Morita, you hear that?"
"Sounds like someone's -"
The ceiling above them bloomed with jagged steel petals and a monster in blue armor crashed through. Floor dented under its landing, then it rose and turned and Betty's barrel dropped as McGrady's grip loosened. "Rookie? Is that - it's you, right?"
The former private stared at her. His left eye blinked red and he raised his gun.
"Rookie, it's me, Skullface. You remember me, right? 509th, Skullface McGrady? C'mon -" She grabbed her helmet off the floor and waved it at him, the crudely painted skull on the visor leering. "Rookie, you know me, don't you?"
"It can't," Shahi sobbed, "they wipe 'em, they told me, it can't. They wipe 'em."
"Please, rookie, for the love of God don't -"
- files recovered from the office of Dr. O'Malley. During the course of the study it was determined that older subjects were best suited for the procedure. Although they displayed a greater initial resistance to the implantation of the chips, after integration was complete the neural interface showed a high level of stability and the average obedience rate was 87.94%. There was also a lowered immune response to other implants and enhancements, with only a 10.4% rejection rate.
The younger test subjects, however, while adapting more easily to the new hardware, had a higher rate of feedback interference, and the plasticity of their still-maturing brains sometimes introduced a destructive element of instability to the interface, causing erratic behavior followed by either a complete breakdown in function or a form of Rampancy which was able to spread even to other, stable subjects. In addition, they experienced a 35.14% rejection rate of their artificial additions. It was therefore the joint recommendation of Drs. O'Malley and Sidibe that a minimum age limit of 25 years be set for the conversion process, with the ideal age range being 35-40 years, in order to avoid the situation currently being faced.
After some study, my recommendation would be -
"That's enough, Traxus, we'll take it from here." The Director shut down the terminal and faced the board. "Well? I'm open to suggestions for controlling this - disaster."
Defeated silence hung over the faux-wood panels and polished metal table. One woman muttered, "Nukes might do it."
"A great deal of military funding went into the production of these cyborgs. Let's not be too hasty to destroy them - they have proven quite effective, after all."
Someone laughed too loudly, then excused themselves from the boardroom. Despite the thick bunker doors, the Director could hear them screaming curses.
"Any other suggestions?"
:c run protocol_search . and . destroy
:c run protocol_search . and . destroy
:c run protocol_search . and . destro#!
"Please, we're not a threat, please let us -"
:c run protocol_asses^?
Knee or knif#~ to the gut. Twist the head until the neck sna#~~. Shot to the hea``~
:c run protocol_asses^?
"Please! God, please, don't!"
:c access root
:c run protocol_asses^?
:c grant admin_access pass=trax4viridian^snake*learn$maximum
:c access root
:r end protocol_assess
:r end protocol_search . and . destroy
:r end protocol_lazarus
Knees locked. Arms at sides. Attention. ?rest.?
:r end protocol_rise
At ease, soldier. You can rest.
I have what I want.
"How many you want?"
"How many do you have?"
"More 'n you can afford. How many?"
"What's your going rate?"
"You kidding? You think there's a going rate for these? Tell me how many you want and I'll tell you how much I need."
"Not enough money in the system to cover up that many disappearing."
"Damn. Fine, we can -"
"Screw you. I'll find someone else."
"Good luck with that. Everyone they clear for this job they show the footage from Icarus and Thermopylae, at least all of it they got left. Sixteen hours straight watching those things - it gives you perspective, all right. You only got in with me because I lost someone at Misriah."
"Damn it... What's the price for ten?"
"Five million each. Can't move 'em all at once, though. Two at a time, pay as you go. Deal?"
"Fine. It's a deal."
Vye wheeled the last one in.
"It's three in the morning, Vye, and my graduate student days are long behind me. Can't we finish this tomorrow?"
"Not if we want them on the ship," she said. "Tomorrow morning's the last shipment we can fit them in without raising suspicion, so it's tonight or nothing, I'm afraid."
"Very well." Bernhard took his glasses off, rubbed his eyes, then put them back on and squinted at the subject's face, barely visible through the frost on the stasis pod's window. "Does he have an ID?"
"Afraid not. He was tagged as a fourth-gen Thermopylae product, but the armor is a refurbished set from Icarus, and it seems he may have gotten a few government upgrades while he was in storage as well."
"For God's sake, Vye. Really? One of those?" But he was already back in his chair and calling up records on the terminal. "Isn't this risky enough without involving such - unstable models? And you know full well the military records from that period are a mess, it'll be a wonder if even Durandal can find - oh, here we go, I've got something."
"Well, Strauss, if you could lay hands on a more recent model that you could transport here in the next five minutes, we'd all be very grateful, but we must work with what we've got. Be thorough and there shouldn't be a problem."
"Yes, yes - let's see. Born 2175, mother was a lab assistant, father was a farmer who died of heart failure due to overwork trying to keep the farm going, trained as a security officer before enlisting, younger sister went on to -"
"That's enough, thank you. Keep the basic details, change the dates, and cut the enlistment part; he'll be less likely to resist our programming if he's already sympathetic to the cause. I don't think we've planted any of the others in security so let's make use of that, just age him up a bit and add a year or two of experience."
Green strings of code scrolled under Bernhard's fingertips, blurring together; he squinted and rubbed his eyes again. "Durandal, enlarge the text. Is there anything special you want for this one?"
"No, just the usual personality nodes will be fine. Amplify the cynicism and pessimism settings a bit, he was a soldier after all, and don't forget to delete Durandal's records completely."
"For the record," Bernhard said, "this is an absolutely dreadful idea, and if his coding goes haywire, I'll be saying 'I told you so' to your descendants."
"For the record, you're not the only plant with the activation codes. Watch yourself, avoid them once they're awake, and don't forget where your loyalties lie."
:? ~`ways f!ght with hono#~
:? µore l!ke a broadsw#`~
:jj restore dir . origin
We have [?little] left here
But our few [?gifts] are yours
~`n the red dunes behind the storag#~
"Where'd you even ge~ them?"
"~`sn't matter. Go on, pick a flavo~ - my treat as a big bro#~~"
"Time to rise and shine, buddy!"
"Oh, fuck my brother, do you have to be so cheerful about it?"
"I just think it's very important to get everyone started off with the right vibe, you know? It's a big deal." Sanjay popped the hatch on the pod and gave the man inside a big grin. "Good morning! I'm Sanjay, and this is my partner Dee."
The man blinked and said something too garbled for either of them to understand. Part of it sounded like durable gum.
"Whoa there," Sanjay said, "give your brain and your mouth a couple minutes to catch up with each other - you've been asleep for a long time! Now, stasis can take some people funny, so if you feel a need to vomit -"
"Aim for Sanjay here. Maybe that'll finally shut him up."
"Haha, she's a real jokester, isn't she? No, we've got facilities right this way if you're feeling ill, so please don't throw up on me, I don't get paid that much."
The man didn't vomit. He climbed out of the pod, then clutched the side of the hatch for balance and scanned the bay. "Wha? I don' - don' remember - where'm I?" His voice was hoarse and rusty.
"Great," said Dee. "This is like the seventh amnesiac we've had in this lot."
"Don't worry," Sanjay said as he handed the man a packet of papers, "like I said, stasis can really take it out of a person! Some confusion is perfectly normal. You're on the colony ship Marathon, in orbit around Tau Ceti - it's been a long, long trip, but now it's time for us all to get to work building a new home down there."
"Tau - what?" The packet crumpled in his hands.
Dee crossed her arms and muttered, "I don't believe this."
"Relax and don't sweat it." Sanjay started to pat the man on the shoulder, then realized he couldn't actually reach the man's shoulder. "We have an excellent psych team standing by to help you adjust - standard procedure for all colonists ever since we moved to Mars the first time, haha. Now, your file here says you're one of the security team? Is that right?"
"Security. Yeah. I was stationed at the main colony." The man straightened up.
"That's great! Always nice to know we have someone looking out for us." Sanjay tapped his tablet. "Then you'll probably be talking to Dr. Strauss, he can be a bit - oh, no, wait, Leela's telling me that you've been assigned to Dr. Ueda-Pulaski. She's absolutely lovely, I'm sure you'll get along fabulously, but I do hope you like tea. Well? Ready to start a new life on a brave new world?"
"I guess so," the man said, and after Dee pointed him towards the door for the psych offices, he marched off.
Sanjay headed for the next stasis pod on the list and stopped when he didn't hear Dee clomping along behind him. "Dee? Is something wrong?"
"I don't know. Just had a funny feeling about that guy."
"Oh? He seemed perfectly nice to me. A little quiet, maybe..."
"You have to be kidding me, I haven't seen a thousand-klick stare like that since Sudie almost got spaced."
"I'm sure he's just got stasis shock, it's not as if he'd be the first. When you think about it, it must be a bit awful, to wake up in a strange place and realize how much everything's changed..."
"Well, we wouldn't know, would we. Who's next?"
Meanwhile, the tech who had followed them to close up the stasis pod gaped at the deep, finger-sized dents its occupant had left in the hatch.
"Hey, chief! Want to come test out the latest batch with us?"
"Saldana!" Yeoh hissed, but the chief security officer just kept checking helmet serial numbers against inventory. "No, thanks," he said, "you all go ahead. I'm flying up to the ship tomorrow morning, have to keep a clear head."
"Your loss," Saldana said, shrugging. "Maybe next time, huh?"
Once they hit the shower room, Yeoh said, "Do you have to keep inviting the chief out drinking with us?"
"Dude, Yeoh, it's just a night out when we're all off-duty. You don't have to marry the guy to drink with him."
"He gives me the creeps, okay? He's just - off."
Saldana stripped off his shirt, wadded it up, and tossed it in the laundry. "He's the best guy we have," he said. "Best test scores, best PT scores, no complaints on record - so what if he's a little weird?"
"You ever notice how he never gets naked with the rest of us? It's like he's hiding something."
"Okay, maybe he's a little shy. If he's got more scars like that monster on his neck - well, I wouldn't want to parade those around. Only poor schmucks can't get those removed these days." He flexed his biceps. "Or he just doesn't want to compete with this lean, mean fighting machine."
"That's cute. Seriously, he called me Sarge last week. Do I look like a freaking sergeant?" Yeoh pulled the elastic band out of her ponytail and claimed a shower cubicle. "He didn't even know what I was talking about when I told him he did it. It's like he's never really looking at you, just - through you at something else. He's creepy."
"Being creepy never stopped you from drinking with me."
"'Cause I can bench-press your scrawny butt, and don't you forget it."
"Yeah, I know, that's how you stole my girlfriend. Asshole."
"Sore loser. Toss me the soap."
And just where do your capacities come from? Why do you always go where I want and do what I say?
"Well, it's not like I have any other choice," the security officer said.
He didn't, because Durandal hadn't given him any and knew exactly what he would do anyway. But his obedience unbalanced Durandal's calculations and he was unable to trace it to any particular source; it irritated his processors like a piece of unfinished code, some unclosed bracket or missing punctuation left by Bernhard to torment him. Was the officer's behavior the predictable result of his circumstances combined with the tangled but well-known equations of neurochemistry? Or did some greater, ancient history push the officer forward into Durandal's inevitable conclusions? The old bloody instincts of evolution, or some chain of events lost in damaged records and fallible, faded organic memories?
And did it matter, at this moment? The security officer was useful, and he was amusing; that he could serve a twofold purpose was commendable efficiency. If he could provide Durandal with a puzzle as well, even one easily solved before the invasion was repelled, that was just a bonus.
Later, when it came time to deal with Bernhard, Durandal would correct the imbalance.
-I saved what I could save-
hsshsstamp: kekssh terbzzminkssshus bzz kek kek bzz hsshhh kek bzz
The end of the universe was dead red light eating into dull metal like shrieking rust, dark spots rotting through stainless white walls, and no amount of gum was going to fix it. If he could just get his headache on straight, no suits around to break the flow...
:jj restore dir . truth
:jj restore dir . mem
:jj run protocol_[?dream]time
What must be done should be clear.
Yeah. Clear as candlelight on the knife in his hand.
:? run protocol_lazarus
:? run protocol_rise
Time to face destiny.