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Weaver

Neon Garden

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The man screamed, half spun and blood spraying out hotly like he was an artist. An artist that was exploding from all the vision and dreams that he kept enclosed in copper ridden flesh.

Weaver followed Petal into the room. A stretcher dominated the it, steel reflecting the white neon tubes that outlined the ceiling. Surgical equipment was kept neatly on a sanitised tray, Weaver had been expecting more blood on the tools. Something more fitting of the barbarism that was conducted in this surgery. Petal trained her hand on the remaining man. Petal was a tall woman who had grated steel onto and around her arm and shoulder. The whole edifice was counterbalanced by a flexible and heavy mesh enclosing her neck. She had removed her hand entirely, replacing it with a multitool. Right now it extruded a knife. In her other hand was a light weight pistol, it was trained on the other door leading into the surgery. Petal had two organic eyes, short orange hair and beautiful luminescent tattoos that wound from her ear all the way down her leg. The tattoos were of flowers. They made her pant leg glow slightly, as if there was something toxic under there.

"Are you the synthetic?" She spoke with a gravelly voice. Both Petal and Weaver were dressed for combat. Blacks covered in black armour, no icons on their chests. Nothing to mark them as one gang or another, though this was clearly a raid from one gang onto another. Weaver walked around the room, one hand clamped on her heavy shotgun, using the other to open drawers, cupboards and upturn stacks for anything of use. The tech at her left temple pulsed with a bright blue light, washing out the colour in her blood tinged left eye. Her lower lip was slightly slack, the reason for it clear by the deep indented line that marked the site of new skin. Slightly darker than her own, but otherwise proportionate.

Weaver picked up a circuit board and slid it into one of the utility pockets on her pants leg. She added a spool of copper and then other miscellanea that she had a use for.

And then abruptly, the click of the door behind them. The slide of a rubber boot. Weaver spun and shot the man who was entering, shotgun pellets peppered his face and clothing. His shot went wide, the two shots rang in Weaver's ear. Petal did not turn, remained focussed on the one that they had found in the surgery. Weaver closed the distance between herself and the shooter, shot him cleanly in the face. His insides exited the back of his skull and plastered the wall behind him. Weaver kicked his body out - it was still jerking - and shut the door again. She stood beside it, eyes on Petal, lips tight and the lines at the corners of her eyes deeper than moments before.

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"I am a synthetic," he answered calmly. He couldn't in any way know if he was the synthetic, given the subjectivity, but kept it to himself in the face of two aggressive humans. The lab looked like most of their compound: a building long past its prime and warped far beyond the bounds of its original use. Cleanliness radiated outward from the operating table (his sphere of influence) but gave way finally to grimy corners and crowded cupboards. Once, it had been a classroom, but he'd long since given up trying to exert any more order than he already had.

They dressed him in a repurposed work uniform, the fabric plain and rough. On this uniform, he hadn't a single speck of blood, his person kept as tidy as his tools. He hadn't reacted to their entry other than to roll back from the table and turn to face them, his hands in plain view upon his lap. Nothing more grisly than a spread of cybernetic components lay across the table, arrayed by type.

After removing them, he cleaned and repaired them - his preferred task by far. "I'm unarmed," he continued. "Of course, I won't prevent you from checking." The synth spoke tonelessly, his enunciation clear and his accent localized to something blandly North American.

He watched them with little more expression, looking up passively from where he sat. His chest rose and fell - breathing - he blinked, but few humans sat so perfectly still.

Edited by Quarrelsome Mountain Lion

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"You're the ripper." Petal answered and there was disgust crowding her expression. Nothing tender about her in that moment. Weaver's expression was more complex, made up of a variety of emotions that she attempted to repress.

"Grab your equipment. You're coming with us now." There was no room for objection in Petal's mind. Join them or die.

Weaver glanced at the clean tools and nodded slightly. She opened the chamber of her shotgun and slid a shell in, primed the gun again and waited for Petal and the ripper to prepare themselves.

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Their entry didn't bode well for him. It looked suspiciously like a tradeoff between one group using him for their own purposes for another. He missed the Halcyon and her crew, serving a purpose and enjoying the ease of a system within which he was built to fit.

Seeing no point in arguing, he rose and collected what could fit into a bag. Tools, and the components off the table. Perhaps he could demonstrate his usefulness before they deactivated him for his parts. Or that could be preferable to wherever they meant to take him.

Regardless, he packed quickly, seemingly unfazed by distant gunfire or howling alarms. Bag slung across his chest, he waited patiently by the table.

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They flanked the ripper, and left.

Not an easy thing. More of the ripper's gang mates were filtering off the streets, summoned by alarm and heralded by squealing tyres and screaming ammunition. Weaver's gang were positioned throughout and around the building, they shot back as the trio weaved through cover.

When they reached Petal's car (reinforced and brutish), Weaver shoved the ripper into the back and crawled in after him. Petal drove, taking off with a squeal of rubber and a line of running hydrofuel.

Weaver pointed her gun at the ripper. It reflected the harsh red from signs outside and they rocked as Petal worked hard to lose any pursuers.

"You're partly responsible for my friend's death," she informed the ripper flatly. "Sparrow. But she told us about you before she did die and we're to put you to better work." The lines around her mouth were deep with contained emotion.

"What do we call you?"

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The whole ordeal left him wondering if they hadn't come just for him. Not to rescue him, but to have a useful (and very costly) piece of thinking biotech for themselves. Short of getting free and contacting the authorities, he did himself no favors resisting. She knocked his head into the door frame shoving him into the car, and even the burst of pain didn't elicit a protest. He felt for damage while she wasn't looking.

"SO-50101 is my designation," he replied mildly, settling his bag in his lap. After many small adjustments, he gave up on finding a comfortable arrangement, jerked from side to side as the car moved.

"I was called Steward by my designated crew. I have no preference for what you use." He did, he hated the ripper moniker, but they'd call them what they liked regardless of what he thought.

"The Gold Hand embedded a tracking device in me. You should remove it before you bring me to a secure location - I can't adequately reach it to remove it myself." 

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Weaver frowned, eyes flicking to Ripper's mild blue eyes. There was nothing duplicitous about him, but Weaver was not certain that he had the ability to lie, or the ability to hide a lie.

"Where is it?" She asked finally. "I can install and remove cybernetics." Her scarring suggested that such had happened to her numerous times. As if she were an uncertain person and had them installed willy nilly.

She set her shotgun on her lap, safety engaged, and shifted closer to Ripper in preparation for the backseat removal.

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He unbuttoned the jumpsuit to his waist and wiggled out of it, mindful of long limbs and sharp elbows. Under it, he wore a plain tank top, had freckles on his shoulders, was built slim. Lifting the shirt, he turned and exposed his back, spine a ridge beneath the skin. 

They'd installed the tracker at the center of his back. It glowed through his skin like a red eye, shallowly implanted so they could check he'd not removed it. 

"I have an internal cybernetics system, but it's shielded and I can't disable it myself. It needs to be removed manually. I ran diagnostics on it. I don't think it's an explosive device. You'll need to use my laser scalpel, my skin isn't like a human's."

Digging it out of the bag, he offered it back. It was a small, elegant tool, stolen from the ship with him. His voice didn't betray his nerves, but he felt his heart rate rising.

Edited by Quarrelsome Mountain Lion

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The tracker's red blinking eye created a halo around it. It was eery to see human looking skin lit up from underneath. She was reminded of her old friend, long fingers pulling up translucent chicken skin to slide butter and sprigs of rosemary underneath. Weaver was unprepared for how meaty the synth would appear.

"Pain?" She asked him, his tender skin reminded her of pain receptors installed for security reasons.

"And can you slow down?" Weaver added. Petal grunted and merged them into a long line of predictable traffic. Weaver leaned around Ripper to touch a button, tinting the passenger windows.

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"I feel pain," he answered simply, outwardly dispassionate. "But it's ultimately better for me if you remove it. I'll sit as still as I can." So saying, he braced himself against the door, back tense.

"I'm ready."

Instead of watching her expression reflected in the darkened window, he closed his eyes. His chest rose and fell, ribcage a dramatic thing. 

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She didn't plunge in with the laser scalpel.

Weaver was not someone who shied from violence, the violence she had dispassionately delivered earlier was a testimony to that. Her childhood, before and after her 'adoption,' had been ripe with violence. It wasn't until she stepped into adulthood that Weaver had known peace. But unnecessary pain, unnecessary violence, sat like lead in her stomach.

"I'm carrying pain inhibitors," she said and turned on the laser scalpel. Bright white and precise, it giving off a light of it's own that was no doubt useful in surgery. Weaver switched it off and reached into one of her pants pockets for an inhibitor.

"Is this effective on you?" She offered the inhibitor to Ripper so that he could examine it.

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Taking it from her, he examined it. "This will likely work. My nervous system resembles a human's, and I can repair any damage it does." And he passed it back, offering it to her on an open palm.

"Thank you." More concern than the Golden Hand surgeon showed putting it in him. 

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"You're welcome," the rote words delivered awkwardly. Weaver opened it up, it looked like a steel circle with wires and lights glittering within it. She manipulated it, making it more oval and then attached it to Ripper's back. It suctioned on and started to hum. 

Weaver reached with the circle and pinched Ripper, any pain ought to be numbed. As if coming from far off.

"Did you feel that?"

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He nodded dutifully, suddenly reminded of QA and their constant questions. The earliest part of his life spent in bright rooms, sprouting wires like roots into the chamber around him. How do you feel today? Do you know what this is? Do you know why you're here?

"I feel it, but barely. I feel where the skin outside of the device is pulled inward."

His skin felt very like a human's, but always overwarm, like he ran a fever. "Any pain will be temporary, and my body will repair itself. I'm designed to withstand a substantial amount of damage before losing functionality."

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Weaver frowned at the patch of skin that still blinked at her. She reached into her pocket for her precious bagged gloves. They were sterilized for working on particularly fragile hardware. She opened the sealed bag and slipped the gloves on.

"I will not put you through needless pain," Weaver turned on the scalpel. It buzzed slightly, casting it's sharp light over Ripper's pale skin.

"Brace yourself," Weaver braced herself too. She gripped Ripper's bony shoulder and set her working arm on his back for extra stability. Carefully, she begun to cut.

Red blood welled up through the slit she made, it dribbled down his back and left a shadow of itself where it stained. The blood surprised her and she regretted ruining her gloves with it. But Ripper's internal hardware constituted as fragile - blood or no blood.

She kept cutting until she made a door of synthetic skin. With a gentle pinch, Weaver grasped the door and opened it. The tracking device winked at her as the bleeding eased. Weaver carefully started unplugging two cords, leaving two of Ripper's inputs empty. She capped them. Then she put her fingertips on the top two latches and her thumbs along the bottom of the device. She pushed and the latches gave, allowing her to lift the device free from the Ripper. Weaver set the device in her lap and then closed the skin door.

"Do you have a sealant for this?" Weaver asked. Her voice was steady.

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He held still for the procedure, seemingly accustomed to such handling. And with the pain inhibitor, he felt little more than a pinch, harmless tugging. The odd sensation of blood dripping down his back. "I do. I'll need to reach into my bag."

From it, he pulled two wrapped packages, an antiseptic swab and a sealant patch. Half-turning, he passed them back. "I'm not prone to infection, but it will heal best if cleaned."

In the rearview mirror, he could see traffic moving around them.

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"Synthetic or not, you have parts to be taken care of." Weaver answered steadily and swabbed the area. Pink stains were left behind on his skin that welled at the point where his skin had been slit. Weaver pressed a sealant patch over the square and did not remove the inhibitor.

"Put your clothes on. We'll remove the inhibitor later. Back home." Weaver slipped off her gloves and turned them inside out. Then she started to dismantle the tracking device. Little screws dropped into her lap and then steel plates dropping, trailing wires that she cut. The parts could be salvaged for usefulness. Petal sped up, swerving past a slower vehicle and then making detours upon detours.

"The ripping job you did on Sparrow," Weaver said suddenly. "It was good. What is your service history?"

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He righted his clothes quickly, turning to sit forward in the seat. His forehead creased, searching for meaning in the name and finding none. They never gave him names, and most often the patients struggled. He anesthetized them without a chance at conversation, operating under supervision.

"I was issued to the Halcyon five years ago. She's a C-class freighter. I'm a systems operations model and the requirements of me range from operating the ship while the captain and crew are in stasis, and supporting them as mechanic or medic while they're awake. Or whatever they require of me. She has a full human crew, but I'm designed to interface with the ship's systems and help fill personnel gaps."

And - for the first time - he hesitated. "I wasn't given the names of anyone brought to me for component removal. What did Sparrow look like?" He'd learned the habit of biting his lip from Georg, the navigator. Georg had been particularly fond of their Steward.

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"Pale. Bright red hair, blue eyes." Weaver answered promptly. Her gaze dropped to the teeth that appeared to bite Ripper's lip. How it left his lower lip a little blushed from the treatment. How it faded after. It was startlingly human. Sparrow had had red marks on her arms after she had been returned to them. Dropped off in the gutter and then she staggering the rest of the way home. Bruising on her arms, on her stomach and chest. Pointless violence inflicted after her surgery. Weaver had helped with the autopsy, watched her once lover stripped and opened up to find her cybernetics taken. But the taking hadn't killed her. Weaver knew that, knew what bad surgery looked like, what damage to the organs looked like when it was done by a body panicking over lack. Had felt it.

"Tall. Nothing like a sparrow. She just liked the bird." Weaver smiled quickly to hide the up-spring of grief that was provoked and dispersed by this synth. A victim who did not deserve the blame that lady at his feet. A tracking device. He was unwilling. Weaver dropped the device into her lap and watched the buildings blur past. Petal was silent, probably uncomfortable with the minor drama in the back seat.

"She was very empathetic."

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His eyes skirted away, bands of light flickering across his face. Headlights of cars that whipped past as glowing eyes in the darkness. Pools of shadow between the streetlights overhead. "I remember her. I'm sorry." The both of them looking their separate ways. 

Words didn't heal human hurts, only time. He'd learned that fact long ago. 

"Forcibly removing cybernetics from people is counterintuitive to the functions I was designed for." A request, if a circuitously worded one. 

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"Good," Weaver answered. The word was infused with latent pain and anger. Shadowed by something that had happened long ago. "It's a barbaric practice."

Weaver swung around focused on Ripper. She was fierce in that moment, a desperate and resilient child who had grown into an adult with rigid morals.

"You will not install or uninstall cybernetics from the unwilling again. Your role is medicinal. Will that be a problem?"

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He met her eyes, nodding. "No. That's a better use of my capabilities. I can install cybernetics as well, or repair them." Impassive again. The more he felt the less he felt willing to show.

"It could be helpful to your group."

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"That's why we have requisitioned you," the flash of humanity had gone. The synthetic perhaps responding to the command in her voice. Or perhaps he felt fear, Weaver struggled to believe that. Fear was an emotion and emotion was produced by certain chemicals within an organic or mostly organic body. There was a reason why those who 'enhanced' themselves too far became something inhuman. Something to be put down. Synths simply had the controls in place to prevent too dangerous activity.

He heart hardened and in hardening, ached.

"We're not far." She said curtly and turned away from Ripper. Her words proved true.

The commune was behind a steel gate that slid aside as they approached. Behind the gate were raised garden beds and old glass jars with deformed candles melting inside as light. Generators belched fumes of smoke that was whisked away by the wind. The buildings had once been square white blocks. Now they were painted by children and adults, a cacophony of scenes and names and hand prints, both large and small. Guards did not so much as patrol the area, but lounge about in chairs with cigarettes or mugs in hand.

"And here we are," Weaver murmured and once the car was parked, both women slid out, Weaver juggling pieces of tech. Petal opened Ripper's door and grunted at him, suspicion in her eyes.

"We'll take you to the surgery." Petal said as Weaver joined them.

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He wondered if the surgery was to be his new home, set up like a scalpel-wielding houseplant. He glanced up at Petal and down again, nodding. "Okay." It was easier to watch his feet as he followed them, removing the temptation of examining a mural or the faces of the humans they passed. Better to focus on the path ahead, the one leading to the surgery. 

As they went, he took stock of questions he might later ask. How many residents? How many among them with special medical needs? What care was common and what wasn't? What supplies did they struggle to keep in stock and who would he be working with or for?

A cat flung itself down dramatically at their feet. Regretful, he stepped carefully over it.

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Weaver stopped and picked the cat up.

"Hullo Alfie," she cooed. Alfie nuzzled her neck, paws curled over her shoulders and a deep purr vibrating through his body. Until he picked his head back up and yelled at her, eyes round and imploring. Weaver chuckled and kept walking with Alfie in her arms. She was warm in that moment and murmured silly things to the cat. I love you. Yes I do. Aren't you handsome? Oh did that happen? And then what happened? Petal scoffed ahead of them and half turned to Ripper.

"We've got lots of fucking cats. You know how to spay 'em? Help Z keep up with it." Even Petal seemed softer, her language aside. Alfie yelled again and started to struggle as they approached the building designated for medical procedures. Weaver put Alfie down and he darted up to check out Ripper. Sniffing with his tail flicking and then looked up at Ripper and yelling again.

"He wants a pat." Weaver informed the synth.

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