The Third XCOM Saga, part 15, RP Interlude 28

As written by Aaron Kortteenniemi and Kite Winters…

Aaron had come to take over after Kite had offended the sensibilities of the tech who’d been checking her brain for anomalies one too many times. She’s perfectly fine, however, with lying flat on a table, while Aaron has his hand deep inside her torso, laying new wiring and fiber optics inside her. It could be done without the brain installed, of course, but it was easier this way. No need to use the tester on every connection, Kite just had to say if it was working or not.

“Kite, I know you are tougher than any human, and more easily repaired, but you are not immortal. You really have to be more careful. What happened down there?”

Kite smirked, “That was me being careful. What happened was that ‘the closest distance between two points is a straight line’. And in that vein, the most reliable path to get back safely was to refuse to show weakness. Some kind of intelligence guides these things, and even though I know I’m not immortal, it might not.”

“You took a big risk based on assumptions. John and Biochem both report the aliens don’t seem to have a mind higher than that of an animal. Of course there is intelligence behind this invasion, but the aliens on the ground might not possess it.”

Aaron lifted his eyes from his work for a moment and looked Kite in the eyes. “I’m not taking cheap shots on your intelligence. I’m just worried for you. Fighting is not easy, and fighting multiple wars is even harder.”

Kite met his gaze without pause. Easy enough, when one can just turn off any kind of reflex motion with a command-line thought. “And what we know about the last three wars was that the guiding mind of the alien gestalt was looking out through every single eyeball on the ground at all times. We don’t know what we’re dealing with. I could either have kept shooting, or turned and run. If I had retreated, I would have been Disobeying Orders, abandoning a comrade, and also been unable to see the enemy who could have easily continued to shoot me, potentially doing worse damage.”

Kite shook her head, dismissing the thoughts of any of those as being actions she might choose. “Instead I stood, fought, and survived. As I have done before, and will likely do again. My life was forfeited in 2015. While I’m eager to live as best I can until then, I will die for the cause of defending humanity.”

“Point taken. I’m not questioning your decisions — I wasn’t there, and reports tell me only so much. You did well. I understand self-sacrifice. I’m just trying to make sure that everyone here, including you, remembers they are living for humanity, not just laying their lives down for it. If the time comes, you would give your life to save others, just as I would. But in the meantime, remember that your life has more value than just a shield. You are still part of humanity, and people here at base care for you. Even though I’m not a veteran, I’m one of them.”

Aaron took his hands out of Kite’s chest and closed the access hatch. “Done for today. You have to get adjusted to the new repairs before we can continue the work on you. Funny thing, how much like a biological body you still work.”

“Decades of work to get to that point. BMF just works better than traditional servoes, even if it’s a hell of a lot harder to install spare parts.” Kite was glad the diagnostics on her brain were finished earlier, so as long as she didn’t let it show on her face, the urge to make accusations and demands about his claim to care would stay locked away where it wouldn’t be yet another monkey wrench into the gears of social progress.

“I don’t live for humanity. I live for myself, and those individuals I love. I will, however, die for humanity, because it won’t be able to grow past being something I hate if someone doesn’t stop those who would destroy it.”

A one-sided smile lit up Aaron’s face. “That works too. You have a reason to live and a reason to die for — you are doing well.” He offered his hand to help Kite get up. Not that she needed it, but courtesy and manners never hurt anybody.  “Just try to avoid trashing yourself this badly, if you can help it. You are a pain to put back together.” The smile on his face revealed what his tone did not: he was joking. Patching her, or any other MEC, back together was not too difficult. Helping the minds of people was much harder, and humor was effective stress relief.  “Tomorrow I’ll do final adjustments, and then you just need some new skin. You’ll be better than new”.

Kite did glower and scowl as the words ‘better than new’ crossed Arron’s lips. “‘New’ was with an Elerium-powered antimatter cannon that could punch through tanks. And more importantly, Sectopods. It was also with a soulless countenance that meant I had to talk like an Elcor to communicate emotion reliably. ‘Better’ is subjective, so kindly spare me the platitudes, Chaplain.”

“Better than a week ago, then.” He backpedaled a bit, “Your new endoskeletal parts have a ceramic, inert coating, that should resist the acid a bit better. Not much, but still something.”

Kite decided to at least pretend to accept the implied apology for offending her, “I hope you mean the subdermal plating? If something’s gotten to the skeleton I am, to use the vernacular, ‘right proper fucked.’ ”

“That’s going to be applied the same time you get your new skin. The process is similar, and should help the skin bond a little better. Should increase your touch sensitivity too.”

“…If you’re making changes to my design without consulting me, I’d better see the Commander’s signature on the work order. There’s…reasons that I’ve stuck with interchangeable ‘skin suits’ for most of my body, not the least of which is nobody ever works a professional kitchen without slipping up from time to time.”

“I’m sorry, that didn’t come out right. I’m not trying to go over your head on this. It’s not a major change, not truly gluing things in place, just something to reduce any slipping. We can just replace what you’re used to, if you’d prefer, but this would be a bit more lifelike.”

“If we’ve got the funds for it, that’s fine. It’s not a priority, really I should probably be leaving the skin home before deployment, anyway. No point getting it destroyed, and a half inch of silicone adds nothing to protecting me.”

“Silicone is extremely cheap, don’t worry. Normally the costly part is paying for the machinery, but we have that already. While the skin might be useless in combat, it might not be so useless outside of it. You certainly have been using yours. No reason not to make you a new one.”

“Alright. Though don’t go overboard. I’d rather look obviously synthetic than look trying too hard not to be.”

“Will do. It’ll be ready for printing tomorrow or day after that. I’ll send you a message. Take care, Kite. And God bless you.”

“Alright. I’ll be waiting. Much as it’s what I’d rather do, only a few people will eat anything I cook with my skin off.”

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