From the Story Arc: State Of The Heart

Previous Story in the Arc: Proposal by Waitron9000 (Saturday, May 20, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Tender Loving Care by Strela (Monday, June 26, 2006)

(posted Saturday, May 20, 2006)

Could curiosity be an emotion? If so, that was what Waitron was experiencing at the moment, as she entered the double doors of the modest office building that was the Paragon City headquarters of Llewellco. It, unlike the Crey HQ, was located in Atlas Park. Everything about Llewellco was meant to appear modest and discrete. The reception area looked just like that of any other small business. There was a single receptionist behind a desk that would not have looked out of place in the CCCP HQ.

Of course, appearances can be deceiving and the receptionist was a highly trained combat magician, according to Victoria Victrix. Rhia Llwellelyn was competing head-to-head with the Countess, and Crey had some peculiar holes in their thinking, most notably, about magic. So a great many of the invisible defenses here were magical in origin.

Though a great many were not. Waitron’s sensors detected the Glock and Taser easily accessible from a pop-out drawer next to the receptionist’s knee.

The receptionist looked up and smiled. It was, so far as Waitron could tell, a very genuine smile. “Waitron9000! Precisely on time, as we expected. Please take the right hand door, then the first elevator, insert your Freedom Corps ID in the slot and that will unlock the sub-basement selection. You want sub-basement 5, room 22.”

“Thank you,” Waitron replied politely, and turned to follow the directions.

Appearances can be deceiving…there were ten sub-basement floors listed on the panel revealed when Waitron used her card, though only the buttons for the first five lit up. She wondered how Llewellco had managed to excavate so many levels without detection…or breaking into Paragon City’s entangled sewer system…or into the CoT caves…

Well, the “without detection” part anyway. She was rather certain that Llewellco was perfectly capable of sealing up sewers and caves and routing the Hellions, Outcasts, Vahz and Thorns that dwelled beneath Atlas Park. And most, if not all, heroes traversing those venues would never notice the difference. There were innumerable dead-ends in both places.

The elevator traveled down with a smoothness that gave the lie to its venerable appearance. Waitron’s admiration for Llewellco rose. Reverse cosmetics…defense, camouflage, all in one.

It stopped at the fifth sub-basement and Waitron exited, easily finding the “room” she had been directed to. Opening the door, she found herself in a lab that even the highly paid scientists and researches of Crey Industries would envy.

And she found herself facing…an android body. One with her “face,” but which otherwise made her feel—yes, feel—old, clunky, and cobbled-together.

“Waitron, welcome.” A lab-coated scientist and a pair of technicians emerged from a farther room. “What do you think of the ‘new you’?”

Waitron looked at the body with longing. “I would like to inhabit it immediately,” she replied. The scientist laughed, and held out a hand.

“I’m Doctor Pettigrew,” he said, as she took and shook it. “I’ve been working with R.U.R. for over a year now, and I have to say I can’t make any improvements on your chipset or positronic brain. Looks like a case of amazing serendipity or sheer genius on your progenitor’s part, one he hasn’t been able to top or change. But we can replicate it, so that’s what we’ve done. We thought that you might want to keep the old ‘you’ around, just in case this one gets badly damaged in any way, or if you want to appear as something…how to put this?...less capable than you really are.”

She tilted her head sideways. “Are you always this duplicitous, Doctor?” she asked.

He smirked. “I’m with Llewellco. Covert is a quarter of what we do. Deception is another quarter. At any rate, we’ve set up a quick-link system that will let you download yourself between bodies quickly and easily. Nanoseconds. I’d like you to check the system out for yourself, then give it a trial.” He patted that android’s shoulder with affection. “She won’t be entirely ready until this afternoon, but I want that part faultless before you move in. Once you’re happy with it, we’ll upload the new neural-net software, let it settle in, and you can pick up the new body at Icon, as soon as you’re ready.”

“Icon?” Her expression could not change, but there was surprise in her voice.

Doctor Pettigrew laughed. “With all the trouble that Crey gives Icon, you’re surprised that Serge and Carson are signed up with us? Nothing major, just a few little things here and there that make heroes’ lives easier in the costume department, plus we do all their robotic cosmetics now. And in return…they do these little things for us.”

She nodded. “In that case, Doctor, let us begin.”

There was a tiny glitch in the download procedure, one easily solved with a change of connector on what she was coming to think of as her “old” body. After that, it was trivial to body-swap, and she could hardly wait for the last of the tweaks and refinements to be finished on the new one.

Then came the moment of truth…and she could not help it, as she seated herself gingerly in something that looked very like a dentist’s chair. It was made for downloading software into androids, and doing minor repair on them. She’d been in chairs like this many times, actually. Possibly too many…but then again, she did tend to do a lot of either solo work or assisting younger CCCP members, and both put a lot of damage on the chassis. All the white paint on her upper arm-structures had been completely blasted off, revealing the tougher red bodycoat, for instance, and she no sooner got them repainted than it was blasted off again…

It was hard not to feel concern. This was a moment that would change everything for her.

And there would be no turning back.

She didn’t feel that different at first. Oh…there was some difference. To her delight she felt delight! And the world seemed both clearer and more softened. She would look at things and people and sense…pleasurable and unpleasant sensations. Unpleasant, looking at the state of the King’s Row HQ. Very unpleasant, looking at the places where she knew that Comrades had fallen. Extremely unpleasant, standing in the Command and Control room—which was what the Comm Station had been renamed—recalling all too vividly those dreadful moments when the medivac system had reported it was impossible to revive five sturdy friends.

But…very pleasant, looking on the faces of those still with them. And on the face of a new Comrade, Siberius, a fellow she found skillful and willing and surprisingly good-natured.

But the surprise had come when she was asked to come work with Siberius and Aedan Murdock. Waitron had been instrumental in helping to protect Aedan’s father, John Murdock, after his fusion when he no longer remembered his past. She had watched over Aedan’s mother, Seraphic Flame, in her grief and loss and despair. When the couple no longer needed her, she had been mildly happy for them…

Getting the call from Astra, who asked her to take the young Peacebringer’s place on a team that was too tough for her, had caused all those memories to surge into primary ROM.

And for a moment, she had to freeze her servos. Because the memories now triggered an avalanche of feelings that were not mild at all. Shared grief for Sera. Frustration that John could not remember his love. And a joy that actually made her shake at the memory of seeing the two of them in each others’ arms, spent and exhausted after the impromptu retrieval of John’s old self—and yet so full of happiness that it filled the room.

Was this what it was like, being human? It was like having had no color vision, and suddenly—

“Waitron? You comin’?” It was young Aedan over the comm.

“On my way,” she replied, and activated her jump-servos. Time to go to work. Time enough later, for…whatever would come.