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Rated: 13+ · Sample · Sci-fi · #2301440
Scarlett discovers who the real hero is--and always was, before the upgrade.
Point of View: Scarlett, accompanying "Brannon" from "In the Face of Apocalypse

I followed the sleeping Brannon into his unconscious, probing deeper into his history than I ever dreamed possible–before even his birth. "My sweet master, w\at truths do you need me to know?"

I found myself next to a man, the image of Brannon but much older, in the backseat of a stretched out black hovercar. The pilot, an organic, seemed fully human. Archaically, the other vehicles–and perhaps this one–rode on wheels.

A past life? A genetic memory? Why was I outside of him? I set these objections aside as I continued to flow with the vision.

The old man opened the door in mid flight, gauged the speed, and the instant the car slowed he lunged out of the limousine.

Willfully, his feet struck the pavement violently, at the angle deemed best for safety. The expected shock ran up his legs as his forward thrust yanked his ankle out of shape, spraining it with a sharp pop.

He grimaced. Worse would come, but it would not slow him til later. More important concerns pressed him. Gasping for breath, he righted himself.

Seven platforms of concrete rose above us. Four stories up, a young woman with a bottle in her hand stumbled as she put her bare toes over the edge. "Brandt! You came for the party?"

Nothing good could come to her in that condition. "Step away from the ledge."

"It's okay. I read it in this bottle. Acceptance!"

Terror awakened Brandt's elderly heart as he calculated his move.

She shook her head. "They're too much, too broken. All the king's men couldn't put them together again. Let alone little Relidhan."

That name, it had been mine. I didn't remember it.

Her toes dangled over the edge as her dress flapped in the wind, revealing more of her than she might wish.

His carelessness would cost her. How had he not had her followed? "Told you not to go back. Told you to stay sharp." Alarm bent every line of Brandt's face.

She strode back and forth, running her fingers through her dull brown hair.

Did she even know where she stood? He once again regretted not putting a failsafe in her corporate tether implants. Everybody had them, especially class nines like her–human resources agents and caregivers, low on strategy. They needed them. His soft, office-worker legs pumped as fast as they could toward the stairs. "Stay put, Relidhan!"

As she bobbed and swayed in the current of alcohol and wind, his white lab coat fluttered in the tomb-still air. His breath rasped and his face turned red. I felt his heart clawing at his chest.

He estimated 110% of cardiac tolerance. If she survived, his heart would recover adequately for his needs. He ran harder.

As his eyes peeked over the top of the third flight of the stairs, Relidhan's blue skirt and her bare feet flashed by.

I remembered, more than heard, the landing. Black heat swallowed the universe when the pavement slammed against the back of my head.

"I told you." He pivoted and ran, skating on shoe leather down the stairs, all but falling with every step. "Stay put."

Bloodied and broken, my old body lay gasping for final breaths on the pavement. As soul and body bled apart, the only thread binding them was her will to comfort that man.

Brandt fell to his knees beside her, took her hand in his.

"You will make me," Relidhan rasped, "better."

"Too far away." Brandt hit the keys on his belt and frowned, shook his head at his wrist display. "The medical teams. I will destroy them for this."

He meant the people who gave me, the dying woman in the memory, so much tainted vodka. The people whose heartbreak drove me to drink it.

"Punishment, no. Please?" The laughing of the party boys in the distance sent jolts through Relidhan that, centuries later, I could still feel. He had more compassion for machines than people, so she said, "They need help. A tune up."

"What they need is to see the error of their ways."

"Oh, my love." Afraid to hurt him with her pain, she choked down a groan. "Only kindness will show them."

He wiped underneath his eye. "I have none."

"You can make whatever you dream." She winced as wave after wave of her life force ran into her wounds only to worsen them. "Whomever. Make me, better."

Hope flickered. He hit a few more keys and scowled. "I am sorry. I cannot heal you."

"I show them love." She shook her head, waved away the notion in his head. "Because they have not seen enough, they break one another."

Reluctantly Brandt calculated the logic of that notion, like a cog denied oil, destroying the other gears

Struggling for breath, she coughed up blood and choked a howl of pain into a nightmarish murmur.

He stroked her hand.

"You make them. You make people. Make me one. For them."

"We've been over this, my love." Tears swelled behind his eyes in ducts that had never seen use. "You cannot save them."

"Promise me. No punishment." She shivered. "No healing. Make me, better."

In that moment, I knew my genesis.

I had been built, not as a service for unborn strangers, not as a nurse and a slave, nor even as an infiltrator–though to be sure, I became all of these. My softness and my infinite patience existed not to serve my chosen master but instead empowered me to prevail where others would fall. Brandt forged me as a vessel to Relidhan, as a temple of her passion–the spark that animates me.

He squeezed her hand, pinching a nerve that softened the pain. "I swear, for so long as it burns you shall have the means to deliver your love."

Her green eyes shone with the tears that Brandt would never shed. "I know you will be…"

The last words I would ever speak as Relidhan left a mystery hanging in the air. For Brandt's part, he finished it with accusations, the things he could not be–not without reengineering himself–kind, restrained, humane. I regretted that. I would have said, "Okay. You will be okay."

Too late, the medics arrived with their stretcher. Staring, eyes wide, several steps beyond reach, they froze in the place they first laid eyes on her.

"Take her to my lab." Brandt glared up at them. "And if you value your lives, you will tend to her comfort. If I find you have handled her roughly…"

Their shoulders fell into place and they sighed as they lunged into action. With careful expertise, they lifted her to the stretcher.

For those condemned by Brandt, nowhere in the reach of human technology would be safe. Where the corporate machines existed, a thousand accidents could be engineered. Brandt's enemies rarely survived to see the six hundred sixty fifth. Relieved that Brandt had not already promised them execution, they treated my lowly, ragamuffin corpse with care befitting a god-queen

The time for emotion passed, with dry eyes, Brandt climbed into his limousine, and placed his fingers on his lips.

The car eased into motion.

Reeling and wondering at the magnificence of what I had learned, about myself and my chosen master, I returned to the present day. I had always counted myself privileged–no matter how lowly I stood. But this–this gift exceeded all my imagining.

I touched Brannon's face, only just realizing how much he had changed, and for what? For the love of a class-nine worker that had offered him a kind word?

For all the gizmos and upgrades Brandt had embedded in Scarlett's new body, that I thought were the source of my power, they were only tools. They helped me endure, but the real power had been there all along.
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