Strings of Retaliation – 2b – Self

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Switching someone’s working parts from tech back to organic was much like rebuilding a car engine. Even if Vexx put all the pieces back to their proper place and had the right make and model — they were my own muscles, after all —, I still needed fine-tuning. What a mechanic would achieve with a bit of oil and a wrench, I achieved with elbow grease and cast-iron.
From the initial sputtering starts and clunky forward movement, I worked my way toward my former, smooth-running glory one painful exercise at a time.
Every morning, Vexx and I met for my evaluation. Every evening, I slept in a healing-promoting tube and woke up soreness-free. The training routine felt like home more than anything else these days. Though the exercises were very basic, the emotionless focus they demanded were a nice way to escape what I hadn’t managed to sort out in the past months.
I had no illusions about that.
When I started adding weights to my program, Vexx spaced out my medical check-ups to once a week. I half expected him to start grilling me with questions about my six months away now that I was closer to healthy. He didn’t so I knew he looked up the data on Gabriel’s tracking chip before rewriting its code.
Oh well! Tibet really wasn’t that suspicious a destination, given the circumstances. At least not for most people. Vexx probably knew better.
Gabriel, on the other hand, hovered. Each time he started some small talk with me, he slightly shifted his weight, pushing through the toes of each feet in turn. Very uncharacteristic of him.
I didn’t push the issue. I didn’t want to. I wanted to train, get back in ass-kicking shape, and then…
I would figure it out.
“You’re a hundred percent,” Vexx said one morning.
“I don’t need your bullshit positive reinforcement.” I hopped off the table and put my tank top back on. “I’m seventy percent at best.”
“Lor,” he put a hand on my shoulder and let the syllable rumble into silence. I stiffened. “You’re at a top athlete’s level.” His apologetic murmur didn’t help. “This is as far as an unmodified human body can go.”
“Not my body.”
“You were never quite unmodified.”
I froze, retorts dying in my throat. My hands wrapped into fist and my eyelids closed me off from the world. I had been shaped from birth by nanobots to maximize deadliness. “I’m a wimp.”
“Top athlete, I said!” Vexx scolded. I opened my eyes just in time to catch the leggings he threw my way. “See? This shape, these reflexes, they’re a miracle given your medical history!”
I dressed and stomped toward the gym. I could do better. I had to.
Gabriel walked in as I completed my series of bench press. “Vexx said you’ll be able to go back to work on Monday.”
Either Gabriel had been waiting for me to exit Vexx’s office – which I should have noticed or else my career was definitely over – or Vexx fetched him in the hopes the FBI agent would soothe my mood.
‘Past me’ would have torn Vexx and Gabriel’s heads off for teaming up in trying to motivate me.
“That’s the plan,” I replied, moving on to the next exercise. My body would have been good for that about a week ago; I had a desk job after all. Vexx lied in his report because he was concerned about the FBI’s plan for me. I didn’t care.
“We’ve been going over the information you gathered” – stole – “at Merrilyn Tech.” Gabriel sat on the bench I just left. I swallowed my annoyance; I needed a purpose and he obviously had one for me. “Our analysts came up with a few scenarios we’ll want to implement as soon as possible.”
“Divide and conquer?”
“On the long term, yes. But Merrilyn’s resources are massive so we’d like to get them on our side instead. No killing.”
Why waste an opportunity to play with fire?
I wanted all the tech gone – do I? – but no one ever got rid of the atomic bomb, so why would they destroy the implants that made them prettier and extended their life expectancy. Even if it destroyed thousands of people every year.
“Sure,” I lied. “You can brief me before I get in the office.” Just let this conversation end.
“I’d like to be there as well,” Vexx walked in with a bottle of water which he threw to me, his excuse to intrude.
That should drive me mad.
My muscles aren’t the only thing weakened by the extraction of the nanobots.
“You know,” Vexx stopped by my side, “since I’m supposed to be the supportive boyfriend. I could probably help.”
I drank while the two men held their staring contest. At first, I wondered why they hadn’t killed each other while I was gone. Three days ago, I caught them sparing; they didn’t hold back.
“Sure,” Gabriel replied. I shifted my attention to a set of dumbbells. “After you move back home.”
“What?” The harshness escaped me before I could push it against the other complaints I left unsaid.
“We rebuilt your house.”
Vexx’s jaw dropped while my anger rose beyond what I could hold back.
“Is there any choice left?” I barked. Vexx’s mouth snapped shut into a grin.
“You already had the secret entrance all set up,” Gabriel continued. “It was the best choice.”
The dumbbells hit the floor with a clang that resounded until I walked out the door. Either that or I strangled someone.
Vexx was laughing his head off. “You actually thought she would let you choke her freedom because it was logical.”
The sound of their argument faded as I kept walking.
They took my home. My home! They turned my haven of criminal activities into the Bureau’s parking lot.
I punched a light fixture off the wall.
After the nanobots, ladies and gentleman, please welcome the FBI!
I couldn’t.
Suddenly, the gears in my head clicked back into place. My fingers reached for the bony bump behind my ear and taped two long, pause, two short and one long, pause, three short.
M-U-S in Morse code.
“Now playing Rise Again by Wumpscut.”

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About Aheïla

Somewhere in Quebec City, Aheïla works as a Game Design Director by day and writes by night. Known for her blue hair, unyielding dynamism and tasty cooking (quails, anyone?), she’s convinced “prose is the new crack”. She satisfies her addiction daily on The Writeaholic’s Blog and weekly on Games' Bustles View all posts by Aheïla

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