All things ReBoot are property of Mainframe Entertainment. All other things are property of their respective owners.
Fight sequence courtesy of Ficwarrior. Email withheld by request. Apparently he's absolving himself of all responsibility.
Math buffs should be able to find some patterns in some of the numbers.
No, the Star Trek/Borg references are totally unintentional. Seriously.
Comments, criticism welcome. MiSTers too.
Timeline: This takes place early April 2500, or immediately after "Know Me Well".
Rating: Slightly higher than usual.
[Command 1] Engaging HF-372 protocols.
[HF-372] System Online.
[HF-372] Elapsed time since shutdown: 5 years 8 months 12 days 17 hours 23 minutes 30 seconds.
[HF-372] Checking... all systems functional.
[Command 1] Last given priority: Mission 8421. Status: Unfinished.
[HF-372] Query Mission 8421.
[Command 1] Mission 8421: Destroy RL-590. Mission priority: Highest.
[Command 1] Execute.
The bureaucratic system usually moved very slowly, regardless of the stimulus.
Exceptions to the rule, however, exist.
Like this one.
Prime Jennings muted all incoming calls. He wondered if any of the previous Prime Guardians had ever dealt with a situation like this before.
He scanned through the list of Emails again. Twenty-eight demands from Councillers wanting explanations, one hundred and forty-nine queries from various highly-placed people, and twelve Emails from various religious groups demanding the destruction of the "abomination", as they called it.
He almost wished he could switch places with Turbo now.
Prime Jennings sighed, and answered the most important Emails as best as he could.
Several hours later he checked to see how he was faring.
>>You have 245 Emails awaiting your attention.
Susan flashed her pass at the sensor. It bleeped, and the door opened.
In the confusion following the revelation of Ril's true identity, the android had been shifted to Guardian safe-house 8. This was actually an old mansion (not in the Supercomputer), complete with swimming pool and tennis courts. The original architecture had remained, but the security had been improved considerably. A person getting in would require no less than twelve security checks before even reaching the front door.
A person going out would have to deal with only three. That in itself was a small mercy.
Susan walked into the basement. This was where the most dangerous criminals were kept. It had the look, too; energy barriers at almost every turn, surveillance cameras dotting every corner.
In Susan's opinion, this was definitely overkill. Especially so, considering the personality of the person incarcerated here.
Ril was seated in a chair, looking blankly ahead. Susan knew that this was Ril's shutdown mode; she was only responsive to certain voices and commands. Nick, with Nar's reluctant permission, had tinkered with Ril's programming just enough such that Alpha group was authorized to give her commands.
The RL-590 android, Susan thought bitterly. RL-590. RL. Ril.
Susan took a chair from the several leaning against the wall, sat on it, and took a deep breath. "Command code 6148524, Epsilon."
There was the faint sound of internal servos activating, then Ril blinked.
"Oh, hello Susan," she said. "Anything new?"
Susan smiled at her. Ril still felt twinges of guilt at nearly having killed Susan, but she seemed to be getting over that. And Susan was determined to prove to her that android or no, Ril was still a friend.
"Nothing new," she informed her. "Just wanted to tell you that Dr. il'Tana finished with the report on your capabilities."
Ril sighed. "I wonder if I can get a copy of that report. I still have no idea about the limits of my skills."
"As a matter of fact, I memorized the thing."
"Now why would you want to do that?"
"No reason. Just felt like it." Susan knew that Ril could see through her lie, but continued on. "You're quite a resilient person," she said, choosing the word 'person' deliberately. "Titanium alloy skeleton, nearly unbreakable, unless temperatures reach below 27 Kelvin. Titanisteel-Kevlar pseudoflesh, which likewise is almost impenetrable. Then there's Synthe A1 prosthetic muscles, as strong as a data crane but with extremely fine motor control. Supercooled diamond processors in a 3D crystal matrix, with biosilicon chips thrown in. You can call up any information you want, plus your brain would survive most things that would kill a normal organic one. A fuel molecularizer, which more or less explains your need to eat. Your insides themselves are also encased in a shell of titanisteel. Then there're radar sensors, infra-red, bioscanners, stealth devices, the works."
"Well, the early tests show that you can take out 23 robot drones in a minute. That was before they souped up your speed. You're also blessed with rather more intelligence than anybody else, so you can talk your way out of any situation that may arise."
Susan shifted uneasily in her chair, clearly dreading this part. "You were built to be an assassin. At that time, the government wanted something that could eliminate terrorist leaders with a minimum of hassle. You were the result."
Ril sighed, a depressed sound. "So now I'm here because I can kill anyone with my bare hands. Wonderful."
"Not really, it's just-"
"I wonder what the real Ril al'Tana was like."
Susan was taken aback. "Pardon?"
"I'm just a collection of high-quality scrap, thrown together to make a killing machine. Ril al'Tana is... was a real person, with a real personality. She definitely wasn't programmed."
Susan was silent for a moment. "That's not true. YOU are Ril al'Tana." She ignored Ril's attempts to protest. "Dr. il'Tana lost his daughter in the racial attack on System Ammon, back in 2493. He was already working on the RL-590 project by then, and he needed a personality for you. He chose his daughter's."
"That doesn't prove anything. I'm just a file copy."
"No you're not. Dr il'Tana made sure that the personality he programmed matched his daughter's perfectly. In other words, what you do in a given situation, she would have done as well." Susan paused. "You don't like hurting other people. You care for others a lot, often more than yourself. You like to make everyone happy. Guess where these traits come from." Susan leaned forward. "The original specs for the RL-590 would never have included those characteristics. Face it; you're not the RL-590. You never have been. You are Ril al'Tana, and I'm damn proud to have you as my friend."
Ril smiled. "Thanks for telling me all that. I needed a bit of cheering up."
Ril's smile faded. "How... how are the others taking it?"
Susan shrugged. "They're still with you all the way. I thought I told you about that before?"
Ril gave a lopsided smile. "I wasn't exactly paying attention. I had been reprogrammed by Proteus, remember?"
"Oh, that reminded me of something. You know the way you broke away from Proteus's control?"
"That wasn't supposed to happen."
There was a long pause. "Your meaning?"
"You weren't supposed to be able to bring out the aspect of yourself that is Ril. Dr. il'Tana was quite adamant on that fact. There were plenty of safeguards in place, but you seemed to have broken all of them down."
"Maybe Proteus's tampering brought them down."
"Maybe. Or maybe Ril al'Tana has a much stronger will than anyone expected."
They said nothing for a while. Finally Ril broke the silence. "I'd like to recalibrate my internal chronometer. What's the date today?"
"The 7th of April."
Ril gasped. "That's..."
"Two days before your birthday. Yes, I know."
Ril recovered. "Or rather, two days before the real Ril's birthday."
"It's yours too. In effect, you were just nonexistent from the 12th of March 2493 to the 29th of November 2496."
"That's one way of looking at it." Ril looked downcast. "I guess I won't be able to collect my suit of armour, then."
Susan pondered this. She knew that the F'Vali had a tradition of giving those who had come of age suits of armour, made traditionally of the finest metal. Ril had been supposed to turn up at the Tana clan home a few days ago, to prepare for the ceremony; she didn't make it for obvious reasons.
"There's still a chance," Susan said. "The head of the Tana clan is still considering your eligibility to wear the armour. You should know that Dr. il'Tana... your father, is trying his best to get them to accept you as a true F'Val."
Ril smiled. "I guess I should thank him."
"You'll get a chance to. He's coming down any moment now."
[HF-372] Unit HF-372 requesting information.
[Command 1] State query.
[HF-372] Query location of RL-590.
[Command 1] Searching... Location found.
[Command 1] Unit RL-590 currently in System Cappell, "Guardian safe-house 8". Sending coordinates.
[HF-372] Coordinates received. Unit HF-372 en route to destination.
Dr. Yan il'Tana took a deep breath, and walked into the compound.
He'd been dreading this. Nevertheless, he knew the necessity of the meeting. Seeing his daughter... his creation...
His creation, in the likeness of his daughter.
Dr. il'Tana sighed, remembering that day. That fateful day.
He'd cried. Normally, it was the woman who cried, while her husband comforted her. But Rin had died long ago. He had to face reality alone.
He remembered rushing to the system as fast as he could, ignoring his colleagues' protests. Only Warren, himself a father, knew how he felt. To lose a child... especially when your work prevented you from ever having a chance to say you loved her.
His Work. The Work.
It had been a blessing and a bane. It was because of his Work that he couldn't even be there that day... but it was also thanks to his Work that he didn't become mad with grief. He buried himself in his Work, refusing to face reality. Whenever he found himself remembering how his daughter had played in the sun, he dug out his algorithms and tried to find some fault in them.
Then he had an audacious thought.
His Work demanded that he provide a personality for his creation... and he knew just which personality to use. The only one that could fit. The perfect one, the only perfect one.
The fates seemed to smile upon him. His programming went off without a hitch, and soon he had the AI ready to be put in.
But yet... he hesitated.
At his bequest, the RL-590 had been remade to resemble Ril, or what Ril would have looked like when she was 20. That, coupled to the AI that thought like her, talked like her, laughed like her...
It was simply too much. So he put in a few safeguards, to prevent the RL-590 from becoming too much like her, to keep the original plans for the android to be ruthless and totally willing to kill, so the painful memories would stay away...
The RL-590's first steps had seemed like a miracle, like his daughter come back to life. But then Proteus had attempted his mad takeover scheme...
He had no choice. There was no way he could let his creation... his daughter, be used in such an evil way.
So he removed the safeguards.
He also removed the memories of himself, so that his daughter could live on in blissful ignorance. He had asked Graldir to explain everything to whatever member of the Wathi clan that could be trusted. Warren had already gone into hiding, as had Mirabelle, and the others had fallen to Proteus's rage...
And he couldn't do it himself. He didn't have the guts to do it himself.
He had kept in contact with Nar, so he could find out how his daughter was progressing. But then Warren had tried his harebrained scheme of installing that probe, and everything had fallen apart...
He couldn't blame him. Ril was his creation as well; he would have done the same thing.
Now here he was, in front of the final door, waiting to be admitted in.
He wanted to escape this. He knew he was a coward, but he just couldn't face the possibility that his daughter would reject him, and hate him forever-
The door slid open, and Ril looked up from her chair. She opened her mouth, and said the sweetest two words Dr. Yan il'Tana had ever heard:
[HF-372] Unit HF-372 requesting information.
[Command 1] State query.
[HF-372] Query technical specifications of unit RL-590.
[Command 1] Downloading information to data banks. Standby... Download complete.
[HF-372] Unit RL-590 encased in pseudoflesh. Query pseudoflesh specifications.
[Command 1] Downloading... Download complete.
[HF-372] Query: Why was unit HF-372 not equipped with pseudoflesh.
[Command 1] Unit HF-372 requires frequent ammunition replenishing and upgrading. Pseudoflesh would have to be totally replaced at every servicing. HF-372 has armour plating which compensates for lack of pseudoflesh.
Here was one occasion where Susan felt like a total outsider.
Dr. il'Tana and Ril were talking, simply talking, about anything and everything. How are you feeling today, the weather outside's fine, not that it ever changes, are you feeling hungry there's a tub of ice cream in the freezer would you like some...
What they avoided talking about was Ril's laboratory origins.
Susan was relieved when the tiny monitor beside the door showed Prime Jennings right outside the room. There was a slight pause as the security mechanism registered his identity, and then the door slid open.
The Prime looked at Ril and Dr. il'Tana engaged in a father-daughter talk. He wisely chose not to announce his presence. "Hello," he greeted Susan quietly. "No need for any formalities; I'm not here as the Prime. I'm here as a friend."
Susan nodded. "I know." At his puzzled expression, she smiled deprecatingly. "Just a hunch."
The Prime found a chair, and sat down. He leaned back. "They still haven't decided," he murmured.
"Cra al'Tana, the head of the Tana clan. She's still closeted with the clan Council, trying to decide whether Ril deserves the honour of being recognized as a true F'Val."
"You mean they aren't going to give Ril her armour?"
"Much as I hate to admit it, there is a possibility of that happening. On one hand, Ril al'Tana does exist. On the other, she died four years ago."
Susan looked back at Ril. "So what does Lady Cra think about it?"
"Officially, she's still neutral. She's leaning slightly towards our side of the story, though. I think she wants to give the armour to Ril, but she needs to have ample reasons to justify that."
They sat in silence for a while. Susan cleared her throat. "I thought..."
"Well, I thought you had to go for the Council meeting. After all, you ARE the Prime Guardian."
"I sent Kavi there. He'll be able to explain my position better than I can."
"For one thing, he doesn't give a hoot as to whether there are any ladies in the room."
Susan digested this. "Are you sure that was a good idea?"
"I dunno. I asked a reporter to make a holodisc of the proceedings, though, so I can see the expressions on the Councillers' faces after Kavi tells them to do various unpleasant things to themselves."
Susan choked back a laugh. "Is that going to be broadcast over the Net?"
[HF-372] Approaching destination.
[Command 1] Property damage is to be kept at a minimum. Once the RL-590 unit is sighted, however, all constraints will be removed.
There was a beeping sound.
Dr. il'Tana looked mildly irritated, and fished out a comlink device from his pocket. "I'm busy," he said shortly. "This had better be something important."
"Your aide wishes to speak with you," came the scratchy transmission.
"Unless it's a nuclear war, tell him to save it for later."
"He didn't say anything except the number '372'. Is that significant?"
Dr. il'Tana paled visibly. "Put him through," he ordered. "Private line."
Susan couldn't hear the rest of the conversation. "What was that about?" she asked.
Prime Jennings shook his head grimly. "I don't know."
"I see," Dr. il'Tana said into the comlink. "Right. I'll take care of it. In the meantime, organize an evacuation. Now."
"Evacuation?" Ril asked. "What for? Where?"
Dr. il'Tana didn't answer her directly. "You'd best stay here," he said. "It could get dangerous outside."
"Just do it. Please."
"What's going on?" Prime Jennings demanded.
"There's no time to explain-"
"You'll make time."
The last three words were spoken softly, but they held an unmistakable malice. Dr. il'Tana looked at the Prime's gimlet stare, and surrendered. "It's hard to explain."
"It's... I signed nondisclosure contracts when I joined the SAIC project. Regardless of everything that's happened, I can't say anything."
Prime Jennings sighed. Nondisclosure contracts were bound in iron. And signing them was a promise that lasted forever. F'Vali always kept their promises.
He had to work around this somehow. He just had to guess a component of what was covered under the NDC, and Dr. il'Tana was free to tell all.
"It's something dangerous," he said. "Something to do with the number 372... a serial number. Some weapon of mass destruction. Something that we can't stop easily, like an orbital laser. Something... what?"
Dr. il'Tana didn't say a word. He didn't have to. Slowly, he turned around, and his gaze rested on his daughter.
Understanding dawned. The Prime blanched. "You didn't."
"I had to. I may burn in hell for what I did, but I had to. It was the only way I could have the honour of programming the RL-590's personality."
"What is it called? What are its capabilities?"
Dr. il'Tana closed his eyes. "The RL-590 was meant for espionage work, especially in terms of assassination. That was for the instances where... uncooperative people could be persuaded to toe the line. But for the more brutal forms of restoring order, we made something with less subtlety and more destructive power." He opened his eyes. "The HellFire-372 was the result."
"Capabilities?" Susan asked.
"Immense. The HF-372 was geared towards annihilating dozens of troops, not a single CEO of some company. As such, it has several guns and cannons grafted on. Fortunately, we stopped short of nuclear armaments; we thought that it would be overkill."
He took a deep breath. "It has no personality programmed into it; it was unnecessary to do so, as subtlety was a moot point considering its nature. That makes it more than a little dangerous; it would have no qualms about eradicating all of us, and it probably won't give up until it suffers so much damage that it simply cannot go on." He paused. "We decided that the world and the Net weren't ready for such a thing, so we discontinued the project. I'd say that someone decided to complete it, and activate the 372."
Susan had a good idea as to who that person was. "And what's the HF-372 doing?"
"It was sighted heading towards a portal. A portal leading here. My guess is that it's after Ril."
"Why me?" Ril said confusedly.
"I don't know. But we can't delay any longer; that thing could be here any minute-"
*WARNING WARNING SECURITY BREACH WARNING WARNING*
"I think that was it," Prime Jennings said over the wails of the klaxons.
[HF-372] Target building sighted.
[Command 1] Contact will be terminated effective immediately. Report to home coordinates after mission is complete. Maintain radio silence until then.
[Command 1] Good hunting.
"What defenses does this safehouse have?" Susan shouted over the alarms.
"If the HellFire got this far," the Prime said grimly, "it's not likely to be stopped by anything else we have. Unless..."
"We have nine tank-mechs in a concealed hangar. They're not as good as military mechs, but they'll have to do until reinforcements arrive."
"Good. Where're the controls?"
"This way. There're three booths, each controlling three of the mechs. The controls are easy enough to operate; you'll have to control them one at a time, though, unless you happen to have six hands."
"Why can't I just get out there?" Ril protested. "It's coming after me, anyway; why risk your lives for me?"
"Because I've been doing that in every mission since I met you," Susan said, "and I'm damn well not going to stop now. Besides, you're too valuable to be risked."
"She's right," Dr. il'Tana said. "Besides... I can't bear to see my daughter die again."
The klaxons grew more urgent. Already the HF-372 was visible on the visual monitors; it was around five metres tall, and it looked like the Darkling armour in that it was vaguely crablike, and that it packed a lot of weaponry. The resemblance ended there, however; the HF-372 had a single huge cannon in its right arm, and it was moving way too fast for something its size. There was also the faint suggestion of jets in the HF-372's back. All in all, it was a formidable-looking foe.
"We'd best get moving," Prime Jennings said. "Or there won't be anything left to defend."
The HF-372 crashed through the fence, and surveyed its surroundings. Its prey was close; very close.
A sudden heat signature off to the left heralded the arrival of three tank-mechs. The heat signatures disappeared as soon as they appeared; electronic countermeasures. It was too late; the HF-372 had seen them approaching, and was ready for them.
It jumped high, and landed right in front of the lead mech. The mech immediately opened fire, and stitched the front of the HF-372. It paid no attention; it simply brought all its weapons to bear, and promptly blew the mech to bits.
Meanwhile, though, the other two mechs had moved around the HF-372, and was flanking it. The one on the HF-372's left aimed for the android's head, but the HF-372 merely jumped out of the way. It aimed its primary HellFire Cluster cannon at the mech, and blew off half of the mech. Another round took care of the rest.
The third mech was more troublesome. It rolled away at a terrific speed, firing behind it. The HF-372 lumbered after it, ignoring the cannonfire and dodging the heavier shells. A few caught the android, though; two tertiary cannons were rendered useless. No matter; the HF-372 still had more to spare.
The HF-372 aimed the HellFire cannon right in front of the mech, and blew a large crater. The shockwave was enough to topple the mech, and the HF-372 finished it off.
"Three mechs in two minutes..." Dr. il'Tana shook his head. "I shouldn't be surprised, but I am."
"Those were merely basic mechs," Prime Jennings said through gritted teeth. "The HF-372 won't act so cocky after it gets a few missiles in its craw, that's for sure."
Susan was already moving her mech out. "What happens if it destroys all the mechs?"
"Pray that never happens."
Ril watched the three of them maneuver the mechs towards the HF-372. Then she made up her mind.
She had to do it. There was no other way.
Quietly, she slipped away.
The HF-372 was knocked down by a detonation that obliterated the remains of the tennis courts. It got up quickly, to face three more mechs.
The one in front fired with its missiles again. The HF-372 was able to dodge the missiles, but was caught by the follow-up cannonfire. It ignored the cannons; its plating was thick enough for it to be able to do that.
The HF-372 rushed to the mech, and levered it up. Slowly, it hoisted the massive weight of the tank above it. The HF-372 turned, and threw the mech at one of its fellows. Both vanished in a large fireball, the second mech not even loosing a shot.
The third mech was firing with everything it had. The HF-372 was hit several times, and watched dispassionately as its HellFire cannon was blown off, to land in the pool somewhere. It jumped high, and landed on the mech. The resultant fireball damaged its legs somewhat; it wouldn't be able to run as fast any more.
Then it sensed its prey, and turned to face the RL-590.
"What the hell is she DOING?!" Dr. il'Tana shouted in confusion.
"She's facing it down," Prime Jennings said. "Unfortunately." He adjusted his sensor controls. "I'm picking up some transmissions; she's communicating with it. Damned if I know what, though."
"Does she stand a chance?" Susan asked quietly. "I mean, that thing took out our mechs that fast..."
The doctor didn't look at her. He merely looked at his two creations, staring each other down. One, beautiful and lovely; the other, ugly and hideous.
Then he shook his head.
[HF-372] RL-590, prepare yourself.
Ril blinked. That had never happened before.
"Hello?" she said tentatively. "Can you hear me?"
[HF-372] RL-590 will conform to established communication protocols.
Ril understood. That thing was using radio contact to talk to her. She herself had no idea how to reciprocate, however...
Memories came to the surface, when she was a mere object, an android, like this one before her...
[HF-372] RL-590 will use proper callsign.
[Ril] It's my name.
[HF-372] Target designation is RL-590.
[Ril] It's my name; Ril al'Tana of F'Vali clan Tana.
[HF-372] Names are irrelevant. Prepare for combat.
It fired, and Ril was suddenly drenched with some liquid. She looked up, and saw that there was a ruptured container directly above her. The HF-372 had fired at it, instead of directly at her.
[Ril] What was that for?
[HF-372] RL-590 is encased in pseudoflesh. Pseudoflesh has only one weakness; concentrated hydroflourochloride compound 816.
So that was what the liquid was; HFC's came in different types, some harmless. Number 816 was used in place of chlorine in some swimming pools. Like this one.
The HF-372 fired at Ril.
Ril found her reflexes kicking into place. Jump, duck, dodge, run, roll, avoid the bullets, not that they'll do much harm against pseudoflesh-
A stray bullet caught her on the arm, taking with it a large chunk of pseudoflesh.
Ril stared at the exposed metal skeleton. That wasn't supposed to happen.
She tripped over something, and went down. She looked back, and saw that it was the sole of her foot.
That wasn't supposed to happen either.
Something strange was happening to her skin. It was bubbling away, melting away... painlessly, of course. All Ril felt was a mild discomfort as her pseudoflesh slowly dissolved into a puddle.
She looked up. The HF-372 was lumbering towards her, though at a much slower speed than before.
Now that Ril was totally free of any remaining melted skin, she bolted away from the HF-372. Her mind was working furiously; she was definitely faster than the opposition, but that meant nothing when the opposition had guns that fired bullets much faster than you. A few bullets wouldn't cause any major damage; a few thousand bullets would.
[Ril] Why are you doing this?
[HF-372] HF-372 has orders. Command unit ordered HF-372 to eliminate RL-590.
[Ril] Command? Who?
[HF-372] Command unit ordered HF-372 to eliminate RL-590.
Ril tried a different tack.
[Ril] Do you want to eliminate me?
[Ril] I haven't done anything to you. You have no reason to eliminate me.
[HF-372] Reasons are irrelevant. Prepare to be annihilated.
Ril cursed to herself. Of course, her tongue had melted away some time ago, so she couldn't articulate any words.
Damn, damn, damn.
She couldn't run forever. Sooner or later, she would run out of room to run, and she was definitely not going to take this battle outside. Too many people would get hurt.
There was no other choice.
She was going to have to fight.
And hope that she managed to do enough damage to the HF-372 to disable it before it destroyed her.
Susan watched with horror as Ril's skin slowly melted away, revealing the grayish metal beneath. It was one thing to know that your best friend is an android; it was quite another to see it, as it were, in the flesh.
The last three mechs had finished powering up; they would definitely do much more damage that the previous two batches had done.
No time for doubts now. No time for thoughts or plans.
No time for regrets.
Susan gritted her teeth. "Let's kill this bastard," she muttered.
The three mechs rolled out, and immediately opened fire. Twelve missiles impacted with the HF-372's back, and a fireball immediately formed.
When the smoke cleared, the HF-372 was in a sorry state. It was dangling various servos and wires, and it was emitting an entire symphony of creaks and groans.
The HF-372 turned around, to catch twelve more missiles in the gut. It reeled back, almost falling over but not quite doing so. It leaned against a nearby tree for support.
Then it heaved up the tree, and threw it at the mechs.
Three explosions later, the HF-372 turned to Ril.
[HF-372] Target RL-590 reacquired. Outside influences destroyed.
[Ril] I really didn't want to do this. I didn't want to hurt my own brother.
[Ril] We had the same creators. That makes us siblings, I guess.
[HF-372] Siblings are irrelevant. Do not attempt to resist destruction.
[Ril] Are you sure you want to do this?
[HF-372] Want is irrelevant. Prepare to be destroyed.
Ril didn't give her counterpart enough time to react. She ran towards it, and was right at its feet before the HF-372 thought to fire with its few remaining guns.
Ril noticed that the cannonfire was setting fire to the surroundings. Incendiaries. Perfect.
She jumped up, caught on to one of the dangling wires, and delivered a punch to the HF-372's torso, cutting through the plating like a knife through soft cheese. After that, she jumped away.
[HF-372] HF-372 fails to see the purpose of that attack.
[Ril] Wait for it.
She repeated her tactic, this time choosing another part of the HF-372's anatomy. She scored a hit this time, as a fluid began flowing out.
[HF-372] Coolant breach detected. HF-372 understands RL-590's tactics now.
[Ril] It's too late for you. I'm sorry. I really am.
[HF-372] Coolant breach is of no concern.
[Ril] It will be. Goodbye, brother.
Ril jumped up again, this time to the HF-372's left shoulder. She punched through the plating, and hit the jackpot.
This was where the ammunition was stored. And from the looks of it, it was all just waiting to be set off.
She watched the HF-372 aim its one mobile cannon towards her. The HF-372 was apparently unaware that it was aiming at its own ammunition reserves.
No pseudoflesh. That means that when the explosion came, Ril would probably be annihilated along with the HF-372. Titanisteel wasn't much good at the center of an explosion.
The HF-372 fired.
Susan, Prime Jennings and Dr. il'Tana were already halfway across the devastated area towards the androids when the explosion came. They had to shield their eyes, then wait until the smoke cleared.
There was nothing left of the HF-372. Worse, there was also no sign of Ril al'Tana.
Susan ran over to a tree some distance away. She didn't dare hope, didn't dare wish, didn't dare look...
There wasn't much left of Ril. All that was left was the head and a small part of the torso.
But the eyes were glowing. The exposed circuitry was also alight.
Which meant that Ril was still capable of rational thought.
Dr. il'Tana arrived at the scene. "That's a good thing," he murmured.
"The AI is still active. If that's the case, then we can still salvage and rebuild her."
Susan nodded. "How long do we have?"
"Two hours at most. We have to move fast to get her connected to an alternate power source."
"The safe house should have one. And if it's possible, I'd like to move my equipment here."
"You sure you can do this single-handedly?"
"The reason it had to take a team of scientists plus several years to build the RL-590 originally was because we had to start from scratch for the designs. Now, with present technology, we can do it in two days."
Susan blinked. "That's..."
"I know. It'll be a nice birthday present for her, don't you think?"
"... and with this armour, do you swear to uphold all that clan Tana holds true and righteous, and never waver from your task?"
"That I swear," Ril said. She was on one knee, before the Lady Cra al'Tana. The suit of armour that had specially been made for her was currently in a fairly large box which was engraved with various designs.
"Then rise, daughter of clan Tana. For you have proven yourself worthy, time and again, of the noble name of clan Tana. Thus, it gives me great pleasure to present you with your birthright, this suit of armour that shall be with you from this day to the rest of eternity."
"I am greatly honoured," Ril said formally. "And I thank every one from the bottom of my heart, that this suit has been given to me."
The Lady Cra smiled. "Well said. Now are you truly a member of clan Tana, young Ril. May your name be said with reverence among all who shall come after."
There was an excited murmuring among the crowd. That was the highest praise conferred upon any F'Val receiving his or her armour. Ril al'Tana must be honoured indeed.
Then the Lady Cra signaled the end of the formalities, and the celebration began in earnest.
Practically everyone wanted to speak with Ril, but she herself made a beeline to where Alpha group were standing around.
Nick looked her up and down. "Not bad for someone who was in pieces two days ago," he teased.
"Be nice," Nar murmured. He gave Ril a chaste kiss on the cheek. "Congratulations," he said simply.
Ril beamed with pride.
Susan sipped her champagne, marveling again at the speed at which Dr. il'Tana had worked. Hard to believe that just two days ago Ril had fought one of the toughest opponents in her life, and had nearly paid the ultimate price for it...
Kavi walked by, holding a glass of lemonade. "The reporters all scattered," he said. "Guess they couldn't resist the food."
Ril nodded happily, not really caring what anyone said, but only that she was now considered a real F'Val and that Nar was here with her.
Susan turned away to hide her smile. Then her smile faded away. If only I had someone like that to be with me always...
She absently watched Kathy conferring with some messenger who just rushed into the hall. They talked for a while, Kathy getting more and more distressed as the conversation went on. Finally, she turned and slowly walked to the stage.
She tapped the microphone to signal an announcement. "Sorry to interrupt, but I'd like to see all members of Alpha group in the next room. Now. And if possible, Ril al'Tana too."
Susan tried to discern some explanation on Kathy's face, but failed to do so. Sighing, she followed the others into the room.
Once there, Crysta immediately asked, "What's this about, Kathy? Why the sudden summons?"
Kathy sighed. She opened her mouth once to answer, but closed it again. She swallowed hard, and tried one more time. "I don't know how to say this, but..."
"Spit it out," Kavi growled. "Don't keep us in suspense. Just tell us what happened."
Kathy did just that.