Jana sat with her legs crossed on the workbench, steadily growing more and more uneasy as Daisuke lowered the doughnut shaped scanner over her head. Cables ran from access ports on the back of her skull and a pair of specialised jacks at the base of her neck.
It wasn’t the cyberpunk milieu that frightened her. She liked to think she’d gotten used to that at least. It’d been six months since she came to after the surgery and freaked out at the reflection... she could still remember the doctors saying the handwavium had failed, that she must’ve already had a previously undetected mod. She could remember them telling her that she could spend the rest of her life as a bedridden potato at best, or she could try cybernetics.
It had seemed like a no brainer at the time.
Of course, as is the way with cybernetics, it’s not just a case of bolting the new parts in and giving them a whirl. Eventually, once you take all the subsystems into account and the ability of the remaining biology to support it reliably, it ends up being easier to just go the full body conversion route.
A burst of data entered her mind, filtered through digital coprocessors and analysed before being presented to her human side as a simple system scan, Do you wish to allow? her hardware asked.
“Say yes,” Daisuke instructed her, peering up from his console for a moment.
“Yes,” Jana said.
The hardware picked up on her true intention and allowed the connection anyway. She could feel the diagnostics running inside her mind, rifling through her thoughts. The...unnaturalness...of it made her artificial stomach turn.
Jana focused on her breathing. Just another fact of life when you’ve become something other than human. She could at least understand why some games included a ‘humanity’ stat for cyber’d PC’s.... it really did wear on the soul sometimes.
“That should be it,” Daisuke said, before reaching over to route the output to the main monitor.
“Jana,” Jet said, “Now, from the beginning. What do you remember?”
The Engel leader leaned back against the wall. She was trying her best to look compassionate, but she looked just as bothered by this as Jana felt. That didn’t make her feel better.
“Everything you can,” Alita added. The gruppe leader crossed her arms, seeming a lot more interrogative.
Jana nodded, and swallowed a lump. “Alright. I left the mine with Vanko at 13:23:37. We travelled according to standard procedure. Vanko rode on the lead truck, while I was on the following. I made standard reconnaissance flights at least once an hour, but spotted nothing of interest,”
On the monitor behind her, the firing of Jana’s neurons was displayed in real time, along with the state of the onboard microprocessors, digital memory access, file pointers and chemical memory flags.
Waves of sparkling yellow and red pixels flashing across the screen. It was possible to watch memories being read and written simultaneously as neurons fired, mingled with function calls across the neural gates. What was onscreen was Jana. It was her mind working, thinking.
She continued, her voice trembling a little. “We stopped for the night at Melas overlook, about 100 (112.5 her systems told her) kilometres from the Southern Cross. Vanko and I established a perimeter using 10 scanner drones, and set up alternating watch schedules.”
“What timetable did you use?” Jet asked.
A wave of yellow pixels flashed across the neural map as Jana recalled the information.
“Standard plus 27 minutes. Vanko took odd. I took evens.”
“In between watches, what did you do?”
“I meditated ,” Jana answered.
“Why?” Alita said. “Why didn’t you sleep?”
“Drei suggested I meditate after my last sparring. I didn’t feel tired enough to sleep and my biosystems didn’t say they needed it.”
A ripple across the map matched a ripple of discomfort running through Jana’s body.
“What was the weather like?” Jet pulled the question from her notepad app. “On the first day.”
“Hazy at first,” Jana answered, “Most of the dust was low to the ground, below 100 meters in altitude. Wind was light. Even in the haze visibility was approximately 300 metres. There was no interference to radar or radio. By nightfall, the wind had dropped and the haze was clear. Visibility was to the horizon. We could see the lights of New Adelaide.”
“Where there any dustclouds in the distance, any other vehicles nearby?” Alita asked.
Daisuke hummed to himself at something interesting in the results. Jana glanced uneasily at him for a moment. “None” she answered. She rifled through her memories to be double certain... something about what Dai was doing made her want to be certain. “No, I didn’t see any sign of ground traffic.”
“You’re sure,” Jet pushed.
“Yeah,” she affirmed.
Daisuke sent a text message to both Alita and Jet using his dataglove. The pair shared a glance and nodded.
“Alright, onto day two” Jet said.
“We started at 5:03:27 MST” She cringed at the inhuman accuracy. “Visibility was clear with little wind. We reached Southern Cross 3 hours, 25 minutes and 33 seconds later and began our descent to the Valles floor. We made good progress throughout the morning. I was on the lead truck. Vanko was on the following.”
She brushed a few tresses of hair of her face. If she could’ve been sweating, she would’ve.
“When did you first see signs you were being approached?”Alita asked.
The patterns on the monitor swirled and flowed smoothly and naturally.
“Vanko spotted a dustcloud 10 kilometres behind us at 15:37:17. I took off to investigate.”
“And what did you find?”
The patterns on the monitor dashed around an obstruction, looking like a wave meeting a rock in the centre. They rippled and crashed together, washing over each other then swirling around in a chaotic whirlpool.
“I can’t remember finding anything,” Jana answered.
“Where they civilian? What sort of vehicles were they?” Jet pushed.
Jana’s mind locked up. “There.... “She paused. The picture on the monitor became more and more chaotic and disordered as Jana racked her mind for answers. She knew there should’ve been something there, but it always felt as if it was just a few millimetres beyond her grasp.
“There was a warning about a system error. Then I woke up in the dirt, an hour and 17 minutes later.”
Daisuke made himself conspicuously busy. She felt him dive into her system logs, rifling through files at the edge of her awareness.
Jet spoke next. “What about the convoy? Did you make it back to the convoy?”
Jana closed her eyes “I think I did. I talked to Vanko about something. I remember talking to Vanko,”
“What time was this?” the Engel leader asked. She was trying to hide the concern in her voice, but Jana could tell just how badly this was bothering her. That just made her feel worse.
“15:45:13” she answered, before catching herself. “But... I was down I...”
Trying to grasp at the memory was trying to grasp at smoke. She could see it, smell it, but just couldn’t touch it and make it real. There was something there....
“Go on,” Jet said softly.
“Vanko was worried about something, then he just dropped to the ground. Like he was turned off. I...” she paused again. “There was the error happened.” she confirmed “Then I came to in the dirt. The drivers were dead, and the shipment was gone. Both our helmets had been tampered with... but they didn’t get them off.”
Daisuke sent Alita and Jet another message.
“We know what happened afterwards,” Jet said. “Just... keep focusing on that moment.”
Jana spoke slowly “Vanko was annoyed. I don’t know what he said but he was pissed. I told him I saw nothing...and...” she screwed her eyes shut. “They can’t think we did it, can they?”
“No,” Alita reassured her. Something about the firmness of the cyborg’s voice made it seem all the more believable. As if by her stating it, it became fact, rather than already being fact.
“Patrol says they used 9mm luger. We don’t use anything below .357 Magnum.” Jet added. “Your smartgun system logs show they hadn’t been fired or reloaded since they were checked out.”
That’s about all the Patrol were saying to them at this point. Con Security were keeping the investigation close to their chest.
“I think I have everything,” Daisuke said, fumbling with some cabling. He scowled at something “Everything this gear will give me. You can disconnect yourself Jana,”
The cyborg yanked the cabling out, getting a few creepy error messages for her trouble. She shook her head to clear her mind of the alien messages.
“What did they do to me?” she asked, her voice shrinking down into her body.
She didn’t even try to hide how frightened she was. Something about it just felt...dirty. A violation of the self far more than the technology which kept her alive.
“We’re not really sure yet,” Jet told her. She was telling the truth.
“I have to get these results properly analysed,” Daisuke added. He deliberately didn’t go any further.
“Jana, I’ll meet you in the friedliche raum in a few minutes.” Jet said, giving all the impression of a doctor about to give a terminal diagnosis.
Jana stood up, automatically scrunching toes she didn’t really have anymore. Metal scratched on ceramic. She took a deep breath, synthesised now, before exhaling slowly.
“Yes, Krieger” she saluted her trainer. Flat palm, against the brow, military style.
“Lehrling,” Jet saluted back.
There was something comforting in the regimentation of master and apprentice. The idea that if she didn’t know the answer, the others most likely would. But if this was worrying them?
If this was something they had no experience over
She pulled the workshop door shut behind her, sealing the others in. Daisuke finished tidying his equipment, while the two cybers in the room silently considered what they’d just witnessed.
“So it’s definitely a hack then, is it?” Jet asked, her voice sombre.
“As far as I can tell.” Daisuke answered. “At least three separate times.”
“How did they do this?” Alita demanded.
“I am not a computer expert, Acchan.” he said, looking a little self ashamed. “Not computer security. But it seems they used an unpatched buffer overrun within the SSC radio plugin. They could not have owned her hardware, since the war there’re safeties for that, they could only get the individual process. They used that process to erase her short term memory.”
“Biological memory, on the wetware?” Jet asked. “Using a digital process?”
“Yup,” Daisuke nodded.
Jet killed her natural response, taking a deep breath. She leaned down against the worktop, gripping her hands on the edge. There was only one conclusion she could draw. “That’s not possible. I know you can send nonsense signals and stuff, but nothing dangerous, not direct memory access like this.”
“That is what most scientist say, until somebody does something.” Daisuke responded, calmly. “It appears somebody has figured out how.”
There was only one more question on Alita’s mind; “Who, Dai? Who did this?”
Daisuke shrugged. “Someone with a lot more skill in cybernetics than me. The exploit used was mentioned on the Confederation builders list a few weeks back. We decided to keep it quiet, until we had a working patch for the module.”
“Someone in the Confederation?”
“I hope not,” Dai sighed. “There is no reason somebody could not have found this on their own. But it still would take a lot of effort, and a lot of knowledge about the interactions between these modules that is not easy to come by. I can think of several with the skill,”
“We can take AC and Winry out of that, “ said Jet. It was obvious they’d be One and Two. It was also obvious that neither of them would be involved in anything like this.
“And I trust the others,” Dai added. “They have all held OGJ clearances. That is the problem.”
Alita rested her chin on her knuckles, sitting on the bench, thinking. “The Professor,” she suggested.
“If it was him, it probably wasn’t malicious,” said Jet. “Y’know what he’s like with his ‘not my department’. Might’ve done it, forgotten about it, then gave it away without thinking. Bloody dangerous bugger.”
“It is possible but very unlikely.”
“Asmodeus Grey?” Jet tried, grasping at straws a little. “Though he’s more of a biotech. He invented the catgirl process, and I think he has a grudge against us after BP.”
Daisuke shrugged. “It is really not possible to tell more. Not with this equipment. I will post my results to the ML, along with Vankos scans. I will see what the others say. It might be good idea to send Jana and Vanko to specialists and get independent confirmation.”
“Yoko agreed to that?” Alita asked.
“She suggested it.”
“I’m not sure about Jana,” Jet said, quietly. “I don’t know about Vanko, but Jana’s still half in transition, she’s only just beginning to integrate her new systems properly into her self. This is going to set her back a couple of months at least.”
Jet sat back down on the workbench, listening to it creak under her own weight. Her legs crossed themselves, and she folded her arms. How best to state her opinion?
Attacking the mind. All the hardware in a cyber’s body changed so many things. It changed their whole perception of the world and their place in it. But even so, it still didn’t change who they were. Jet knew she was still the same person he was the night before he picked the wrong bottle. Lazily cosplaying as hardsuit-Sylia at the post-war celebrations then belting out surprisingly good Bubblegum Crisis karaoke proved that. She still didn’t know what that trekkie drink had been, beyond that it was green....
It was the little things like that defined a person. Who we are is the sum of all our experiences after all... especially the goofball ones. An alteration in those experiences was an alteration in the self, an alteration of the person. Cybernetics may alter the perception of the ‘now’, but that long chain of recollections was still intact. Losing an arm didn’t change the person, why should gaining a new one?
Biomodding muddied the waters a little, but it was essentially the same. The self gained new elements but still remained whole. There was no subtraction, not usually.
It was of course possible to alter your memory without hacking. Brainwashing was the traditional way of doing it. Advertisers did it all the time. The human mind was so malleable that you could convince it that anything was true with enough reinforcement. As that Soviet AI put it so scornfully, humans have terrible memory protection.
Jet knew the Berserkers; humans who’d had their entire memory wiped clean out before being drugged into blank insanity. They were effectively dead as persons.
Or the catgirls. That had been tested before a court. A catgirling machine operator put himself through the machine rather than get arrested. The resulting bewildered catgirl was quickly ruled to be a completely different person. Destroy the memory and you destroy the person. You destroy everything they were and were going to be as surely as if you shot them dead.
That the self could be erased was frightening enough. It was nightmare fuel.
But this hacking and manipulation of a mind, this was beyond frightening. It was insidious. It was almost undetectable by the victim. You could change everything about a person and they might never even realise it. The raiders could’ve erased Jana’s mind entirely and left her wandering the Martian desert blank and bewildered. Or worse.
Maybe that’s why they didn’t. They were afraid of the worse... what a panicked human brain would do when stripped of all the brakes the self added to it. Jet had gone up against the result of that more times than she bothered keeping track of.
And if they could delete memory there wasn’t much preventing them from adding to it, was there? It could already be done to catgirls.
It was beyond a violation of the body, it was a violation of the very mind, of the makeup of the person. That someone could do this remotely through a software glitch without her even realising it was being done? A lingering paranoia begged to know if she was still herself. Perhaps Jet herself had been hacked without realising it?
A whole person could be subverted as easily as a home computer. Zombie people like zombie computers.
All of this distilled down into one uneasy sentence.
“This Ghost in the Shell stuff fucking scares me.”
Alita looked at her, her lips pursed. “Ghost in the Shell? An animé?”
“Before your accident, Acchan.” Daisuke said. “It was about cyborgs. Hacking a person’s brain and altering memory was a common plot,”
“Oh,” she brought a finger to her lips. “How did they stop it?”
“They did not really.” Daisuke said with a slight sigh, “But they could use,” he screwed his eyes shut, trying to remember, “Um... autism mode. Cut off all wireless communication. It is impossible to hack a computer through an interface that is turned off.”
“We...can’t cut our comm’s?” Jet said, looking uncomfortably at Alita, a little unsure of what exactly she was saying. A choice between risking an attack on the self, and cutting off all that connectivity that was just so useful.
“It is a good workaround,” Daisuke told her, with all the solemnity of a doctor telling a patient her arm had to be amputated. “Standard OGJ comms will have to do,”
“Dai, How many of us?” Alita asked.
“Everyone.” he answered. “Everyone uses the same hardware because it’s so functional, and the encryption is OGJ compatible. Only the AR’s use a different plugin because they’re artificial.”
Alita had had her original systems replaced. Jet ran the same system since a .50BMG round destroyed her original radio. Anyone cyberised after June 2013 was built with the SSC wireless plugin.
“Overspecialisation breeds weakness.” Daisuke finished.
Jet thought for a few seconds, “What about our whitelist? We’re already configured to reject connections from anything except trusted IP’s. Can we use that?”
“No,” Daisuke shook his head, “This is a vulnerability in the basic system. Drivers gets the data from the chip, and the driver sends the data to the firewall. The exploit happens before the firewall even sees the incoming packets. That is what makes this so dangerous.”
“I understand,” Jet said. More or less, she didn’t add.
“I’m calling a meeting,” Alita said. “We need to decide what we‘re going to do about this.”
“This is not something you can beat by force of will alone, Alita,” Daisuke warned.
Jet looked at him for a moment. She wore a self-effacing smile. “And I called the person who shipped us that gear an idiot because we had our own onboard comm..”
Jana found a quiet corner of the friedliche raum. The evening sun streamed in through the windows, throwing long shafts of light across the reinforced wooden floor. This late in the evening, the room was empty. The lights on the rock ceiling far above were dipped low, angled towards a beautiful image of Valles Marineris painted along one wall. Opposite it, were the awards the Kunstler had earned during the war and memorials to those who hadn’t survived it; each one, set of blades, a photograph and a name.
Jana ran through her Ausbildung Stil training forms... what eastern martial arts called kata. She could feel herself loosing herself in the rhythms of the form, how effortless complex movements became. To anyone watching, it looked almost like ballet, Jana’s armoured body dancing with surprising delicateness across the floor.
This feeling, this was why she’d stayed with the Gruppe. The feeling of unity within herself the forms gave her, how she could feel herself flowing out of the biologic and across the divide into the technology. She could feel herself filling the void of machinery inside her body. Synapse flowed into semiconductor to control linear actuators with enough strength to flip a car and enough finesse to throw an egg ten yards in the air and catch it safely in one hand.
It was a graceful ballet of traded energy between velocity, rotation and striking power, using the least effort possible to bring herself smoothly through each form, assaulting a non-existing opponent while dodging around non-existent blows. Rather than loose energy, she pirouetted on steel toes to control her speed, turning forward velocity into a rotation capable of bringing an imagined blade down through an enemy before pulling herself up and out of it into a defensive position.
She could remember herself as a little ballerina aged eight, dancing on stage before a cheering crowd. As she grew up she lost a little of her flexibility but kept it up for fitness sakes. Even after boosting to space, she kept dancing.
She traced through her own memories, checking them all off one by one. The awkwardness of her high school romances, the immediacy of skin-to-skin contact, the softness of grass and the feel of a cool breeze against her body. How the world back then didn’t have the glow that near infra-red eyes gave it now. When it took her something ten minutes to work through a math problem, instead of putting the numbers into her digital side and letting it do it in a tenth of a second. All the little aspects of humanity, gone. Taken by some bloody idiot in a Fencar not paying attention to traffic controls around Stellvia.
She remembered coming too in the void, with a voice in the darkness telling her they’d tried damn near everything, even biomodding. The ‘wave didn’t take, they said, she must already had an undetected mod. Only a neural inductor allowed her some sense of what was going on outside her own body.
They told her about cybernetics, how she could have the full range of human motion back again. She was shown videos of the Panzer Kunst Grupp; of them training, of them flying through a canyon on Mars trailing transonic shockwaves. She chose this body, a stronger space-going type, convinced by something she’d read about experiencing the vastness of the universe in a way impossible from a spaceship.
She woke up on the workbench to the feeling of data running through her mind. A ping-ack from a network server nearby, followed by a flood of information entering her mind as the connection was established. She felt the black void of her body for the first time, cold and vast. A HUD playing across her vision was telling her where she was, calling up a map for a moment, while systems status updates crawled through her awareness.
And she could follow them all at once, aware of what was correct, and what wasn’t. It was followed by that first digital Hello World, a text message send through her digital systems, bursting into her awareness. The AI databursts were worse. Every neuron in her brain fired at once as comprehension of the message was enforced.
It was utterly alien, utterly inhuman, and utterly terrifying. It was then she knew she’d made a mistake. When she saw the reflection of her fact in that mirror and knew it wasn’t her own. Sure it looked the same... but it was just a biomimetic on top of an artificial framework. They’d replaced everything.
Hazel eyes, a heart shaped face, straight, Bourneville-coloured hair. Everyone recognised her as Jana, as the person she had been. It was some damned fine work. It still felt like a doll.
This had been her choice. She had no-one to blame but herself.
Most of all though, she could remember her stardancing, how her heart would race as she pitched and tumbled through the air, streamers trailing. The control she needed in Zero-G. Her heart thumping as the crowd cheered. The fizzling tension in her body while she waited for the judges to give their verdict.
She could feel her new heart pumping, now digitally precise and regulated. Powered fingers gripped with the pressure of a vice. The whine of an overstrained actuator, or the rush of a simulated breath, it was all so unreal.
Still she wondered, had anyone tried to compete with these martial forms? A dance of death, she thought. They had an elegant, austere beauty all of their own.
A flash of bytes intruded into her mind.
[PrivMsg From: Jet Jaguar] “Nice work. You’ve really improved.”
The shock of it interrupted her flow. Her mind struggled to catch up to her position in the manoeuvre and she felt herself slowly begin to fall towards the ground. She scrambled to catch herself, but managed only to land hard on her ass.
[PrivMsg From: Jet Jaguar] "A simple text message shouldn’t distract. We need to keep communications in action, even while fighting.”
“I know,” she grunted, looking up at her trainer standing in the door, “I didn’t hear you come in.”
[Text please] Jet messaged, smiling calmly as she crossed the floor.
[You know I hate using this,] she glared.
[I know, but you still have to get used to it.] Jet responded in a flash. [It is a part of you now.]
The speed of it, that was the worst. Just think and bang! Message sent. Words at least gave you more time to consider what you were saying. Jet crossed the floor, on the way pausing the salute the memorial for a moment.
[I know,] Jana answered back, her frustration showing on her face.
Jet took a deep breath and turned to face her. The Engel leader didn’t look altogether that comfortable with what she was about to do.
[We need to talk about earlier.]
Jana nodded, unnerved. [Yes] she messaged back.
The pair sat down on a reinforced bench, a girder heavy enough to support a building with a wooden seat on it, while Jet repeated most of what Daisuke had told her.
It took a long time for either of them to say anything.
“I feel sick,” Jana finally said aloud, putting a hand to where her stomach used to be. It had to be psychosomatic; what she had was a wasteless bioreactor and it didn’t take more than a quick thought to tell her it wasn’t building up for a purge cycle.
Jet appeared to be listening with compassion. Truthfully, Jet had no idea what she was supposed to say.
“I learned that, despite all this armour,” Jan held up her lacquered metal hand, red Mars-dust insinuating itself into the seams between metal “Despite all this tech they wrapped my brain in, all these new abilities and systems,” she said that word with as much distaste as she could manage, “ despite all that, Inside all this wrapping, there was still myself. This was all just a shell and that no matter what I did with the shell, my self would remain intact.” She lowered her head, looking at intakes on the sides of her calves. “We train to integrate all this hardware into ourselves, to make it a part of me?”
“But, now they can take parts of me away, and I can’t get them back can I?”
“We don’t know yet,” Jet answered, keeping her voice soft, trying her best to cloak her own unease. Look confident for the trainee; that was what a good leader did. “There’s only so much we can do here. We really need to get you to someone with more specialised gear.”
Jana looked dubious, her shoulders falling. “More people messing in my head. I never should’ve agreed to this,”
“This” she knocked on her metal chest. The vent panels on the side of her breasts rattled a little.
“Why did you get cybered?” Jet asked her, not sure really what else to say.
“I like stardancing,” she answered. “After my accident, the chance to be able to do it again, out among real stars, seemed to good to pass up,” She wore a rueful smile. “I didn’t think it would be this hard...” She started to gently rub at her eyes with her hands.
Jet nodded gently. “It is tough at first. It always is. Your whole idea of what you are and your place in the universe, your whole perspective on things, is changing. We’ve all gone through it in one way or another. You’re changing . Your psychology is changing to accommodate all the new abilities you’ve gotten, and adapt to those you’ve lost. But, none of it fundamentally changes who you are.”
Jana swallowed a lump in her throat. There was something comforting about that action; it felt humanising in a way. She stuttered just a little
“You...You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you “ a pause. She took a deep breath. “I don’t think Mister Rogers ever thought of situations like this.”
Jet looked right at her, dead straight in the eyes.
Jana looked stunned. “You can’t not know that?”
Jet shook her head. “Signal’s too bad in here,”
Jana smiled back at her. So, the tables had turned. Now the Apprentice knew more than the Master. “He was a truly decent human being,” Jana explained, after a moment’s thought. “Mister Rogers Neighbourhood; it was on PBS when I was a kid. He treated children like they were equals, talked to them and told them how they were unique, special and really worth something.”
“Oh, Kid’s TV,”
“Yeah...uh..” Jana stopped, realising something. She raised an eyebrow. “Signal? So that’s how you guys did so well at the quiz last con.”
“Guilty as charged.” And showing zero remorse. “They never turned the wireless off. Most A.I.’s were too polite, good and honest to take advantage of it.”
“Humph,” Jana laughed softly, “I wouldn’t have thought of doing that. I wouldn’t have thought I even could,”
“That’s what the training’s for,” Jet told her. “So you don’t just think about doing these things, but do them without thinking.”
Her expression darkened. “Adding all the new hardware to my self so using all these new features is as natural and easy as breathing, I know!.” She snorted. “But that’s damned hard when you look in the mirror and don’t even see yourself anymore.” A pause. She grimaced.
“You can change that,” said Jet. “The body is just a shell over the self after all. That’s the beauty of cybertech,” she gave a light smile, knocking on her chest. “With a biomod, you get one roll of the dice and then you’re stuck, barring expensive surgery. No matter what happens with cybernetics, you can always change. You can change everything... almost everything.” she corrected.
Jana looked thoughtful.
“Your body can be a reflection of who you really are, the you that you want to show to the world, rather than just a replica of who you were before cyberisation.”
“I’m not sure,” said Jana, softly.
“Well. In my case, 4 years ago I didn’t look like this. You probably know, I used to be ordinary and a bit more... male,” she smiled, a little cheekily, “Shit happened, this happened,” she knocked on her bust again. ”I was told once that if I wanted to look more masculine, it wouldn’t be hard to do. Or, I could get the whole body completely replaced.”
She held up one of her legs, showing the intakes running down into the turbine assembly. “I decided to get these thrusters fitted instead to help me fly.”
“Why?” Jana asked. She pouted just a little. “Well, I told you why I got this done. It’s only fair”
“Because I like flying,” Jet answered. “So much that I can’t imagine not being able to fly anymore. The stuff I miss about being baseline human, I can live without. I can’t imagine not having the freedom to fly again.”
Jana nodded, understanding that part at least.
“I kept my figure.” Jet wasn’t quite sure what other term to use, “because I think it’s less intimidating than a more masculine frame’ like robocop. It’s so people aren’t scared and tense around me... I don’t want that. And it helped keep me sane during the war to see this face in the mirror”. She pointed an armoured finger at her nose.
Jet’s blue eyes did have a certain gentle earnestness to them. Jana fell silent for a few moments... a few of the motorballers bladed across the floor, coming in from a practice game. The motors in their running wheels whined while they bragged about hard hits and close calls.
Choose the body to reflect the self, she pondered, watching one of them trundle forwards. Crouched low, almost like an aerodynamic scarab beetle, it took her a while to make the connection that whoever they where, they’d chosen that body specifically. It did have a certain cool to it, but it really wasn’t something she wanted to try personally.
She looked at Jet; apparently female and doing a respectable job of holding up the illusion despite her best efforts. She sat with her legs crossed, and those high-heeled feet at the end of long legs gave her a very feminine stride. At the same time, she’d heard Jet refer to herself as a ‘Guy’, or similar more times than she could count.
She looked at Jet, then down at her own body. She clenched her hand into a fist, nerve impulses responding with the correct sensations. Tightening her grip she could hear the micro-actuators straining and whining, her metal palms creaking as the force increased.
They had her crush a stone once. A sold lump of rock. It was the first thing they ever asked her to do. A rock... and it split in her hand. A demonstration of how dangerous her body was. If she could do that to a rock, what could she do to a human being?
The way that Alita Replica had spoken to her on her first day, it made her feel like she was something other than human. The training just wired that in further... that with all the hardware, she had gone beyond humanity.
“You’ve been doing well,” Jet filled the silence.
“It’s not that,” Jana blurted out. “I mean... it’s not that it doesn’t look like me in the mirror it’s just... it just...” she screwed her eyes shut. Forcing herself to think. “I feel.... disconnected from the image. Like I’m just a ghost in this shell rather than the real Jana. The line between me and who I am now has been cut.”
Jet looked at her, then looked at the wall for a moment, thinking.
“It’s.... this just makes it feel worse. If who I am is the sum of my experiences... and someone removes some of those experiences, do they change who I am?” Jana finished, looking hopefully at Jet.
For a few moments at least, Jet didn’t say a word. Her first instinct had been to answer with a reassuring ‘No’, but somehow she felt that would be far more hollow and obvious. Truth was, despite all the training she’d had, she just wasn’t sure what to say.
Max would’ve known what to say.
It was still important to at least sound like she did.
“How’s your meditation been since you got back?” she asked.
“Tough. It still takes me a while to get Friede. It’s still hard to be that still.”
“And your practice,”
“It’s alright,” Jana answered. “When I’m running through those exercises I feel a lot more... connected. It feels like dancing.... it feels like me, Just a little bit.”
Or maybe it might just be that simple, Jet pondered. She took a few moments to note down exactly what Jana had said while it was still fresh in her mind, in case she forgot.
“I’ll try and adjust your training a little then,” said Jet. “We’ll see if that helps. As it is right now...” She checked the schedule just to be sure, “You’ve got flight training at thirteen-thirty. Get back to your team, and prepare a flightplan through the Labyrinth that should take an hour to complete.”
They both stood up. Jana saluted. “Yes, Krieger,” The heel of her foot cracked loud on the wooden floor.
Jet returned. “Lehrling,”
They both left the friedlich Raum through different exits, both heading in different directions. Jana went back to her quarters, still feeling a little confused. She did her best to focus on the training exercise ahead.... but something still niggled frustratingly.
Am I still Jana? Am I still myself?
Jet had seemed to dodge the question. She hadn’t asked directly, but what she’d really wanted was for Jet to reassure her that yes, she really was herself still.
Jet headed straight for her office knowing she probably could’ve done better.
Jet closed the door behind her and sealed it gas-tight before allowing herself a deep breath. The familiar smell of lilac was reassuring. It wasn’t a large office, like most of Grunthal was cut straight from the rockface, but it was still Jet’s own.
It was her private, personal space, a reflection of herself. In one glass case were her awards from the Boskone War. Jet had accrued more than a few; from SerenityCon, The Steelyard, Boskone Prime and others. Underneath were the remains of her original blades and a smashed older version of one of her engines, mounted beside the SerenityCon citation.
Kicking Boskonian missiles out of the sky might’ve seemed like a stupid idea... but it wasn’t stupid if it worked, and they were desperate. It wasn’t half as dangerous as the citation made out. Do it right, and g-forces ripped the missile apart safely enough.
Do it wrong, and get caught in the blast of a missile capable of obliterating a decent-sized ship.
There were her Panzer Kunst qualifications, her troubleshooter certificate and a few other odds and ends. All were made out in the name of Jet Jaguar.
Jet the warrior. Jet the martial arts master. Jet the troubleshooter. Jet the cyber trainer. Jet the flyer..... Jet the famous enough to get a high quality figure made of her. That one went into her collection of BNF figurines she’d picked up for her own amusement. And finally, as one drunken gearhead had put it, Jet the freaking robot bitch...
Which had been a hell of a lot more startling than she’d expected.
There was a picture of Ford, beside it a picture of Jet herself belting out Konya wa Hurricane at the last con. Some others of the Panzer Kunst on the set of Cameron’s Battle Angel wearing mo-cap gear were hanging on the wall. Her battered circuit-rider gear had been stowed for at least a fortnight on a couch normally used for the odd visitor. Two-wheeled rollerblades needed dust cleared out of their bearings.
All of it was Jet Jaguar. She’d left his identity behind erdeside by necessity. The name Jet Jaguar started as a radio callsign to keep the GUBU’s off. Something she’d thought of off-the-cuff, having only just watched Godzilla versus Megalon an hour beforehand. It became her name by choice when she was picked up in orbit. Everything she’d done since had been done by Jet Jaguar.
Any time anyone thought of her, they thought of nothing but Jet Jaguar. When you got right down to it, Jet Jaguar today was a very different person to the man who’d picked a stupid place to store some high-octane handwavium. But, they were still the same in a Greek ship-thing sort of way. A quick search on the interwave informed Jet that it was called the Ship of Theseus, followed by links on the Locke’s Socks, and my Grandfather’s Axe.
There was no one moment where he’d ceased to exist, and Jet Jaguar had come into being.
It wasn’t the moment he woke up on the shed floor and had a minor panic attack. It wasn’t the moment he took off for the first time. It wasn’t the moment the garage attendant called her ‘miss’… Jet was physically entirely different to who he’d originally being. The man Jet had been, his body, had become the biomass needed to finish the construction on the hardsuited warrior the handwavium wanted to build. His mind just sort of filled the empty space in the new hardware. At the time, it had still been his mind.
Despite Jet’s body being, essentially, totally unrelated to his original self, the continuity was there. It was the continuity of being that made the person.
A few other things had changed. She hadn’t even noticed them.... it had felt almost natural to slip into this sort of role. The person he had been would never have become a front-line warrior and martial arts trainer. The person he had been would’ve been a mech-jock, easily.
Given the tone of the previous conversation, she began to wonder if maybe she’d gotten more from her biomod than just the Knight Saber’s appearance. That wasn’t a scary thought. If anything, they rounded out her character, made her a ‘fuller’ person for want of a better description. Looking in a mirror, she saw shades of all four of them
Her desk was an unorganised bombsite of assorted paperwork, including a brochure for an OV-200 series shuttle, a Roadrunner brochure, a PADD, an invoice from Odyssey that was due for payment, and some crosstraining and coursework stuff from Kandor. A few other little nik-naks crowded around an older terminal computer; figurines, a few auto magazines and a GURPS ‘Fenspace’ sourcebook with pencilled in corrections on her profile. They overestimated her intelligence, and underestimated her strength and speed.
Some prototypes of an Engel Gruppe figure series sat beside a simple camera drone which had quirked horribly into some sort of eighties supertech mess with a scanner stolen straight out of Knight Rider.
She sat at her desk and booted the old terminal, configuring it as a network bridge for her hardware, then set it about digging up through some of the cyber-psych notes from that Confederation course, looking for something.
While waiting, she called Erwin Lee using her onboard phone. Erwin was leader of the Tuned Gruppe, who were currently working with the Space Patrol in one of the special sections.
It rang three times
“Hello,” Lee’s drawling accent answered. “Jet,”
“Howya man,” she tried to put a smile into her voice, “I’m assuming you’ve heard about the robbery and what happened,”
“Hey I’m sorry Jet,” he answered quickly, “But that’s a Patrol matter, not Great Justice. I can’t tell you anything about it,”
Aside from the hacking, it was still just a minor robbery, a Patrol matter.
“I’m not wearing my troubleshooting hat,” she responded. Honestly. “This is strictly us Panzer Kunst. Daisuke’s trying to figure out what exactly happened to Vanko and Jana. I figured if we had some more information about the case, it’d help us deal with this,”
“Hmmm,” he paused, considering. “But you called me using your personal number. You don’t want this recorded,”
“No, I don’t.”
“And you know the risks to us if this does get out that I gave you this stuff?”
“I do.” she nodded, despite him not ever being able to see it “But if it can help Jana and Vanko. I’ll owe you a big one.”
There was a pause of another few moments.
“Alright,” he relented “I’ll have the case files couriered to you by Radi-KS. You should get them tomorrow,”
“Thanks man,” she beamed, “I’ll really owe you one,”
“Yeah, a big one. See y’round Jet,”
The line went dead. It was technically against the rules, but then again the first rule was to never be afraid to use your own judgement to do what was right. She did see herself as being genuine in her intentions. Any information could be used to help Jana.
If Daisuke’s hunch was right and there was a leak in the Confederation passing technical information to Zwilniks then this was about to become a Great Justice matter and a damned serious one at that.
It was something she kept at the back of her mind, just in case, but not something to bring to GJ until Daisuke had more than a hunch to go on.
Thinking on Jana, Jet checked that the information she’d been looking for had come up. Bingo! She started to browse through it, while pulling up her notes from her conversation with Jana.
“Not that. Doesn’t look like me in the mirror. I feel disconnected from the image. Like I’m just a ghost in this shell rather than the real Jana. The line between me and who I am now has been cut.”
She started to read through her information... some course notes on post cyberisation psychology, mostly focusing on the symptoms of what was dryly called “Cybernetically induced depersonalisation disorder,”. At Grunthal, it was usually just called ‘transition syndrome’.
Getting fully cybered was a trauma in and of itself, usually coming hot on the heels of another major trauma which had required getting cybered in the first place. The still-biologic brain was suddenly cut off from almost every chemical response it had taken its life getting to know, and then had them replaced with artificial facsimiles, along with any number of new additional systems. Even parts of the brain itself were replaced.
Jet called up Jana’s file. She’d had it especially bad, being something of a prototype for a full hardtech cyberisation. Surviving that accident alone had been a 1 in a million. The damaged areas of her brain had to be replaced with artificial parts. Jana had nearly as much silicon in her skull as Jet did, but without the benefit of handwavium to fudge the gap.
To understand that the body was a shell of the self, that adding or taking away parts didn’t change who you fundamentally where, that was the core of the Panzer Kunst. It was about being able to switch out hardware as easy as switching gears in a car. Of course, the self remained and the self was always changing.
It was for the birds and the Eva fans to worry about anyway. She put her feet up on the desk, absent-mindedly spooling her engines on their starter motors the same way normal people might rock their feet.
Jana had been getting better and now this happened. An attack on the self within the shell.
She compared her notes against some of the checklists. Trouble meditating, trouble finding peace within herself. Improves when physically active. Jana had been a stardancer beforehand.
The obvious answer was to put her on a more physical training path, then see if that helped her pick up. If it didn’t, Jet was a little lost. It would be almost back to square one. Chances were it was just the standard transition syndrome anyway, just made worse by this attack.
But something about this really bothered her. Something she was having a hard time framing exactly in her mind. She glanced out the window into the canyon, for a few seconds watching some of the AR’s teaching some unfortunate Anfanger the dangers of being cocky in the red soil below. That was always fun, even if Daisuke hated being called up to fix the results.
Nobody would argue that when someone came out of a mind-wiping catgirl machine they were a completely different person to who had gone in. Everything was erased. The berserkers were similar. Humans wiped of everything that made them human.
Punching up rm -rf /* on an AI’s memory banks was considered murder. It destroyed a person.
That it could be done just as easy to her now was bloody chilling. A few quick keystrokes and poof... gone. It could be done to her without her even realising she was under attack. One moment she’d be there, the next blank.
But if you erased a person’s memories one at a time... such that they never realised that anything had changed until everything they were was gone... when did they stop being that person? Did the ship of Theseus work in reverse?
The obvious answer was when their own friends couldn’t recognise their behaviour.
She looked around her office. If all but the last 3 years of her memory were ever erased, just how much of a difference would it make? Would anyone notice? Would she notice? Jet before the wave had been a spark, capable of hacking together a railgun in a shed using a box of scraps. He built a coilgun. He rigged an old turbocharger up to make a jet powered snowblower during that last cold winter. He built the first hardsuit, the one that eventually became her body.
Jet afterwards... hadn’t done anything sparky in years. The drone staring back at her seemed offended. Well... nothing big and sparky, just a few slight glimmerings to prove it hadn’t gone out entirely. She still had ideas but lacked the intent to go out and fulfil them. Most were already done, and done better.
Still, she lingered on that thought for far longer than she wanted.
“It’s for the birds,” she said to herself. Right now it didn’t matter. There was training to be done. Flight training was Jets speciality.