Set in the eyaiverse of original fic, although really all you need to know is that these are tetchy guerilla-revolutionary androids with lungs. With thanks to aria. For girl_wonder, and Fry, I'm sorry I'm such a massive liar. I really hope you like this even though it isn't in Russia. :P
Yin is still driving when you see it, the low-slung sedan resting in a ditch. It looks like it went off the road some time ago, rusting ever since, and you are not disappointed when she pulls the car to a halt in front of it. The figure in the driver's seat is smoking with great economy of motion. When you come round to the cutaway side of the car you can see it's more hideout than vehicle, and that she is small and dark and wearing a knit cap that dips down almost over her black eyes.
“This is Arthur,” Yin says, shoving you lightly towards her. “Don't worry, she doesn't bite. She doesn't believe in violence.”
“Fuck off,” Arthur says, amiably. She looks up at you. “How good are you?”
You glance back at Yin. She shrugs. “Not as good as you. But she can aim.”
“Why don't you ride shotgun,” Arthur suggests, and kicks open the skeletal door. “I'll be holding the shotgun.”
“That's a sniper rifle,” you say, uncertainly.
Arthur shakes her head hard. “Where did you find her.”
“Don't start.” Yin hands you a mic. “You're reporting. Remember procedure, because Jesus knows Arthur won't do it for you.”
For the first hour and twenty-five minutes of the stakeout, Arthur doesn't say a thing. Protocol says you've twenty minutes more before talking compromises the situation. When facial expressions come more naturally to you you'll frown down at your lap but for now you open your mouth at hour-and-twenty-six and say “Arthur?'
“Yin's little joke,” Arthur says, her eyes flickering back and forth at something on an internal screen. “My designation's R-47712.”
You fold your hands. “You didn't pick a name?”
“And you picked yours,” Arthur says, and you realize that the aberration in her style is the lack of interrogatives. It sounds intentional. She's well put-together and can't be missing a function that obvious if she has the capacity to lift the corner of one mouth at your silence, just a little bit. An eighth of a smile.
“I haven't picked one yet,” you say, eventually. “Where I worked they called me Hadria.”
“Up north,” Arthur suggests, and you nod. “Would be. Inn.”
“In what? Oh. Yes. The Red Tower. Nice joint,” you add. You are briefly proud.
Arthur's smile creaks upwards a little. “You're new construction.”
You've begun nodding before you parse the sentence, and then you have to shake your head. “No. Three years old.” You slip into Yin's voice. “I don't get out much.”
“That's a neat trick,” Arthur says. “Rank and serial number, private,” and takes a long drag on her cigarette when you tell her, like it's something notable or interesting.
You talk for eighteen minutes, and you do most of the talking. When you slot the microphone between your lips to talk to base, your voice is rough and you cough. It makes the General swear.
Arthur has perfect muscle control, perfect aim, and perfect pitch. You learn the first two when the black sedan swings round the blind curve and she takes out its driver with one bullet. You learn the third when she matches the frequency of their walkie-talkies, creating a feedback whine in your own mic but confusing theirs, then picks off the injured bodyguards one after the other. She motions you towards the wreckage and you find the casings while she pries out the bullets. Someone will be along in five minutes to move the cars but for now you follow her along the stone wall that runs the length of the road till she motions you down. You are both perfectly still.
Backup comes after you in two hours, but you don't know this, because you run down after one.
When you restart you're sitting on a cot in the back of the farmhouse. Grant is leaning over you, turning the key in your lock, and he sees your eyes flutter open and wraps your hand around the key before you can panic. You tuck a finger through the ribbon and nod.
Arthur is watching you from the other cot. When you meet her eyes, she pulls two fingers away from her forehead: a salute. You look down hurriedly. "It went well," you say, trying to match her style, but instead it comes out in her voice and she smiles, startled. "Yes," she says. "Of course."
"Shake your theory any?" Grant says. His voice is unexpectedly nasty and you jerk your head up to see that he's putting away his tools with unusual vehemence, gears rattling in their dishes.
"No," Arthur says. She points a finger at a gear that's fallen to the floor. "Careful."
You ask, "What theory?"
"That I'm a saboteur for the government," Arthur says. “And Grant, as he's demonstrating. The General. All of the old guard.”
You stare at her, your hand tracing a little circle around your lock. "I don't know what you mean."
Grant, stooping to catch another gear, snorts. "She means that despite diagnostics, despite screening, despite common bloody sense--"
“It's common sense to think we wouldn't have--” Arthur says, voice rising, and you slip out of the room before you have to hear any more.
“You're in a sulk today,” Arthur observes, when you are both in the shell of another car. You have been running a finger around your lock for the past three and a half minutes, your programming unwilling or unable to turn off its warnings, and you shake your head once in answer. You aren't sulking. You're apprehensive.
Arthur murmurs, “Suit yourself.”
“You're not a saboteur,” you say, examining the dust on your fingers.
Arthur is silent while she sorts through responses. Then she takes aim at a sparrow with one finger; flicks off an invisible safety and shoots. You are surprised when the sparrow doesn't fall. “I knew how to do that when they switched me on,” she says, unloading the invisible chamber. “I knew how to find cover and how to pick a target, and how to compensate for recoil. No one'd build a robot to kill you,” she adds, like it's just another word. “Not even another load of robots. So, I'm not here to kill them. It's what I would do, cure a few notables and send them out into the wilderness with a bunch of custom-made snipers and fuckheads and let them do their worst. Then I'd got an excuse to keep on doing whatever I want.”
She stands up and gets out of the car. “Hand me the pistol.”
You stare at her. “No.”
She laughs. She's not that well-built after all because it comes on and off without warning and without decrescendo. “I'm not going to shoot you. Ask Yin. I've a perfect record.”
“If you know we're a side-show,” you say, doggedly, reaching for the gun, “then why don't you turn yourself in?”
“Because I still hate them, obviously,” she says. She puts out a hand for the gun, or possibly for you. “They killed the revolution, they martyred our heroes. Etcetera.”
“You're a bad liar--”
“I can't lie,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I am absolutely, one hundred percent for freedom, whether I like it or not. Give me the pistol, I want to create a diversion.”
You climb out of the car. The fingers of your left hand find your lock again, and you manage a scowl. Your right hand puts the gun in your jacket pocket. “I'll create the diversion.”
She shrugs. “Suit yourself,” she says, again, and you disappear into the woods.
You flick on your mic as you go, the pattern of trees suggesting itself to you in the back of your head as you climb up through the copse and onto the top of a hill. In the far distance you can see the caravan swinging its way down the roads, heavily armed and armored, and you wonder if they know what's ahead, if they have been listening to Arthur's sedition through her ears. Or through yours. You rub them in self-defense, but they feel the way they always do, and you think of long hours serving bitter and lager and smiling in your one smile at the customers. You know thirteen ways to unbalance a serving tray so as to allow the landlord to cheat on the replacement; you know the precise vector at which to fold a bed so that it looks country-safe and not military. You don't know the right angle to shoot at for this ambush, and you say as much to the people listening over your mic, who make suggestions. R-47712 doesn't add anything to the discussion.
When they're five miles past the car you take out the tires on the front-runner, and there is chaos, but they turn around and go back while they wait for the helicopter to come, and Arthur does her job, clean and easy.
This time you run down against a tree, your fingers clenching over and over again on the edge of a tray.
The fireplace is unlit but you like it anyway, sitting with your legs crossed and your back getting sooty against the stone. Arthur comes and sits down next to you with a whump.
“Show me how to smoke,” you say, half-turning to face her.
She pulls her carton out of her jacket pocket, tugging out the cigarette that's the wrong way up, and hands it to you. “Two fingers,” she says. “To your mouth, inhale, then away.”
You follow her motion, careful, and she shows you how to tap the ash that will form on the end. You nod and hand it back to her, and she lights it and the ash falls onto the empty flagstones. She shoots a look at you, and away, and you say, slowly, “You're younger than me.”
“I am that,” she agrees, kicking her feet up. “You're a woman of the world.”
“Yin says they check your code every week.”
She nods. “Whenever I say I'm a hazard. They tell me it comes up clean.”
“But they'd tell you that anyway,” you say, experimentally, and she shrugs. She doesn't meet your eyes.
You could tell her that she seems like the boys you used to watch swaggering past the door, coked up and sure they're the worst trouble in the universe. You could tell her, with equal truth, that you don't think anyone's an effective saboteur who shot the bishop of Kensington. You could tell her that she's seditious whether or not she's a revolutionary. You could tell her that you think she might as well be right.
You could keep quiet. Then she'll pass you another cigarette. She'll grin at the far wall and ask you, “Need a light?”
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