2012-10-19: Reboot


Echo_icon.jpg Mike_icon.jpg

Summary: Finding a disabled Echo, Mike makes the difficult decision to bring her to SHIELD while knowing full well that it could easily and disastrously backfire on him.

Date: October 19, 2012

Log Title: Reboot

Rating: R

A skinny red-haired man, perhaps 32 years old, rides a decrepit yellow scooter past the alleyway where the July 4th Slaughter took place; the scoot slows as the driver gawks at the scene but then moves on again with a half-guilty surge … just like the dozen or so other gawkers who drive through every week since the three mutie kids were grabbed from that mall.

The scooter putts on for some distance, changing lanes, turning, going into an alley, and a different motorcycle driven by a different person (apparently) comes out the far end after a minute or three delay. The driver decides he has lost his pursuers (at least the ones he detected) and misdirected any others, so the red bike heads for the last place Mike saw the android Echo. His last email had advised that his attempt to get tritium was met by unwanted curiosity and advised Echo to go on pure line-current as long as possible so he could find an alternate solution. That was some months ago and he hasn't gotten the "ack" to his last few "ping-status" requests.

An abandoned dry cleaner's storefront, boarded up with rain-rotted chipboard and plastered with graffiti and flyers for bands that ceased to exist only weeks later, is one of the last-known contact points for the escaped android. Inconspicuous, possibly, but entirely unpopulated? As it turns out…

A small group of children, most about nine or ten years old, huddle around the back entrance to the empty space with a ringleader some few years older, talking eagerly. "You wanna see a dead body? It'll cost you a dollar," he tells the younger crowd. Expressions and tones run the gamut from tense fiscal negotiation to a fearful excitement. Some money has already changed hands but the boys are still working up the courage to actually head inside and see the grisly sight.

Mike parks the bike - and as he steps away from it, it takes on an aspect of being so badly rusted out and trashed that not even a street urchin would want to touch it. At the moment he looks like a skinny kid in a hoodie, his face hidden, the skin that shows of indeterminate race.

"Y'shouldn't sell tickets to see dead bodies, kid. You like ta end up stuffed in a circus when the payback hits." That voice is way too hollow-echoey for the daylight. But it's getting late already, which is of course why they're here. Real street kids wouldn't pay a buck to see a body.

Four pairs of eyes, the whites bright and visible in the darkened alley, focus intensely on the stranger. One of the young kids immediately turns and runs without so much as saying a word. "Hey, fuck you, man," the oldest retorts in his best tough guy voice, well-practiced but not exactly intimidating coming from a thirteen year old. That said, he still takes a step back. Three bucks doesn't seem to be worth a real confrontation.

If Mike were another street kid that would mean a discussion of why he already screwed the kid's mother and so doesn't want to do the kid. But 17 year old robots whose parents are priests are supposed to be more mature than that.

"Ya, too late, leettle boy. You lovely mamou already did that thing. So you gwan home or you watch while I fetch da soul outa the carcass in dere."

The face in the hoody remains stubbornly shadowy, but the eyes light up yellow.

For about three seconds, give or take, the young entrepreneur looks like he's going to argue the point further. However, without even relaxing the set of his jaw, he throws up his hands at Mike and blows a breath out with an equal mix of undiminished bravado and the attitude of 'fine, I didn't wanna do it anyway'. "Crazy motherfucker," he spits and moves away, yet never fully turning his back. In a moment, he and his paying customers have split, out the alley and away.

Mike does a quick "scan" with his power-sense to see how the brats broke into the place, since the last he knew Echo had trapped it. This means that while he can still 'see' the kids, he's not seeing them in quite so much detail, but it's mostly 'are they gone' that he cares about anyway.

The back door has a small square of mesh-reinforced glass, too high to reach the lock inside by smashing it out and reaching in, though it seems someone has already tried nonetheless. A thin cable of some ferrous wire is stretched across the inside of the frame of the out-swinging back door, about a foot off the ground. Tripwire height. Even a rudimentary scan can see the wire is, as of yet, unbroken in its tether to an honest-to-God pineapple grenade hanging from the ceiling. The electricity to the whole building is shut off, not even a singing hum of electrons in the wiring. By peering in through the broken square of glass, a pair of legs in black pants and sneakers is visible further into the space toward the front counter, the suggestion of a figure hunched forward and unmoving in the darkness and chemical reek of perchloroethylene. Two small blue plastic containers of it sit in easy view, surely some heinous EPA violation.

About to simply cut the wire, Mike freezes suddenly, with an interrupt from the "Fun With Chemistry" part of his brain. Perchloroethane, aka tetrachloroethane, aka "drycleaning fluid" - breaks down at temperatures over 385C to phosgene gas. The grenade is probably filled with thermite, rather than the usual explosive, because Echo has a vicious streak … wait, not a streak. She has a small not-vicious streak.

"OK, how to freeze that pin…"

Mike walks back to the decrepified motorcycle and gets back on… it shifts into a rather odd looking treaded vehicle with several robot arms. One arm attaches to the window by suction cup and adhesive, and cuts a hole, using a diamond-cutter and cooling spray to keep things from becoming too hot.

Once free, a second robot arm extends, balancing despite the ridiculous distance, then from a nozzle on the end begins spraying a slowly-accreting layer of plastic glue. A bright blue LED on the arm convinces it to harden faster, so that it would take FAR too much force to pull that pin. And after double-checking, Mike prepares to cut the tripwire.

The trepidation of actually disarming an explosive device, no matter how well secured, can take years off one's life. But carefully, ever so carefully…


The wire was under a considerable amount of tension, whipping and striking like a broken guitar string with a strangely musical tone. It wouldn't have taken much, a simple bump against a shin to dislodge the pin. It will only take a few second to know if the epoxy will hold the pin and spoon in place or if a last-second action hero dive aside is in order.

Silence. Seconds pass painfully slowly. Palpable silence.

Fortunately bomb squad robots are well armored and Mike is not equipped with an organic heart prone to emotional damage by the stress of contemplating his personal explosive decomposition. To prevent Rashmi or his SHIELD handlers from scolding him for being emotionless, he dedicates a single, small-resource thread to screaming in panic like a little girl confronted by a spider the size of a dog, but doesn't hook it up to any motive drivers nor to his speech system. So that humiliation is avoided for now.

Meanwhile he waits, feeling for the disturbing sense of "something changing chemically in a very abrupt fashion and not inside a piston cylinder." When it doesn't come, he removes the rest of the door, then sprays the room with an electrically charged water mist, to get the gaseous carcinogen out of the air.

Once that's done, and it's safe(r) for humans to be in the room, the bomb-bot reverts to a man astride a motorcycle.

"OK, Echo, let's see what you've done to yourself. Full backup mode, or what?"

Sitting propped up against the wall by the counter, head below its level, the dark-haired military android is completely motionless. From underneath the tail of her jacket a dirty orange extension cord winds its way up to a wall socket, but it doesn't take much investigation to realize the entire space is dead, electrically speaking. Probably for a good reason, considering the chemical stench in the air and the overall decrepitude of the interior. Someone must have shut it off at the breaker box, never bothering to go inside, to their good fortune.

Echo is slumped forward, hands in her lap, eyes closed. It's no surprise that the boys thought she might be a dead body. Tiny dust particles dance in the current of air from the opened back door. She's been sitting there so long, a faint dusting of it came to rest on the shoulders of her black coat and her perfectly straight hair in the sepulchral stillness of urban decay.

"Huh. Someone finally decided to stop paying their electricity bill," Mike says in an oddly cheerful voice. He collects the various odd bits of hardware first, then the weapons and toxic chemicals, stuffing them carelessly into the too-small panniers on the bike. Finally he sets Echo onto the seat, and vanishes, possessing the vehicle. With that, the cargo vanishes as well, and the unpowered android is suddenly mobile, and Mike knows that somewhere his mother is suddenly disapproving - the Mom Sense says "your son is puppeteering his passenger after he solemnly swore never again."

Well, penitent later. Creating a leather bike suit around Echo, not a problem. Taking the bike to the street from inside is easy enough. Getting to the water is also easy. Ignoring the guy in the Maserati who wants to flirt with the hot biker chica just requires acting. But once he gets to the section of the docks where he can drive in, and the bike becomes a fast sub, trouble. Somehow in the shift one of the power leads begins feeding power to Echo's systems … blasted SHIELD tech, almost not worth it to be able to variform.

Echo is a cooperative puppet, for the most part, all 115 kilograms of her. Manhandled onto the bike, her meager possessions stuffed into the saddle bags, she doesn't make a fuss the entire time. However as the bike shifts into a submersible, the tiny sub finds an array of lithium iron phosphate batteries, fully discharged, and seeks to rectify this mistake.

Charging....... 0 percent.
Pandora OS..... booting.

Electrons begin to flow, filling dead pathways with the soft hum of systems long dormant coming back to life. Boot sequences roll, verifying systems integrity and encountering numerous errors. At least she had been fully shut down instead of resuming immediately once powered. Systems checks grind on slowly but exceedingly detailed. The first hint of motion is a quiet whir in the iris of her undamaged right eye. Dilate. Constrict. Dilate again.

Mike didn't intend it to happen, but he knows that it's happening; he is perfectly capable of making changes ad-hoc to hardware in his "inventory" but … Echo is a person. Isn't she? An argument that Echo would find illuminating if she were able to hear it begins - four separate processes are spawned running Mike's personality, each coordinating its own cogitation on the problem of whether that were the case is slapped down by the Emotion process, which quite logically says, "Don't argue ourself out of personhood please."

The submarine dock for Barnes Academy opens to the radio prompt. Mike sends a burst to the Ops in charge of the submarine dock, "Warning: I have a potentially hazardous cargo, please check orders. I have permission to bring aboard, but it must have an LMD-destroyer standing watch until the cargo has spoken with SHIELD command and been verified nonhazardous.

Meanwhile another thread follows Echo's boot process, recording each sequence, log, error, and message so that anything untoward (like, "activate self destruct" or "emergency wipe") can be blocked. Because that would be just a tragically stupid thing if she erased herself.

The code keeps rattling away from the booting android, faster and faster as her internal systems begin to warm up so that it becomes harder to keep track of everything. But one machine to another, it's almost like hearing someone mumble in their sleep, just on the verge of consciousness.

set_cscan: info->cm:8b0c, info->flags:0
set_event: dev=ech0 event=256
unknown event: ignoring
Link.... UP!
init: sys_prop_track, rfid=3599e
PERMISSION DENIED uid:1124, error code 000000f1
active_wake_lock: disabled

Power thrums, Echo drinking greedily at the current. It's becoming a noticeable drain. Her fingers twitch. Then it happens, a single word strobing.

threat_assess: DANGER

Transitioning from water to land is straightforward enough: there's a ramp for SHIELD variform vehicles, and the sub approaches, treads emerge, and it moves up to a dockpoint. A cable extends and plugs into a diagnostic station. Several Very Large Guns turn and focus on Mike, and passenger visible inside the "bubble" canopy that formed on entering the water.

— wait what? DANGER? — Mike has had enough time to engage in some fairly detailed analysis of his passenger. It's not clear that she's really "awake" yet. So he looks for a way to say "Threat negative" … a sort of "No, you're ok, I've got you" would be comforting for a human but who knows what that would mean to Echo?

Still, he could if absolutely forced, shift Echo into 4Dspace as a stable energy pattern, like he does to other matter that needs not to be wrecked when he "edits" a vehicle he's part of. But she's easily the most complex thing since his own body that he's considered trying this with, well, except for the new chassis designs but those are far from complete.

"She's waking up," he says out loud, "And like most front-line soldiers in unfamiliar territory she's trying to wake up guns blazing. I'm controlling the power flow now, but keep everyone and everything at a distance for now."

Trying to feed information back into Echo's system is a trying process. 'threat_assess: Negative' returns 'Error: Unknown state'. Repeated attempts come up with various unhelpful prompts about syntax, read-only privileges, and finally a very plainly worded message saying 'Please stop'. Who would program it to say something like that?

Charging....... 1 percent.

Echo's eyes open and immediately she's moving. Wedging herself firmly against the floor of the bubble cockpit, she presses both hands flat against the upper canopy and pushes. It's a sudden frantic explosion of energy, like a caged animal pushed one step too far. She's strong, too, legs and arms combined to put a half-ton of upward force on the canopy, the vehicle giving out soft pings and groans. No words, just action.

Warnings are flaring. Low power. Mechanical stress thresholds. Scanning for locational clues. It's about as close to panic as it can be.

The bubble deforms rather than breaking, and that's a bizarre dream-like sensation. Mike's voice comes from a speaker on the dash.

"Echo, please stand down. You're not in any immediate danger if you remain seated, and I can continue charging you. Otherwise you'll get perhaps three meters before you run out of power."

The bubble expands again, out of the reach of the android. Mike has kept it semi-opaque to the optical sensors she's got online, of course. Nobody likes waking up to four destroyer-grade ion cannons aimed at one's face. It's just not a good start to the day.

With the bubble shifting out of reach, Echo changes tactics. "The hell I will." She draws something from inside her boot, an anodized black knife, and wedges it sharply into the side of the submersible where the strange flexible glass meets the body of the craft. Prying hard, she succeeds in gouging the metal quite deeply, working the blade back and forth to pop it open.

"That is amazingly painful, and you're not making my friends more likely to accept you," Mike complains. "Also, you're inside my body and I'm the one giving you energy at the moment, so consider the consequences. We need to present a person who is not going to be attempting to kill everyone in sight, so that they won't decide you're a rogue that needs to die. We discussed this, remember?" Probably she doesn't recall it the same way Mike does.

Levering the knife's blade up and down, back and forth, the android is making a real mess of the cockpit. However it doesn't seem to be doing her any good, simply mangling the material like a bad can opener. At last she withdraws the knife, eyeing the frosted canopy overhead instead. "You've put me at a severe disadvantage. Who will be deciding if I need to die? What if I disagree?"

"We are in a SHIELD installation. I found you power-drained in the middle of a rather nasty trap which would have maimed and eventually killed four human children, but the chances are good it would not have sufficiently destroyed your body to prevent your being repaired and then interrogated. The chemicals in the trap had begun to degrade, having been exposed to air for a month or so. Since I removed the trap, and have been feeding you power, I think that complaining about disadvantage is an error; if I had left you without power, then you would be at a disadvantage." Mike's voice is pitched low so as not to carry outside the cabin. The damage slowly repairs itself, with near-subsonic 'ouch dammit' noises from out of nowhere…

"Echo, I have convinced them that you do not wish to be a threat to humanity in general no matter what your initial design parameters were. I hope you'll prove me correct. The only one AUTHORIZED to terminate you would be yourself, or Nick Fury. However, if you seem to be an immediate threat to the life of any SHIELD agent, or to the integrity of the base, they will probably act whether or not they're authorized. So please, sit back and let me talk to them instead of taking most of my attention to keep you from wrecking me?"

Echo's face is completely blank for a long, silent moment, but her processors are redlining. "No offense intended," she begins tonelessly, sliding the knife back into her boot sheath. "But you've given me very little choice." Gently, her body weight eases back into the seat, hands resting on her knees after a cursory search for her handgun. Missing. "However, if what you say is true, I have you to thank for bringing me back online." The corner of her mouth twitches upward in a sly, indulgent smile. "I'll be good."

The canopy slowly retracts back down to its "regular" state. "Thank you. I promise to minimize the duration of the period without choice, though honestly, the perception of freedom of action is often far too optimistic even for flesh people. This was the best solution I could find to bring you back online with maximum freedom longer-term. Anything else ended with you being destroyed, or being enslaved by your manufacturer. I'll return your weapons when I am allowed to."

Mike checks the power levels. "You're at four percent charge now. I could bring you to full charge much faster but it involves directly manipulating the composition of your body, and that's not without risk, and you haven't given me permission. So."

"You're speaking of free will," Echo dryly observes without giving any indication of how she feels about it. "And the ends justifying the means. I understand. You decided the outcome you wanted and pursued it by whatever means were available to you." Simplistic, ruthless perhaps, but no less true. "I assume that I'll be disarmed and confined, so it may be in your own best interests not to fully recharge me. I may be considered less dangerous if I can't get very far."

"I am. I don't like removing volition from sapient entities. And I apologize for infringing on your free will in this situation, but when you asked me for help, I accepted the responsibility for your actions to the extent that my help enabled those actions. In this case I attempted to choose the outcome that was most consistent with what I understood your desires to be, while increasing your freedom to choose over the longest term. If I turn out to be mistaken then I will do everything within my ability to correct that mistake, even if it results in my own destruction."

Apparently Echo's concise words stung some well of verbosity. "I know that it's not completely logical, but if you consider it, the ends do not so much justify the means as the means form the ends, and my ends are determined by what I believe to be necessary to express compassion for others. I will recharge you to the extent that you wish me to do so, but I will not be permitted to do so in future unless they determine that they can trust you. I don't know what they will require to secure that trust."

Mike's voice indicates a bit of stress, if he were human. Is he adding that for verisimilitude, or to mislead?

"Please. Tell me now what constraints you will not tolerate so that I will be able to recognize them even if you aren't allowed to communicate this. And if you don't want to stay here, I can take you elsewhere - but I won't be able to come back here myself if that happens. They'll hunt me down."

More stone-faced silence from the military android follows Mike's sudden bout of logorrhea. "You're right," Echo agrees at last. "It's not completely logical. I've done nothing for you and still you say you'll put yourself at risk for my sake. I'll gladly accept a full recharge even though it's not the safest course of action you could take. Leaving me with only minimal power would strengthen your position and weaken mine. It's what I would do." She folds her arms across her chest and glances up toward the semi-opaque canopy of the submersible. "I have little in the way of bargaining power at the moment. Making demands seems ill-advised. However… you've done well by me. I'll stay, and cooperate. I have no constraints or conditions, save one." A pause. "If it is decided I have to be destroyed, I will fight. And I will not be gentle about it."

That gets a snort of laughter from Mike. "Well, yeah, I would too. OK, I'm going to depolarize the canopy. There are four large weapons pointed at us which you will understand as security measures taken by persons who know what skills you have demonstrated. It seems overkill to me, but I agreed to do this even though it does put me at risk. As you see, I'm NOT overstating my commitment. But this is the kind of thing that people do for other people. It does not make military sense, but to survive optimally you may need to learn to operate in a non-military context. And you may not have to do so. Part of why I was allowed to bring you in rather than them finding and destroying you, was so they could see if you could be recruited."

The canopy slowly becomes transparent, showing the weapons trained on the submersible, and one rather-too-calm woman in a SHIELD uniform standing at parade rest next to it. She has black hair in a tight regulation cut, and her eyes are as friendly as chips of granite.

"Trading one master for another?" Echo asks in a soft sardonic voice, smirking as she does so. As the sub's canopy clears to full transparency, Echo's single good eye moves in slow sweeps across the revealed docking bay. "I don't recognize those weapons. Make, model, or manufacturer." Though outwardly deadpan, there is another radical spike of processor activity. Finally the android's eye comes to rest on the SHIELD agent, matching the blank unfriendly look with an unblinking stare. This goes on for several seconds, neither one relenting in the least. "Tough crowd," Echo asides, moving her mouth as little as possible.

"Trading a master who thinks of you as a sentient with some degree of rights as opposed to one who designs you with just enough capacity to function as a human that you know it's broken and insufficient, and then tries to kill you when you follow your programming." That's a very good guess, not a certainty, yet. And Mike doesn't identify the weapons. They're something special that Tony Stark whipped together one day while bored, fifteen years ago. They don't hurt biologicals nearly as much as they do machinery.

"She's the security. They're waiting for me to tell them that you're charged enough to function. I choose to interpret that as meaning fully charged. That's insubordinate but I'm a student here, not an agent. I can still get away with insubordination. You'll end up speaking with several agents, including one who has a form of machine telepathy. I have been told by another mechanical that he's able to tell when someone is sentient, or borderline sentient, and that he is an advocate for our side against the ones who consider us disposable tools. On the downside there'll also be someone who will take the position that you're a dangerous weapon, unauthorized and malfunctioning, and should be destroyed. Please don't hold it against him; it's his job to do that."

"I couldn't tell you what the people who designed me were thinking. I never spoke to them. I don't generally talk to a lot of people, so this should be interesting. The facts are that I am a dangerous weapon, I am unauthorized, and I am malfunctioning. This is all true." Echo keeps her eye fixed on the security agent, picking out armaments, equipment, general physical ability, as she is wont to do. "Six percent charge," she reports helpfully, if unnecessarily. Mike already must know, as he also must know that the initial charging cycles progress the fastest. "This will take a while. You really intend to keep them waiting all that time?" She seems, if anything, genuinely amused by this tiny act of defiance.

"I can use an alternate technique with your kind of battery. It'll finish in three hours. Would shorten life if I did it often, but they use it to apply the initial charges. I doubt they'll want to wait though - they'll probably ask me to …"

The woman taps her watch and says, "Burning hours, Drakos. You want to be mobile or would you like us to carry you?"

"And … yeah. This will be a bit strange."

The submersible shifts around and becomes something more like a cross between a Ducati motorcycle and a scooter. A power cable also appears, "rezzing" into place. It's not terribly long and reaches … wherever it's supposed to reach.

"Sorry, was talking," Mike says. "Lead on."

The tethered cable trails up the back of Echo's jacket to somewhere near the base of her spine. It speaks volumes of Mike's technical acumen that it actually fits the non-standard charging socket there. With a careful deliberate slowness Echo raises her hands from her sides, apparently unperturbed by the impossible physics just displayed, and holds them up, palms out and empty. Surrender is not a new concept, but being the one who's surrendering is. In a deadpan voice as dry as desert sand, she says, "Take me to your leader."

The black-haired woman seems to find the humor … but doesn't do anything with it. They arrive shortly in a secure room. And what happened in there remains in there until it gets declassified.

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