The extraction took seven hours.
Much quicker than Jane had expected.
Accessing military implants was no easy task. Any wrong move could set off the sensors meant to detect tampering and slag the implant, which usually made the extraction a 12 hour process.
Koya’s mutations and cellular degradation had necessitated relocating the implants from their standard locations, which might have made for an even longer extraction.
Fortunately, in more ways than one, many of Koya’s implants had been destroyed, making recovery impossible. Jane would have audibly sighed if she wasn’t being watched.
A few slaves had come in to take Koya’s body away as she peeled off gloves soaked in putrid blood and pus. The slaves, tall natives to the local region of this Earth, were clearly uncomfortable with the smell, which Jane supposed was the natural and healthy response. It was impossible to ignore the smells of death entirely, but Jane had worked for Julians long enough that she could endure them better than most.
The slaves and the soldier turned again to let her change, and when she was finished, the slaves left with Koya and the soiled surgical clothes. Both were bound for the incinerator. The soldier, who had spent the last 5 hours seated against the most comfortable bit of wall they could find, packed up the small terminal.
“Are you ready to go?” they’d asked in that soldier’s-growl.
“Yes,” she said
“Finally,” the soldier sighed.
Jane smiled more directly at the soldier as they left the room, “Not precisely your speed I take it?”
The soldier paused a half step to look back at her with their featureless face. She regretted saying it as soon as it left her mouth. Janes weren’t supposed to be so casual with soldiers. Rules, damn it all. She let herself get sloppy.
“My apologies,” Jane said hurriedly. Maybe it was the new implant. That could be it. Messing with her blood sugar levels. Maybe it was the cold. These tunnels held steady at just around 50°F, and she was still in sheer stockings from her formal dress meeting with Linisa. That could be it: The cold making her annoyed.
“It’s fine,” the soldier grunted, “You’re right. I guess I got a bit bored in there.”
“It’s not my place to say, Soldier,” Jane said, eyes down.
“Why do Does do that?” the soldier asked in its foul sounding voice.
“What are you referring to, Soldier?”
“That,” the soldier gestured to her, “None of you will look me in the eye? Do you think I’m gonna slap you or something?”
Jane looked at the soldier confusedly, “…Rules, Soldier. Of course.”
“It’s in the rules that you have to look away from me?”
“Are…are you new, Soldier?” Jane asked.
The soldier stopped, and huffed out a single syllable laugh, “I guess so. I’ve only been off my Earth for a few months. Weren’t any Johns and Janes at my old outpost on ES 89.”
“No, there wouldn’t be would there,” Jane nodded. Does were certainly cheap, but they were worth more than the trouble of putting them in every backwater garrison within the Coalition’s domain. Especially the toxic wastes of ES 89.
“So what’s the rules that keep you from looking me in the eye?” the soldier pressed.
“The Homeland had prescribed that unless we are invited to we must treat the agents of the Julians with the utmost respect,” Jane recited from rote, “As offworld agents of the Homeland we are to defer to and follow all instructions of the Julians and their appointed representatives.”
“That seems familiar,” the soldier muttered.
“The proper level of respect must be maintained,” Jane keep reading the mental script seared into her mind, “Please forgive my impertinence.”
“Impertinence?” The soldier shook their head, “Your Homeland sounds pretty messed up.”
Jane stopped dead in her tracks, and found herself blurting out, “You come from a world bathed in radioactive waste.”
The soldier chuckled through the modulator, “So you’re like a real person huh?”
Jane stopped smiling, “Yes. I am actually.”
Maybe it was blood sugar, or the cold.
Or maybe, she’d just spent hours ripping open her best friend in all the universe with a scalpel and she could use someone to talk to.
“Sorry,” the soldier held up a hand, “Just seems like most of the division treats Does like robots.”
“We might as well be,” Jane growled, “Implants start going in at birth, basic conditioning from age three until fifteen, then specialist training until twenty. Most of my people don’t even understand that there’s more than just following procedure. They can’t even think outside the schema drilled into them by the Homeland. They’re…We’re…basically all living automatons most of the time.”
“You certainly don’t sound like an automaton,” the soldier asked, pressing the button for the elevator when they reached the end of the concrete hallway.
“My apologies, soldier” Jane slipped the smile back on, “I fear my new synthetics may be affecting my blood sugar levels. I will report to the infirmary for an inspection at my earliest opportunity.”
“Ha…I get it,” the soldier chuckled again, “Your homeland sounds worse than mine to be honest.”
“Truly, soldier?” Jane asked.
“I mean, sure. We have burned our world, but at least the Taskmasters leave it to us most of the time. Seems we get more freedom than just about anywhere else I’ve seen in Coalition space though,” the elevator door pinged and opened, and the soldier stepped inside.
Following them, Jane made a small gesture toward the sensor apparatus in the elevator’s corner, triggering her implants to take control of it. She altered its audio input to a simple track filled with standard elevator sounds. When she was sure it was done, she turned away from the camera and said aloud, “I’ll have to look away from the camera while I speak.”
“Why?” the soldier asked before nodding, “Rules?”
“Yes,” she whispered, “I shouldn’t even be speaking to you without disabling your own memory implant from recording this.”
“I’ll let you take a look at it when we’re done,” the soldier said from behind the mask, “Wouldn’t want to get you in trouble. These things do malfunction all the time, right?”
“Thank you for that,” Jane allowed her smile to be completely genuine for the second time in one night, “Tell me more of your world. I’ve only ever seen ES 89 from orbit.”
“It’s a fucking hell hole compared to this Earth,” the soldier said, staring straight ahead. With that mask, and the altered audio, the sensors wouldn’t be able to tell they said anything at all. “I grew up in the Manitoba Sanctum. Place was falling apart before I was even born, honestly. Whole outer ring was frozen over year round until I was a teen. Taskmasters fixed it up for us, but the price was pretty high.”
“What did you have to give them? Submission?” Jane asked.
“Oh no. We were already diverting mineral and food production to our ‘alien overlords’ long before that. Fixing the sanctum’s outer ring required more. They wanted slaves. We weren’t really in a position to say no, so we gave them what they wanted.”
“Is that why you’re here?”
“Oh no. We didn’t give them any over our own people. The sanctum’s operators sent out raiding parties into the wastes. They rounded up mutants and unfortunate scavengers by the truckload and handed them over to the Julians.”
“That sounds like Julian strategy to me,” Jane said, “Making themselves indispensable, then making you betray your own kind.”
The soldier shrugged, “No worse than my own people honestly.”
Jane raised an eyebrow, “How so?”
“I mean, we didn’t need the Julians help to kill our world. We were already turning on ourselves. They just took advantage when we were down,” the soldier sighed, “Anyway. I didn’t see much of my Earth until I signed up for transfer to the newly built Julian Sanctum.”
“Ah,” Jane groaned, “A volunteer.”
“It was better than dying on the streets of Manitoba,” the Soldier said defensively, “And I couldn’t stay there once I started to manifest a mutation.”
“Perhaps,” Jane agreed.
“Anyway, some Taskmaster at processing took a liking to me, and thought I’d make a good pit fighter with a few modifications,” the soldier stretched their arms, drawing Jane’s attention to the rucksack like bulge in the back of their armor.
“Synthetics?” She asked.
“Biologics actually. My mutation “needed some refinement,” they told me.”
“Seems like an extensive work,” Jane mused.
“It was,” the soldier grumbled “Anyway, I did ok in the ring I guess. I’m still here at least, but I’m definitely glad it’s behind me.”
The elevator door opened. Jane undid her modifications to the camera with a flick of her fingers, and took half a moment to erase the evidence.
“Will you be escorting me all the way to the Jane’s dormitory, soldier?” Jane asked, all submissive deference and standardized Jane demure.
“Yes,” the soldier barked, badly pretending to be gruf and annoyed, “Let’s move.”
It was the early hours of the morning by the local clock. Most of the facility staff were still asleep, but a few slaves could be seen here and there. There were approximately 1,500 slaves on the island between this facility and the slave barracks. Even more if you included the Does and the ‘indentured’ mutants. Comparing that to the garrison of 50 soldiers and perhaps 12 Julians at any given time, it was hard to resist the urge to attack the facilities network and disable every last one of the implants that kept the slaves in check.
Of course, Jane wasn’t even sure she could deactivate all the implants remotely. And even if she could, automated defenses and a fleet of drones would crush any attempt at an uprising.
And even if the they could somehow overcome the automated defenses, by the time they did the Julians would all be safely ascending the elevator up to orbit. From there they could hurl a javelin down the gravity well, wipe out the entire island in one shot, and simply start over elsewhere.
There was no way to beat them. Not directly.
They key was information. It was always information.
Jane knew this most of all, coming from the Homeland. Homeland kept all it’s information sequestered, intent on making sure nobody had the full picture. Once Jane had acquired that picture, she’d embarked on a quest to undo every last bit of programming she’d received.
And yet, here she was, still collecting information, still trying to set it free, but still serving homeland and the Julian Taskmasters.
They arrived at the door to the Janes’ dormitory.
She turned to the Soldier and whispered, “There are no visual sensors inside, come in and I will access your implants through your armor, and wipe any evidence of our conversation.”
“Is that really necessary?” the soldier asked, similarly trying to whisper, “I mean, we bad mouth the Julians all the time in the barracks.”
Jane shook her head, “You’re soldiers, it’s expected. I’m a Jane. Janes don’t do that.”
“What about the time? It took you all night to get at that one guy’s implants.”
“That was physical access of the full suite. I just need digital access through your armor’s mesh for this,” Jane explained, “It won’t take me more than an hour. Maybe two.”
The soldier nodded, “Won’t it be suspicious though? Me being in there that long, I mean.”
“It’s not unheard of for soldiers to enter the Doe dormitories for ‘recreational activities,’” Jane grimaced at her own euphemism. Johns and Janes were considered equipment after all. Some of the soldiers saw it a simply masturbation. It was looked down on as a mild perversion, and the Julians discouraged it publically, but nobody bothered enforcing a ban on it.
The soldier paused. Jane imagined their hidden face wrinkling in disgust, but perhaps that was just wishful thinking.
“Ok,” they said, “Lead the way.”