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In Which Misfortune Will Soon Befall Our Protagonist - A 'Bad Days' Interlude
Posted By: kabu<will36@gmail.com>
Date: 13 February 2009, 3:46 am

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      "No. No no no, no way, no how, not gonna happen. Get lost."
      Lieutenant Colonel Christina Zhao visibly restrained herself from snapping completely, settling instead for an exasperated glare. They were only five minutes into their first face-to-face conversation, and she could see that he was not going to be at all cooperative. Well, maybe "exasperated" and "uncooperative" weren't exactly the right words; more like "homicidal" and "in a state of asinine denial."
      "That's Mister Leon to you, Christi."
      "Shut up. Leon, this is not a request. This is an order, you imbecile."
      "I'm telling you, I'm fine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me."
      Zhao turned her back to him and stalked over to her desk. Really, there wasn't much room to stalk. Her office in the lower reaches of CASTLE base was, for lack of a better word, cramped. It was very Spartan (though not SPARTAN, of course. She still shuddered when she thought of the top-secret program). Just a desk on one side, bare except for an old tablet, a door on the other and a washed-out patch on the wall where the previous occupant had hung a picture. Of course, this wasn't by choice. Somebody very high up had gotten very pissed off when she voiced her disapproval at the Argus program, the pet project of some pathetic ONI official on a power trip, and she was hustled out of her old spacious office and moved down fifty-three stories to this dump. Her rug, her paintings (she always felt a little proud of the paintings), even her goddamn coffee mug were in some mysterious limbo of the sort that can only be conjured up by a massive bureaucracy like the UNSC. Privately, Zhao had a grim suspicion that her possessions had been appropriated by that weasel, Colonel Watson.
      Anyway, she managed a credible stalking gait in the two steps it took to cross to her desk and pick up her tablet. She tapped the stylus a few times to pull up the familiar document, already loaded on the screen, resolutely keeping her back to Leon. Zhao had read it over a half dozen times in the last half hour to prepare for the dreaded interview, a frustratingly sparse psychological report. The doctor must have been just as anxious to end the conversation as Christina was now.
      "You're fine, you say. Doctor Einrich begs to differ. His report seems quite conclusive." Zhao cleared her throat and read out loud, still facing her desk. "Leon, as expected from his background, has an excellent tactical warfare skillset and an unprecedented ability in deductive and predictive thought processes-"
      "You bet I do." Leon twirled his bowler hat around a finger. Zhao glared at him, and he subsided a bit. She resumed her oration without further interruption.
      "However, his volatile temperament and refusal to submit to proper authority has rendered him all but useless in the capacity that the Admiralty has assigned to him. It is my professional recommendation that Leon be removed from combat operations and placed in an auxiliary, low-priority management position." She placed the tablet back on her cheap plastic desk.
      "Now, Leon, this was written before project Argus. It was decided that the risk was worth the reward, and they went ahead anyway. We all know what happened there."
      "Yeah, I took down three Covenant cruisers."
      "It was one cruiser and two battle-damaged frigates, you miserable twit. The enemy cruiser went down into the atmosphere along with one of our cruisers, and no fewer than five of your frigates were so damaged that they have to be scrapped! What the hell is wrong with you?"
      "Hey, sweetcake-"
      "Sweetcake? The fu-" She whirled around, dropping the tablet in the process, to stare at him in what can only be described as Hellish Wrath. She had been feeling that way a lot, lately
      Leon just grinned at her. "That was the whole point of Argus. A hundred eyes-"
      "Did you just call me s-"
      "One artificial intelligence in direct control of a whole battle group, all with skeleton crews, no captains."
      "There were no survivors, Leon! You destroyed four fucking ships trying to ram them, you jackass! Two of them nearly crushed a city!"
      "That was so awesome when I rammed the Cruiser from two directions at once. Squished like a pancake. And please, it's Mister Leon."
      "I swear to God, if you keep that up I will destroy you. There is a claw hammer in the closet down the hall. I will take that hammer, find your memory crystal, and I will destroy your miserable, misogynist, pinstripe-wearing holographic ass."
      Leon lifted a translucent hand to the breast of his old-fashioned suit jacket – its jacket, Zhao furiously reminded herself, not his – and put on an expression of mock contrition.
      "But Christi-"
      "Don't call me-"
      "Christi, my dear, I thought we had such a wonderful relationship. I've only just met you, but your dazzling presence has filled my heart with such joy." His voice dripped with enough sarcasm to drown a whale.
      Christina sat down on her desk and held her head in her hands. She steadied the desk when it wobbled under her slight frame – the damn thing might as well have been made of cobwebs. As soon as she moved her hands, the jade comb fell out of her tidy bun – her hair was a bit longer than regulation – and fell to the floor, letting her hair tangle around her fingers. She left the pin lying on the bare concrete.
      Why did she even try to start this useless conversation, she thought. Why couldn't he be a "dumb" AI? They were so easy to deal with. Just give them an order, they gave a cheerful "yes ma'am" and went on their way. Get me those files. Yes ma'am. Coordinate the attack. At your convenience, ma'am. Self destruct if you please, we're being boarded. At once, ma'am! Strange things happened when you turn somebody's brain into an artificial construct.
      Leon hitched his old-fashioned trousers a bit and went to one holographic knee. He mimed picking up the pin – a transparent copy appeared in his hand – and offered it to her with a little bow. Zhao threw a pencil through him.
      "Leon, do you know who's brain you came from?"
      "Admiral Marcer's, I believe."
      "I knew him, you know. One of the most decorated senior officers in the fleet. Lead his armada into combat under overwhelming odds, never missed a single victory. Died of a heart attack in his office a month ago."
      "I had no idea! I'm so very sorry, my little sweetcake."
      Zhao didn't rise to the bait, just glared at his insolent grin.
      "Don't be. He was just as much of an asshole as you. You have no idea how pissed I was when they pulled you out of his brain. The only reason you haven't been erased yet is because people respected the old man, and AIs are expensive."
      She stood up straight, trying to assume some authority over the construct.
      "Here's the deal. You have two choices. One, you go to Alpha Aquilae, a miserable little planet with no real significance and almost no civilian population. You will help out with the administration of the day-to-day affairs of the base there, a standard seven-Outpost configuration."
      "I told you five minutes ago, I'm not gonna do it. No way, cupcake. Not gonna happen."
      "Cupcake? I can't believe – oh, fuck it. As I was saying. It's the most out of the way planet with a Covenant presence. There's a lot of deuterium in the oceans that they want for fuel, but their cruiser just dropped off a few battalions and glassed a city before scooting off to the Inner Colonies. The Covenant don't seem to think it's important enough to send backup. I hear it's run by some incompetent jackass who's already lost Outpost 4 and nearly lost Outpost 5 as well. You should fit right in. The second choice, I grab your crystal and smash it until it's reduced to a fine, non-sapient powder. I will then drink a toast to your death, and throw a party."
      Zhao's voice had risen steadily through her speech to override Leon's constant stream of objections, insults, and lewd comments. By the end, he was reduced to muttering to himself and staring at the wall. When she finished, Leon roused himself for a retort.
      "Okay. Listen, you bit-"
      "If you finish that sentence, I'm going to, I'm going to- to- to- you know what, there actually isn't anything more I can threaten you with. Congratulations, you win." The Colonel threw her hands in the air and stalked – or stepped, as it may be – over to her pathetic excuse for a desk. "You don't have a choice in the matter. I don't even know why I'm still talking to you. I was just supposed to give you your assignment. Now I'm going to shut off the hologram, deliver your psychologically unbalanced crystal to the next outbound ship, and then find whoever stole my rug and beat him up for a few hours. That'll cheer me right up."
      She had muttered that last sentence to herself, but of course the microphones in the walls picked it up for Leon to hear. He leered at Zhao as she firmly hit a button on her desk and his image slowly faded to transparency as the projector on the ceiling cooled down. The last thing to vanish was his smile.
      Zhao scooped up her pin and left the office, grateful that the long hallway allowed her to stalk properly for once. She felt that she had a lot of stalking, pacing, striding and possibly even prowling to do to get Leon out of her system. He's somebody else's problem now, she thought. Now where is Colonel Watson's office? I'm going to kick down his door and take my rug back, damn the consequences. Let the Marines on Aquilae deal with Leon.