lb_lee: A happy little brain with a bandage on it, surrounded by a circle and the words LB Lee. (#59428217)
[personal profile] lb_lee
This prompt is for [livejournal.com profile] voces, who requested someone with social issues in a world where social ability is everything. It's a follow-up to Loveathon's Limited Warranty; you're best off reading that one first.

Social Networking

Gwyneth loathed parties with talking people.

It wasn’t noise or people that bothered her. She never would’ve made it on the front line otherwise, with its constant shelling and crowding. The hiss and pulse of the Brikt cores, warm metal and flesh, these were comforting sensations. It was just… speech. Speech felt like harsh plastic, on her skin and in her ears. And these people… they were human like her, but they had a whole realm of social rules she didn’t understand, their own way of doing things. Brikts might’ve been only 24% meat, but they’d never had a problem with her skin or her scars, and she’d never had any trouble understanding them.

But now the war was over, and Megacorp had liquidated its infantry. All the Brikts were long past their warranty, working around worn parts, dead grafts, and non-fatal errors. Without the constant attention of a patcher, the regiment—her family—would fall apart. If staying with them meant schmoozing at a Megacorp post-war party, wearing earphones to block out ambient chatter, then she would.

At least she had Mike05 as emotional support. With him at her side, she steeled herself and slipped into the nearest circle of shareholders. They wore bright, tight-fitting clothes, held delicate glasses between thin fingers, and chattered incessantly. Their words grated and buzzed like flies.

“Why Lawrence, darling, I haven’t seen you in ages, how’s accounting?”

“Booming, Janet, just booming. You know, I’m almost sorry the war’s over, it was so—”

“I’m not,” Gwyneth said.

The conversation screeched to a halt. The shareholders turned to stare. Their scrutiny was almost as bad as their conversation. Gwyneth tried her best to smile, feeling her scars pull, sweat seeping into her unfashionable dress.

Nervous laughter, like bubble-wrap on her mind. “Well, of course you wouldn’t. You must be one of our war heroes. Is this borg yours?”

“No. I’m patcher for Mike05’s regiment, commanded by Marsha9. Now that the war’s over, we’re looking for a new position.” There. That sounded good.

One woman leaned over to peer at Mike05 through her glasses. Mike05 gave Gwyneth a long-suffering look but didn’t resist.

“Oh! A Brikt regiment. Those were under Ricky, weren’t they?” Buzzing, saw-edged murmur of agreement. “Oh dear. I’m so sorry.”

Gwyneth didn’t know who Ricky was or why that was a reason to be sorry, but she gamely forged on. “We served with distinction. Our commander, Marsha9—”

“Oh please, the war’s over, dear, do try to keep up.” The woman was still looking over Mike05 in a way Gwyneth wasn’t sure she liked. “Can this one talk?”

“He speaks MSL.”

“Oh, borg-signing. I never did make head or tail of it. I’m surprised you managed to learn.”

“It’s not so bad.” It was smooth, silent grace, not like Corp Standard.

Under the guise of scratching his ear, Mike05 made as though to unplug his auditory graft. For Brikts, emotions such as annoyance were slow, ponderous things, but he seemed to be getting there. She couldn’t say she blamed him. At the moment, she envied his off-switch. She gave his arm a squeeze—hard, so he’d feel it through the neuropathy.

“Is it just you and the borg?” The woman asked, straightening.

Something sounded wrong. People were snickering. Gwyneth looked around, but couldn’t reason why. Glancing at Mike05 didn’t help; he just gave her a shrug and a go-ahead gesture.

“No. We’re a full regiment… what’s left of it, I mean. There’s fourteen of us left.”

“All Brikts?”

“Except me. I’m their patcher.”

“Hmm.” Her eyes on Gwyneth felt like ice. “Well—”

Mike05 put a proprietary arm around Gwyneth’s shoulders, and for a moment, he and the woman stared each other down. Apparently they reached some kind of accord; they both relaxed and averted their eyes after a moment.

“I didn’t realize he could hear,” the woman said.

“Mostly,” Gwyneth said. “It’s just his vocal processor with the…”

“Spare me. Your commander was… Marsha16, you said?”

“Marsha9. She’s over there, by…”

“Thank you, my dear girl.” And much to Gwyneth’s irritation, the woman patted her on the head and swept off towards Marsha9. She didn’t ask them to come along, and after a few seconds of indecision, Gwyneth let it go. Marsha9 could hear and mostly speak. She’d be fine.

The rest of the cluster of shareholders still seemed to be suppressing their amusement, sending meaningful glances back and forth that Gwyneth couldn’t interpret. Without any apparent communication, they closed ranks and returned to their plastic-flutter conversation, ignoring the infantrymen. After a few aborted conversational attempts, Gwyneth retreated to the snack bar with Mike05, face burning with humiliation.

“Are you all right?” He asked, heavy hands signing slow and smooth.

“Wishing I could unplug my ears like you,” she replied, cranking up the volume on her earbuds until the world was all white noise. “Who was that woman?”

“I don’t know, but she has an attraction to borgs, I think.”

Gwyneth snorted. “If so, you’d think she’d bother to learn MSL…” Gwyneth tugged at her sleeves, blotted at her sweaty underarms with napkins. “I should’ve worn my uniform too. I feel like a mourner.”

He made a gesture of sympathy and handed her a cookie. She decided he had the right idea and let food and white noise soothe her nerves.

A couple little cups of sorbet later, Marsha9 returned. It turned out that Mike05 was right.

“She wants us in her household,” Marsha9 signed. “The entire regiment. It turns out our model is most attractive to her, and there aren’t many of us around.”

Gwyneth wrung her hands. Even with the white noise, all the people and stares were sawing at her nerves. She fluttered her hands indecisively. “But…”

Marsha9’s signing grew stronger, more angular. “This shareholder will keep us together in good condition, show us off, and she knows everybody, which means we will know everybody. Do you have a better opportunity?” For a moment, Marsha9’s broad, plain face looked worn and tired. “Tonight, we’ll discuss her offer as a regiment. Tomorrow, I’ll tell her our decision. Together, we’ll be all right. Let’s go.”

And the three of them left the party, with its cocktail dresses, laughter, and expensive snacks.

Date: 2013-08-19 01:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aubergine-pilot.livejournal.com
Well.

That was... horrifying.

I mean. Well-written. Effective. But I need a shower.

Date: 2013-08-19 01:43 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-11-09 05:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] voces.livejournal.com
This is a fantastic story - thanks for writing this for us. ♥ I think you've captured...the creepiness of fetishisation very effectively, and some...'autistic-like' experiences too.

~K.

Date: 2013-11-09 06:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lb-lee.livejournal.com
Yeah. I don't think Gwyneth is autism-spectrum, necessarily, just way out of her depth and with some stray sensory integration issues.

--Rogan
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