This Little Piggy

Geppetto has always hated children. Their shrill, piercing voices infuriated him; grated on his ears, made him wince. They returned the favour, of course, and avoided him, but he felt their mocking laughter follow him everywhere. They would make fun of his wig, for though it was relatively unobtrusive when clean, by the end of his day’s work it would be reduced to a soaking rag, sweat lending it the colour of rancid porridge. It would be grossly unfair to reduce his life’s work to simply an expression of this hatred, but there was an undeniable sense of satisfaction as the last of the diminutive limbs came free under the teeth of the saw.

This one was to be a replacement for Prototype 1 (NeuroOperative Combatant) 13, one of the fabled “Three Little Pigs”. The King had been fool enough to lend P1-NOC-13 to a party of favoured nobles as a bodyguard for some damn fool trip, where they’d predictably fallen prey to a rebel ambush. Now the bastard troublemakers were trumpeting their little victory everywhere, and it was vital that a replacement was forged immediately to discredit their claims.

Geppetto did not like working under pressure, but it was a necessary sacrifice. He had always refused to allow mass-production of his creations, claiming the resources he needed were prohibitively rare and expensive, which was true to a point. He had to admit, though, it was mostly because the idea of some automated construction line churning out wave after wave of inferior copies disgusted him. He was not some posturing engineer or scientist whose work could be blueprinted. He was a craftsman, an artisan. He had always resisted the lure of those cheap appellations that others were always showering upon themselves: he was not a Doctor, he was not a General or a Count. He remained mister Geppetto, and took no small amount of pride in that fact. Pride has its price, of course, and his insistence on personally crafting P1-NOC-13b meant he had to work at speed. He could not afford the leisurely perfectionism he was prone to.

He wiped a trail of sweat from his forehead. It was always infernally hot in Doagfiithg or, as the foreign-born cretins the Crown called assistants insisted on mispronouncing it, “Dogfish”. The climate was warm enough even without the many furnaces that adorned the vast workshop, bathing it in a dull red light. Most found the hot, acrid air chokingly unpleasant, but Geppetto had long been used to it, and breathed it in: the smell of true craftsmanship.

The first arms that his apprentices showed him were unworkable. The plates were far too close on the first, which would lead to the metal becoming brittle over time, while the second had some of the worst servo-motor work Geppetto had ever seen. He cursed loudly and struck the oaf that brought them. The third he could use, though it was not until a half hour later he had reworked it into something he considered fit for one of his creations. He was glad the voicebox had been removed from the biocore. Not strictly necessary, but it stopped them screaming, and the pained whining was far less of a distraction. Geppetto began the complicated task of attaching the arm to the bloody shoulder-stump. Most of the workings would be hidden inside the chest cavity, with the biocore taking up very little space inside the hulking suit, but that was no excuse to do a messy job of it.

It would take several years of chemical programming and good old-fashioned brainwashing before P1-NOC-13b was fit to enter the King’s personal service. But a relatively simple, if powerful, cocktail of drugs should ensure passivity for at least a few public appearances alongside its siblings. Public confidence in the untouchability of His Majesty’s protectors must be maintained.

As he worked, Geppetto’s mind wandered. He imagined the look on Dr Capelli’s face if she knew that he now used children in the work they had pioneered together. She had never had the stomach for the NOC project to begin with, but he couldn’t deny that her work on prosthesis integration had been a vital piece of the puzzle. He remembered her expression when, after nine failures, they constructed their first successful prototype. He remembered her hair, dyed that ridiculous shade of turquoise, lit by the red glare of the furnaces. He remember her youthful, pretty face twisted into a mask of discomfort as P1-NOC-10 had taken its first faltering steps.

It should have come as no surprise, really. Using an adult as the biocore, with a fully developed mind and will, was an obvious mistake. Geppetto should have known it would be able to lie, to deceive, but he was not like Dr Capelli. He had never paid enough attention to notice the physical tics and manifestations that gave away when P1-NOC-10 defied its programming. It was, perhaps, predictable that when the psychological problems of integration began to manifest in front of the sympathetic Dr Capelli, the two of them would end up escaping together. They sneaked on board the HMSS Cricket, a small freighter that periodically resupplied Doagfiithg, and were off into the stars. Apparently they were with the resistance now, and P1-NOC-10 was causing havoc among the crown troops. Maybe one day it would return, and the father would face his prodigal son.

It was of no real matter, Geppetto concluded, as he fastened on the faceplate, still hot from the forge. P1-NOC-10’s problems had given him the final insights he needed, and it was not long after that he had constructed P1-NOC-11, the first of the Little Pigs. Soon enough this one, like its siblings, would grow into the suit, mind and body fused into the armour like a limb or an organ. It may have been done in a hurry, but Geppetto was confident he had not compromised on quality. He was, after all, a true craftsman.