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The workshop was silent when Owl came through the door. She let her supplies and toolkit fall with a sigh and gave herself a moment to let the wall take her weight. Everything from her neck down to the tips of her fingers ached; she rubbed at the knotted muscles in her arms, then felt for the switch on the wall and flipped it on.
“Jay?” she called as light flooded the room. The workshop was a disaster as usual, covered in mechanized toys and limbs and other knick-knacks she couldn’t make heads or tails of. There was only one significant absence, and Owl frowned as she made her way through the only navigable path amid her sister’s work.
It was unusually cold, and she stifled a shiver and pushed aside a wheeled robotic torso to reach the power box in the wall. The generator was clearly dead. She fiddled with the knob for a few moments, but the comforting hum of the heater stayed absent.
“Are you doing temp-sensitive experiments again?” she called irritably, giving up on the heating. “For the last time, Jay, you can’t just turn off the generator like that. The boiler, the faucets - even your charging power relies on it. And it’s like an icebox in here.”
Still no reply. Owl sighed again and changed tactics. “Sparks?”
No paws clattering excitedly across the floor, nor the eager panting of Sparks’ leaky bellows for lungs came to her ears. That was considerably stranger than Jay’s silence, and a feeling of foreboding crept into Owl’s mind. “Sparks! Come here, boy!”
No response. Even Jay drew a line at experimenting on Sparks. Breaking into a half-jog, Owl burst into the kitchen and flicked the lights. They stayed off, and she stifled a curse. Shuffling forward, she nearly tripped over something that made a metallic clank against her foot, and she knelt down and felt at the disassembled pieces - bits of gear, tin, and leather parts for flexibility, worn thin from years of petting.
Owl’s fingers found the discharger pistol at her waistband, and she clutched at the grip and drew it out. Light seeped from beneath the door at the other end of the kitchen, leading into the clinic where she occasionally did charity work when she could afford it. The barrel of her discharger, and the metal of Sparks’ body at her feet, glinted in the dim glow.
The person bent over Jay’s supine figure on the cot whipped around when Owl kicked the door open. The blast she shot fell short and scorched the floor in front of the cot, but the man immediately shifted to put Jay between Owl and himself. The reason for his earlier position was clear; Jay’s shirt was cut at the front and the flap on her chest was popped open, and even from here Owl could see the tangle of multicoloured wires spilling out from it. The man had several clutched in one hand, and in the other he held a pair of clippers. Honest-to-God clippers, like what one would use to trim a hedge and assuredly not at the delicate machinery keeping one’s sibling alive.
“Now, I know what you’re going to say already,” the man said. “‘Break her heart and I’ll break your face’, am I right?” He laughed, a high-pitched, quavering sound. His pupils were pin-pricked, eyes staring, face as white as his white-knuckled grip on the clippers. His hands shook and Owl wanted to scream, get away from my sister, you monster, do not think I won’t hesitate to shoot you dead.
“What do you want?” she said, voice tight. She aimed the discharger and wished she had thought to bring something larger, far more advanced and powerful than this tiny, ancient relic of the early wars, useful only at point-blank range.
The man’s face shone with sweat. He raised the hand holding the clippers and wiped his forehead with his wrist, so Owl saw the faintly-glowing metal band, with its engraved serial number, wrapped around his forearm.
“Jay Matin is the best mechanic in the country,” he said.
“Anyone with an ounce of sense knows that,” Owl snarled. “What do you want?”
“They wouldn’t help me.” He blinked rapidly. “Probably couldn’t, even if they wanted to, and of course they didn’t. This is my last chance, you see. Gave me three months last time I checked, and I have less than that left at this rate.”
A horrible suspicion formed. “Three months for what?”
“They couldn’t help me,” he said again, eyes darting from side to side. “So I ran. I ran, even if I had to kill Fran and Tiger to do it. No donor list would take me. I would’ve died if I stayed.”
“What does that have to do with -” But he laughed again and cut her off.
“Isn’t it obvious? Everyone’s heard of Jay Matin. Smartest mind of her generation, saved herself even when the doctors couldn’t. I’m in the same situation as her, you see?” His grip tightened on the wires in Jay’s chest and her limbs jerked even in her unconsciousness, a jolt running through her body. Owl surged forward, but the man clutched Jay’s shoulder and pulled the wires even further out of her body, an unspoken threat. “Don’t come closer!”
“You don’t have to do this.” Owl knew she was begging and didn’t care one jot. “We can help you, if you let us. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“I know.” The man’s eyes gleamed with a feverish light. “So when I’ve taken this -” he shook his handful of wires and Jay thrashed again, “- then you can help me do what needs to be done. You’re a surgeon, aren’t you? You take charity cases all the time. This’ll just be another notch in your belt.” Tears ran down his cheeks. “I need this more than she does. She’s not the one with three weeks left to live. There’s no other existing model on this planet. She can always make herself another one once I’ve gotten hers -”
An electrical surge and crackle. Sparks (literal, not their dog) flew. Without a single gasp or cry, the man jerked, stiffened, and would’ve fallen over had Owl not been there to catch him before he could do so, and rip Jay’s life out in the process.
Jay grinned weakly up at her as Owl worked the man’s fingers off from around the wires. “Hello to you too,” she said, laying her head back down again. She held what looked like a small black razor in her hand that was still smoking slightly. “I save potentially both our lives, and don’t even get a word of thanks?”
“Shut up.” Owl untangled his fingers at last and let him fall to the ground, senseless. She resisted the urge to give his ribs a savage kick, and turned her attention to Jay’s chest, instead. Jay batted at her hands when she hovered worriedly over the mess.
“It’s fine, he didn’t do much. Just shove it back in place and close the flap.”
“He was shocking you, Jay,” Owl said. “You are the complete opposite of fine.”
“I think I can tell when I’m fine and when I’m not, thank you.” Jay caught Owl’s wrist before she could run for her medical bag, still sitting at the front door of the workshop. “Lay off, you hen. Nothing was disconnected and he didn’t hurt me much.”
“Much,” Owl repeated, and finally gave in to the urge to wrap her arms around her sister, avoiding the still-open flap as much as she could. Jay patted her back, somehow making the very gesture seem amused. “You absolute idiot,” Owl said into her shoulder.
“It’s hardly my fault I was attacked by an escaped convict in my workshop on a Friday night,” Jay said. “One good thing did come out of this, though, besides me saving both our butts.”
Jay held up the razor-like object and grinned again. “Got to test out my latest model. Pretty effective, as we just saw, though the results were perhaps more shocking than expected.”
Owl didn't hit Jay’s arm for that, but it was a near thing.