As one of the many poorly trained, incompetent, and physically unassuming female refugees who had decided to try their hand at life in a militia, Vella-00 was no one unique or special within the Azalea Free Company. After all, the Azalea was composed of many women like her, with their own reasons for joining the company. It was through no fault of their own that the Azalea was ill-equipped to handle the influx of new and inexperienced recruits. Everything from the training to the issued equipment was of low quality. The recruits were being trained on the cheap, reliable, yet thoroughly ancient AR-15 and AK-47 style rifles, which surprisingly were still somewhat viable weapons in spite of the advancements made in armor and personal shielding technologies.
Even so, with her elaborate and flamboyant costumes, chromatic hair, skin, and eye colors, and her extremely vertically deficient stature, from a purely aesthetic interpretation, Vella-00 stood out. Unfortunately, it was many of those same characteristics that caused her to quite frequently end up on her back during hand-to-hand combat training sessions. Her drill instructors seemed to derive a special kind of pleasure from picking her out of the crowd as a test dummy to demonstrate moves on. Of course, she didn’t mind, since being directly exposed to the moves helped her learn them a little faster than the others. However, Vella’s relatively sound martial form and technique didn’t prevent her from being pummeled to the ground by women almost three times her weight and with two feet of height over her, who fought with skill more reminiscent of an angry farm girl.
Then again, that was exactly what most of the trainees were.
Whenever she had spare time during the day, Vella dedicated some time to her crossbow. By her own simplistic judgement, it was a weird and wonderful weapon, full of moving parts and complex mechanisms. She had discovered the weapon only a few weeks before, when an old Black Army weapon supply cache had been uncovered by a patrol group. Within the cache was a large supply of monomolecular edged melee weapons, ancient military rifles, and cheap military-grade crossbows and ammunition. The rifles and melee weapons were quickly acquired by the logistics and equipment divisions of the Azalea. However, even though many of them were in new condition, the crossbows were deemed to be useless. Fortunately, Vella had happened past them while she was picking up her issued equipment. Upon seeing them, she asked to shoot one of them, and the Taianese monkey working at the logistics station that day had given her two of the crossbows and a few dozen bolts, since she had been the only one to display any sort of interest in them.
Quite simply, it was love at first shot.
The way she could track the path of her projectile in the air, the rich and satisfying thunk as the metallic bolt buried itself into the target, the potent twang of the ElastaString as it propelled the bolt from the retention spring, and the surge of vibration in her hands whenever she fired a projectile from the weapon gave Vella more than enough reasons to keep practicing with the weapon, even at the cost of most of her free time. She had already field stripped and cleaned her crossbow many times over, and by now, she was just as familiar with the weapon as she was with her issued AR-15. As mechanically unskilled as she was, Vella could at least identify the parts of her weapon by name.
If anything went wrong though, she would need to ask a skilled technician for help…
Perhaps that was why she had arrived at the workshops with her crossbow in hand, only to gawk wide-eyed at the armless lead engineer for fifteen seconds straight, without saying a word?
Alright there were many bad terms for it but none of that was important. She was focused, but that focus appeared to be quite nothing to any outside observer, glazed eyes staring at hunks of almost unidentifiable chunks of metal. Some parts looked like they were warped bits of weapons while others bore markings of some engine, a conclusion being easy to reach that it was all tried and true scrap. Given what she did, this kind of scrap was necessary. Some people brought her numerous guns that had been busted in a fight, the users shoot to tell and their weapons damaged in the firefight, but a lot of them were unusable, and thus, brought to her. If the damage was in just the right places she could pump a few usable weapons out while missing a few of the worse-off ones, a reasonable trade considering the parts had to come from somewhere, but this was different, this was original.
Her head was a confusing place to be, and with how she constructed and deconstructed her work without moving a muscle within it, it was a machine of its own. The metal warped and heated and shifted and shrunk with temperature in how it all fit together. This metal had an insanely high melting point, but they had an excess of another with a low melting point, and though she'd never waste their resources so frivolously she could only marvel at the idea. In the style of gauss weapons, magnetic coils that superheated the metal and shot it like some projectile, but the magma-metal was more than just a slag of quickly cooling and instantly-cauterizing death, it was magma heated beyond liquid, beyond gas, to a state beyond. The interesting thing was how it interacted with living tissue, like the typical human. The massive temperature differences caused explosive results, forcing rapid expansion of the water in the body and-
She gasped, as if she hadn't been breathing, it felt like she was sweating but her forehead was quite dry. Her heartbeat felt as if it should be racing but it was still as she glanced toward the entrance of her workshop, a perplexed look on her face, as if a quite private event had just been interrupted. There was several seconds, where she simply stared back at the short... Alteration that had interrupted her. It was clear what she had her eyes caught on, and it was nothing more than a mere part of life for Jill, another joke to tell at the expense of someone elses comfort- Not that they were ever confident enough to call her out for it. Maybe she'd find it funny too, that'd be a nice change of pace.
"What, you waiting for a handshake? Come on in."
By the stars, a woman...no….a mechanic with no arms?
Quite simply, Vella-00 could hardly believe her eyes as she watched the short-haired woman pore over her work, the mechanical arms on her chest smoothly manipulating the tools and parts in front of her as a glazed-over stare appeared in her amber irises. For just a moment, Vella wondered if this entire thing was just a strange, offensive costume of some kind. But that thought quickly disappeared from Vella’s head when the woman finally noticed her presence.
Had she been a shyer and more meek woman, Vella would have blushed or have felt some degree of shame at being caught gawking so aggressively at the armless woman like she were a museum piece. Indeed, by no means was Vella that type of woman. Instead, the short-statured and colorful looking woman seemed to double down on her position, a shrill and girlish laugh escaping from her lips upon hearing the woman’s self-deprecating joke.
“Oh a handshake?” Vella began as she began to stride into workshop. “I mean….we could certainly try! But I think your...hands are more suited to manipulating hardware, yes? I have a certain nonfunctional crossbow that could use a ‘shake’!” Vella responded with a bright smile. “How does that sound?”
A crossbow? That was certainly something, not an item that you came across everyday unless you were one of those weird folks who believed that guns made hunting too easy. She wouldn't exactly trust the culture of people who had a legalized form of contracted manhunts, but as long as she wasn't the one on a contract she really didn't care. She had seen enough of them to get a feel for how they worked, but a vast majority were the kind of plasma-throwers that took the traditional design as a form of aesthetic. "Crossbow? Bring it over here." She motioned with a jerk of her head, her eyes glancing to the crowded table. It was all junk, all scrap and items she wasn't really using. "-Order: Clear table, scrap, unimportant, store it all." The flat tone of voice she used was unique, something clearly meant to be picked up on, and it was, as small mechanical arms of the table shifted from their hiding spots, either brushing the pieces or shifting them to the side, unceremoniously guiding them into some large crate next to the workbench.
"Was it working when you got your hands on it? -Where exactly did you get it? Origin of it might determine its exact design but I can pick that up just by looking at it- Point is..." She trailed off for a moment as her amber eyes scanned the crossbow as Vella approached. "-That is one ancient design. Combat, functional, but ancient. Fill me in on... Everything you want me to know?"
Of course, Vella knew very little of that information herself. To her, the crossbow just felt good to shoot and it was an extremely unique weapon by her judgment.
“Umm…where to begin...” Vella mused out loud. “Oh, I know! First, my name is Vella-00, but you can just call me Vella.” She introduced herself in a peppy tone, while placing extra emphasis on the two numbers at the end of her name. After all, somewhere in the galaxy there were ten other Vellas, and she didn’t want to get mixed up with one of her batch sisters.
“So...this crossbow, and quite a few others to my knowledge were found in an abandoned Black Army weapons cache and brought to logistics. They let me uhhh...acquire two of them and some bolts, and I started shooting them, a lot…” The purple-skinned girl let a wide grin appear across her features. “And gosh...it is so much fun to play with…” Vella continued with quite a bit of emphasis in her tone. “Anyways, uhh...this one stopped working right a few nights ago. By ‘stopped working right’, I mean that it’s wildly inaccurate and the string makes this weird and ugly noise whenever I try to shoot it. Unfortunately, the crossbows didn’t come with their maintenance manuals...I don’t think I could make much of one if they did anyways.” Vella let out a deep sigh.
“It says ‘Vortex 1000.1000’ on the frame, though…”
"Order: Workbench holoscreen, search owners manual for Vortex Crossbow model V1000." Her odd tone sprang up again as a screen rose, flicking through disjointed pages of information. "From what I remember it's a robust design, not a whole lot that can break, much less should break. If it's being inaccurate and it's giving that sound, I'm thinking it's the string. It's almost always the string when it comes to weapons like this." She murmured the last part as her words scanned through a few sections of what was pulled up. "Have you been oiling the string at all? If you pulled it from some storage cache box I have a feeling it hasn't been oiled in a while, excessive use without oiling after a period of lack of use could definitely damage the string beyond use- Go ahead and put in on my workbench." She tilted her head to the table in front of her.
"Oh, I'm uh, Jill, Jillian Muse." Her eyes peered at the crossbow with scrutiny. She was used to dealing with generators and tons of parts but this? It seemed.... Oddly simple. One of those rare devices that didn't look all that pretty, didn't have too much, and lasted forever just because of how little could go wrong. It was a fair design choice, definitely something she wished to master. "I probably have some ElastaString somewhere, but if not I can just pull it from one of the other crossbows. While I'm at it I can check over the pull motor, make sure nothings rusted or close to breaking." A lot of words came out of her mouth, but in the way she stared at the device, the look in her eye, and the way she spoke, it seemed as if it was only partly aimed at Vella.
"Suffice to say you've got yourself an interesting item here." She paused before saying, her eyes clearing as she looked to Vella. "I don't believe many people would have tried to use it, considering all the other weapons around here. So this is my own curiosity speaking, but why did it catch your eye and no one else?"
While most crossbows required more extensive upkeep than a typical firearm, The V1000 was not a high-maintenance weapon, no more demanding than the common assault rifle. The manual advised string oilings after 50 shots, while older crossbows required them after only 10. This was primarily because of the metamaterial which composed the ElastaString, that allowed the limbs to hold more potential energy than what was previously thought possible via a simple string and as a side effect, required less maintenance because of the material’s more durable composition.
However, given the nature of the weapon, the V1000 had a lot of external moving parts, no different from older crossbow types. Indeed, the crossbow was an ancient weapon, and no attempt to over engineer it through advanced metamaterials or energy-powered cocking mechanisms could exempt the weapon from that truth. As such, the weapon needed to be handled delicately. Unlike with an assault rifle such as the ancient AK-47, one could not keep the weapon operational if it were coated with mud or excess grime.
Vella batted her eyes twice in consideration of Jill’s question. “Well...it’s practical in a way that other crossbows aren’t but…” Vella gulped nervously. “I’ve been told that I have a rather undisciplined gaze at times, and a weapon like this...well, it gives my eyes something to focus on, ya’ know? See, when you fire a gun, you stare down the sight and look at the target before firing. But, once your shot leaves the weapon, there’s really nothing for you to look at, since you can’t actually see your bullet. Now with this crossbow, when I fired it the first time, I noticed that I could process and track the movement of the bolt as it flew through the air with my naked eyes. The second time I fired it, I made an unconscious adjustment to my aim, and the bolt struck a few inches away from the bulls-eye that time, which was better than the first time where I almost missed the target entirely. I kind of figured out that by looking at the bolt as it moves through the air and hits the target, I can more easily make adjustments for my next shot. It didn’t take me long to see how the bolt gets affected by things like wind, rain, and even snow while in flight! So in essence, with this weapon, having a sticky gaze actually helps!”
"It also vibrates in your hands when you fire it." Vella added slyly, with a coy wink. "It reminds me of a certain toy...Gosh, I've been through so many of those...need to stop buying the cheap ones."
That too, ignored many things, and she had many ideas on how to improve it. Considering the advanced methodology of the crossbow, she had absolutely no doubt that many forms of boltheads existed, variations of the standard bolt design that released various effects, some possibly exploded, while others possibly shocked, but the one she considered quite effective that complimented the strengths of the weapon quite nicely was a paralyzing poison. Lethal or not it assured the user that as long as they got a decent shot upon their foe, they would not be the one to seek out help. That of course brought up the issue of species specifications, you'd have to guarantee that each shot that relied upon the poison would be hitting a species that was susceptible to the poison, and with how many genetic freaks existed out there, it was a gamble that would require study to fully include into any plans.
Acid then, something that ate away and biological tissue, but then androids and bots would prove-
She was getting sidetracked, watching her machines arms slowly undo the string of the crossbow, her words making sure it kept slow progress to keep anything from snapping and launching out and potentially breaking something or someone. She'd prefer to not lose an eye. "There's an art to slow projectiles, it's definitely something to watch something arc through the air. Almost seems to have a bigger impact when it does hit, but that may be due to a generality of momentum to make up for the lack of speed, which typically means additional weight..." She mumbled off for a moment before continuing. "-Regardless, when it comes to toys it's all about quality. I don't care if I'm forking over a fortune if it's going to keep me busy for the next few years." She added without so much a second thought, not even a change in the way she spoke.
"Anyway, you have an odd name, Vella-00. How many other Vella's are out there? Or is it like that Chance Android line where they all have that default name?"
It was only Jill’s voice that made Vella look up once more, her dual-colored eyes finding that the engineer was looking down at her crossbow as well.
“Oh, you have no idea how heavy the bolts are.” Vella began, her voice taking on a high pitch for emphasis. “This is the lightest variant, and the bolts it fires are almost half a pound. The heaviest one fires bolts that are a full pound, so uhh...these pack a solid punch. They don’t take up much space at all, but just thirty bolts is an extra fifteen pounds on your body, and I find that thirty is really all I can carry on me in the field.” Vella said in an apologetic tone.
Almost unconsciously, Vella’s eyebrows rose upward when Jill asked about her name. Even from just a quick glance, Jill would be able to tell that Vella’s name was significant and important to her. “Vella-00 is my lab-given designation, which I decided to keep as my full name after...I was...released.” The purple-skinned woman paused, seemingly not wanting to discuss the circumstances of that part of her life at that moment. “Anyways, there are ten other Vellas, with the names Vella-01, 02, and so on until Vella-10. They’re my batch-sisters. I’m not sure if they’ve kept their lab-given designations or not but...I’ve kept mine, so that I’m easier to find, if they’re looking for me…”
She noted that it wasn't particularly Vella's name that rose the concern, rather it was the situation regarding it. Was it the people that made her, or the group she was a part of itself? It did raise many questions, but questions needed timing. Regardless, she had to defuse whatever bad feelings had arose, she didn't like the idea of Vella becoming upset or saddened when they had only just met. She seemed... Energetic, perhaps that compensated for her height. Certainly wasn't appearance, you don't go around looking like her without having full confidence in it. She could admire that, not that she looked bad mind you, but standing out like that took confidence.
"Well if people aren't looking for you then I'd be apt to say they're missing out on something fun. You rightly radiate energy, after all." She responded after a moment, a briefly solemn look on Jill's face fading into her normal look of calculated amusement. "Wouldn't be fair to remind you of something poor without saying a thing about myself. I'll uh... Keep working on the crossbow, but I'll answer any questions you have. You seem very open about things so I'd call it fair if nothing else."
With a sharp intake of breath, Vella reached for her shoulder-strapped purse and frantically began to unzip it. She breathed a sigh of relief when she opened it and found the small unfoldable cards sitting in a pocket inside of her bag. She had printed over one hundred of the cards during the night before, and on each one of the lab headshots of her ten sisters were arranged in a line. The pictures had been taken soon after they had emerged from the growing tubes, when they were still completely naked. However, save for their collarbones and shoulders, their nudity was not shown in the photos on the cards. Their faces bore completely neutral expressions, as directed by the attendants in the lab. Her sisters all possessed vibrant and colorful skin tones, which included lighter shades of pink, purple, blue, and one with an errant dark crimson shade. Their eye colors were bright and colorful as well, but Vella-00 and Vella-10 were the only two who had heterochromatic irises. Vella-07 had the most distinct appearance among them, possessing a rich crimson skin tone which seemed to go well with her raven black hair and yellow eyes. Each of their lab-given designations were printed under the pictures themselves. Most, if not all of Vella’s sisters had chosen new names, but she knew that they would acknowledge their lab-given ones, if someone were to approach them. However, that didn’t mean that they would take the usage of their old names well.
With small and delicate fingers, Vella reached into her bag and pulled out one of the cards. “Here, I made a lot of these last night, to help me find my sisters.” Vella said as she extended the card out to the technician. “When you unfold it, you’ll see the lab-designations of my ten sisters and their headshots, as well. I have my contact information on the front page of the card, so if you see one of them...please give that to them.” She finished in a strangely shy and grateful tone. “Thank you for fixing my crossbow, by the way. I appreciate that.”
She glanced at the card, before motioning it to be placed on the table. She didn't exactly have a place to hold it, but she'd be able to remember it as long as it was placed there for now. "I'll be sure to keep my eyes out. If they stand out in a similar way that you do, then I doubt I'll miss them. Assuming of course I ever run across them." She responded, her face twitching briefly before she rubbed her face with the stub of her arm. "Speaking of which, what were you made for? Synthetic people tend to be made for a reason, some purpose or another. You're definitely more of a free spirit so they probably didn't end up living vicariously through you."
Vella took a cursory and somewhat pointless glance at her crossbow. She already trusted the woman fixing it, and as such, she was confident that it was in safe hands and would eventually return to normal operation. However, could she trust Jill with her past? The answer to that question eluded her, for now, but she didn’t want to dodge Jill's question without giving the short-haired technician a chance prove her trustworthiness and integrity. That would be unfair to Jill, who was already proving herself to be a fair woman, if a bit sassy and sarcastic.
Vella cleared her throat as she nervously ran a hand through her pigtails and gave Jill a somewhat awkward, but nevertheless, friendly stare. “Jill...I want to tell you, but...can you promise that you won’t tell anyone else? It’s not exactly a...thing I want everyone to know...” She replied in a soft and nervous tone. “Please?” She finished a little oddly, lightly tugging her hair as she spoke. "I...don't want to risk my place in the Azalea..." The tiny woman added softly.
"I won't tell a soul, Vella. You have my word on that, however much that means to you." She paused, rolling her shoulders before giving another inappropriately timed set of instructions to her mechanical manipulators. "-And I want you to know that you don't have to speak a word more than you want to. You don't want to tell me about something? You don't have to. I may poke fun at you and others but I'd like to think that I'm not mean."
After taking a cursory glance at Jill’s workshop, to ensure that no one else was inside, Vella turned towards Jill and took a deep breath.
“I appreciate it Jill.” Vella began with a relaxed smile before taking a sip of fruit punch from her canteen, which was helpful in suppressing the urge to take out her vape pen.
“So...it’s not a traumatic or sad sort of...thing…” the purple-skinned woman began. “Fortunately, I escaped most of that part.” Vella said, after taking yet another swig of her fruit punch. “So, I was created to be a…bride, which is essentially a sex slave or a diplomatic gift. The corporation that created me sells a lot of synthetics to proxy buyers, who presumably sell the synthetics to buyers that are too disreputable for the lab to deal with directly. When I was created, they me shipped to one of these proxy buyers and then to the Black Army, who began to groom me for my intended role as a diplomatic tribute. I never saw my batch sisters again after being sold off by the proxy buyers, but anyways, as a part of my grooming, I was isolated from the lower-ranked men in the Black Army, and they didn’t take my virginity, but...they had...other ways of pleasing themselves with me.” Vella spoke with an oddly flat and emotionless tone, but her eyes seemed to be on the verge of tears, which she visibly struggled to suppress. “Umm...they taught me to walk, talk, act, dress, and groom like a ‘proper woman’, which mostly involved them hitting me whenever I did something wrong. But others were treated far worse than what I got, though.”
Vella took a deep breath, and emptied the rest of her punch before continuing, while ignoring the two tears that fell from each eye.
“I went through maybe...three months of that before the entire organization disbanded itself through a series of breakdowns in leadership. I...escaped when one of the soldiers well...I guess to say the least, opened my cage and let me go. I never talked to him or saw him again, but...I believe he was the one who sent me the lab photos of my sisters.” Vella paused, and her skin flushed a deep crimson shade before she spoke once more. Tears began to flow freely from her eyes, which she also seemed to ignore. “Umm...I’m sorry if that was long or...a little pitiful, but that’s it, I guess...”
As she concluded, Jill glanced away briefly, only nodding as she exhaled slowly. "Well you've certainly lived an interesting life, I can tell you that much. I can only imagine the perspective you've had so far." She'd respond after a pause. "I won't tell you how brave you are or et cetera et cetera..." She mumbled off briefly. "Best advice I've ever heard? These things happen. Doesn't mean it doesn't suck, and you've still got all the right in the world to be pissed off about it, but, well, these things happen." She chuckled grimly after a moment. "I had my arms, for example, until I was fourteen. Hypothermia does wonders at fixing that, sometimes the world is an ass and you're just told to get back up with a chin up champ! I don't know you all that well but you've got a look about you that's hard to describe." In turn she gave an oddly critical look to Vella.
"I think you're the durable type. I mean you've naturally got the stature for it, but you're here after what all you've gone through so I'd say you're hearty enough." She exhaled sharply, a smile sharpening the edges of her lips. "And I like that."