It's a working title, bear with me. I felt like indulging myself, so I decided to start writing about Io. Because I like Io. It's a failing of mine. Also, this filename is completely wrong.

Red String
0: Slow Motion

When she first woke, still half in a dream, Karen thought it was raining, warm droplets of it striking her face with a slow, uneven rhythm. Only after her mind, numb with sleep, began to protest she was curled under her blanket in her own bed did she open her eyes. It was dark in her room, but not unusually so. Rhea left a small nightlight on in the corner before retreating to her own cot for the evening, and it was the only light that penetrated the curtained darkness.

She blinked drowsily and peered out at it, gaze focusing slowly on a large something that was blocking most of the light.

"Rhea?" she mumbled muzzily.

Alarm jolted through her thin frame when a voice most unlike Rhea's, masculine and rasping, answered her.

"Not exactly, kitten," it said with evident amusement. "She's here, right enough, but --"

Karen lurched backward as something heavy and roughly ball-shaped sailed the short distance between them to land next to her pillow. A few droplets of warm and wet struck her in the face.

"-- I'm afraid she's indisposed."

Her mind groped slowly toward what the object on her bed must in fact be, even as her body backed instinctively away, stopping only when she struck the wall behind her. Her mouth opened, but only a faint sound, like the cry of a wounded puppy, escaped her throat.

"Oh, I'm sorry, kitten," rasped the voice of the intruder. "I'm sure she didn't mean to scare you. After all, she did her very best to get to you before I did."

Karen's gaze, until then fixed on the small horror next to her pillow, jerked upward in an attempt to penetrate the darkness surrounding the intruder, but she could see little. A soft gleam of metal here, the glint of a fang when he smiled, but most of all, the reddish glow of his eyes as he considered her.

"Now," he said, voice dropping to a contemplative whisper, "what game shall we play?"

She was unsure, later, how she managed it, but suddenly, her feet were underneath her, propelling her with all the speed she could muster toward her bedroom door. For a feverish split second, she thought she might make it, but any hopes of escape were dashed when a rope of searing heat encircled her left arm, jerking her violently backward.

She flailed for a foothold, handhold -- anything -- but came away with only a fistful of blanket as she tumbled over the edge of the bed, striking the floor with a thump and another puppy-like sound as her breath escaped her. She turned her head slowly, dazed, and saw the line of his boot against the light as it approched her face too quickly to be avoided.

The impact stunned her, rocking her back against the side of her bed, and the pain in her arm, momentarily forgotten, returned fourfold. She reached her other hand instinctively to the source of the pain but found herself clutching nothing but air. Squinting against the darkness, she turned her head, but she could make nothing of the shadows.

"Looking for something, kitten?" the voice came again, mild and questioning, and she jerked her head unsteadily toward it.

It took her a moment to recognized the limb that dangled loosely from his hand, framed like him in the pale light.

"Well, I doubt you'll be needing it much longer," he remarked, then tossed it toward her in a fluid motion. The arm rolled once after it struck the floor, flopping limply to a halt at her feet.

It was then that Karen found her voice to scream.

It took him less than a second to close the gap between them, clamping a heavy paw over her mouth with an almost irritated hiss. "None of that, now. Wouldn't want to wake the neighbors."

The scream stopped of its own volition and ended in a hiccuping squeak, quite the opposite of what she had intended, as the first thing that occurred for her to do was continue screaming as loudly as she could. As hard as she tried, however, she could make no other sound come out of her mouth.

"Good girl," he said, teeth flashing once as he drew his hand away from her mouth.

She barely had time to take a breath before it swung back at her, however, knocking her off her seat an nearly into the wall. Through the stun, she felt the band of heat wrap itself around her leg, dragging her slowly back toward him. The carpet was rough underneath her cheek, but the sensation was lost in a haze of pain as he gave her one final yank.

The next several minutes were a blur. For years afterward she was unsure she had even experienced them, as the most she could recall was spikes of pain separated by brief moments of blissful unconsciousness. Any struggles, attempts to escape, were abandoned shortly after she discovered she could no longer move. Better than being bound hand and foot, she could feel nothing of her body at all.

It was out of one of her unconscious moments that she found herself face to face with her attacker, held off the floor, as far as she could tell, by his one fist, tangled in her hair. One finger of the other hand traced the curve of her cheek, then pushed against her collarbone, causing her to swing briefly back and forth like a broken marionette.

"Guess this is the final act, kitten," he said conversationally, apparently not seeking a response from her blank gaze. "It has been fun, though, hasn't it?"

Her mouth slipped open slightly, forcing out the remnants of a soundless scream, and he gave a short, barking laugh.

"Glad you enjoyed it as much as I --"

She was only peripherally aware of him breaking off in mid-sentence with a short, strangling sound, and another voice, female, saying something too quietly for her to hear. Her attacker's grip slackened, releasing her to fall to the floor, but a pair of arms caught her before she reached it, tucking her against the hard metal of a breastplate that was somehow slightly warm. The voice spoke again, louder this time, and she heard words that meant nothing to her.

"Go home, Rikks."

Then she fell into cushioning darkness.

"And I'll be sure to mention this in my report."

Io had turned on her heel and was walking rapidly toward the open door before her partner, in the loosest sense it was possible to use the term, uttered a low, rasping, "Bitch."

She smiled, permitting herself to take the briefest moment of satisfaction out of the fiasco, then walked into the hallway and began to run. With her anger ebbing, a panicked string of thoughts was pattering through her mind, mostly concerning the state of the girl -- how old could she be? Seven? Eight? -- she held in her arms.

A teleport was clearly out of the question, as the stress would only make the shock worse. Calling a cab was a ridiculous proposition. So she ran, furious at her own carelessness in letting Rikks out of her sight for more than a moment. Furious that she had to work with him at all. And all she could offer the maimed child whose life could easily slip through her fingers was a litany of helpless apologies.

Self-pity, however, didn't seem to be the proper route to take in this situation, so she focused instead on finding the nearest clinic.

The girl shifted -- almost flailed -- in her grip, and she glanced down, encouraged by the sign of life, however misleading it might be.

So intent was she on monitoring her condition, she almost ran past the hospital, but the wash of light distracted her, and she turned in mid-step, rushing through the open doors. Once inside, however, she stopped, unsure for a moment what she was to do next.

"Help?" she said strangely, and a nurse on duty turned to her with a false smile and the start of a platitude that broke off into "Oh my god" before she was gone, barking for someone to help.

Io stood in silence, watching her go, and continued in silence when the help arrived, snatching the girl neatly from her arms and wheeling her away. With the human bundle gone, she lowered her arms and watched until the girl was gone, off to fight or die in a battle she might be able to win.

The first nurse was making her way back, calling out an unnerved "Excuse me -- miss!" as the Reploid turned and walked out the door, ignoring her. She'd be answering enough questions, come the morning.

1: Apropos of Nothing

Io yawned. The act, doubly unnecessary in that she was neither tired nor did she have a natural impulse to do so, was primarily in defiance of the anomalous someone who was outside her cell somewhere, watching her to make sure she didn't try anything funny. It was also a gesture of irritation at the guards, who were fifteen minutes late in letting her out for her daily run around the sim room.

They reserved a time for her so she could use it privately. Because she was 'dangerous.'

She yawned again. Expressively.

They weren't typically this late. She wondered briefly if something had happened. It crossed her mind that she could go bang on the door until someone answered in order to find out, but that would not only require effort on her part, it would suggest that she gave a flying damn one way or the other.

After several more minutes, the lock gave a familiar buzz, and the door to her cell slid open, admitting a harried-looking guard -- one she'd seen before, in fact -- who appeared to be even less pleased than usual at his task. She watched him lazily, hands still tucked behind her head, and waited patiently for the barked "Hurry up, on your feet!" that usually followed his entrance. It came shortly -- even quicker than usual -- and she slid lazily upright, ambling over and holding out her hands for the inevitable bracers that they seemed to feel would keep them safe from her should she decide to go on a rampage.

He was shaking as he put them on her, and she resisted the impulse to roll her eyes, wondering what could possibly make him afraid of her today when he had shown no sign of it before.

"Come on," he barked when he was finished, and stepped backward out the door to permit her exit. She followed him in silence, paying little heed when his partner fell into step behind her, and they marched down the hallway.