Iritana Muldoon could not help but feel like a voyeur when she experienced someone else's memories. Like Ashton Habitat, a certain unwelcome guest had visited Shackleton Outpost. As a cargo shuttle docked with the outpost, Iritana noted the changes in posture and physiology. The man whose memories she was reliving was nowhere near as heavily augmented as she was. The lack of familiar implants and their substitution by frailer organic components struck her as quaint, especially especially given his role in security. Her own augmentation was done to assist with industrial work in microgravity, and she was virtually a walking tank. The squishy, soft body of Officer Ken Takahashi had no such protection.
The wiry-yet-muscular frame Iritana found herself in approached by someone she never hoped to encounter. Takahashi, an inexperienced security officer, barely bothered to scan her credentials before looking at her in person. He glazed over a dossier reading, "Harriet Seldom, Xenoarcheology PhD," before looking up at the woman he was meant to thoroughly vet. Stirrings from between his legs reminded Iritana of Takahashi's priorities.
The only way Iritana knew with whom they dealt was the unnatural silver pupils that darted like frightened birds. Her form, alias, cover, gender, and appearance all changed but the eyes always remained the same. The individual had changed her appearance since they had last encountered a record of her, likely the result of extensive cybernetic augmentation. Her high cheekbones, wafer-like thinness, and shoulder-length platinum blond hair bordered on a supernatural sort of beauty, to say nothing of how she exaggerated each and every step she took.
With each step closer to Takahashi, her demeanor drew him in like an event horizon. Given the hormonal stupor that undoubtedly clouded his mind, Iritana wondered if she enjoyed toying with people. Her appearance was almost celestial in haunting beauty, but her unearthly beauty beckoned like a siren of the underworld to the unwary. All who succumbed had a grim fate awaiting them.
"Ma'am, I need to inspect the cargo closer," Takahashi said apologetically. "Sorry if I hold you up, but it's protocol."
"We can do the inspecting later, Officer," she replied with a wink, smirk, and caress against his thigh. "But if you insist, I will take out every item of my cargo and catalogue it for you. Then, I will explain to Dr. Patel why I was delayed."
"That's quite alright. Just put the bags on the scanner. They'll search for explosives, toxic substances, radioactive material, and antimatter."
"You really think I'd smuggle antimatter into a little place like this?" she chuckled. "There's worse things, nanotech pathogens that can slip right through that obsolete piece of junk, and you're concerned about antimatter?"
"Just protocol, ma'am. I don't make the rules. I just do what people smarter tell me."
"Very well. When does your shift end, Officer?"
"About an hour from now. Why?"
"I should be free then. Come talk to me in the common room."
"It'll be my pleasure," Takahashi said, bowing his head.
Iritana stopped the sensory playback then, able to envision what would come next. It was hard to believe that in less than a week, most of the research staff would be infected and the lab quarantined for a decade before anyone investigated. She wondered if poor Takahashi was one of the rotters they shot during their earlier escape. She could not help but wonder what kind of person was capable of repeatedly doing such things. The Iconoclast, as Dr. Burrows had nicknamed her, was virtually an amorphous entity that seemed to metamorphise between he, she, se, and it as readily as switching cover identities and appearance.
As she laid in the decontamination bay, she ran a diagnostic on all of her prosthetic body's myriad of subsystems. The rotter nanobot could infect organic, or even certain cybernetic systems. Mercifully, the strain they had been exposed to was a decade-old one. She updated all of her systems and injected herself with more nano-medicines, for their next destination may not be so easily turned aside.
"Hi, Iri," Dr. Burrows said over his communicator. "I've just been checked out. I'm as clean as a whistle."
"Why don't you upgrade more, Doc? You'd have less that could get infected."
"Because I want to stay as close to baseline human as practical, to experience things how our ancestors might've."
"Yeah, things like cancer, disease, aging, and other agonizing deaths."
"Now, I've got the same nano-immune system, neural interface, and organ upgrades as you. I just prefer to use wearables whenever possible. If it's not broke, why change it?"
"Because it's suboptimal. If brain uploading wasn't such a pain, I'd have uploaded myself to a swarm of attack drones by now."
"For now, it's mostly a one-way trip," Max noted. "But there are easier ways to change one's sensory input."
"Nanodrugs are just a short-term simulated substitute for experience, Doc."
"Exactly. If I was full cyborg, I'd be able to simulate what a baseline human would experience, but like this, I can report on it."
"Even if it kills ya?"
"Unlikely, as long as you're there. Chasing 'perfection' can destroy all that makes you strong and unique. True in both individuals and civilizations."
"There's a line between ensuring your survival and being stupid, Doc."
"A very thin one."
An awkward silence settled over the chamber. The vaporous hiss of a medical nanoswarm sweeping over her body dominated Iritana's hearing for a few seconds. While she could not see Max, she assumed he was off stewing somewhere until he could think of something else to talk about. He was intelligent but stubborn, one of the reasons why working for him alternated between enjoyable and infuriating. A minute later, he was back to his predictable chattering self.
"Anyway, I've found our next destination."
"Another forsaken research outpost?"
"Nope, we'll be heading to Luna, in fact."
"Oh?" she said, immediately perking out.
"Our target, the Iconoclast, took her ship to an abandoned mine on the surface. Before we investigate, we could visit your home if you want."
Iritana laid incredulously, staring in disbelief at the bone-white ceiling of the sterilization chamber. She briefly wondered what had transposed in her absence from the inner system. In the years she wandered the outer system, life had gone on without her. Some things remained constant. The celestial spheres moved in the familiar ways. The Earth still orbited the sun, Luna still orbited Earth, and Waitangi Station still orbited Luna. As the decontamination procedure concluded, she doubted her younger self would've guessed she'd be in an automated outpost cleaning herself of rotter contamination.
As the chamber seal disengaged, Iritana grabbed a bag containing her recently cleaned possessions and fresh provisions. If it was not too hard, she planned to visit home while she was in the neighborhood. Her curiosity at how things had, or had not, beckoned from deep within her mind. As much as her body had changed or experiences reshaped her, she hoped that she remained the same girl underneath her technological second skin. If the Iconoclast dared defile her home with its unwanted presence, she would be there to warn them.
"Sweet as," she said in a tone that barely restrained her excitement. "We're going home."