Machine Girl: Welcome to the Machine Chapter 13

“This room is clear.”  A couple of cops were cuffing Victoria’s parents and one was moving in on her while the rest moved throughout the house.

“What the fuck is THIS?”  He tugged on the cord plugged into her head.

“Please don’t remove that!”  The man paused; the desperation in her voice was as genuine as it could possibly be.

“Is this hooked up to an explosive?  What did these people do to you?”  He was already on his radio, “We need the bomb squad in here!”  He put his knee on her back to hold her still and snapped the handcuffs on her wrists.

“No, it’s for my prosthetic.  It’s just a charger for my prosthetic I won’t be able to move until it charges.  Please just leave us alone we didn’t do anything.”  Several cops with tool boxes and diagnostic devices burst through the door.

“She’s wired?  Let’s have a look.  This doesn’t appear to be anything dangerous.”  One of them squatted carefully down next to her and followed the cable to the wall and scratched his head.  “It’s just a 12 volt power source at the wall but I can’t figure out why it’s going under her hair.”  He lifted her hair gently, exposing where her scalp was shaved and the shining steel coupler that was surgically grafted to her skull.  “Holy shit!  Greg, take a look at this!”

“It’s my prosthetic damn it!”  She wasn’t sure why they had come here, but was afraid it might have had something to do with the ‘accident’ with the SUV this morning or possibly with the men who had attacked her and the Doc in the afternoon.  “Why are you here anyway?”

“Just try and keep still, if this is some kind of explosive device I don’t want to activate it by accident.”  He was still

holding her hair in one hand and put his other on her shoulder in what was probably supposed to be a calming gesture.

“Don’t touch my daughter you bastard!”  The officer had finished handcuffing her father and he was able to see what was happening now.  “Who are you and how dare you invade my house like this?”

“We got a tip there was a terrorist plot being planned here and that there were possibly bomb making supplies inside.  Maybe even completed explosive devices.”  He turned and looked at the officers who had Victoria and her parents subdued.  “We’d better clear the house just in case.  I’ve never seen anything like this before.  We need to wait for an expert.”

The door slammed open and every officer in the room swung their firearm towards it.  “An expert is here.  I’ll have your badge if you’ve damaged that piece of equipment.”  As a group they all lowered their weapons as a man in a military uniform with stripes all the way down the arm and enough metal on his chest to build a battleship walked in.

“General, I thought you were at the Congressional budget meeting.  What are you doing here?”  One of the officers was looking up in surprise, “I knew you were here to oversee our last spec ops training but-“

He was interrupted by the man at the door, “No time for that right now.  I’m not sure who tipped you off that this family had something to do with terrorists but I can assure you they do not. Uncuff them immediately; this family is participating in a project of the utmost importance to National security.”

The officers hurried to comply and Victoria and her family were released quickly.  She sat up, thankful that the charging cable was still plugged into her head.

Her father was rubbing his wrists, “Who are you and what do you think I’m involved in?”  He fixed the man with an angry glare.

“His name is General Charles Regan Hallbeck.  He’s the commander of the Special Forces division of the US Marine Corps and head of the recently formed Cybernetic Research department.”  Victoria tried to keep the shock from her face as she relayed this information; she had no idea why she knew it.

“Your information is impressively accurate Miss Scott.  Perhaps we could talk a bit more privately?”  Charles glanced meaningfully at the officers in the room.

“I’ll put on some coffee.”  Her mom was taking refuge in being domestic; something which suddenly seemed like a wonderful thing to fall back on.

“Coffee would be great.”  He pulled up a chair and sat, “I’d like to know exactly how you know who I am?  I funded the project which gave you this new lease on life but I don’t believe that even Dr. Arlington knew about my involvement.”  He leaned forward and folded his hands, “So exactly how is it you know this?”

“I don’t know; I guess I must have seen it on TV or something.”  Victoria was trying to find a comfortable way to sit with the cable plugged into her head.  She glanced out the window, “Looks like your ride’s here.”  A black Tahoe pulled up in front of the house and she could see ‘Military Escort’ floating over it in ghostly letters.

“You mean OUR ride.  I need to take you in for a debriefing of the utmost importance.”  He glanced at her father then back at her.  “Your country needs you and you need us.”

“Did you know the mafia is out there?”  She looked out the window at a nondescript sedan parked down the street.  “Am I to understand they’re here for me too?  The military, the mob and the cops all at once?  How do I rate anyway?”  She was trying not to panic, taking refuge in sarcasm but was surprised that her voice was even and calm in spite of the fact that she felt like a trapped rat.

He grimaced, “I can explain everything to you but I would prefer to do so in a more secure area.”  Victoria’s new cell phone vibrated in the pocket of her skirt.

“Wow, I can’t believe this thing survived today.”  She pulled it out and saw Eugene’s number, “Hello?”

“Victoria?  Thank God, I was afraid you were… well that they’d gotten you.  Listen, if the military arrives before I can make it there don’t tell them anything.  Not about your prosthetic, not about the fuckers who attacked us today and absolutely nothing about the shit that went down this morning on your way to school, understand?”

“Yeah no problem, I’ll see you tomorrow.”  She wondered how he knew about the military being at her house; everyone seemed to know what was going on but her.

“I’ll be there in five minutes or less.  Just hang in there and find some excuse not to leave.”  He hung up and she looked at her dad.

“Just cheer team drama, nothing to worry about.  TT’s throwing her weight around again.”

“Listen Miss Scott; we need to leave immediately.  Especially if you have reason to believe there are undesirable elements in the neighborhood.”  He leaned forward urgently.

“I can’t leave yet.”  She gestured with the cable plugged into the base of her skull.  “If this doesn’t charge all the way I risk compromising the integrity of the main batteries.  At least that’s what the technical documents I was sent home with claim.  I’m worried that I already screwed something up by draining them all the way down today, I don’t want to risk further damage.”

He looked less than pleased, “Fine, the last thing we want to do is damage the equipment.”

“Listen General, I don’t think my daughter is old enough or recovered enough to handle whatever project you think she needs to be involved in.  She has barely gotten over the surgery and besides; she’s still in high school.”

“We wanted to wait until the prototype was fully tested but I’m afraid this situation has become more urgent than we anticipated.  I’m afraid I don’t have clearance to tell you anything else unless you’re involved in the mission.”  Victoria’s mom came in the room with a carafe of coffee and a tray of cups.

“Cream?  Sugar?”  She handed Victoria a cup of black coffee and mixed cream with one spoonful of sugar for her father.

“No thanks, I prefer it black.” The general accepted a steaming cup from her and his cell phone rang.  He answered it and then looked up sharply, “Are you expecting someone?  A man just got out of a taxi and is coming up your sidewalk.”

“How do you know that?”  Victoria looked at him suspiciously, “Are you having our house watched?”

“It’s just my driver, I asked him to keep an eye on things for me.  You don’t expect me to just be sitting in your living room without backup do you?”

“Why not?”  The doorbell rang, “After all this is just a normal suburban neighborhood.”  Her father was getting up to answer the door.

General Hallbeck glanced at his phone again as it chimed with an incoming text message, “Never mind, it’s just Dr. Arlington.”

Victoria heaved a sigh of relief that turned into a gasp of dismay when the door admitted a battered and bruised looking Eugene.  His left arm was in a sling, his face had several freshly stitched cuts and his left eye was swollen nearly closed.  He looked like shit.

“Ohmygod are you sure you should be out of the hospital?”  Victoria would have gone over to him if the damn cord hadn’t still been plugged into her head.

He laughed and grimaced; she guessed broken ribs.  “Actually they didn’t want to discharge me but I needed to check on you to make sure you were safe.”  He glanced involuntarily at the General, “I know you’ve been through a lot today.”

“What happened to you?”  Victoria’s dad walked back to his chair shaking his head, “You look like you were hit by a train!”

“Doctor, come in and sit!  You shouldn’t be on your feet!”  Victoria’s mom was herding him into an arm chair and pressing a cup of coffee into his hands.  “Victoria’s fine except for a dead battery and some miscommunication with the police.”  She rolled her eyes and laughed a nervous little laugh, “Someone apparently reported that we are terrorists.”

“I got in a car accident.  I’m lucky Porsche builds such a solid car; I got off easy with just a fractured radius and a few contusions.  That’s what I get for talking on my cell phone right?  The car’s totaled though, thank goodness for insurance.”

Victoria heard a hiss of static, like she had in the hospital and this time, she put it together.  Somehow this was a warning that someone was telling a lie.  Could this be some sort of a glitch?  Or a program?  Or…

Charles stood and straightened his jacket, medals jingling.  “I should get back, the work doesn’t stop coming in when I leave.”  He handed Victoria a business card, “Think about it and get back to me.”  With a nod to her mother he added, “Thanks for the coffee.”

When he had gone, Eugene let out a breath he seemed to have been holding.  “Don’t deal with him OK?  I’m not sure what he wants to use you for but it’s bound to be dangerous and probably experimental.”  He took a sip of coffee.

“What on Earth is going on here Dr. Arlington?  First the police and now the military?  Toria mentioned the mafia and while I don’t really take that seriously I guess I wouldn’t rule it out at this point.  What could she possibly do for the military?  Why would the police think we were terrorists?”  Her father stood abruptly from his chair and paced to the window, then back to stand in front of Eugene.

“I’m not stupid Doctor. I want some straight answers and I want them now, otherwise the deal’s off.  I’ll work for the rest of my natural life to pay off the bills but I won’t have my daughter involved in any dangerous or criminal activity.”

Eugene opened his mouth to answer but Victoria beat him to it, “Daddy, you’re overreacting.  I’m sure the terrorist thing was just a mistake.  I don’t know what the military wants but they won’t get it from me.  Just sit and have your coffee and let’s talk it out.”

“Yeah, I’m sure the police were really just some mistake.”  Eugene shrugged, “Who knows what the General wanted, but I will come clean about one thing.  I know him.  In fact he funded part of my research that led to the creation of the prosthetic you now wear.”

Victoria was certain that he wasn’t telling the whole truth.  He knew a lot more than he was saying but it was

difficult to know what

“But why would the military want to fund such research?”  Her father leaned in and set his coffee cup on an end table.  “It just doesn’t make sense.”

“He said for rehabilitation of soldiers injured in the line of duty.  After all, this technology has already worked wonders for soldiers who have lost limbs and has great potential for those who have become paralyzed.”  Eugene seemed sincere but Victoria knew why they would want this tech.  She had begun to experience it herself.   “I think he leads a committee on veteran’s affairs or something.”

Victoria didn’t need the whisper of static in her ear to know that Eugene was definitely lying.  He was scared too; not just worried but downright frightened.  Her dad still had a doubtful look on his face but her mother was already trying to smooth things over the way she always did.

“Well I’m glad that’s settled.  I mean we don’t want to cause problems for someone who has been so helpful to us.”  She was refilling coffee cups and had also brought a plate of cookies.

“Thanks Mrs. Scott, but I really should run the tests I need to and be on my way.  I’ve had a busy day and it looks like you could use a little family time yourselves.”  He pulled out a compact aluminum cased netbook and handed a diagnostic cable to Victoria.  She plugged it into the proper port without even looking; the slight click sent a warm shiver down her spine.

Eugene was already typing; his fingers a blur on the keyboard.  “Interesting, it’s adapting to you with amazing speed.  Look here; I think you’ll appreciate this Victoria.”  She leaned over his shoulder and saw nothing but a set of numbers that spun into a graph with many spikes and a plateau that dropped off after a short span.  His intention became clearer when she looked at the caption of the graph.

“Water intake?  What was it doing?  Cooling itself or something?”  She asked as he kept punching keys and after a short time responded with a chuckle.

“I’ll be damned.  I guess you did have some leftover chemicals from the operation in your system and it was working to clear them.  Look at this; even your sodium and potassium levels were off the charts.  It’s a good thing it triggered such a thirst or you would likely have had kidney stones.”  After a few more keystrokes he closed his computer and she handed him back the cable.

“Thanks for all your help today Doctor, I really appreciate it.”  She looked at him, wishing they had the chance to talk but knowing it wasn’t possible in front of her parents.

“No problem.  Stop by the lab tomorrow for a few more tests?”  It was as though he had read her mind.

“Yeah, sure.  Whatever you need Doc.”  She gave him a relieved grin.

“Well I suppose I should get going, I’ll call myself a cab.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, I’ll give you a ride home.”  Victoria’s dad was already putting on his hat, “I’m not going to make you pay for a taxi.”

After her father and Eugene left Victoria suddenly had the realization that her books and homework had been in the Porsche.  Shit!  She sighed and pulled her phone from her pocket to text Grace.  After all it wouldn’t be a good idea to try and talk to Jenny at this point.

“I forgot my books at school, I’m going to get ahold of Grace; she’ll get me what I need for tomorrow.  Can you bring my laptop from the den?  I don’t want to get up until this thing finishes charging.” She stayed sitting on the floor, leaning against the couch and sent a couple of quick texts to friends all the time wondering what the hell she’d gotten herself into.

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