Victoria was surprisingly well rested after the flight, the last time she’d flown her back had been stiff for days. She was just getting to her hotel room; the clerk had waved her and Eugene to the front of the line when they entered. It felt good to be a VIP.
“Hi daddy, we’re at the hotel. Everything was smooth sailing on calm seas.” She was calling him for a second time; he had insisted she call after checking in when she’d called him from the airport. “OK, I gotta go. Love you too, give mom a kiss for me.”
She arrived at her room and slid the key into the lock. When she opened the door and couldn’t believe her eyes. She had a suite; a MASSIVE suite. There was a full bar, a kitchen, a huge entertainment center with a plasma TV the size of a garage door and a completely separate bedroom.
“Holy SHIT!” Victoria took her phone out and snapped a few pictures to send to her friends. The view looked out over the fountain in front of the hotel. The bathroom had a whirlpool tub in addition to a luxurious looking shower and opened onto a balcony.
She walked out the sliding doors sipping a mineral water just as the Bellagio’s fountain began its famous performance. After watching it for a couple minutes she returned back inside and started to fill the bath, she did after all have an early morning tomorrow.
She blinked and activated her new piece of software. At first nearly blinded by the sheer amount of traffic, she activated filtering for the string of possible ports and addresses the hack had come from and gradually threads began evaporating, the massive ocean of traffic gradually becoming a delicate web. Of that web, only two tiny threads came from the hotel she was in right now.
Her study of web traffic was interrupted by her phone chiming; Eugene asking what time she wanted to get dinner. She thought for a moment and replied, accessing her phone’s text function through the WIFI channel, something that was noticeably more difficult than it had been with Eugene’s phone, and told him she’d be ready in forty five minutes.
The tub was nearly full and Victoria took off her sweaty travel stained clothes and slipped into the bath, sighing in pleasure. As her body relaxed her mind seemed to become more active, sorting data she had gathered and correlating that data with the traffic she was still monitoring. The muscles in her neck twitched as tension she hadn’t noticed before abated. She opened her eyes and for a moment all she could see was blackness with a few lines of web traffic.
Victoria sat up in panic only to find that her normal vision had returned. “What the hell was that? Probably just a glitch I suppose.” She shuddered and tried to shut the program down only to find it was unresponsive to her request. It hung for a few moments before finally closing, leaving her with a mild headache and a feeling that she had an itch inside her skull that she couldn’t scratch.
She dressed in gray skirt and plain white t-shirt. It was good all-purpose outfit that should be good enough for a late dinner without being too complicated, she didn’t want to keep Eugene waiting and besides she was hungry.
“Time to go have dinner I suppose. I wonder what kind of food we’ll find in this place, I could really go for some Chinese.” Right on schedule, she answered the knock on the door to find Eugene standing there. He was wearing a pair of slacks and a linen shirt, his sunglasses hanging from the top button of his shirt.
“Are you ready for some food?” He gave her an introspective look, “And maybe you’d be interested in telling me why you decided to do work for the military?”
“Yeah sure, is there a decent Chinese restaurant in this place?”
He laughed, “Of course, there’s food from around the world here. I hear their Szechuan restaurant has been highly rated. Let’s check it out.”
“Sounds good to me, I’m starving!” They were approaching the elevator when her vision flickered again, showing a nexus of communication coming from a room just three doors down from hers. It was over the ports that she was certain were only used by her hacker.
She made a mental note of the room number 1420, knowing that since no floor was ever labeled ‘13’ that meant it was room 1320. Huh, twenty was the least lucky number in Chinese lore and thirteen needed no explanation.
Victoria stopped dead just before stepping into the elevator. How had she seen that data? She had taken the special contact lens back out of her eye after getting out of the bath.
“Hey, what’s up? You look like you’ve seen a ghost, are you feeling OK?”
“Yeah, we’re fine, just a little travel fatigue I suppose.” Victoria said, passing her hand over her face.
Eugene gave her a strange look, but the elevator arrived before he could say whatever was on his mind. Apparently it wasn’t something he wanted to discuss in front of strangers. A group of college boys gave her an appraising look and to stave off any unnecessary flirting she reached out and took Eugene’s hand. He looked slightly startled but only raised an eyebrow at her and didn’t try to let go once they exited the elevator.
As they approached the restaurant, Victoria could see a line out the door and several people sitting on benches. A family sat on one side, talking rapidly in Chinese while a group of businessmen sat together all talking or emailing on their phones. The host approached.
“May I help you? Do you have a reservation?” He looked at their clothes and his lip curled ever so slightly, “What is your room number please?”
“My room is 1455, and I’m sad to say we don’t have a reservation.”
“Doctor Arlington! How wonderful to see you here.” The host smiled ingratiatingly, “Wait here just a moment and I’ll get you and your lady friend a table immediately.” The astonishment of the others waiting outside was obvious, although none voiced any complaint.
“What’s up with that Doc?” Victoria gave him a sidelong glance, “Have you been here before or something?”
“I have no idea why they’re giving me preferential treatment, but I’m not one to question fast service when I’m hungry. For what it’s worth I didn’t reserve you a suite either.” The host led them through the crowded restaurant to a quiet corner table.
“My name is Jeffry; your server will be Catherine tonight. Please let me know if there’s anything I can get for you. Anything at all.” He smiled an ingratiating smile and melted back into the room. Before they could recover, a waitress appeared with a glass of iced mineral water with a twist of lime and lemon for Victoria and a vodka martini with two olives for Eugene.
“Hi, I’m Cat and I’ll be your waitress this evening. Here are some drinks to start you off. I’d highly recommend the Xiao Long Bao”
Victoria thought she heard a low voice murmur (savory steamed bun), and smiled slightly at Eugene in thanks for the translation. She turned her attention to the waitress again.
“Or Zongzi ‘seasoned rice steamed in bamboo leaf’ as an appetizer. I had the Jiang Muya (ginger duck) for the first time yesterday and can’t say enough about how good it is. The Daoxiang Paigu (hay wrapped fragrant pork ribs) are also fantastic.”
“Sounds good, why don’t you bring us an order of each?” Eugene said, “If that works for you Victoria?”
“Oh yes, the duck sounds especially good to me.” Said Victoria, noting that Eugene’s eyes widened momentarily in surprise. “How did you know what drinks to bring us if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Um, actually the gentleman over there told me to bring them to you and to pay for whatever you wanted to order.” Cat pointed to a table not far from theirs and after a moment Victoria recognized the man.
“Hey Eugene, look at that! It’s Dmitri; he graduated three or four years before I did. Wow, I wonder what he’s doing here.” Victoria gave him a cheery wave. “Dmitri, how have you been? Would you like to join us?”
He walked over to their table, “Victoria, Eugene, so good to see you. I would normally acquiesce to such a request, especially from an old friend. Even more from an old friend who has done nothing but get more beautiful since I saw her last.
“Unfortunately I have a prior engagement and will not be able to join you tonight. Perhaps you would care to join me tomorrow night? I happened to come across some tickets to a show you just might be interested in.” He took an envelope from the inside pocket of his impeccable Armani suit and laid it on the table. “Enjoy your meal my friends.”
He walked away without looking back. Victoria watched him go. Gods he was still as hot as he had been in high school. “OK Eugene, how do you know Dmitri? Damn, I haven’t seen him in years he looks like he’s doing well for himself.”
“I could ask you what you’re doing with the Military software that’s installed in your fucking HEAD.” He glanced around and lowered his voice. “Seriously, what the hell were you thinking? Do you have any idea what it could do to you?”
“What are you talking about? It’s just a piece of software Eugene. I mean I know you’re protective of your tech, but Jesus what’s the big deal?”
“You have no clue do you? No clue. Shit Victoria, this could destroy you.” Eugene looked at her with serious concern on his face. “Look, I know we haven’t talked about this kind of thing but I never thought it’d be an issue. ADAM is a very sophisticated, delicate system and any disruption, even a tiny one, could spell disaster.”
Victoria thought back to her vision flickering and had to admit he had a point. “Umm… wow, I guess I never thought of it like that.”
“Yeah I didn’t think so.” He took a sip of his martini.
“Look, it was the fastest, most logical way through the checkpoint. Besides, the idea of the new software and the mission was… exciting.” She blushed and tucked some stray strands of hair behind her right ear. “I never thought anything bad would happen. I mean do you know that something bad would happen?”
“Just be careful.” Their appetizer had arrived along with a refreshment of their drinks.
“So you and Dmitri. What’s the story there?” Victoria bit into a fragrant and savory steamed bun with relish. “Mmmmm these are so good. You’ve gotta try one!”
“Oh, his father was an investor in the … project. Your project.” He gave her meaningful look and accepted the bun she was offering. “Wow, you’re right these are amazing.”
“I thought it was the military that funded it.” Victoria took a drink of her mineral water and helped herself to another appetizer. “What does his dad do anyway? He always said he was in ‘mergers and acquisitions’ whatever that is supposed to mean. We used to joke he was in the mafia.” She chuckled.
“I never asked what his occupation was. Honestly I was too worried that I wasn’t going to get enough funding. That thing that’s a part of you now is the culmination of fifteen years of my life and around half a billion dollars.”
“Half … a … billion?” She whispered, dropping her glass. Her eyes didn’t leave his when it shattered on the floor. “Fucking hell Eugene!” She hissed, “How could you stick me with this kind of responsibility without telling me?”
“I know for a fact you’re worthy of my trust Victoria.” Eugene finished his martini. “You have everything to gain by helping me to succeed. After all; my success is your success.” He didn’t mention failure. It obviously wasn’t an option for either of them.
Their waitress stopped by at this point with a new glass of Perrier and a refill for Eugene’s martini. A bus boy cleaned up Victoria’s broken glass without comment and cleared the plates for the appetizers away so quietly she almost didn’t notice him. The main course arrived; the ginger and honey glazed duck looked amazing as did the hay-wrapped steamed ribs.
Victoria was so hungry she didn’t hesitate to scoop some saffron rice onto her plate and grab a few slices of succulent duck off the serving platter with her chopsticks. “Don’t think this is over Doc, you’ve got some more explaining to do.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Eugene laughed, “What kind of thing is this?” He had picked up a pair of pork ribs wrapped in fragrant hay.
“It’s what you ordered. Seasoned ribs steamed in hay. Didn’t you know?” Victoria was in heaven, the flavors were mingling on her tongue in culinary ballet. “Oh my god this duck is delicious.”
“Since when do you speak Mandarin? How did you know what dishes she was offering?” He unwrapped the ribs and tried the meat. “Mmm, this is really good too.”
“What the hell are you talking about Doc? You’re the one who was whispering what the dishes were when she was listing them off… weren’t you?”
“Me? No, I didn’t say anything.” His brow furrowed in confusion, “You heard someone talking? Victoria there’s nobody behind you and there isn’t any way you would have heard me across the table.”
“Well if it wasn’t you and there’s nobody near me then who was it? A ghost?” She rolled her eyes, “Come on Eugene you’re a scientist, don’t tell me you believe in the supernatural.”
His voice dropped low and he leaned towards her, “I think we have to consider the possibility that it’s Adam.”
“Is that even possible? The tech paper you gave me showed a clear delineation between my mental activity and the machine’s code language. I mean they’re supposed to be so different it’d be like me being able to talk to a dog or a tree.” She took a drink of water and considered for a moment, “Or I suppose like me spontaneously knowing Mandarin. Shit, do I need to be concerned about this?”
“Look Tori, I didn’t mean to make you nervous OK? Just be careful.” He fixed her with a two martini look which is to say, a slightly unsteady one. “I’m afraid of the consequences, I mean… if you’re actually interfacing with it. Do you have any idea how crazy that is? A machine having direct mental contact with a human?”
Victoria paused with her chopsticks halfway to her mouth, “So what should I do? Is there some kind of contingency in place for this?”
“Never mind. Forget I said anything, it’s fine. Just be careful OK? Just be careful.” He gestured with his chopsticks. “Can I have some of that duck?”
“Yeah, sure. As long as I can have some of your ribs. Have you tried this rice? The saffron flavor is so delicate.” She sighed in satisfaction, “OK, I promise to be careful as long as you promise not to have any more secrets. Deal?”
“Deal.” He agreed.
She grinned at him, ignoring the slight hiss of static that told her he was lying. Her vision blurred, went white, then completely dark and finally settled on monochrome. In spite of her promise, she didn’t say anything to Eugene. After a moment her vision returned to normal and she took a deep breath.
“Ahhh, that was awesome, just what I needed.” She pushed her plate back. “I’m exhausted, I think I need to turn in. Is it OK if I head on back to my room?”
“Yeah, sure. Are you feeling OK?”
“We’re fine, just need some rest. Thanks for a good evening Eugene.” She got up and patted him on the cheek. “Don’t stay up too late drinking, I’ll need you tomorrow.”
After leaving the restaurant she made it back up to the 14th floor before she collapsed. The door in front of her opened. The door to room 1420. Behind it stood a little girl of Asian heritage, her black hair in pigtails wearing a cashmere robe and silk pajamas. She clutched a netbook with a cluster of cables erupting from the back that led to a heads up device that was perched on top of her head. The air around her was alive with electronic data traffic.
“Hey lady, are you OK? Lady?” She leaned over, “I got your SOS, do you still need help?”