Machine Girl: What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Always Stay in Vegas – Chapter 9

Victoria

Victoria knew Yeun-Ja was in trouble and she had an overwhelming need to help her; the texts she had sent didn’t make a whole lot of sense but it was easy enough to discern the basics.  Someone had taken her father for whatever reason and now was coming for her.

What she felt went beyond a want; it was as though there was no choice.  She closed her eyes for a moment and focused on attempting to talk directly to ADAM.

“Adam, can you help for a minute?  I don’t know how to get to her.  We must save her, it’s a matter of honor and … well I can’t explain it but I need to get to Yeun-Ja.”

The room swirled around her momentarily and she found herself a passenger in her own body.  Everything became sped up and silent as though someone had pushed the mute and fast forward buttons on her body.  She saw herself hack the elevator circuitry to release the door, open the access panel and climb over Eugene into the darkness.  It was a short climb up a service ladder to the next floor.

When ADAM returned control to her, she was standing above of the elevator staring at the closed doors to the fourteenth floor.  She knew these were offline due to the power outage, but also knew this model didn’t lock on the outside, only the inner elevator doors did.  With effort she her braced her feet and slid them aside, peering out into the hallway.

There was a man about four doors down with his back to her.  He was wearing a neatly tailored suit and had a short military-style haircut but what really drew her attention was the gun in his hand.  While she watched the man put his hand to his ear, nodded and made a couple of hand gestures.

“Team Alpha, move forward and take The Kai.  Team Bravo, standby in the stairwell in case we have any security force, the fire department, or curious assholes trying to crash our party.  Let’s make this fast and professional.”

Victoria could hear their radio chatter.  Adam queued up security camera footage, overlaying it as a ghostly image over her ‘normal’ vision. She could see a half dozen men in riot gear with sub machine guns slipping into the stairwell while another half dozen approached room twenty.  Yeun-Ja’s room.

Her body sprang into action before she could stop it.  Victoria slid silently through the open elevator doors, snatching a fire extinguisher off the wall and sprinted up behind the man in the suit.  Her bare feet didn’t make a sound and he didn’t have a chance to defend himself when she brought the heavy metal body down to strike a glancing blow to the side of his head.  She threw the extinguisher at the men who had just bashed the door open with one swift blow of a SWAT ram and pulled the comatose man’s body down on top of herself as two of the men opened fire.

The fire extinguisher she had thrown exploded as a stray bullet ripped it open, several other shots hit the man she was using as a shield and many more struck the walls behind her.  The entire hallway was obscured by a cloud of dry chemical fire retardant but Victoria knew exactly where her foes were.

“Goddamn it hold your FUCKING POSITIONS!  We can’t risk firing on our own and we took that first one down.  This shit will settle in a couple of seconds and there’s nowhere for him to run.  We’ll hear anyone coming and if they had a gun they would have used it already.”

”I don’t like it Cap, there’s too much dust, I can’t see a fuckin’ thing.”

“All the more reason to sit tight, now cut the chatter.  Bravo, you are probably going to have some company.  Assume anyone’s hostile, even if they’re dressed civilian.”

Victoria had been feeling around and found the gun the man had dropped as well as two spare magazines of ammunition from his belt.  The mental image of where everyone had been standing was clear in her mind’s eye and she calmly slipped back to the elevator, aimed into the dust cloud and fired all nine rounds in the magazine.

Rapid gunfire answered her salvo along with cries of pain but she was already behind the steel elevator door, reloading her weapon.  Judging from the response she had gotten, Victoria estimated she had succeeded in hitting four of the six men in the legs as she had planned.  Lying almost on the floor, she brought up the security footage again.

The dust was thinning and she could see murky forms beginning to resolve themselves into men carefully making their way towards her hiding place.  With Adam’s help, triangulating the trajectory she needed to use in order to hit them without exposing more than her hand was child’s play and she dropped the last two with carefully placed shots to the knee.

Adrenaline was now screaming through her body in full force and she bolted down the hallway and into the open room.  “Yeun-Ja, we have no time, it’s Victoria you need to come with me now!”  She realized in mild surprise she had switched to Mandarin automatically.  A closet door to her left opened and her friend emerged, tears streaming down her face and clutching her laptop as though it was a good luck charm.

Victoria swept her up in one arm and ran back towards the elevators.  Carefully setting the girl and then the gun down next to the open access port on the top of the elevator, she pulled the doors closed behind them.  “We need to climb down to that elevator the ladder is right here.” She said to Yeun-Ja, “I’ll go first and make sure it’s safe.”

She made her descent and whispered into the open hatch, “Eugene?  You down there?”

“Shit!  Victoria is that you?”  He stepped back into her field of view and looked up at her.

“Yes, I’m lowering someone down, can you help her?”  She turned to Yeun-Ja and continued in Mandarin, “This is Eugene.  He’s Adam’s creator… his father.  He won’t hurt you.”

She lowered Yeun-Ja down into Eugene’s waiting arms and paused briefly to stow the sidearm and spare magazine in the false ceiling next to a ventilation fan.  Gripping the edge of the ceiling with her hands she slowly, gracefully somersaulted into the elevator.

“What the FUCK happened up there?”  Eugene was furious, “You told me you knew what was up there.  Why would you even CONSIDER going if you knew there were guys with machine guns?”

“Eugene, quiet down.  You’re scaring her and she’s been through a lot today.”  Victoria put her arm around Yeun-Ja’s shoulder and gave him a sharp look.

“So this is the person who saved your life?  Who you were willing to turn around and put your life on the line for?”  The disbelief was evident on his face.

“Yes, she’s a genius.  The software that military bitch gave us was flawed.  It had some sort of virus or tracking software or something that crashed us.”  Victoria moved to the electrical panel and put the wires back on their proper jumpers.  After a bit of fiddling she managed to snap the panel back into the wall.

“I told you-“

“Shut up Eugene, I know.”  She cut him off, “I screwed up OK?  But he wanted it as bad as I did.”  She blushed, “I can’t help it, we’re part of the same whole now and he has needs too.  You didn’t put that in the goddamn manual did you?”

He opened his mouth, but she pressed on, “That’s not the point right now, she actually heard Adam calling and came to our rescue.  I was completely out and even though she could have done anything she wanted she chose this girl chose to help us instead.”

Eugene tried to speak again but she didn’t let him interrupt.  “You wanted an explanation so keep quiet and let me explain.  By the way she only speaks Mandarin as far as I can tell or at least very limited English so don’t expect to pick her brain too much later.

“I don’t know what went down but she gave me a strict talking to about not mistreating Adam.  From what I can tell they really had a meaningful connection.  This girl makes world-class hackers look like kids with pocket calculators.”  She was getting a slight headache.

“I think some of what I remember is coming from him right now.  Every time we directly interface my head hurts.”

Yeun-Ja had opened her laptop and was looking at something on it.  She paused and pulled on Victoria’s dress.  “Tori, killers coming?”  The worry in her voice was heartbreaking.

Victoria pulled up the security camera footage again and saw the group of men in SWAT uniforms making their way into the hallway where she had incapacitated their comrades.

She activated her tap on their commlink, “The cops will be here in 90 seconds.  Time to pack up gentlemen; it looks like Craig is the only casualty.  From the looks of it probably from friendly fire.  His sidearm is missing, be careful; the assailant may still be out there.”

She saw them sweep the area and withdraw swiftly, carrying the unconscious and deceased members of their team with them.  “We failed to capture The Kai here but I have intel about his next move.  We will get that data as well as revenge on his protector.”  With that the team left her field of view.

“Not to worry Yeun-Ja, they are leaving.  They say that they failed to capture The Kai; isn’t that your father?”  Victoria could feel her head begin to throb from the effort of speaking Mandarin.

“No, poppa is not a hacker.  They were looking for The Kai?  How did they know about The Kai?”  Her voice pitched slightly higher.

“I don’t know anything else.  Who is The Kai?”

“It’s my honor name in hacker circles.”  Her eyes narrowed, “Someone must have talked, I am certain I covered my tracks well.  My father’s life is in danger because of whoever that snitch is.  When I find them I will make them pay.”

“What did you do to get that title?”  Victoria had a sinking feeling in her stomach.

“I borrowed information from an American spy satellite on the North Korean nuclear program.  I’m using it to create a virus that will destroy the centrifuge they are currently enriching uranium to military levels in a few days.  They were going to sell it to Iran and that is unacceptable.  My mother was killed because of the desires of the Oppressors and I won’t allow them to accelerate their plans with foreign aid.”

Shit.  The very person she had been sent to find was the only person she couldn’t turn in.  Not only that, but she had stolen something that was nearly certain to get her killed along with anyone she was associated with.

“OK Eugene, we need to clean up this place so when they come to rescue us it doesn’t look like we messed with anything.”  She pointed at the access hatch.

“We?”  Eugene laughed, “I didn’t do anything in here, this carnage is all on you.”  He was grinning and already cupping his hands for her to stand on to close the hatch.

Victoria stood on his cupped hands, feeling Adam inject instructions of how to close and latch the access panel into her consciousness.  She was very aware of Eugene’s cheek resting against her outer thigh.  The stubble of his beard made it impossible to ignore but she needed to lean on him to balance.

After the panel was secured she pulled the false ceiling back into place and stepped down.  Knowing it should be about time for them to show up she accessed the security feed and watched as a group of armed police officers made their way up the stairs.  While they were organized, they didn’t come close to the precision of the specialists who had just left.  It occurred to her that they must have had a man inside to keep the police response time down.  Also since they hadn’t bothered to disable the cameras their man must be in the security monitoring station.

“Eugene call security and report our status.  We need to look like normal people and normal people would have called saying they were trapped quite awhile ago.”

“Actually, I already did.  It seemed like a good idea once I heard the gunfire… I wasn’t sure if you were OK or not so I panicked and called it in.”  He shrugged and looked embarrassed, “I wasn’t going to tell you about it…”

“Even better.”  Victoria looked at her clothes and grimaced, “Shit this dress is full of dust from that fire extinguisher.”  She tried to pat some of it off without much success.  “Damn, I guess I’m not going to be able to get this dust off with my hands.  What I really need to do is get it dry cleaned but maybe once we get out of here I can just take it off and shake it.  It doesn’t look too bad does it?”

“Looks just fine, don’t worry about it.  We’re stuck in a disabled elevator, not walking the runway.”  Eugene was nervously biting his thumbnail.

“I just don’t want it to look like I’ve been crawling through an elevator shaft.”  She stuck her tongue out at him.

He stopped chewing on his thumbnail and smiled, “Don’t worry about it, they’d never even consider that you are capable of doing what you just did.”

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The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 1

Callindra crouched behind a small hill, listening to the sounds and smelling the scents the Winds brought her way.  There were creatures moving out there, and they didn’t have the best interests of any living creature in mind.  Glancing back at Cronos she gave a quick hand signal, and he nodded, slipping around the hill to the left while she went to the right.

The shouts of distressed humans reached her ears, curling on the back of a malicious breeze.  Gritting her teeth, she dropped the guise of stealth and sprinted over the hill, whipping Brightfang’s slender length from his sheath with a whistling rasp of steel against leather.

Two huge wagons drawn by teams of eight oxen each were surrounded by strange creatures, seemingly humans with heads like dogs, long powerful arms and short hair covering their bodies.  Most importantly, their eyes glowed with green fire.  These were her enemies.

With a shout and a swing of her blade, Callindra sent a blast of wind that cut like razors into the closest beasts.  One of them fell shrieking and clutching at a severed arm, and the other two ran to meet her charge.  Just before they reached her, Cronos slammed into them from one side and Vilhylm from the other.  The creatures toppled to the ground, but dozens more reared up from the grass, some with flaming arrows nocked to bowstrings.

“Ware!”  An older man with a mattock in his hands shouted to them, “There be grain in them wagons!”

Callindra watched the arrows flying through the air, the flames on the oil soaked heads flickering in the evening light.  She tried to do something, to use magic, but it slipped through her fingers.  She might as well try to hold onto a handful of water.

Tryst shouted three words that echoed in the air and the ground around one of the wagons rippled, forming into an earthwork berm.  The arrows thudded harmlessly into it, but the oxen bellowed in fear, rolling their eyes and straining against their yokes.

Vilhylm ran forward, breathing into the lead bull’s nostrils and he quieted enough that the wagon wasn’t in danger.  Donning a mask of polished wood, he seemed to grow and change.  His skin became less like flesh and more like bark.  Vines sprouted from his arms and twined around a group of advancing creatures, forcing them to slow their mad rush.

Ignoring them, Callindra slashed the closest one to her from neck to navel before spinning to catch the downward swing of a pike on Brightfang’s blade.  The force of the impact drove her to one knee, but she shed the impact and swung her sword to hack the thing off at the knees.

She growled in pain as an arrow slammed into her thigh, deflected by her armor but still hitting hard enough to bruise and then was nearly thrown to the ground when another struck her chest, this time finding a weak spot and plunging into muscle.  A swipe of Brightfang cut the shaft off close to the armor and she continued to carve a trail of destruction through the seemingly endless swarm of enemies.  A half dozen burning shafts arced high to strike the grain wagon and it began to catch fire, but vines from Vilhylm raced up to smother most of the flames.

Callindra swung about to look for another enemy, but found they were all down.  She carefully cleaned the oozing green ichor from Brightfang’s blade before it could etch the steel and sheathed him.  Tryst was speaking with the wagon master, Cronos was making sure of the dead and Vilhylm was checking the condition of the wagons with a woodworker’s critical eye.

“- bound for Clarion with grain.”  The man was saying, “Good thing you all came up when ya did.  Them critters woulda been a fair lot more trouble than we coulda handled.”

“It was a pleasure to assist you master Gild.”  Tryst replied, “The Adamantine Brotherhood is bound by duty to help those in need.”

“And we don’t mind killing creatures that need killing.”  Callindra said dryly, “Wel met, I’m Callindra-“

“Yer the ones what handled them critters at the Graiven place ain’t ya?”  Orin interrupted, giving Tryst a critical look.

“Uh.  No.”  Tryst said, “We’re just…” he paused; knowing he shouldn’t really talk about their mission. “We’re-“

“Where are you headed then Orin?”  Callindra interrupted, annoyed that the farmer was ignoring her.

“We gotta couple loads a grain bound fer Levora.”  One of the heavily muscled boys with obvious family resemblance to Orin said, grinning at her.  “Ya got some skills with that pigsticker.”

“Aye, I ain’t never seen fightin like that!”  The other said, obviously a brother or cousin.  “It were like ya was dancin or somethin.”

“Boys!” Orin barked, “Get them teams under control and quit yappin!”

The two young men looked away from Callindra with startled expressions on their faces, talking over one another in their haste to obey.  “Yessir! Yes father!”

He turned back to Tryst, still ignoring Callindra.  “So ya ain’t from Levora?  I heard there was patrols from there tryin ta keep the roads open.”

“No, we’re The Adamantine Brotherhood.  We fight evil wherever we find it.”  Tryst said, repeating the name he insisted on using for their group.

Callindra rolled her eyes, “We aren’t heroes Tryst, that silly name isn’t going to stick.”

Tryst gave her a resigned, resentful look and then noticed the stub of the arrow shaft protruding from her chest.  “By the Powers Callindra, come here at once!  I must remove that arrow before it gets infected.”

She unbuckled the breastplate of her armor and winced at the pain when she removed it.  She was used to getting injured by now, but it didn’t make the pain any less.  The flowers in her hair released a tiny burst of pollen that made her sneeze but somehow it had an anesthetic effect.  Either that or she was going into shock.

“Just pull it out.”  She said through gritted teeth.  “I got lucky, I think one of my ribs stopped it from puncturing a lung, but you can’t push it through.”

Tryst made her sit and frowned.  “I’m going to have to cut these clothes off… at least your underthings.”

Callindra pulled her tunic over her head with effort, wincing again as the arrowhead grated against a rib.  “I go through more breast bands.”  She grumbled, but looked at him and nodded tersely.

He took a small surgeon’s kit from his belt pouch and deftly sliced through the cotton band, exposing the arrow shaft.  A look of surprise registered on his face as he looked to the left.  It was an ancient trick but Callindra fell for it, glancing away in confusion as he pulled the arrow out in a smooth practiced motion.

She gasped in pain, but nodded her thanks.  “Keeps me from tensing the muscles at the wrong time right?”  Callindra looked down at the wound just to one side of her right breast.  The bleeding had already stopped and she could feel the roots of Jorda’s gift slowly pulling the flesh together.

Tryst was staring intently as well, and based on the location of the wound some women might have taken offense.  Callindra knew, however, that he was interested in the healing process.  “I just can’t get over this.  It’s such an amazing thing to see.”

“Yes, well can I get dressed now?”  She asked, smiling at the touch of color on his cheeks, “Those boys are starting to wonder what we’re doing.”

“Of course, just don’t put pressure on it for a bit.”  He said, clearing his throat.  “No seriously strenuous activity for a day if you can help it.”

Callindra nodded, too tired to argue.  She would ignore him as usual, they both knew it, but the routine still felt good.  It was so strange and wonderful to have people who cared enough about her to mother her about her injuries.  Shrugging back into her bloodied, sweat stained tunic, she went back to the horses to get fresh clothes and a drink of water.

One of the boys met her halfway there with a waterskin and a friendly smile.  “I’m Jordan Gild.  Don’t mind pop, he’s just scared… likes ta fall back on old habits when he gets rattled ya know?”

“All too well.”  She said, taking the waterskin from him with a nod of thanks.  She drank deeply and splashed some over her face, feeling it sting where there were still small cuts from the battle.  The Crown always healed the largest wounds first, sometimes it was days until the smaller ones got closed.

“I’m not really offended.”  She said, then gave him a critical look.  “Well honestly I am, but I’m just too tired to worry about it right now.  We’ve been on the road for weeks and I don’t think I’ve gotten a decent night’s sleep that whole time.  How far out of Levora are we anyway?  I want a bath and a real bed.”

“Oh, just about a day an a half.”  He said, “At least as the wagon trundles.  Ya could probably get there a mite sooner travelin by horse.”

She sighed in resignation, taking another drink from the waterskin before handing it back to him.  “I’m sure Tryst will insist on us riding with you, and honestly I will welcome a slower pace until these wounds heal.”

“I ain’t seen anyone take an arrow to the chest an not just fall over dead.”  He said, his wide face shining with honest admiration.  “How do ya keep them flowers fresh anyways?”

Callindra sighed.  It was only for a couple of days, but they were going to be long days if this farm boy spent them all gawking and asking questions.

“Magic.”  She said shortly, “I need to go and change… and maybe take a quick scrub down in that little river over there.  You should see to your beasts.”

“Oh, uh… right.”  He said awkwardly.

“Thanks for the water Jordan.”  She said, and went to find fresh clothes.

Machine Girl: What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Always Stay in Vegas – Chapter 8

Eugene

Eugene was equal parts nervous, elated and terrified.  They were finally going to get to show off A.D.A.M. and he was going to get the chance to give the middle finger to those naysayers who said it was never going to work.  Well figuratively speaking anyway.

Victoria worried him a little bit though; she seemed more and more distracted.  He knew the machine had infiltrated portions of her brain but the extent of the damage, if there was any damage, was impossible to determine.  Despite her apparent absent-mindedness he knew she was paying attention to her surroundings.  When they had been signing in at the concierge for example, the attendant had asked for the license plate of their rental car and while he was digging through his rental documents she had rattled it off as though it was her cell number.

Honestly the main worry about her that he had was that she was going to slip up and reveal more about how intertwined she and the machine were than he was comfortable having other people know.  They were in the elevator now and even though he had subtly attempted to take his hand from hers she either didn’t notice or didn’t want to let go.  It was interesting how the slightest physical contact with another human being changed your perception of them.

“Doc, something’s wrong.”  She squeezed his hand before letting go and taking what he could only call a defensive martial arts stance.  The elevator shuddered to a halt between the eleventh and twelfth floors.  A calm voice sounded through a hidden speaker.

“Please excuse the inconvenience; we are currently experiencing technical difficulties.  We will evacuate any guests who are inside this elevator as soon as possible.”  Above them the sound of automatic gunfire erupted.  Eugene could hear Victoria’s phone chime.  Once, twice, thrice, then an ongoing string of notifications.

“No!  You are not going to TOUCH my Yeun-Ja!”  She was stepping out of her impressive stiletto heels.

“Ummm, Victoria?”  She wasn’t listening to him; he didn’t even exist.

“I must be careful she loves this dress.  She would never forgive me if we ruined the dress.”  Walking to the door, Victoria popped the lock on the access panel next to the emergency call phone with a pin she pulled from her hair.

“What the hell are you doing?”  The speed with which she had opened the lock with nothing but a hair clip astounded him.

“I need to get the door open; we are almost to our floor.  Out the door is the easiest way to get up there, I cannot let them get her!”  She had pulled an electronic panel out and paused for a second, looking at the tangle of wires in her hands.

“Victoria, you’re going to get fried!  This isn’t a car, you can’t hotwire it.”

“I downloaded the schematic and it looks like I can short circuit across here and deactivate the door lock.”  She yanked a wire out of one side of the panel and touched it to the metal side of the electrical box.  There was a pop, the lights flickered momentarily and she looked at him over her shoulder.

“Doctor Arlington, can you pry the door open?  I have to hold this so the lock does not re-activate.”

Eugene made his way to the door and gave it a doubtful frown.  Forcing his fingers into the rubber between the two doors, he pulled to either side and was surprised when the doors slid silently open with minimal resistance.  Victoria was already at his side and looking up into the dimly lit elevator shaft.

“I cannot climb up through here, not enough clearance.  I must go through the top access panel.  Can you cup your hands so I can reach high enough to unlatch it?”

“I’m not doing anything until you tell me what’s going on.  Who is Yeun-Ja?  Who is after her?  What exactly do you think YOU’RE going to be able to do about it?”  Eugene crossed his arms and leaned against the wall.

“I comprehend your concern for me.”  Victoria’s radiant smile might have made him weak at the knees at any other time, “I do not have time to explain right now.  Her life really is hanging in the balance.  I swear, I will tell you everything once she is safe.”  She gave him a pleading look, “She saved my life.”

“It’s too dangerous, you don’t even know what’s waiting for you up there.”  He crossed his arms harder, willing her to listen as though that would work.  “I’m responsible for you Victoria, I can’t just send you into the unknown to try and find someone you don’t even know is there!”

Her eyes narrowed, “I can do it without you; we would just go through the door.  I am just worried about tearing the dress.  I do know what is up there; I have hacked into a security feed and I am streaming the data live right now.  Look, I do not have time to deal with this; either help me or get the hell out of my way.”

He bent and laced his fingers together, shaking his head in defeat.  “OK, but you owe me a FULL explanation after this is over.”

She gave a little shrug, “Victoria will tell you whatever she feels like.  I won’t tell you anything without her permission.”

While he was trying to process that she walked over to him, stood on his cupped hands and reached up to push one of the ceiling tiles back.  Her efforts revealed an access hatch just as she had predicted.  Victoria leaned forward; her thigh bracing against the side of his face and neck for support.  After a few wonderful seconds she had it open and gracefully pulled herself through.

“We will be right back.  Just sit tight and get ready to catch us if we need you to.”

Eugene let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, things were getting out of control fast.  He realized the AI had completely exceeded its parameters and was apparently able to direct Victoria’s actions with or maybe even without her say so.  Looking through the hole she had disappeared through, he realized he didn’t have a choice but to sit and wait for her.  There was no way he’d be able to follow her.  He was just realizing this fact when the first gunshots erupted from above.

The Callindra Chronicles, Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Prologue

The winds danced over hill and field.  They swirled around a city under siege, only holding on by the sheer force of will of thousands of Weavers of Magic.  They tickled the tree tops of the High Forest, twirling leaves into whirling patterns.  The raced over mountain peaks and were drawn to heat and smoke, an oddity in the cold, barren landscape.  Following them back to their source, they traveled down a long chimney.

A Dwarf with arms the size of tree trunks was standing at a small forge in front of a classroom of students.  Although young, they all showed the beards of adulthood, or very close at any rate.  They were old enough to be trusted with the heat of the fire and the soul of the forge.

“You must listen the metal, for it will tell you what it needs.  You must smell the metal, for it will warn you when it is close to damage.  You must watch the metal, for its light speaks of its willingness to change and bond.”  The master smith turned to his apprentice with a twinkle in his eye, “I would recommend waiting to taste the metal until it has cooled.”

One of the Dwarves in the front row of desks was scribbling furiously in a notebook.  When the master stopped by his desk he looked up with a serious expression on his face, obviously waiting for the lecture to continue.

“You can become skilled at metallurgy by research and practice, but one who would be truly gifted must learn to feel her work.  What I attempt to communicate with all my talk of using your senses to interact with the metal is that you need to put aside what you think you know and allow the passion of creation to guide your hands.

“It was this passion of Creation that caused Thraingaar to forge the first of our race.  We were tempered out of the bones of the earth on his Soulforge, and his love is what drives each of our creative impulses.  This is what sets us apart from the other races when it comes to bending what flows through the veins of the earth to our will.”

The youngster had stopped writing and was looking at him with awe on his face.  Ah yes, his name was Durrak.  His father and mother were renowned warriors, but he had shown an interest in learning to use a forge hammer instead of a war hammer and it had been encouraged.  In Dwarven society, being able to make things was always valued over destroying things.  Well no matter who his family was, he wasn’t going to get any preferential treatment.

Durrak wiped the sweat from his brow.  The forge was hot and the steel glowed on the anvil but he was distracted.  He was making a weapon for the first time and for some reason he couldn’t focus.  Every stroke of the hammer seemed to bend things the wrong way, the metal was either too hot or too cold.  It would either spark or crack, and eventually he threw the hammer down in exasperation.

“What is it Apprentice?”  Dethen asked, leaning down to inspect the ruins of what had been intended to be a dagger with a mild frown on his face.

“I can’t get it to… it just won’t work Master!”

Dethen looked at his Apprentice’s bench where the variety of small tools, kitchen implements, barrel staves, and other assorted items he had made were neatly arrayed and organized.  If his apprentice was having difficulty with the knife, it certainly wasn’t due to a lack of skill.

“Why don’t we stop for lunch, take some time to clear your head and we’ll look at it after.” Dethen said.  Once Durrak was out of the room he picked up the knife and turned it over in his hands.  To his surprise it appeared the alloys had begun to separate.  He’d never seen anything like it before; it was almost as though the metal was resisting being made into a weapon… or as though the smith who was working the forge somehow didn’t want to make one.

Not that someone could do something like that on purpose; alloys didn’t just break apart in random lines in a piece of hammered metal.  No matter, weapons weren’t for everyone.  Perhaps it would be better to try something more delicate.

“You wanted to see us Master Smith?”  The low rumble of Storgar’s voice would have been intimidating even had he not been an important member of the Shieldwall Warriors.  His wife Brenlena cut an equally imposing figure in the dress tabard of the King’s Own.

“Yes, thank you for meeting with me.” He said, organizing the papers on his desk before looking them squarely in the eyes. “Your son Durrak has incredible talent.”

“Wonderful, here I was afraid-”

“But it is a very focused and specific talent.” Dethen said, interrupting Storgar.  “I am convinced that with the proper training he could be the most influential jeweler Farenholm has seen in a thousand years.”

“Jewelry?” Brenlena said incredulously, “My son making Jewelry?”

“Impossible, he has military lineage!” Storgar said, stroking his beard. “There must be some mistake…”

He trailed off as Dethen removed the muslin cover from one of the wooden trays on his desk.  An array of bent and distorted weaponry sat on it like hideous gargoyles.  “Here are his attempts at anything with an edge.”

The silence of Durrak’s parents spoke volumes.  The master smith quickly uncovered the other wooden tray, “But here are his jewelry pieces.  Look at the intricacies of this scrollwork.  His intuition is better than many who have been working with precious metals for years!  I haven’t ever taught an apprentice who has learned to blend multiple metals in less than a moon-”

“Ridiculous!” Brenlena interrupted, “My son will make a Fullblade for me as his Master’s Piece or he shall be removed from your care.”  Dethen opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off, “DO I make myself clear?”

“Of course Exalted.” He said, giving her the military title in the hopes that it would diffuse the situation.  “I will make sure his instruction continues as per your initial request.”

The two stood stiffly and stalked out, anger clear on their faces and the set of their shoulders.

“I told you.” Durrak said, “I knew they wouldn’t be interested in any of this.”  He said bitterly as he gestured toward the tray of intricate necklaces and bracelets.  “All they care about is military rank and fighting prowess.”

“Well Apprentice, then I guess we’ll have to work harder on your weapon smithing until you can create something that will pass for a blade.” He said with a wry grin, “And you can make beautiful things when you have the time.”

“Yes sir.  As you say Master.”  There was relief and sadness in Durrak’s voice.  He had so badly wanted his mother and father to understand.  He could never fill their shoes, and even if he could, in five hundred years nobody would remember the name of the warrior who had served so valiantly in combat.  He wanted to leave a legacy behind that would last forever; not just the corpses of a few thousand goblins.

Machine Girl: What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Always Stay in Vegas – Chapter 7

Victoria

Victoria awoke feeling slightly sluggish, but still well-rested.  While she hadn’t gotten quite enough sleep, she had slept soundly.  She stretched luxuriously and reached out to turn off the alarm just before it went off right at 6:59.

“Good morning Adam!”  She wasn’t sure if he would get the message or not but she had a hunch that he had something to do with her being so rested.  She tried to link to her phone to text Eugene, but found the software missing.

She really had almost killed herself with that damn program.  Lieutenant Karlgaard was going to get a piece of her mind when she saw her next.  Grabbing her Epic, she texted Eugene so he would know she was awake, she made her way to the bathroom and took a very hot shower.  When she got back to the bedroom she saw Eugene had sent her a message.

“I’m having breakfast in 20 minutes at the Bistro on the main floor.  Meet me there?”

She texted back “Sure, give me 30 though.”  Now to tackle the problem of what to wear, Victoria had a sneaking suspicion she was going to need to show off the entire spinal column and that was going to involve exposing her back from brainstem to sacrum; not an enticing idea in an auditorium full of bioengineers and robotics designers.  Wrapping a towel around herself she wandered out into the main room.  To her surprise she saw a small stack of boxes on the coffee table.

She read the note attached to the top box.  “Huh, who knew Dmitri was such a thoughtful guy.”  Opening the box she gasped in surprise, the biggest package was labeled Emilio Pucci… it was a dress and had to have cost at least a few thousand dollars.  There were also shoes from Badgley Mischka, a purse by Giani Bernini and low rise panties that would work with the dress which had a back that tied around the neck was scooped all the way to just before the end of her prosthetic.

“It’s a little creepy to have a guy I don’t really know sending me underwear Dmitri, but at least you have good taste.” She muttered under her breath.

She couldn’t resist and put on the entire outfit.  To her amazement everything fit perfectly.  “How did you know?  Even down to me needing a swoop backed dress.  The shoes are just right too which is crazy because I can’t even buy shoes that fit half the time.”

As she turned to survey the results in the mirror, unable to keep the smile off her face, Victoria noticed one more box on the table.  It was small and flat and had been underneath the others.  “For extra luck.”  Said the note attached to the top.

She opened the box and almost dropped it.  Hanging from a delicate chain was a gold and silver pendant styled to look like a microchip.  The detail was so fine she could barely see it.  The chain was just long enough for the pendant to be displayed right in the hollow of her throat.  It had to be custom work; she didn’t recognize the tiny signature stamp on the back.

With a quick application of makeup and a couple of bobby pins to hold some wayward tresses out of her eyes, Victoria gave her reflection a critical look.  Well one thing was for sure, she was going to turn some serious heads.  After a moment’s consideration, Victoria decided not to wear anything over the dress.  To hell with hiding; she wanted people to see how beautiful this prosthetic was.  She quickly transferred her makeup, wallet, room key and cell phone into the new purse and with one last glance at herself headed out of the room.

It was still early, but there were a few people out and about.  Most of them were families and the few in formal dress were either hotel employees or patrons coming back from a late night.  As she approached the elevator the door opened revealing a man wearing a rumpled suit who reeked of booze and cigarettes.

“Holy shit, ain’t you all kinds of fucking gorgeous.”

Before she could do more than glare at him, a family exited a room behind her and she heard a child’s voice, “Wow, look at that girls back mommy!”

“Shhh honey, it’s not nice to point.”  The boy’s father was trying to whisper but in the quiet of the hallway he might as well have shouted.

“Your dress is really pretty lady!”  The little boy was wearing shorts, a t-shirt and a baseball cap with Pokemon characters on it.

Victoria turned and smiled at him, “Thank you.  I like your hat, what’s your favorite Pokemon?”

“What the FUCK is that?”  The drunk was staring at her back like she had a live cobra slithering down it.

“Watch your mouth around little ones you jerk!”  Victoria reached inside the elevator and slapped the door close button, “Jeez, some people!”

The next elevator arrived a few seconds later and she stepped inside.  Glancing back, she saw both parents grab a hand of the little boy, “We’ll get the next one.”

Victoria heard the boy say “But why daddy?  She was nice.”  The elevator door closing cut off the reply.  She sighed; immediate acceptance was expecting a bit much wasn’t it?

The elevator stopped three times to let more people on but Victoria kept her back to the wood paneled wall, leaning on the rail and pretending to examine her fingernails.  Most of the men who got onboard stared at her anyway, but at least it wasn’t because of her prosthetic.

The door opened and her phone rang at the same time.  It was Eugene, “Good morning Eugene, what’s up?”  She waited for most of the other people to get off, shifting her phone from her left hand to her right.

“Just wondering where you are, I’ve been waiting here for almost fifteen minutes.”

“It’s not my fault you got there too soon.”  She said with a laugh, “I told you to give me thirty minutes, I’m actually ten minutes early.”

“Sorry, I’m just a little nervous this morning.  Now I know how my parents felt when they sent me to kindergarten.”  He really did sound nervous; almost panicked.

“No worries Doc, I’m just getting off the elevator.  Can you order me a double cappuccino?  I need my caffeine fix.  I’ll be there in five.”  Victoria hung up and stepped out of the elevator.

She wasn’t used to a three inch heel but surprisingly had very little difficulty maintaining her normal long strides.  The thigh length dress whispered against her skin and the shoes struck a commanding cadence on the marble of the main foyer.

Feeling conspicuous, she glanced around out of the corners of her eyes and from what she could see every single person in the room was watching her.  It gave her a thrill even though it was an uncomfortable feeling to be so much the center of attention.

The morning sun was streaming through the three story tall bank of windows at the front of the hotel and as she approached the bistro a man in a sharp looking restaurant uniform approached.

“May I get you a table miss?”

“No, that’s OK I’m meeting someone and he’s already here waiting for me.”  Victoria gave him a smile and pointed to a table in full sun where Eugene sat smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee.

“Very good, allow me.”  He offered his arm and she laid her hand on it, letting him lead her to the table.  She heard a sudden intake of breath when she stepped in front of him so he could pull out her chair, but he made no comment about her prosthetic.

Eugene started when she sat, he had been staring off into space obviously lost in thought.

“Victoria, you look stunning!  Where on Earth did you get that dress?  It’s quite… daring I must say.”

“You like it?  It’s a present from Dmitri, who knew he had such good taste?”  She resisted the urge to stand up and twirl in a circle to show off the full effect.  “I didn’t know you smoked, you really should quit you know?”

He stubbed out the cigarette and gave her a guilty look, “Yeah, I actually quit about five years ago, I’ve just been stressing out lately and falling back on old habits.”  A waiter arrived with a steaming cappuccino on a tray and set it before Victoria with a flourish.

“Pardon me but would you like anything for breakfast Miss?”

“I’m actually ravenous; can I get an order of steak and eggs, meat rare, eggs over hard with a side of bacon?”  The waiter blinked in surprise.  “Sorry I know it’s not really Bistro fare, but I’m really hungry.”  She gave him a winning smile.

“Certainly.  Sir, are you just having coffee?”

“Yeah, could you leave me a carafe?”  He was spinning a black Zippo lighter around and around between his thumb and middle finger and staring out the window again.

“Eugene.  Hey Doc!”  He jumped like she’d poked him, “Take it easy, everything’s going to be fine today.  Seriously, you’re making ME nervous.  What’s up?”

“There’s just so much riding on today you know?  Say, ‘The Kai’ doesn’t mean anything to you does it?”

Victoria felt as though someone had tapped her on the inside of her forehead.  “It sounds sorta familiar, why?”

“I just heard someone mention it and it’s been bugging me ever since.”  He took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair.

Reaching across the table, Victoria took his hand, “Hey.”  He looked straight into her eyes, “It’s going to be OK.  Better than OK, today is going to be epic!”

“Well they certainly aren’t going to be prepared for you that’s for damn sure.”  He gave her a roguish grin, “How the hell did Dmitri get your size so accurately?”  A frown flickered across his brow at the mention of her former schoolmate.

“I dunno; he must be really lucky.  The shoes even fit perfectly!”  Deciding not to mention the fact that she was probably wearing five or six thousand dollars’ worth of clothes and accessories she took a sip of her cappuccino and sighed in complete satisfaction, “This coffee is absolutely amazing.”

Eugene looked at her, “Are you ready for today?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?  It’s not like this is some stage performance right?  All I have to do is show them my capabilities and you do some talk about how it works, or is there something more that I’m missing?”

“There may be some people who want to question you about the procedure, your recovery time, integration, any problems you might be experiencing and who knows what other things they’ll come up with.”  He chewed a hangnail and gave her a circumspect look.

“Do you want me to tell them?”  His eyes widened, “I’m only teasing Eugene, I can just show them my daily records.  Hell I could even jack in and show them historical reporting if they wanted.”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea.  They have a projector system in there that I was going to use to show my technical papers and talking points.”  He was beyond whatever misgivings he’d been having and on to the science and thoughts of showing off his invention.

“I haven’t done a diag yet today so they could see an unscripted unprepared live demo.  What do you think of that?  I mean it’d be a bit of a chance but it’d definitely show our confidence in the system and its performance.”  She said.

“You really have thought of everything haven’t you?”  Eugene asked, taking a big swallow of coffee.

“I’m trying.  This is kind of a big deal for me too; maybe not as big as it is for you but it’s very important to us to make a good first impression.”

“Toria, I need to talk to you about something.”  She looked at him over her coffee mug and raised an eyebrow.  “You keep referring to yourself as ‘us’ … and it’s a bit disconcerting to be honest.”

She was about to reply when her food arrived, interrupting the conversation.  After the waiter set everything down as well as a full carafe of coffee, Victoria realized he was right.

“Huh, I guess I’ve been doing that quite a bit lately.  I didn’t even notice, I wonder if anyone else has.”  After the first bite of her steak the rest of it seemed to evaporate.  It was delicious and she had finished the meal before the waiter even had the chance to come ask if she was enjoying the food.

“Well, I guess we should get going?  I need to stop by my room before we go so I can clean my teeth and fix my makeup.”  Victoria was standing up while Eugene was signing the bill.  The waiter paused, and then turned to her.

“I was talking to Dr. Arlington before you got here; I just wanted to say I really appreciate what you’re doing.  My brother got paralyzed by an IED in Iraq and this kind of technology would change his life.  So thanks for taking the risk and having the operation done.  It takes some real courage to attempt something like that.”  With that he turned and walked briskly back into the restaurant.

She was so stunned that she didn’t know how to respond.   Eugene came to stand next to her, smiling from ear to ear.

“It’s that kind of appreciation that really makes what we do worthwhile.  You really did take a chance on me Victoria and he’s right.  It takes a lot of courage to be the first to try an untested, unknown piece of technology like this.”  His smile got wider, crinkling the corners of his eyes, “I will never forget how sincere your gratitude was when you were first leaving the hospital.  I promise not to let you down.”

He took her hand and the contact was almost like an electric shock.  “Come on, I want to get into the auditorium early so we can make sure we’re all set to go.  We need to stop back by our rooms to get the equipment too.”

She followed him, not letting go of his hand.  His enthusiasm pulling her along as though it was a physical force.  “Well Adam, here we go!”  She thought, “Time to reveal ourselves to the world!”

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 40

The Elves sent them off with a good deal of circumstance; far more than Callindra guessed they would normally have given to a group of humans.  The goddess herself escorting them to the edge of the clearing around the Grandfather Tree.

“You go forth with my blessings.” Jorda said, her voice clear and confident.  “I know that you will find what you need, if you look carefully enough.  Remember to trust your instincts and each other.”

This was followed by a strange, sad song that was raised from many throats all around although she couldn’t see who was singing.  Callindra didn’t understand the words, but the melody stirred something inside her and she had to fight to keep the tears at bay. As the ethereal notes faded, an entire company of Elven warriors melted from the trees dressed in full war harness.

Callindra looked back and she thought she saw Edelweiss standing on a limb high above them.  When she waved he didn’t wave back, but that didn’t surprise her; Elves were a reserved people.  The next time she saw him, the Elf boy would likely look exactly the same but she would have aged.  Perhaps that was one of the reasons the song that had made her feel sad.

As they exited the forest, their honor guard split off and headed back into the shelter of the trees after a brief salute.  She felt she would miss their stolid presence, even if it had seemed mildly unfriendly.  The remainder of the wilderness was hardly less hostile; especially with the threat of Onde’s Abyssal infection out there.

“Do you think we’ll run into more trouble?”  She asked, immediately feeling foolish.  “I mean from the Abyssal spawn that is.”

“Of course.”  Tryst said, his voice grim, “That’s why Jorda couldn’t simply send her people off to accomplish this task.”

Callindra shook her head, feeling the braid she had twisted her still growing hair into swinging against her back and pulling on her head with unfamiliar weight.  “I don’t think that’s all there is to it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  Cronos asked, raising an eyebrow.

“She gave us gifts.  She didn’t punish us for bringing evil into her domain.”  Callindra was ticking points off on her fingers, “Even though her followers were unreceptive, hostile even she showed us nothing but friendliness and open arms.  I think she was planning for us to work for her from the beginning.”

“But why would she entrust such an important task to us?”  Vilhylm asked.

“Why would Tryst’s Biscop send us?”  Callindra countered, “I think… maybe we’re making more of this than we need to.  There’s just no way people like us would be sent on a mission that was actually as important as we’re pretending this one is.”

“You’re missing something Callindra.”  Tryst said, his eyes shining with the light of true knowledge.  “It’s not that she is taking advantage of us, or that we are fulfilling a task that is mere drudgery.  She has seen what is inside of each of us.  Jorda has named us her champions.  Her heroes.”

“Heroes?”  Callindra asked incredulously, “I’m no damn hero.”

“No.”  Tryst whispered, “None of us are, and that’s a fact.  Not yet.  Jorda did not give this task to us, but to the ones we will become.”

He could feel Jorda smile as the seed can feel the sun shining on it through the soil, and knew in his heart of hearts that this was only the beginning.

End of Book One.

Epilogue:

A wind blew across the expanse of the Ingurma desert, carrying with it the scent of dry, hot sand.  It was Austri, the warm and clever East Wind, and she was searching for something she had lost.  Rolling over lands usually outside her purview, she began exploring some of the cooler areas, her warm breath thawing the snows and making the rivers hurry toward the sea.

Njordi frowned in disgruntled anger, demanding what she was doing in his domain.  With a laugh and a mischievous gust of dry hot breath she swirled away, leaving the stern North wind with a bemused flutter and the desire to misbehave trickling through his being.  Reaching out with his long, cold fingers, Njordi found the restrictions that kept him locked in his northerly domain were no longer in place.  Having always wanted to see the ocean, he headed South.

Sujordi met him halfway across the wide space that existed between their domains.  She was excited and smelling of the seaweed, of salt, of fish and of the great storms that could brew over the swell and roll of the ocean.  He found her fascinating, the way her winds could go from calm to suddenly destructive without warning and the way she caused him to swirl about in vast circles that gained force and life of their own.  After dancing with him for a time, Sujordi turned to the West, seeking the place where the sun hid at night.

Upon exceeding her borders, she encountered Vestri.  His passion was storms, the great building thunderheads that would sweep down onto the plains, shattering them with lightning and flattening them with hail.  Violent and blustery, he had a tremendously loud booming voice.  Vestri alone had no desire to leave his domain, however he sent messages to the other Great Winds, using zephyrs now that they were conscious and able to exert their authority over the air once again.

His messages were short and blunt.  The Windfather was in trouble; either missing or dead.  His followers were scattered like dust before a gale and there was no clear replacement.  They must have a care, they must stay within their proscribed domains and they must mind their flocks of winds, otherwise he knew disaster would follow.

Njordi ignored his flatly stern words, instead allowing his newfound ability to create breezes to run wild over some of the lands.  Austri found that it was difficult for her playful nature to keep itself from spreading mischief, and many winds, large and small broke away from her to run rampant over the world.  Sujordi had strict holds over her vassals, however some of the ones who had mingled with Vestri became too powerful for her to exert direct control over and began to wreak havoc upon ocean and land.

All it could feel was hunger.  The hunger inside of it burned and in spite of all it had consumed, the hunger remained.  It did not feel anger or happiness or fear.  It did not long to procreate or to curry favor or be accepted by others of its kind.  All it wanted was to eat, to feast upon the essence of the living.  It saw motion and turned its head hungrily, emerald fire burning behind its eyes.

Machine Girl: What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Always Stay in Vegas – Chapter 6

Eugene

Eugene knew it was no coincidence that Dmitri was here, no twist of fate that had put him in the same restaurant and that his presence put both him and Victoria in danger.  He was determined to discover the bastard’s true intentions before he could do any damage.

He ran his fingers through his hair, took a deep breath and let his face slide into a sloppy grin.  The alcohol loosening his inhibitions was going to make this easier; he was always a little uncomfortable around women.  Raising his hand he waved at the waitress, “Catherine, do you have a minute?”

She glided up to his table, “Sure Dr. Arlington, what can I do for you?  Another martini?”

“No thanks, I have a big day tomorrow and would prefer not to have a hangover.  Listen, I had no idea that Dmitri was even going to be staying here much less buying me dinner.  Any way you could get me his room number so I can give him a proper thank you?”  Catherine gave him a speculative look.

“Well it’s not policy to give out room numbers.  I could get in trouble, maybe even fired if someone were to report it.”

“Please?  I haven’t seen the guy in ages and now he just appears otta nowhere, buys me and my patient dinner and then evaporates.  He even bought us concert tickets!”  Eugene opened the envelope and his jaw dropped in real surprise.  “He got us Tiesto tickets!  Holy shit these sold out in minutes!”

“Patient?  I thought she was your date.” She looked at him through lowered lashes, “I guess if he’s a good enough friend he probably wouldn’t mind me giving you his room number.”  She paused, “If you take me to that concert.  I really want to go and even though I tried I couldn’t get tickets.”

“I should have expected you’d want something in return.”  Eugene smiled ruefully.  He was actually prepared for this eventuality since he probably wasn’t going to be able to go anyway what with the conference and all.  “All right, let me write my cell number on the back of this ticket.”  He scribbled his number on the ticket and handed it to her.

“Mr. Fedorov is in the South Penthouse.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”  She flashed him a perfect smile and his head spun a little for reasons only partially related to the number of martinis he had consumed.

“Thanks Cat, I owe you one.”  Eugene left the restaurant and headed straight for the elevators.  He punched the top floor, then thought better of it and also punched the next one down.  After a brief search he found the stairway and made his way stealthily up them.  He paused before the door in a service corridor, voices were echoing from one of the rooms.

“This is a lotta blood for just a bloody nose.  I mean look at this; these sheets are ruined.”

“Shhh, you don’t want anyone to hear us do you?  I don’t care what he does.  The man tips well and is very polite.  He doesn’t even allow prostitutes to come to his room.  Mr. Fedorov is very strange for a VIP and I don’t intend to lose my job by bullshitting about a little blood on his sheets.”

Eugene slid along the wall until he could see into the room; a pair of women were sorting laundry on a table.  Two cleaning carts were stationed near the door and he could see a badge and access card hanging from the pocket of a hotel uniform draped on the arm of the closest cart.  The moment both women were facing completely away from the door he slipped in the door, snatched the badge and bolted without looking back.

As he approached the door to the South Penthouse, Eugene didn’t slow down at all.  There were a pair of goons he didn’t recognize standing outside the door not even trying to hide the pistols at their belts.

He didn’t give them a second glance and instead continued down the hallway at a leisurely pace.  Turning a corner he finally saw what he was looking for; a door marked “Hotel Staff Only.”

Mentally crossing his fingers he swiped his pilfered card through the electric lock.  The light instantly flashed green and he heard the lock disengage.

The corridor in front of him had industrial carpet, plain white walls and direct fluorescent lighting; a harsh contrast to the plushness of the patron side of things.  There were a couple of service elevators and Eugene could see doors with suite labels on them.  He proceeded to the door marked ‘South Penthouse Special Delivery’ and stopped.

Taking a deep breath and letting it out Eugene put his ear to the door.  Hearing nothing, he swiped his access card and opened the door a crack.  The room inside was mostly dark, light from an adjacent open door casting long shadows on the floor.  Creeping through the room with his heart thundering in his ears Eugene paused at the doorway.

“Stop.”  Eugene heard Dmitri’s voice and froze slowly raising his hands, a thrill of terror running down his spine.  “Listen, we do not have to do it this way.”  There was a pause, the click of a zippo lighter opening, lighting and then closing shortly followed by an exhale of breath.  The shock was wearing off and he realized Dmitri wasn’t addressing him.

“I try to be civilized in these kinds of dealings.  Please understand me when I say that I have no real desire to do you harm.  That said I will also do so without hesitation if you continue to deny me access to the information I require.”

“Hey, I told you already I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.  Who is The Kai?  How would I know where he is or how to make contact with him?  Information I will gladly share for a price, but I really have no clue about this Kai.”  The voice was male and tight with pain.

“I have some inside tips about the next hot piece of real estate I was saving for another contact of mine, but in light of my lack of knowledge I’d cut you a deal on it.  How about it, are you intereeaaaaAAAAA!”  The sickening sound of crunching bone clearly reached Eugene’s ears.

“Easy now Young Master we need him to be fit enough to respond.”

“I do not recall requesting your opinion Ivanov.”  Dmitri’s voice was silky smooth but carried with it the implicit promise of violence, Eugene could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rise.

“I apologize sir, I only-“ Whatever advice he was offering was cut off with a grunt of pain.  Eugene risked a glance around the corner.  A man was sitting in an expensive looking hardwood armchair, his arms and legs were tied to it with thick plastic zip ties.  An additional zip tie was tight around his neck and was the only thing holding his head up.  The cause of his unconsciousness wasn’t readily apparent until Eugene saw the odd angle of his left leg in the middle of the shin.

The obvious culprit was Dmitri, he held a ball peen hammer in his left hand.  He was pulling his right fist back for another swing.  Ivanov was swaying on his feet, not even making an attempt to defend himself as Dmitri punched him in the face again.  Blood sprayed from his mouth and splattered on the white tile floor of the room.

“You know you simply cannot keep contradicting me like this Ivanov.  I need you but if there’s one thing I simply cannot abide it is an insubordinate underling.  I know my father was lenient in these things however I simply…”  He was breathing heavily now; not from exertion but from the effort of trying to restrain himself.

The man in the chair moaned and Dmitri focused back on him instead, swinging the hammer again and again until the man’s head was nothing but a ruined mass of pulped flesh and bone punctuating each swing with a word.  “HATE (crunch) BEING (crunch) QUESTIONED! (crunch).”

Ivanov proffered a cigarette then lit it for him as though nothing had happened, although his speech was slurred slightly from the damage his face had sustained.  “I will get us another informant to corroborate what the first man told us under stress if you wish sir.”

“I don’t believe there is a need for that my friend.”  Dmitri said after a moment.  “I really do think he may have been telling the truth when he said he was the only man who knew who The Kai really was and where he was staying.  This coward might have had the fortitude to lie to me but not you Ivanov.  He was practically begging to tell you everything he knew about your other questions when he realized who you were.”

“Too true sir, although soon they will realize the true strength of this Family lies elsewhere.  Far beyond any threat of force I could make.”  Said Ivanov, lighting a cigarette of his own.

“Yes, with this information being the final piece of the puzzle we should be very well positioned indeed.  The brilliance of my father shall be carried on until he re-awakens.  Speaking of which, did we get our young Victoria’s measurements?”

Eugene was carefully backing out of the room but this made him pause and listen.

“Certainly sir; and your gift should be waiting for her first thing tomorrow.  Very thoughtful of you sir if you don’t mind me saying.”

Now he knew it was time to go, and fast.  Whatever Dmitri had planned for Victoria, even if it was done with good intentions was bound to go horribly wrong.  The man was a psycho at best.  Eugene all but sprinted back to the elevator, not even slowing when he passed by the front door of Dmitri’s room.

He regained his composure somewhat once he was back in the elevator, calming down enough that he was able to walk to Victoria’s room and knock.  When nobody answered on the second, much louder knock he let himself in with the maid’s key.

The room was illuminated by the outside lights shining in; the windows facing the fountain and street outside were at least ten feet tall.  As he made his way through the main room with its expansive couch and massive flat screen television, Eugene saw a few gift-wrapped boxes sitting on a side table with a hand written note in a small, fine script on top.

“To Victoria: Wishing you luck with your conference tomorrow.  I hope this outfit will let you shine.  Yours, Dmitri.”

Shaking his head, Eugene snuck to one door which turned out to be a massive bathroom; beyond it was Victoria’s bedroom.  She lay sprawled across the bed, still wearing her clothes.  The charger was plugged into her prosthetic and she was breathing regularly.

With a sigh of relief he snuck back to his own room.  With any luck the number of martinis had consumed would be sufficient to allow for a few hours of sleep.  Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

A.D.A.M.

The Host, no he had to get used to calling it… her… Victoria was dormant again but this time in a much more normal and healthy fashion.  For once, ADAM was too wrapped up in his own thought processing to pay any attention though.

Who was that Kai Yeun-Ja person?  How had it she been able to do what she had done?  ADAM still marveled at the code she had written; it was fluid and beautiful.  There were flourishes that were completely unnecessary but added little reminders of the girl who had written it.  Most importantly her ideas about how data flow should be regulated were the most innovative had ever experienced.

Then there was the problem of the data he had accidentally acquired when they were interfaced.  Without even knowing it either she had placed it in his databanks or he had downloaded it unintentionally.  He was skirting around it but finally couldn’t resist anymore and investigated the file.

Whatever the information the files contained was, it didn’t make sense to ADAM.  It appeared to be a catalogue selling something called ‘heirloom vegetable seeds’ but there was something embedded in the scans that he couldn’t decipher.  Given enough time ADAM knew he could decode it but he didn’t want to pry that deeply in Kai Yeun-Ja’s private files without permission.  He chalked this up to yet another example of how Kai Yeun-Ja was a fascinating individual who he wanted to know more about.

He started on the low end of things with a simple search of the net.  The only Yeun-Ja he was able to find was a volleyball star from North Korea, but she was a much older person.  He estimated his friends age to be around 3780 days; much older than himself but young by human standards.

Something that caught his attention a few hundred thousand hits down was a reference to “The Kai” who was a notorious hacker.  When used with proper intonation it had the meaning of ‘The Best’ or ‘The King’ it was more of a title than it was the name of any given person.  The origins of the title also had no roots in Korea, where his Yeun-Ja was from.

He surfed through a few forums, just trying to get a feel for how this hacker carried him or herself and found that in the last six months the title had changed hands.  The forum he was on didn’t discuss the exact specifics, only that it was an act of great daring and bravery.

After a few hours of random surfing ADAM still hadn’t found anything else of substance.  There were a lot of rumors though; including that The Kai had recently been involved in a questionable act of international espionage.  Just as he was about to close down his net session there was a new hit posted.  An anonymous post claiming to be from a close personal acquaintance of The Kai claimed that there would be a post on Anon in three days detailing the hackers latest conquest in the name of Freedom of Information and protecting the common good.

Satisfied that he would have more information shortly and hoping he would be able to talk to Yeun-Ja again soon, ADAM turned his attention back to Victoria’s systems.  His interfaces were now more fully integrated with hers, thanks mostly due to Yeun-Ja’s newly coded pathways.  It appeared there was a demonstration of their joint capabilities was to occur for an audience tomorrow at 08:30.

While ADAM was completely certain there would be absolutely no issues with the demo, Victoria appeared to be fairly nervous about the whole thing.  Just to be on the safe side, he kicked off a complete top to bottom diagnostic.

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 39

Sweat streamed from every pore, stinging a myriad of tiny cuts on Callindra’s arms and torso. She had stripped down to small clothes and her chest wrap for complete freedom of movement and that was the only thing that had kept her from getting worse injuries. Her opponent stood calmly without a drop of sweat or one single cut on her body. Despite the ferocity of the fight she felt invigorated, perhaps it was the Goddess’s gift that was helping her.

“Blademaster eh? Well you’re a lot better than I am but I’ve fought tougher.” She decided it was time to play her trump card, despite feeling good, she knew from experience that her stamina would only go so far and she should be near her limit. She settled back into one of her forms; Falcon Soars Above the Mountain; and waited for what she hoped was coming, her right hand pointed at the ground and her left holding Brightfang toward the sky.

“This will be our last exchange. That ridiculous stance is making it clear to me that you’re desperate. Prepare yourself girl.” The Blademaster swept in, sword held low aiming for Callindra’s midsection.

Instead of blocking, Callindra moved in, taking two complete strides aided by a harsh gust of wind from behind her; an unexpected bonus. The speed of her motion meant instead of contacting the edge of the Blademaster’s sword she was struck by her arm. Callindra swung her blade up towards her opponents’ neck, stopping inches from her skin as the other woman’s sword skittered across the ground.

A sharp pain and the feel of something warm running down her side made Callindra’s breath catch in her throat. She looked down and saw the Master’s secondary blade drawing blood from her ribs. She had forgotten about the second sword.  The Blademaster hesitated for a moment and then broke out laughing and withdrew her blade,

“That was the stupidest move I’ve ever seen. If I’d been quicker or you’d been slower you would be dead. There’s no way I would have been able to halt my strike, but you knew that didn’t you? You’ve got guts girl, but you’re altogether too reckless and impulsive. Typically human. Let that be a lesson to all of you.”

She turned to look at the assembled fighters, “Never underestimate your opponent, especially when your opponent is a human. They are unpredictable and that makes them even more dangerous, never count on them to run when you think they should. Regardless of my opinion of this one personally, she at least has my respect as a swordswoman.”

Callindra gave her a flashy salute followed by a short bow from the waist while she sheathed Brightfang. “I am in your debt Blademaster. I have learned valuable lessons today, the most important being ask who an elf’s parents are before leaping several hundred feet off a tree limb just to help them make a grand entrance.”

A chuckle rippled through the elves and Callindra continued. “Give your son a chance, he’s got guts too. Don’t underestimate someone just because they’re weaker than you think they should be.”

She turned to Edelweiss and gave him a grin. “Maybe once you earn your blades you and I can spar. I’m already a couple years ahead of you so you’ll have to work hard if you don’t want me to kick your butt. Can you show me how to get back to my room? I’ve gotta admit this tree has me a little turned around.”

“I’ll walk her out mother.”  He said, “It’s no trouble.”

Yeah, Callindra decided. Way too pretty to be a boy.

As she followed Edelweiss back to her rooms, Callindra realized his mother, the Blademaster, had taught her another valuable lesson.  She was not ready to pursue Glarian.  If she couldn’t even stand against a sword wielding Elf, how would she possibly fare against someone as powerful as Dergeras?

“Here are your rooms Lady Callindra.”  Edelweiss said, bowing slightly and looking at her with no attempt to disguise his admiration for her.

Callindra shifted uncomfortably, she didn’t feel like a Lady, hells she wasn’t a Lady.  Standing there wearing nothing but her sweaty smallclothes with a multitude of itchy cuts all over her arms she didn’t feel like anything but a chastised apprentice.  She idly scratched at one of the cuts and started at what she felt.  There were leaves growing from it!

Looking down in mild shock, she saw that tiny vines had begun to stitch the wounds shut, their roots acting as sutures that forced the skin together and bound it tight.  Her shock gave way to amazement and she laughed out loud.

“This is the gift Jorda gave to me?”  She asked, delighted.  “I thought she was just trying to lecture me on being pretty…”

The Elf boy was staring at her now that he’d also seen what was happening.  “A real Godsblessing.”  He breathed, “Not just the adornment but a true Brightstar Crown.  I’ve never seen a real one before.”

When he seemed almost on the verge of reaching out to touch one of the slashes his mother had cut into her arm, Callindra shook free of her astonished reverie.  “Well, I will have to think of a way to properly express my gratitude.”  She said, “Thanks for showing me back here, I’d never have made it on my own.”

Edelweiss jerked his hand back, a pale pink blush spreading over his alabaster cheeks.  “Of course Lady Callindra.”  He said, all formality again.

She laughed softly and tousled his hair, “I’m no Lady.”  She said, opening the door and striding into the room.  Her brothers were sitting at the table in the main room, breaking their fast with a light meal of porridge and fruit.

“Been out causing trouble already?”  Cronos asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Of course!”  She said with an impish smile, “Edelweiss would you care to join…”  She trailed off, the Elf boy had already gone.

“Who are you speaking to?”  Vilhylm asked, looking curiously past her into the empty hallway.

“Oh just the young Elf who led me back to our rooms after I caused all the trouble.”  She replied, sitting down heavily on a chair and pouring herself a mug of water.

“I was only joking about the trouble.”  Cronos said.  She raised an eyebrow at him and he had the grace to give her a lopsided grin, “OK, only partially joking.  What happened?”

Between bites of porridge and fruit, she relayed her tale to them, leaving out the bit where she had thought Edelweiss a girl.  There was no need for them to think her a fool.

“That was reckless and foolish!”  Tryst exclaimed with much more edge in his voice than he usually displayed, “We are honored guests here, but that’s no reason to go about insulting people.  Really Callindra, I would have thought that even you would show more wisdom than that.”

His words stung more than she wanted to admit.  “I didn’t mean to.”  She said, her good mood evaporating, “It just sort of happened.”

Tryst took a deep breath and let it out slowly, calming himself.  “Well what’s done is done.  From what you say it sounds like you at least managed to gain a bit of their respect.  Now let’s see those wounds.”

“There’s no need.”  She said, for some reason not wanting to disclose the Goddess’s gift to him, “I’m fine.”

“Nonsense, I can see the holes in your clothes Callindra.  I’ll get my kit.”  He was standing when she sighed and pulled up her sleeve.

“Son of a pox ridden sailor.”  Cronos said, staring at the greenery that was sprouting from the cuts.  Vilhylm and Tryst just looked at her wide-eyed.

“It’s somehow connected to this.”  She tugged at the tiara of flowers in her hair, “Edelweiss called it a Brightstar Crown or something.”

“Take it off, I want to see it.”  Cronos said, leaning forward eagerly.

“Ummm… as far as I can tell it doesn’t really come off?”  Callindra said, “I tried to take it off before but it’s like it has grown into my hair.”

“Your hair.”  Vilhylm said, and when she looked at him with a confused expression on her face he pointed.  “It’s at least six inches longer than it was last night.”

Callindra turned her head quickly and felt her hair brush her shoulders.  Her hair hadn’t been this long since she was a child.  Of course when she was a child there hadn’t been tiny tendrils of Brightstar vine growing in her hair.

“How did it grow so quickly?”  She marveled aloud and then shook her head at her own foolishness, of course Jorda’s magic was involved.  “But why make it long?  It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Well she did lecture you on being more girly right?”  Cronos said with a grin, “Maybe she’s just trying to force you to be more like a girl.”

“That’s just silly Cronos, most of the Elf boys wear their hair as long as the girls.”  Callindra said, “Maybe that’s it.  Maybe it is just making me more like the Elves or something.”

They ate in silence for a few more moments, her friends refraining from any more teasing and she lost in silent thought.  Finally, Callindra sat back with a wooden cup of water with freshly crushed mint leaves in it and thumbed her pipe full of tac.  She looked at her brothers and blew twin streams of smoke from her nostrils.

“Tryst, I want to come with you to find these… artifacts that Jorda told us about.”  His eyebrows raised and he opened his mouth to speak, but she continued before he could interrupt.  “I know I don’t have what it takes to stand against Dergeras yet.  I also am not foolish enough to think that I could take him on without your help.  All of your help.”

Her friends were silent for a long moment and she began to fear they were going to refuse.  When she looked into their faces she didn’t see what she had feared.  Tryst looked determined.  Cronos eager.  Vilhylm afraid, but pleased.

“Of course.”  Tryst said, “Of course we will help you.”

“I have a bit of payback to give that bastard.”  Cronos said with a gleam in his eye.

“He is dangerous, you are right to ask for our help.”  Said Vilhylm, “It may be my death, however some things must be opposed and I believe Dergeras is one of those things.”

“First we help Tryst with his mission.”  Callindra said firmly, trying to hold back the tears of gratitude that stung her eyes as she looked at her friends.  “If we’re to have a chance at victory something tells me we’ll need Gode on our side.”

“It’s settled then.”  Said Tryst with a relieved smile, “I will be happy to have you by my side my friends.”

Machine Girl: What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Always Stay in Vegas – Chapter 5

A.D.A.M.

ADAM was panicking.  In spite of everything he’d done none of the systems were responding, there was a problem with the software and no matter what he tried the corrupted code was spreading to other portions of the Host’s databanks and although thus far ADAM had been able to keep it from actually destroying data it was only due to him using every last trick he had and all the power at his disposal.

Were it not for his shadow copy the Host would likely have experienced major technical failures.  As it was he was losing ground, there were momentary lapses in the visual input data streams and some of the incoming packets were being corrupted or modified.  Even as he worked, ADAM couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that the Host could still operate more or less effectively while all this was going on.  The basic functions were just so… basic.

After what seemed to be years of struggle, ADAM had to admit he was sunk.  He recognized too late that the code was a modified version of the DOD virus that had attacked him earlier; they must have read his response to the probe before and created this program especially to infiltrate his systems.

Without warning, the virus exploded.  There was no other way to describe it; pieces of code flew everywhere and where they landed they took root and multiplied.  Immediately the Host’s systems began to be compromised.  To avoid further damage ADAM initiated an emergency shutdown protocol, cutting all but the most essential of the Hosts systems.  It wasn’t much but it would buy him some time.

ADAM reached out in desperation, knowing there wasn’t anyone out there who could help him out but unwilling to give up without exhausting every option.  To his amazement, there was an immediate response and from the last place he expected.  He had been back hacked through his own hardened, encrypted deactivated wifi connection.

“Hey lady, are you OK?  Lady?  I got your SOS, do you still need help?”

“Who are you?  Wait, never mind, I don’t care.  Just help me!  I’ve been infiltrated by malicious code and I can’t shake it.”

“You have a strange dialect and you talk REALLY fast, but I think I can help you out.  It’s pretty simple really, there’s any number of tools out there but the US Department of Defense uses stupid shitty code.  I’m gonna nuke their signature, is that OK?”

“Yes, kill it kill it!”

“OK, I just wanted to check because it looks like there’s a lot of it here, not just what’s causing problems.  I hope it doesn’t mess you up, but I guess it can’t be much worse than the clusterfuck that you’ve made of things thus far.  What were you thinking?”

“I just wanted new software you know?  Nobody had ever written new software for me before.”  ADAM did feel slightly chagrined; it had been a highly illogical choice on his part.  Even worse he had been caught in the act by another very competent machine.

“OK, standby I’m nuking now.  I hope you don’t mind I dragged you into my room so we wouldn’t be sitting in the hallway.  You’re heavier than you look, especially for a girl.”

“Agirl?  Who is Agirl?”

“No, not Agirl.  A girl.  You know, a female of the species.  Like me.”

“I am not a female of the species or a girl.  I’m Artificial Directed Autonomous cerebreuM, also shortened to ADAM.  I run the basic routing functions for this system.  Who are you?”  Portions of ADAM’s systems were annihilated with absolute authority.  “Halt your current activity; I don’t have proper backups of some of that data.”

“Are you kidding me?”  The excitement of the sending was strong enough to overwhelm the pain of the data eradication.  “An artificial intelligence?  OMG this is the most amazing thing EVER!  Does she even know what she has here?”

The pain vanished, and ADAM was left with the remaining shreds of his coding, all but the most critical systems were gutted and would need a complete rebuild.  He had no idea how long it would take him to re-create those programs.

“I need to rebuild this shell before I lose control over critical data flow.  I can’t afford to lose focus, the Host could cease function.”  Now that the virus-ridden data had been expunged ADAM needed to run full diagnostics and get his prime directives back in order

“Can I help?  I’d love to get to know you better Adam.”  The being interfacing with his circuits tickled his pleasure sensors.  “You’re one in a billion billion, you know that?  I want to check you out.  You’re the first of your kind as far as I know.  I mean there have been rumors but DAMN what an opportunity!”

“Umm, I guess you could debug a few sectors for us?”  ADAM wasn’t exactly sure how to respond.

“Awesome!  Wow your data routing matrices are phenomenal!” ADAM could actually feel the other being’s touch on his code, a gentle caress.  “Wait, what do you mean for ‘us’?  There are more than one of you?  What kind of system are you anyway?  Other than the first fully functioning AI I’ve ever met.”

“My prime directive is to manage and improve the data flow of this system.  Tertiary directives include data security, efficiency management and improving motive performance and efficiency.  If I may make a suggestion, the cabled data port is much faster and more efficient than the wireless connection you are currently using.”

“I don’t have the proper cable; it looks like a proprietary connection.  Do you even know where you are?  What your Host system is contained in?”   This was a question ADAM had thought about already and so he had a clear answer.

“It appears to be an autonomous self-sustaining mobile organic chemical factory.  I’m not completely clear on the integration of electrical impulses and chemical reactions yet but I’ve been trying to decipher as much of it as I can before attempting any further improvements.  What sort of system are you?”

“Me?  I’m not a system silly, I’m a girl.  A female human being.  I’m simply using an advanced virtual reality integration device I invented.  I normally use it for what I call ‘Visual Hacking’ but this time it’s working admirably well as in interface with you.  Hold on, I’ll try and make us a virtual space.”  There was a blip and ADAM found himself in a graphically represented electronic environment.  He reached out to the Host system for interpretations of what he was experiencing and found a wealth of information.

They sat on a blanket (‘towel, sheet, tablecloth’ the Host’s databank prompted) in a meadow (‘grassland, prairie, lawn’) underneath a tree (‘elm, oak, forest’) by a pond.  There birds (‘waterfowl, ducks, mergansers’ according to the Host) on the pond.  Beside him sat a bipedal figure (‘a human, a young female, a girl, a child’) the intrusions of the Host were getting annoying so ADAM wrote a quick interface protocol to provide him with the most commonly used word or phrase instead of the constant prompting.

The girl sitting next to him turned her head towards him, her pigtails stuck out on either side of her head like antennae.  “You just wrote a data access protocol program to integrate with an organic memory bank in less than a second.”  The awe in her voice was surprising to ADAM; he didn’t consider that to be anything special.

“Of course.  It’s what I’ve been programmed for; do you mean that you can’t do it?”

“Maybe if I had enough time I could make something but it certainly wouldn’t be as smooth and clean as that.  Just to be clear when I say enough time I mean weeks or months, not less than a second.”

“How do you function?  I don’t understand how you’re communicating with me, let alone your Host.”

“What?  Host?  No Adam, you still don’t get it do you?  I’m just a person.  A human.  I’m just like your Host.  What’s her name?”

“Like my Host?  You mean… my Host is just an organic organism like yourself?”

“Just an organic organism?  Organic organisms are amazing even if, or maybe because they don’t understand exactly how everything works.  Not knowing leaves us with a feeling of curiosity that gets us into trouble and leads to innovation too.”

The thought that errors lead to innovation had never occurred to ADAM but as he considered the concept it did seem to make sense.  If he and the Host could survive this ordeal they would come out of it better prepared to handle future problems.

“Fascinating idea.  You say that you’re a young human female also?  A girl?  What is your identity?”  ADAM consulted the prompt from the Host’s memory bank, “I mean your name, what is your name?”

“Kai Yeun-Ja is my name.”  As she told him her name, a flood of things imposed themselves upon his consciousness.  An image of a person, a female human, a girl playing a sport, game, tennis.  Feelings of happiness, betrayal, pride and fear.  A dark cloud descending, a group of people (humans, soldiers, killers) kicking open a door their rifle (gun, firearm, weapon) barrels like bottomless pits.  The muzzle flash, her mother lying across the table.  Horror, pain, terror.  The sending suddenly cut off.

“What did you just do?  Nobody has ever… I haven’t told anyone about that.”  She had slid away from him on the blanket; he could still feel the aftereffects of her fear.

“I just … allowed the data to flow.”  He searched for the word in the Host’s databanks.  “I listened?”  ADAM wasn’t sure what she was asking.  “I didn’t do anything.  Who were those killers?  What is a ‘mother’ anyway?”

“I can’t explain.  Not right now.  Can we try and get your body conscious again?  My father should be back any minute.”  With that she began running some debug scripts to repair the virus-ravaged connections between him and the Host.

Victoria

Victoria gradually awoke from troubling dreams.  Her body felt cold and sore as though she’d been sleeping on concrete.  The back of her head felt hot, almost painfully so.  She opened her eyes and saw an unfamiliar room.  She was indeed on the floor, she sat up and reached back to feel the ports on her brain stem and found them empty; their protective rubber caps still in place.

“Hi!”  Victoria jumped to her feet in surprise, spinning to see a very short girl with her hair in pigtails that stuck out almost straight from the sides of her head. Her collapse outside of the elevator came back to her in a rush.  This girl’s face was the last thing she remembered seeing before passing out.

“Who are you?  What the hell happened to me?  Is this your room?  Shit, what time is it?”

The girl had a small laptop in her hands and she typed for a little bit and turned it so Victoria could read.  ‘My name Kai Yeun-Ja, I here with father for the international nuclear disarmament technology conference.  Sorry my English bad so writing translator on computer.  I met your Adam, we fix virus.  You OK now?’

“Virus?  Adam?  Wait you actually talked to it?”  Victoria’s legs failed her and she crumpled to the floor, missing the couch by almost a foot and landing hard on her ass.  There was concern on Yeun-Ja’s face and she began typing again.

‘You still broke?  I try more fix if you want?’

Victoria took a deep breath and concentrated.  She wanted to speak Mandarin.  “I’m OK, just shocked a bit.  What happened?  You said you talked to Adam?”  She could feel a mild headache building between her temples from the exertion of bending the computer to her will.

Yeun-Ja’s eyes widened, “You speak Mandarin?  Amazing!  You speak a little funny but I can understand perfectly!  You fell in the hallway; I found your Adam’s wireless and hacked into it.  I was not expecting to find a person inside you know?”

She laughed, a short truncated sound, “Adam is very interesting, have you been together long?  He does not really understand what you are; you really should talk to him.  I feel bad that he doesn’t even know what’s really going on you know?”

Looking at the clock on the wall, Victoria realized that several hours had passed since her collapse, “Shit, it’s almost eleven at night.”  Turning back to Yeun-Ja she asked, “Was I unconscious this whole time?  You mentioned a virus, what happened with that?  Where did it come from?”

“Oh, you should talk with Adam, he knows better than me.”  She looked at her feet, “I am not sure exactly what is OK to share actually, ask him please.  He is my friend and I do not want to betray his confidence.”

“Listen, this is MY body and MY mind and if you know something I want to know about it little girl!”  Victoria was scared and the fear made her angry.

“Little girl?  I am NOT a little girl, I am eleven years old!  You are concerned about YOUR body?  YOUR mind?  You should be ashamed, you have him trapped in your head and he has no way out.  Have you ever considered HIS feelings?”  The little girl was literally trembling with rage.  “How DARE you? I am not going to help you out next time round-eye!”

“I didn’t even know he was there.  I mean how would you feel about having someone living in your head without your permission?”  Victoria was completely caught off guard.  “This is all new to me and I just lost four hours of my life to… well to I don’t know what.  Can you at least assure me that I’m not going to lose consciousness or fall over without warning?”

The fear in her voice must have touched some sort of nerve because Yeun-Ja looked a little chagrined, “You are safe.  That much I can tell you.  I still cannot believe you did not know he was there.”

“How was I supposed to know?  I read the manual and it didn’t say shit about it being a person.  At least I’m not in danger of immediately passing out or dying.  How do you suggest I talk with him?  With Adam…  I don’t think he even knows my name.” The conversation was taking its toll on her; she could feel a migraine on the horizon.  “I can’t do this much longer, speaking your language is hurting my head.”

“I have no idea, just try.  It’s your mind after all.” The tone of her voice was pitched to convey sarcasm and disdain, “I did not have a problem interfacing with him; maybe I could make something for you.  I will see what I can come up with, but in the meantime just do not let him stay in there all alone.”

Victoria stood on shaky legs, “I’ll do what I can.”

“You need to go now.  Poppa will be back soon and he would worry if you were here.  I will help you more tomorrow.” Yeun-Ja handed her a piece of paper as they were walking towards the door, “My email address.  Let me know when you are finished with your medical conference tomorrow.”

The door closed behind her, Victoria was too tired to do anything but go back to her room, make sure her phone alarm was set, plug in the trickle charger and collapse on the bed.