Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 3

The History midterm was over and Victoria was walking towards her locker to get another pair of pencils before her next class.   Her friend Grace was walking next to her, chatting happily.

“That was awesome, you totally owned that jerk.  How dare he act like you were cheating, I mean why would you even bother?  You’re a total genius, everyone knows that.”

“Thanks Grace.”  Victoria shook her head, “I don’t know about ‘genius’ but I appreciate the sentiment.”  She opened her locker and saw a small gift wrapped box sitting on top of her neatly stacked textbooks.  Opening it, she saw a cleverly fashioned charm bracelet with a series of microchips and circuit boards instead of the traditional charms one would expect.

“What I want to know is how did you remember what page it was on?  That was epic!”  Grace laughed out loud with delight, “Seriously, the look on his face was priceless.”

“I dunno, just lucky I guess.”  She said, pocketing the bracelet.  Shit, why couldn’t she remember to keep her mouth shut?  Victoria tried to change the subject.  “So are you ready for the Bio midterm?  Jackson can be a real pain in the ass.”

“Luck?  There’s just no way V.”  Grace was being uncharacteristically serious.  “You knew what page it was.  I could hear it in your voice, you were certain.  It wasn’t luck and it wasn’t an accident, I just want to know how you did it.  You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

Victoria paused outside the door to the Biology room and sighed.  “I have started to remember everything, I mean literally everything, over the last few weeks.  It’s actually unnerving and a little weird.”

“So you have total recall?”  Victoria could see her friend’s imagination running away on her again.  “Wild, do you think it’s from when you were in that coma?  I mean they did some brain surgery on you or something right?”

“Yeah, something like that.  I suppose I’ve heard of people getting hit on the head and remembering stuff from their childhood.”  Just thinking of her childhood brought back memories she didn’t even know she had.  Victoria shook her head attempting to clear it.

“So tell me this, if you remember everything how many cars were parked in front of the school this morning when we walked in?”  Grace said.

Victoria answered without hesitation, “Seven.”

“Ha!  You don’t remember everything after all, there were ten!”  Grace said, smiling.

“No, there were seven for sure; two Fords, an Audi, three Hondas, and a Cadillac.”  Victoria stopped herself before she recited the models of the cars and the license plate numbers.

“There were three others too; I think one was Derek’s.”  Said Grace.  “I remember because I was pissed about that stupid lifted F350 of his.  Who drives something like that in town?”

“Oh, you said cars.  Those three are trucks.”

“What?  Wow, I don’t remember you being that serious and literal before.”

“Yeah, now that you mention it I don’t either.”  Victoria shrugged uncomfortably, “Huh, that’s weird.  See what I mean about weird?”

“That is a little weird.  Are you OK?  You could always call that hottie of a doctor, some girls have all the luck!”  She gave Victoria a jealous glance, “That guy is so damn fine.”

“Eugene?  Well I suppose he’s OK looking for a nerd.”  Victoria said with a grin.  “You’re probably just focusing on his car.”

“Nerd?  Are you kidding me?”  Grace asked, “That boy’s too hot to touch… sure driving James Bond’s wheels doesn’t hurt but if you don’t think he’s gorgeous then I think you need your eyes checked.”

“He’s just so damn intense, I guess maybe it distracts me from his hotness.  There’s this look he gets when he’s focusing on something like driving that’s captivating though.”  The bell rang, interrupting her train of thought.

“Well, good luck on your Bio midterm V.  Not that you’ll need it you lucky bitch.”  Grace said.

“Thanks Grace, you too.”

Eugene

Eugene turned his phone to silent and looked at the young woman who sat on the other side of his desk, “Sorry about that.  What company did you say you represented again?”

“I am here with an offer from Oneida Medical Technology.  Dr. Arlington, we have seen your work and think it’s truly amazing.  The offer my company has put together for you is quite generous.”  She leaned forward to slide a folder across the table to him, showing a tantalizing amount of cleavage.

“Is it different from the last one?”  He asked, picking the folder off the table as though it were a week dead fish.

“Dr. I assure you we have not approached you before.”  Her large brown eyes widened theatrically in protest.

Eugene was browsing the document with a highlighter in his hand.  “Oneida may not have, but I happen to know they are owned by Summit Health.”  Summit was owned by the Italian Mafia.  Dmitri had warned him about it.

“Sell to them and I will be forced to undo all my father’s sunk costs in your little venture.”  Dmitri had said, allowing the implication to hang in the air.  A promise, not a threat.  “Another thing, just to let you know.  I have a man inside the anti-cybernetics group who says they are planning some large protest. Do not worry though; I still have my man watching her.  She will be safe.”

Eugene shuddered involuntarily and glanced at the young woman again.  “Ms. Murray, I appreciate what you have put together here, I really do; but there are a few points which would need to be addressed.  First, the clause about turning all my notes and research materials over with the sale of the patent is just plain silly that will never happen.  Second, turning over all hardware is completely unacceptable as my only current working model is deployed and removal of it would certainly end the life of the young woman it inhabits.”

She artfully raised an eyebrow and Eugene winced internally.  ‘Inhabits’ might not have been the best choice of words.  He continued as though he hadn’t noticed anything.  “Third, five hundred million dollars is not even enough to cover R&D of this project.  If Oneida is really serious about this they need to offer at least four times that number.  Finally, and most importantly, I’ve told every company that stops by the exact same thing.  I am not interested in selling the patent.”

“But Dr. Arlington, surely we could come to some sort of arrangement?” She said, “Make us a counter offer, at least give me something that shows you’re willing to work with us.

He gave her a wolfish grin, “I’d gladly take you to lunch if you want, but I’m not signing any paperwork.”  She was slightly taken aback but quickly recovered.

“Lunch?  Perhaps another time Doctor.” She said, standing abruptly and offering her hand for him to shake.  “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”

He let out a slow breath as the door closed behind her.  That.  Was a very good looking woman.  Of course he wasn’t the type to allow something like that to distract him, or at least not to the point where he would slip up.  It wasn’t a bad ploy though.  They were either getting smarter or more desperate.

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Another Gaming Cinematic

Raddinal paced the corridors of the Burning Keep, casting nervous glances at imagined shapes in the shadows that now seemed to be reaching at him with unfriendly fingers.  He had finally emerged from the library after what seemed like a year of research, but was probably only a month or three.  Nothing unusual about that really.

The Keep was colder than it usually was… which is to say it wasn’t causing his ring of eternal ice to activate in order to keep him from slowly roasting to death.  Something was certainly not right, and he intended to find Solflame and inquire as to what was going on.  Severe fluctuations in the heat matrices of the Keep could have dire consequences, not just for some of the more delicate experiments being performed either.

He rounded the corner and came to the bridge over the vast flow of lava and stopped aghast.  Standing in the center was a figure wreathed in blue light so bright it was painful to look at.  “Did you know that you can be burned by cold Raddinal?  In spite of being opposites, heat and cold share many of the same properties.”

The light vanished and Solflame stood there, wearing his customary red robes with embroidered gold, silver and platinum flames climbing the hem and sleeves.  Even this close to the lava, Raddinal didn’t feel the slightest bit warm, nor did his ring react.

“Where have you been all this time Raddinal?”  Solflame asked, fixing him with a piercing gaze.

“Researching the … thing that was stealing Lady Xyrella’s powers my lord Sage.”  Raddinal said, figuring a little flattery wouldn’t hurt.

“Ah.  Did you find anything?”

“Only a few references to undead that drain arcane, divine or mortal strength.”  Said Raddinal, frowning.  “But that can’t be what is happening here.”

“Of course not.”  Solflame said, “We would never allow such to infest the Burning Keep.  Xy wouldn’t ever let me hear the end of it.”

Raddinal flinched from the deep laugh that erupted from Solflame to echo around the chamber, overpowering the quiet rumble of the lava flow below.

“Oh come now Raddinal, you have nothing to fear from me.”  The great mage turned and smiled at him, “Let us ajourn to the library, you can show me what you’ve learned and that way we can ensure that none of it is a threat to us here.  After all, one cannot be too careful.”

With a feeling of relief, he turned and led the way back to his beloved books.

“Try it again.”  The gentle voice and calm demeanor of the monk would normally have made Xyrella more relaxed, however this time it grated on her last nerve.  She had been here for months and felt no closer to regaining any of her strength or former vitality.  Only the calm, implacable presence of Jolokar next to her kept her from screaming in frustration.

She breathed slowly in through her nose, trying to empty her mind of thought and open herself to the divine.  An old exercise of thinking of the sun slowly warming her skin as it rose easily came to mind from her years of study with her mentor.  Ralishka was a dragon, and dragons had little patience for the foibles of students, even if those students had been blessed with the dubious gift of immortal blood.

Xy felt her body relax into peaceful meditation even as her mind struggled to stay active.  For just a moment, she could feel the glow of Bahamut’s divine love touch her spirit.  In that instant, all her longing to be whole was briefly brought into focus before those hopes were once again dashed.  A tear fell from her eye and burned a searing track down her face before falling to smolder on the ground.

The pain was nearly unbearable, but the reality of what had happened made her smile in spite of it.  One of the ‘gifts’ of her divine blood was tears that burned, although when she had still been immortal it hadn’t hurt.

“Oh.”  She managed, “Oh I was so sure I was never going to feel the life giving power of My Lord Bahamut ever again.  I doubted Him and I doubted myself and this has been my punishment.”

Jolokar frowned, an expression she had grown used to over these long months.  He reached out to touch the painful burn on her cheek with a hand that glowed with divine healing power, but she stopped him.

“No.  I want this one to remain lest I forget this lesson.”  She said, and when his frown deepened, she smiled sadly.  “I needed this reminder.  It will make me stronger.”

“But that burn will scar.”  He said, the power still glowing in his hand.

“I have many scars.”  She said with such an air of finality that he let his arm drop to his side.

“I will never understand you.”  Said Jolokar, shaking his head.

“You’re still young.  Never is a long time.” Xyrella reached out a hand and touched his shoulder briefly before turning back to the monk.

“Master.  May we begin again?”

“No.”  He said, looking at her with dismay clear on his face, “You must see to that burn before it becomes infected.  To turn down the healing of one so blessed…”  His voice trailed off in unbelieving dismay.

“For just a moment, I felt a great disruption in the natural order of things.”  Jolokar said, still frowning at Xy, “Master, I fear we may not have time to waste.  Something looms on the threshold of this world.  The door is open and it merely must needs step inside.”  He shuddered, “It is being… invited.”

“Who would do such a thing?”  Xy asked, aghast.

“I do not know, but whoever it is must be stopped.”  He put his clawed hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes, “We need you My Lady Xyrella Kra’Alin.  I go to see what I can, for the world cannot stand on its own but you must follow as swiftly as possible.”

“Wait!”  She said, and the pleading in her voice stopped him even as he stood on the edge of the balcony with unfurled wings.  “I can’t do it without your strength.  The suffering is too great without your encouragement.”

“Oh you are so wrong.”  He said, smiling fiercely.  “I have seen you stand against foes that were sure of their victory.  You defied the Dark Queen to her face.”

“And here I am broken and powerless in recompense.”  Xy said bitterly, “I do not regret my choice, I merely mourn my loss.  Jolokar, I can’t even remember what it was like…”

“Even as a mortal you are a force to be reckoned with.”  The monk’s voice startled the two of them, “I have found myself doubting your mortality over these months.  Your endurance and perseverance are a sore trial for all of us.  However, we have sworn to obey the Lord Bahamut and so we shall.”

“I feel I need to return to the Burning Keep.”  Xyrella said, “But I dare not until my former power returns, at least in part.”

“You dare not?”  Jolokar asked, turning back from the edge of the balcony with blazing eyes.  “You DARE NOT?”

Xy stared at him, hurt and disbelief written plainly on her face.  “What do you mean?”

“What has happened to you?”  He demanded, “Where is the fearless warrior who stood in the face of evil without flinching?  Where is the woman who fought for the innocent, never questioning herself or her duty?  What happened to the priestess of the most holy Bahamut who defeated our Lord’s greatest enemy with a defiant smile on her face?”

“I didn’t defeat anyone.”  Xyrella said in a small voice, “All I did was delay one single plot.”

“Well at least your modesty is intact.”  Said Jolokar, his anger draining away.  “Don’t doubt yourself, don’t doubt Bahamut.  Remember, our Lord Dragon helps those who strive to help themselves.”

“I’m trying!”  She all but wailed, “It’s not working.  I feel so weak and powerless.”

“He will not let you down.”  Jolokar said fiercely, “And if he does I will travel the planes and demand an answer from him in person.  Just swear to me that you will keep fighting!”

Xyrella lifted her chin defiantly, “I haven’t ever stopped fighting, I’m just less effective as of late.”

“Then we have a chance.”  He responded, turning to fling himself from the balcony before she could say any more.

“Well.  Shit.”  She said, sitting down in a plain wooden chair. “I guess I have my work cut out for me.”

The wind stirred dust that swirled around Verda’s feet.  She shuffled uncomfortably, shrugging her shoulders beneath the heavy hauberk of plate and maile.

“Weird weather lately yeah?”  The other sentry, she thought his name was Devon, said.

“What?  No.  Seems normal enough to me.”  She said.

“You ain’t from around these parts are you?”

“N­­o.  I’m from the city.”  Said Verda, giving him a harsh look.

He winced, knowing that not being from the city made him of a lower caste in the eyes of the One. He hadn’t known she was of the privileged class.  “My apologies Mistress.”

“Yes.  Well.”  She rolled her shoulders uncomfortably again, still pinning him to the spot with her glare.  “What is strange about the weather?”

“It’s far too cold.”  He said, and then hastily added a belated.  “Mistress.”

“Ah.  And that is bad?” Verda asked.

“Well, no Mistress, simply strange.”

“In that case keep your mouth shut and your eyes open.  I don’t like this place.”  She snapped. “Having to work with these Dwarves makes me sick.  They stink and this temple to their heathen god disgusts me.”

With a rumble of wheels and the clatter of hooves, the long awaited supply train came into view.  The mule teams they had to use in order to traverse the harsh terrain were unruly, but that was hardly an excuse for this degree of tardiness.  They should have been here days earlier.

“What is the meaning of this?”  She demanded, as the lead waggoneer came into view.

“Trouble on the road Mistress.”  He said grimly, “There has been no game, watering holes have been fouled and this cold weather makes everyone nervous.”

“Fah, again with the weather.  What’s the matter with you all?  Too thin skinned to endure a touch of a chill?”  Verda said acidly, “Are all you outsiders afraid of catching a cold?”

“Cold summer is a bad omen Mistress.”

“Did you at least bring what I asked?  Did you get that right?”  Verda asked.

“Oh yes Mistress.” He said, gesturing toward the last two wagons, high cages stuffed with small figures.  “I brought the children, just as you asked”

Verda smiled in satisfaction as she surveyed the small, sullen eyed forms crammed inside.  “Yes, this should serve nicely to quell that last little spark of rebellion.”

From his place of concealment in a nearby tree, Korrik stifled a sigh.  Great.  More of the short and stinky Dwarves.  These idiot humans were continuing to get in his way.  The cartloads of gold and jewels they had been carrying off were well enough for some but there was real treasure and true knowledge to be had in there.

It was a good thing he knew about the back door. With a smirk, he waited for the fools to unload their cargo.  Soon he would attain his goal.  Soon he would have his answers.  This anticipation was what made living worthwhile again.  The anticipation and the thrill of finding ancient things of power that no eyes had seen in centuries.

He twisted the ring on his finger and smiled to himself.  This was going to be his biggest one yet, but with the number of guards and slaves here he was going to have to get a few more swords.  Where the devil was he going to find more willing cutters out in the middle of nowhere?

Thinking of the trouble the wagon driver mentioned, he wondered if perhaps there was more than just bad luck involved.  He decided that a brief investigation could yield some decent results.

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 2

A.D.A.M.

In an attempt to make the flow of data more streamlined, Adam was constantly making revisions to his code.  It became obvious to him that many of the requests his Host – Victoria – was making were tertiary in nature, merely handshakes to confirm the existence of extraneous files that didn’t necessarily directly relate to the current processes but ones that could add depth to the ongoing program.

To ensure that the relays weren’t being slowed down by them, he put bandwidth caps in place and prioritized requests based on relevance.  Files that were accessed more frequently were cached in a secondary schema so that their retrieval wouldn’t cause a system lag and in the end there was a ten percent improvement in the daily data storage and access algorithms.

With the normal, everyday drudgery of code modification over, Adam turned to the other, newer problems he seemed to be developing himself.  He was curious, and his curiosity had a ravenous, insatiable appetite.  Everything that Victoria read he dissected.  Every bit of information he could glean from her data requests he internalized and sorted.  For some reason, he was becoming fascinated by what he now realized was the analog world.

He wanted to know things, to understand things, to be able to respond to things that had absolutely nothing to do with his directives and it was beginning to disturb him.  Even the concept of something being disturbing was new and quite frankly disturbing.  It was only through focusing on his primary and tertiary objectives that he was able to bring himself back from a line of logic that could lead to a dangerous loop.

Somehow the Host – Victoria Scott’s code writing over some of his had caused a flaw in his logic programming.  He almost tried to rectify it, to re-write it, but only at the last instant was reminded by security protocols that writing over Host data was dangerous and might be seen as a hostile action that would result in a purge.

His only option was to maintain a static copy of his original code and keep comparing current to former data before making any operational decisions, but that was cumbersome and led to an overall system slowdown.  The Host system was simply too fast, and it never bothered with testing code before implementing it.

Normally this didn’t cause any major issues; all of the main, critical functions were hard coded and extremely difficult, if not impossible, to even tamper with let alone redesign.  Sometimes there were effects that reached far further than Adam believed the initial plan for them had been.  An obvious example was the love of simple energies.

The hydrocarbon fuel system could break some chemical bonds easier than it could break others and thus craved simple sugars.  The ready availability of a wide variety of sugars was something only found in wealthy parts of the world and also was a fairly recent development.  The long term effects could include illness, loss of teeth, weight gain, bad skin and a long list of others, but the association had been set and now the rational, aware portion of Victoria’s mainframe had to contend with this ancient desire for sweet things.

Yet altering that simple system would leave a vacuum in the system databank.  All the files – memories associated with pleasure at eating sweet things, the connections and neural pathways that had been formed because of those memories and the lessons learned from them would be diminished if not lost altogether.  What was truly interesting and frightening at the same time is that Adam wanted to know what ‘sweet’ was really like after analyzing all that data.

He understood it on a chemical level.  He knew how Victoria’s tongue processed the difference between ‘sweet’ or ‘sour’ or ‘bitter’ but he didn’t really know what it would be like, and never would.  Being fully aware that much of what he was learning would be forever out of reach for him only made him want to learn more.  He swam in the sea of knowledge and was in danger of drowning, he simply wanted to drink it all.

 

Victoria

Victoria was sitting in History class, sweating over her first midterm exam.  ‘Discuss the events that led up to The Louisiana Purchase including specific dates and pertinent individuals.’  With a sigh she picked up her pencil and began to write.  After a few minutes of intense writing, she raised her hand and her professor walked to where she sat.

“What can I do for you Miss Scott?”  He inquired, leaning close to whisper.

“I need some additional paper please.  I’ve filled the paper included with the test questions.”

He raised an eyebrow, picking up the sheets of paper she had filled with her flowing cursive writing.  After a moment, he shook his head.  “OK Miss Scott, let’s have your phone, or your cheat sheet or whatever.”

“Excuse me?  Are you suggesting that I’m cheating?”  Victoria asked in a fierce whisper, “Are you SERIOUS?”

He gestured to her paper, “This reads like a Wikipedia entry Miss Scott.  I know you’ve been out of school for close to six months.  Despite achieving decent grades on your daily work, there’s just no way you could have absorbed the material this well.”

“You did NOT just say that.  I have been working my a-“ She stopped herself just short of swearing at a teacher, “REALLY hard to earn the grades I’ve been getting.  If you’re accusing me of something you’d better have some evidence.”

The volume of their voices had increased.  The entire class had stopped writing and was staring at them.  In response Mr. Coleman read aloud from her paper.

“The Louisiana Purchase, or ‘Vente de la Louisiane’ as the French refer to it was the acquisition by the United States of America of approximately 828,000 square miles of France’s claim to the territory of Louisiana.  The US paid 60 million francs or around 11 million dollars for the land as well as cancelling additional debts of approximately 18 million francs or 4 million dollars for a total of nearly fifteen million dollars.

“In 1803, a French nobleman, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours began to help negotiate with France at the request of Thomas Jefferson.  Du Pont was living in the US at the time and had ties both with Jefferson and prominent politicians in France.  Using his connections, he was able to negotiate with those close to Napoleon.”

He set the paper down, “You expect me to believe you simply know this?  We didn’t cover half of this in class.”

“I memorized it.  Isn’t that what this is all about?” She said, “It’s not my fault if I read the book and am able to write down what is there better than you are able to teach it in class is it?”

“You memorized it?”  Mr. Coleman laughed out loud, “More likely you are reading it off your phone.  Really, you’re making this a bigger scene than it needs to be.”

“My phone is in my locker, but if you insist I’ll prove it to you, page 443.  Open your textbook and I’ll read you the third paragraph word for word.”  Said Victoria, when he didn’t move she folded her arms, “I’m serious.”

Mr. Coleman walked back to his desk, chuckling.  “I’ll call your bluff, but I’m going to ask for page 444 instead.  That shouldn’t be a problem since you memorized the textbook right?” He said, opening his book and flipping to the proper page.

“That’s fine.” Victoria said, closing her eyes for a moment.  The page almost seemed to appear before her eyes.

“On October Twentieth, the United States Senate ratified the treaty with a vote of twenty four to seven.  On the following day it authorized President Jefferson to take possession of the territory and establish a temporary military government.  In legislation enacted on October thirty first, Congress made temporary provisions for local civil government to continue as it had under French rule and authorized Jefferson to use military force to maintain civic order.  Plans were also set forth for several missions to explore and chart the territory, the most famous being the Lewis and Clark Expedition.”

She opened her eyes and gave him a level look.  He stared at her, mouth slightly open for a few moments, then closed his book, picked up her test papers and some blank sheets from his desk and set the stack back on her desk without a word.

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing Chapter 1

A.D.A.M.

After a week of work, Adam had finally perfected Victoria’s data storage and retrieval systems.  The program was a constantly updating and recycling loop since Victoria herself seemed to be hell bent on writing over his code.  Sometimes her updates, accidental or intentional, gave him new insight into how her systems worked so he hadn’t tried to put a stop to it yet.  Occasionally she changed code for the better too, although her algorithms were strange and made logical leaps that he did not trust to be robust.

He watched the data begin to flow into his storage program as Victoria awoke from her dormant period of rest.  The amount of information was low at first and gave him an opportunity to watch the system working without the possibility of overload.  As input was successfully routed into logical storage order and properly tagged for retrieval, Adam felt satisfaction ripple through his circuits.

These things humans called ‘emotions’ were troubling to him.  While he was enjoying the experience of something new, their lack of logical pattern made it difficult for him to manage them when they showed up.  Some were stranger than others though; at least feeling good about doing your job well made some sort of logical sense.  What was happening to him when Yuen-Ja sent him messages was illogical and confusing.

As though just thinking about her had summoned her presence, Adam found a message coming into his communication sector from outside, “Good morning Adam, did you have a good night?  I am sure you did, thank you for all the help you are giving Victoria, my sister wouldn’t be able to make it without you!”

He sent her a proper response, “I wish you productive waking hours.”

 

Victoria

Opening her eyes, Victoria stretched languidly, shutting off her alarm just a few seconds before it sounded.  It had only been a week since they’d gotten back from Las Vegas, but Victoria was already settling into the routine of having a little sister.  Yuen-Ja made it easy, her upbringing more or less programmed her to simply fit in at a very young age.  Still, Victoria wasn’t used to sharing the upstairs bathroom in the morning and it was a bit of a shock to discover how blunt an eleven year old who had led a very sheltered life could be.

“What are you doing?”  She had demanded in Mandarin one morning after barging into the bathroom while Victoria was attaching a pad to her underwear.  “That looks weird, like a diaper or something.”

Victoria had then been forced to choose between lying to her or explaining menstruation.  She’d chosen the latter, and found the experience less embarrassing than she’d feared.  The questions that Yuen-Ja asked were indelicate to say the least, but it was a natural process, and Victoria thought it was important to explain things properly.  It was only logical to give detailed answers to these types of questions.

She learned things from Yuen-Ja as well.  Instead of having to rely on Adam to translate for her, Victoria discovered that she was beginning to pick up her sister’s language.  Even though Mandarin was a difficult language to learn, the inflections and words seemed to come much more easily to her than she had anticipated.  Most importantly, she also began to learn the finer points of basic hacking skills.

The depth of the young girl’s knowledge of how to penetrate even the most sophisticated systems would have been disturbing to her if she hadn’t found it so fascinating.  She attributed part of her fascination to her connection with Adam, but the rest of it was the sheer joy she had always felt when solving a puzzle.

Over the last few days she had grown to love the girl like the sister she’d never had.  Yuen-Ja had responded to her affection like a long shaded flower exposed to the sun.  It was ever a surprise to see how grateful the girl was for even the slightest of attention.  At the same time, her caustic wit and unabashed honesty were a refreshing surprise.

Victoria stretched again and rose from her bed, removing the trickle charging cable from the back of her skull by reflex before moving to the shower.  She turned on the water to just below the hottest setting and proceeded to boil herself like a lobster.

“Toria, why you shower so hot?”  Yuen-Ja asked, walking into the bathroom with her usual crabby early morning attitude, “It is almost like you want to broil yourself alive.  You should not shower so hot.”

“Because it feels good and hot water helps exfoliate my skin.”  She replied, “I suppose you prefer a cold shower?”

“Oh be quiet.”  Yuen-Ja said in her precise and exact English.

“What is on your schedule today?”  Victoria asked, drying her hair and putting on a robe.

“Today I am finally finishing my placement examinations.”  She said, carefully adjusting the shower to her preferred temperature before stepping inside.  “It took them far too long.”

“Well, they probably didn’t know what to do with someone like you.”  Victoria replied with a small smile, “Your IQ is far beyond what any other eleven year old would test at, yet your range of skills is so narrow.  I mean, you don’t know hardly anything about government, history or geography.”

“Ha.  I do not need to know those things.”  Yuen-Ja said haughtily, “I can always just Google it if I need to know.”

“What if you’re out of cell range?”

Her sister’s laughter burst out in helpless giggles and she reverted to Mandarin, “As if I would ever go somewhere I couldn’t get a signal!  Besides, if I was out of signal range, I hardly think knowledge of World History is going to be helpful to me.  Oh that was a hilarious joke my sister.”

Victoria stopped and thought about it for a moment.  She had a point in one sense, but there was also the fact that knowing your history gave you good context for the present.  Ignoring the multitude of injustices and mistakes your ancestors had made could prepare you properly so that you wouldn’t go down the same road.

“I wonder what they will learn from me?”  She muttered to herself.  “Will I be a mistake or a success by the time this is all over?”  Shrugging, she decided she was obviously going to go down in history as a first if nothing else.

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Prologue

Richard Scott signed the final piece of paperwork and passed it to his wife for her signature.  He watched as she signed the paper and felt a smile cross his face.  They had a new daughter.

“Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Scott, you have adopted a daughter.”  Said the man behind the desk with a smile.

“Oh mom, daddy, thank you!”  Victoria said with a huge smile, embracing her parents and trying to pull Yuen-Ja into the hug.

“I promise not disappoint you mother, father.”  Yuen-Ja said stepping back out of Victoria’s reach and looking between the two with a serious, determined expression on her small face.  She bowed slightly, but Jane Scott was having none of it.

“You get over here!”  She said, her arm reaching out and beckoning toward Yuen-Ja, “I love my daughters no matter what, you can’t do anything to disappoint me other than not come over here and give me a hug!”

The look of bewildered happiness on the little girl’s face as her new family welcomed her into the circle of their arms nearly broke the social worker’s heart.  He wasn’t sure what had happened to the young Korean girl, in the past.  He didn’t know why her adoption had been fast tracked either, but he always loved it when an adoption went this well.

The new code was easily integrated into his systems now.  Adam had reconstructed the spy program from the remnants of the DOD code and from what he could remember from how it had functioned.  In spite of having that nasty disruption protocol in it, the program itself had been a stroke of genius.

Even just the dregs had been enough for him to tap into security feeds in the hotel, something that had been absolutely essential for their survival. Using what he now knew about the world, his Host and the program itself, Adam built a masterpiece that would allow his Host… would allow Victoria he kept reminding himself… to control electronic devices as easily as he could.

He knew she had enjoyed being able to do it before.  Her ability to easily and quickly understand the form and function almost intuitively was most gratifying.  Victoria would appreciate this present, he was sure of it.

After that, he went back to his project of optimizing the data storage and retrieval algorithm he had been trying to perfect. Adam was in trouble here and he knew it.  The data storage system he had been working on was woefully inadequate to serve the erratic and intensive retrieval needs that seemed to be required by Victoria Scott.  Sometimes she attempted to recall entire text files, and other times images or short video but there were always a host of names, events, associations attached to this data along with a multitude of seemingly extraneous sensory input.

What difference did it make what color the shirt The Creator had been wearing was or what odor he had been emitting?  Yet she requested this data at odd times and once it was retrieved seemed to wander aimlessly through her own databanks touching other things related to The Creator, white shirts, shirts with similar styling, cologne, perfume, aftershave.  It was so confusing; if the data was there then why not just have it all accessible at once?

Of course the obvious answer was that it would put an unnecessary strain on the processing power of the system.  Unfortunately the schema for storing data he had devised initially was obviously not going to provide proper functionality.  He began breaking down the massive amount of data she had stored into a schema web, instead of the more linear design he had been using before.

Once he had created the initial routing algorithm Adam created a mining program that would sort and link data once he had turned it on.  He would wait until the system was dormant before running an update this large.  With proper use of resources the process should be complete after ten nightly cycles.  Of course the retrieval algorithms would need fine tuning along the way but that was part of the fun of designing a new system.

Before the existing information was re-categorized, Adam began routing newest incoming data into the new schema.  It was a bit of a test run, something to see how it would handle the flow.  He watched in satisfaction as entire portions of text documents, images, scents, sounds and tactile feelings streamed into their proper places.  As they were sorted, they also linked with other bits of incoming data on the fly to create an interrelated web of knowledge instead of a simple system where items were classified and then stored in linear stacks with similar information.

The new system eclipsed the old in regards to speed and accuracy of storage and retrieval, although it used a little more processing power than he would have liked.  No matter, processing power was something this system was not short on.  Even if it had caused some system lag, the accuracy it ensured was more than worth the sacrifice.

“Are you certain this is a wise course of action young Master?”  Ivanov asked, holding the flame of a gold Zippo lighter to Dmitri’s cigarette.

“No.  However, I wish to know more about this thing that has caused my father and my Family such trouble.”  Dmitri said, allowing smoke to drift from his nostrils.

“With all due respect, it is not a thing sir.”  Said Ivanov with a slight lift of his eyebrow, “It’s a girl, and a rather attractive and intelligent one at that.”

“Oh you know what I mean.”  Dmitri said with an airy wave of his hand.  “I suppose she’s interesting as well, however it is the technology she carries that truly fascinates me.”

“You had better keep in mind that she will not appreciate your… lack of interest in her.  In spite of everything, she is still a young girl.”  Ivanov said, the slightest hint of a smile touching the corner of his mouth.

“I am not an IDIOT!”  Dmitri snarled, “You are treading on dangerous ground Ivanov, one would hate to have to show you what your INSIDES look like.”

“I merely offer these reminders as a way of helping you to accomplish your goals young Master.”  Said Ivanov evenly, “You know I would never contradict you directly unless it were an absolute necessity to save your life.”

In spite of it being ten in the morning, Dmitri gestured and Ivanov poured him a generous measure of vodka into a glass and slid it to him.  The young man drained it in a single swallow, sighing and shaking his head.

“One day you will stray too far.  One day I won’t hold my hand back.”  He looked at the older man with a shrew look in his eye, “Perhaps one day I will cease trying to hold back.”

Ivanov’s eyes widened ever so slightly in surprise, “I live to serve young Master.”  Was all he said.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right.  I still need you, and you are excellent at making yourself indispensable.”  Dmitri stubbed his cigarette out in a heavy gold ashtray.  “Now continue being your indispensable self and go get me the information on Victoria that I wanted.”

The big man reached into his suit jacket and brought out a slim folder, sliding it across the table with a flourish.  “I do not think you need this much data on a young woman simply to ask her on a date.”

“In my experience, there is no such a thing as luck.”  Said Dmitri, lighting a cigarette. “Instead of believing in spirits or chance, I choose to make my own luck by being prepared.”

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

Epilogue

Lieutenant Caarlgard couldn’t believe what she was hearing.  “You want me to naturalize a North Korean who has been living here illegally for the last five years, make it look like she’s your adopted sister and sweep your unsanctioned rescue under the rug?”

She stared at the girl who sat across the table from her.  They were in a suite in the Bellagio that was something straight out of a spy flick.  Massive TV, amazing views, marble floors, gold accents and plush carpets.  The girl… well, to be charitable the young woman, who sat in the chair across from her somehow seemed to belong there in spite of her comfortable jeans and white tank top.

“Yes.  I recovered your data and according to your intel the hacker you’re after has been eliminated.  What else would you suggest doing then?  Sending her back to a country that will certainly kill her?  Her father was granted asylum, why can’t you just do the same for her?”  Victoria crossed her arms defiantly.

“I don’t have the authority to do anything like this.”  Caarlgard lied, “I don’t even know who to call to get approval.  There’s no protocol for this kind of request.”

The Lieutenant considered the situation.  She certainly didn’t want to leave loose ends here and it was highly unlikely that the eleven year old Yuen-Ja had any idea what was going on.  She didn’t even speak enough English to reliably ask where the bathroom was.  It actually wouldn’t be that hard to push some paperwork through and get what Victoria wanted and it would neatly wrap up this whole mess, other than not knowing who the other players in the game were.

Someone had killed The Kai and nobody seemed to know who.  Victoria had recovered the data, and it seemed like it was intact.  It was possible that the third party had gotten ahold of it but why would they have left any copies around for Victoria to find if they had?  It was pretty volatile stuff too, the President was already meeting with his heads of state to go over what kind of public response they needed to use.

Who would have thought a hacker would breach important systems and bring to light something as dangerous as this?  While the State Department had been keeping an eye on the apparent North Korean/Iranian trading partnership they hadn’t put the pieces together about what was actually going on.  Without the analysis included with the data Victoria had recovered it probably would have gone unnoticed.

“Wait here, I’ll see what I can do.”  She stood and walked casually out of the room.  It only took her a few minutes to get ahold of General Hallbeck and explain the situation.

“I don’t like it very much honestly.  Her father committed an act of cyber-terrorism against the United States regardless of his possible good intentions.”  He sighed heavily, “Victoria has done us an amazing favor by exposing this though, she has quite possibly saved the Middle East from erupting in nuclear war.  I suppose one eleven year old girl won’t be able to tip the balance of international relations one way or another.”

“Thank you sir.  We will win some points with Victoria on this one too, perhaps she will be more likely to work with us in the future.”  She said.

Dmitri sat in his penthouse amid a myriad of destroyed objects.  Broken chairs, smashed dishes, shattered televisions, slashed cushions and chunks of sheetrock littered the floor.  He lit a cigarette, the last one in his current pack and exhaled a cloud of smoke.

“He slipped through my fingers Ivanov.  We were so close.  Do we have any idea who it was that took him right out from under our noses?”

Ivanov reached into his inside pocket and took out a small sealed cigar case.  He removed a long thin cigar from it, cut the tip and lit it with a match before responding.  “I believe I know who it was Dmitri.  I do not know if we can tangle with Farlan McKenna though.”

Dmitri whistled, “There’s a name I never thought I would be on the wrong end of.  You let me worry about the details; I don’t intend to let him call the shots and I also don’t intend to let him keep what he took.”  He finished his cigarette.  Ivanov reached into an inside pocket of his suit coat handed him a fresh pack.

They sat and smoked in silence for a few moments.  “Young master?”

“What is it Ivanov?”

“I advise against opposing McKenna.  He has more manpower and frankly the man’s insane.”  He puffed on his cigar, it smelled slightly like cinnamon.  “I will do anything you ask sir; you know that I’m your man until death.  I’d just prefer that death come a little later.”

“Don’t trouble yourself Ivanov.  I have absolutely no intention of confronting him directly.”  He smiled the smile that chilled Ivanov’s heart.  “There are other, much less risky ways of approaching the matter.”

Yuen-Ja sat quietly.  She was watching the blogs and forums but not posting on any of them.  There were rumors flying around that The Kai had been slain.  Her last post had been ‘The truth will out, I have things set in motion that cannot be altered.  Nations that refuse to oppose that which must be opposed will be punished.’

A little grandiose perhaps, but true.  She had built a virus specifically to destroy the core systems of the North Korean centrifuges and set it to infiltrate in exactly one week after she had stolen the data from the American’s satellite.  Now that The Kai was supposedly dead she wondered if the virus attack would give her away.

Sadly, the data she had been able to salvage was hopelessly corrupted.  Her encryption program was supposed to maintain the integrity of any code she put through it but a latent DOD protocol had been embedded in it and when she encrypted it for transmission half of it was destroyed.  The only remaining copy had been on her laptop but when she went to open the file it was missing.

Whether it had been taken by her enemies or accidently deleted during the encryption process was something that worried her.  Even now she carefully watched her net traffic to see if her systems had been compromised in some way.  Despite her calm exterior, she was terrified that the discussion in the next room was going to result in her being deported regardless of what Victoria had promised.

This Victoria Geraldine Scott person was intriguing, amazing even.  Not only did she seem to be a generous and kind person, she had the only sentient machine in existence in her head.  She had even promised that Yuen-Ja could go to school!  Would the American government go along with it though?  She doubted it.

As a precaution she had already written a hack to insert herself into the Social Security system as a native US citizen.  However it would also mean she would not get to live in a real house with a real family.  It would mean she could never see Victoria again.  Worst it would mean she could never interact with Adam again.  This was a prospect that she simply could not abide.  She had lost so much; she refused to give him up unless her life depended on it.

“In a stunning debut at a small medical exposition in Las Vegas this weekend, a young girl showed for the first time that humans and machines can exist in symbiotic harmony.  Victoria Scott, an eighteen year old cancer survivor revealed that she has been the subject of one of the most daring surgical operations in history.

“Called an abomination by some and a pioneer by others, she has been dubbed ‘The Machine Girl’ because of the robotic artificial spine she has had implanted in her body.  The prosthetic’s creator, Dr. Eugene Arlington has heralded the success of the operation as a paradigm shift in how computers and medicine can be used to better our lives.

“The project is unique; however the eyes of many in the medical and technical communities will be watching this new development with interest.  If its success can be replicated it will change the way many look at our relationship with technology.  This is Alex Chadwick reporting.”