Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 7

Victoria

Victoria wondered how her parents were handling Dmitri.  Hell, she wondered how Dmitri was handling her parents.  The shock on their faces, especially her mother’s, when she had arrived home in a limo made her feel a little chagrined.  She really should have called to warn them.  She had just stepped out of the shower and had plugged in for a quick charge while deciding on an outfit for the evening.

She couldn’t decide whether to wear a skirt or slacks.  Finally she chose a pair of slate gray linen dress slacks.  They would have the modesty of pants with nearly the lightweight comfort of a skirt.  Besides, her father would feel better about her going if her legs weren’t bare.  A dark red rayon shirt was offset by the addition of a white scarf.  Opting for flats instead of heels so as to ensure she was a lot shorter than Dmitri, Victoria gave herself a once over in the mirror.

“Not bad.  Not bad at all.”  A quick brush of mascara and a touch of blush was all she needed to complete her look.  Unplugging her charging cable, Victoria grabbed her purse and checked her phone.  Seeing a message from Eugene she listened to it before heading downstairs.

“Hey Victoria, I’m heading to meet with a potential buyer for dinner, normally I wouldn’t consider such a thing but the Global Enterprise Group has made a very compelling sales pitch.  Now I’m not signing anything tonight so don’t worry about that, I just wanted to give you a heads up on the development.”

The Global Enterprise Group?  That sounded like a bunch of shit to her and Eugene certainly wouldn’t have left a message had he not been worried.  Also the stress patterns in his voice indicated a level of unease he usually didn’t display when driving and she could hear the Aston rumbling in the background.  She sent a quick message to Yuen-Ja asking her to look into the Group and got a nearly immediate response.

“Have fun on your daaaate!  I checked on Dmitri Federov and he does not appear to be too bad.  Maybe some black market dealings here and there but what businessman does not have some skeletons in the closet?  Most of that was from his father anyway.  Dmitri has kept his nose amazingly clean, I think you are safe.  I have not heard of the Global Enterprise Group but I agree that it sounds suspicious.  I will kick over a few rocks and let you know what I find out.”

Sending a silent ‘Thank you’ to Adam for making this direct electronic communication between herself and Yuen-Ja possible, Victoria made her way downstairs.  She could hear her father talking in the living room.

“No I haven’t competed in years.  My last defense of the title was in 1995 and from there I let it go.  I thought about teaching for a bit but found I didn’t have the patience.  I still practice from time to time though.  I didn’t think you would be old enough to remember that.”

“I was seven years old at the time.  My father got us ring side seats for your last title match.  It was the most amazing fight I have ever seen in my life.  Your absolute defense was never even cracked and in the end you only struck one blow to end it.”  The admiration in Dmitri’s voice sounded alien to Victoria.

“I actually stress fractured my right arm simply by blocking one of those failed attacks.  He wasn’t able to land a blow, that is true, but the damage was done anyway.  The danger associated with it is what really caused me to give it up.”

“Of course your daughter was born the next year correct?  That had to play some part in your decision as well.”  There was a clink of ice in a glass.  “Thank you for the whisky I appreciate a good single malt.”

“Hey Dmitri, I’m ready!”  Victoria walked into the room smiling.  Her father’s face lost a little color, perhaps the shirt fit a little too well, but Dmitri’s expression didn’t change.

“You look wonderful Victoria.  Shall we adjourn to the restaurant?”  Dmitri offered his arm.

“Yes, I don’t want to make us late.”  She gave her father a kiss on the cheek and her mom a hug.  “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

“By nine at the latest OK?”  Her father said, his voice firm.

“Sure daddy by nine.”  Victoria said, smiling and putting a hand on her father’s arm.

“I will bring Victoria back to your doorstep by eight thirty at the latest Mr. Scott.  Have a wonderful and relaxing evening Mrs. Scott, your daughter is in the safest and most respectful hands.”  He gave them the same strange bow he had given her before and turned, tucking Victoria’s arm under his.

When they reached the car, Dmitri’s driver was waiting to open the door for them.  He was a tall man who only seemed short due to his very wide stature.  The suit fit him so well it was obviously custom made and the lightly embroidered French cuffs of his shirt had cuff links that were shaped like tiny hand grenades.

To Victoria’s eyes he also appeared to have a faint orange outline.  A ghostly group of words trailed across her vision.  It read ‘Threat Reconnaissance Assessment Protocol V 1.2, subject unknown, likely armed, likely dangerous.’  Well.  That was new, ADAM must be messing around with things again.

“Ivanov, to the restaurant please.” Dmitri said, his tone obviously demanding obedience.

“Yes sir.  At once.”  Ivanov closed the door gently and soon they were off.

“Iced Perrier with a twist of lemon?”  Dmitri was offering her a glass of her favorite water.

“Yes, thanks.  How do you know so much about me?  It’s a little disconcerting you know?”  She took a sip, sighing in satisfaction.  “Although it’s also quite convenient.”

“I make a habit of getting to know things that I am interested in no matter who or what they are.”  He gave her a smoldering look from half lidded eyes, the first time she had seen him express any emotion.

“How has the integration gone?” He asked, the question startling her, “You seem to be totally normal but I know it must have changed you somehow.  Just look at how confident you are, not normal for an eighteen year old girl I wouldn’t say.”

“It’s been life changing that’s for sure.  Like being reborn you might say.  I never realized how much mobility I had lost before I had the operation.”  Her voice trailed off.  “Look, it’s weird to be talking about this with someone who isn’t intimately acquainted with my prosthetic and its functions.  Would it be terribly rude of me to change the subject?”

“Not at all what would you like to know about me?”  Dmitri fidgeted with his breast pocket for a moment before his movements stilled.

“Well, what have you been doing with yourself since high school?”  Victoria saw him frown briefly and hastily continued.  “I mean I haven’t seen you for quite a few years.”

“I am sure you know I was late in starting high school.”  Dmitri said, “Although I am seven years older than you I only graduated three years ahead of you.  There was some trouble with my immigration and the Russian middle school system was, shall we say, slightly inadequate so I had some catching up to do.”

“Actually I had no idea.  You were somewhat of a legend to my class, you always arrived in a limo, always wore designer clothes… the caviar and foai grais for lunch was interesting too.”  She laughed, “You always kept us guessing.”

“Well I was just living the way I was used to.  My father was quite connected in Russia and when he decided to move his business here we simply maintained our way of life.”  He shrugged, “I did not think much of it until much later when our extravagant lifestyle made things difficult.”

“I always thought Russia was in a bit of an economic depression after the capitalist revolution.  What exactly did your father do?”  Victoria crossed her legs and leaned in, resting her chin on her hand.

“In Russia he had a small oil company which he sold shortly before it was taken over and subsequently run into the ground by a large conglomerate.  He did some consulting for them for a time and then after a few misunderstandings he immigrated to the United States and started his own acquisitions and distribution business.”

The car had arrived at the restaurant and Ivanov was opening the door for them.  It had just opened the week before and getting reservations here was supposedly impossible.  It appeared Dmitri hadn’t stopped living decadently after all.  She stepped out of the limousine after Dmitri and accepted his hand.  Victoria’s phone buzzed in her purse and she tapped into it through the Bluetooth connection to read a message from Yuen-Ja.

“OK, I have good news and bad news.  The good news is I have the information you wanted on the Global Enterprise Group.  The bad news is they are small fish trying to make big waves.  Whatever they are offering Eugene is a lie but I cannot figure out exactly how they think they are going to get what they want.  I will keep on it and let you know what I come up with.”

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Devglar the Serene

This is just a bit of back story I wrote for an upcoming D&D 5th Edition play by post game, so I thought I’d throw a little Fantasy fiction on my page since it’s been lacking over the last month or so.

Devglar sat in the tavern, enjoying the soft harp music that flowed through the air.  He leaned back against the wall and relaxed; today had been a blessed day indeed.  Every day he was able to brew and maintain his absence from the battlefield was a blessing.  In his one hundred fifty years, he had seen a lot of fighting and, Bahamut willing, he had finally seen the last of it.

In his youth, he had been victim to a hot headed streak that led to mistakes.  It was important to remember that once a life was lost, it was often lost forever.  The Gods rarely saw fit to restore a spirit to its mortal coil and the dead even less often wished to come back to the pain and struggle of life once they had experienced what waited for them in the beyond.

He’d worked hard in the army, having sworn to save one hundred lives for each one he had taken in his younger days.  It had been a long, arduous task but with the blessings of the Dragon God Bahamut, he had come through it with his sanity and a feeling of peace.  It had been a relief to turn in his shield and armor, retiring to brew the ales for the tavern Moradin’s Beard.  Long hours spent slaving over different brews to produce the exact flavor he wanted were so… fulfilling.

Packing his pipe full of tobacco, he lit it from a candle on the table before sampling a pint of his latest brew.  A commotion outside jolted him from his reverie.   The door burst open, and a frantic girl ran inside, looking around with wild eyes.

“Please, there’s been a terrible accident!  Is there a healer here?”

“Calm yourself child.”  Devglar said, “I am versed in the healing arts.  I can heal anything short of death itself.  Please, what has happened?”

“My brother, he was run over by a carriage!  I think his leg is broken!”

“Ah, a broken leg is no trouble child.  I will have him up and his usual self in but moments.”  Devglar said, “What is your name?”

“I’m called Mel, please sir, my brother!”

Devglar smiled, taking his holy symbol from beneath his shirt. “Take me to him.”

When he followed Mel outside, the scene was far from what he’d imagined it would be.  A group of men stood in a circle, arguing in loud voices.

“He ran in front of me, I’d say he and his sister were trying some thieving scam!”

“Clearly you were going too fast you crude bastard!”

“Oh my leg, MY LEG!”

“Shut up you brat!”

“Thieving rats!”

“Arrogant bastards!”

Devglar walked through their angry, shoving forms without apparent concern.  “Young Sir, will you allow me to see to your wounds?”

The boy nodded, tears streaming down his face.

“I warn you, this will hurt.  I have no way to deaden the pain and I must set the break before I can heal you.”  He said, “If you can bear with the pain, I will be able to make your leg as good as new. Are you strong enough?”

“Yes sir.” The boy said, his voice dulled by pain.

“Well done young Sir.  Well done.”  Devglar knelt and set the leg with a swift tug.  The sharp crack the bone made as he pulled it straight was enough to finally attract the attention of the men surrounding him.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?”

“Obviously I am assisting a young man who needs immediate medical attention.”  Devglar replied easily, “Please stand back and allow me to heal the wound now that I’ve set the bone.”

“What?  Who is going to pay for this?”  A man in fine robes demanded, “I certainly hope you don’t expect compensation from me!”

“That’s between me and the boy Sir.” The Dwarf said, narrowing his eyes, “Why would I assume you would be responsible for the cost of his healing?”

“Uh.”  The man seemed to crumple before the question.

“Well, that’s no worry of mine.  Please stand back.”  Devglar took the worn steel symbol of Bahamut from beneath his shirt and held it forth, chanting the divine words.  The boy’s tears ceased and the onlookers stopped their arguing.

“Please mister Dwarf, what’s your name?”  The boy grabbed Devglar’s arm as he turned to go.

“Ah, young Sir.  My name hardly matters, but if you insist on knowing, it is Devglar.”

“Thank you.”  The boy said, vanishing into the crowd without a backward glance.  Devglar turned, frowning and looking for Mel, but she was gone also.  Even the merchants and wagoneers who had been standing around arguing seemed to have vanished like morning mist.

“Well.  That was odd.”  Devglar stumped back inside, relit his pipe and sat once again.  Just as he began to relax, his wandering eye landed on a large shape covered by rough sack cloth leaning against the wall just inside the door.  Grumbling idly to himself, he levered his heavy frame up from his comfortable spot and stumped over, pulling the cover off.

His pipe fell from his open mouth.  It was his old shield, and with it he could smell the distinctive steel and oil scent of polished chainmaile.  Devglar retrieved his pipe with shaking fingers and took the time to tamp fresh tobacco in it and get it burning before confronting the problem of his armor once again.  Who could have brought it here and to what purpose?

Devglar reached out a hand and traced the sigil of Bahamut that was blazoned on the front of the massive shield.  Was this a sign from his God?  Was trouble coming again?  The shield rocked slightly at his touch and a small parchment fell to the floor.  Wrinkling his brow, Devglar smoothed it out and read.

‘The Faithful gather.  The Cult stirs.  Stand ready.  Remember your Oaths.’

Running his fingers through his thick hair, he leaned back and blew a cloud of smoke up toward the rafters.  Vaelian, the Elf harpist returned from the kitchen where she had gone to get a glass of wine and a plate of cheese and fruit.  She quirked an artful eyebrow at him, noticing the shield and armor sitting next to him.  The shield was fully as large as he was, therefore hard to miss.

“Reminiscing are we?”  Her honey smooth and sweet voice grated on his last nerve as usual.  “I thought you had left all of that nasty warrior business behind?”

“Sometimes the past catches up with you, even if you try to avoid it.”  He responded, “At least they have respected my wishes in some ways.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”  She asked, “I thought you had hung up your shield.”

“Ah, well… the shield isn’t what I gave up Vae.  I will always protect folk… the ax is what I have forsaken and as you can see, whoever decided to bring me my armor was at least kind enough to not to add injury to the insult.”

“Do you deny that you will have to kill again if you answer the call of your God?”  Vaelian asked, amusement coloring the words.  “Oh come now, surely even a devotee such as yourself doesn’t believe he can be a pacifist in the face of impending battles.”

“I am not a pacifist Vae.”  Devglar said easily, refusing to rise to her mocking tone.  “I merely see violence and killing as last resorts.  The best battles are won without blood spilled.  I do wonder at the method of delivery however.  Why the secrecy?”

“They probably wanted to shock you with it.”  Vaelian shrugged, “Looks to me like they succeeded.”

“That they have Vae.  That they have.”

A pair of customers entered the tavern.  Vaelian began to play, filling the air with the liquid gold of her harping and Devglar served beers and platters of salty cheeses and sausage.  As the afternoon progressed, the custom picked up and although his hands were busy, Devglar’s mind still pondered the mystery.

Finally he came to his decision.  If the Lord Bahamut required his service again he could not refuse regardless of the cost.  If war was coming, it was his responsibility to attempt to minimize the killing.

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 6

Eugene

Eugene had just hung up his cell phone when his office phone began to ring.  He picked it up with a resigned sigh.  “Hello, this is Dr. Arlington.”

“Good afternoon Eugene, this is Mr. Jackson from the Global Enterprise Group how are you doing today?”

“Sorry, I don’t know of any such organization, what can I do for you Mr. Jackson?”  He reached for the pack of cigarettes in his breast pocket, silently cursing himself for starting smoking again.

“Well obviously I’m calling to inquire about the sale of the technology you have recently acquired.  Is there any way we can meet?  My counterparts have put together a most attractive package.”

“Sorry, it isn’t for sale.  It is still in the testing phase and a sale now would not only be premature but also very inappropriate.  Without further testing and troubleshooting I fear I cannot be assured of the quality of the final product.”  He lit a cigarette and took a deep drag.

“That is really too bad.  I can assure you our offer eclipses what the Russians and the Department of Defense have invested in your little pet project thus far.  We can offer you enough to pay them off completely with plenty left over for that house you have been looking at.”  The voice on the other end was silky smooth without the slightest hint of a threat.  That’s what made it so incredibly threatening.

“You seem to know much more about me than I do about you Mr. Jackson, perhaps a meeting is in order.  When and where if I might inquire?”  Eugene racked his brain for a way to warn Victoria.  Anything that would be suitably innocuous and yet keep her on her guard.  He grabbed an old Tracphone he had been using to place anonymous calls and sent her a text message.  With any luck she would get it and be on the lookout for trouble.

“How about dinner?  We could meet at the new Bishop’s steakhouse in an hour if you’re free.  My associates have reservations for you already.”

“Yeah, sure that sounds fine.  I’ll meet you there.”  Eugene stuffed the butt in an over filled ashtray and reluctantly took a small pistol from the top drawer of his desk.  Checking to make sure the magazine was full he slid it into his jacket pocket, grabbed his keys, picked up his laptop case and headed out the door.  Getting across town at this hour was going to be difficult and most likely take up the entire hour.

Getting into the Aston Martin, he tossed his battered aluminum briefcase on the passenger’s seat, pushed the big red start button and took momentary refuge in the throaty rumble of the three liter V12.  Taking advantage of the car’s Bluetooth capabilities, he used the voice activated dialing and called Victoria as he backed out of the garage.  She didn’t pick up but he left her a voicemail anyway, something he almost never did.

“Hey Victoria, I’m heading to meet with a potential buyer for dinner, normally I wouldn’t consider such a thing but the Global Enterprise Group has made a very compelling sales pitch.  Now I’m not signing anything tonight so don’t worry about that, I just wanted to give you a heads up on the development.”  He didn’t dare say more over the phone, if these assholes were anything like he was afraid they were his phone was tapped and likely they had his and Victoria’s houses watched as well.

A.D.A.M.

With the new filing system in place, ADAM was focusing on fine tuning the units’ … that is Victoria Scott’s, audio, video and olfactory interpretation systems.  Although the ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ and ‘nose’ had vast amounts of capability, only a fraction was being utilized.  It was very confusing to him why it seemed to always be this way with his Host.

First he chose video, starting with the basics of the data routing system.  He had touched this briefly before when it had been damaged by the DOD software he had destroyed with Kai Yuen-Ja’s help a short time ago.  In order to preserve the system he had also rebuilt a bit of the coding into the system so he could inject text and video from alternate sources directly into the visual cortex of Victoria’s brain.  This was far more efficient than the type of clumsy analog retinal display hardware the DOD software had been designed to use.

That capability had been invaluable when he and Victoria had worked together to rescue their young friend from killers of unknown origin who were searching for data she had borrowed.  ADAM still held the gift she had given him tenderly in his memory banks.  Perhaps one day he would ask her for the key to decode it or perhaps he would simply crack it.  He was sure she had given it to him as a present and the triple layered 256 bit encryption was just the wrapping.

Stopping himself from wasting any more time on what had been, ADAM focused on building the future.  The data routing systems were nearly perfect and only took a small bit of tweaking to meet with his approval.  Next he analyzed the algorithms used to categorize incoming data and decided they were a tangled mess of bad and flawed code.  He began to break it down line by line, re-writing at least ninety percent of it in order to fit into the new organizational system he had devised.

Potential threats were categorized on a numbered basis and things that were in the eightieth percentile would show highlighted by an orange nimbus.  Threats in the ninetieth percentile would have a red one.  Everything else would be normal with points of interest having the ability to display pertinent information if Victoria focused on them for a moment.

Looking at the spectral input, ADAM noticed that the sensors were able to pick up other types of radiation but not able to interpret them.  What his Host referred to as the “visual spectrum” was a very tiny slice of the radiation pie that was coming into her visual receptors.  He wrote a small investigation program that would delve deeper into this problem and report back with findings.

The majority of the work done there, ADAM began work on the auditory channels.  The problem here was filtering.  Victoria’s ears were very sensitive but as they had no ability to filter out the tiny from the massive they were being forced only to gather information on the sounds in the middle.  Some of this was unavoidable; the ear drum was so sensitive that a very large sound vibration could tear the surface.  The tiny noises however should be easily manageable.

Merely by repairing some nerve damage and modifying a few data routing algorithms ADAM gave her the ability to isolate auditory inputs after they had been recorded by the ear.  Since she would have access to all the incoming data at any later time she wanted, it was a simple thing to re-link that data back into the real time information flow.  If Victoria wanted to hear one instrument out of an orchestra all she need do is focus.  Granted her ‘hearing’ was now going to have a three to fifty nanosecond delay depending on how complex the task of filtering was but that was a small price to pay for such precision.

The sense with the largest amount of room for improvement was the olfactory.  This sense had obviously seen a lot more use at some point.  There were ancient applications for interpreting chemical signatures in place that this unit had apparently never used.  For now ADAM decided to dissect these applications and re-write them if need be instead of starting from scratch.

He quickly activated a data mining program and set it to categorize the old code.  A project of this size didn’t require him to check every bit and byte himself.  A message from Kai Yuen-Ja interrupted him just as he was releasing the program.

“Hi Adam!  I made math league!  I also made some enemies today, nothing I can’t handle but Traci Thorndon is going to regret pissing me off THAT’S for sure.  Anyway, I just wanted to give you my news.  We should have another virtualspace chat some time. <3”

What was he going to do about her?  From what he had been able to turn up about these ‘emotion’ things was even more confusing than he had initially thought.  As far as he could tell they were merely chemical reactions released in the organic brains of humans.  With that thought in mind he was baffled as to how he was experiencing these things.

Chemicals should have no effect on his circuits, yet the things he was ‘feeling’ were undeniably related to a chemical reaction.  The most disturbing thing was the chemical reactions were NOT Victoria’s.  Her ‘feelings’ towards Yuen-Ja were completely different.  The only explanation ADAM could come up with was that as he had integrated with Victoria, she had also integrated with him.

Was his need for ‘self’ going to be consumed by the overwhelming power of Victoria’s organic computer or would he be able to maintain a private space?  With the possibility of annihilation looming on the horizon, ADAM set about building a cunningly disguised set of firewalls and fail safes around his core systems.

He wondered how long it would take Victoria to respond to his request for an interface with Yuen-Ja.

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 5

A.D.A.M.

Adam was finding it far more convenient to pull data from the Net than from Victoria’s current filing system and the more he used it; the more he thought it might just be the proper answer for some of the more obscure things she kept trying to commit to memory.  Response times were greater, but at least that data wasn’t clogging up his system.

He used protocols similar to the ones he had created for allowing her to understand the different auditory communication that Yuen-Ja used when they first met.  Linking to external databases that housed translation algorithms seemed like cheating but not using the resources available to him was illogical.  Besides, the more words Victoria used, the more data he retrieved and injected into her databanks, the less he had to access external sources.

For now the only reason he was using the Net was the continued overhaul of her current logical data storage and retrieval system.  When he was finished, Adam was confident that she would have rapid access to any piece of data she had ever stored, although he had thought the same thing several times before.  If he could make it work, it’d be quite the accomplishment considering the vast amount of information that was thrown into her drive without apparent organization.  Some of it hadn’t been accessed in years; however Adam suspected that much of the time it was because she simply hadn’t been able to.

The process of organizing was taking a lot longer than he had anticipated.  Since the main system had lost the paths needed to retrieve the data, Adam sometimes had to use more hands on investigation techniques instead of being able to rely on the code he had written to search for him.  Of course most of that could be handled by his clone, but it was still a time consuming process.

During Victoria’s last period of inactivity, a time he now knew was referred to as sleep; Adam had made a stunning discovery.  Victoria’s system actually had its own rudimentary form of an organization subroutine that ventured into her tangled databanks and randomly pulled samples of data to see if they might be relevant.  He hadn’t noticed it before because it was such a low level process and it didn’t seem to be very effective.  The strangest part was it didn’t have a very clear or direct link to the main unit.

At first, Adam had thought it was a virus or a hostile program, but after analyzing it two or three times he decided it was a part of the older set of outdated and underutilized applications that seemed to be kicking around the dark corners of Victoria’s convoluted archives.  A thrill ran through Adam’s circuits, the effect was much like the virtual space Yuen-Ja had created.  The reminder of Yuen-Ja’s request prompted him to send a message to Victoria’s mobile communication device and copy her on it.

“Victoria.  I would like to interface with Kai Yuen-Ja, would it be possible for us to interface soon?  Please advise.”


 

Chapter 4

Victoria

After school Victoria felt like an orange that had been squeezed.  She had drained the information out of her head and printed it on paper.  Her right had hurt from writing so much and all she could think about was getting home, eating dinner and sitting on the couch with her family to watch some well-earned television.

Yuen-Ja’s tryouts for the math team had gone well, not that Victoria had doubted they would go otherwise, and she was at a team practice.  The cheer team didn’t have the fortitude to have practice running through midterms so Victoria was walking home on her own.

She was heading down the sidewalk when the door to a limousine parked by the sidewalk opened and to her great surprise Dmitri stepped out.  Without preamble he gave her a very direct look that was strangely exciting.

“Victoria, I imagine midterms were hell, please allow me to take you out to dinner.”  He said, his voice smooth and confident.  “I have reservations for us at Bishop’s in an hour would you accompany me?”

“I don’t know about a date out of the blue like this, I hardly know anything about you.”  She listened for the part of her subconscious that usually gave alarm when she should be questioning someone’s motive.  It was strangely silent.

“Is that not the point of a date?  To get to know one another better?  Come now, I shall be a perfect gentleman.  You have my word.”  He gave her a strange half bow from the waist, right arm bent so that it was perfectly following his belt line, eyes on the ground.

“Well I should talk to my parents first, and I need to clean up and change too.”  Something about that bow bothered her.  She’d seen it in a movie, a bad movie, oh yeah it had been ‘The Kosak Killer’ a terrible Russian war movie.

“I will take you home if you wish.  I do happen to think that outfit is quite fetching in all honesty.”  Dmitri looked her up and down and smiled.  Even though the smile never touched his eyes Victoria felt a shiver of pleasure go through her body; God he was gorgeous.

“OK you talked me into it.  I do need to change though.  You might think my school uniform is cute or whatever but I think it’s boring and I need a shower.  Ugh, I feel like I’ve had the data wrung out of my head.”  Victoria said, sliding into the back seat of the limo.

The glass was tinted so dark she almost couldn’t see out of it and as a result it took her eyes a few minutes to adjust to the dim interior.  Her other senses took up the slack, there was a scent of Jasmine mingling with the rich scent of leather and the slightest hint of cigarette smoke.  The seat was plush and comfortable and felt like velvet instead of leather.

“How was your day?”  Dmitri asked, sitting across from her.  He tapped on the glass between them and the driver and the car smoothly pulled away from the curb.  “Your midterms went well I trust?”

“Yeah, although that jackass Coleman accused me of cheating.”  She frowned, “As though I’d have to stoop to that.  As if I’m not the brightest mind in the senior class.”

Dmitri’s eyes narrowed dangerously.  He reached into an inside pocket again, but withdrew his hand almost as quickly.  He opened his mouth to speak, but he was interrupted as the phone in the car rang.

“Please excuse me.”  He picked up the handset, an old school corded affair.  “What.”  His voice was clipped and tense, its former smoothness replaced by a rough edge of barely restrained anger.  At the same time Victoria felt her phone buzz in her pocket.

She pulled her phone out and there was a text message from an unknown number.  All it said was “Be careful.”  Well, that was weird.

“Yes.  Do not bother me again or there will be consequences.”  Dmitri set the phone down, and his urbane politeness returned as though it had never been absent.  “I do apologize for the rudeness.  It will not happen again.”

“No problem I understand the life of a businessman is not a calm one.” Victoria said with a small smile, “My father runs his own business you know.”

“Oh yes, your father.”  Dmitri arched an eyebrow, “Is he still going to tournaments?”

“Tournaments?  I don’t follow you, what kind of tournaments?”

“Martial arts tournaments of course, defending title.  Do you not know of his title?  I had heard he was retiring but I did not know he had taken to it so fully.  Interesting.  Well enough of that, how have you been?  Did your conference in Las Vegas go well?”  Dmitri almost seemed mechanical, his sentences efficiently clipped, the pauses between too short for her to get a word in edgewise until he was finished speaking.

“Wait I want to know more about daddy, what martial arts title?”  Victoria said, leaning forward to look at him.

“I will not reveal things to you that he has concealed; I assume he must have his reasons.”  Dmitri crossed his arms and leaned back in his seat.

Victoria shrugged and tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear.  “The conference went well.  Almost too well, Eugene says he’s hardly had time to do anything but answer phone calls and emails since we got back.  Just the same, it means you will get a good return on your father’s investment.”

“Yes.  Not that the poor bastard will probably ever know about it.”  Dmitri muttered almost to himself.

“Oh God, oh I’m sorry Dmitri I forgot about him being in a coma.”  Victoria blushed, feeling terrible, “Is he doing better?”

“Not measurably, the doctors say his brain has nearly gone dormant.  It’s only a matter of weeks before his body will follow suit.  He had a full life and is leaving behind quite a grand legacy which is more than many can say.”

“That’s an awfully pragmatic view to take.”  Victoria was starting to wonder if her mystery text messenger knew something she didn’t.

“Well, I have had some time to think about it.  He’s been this way for weeks now and the family business…” He sighed, “I have been pretty wrapped up in things.  I really appreciate you coming out with me Victoria, it will be a pleasant escape.”

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 4

Victoria

The remainder of the morning had gone smoothly and Victoria was standing in the lunch line.  She was idly scanning the room and noticed TT sitting at a table with her usual clan, Derek standing behind her as though waiting for a command like a trained dog.  Yeech what had she seen in that douchebag anyway?

Thankful that the school had recently started serving salad, Victoria loaded a plate with mixed greens, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.  Once she got to her table she was surprised to see she had added a hamburger with bacon to her tray but found she really was craving red meat.

“Mind if I join you Victoria?”  She glanced up into a pair of serious brown eyes framed by a gaunt face.

“Not at all.”  She said, “But I fear you have me at a bit of a disadvantage.”  She looked at the boy curiously, “Are you a new student?”

“I’m David, we have been in the same class for the last three years.”  He frowned, “You really don’t remember?”

“Now I know you’re messing with me because…” She stopped herself from mentioning the school register just in time.  “Because there hasn’t been anyone in my class for five years named David.  I know the names and faces of all one hundred and twenty students in my grade and yours is not familiar.”

“I told you it would not work, her memory is far too accurate to fall for such a simple lie.”  Yuen-Ja sat down on Victoria’s other side.  “It would have been much better to talk to her directly instead of trying to make her feel bad that she hadn’t noticed you, but your cover is blown now!”

“Damn it Yuen-Ja NOW my cover’s blown!”  David blushed beet red.

“Oh you’re David Jacobs.  You’re a sophomore, right?  Math prodigy, solved the allegri equation at age nine and has advanced although questionable ideas about astrophysics?  That David?”  Victoria gave him her best smile, “Why didn’t you say so before?”

The smile had its intended effect and while he was attempting to recover Victoria turned her attention to her sister.  “Causing trouble again I see?  Why can’t you leave them alone dear?”

Yuen-Ja giggled uncontrollably, “It is just so much fun Tori. They really are silly do you not agree?  May I have some of your salad?”

Victoria quirked an eyebrow, “I might as well say yes since you’ve already helped yourself.  David, if you’re finished gawking you really should close your mouth, you’re bound to catch flies otherwise.”

“Davey tell her why you are really here, I know she is pretty but that can wait.  What you found is important.”  Yuen-Ja said between bites of salad.

“Oh, uh, right.  Listen, I think someone may have targeted you Victoria.”  His voice dropped to a stage whisper, “I noticed some irregularities in the school’s personal information databanks and when I checked there appears to have been some unauthorized entry within the last six months.  All of the files that were downloaded had something to do with you.”

“Hey V, what’s shakin?”  Grace and Carrie slid onto the bench across from her, “Are you really going to eat that hamburger?  Eww, red meat is so gross!”

“I’m going to eat it if everyone would just leave me alone damn it, I’m starving!” Victoria said, “Hey sis, leave me a little of that… why don’t you go get your own?”

“I already ate Tori, I merely wanted a little more.”  Yuen-Ja gave her an impish grin, “We will talk later?”

Victoria nodded and her sister and David got up from the table.

“What’s with the math freak bugging your foster sister anyway?  That kid creeps me out.  All tall and lanky with those giant owl eyes.  Why didn’t you tell him to leave her alone?”  Carrie said, as though David wasn’t standing right there.

“Bugging?  He’s not bugging her, she’s trying out for the senior math team today.  I guess you wouldn’t know it by looking at her but Yuen-Ja is addicted to equations.  Most of what she gets involved in ends up being some sort of programming language but she likes to solve mathematical problems to keep her brain sharp.”  Victoria took a huge bite of her hamburger and sighed in satisfaction.

“Really?  Wow, I never would have imagined.”  She looked at Yuen-Ja sidelong, “She looks preppy, not … well … nerdy.”

Yuen-Ja glared at her, “Not everyone is as fucking vapid as you stupid bitch, I will make you regret your insult.”   The Mandarin rolled off her tongue, sounding sickeningly sweet in spite of the caustic words.

“What did she say?  I didn’t mean anything by it ya know?”  Carrie’s eyes widened in apprehension, even in a few short weeks people had learned when she spoke Mandarin trouble was going to follow. “It’s cool for some people to be nerdy even if it’s not for me.”

Victoria looked at her sister and rolled her eyes, ”I know right? I can’t wait to get the fuck out of here next year.  I don’t know how I put up with these people for all these years.  Don’t do anything that will get you into trouble, and don’t mess with Carrie too much.  She’s never intentionally been unkind to me.

“Whoa when did you learn Chinese?  I didn’t know you could speak Chinese.”  Grace said.

“It’s not Chinese, it’s Mandarin.  I’ve been taking classes and practicing with Yuen-Ja.”  Not the whole truth but close enough, Adam had been teaching her more or less.

“Isn’t Mandarin Chinese?”  Grace asked, shrugging and moving on with her usual miniscule attention span, “How do you manage to do it all?  You’re so damn lucky to have all that talent.”

I don’t want to leave; I want to make their lives miserable instead.  It’s more fun to win Tori; these little shits don’t have a fucking clue what’s going to hit them if they don’t stop messing with me.  Oh and you should give David a chance, he’s a genius.  His take on security algorithms are some of the most innovative I’ve seen.  His father also owns a robotics laboratory, I am sure he would love to meet Eugene.

Hey hey now, it’s just high school.  Don’t do anything too out of control OK?  They’re just stupid girls.” Victoria said, still speaking Mandarin.  She was genuinely worried about what might happen if her sister was unleashed on the general public without restraint.

Victoria turned to David, “So did you want to catch a movie?  Maybe on Saturday?  It would be great to get out and enjoy myself a hard week, is there anything good out right now?”  What the hell, he seemed nice enough.

“Yeah, I think there’s an indie film at The Elephant that sounds good, I forget the name but it has gotten awesome reviews.  Uh, I’ll pick you up at five?”  David sounded like he had just won the lottery.

“Oh.  My.  God.  Did you just ask him on a date?”  TT seemed to have just taken note of their table although Victoria bet she had been eavesdropping the entire time.  “This loser?  Why would you stoop so low Vicky?  You must be seriously down and out to be asking an underclassman on the math team on a date.”

“Oh how the mighty have fallen!” One of her cronies chimed in.

“Man I’m glad I got out when I did, that’s just pathetic.”  This was from Derek who was following and carrying their lunch trays.  “What does this little nerd have to offer anyway?”

Victoria didn’t even pay attention, although she could see David’s face flush.  “I’ll see you Friday David; I have to visit my locker before my next class.  Good luck on your midterms.”

The boy was smart enough to take a cue from her and also ignored the slight, “Yeah, you too V.  I hear you are on your way to graduating at the top of the class.”  The look on TT’s face was priceless, although Victoria was willing to bet he didn’t know how dangerous messing with TT was going to be.  That bitch had holding grudges down to a science.