Gaming Cinematic #3

Luag drew a deep breath.  The tattered cloak of Razach, the Orcish Blood Shaman in his hand seems to pulse with a heartbeat.  Deciding it would be better for it to perish with its master, he uncorked a vial of holy water and soaked the garment before reluctantly letting it fall over the edge of the platform and into the building inferno below.

“What a waste of knowledge… but perhaps some things are better left unknown.”  He mutters to himself.

The staff with its polished, engraved Elf skull leers at him knowingly as he wraps it in cloth and tucks it into the band of his pack.  Activating his belt, he fires the grapnel to climb after his companions, trying to escape the heat and smoke that rise from the blaze in the roots of the Forever Tree.  The others were deep in discussion, trying to plan their next move.

“We cannot simply allow this Scalran to escape after what she has done.”  Kaladin said, his arms crossed.

“I don’t know how we will find her, but I agree that she should be found and stopped.”  Korikk said, all the while wondering if possibly Scalran might have an insight into the mysteries of the map he was searching for.

“Just follow her trail.”  Chiva said with a shrug.  “She was using these tube things for something.  If she hasn’t flown the coop entirely then she’s probably at the end of these.”  He pointed at the iron piping over their heads.

“No, I think we should go outside.  I hate this place.”  Alorah says, managing to make her tiny piping voice grumble.  When the rest of the party headed off, she followed, landing on Kaladin’s shoulder.

Following the twisting tangle of superheated steam pipes, the party finally discovers the lair of The Machinist.  They squeeze through a small hatchway and into a cramped room.  Chiva glances out of the only other door, replacing the bar after seeing a hallway that looks long abandoned.

Stacks of parchment with notes jotted on them are stacked in disorganized piles written in a mixture of common, gnomish and dwarvish.   Sketches of various pieces of machinery in various stages of assembly litter the multiple tables and spill onto the floor.

Many of them are now a mess of sodden, smeared ink but some are written in pencil and are still clear enough to be deciphered.  The extreme temperatures of the burning Forever tree appear to vaporize everything other than whatever alloy she was using to line the iron pipes that lead into this room.

After discovering nuggets of Adamantium in the caverns below the strange anti-magic field, she began forging an army of mechanical monsters.   She got around the anti-magic runes by stealing human children and cramming them inside and controlling them with her mind.  Her psychic powers transforming them into the perfect controllers for her machines.  Scalran powered her machines with insanely powerful Adamantium springs instead of magic, using the steam engines running on the fires of the burning Forever Tree to wind them.

A mess of lined iron, copper, brass and steel tubes extend from a large mainline that covers three of the walls and connect to a wide variety of different vessels, machines and gauges.  The intense pressure and heat from the explosion below has ruined much of the writing and destroyed most of the machines, but a few still flail about in a parody of functionality.

Also disturbing is a table with an outline about the size and shape of a six foot tall humanoid with a few flakes of impossibly hard, very dense metal around it that seem to have dripped from some kind of casting.  It doesn’t take much deduction to identify it as Adamantium after what Scalran’s papers revealed.

After a few minutes of searching, it becomes obvious that Scalran had fled without taking anything other than the suit of armor or whatever it was that had been on the table and perhaps some notes regarding it as there is nothing here that reveals what it might have been.  It appears she escaped through a shaft that leads straight up through the center of the room.

The sound of hammers smashing into the door and muffled shouts stops the party short.  Luag looks up from sketching notes although his spectral magic third hand continues writing in his tome. Chiva pauses as he is attempting to shove a large, complicated machine into his pack.  Kaladin closes the pouch of gems he found sitting in a drawer.  Korikk carefully stows the book he had been reading, wrapping it in a heavy leather case.  Alorah spreads her dragonfly wings and zips halfway up Scalran’s escape shaft.

“Come on!  We don’t wanna get caught here!”  She squeaked, frantically beckoning to the others.

“I need more time.  Just a little more time.”  Luag said, “I think I’m close to understanding this.”

“We can’t take on the entire city.  What I don’t understand is how they found us.”  Kaladin said, moving to look up at Alorah.  “Where does that lead little one?  Can we escape through there?”

The fairy flew up in a cloud of glittering dust and returned mere moments later.  “Yesyesyes it goes out!  Out!  Sunshine and rooftops!”  She said, laughing gleefully.  “Fresh air and clouds!”

The sound of hammering grows louder and the party begins scaling the narrow shaft out of the room.  Luag takes an agonized look around the room and stuffs a handful of papers into his bag, hoping he was able to get enough information to complete the research he had begun before following.

Chiva scrambles up last, turning to cast an illusion over the opening before following his companions to the roof.  The sun is just setting as they perch on the tiles, their backs leaning against the huge gilded dome of the library.  Below on the street, they can see smoke roiling from sewer grates thick and black.

Soldiers and citizens crowd the streets, scanning every alley, nook and cranny of the city.  Several stand over the corpses of dead Dwarves and Orcs.  As they survey the chaos, they can also see small knots of fighting here and there as well as a few groups running and leaping from roof to roof.

“This isn’t good.  This isn’t good at all.”  Kaladin mutters.

“It’s OK.”  Says Alorah, “We can just fly away!”

“We can’t all fly you little fool.”  Korikk says, giving her a dark look.

Luag begins taking furious notes as he surveys the city, muttering about the good vantage for making a decent map.  Chiva just watches Alorah flitting around and chuckles as she sticks her tongue out at Korikk.

“Well guys, what now?”  Chiva asks.  “I, for one, say we get the hell out!”

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Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 11

Victoria

Victoria found Yuen-Ja waiting for her at the front door when she arrived back home.  Her sister was literally bouncing on her toes with impatience.

“Did you find Eugene?  Did he answer your phone call?” The girl asked the moment Victoria had closed the door.

“No, I left him a message though.  Why, do you have reason to believe he’s in some serious trouble?”  Victoria was taking off her shoes and saw there was an extra pair of shoes in the entryway.  Converse size twelve unless she missed her mark.

“Yes.  I called his phone and traced it using a program I wrote to track down the North Korean military operatives responsible for the murder of mommy.  The signal was so weak I almost could not pinpoint it but he is most certainly on some sort of boat headed out to deep waters.”

“Shit, do you have any idea where they’re taking him?  Why the hell would he have gotten on a boat?”  Victoria asked.

“I can only assume he was forced into it.  Eugene is not stupid and would not put himself in such a situation unless he had no choice.”  The small girl frowned, “There are no major land masses for quite some distance in the direction his signal was moving so I believe whoever has him is planning on keeping him on board until he is ransomed.”

“There are a couple other things that come to mind Yuen-Ja.  One is he might be a captive of the crazies who think I’m some sort of sign of the apocalypse.  The other is whoever has him might be forcing him to do some sort of operation for them.  If I get a list of hard to find components can you check them against purchasing lists to see if we can draw a correlation?  I can think of a few things that would be extremely specialized to Eugene’s line of work, maybe we can narrow our search.”

“Good idea.  You get the list together and then you, David and I can all search together.  Three sets of fingers are better than one.”  Said Yuen-Ja with a smile.

“David’s here?” Victoria asked, raising an eyebrow.  “I don’t think it’s a very good idea to get him involved do you?  If these people are as powerful as you think they are and if Eugene has actually been kidnapped by them it’s not fair to involve other people.”

“Shhh, mom and dad will hear you!  I do not think that is a good idea.” Said Yuen-Ja.

“Victoria is that you?  You’re home early, how did your date go?”  Her dad was standing in the entryway.

“It was interesting, Dmitri is a complex guy.  We talked about a lot of different things, it was a change of pace to be on a date with a guy who could actually hold a conversation.  That restaurant is pretty awesome too, I’ll have to take you guys some time.”  Victoria watched his face carefully and saw him relax.

“Did you make plans to go out again?”  He asked.

“Well not exactly, but I think we both had a pretty good time.  He has my number if he wants to take me out again.”  She grinned at him, “I remember your lectures on how ‘going steady’ wasn’t something I should start doing impetuously when Derek and I were together.  I like the concept of a date just being a date, and Dmitri is a perfect gentleman.”

“You speak as though you already have your next one planned.”  He said, grinning back.

“Actually David is taking me to a movie tomorrow.  So I guess I do!”  She paused for a second, “Well that’s weird.  I must have a thing for boys whose names start with D.  Come on Yuen-Ja, I’m going to put on a pot of coffee, if we’re going to crack this thing we’d better get started.”

“Wait, what?”  Her dad looked lost, “I thought David was here to see Yuen-Ja.  You’re going on a date with a boy that much younger than you?”

“No dad, he is just a friend.  The only boy I like I rarely see although we do exchange emails on a regular basis.  After I met him, other boys became boring.”  Said Yuen-Ja.  The look on his face was priceless.  Victoria wondered who she was talking about.

“I’m attracted to David’s brain.  That boy has some groundbreaking ideas about mathematical formulas.”  Victoria said.

“And you should see my robotics work too, I think you’d get a kick out of it!”  David was leaning on the door frame to the basement stairs.

Victoria used to call the den down there ‘The Dungeon’ and now it was one of her favorite rooms in the house.  Full of the old overstuffed leather furniture her mom had wanted to toss when she bought new things for the living room.  It was the perfect place to curl up with a book or watch a movie on the old VHS player and CRT television.  Sometimes high definition just didn’t fit the mood of the program.

“I’ll be down in a couple minutes, I just want to make some coffee.”  Victoria turned from David to her dad, “Where’s mom?  Don’t tell me she’s in bed already?”

“Oh no, she’s watching a movie.  I’m sure she would appreciate a kiss if you had the time to stop in the TV room.”  That was something Victoria had always appreciated about the layout of the house.  The living room was set up for reading and conversation while the television was in its own room, separate from the rest of the house.  Instead of dominating the main living space like so many houses she had been in it was quarantined off where it couldn’t interfere with daily life.

“OK dad I will.”  Victoria first went into the kitchen and put four healthy scoops of beans in the coffee grinder.  Her dad always insisted on getting freshly roasted coffee from a local shop and grinding the beans just before making a pot and she had come to appreciate how much better it tasted than the crap out of a can.  After starting the brew cycle she went to look in on her mom.

Before she got into the room she could hear the Bhangra and knew there was a Bollywood movie playing.  “Hi mom, I’m back.”

“Oh sweetie, how was it?”  Her mom paused the movie and looked over at her.  “Was he OK?”

“Dmitri was a perfect gentleman mom and quite a fascinating conversationalist as well.” Victoria assured her.

“That’s a relief.  Honestly he seemed a little too polite to me.”  Her mom said, “Almost like he was an actor pretending to be what your father and I wanted him to be.”

“Yeah he has a funny way of phrasing words that threw me for a bit too but once I started talking with him I was able to look past his mannerisms and was able to appreciate his wit and discerning mind.”  Victoria said, giving her mom a squeeze.  “His family emigrated from Russia when he was like ten years old, so that’s probably why he talks a little strangely.”

“I’m glad honey, are you two going out again?”  Her mom had the same tone and expression her dad had when he asked the same question.

“I don’t know, maybe.  We both had fun so it’s possible he will call me again.”  She smiled, “I’m going to go hang out with Yuen-Ja and David, I think my coffee is almost done.”

“OK dear, don’t stay up too late.”  Her mom had already started the movie she was watching again as Victoria slipped out.

After pouring the pot of coffee into a carafe, Victoria grabbed three cups, cream and sugar and put them on a tray.  Heading downstairs she could hear Yuen-Ja and David chatting.

“I know she is smart but I do not know about genius.” Yuen-Ja was saying.

“Hey guys, I have the coffee!”  Victoria didn’t feel comfortable eavesdropping and she also wanted to get started on the search for Eugene.  She looked at David, “Cream and sugar?  Just a guess.”

“Yeah, cream and sugar would be great.”  He said looking at her a little askance.  Yuen-Ja snickered.

“Wait.  You don’t even drink coffee do you?”  Victoria asked, “I should have known, you’re probably more of a Rockstar or Mountain Dew guy am I right?”

“Damn, how did you know?”

“It’s pretty obvious.”  Victoria counted off on her fingers, “You’re too young to like coffee because you’re an American, you’re also too young to drink something like Caffix but you’re up late so I have to imagine you drink some sort of caffeine and it’s either energy drinks or sodas and those are the two that are the most statistically likely for your age group.”

David burst out laughing, “I TOLD you Yuen-Ja, she’s an analytical genius!”  He turned his smiling face toward Victoria, “Wow, I’d bet you could give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money.”

“As I said before David, I believe it is Adam who is helping out.  He has the most advanced data cataloging techniques I’ve ever seen.”  Yuen-Ja said smugly.

“Wait, you TOLD him about Adam?”  Victoria had to struggle to keep her voice down.

“Hey, it’s cool Victoria.  I read a lot you know, and you are going to be published in next week’s Wired.  I have a friend who works there so I always get mine early.” David said, “Well, I guess they didn’t quote you or Dr. Arlington directly but they mentioned you both by name.  They had some source from the LA Times?”

“That fucking HACK, I knew I should have done away with him when I had the chance.  A simple public humiliation was too good for him that bastard is going DOWN!”  Victoria set the tray with the coffee down on a side table, her anger at Yuen-Ja giving away her secrets evaporating in the face of the rage she felt at the reporter.  “I will make sure he is never published ever again.”

“It’s a really good article, honest.”  David was holding his hands up, fear on his face.  “I really think he was trying to make peace for whatever transgressions he made against you.  You should read it before you pass judgment I think.”

“No.  He used my name and my story without my permission.  That fucker will pay.  I will make him regret he ever wrote anything about me.”  Victoria’s mouth was set in a hard line.

“Oh sister, didn’t you tell me not to bother with the small fry?” Yuen-Ja said in Mandarin, “I think you need to calm down and focus on the problem at hand.”

Victoria sighed and responded in the same language. “Enough about him, let’s look for Eugene.”

Yuen-Ja grinned and David glanced between the two of them.  It was evident that he didn’t understand what they were saying.

“OK, Yuen-Ja tells me you have some data compiled for us to search on?  Do you have it on a USB drive or something?”  David asked, pouring enough cream and sugar into a cup of coffee to make Victoria’s fillings hurt.

“What?  Data on USB?”  Victoria couldn’t help but laugh, “No, it’s just in my head.  Just some things that would be necessary for the construction of a new prosthetic that would be difficult to come by, it’s not much of a list.  Here’s what I have so far; a laser lathe that can work with titanium and is accurate down to fifty nanometers, a large quantity of spider silk, liquid dilithium acetate and an electronic frequency generator that can isolate individual frequencies.”

“Spider silk?  What the hell is the spider silk for?  I can understand the rest of that stuff although I haven’t ever heard of dilithium acetate but that’s the weirdest robotic component I’ve ever heard of.”  Said David.

“It is used to strengthen the fibers of the Nanomuscle.”  Victoria said, firing up her laptop and then sitting her favorite armchair within reach of the coffee pot.  “From what I understand Eugene uses it to create tunnels that house the fibers, I never really asked how it works.”

“Wow that is such a brilliant idea, I need to meet this guy.”  David was starting his own laptop, “I’ll see if I can dig up any info on that ship first.  There are a couple websites for boat watchers that I know chronicle the comings and goings of vessels, maybe they’ll have something on the Misery.”

Victoria stilled her fingers on her keyboard.  “That’s it!  All we need to do to find out who this is and where they are going is to hack into the Coast Guard’s registration database.  That will be way easier than looking for all this other stuff.”

“I will crack it open like a clam.”  Yuen-Ja smiled, “I knew it was a good idea to get the three of us working on this together.  Good things always come from the meeting of great minds.”

“Damn it!”  Yuen-Ja’s outburst jolted Victoria awake.  “These systems are so slow, poorly designed and archaic I cannot find the information we want!”  Glancing at the clock, Victoria saw it was a little after three in the morning.

“Sorry for dozing off guys.”  Yuen-Ja and David barely noticed her, they were both staring at her sister’s laptop screen.

“What about this?”  David tapped a few keys, “If we use this Boolean instead maybe it will let us wildcard?”

“I do not know which table holds the ship name data David.” Yuen-Ja said through gritted teeth. “Until we find the registration number and link it to the ship name we will not be able to locate the GPS ID.  I will write a data mining program and let it run all night.  That way we can be fresh tomorrow to try again.”

“Oh shit, I need to get home, it’s past three.” Said David, “Well, mom’s working a graveyard again so I guess she isn’t going to miss me and dad’s almost never home from the lab… but I would like to get some things ready for her when she gets back from work.”

“You are such a good son.”  Yuen-Ja said approvingly, “Your mother has raised you well.”

Victoria watched the exchange between the two of them, wondering how her adopted sister had managed to become so familiar with David.  Math club was one thing, but… there was something more there.

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 10

Eugene

Eugene had been working for twelve or sixteen hours straight and his head was starting to spin a little.  It had been so long since he had sat to do this kind of work he had forgotten how absorbing it was.  The laser lathe was finishing the machine work on the final piece of titanium for the new prosthetic and he had done the initial coding for the AI.

Most of the code was already written, but he needed to eliminate some of the more dangerous pieces that the General had insisted on him writing.  He was also leaving out any wireless capabilities and putting much more harsh restrictions on the organic and digital brain interactions.  Knowing what he knew now Eugene was certain that it was a one in a billion chance that Victoria had survived and he couldn’t risk that kind of integration going wrong here.  Whatever bargain that girl had managed to strike up with A.D.A.M. had saved her life, but he couldn’t gamble that Seraphim’s husband would be able to do the same thing.

He dredged through the code, trying to find what had allowed the connection to happen.  Trying to figure out exactly what had been the catalyst for that acceptance between human and computer was like trying to remember a dream right after he had awakened.  Even as Eugene recreated the physical components of his masterpiece he tried to figure out how to modify its code to help facilitate that integral connection between the organic and mechanical.

Seraphim hadn’t contacted him at all during this time but he was certain he could feel her watching him.  She was a puzzle for certain, he didn’t remember anyone fitting her description or representing this organization ever contacting him.  Either she was trying to make him feel guilty or he supposed there was the possibility she had used some other channels to try and contact him.

He had mined his computer for any emails or contacts from anyone even close to her and the only one that was any kind of a match was a message from a medical technologies company in Minnesota.  The CEO was asking for the rights to produce the parts and was willing to cut him a deal if he was willing to sell her husband the first one so that it might be possible for him to awaken from his coma.

The main clue there was that nobody outside of his team knew about Victoria being stuck in a coma for weeks, there was really no reason for anyone to think that this technology would help with a coma patient.  He wished he knew just how much Angela had shared.  He assumed everything but then again he didn’t know how much data her level of clearance would afford her anyway.

Eugene double checked the lathe program to make sure it was running as it should and then turned his attention to the bed.  Passing a hand in front of his eyes, he decided it was time to get some rest before he started making stupid mistakes.

When he awoke, it was to the sound of the laser lathe’s clear chime that indicated it had finished the process at hand.  He had only slept for a few hours but still felt a lot better than he had before.  Going into the tiny nook that held the food dispensers, he grabbed a banana and pushed a button to receive a hot cup of coffee in a paper cup.  Living out of vending machines brought him back to college.

When he went back to check on the progress of his work, Eugene discovered someone had been tampering with things.  The polymer spacers that connected the titanium vertebra were already constructed and the Nano-molecular musculature of the augmentation system was waving out of them like sea anemone as they lay in their bath of neurosynth fluid.  It annoyed him but was helpful nonetheless.  After triple checking the mystery helper’s work he turned back to the main issue.

“Hey Seraphim, I’m going to need more than physical measurements here to complete this work.  I figure you’re listening in so let me know when you want to give me the rest of the info.”  Eugene sipped his coffee and then slid his hands into the gloves that extended into the assembly tank.  Using precise care, he connected the vertebra and spacers, nudging the tiny wisps of Nanomuscle into the proper holes with electromagnetic pulses.

The beauty of the neurosynth fluid was this could all be achieved through electronic waves, after all its main function was to transmit signals and each tiny thread had its own magnetic signature.  In an hour or so he had the full shell of the spine assembled and was ready to create the conduit that would run through the center of the spine, giving rigidity and housing the flexible battery cells.  Eugene looked at what he had built with pride.

“Not even one day has passed and yet you have accomplished more than I feared you could do in a week.  You amaze me Dr. Arlington.”  Seraphim’s face appeared on the wall monitor.  “What additional information do you require?”

“I need the age of the patient, his current status, how long he has been in a coma, if he responds to stimuli, what medications have been used, how his state is being maintained and honestly I need to examine him before I can feel completely confident about the success of the operation.”  Eugene pushed his glasses into a more comfortable place on his nose.  “I will probably have more questions before we are done as well.”

“He is forty one, he is currently in a coma where he has been for thirty six months.  He was in a car accident and never regained consciousness when the paramedics brought him to the hospital.  We have not been able to get him to respond to anything but pain.  He has not been given any medications as he is otherwise sound of body.  He is fully stabilized and is only on a saline drip to keep him hydrated and a feeding tube to ensure he does not starve to death.”

“I’m afraid that does not bode well.  Why do you think my device will awaken him from the coma?  If he responds to stimuli it means his spine is not the problem, he likely has massive brain damage.”

“I know you have the necessary skills to write the programs that will awaken him Dr. Arlington.  Your success with Victoria Scott proved it to me.”  Seraphim replied, “I met her briefly you know?  Her adaptive and regenerative capabilities right after her operation were what convinced me I must have your technology for my husband.”

“Well, I can’t promise anything really.  This is an untested brand new technology there is just no way to guarantee success.”  Eugene said, trying to sound nonchalant, “I will do whatever I can to try and make it work but in the end it is the AI talking to your husband.  Once the switch is flipped all bets are off.”

“Do not fail me Dr. Arlington or the consequences will be dire.  Failure is not an option, do you understand me?”  With that the wall flickered blank again.  Eugene shuddered, the look in her eyes had been one promising pain for as long as she could keep him alive.

Walking to the sink, he splashed water on his face.  He had seen that kind of desperation before and it never ended well.  Christ, he’d been there before and it was only luck and good friends that had saved him from disaster.  Whatever was going on with Seraphim was beyond his control though; all he could do was attempt to make her happy enough to let him go.  Well that and look for any opening to escape or call for help.

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 9

Victoria

Dmitri was watching her with those piercing eyes as she cut into her steak.  Bishop’s was famous for broiling their steaks in butter and Victoria could hardly wait to eat it.  The massively thick porterhouse she had ordered was blackened on the outside but welled up blood as she sliced into it.  She had ordered it rare and it was done to perfection.

“Oh wow, that’s amazing.”  She closed her eyes, savoring the taste.  “You really should have gotten yours rare, the flavor is so much better.”

Dmitri shook his head slightly, “I prefer medium.  A tougher piece of meat is worth the added protection against pathogens.”

“I dunno, this steak might just be worth dying for.”  She grinned at him.  His face was inscrutable as he took another drink from the glass of straight vodka he had ordered.  Her phone vibrated a message.  She idly tapped into it with Adam’s Bluetooth connection and read it while continuing to demolish the meat on her plate.

‘Hi Tori, you need to call Eugene right now!  Everything I had pulled up about this Global Enterprise Group has just been expunged from the web.  That is impossible, nobody can just wipe things off the web!   Whoever they are I think they have a little more muscle than I had initially anticipated, or maybe just more talent.

‘The only thing I have to go on is a ship called the Misery and a person called Seraphim.  No surname, no title, no rank, just Seraphim.  I am going to try and assemble the minions and burn into the night.  Get ahold of Eugene as fast as you can and then get home so we can plan our next move.’

Victoria stood up, “Just need to go powder my nose.” She said, grabbing her purse.  Dmitri watched her without comment but she could feel his eyes on her until she was out of sight of the table.  She quickly pulled her phone from her purse and hit the third speed dial.  Eugene’s phone rang three times and went to voicemail.

“Hi Eugene, just checking in to see how things were going.  Life’s grand on my end you have my number if you want to hit me back.”  She hung up with a sense of foreboding.

“Is everything OK Miss Scott?”  Victoria almost jumped out of her skin; Ivanov was standing not three feet from her.

“Christ, you scared the crap out of me!”  She exclaimed, “What the hell are you doing sneaking up on me like that?”

“My apologies Miss Scott I was just returning from the men’s room and noticed you here alone.”  He gave her a penetrating look, “You are all right aren’t you?”

“Yes, I’m fine, just a bit of a problem with a friend.  Nothing to worry about, thanks for asking.”  She went to the ladies room, touched up her makeup and was back at the table in a few minutes.  When she sat down, Dmitri had a troubled look on his face.

“I fear for Dr. Arlington Victoria.  He was supposed to attend a fundraising meeting earlier in the evening and apparently never showed up; very uncharacteristic for him.  Also, he hasn’t returned any of my counterpart’s phone calls today which is completely out of character.  Do you know anything that might assist us?  I only wish the best for him you know.”

In spite of everything, Victoria was still reluctant to tell him everything.  Acknowledging that there could be a problem risked exposing Yuen-Ja and that wasn’t something she was willing to chance.

“That’s strange, he hasn’t answered my phone calls either.  If I find anything out, I’ll be sure to come to you for help first.”

Dmitri visibly relaxed, “It would be an insult to me if you went elsewhere.  If I hear anything I will of course keep you apprised of the situation.”  He glanced at his watch, “I fear it is time for me to bring you home.  If I wish to remain in your family’s good graces I had better have you back on time.”

“I can hardly believe it’s that late.  This evening has passed altogether too quickly.”  Victoria gave him a genuine smile, “I really have enjoyed myself.  Thank you Dmitri.”

“The pleasure my dear was all mine.”  The waiter, who had blessedly been nearly nonexistent the entire night suddenly appeared by his left elbow as though sensing some unseen signal.

“What do you require sir?”

“Only the check please.”  Said Dmitri, reaching for his wallet.

“I could never ask you to pay sir.  You know that your meal is on the house.  Please come back as often as you desire, I will always have a table for you Master Nikitin.”

“What a pleasant man.  Who was he Dmitri?  How did you manage to swing a deal like that?”  Victoria was genuinely impressed.

“I procured the paperwork needed to secure this property and make it zoned for a commercial restaurant as opposed for residential purposes.  That man was James Bishop didn’t you recognize him from the papers?”  Dmitri didn’t act like it was a big deal at all.  It was a matter of course that the owner of a new five star establishment would be bowing and scraping to his every whim.  Just like it was in high school, he was totally out of her league.

Taking a deep breath to compose herself, Victoria laid her hand on Dmitri’s waiting arm and allowed him to escort her to the limo.  Ivanov was there, already holding the door and still outlined by faint orange lines.  She met his eyes and gave him a careful nod of acknowledgement.

Momentary surprise flickered across his face and he returned her look with what she would describe as cautious interest.  If she was going to hope to keep the upper hand with someone like him she needed to be perceived at least as very smart if not a potential threat.  Dangerous men that fit his profile tended to respect intelligence and hold threats at arm’s length.

Dmitri sat next to her this time instead of across from her.  He leaned in close, smelling of alcohol, cologne and faintly of cigarettes.  “You are a fascinating woman.  I know you are hiding things, important things.  I know Dr. Arlington is in danger and that you are aware of it.  I am as certain of this as I am certain that you are sitting next to me.  There is also the possibility that you know that I know and yet you have the guts to come with me, sit here in my car, under my power and show absolutely no sign of intimidation whatsoever.”

He leaned back and seemed to unconsciously pull a black cigarette case from an inside pocket of his suit.  Taking a black cigarette with a gold filter from the case he gestured with it.  “You even surprised Ivanov, something which I have only seen three times before.  Something about the way your mind works balances decisions on a razor’s edge of logic and seems to always make the most logical choice.”

Damn, well if he knew about things it was time to come clean.  After all he had a lot of power and influence.  The more she kept from him the more he would likely imagine she was keeping from him and imagination was always worse than reality.  That said, the situation needed to be approached from an angle that would more endear her to him than alienate.

“Honestly Dmitri, I just didn’t want to embroil you in my problems you know?  A man like yourself has plenty of other things to deal with without having to –“

“Did I not say I would be insulted if you did not come to me for help first?”  Dmitri’s eyes blazed as he looked at her.

“I haven’t gone to anyone for help.  I tend to work alone, especially when I suspect the work is dangerous.”  Victoria folded her arms, “If you want to be involved then you’re going to hear everything.  Some of it you might not want to be exposed to, some of it might get you killed and most of it would get ME killed or at least put in a government laboratory somewhere for the rest of my life.  Are you willing to take that risk?”

The car accelerated smoothly onto the freeway but the interior was completely silent for a few moments.  Dmitri lit his cigarette and opened a small vent above his head that pulled most of the smoke out of the cabin.  He was looking directly at her the entire time, smoking and thinking.  She could almost see the thoughts clicking into place behind his eyes.  When he had finished his cigarette he finally spoke.

“For now I think it might be best for both of us if I was not involved.  I apologize for my former reaction; sometimes I allow my ego to overshadow logic.  If you are in any immediate danger or have the need of something that you believe I can provide for you do not hesitate to contact me.”  He handed her a black business card with simple white lettering.

“You have an unfathomable ability to read situations and come up with the solution that best benefits you nearly every time.  Some time I would like to bring you in as a consultant for my business.  You would make an excellent negotiator.”  He smiled in earnest this time, but instead of looking mirthful it had the effect of sharpening his features to look more like a bird of prey or a mountain lion about to spring upon some hapless creature.

Victoria shivered, partially due to the danger of the look but also because his feral expression was so exciting.  “I may take you up on that, it sounds interesting.”

He laughed, a mirthless bark.  “Even now you leave your exits wide open.  Victoria, I have not been bullied like this since my mother was alive.  You are extraordinary indeed, this was a most enjoyable and fruitful evening.  My father was wise to make this investment, it is sure to pay off a thousand fold.”

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 8

Eugene

Eugene arrived at Bishop’s a mere ten minutes late, not bad for how terrible the crosstown traffic had been.  He pulled the Vanquish into the valet parking area with a resigned sigh.  Normally he wouldn’t valet his car but in this case he needed to make up as much time as possible.  He wrapped a hundred around the valet key asked the first attendant.

“You can drive a manual transmission?”

“Of course sir.”  The attendant was looking past him at the Aston Martin, “That is a beautiful piece of machinery.”

Eugene handed him the key, turned to walk into the restaurant and was surprised to feel the cold pressure of a gun barrel against the small of his back.  “Come with me if you want to live a little longer.  I represent the group who contacted you; this seemed as good a place as any to catch you off your guard.”

He looked around and saw the other three valets were all looking at him.  They steered him back to his car, the one with the gun handing off the key and motioning him into the passenger’s seat.  The door was closed behind him and he saw the driver had a roll of duct tape.  Eugene winced as the tape was unceremoniously wrapped around his upper body and the seat.  That was going to play hell with the upholstery.

“I’m not exactly sure what your angle is here, but there’s nobody around who will pay a ransom for me that I know of.”  That was the extent of his ability to talk as the tape was also wrapped around his mouth, then even his eyes were obscured.

“We will get what we want Dr. Arlington.  You will give it to us.  We have a facility built, ready and waiting.  Everything you need to duplicate your prototype will be there along with a team of very gifted surgeons.  You will make and implant another or your life is forfeit.”

They were insane.  How in the world did they think he would be able to perform such a task?  There was just no way they had adequate facilities.  The car was off and moving, the man driving had no sense of the precision needed to get the most out of the machine.  He even ground the gears between second and third.

After what seemed an eternity, his captive finally brought the Vanquish to a halt.  The door was opened and Eugene heard a sharp click shortly followed by the sound of a knife blade shredding the tape holding him down and probably the Italian leather of the seat as well.  The tape was ripped from his face, taking most of his eyebrows and lashes with it.  A riot of light assailed his eyes, he was in an enclosed garage lit by harsh metal halide lamps.

Eugene suddenly remembered the pistol in his jacket pocket.  It was something he had purchased in a moment of weakness a few years ago.  He had been on a James Bond kick and just HAD to have a Walther PPK.  To his surprise the gun wasn’t really all that accurate beyond ten yards but then again it fit in his pocket with barely a bulge.  How much could you really ask for in a weapon that small?

He watched his captors and waited for just the right moment.  He figured at some point only one of them would have their attention on him but unlike the movies, the bad guys never made any of the classic mistakes.  The entire room lurched slightly, startling him.

“Looks like we’re finally under way, bring Dr. Arlington to the lab.”  A new yet familiar voice sounded from the other side of the room.

“Dr. Jackson?  Is that you?  What the fuck is going on here?”  Eugene could clearly see his former colleague standing just outside of a doorway.

“You had your chance Eugene.  I worked my guts out for you, I wanted to become part of your team.  But no, you chose that moron Sims instead.  Why?  Was it because I’m a woman?”  She crossed her arms and glared at him. “No matter, I found a better team to work for and now we have you to work for us.  Isn’t fate a funny thing?”

“I chose Sims because he had a better track record under pressure, even though your skillset was superior.  Your sex had nothing to do with my decision.”  Eugene put his hand in his jacket pocket, feeling the reassuring presence of the Walther.

“I trust you fools have frisked him yes?”

“Uh, no we, uh, he’s a doctor.  Doctors don’t carry guns.”  The startled goon next to him stammered.

“You idiots, you KNOW he’s working for the Russian mafia AND the Department of Defense and you STILL didn’t bother to check him for weapons?”

Eugene slipped the Walther up his sleeve and put his hands up.  “Go ahead boys, give me a once over.”

The nearest guard moved to pat him down and to Eugene’s dismay the gun fell out of his sleeve and fell on the cement floor with a resounding clatter.

“He’s just a doctor he wouldn’t be armed.”  Her voice was a mocking singsong, “Silly children, I know better.  Now bring him to the lab, it’s time to put our captive rat to work.  Don’t forget to get his laptop from the car.”  Dr. Jackson turned on her heel and stalked down the hallway.

“Wait, she said under way.  Are we on a boat?”  Eugene asked the guard who had just confiscated his handgun, wallet, keys, sunglasses and phone.

“I’m not gonna answer shit Doc.  Move your ass, time to show us you’re worth all the trouble we’ve gone through to bring you here.  If not, oh fucking well, bullets are cheap and I can buy a whole shitton of them with the amount of cash I’ll get selling that goddamn car of yours.”  Eugene’s phone began to ring with the theme song from the Million Dollar Man.  Shit, Victoria was trying to call him.

“See?  I’m not even gone for more than a few hours and already people have noticed I’m missing.  This isn’t going to go well for you, why not just release me now?  I won’t even press charges.”  Eugene said.

“Nice try Arlington, soon we will be out cell phone range and there’s no way anyone will be able to track us.  Get moving.”

Eugene moved down the hallway, trying to see anything he could do to escape or even stall what seemed to be inevitable, but it was a polished stainless steel corridor.  Even the lights were recessed behind glass and flush with the ceiling.

“This is some boat, where’d you steal it?”

The guard behind him slapped the back of his head with the barrel of his gun, “Watch your tongue.  Our lady built this craft and we are very protective of her.”

“Angela Jackson is no lady, and she has no idea about boats so you must be referring to someone else.”  Eugene said, hoping for a little more information.  They were now approaching a large round door that moved sideways with a pleasant hiss.  Through the tiny portal set in the airlock door on the other side he could see an exact replica of his nano-robotics laboratory back at the hospital research and development wing.

“How did you find all this?”  Eugene was shocked; they even had the glass holding tank with his patented recirculating system that kept it from bonding until used.  “Angela was never even allowed in this room, how in the world did you get access to all of my most vital secrets?”  A mechanical voice interrupted him from a speaker on the ceiling.

“Ultrasonic decontamination commencing.”  A vibration that seemed to make the entire room tremble began, moving from first a deep bass that twisted his intestines to an insanely high soprano that made his eardrums feel like they were bleeding.  When the sound cut off abruptly Eugene felt like a gutted fish.

“Ugh, that was harsh.”  Eugene realized his guard had not entered the airlock with him.  The inner airlock hissed open.

“Welcome Dr. Eugene Theodore Arlington to your new home.  I trust you will find everything in order.  You may begin now or wait until morning if you wish.  Your body is now free of foreign contaminants and I will not allow you to leave this room until you are complete.  There is a bed behind the lab that folds from the wall and food will be delivered as you require it.”

A small panel on the wall opened and his laptop devoid of its case slid out on a steel shelf.  It had obviously been subjected to a rigorous cleaning, it gleamed as though brand new.

“I don’t like to work without knowing whom I am working for.  I would think with your intelligence gathering capabilities you would know I don’t have a problem working for … unsavory people but I do want to know who you are.”

A portion of the wall flickered and became a large monitor.  It showed a gorgeous redhead sitting in a well-appointed den.  “You may call me Seraphim.   The prosthetic you are making is for my husband, he has been comatose for an entire year.  Once you are finished I shall implant him with this miracle device and if the integration is successful I swear to leave you intact at a port of your choosing.”

She stood, the slightly curled mane of hair tumbling down her back like a crimson waterfall, “While I may not be able to pay more than the Nikitin Family I will be paying in cash.  Ten million in unmarked currency.”

“Why all these shadow games?  Why the kidnapping?  I don’t-“

“IF you had answered my voicemails, IF you had responded to my emails, IF you had written me a GODDAMN letter in response to all the begging pleading messages I had sent perhaps this situation could have been avoided!”  Her eyes flashed in anger, “Know that the room you are in is completely sealed, if you fail me I shall simply remove all the oxygen.  It is as easy as flicking a switch.  Now get.  To.  Work.”

The monitor flickered back to resemble steel and Eugene let out a deep breath he didn’t remember holding.  Turning to his laptop he powered it on and began loading the initial coding protocols.  The sooner he could get this over with the sooner he could get free.  If it integrated properly that is, and there was also the question of the sanity or simply the temper of his captor.  Seraphim.  The highest court of Angels if the Bible was to be believed.  Yeah, right.