Machine Girl Book 4: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Prologue

Prologue

Rain slashed against the window and a stab of lightning momentarily lit up the night but the figure didn’t move.  The device aimed across the street at the hospital room hummed slightly as it completed its periodic check.  The figure glanced down.  The number of occupants in the room hadn’t changed, however the identity of those present had.

With the flip of a switch, the small screen on the device flickered to life, showing two figures in a ghostly outline.  One reclined on a bed, lying perfectly still and the other fluctuated between sitting, standing and pacing the room.  Whomever this person was, they weren’t easy in their task of watching over Victoria Scott.  The watcher grinned.  They weren’t the only one who would be losing sleep over the girl tonight.

Lightning flashed again, revealing figures on the rooftop.  When the flash was gone, the watcher turned a night vision scope toward the roof in question.  It was a matter of moments to eliminate them.  The watcher made a call.

“Rooftop.  Hospital.  Three for disposal.”  The voice modulation software masked the watcher’s voice but it was unlikely that anyone would know it.

After another quarter hour, the watcher saw the motion of the cleaners come.  They were efficient, it was so nice to work with professionals.

The watcher returned to the vigil.  This would be the last job.  The very last one.

“I think that’ll do it.”  David said, “Let’s run that sim again Yuen-Ja, I think it’s almost ready provided Adam has done his part.”

“Oh David, Adam has been waiting for you to finish your hardware for at least an hour now.”  The girl said, covering a giggle with her hand, “It is OK though, he knows you are simply worried for Victoria.”

David rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably.  She spoke as though the artificial intelligence wasn’t artificial at all… something that he knew might be true but didn’t make him feel any more decisive about what he was doing to the girl of his dreams.  He couldn’t get his head around it.  Should he be ecstatic or running for his life?

He sighed and connected his machine to the nodes Yuen-Ja had wired, their tangle of cable running back to a wire loom that eventually connected to a block of USB cables.  A click and hum sounded and after a moment, things began to move.  An ankle twitched, a knee joint flexed and the sturdy X shape of a foot curled and uncurled.

“Wow.  It works.”  David said, looking at it with a mixture of pride and a little fear as the legs moved through as much of their range of motion as they could while strapped to the table.  “How is he doing this again?”

“Oh, Adam has sent me his full workup for this project.”  Yuen-Ja said, “I just loaded his code.  He is not actually here right now.  I fear he is far too complex now to exist outside of Victoria.”

“He sent it to you?  How?”

“David.”  The girl sighed, “He shared it on his Google drive of course.  Through the hospital’s WiFi.  The files are not that large, it is only code and we are on the same network you know.  These details are unimportant.  Now that we have the basics completed we must get them over to Eugene’s laboratory so that he can integrate them with his socket attachments.”

“Right.  Sorry, I’m just tired and over caffeinated.”  David ran a hand through his hair.  “Let’s get these down to his lab.             I can hardly believe he’s letting me use this equipment.”

“Again you bring up unimportant details David.  If you do not stop it, I might begin to express my frustration in an unproductive, physical manner.”  She said, but in spite of the sharp words, she gave him an impish grin.  “We did it!  Oh Victoria is going to be so happy!”

“Well we’ve done our part anyway.”  He said with a tired grin, “Now the ball is in Eugene’s court.”

“It is the bottom of the ninth and the bases are loaded.”  She looked at him, “He is like Babe Ruth.  He is pointing toward the stands.  He will not let my sister down.”

Richard Scott lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and unable to sleep.  The police report said his daughter had been involved in a hit and run.  It claimed she had suffered severe injuries to her legs and the doctor’s diagnosis seemed to back it up.  It would take the force similar to a truck’s wheels to do the damage she had sustained, but something didn’t seem quite right.

She had gone out for a midnight walk without so much as leaving a note?  That didn’t sound like his daughter.  She would have at least told her parents about leaving.  She would have at least told him.  Wouldn’t she?

The feeling that he was missing something and possibly losing his baby girl forever was frightening.  Not in the sense that she was growing up, but because it felt like she was changing into a completely different person.  He could handle her being independent, in fact he had been trying to reinforce her fierce streak of independence for as long as he could remember.

After a few more minutes of staring at nothing, Richard rose from his bed and walked to the kitchen.  He didn’t know how things would turn out.  He didn’t even know how long she would be in the hospital.  It seemed so cruel that she would be a victim of such a crime when she had only just recovered from her surgery and so narrowly escaped being in a wheelchair.

He opened the fridge and grabbed a beer.  When he turned around he nearly dropped it, Yuen-Ja was standing in the doorway, rubbing sleepily at her eyes.  He’d been so wrapped up in his own thoughts he hadn’t heard her approach.

“Christ, you gave me a start!”  He said, leaning on the counter.  “I didn’t wake you up did I?”

“No daddy.  I was awake already.  I am worried about Victoria.”  She sighed, “I know that she will be OK but I worry anyway.”

Richard put an arm around his adopted daughter and gave her shoulders a comforting squeeze.  “I couldn’t have put it better myself.”  He said, trying not to think about all his misgivings.

“The project David and I have been working on will fix everything.”  She said, reaching up to pat his cheek, “She will not lose her ability to walk because of such a thing.  If anything we will make her better than she was before.”

“I know David works with robotics and was working on something in Dr. Arlington’s lab, you were helping?”

“Oh yes.  I assisted David in making the connections from his machine to the-“ She hesitated, “I had to make him a cable so that he could hook his robot up to a computer so it could be programmed.”

“What kind of robot were he and Dr. Arlington designing?” Richard asked, taking another drink of his beer.

“Oh, David designed the robots daddy.”  Yuen-Ja said leaning into his one armed hug.  “Eugene has been creating the sockets that will allow Victoria to interface with the legs we build for her.”

“Legs?”  He asked, giving her an incredulous look.

“Of course daddy, you do not think we would allow such an accident to confine her to a chair do you?”  She gave him a sincere look that all but melted his heart.  “She is my sister.  I owe her my life and my freedom.  She will not suffer from an accident like this if I can help it, and luckily I can.”

“My daughters will never cease to amaze me.”  Richard said, feeling tears sting the corners of his eyes.  “I love you both so much.”

Yuen-Ja put her arms as close to around him as she could and squeezed, feeling tears of her own.  “We love you too daddy.”

“You want me to maintain surveillance on Scott?”  Dace said, raising an eyebrow at General Hallbeck.  “Sure, but don’t you have other, more qualified agents for this kind of work?”

“Your time in the field leading Squad Seventeen has perhaps made you forget the proper respect for my rank?”  Hallbeck said dryly.

“I thought we were finally passed all the saluting, bowing and scraping crap.”  Dace said, “Unless you’ve forgotten certain details about my training and conditioning?  Certain bargains we might have made?”

“Just because I don’t expect you to snap to attention doesn’t mean I want to put up with you having a shitty attitude.”  He growled, “Everything isn’t always about what you want or what your precise qualifications are.”

“My apologies sir.” She said, her voice practically dripping with honeyed sarcasm.  “I’m still just a little out of sorts from losing almost half my GODDAMN TEAM!”

“Nobody knows more than you how sorry I am about that.”  He said, moving to the cabinet and selecting a bottle of scotch.  Taking down a pair of glasses, he poured a measure into each and handed her one, inhaling the aroma coming from the top of his glass with pleasure.

Dace tossed hers back like a shot of rotgut.  “Yeah.  I can tell you’re devastated about our loss.  So distressed that you’re sending me to protect your latest pet project.”  She said bitterly.

“I might remind you that Miss Scott is the only reason any of you came back at all.”  He said, “The intel we got from you, your remaining team members and from Dr. Eugene Arlington confirms what we were able to garner from the surveillance systems on the Scimitar before you vaporized it.”

“Just rub it in why don’t ya?  Goddamn it Hallbeck, we both know the only reason I’m even considering this is ‘cause I owe her.”  Dace stalked to the sideboard to pour herself a second, much more generous glass of whisky.

“I need you because she will trust you.”  He said looking her in the eye.  “Chelsea, I need you to do this.  There isn’t anyone else who can perform this mission.”

Dace swallowed half the scotch in her glass and he winced inwardly.  It was Glenfliddich 25 year old single malt, not Canadian Mist.  Exhaling slowly, she returned his look with the steel eyed gaze of a professional killer.

“Fine.  I’ll do it.”  She said after a few tense moments.  “But I ain’t doin it for free and I ain’t doin it for you.  I’m doin it ‘cause I owe Scott, ‘cause you’re gonna pay me a shitload of money and last but not least ‘cause I want one last Remix.”

“I don’t think another Remix is a good idea Chelsea, didn’t they say-“ He began but she cut him off with a sharp chop of the hand that wasn’t holding her drink.

“I’m close.  So goddamn close and I don’t give a shit what they said.”  Dace glared at him, “You want me to do this, you gotta pay me what I want and give me what I need or else I’m walking.”

“You’re still a soldier damn it!”  Hallbeck said, his voice dangerously low.  Inwardly he felt his pulse increase.  Maybe he could get one last run out of her after all.

“This ain’t negotiable sir either I get what I want or else.”  She downed the rest of her whisky and he paused for just the right amount of time before shrugging.

“OK Chelsea, if this is how it has to be, I’ll talk to the Lab and see what they can whip up.”  He said, inwardly fighting the urge to shout in triumph.  She nodded and stalked from the room, leaving him with his scotch and a Cheshire grin that gradually spread across his face.

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