Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 11

“That would great Dmitri, I appreciate it.  I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”  Eugene cut across three lanes of traffic to take the next exit; Dmitri’s apartment building was in the opposite direction.  He glanced at the gas gauge and noted he was at a quarter tank.  He looked at the sign and saw that they sold the high octane race gas his car required and decided to fill up.  Eugene pulled into the station and an attendant ran out when the bell rang.

“Fill up for you?”  The attendant asked.

“Where’s the race gas pump?”  Eugene asked.

“Race gas is the last pump.”  He said, “What is this thing anyway?  I don’t think I’ve seen one of these before, but it looks familiar.”

“It’s a Maserati.”  Eugene said, looking around.  There was a group of people gathered in the parking lot and they were making a lot of noise.

“Sweet!  It’s like a James Bond car!”  He said.

“Nah, there aren’t any missile launchers under the hood of this thing.”  Eugene glanced at his nametag, “What’s with the tailgate party Jeff?” He asked, nodding his head towards the gathering across the lot.

“Oh some group of douchebags hollering about the end of the world, I guess they were going to some rally but got lost.”  He rolled his eyes, “You’d better fill up and get otta here before they start proclaiming the machines are rising or whatever again.”

Eugene pulled up to the last pump.  It was labeled ‘RACE GAS NOT FOR STREET USE’ and he smiled, “They say it will run on ninety-three octane but I just can’t stand to listen to her complain when I do it.”  He said.

“Jesus, at eight bucks a gallon I hope it’s worth it!”

“I need to pick up some cigarettes; can you fill the tank for me?”  Eugene walked towards the gas station and listened to the conversation the people were having as he passed.

“I’m telling you we should just kill it.  When she agreed to be transformed into that robotic monster she ceased being human.  She no longer has the rights the rest of us do!”  A man in a trucker cap that read ‘Jesus is my co-pilot’ said.

“Good luck with that Eli, my sources say she’s some kinda killing machine!  Took out an entire squad of Marines or something just last week in Nevada they say!”  This was from a short bald man.

“We need to stick to the plan, just threaten her and she will respond with violence.  One of ours will get it all on tape and then we can let the cops take care of the rest.”  The fat, broad-shouldered woman next to them said.  “She walks home every night and she has after school detention so she will likely be alone.  Wait until she is by herself and then make your move.”

“Yeah, you’re right.  If that bitch does actually put my life in danger though I’m gonna defend myself.  If she dies it’ll be a clear cut case of self-defense.”  It sounded to Eugene like this Eli character was hoping for the chance.

Eugene went inside and up to the counter.  “I need a pack of American Spirits, and whatever my gas is.”

“You running race gas in that thing huh?  Ain’t that supposed to be for off road use or something?”  The guy behind the counter punched some keys and handed Eugene his cigarettes.

“Yeah, probably.  I don’t really give a shit though.”  Said Eugene with a grin, “It’s either this or buy those damn octane boosters and I don’t like how variable that makes the octane level.”

“Those idiots are finally shoving off, they’ve been driving customers away and they’re just weird besides.”  He was glaring out the window, then looked back at the till, brightening slightly.  “That’ll be one hundred eighty-nine ten.”

Eugene handed his credit card over with a sigh but his mind was racing.  They planned on attacking Victoria so that she would defend herself and he knew how the AI would respond, even if Victoria didn’t want it to.  Once he was back in the car, he dialed her number.  At least he should warn her about it.  Waving to Jeff, the gas attendant, he pulled back into traffic.

“Hi, this is V’s phone.  Leave me a message if you want.”  Victoria’s phone went straight to voicemail.

“Victoria, it’s Eugene.  Give me a call when you get this, I think we might have a problem.”  He hung up and after a moment’s hesitation punched up Dmitri’s number.

“Good evening Dr. Arlington, this is Ivanov.  Dmitri isn’t available is there something I can help you with?”

“No, it’s cool I can talk with him when I get to the apartment.”

“Ah, well in that case I’m afraid you might not be able to get your information to him until tomorrow morning.  He is … out right now.”  Ivanov sounded so urbane, especially over the phone.  It was hard to believe he was a cold eyed killer, but Eugene knew exactly how dangerous he could be.

“OK, I have some information about the Humanity Preservation Alliance.  It seems like they plan on threatening or attacking Victoria so that she will react to defend herself in the next couple of days.  They’re getting it all on tape so they can use it as evidence against her.  I don’t know if you can do something to counter that plan or not this late in the game but –“

“Never fear Dr. Arlington.  We are aware of this scheme and so is Victoria’s shadow, it will not succeed.”  Ivanov sounded completely certain, but Eugene wasn’t.

“How can you be sure she’ll be safe?  You can’t have her watched all the time.”

“Know this; her shadow is the best in the business.  When necessary Jessie has gone for days without sleep and still remained sharp enough to do the job.  You have nothing to worry about.”  Said Ivanov.

“Jessie?  Like Jessie James?  Who is he anyway?”  Eugene broke a Cardinal rule and lit a cigarette in his car, “I want to know who you have watching her.”

“I apologize Dr. Arlington but I am not privy to more than that.  Jessie has done quite a bit of work for us in the past.  He’s a freelance gun for hire, a throwback to the Wild West I guess.  Perhaps that’s where the name came from or maybe it’s his real name I don’t really know.  I don’t care either, he gets the job done and has never failed to protect the target assigned.”

“Gun for hire?  Such a thing still exists?”

“Haven’t you heard of Blackwater?”  Ivanov snorted, “This kind of thing has been around ever since humans figured out how to kill one another and I don’t expect it will go away until we forget.”

“Is he a member of an organization or does he work alone?”

“I am not certain Doctor, but I can ask the young master then next time I see him.”

“No that’s OK Ivan, it isn’t important I was just curious.  I’ll see you in about fifteen minutes.”

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Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 10

“I built in a second set of cables that are under a thousand pounds of tension.”  He said, obviously torn between telling her and wanting to show off his invention.  “Cocked like a crossbow, they can be released when you need to move in a hurry but make sure you’re braced properly since you could easily jump over your house with that much potential energy.

“When you’re airborne the calf section of the prosthetics can extend to absorb the shock of landing, I’m not certain how well they will work but the idea is the force of impact should come close to re-loading the cable tension.  I built in a cam that has the potential to work but I’m not sure you’re heavy enough to make full use of it, so there’s also a very small motor that can re-tension the cable, although it does take a minute or so.

“I think Adam can probably make more use of the polymer than I have, my imagination is a little limited and finding the proper electrical impulses to make it form different shapes is very difficult.  Even simple things like a stick can be problematic, especially if you need them to change shape rapidly.”

“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”  Said Victoria with a smile, “We’ll practice to make sure we get it right before trying something on the fly.”

David grinned back, “I can’t believe Dr. Arlington has allowed me to help with this stuff.  I even get to use the advanced stuff in his prosthetics lab, it’s like a dream come true V!”

“I’m glad I gave you his number then.”  Victoria said, appreciating the ease with which she was able to stand perfectly still with her new, more advanced legs.

“Seriously though.  Don’t try and activate the emergency lifters yet.  Let me do some more simulations and whatnot first, I mean I trust Adam not to mess with you but I’m more worried that my calculations might be off than I am that he would do something bad.”

“Well.  I’m not.”  Victoria said with a shudder.  “I know he’ll do what’s logical, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for me.”

“He will.”  David said, looking her in the eyes.  “It will be the best way for you to survive.  I know he would only hurt you if it was absolutely necessary for your survival, and I…”  He took a deep breath, “I’m glad he did.  Because you and Dr. Arlington would be dead if he hadn’t done what he did.”

Victoria sighed, knowing he was right but still feeling betrayed.  “I know, and I’ll forgive him eventually.  I just can’t right now.”

“That’s not fair!”  David protested, giving her an indignant look.

“Yeah.  I know.”  She shrugged, “It’s not logical either, but then again emotions rarely are.  Look, I almost got killed out there.  What he did cost me my legs, and as much as I appreciate what you and Eugene have done for me…”

“We couldn’t have done it this fast without Adam’s help you know.”  David said quietly.

“Have you looked at me lately David?”  She demanded, “I mean REALLY looked at me?  I’m a fucking freak!  What kind of life am I going to have?”

“I think the only kind of freak you are is freaking gorgeous!”  He said fiercely, “And I think you’ll have as awesome of a life as you care to.  Yeah, maybe he fucked up, but I doubt it… and actually if he DID make a mistake it’d make me feel a little better somehow.  Like … I don’t know, like he was more human or something.”

Victoria opened her mouth to issue an angry retort, but stopped short.  He was right, and it was illogical to waste time and energy like she was.  She knew damn well precisely why Adam had done what he did.  What frightened her so badly was that she knew she wouldn’t be able to be to tell when she was putting herself in the same situation later, and she wouldn’t be able to stop him from responding in the same way he had.

“I’m scared David.”  She said softly, “I’m afraid because I’m not in control.”

“You don’t need to be afraid Victoria.”  David said with a smile, “What are the odds of you being in a situation like that again?  I mean really.”  The smile on his face died when he looked at her stricken expression.

“David, you just don’t get it do you?  One of the girls from that strike force is a teacher here now.  There are those crazies that are screaming about us being evil…”  She ran her fingers through her hair, brushing it back behind her ears.  “I don’t think I’m going to have a quiet, calm life.”

“Wait, what?  Who?”  David stopped and shook his head, “It’s got to be Ms. Daceiron, she’s the only new teacher or student teacher this term.  But no way, she’s only like twenty or so max.  She isn’t old enough to be leading some elite military team.”

“Yeah.  I know.”  Victoria said, biting her lip, “Something’s not quite right about that.  I didn’t realize it at first because it was hard to see anything underneath all that battle armor, but in retrospect I think I should have noticed it.  I think she’s a lot older than she looks.”

David gave her a strange look, “What makes you say that?”

“Well… Adam just told me that she was born in 1969, and that puts her into her mid 40’s.”  Victoria said.  A slight twinge in her leg made her wince.  “I’m sorry David, I really think I need to get off my feet.  Thanks again for these, and for listening.”  She gave him another quick hug and he trotted happily down the stairs to his waiting VW.

Eugene

It was early evening and Eugene had just dropped Ms. Kirsten Murray off at her hotel after their third date.  Dinner had been delicious although he found his companion to be lacking.  He was just so used to Victoria’s quick wit and comprehension of advanced scientific concepts that normal people seemed slow and boring.

He was cruising towards home, enjoying the comfort and power of the new Maserati GranTurismo he had bought to replace his drowned Vanquish when his phone rang.  Without checking to see who it was, he answered it using the Bluetooth integrated into the car.  “This is Eugene.”

“Ah, Dmitri here, glad I could get ahold of you Dr. Arlington.  Listen, I have some unsettling tidings.  The Humanity Preservation Alliance, as they are calling themselves, has staked out your house, I would recommend not going there at this time.”

“What?  Who the hell are you talking about?” Eugene swerved around a semi-truck with a load of concrete barriers, downshifting smoothly to speed past.

“That load of lunatics who are protesting your work.  They have a protest permit and have set up shop in the park across the street from your house.  There are about two hundred of them out there, carrying signs and handing out pamphlets.” Said Dmitri.

Eugene shook his head.  “Damn, I need some things from inside my place.  Mostly just my laptop I guess, but there are a few other things I’d like to have too if I’m going to be away for a few days.”

“If you would like, I could put you up in my apartment building.  Ivanov would be happy to retrieve your personal effects from your house regardless of where you decide to stay.”  Dmitri said, “There is no reason to risk a confrontation with those idiots.  You are too valuable to put in harm’s way.”

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 9

When they had finished eating, Victoria started helping her mom clear the table.

“How are you doing honey?  Are those things hurting you?”

“No mom, I feel just fine.  They take some getting used to but they don’t hurt.  David said he might stop by with the new model he has cooked up later tonight.  I guess they are a little more comfortable than these ones; a little more advanced.”  Victoria said, putting the silverware in the dish washer.

Her mother began handing her plates, “Well anything that makes you feel better makes me feel better sweetheart.  I really appreciate what that young man has done for you.  He really is a nice boy.”

“Yeah, I’m lucky to have such good friends.”  The last of the dishes were loaded and Victoria turned it on while her mom was gathering things for tea.

“So I hear you destroyed your mid-terms?”  Yuen-Ja was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, “Toria you should know better than to get one hundred percent on all of them.  When people start to think you are doing the impossible they begin to look for alternate explanations.”

“Hey, I didn’t mean to ace them.  I mean I was just doing what I always do.”  Victoria protested.

“Well now you know better.  Next time remember to get at least one answer wrong!”  Yuen-Ja stuck her tongue out at her adopted sister.

On the way into the living room with tea and cookies Victoria tapped into her phone and sent David a text telling him it was cool to swing by.  ‘Hey David, if you want to bring the MKII’s by in the next half hour or so that’d be OK.  There’s tea and cookies too, I’ll save some snickerdoodles for you I know those are your favorites.’

‘I’ll be there in 5’ his response was almost instantaneous.

The tea was just brewed and Yuen-Ja was pouring when the doorbell rang.  “That’s probably David, I invited him over to have tea with us.”  Victoria said, moving to answer the door.

David walked in, struggling with a large cardboard box.  “Hi Mr. and Mrs. Scott!  Hey Yuen-Ja, how’s it going?  Tea smells good, is it Jasmine?”

“Ha, you are learning to appreciate tea against your will!  Another of my triumphs, I will wean you off that nasty yellow five water yet!”  Said Yuen-Ja with a smile.  She hated Mountain Dew and it used to be all David would drink before he’d met her.

They all sat and Victoria took a deep breath, inhaling the fragrance of the tea with pleasure.  Jasmine was her favorite and it went so well with the simple sugar cookies that her mom specialized in making thin and crisp.

“So what did you bring me?”  Victoria was curiously eyeing the box.

“Well, I know the prosthetics you are currently wearing are wreaking havoc on your legs.  The movements aren’t smooth enough and it causes a lot of pressure around the socket which in turn damages the flesh.”  David set his tea down and opened the box.

“That’s why I have made these; they’re like the luxury model you might say.  With a few extras built in.”  He withdrew a carbon fiber leg that looked similar to the ones she was wearing now, but they were a touch larger in diameter and the feet were thicker.  He took out the other one and knelt in front of her.

“May I?”  He asked, his hands hovering over her legs.

“Sure, of course.”  She responded, not realizing how it must look until after he had begun sliding his hands up her skirt.  Victoria pulled the hem up and tucked it between her thighs, exposing the sockets where her prosthetics attached to her flesh.

“Ohmygod honey you said they weren’t hurting you that looks absolutely AWFUL!”  Her mother exclaimed when she saw the crusted blood around the edges.

“It looks a lot worse than it is mom.”  Victoria winced, she should have cleaned up more before this, not just removed the bloody stockings.

“Not to worry Mrs. Scott, these new models should be much easier on her and give her legs time to toughen up.”  David pressed a couple of buttons, released a latch and gave her left leg a twist.  The prosthetic came off with a loud click and he carefully set it down.  The new one was quickly attached and while he was working on the other leg, Victoria flexed the new leg, trying to get a feel for how it would be different.

“OK, try them out.”

She stood up, feeling the smoothness of the actuators and the compression of the joints as they took her weight.  David walked around her, looking critically at them for a moment before starting to explain some things.

“Good, they look good.  I have built in a few things that you can make use of if you want.  First is there are some storage compartments big enough to hold a wallet or whatever.”  He touched panels on the outsides of either thigh and they whispered open with mechanical precision.  “There is a trickle charger for them and I’m working on a backpack with a solar cell as well.  These compartments can be used for extra batteries in the future too if you want.”

“Come on David, show her the cool part!”  Yuen-Ja was sitting on the edge of her chair with a big grin on her face.

“OK, so this is something totally new.  I know you like to skate and I’ve been working on an electrically charged polymer that can assume shapes based on the current you subject it to.  Recently I discovered you can create manipulators out of it and that’s what the feet of your new legs are made from.  The best part is since it’s completely malleable, we can do things like this.”  He motioned for her to sit and when she did he depressed a switch on the top of each leg, just below the socket.  They morphed from being a pair of X shaped claws with rubber grips to being one large wheel with rubber tread.

“Holy shit!”  She exclaimed, holding a leg up to get a better look at it.  “Whoa, now that is cool, how did you do that?”

“Eventually you can probably learn to transform them from foot to wheel without the switches.  Same thing with the storage compartments, if you can figure out the proper nerve signal you ought to be able to open them with a thought instead of having to touch them.”  From the look he was giving her she understood that he meant Adam already had that capability.

“Be careful though, I couldn’t get them to form multiple wheels and it’s tough to maintain your balance at lower speeds with these things.  I tried making a pair of mono-skates for myself first, just to try it out.”  David said, “I think I might have broken my tailbone the first time I tried to stand up on them.”

“Thanks for everything David.  These are amazing.”  Victoria pushed the buttons to turn her feet back to feet and stood up to give him a hug.

“One more thing, you should remove your prosthetic legs when you go to bed.  I know it must be weird to not be able to walk but it will give your real legs a chance to relax and heal.”

“I suppose you’re probably right, but it’s scary to be stranded without legs.”  Her phone buzzed, it was Eugene.  If it was important he’d leave a voicemail.  “I was going to watch a movie, you want to join me?”

“No thanks, not all of us aced our midterms.”  He gave her a silly grin, “I have some studying to do, and Eugene has a project he wants my input on too.  I’m hoping to continue working with him after high school.”

“OK, good luck then.”  Victoria followed him to the door.  “What else did you want to tell me about these?  I can tell you’re hiding something.”

“Uh, I wasn’t going to tell you until after you healed up a little more so that you don’t accidentally hurt yourself.”

“Well then you should have practiced your poker face a little better.”  She said, “Now you have to tell me.”

Zilyana Irithyl Part 2

Zilyana felt pressure on her face and realized she was laying face down on the table in her cabin.  Whatever poison the treacherous Forcythe had used hadn’t finished her off, but it was making her limbs feel as though they were made of dead eels.  Struggling to her desk, she fumbled and finally managed to press the three pieces of carved wood that opened one of the secret drawers.

She grabbed one of the antidote potions she kept there for just such an emergency and downed it.  The alchemical mixture cleared her head immediately.  Plucking her hat from where it had fallen, Zilyana closed her eyes and incanted a spell.  The rest of the world seemed to slow down and she invoked another spell, vanishing from where she stood and appearing on the deck of her ship.

It was a scene of chaos; at least a dozen men were bleeding on the deck, a mad struggle between her crew and a bunch of people in dock worker’s garb.  Worse yet, an entire god rotting platoon of soldiers was moving down the deck at speed with weapons at the ready.  Moving with speed that made the others seem to stand still, Zilyana sprinted down the deck hacking through the thick hemp ropes that kept them secured to the dock.

“CAST OFF YA CRACKBRAINED RATS!” She shouted and her crew rallied at the sight of her.  A flight of arrows streaked from the approaching soldiers and swept the deck.  Zilyana wove through them easily to hack the last of the mooring ropes free and planted her feet on the deck.  Raising her blades, she wove them in intricate patterns, scribing runes in the air and shouting words of Power.  The water between the pier and her ship obeyed her commands and rose in a massive wave, heeling Wavebreaker over and moving him away from the pier.

“Prepare to lower sail, get to your positions and keep your damn heads down!  We’re running!”  She yelled, “Lindrix, take the helm I have to focus!”  Without looking to see if her First Mate had obeyed, Zilyana bent her will to force the water to create a wave that swept the smaller craft out of the way as it shoved Wavebreaker out of the harbor against the wind.

Cries of anger came from the dockside as her ship surged away from the shore, gathering speed as it went.  Wiping sweat from her brow, Zilyana gritted her teeth and looked ahead.  A warship, King’s Ransom was raising its anchor.  Shit.

Letting go of the force that kept pushing Wavebreaker forward, she pointed and gestured at the water on the opposite side of the Ransom and a vortex of swirling waters began to form behind it.  The enemy ship spun lazily, turning away from them and foundering in the water.  As their enemies were swept out of the way, the force of the whirlpool shot Wavebreaker out of the harbor into open sea.

With a grimace of effort, Zilyana hurled a wave back toward shore, knowing it would swamp the smaller boats and founder the larger.  With any luck it might even sink a few of those bastards who had come to arrest them.  Releasing the spell that gave her power over water, she focused on a more familiar friend and called upon Nordji, the North Wind to send them on their way.  A private gale, just for them sprang up before her outstretched palm, filling Wavebreaker’s sails and sending them speeding from the city and their enemies.

“Another one?”  Zilyana rubbed her arm over her pained, red eyes.  When had she slept last?

“Aye Captain.”  Lindrix said, lowering his spyglass.  “We ain’t gonna be able to dock here either and if we don’t get out of here fast they will likely catch us.”

Gritting her teeth, she reached out for the power once again.  Pain flashed behind her eyes but she forced the winds to her will again and sent Wavebreaker back out to sea.

“We can’t keep doing this.”  She said, “I can’t keep doing this.  Lindrix, I have to rest.  The instant we lose that sail you need to take over the helm.”

“Of course.”  He said, giving her arm a reassuring squeeze.  “We’ll be fine for a time.  You’re the only one who hasn’t rested.  Go on, we can handle this.”

“Come rouse me in an hour.”  She said, and stumbled to her cabin.

It had been many decades ago that she had discovered her brother’s strangeness.  Her beloved grandmother, seven centuries old had died, old age claiming her at last.  Zilyana had wept for days, inconsolable in the grief of losing the first person in her family who had discovered her magical gifts and nurtured them into a thing of deadly grace and beauty.

She had thought that Korikk shared her affection for the ancient woman, but he had been more interested in finding out if she had anything interesting in her personal effects than anything else.  He hadn’t even wanted to attend her Final Rest ceremony.  This hurt almost as much as her grandmother dying.

“Why doesn’t he care momma?”  She had asked, sobbing into her mother’s shoulder.  “He should care.  Grandma was wonderful and I will miss her.  Why doesn’t he feel sad?”

“You know how when you were very little your hair did not grow like the other children’s at first?”  Verrona had said, smoothing her hand over Zilyana’s back.  “It just took longer for your hair to begin to grow.  Korikk is the same way, but for him it’s his emotions that are taking longer to grow in.”

This explanation had mollified her for years.  She had waited for her older brother to understand things that she had felt for as long as she could remember.  Gradually it seemed to happen.  Korikk cried when their pets died.  He laughed at jokes and went through several phases of romantic entanglements with different girls, being suitably morose when the relationships ended.

Zilyana thought at first that her brother’s emotions had finally started to develop just as Verrona had promised, but after a few years she became certain that he was perpetrating a carefully concocted lie.  He was always sad for the same number of hours after each setback.  He laughed for the same number of seconds and always started laughing after everyone else had begun.

“Mother, I am worried about Korikk.” She had said, approaching Verrona in her study where she knew they wouldn’t be disturbed.  “It’s like he is just pretending.  Like he is simply imitating the feelings we all take for granted.”

Verrona sat quietly for a few moments, then quietly walked to the door and closed it.  The air tightened around them for a moment and Zilyana realized that this room wasn’t just private; it was magically warded against any kind of eavesdropping.  Elves were folk whose emotions ran deep, and the thought that someone could be an elf and not feel was frightening.

“It must be hard for him.” Verrona finally said.  Zilyana blinked; she hadn’t thought of it from that perspective before.  “He knows we all feel things; joy, sadness, love, hatred… and yet he stands in the stream of Elven emotion as still as a stone.  It all flows around him, gradually wearing him down and he doesn’t understand it.”

“Oh.”  Zilyana said, “I never thought of it.  Not like that anyway.  I just see him looking at a situation and instead of reacting emotionally to it it’s like he calculates what the expected response is.”  She shivered, “I saw him in a fight last week.  He was just going through motions, he could have been punching a practice pell.  It was like he was a monster, and he only stopped when he noticed that others expected it.  I think he would have beaten that boy to death.”

“There is that.”  Verrona agreed, the picture of calm.  “He is a monster sweetheart, but he is our monster.  Our family has come through dark times before you two were born.  I fear we have some dark times ahead.  There are many monsters in this world, I think it would behoove us to have one of our own.”

Zilyana stared at her mother in shock, and Verrona continued.  “Zil I need you to help him.  He needs coaching if he is to blend in and you know that he isn’t completely without feelings.  They’re just subdued in him.  He needs our love and understanding as well as our coaching or else we will just be ‘a’ monster instead of ‘our’ monster.”

“I understand mother.”  Zilyana said, her mouth dry.

After what seemed like moments, Zilyana jerked awake to the sounds of combat.  As she leaped to her feet, she could see that the day had passed and the moon had risen.  That bastard Lindrix had let her rest too long, but she should have known better.  He always tried to look out for her health and wellbeing, claiming it was his job as First Mate.

She had to grudgingly admit that feeling fully rested and magically recharged would be undeniably helpful in the fight though.  Bursting from her cabin she saw they were flanked by two ships.  Snarling in anger, she leveled a sword at one and sent a blast of flame towards it.  To her shock, an answering weave of power dissolved her lance of fire into motes of light.  Shit.  They had a mage too and he was good.

Their arcane duel made the air hum with power as they employed elemental forces and sheer waves of destruction against one another.  Spells that would have burned either of them to cinders or frozen them solid were deflected and countered.  An arrow from the other ship slammed into her shoulder and Zilyana’s concentration wavered for just an instant.

That instant was all her opponent needed.  He leveled a staff a pace long with arcane symbols on it and bolt of dark energy lanced out towards her chest.  Zilyana was roughly shoved aside and a cry of anguish came from her mouth as she saw Lindrix falling to the deck with half his torso missing.  It was just gone.

With a scream of fury and sorrow, she flung her will into the depths of the ocean.  A wall of water fully twenty feet high rose between their ships, nearly capsizing the enemy vessel.  After it washed over the deck, she directed it to fill the hold.  Again and again she threw wave after wave and shouts of panic began to sound as the ship started to sink lower in the water.

The second ship broke away, its crew fearful of similar treatment.  Zilyana did not stop until the ship that had carried the enemy wizard had sunk beneath the waves.  Turning to the remains of her crew she set her jaw in a hard line.

“Make for open sea.  I know Wavebreaker is a coastal vessel, and so do they.”

“Captain, this is madness!  We can’t possibly survive so long at sea!”  One of her crew protested.  Others nodded in agreement.

“The next time which one of you will throw yourself in front of the death spell?”  She asked, bitter tears streaming down her cheeks, “I wouldn’t ask it of any of you, but I know there are some who would.  Next time they might bring several mages.  We have a hold with food, medical supplies and a few other assorted things that should see us through the voyage.  That combined with my magic will see us through.  My life on it.”

She saw their attitudes chance when they remembered that they had never unloaded their cargo.  More than a few started to laugh and joke about her luck and a few more began to sing a chanty when they remembered the substantial shipment of rum that was also on board.  Zilyana stood rooted to the spot for a moment, amazed at the trust her crew had in her.

‘Our chances are maybe one in a hundred.  If we’re lucky.’ She thought to herself, ‘But they’re better than if we keep losing men to enemy ships. A war of attrition is one we will lose, and quickly.’  Wondering idly if Norjdi was going to eventually stop responding to her demands, she once again summoned will, words and gesture that filled Wavebreaker’s sails and sent the ship on the course she had chosen.

Zilyana Irithyl Part 1

Had a character die in a fairly high level Dungeons and Dragons game, so I’m back to the drawing board.  That’s what happens when your party sells you out to dark, demonic forces to save their own bacon!  Good news is, I get to write another back story.  I hope you enjoy.

Zilyana barked orders even though they weren’t necessary.  Her sailors knew their jobs and they were good at it.  They wouldn’t be working for her if they weren’t good.  The shipment of medical supplies she had … liberated … from its rightful owners needed to be delivered to this minor settlement.  The outbreak of pox here might be fatal if the cure and vaccine weren’t given after the outbreak that had happened in the last month.  She realized that this was the year anniversary of her splitting from the life of a normal merchant and slipping into the Privateering business.

Some people called her a Pirate, but Deep Sashelas frowned on piracy.  She kissed the pendant of a dolphin riding a cresting wave that hung around her neck.  Not pirates, she and her crew were freedom fighters.  The noble elite had been withdrawing from the public eye before they made this decision.  Punishments, even for minor infractions, had been harsh.  The common folk had begun to feel the effects of the ambivalence of the wealthy and powerful who were oathsworn to protect and provide for them.

It was when she heard a group of Lords speaking casually about ‘redistributing’ a shipment of food and supplies that was destined for an outer Holding that was suffering from drought that threatened to become a famine to an area that would pay handsomely for it instead of taking it as their due that Zilyana had made her decision.  That night, she sat with the crew she trusted and they made a blood pact.  They would undermine the oathbreakers by any and all means necessary.

They passed the light house and she tipped her tricorn hat to the Harbormaster.  She had known Forcythe for years and they had always had an amicable relationship.  He had a fondness for Klandran rum, and she had a contact who knew how to obtain the illegal rum laced with narcotic spices from the desert.  Her ship Wavebreaker rolled slightly as her crew furled the sails.  The bow wave rebounded off the wharf and she spun the wheel with the practice of decades, bringing him to gently nudge the pier.

“Every time I see you do that I just can’t believe you’re a girl.”  Forcythe said with a villainous grin.  It was a long standing joke between them.

“If you didn’t have children with that same ugly nose, I wouldn’t believe you’re a man.”  She retorted, tipping her hat at a jaunty angle.  “Coming onboard for the inspection?”

“You know the drill better than I do.”  He responded and clomped down the gangplank and she led him to her cabin.  Pouring them each a measure of rum they sat and chatted about the trip for a few minutes.  She almost thought she caught him slipping something into her wooden mug when she had turned to take her ship’s manifest from her desk, but she trusted him.  After all, they had been doing business for years and the bribes and drink she provided would be difficult to replace.

She sat again, feeling a tad unsteady.  This wasn’t unusual, with the ship tightly moored to the pier and barely rocking in the swell it took a bit of time to adjust to the lack of motion.  Forcythe looked over the manifest, nodding and smiling.  The list of legitimate goods was lengthy and would make for good trading in the city.  As Harbormaster he would be granted five percent of the value of the cargo for the honor of having him inspect and clear said cargo.  Zilyana frowned at him, his face was shifting or maybe it was just her eyes playing tricks on her.

“You rich whelps.”  He muttered, “You think we’ll do anything for money.  Does it demean you to lower yourself to being a merchant because you’ve got noble family?  Yeah, I know all about your supposed lineage.”

Forcythe spat to one side, the glob of phlegm splattering onto the polished wood floor.  “Elves.  Dealing with you for the last ten years, I know when something’s not right.  I’m gonna just stroll below and check your cargo.”

Zilyana knew she should get up and follow him, that she should stop him, but her mind was hazy.  She found herself dreaming of decades past.

“You must be taught to control that temper Zil.”  Her grandmother chided, “You will do someone grave injury elsewise.”

“I am NOT angry!”  She shouted stamping her foot.  Several delicately carved wooden figures fell off nearby shelves.  “Korikk won’t stop calling me Zilly and I HATE it!”

“Darling, I want you to take a deep breath and let it out slowly.”

“I don’t wanna breathe slowly, I want him to STOP!”  All the candles in the room went out.  Zilyana blinked.  “Grandma, why did you put out the candles?”

A perfect sphere of light illuminated the room, her grandmother’s crystal pendant glowing with the brilliance of the desert sun.  “That was you child.  The temper of a child of power like yourself is a dangerous thing.  You must leash it.  You must bind it to your will.  If you do not, you will hurt people and possibly yourself.”

Zilyana shivered.  “What if I do?  Won’t magic give me the power to hurt people too?”

“It will.”  Her grandmother replied softly, “But if you control it you will have the choice of whether or not to hurt people.  Do nothing and that choice will be denied you.  It is not only violence child, the dance is subtle and wonderful, full of beauty and life.  I know you will come to love it.”

She stood on the deck of Wavebreaker next to her older brother.  Korikk had mellowed out over the years, at least as far as his treatment of her was concerned, and she had realized that his teasing was his way of showing affection.  That affection did not run very deep into his character however; she was suspicious as to why he had requested that she be his first mate.

Being here was a dream come true though.  She had always loved the sea and her family’s holdings included stake in a shipping company.  Now, her brother was designated to be captain of the ship and she was going to sea for the first time.  Zilyana had spent years training, first with the sword and then adding her strange arcane gifts into the martial discipline.  The result was a dizzying mixture of sword and wizardry that was as deadly as it was beautiful.

She idly patted the tiger carved hilt of the scimitar thrush through her sash.  It was the only artifact her grandmother had passed on to her specifically when she had died and therefore was Zilyana’s only keepsake from her.  The secret of the sword’s ability to split into a pair of identical blades was another reason she treasured it.

“You’ve studied boats right?”  Korikk asked, breaking her reverie.

“Well, yes.  Of course Captain.”  She said, although internally she wondered if he was testing her somehow.  Boats?  This was a ship, only the least knowledgeable land bound fool would call it a boat.

“Good.  I hate these damn things Zilly and I don’t have any interest in learning.  Your job is to use that old magic trick of yours to tell me what in the hells I’m supposed to be doing.”

She bristled at her hated childhood nickname, but nobody else was within earshot.  Either he was truly using it as a term of endearment or else he was smart enough to know she’d skin him by inches if he used it around other people.  Maybe both.

“You still remember that do you?”  She had always been able to send messages into other’s minds.  It was a bit of the Wild that all Elves had, although their gifts varied.  Her parents said she had nearly driven them mad with her silent crying; she had learned to mind speak long before she had learned to vocalize.

“I never forget anything that could be useful.” Korikk said, not seeming to notice or care that he had more or less just called her a fancy tool.  “Now get on it.”

“What’s in it for me?  If I let you make an ass of yourself, maybe they’ll give me command of Wavebreaker and I won’t have to put up with your foolishness.”

“Do this for me for a year and then I’ll come clean.” He said, “I’ll tell mother and father that you have really been running the show.  If you do well by me, they won’t have a choice but to give you command because I’ll tell the crew too.”

Zilyana’s mouth dropped open before she could stop it.  “You’ll what?”

“I know you have always loved the sea.”  He said, “I hate it.  I hate the salt, I hate the stink of dead fish and unwashed sailors, I hate the spray, I hate the sunburn and most of all I hate the boredom.  It’ll be a perfect victory.  I’ll get to shove a thumb in father’s pompous eye with all his claims that captaincy is a man’s job and a woman would just get in the way and I’ll get out of this dreadfully boring task at the same time.”

“Deal.”  She said, holding out her hand for him to shake.  “We might want to make it two or three years though.  I don’t know how good I’ll be at it in the beginning.”

“You’d better learn fast little sister.  I think I’ll hurl myself off a cliff if I’m forced to do this for more than a year.”

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 8

A.D.A.M

Despite the fairly amazing regenerative power Victoria’s body had, Adam was having difficulty maintaining continuity where flesh met metal.  Even though the Neurosynth fluid helped, the irritation that resulted from the sockets connected to their former legs being under constant pressure was presenting a problem.  He decided that when Victoria rested this evening he was going to attempt to influence the mending protocols to try and toughen the skin.

In spite of being technologically advanced, the artificial legs they were currently using were a far cry from Victoria’s real ones.  The balance and skill which her biological limbs had exhibited were far beyond the capabilities of these mechanical ones.  They did have their uses though; for one thing they were interchangeable.  Adam was excited to see what variations David would come up with.

They were almost home, the familiar barrage of sights coming in through Victoria’s optic nerves told him that even if his triangulation through cell phone towers or WIFI networks didn’t.  Out of habit, Adam scanned for any unusual activity or unknown vehicles in the area as the vehicle pulled into the driveway.  All appeared to be normal civilian activity, no military or mafia presence other than the female who was kind enough to give them a ride home, saving Victoria from sustaining further damage.

Adam did a quick background check on Ms. Chelsea Terese Daceiron and found nothing out of the ordinary.  Born 1969, dropped out of high school in 1987 to join the Marine Corps.  No civilian history of misconduct, she didn’t even have a speeding ticket.  Without going through anything that was classified and risking being caught, Adam also scanned her military record.  It was a litany of decoration; Chelsea had been a rising star almost from the moment she signed her contract.

In Basic Training she had performed CPR on a superior officer who suffered a heart attack, saving his life.  Her good looks and charisma had also landed her a spot on a promotions team where she had modeled for posters and spoken about her experiences as a woman in uniform.  In spite of not having a high school diploma, her test scores were good enough to get noticed and after Basic she was sent to officer training.

When it became clear Chelsea had a natural aptitude for leadership and tactics, she quickly rose through the ranks and graduated at the top of her class.  There was some incident that was classified, that Adam skipped but after that she lodged multiple complaints about not being able to be part of a combat unit.  She and a group of other female Marines eventually gathered together as a team and although it was suppressed initially, they dominated every other team in practice battles.

There was another classified section after which Chelsea was on her own again.  She volunteered for an initiative known as ‘Project Chimera’ which didn’t even appear to have an electronic record.  There was a five-year gap after which she and her six companions had become the first all-female strike team, Special Forces ‘Squad Seventeen’ the members of which Adam was well acquainted with.

Filing that information away just in case he wanted to review it later, Adam opened the logs from the software he had written to monitor and adjust the operation of their new mechanical legs.  From what he could see, there were only a couple of adjustments that needed to be made to improve efficiency.  Those changes coupled with a tougher layer of skin just might be enough to keep Victoria from injuring herself.

Victoria

“Who gave you the ride home?”  Victoria’s father was waiting for her at the door.  “And what’s this about you having detention?”

“Oh god daddy, don’t get me started on the stupid detention.”  Victoria groaned, “Donna Kneepkens has it out for me.  She says I must have cheated on my midterms and gave me the detention supposedly to punish me for not coming clean about it.”

“Why would she think you cheated?”  Her father’s brow furrowed, “Does she have any evidence to support such an accusation?  That’s a serious charge to make without being able to back it up.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said dad.”  Victoria rolled her eyes, “Her supposed evidence is I scored too well.”

“Wait, since when is ruining the curve grounds for being punished?”  He raised an eyebrow, “How well did you do anyway?”

“Ummm… I probably set records.  I didn’t get one single answer wrong in any subject.  Apparently I even corrected improper questions and figured out graduate level problems too.”  She shook her head, “None of it seemed too hard to me, I guess I’m just gifted.”

“Wow, honestly that is a little suspect.  Even as your father it’s crazy to think about you acing every single subject.  Not that I think you cheated mind you, I’m just saying it’s pretty unbelievable.”  He gave her a significant look, “You don’t think there’s a chance one of your computer friends fudged some numbers in your favor do you?”

“Well I suppose it’s possible, but I don’t think they’d do that to me.  I mean something like that would leave a trail a mile wide in the school’s database ya know?”

“Not really honey, I don’t know all that much about computers.” He said with a self-deprecating smile.

“Hey you two, get in here!”  Victoria’s mom said, her voice carrying from the dining room.  “Dinner’s almost ready and I need some help setting the table.”

They walked in and found Yuen-Ja laying out plates.  Victoria grabbed silverware and her dad started setting out the glasses.  By the time they were done, her mother was bringing out steaming plates of food.  Stir fried vegetables, meats and tofu were piled on individual dishes, each cooked with different seasonings set out around a large bowl of sticky white rice.

“Dang mom, super looking spread!”  Said Victoria.

“I helped her with the spices.  Any of them that have red pepper will be pretty hot just to warn you.”  Yuen-Ja said with a smile.

The family sat down for a quiet meal, the sound of their chopsticks and murmurs of appreciation the only things breaking the silence.