Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 14


It was a Friday and Victoria was awake earlier than normal.  Eugene was going to come over in the morning before school to run a diagnostic or something and she didn’t want to keep him waiting.  That and she wanted to make sure she was ready for him.  She still didn’t quite get him; equal parts white knight and playboy with a strong nerd streak that cut through it all.  Strangely enough that didn’t bother her as much as it once might have.

Well, maybe geek she thought as she got out of the shower.  After all everyone claimed to be a ‘nerd’ these days and if you could be a nerd about something like baseball then the term ceased to have any meaning.  Her phone rang and Victoria tried to answer it through her Bluetooth while toweling off, but couldn’t get it to function the way it normally did.  Instead she had to hurry out of her bathroom and answer it manually.  It was Yuen-Ja.

“Hey sis, what’s up?”

“Why you are fighting with Adam?  What he did to deserve such treatment?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about Yuen-Ja, why don’t you come in here and we can talk about it.  It’s weird talking on the phone with someone who is in the same house as I am.”  Victoria suspected it was a defense mechanism to deal with stress, whenever her foster sister was angry or upset she called, as though the phone was a barrier for her to vent through.  When she was really ticked off all Victoria got was a text.  “Besides, the echo is making you sound weird you must be right outside the door.”

She began laying out her clothes for the day.  The door behind her opened and Yuen-Ja stood there holding her phone with its cluster of tiny stuffed animals hanging from little cords.  She called them little charms but Victoria knew better.  Each one was a flash memory device, ranging from an ancient 64mb stick to a swank new 1tb model and the gods of tech alone knew what she kept on them.

“He send me distress signal yesterday and nothing since!”  Victoria knew she was pissed; she was using improper English.  “What you did to him?  Why he is not returning emails?”

“Well I won’t deny being angry at him; last night I was attacked by some nut case and he didn’t do a damn thing!  I haven’t done anything to him though; how could I?”  Victoria was pulling her blouse over her head, “It’s not like I’m a super world class hacker or anything.  Besides, he’s living in MY head, if he breaks I break.  Why would I want to do something bad to him?”  She scratched idly at her wrist, it was itching again.

“Don’t know, how else he is not talking?  He is angry at me?  Why for he is angry?”  Yuen-Ja said, her arms crossed.

“I have no idea why he isn’t talking to you!”  Victoria had lost her cool now and was shouting, “Why didn’t he help me yesterday when some lunatic was trying to kill me?  Why did I dream of drowning all goddamn night?”

She sighed and ran her hands through her still damp hair.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell; I’ve just gotten so used to him being there for me when he went AWOL it scared me.  Do you think you can connect up and check or something?  Like you did in the hotel in Vegas?”

“Maybe.  Eugene is coming today yes?  He could see something right?  If Eugene does not find anything I will try.”  Yuen-Ja’s expression softened.  “It is Adam’s private space and I do not like invading his privacy.”

Victoria bit back words about it being her head; her sister just didn’t understand what it was like to have a tenant living in the back of her mind.  “OK, I appreciate it.  Hopefully Eugene can figure something out.”  She glanced at her watch, “Speaking of which, he’s due here any minute, I’ve gotta get ready.”

She clipped her hair out of her face with a few barrettes and took out her makeup; briefly wondering why she still bothered with it.  A brief once-over and she decided it was good enough.  After all it was just school, it wasn’t like she was going on a date or anything.  That thought made her stubbornly decide to apply mascara and a subtle touch of eyeliner as well out of spite for something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

Walking downstairs, Victoria only had time for one cup of coffee and an English muffin before Eugene knocked on the door.  He never used the doorbell so she knew it was him even before her father had let him in.  When he walked into the room he was all business.

“Let’s take a look at those diagnostic files Victoria; I want to get to the bottom of this problem.”  He had brought his own laptop with him this time; usually he just used the little netbook that had come with the prosthetic.  She sat in an easy chair with her coffee next to her on an end table and pulled her hair away from the base of her skull so he could plug in.

Once the cable had clicked into place she tried to ignore it, focusing instead on relaxing and drinking her morning coffee.  She ran through a breathing exercise her father had taught her back when she had shown interest in learning martial arts.  The muscles in her shoulders relaxed and she settled into the chair, a slightly difficult proposition with the cable plugged into her brain stem but she managed.

“Ahh, this is strange.”  Said Eugene, “I see there seems to be a problem with the inhibitor system, with all that’s gone on I simply forgot it existed.  Let me guess, your left wrist has felt a little itchy right?”

“More than a little, what’s this system?  What’s it supposed to do?”  Victoria asked, trying not to notice how well his fitted white shirt molded to his upper body.  What was it about French cuffs that she found so damn attractive?

“Umm, this is a bit embarrassing actually.  It was a safeguard I built just in case the AI got out of hand; it was supposed to stop all but the most basic functions when certain boundaries were crossed.  The store of the neuro-inhibitors is just under the skin of your left wrist for easy access in case we needed to restock the supply.”  He sighed, “I didn’t think it still functioned or I would have disabled it long since.”

“Well shut the damn thing off so that we can get back to normal.  It’s pissing me off Eugene; I can’t keep doubting our connection.”  She was surprised by a tremor in her voice, “I can’t live like this.”

“Hey, easy Victoria this isn’t a huge problem.”  Eugene seemed to notice for the first time that she was worried.  “No need to worry, just let me update this piece of software and…” His voice trailed off into muttering that ended with a frown.

“What’s the problem?”  Victoria tensed up again, worse than before.

“The system kicked me out.  Is the cable loose?”  He checked the laptop connection and then the plug on the back of her head.  “Huh, that’s strange.  Let’s try again here.”

His fingers were a blur on the keyboard, the frown still frozen on his face.  Yuen-Ja looked over his shoulder and shook her head.

“Eugene you missed the fifteenth link.” She said, pointing a small finger at the screen.

“Fifteenth?  There are only fourteen links in this system.” Eugene replied, brow wrinkling in confusion.

“No, Adam added one more.  I do not think you can get into the core programs without his link also.”  Yuen-Ja sat next to him and reached over with one hand and tapped in a string of keystrokes.  “I would just tell you but you type slow.”

“What the hell was that?  You are going to tell me what the hell you just entered in right?  The logger doesn’t seem to be working properly.”  Eugene looked at the screen and shook his head, “I don’t recognize the majority of this code.”

“Of course you do not.  That is Adam’s code, please do not touch it.  Your inhibitor is likely in the same place yes?  If it is off limits to him he should not have been able to modify its location.”

“Good point about the code I’m after.  I wonder what the hell system was I in before then?”  Eugene asked.

“His clone.  It handles the bulk of the boring stuff for him so he has time to work on other things and also serves the purpose of being a first line of defense.  A decoy to be sacrificed while he prepares for combat.”  Yuen-Ja hesitated and chewed on a fingernail as if worried she was giving away secrets, giving Eugene a circumspect look.

“Interesting.  I’d love to hear more but first things first.”  Eugene carefully scrolled through pages and pages of code until he found what he was looking for.  “There it is.  Victoria, this might feel strange.”  He hit the sequence of keys to save his changes to Adam’s code.

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