Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 20

Victoria

Coming back to consciousness, Victoria tried to make sense of what was happening but all she heard was noise and all she felt was pain.  The noise resolved into gunfire and the pain was more than stiff muscles but she couldn’t waste the time thinking about it.  Opening her eyes, she saw a slight form standing a few feet away on the other side of the knee wall she had been leaning against.  Either

The person was wearing dark urban camouflage complete with a helmet holding some sort of submachinegun and firing bursts of bullets between speaking in short, terse sentences into what must be a helmet mic.

“Seven on my three, at least that many circling to my six.  Where the hell are you Charming?  No Princess is down; repeat Princess is down.  Had to break cover am directly engaged.”

Waiting for Adam to bring ability to move online, Victoria tried to process.  The voice was totally unfamiliar and the body was outlined with Adam’s orange glow identifying it as a dangerous, although not yet hostile, individual.  Information blossomed in her mind, a damage assessment on her legs.  She would be reduced to seventy percent of their effective mobility and even that was not recommended.  Adam also impartially informed her that she was bleeding from several minor contusions and should likely have them cleansed but that they should pose no immediate threat to her operation.

Her guardian dove behind the wall where Victoria lay as a barrage of return gunfire broke out from the night.  Chips of brick showered down from the impact of bullets.  Victoria hacked a nearby WIFI connection and then into the city records bureau before the firing had stopped.  Assessing the situation without proper data on her surroundings was useless.  Within another pair of heartbeats, she had the city zoning commission’s schematic of the building.  It was an old one, but all she cared about was window placement.

“Hey.”  She said to the other person, “You have any rope?”

“Princess is awake but we’re taking fire.  I’m requesting immediate evac.”  He said, ignoring her.

“Look, there are men currently moving to surround us.  Unless your superiors, whoever they are, can get a helicopter or something here in the next thirty or forty seconds we are going to be full of enough lead that we’ll be useful only as pencils.”  Victoria said, “There’s a strong steel railing there that if you had some rope we could tie off to and then swing into the ninth or tenth story window just there over the edge of the building.”

The man was loading another magazine into his gun, she idly noted it was an FN FS2000, and looking at her with a guarded look on his face.  “My assignment is to see that you are protected.  Protection means extraction, not leaping off buildings and crashing through windows.  This isn’t a movie.”

Victoria had been watching him while he was loading his weapon.  When she mentioned rope, he had glanced at his left ankle.  She saw the pouch that contained a rappelling rope there now that he’d brought it to her attention.  Snatching the carabiner, she slapped it onto the steel railing and gave him a challenging look.

“You want to be my white knight or am I going to be the one to do the rescuing?”  She said, “I don’t do the armor thing though and tilting at windmills isn’t my style.”

“We have an evac on its way.”  He said tersely, “But they’re five minutes out.”

“Saddle up then!”  She said with a grin, “You keep them distracted and I’ll save our asses until your supposed team gets here.”

Not waiting for a response, she stood and ran with the rope wrapped around one arm.  He followed, laying down cover fire in three directions.  She grabbed him around the waist just as she leaped off the building.

At first, she was distressed by his weight; but then she allowed Adam to take over.  Her body relaxed into a perfect ballet of motion, carrying the man still firing his weapon and leaping over the edge of the roof.  While in the air, she whipped her arm around in a circle, wrapping the rope around it twice to provide more friction.  It slid briefly and stopped, putting strain on her shoulder but not exceeding her body’s capabilities.  The pair of them swung in an arc that ended with Victoria’s feet smashing perfectly through the window on the tenth story of the office building.

Since her feet weren’t flesh and blood, she didn’t slice herself to ribbons on the glass, but that didn’t soften the impact when they slammed into a filing cabinet.  Victoria, the man she carried and the cabinet all crashed to the floor.  Pain flashed momentarily through the sockets that joined her real legs to her prosthetic ones.

Despite the pain and unexpected collision, Victoria dropped her human cargo and allowed Adam to spin her in a cartwheeling roll that ended with her skidding across the floor balancing neatly on her feet.  The man she had dropped rolled like someone who knew how to fall but without Adam’s ability to vector in the air, he glanced off the side of desk with a grunt of pain.

Spinning in a circle, Victoria took in their surroundings.  She could only see by the dim light coming through the window they had just crashed through but her limited vision revealed it to be a small office.  It was empty, she also couldn’t see any security cameras or telltale lights of alarm systems.  Adam apparently sensed her intention and reported no electronic surveillance.

“We’re clear.”  She said, offering a hand to the man.  “How about you give me a name or something.  Go ahead and lie or give me a code name or whatever.  After that you can tell me where we can go to meet up with whatever evac you have enroute.”

“My name is Alex.”  Now Victoria couldn’t quite tell if that was a man’s voice or a woman’s voice.  “The evac isn’t necessary any longer.  We will escape on our own if you can keep up.”

“Excuse me?”  Victoria said, giving him an angry look.  “I just had to bail your ass out of a firefight by pulling a stunt ‘out of the movies’ just give me the coordinates and go back to your cub scout meeting.”

Alex laughed, “I never thought much of the scouts, but it seems the intelligence I had on you was flawed.  They said you were all logical and cold but you’ve got a real sense of humor.  I don’t really, I’m afraid, that wasn’t a joke just a test.  They’re picking us up in the parking garage in the basement of this building.  They leave in five minutes.”

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Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 19

She ducked low, mentally directing her feet to form wheels as she leapt from the door and allowed the momentum from the car’s motion to carry her out of harm’s way.  Once in the alley, she skidded to a halt and reverted her wheels to feet again.

“Neat trick.”  A voice from a doorway startled her and she spun to face it.  “Too bad you behaved exactly as we thought you would.”

Turing in horror, Victoria saw a ring of hard eyed men with heavy looking pistols in their hands step from the shadows, completely surrounding her.  “Just give up, we don’t want to damage the merchandise.”

For a moment, Victoria panicked.  She whipped her head around, frantically searching for an exit and didn’t find one.  Then a feeling of calm fell over her and she had to keep her face smooth lest she give away her surprise.  Apparently she didn’t have the best poker face though, the men all hesitated and leveled their firearms at her.

A series of metallic clicks released the safety catches in her legs and she crouched slightly.  David had told her not to use this function yet, but it was this or die.  Trying to access the data on how the leaping mechanism worked failed, but Victoria didn’t have the luxury of waiting around.

“What was that sound?  What are you doing?  Stop it at once!”

“I give up.”  She said, raising her hands.  “Just don’t shoot.”

Only about half the men fell for her ruse and lowered their guns, but it didn’t matter.  A mental nudge released the last catch that contained the power of the molecularly aligned titanium cables and Nanomuscle fibers all at once and Victoria sprang ten stories straight up and crash landed on top of one of the nearby buildings.  A wild surge of anger at ruining her new dress and astonishment at the ridiculous nature of such a thought made her feel like laughing hysterically.

The gunfire from the men below was likely reflexive as all the shots went wide.  The sheer exhilaration of leaping through the air left her gasping and breathless which was just as well since she couldn’t have stood.  Since she hadn’t landed on her feet or from any real height the springs hadn’t been able to retract on their own and it would take a few minutes for the tiny motors integrated into the legs to crank them back down.

Victoria attempted to tap into her phone and found the connection unavailable; Adam wasn’t responding.  Pulling it from the stylish purse that matched her dress, she almost cut her fingers on the shattered glass of the screen.  She had landed on it, completely destroying it.  Damn, she was here alone without any way to contact anyone.

She took a moment to look down at her legs and saw large cracks on both thighs; the carbon fiber had splintered from the release of potential energy.  A series of sharp clicks announced the retraction process had finished.  Victoria queried Adam for a status report and got a strange series of panicked impressions.  Something terrible was happening to him and if she didn’t help him right now he might die.

The realization hit her like a bucket of ice water.  No matter what was happening in the real world, she couldn’t hesitate to help her friend, companion, and symbiont.  It would be the death of them both and she owed Adam.

Closing her eyes, Victoria pulled her knees up against her chest and leaned back against the brick wall and opened herself to Adam as completely as she knew how.  Chaotic images flashed past her consciousness too fast to follow.  Her head began to ache with the precursor to a migraine but she ignored it and forced the things she was experiencing to come into focus.

She was standing on a graphical line drawing of the building where her physical body sat.  A swarm of tiny shapes flew around her body so swiftly that she couldn’t see what they were, only it wasn’t her body at all.  It was what she would imagine the boy Adam had been when she first rescued him would grow into as a man.

The tiny shapes were flying through him and tearing pieces of him apart with every passage.  He was defending himself as best he could, but there were just too many.  A cry that spoke of pain and fear came from Adam.  Even though she couldn’t understand the words, Victoria felt anger burning within her.

She focused, knowing that this was her mind and that imagination was her best and only weapon.  Looking down at her body, she watched an exoskeleton of liquid metal flow over it.  Electricity began to crackle in her left hand and her right hand became a long, slender sword blade.  It was time to do battle.

A.D.A.M.

He was fighting but it was a losing battle.  They were eating his code and with every bite bytes of him were vanishing.  His carefully constructed safeguards dissolved under the onslaught and even the clever tricks Kai Yuen-Ja had taught him were useless.  Small jolts of controlled code managed to deflect some of the attacks on his core systems but there were too many of the things for him to properly defend himself.

Frantically, Adam tried again to contact Victoria and to his immense relief he felt her respond.  Reaching out for the resources she could provide he felt something unbelievable.  Victoria wasn’t just granting him resources.  She was actually there.

“You cannot do this!”  He shouted, trying to move towards her.  “You must leave!  Victoria you can’t be here!”

She stood in front of him, wearing the garment she had been in the physical world.  Her eyes flashed with fire and her body became a thing of absolute beauty, all steel and technological prowess.  Moving with fluid grace, she danced among the flying forms of destructive code.  The lightning from her left hand incinerated them and the blade in her right slashed them, she floated like a leaf on the wind and destruction followed in her wake.

Despite her power and grace, there were millions of enemies and she was surrounded in an instant their bodies obscuring her from his view.  “No!  Victoria!”

Adam surged forward, letting go of his defenses in favor of an all-out attack.  The electricity that arced from his outstretched hand mirrored what he had seen Victoria use moments ago.  He felt a solid connection, a hand clasping his, the fading power he still merging with something far greater.  An explosion of white light overwhelmed the digital landscape as a pure force of electronic will reformatted it into something else.

Victoria sat on the grass, leaning against a plant (tree, weeping willow) wearing a white cotton dress and sun hat.  A pond with birds (ducks, mallards) swimming in it was not far away.  Adam sat next to her wearing shorts and a crisp linen shirt.  It was the place he had first met Kai Yuen-Ja.  Where he had first realized what and who he was.

“What happened Adam?”  She asked, looking at him with a bemused expression on her face.

“I think you managed to purge the virus.”  He said, “Your algorithms were not very elegant but the sheer overwhelming force of your program seems to have removed the hostile code.”

“Is that really how you see yourself?”  Victoria was still staring (looking, observing, studying, ogling) at him.

“I do not ‘see’ myself as anything.”  He replied, “Is that really what you believe your current physical representation to be?”

Victoria looked at herself and sadly shook her head.  “No.  Look, there aren’t any robotics at all.”

“I do not find this memory in any of your storage archives.”  Adam continued, “Is this a construction of your conscious processing then?”  He didn’t know how Victoria had accessed these files, but this was yet another sign of just how reliant on her he was.

“I owe you an apology Adam.”  She said softly, “I know I was not paying attention before when you needed me.  It won’t happen again.”

Something made Adam feel as though he were a guitar string that had just been plucked.  A feeling, a real, true feeling washed over him and he smiled shyly at her.  “Apology accepted.”

“Oh no.”  Victoria gasped, “Oh NO!  Adam, how do I get out?  I need to get out they’re going to kill me how do I-“

She vanished and Adam got to work.  If they were going to survive and her physical vessel was in danger, he absolutely had to get the core systems online again as quickly as possible.  Bypassing the safety and security protocols he had painstakingly built, Adam put Victoria in full on war mode.  It was indeed time to do battle.

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardwre – Chapter 18

A.D.A.M.

Everything about the building they were entering seemed to be either extraneous or dangerous to Adam.  The confusion of scents, colors and the sheer number of places for enemies to lurk unseen had him on edge, but in spite of all that Victoria seemed excited and eager.  She was so happy to be there that he kept his concerns quiet and merely stayed vigilant.

What could it be about this place that made her so relaxed?  It certainly couldn’t be the company; she had been warned about Dmitri and about Ivanov and knew they were dangerous individuals.  Especially Dmitri, he exhibited characteristics that did not fit with normal human behavior.

Adam continued to monitor Victoria’s different systems, logging but not altering the spikes in different chemicals that her brain was manufacturing and releasing as well as their resulting impact on her activity.  Although some of these things seemed completely irrational, he also found them to be fascinating.

Although it had been more than an hour, the time seemed to have flown by.  This was troubling to Adam as he was very well aware that time was a logical constant.  He was just about to run a diagnostic on his internal clock program when a message pinged.  There was a response from the search program he and Kai Yuen-Ja had written.

Feeling excited, he began scrolling through the lines of code, following the convoluted series of IP address hops from ISP to ISP that his clever opponents had used to mask their trail.  If he hadn’t written the code himself and if he didn’t have the immense processing power of Victoria’s mind at his disposal, he might not have been fast enough to catch them.  As the jumps became shorter a feeling of apprehension began to come over him.  The signal originated from North Korea and it appeared to be trying to filter information about Eugene, Victoria and Yuen-Ja.  He had written a program that was targeting his family.

He pulled diagnostic files and researched connections, frantically trying to find the information his enemies were gathering and what use it might be to them.  Most of it was totally extraneous, but the extent of data that had been gathered was astounding.  They had everything from Victoria’s internet browsing history to medical records she had stored on her personal laptop.

One of the threads had led him back to data that was very familiar.  A moment’s inspection showed him that it was real time streaming data from the very connection he was using at that very moment.  He slammed his firewall safeguards down just before a massive brute force back hack smashed into them.  Adam didn’t even dare open a Bluetooth connection to send out an SOS to Kai Yuen-Ja.  The war he waged now was as real a threat to his existence as any he had ever faced and it took every possible ounce of processing power he could muster to keep it at bay.

Victoria

“That looks absolutely lovely.”  Dmitri said, looking Victoria over with a smile on his lips.  She spun in a circle, enjoying the way the long skirt of the dress flared out.

“I can’t believe how well it fits.”  She said, smoothing the silk over her hips.  “It’s almost like it was made for me.”

“Then it must have been made just for you.”  Dimitri replied, “Come now, let us go and enjoy a little sushi and a bit of quiet relaxation in surroundings that are suitably elegant for your beauty.”

Victoria fought the urge to giggle that came from nowhere followed quickly by a wave of dizziness.  She swayed slightly and wobbled as her mechanical legs momentarily failed to compensate for her light headedness.  “That’s strange.  I feel… odd.”

Dmitri was at her side in an instant, putting a steadying arm behind her back.  “Your prosthetic is hot to the touch, is something wrong?”  He said, a touch of concern in his voice.

“What?  We’re fine.  I’m sure we’re just fine, probably just low blood sugar and too long on my feet.”  She said in an airy, unconcerned tone.  “I demand sashimi!”

Dmitri looked at her for a few heartbeats and Victoria leaned into his arm.  The dress slid over her skin and the sensation made her shiver.  She knew something wasn’t quite right but she just didn’t care.  This was enjoyable, her new dress was beautiful, she looked stunning in it and Dmitri had always been a perfect gentleman.

“Of course Miss Victoria.”  He said, tucking her hand into his arm and leading her out of La Belle.

Ivanov opened the door to the limousine and they slid inside.  Something about him seemed odd or wrong to Victoria but it wasn’t until they were well on their way that she realized what it was.  Adam hadn’t identified him as dangerous.  There was no orange outline around him and no warning message.

Idly, Victoria reached out to tap into her phone’s Bluetooth; just to send Eugene a quick text and ask him to check the logs, but found the connection had been severed.  Frowning slightly, she took her phone from her purse and swiped it awake.  It only took a few moments to text him.

“Is something the matter?”  Dmitri asked, not making any effort to see what she was doing.  He leaned back on the suede of his seat and watched her eyes.

“Probably nothing, I’m just sending a text to Eugene.  I just wanted him to look over a log file that’s all.”  A slight scraping sound made her look down.  Her left foot was twitching ever so slightly underneath the long skirt.  She focused on it and it quieted but now she was getting slightly more concerned.

Her phone buzzed with a message from Eugene.  ‘Can’t connect to log files.  Can you send manually?’

She texted back, ‘Out on date.  Will send later.  Why can’t you connect?’

‘Connection denied.’ He replied.

‘Should I worry?’ She asked, biting her lower lip.

‘If you are with Dmitri you will be fine.’

“Well.  I guess that’s a mark in your favor.”  Victoria said, giving Dmitri a speculative look.

“Something positive from the good Doctor?”  Dmitri asked, his voice completely level and calm.

“He seems to trust you, and since I trust him and you have given me no reason not to trust you.  Well except for that Ivanov is probably some kind of ‘hired killer’ or something.”  She put air quotes around ‘hired killer’ and giggled.

“What makes you say that?”  Dmitri’s voice was still careful and even.

“Oh.  Well.”  She wasn’t so sure she wanted to tell him about Adam’s programs.  Sighing in satisfaction, Victoria leaned back on the plush seat and gave Dmitri her best secret smile.  “Nothing.”

Dmitri gave her a level look, “You are not acting like your usual self.  This silly, random version of you is quite a change.”

“I’m no different than normal, I just want a night to enjoy myself.  I can relax around you Dmitri, is that so bad?”  She tried not to glare at him, but ended up failing miserably.  “Maybe I should just go home.”

“Or perhaps I should bring you to Doctor Arlington.”  Dmitri said, frowning.

“I was really looking forward to talking with you Dmitri.”  She said, giving him an inscrutable look, “What did you have in mind?”

“Yes.  Definitely straight to Eugene.”  He said, “Ivanov, if you please take us home.  Dr. Arlington should be in his apartment.”

“Damn it Dmitri, I’m not letting you take me to your place!”  Victoria said, knowing she wasn’t being fair. “I’m not your-“  Before she finished speaking, instinct took hold.  She opened the door, and dove out of the moving car.  Moments later gunfire erupted from both sides of the street, bullets ricocheting off the armored plating of the limousine.

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 17

Victoria

Eugene was late and Victoria was sick and tired of waiting.  She’d had a terrible day, constantly feeling eyes watching her and it had impacted her mood, making her snap at everyone.  Even the normally imperturbable Stace had given her a wide berth by third period.

She was just about to give up and walk home alone when Dmitri’s steel gray Mercedes limo pulled up to the curb.  The rear window rolled down smoothly and she heard the strains of a classical symphony accompanied by the faint scent of his exotic cigarettes.

“Do I sense a lady in distress?”  He said with a grin which only widened when she scowled at him.  “You seem to be in a foul mood.  Allow me to take you out and spoil you.”

“Dmitri, I don’t think so.  It’s a school night and I don’t have a damn thing to wear.  I’d catch hell, and besides I’m not going to be any fun to be around right now.”

“Nonsense.  I will call your father and ask him if I may take you shopping to improve your outlook after a trying day.  After I purchase several outfits for you, we shall have a light repast at Hanabi and I shall have you home by no later than seven.”  He said, and Ivanov stepped smoothly around to open the door.

As usual, orange light surrounded the man alerting her to the danger he posed to her and everyone around him.  As usual, she ignored it.  Ivanov had never been anything but perfectly polite to her.

Victoria looked at him for a moment before her resolve failed.  “Oh fine.  If daddy says it’s OK then I’ll let you spoil me.  But just this once, I’m not going to make a habit of accepting expensive things from you.”

“We need not purchase expensive things my dear.”  He said as she slid in beside him, “I will take you wherever you desire, whether it be to Niemen Marcus or Target.”

“Well if we’re going out for sushi I suppose more or less anything would be fine, even just my school uniform.”  She sighed.

“While I find it most fetching, I happen to remember that you do not.”  Dmitri said with a smile and rapped on the window.  “Ivanov, take us to La Belle.”

Victoria looked at him with a puzzled expression before Adam supplied her with information about the shop.  “That’s a high end French boutique right?  I can’t very well come home in a thousand-dollar dress Dmitri, and you haven’t called daddy yet.”

“Oh that is quite all right Victoria, I called him before I picked you up.  I also told Dr. Arlington that he need not attempt to break the land speed record in that Italian rocket of his because he was late.”

She crossed her arms and gave him a flat stare.  “I suppose you already knew I was having a shitty day somehow?  Like you have a spy in school or something?”

He held up his hands in mock surrender, “You forget that I recently was also a high school student.  Every day is a shitty day.”

Cracks formed in her determination to stay angry and she smiled for what felt like the first time in days.  What could the harm be in letting him buy her a nice outfit?  He could afford it after all and had never asked anything from her in return other than her company.  It was nice to have someone like him who would anticipate her and try to be sweet in his own way.

“Ah, there is the smile that I love to see.”  He said with a slight smile of his own.

Something about his expression bothered her slightly, but she had decided not to be annoyed anymore.  “Thank you Dmitri, I didn’t realize just how much I needed something like this.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”  He asked, leaning forward to look her in the eye.  She met his gaze and she found herself telling him about everything.  About how frightened she had been when Adam seemed to have abandoned her, about the man who had tried to assault or kidnap her, about her strange savior and the feeling of being watched constantly.

“It has been driving me crazy, but I know I’m not imagining it.”  She said, running her hands through her hair and then peering at him through the strands that fell over her face.  “I’m sorry Dmitri, I didn’t mean to dump all this on you.”

His smile never wavered a millimeter, “Think nothing of it Victoria, I asked you after all.  You have my word that I will do everything within my power to keep anyone from harming you.”

To her surprise, Dmitri was suddenly surrounded by orange light.  An orange script scrolled across the bottom of her vision. ‘Dangerous angry individual, aggression very high, unknown motives.’

“Dmitri, are you feeling OK?”  She asked, “You seem strange, aren’t you taking this a little too seriously?”

“You were attacked yesterday.  You feel threatened and watched; frightened enough to tell me, a man who you barely know about it.”  He gave her that intense look again and it fascinated her.  “Of course I am taking this seriously.”

Victoria blushed, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to dump all this…”  She trailed off, feeling like a program that had a glitch.  She shook her head, “God, I feel like a broken record or something.”

“Victoria, there is no reason for you to apologize.” Dmitri said with a smile that looked genuine and warm.  “I asked you to tell me.  I want to hear your problems.  I am here for you, because I care about you.”

She blinked.  This was not what she had expected, and to her surprise it was actually a bit off putting.  It was like talking to a book titled ‘A Beginners Guide to Talking to Girls’ or something.  Before she could fully analyze her feelings on the matter the car stopped.

“Ah here we are.”  Dmitri said as Ivanov opened the door.  “La Belle.  I’m sure you’ll find something fit to wear out here.”

Victoria allowed him to help her out of the car and into a world of silk, velvet and exotic perfumes.