Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 24

Victoria’s descent was less destructive but no more graceful.  Her right leg was now also nothing but torn strands of carbon fiber, shreds of Neuro-Muscle and titanium cable.  She hit hard, even though she tried to roll with the impact.  Pain lanced through her hip and shoulder as she landed, crying out in agony.  Forcing herself to remain conscious, Victoria crawled over to where Dace lay in broken defeat, dragging herself with her hands.

“Why?”  She asked, “Dace why did you do this?”

“Sorry.”  Dace said, her voice a slurring whisper. “Bad Remix.  Lost my shit, ya know?”

“What?  No!  I don’t fucking know, what are you talking about?”  Victoria said, a welter of emotions making her voice quaver.

“I ain’t normal Victoria, but ya knew that yeah?”  Dace hacked and coughed, “Ya busted me up pretty fuckin good damn it.”

“I had my doubts.”  Victoria said, gasping as the adrenaline wore off and the pain began to set in.  “You aren’t making sense.”

“Don’t trust Hallbeck.”  Dace said, “That old fucker.”  She broke off in a wheezing hack and spat blood.  “He only cares for his pet projects.  We used to be, but then the fucking doctor came along and then you were his shining star.”

“Who is ‘we’ Dace?  What happened to you?”

“Project Chimera.”  Said Dace, her voice slurring even worse. “Gene splicing.  Dunno much about it.  Just wanted to be faster and better.  Wanted one more just so I could show ‘em.  Went wrong.  Lost control.”

“You have to stay awake Dace.  You’re going into shock, I’ll get help.”  Victoria was shutting off her emotions, forcing herself to be logical.  “Yuen-Ja has her cell.  I’ll get her to call an ambulance.”

“Don’t bother.  Bad remix always fatal.”  Dace whispered.  A gunshot exploded in Victoria’s ears and the top of the other woman’s head exploded into shards of brain and bone.

“Did it hurt you?”  Dmitri’s urbane voice asked.  “Your legs are destroyed Victoria, we must gather what we can and leave before the authorities arrive.”

“You shot her in the fucking head!”  Victoria’s tenuous hold on her calm vanished, “What the hell Dmitri?  She was confused, I don’t think she even knew what was happening.”

“She broke Ivanov’s arm, gave him a concussion and possibly fractured several of his ribs.”  Dmitri said calmly, “Nobody does that to one of my people without paying the price.”

Victoria stared at him in confusion.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Besides, the most expedient way of exiting this situation without attracting undo attention from the authorities is to eliminate the person who would raise the most questions.”  Dmitri continued without acknowledging her question.  “I was certainly not going to bring her with and leaving her here alive would likely have put us all in danger of protracted unpleasantness with the authorities.”

“Victoria!  Are you alright?”  David was running up but skidded to a halt noticing the gun in Dmitri’s hand.  “Holy shit!  Holy shit!”

“No.  I’m not.”  Victoria said, pushing herself away from Dmitri.  He looked at her with apparent surprise.

“Perhaps I misjudged you Miss Scott.”  He said, lighting a cigarette as though they weren’t standing over the corpse of a woman she had trusted, fought, mortally wounded and watched him execute.  “This was the most logical course of action.”

He turned and walked calmly back to his Bentley, climbed in the driver’s seat and drove away.  Eugene was climbing out of David’s Beetle and leaning heavily on the car.  There was blood on his forehead; he must not have been wearing his seat belt.

“Oh God.  Did he fucking shoot her?  Oh God your legs.”  David was babbling, “Shit we can’t leave this here I mean they’ll be able to trace the remains to Eugene’s lab won’t they?  Oh shit.”

“David.”  She said, her voice perfectly calm.  “Do you still have the MKI legs you made me in your car?”

“What?  Uh, yeah.”  He said, and then seemed to remember that her current legs were destroyed.  “Oh, right.  I’ll get them.”

Victoria heard the sound of sirens in the distance.  Could she really escape from this?  Was there any chance she wouldn’t be arrested?  Surely there would be DNA evidence on the scene.

“David.”  Eugene said, his voice grim, “Siphon some gas out of your tank.  I’ll bring Victoria the spare legs.  We can’t leave a shred of evidence behind.”

Something clicked inside of Victoria.  She shut off the horror at seeing someone she knew and trusted killed in cold blood.  She stopped thinking about the fact that her other friends were calmly talking about burning the corpse.  Nothing mattered but survival.  Survival.

Eugene came and she swiftly and efficiently released the locks on her current appendages and attached the replacements.  Victoria stood and rapidly gathered all the pieces of her old legs that she could find, tossing them inside the trunk of David’s car.  As she cleaned up the larger pieces, Eugene and David poured the gasoline David had siphoned over Dace’s corpse.

“I appreciate what you have done for me.”  She said, her voice hollow.  “I have to go now.  If I stay with you, I will endanger your lives.  Keeping you safe will put me in danger as well.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” David said.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”  Said Eugene at the same time.

“Victoria, what is the matter?” Asked Yuen-Ja.  “This is not like you at all.”

“I am sorry.”  She replied calmly, “I must distance myself from you.  It is the most logical way to keep us all safe.  David, I expect you to create the MKIII and deliver them to me as soon as you are able to finish them.  Until then I will be forced to make do with these inferior prototypes.”

“Wait!”  David shouted.

“Victoria, come back!”  Said Eugene.

“We just want to help.”  Yuen-Ja whispered.  Hers was the hardest voice to turn away from.  Victoria did so anyway.

“Goodbye my friends.”  Victoria said, lighting a match.  They backed away and she flicked it into the gasoline.  “Don’t try to find me.  I will find you.  Yuen-Ja, please tell mother and father that… that… I’m sorry.”

“You can’t!” Yuen-Ja said, “You won’t survive on your own.”  Sirens sounded in the distance; they all knew they had only moments before the authorities would arrive.

The fire burned hot and fierce, it wouldn’t be enough to completely consume the body but that wasn’t the point.  Nothing that would identify Victoria could possibly survive.  The flames rose into a barrier between her and her friends.  Victoria turned her back and walked away from everything she knew.

Advertisements

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 23

“So.  Tell me about your side project.”  Eugene said, glancing at David sidelong.  “Why haven’t I heard about it before now?”

“Well.  I know you have had some bad experiences with big robots so I sort of wanted to make sure it was, uh, ready before I told you about it.  I don’t have an AI in it or anything, it just uses the basic programming I’ve put together from my other experiments for balance and stuff.”  David looked at him sidelong, “And I suppose if I’m honest, you’re like a genius and I didn’t want you to see my early kinda crappy attempts.”

“That’s fair.”  Eugene said, “But I won’t judge other than to give constructive criticism, and right now I’m pretty grateful that you started making the thing in the first place.”  He focused on driving, the way he always did and felt his hands twitching slightly.  After all that had happened, he really wanted a cigarette.  He wasn’t going to smoke in David’s car though, especially not with the kids in here.

“I want to know more now though.  That thing looked pretty cool honestly, even if it was a tad rough.  No more secret projects, we can make things better together than we can apart.  You’ve got quite the gift for robotics David, more of a natural talent than I do and with your father being who he is, you probably have more experience too even if you haven’t always had the benefit of the technological toys I have.”

“You made most of those fancy toys yourself.”  David countered, “You’re way more advanced than I am.”
“Give it time.  I’m in my thirties David.  You still have your twenties to grow.”  Eugene glanced at a road sign and put on the Beetle’s turn signal.  “If you stick with me, I’ll make sure you’re ten times the prodigy I was.”

Turning onto a freeway entrance, Eugene smoothly heel and toe downshifted, tapping the emergency brake and sending the car into a drift with sudden savagery.  The tires screamed in protest and he revved the engine to its limits.  He grinned as his passengers were tossed about with the g-forces, not having the steering wheel to hold onto or the warning of intent to brace themselves.

“All right kid, this car is OK if you push it hard enough.”  He said, “Good balance, even if the power to weight ratio is crap.”

Eugene flew into traffic, using the drift and the downhill angle of the entrance ramp to accelerate to speeds the Beetle hadn’t ever seen before.  Yuen-Ja laughed in exhilaration from the back seat while David tried to avoid screaming in terror.  In a mere seven minutes they were pulling off the freeway and down the frontage road towards their destination.

They reached the parking lot just in time to see Victoria stepping away from a motorcycle and towards Dmitri’s slate gray Bentley.  She was wearing what was left of an elegant dress, there were a myriad of scrapes and cuts visible on all her exposed skin and she was moving in a strange limping gait, the carbon fiber of her legs obviously splintered in a few places.

“Why she is not waiting?”  Yuen-Ja asked, her voice sharp with irritation.  “She knows we are coming and yet she goes with him instead!  Why?”

Eugene rolled his window down and tapped the horn.  Victoria looked up and saw them, pausing to wave.  In that moment of hesitation, the trap was sprung.

Victoria

She had been feeling that “someone’s watching me” itch again but had still not been able to pinpoint anything. The last few minutes had nearly made Victoria jump back on the motorcycle and ride to a different location, but then she had seen Dmitri’s steel gray Bentley and relaxed.  As she approached, reaching her hand out to the door, a familiar car horn made her look over to see David’s Beetle with Eugene at the wheel.  She waved and something slammed into her side with the speed and power of a charging bull.

A figure wearing dark clothing hammered her across the parking lot, sending her flying off her feet.  Victoria struggled to control her fall, barely managing to get her feet under her, but the attacker hadn’t slowed down.  The initial rush was followed up by a second burst of speed that smashed her into the trash cans behind the Tommy Burger.  Only by throwing herself sideways in the air with a desperate wrenching motion was she able to keep her head from slamming into the grease dumpster.

Even so, her shoulder connected with painful force and she cried out in pain.  Instinctively, she rolled into a ball, her arms over her head and hit the ground.  Attempting to get her bearings, Victoria heard a pair of gun shots followed by a savage roar and turned to see a small figure slamming a fist into Ivaonov’s hulking form, knocking him back into Dmitri’s car hard enough to spider web the bullet proof glass.

She stood unsteadily on her broken carbon fiber legs, feeling the strain vibrate through her limbs as the strands of carbon fiber grated against each other.  This was not good.  The shorter figure was outlined by a flickering red light courtesy of Adam, she mentally acknowledged the threat.  No shit, this person was dangerous.  Thank you captain obvious.

Reaching down, she picked up a bottle that had scattered when she had toppled the garbage cans and flung it with speed and accuracy that would have gotten her a starting position on a major league baseball team.  The figure casually leaned out of the way as it turned to face her.

“They want to replace us with you?”  It said, its voice sounding like an animal trying to form human words.  “You are nothing. I could kill you with the slightest effort.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Victoria said, fumbling for anything else she could throw or use as a weapon.  “Who are you?  Who are they?  What the FUCK is going on?”

“Too bad.  You will never know why you died.”  The figure said, taking a few steps forward, lithe and sinuous like a cat stalking a mouse.

It ran forward again, fast as an Olympic sprinter, but Adam had been able to analyze its movements and speed.  He and Victoria were working together out of instinct born of the bonds of trust they shared and had recently strengthened.  Just when it sprang, Victoria made her move.

She leaped to meet her attacker’s charge, only using her left leg but still getting high enough in the air to swing her right leg down in a kick.  Her left leg tore itself apart as the carbon fiber gave way, the tensioned cables and cams destroying the damaged limb.  With superhuman agility, her opponent twisted and grabbed her right leg by the ankle.

“Predictable.”  Victoria said in a totally calm voice and activated the emergency lift on her right leg.  A face she recognized looked up at her in shock and astonishment as Chelsea Daceiron was flung down out of the air to slam into the pavement with bone shattering force.

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 22

Eugene lost his temper.  They could blow up his office, they could picket his house, and they could force him to move into an apartment with a landlord who made him drink too much but his car…  His fucking CAR was off limits.  Cursing under his breath, he forced himself to crawl underneath a nearby truck.

His phone lay nearby, its screen a spider web of cracks but Eugene risked slivers of glass in his fingers as he unlocked the screen.  Instead of dialing the police or calling building security or anything so mundane, he dialed a far more dangerous number.

“Speak.”  Dmitri’s voice came over the phone tense and angry.

“Someone just bombed my building.”  Eugene said, his voice quiet in case there was someone close enough to hear.

“You should not need my advice to get the hell out of there.”  Dmitri said with acid in his voice.  “Why are you calling me?  I happen to be a bit busy right now with a very important matter that demands my focus and attention.”

“They also blew up my car.”  Eugene hissed, “And I’m pretty sure they’re still around somewhere to finish the job.  Is there anything you can do?”

“Certainly.  I shall call you a taxi.  In the future, I suggest you start actually carrying that gun of yours if it didn’t get destroyed in the explosion.”

“Goddamn it Dmitri, if I die what happens to your project?”  Eugene said, starting to panic.

“I’m not talking about a damn yellow door you idiot.  Someone will be there momentarily just shut up and stay put.”  Dmitri said angrily, “Now shut the fuck up before you give yourself away.  These coordinated attacks can’t possibly be coincidence.”

Eugene heard footsteps crunching over the gravel and shut his mouth.  Heavy military combat boots wandered into his field of vision.  Looking at those boots, Eugene clammed up, barely allowing himself to breathe.  He carefully, slowly moved his thumb and hung up the phone.  All it would take was a single sound for his position to be revealed.  He wasn’t surprised when his phone lit up and ‘Highway to Hell’ by AC/DC began to shrill.  Of course, Dmitri would call him right back right after a warning not to give himself away.

Rolling sideways out the opposite side of the vehicle, he barely avoided a concentrated burst of automatic weapon fire.  These assholes were playing for keeps and he had almost nothing to fight back with.  Rolling backward, he fetched up against the adjacent car and smacked his head hard enough to see stars.

There was a whirr of servo’s and a blur of motion and something sprinted past him, bending down and flipping the car on top of his attacker with a harsh jerking motion.  Blinking tears out of his eyes, Eugene saw a figure of titanium and carbon fiber hold what looked like the side of a dumpster as a shield as gunfire erupted from across the parking lot.

“Don’t just sit there, RUN!”  A teenager’s panicked voice shouted.

“David?”  Eugene said, his mind slow to respond to what he was seeing.  The boy was standing off to one side, holding a remote control for an old radio controlled airplane.  Apparently, he was using it to control a contraption that looked like something from a comic book.  Wires, tubes and an assortment of cables were clearly visible from the back, but the front presented somewhat of an armored face.  He had made himself a giant robot.

“I only have about three more minutes of battery life damn it RUN!!!”  David shrieked, flipping a few switches and jamming levers that resulted in his robot ripping a parking sign from the ground with an armored fist and hurling it in a whirling blur across the parking lot to the sound of shearing metal and exploding glass.

Bemused, Eugene scrambled to unsteady feet and ran across the parking lot as best he could.  David was flipping switches and muttering words in a high-pitched jumble that amounted to a stream of curses in at least two languages.  David’s VW Beetle sat idling at the side of the road with Victoria’s adopted sister sitting at the wheel and the boy flew past Eugene on his way to leap into the passenger’s seat.

Eugene scrambled awkwardly onto his lap and the car lurched away.  Moments later the robot exploded in a roar that rivaled the concussion that had destroyed his building.

“What the fuck is going on?”  He managed as Yuen-Ja ground the car into another gear, careening around a corner and almost into oncoming traffic.

“I don’t know!”  David said, “I was in the lab and wanted to test out the suit and then everything went wrong!  I saw those guys planting explosives and I managed to grab one of the bricks of C4 before they detonated the rest of them… I planted it into the suit and used it as an improvised self-destruct.  Holy shit you’re bleeding!”

Eugene hadn’t even noticed the long cut on his forearm or the gash in his forehead, but now that they had his attention the pain grew sharp.  He began to laugh despite himself.  “I don’t know either, but I think Victoria is in trouble.”

“When is Victoria not in trouble?”  David asked, humor in his voice despite the insanity of the situation.

“Yeah.”  Eugene said, “Can we pull over before Yuen-Ja kills us all?”

The girl began what was likely an impressive string of curses in Mandarin, wrestling the Beetle through a few more turns before pulling into an alley.  The car shuddered to a halt as she slammed on the brakes without shifting into neutral.

“My first time driving.”  She said shortly, “I would like to see the video of your first time Doctor Arlington.”

“I was the only survivor.”  He admitted somberly and they all smiled.  “Shit, I lost my phone… whoever Dmitri sent to get me isn’t going to have a very good time of it I’m afraid and I don’t have any way to tell him.”

“Victoria is sending me messages.”  Yuen-Ja said, pulling out her phone while sliding into the back seat.  Eugene clambered awkwardly into the driver’s seat and looked at the girl in the rearview mirror.

“So where are we going to pick her up?”  He asked, putting the car in gear.

“I’m asking.  Seems she’s broken her phone too.  Messages taking longer than they should.  I told her to start using Hangouts.”  She muttered, “Unified messaging is so much more efficient.”

Sirens sounded in the distance and rather than waiting around, he pulled out of the alley and began driving below the speed limit.  It was easy to do; going from driving his Maserati to David’s VW was a serious let down.  With a mental sigh, he made a few turns, heading vaguely toward the freeway.  The car was in decent repair, but he missed the smoothness of a synchronized gearbox.

“She is at the Tommy Burger on Aberdeen.”  Yuen-Ja announced, “We should be able to get to her in thirty minutes.”

“Maybe fifteen or twenty minutes.” Eugene said, grimacing as he coaxed the car into the next gear.

“Hey, if you don’t like it don’t drive it!”  David said a little more defensively than was necessary, glaring at Eugene.

“Oh David, stop being jealous.”  The girl said, frowning and shaking a finger at him.  “Mr. Arlington stop being mean, I like the Beetle.”

“I don’t.  It’s slow, the gearing is awful, there’s no torque and it sounds like I’m driving a meat grinder.”  Eugene grumbled.  Despite his words, he managed to maneuver the car through traffic a lot faster than even David thought would be possible.

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call for Hardware – Chapter 21

“We can make it.  If you can keep up.”  Victoria said, pulling up the schematic of the building Adam had downloaded.  Alex had been moving towards the door, but she opened a closet door instead and kicked a hole in the wall.

“What are you doing?”  He demanded turning back to her with an angry expression on his face.

“Hurting myself apparently.”  Victoria replied, grimacing in pain.  “Can you finish making a hole here?  It leads into the elevator shaft and this goddamn plaster is harder than I thought.”

Alex looked at the wall, the hole and the splintering carbon fiber appendages that were her legs.  “I think I can do something about that.”  He said, his tone more respectful after seeing the hole she’d put in the wall.  “How about you just get out of there for a minute?”

She walked out, her prosthetic legs creaking ominously with every step.  They were damaged and now was not the time to have them fail completely, she didn’t trust Alex to be able to carry her out.  A red alarm flashed in her vision and Victoria instinctively ducked behind a steel desk.  An explosion shook the floor, pieces of wood and plaster hitting the walls and the desk.

“I guess that’s one way of getting through a wall.”  Victoria said, standing on her fractured legs.  “Come on, let’s get moving.  This will get us to the parking garage.”  Without waiting for his response, she climbed through the door, gripping the cable of the elevator with her hands and feet.  The prehensile nature of her prosthetic’s toes allowed her to descend much more easily than she would have anticipated.

She automatically counted the number of floors they passed, halting her slide when she reached the proper floor.  It was very dark inside the elevator shaft, but Victoria could pick out the tiny beam of light that illuminated the crack.  Digging her fingers into it, she strained and managed to pull the door open about a foot.  Alex landed beside her a moment later and with his help they managed to make an opening wide enough to squeeze through.

“Where’s your ride?”  She asked, looking around.

He handed her a key. “Not my ride.  Your ride.  My job is to keep you alive and that means drawing the enemy off.”

Looking down she saw the Ducati logo on the key fob.  “A motorcycle?  Are you serious?”

“Sorry, it won’t work very well with what’s left of that dress but it’ll have to do if you want to get out of here.”

“There’s just one problem… I can’t ride.”  She said, “How the hell am I supposed to use a motorcycle to escape when I can’t ride?”

He stared at her for a few heartbeats, his eyes boring into her and she shook her head feeling like a fool.  “Adam, can you load something that will tell me how to ride a motorcycle please?”  She thought silently, although he was, of course, already feeding her information.

“Fine.  This is still less than ideal.”  She said.  “If you’re creating a distraction you’d better get on with it.”

“Normally I’d expect some thanks, but I’m not surprised.”  He said dryly.

“Why would you?”  She asked, tearing the skirt of her dress so that she could swing a leg over the Ducati’s saddle.  “You’re getting paid and I already saved your ass tonight.”

Alex shook his head and disappeared down the line of cars.  The motorcycle was a lot quieter than she had thought it would be when she started it but the rumble of power beneath her was unmistakable.  Adam informed her that it had nearly one hundred and fifty horsepower and it as impossible to keep the smile off her face as she used her newfound expertise to deftly maneuver her way out of the parking garage.

Wishing she had a helmet or any gear that was even remotely adequate, she dodged around the stop bar at the automated payment kiosk.  It wasn’t worth the time to attempt to pay, even if she had the parking ticket.  Deciding that getting away fast was more of a priority than anything else and weighing the chances of being shot by whoever her enemies were against a traffic ticket, Victoria gleefully twisted the throttle.  She’d be safer arrested for speeding than out in the street with those men with guns after her.

Neither cops nor killers found her though, and after a couple of blocks she slowed her dangerously fast speed.  Pulling to the side of the road near a Starbucks, she hijacked their WIFI and then began sending text messages through her Gmail account.  First to Dmitri to let him know she was OK, where to come pick her up and that her phone was broken.  Then another, asking David if he had another set of legs because she had accidentally broken these ones and that her phone was broken.  Another to Eugene letting him know she was fine and not to call her parents and ask them where she was.  And that she and Adam had fought off a horrible virus that had threatened to disable and possibly kill them.  And… that her phone was broken.

After that, she rode a few more blocks, took a short detour on the expressway to put some distance between her and the scene of the shooting and arrived at her destination.  Tommy Burger might not be the most fantastic place to be riding up on a sport bike wearing a shredded dress but it was at least public and open late.  The likelihood of an armed mob attacking her here was fairly remote.

Pulling the Ducati into an open parking space, she revved the engine once before shutting it off.  Lowering the kickstand with a flick of her heel, Victoria looked at the late-night crowd and sighed in relief.  Adam didn’t see anything threatening in them.  She leaned against the bike, wishing she had something to do while she waited.

Eugene

When he received Victoria’s first messages, Eugene had just been getting ready to finally head home.  It had been a long day of reviewing his documentation and going over notations regarding the prosthetic implementation process.  The time had come for a true proof of concept; if he was going to be able to begin to pay back the money he owed, he had to produce a second working model.

He knew that it would come to this eventually and he thought he should have been better prepared for it, but somehow the thought of someone other than Victoria using one of his prosthetics seemed wrong.  It was likely his recent near-death experience where he had been forced to create a duplicate and help to implant it into a psychotic killer robot, but it still bothered him.

The amount of potential for mayhem that Victoria had was frightening and the fact that she hadn’t yet exceeded her bounds was a true testament to her restraint.  Although there was the matter of her midterm exams.  There was no possible way she had truly gotten those scores on her own, but then again she didn’t have a choice when it came to sharing the space in her head with A.D.A.M. so it wasn’t her fault.  He highly doubted she had done so on purpose and really the two of them were one entity now.

By the time he got her second message about being OK, he had been working for another hour.  Eugene tried to respond with a text, but he couldn’t get enough signal.  Damn cell phones and damn the old construction of the building that disrupted them.

Sighing deeply, he grabbed his keys and his cigarettes and walked out the back door so he could at least send her a message back.  He had already decided that this was his last pack.  He’d kicked the habit a few years ago, but the stresses he’d been subjected to recently had caused him to backslide.  This morning he had woken up feeling like his throat had been sandblasted after a night of drinking with Dmitri and that was the last straw.  Of course, he couldn’t just throw away a perfectly good pack of cigarettes.

Knowing he was simply being a slave to chemistry, he walked the required fifty paces from the building entrance.  Leaning against a parked car, Eugene flicked his lighter and leaned forward to apply flame to the end.  The roar of his office exploding was followed almost instantly by a shock wave that took him off his feet.  From where he lay on the ground staring up at the darkening sky he could see the tower of flame.  It was strangely beautiful for a murder attempt he thought whimsically.  Then a second explosion rocked him back into the real world.  Something clattered to the ground next to him.  It was a Maserati hood ornament.