“She WHAT?” General Hallbeck had officially lost his cool.
“Eugene says she has left sir. After a fight in which she killed the solider you had assigned to watch over her.” His aide put a manila folder on his desk. “Here are the initial crime scene photos. There wasn’t anything to tie her directly to the scene as far as forensics are concerned, but the evidence is fairly obvious to our intelligence operatives.”
“I don’t believe this.” Hallbeck poured himself a glass of whisky neat to distract himself. “What does damage control look like?”
“There’s more sir.” She continued, “Our reports also indicate that Chelsea Daceiron was the one who initiated hostilities. Eyewitnesses say she almost killed a bystander even though he was heavily armed. Our posthumous seems to suggest that her latest Remix damaged her medulla, making her angry, hostile and dangerously volatile. It is honestly a wonder she lasted this long.”
“How did we miss it?” He growled, grinding his teeth. “God DAMN it, we have protocols in place to catch this kind of thing.”
“I believe she bribed her physician sir.” She said primly, “I cannot prove it, however if the medical records were not falsified, Daceiron’s deterioration was much faster than any we have seen in the past.”
“Why hasn’t the tracking program been initiated yet?” Hallbeck demanded, taking a slug of his scotch to settle his nerves. “Damn it that’s why we implemented it in the first place.”
“We were tracking her up until approximately twenty-two hundred last night sir.” She lost her patience and flipped open the folder she had set down, reading from sheets it contained. “At that time the program was shut down and the tracking signal was lost.”
“They said it couldn’t be shut down.” The general growled, “They said it was untraceable and that it would destroy any logical system that attempted to remove it.”
“Yes. Well I suppose that is possible, however she continued to function after our attempts to activate the information harvesting portion we added to the tracking and monitoring software failed to penetrate the system’s firewall.” She said, flipping a page. “At that point, we saw some rather unusual activity in the program’s operating algorithms and it crashed.”
“So we’re dead in the water? We have no way of tracking or finding her, all our eyes on her are gone?” Hallbeck looked down, surprised to see his glass was empty. He poured himself another.
“That is correct sir.” She said, “However, we have agents monitoring the Scott’s house, her friend David’s and Eugene’s current residence as well. We’ve tapped her bank accounts, put her face on watch lists that will trigger our surveillance teams and we’re working on a system that will use face recognition software to pinpoint her location by accessing publicly available camera systems.”
General Hallbeck blinked and looked at her. She was a Lieutenant who had been working with him on this project for the last year or two. Caarlgard was her name and she was beyond perfect for the position. She had been able to manipulate everyone into the positions he required with perfect ease, even going as far as to use what they knew of the artificial intelligence against itself. Without that Victoria Scott likely wouldn’t ever have installed any of their software in the first place.
That was just about all he knew about her though. It was time to change that.
Yuen-Ja sat watching her parents. She didn’t think of them as her adopted parents anymore, they had accepted her in ways her blood never had.
“I am sorry.” She said, “Mom, daddy, I didn’t tell you because Victoria did not want me to and I love her. Things have changed now, she is running and scared and in danger. I want you to know everything.”
“She… she…” Daddy composed himself with effort, “She has a thing like that living inside her head?”
“Oh my baby. My poor poor baby.” Mom said, tears streaming down her cheeks. “We never should have let her do this.”
“No!” Yuen-Ja exclaimed, “You don’t understand, Adam is wonderful. He is good, he is on our side. He will help to protect her, I swear it by my honor.”
“But that thing is responsible for her getting hurt.”
“Yes mom, but without his actions she would have died. Eugene too. All the members of Squad Seventeen.” She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, “And the metal monster who eventually was killed would have been free. I cannot even imagine what evil would have ensued had it survived.”
“So she’s out there all alone is she?” Daddy said, a stricken look on his face. “Out on the streets, nobody to help her? No money, torn clothes, no shelter and no transportation?” He put his arm around mom as she began to cry harder.
“Oh no. She is never alone.” Yuen-Ja said seriously, “Adam is always with her. Please, do not worry so much. Once this has all settled down she will be able to return. I know she will be in contact with us soon also. My sister is a strong, brilliant and determined woman. She will be OK.”
“That THING isn’t company!” Mom burst out, “It can’t help her if someone tries to hurt her!”
“Yes he can.” Yuen-Ja said quietly, “I have seen her fight and win against an opponent who was far more experienced and prepared using only one leg. It was their combined strength, skill and insight that brought them out safely. He is a better companion than if she had one of us along.”
“He can’t make sure she has a blanket covering her or that she has enough food to eat though.” Daddy said, squeezing mom tightly for a moment.
“I worry about her too, but there is nothing we can do but trust in her ability to handle herself.” Yuen-Ja said.
“Thank you for telling us.” Daddy said, “I only wish I’d known before. The fighting, the injuries… I never would have let her out of my sight.”
“That is why she did not tell you and mom.” Yuen-Ja said, “She would have put you in danger as well. The people who have attacked her and Eugene would not stay away because you were there. They are bad people. Killers.”
She must have not kept her voice and face as smooth as she thought she had, because daddy extended his other arm and gathered her into his lap. Leaning against him, Yuen-Ja relaxed and the tension and fear that had been building inside her broke. The family sat holding one another, crying their fear and worry out and taking comfort from their strength.
David stared at his workbench. The gleam of titanium and the flat black of Nano-muscle contrasted nicely. Luckily he’d accumulated all the parts he needed for his latest revision of prosthetic legs from Eugene’s lab before those assholes blew it up and now it was time to begin the assembly. Victoria was going to need them.
These legs were much different from the beautiful curves of carbon fiber with delicate hinging. When he had started on them, his idea had been for these to be a utility prosthetic; one she could go rock climbing and hiking with. Sturdy construction from lightweight but very durable components. No fancy bells and whistles, just lots and lots of titanium cams, molecularly aligned titanium cables and thick strands of Nano-muscle fibers.
The feet were a prehensile X with thick modular pads that were easily replaced. Instead of a human like knee and ankle, there were three ball joints that could move in a nearly infinite set of directions. Without Adam’s help he never would have been able to program the controls for something this complex. In the end, they would be incredibly versatile, although they would also be a bit heavier and therefore put more stress on Victoria’s leg sockets. He was sure she could handle it though; Adam wouldn’t let her overdo it.
With a sigh, he picked up his tools and began to do the final checks. There were always a few adjustments that needed to be made before the device was ready for testing. Soon it might even be ready for field testing.
David’s fingers flew over the keyboard of his laptop. He knew she wasn’t his girlfriend and that she didn’t return his feelings for her nearly as strongly as he felt them towards her. In spite of that he was determined to do everything he could to help her. Damn it if she wouldn’t accept affection then he would settle for making gifts for her. Gifts that would reflect the twisted, complicated feelings he had for her. Gifts that would protect her.