Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing Chapter 15

The airlock opened and Eugene walked through it, carrying his laptop and cup of coffee.  The ultrasonic sterilizer ran again before he was allowed to exit, leaving him woozy and disoriented.  Strange that it would run on exit as well as entry.  The guard on the other side walked him to another room.  A bottle of vodka sat in a bucket ice on a small refrigerator full of mixers.  An unopened pack of cigarettes sat on the table next to an expensive looking torch lighter.  Fucking hell, crazy bitch though she might be, Seraphim knew him well.

Mixing himself a vodka sour, Eugene grabbed the smokes and pocketed the lighter.  His new prison was far nicer than the old one had been, everything plush and comfortable.  Sunlight streamed through the windows which spanned floor to ceiling all the way down one side.  Wandering over to the windows he could see they could all be slid to one side, exposing a narrow private deck on the side of the ship.

To his surprise the windows were not locked.  He slid one open and walked out on the deck, lighting a cigarette.  He had two more surprises, first being that the boat was anchored within a mile of a small tropical looking island.  It was inhabited too, at least he could see the white walls of a modern looking house perched on a modestly high cliff overlooking the cove the ship had stopped in.

The second was the smoke from the cigarette tasted like exotic spices and smelled like frankincense and myrrh.  He looked at the pack, it was silver with a monogrammed M on it but had no other label.  Shrugging, Eugene took a satisfied sip of his drink and noticed the glass had the same stylized M etched onto it.

“So right now a man I don’t know is undergoing a surgery that I’m not involved in the success of which will determine whether I live or die.”  He took a deep drag on the strange cigarette and blew a series of smoke rings out over the water.

“Sounds interesting.”  A voice came from beyond the wall he was leaning against and Eugene nearly jumped out of his skin.

“Jesus, you scared the shit out of me!”  Eugene said, trying to lean out to see around the wall. “Who’s there?”

“Just a fellow shipmate, what did Seraphim get you for?”

Eugene was pretty sure it was a man, although the Japanese accent made it difficult to be sure.  “I’m a doctor and a scientist.  My name’s Eugene Arlington.”

“Oh, I did not know you were now my neighbor.”  The man said, sounding impressed. “I am sorry for your trouble, but she has been talking about it for almost a year now.  I’m a robotics developer, Takahashi Shinji.”

“You’ve been her captive for over a year and nobody has found you?”  Eugene asked, disbelief clear in his tone of voice.

“Oh no, don’t get the wrong idea.  I am her employee not her prisoner.  We have been working to build her husband’s chassis for the last thirty two months.”  Shinji said.  “It is going to change the world forever and your prosthetic is the final piece of equipment we need to bring it to life.”

“What do you mean his chassis?”  Eugene is worried now, “What the hell are you talking about?”  He heard Shinji sigh on the other side of the wall.

“I was afraid she was going to do this, I told her not to keep information from you but she went and did it anyway.”  Shinji said, “Oh to hell with it, I’m going to just tell you.  When her husband did not wake from his coma, she immediately kidnapped the most skilled neurosurgeons she could find.  Using technology she herself had invented they removed his brain and kept it in a dormant state.”

“Is that even possible?  I guess it is if you say she has done it, I suppose.  Maybe a better question is why?”  Eugene killed half his drink in one swallow, following it with a deep drag on his cigarette.  After four days without it, the nicotine hit him hard and he needed it.

“I guess she convinced herself he was never going to awaken again.  Regardless she bribed, threatened, seduced or abducted the talent she needed and has constructed a mechanical body for him to live in.  The only thing she couldn’t make work was the spine, she just couldn’t get the brain to transfer the data the way it needed to in order to function properly.”

“Yes, the algorithms necessary are very complicated, I haven’t seen anything like my coding anywhere in the world.”  Eugene was smug on this point, “So why did she take me?  Why not just steal my data?”

“Honestly she tried.  Shortly after your successful implementation she was in your office and stole gigs of data from a terminal right in the hospital room where Miss Scott was recovering.  When we tried to duplicate your work we failed over and over.  I don’t know what secret key you kept out of the main code but we couldn’t figure it out.”  Shinji said, “I’m dying to know what it is.”

Eugene had no clue what he was talking about, “If I tell you I won’t have a damn thing left.  I’m sure Seraphim will have figured it out though, she is certain to have had me under constant surveillance.”

“Well regardless, now that she has your prosthetic with its functioning AI in hand her project is sure to be a success.”  Shinji said, sounding quite eager.

“I don’t think either of you really know what you’re talking about.”  Eugene said, finishing his cigarette and lighting another from the butt before tossing it overboard.  “My AI has no directives related to an artificial body.  ADAM is designed to maintain a living human’s systems and improve on data routing protocol.  Both of you seem to think it is capable of doing a lot of different things, but it is designed to be a front side bus to use a computer analogy.”

“How do you explain Miss Scott’s improved functionality then?  Don’t try and tell me you haven’t noticed.”  The skepticism in Shinji’s voice was quite clear in spite of the accent.

“Sure I’ve noticed.”  Eugene said, “I attribute it to her regaining mobility she had lost.  None of the data logs from the system which I monitor every morning have reported anything to the contrary.  Do you have a different idea?”

“Yes.  The artificial intelligence has become self-aware.  Surely you have considered that possibility?”  Shinji asked.

Eugene burst out laughing, even though he knew it was true the idea was still enough to drive him into hysterics, “Are you serious?  Are we scientists or not?  This is reality, not a Sci-Fi novel.”

“I know it seems far-fetched Dr. Arlington, but I think you need to consider the possibility.”  Shinji said, “If you look at the data-“

“Oh give me a fucking break.  If you’re not going to be serious this conversation is going nowhere.”  Eugene finished his second cigarette and his drink.  “Listen Mr. Takahashi, I’m going to make another drink, why don’t you come over to my room and we can have a chat.  I’ll make you a drink, you can share my weird ass cigarettes and we can bide our time until the results of this freak show come in.”

“That sounds interesting Dr. Arlington.”  Said Shinji, “It might get me in trouble but I think I’ll take you up on that.  One moment.”

Eugene was turning to go back inside when he heard footsteps behind him.  Turning around, he saw a short man with angular features and tidy black hair wearing boot cut jeans and a white tank top standing on the balcony.  He put his hand out and Eugene grasped it, surprised to feel calluses.

“Greetings Dr. Arlington.”

“Greetings Mr. Takahashi, please call me Eugene.”  He lit a pair of cigarettes and offered his guest one.

“My thanks, Eugene.”  He said, taking the cigarette, “In return, please call me Shinji.”

“Deal.”  Eugene said with a smile, “Level with me Shinji, how did you get over the wall?”

“Ancient Japanese secret.”  His guest replied with a smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes. “Mix me a drink and I just might tell you.”

Eugene laughed, “Fair enough, come on in.”  He walked back to the bar and mixed two more vodka sours, handing one to his companion.  “Have a seat, we may be here for a while.”

Alex Feldspar, Mundane Investigator – Chapter 1

I sat in my office chair, gingerly leaning back so that I could put my feet up on my desk.  The chair was a decrepit piece of raksa and had a tendency to give way without warning if I put too much pressure on the hinge that allowed it to swivel and tilt.  It was one of many things that was on my list of things I’d like to replace.  I opened the carved cedar cigar box and cursed under my breath.  Only one left.

There was a tap on my door and I closed the box with a sigh.  “Yeah come on in, it ain’t locked.”

The slender form of a male elf slipped through the door with willowy grace.  I always resented how they were able to move like that.  “You’re Mr. Feldspar?”  He asked, his voice chiming like perfect crystal.

“Yeah.  I’m Alex, what can I do for ya?”  I said, my fingers twitching reflexively toward my cigar box.

“I have some work for you.”  He replied, leaning forward to look me in the eyes.  His were sparkling pools of liquid blue with sparkling golden motes deep in their depths.  Normally this kind of charm would make a mortal melt, but I was more than mortal.  Or less than one, depending on how you wanted to look at it.  I was Mundane.

“What kinda work?”  I asked, giving up and snatching the last cigar from the box. The attitude most Fey creatures had about their power and influence just rubbed me the wrong way.  “My specialties are pretty narrow, but I’m damn good at what I do.”

He sat back, folding his arms and giving me a guarded look.  “So it’s true.  You really can resist it?  It has no effect on you at all?”

“What’s the job?”  I asked, getting more annoyed and lighting the cigar with a match.  “If you came here to see if you were the one who could crack the Mundie’s shell then you can just turn around and walk out.”

“I need you to investigate something for me.”  The Elf said, “My name is Trillium Greenleaf, perhaps you’ve heard of me?”

“Yeah sure.”  I said, affecting a tone of indifference.  Of course I’d heard of Trillium.  He was a local musician who was apparently all the rage.  I hadn’t seen his act yet, but only because I had been wrapping up my last case.  This guy was loaded.  “What’s the job?”

“I think someone has been following me.”  He said, gesturing elegantly with his right hand, “I want you to keep an eye out for me.”

“You want me to be your bodyguard?”  I asked, “I don’t think so Mr. Greenleaf, that ain’t really what I do.”

“You misunderstand me Alex, I want you to watch who is coming and going outside my show.  No need for you to get directly involved in anything I have competent personal protection who will take care of that.”  Trillium said airily, “It’s just that they aren’t the most observant boys in the world.”

“Ah.  All brawn, no brains?”  I said, “I know the type.  Well, that I can certainly help you with Mr. Greenleaf.  My fee is three gold pieces per day plus expenses which will not equal more than an additional two gold pieces per day.”

“Oh Mr. Feldspar, surely you don’t need to charge me the full-“ He began, eyes sparkling

“Save it Elf.”  I said, “Haven’t I already convinced you that your charms don’t work on me.  My fee is my fee.  One day in advance.  Pay it or go elsewhere.”

He opened his mouth in surprise; something I’m used to by now.  They always think some part of their magic will function as it has for as long as they’ve been alive.  They’re wrong though.  They might as well be trying to charm a stone for all the good it does.

“You’d better be worth the expense.”  He said, the glamor on his face fading further until I could see his plain, almost gaunt features clearly.  The longer I was around an enchantment, the less power it had.  Eventually even others would be able to see through it.  With a flourish, he placed a small stack of gold coins on the corner of my desk.

“Oh I assure you Trillium, I’m as worth it as your new Mistress is.  Did you know she’s trying to kill you?  I’d guess she’s only recently figured out who you really are.  I’m guessing you used a more mundane disguise and not magic.”

“What?”  He said, glaring at me.  “What makes you say I have a Mistress?”

“Well obviously, the broken blood vessels I can see peeking out from beneath your collar.  You’ve been married now for quite a time now if I recall; no wife of ten years would give you a hickey.  My theory is also supported by the fact that you’ve only got another three gold in your purse, apparently she’s been bleeding you dry.”

I grinned at him, and inclined my head.  “Would you like more evidence?  The second finger on your left hand has a swollen knuckle.  This indicates to me that you’ve been removing your ring regularly but that this is a rather recent development.  That’s why I say you haven’t been using magic to disguise yourself.”

“What makes you say she’s trying to kill me?”  He asked, leaning forward and tugging up the collar of his shirt.

“You’re here, and you’re nearly broke.”  I said giving him my best feral grin.  “Why else would a person like you seek out the services of someone like me?  She’s discovered who you are and is blackmailing you perhaps?  Doesn’t believe you’re out of money?”

He blinked in surprise and then his shoulders slumped.  “My last tour didn’t generate as much profit as it should have.  I’d dressed casually and gone out just to get a couple of drinks and relax and Cassandra was so kind, so understanding…”

“I don’t need the details of your love life.”  I said, “Unless you think they directly pertain to the issue you want me to investigate.  Is Cassandra the only one?  What’s her surname?  What demands has she made?  When’s the last time you saw her?”

I rapped out the questions rapidly, knowing that a barrage of questions usually confounded and confused the Fey, especially when they weren’t anticipating them.  With any luck I’d be able to get real answers out of him before he recovered himself enough to start lying again.  Taking a deep drag on my cigar, I exhaled smoke out my nose and leaned forward to look him in the eyes.

Here’s the thing about being a Mundane.  Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, hell even Sektar with their faceted orbs on either side of their heads, all share some of that ability to communicate on an arcane level.  Then there’s me.  When you look in my eyes there’s nothing but the reflection of your eyes looking back at you.  Nothing but yourself.

Trillium reacted differently than anyone else I’d ever stared down.  His eyes rolled back into his head and he fell out of his chair, completely unconscious.  As might be expected, Spark chose this moment to make her cheerful, irreverent appearance.

“Holy shit, I knew you were ugly Feldspar, but I never thought you’d actually KILL someone just by looking at ‘em!”  She said, popping into existence in a shower of golden glitter.

“Who’re you running from now Spark?”  I asked, fixing the pixie with a baleful glare.

“Oh, now that’s just cold Feldspar.”  She said pouting and showering my office with more glitter.  “I take the time out of my busy schedule to come and grace you with my presence and you greet me with abuse!  Always with abuse!”

“Yeah.  You’d think it would be enough to… oh I dunno, keep you away!”  I snapped, staring at the comatose form of Trillium Greenleaf.

“Seriously what happened to him?”  Spark asked, her glitter starting to fade away like morning mist as my presence started to erode the magic that created it.

“He was stupid enough to look me in the eyes.”  I said with a shrug, “I guess he didn’t like what it revealed about himself.”

“I’m not all that surprised.”  She said, perching on the unfortunate Elf’s head.  “I think this one’s done some kinda terrible shit.”

“Nah, he just feels guilty.”  I said, giving her a meaningful look. “Really guilty.  Strong emotions do strange things to the Fey.”

Her laugh was a tinkling of silver bells.  “Oh Feldspar, I know!  That’s why I never bother with any emotion other than glee!”  She spun in a circle in the air, scattering a weak circle of glitter that faded before it touched the floor.

“That and frustration, malice, vengeful rage…” I said taking a puff on my cigar to keep it lit.

“Those aren’t emotions you fool.”  She said loftily, “Those are states of being.”

I laughed in spite of myself. “As you say Spark.  Now get out of here before he comes to his senses.  You know how they get around you.”  I pointed to the comatose Elf.

Spark sighed, “You’re no fun Feldspar.”  She said with a pout, “No fun at all.  But being around you should have masked my trail well enough to make leaving safe.”

She vanished in another muted shower of glitter and I poured a glass of cool spring water from the pitcher I kept on the far side of my office.  It was a magical cold box, but as long as I didn’t come near it too often it seemed to work more or less.  I brought the water back and dabbed a bit on Trillium’s face with a clean handkerchief.

His eyes fluttered open and he shuddered.  “Earth and sky, what was that?”

“You fainted.  I’d say you’ve been working a little too hard Mr. Greenleaf.”  I said wryly, handing him the water.

He looked at me, passing a hand over his face and accepted the glass.  As he did so, his eyes traveled up my lean, rangy frame.  It may come as a surprise to those of you who look at the androgynous, beautiful Elves to know that they place a lot of importance on gender.  Even though it can sometimes be difficult to tell, I’ve seen gang wars start over some careless human mistaking the sex of an elf.

Some of them find my lack of any overt sign of my gender disconcerting.  I like it that way.  My body is my business and I never mix business with pleasure.  Messing around with clients is a good way to ruin your reputation and that’s a slippery slope nobody in my line of work recovers from.

“I have some notes you could pick up later, but for now I think it might be better for you to experience things firsthand.”  He said, as though withholding information could somehow improve an investigation.  “I’m afraid I have to leave and prepare for the show tonight.  If you could stop by at twilight?”

I nodded and he rose, recovering some of his dignity as he swept his cloak around his shoulders and left.  Elves.  What a pain in the ass.  He’d paid in advance though and I had rent to pay.  I’d had a dry spell and if I didn’t get a few more clients Dilynn was going to throw me out on my ear.  She could too, literally.  Dwarves were tough.