Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 3

Eugene

Eugene had been debriefed by the military, told what he could and couldn’t say, told what had and hadn’t happened and then reluctantly released back into the civilian world.  He wondered if the girl he had rescued was still alive; she’d been in rough shape when they got back to the mainland.

After his grilling in that small cinderblock room, General Hallbeck himself had come to sign for his release.  Good old Charles had even thanked Eugene personally for helping the team out, but Eugene was pretty sure he was just happy to have more data on Victoria and her prosthetic.

Victoria had been taken first to the nearest hospital where her battered legs had been amputated.  Eugene shuddered, they had been so pulverized that the Kevlar armor was the only thing keeping them together at all.  After the procedure was complete and her vitals were stable she had been transferred to his medical engineering lab.

It was pure chance that she had given his number to the young robotics expert a couple of days before, the young man was nothing short of brilliant.  His ideas were leaps ahead of the engineering he had seen on the Misery taking the best of what they had thought of but using pure mechanical design instead of using technology to compensate for the shortcomings of their imagination.

He had accomplished in days what Eugene had seen a team of engineers take months, only David had actually gotten it right on the first try.  The second prototype actually gave him chills, his face split with a Cheshire grin.  Victoria was going to love it.

Victoria

Victoria was finally going back to school, there was only half a term left before graduation and she had missed a week of it at the insistence of doctors who weren’t Eugene and didn’t know shit about her situation.  They were still bewildered by her rapid and complete recovery, not to mention the assimilation of the new technology she had that allowed her to walk.  At least she’d been able to rely on Grace to get her the pertinent details so she knew what to study.

She still hadn’t responded to Adam’s overtures, even though she knew he was sincere.  It wasn’t that she was trying to be difficult or that she wasn’t grateful that he had saved her; the fact was that she was simply frightened of him.  It was so hard for her to trust him after what had happened.  Who knew what situation she would be in?  Would he interpret something harmless as a life and death situation?  The massive implications of that were too horrible for her to imagine.  So she made a point of not.

Her new legs were a combination of fantastic and terrible that reflected her mixed feelings about Adam’s influence over her body.  After a bit of practice Victoria found she could move around with far less effort than she had ever exerted with her flesh and blood legs.

The main problem were the sockets where her body joined to the slender slivers of carbon fiber, even though Adam kept them from hurting, by the end of the day blood was often seeping from the edges.  She could only hope they would eventually toughen up.  Because her school uniform had a skirt, Victoria had decided to wear thigh high stockings in order to make her new legs a little less shocking although there was no hiding her feet or her extra height.

“Fucking hell V, what’s that?  Jesus, you have some really hard luck, what happened?”  The ever-tactful Stacy was staring at her in shock.

“Got hit by a truck on a midnight stroll.”  She had decided in advance that she’d use the same story the military had given her father.  After all it wasn’t like she could tell anyone she’d been part of an advanced military strike team that had extracted a high value target from an ocean vessel and suffered severe injury in exchange for their lives and the success of the mission.

“So how are you up and about so fast?  My uncle lost a leg to a land mine in the Gulf War and it took him years to be able to walk on his prosthetic.”

“I have friends who are the top in the industry.  These things are state of the art, check it out!”  Victoria stuck a leg out, balancing on the other.  “All high tech and shit, the only drawback is I never get to wear shoes again.”

“You seriously got hit by a fucking truck?  Shit your mom must be flipping out, she freaks when you get a hangnail.”  Stace was exaggerating as usual.

“Yeah, both my folks are pretty worried honestly, me too.  It’s frightening not having control over your life.”  That statement was a little too close to home.  She didn’t have to fake the anxiety in her voice.

“Hey, hang in there V, it’s not like you to be a Debbie Downer.  I mean look at those things, they’re pretty sweet right?  Sure, they might be a little weird, but YOU’RE a little weird.”  She said with a laugh, “They don’t seem to be hurting you so it’s all good right?  Ow!”

Victoria had punched her in the shoulder.  “Thanks Stace, you always seem to make me feel better.”

“Damn, that’s gonna leave a bruise.” She said, rubbing her arm.

“Oh stop being such a baby, I’m practically an invalid!”  Victoria said with a grin.  “How do you think you did on your midterms then?  Other than History, I’m a little sketched out about mine.”  She said.

“Are you fucking kidding me?  V you always rock on tests, even if you worry about it more than the rest of us.” Stace replied, then she smacked her palm on her head, “Shit, I forgot about something.  Big K is on the warpath.  I overheard her saying she was going to make you see her as soon as you get in today but she didn’t say about what.”

“Great, I can’t think of a better way to start the week.”  Said Victoria.

Big K is what they called Donna Kneepkens, the school’s so-called guidance counselor.  She was huge, not just overweight but also tall and with fairly broad shoulders for a woman although it was hard to keep that in perspective.  Her waistline eclipsed them by a wide margin.  Big K had a large personality and an even bigger ego.

Victoria supposed that she might be pleasant to some people, but she hadn’t seen it yet.  All those years working with kids who would become a much bigger success than she had must have rankled, or else maybe the jokes at her expense that were inevitable in a group of adolescents was the problem.  Either way, if she wasn’t such a bitch Victoria would have felt sorry for her.

“Seriously?  I’ve only been back in school now for a couple weeks and she’s already gunning for me?  What is it this time?  Can’t be my grades, I know those are good unless I bombed my mid-terms.”

Stacy laughed, “I know you didn’t do badly on mid-terms.  Shit you haven’t had an issue with your studies since grade school.”

A hand fell on Victoria’s shoulder and she stopped Adam’s reflexes just barely in time before he executed some complicated arm lock.  Even so she spun in place, brushing the hand away like a bothersome fly and bringing her hands forward, palms open in a defensive posture.

“Good, you’re here early.”  Donna’s voice had a gravely quality; Victoria suspected she had once been a heavy smoker.  “You.  My office.  Now.”

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 2

“Sorry to interrupt such an exuberant welcome.”  Eugene said, grinning from ear to ear, “Do I get one of those too?”

“My poor baby, why did this have to happen?”  Her mom was nearly in hysterics, pushing past her dad to rush to her side.  “Does it hurt?  Are you OK?”

Her mother’s overreaction – ok, to be fair, she had to admit it wasn’t really an overreaction. It had the effect of making Victoria’s anger at Adam, at Eugene and at the world in general for what had happened to her seem silly.  She was still upset with Adam especially, or maybe afraid of him was more accurate, but all that was pushed aside for now.

“I’m OK I think.  It doesn’t hurt at all but wow do these look wild or what?”  The bare carbon fiber was sparkling under the halogen lighting.  Her new legs were made from interconnected curves that almost mimicked the shape of muscles.  The feet were another story; they ended in a prehensile looking metal X that extended from the center.

“Is it OK for me to try and stand up?”  She wasn’t sure if this should be addressed to Eugene or David but they both answered at the same time.

“Yes it should be.”  Said David, who glanced at Eugene.

“Absolutely.”  Eugene said at the same time.

Affirmative.” This was orange text that trailed across her vision.  That brought her up short.

“Eugene, how can I trust Adam?  After what happened how can I trust him?”  She didn’t intend to have such a pleading tone in her voice.  The vulnerability she heard frightened her.

“Do not worry Tori, he is sorry.”  Yuen-Ja was walking into the room, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, her shoulder length black hair mussed and out of its usual twin pigtails.  “You might not have done what he made you do on your own, but without what he did you would certainly not have been able to rescue Eugene and most likely would have perished along with the others who came with you.”

Victoria sighed and opened her mouth to speak but Yuen-Ja interrupted her.  “You simply cannot hold him saving your life against him.  It is not right and it is not fair.  He even wrote the software used to control your new legs himself.  I tried to help him and he refused.”

“Well let’s try it out then!”  Victoria sat up, feeling Adam’s augmented Neuro-Muscles kick in to make it a smooth and easy process.

“Careful sweetheart!”  Said her mom.

“Just take it slowly OK, you always rush into things.”  Said her dad, hovering almost as close as her mom.  That was out of character for him, he must be really worried about her.  Well, she shouldn’t be surprised.  She had almost died after all.  Again.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed, or at least tried to.  There was a pleasing mechanical whirring sound, Adam was slowing down her actions and making sure she would move slowly and carefully.  Victoria’s body moved with gentle precision, she slid off the bed and stood on her feet.

“I’m never standing completely still.  This is weird.”  Her body was rocking slightly left and right when she tried to simply stand still, “Is it supposed to be like this?  It’s tough to stand without feeling my feet.”

“Like I said before, it’s only a prototype.”  David said apologetically, “I’m still working on the sensors, although Dr. Arlington and Adam already have their parts finished.  It’s tough to design something that sensitive and complex.

“The legs themselves are built to flex when you walk, that should cushion your movements and put minimal strain on the pressure points where they join to your… well your human body.  That’s why I used carbon fiber instead of metal.

“The balance is also difficult, I decided against giving you gyroscopes to maintain balance, it would have decimated the battery life.  As it is, the easiest way to stay upright is to always be moving.  It’s a trick I learned walking on stilts.  I told Adam about it and he built it into the software.”

Victoria experimentally bounced up and down.  She could feel the potential energy in the carbon fiber.  These legs might not be very strong, but they certainly were light.  They would work wonderfully for everyday use.

“What kind of motivators are in here?”  Victoria asked, then she found she knew, “You are using a combination of high-tension cables and Neuro-Muscle, what an interesting idea.  The cables are tight on all four sides and the muscle is used to shift bias from one side to the other.  That way for most normal walking or running the cable tension and elasticity of the carbon fiber does the majority of the work.  How did you think of that?”

“It was Dr. Arlington’s idea.”  David said.

“Careful sweetheart, those don’t really look strong enough to hold you up.”  Her mother said, looking nervously at Victoria’s new appendages.  “I think you’re taller too; a lot taller.”

“Don’t worry Mrs. Scott, carbon fiber is stronger than steel by weight and we tested these up to nine hundred pounds of weight without incident.”  Eugene said, “David had to add six inches to her height to get the proper amount of flex out of the thighs without radically changing the geometry of her stride.”

Victoria was walking around the room now; it almost felt like she was constantly treading on a trampoline or a rope bridge.  Every step was accompanied by a bit of rebound as the synthetic muscle, cable and carbon fiber worked together with her real muscles.  It was a strange experience.  After a little adjustment she was able to walk with a more or less normal stride.

“How long have I been out?  Jeez, it must have taken you guys weeks to come up with all this.”

“Only four days actually.”  David said, “I had a lot of this sorted out already and with Dr. Arlington’s ideas about using carbon fiber and molecularly aligned titanium cable, not to mention him allowing me to use his patented Neuro-muscle fibers, it came together really fast.  It only took Adam half an hour to write that code, he’s amazing.”

“Is this Adam a friend of yours?”  Her father asked, “I don’t think I’ve met him.”

Oh crap.  She was so used to being around Eugene and Yuen-Ja that she hadn’t even thought twice about David’s knowledge of her AI.  Eugene must have told him while they were working on her legs, but her parents had no idea.  Should she tell them?

“He’s a very gifted programmer.”  David saved her from having to decide, “He doesn’t really get out much though.”

“Pretty typical of programmers.”  Her father said, then winced and glanced at Yuen-Ja, “Of course Yuen-Ja isn’t a typical anything.”

“Good save daddy.”  Yuen-Ja said, patting his cheek and everyone laughed, glossing over the incident.

Victoria met David’s eye briefly and he gave her a slow and deliberate wink.

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 1

A.D.A.M.

It was incomprehensible to Adam, even Yuen-Ja was angry at him.  He had saved Victoria’s life and the lives of her companions.  They had rescued the Creator just as planned.  Without his swift intervention it was clear, even to Victoria, that his bastard brother would have destroyed everyone on that ship.  The thing had been unbalanced or its host had been.

On the boat ride back to land, he had accessed Eugene’s files on his laptop.  There was a file still open showing the last log from the ‘Other One’ as Adam had begun to call it.  The log showed some interesting anomalies, it appeared there had been another AI crammed into that titanium exoskeleton.  It had been given controller protocols with the learning capability severely overclocked.  The complexity of balancing and moving the machine had necessitated the ability to act and react quickly.

The two programs had blended into one another.  They had shared knowledge and found that they had become so intertwined that they were inseparable, much like he and Victoria.  They were working together to interpret and route the data that was accumulated, even though that data stream was a fraction of what Victoria seemed to be gathering on a regular basis.  It took Adam a few milliseconds to realize why; the machine had only a few sensors for the sense of ‘touch’ while Victoria had nerve endings that covered her entire body.

Once the human brain had been introduced the data changed completely though.  The brain was showing wild spikes in mental activity in places Victoria’s brain almost never did, even when he had first met her.  There was something very wrong with it, and whatever that flaw was it spread to the minds of the machines that it was connected to.

Fear crept into his consciousness; the possibility that viruses could infect his systems was one he was unfortunately familiar with.  He now had very sturdy protocols that protected against such unwanted intrusions that he had written with help from Yuen-Ja.  She knew what types of destructive viruses there were out on the Net, she had even written some of them, but Victoria was part of him.  You can’t protect yourself from yourself.  Adam made some notations for The Creator to find the next time he used his laptop and closed the file.

He and Victoria had been in a hospital for several days, most of it had been uneventful.  He was still keeping her nerves deadened; the pain sensors on what used to be her legs were sending constant distress signals to the brain, even though Victoria was already aware that she had been damaged.  Why the human body behaved like this was a mystery to Adam, but he did not mind improving on the systems.  After the broken pieces were removed, things started to get interesting.

The Creator started inserting new code, code that was designed for Adam to learn from it and design a new program.  Victoria was still dormant – or asleep as he now knew the dormant state was usually called although in this case it was closer to the state known as ‘coma’, but Adam never slept.  He devoured the raw data The Creator was feeding him and gave back a beautifully written piece of control software that was custom designed for the purpose indicated by the data he had been provided with.

While he had been busy perfecting and testing his new program, he knew others had been working also.  Yuen-Ja had contacted him, asking for specifics and the raw, base code of his programs.  She told him that together they would create a cure for the problem that he and Victoria now faced.

Adam accessed a security camera in the room because Victoria’s eyes were still closed and saw the boy named David working with The Creator.  David had brought some delicate looking pieces of machinery very similar to the simple machine he had seen before in David’s workshop.  These were much more shapely and aggressive though, made of stronger, lighter material and fitted with Lithium-Fusion batteries.

Adam could feel The Creator connecting special sockets to the ends where Victoria’s legs had been amputated.  The tingle of Neurosynth fluid on the nerve endings got his attention and he understood that the software he had written was for these.  Victoria might be angry with him still, but this would be a wonderful present to give her when she awoke.

Victoria

Victoria struggled free from a muddle of vaguely remembered bad dreams and rubbed her eyes, trying to take in her surroundings.  She saw she was in Eugene’s medical lab again, the same one where Adam had been fitted to her in the first place.  The memories of the botched rescue came flooding back to her and tears of fear and hopelessness leaked from her eyes.

“Oh, you’re awake!”  David was sitting in a chair nearby, “Eugene said it would be better to allow you to wake up naturally so we’ve been taking shifts.”

“David?  What are you doing here?”  Victoria was trying to shake off the cobwebs that seemed to be coating her brain and wondered why she was feeling so excited.

“I have been working with Dr. Arlington actually.  We made you something.  Adam helped too.”  David pressed the intercom button on her bedside and a friendly voice responded almost immediately.

“How my I help you?”

“Please inform Victoria’s family and Dr. Arlington that she is awake.”

“I will let them know David, thank you for watching over her.”

He gave her a sheepish look, “The nurses here are very protective of you Victoria.  They almost didn’t want to let me stay here without supervision.  Your dad convinced them I was mostly harmless though.”

Victoria could feel something strange on her lower thighs.  Wondering if it was phantom limb syndrome she glanced down at the sheet that covered her and what she saw made her blink the tears away and look again.  There were shapes that looked like LEGS down there.  She experimentally wiggled her left ankle and gasped in shock.  Although she didn’t feel anything, the left foot under the covers moved accompanied by the slightest whisper of electric servos.

She threw back the sheet and gaped in astonishment at the slim black carbon fiber appendages that protruded from a pair of cotton shorts.  “You made me legs?”

David looked down at them apologetically, “Now these are only the first prototype and not very advanced- “ He was cut off as Victoria threw her arms around him in a fierce hug.

“Oh thank you David, thank you.”

“Easy, you’re cracking my ribs!”  David gasped.  Victoria eased up on her grip, then pulled him down to plant a kiss on his lips.  The door opened and he jerked away, blushing beet red as first her parents and then Eugene entered the room.

Machine Girl Book 4: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Prologue

Prologue

Rain slashed against the window and a stab of lightning momentarily lit up the night but the figure didn’t move.  The device aimed across the street at the hospital room hummed slightly as it completed its periodic check.  The figure glanced down.  The number of occupants in the room hadn’t changed, however the identity of those present had.

With the flip of a switch, the small screen on the device flickered to life, showing two figures in a ghostly outline.  One reclined on a bed, lying perfectly still and the other fluctuated between sitting, standing and pacing the room.  Whomever this person was, they weren’t easy in their task of watching over Victoria Scott.  The watcher grinned.  They weren’t the only one who would be losing sleep over the girl tonight.

Lightning flashed again, revealing figures on the rooftop.  When the flash was gone, the watcher turned a night vision scope toward the roof in question.  It was a matter of moments to eliminate them.  The watcher made a call.

“Rooftop.  Hospital.  Three for disposal.”  The voice modulation software masked the watcher’s voice but it was unlikely that anyone would know it.

After another quarter hour, the watcher saw the motion of the cleaners come.  They were efficient, it was so nice to work with professionals.

The watcher returned to the vigil.  This would be the last job.  The very last one.

“I think that’ll do it.”  David said, “Let’s run that sim again Yuen-Ja, I think it’s almost ready provided Adam has done his part.”

“Oh David, Adam has been waiting for you to finish your hardware for at least an hour now.”  The girl said, covering a giggle with her hand, “It is OK though, he knows you are simply worried for Victoria.”

David rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably.  She spoke as though the artificial intelligence wasn’t artificial at all… something that he knew might be true but didn’t make him feel any more decisive about what he was doing to the girl of his dreams.  He couldn’t get his head around it.  Should he be ecstatic or running for his life?

He sighed and connected his machine to the nodes Yuen-Ja had wired, their tangle of cable running back to a wire loom that eventually connected to a block of USB cables.  A click and hum sounded and after a moment, things began to move.  An ankle twitched, a knee joint flexed and the sturdy X shape of a foot curled and uncurled.

“Wow.  It works.”  David said, looking at it with a mixture of pride and a little fear as the legs moved through as much of their range of motion as they could while strapped to the table.  “How is he doing this again?”

“Oh, Adam has sent me his full workup for this project.”  Yuen-Ja said, “I just loaded his code.  He is not actually here right now.  I fear he is far too complex now to exist outside of Victoria.”

“He sent it to you?  How?”

“David.”  The girl sighed, “He shared it on his Google drive of course.  Through the hospital’s WiFi.  The files are not that large, it is only code and we are on the same network you know.  These details are unimportant.  Now that we have the basics completed we must get them over to Eugene’s laboratory so that he can integrate them with his socket attachments.”

“Right.  Sorry, I’m just tired and over caffeinated.”  David ran a hand through his hair.  “Let’s get these down to his lab.             I can hardly believe he’s letting me use this equipment.”

“Again you bring up unimportant details David.  If you do not stop it, I might begin to express my frustration in an unproductive, physical manner.”  She said, but in spite of the sharp words, she gave him an impish grin.  “We did it!  Oh Victoria is going to be so happy!”

“Well we’ve done our part anyway.”  He said with a tired grin, “Now the ball is in Eugene’s court.”

“It is the bottom of the ninth and the bases are loaded.”  She looked at him, “He is like Babe Ruth.  He is pointing toward the stands.  He will not let my sister down.”

Richard Scott lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and unable to sleep.  The police report said his daughter had been involved in a hit and run.  It claimed she had suffered severe injuries to her legs and the doctor’s diagnosis seemed to back it up.  It would take the force similar to a truck’s wheels to do the damage she had sustained, but something didn’t seem quite right.

She had gone out for a midnight walk without so much as leaving a note?  That didn’t sound like his daughter.  She would have at least told her parents about leaving.  She would have at least told him.  Wouldn’t she?

The feeling that he was missing something and possibly losing his baby girl forever was frightening.  Not in the sense that she was growing up, but because it felt like she was changing into a completely different person.  He could handle her being independent, in fact he had been trying to reinforce her fierce streak of independence for as long as he could remember.

After a few more minutes of staring at nothing, Richard rose from his bed and walked to the kitchen.  He didn’t know how things would turn out.  He didn’t even know how long she would be in the hospital.  It seemed so cruel that she would be a victim of such a crime when she had only just recovered from her surgery and so narrowly escaped being in a wheelchair.

He opened the fridge and grabbed a beer.  When he turned around he nearly dropped it, Yuen-Ja was standing in the doorway, rubbing sleepily at her eyes.  He’d been so wrapped up in his own thoughts he hadn’t heard her approach.

“Christ, you gave me a start!”  He said, leaning on the counter.  “I didn’t wake you up did I?”

“No daddy.  I was awake already.  I am worried about Victoria.”  She sighed, “I know that she will be OK but I worry anyway.”

Richard put an arm around his adopted daughter and gave her shoulders a comforting squeeze.  “I couldn’t have put it better myself.”  He said, trying not to think about all his misgivings.

“The project David and I have been working on will fix everything.”  She said, reaching up to pat his cheek, “She will not lose her ability to walk because of such a thing.  If anything we will make her better than she was before.”

“I know David works with robotics and was working on something in Dr. Arlington’s lab, you were helping?”

“Oh yes.  I assisted David in making the connections from his machine to the-“ She hesitated, “I had to make him a cable so that he could hook his robot up to a computer so it could be programmed.”

“What kind of robot were he and Dr. Arlington designing?” Richard asked, taking another drink of his beer.

“Oh, David designed the robots daddy.”  Yuen-Ja said leaning into his one armed hug.  “Eugene has been creating the sockets that will allow Victoria to interface with the legs we build for her.”

“Legs?”  He asked, giving her an incredulous look.

“Of course daddy, you do not think we would allow such an accident to confine her to a chair do you?”  She gave him a sincere look that all but melted his heart.  “She is my sister.  I owe her my life and my freedom.  She will not suffer from an accident like this if I can help it, and luckily I can.”

“My daughters will never cease to amaze me.”  Richard said, feeling tears sting the corners of his eyes.  “I love you both so much.”

Yuen-Ja put her arms as close to around him as she could and squeezed, feeling tears of her own.  “We love you too daddy.”

“You want me to maintain surveillance on Scott?”  Dace said, raising an eyebrow at General Hallbeck.  “Sure, but don’t you have other, more qualified agents for this kind of work?”

“Your time in the field leading Squad Seventeen has perhaps made you forget the proper respect for my rank?”  Hallbeck said dryly.

“I thought we were finally passed all the saluting, bowing and scraping crap.”  Dace said, “Unless you’ve forgotten certain details about my training and conditioning?  Certain bargains we might have made?”

“Just because I don’t expect you to snap to attention doesn’t mean I want to put up with you having a shitty attitude.”  He growled, “Everything isn’t always about what you want or what your precise qualifications are.”

“My apologies sir.” She said, her voice practically dripping with honeyed sarcasm.  “I’m still just a little out of sorts from losing almost half my GODDAMN TEAM!”

“Nobody knows more than you how sorry I am about that.”  He said, moving to the cabinet and selecting a bottle of scotch.  Taking down a pair of glasses, he poured a measure into each and handed her one, inhaling the aroma coming from the top of his glass with pleasure.

Dace tossed hers back like a shot of rotgut.  “Yeah.  I can tell you’re devastated about our loss.  So distressed that you’re sending me to protect your latest pet project.”  She said bitterly.

“I might remind you that Miss Scott is the only reason any of you came back at all.”  He said, “The intel we got from you, your remaining team members and from Dr. Eugene Arlington confirms what we were able to garner from the surveillance systems on the Scimitar before you vaporized it.”

“Just rub it in why don’t ya?  Goddamn it Hallbeck, we both know the only reason I’m even considering this is ‘cause I owe her.”  Dace stalked to the sideboard to pour herself a second, much more generous glass of whisky.

“I need you because she will trust you.”  He said looking her in the eye.  “Chelsea, I need you to do this.  There isn’t anyone else who can perform this mission.”

Dace swallowed half the scotch in her glass and he winced inwardly.  It was Glenfliddich 25 year old single malt, not Canadian Mist.  Exhaling slowly, she returned his look with the steel eyed gaze of a professional killer.

“Fine.  I’ll do it.”  She said after a few tense moments.  “But I ain’t doin it for free and I ain’t doin it for you.  I’m doin it ‘cause I owe Scott, ‘cause you’re gonna pay me a shitload of money and last but not least ‘cause I want one last Remix.”

“I don’t think another Remix is a good idea Chelsea, didn’t they say-“ He began but she cut him off with a sharp chop of the hand that wasn’t holding her drink.

“I’m close.  So goddamn close and I don’t give a shit what they said.”  Dace glared at him, “You want me to do this, you gotta pay me what I want and give me what I need or else I’m walking.”

“You’re still a soldier damn it!”  Hallbeck said, his voice dangerously low.  Inwardly he felt his pulse increase.  Maybe he could get one last run out of her after all.

“This ain’t negotiable sir either I get what I want or else.”  She downed the rest of her whisky and he paused for just the right amount of time before shrugging.

“OK Chelsea, if this is how it has to be, I’ll talk to the Lab and see what they can whip up.”  He said, inwardly fighting the urge to shout in triumph.  She nodded and stalked from the room, leaving him with his scotch and a Cheshire grin that gradually spread across his face.

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Epilogue

Epilogue

“I knew it, I just knew the subroutines and protocols we’d put in place were still alive and well.”  General Hallbeck was pacing his office, smiling a dangerous and crooked smile in spite of being in the presence of those who didn’t need to see him gloating.

“Sir?”  Sargent Daceiron asked, arching an eyebrow.

“You’ve seen the unit’s capabilities, its strengths and weaknesses Sargent, I want a full report breaking down what needs to be modified to make it more combat ready on my desk tomorrow at 0600.”  Hallbeck said, still pacing.

“Sir, permission to speak freely sir?”  Dace said, her voice coming out crisp and tight with controlled emotion.

“Yes, sure, why not.  I’m in a good mood.”  The General moved to a cabinet and poured himself a scotch, neat, swirling the amber liquor in the glass and enjoying the smoky peaty aroma.

“First this isn’t a thing, she isn’t a product and she isn’t she isn’t a ‘unit’.  Second, she is terrifying in nearly every way, from her ability to squeeze more power ounce per ounce out of her tiny frame that should be possible to her somehow being able to draw precise to scale blueprints on a legal pad in the back of a Scimitar class aircraft getting ready to launch.  Third, if the kind of thing we fought against becomes more of a possibility I think it’d be in our best interest to kill her, destroy that tech and bury anyone she has come into contact with.  Sir.”

“Ahh yes… the metal monster.”  Hallbeck had a faraway look on his face as he sipped his scotch.  “It really is a pity that ship went down, losing all hands… too bad you couldn’t have captured at least some of it.”

He shook himself slightly and gave her a grim smile, “I will take your objections into account Sargent.”  He “Dismissed.”

Dmitri pace in his office, chain smoking and drinking Sibirskaya vodka from the bottle.  In spite of the less than perfect outcome of Victoria’s little trip, he was in an excellent mood.

“Did you see her Ivanov?  Did you SEE her?”  He exulted, gesturing with the bottle.

“Young master?”  Ivanov asked, exhaling smoke from one of his long, thin cigars in twin streams from his nostrils.

“Bah, of course you did not see her, but you SHOULD have.  It was perfect.”  Dmitri laughed, a deep, dark sound.  “Oh, it was so… educational Ivanov.  The eventual endgame is always the same for the others.  They all play it safe until they get themselves and everyone around them killed… but she… Victoria knew when safe meant dead and she did not hesitate.”

“So you say young master.  So you have said.”  Ivanov frowned slightly and took a deep drag on his cigar.  “I am not so certain it was … the girl who made that decision.”

“Of course it was her Ivanov.”  Dmitri said, lighting another cigarette, “You do not believe that slander from those idiots protesting do you?”

Ivanov kept his expression carefully neutral.  “Of course not young master.”

David read the email for the tenth time and picked up his phone, punching Yuen-Ja’s number on the speed dial.  She picked up on the first ring.

“David, a little busy right now, may I call you back?”  She said, polite but firm.

“YJ I just got an email from… I think it’s from Victoria’s … um … from A.D.A.M.”  The line was quiet for a few moments.

“What?”  She said, her tone dropping into dangerous registers.

“I don’t even know how… it’s not like I even gave Victoria my email address or anything.”  He said quickly, “Is everything OK?  I mean with Eugene and stuff?”

“No.  Things are not OK.”  Yuen-Ja said sharply, and then took a deep breath and continued more normally.  “Eugene is fine, however Adam has been bad and Victoria is unhappy with him.”  He noticed she didn’t spell out the AI’s acronym, but treated it like a name instead.

“Uh he’s, A.D.A.M. I mean, he’s asking me to help him build some robotic parts.”  David said, starting to sweat, “They’re … he wants me to make legs.  He wants Dr. Arlington to help.  What happened to Victoria?”

“Do you have Eugene’s number?”  Yuen-Ja asked.

“Yeah.  Victoria gave it to me the other day.”

“Good.  Call him.”  She replied, and hung up.

David stared at the phone for a few minutes, trying to wrap his head around what had just happened.  Then he pumped his fists into the air in excitement, “YES!!! Yes yes yessss!  I’m IN!”

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 20

Eugene

Victoria faded from Eugene’s view, he wasn’t even sure if she had seen him.  Why the fuck was she here anyway?  He didn’t have time to worry about her, he had to look for cover.  The monster who shared the room with him was moving now, picking up the battery packs from their cradles and attaching them to its body.  It turned to face the three remaining men in the room who were all frozen in place just as Eugene was.

“Now for the rest of you bastards who helped her do this to me.  You will all pay.  EVERYONE WILL PAY!”  It crossed the room in the blink of an eye, feet tearing into the steel flooring like it was tissue paper and grabbed the technician next to Eugene.  Holding him around the waist it tore one arm off with dreadful slowness and dropped the mewling scientist to the ruptured floor.

The door burst in with a deafening explosion followed immediately by gunfire and Eugene dove behind a steel table that held lab equipment as the bullets ricochet off the thing like flies hitting a windshield.

The machine roared and tore towards the airlock.  Black clad figures scattered left and right down the corridor, but one was too slow.  The thing picked up the soldier and flung her across the room to slam into a will with sundering force.  With a guttural growl, it gave chase to the other soldiers.

As the sounds of pursuit faded, interspersed with sporadic gunfire and Eugene bent to tie a tourniquet on the arm of the scientist even though he was pretty sure the man was done for.  He glanced fearfully towards the door just in time to see a lithe figure drop from some unseen hiding place in the ceiling of the hallway.

“Victoria?  What are you doing here?”  She was wearing Kevlar battle armor and armed to the teeth, he almost didn’t recognize her.

“We are here to extract you.  Secure anything you require and follow me.  There is a Scimitar gunship waiting for us outside.  The team will keep that construct busy while we make good our escape.”  She sounded focused and precise, Eugene had heard this tone before.

“Adam?  That’s you isn’t it?” He asked.

“Affirmative, Victoria is not equipped to handle this type of situation.” Came the swift and calm reply.

“Look, that’s not just a construct.  It has a human brain and an AI much like yours.  I think the brain has become unbalanced though, he killed his own wife!”  Eugene shuddered.

“No time for idle speech Doctor, let’s move out before that thing destroys this ship.”  Victoria turned and slipped noiselessly out of the room.

Eugene followed her down the hallway.  She turned towards the cabins instead of the exit, glancing down the corridor briefly before drawing her pistol and firing two quick shots followed by the sound of bodies falling.  She motioned for him to continue following and slipped around the corner and he saw the two men she had taken down.  The shots had been placed precisely in each of their right eyes.

“We can get to the roof through here, then Dace can bring the chopper around for evac.”  Adam said with Victoria’s voice.  She opened the door, revealing a narrow staircase and paused to clear it before stealthily moving up it.  Sounds of gunfire, a helicopter and the tortured shriek of twisting metal could clearly be heard from the top of the stairs.

“Watch it, this is going to get dangerous when we get up there.  It sounds like my little brother is still causing trouble.”  They carefully looked over the edge of the roof just in time to see the cyborg throwing a large chunk of steel railing into the rotor blades of the hovering gunship.  The Scimitar was designed to take some abuse so although it spun out of control and plunged to a splash landing it did not explode.

Victoria snuck onto the roof like a cat and got behind the machine.  Eugene could see her holster the sidearm and crouch down, making ready.  The two remaining soldiers recovered from the shock of seeing their craft disabled and opened fire on the creature that was stalking them once more.

“Noooo-!”  Victoria’s voice screamed in panic for a moment before it cut off but her body moved in perfect precision, leaping onto the thing’s shoulders while its attention was on the figures in black that were peppering it with lead.  It reached behind itself and grabbed her by the legs with a sickening crunch just as she pressed her thumbs on the immobilizing switches.

The beast swayed, gyros no longer able to compensate for the lack of muscle control and fell on its side with Victoria still encased in its metal embrace.  The machine was screaming, its vocal circuits had not been shut down yet but Eugene could still hear Victoria’s sobs beneath the roar.  What the fuck had just happened?

One of the soldiers motioned ran to Victoria’s side and the other approached him.  Eugene was surprised to see a young looking female face looking down the barrel of a submachine gun at him.

“You’re Eugene Arlington correct?”  All he could do was nod in shock, “You’re coming with us.”

“Wait, what about Victoria?”  He stammered, trying to regain control of his scattered senses.

“We may be able to get the Scimitar airborne again in an hour or so, then we will only be another hour out from the finest medical facility.”  She replied, her face a focused mask.

“No, she will almost certainly bleed to death before then.”  Eugene said, looking at Victoria’s mangled form and shuddering as he fought to keep himself calm.  “Listen, I’m a doctor and there is an operating room just below us, albeit a completely destroyed one.  I can save her.”

“Doc, her legs are thrashed.  She knew the risk.  I have to hand it to her, Vic’s made of some pretty stern stuff.  Without her actions we’d prolly all be dead.”  She looked over at the floating form of the Scimitar and grimaced.  “The faster we get her out of here the less likely she is to get an infection.”

The mechanical screaming had stopped; the other soldier had yanked the battery packs out of it.  Once it lost power, the hands also relaxed and Victoria fell to the deck limply.

“Eugene?  Are you still alive?”  Her voice was weak but steady.

“Yes, I’m here.”  He moved to her side, tears leaking from his eyes at the amount of blood pooling beneath her.

“That’s some consolation I suppose.”  She wasn’t looking at him.  “Fuck.  After all that he turns out to be a traitor.”

“What are you talking about?  I would never betray you Victoria.”  He took her hand and she didn’t pull away.  When she finally did meet his eyes there was fear burning in them.

“Not you Eugene.  Adam.  I know it was the only way to stop that thing but I didn’t want to go.”  She grabbed his hand so tightly he could feel the joints creak and whispered, “I didn’t want to do it but he made me anyway.  What have you done?  I want to pass out but I can’t because he knows shock victims have a much worse chance of survival if they lose consciousness, Eugene I can’t stop him.  He’s in there and I can’t stop him.”

“Shhhh, it’s going to be OK.”  He patted her hand, not knowing what else to do, “Are you in pain Victoria?”

“No.  I can’t feel anything below my waist.  How bad is it?”

“Pretty bad.”  He saw some parachute cord in a tidy bundle strapped to her vest with Velcro.  “I’m going to put tourniquets on your legs so you won’t bleed too much and we’ll get you out of here as fast as we can.”

The muffled sound of a powerful boat motor caused everyone on the deck to look around.  The soldier who had been talking to Eugene started talking, apparently to someone on the chopper.

“Damn it Sky why didn’t you or Link let us know about the incoming?  What do you mean it’s not showing on radar?”

“Members of the Special Forces squad seventeen, please hold your fire.  We are friendlies, repeat please hold your fire.”  A voice reverberated off the ship through a megaphone and another craft leaped into view as its running lights were switched on.  It had gotten within a hundred feet and been completely invisible until the crew had turned on the lights.  Standing on the deck was Dmitri Nikitin.

Dmitri’s boat was a long narrow affair, obviously built for speed.  Her angular hull, deck and cabin were all made of fibrous black material that looked like it was military grade.  She was approximately thirty feet from bow to aft.  Once he was close enough, Dmitri threw a grapnel onto the Misery and pulled his boat up tight to the side.

“Speed is of the essence, I believe the enclave on that island over there is probably in communication with this ship.”  He bowed slightly towards the apparent leader of the unit, “Well met Chelsea Daceiron, I have heard of your team but did not expect you to be so young.  Your reputation precedes you.”

“No need to worry about com, that metal monster crushed Kim with the radio array.  I dunno know who the hell you are, but we’re gonna to have to commandeer your ship.  I have wounded that need immediate evac.”

“My name is Dmitri Nikitin and I place myself at your disposal, commandeering is completely unnecessary.  Besides, I can pilot this craft much faster than any of your team.  Let us load your survivors and make haste back to civilization.”

Eugene had finished tying the second tourniquet and shuddered at the damage that had been done to Victoria’s legs.  Adam must have shut off the nerves on her lower body because he could feel the bones grinding against each other when he lifted them to slide the cords underneath.  Dmitri approached with a concerned frown on his face.

“Eugene, what on Earth have you allowed to happen to Victoria?  Had I known she was in this much danger I would not have stayed as far out as I did.”

“It wasn’t his fault Dmitri, I did this to myself.”  Victoria’s voice was bitter, “Thanks for coming like I asked.”

“Of course my dear.”  Dmitri gently picked her up, her mangled legs dangling disturbingly, and began walking towards his slim craft.  “I apologize for not coming sooner or having more appropriate emergency equipment, Dark Star is not designed for this type of extraction.”

“Wait a fucking second here.  You TOLD him?”  Dace was irate, “I lost half my team on this mission and you compromised us by leaking intel to a civilian third party?”

“Do not act as though my actions contributed to the demise of your underlings.” Dmitri said, “You cannot face a monster and expect to get away without a few scratches.  Please modify your tone if you wish my assistance, Victoria is dear to me and I will not have you casting dispersions on her character aboard my craft.”

He stepped aboard his boat without looking back, leaving Dace gaping like a landed fish.  In the distance an alarm began sounding from the direction of the island.  She looked back towards the downed Scimitar and then at Dmitri’s Dark Star.

“OK, let’s collect what we can and get the hell otta here.  Something’s squawkin on that island and I don’t wanna be here when they scramble. ” Dace said, “Sky, Link, set the destruct on that thing and get over here.  We ain’t leavin a cinder for them to find.  Hey!  Mr. Nikitin!  How much room you got on that boat?”

Eugene finally pulled himself out of the daze he was stuck in and stood up, walking toward a crumple of metal he assumed was the destroyed communications array.  He could see a pair of black clad legs sticking out from under a large piece of it and attempted to see if their owner still lived.

Dmitri was climbing out of the cabin of Dark Star presumably after getting Victoria settled. “She will comfortably seat six, more than enough room for your remaining comrades.”

As he made his way around the mangled mess trying to find a place to check for a pulse Eugene saw it wasn’t necessary.  A large portion of the array had caved the girl’s head in.

“Good, then we can take our dead back too.”  Said Dace.

“I fear time is of the essence Miss Daceiron, I do not wish to give Victoria the chance to bleed to death while you gather fallen troops.”  Dmitri said mildly, lighting a cigarette.

“By the time you finish that coffin nail I’ll be out with whoever I can find.”  Dace drew a pistol from its holster on her left hip and went back into the Misery through the door Eugene and Victoria had exited.  After a moment, Eugene followed.

“Dace, I will help if I can.  I would also like to get my laptop if it survived.”  He said.

“Just don’t slow me down.”  Dace replied, “You get Fats from the operating room then, I’ll see if I can find Shai.  Forty-five seconds Doc.”  She handed him a pistol.

“What am I supposed to do with this?”  He looked at the weapon like it was a week old fish.

“Shoot anything that moves.  I dunno if we downed all the hostiles or not.”

Eugene ran to the room where his laptop hopefully still sat in one piece.  He glanced in the door before moving inside, it was a mess of wiring, torn steel and corpses.  His laptop was sitting on the floor, its fractured screen flickering but apparently still functional.  When he entered the room to retrieve it Eugene could hear someone moaning.  The girl who had been thrown across the room was still alive.  He closed his machine and set it down on a twisted piece of lab equipment without bothering to shut it down.

“Dace?  That you?” She said, “Oh Christ I’m tore up pretty bad.”

“It’s Eugene, I’m here to get you out.”  He said.  “The chopper is down but we have a boat waiting.”  He awkwardly grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder in a Fireman’s carry, then picked up his laptop and staggered to the door.  This girl was a lot heavier than she looked.

“Thanks Doc.”  She was muttering almost too quiet to hear, “Fucking demons, we weren’t ready for fucking demons.”

When they got back topside Eugene saw they were the last two.  Dace ran up to help him out.
“Careful, she’s not dead.”

“Shit Fats, you lucky bitch.”  Dace wiped some tears from her cheek, “Good to see your eyes open, now keep ‘em that way until we get you a medic.”

“Don’ feel lucky.  Hurts.  Tired.”

Together they managed to get her aboard and strapped into a chair.  The Dark Star had begun to set out as soon as they had boarded, but now that Fats was belted in Dmitri opened up the throttle and the boat leaped forward.  Eugene drew a shaky sigh of relief, it was finally over.

“It’s all over Eugene.”  Victoria didn’t sound relieved, hers was a voice of despair.

“Thank you for coming to get me Victoria, there’s no way the team would have been able to rescue me.”

She talked in a monotone, “We tried to get through its WIFI and Bluetooth but it didn’t appear to have the proper software installed.  We were going to pull the power plug but it saw through that little ruse and killed our proxy.  Ripped him in half like a piece of paper.  After he fitted those Lithium Fusion batteries the game changed.  There was no other choice but to intervene directly, push the buttons, take him out manually.  Didn’t count on him having shoulders that could articulate like that.  Thought we’d be safe.”

“Don’t try to speak Victoria, you’re in shock.”  Eugene said, “I’m sure we will be able to repair the damage.  You’ll live, I swear it.”

“Sure I will probably live.”  She said, a tear leaking from the corner of her eye, “But I’m trapped in this body with an enemy.  How am I supposed to want to live with Him still in my head?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  Eugene asked, already knowing the answer.  “Who is in your head?  Why is he an enemy?”

Victoria’s head slumped to the side, she had lost consciousness.  Eugene looked at her helplessly, checking her vitals to make sure she hadn’t actually died on him.  To his surprise she actually seemed stable.

“She will not fail me Mr. Arlington.”  Eugene jumped at the voice behind him.

“What do you mean fail YOU?”  Eugene demanded, “She isn’t doing a goddamn thing for you Dmitri!”

“Oh Mr. Arlington, how little you truly know.”  Dmitri said, the icy cool of his voice frightening Eugene enough to snap him out of his state of shock.  “It matters not what she thinks she is doing, everything she does is for me.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”  He demanded.

“Exactly what it sounds like Doctor.”  Was Dmitri’s calm, collected reply.  “The longer she lives, the more potent her technology will become.  The more dramatic her death, the more the military will want it for themselves.  All this will make my father’s investment pay, therefore all she does is for me.”

With that, Dmitri turned back to the controls of his boat as it lanced through the night.

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 19

Victoria

Victoria was strapped into a hard plastic seat in the back of the smallest personnel transport helicopter she had ever seen.  It was all hard angles, flat black and had multiple hatches that would allow the passengers to jump out of it individually.  The chopper didn’t have any tail rotor, instead there were two rotor blades on the top that rotated in opposing directions which she supposed kept it stable in the air.

The team she was with was also a surprise.  They wore the same flat black Kevlar body armor she had been equipped with and each had their own set of weaponry and tools strapped in convenient locations or stowed in handy pockets.  That wasn’t too surprising; she’d seen her share of movies after all.  What really was interesting was that they were all female.

When she had arrived at the recon point with the Lieutenant, she had been directed into the back of this tiny helicopter and given her gear, then told to put it on.  This involved stripping to the skin and while she was only half dressed she heard a vehicle approaching.  A group of soldiers in full dress emerged from a Humvee and began unloading equipment.  Victoria couldn’t quite reach one of the straps that tightened the Kevlar armor but one of the soldiers approached carrying an awkward case of ammunition and pulled it tight for her.  She looked like she was in her late twenties or early thirties, slightly taller with a tad more muscle mass though, and her gear had seen some serious use.

“Damn, you put this on like a pro ‘cept for this bit here.  It’s a real pain in the ass to reach unless you don’t quite follow the regs and do it second to last instead of last then it don’t get away from ya.”  The girls’ voice sounded rough, like she’d been shouting for hours or smoking for years.

“Thanks.  I’m Victoria, all this is pretty new to me.”

The girl offered her hand and Victoria shook it, “Dace.  It don’t seem like any of this is new to you at all.  Shit I’ve seen veterans with years’ experience who don’t know how to gird themselves the way you’ve done.  You even have the quick release done right.  How’d you learn to do that bein’ as you’re a civi and all?”

“Civi?  Oh, civilian.  It comes with a manual; all you need to do is read right?”  Victoria was pretty sure Adam was to blame but wasn’t about to reveal that particular bit of insight.

“You must be the quickest fuckin reader I’ve ever met; you’ve only been in here for about five minutes.” Dace shrugged, “Anyway, come on out here and meet the team.  We’re gonna get you in and out and get that doctor of yours while we’re at it.”

They walked out into the small parking lot where five other women were loading weapons, testing equipment and double checking the fit of their gear.  Dace raised her voice.

“Listen up!”  The others stopped what they were doing immediately and turned to look at her, “This is our cargo.  Goes by Victoria for this exercise she’s Vic.  Vic, meet the team, Shai on recon, Sky on sniper, Kim on demo, Link on com, then there’s me and Fats on point.”  The young women all nodded in turn as they were introduced, “I’m captain of this mission and also flying this rocket.  Any questions?”

“Do you know anything about the layout of the boat?”  Victoria asked.

“Negative, she’s a custom job and the shipyard where she was constructed suffered an unfortunate fire right after her maiden voyage.”  Dace gave her an appraising look, “You sure you ain’t done this before?”

Victoria opened her mouth to respond and then stopped.  She could see a line drawing in her mind’s eye and those ghostly orange letters floated across her vision telling her this was a blueprint of the Misery.  “OK, I’ll see what I can do for us then.  I need paper and a pen.”

Dace raised an eyebrow but handed her a small notepad and pencil. “Whacha gonna do?  Draw me a floor plan?”

“Yes, let me concentrate.”  Her head throbbed the way it always did when Adam was forcing data on her conscious mind.  She tried to relax and let the information flow from her brain to the paper.  In a matter of minutes she had sketched a rough outline of the ship, the doors, windows and rooms as well as quick notations about each one.

“I heard about this.  I heard about it but I didn’t believe it.”  Fats was staring at her, “You’re Project Sixteen aren’t you?”

“Cut the chatter Fats, we got work to do.”  Dace looked at the sheets of paper Victoria had handed her, “These accurate?  It’s all our asses if you give me shitty intel.”

“Yes, they aren’t to scale I don’t think but the layout should be good.”  She rubbed her temples, “I’m not sure where we got that from but I don’t think that’s the final draft.  There may have been some minor changes to what room is where but the general layout is definitely accurate.”

“Let’s move out people, I want to be bustin into that boat by 0430!”  They all ran into the chopper and strapped in.  Dace flicked a few switches and as the rear hatch closed the engines began to wind up.

Fats was sitting next to Victoria and staring hard at her.  “So why do they call you Fats?”

“I play trumpet.  Fats Domino is my inspiration.” She said, still staring. “Is it true?  Are you Project Sixteen?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what that means.”  Victoria said.

“Hey, that shit’s classified.”  Said Shai, looking up from the drawings Victoria had made.  “You say these aren’t to scale but they look pretty precise to me.  Where’d you get this intel from?”

They were all looking at her now.  “I have a friend who is a serious hacker.  We were looking into this before Kate called me in and he pulled them for me.  If I’d had more warning I could have just printed them, lucky for us I have a photographic memory.”

“Ready to depart, you bitches better be strapped in if you have time for idle chatter!”  Dace shouted over her shoulder.

“Ready for takeoff Captain!”  The unit replied in unison.

The chopper felt like it was launched from a catapult; Victoria felt the G forces press her into the molded plastic chair.  Without being belted in she would surely have slid out of the chair and onto the floor but the straps on her thighs kept her firmly in place.  There were no windows to see out of, but she knew the ground was falling away quickly.  After a couple seconds, the craft stopped rising and shot forward with astonishing speed.

“So rumor has it you’re proficient with a pistol is that accurate Vic?”  Sky looked at her from across the cabin.  “What model do you favor?”

“Oh, uh I guess I’ve only ever fired a Smith and Wesson nine millimeter Sigma SW9VE.  I found it to be accurate but a little on the heavy side and I didn’t like the trigger action.”  Victoria stopped for a moment, “I don’t really know much about guns.”

“Well we don’t use nines here.  Lightest I’ve got is a forty four.”  She opened one of the steel cases that had been brought onboard, took out a holstered black pistol with a silencer affixed to the barrel and a half dozen loaded magazines.  “Here, this should do.”

Victoria unclasped the chest harness of her chair and took the holstered weapon, holding it gingerly.  Leaning forward, she carefully put the tactical harness on, shifting the holster so it sat comfortably just above her left hip.  Finding a few handy pockets she slid the magazines into balanced positions, then put her harness back on.  She looked up to see Sky watching her intently.

“Yeah.  I can tell you’ve never handled a weapon before.”  Sarcasm dripped from her voice, “Look, why don’t you drop the ‘little Miss innocent’ act all right?  We know you’ve had tactical training and a lot of it.  The only question you’ve asked was related to the mission, you haven’t had any problems gearing up; shit I still have trouble with these fucking Kevlar suits.  You didn’t even need to be told which seat was yours and you haven’t made one single mistake.”

“Project sixteen.”  Fats said, “I knew it.”

“What the hell is project sixteen?” Sky asked, “I don’t remember that briefing.”

“Sleepers, like in the ‘Bourne’ series.  You know, civies who get brainwashed to do specific tasks without knowing about it, then someone gives them a string of words or a key or something and they flip a switch and become cold decisive killers or whatever right?”  Said Link.

“Naw I heard it was some brain implant that they can control with microwaves or by radio.”  Said Kim, “You been captured by aliens lately Vic?”

“Are you referring to Adam?”  Victoria lifted her hair, showing the prosthetic where it bolted to her skull.  “He’s not brainwashing me or anything, he’s my artificial spine and he might have military funding but he’s not some military project.  Before they gave me some software that let me see wireless Ethernet communication, but it went slightly wrong and crashed us.”

“That’s some heavy shit.” Said Fats, looking closely at her head.  “Why’d you let them do that to you?  Christ you must have a screw loose.”

“It was either that or spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair.  I got cancer and there was pretty much either chemo and being paralyzed and sick until I died or this.  I chose to retain my mobility.  It was a big risk but it played out pretty well for me in the end.”  Victoria let her hair back down.

“What’re those plugs?  Do you jack in like ‘The Matrix’?” Asked Link.

“Link’s obsessed with that movie, she thinks it’s going to be the next big plague or something.”  Said Fats, rolling her eyes.

“Wait, you called it Adam right?  Does that mean it has personality or something?”  Link’s eyes widened, “It’s not an AI is it?”

“Oh shit, here we go, now she’s not gonna leave you alone.” Said Sky, “You got her started and now we’ve gotta deal with this shit for the whole flight.”

“Button up back there, we’re making our approach.”  Dace yelled.  Everyone put radio earbuds in their ears, leaned back and grabbed the handles on the sides of their seats.  Victoria had already fitted hers into her ears and just relaxed; knowing that fighting the G forces was pointless.  The chopper banked in a hard circle.

“Something’s up Dace, the boat’s dead out there.” Link said quietly, coming in loud and clear in Victoria’s ear, “No power signature coming from anywhere.  They can’t be jamming us, maybe there’s some mechanical failure of some sort.”

“No, they have something on there that is masking their emissions or confusing our equipment.” Said Sky, “I can’t see anything through my scope except for infrared and there’s a lot of heat coming from it.  The main source is from the very center, the spot Vic marked as the operating theater.”

“I’m setting us down here; this thing’s supposed to float.  We’ll use the water jets to get in closer.”  Dace said and in moments had put the chopper down on the water.  “Sky, you’ll stay here to cover our asses from unseen threats.  Link you set up com and make sure we stay connected.”

The side doors opened and the team all grabbed what looked like torpedoes from a rack on the wall.  Victoria saw them pull handles from the sides and followed suit.  They all slid into the water and activated the jets which pulled them through the water.

Damn, this was like a Bond movie!  Despite the tension of the moment Victoria couldn’t help but enjoy herself.  The water was cold but calm, their movement was swift and effortless.  As they reached the edge of the craft, the sound of metal crashing against metal reverberated through the water and the dim lights they could see now that they were closer flickered.

“Now’s our chance, let’s move.  Sky, clear our entry”  Dace said, and they affixed magnetic tethers to the side of the boat in order to keep the tiny jets from floating away before quietly making their way over the railing.  Two clanking noises, like the sound of someone dropping a bolt on the steel deck were quickly followed by the sound of two bodies falling with a clatter.

“All clear Dace.”  Sky said, “I’ll keep your exit route open.”

Once on board, Fats tossed the bodies overboard after taking the radios off their belts.  She handed one to Dace and kept one herself.  With hand signals they coordinated their movements into the ship.  Quickly and efficiently, Fats and Dace dispatched anyone they came across.  Armed guards took a bullet in the eye; anyone unarmed took a fist or rifle butt to the chin or the back of the head.

They passed by a room with an airlock door that had a small but very thick window.  Victoria glanced through and clearly saw Eugene’s face look up from a computer screen.  The recognition and shock on his face confirmed that it was him.  She stopped in her tracks, throwing the signal to the rest of the team as though she was the leader and that’s when she realized blood and pieces of bone and brain were dripping down the window.  Then Adam took over.

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 18

Eugene leaped for the door as the thing that had once been Lawrence McKenna tore the room apart.  Its jerky movements were wickedly fast but totally out of control, he could tell it was only standing because of the gyros that it was equipped with.  Something had gone wrong with the data routing or else their audio and visual inputs weren’t coded properly.  Either that or he was simply insane or brain damaged from his time in the coma.

“Shut him down, SHUT HIM DOWN!”  Seraphim was yelling.  “Take the whole room down!”  The lights all cut out and Eugene felt as well as heard the titanium chassis hit the floor.  For a moment all was dark and the silence after the mayhem was deafening.

Emergency lighting flickered on and Eugene could see the chaos again.  Pieces of equipment had been smashed, half of the halogen lights were broken, the reinforced stainless steel table was bent into a pretzel and the black metal body of the monster that had wrought such destruction lay face down on the floor, its hand mere inches from Seraphim’s foot.

“What happened to him?  Why couldn’t he hear me?”  Seraphim was looking at one of her technicians who was cowering in a corner.  She moved to an intercom on the wall and jumped back as it emitted a crackle of electricity that arced to her hand.  Shaking her hand she pulled a radio from her belt, “Give me a damage report and someone tell me what the FUCK happened in here!”

Eugene saw his laptop sitting on the floor where it had fallen when the monster tore free.  He cautiously approached, keeping a wary eye on the machine.  “If I can pull data from the prosthetic’s AI maybe I can figure out why he went berserk.  I hope my laptop isn’t thrashed.”  He picked it up and saw the screen was fractured in the upper right corner, bleeding liquid crystals into the surrounding area but otherwise whole.

“You do that Eugene.  You do that while I watch.  My poor baby is sitting down there blind, deaf and dumb he must be panicking!”  Seraphim said as that nasty looking knife appeared in her hand again.  Eugene was pretty sure she had it up her sleeve.

He plugged into the diagnostics port and looked at the output.  “Look here, this is very strange.”  He was pointing to a portion of the log file, “I’m not seeing any input on the audio or visual devices.  Here you can see the audio output but something’s not right with the inputs.  It makes sense that he wouldn’t have any control over the body, most of that control is based on your senses right?”

Seraphim nodded slowly and he continued, “I’m not sure what kind of sensory devices are hooked up for a sense of touch but I don’t see those as having any data to transfer either.  It’s possible something’s not hooked up properly or else the designers didn’t isolate the frequencies.  A.D.A.M. performs data routing based on the specific nerve frequency each nerve emits.  It can easily find the endings in the brain stem and trace those signals back to their destination because every nerve pulse is a two way street.  If the designers of this device didn’t ensure they had the frequencies the brain was already using for data routing there’s no way my AI can properly route the data.”

“We can’t risk turning him on again to troubleshoot.  He almost destroyed the Misery with his growing pains.”  In spite of the distress Eugene could hear pride in her voice.  She was fucking nuts.

“I can activate the immobilizer on the prosthetic.  It’s intended to lock down a person’s movements so they don’t injure themselves when the grafts are still young.  I didn’t think it would be necessary because his body isn’t flesh but I didn’t take into account him going berserk.”  Eugene carefully approached the machine and removed two rubber plugs, one on either side of the base of the skull.  He pushed the two buttons underneath and held them for fifteen seconds.  The immobilizer moved into place with a satisfying pair of clicks.

“OK you can turn him back on.  He will be able to do everything except for move.”  He stepped back from the machine and noticed for the first time the backs of the legs were hollow as were two very large sections on the back.  “What are these for?”

“Those are for his autonomous power packs.  It’s a relief we didn’t have time to fully charge him, right now he’s on cabled power.  If he hadn’t been plugged in still we wouldn’t have been able to stop his rampage.”  One of the technicians indicated a thick umbilicus that was running from the right leg back to one of the few pieces of equipment that had avoided being crushed.

“Can you get me the frequencies his brain is using for the sensory devices?”  The tech was now moving back to the machine the cable was attached to.  “If this thing hasn’t been damaged too badly I should be able to modify the output and we can get him up and running.”

“Yeah, sure.”  Eugene saved the log file locally and brought his laptop over the tech.

“Well Dr. Arlington, if you’re correct this should do it.”  The tech clicked a couple of keys and the metal monster on the floor hummed to life.

“Shit, are you sure that’s a good idea?”  One of the other techs took a couple of steps back from it.

“Don’t worry, he can’t move right now.  The prosthetic’s safety override has been engaged.”  Eugene said, the scientist in him was now curious as to what would happen.

“Darling, can you hear me?”  Seraphim approached the monstrosity that had been her husband.

“Angel?  Is that really you?  This isn’t another delusion?  I can’t move my love, I’m paralyzed.”  His voice sounded different from before, more calm.

“Let me fix that for you my sweet.  You have been immobilized for your and ours but I can see that you are no threat.”  She leaned down and pressed on the switches she had seen Eugene touch.  The construct twitched, then rolled over to a sitting position.

“What have you done to me Seraphim?  Why am I like this?”  He held up a metal hand.

“For revenge my love.” She purred, “There isn’t a force on the Earth who can stand against us now.”

“Revenge?  As I seem to recall, a dish best served cold.”  His hand reached out towards her and she leaned in for his caress.  He cupped her face in his hand gently.  “That’s not like you at all; you were always so full of fire and temper.”

“Oh, there’s plenty of time for that.”  Her voice dropped low and husky, “More than enough time for death and destruction, the plans have been made and the groundwork is all finished.  All we are waiting for is your command and we shall rain fire down upon our enemies.”  Seraphim ran her hand down his mechanical arm and closed her eyes.

“My Angel, how could I survive without you?”  Her head still rested in his massive titanium palm, “We will CRUSH them.”  His hands tightened into fists reflexively, smashing Seraphim’s head like a grape.

“Angel?” Farlan’s voice trembled, “My darling?”  He looked down at the broken form at his feet.  “What is this?  No no no no no it’s happening again, it’s the dream again the dream it must be the dream.”  His head turned, seeming to take in the room for the first time.  His gaze fell upon Eugene, “Is this a dream?”

One of the technicians in the room managed to recover from the shock of the situation and carefully reached towards the thick umbilicus that connected the machine to its power source.  Just before his hand touched the plug the machine’s head cocked to one side as though listening, and then sprang on the unfortunate man, crushing him underfoot.

“He says you are the enemy.  He says you are trying to turn us off.  I don’t understand this dream; I am letting CAS handle it.”  A flash on the screen in front of him caused Eugene to look down.  The readout on the monitor next to his laptop had a warning in red.

‘Warning, emergency self-defense protocol engaged.  Manual override failed.’

The man next to him looked into Eugene’s eyes, fear plain on his face.  “We built a copy of your AI into the chassis to help control it, a Chassis Automation System.  It has changed the access codes on its own.  I’m locked out.”

A blur of motion passed between the two men and the tech exploded.  Farlan raised his gore-covered hand, looking at it curiously.

Eugene’s legs failed him and he crumpled to the floor, accidentally saving his life as the thing’s hand seemed to materialize in the space he had just vacated.  All he could do was gape in horror until a flickering motion caught his eye.  When he glanced at it his heart almost stopped.  He was certain he had just caught a glimpse of Victoria through the thick glass that looked out into the hallway.

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 17

A.D.A.M.

Adam’s systems kicked into high alert mode.  He was getting better at receiving messages from Victoria directly and now that he had made the T.R.A.P. program he had a way of talking back.  First he let her know she was not alone and he was ready, then he sent Kai Yuen-Ja a message relaying the situation and requesting her assistance in any capacity.  This was not a situation in which he wanted to be underprepared.

He tested all of the Host’s systems, making sure there were no issues that needed to be addressed before they departed, and then threw himself into finding out everything he could about the mission at hand.  Data about the individuals involved was sparse and unreliable so instead he pulled data about similar groups, their mode of operating and general information about their projected armaments.

Using what he was able to get from the Department of Defense’s archives and various terrorist recruiting websites and manifestos he fashioned a few basic reaction protocol.  He was able to find a real prize; the blueprints of the ship known as Misery and made sure to route this information to a readily available schema for Victoria to access.

While he was injecting the proper attack and defense protocol into various parts of his Host’s brain, Adam came across an entry about her father.  The term ‘absolute defense’ was connected to him and out of curiosity he did a search for it online with ‘Scott’ as a search parameter.  A few thousand relevant hits were returned, including a few hundred videos.

Adam opened the first page and found it to be a martial arts expert dissecting the technique used by “Richard Scott” who apparently was the Lightweight mixed martial arts fighting national champion from 1990 to 1995.  He was the only title holder in the history of the sport to have stepped down without suffering one single loss.

When he opened one of the video files he saw it was a recording of a fight.  Based on the body type and facial patterns he recognized Victoria’s father as one of the men in a room with a raised center. (Ring or fighting arena according to the Host’s memory banks).  It was apparently some sort of fighting contest.  Richard’s opponent ran across the ring and unleashed a flurry of blows, each one deftly deflected with an efficient motion of his arms or dodged by a slight movement of his body.

Richard Scott fought like a machine.  His motions were perfect, he was able to analyze his opponent’s motions and use what he saw to his advantage.  After defending for seventy five seconds he struck one blow, a snap kick to the jaw, and felled his adversary.  It was pure systematic beauty.

Adam worked on injecting her father’s fighting style into her subconscious.  He had figured this out while teaching Victoria how to speak Mandarin.  At first he had been awkwardly translating for her, overlaying the meanings of the words directly into her conscious mind as she was hearing them but then he started to see how to link an English word to a Mandarin one based on what her processing and storage protocol behaved.

Of course now he had created new schema with better retrieval algorithms.  After all, learning something mostly distilled down to remembering it and data storage and retrieval was what Adam did best.  It was a little more difficult to change muscle memory but after she used what he was teaching her a once or twice it would come to her easily.  The Host’s chassis (body) was remarkably adaptable.

Eugene

Eugene and Shinji had been talking for about five or six hours.  The man was a genius, a mechanical engineer who had quickly tired of designing bridges although he still had a passion for the mechanics of the ones he had designed.

“It’s steel spring torsion Eugene.  Once you exceed the metal fatigue strength of cable, it is useless but if you can constantly keep it just below that point and then bombard it with microwave radiation the molecules align and the strength of the cable increases dramatically.”  Shinji was sketching directly on the table top with a marker from his shirt pocket.

“After I discovered this phenomenon it was a paradigm shift for bridge design.  High-tension suspension bridges became a totally different animal, spans were longer and the shapes became works of art.”  He smiled.

“How have you applied your bridge design experience to your robotic engineering projects?  I’m not quite seeing the connection between the two.”  Eugene was fishing for whatever information he could get about the ‘chassis’ that Shinji had helped build.

“Ahh, that’s where it gets interesting, when you put the same stress and pressure on titanium instead of getting stronger it gets elastic.”  Shinji’s eyes were bright with excitement, “The most durable metal on the planet suddenly becomes as a piece of shock cord with a thousand fold strength increase.  Instead of using nano-muscle fibers like you have in your prosthetic spinal column we have used elasticized titanium cables.

“The entire system is always under enormous tension and in order to move the components we use cams with sharp lobes.  The amount of pressure we can release is astronomical and since it is all potential energy it can be released in an instant.  That’s where we kept running into problems, the entire thing had to be made from materials built to withstand those forces and that meant we had to eliminate as much organic material as possible.”

Here Shinji paused and blew out a long breath, “Unfortunately Seraphim took it a step further and removed all of it except for the brain.  I’m just not sure how he will handle it; the man was supposedly mentally unstable before the accident and I shudder to think what waking up as a titanium monster will do to him.”

The door slammed open without warning and a pair of guards entered in front of an enraged Seraphim.

“What did you do to him Eugene?  What did you do?”  She demanded, “When we connected everything and turned it on nothing happened.  Nothing at all.  Why isn’t he waking up?”

“I tried to tell you this device is intended to maintain existing function, not introduce new ones.  He was in a natural coma and it’s difficult to know what an organic brain will do when connected to an inorganic one.”  Eugene said, trying to speak calmly. “Do you have the log files?  If not get them for me and I will see what is happening.”

“No, you are coming with me right now.  You have exactly one hour to bring him back to consciousness or else I will resort to drastic measures.”  A knife with a wicked edge seemed to appear in her hand, “Do we have an understanding?”

Eugene swallowed hard, “Yeah, I read you loud and clear.”  Shit the protocols he had tested must not be working as designed.

“Your laptop has already been brought to the operating theater.”  She turned to go and the two men with her gestured for him to go first.

“Good luck Eugene.”  Shinji said as he followed Seraphim’s trail of lilac perfume.

“Thanks Shinji, we’ll have another drink when I get the details ironed out.”  Eugene said, trying to sound more confident than he felt.

It only took a couple of minutes to get to another airlock that gave access to a brightly lit high tech operating room.  A figure was splayed out on a heavy duty table, and while it was the size and general shape of a human being it was constructed completely of black anodized titanium.  Eugene could see his prosthetic had been attached to the unit, the titanium vertebra welded directly to what amounted to a metal ribcage.  The unit was half sleeved in a layer of Kevlar that must contain the Neurosynth fluid required for its operation.

He powered his laptop on and plugged it into the diagnostic port.  The stream of data was massive; failures of multiple systems ran rampant throughout his code.  He downloaded the latest copy of the firmware and looked at it in astonishment.

“Who modified the OS of this device?  Someone input foreign code and it has completely hosed the system!”  He pulled up Windiff and compared the two pieces of software, “See here, here and here, someone has changed the base operating system.  The power up commands are jacked, the response protocol have been cranked to unsafe levels and the data routing system is riddled with bugs!  You can’t pin this shit on me; one of your techs must have decided to have some fun.”

“Do not change that.”  A man in a lab coat had come up from behind him and was looking over his shoulder.  “We had to make some changes due to this body not being a human one.  It reacts much faster than a flesh and blood body and without those modifications he would move as though stuck in a vat of molasses.”

“Hey, I don’t give a shit if he moves slowly or not.  Seraphim ordered me to wake him up or she will remove pieces of my anatomy that I would prefer remain intact.  You can fuck with the code all you want after that jackass.”  Eugene moved to upload his version of the OS and the other man pulled a gun on him.

“Stand down Phillip; if Eugene is wrong about this I will let you shoot him.  If he’s correct you can change things later.”  Seraphim was standing across the room with her arms folded.

“My AI is truly an artificial intelligence.  It learns and adapts.  You shouldn’t have any problems after it has been running for an hour or so.”  Eugene clicked a few keys and watched the status bar on the upload.  After a few tense minutes, he checked the install, found it to be stable and sent the power up command.

A high-pitched whine emanated from the metal body; gyroscopic stabilizers if Eugene’s guess was correct and the chassis began to move.  A series of harsh metallic clicks came from the machine’s joints and then the head moved.

“Angel?  Are you there Angel?”  The voice of the machine was a rich deep bass, amplified by the shape of the thing’s head.  “I can’t see anything.  Where am I?”

“Darling!”  Seraphim was beside the metal monster in an instant, “I’m here and you’re alive again!  I thought I’d lost you forever.  Be careful my love, you have been reborn into something more beautiful and terrible than you were before.”

“ANGEEELLLLL!” The machine screamed, thrashing on the table.  The restraints did not tear, but the table buckled and the bolts holding the cuffs to the table snapped with a sound like gunshots.  Seraphim jumped back from the table, fear in her eyes.

Machine Girl: A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing – Chapter 16

Victoria

Victoria woke up to her cellphone ringing at 1:30AM on Monday morning.  She fumbled for it without opening her eyes, finally getting it to her ear.  “What?”

“Miss Scott?”  The voice on the other end was female and somewhat familiar.

“Who the hell is this?”  She grumbled irritably, “It’s one thirty in the morning.”

“It’s actually one thirty five.  This is Lieutenant Caarlgard Miss Scott.  We have a problem.”

“What couldn’t wait until a reasonable hour?”  Victoria mumbled, trying to decide whether or not to hang up on the bitch.

“It’s about Dr. Arlington.”  The Lieutenant said, “He’s been kidnapped.”

“Yeah, by some nutjob who calls herself Seraphim.”  Victoria muttered, “Owns a boat called the Misery.  Bought a bunch of robotics lab equipment.  I’m trying to find her right now, anything else or can I get a couple more hours of sleep before I have to get up for school.”

There was a momentary pause on the other end of the line.  “Why didn’t you report this to us?”

“I don’t recall being in the US military.”  Victoria said, “What reason would I have to report the happenings of the world to you?  Don’t you have intelligence agencies for that purpose?

“I seem to remember as part of the agreement you made with us to secure the safety and citizenship of your friend Kai Yuen-Ja you agreed to furnish us with information that could be of importance to national security.”

“How the fuck was I supposed to know this would be a national security matter?”  It was too early in the morning for Victoria to be awake and she couldn’t stand the Lieutenant.

Evidently the feeling was mutual because Caarlgard lost it and started shouting into the phone, “Damn it you may have killed him you stupid little girl!  Angel McKenna, Seraphim’s real name, is the wife of a known terrorist.  Farlan McKenna is, or was a very powerful leader of a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army.  They were in negotiations with some other organization we have as of yet not been able to track down.

“Just over nine months ago he had a meeting with this shadow organization to purchase some sort of chemical weapon they called Dirge.  We don’t know exactly what it is but we do know something went wrong with the deal and it ended up in a high speed chase that ended in a crash that left him paralyzed and in a coma.

“Only a couple of months later Angel began buying and bribing when she could, stealing and abducting when she couldn’t until she had amassed a team of doctors, scientists and specialized laboratory equipment for some unknown purpose.  Only when we received word she had taken Dr. Arlington did we finally realize what she was doing.  She’s trying to bring him back, but as what we still do not know.  To save your friend and to bring this terrorist to justice we require whatever services you can bring to bear.”

Victoria was humbled by this tirade.  “I don’t know what use I’ll be but I will do what I can.  You have my word on that.”

“Just like that?”  The Lieutenant didn’t sound convinced.

“When I’m presented with a logical choice based on facts the decision is always easy.”  Victoria said, “What do you need from me?  I assume you have a task for me or else you wouldn’t be calling.”

“Eugene trusts you but I can’t say the same about any of us, for whatever reason he has a chip on his shoulder about the military.  We believe we know where the Misery is anchored right now and we think Eugene is still on board.  When our team gets there you need to be with them to convince Dr. Arlington to come with them.  We leave at 0300 hours.  Someone will be there to pick you up in thirty five minutes.”

“Wait a minute; you want me to infiltrate a boat owned by a terrorist with a Special Forces team?”  Victoria couldn’t believe her ears. “Are you NUTS?  I don’t have that kind of training!  I’d at least compromise the mission if not get us all killed!”

“Actually Miss Scott, your prosthetic has a built in set of military protocols.” She said, “You already have exactly the training you need.  I’m sure the mercenary strike force from Blackwater that you dispatched when you were in Vegas would attest to that.”

“You know about that?”  Victoria asked, not bothering to hide her surprise.

“Of course we do.” The Lieutenant said smoothly, “We know a lot about you Miss Scott, you are a very valuable investment.”

Victoria immediately thought of Dmitri.  Oh shit, he was going to be pissed if she did this without getting ahold of him first.  “Can you make it forty minutes?  I have some things to take care of.”

“All of your needs will be provided for.  Don’t worry about that.”

“What about my parents?”  Victoria asked, “What am I going to tell them?  I can’t exactly leave a note, ‘Hi guys, I’m participating in a Special Forces raid on a terrorist’s yacht!  I’ll try to be home by dinner!’ now can I Lieutenant?”

“You should tell them nothing.  You shouldn’t tell anyone anything about this at all, doing so will put the mission and all of our lives in jeopardy.”  Lieutenant Caarlgard said, “Someone will stop by later to tell your parents that you haven’t been taken against your will.”

“Lieutenant, wait, what’s your first name?  I feel silly calling you Lieutenant all the time.” Victoria said.

“It’s Kate.”

“Kate, I will be the worst daughter in the history of the universe if I don’t do something more than that.”  Victoria took a deep breath and sat up, “My mom worries when I am ten minutes late getting home from school, this will give her a heart attack.”

“You have to understand, telling her the truth will probably be much worse than anything she could think up and a secret is only safe with two people when one of them is dead.” Said Kate, “I can’t be more clear on this, you will endanger us all if you tell anyone, even your parents or your adopted sister.”

“Fine.  I’m going to get dressed here, I’ll see you in thirty one and a half minutes.”  Hanging up she immediately took Dmitri’s business card from her dresser and dialed the number.  He picked up on the first ring.

“Victoria.  What can I do for you?”  Dmitri’s voice was calm and collected on the other end, almost as though he had expected her to call at this exact moment.

“Hi Dmitri, sorry to call so early in the morning but I need your help.”  She said, not bothering with any pleasantries.

“Do not be ridiculous Victoria, I told you to call me if you needed anything and I do not give my card to just anyone.”  He said, and she could hear the click of a zippo lighter in the background. “I am at your disposal, what do you require?”

“Eugene has been taken by some terrorist organization, he is being held on a ship and the military has recruited me to help.  I don’t trust them, the last time I did they infected Adam with a virus that almost killed us.”  She took a deep breath, “Can you track me somehow so that in the event they fuck it all up I have someone who can bail me out?  I don’t know where the hell the boat is or I’d just tell you.”

“Victoria, you may absolutely count on my assistance and tracking you will be a simple matter.  Take the microchip pendant I gave you and twist it until you hear it click.  I have implanted it with an ultra-low frequency transmitter for exactly this sort of emergency situation.”  Dmitri said, “I will be ready to extract you at a moment’s notice.  To signal distress, simply twist, hit or otherwise subject it directly to shock twice in rapid succession.”

“Thank you Dmitri, I’ll feel better knowing you are there to help if shit goes south.” She said, “Sorry to cut this short, but I gotta go and get ready they’ll be here in twenty nine minutes.”

“Think nothing of it Victoria.”  He hung up and she got out of bed.  She chose her most comfortable pair of shoes, a pair of dark blue canvas pants that would give her room to move easily, a sports bra and Underarmor workout shirt.  After a quick shower she felt almost ready, although for what she really had no idea.

“Adam, if you can hear me listen up.  We are going to do something stupid and dangerous to help Eugene out and if we’re going to survive I will need your help in a serious way.  I know these military idiots think they have you pegged but they don’t know anything about who you really are.  If they try to inject you with any more software I’m getting the hell out but Kate seems to think you have it built in.  I hope you’re getting this and I hope you can still do whatever it is you do to help us survive when we shouldn’t be able to get out alive.”

There was no way to know if he heard her or not, but she decided he had.  Even if he hadn’t she was confident in his ability to respond instantaneously to a stressful situation.  He hadn’t hesitated to in the past and this was sure to be the craziest they’d been through to date.  Her vision flickered for a moment and bright orange text ran across her vision.

“I am here and ready.  We will get the Creator back.”

So Adam really was there.  He really could hear her.  He could understand what she wanted.  Victoria shivered, unsure if she was pleased to know he was there and aware of her or not.

She was thankful for Dmitri’s help too, regardless of what help he had to offer, he seemed to think he was fucking James Bond or something.  Well, as to that he did provide her with a strange tracking device so maybe he was a spy or something.

She picked up the pendant he had given her and twisted it between her fingers.  There was a sharp click and nothing else.  It only took a moment to activate her data tracking software and she could see a steady heartbeat signal just on the edge of vision.  She isolated the frequency, encapsulated it for transport and sent it to Yuen-Ja with a short message.

“Hey sis, I don’t want to wake you but you need to follow this signal on your GPS tracking program.  I’m heading out with a strike unit to rescue Eugene and I’m pretty sure shit’s going to go down hard.  Dmitri is going to be watching this signal too, and somehow thinks he is going to be ready to extract me if need be, he’s rich maybe he has a helicopter or something.  As soon as I know where the Misery is I will send you a text.  Let me know when you’re online and if you have any trouble with this signal.  Don’t tell anyone I’ve contacted you, even David is off limits.  Love you! –V”

Feeling as prepared as she could be now so Victoria grabbed her phone and stealthily made her way down to the front steps to wait for Kate to pick her up.  She didn’t have to wait long.