A Girl Walks Into a Bar Part 1

Hi all, I’m practicing writing short stories… I already failed since my goal was to tell a story in less than 1000 words, but hopefully I can keep it under 3000.  Knowing the way I write, it’ll probably end up being a novel. Hope you enjoy!

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Sergei wiped the bar top with a clean white rag, polishing the last bit of wax to a perfect shine.  He looked over the bar and smiled in satisfaction; everything was ready to go and he still had a half hour before it was time to open.  After all the things he’d been through and done, this pub was the only thing he was truly proud of.  The small silver bell over the door chimed and he frowned.  He didn’t think he’d forgotten to lock it.

“Serg.  Just checking in.”  A familiar voice preceded a familiar set of footsteps and Sergei grinned and pulled a pint of his own home brewed root beer for the early visitor.

“Officer Ordean, to what do I owe the pleasure?”  He asked placing a coaster on the counter and the root beer in the center.  Chelsea Ordean was a powerfully built woman who had earned her way in the force by equal parts skill, luck and brains.

“No time for drinks today Serg.  Just looking for some girl who supposedly got stabbed at the eighth street subway station.”  Her face was grim and despite her words, she slugged down half the root beer in one long gulp.  “You haven’t seen anyone in here have you?”

“Just me so far.”  He frowned, “I thought I’d locked the door though.  Maybe check the restrooms?”  The Rambler was his pub, but the layout wasn’t his design and the toilets were on either side of the entry door.

“The door was not locked.”  Chelsea said, unsnapping her pistol but not drawing it.  “Let’s go have a look.”

“If someone was stabbed wouldn’t there be blood?”  Sergei asked, following her up to the entry.  The bar itself was three wide steps below the entrance.  “Knife wounds bleed Chels.”

“She was apparently wearing a thick woolen jacket.  I’m just checking places that folks know they can get help.”  She said, giving him a sidelong glance.  They both knew he wouldn’t turn someone in need away; even though it was almost time to open.

They swiftly checked the bathrooms and found nothing.  “You need to check the rest of the place Chels?  I don’t think anyone came in while I was bringing up kegs but I thought I’d locked the door too.  You got the run of the place if you need it; you know where everything is.”

She nodded her thanks and moved through the pub, checking in the back office, the storage room and even the cold storage although that was the only place he’d have been able to miss someone coming in.  satisfied, she clapped him on the back and walked out.

Sergei dumped her root beer, cleaned the glass and straightened his apron before making his final pre-opening checks.  He hoped Chels would find the girl before she bled out.  Knife wounds were no laughing matter.

The usual ‘last call’ crowd were finally stumbling out to their taxi’s and fumbling for their subway passes.  Sergei smiled in satisfaction.  It had been a good night, his regulars had been joined by a decent crowd of businessmen attending some conference who apparently had gotten the green light to drink on the company tab.

He closed and firmly locked the door behind the last of his patrons and turned back to the bar.  There was just a bit of cleaning he needed to do before the he headed out himself.  The voice nearly startled him out of his skin.

“I heard some of them talking Sergei.  They all said that you used to do things before you came here.”  It was a girl’s voice.  Not a young woman, but a girl, likely only barely into her teens.  But he couldn’t see anyone.  “Is it true?”

“Show yourself please.”  He said calmly, walking back to the bar and taking down his bottle of Laphroig.  He always had a double shot of the smoky Islay single malt scotch after closing along with pipe of Molto Dolce tobacco.  “If I can assist you I will endeavor to do so.”

“I need you to kill someone Sergei.”  A tiny slip of a girl stepped out of the shadows.  Literally out of shadows, there was no room or place to hide.  She had the darkest skin he’d ever seen; a perfect rich dark chocolate and her hair was in twisted dreadlocks that stuck up from her head like ruffled feathers.  “I need you to kill him before he finds me and finishes the job he started.”

“I’m sorry girl, but I am not a killer for hire.”  He said, tamping the tobacco down in his pipe.  “I suggest allowing me to call my friend Chelsea Ordean.  She’s a very competent officer and can handle anything the wrong side of the law can throw at her.”

“I’m not a girl, I’m older than you are.”  She said with a glare, “As for your officer friend, I’ve taken her measure and she can’t handle this.”

Sergei barked out a laugh and snorted pipe smoke out his nose.  “You can’t be older than fourteen.”  He said, looking at her critically.  “If Chels can’t handle it I don’t want any part of it.”

“My age and appearance are irrelevant.”  She snapped, “She would follow procedure, and right now I’m going to bleed to death before procedure can be of any use to me.”

“You really have been stabbed?”  Sergei asked, setting his pipe and his glass down and moving to her side.  His years patching up wounds since he seemed to be the only one who had the knack tried to come to the surface, but he ruthlessly shoved them back down into the darkness.  That was the past.

“It’s nothing you can help with.”  She said, “He used hawthorn.”

“Is that a poison?”  He asked, pulling back her coat and finding another coat underneath it.  She had layer upon layer of clothing on.  “What is your name?  I can’t just keep calling you girl.”

“Stop that, you don’t need to look at the wound.”  She said, “You can call me Corva.”

“What good is killing this man going to be if you won’t let me stop the bleeding Corva?”  Sergei asked, “You said yourself that you don’t have time to wait.”

“If he is stopped I will be able to get proper help.  If he lives no place will be safe for me no matter what.”  She looked at him with eyes so dark gray they were almost black.  “I need your help and you’re the only one who can help me.”

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March Horoscopes

March Horoscopes.  Because why not.

Aries: Beating your head against that obsessive thing you do is leading you to dent the door.  Just open the fucking door, I know you’ve got a hard head but seriously, this opportunity has just been waiting for you.  The door hasn’t opened from your pounding yet and FFS remember that if you see hinges it opens toward you.  Protip: This one opens toward you.  Stubborn bastard.  And stop swearing at your kids, even though they think it’s funny.

Taurus: Nice poker face.  Now call them and say sorry.  Come on, you’re a lover not a fighter and life’s too short to stay mad.  You’ve got that outwardly cool thing going on but that internal turmoil is making you crave a cigarette and you quit years ago.  Trust me, it’ll be worth it.  If you don’t believe me ask your mom, she’s always been your touchstone anyway.  And she’d love to hear from you, even if it requires a seance.

Gemini: You’re laughing on the inside, but we love to see you laugh on the outside too.  It’s cool.  We won’t think you’re laughing at us.  Or at least the decent ones won’t.  You’ve been holding a lot of your shit in just because you’re worried about being judged for being too happy when things are bad or that if you’re down a little bit people will think you’re gonna snap.  You’re your own worst critic.  Nobody even noticed that one time you wore the same outfit two days in a row; they don’t have you under a microscope.  Relax.  Do you.

Cancer: Feeling extra outgoing this month, right?  That’s cool but remember not everyone wants a hug.  Ask first.  You won’t regret it, hugs are awesome and meeting new people is fun, especially when hugs are involved.  Oh, and don’t put that thing you’re planning on doing off like you always do because this time it’s important.

Leo: This month is your month off.  You’ve been trying to be compassionate and have come in like the Lion you are, but let that energy taper off.  Stay inside, read a good book and get some introvert time.  It’s been a long winter and you’ve been caring for everyone but yourself.  If you want proof just look at your book shelf and see the new books you haven’t had time to crack yet.  See?  Remember, only terrorists put the milk in the cup before the hot water when making tea.  Don’t make me come over there.

Virgo: It’s gotten to the point where nobody even knows if you’re being sarcastic or not.  Not even you.  I mean in some ways that’s a pretty funny inside joke that only the outsiders can get inside your outside, but that didn’t make sense and you gotta quit.  On a positive note, once you quit being such a dick there’s someone who will take notice of you and even though it won’t last more than a few months it’ll get you back in the swing of being personable again.  It’ll probably end well, as long as you’re open to outcomes and not attached to expectations.

Libra: Seriously.  Keep it up, even though you think you suck.  You’re right, currently you’re not doing nearly what you could be but damn it these things take practice.  Don’t just try and force it, get out there and experience it.  I mean hell, you’ve been struggling on your own for the last couple of months and that obviously hasn’t gotten you much more than frustrated.  Pick up the first thing you tried and abandoned when it didn’t go perfectly the first time and try it again.  Then get out there and connect with others trying the same thing.  Networking always inspires.

Scorpio: You might think people are distancing themselves from you because you’re too badass, but really they think you’re too shy and don’t want to scare you off.  You don’t really have resting bitch face like you think; it’s more like they can’t see your face because you keep your hood pulled too low and your face down all the time.  I’m not saying you have to smile and be the cheeriest fucker in the world.  Just be a tiny bit more accessible.  Yes, you should get that tattoo.

Sagittarius: I know you’re only trying to help but let’s be honest.  You’ve been giving shit advice lately.  Try listening instead of talking for a change, it’ll be as instructive for you as it will be for them.  I know that you’re already trying to interrupt me but since this is text you can’t.  Don’t be mad about it, quit being defensive and do a little introspection.  See?  Despite being crappy at giving advice, you’re good at listening and it will be appreciated.  I promise.

Capricorn: Almost everything is going well.  This doesn’t mean you can ignore the few things that aren’t going well.  At least one of them is going to attempt to bite you straight in the ass if you don’t pay attention to it.  If you know a Virgo, yes they were being sarcastic and no they didn’t get your even better and more twisted reply.  Don’t worry about it, you’ve got the less is more thing down and besides sarcasm is a personal pleasure, it’s no fun if you have to explain it.

Aquarius: You’re starting to thaw out, this is good… but beware the cold snaps.  It’s hard to break free of those things, we all know this.  Don’t be afraid that minor setbacks are ruining all the progress you’ve made so far.  Keep in mind that two steps forward and one step back is still forward motion.  Try doing something nice for someone.  Nothing warms the heart faster.  Also, quit posting while drunk.  Nothing good has ever come of that.

Pisces: Hey, you’ve discovered that organized religion isn’t for you!  Congratulations, we’ve been waiting for you to figure that one out.  This does NOT mean you need to fill a room with crystals though.  Just relax and let it happen.  The universe doesn’t need to come to you, it’s surrounding you all the time silly.  No nag champa.  NO.  Put that incense stick down.  Right.  Now.  Circle back to some old friends.  You might find they’re easier to get along with now.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 31

Gabriel shook his head, “Maybe if we’d listened to her and fought it together you wouldn’t have been hurt so badly.  I guess we’ll never know.  Important thing is before I could tell her anything about this person who was looking for those simple clay artifacts she mentioned.”

Tryst sat up with a gasp of pain and swung his feet over the side of the bed.  “What?  Who is this person?”

“Adbar.  The Count Adbar said he was gathering them for a reconstruction project.”  Gabriel said, “He claimed they were part of an ancient statue that it was his lifetime obsession to put back together.  Called it the idle interest of a wealthy old man, but I heard a rumor it was supposed to bring the dead back to life or something.

“We figured it was just a story, but maybe not?”  Gabriel sheathed his knife.  “I thought you would want to know; he found a piece of it here and it wasn’t the first one he had acquired.”

“Adbar.”  Tryst said, running his fingers through his hair.  “Things do have a way of coming full circle.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  Gabriel asked.

“Nothing that concerns you really.”  Tryst said with a sigh, “But as long as I’m confessing my sins as it were; we attempted to save his wife from the Abyssal infection.  We failed.  She tore out her own throat, summoned a demon and set the High Forest ablaze.  We managed to defeat that horrible golem, but the cost was great.”

“We saw the fire from here.”  Said Gabriel, his voice awed.  “You were there, fighting alongside a goddess?”

“Yes.  We fought alongside Jorda and between us we stopped the monster.”  Tryst said, his voice reverent. “It is a miracle we survived.  A real miracle from a real Goddess.”

A commotion outside brought a smile to Tryst’s face.  “-god rotting turnip eating slime!  I’m going to go see my brother and if you stand in my way I’ll cut off your hand and shove it so far up your ass you’ll never get it out in time for a priest to re-attach it!”

“They’ve returned.”  Tryst said, his smile growing wider.  “I’d better get out there before she does someone harm.”

The door slammed open and a figure splattered in road muck and dust stalked into the room.  Her hair was in a braid as thick as his wrist and hung all the way to the floor and tiny Brightstar flowers shone in it.  A sword hilt protruded from above her right shoulder and a thin brilliant silver chain ran from the pommel to a bracelet on her right wrist.  Incongruously, a mass of butterflies was flitting around her head, landing on her hair and her shoulders.  She didn’t seem to notice them.

“Tryst!  They didn’t want to let me in but they’re stupid.”  She yelled, seeing him sitting up she ran to him and flung her arms around his neck.  “You’re all right!  Tryst you jackass we were so worried.”

“Easy Callindra, I’m not really in a position for this level of manhandling.”  He croaked, “I just managed to regain consciousness, I’m practically an invalid!”

She let go immediately and stepped back, concern plain on her face. “Oh gods Tryst, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“I must look like hell if you’re giving me that kind of consideration.”  He said giving her a wry look.  “But really you’re in no shape to be in a medical ward.  Go and bathe sister, I’m not going to die any time soon.  Once we’ve all had the chance to get clean we can discuss our next steps over a hot meal.”

To his surprise, she looked at him with tears making muddy tracks down her cheeks.  “Yes, of course Tryst.  I just had to see you.  We were so worried… I was so worried.  I don’t know how we would continue without you.”

Before he could respond, she turned and all but ran from the room.

“You could have handled that a little better.”   Mili said, “But I’m sure she will forgive you.  After all, you just woke up from a week’s long coma.”

“Yeah.  I’m sure she’ll forgive me.”  Tryst sighed, “I’ll probably survive the bruises too.”

“She loves you very much?”  Asked Mili.

“We have been through much together.”  Tryst said, making an effort to get out of bed.  He paused, blushing slightly.  “Do you suppose I might be able to get my clothes?”

Mili laughed, “Of course Sir Tryst.”  She handed him his clothing and left him in peace to get dressed.

“I’m not a knight or a Lord.”  He said after her retreating back, “Just Tryst please.”  If she heard, she didn’t respond.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 10

“The wounds seem to be healing properly but I do not like the condition she is in.”  Tryst’s voice came to Callindra’s ears as though from down a hallway.  “This much healing without any food is taking a serious toll on her body; magic only accelerates the body’s natural processes, it doesn’t do anything the body can’t do already.”

“She will wake up, eat like a horse for a few days and be right as rain just like she has a dozen or more times.”  Cronos said, a curious edge to his voice.  “The Goddess wouldn’t give her something that healed her just to kill her slowly with it.”

“Malachi believes we’ll have smooth sailing for a few days at any rate.”  Vilhylm said, “That’ll give her some time to recover.”

Callindra cracked an eye and looked at her friends.  All of them sported bandages of one type or another, Cronos had one that wrapped around his head quite thoroughly and nearly obscured his face.  Vilhylm walked with a pronounced limp as he paced the floor and had strips of cloth wound around his chest, probably broken ribs.  Tryst’s left arm was purple with bruising from shoulder to wrist while his right forearm was tightly bound to his side.

“You three look like hell.”  She said, her voice coming out in a thick croak.  “Who do I have to stab to get some food around here?”

She was laying on her stomach due to the wounds on her back, her right hand was a mass of vines that sprouted tiny Brightstar flowers and her knee itched like there were a thousand mosquitos biting it just beneath the skin.  Her hair was loose and spilled over the side of the bed, the sunlight coming through the porthole bringing out the red notes in the otherwise unremarkable brown.  Someone had brushed it out recently.

Cronos approached with a steaming bowl of something that smelled like ambrosia as Vilhylm helped her sit up.  Her knee wouldn’t bend and her back was so stiff that it took her several minutes for it to relax enough that she could sit.  Awkwardly balancing the bowl on her lap with her leg stretched out she took the wide wooden spoon from the bowl of stew and began to devour it.

“Well, nothing is wrong with your appetite I see.”  Tryst said wryly, “Try to slow down so you don’t make yourself sick.”

“Thank the Winds I’m left handed.”  She said around a mouthful and as if in response a breeze promptly began teasing the ends of her hair, threatening to deposit them into her meal.  Before that could happen, she had finished the bowl drinking down the last of the broth and wiping it clean with a hunk thick black bread Cronos handed her.

“So this Malachi is the captain?”  She asked, accepting a mug of ale from Vilhylm.  It was a dark brew with an earthy flavor she associated with hazelnuts.

“Yes.  He is also the one who pulled you back onboard when you nearly fell over going after that sword of yours.”  Said Cronos, “What kind of fool’s errand was that?”

Callindra’s face colored slightly and she took another drink to hide it.  “He is my life.  I would be lost without him… my magic would devour me and likely take anyone standing around me with it.  If I didn’t have the control he offers I would be a danger to everyone.”  She reached out and touched Brightfang’s pommel stone with the tips of the fingers that extended from the mass of vines on her right hand.

“Aye, he is the captain.”  A gruff voice came from the door, “An he is wondering what exactly he picked up there in the forest.”

“I was going to wait to mention this captain Malachi, but you seem to have something onboard your ship that we have been tasked by the Goddess Jorda to acquire.”  Tryst said, giving the Dwarf a careful look.  “I am not certain which part it is, however I know there is certainly a portion of our quest here.”

Malachi gave them a level look, and then grunted.  “This cabin’s too small.  Come to mine.”

“I don’t think-“ Tryst began, but the Dwarf cut him off, glancing toward the walls significantly.

“I said come to my cabin.”  He said, pulling out a pipe with a wide, deep bowl and tamping it full of tac.  Without waiting, he turned and stumped out of the room reaching into his belt pouch for flint and steel.

“Can you help me to my feet?”  Callindra asked, “I need to get dressed in at least a shift if I’m going to walk out of here.  Just bandages is hardly proper attire for a meeting with the captain.”

Cronos chuckled, “Yeah, I’m sure most of the crew would appreciate watching you walk across the deck.”  He took one of his shirts out of his pack and helped her put it on.  “You don’t have any dresses, so this will have to do.

“Fits me like a tent.”  She grunted, awkwardly buckling Brightfang on around her waist since she couldn’t put the baldric on over her shoulder as normally did.  “Thanks Cronos.”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it.” He said with a smile, “Come on sister, let’s go and see what the captain wants.”

They walked the short distance to the admittedly larger cabin where Malachi waited for them at the slow shamble, the best they could do with their combined injuries.  When they reached the door, the scent of Karalan Imperialis wafted from the room.

“Get in here, I ain’t got all day.”  Malachi’s voice followed a large smoke ring that drifted out of the door.

Callindra was the first through the door, wishing she had taken the time to bring her own pipe.  “I’ve heard that few people smoke the Imperialis blend.”  She said, giving him an appraising look.

“Ah, a connoisseur.”  He said, “Well sit your skinny arse down and pack a bowl if ya will.”

The room was small but well appointed, a desk bolted to one wall and a bed folded up against the other.  A small bookshelf held a few tomes, each one strapped down with a leather thong to keep it in place.  A scattering of cushions lay on the floor for them to sit on.  The Dwarf was gesturing toward the desk as he spoke, and Callindra saw a pipe rack with a few long stemmed pipes resting next to a small wooden box of tac.

“I will take you up on that captain.”  She said, hobbling to the desk and picking up a pipe.  Brightfang kept banging into her knee as she walked making her wonder how anyone could wear a sword on their hip.  It was difficult to tamp the pipe full with only one hand, but after a few moments she had it burning and was settled comfortably on a cushion, her injured leg stretched out in front of her.

“Thank you for agreeing to speak with us Captain.”  Tryst said, “Our mission is of the utmost importance and I think you can help us achieve it.  I think you might even have been told to help us.”

Malachi leaned back on his cushions and sucked on his pipe, giving them a level, suspicious look through half closed eyes.  “Maybe.”

“I think perhaps you know more than you’re letting on.”  Vilhylm said, leaning on the wall just inside the door.  “But it seems you’re helping us anyway.  Jorda asked you to save us from the fire and you did so.”

“Aye, a perceptive one.”  He muttered, smoke coming out of his mouth with the words.  “I was indeed asked by a certain individual to give aid to a certain group.  She never said you were dangerous imbeciles who would all but destroy the Grungie did she?”

“Is your ship more important than the will of the gods?”  Tryst demanded, steel entering his voice.

Callindra chuckled and the men all glanced at her with frowns on their faces.  “Sorry, it’s just that all this dancing around the truth seems so trite when you consider what we are attempting to do.”  She blew a series of tiny smoke rings.  “Don’t you understand?  I guess I shouldn’t judge because I certainly didn’t.  Not until a month or so ago.

“The Gods are real!  Demons and devils and all that are real too… it’s not just the good things that we’ve been told about, but the bad too.  Something used to keep them at bay but now they’re fighting free of whatever that was.  I think that something was Onde.”  She looked at them, fear in her eyes.  “He’s gone.  Nobody knows where he is and the only way we can find him is by doing as Jorda asked.”

Alexander Brigit Macedon: Intro

Author’s note: This is just an introductory piece for a collaborative writing project I’m participating in… there may be more to follow if things pan out.  Hope you enjoy.

The door opened, to Lex’s and he knew it was a regular since they didn’t open it far enough to allow the steel edge to come in contact with the five-foot length of pipe he had near the wall.  The clang was enough to make everyone think twice about mistreating his door.

He liked his door.  He’d found it in a surplus depot and paid nearly two thousand dollars for it.  The inlaid oak, ash and walnut made interesting contrast and the carving of a huge tree that grew up it matched the custom brass hinges he’d had made to look like tree leaves, branches and roots.  Most people didn’t notice his favorite part though.  Just above the polished brass kick plate, the roots of the tree grew not into soil but into a field of bones.  Subtle, but macabre.  Just his style.

Recognizing the man’s silhouette even as he began to walk down the three stairs that would bring him into the bar, Alexander took down a bottle of Belvedere vodka and mixed a gimlet.  He was just garnishing the drink with a twist of lime when Investigator Jon Lee slid into his usual seat at the bar.

“How do you know it’s me?  I’m not even wearing my normal uniform today.”  Jon was one of NYC’s finest.  He also only came to Lex’s when he was off duty and had a rough day.  His usual ankle length cashmere coat was indeed missing; an oddity considering the sleet rattling against the half windows that faced the street.

“I got an eye for people.”  Alex said with a shrug.  “Where’s your coat, this weather is shite.”

Jon grimaced.  “Dry cleaner’s.”  He took a drink and pinched the bridge of his nose.

Alex grunted, but didn’t say anything else.  When Jon’s drink was empty another one appeared in front of him like magic.  He closed his hands around it and glanced around the mostly empty bar.  The usual two old men in the corner were playing chess, each with a pint of Alexander’s bitter ale close at hand.  A bored looking woman sat next to a young man who was ignoring her in favor of his phone.  Nobody was within earshot.

“It was bad.  That fire on 87th?  Well, I’ve heard of spontaneous human combustion but I thought it was a myth or something.”  He shuddered and placed the cold glass against his forehead.  “Nothing else it could have been though.  Burned all the way through her middle right where she was laying in bed.  Didn’t so much as set the sheets on fire.”

“Huh.  Well.  At least the building didn’t burn.”  Alex looked over and saw the girl catch his eye.  “Excuse me Jon.”

He glided down the bar, moving smoothly and silently especially for a man his size.  Looming up behind the man he rumbled, “What can I get you Miss?”  Carefully keeping his expression blank, Alexander chuckled inwardly as the young man started and almost dropped his phone.

“Can I have an appletini?”  She asked.

“No miss, I don’t carry that apple garbage.  I’d gladly make you a regular martini or perhaps a Cosmopolitan?”  Alex said, crossing his thick arms over his chest.  With the black tshirt and white apron, it made him look much less threatening than his words might have initially suggested.  Like a favorite uncle.

“What’s in a Cosmopolitan?”  She asked.

“Vodka, triple sec and cranberry juice.”  Her date said with an annoyed look first at Alex and then at her.

“My Cosmopolitan has Vodka, Cointreau, freshly squeezed lime juice and real cranberry juice.”  Alex said smoothly, “Combined and shaken before being poured into a martini glass and garnished with a twisted rind of lime and lemon.”

“That sounds pretty good actually.”  She said, smiling.

“And for you sir?” Alex asked, looking at the man.

“Bud light.”  He said.

Alex sighed, shook his head and pointed a finger the size of a bratwurst at the chalk board behind the bar.  It listed the available beers with the alcohol content, serving size and price.  At the bottom was written ‘Bud Light.  3.2% ABV 12 oz can. $50.00’

“Fifty Dollars?”  The guy exploded, but Alex pointed to the sign hanging below it which read.

‘This is a brewpub.  I make these beers.  If you want that piss water you’d better be willing to pay me for the insult.’

“I have a very nice British Blonde Ale.” Alex said patiently in a voice that suggested he’d said the same thing hundreds of times.  He pointed to the top beer on the list named ‘Blondes Have More Fun’. “It’s as close as you’re gonna get here.”

“Yeah.  Sure.”  He said shortly.

With an inward chuckle, Alexander went back to the bar and pulled a pint of Blonde and then mixed the perfect Cosmo.  After serving the drinks, he brought a fresh pair of pints to the chess players and returned to where Jon was finishing his second gimlet.  He placed a glass of water in front of the cop and smiled inwardly again at the surprised look his face.

“How’d you know I didn’t want another?”  Jon asked, “You always seem to know exactly what to do or say.”

“Bartender’s instinct.  We know you better than your lover does.  You tell us stuff you wouldn’t dream of telling anyone else.  We get ta know ya.”  He let the smile travel from his mind to his lips, “These are on the house.  You’ve had a rough one lad, take all the time ya need.”

“Thanks Alexander.  You’re a good man.”

“Ain’t nothing.”  He said, turning to take a bottle of scotch from the top shelf.  Just as he was finishing pouring a double shot of Laphroig over ice.  He had a feeling an old friend was about to walk through the door, and all Duff Bowman ever ordered was Laphroig on the rocks.

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t be ridiculous!” David said.

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

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

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

“Wait!”  David shouted.

“Victoria, come back!”  Said Eugene.

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

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

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

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

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 20

Victoria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 17

Victoria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 10

“I built in a second set of cables that are under a thousand pounds of tension.”  He said, obviously torn between telling her and wanting to show off his invention.  “Cocked like a crossbow, they can be released when you need to move in a hurry but make sure you’re braced properly since you could easily jump over your house with that much potential energy.

“When you’re airborne the calf section of the prosthetics can extend to absorb the shock of landing, I’m not certain how well they will work but the idea is the force of impact should come close to re-loading the cable tension.  I built in a cam that has the potential to work but I’m not sure you’re heavy enough to make full use of it, so there’s also a very small motor that can re-tension the cable, although it does take a minute or so.

“I think Adam can probably make more use of the polymer than I have, my imagination is a little limited and finding the proper electrical impulses to make it form different shapes is very difficult.  Even simple things like a stick can be problematic, especially if you need them to change shape rapidly.”

“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”  Said Victoria with a smile, “We’ll practice to make sure we get it right before trying something on the fly.”

David grinned back, “I can’t believe Dr. Arlington has allowed me to help with this stuff.  I even get to use the advanced stuff in his prosthetics lab, it’s like a dream come true V!”

“I’m glad I gave you his number then.”  Victoria said, appreciating the ease with which she was able to stand perfectly still with her new, more advanced legs.

“Seriously though.  Don’t try and activate the emergency lifters yet.  Let me do some more simulations and whatnot first, I mean I trust Adam not to mess with you but I’m more worried that my calculations might be off than I am that he would do something bad.”

“Well.  I’m not.”  Victoria said with a shudder.  “I know he’ll do what’s logical, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for me.”

“He will.”  David said, looking her in the eyes.  “It will be the best way for you to survive.  I know he would only hurt you if it was absolutely necessary for your survival, and I…”  He took a deep breath, “I’m glad he did.  Because you and Dr. Arlington would be dead if he hadn’t done what he did.”

Victoria sighed, knowing he was right but still feeling betrayed.  “I know, and I’ll forgive him eventually.  I just can’t right now.”

“That’s not fair!”  David protested, giving her an indignant look.

“Yeah.  I know.”  She shrugged, “It’s not logical either, but then again emotions rarely are.  Look, I almost got killed out there.  What he did cost me my legs, and as much as I appreciate what you and Eugene have done for me…”

“We couldn’t have done it this fast without Adam’s help you know.”  David said quietly.

“Have you looked at me lately David?”  She demanded, “I mean REALLY looked at me?  I’m a fucking freak!  What kind of life am I going to have?”

“I think the only kind of freak you are is freaking gorgeous!”  He said fiercely, “And I think you’ll have as awesome of a life as you care to.  Yeah, maybe he fucked up, but I doubt it… and actually if he DID make a mistake it’d make me feel a little better somehow.  Like … I don’t know, like he was more human or something.”

Victoria opened her mouth to issue an angry retort, but stopped short.  He was right, and it was illogical to waste time and energy like she was.  She knew damn well precisely why Adam had done what he did.  What frightened her so badly was that she knew she wouldn’t be able to be to tell when she was putting herself in the same situation later, and she wouldn’t be able to stop him from responding in the same way he had.

“I’m scared David.”  She said softly, “I’m afraid because I’m not in control.”

“You don’t need to be afraid Victoria.”  David said with a smile, “What are the odds of you being in a situation like that again?  I mean really.”  The smile on his face died when he looked at her stricken expression.

“David, you just don’t get it do you?  One of the girls from that strike force is a teacher here now.  There are those crazies that are screaming about us being evil…”  She ran her fingers through her hair, brushing it back behind her ears.  “I don’t think I’m going to have a quiet, calm life.”

“Wait, what?  Who?”  David stopped and shook his head, “It’s got to be Ms. Daceiron, she’s the only new teacher or student teacher this term.  But no way, she’s only like twenty or so max.  She isn’t old enough to be leading some elite military team.”

“Yeah.  I know.”  Victoria said, biting her lip, “Something’s not quite right about that.  I didn’t realize it at first because it was hard to see anything underneath all that battle armor, but in retrospect I think I should have noticed it.  I think she’s a lot older than she looks.”

David gave her a strange look, “What makes you say that?”

“Well… Adam just told me that she was born in 1969, and that puts her into her mid 40’s.”  Victoria said.  A slight twinge in her leg made her wince.  “I’m sorry David, I really think I need to get off my feet.  Thanks again for these, and for listening.”  She gave him another quick hug and he trotted happily down the stairs to his waiting VW.

Eugene

It was early evening and Eugene had just dropped Ms. Kirsten Murray off at her hotel after their third date.  Dinner had been delicious although he found his companion to be lacking.  He was just so used to Victoria’s quick wit and comprehension of advanced scientific concepts that normal people seemed slow and boring.

He was cruising towards home, enjoying the comfort and power of the new Maserati GranTurismo he had bought to replace his drowned Vanquish when his phone rang.  Without checking to see who it was, he answered it using the Bluetooth integrated into the car.  “This is Eugene.”

“Ah, Dmitri here, glad I could get ahold of you Dr. Arlington.  Listen, I have some unsettling tidings.  The Humanity Preservation Alliance, as they are calling themselves, has staked out your house, I would recommend not going there at this time.”

“What?  Who the hell are you talking about?” Eugene swerved around a semi-truck with a load of concrete barriers, downshifting smoothly to speed past.

“That load of lunatics who are protesting your work.  They have a protest permit and have set up shop in the park across the street from your house.  There are about two hundred of them out there, carrying signs and handing out pamphlets.” Said Dmitri.

Eugene shook his head.  “Damn, I need some things from inside my place.  Mostly just my laptop I guess, but there are a few other things I’d like to have too if I’m going to be away for a few days.”

“If you would like, I could put you up in my apartment building.  Ivanov would be happy to retrieve your personal effects from your house regardless of where you decide to stay.”  Dmitri said, “There is no reason to risk a confrontation with those idiots.  You are too valuable to put in harm’s way.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Greetings Dr. Arlington.”

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

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

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

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

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