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.”

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

Richard Scott signed the final piece of paperwork and passed it to his wife for her signature.  He watched as she signed the paper and felt a smile cross his face.  They had a new daughter.

“Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Scott, you have adopted a daughter.”  Said the man behind the desk with a smile.

“Oh mom, daddy, thank you!”  Victoria said with a huge smile, embracing her parents and trying to pull Yuen-Ja into the hug.

“I promise not disappoint you mother, father.”  Yuen-Ja said stepping back out of Victoria’s reach and looking between the two with a serious, determined expression on her small face.  She bowed slightly, but Jane Scott was having none of it.

“You get over here!”  She said, her arm reaching out and beckoning toward Yuen-Ja, “I love my daughters no matter what, you can’t do anything to disappoint me other than not come over here and give me a hug!”

The look of bewildered happiness on the little girl’s face as her new family welcomed her into the circle of their arms nearly broke the social worker’s heart.  He wasn’t sure what had happened to the young Korean girl, in the past.  He didn’t know why her adoption had been fast tracked either, but he always loved it when an adoption went this well.

The new code was easily integrated into his systems now.  Adam had reconstructed the spy program from the remnants of the DOD code and from what he could remember from how it had functioned.  In spite of having that nasty disruption protocol in it, the program itself had been a stroke of genius.

Even just the dregs had been enough for him to tap into security feeds in the hotel, something that had been absolutely essential for their survival. Using what he now knew about the world, his Host and the program itself, Adam built a masterpiece that would allow his Host… would allow Victoria he kept reminding himself… to control electronic devices as easily as he could.

He knew she had enjoyed being able to do it before.  Her ability to easily and quickly understand the form and function almost intuitively was most gratifying.  Victoria would appreciate this present, he was sure of it.

After that, he went back to his project of optimizing the data storage and retrieval algorithm he had been trying to perfect. Adam was in trouble here and he knew it.  The data storage system he had been working on was woefully inadequate to serve the erratic and intensive retrieval needs that seemed to be required by Victoria Scott.  Sometimes she attempted to recall entire text files, and other times images or short video but there were always a host of names, events, associations attached to this data along with a multitude of seemingly extraneous sensory input.

What difference did it make what color the shirt The Creator had been wearing was or what odor he had been emitting?  Yet she requested this data at odd times and once it was retrieved seemed to wander aimlessly through her own databanks touching other things related to The Creator, white shirts, shirts with similar styling, cologne, perfume, aftershave.  It was so confusing; if the data was there then why not just have it all accessible at once?

Of course the obvious answer was that it would put an unnecessary strain on the processing power of the system.  Unfortunately the schema for storing data he had devised initially was obviously not going to provide proper functionality.  He began breaking down the massive amount of data she had stored into a schema web, instead of the more linear design he had been using before.

Once he had created the initial routing algorithm Adam created a mining program that would sort and link data once he had turned it on.  He would wait until the system was dormant before running an update this large.  With proper use of resources the process should be complete after ten nightly cycles.  Of course the retrieval algorithms would need fine tuning along the way but that was part of the fun of designing a new system.

Before the existing information was re-categorized, Adam began routing newest incoming data into the new schema.  It was a bit of a test run, something to see how it would handle the flow.  He watched in satisfaction as entire portions of text documents, images, scents, sounds and tactile feelings streamed into their proper places.  As they were sorted, they also linked with other bits of incoming data on the fly to create an interrelated web of knowledge instead of a simple system where items were classified and then stored in linear stacks with similar information.

The new system eclipsed the old in regards to speed and accuracy of storage and retrieval, although it used a little more processing power than he would have liked.  No matter, processing power was something this system was not short on.  Even if it had caused some system lag, the accuracy it ensured was more than worth the sacrifice.

“Are you certain this is a wise course of action young Master?”  Ivanov asked, holding the flame of a gold Zippo lighter to Dmitri’s cigarette.

“No.  However, I wish to know more about this thing that has caused my father and my Family such trouble.”  Dmitri said, allowing smoke to drift from his nostrils.

“With all due respect, it is not a thing sir.”  Said Ivanov with a slight lift of his eyebrow, “It’s a girl, and a rather attractive and intelligent one at that.”

“Oh you know what I mean.”  Dmitri said with an airy wave of his hand.  “I suppose she’s interesting as well, however it is the technology she carries that truly fascinates me.”

“You had better keep in mind that she will not appreciate your… lack of interest in her.  In spite of everything, she is still a young girl.”  Ivanov said, the slightest hint of a smile touching the corner of his mouth.

“I am not an IDIOT!”  Dmitri snarled, “You are treading on dangerous ground Ivanov, one would hate to have to show you what your INSIDES look like.”

“I merely offer these reminders as a way of helping you to accomplish your goals young Master.”  Said Ivanov evenly, “You know I would never contradict you directly unless it were an absolute necessity to save your life.”

In spite of it being ten in the morning, Dmitri gestured and Ivanov poured him a generous measure of vodka into a glass and slid it to him.  The young man drained it in a single swallow, sighing and shaking his head.

“One day you will stray too far.  One day I won’t hold my hand back.”  He looked at the older man with a shrew look in his eye, “Perhaps one day I will cease trying to hold back.”

Ivanov’s eyes widened ever so slightly in surprise, “I live to serve young Master.”  Was all he said.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right.  I still need you, and you are excellent at making yourself indispensable.”  Dmitri stubbed his cigarette out in a heavy gold ashtray.  “Now continue being your indispensable self and go get me the information on Victoria that I wanted.”

The big man reached into his suit jacket and brought out a slim folder, sliding it across the table with a flourish.  “I do not think you need this much data on a young woman simply to ask her on a date.”

“In my experience, there is no such a thing as luck.”  Said Dmitri, lighting a cigarette. “Instead of believing in spirits or chance, I choose to make my own luck by being prepared.”

Machine Girl: Welcome to the Machine Chapter 15

Victoria

Victoria couldn’t sleep.  Her body was exhausted but her mind wouldn’t stop churning the day’s events over and over.  The men who had died in the car accident in the morning.  The likelihood that others had died on the freeway when she incapacitated their vehicles during the chase.  The fact that those men had tried to at least kidnap if not kill her.  Then, to top it all off the police had invaded her house only to be turned away by a General of all people who apparently had financed some of Eugene’s research.

There had to be some connection, she wondered who the General really was and what department he actually worked for.  She was especially curious because his presence had frightened Eugene so much.  The more she thought about it, she was sure she’d seen him on a TV news show once.

She sat up suddenly, the memory flooding back.  He had been featured in the Discovery Channel program “Modern Warfare” he was on the commission that had funded the design the Predator Drone and some high-tech bomb disarming robot.  This type of technology would align very well with his department indeed.  Victoria shuddered, just thinking about it made her nervous.

At the same time, she was an American citizen and eighteen, so it wasn’t as though they could just sneak into her house in the middle of the night and take her off to some government facility somewhere.  She laughed nervously to herself, catching a glimpse of something outside her window.

“It’s just my imagination.  You always see things when you start to look for them.”  She was talking out loud to herself like she always did when she was nervous.  Victoria looked outside and was certain that she’d caught a glimpse of something move but just couldn’t see through the darkness no matter how she strained.

After a few minutes she took a deep sigh, “Nothing out there but the neighbor’s dog crapping in our yard again.  That’s a relief.”  She stretched, finally feeling the exhaustion of the day.  “Time for bed I guess.”  A feeling of calm washed over her and she snuggled under the blankets, falling asleep almost immediately.

A.D.A.M.

ADAM was waiting for the Host system to go into the dormant state he had learned was normal for this time in the Western time zone of North America but found that despite his best efforts to calm the systems it persisted in staying active.  Not only that, but it was continuing to process extraneous data at an astronomical rate.  He decided to bide his time until the Host settled down and then continue his cataloging of the vast amounts of information in the Host’s databanks.

Something out of the ordinary flagged in ADAM’s systems; suspicious activity in the outer perimeter of the Host’s home territory that fit the MO of a military trained organization.   He tried to use the Host’s input devices to sense what was happening but was unable to gather pertinent data.

He knew something going on out there but there didn’t seem to be anything suspicious.  In spite of this, he continued checking and re-checking the perimeter looking for evidence of any kind of breach.  ADAM ran a scan of his circuits trying to locate the source of his illogical behavior; after all, if there wasn’t any data indicating danger he shouldn’t be constantly investigating it.  Interestingly enough, his search uncovered a subroutine that appeared to have been added by the Host system itself.

Further investigation found it to be some sort of system by which the Host was able to predict future events based on accumulated data.  Although the conclusions drawn rarely fit a logical pattern it was interesting to not how often this prediction system turned out to be correct; it was far above the standard margin of error.

Deciding there was way too much he still didn’t know about this system he cohabited with, ADAM settled in to do some serious research.  On the surface the odd and often self-destructive tendencies exhibited seemed to serve no purpose at all.  Some of them stemmed from ancient protocols that no longer applied to the current OS but were still connected through a system of reverse-engineered coding.

Careful not to disturb any of the delicate matrices without knowing their exact function, ADAM dug even deeper.  The capabilities he discovered frightened him.  Without the careful limitations the system had built in from the ground up, the unit literally had the power to tear itself apart.  Perhaps the most amazing thing was that the system was cognitively aware that it had this ability.

Dredging through the unit’s memory storage ADAM uncovered several instances in which it had either knowingly or accidentally done just that.  Twice to the point of immobilizing itself, the concept amazed him.  It was so illogical that he checked it a few hundred times just to be sure.

Despite his best efforts he couldn’t dispute the fact that the illogical behavior had been able to predict future outcomes with an above average success rate.  How strange.  ADAM flagged the behavior for advanced monitoring and continued studying the systems in an effort to improve their performance.

Eugene

After only about an hour and a half of waiting nervously in Dmitri’s study with nobody but an aging Jack Russell terrier who would occasionally look up from where he lay on the rug in front of a heat vent to give him a hopeful look before sighing mournfully and lapsing back into slumber, the door opened and a grinning Dmitri swept into the room.

“What a pleasant evening.  They never expected us to be there; I am sure it will make them think twice about messing around in my territory again.  Well it will make their friends think twice anyway since they will not be thinking about anything ever again.”  He glanced back through the doorway and a pair of his men dragged a partially conscious man into the room.

“Now then, I have a few things I need to speak to this gentleman about.”  Dmitri was still smiling but this close Eugene could see the smile never touched his eyes.

“Fuck off Russian scum.”  The man was bleeding from a nasty looking cut above his right eye, there was a bruise forming around it that darkened his forehead.  Eugene felt a twinge of sympathy in his own swollen face.  Then the captive turned his head to look at him, “YOU!  What the hell did that crazy bitch of yours do to my brother?  It was supposed to be a simple kidnapping and ransom operation this morning and instead she turned it into a goddamn bloodbath.”

“It turns out this operation of his was not sanctioned; he was trying to get revenge for his brother dying earlier today.  Something about him slamming into a garbage truck I understand.”  Dmitri had a satisfied look on his face.  “That is the inevitable result of interfering with my will.”  Without warning he pulled his gun from his shoulder holster and pistol whipped the man across the face.

“We rule here, and we do so with absolute divine power.”  His voice was flat, not just calm but devoid even of anger or satisfaction.  The man fell to the floor and Dmitri put his perfectly polished shoe on his throat.  “We will crush any resistance underfoot with no more remorse than you would have crushing a cockroach.”  The man on the floor flailed, trying to push Dmitri off.

“Boss, we need him for questioning don’t we?”  Ivanov glanced at him in a way that almost seemed nervous.

Dmitri turned a baleful eye toward Ivanov, “What did you just say?”  His voice was unsettling.  It still sounded calm but there was an undercurrent of inhuman rage just below the surface.  “Did you just tell me what to do Ivanov?”

Ivanov held up his hands, “Kill him if you want Sir, but maybe after we get some answers out of him about their other activities right?”

Taking a few deep breaths, Dmitri’s grip on his pistol tightened until the knuckles whitened.  “Don’t do this to me, I need you Ivanov.”  His other hand shook as he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his jacket.  Putting one in his mouth, he patted his pockets for a lighter.

“I know you do sir.”  Ivanov stepped into the pistol Dmitri had aimed between his eyes and lit the cigarette for him with practiced ease.  “I apologize for my insubordination; do as you will.”

Taking a deep drag, Dmitri exhaled with satisfaction.  Leaving the cigarette dangling between his lips, he curled his left hand into a fist and struck Ivanov in the face spraying blood from the impact and nearly taking the larger man off his feet.

“Fine, take him to the interrogation chamber.”  He took his foot off the man’s throat and listened to the rasp of his tortured breath.

Eugene was speechless; he wanted to stop what was happening but knew there wasn’t anything he could do.  Dmitri was at least as unhinged as he had heard; if he’d nearly killed his own man for suggesting they keep him alive for torture; what would happen to Eugene if he opened his mouth?

“Doctor, you look a little pale are you feeling unwell?”  Dmitri walked around and sat heavily behind his desk.  “I am so glad you came over tonight Mr. Arlington, without your visit we never would have been able to teach those interlopers the lesson we did.”  He tossed his gun carelessly on the desk and leaned back to put his feet up.

“What did you end up doing?  Is Victoria OK?”  Eugene swallowed hard, trying to keep his cool.

“We disposed of some trash, exterminated some insects and brought one in for questioning.  They were planning some sort of midnight capture.”  Dmitri waved it away as though the past wasn’t worth talking about.  He leaned in, appearing to notice Eugene’s battered condition for the first time.  “What happened to you?  Girlfriend get pissed off at you or something?”

“Yeah, something like that.  So you aren’t going to have Victoria followed are you?  They should leave her alone so there’s no need right?”  He winced as he said the words, hoping they wouldn’t be interpreted as a command.

“We already have someone assigned to her but do not worry; he is very good.  Besides the only times she needs a babysitter is at night or when she is between home and school.”  He frowned slightly, “Did you think she needed more surveillance than that?  You’re obviously worried about her safety or you wouldn’t have come here.”

“Well you’re right about that, I am certainly concerned with her safety-”

“Good, then we have that in common.  I want to protect my father’s investment, especially now that it’s MY investment.  Why did you come here anyway?”  Dmitri paused to light a cigarette from the butt of the one he’d just finished.

“Initially I wanted to tell you to call off your dogs.  Turns out it wasn’t your boys, it must have been… your prisoner’s brother?  Could I have one of those?”  Eugene reached out his hand and Dmitri gave him the cigarette he’d been smoking after lighting another from the cherry.

“I realize you have had a difficult day Eugene.  I apologize for that but there was no helping it.”  He gestured and Ivanov brought glasses of vodka, “My day has not been all that amazing either.  Let us get drunk together and forget our woes.”

Knowing it would be dangerous to say no, Eugene accepted a glass of warm vodka and another cigarette.  It was going to be a long night.

The Callindra Chronicles Chapter 30

Closing her eyes, Callindra wove Brightfang in an intricate pattern, keeping her breath measured and even.  She called the arcane power that drove the very world to spin into herself and harnessed it.  Her eyes flashed open and she rushed the creatures, moving faster that she ever had before.  She was the wind and she danced between her enemies, her sword cutting huge rents into their bodies.

Pausing at the far side of the room, Callindra realized that the corpses hadn’t fallen and that they now stood between her and the door.  Cursing in fear and frustration she gathered herself, looking for a way out.  A had grabbed her ankle in a vice like grip.  She had forgotten the nurse.

The door burst open, Cronos and Vilhylm coming through nearly at a run.  Vilhylm leapt through the air, smashing both hands down with brutal force and bludgeoning one of the monsters to the floor.  Cronos was incanting arcane words and summoning bolts of power that flew from his fingertips to strike another.

Two still remained, both focused on Callindra.  One had her leg and continued to hold it, clawing at her unprotected calf with its other had but she kicked the hand away, managing to stumble out of the way of the other’s clumsy attack.

“Hurry, they’re getting stronger!”  She warned, hacking awkwardly at what had been the nurse.

Behind her friends, shouts of alarm could be heard.  Soldiers came through the, weapons drawn and eyes angry.  When they took in the scene, their horror was strong enough to send two of them running back out the door screaming in panic.

“Help her you thrice cursed cowards!”  Cronos shouted at their retreating backs.  The others seemed too shocked to do  more than hide behind their shields.

Vilhylm took one of the heavy beds and hurled it at the only creature still standing.  The frame cracked from the impact and the monster was crushed beneath it.  Callindra shrieked in pain as the one remaining enemy raked her leg with sharp claws.  With a sharp double swing of Brightfang she severed both its arms (Dragonfly Lands on the Pond).

“This is what you were hiding?”  She demanded, “You had infected here the whole time?”
“I didn’t know.”  One of the soldiers said faintly, “They never told us…”

“Well you certainly could have guessed!”  Cronos shouted, “Or perhaps you could have god rotting CHECKED!”

“They said it was contagious, that only those with special protections against the illness could hope to enter.”  The soldier said, “How were we to know?”

“My brother was exposed to this.”  Cronos said, his voice dark with anger, “If it truly is contagious and he’s infected it will be a very bad day for you.”

Vilhylm had removed his mask and returned to a more normal size and demeanor, but his anger was also apparent.  “This was a grave mistake.  I will speak to the Mayor about it.”

The measured tramp of feet came from outside.  The last creature that Callindra had hacked into pieces was still writhing on the floor but she left it there.  Let them see what evil Mayor Iason had been hiding.  The soldiers stopped outside the door.

“I’m afraid I must ask you to leave.”  Captain Luca said, his voice flat and emotionless.  “We shall give you provisions and horses for your assistance, but you must leave now.”

“You’re all mad if you stay here.”  Callindra said, looking at the ranks of soldiers behind him, “You’ll all die.  There’s something here that’s spreading THAT!”  She pointed at the figure that still moved on the floor in spite of not having a head or hands.

“This never happened to people before you came!”  One of the soldiers in the back shouted, “Get gone and be thankful we’re giving you anything!”

“We aren’t thieves.”  Luca said, “We have brought your belongings to the front gate, along with provisions and horses.  Your priest tried his level best and we appreciate that, however he only made things worse.  His presence seems to aggravate the condition.”

“You may not be thieves.”  Tryst’s tired voice said from behind the ranks of armed men, “But you are fools if you think you can hide from this behind walls.  I do not know what this sickness is, but if it ravages the world there is no wall that can possibly keep it out.”

Callindra looked in Luca’s eyes as she moved to join Tryst, and she could see the despair in them.  He knew they were right and that he had no way of keeping his people safe and he knew it, but he didn’t know what else to do.

“Good luck.”  Callindra said quietly to him as she passed, “You are going to need it.”

They had been making much better time now that they were mounted again, after three days the forest began to thin and give way to rolling hills.  Vilhylm began to get more and more tense the further they traveled.  He began to ride ahead when they approached taller hills in order to get the lay of the land before allowing the others to continue.  After a day of this, Cronos finally lost his patience.

“What in the hells are you doing?”  He demanded when Vil had returned from one of his forays, “It’s going to take us forever to get to the High Forest at this rate.”

“The lack of any human presence is disturbing me.”  Vilhylm said, “We should have at least come across a patrol by this point, but we haven’t seen anyone.”

“What city are we approaching?”  Callindra asked, wondering why there would be patrols this far out in the wilderness.

“We are only about a day or two from Dagger’s Falls.”  Vilhylm replied, “That smoke is also worrisome.”

“Smoke?”  Tryst said, “What smoke?”

They all scanned the horizon and Vilhylm pointed to what they had all thought was a thunderstorm.  Now that they looked, they could see the black and gray smoke rising from a fire of unimaginable proportions.

“What could possibly cause that large of a blaze?”  Callindra whispered, “There’s just… no way….”

“I’m afraid it’s the city.”  Vilhylm said.

“That’s impossible.”  Said Cronos, “There are over a million people in that city, the guards alone number in the hundreds of thousands.  Nothing could destroy a city that large.  No army in the known lands could possibly lay siege to it.”

“True enough.”  Tryst said, his voice grim. “Unless that sickness or whatever it is has spread.”

The idea stopped all of them cold.  It was almost too much to contemplate.

“You don’t think that’s possible do you?”  Callindra asked, “I mean, wouldn’t we have seen… something?”

“Exactly my point.” Said Vilhylm.  The rest of them fell silent.

“All right.  So we continue cautiously until we can see the city.”  Callindra said, “If I recall what I’ve seen of the maps, it’s on the coast right?  We should have the high ground, it ought to be easy enough for us to see what’s happening there.”

“Yes, but until we get there we must be careful.  If the city is truly besieged the odds of us running into hostile forces are high.”  Vilhylm said, “We do not number nearly enough to survive such an encounter, so I am being careful.”

“If the city is under attack, how will we cross the river?”  Callindra asked, “I thought the only bridge of the WHATEVER river this far south was at Dagger’s Falls.”

“We might be able to find a ford.”  Cronos said doubtfully, “I don’t remember this part of the world very well though.”

“No, the WHATEVER river is far too swift and generally runs through deep ravines that it has carved out of the landscape.”  Callindra said, “If we can’t cross at Dagger’s Falls then we will be forced to backtrack for days, or maybe even weeks before we find a safe crossing.”

“Well, we will just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”  Tryst said without a trace of amusement.  After a moment, he added, “Or not I suppose.”  He was so deadpan that Callindra broke out laughing in spite of herself.  Cronos’s laugh was surprisingly mellow, reminding her that he was younger than she was, even if not by much.  Even Vilhylm smiled, the first time she had seen him do more than quirk up a corner of his mouth.

“We’ll get past it one way or another.”  Tryst said, smiling. “It can’t be as bad as all that, else we would have heard of it.”

Lenovo installs adware on customer laptops and compromises ALL SSL.

Just something for any of my followers who might have Lenovo laptops to consider…

Marc's Security Ramblings

boa2

A pretty shocking thing came to light this evening – Lenovo is installing adware that uses a “man-in-the-middle” attack to break secure connections on affected laptops in order to access sensitive data and inject advertising. As if that wasn’t bad enough they installed a weak certificate into the system in a way that means affected users cannot trust any secure connections they make – TO ANY SITE.

We trust our hardware manufacturers to build products that are secure. In this current climate of rising cybercrime, if you cant trust your hardware manufacturer you are in a very difficult position. That manufacturer has a huge role to play in keeping you safe – from releasing patches to update software when vulnerabilities are found to behaving in a responsible manor with the data the collect and the privileged access they have to your hardware.

When bad guys are able to get into…

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