Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 23

“So.  Tell me about your side project.”  Eugene said, glancing at David sidelong.  “Why haven’t I heard about it before now?”

“Well.  I know you have had some bad experiences with big robots so I sort of wanted to make sure it was, uh, ready before I told you about it.  I don’t have an AI in it or anything, it just uses the basic programming I’ve put together from my other experiments for balance and stuff.”  David looked at him sidelong, “And I suppose if I’m honest, you’re like a genius and I didn’t want you to see my early kinda crappy attempts.”

“That’s fair.”  Eugene said, “But I won’t judge other than to give constructive criticism, and right now I’m pretty grateful that you started making the thing in the first place.”  He focused on driving, the way he always did and felt his hands twitching slightly.  After all that had happened, he really wanted a cigarette.  He wasn’t going to smoke in David’s car though, especially not with the kids in here.

“I want to know more now though.  That thing looked pretty cool honestly, even if it was a tad rough.  No more secret projects, we can make things better together than we can apart.  You’ve got quite the gift for robotics David, more of a natural talent than I do and with your father being who he is, you probably have more experience too even if you haven’t always had the benefit of the technological toys I have.”

“You made most of those fancy toys yourself.”  David countered, “You’re way more advanced than I am.”
“Give it time.  I’m in my thirties David.  You still have your twenties to grow.”  Eugene glanced at a road sign and put on the Beetle’s turn signal.  “If you stick with me, I’ll make sure you’re ten times the prodigy I was.”

Turning onto a freeway entrance, Eugene smoothly heel and toe downshifted, tapping the emergency brake and sending the car into a drift with sudden savagery.  The tires screamed in protest and he revved the engine to its limits.  He grinned as his passengers were tossed about with the g-forces, not having the steering wheel to hold onto or the warning of intent to brace themselves.

“All right kid, this car is OK if you push it hard enough.”  He said, “Good balance, even if the power to weight ratio is crap.”

Eugene flew into traffic, using the drift and the downhill angle of the entrance ramp to accelerate to speeds the Beetle hadn’t ever seen before.  Yuen-Ja laughed in exhilaration from the back seat while David tried to avoid screaming in terror.  In a mere seven minutes they were pulling off the freeway and down the frontage road towards their destination.

They reached the parking lot just in time to see Victoria stepping away from a motorcycle and towards Dmitri’s slate gray Bentley.  She was wearing what was left of an elegant dress, there were a myriad of scrapes and cuts visible on all her exposed skin and she was moving in a strange limping gait, the carbon fiber of her legs obviously splintered in a few places.

“Why she is not waiting?”  Yuen-Ja asked, her voice sharp with irritation.  “She knows we are coming and yet she goes with him instead!  Why?”

Eugene rolled his window down and tapped the horn.  Victoria looked up and saw them, pausing to wave.  In that moment of hesitation, the trap was sprung.

Victoria

She had been feeling that “someone’s watching me” itch again but had still not been able to pinpoint anything. The last few minutes had nearly made Victoria jump back on the motorcycle and ride to a different location, but then she had seen Dmitri’s steel gray Bentley and relaxed.  As she approached, reaching her hand out to the door, a familiar car horn made her look over to see David’s Beetle with Eugene at the wheel.  She waved and something slammed into her side with the speed and power of a charging bull.

A figure wearing dark clothing hammered her across the parking lot, sending her flying off her feet.  Victoria struggled to control her fall, barely managing to get her feet under her, but the attacker hadn’t slowed down.  The initial rush was followed up by a second burst of speed that smashed her into the trash cans behind the Tommy Burger.  Only by throwing herself sideways in the air with a desperate wrenching motion was she able to keep her head from slamming into the grease dumpster.

Even so, her shoulder connected with painful force and she cried out in pain.  Instinctively, she rolled into a ball, her arms over her head and hit the ground.  Attempting to get her bearings, Victoria heard a pair of gun shots followed by a savage roar and turned to see a small figure slamming a fist into Ivaonov’s hulking form, knocking him back into Dmitri’s car hard enough to spider web the bullet proof glass.

She stood unsteadily on her broken carbon fiber legs, feeling the strain vibrate through her limbs as the strands of carbon fiber grated against each other.  This was not good.  The shorter figure was outlined by a flickering red light courtesy of Adam, she mentally acknowledged the threat.  No shit, this person was dangerous.  Thank you captain obvious.

Reaching down, she picked up a bottle that had scattered when she had toppled the garbage cans and flung it with speed and accuracy that would have gotten her a starting position on a major league baseball team.  The figure casually leaned out of the way as it turned to face her.

“They want to replace us with you?”  It said, its voice sounding like an animal trying to form human words.  “You are nothing. I could kill you with the slightest effort.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Victoria said, fumbling for anything else she could throw or use as a weapon.  “Who are you?  Who are they?  What the FUCK is going on?”

“Too bad.  You will never know why you died.”  The figure said, taking a few steps forward, lithe and sinuous like a cat stalking a mouse.

It ran forward again, fast as an Olympic sprinter, but Adam had been able to analyze its movements and speed.  He and Victoria were working together out of instinct born of the bonds of trust they shared and had recently strengthened.  Just when it sprang, Victoria made her move.

She leaped to meet her attacker’s charge, only using her left leg but still getting high enough in the air to swing her right leg down in a kick.  Her left leg tore itself apart as the carbon fiber gave way, the tensioned cables and cams destroying the damaged limb.  With superhuman agility, her opponent twisted and grabbed her right leg by the ankle.

“Predictable.”  Victoria said in a totally calm voice and activated the emergency lift on her right leg.  A face she recognized looked up at her in shock and astonishment as Chelsea Daceiron was flung down out of the air to slam into the pavement with bone shattering force.

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Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 22

Eugene lost his temper.  They could blow up his office, they could picket his house, and they could force him to move into an apartment with a landlord who made him drink too much but his car…  His fucking CAR was off limits.  Cursing under his breath, he forced himself to crawl underneath a nearby truck.

His phone lay nearby, its screen a spider web of cracks but Eugene risked slivers of glass in his fingers as he unlocked the screen.  Instead of dialing the police or calling building security or anything so mundane, he dialed a far more dangerous number.

“Speak.”  Dmitri’s voice came over the phone tense and angry.

“Someone just bombed my building.”  Eugene said, his voice quiet in case there was someone close enough to hear.

“You should not need my advice to get the hell out of there.”  Dmitri said with acid in his voice.  “Why are you calling me?  I happen to be a bit busy right now with a very important matter that demands my focus and attention.”

“They also blew up my car.”  Eugene hissed, “And I’m pretty sure they’re still around somewhere to finish the job.  Is there anything you can do?”

“Certainly.  I shall call you a taxi.  In the future, I suggest you start actually carrying that gun of yours if it didn’t get destroyed in the explosion.”

“Goddamn it Dmitri, if I die what happens to your project?”  Eugene said, starting to panic.

“I’m not talking about a damn yellow door you idiot.  Someone will be there momentarily just shut up and stay put.”  Dmitri said angrily, “Now shut the fuck up before you give yourself away.  These coordinated attacks can’t possibly be coincidence.”

Eugene heard footsteps crunching over the gravel and shut his mouth.  Heavy military combat boots wandered into his field of vision.  Looking at those boots, Eugene clammed up, barely allowing himself to breathe.  He carefully, slowly moved his thumb and hung up the phone.  All it would take was a single sound for his position to be revealed.  He wasn’t surprised when his phone lit up and ‘Highway to Hell’ by AC/DC began to shrill.  Of course, Dmitri would call him right back right after a warning not to give himself away.

Rolling sideways out the opposite side of the vehicle, he barely avoided a concentrated burst of automatic weapon fire.  These assholes were playing for keeps and he had almost nothing to fight back with.  Rolling backward, he fetched up against the adjacent car and smacked his head hard enough to see stars.

There was a whirr of servo’s and a blur of motion and something sprinted past him, bending down and flipping the car on top of his attacker with a harsh jerking motion.  Blinking tears out of his eyes, Eugene saw a figure of titanium and carbon fiber hold what looked like the side of a dumpster as a shield as gunfire erupted from across the parking lot.

“Don’t just sit there, RUN!”  A teenager’s panicked voice shouted.

“David?”  Eugene said, his mind slow to respond to what he was seeing.  The boy was standing off to one side, holding a remote control for an old radio controlled airplane.  Apparently, he was using it to control a contraption that looked like something from a comic book.  Wires, tubes and an assortment of cables were clearly visible from the back, but the front presented somewhat of an armored face.  He had made himself a giant robot.

“I only have about three more minutes of battery life damn it RUN!!!”  David shrieked, flipping a few switches and jamming levers that resulted in his robot ripping a parking sign from the ground with an armored fist and hurling it in a whirling blur across the parking lot to the sound of shearing metal and exploding glass.

Bemused, Eugene scrambled to unsteady feet and ran across the parking lot as best he could.  David was flipping switches and muttering words in a high-pitched jumble that amounted to a stream of curses in at least two languages.  David’s VW Beetle sat idling at the side of the road with Victoria’s adopted sister sitting at the wheel and the boy flew past Eugene on his way to leap into the passenger’s seat.

Eugene scrambled awkwardly onto his lap and the car lurched away.  Moments later the robot exploded in a roar that rivaled the concussion that had destroyed his building.

“What the fuck is going on?”  He managed as Yuen-Ja ground the car into another gear, careening around a corner and almost into oncoming traffic.

“I don’t know!”  David said, “I was in the lab and wanted to test out the suit and then everything went wrong!  I saw those guys planting explosives and I managed to grab one of the bricks of C4 before they detonated the rest of them… I planted it into the suit and used it as an improvised self-destruct.  Holy shit you’re bleeding!”

Eugene hadn’t even noticed the long cut on his forearm or the gash in his forehead, but now that they had his attention the pain grew sharp.  He began to laugh despite himself.  “I don’t know either, but I think Victoria is in trouble.”

“When is Victoria not in trouble?”  David asked, humor in his voice despite the insanity of the situation.

“Yeah.”  Eugene said, “Can we pull over before Yuen-Ja kills us all?”

The girl began what was likely an impressive string of curses in Mandarin, wrestling the Beetle through a few more turns before pulling into an alley.  The car shuddered to a halt as she slammed on the brakes without shifting into neutral.

“My first time driving.”  She said shortly, “I would like to see the video of your first time Doctor Arlington.”

“I was the only survivor.”  He admitted somberly and they all smiled.  “Shit, I lost my phone… whoever Dmitri sent to get me isn’t going to have a very good time of it I’m afraid and I don’t have any way to tell him.”

“Victoria is sending me messages.”  Yuen-Ja said, pulling out her phone while sliding into the back seat.  Eugene clambered awkwardly into the driver’s seat and looked at the girl in the rearview mirror.

“So where are we going to pick her up?”  He asked, putting the car in gear.

“I’m asking.  Seems she’s broken her phone too.  Messages taking longer than they should.  I told her to start using Hangouts.”  She muttered, “Unified messaging is so much more efficient.”

Sirens sounded in the distance and rather than waiting around, he pulled out of the alley and began driving below the speed limit.  It was easy to do; going from driving his Maserati to David’s VW was a serious let down.  With a mental sigh, he made a few turns, heading vaguely toward the freeway.  The car was in decent repair, but he missed the smoothness of a synchronized gearbox.

“She is at the Tommy Burger on Aberdeen.”  Yuen-Ja announced, “We should be able to get to her in thirty minutes.”

“Maybe fifteen or twenty minutes.” Eugene said, grimacing as he coaxed the car into the next gear.

“Hey, if you don’t like it don’t drive it!”  David said a little more defensively than was necessary, glaring at Eugene.

“Oh David, stop being jealous.”  The girl said, frowning and shaking a finger at him.  “Mr. Arlington stop being mean, I like the Beetle.”

“I don’t.  It’s slow, the gearing is awful, there’s no torque and it sounds like I’m driving a meat grinder.”  Eugene grumbled.  Despite his words, he managed to maneuver the car through traffic a lot faster than even David thought would be possible.

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call for Hardware – Chapter 21

“We can make it.  If you can keep up.”  Victoria said, pulling up the schematic of the building Adam had downloaded.  Alex had been moving towards the door, but she opened a closet door instead and kicked a hole in the wall.

“What are you doing?”  He demanded turning back to her with an angry expression on his face.

“Hurting myself apparently.”  Victoria replied, grimacing in pain.  “Can you finish making a hole here?  It leads into the elevator shaft and this goddamn plaster is harder than I thought.”

Alex looked at the wall, the hole and the splintering carbon fiber appendages that were her legs.  “I think I can do something about that.”  He said, his tone more respectful after seeing the hole she’d put in the wall.  “How about you just get out of there for a minute?”

She walked out, her prosthetic legs creaking ominously with every step.  They were damaged and now was not the time to have them fail completely, she didn’t trust Alex to be able to carry her out.  A red alarm flashed in her vision and Victoria instinctively ducked behind a steel desk.  An explosion shook the floor, pieces of wood and plaster hitting the walls and the desk.

“I guess that’s one way of getting through a wall.”  Victoria said, standing on her fractured legs.  “Come on, let’s get moving.  This will get us to the parking garage.”  Without waiting for his response, she climbed through the door, gripping the cable of the elevator with her hands and feet.  The prehensile nature of her prosthetic’s toes allowed her to descend much more easily than she would have anticipated.

She automatically counted the number of floors they passed, halting her slide when she reached the proper floor.  It was very dark inside the elevator shaft, but Victoria could pick out the tiny beam of light that illuminated the crack.  Digging her fingers into it, she strained and managed to pull the door open about a foot.  Alex landed beside her a moment later and with his help they managed to make an opening wide enough to squeeze through.

“Where’s your ride?”  She asked, looking around.

He handed her a key. “Not my ride.  Your ride.  My job is to keep you alive and that means drawing the enemy off.”

Looking down she saw the Ducati logo on the key fob.  “A motorcycle?  Are you serious?”

“Sorry, it won’t work very well with what’s left of that dress but it’ll have to do if you want to get out of here.”

“There’s just one problem… I can’t ride.”  She said, “How the hell am I supposed to use a motorcycle to escape when I can’t ride?”

He stared at her for a few heartbeats, his eyes boring into her and she shook her head feeling like a fool.  “Adam, can you load something that will tell me how to ride a motorcycle please?”  She thought silently, although he was, of course, already feeding her information.

“Fine.  This is still less than ideal.”  She said.  “If you’re creating a distraction you’d better get on with it.”

“Normally I’d expect some thanks, but I’m not surprised.”  He said dryly.

“Why would you?”  She asked, tearing the skirt of her dress so that she could swing a leg over the Ducati’s saddle.  “You’re getting paid and I already saved your ass tonight.”

Alex shook his head and disappeared down the line of cars.  The motorcycle was a lot quieter than she had thought it would be when she started it but the rumble of power beneath her was unmistakable.  Adam informed her that it had nearly one hundred and fifty horsepower and it as impossible to keep the smile off her face as she used her newfound expertise to deftly maneuver her way out of the parking garage.

Wishing she had a helmet or any gear that was even remotely adequate, she dodged around the stop bar at the automated payment kiosk.  It wasn’t worth the time to attempt to pay, even if she had the parking ticket.  Deciding that getting away fast was more of a priority than anything else and weighing the chances of being shot by whoever her enemies were against a traffic ticket, Victoria gleefully twisted the throttle.  She’d be safer arrested for speeding than out in the street with those men with guns after her.

Neither cops nor killers found her though, and after a couple of blocks she slowed her dangerously fast speed.  Pulling to the side of the road near a Starbucks, she hijacked their WIFI and then began sending text messages through her Gmail account.  First to Dmitri to let him know she was OK, where to come pick her up and that her phone was broken.  Then another, asking David if he had another set of legs because she had accidentally broken these ones and that her phone was broken.  Another to Eugene letting him know she was fine and not to call her parents and ask them where she was.  And that she and Adam had fought off a horrible virus that had threatened to disable and possibly kill them.  And… that her phone was broken.

After that, she rode a few more blocks, took a short detour on the expressway to put some distance between her and the scene of the shooting and arrived at her destination.  Tommy Burger might not be the most fantastic place to be riding up on a sport bike wearing a shredded dress but it was at least public and open late.  The likelihood of an armed mob attacking her here was fairly remote.

Pulling the Ducati into an open parking space, she revved the engine once before shutting it off.  Lowering the kickstand with a flick of her heel, Victoria looked at the late-night crowd and sighed in relief.  Adam didn’t see anything threatening in them.  She leaned against the bike, wishing she had something to do while she waited.

Eugene

When he received Victoria’s first messages, Eugene had just been getting ready to finally head home.  It had been a long day of reviewing his documentation and going over notations regarding the prosthetic implementation process.  The time had come for a true proof of concept; if he was going to be able to begin to pay back the money he owed, he had to produce a second working model.

He knew that it would come to this eventually and he thought he should have been better prepared for it, but somehow the thought of someone other than Victoria using one of his prosthetics seemed wrong.  It was likely his recent near-death experience where he had been forced to create a duplicate and help to implant it into a psychotic killer robot, but it still bothered him.

The amount of potential for mayhem that Victoria had was frightening and the fact that she hadn’t yet exceeded her bounds was a true testament to her restraint.  Although there was the matter of her midterm exams.  There was no possible way she had truly gotten those scores on her own, but then again she didn’t have a choice when it came to sharing the space in her head with A.D.A.M. so it wasn’t her fault.  He highly doubted she had done so on purpose and really the two of them were one entity now.

By the time he got her second message about being OK, he had been working for another hour.  Eugene tried to respond with a text, but he couldn’t get enough signal.  Damn cell phones and damn the old construction of the building that disrupted them.

Sighing deeply, he grabbed his keys and his cigarettes and walked out the back door so he could at least send her a message back.  He had already decided that this was his last pack.  He’d kicked the habit a few years ago, but the stresses he’d been subjected to recently had caused him to backslide.  This morning he had woken up feeling like his throat had been sandblasted after a night of drinking with Dmitri and that was the last straw.  Of course, he couldn’t just throw away a perfectly good pack of cigarettes.

Knowing he was simply being a slave to chemistry, he walked the required fifty paces from the building entrance.  Leaning against a parked car, Eugene flicked his lighter and leaned forward to apply flame to the end.  The roar of his office exploding was followed almost instantly by a shock wave that took him off his feet.  From where he lay on the ground staring up at the darkening sky he could see the tower of flame.  It was strangely beautiful for a murder attempt he thought whimsically.  Then a second explosion rocked him back into the real world.  Something clattered to the ground next to him.  It was a Maserati hood ornament.

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 19

She ducked low, mentally directing her feet to form wheels as she leapt from the door and allowed the momentum from the car’s motion to carry her out of harm’s way.  Once in the alley, she skidded to a halt and reverted her wheels to feet again.

“Neat trick.”  A voice from a doorway startled her and she spun to face it.  “Too bad you behaved exactly as we thought you would.”

Turing in horror, Victoria saw a ring of hard eyed men with heavy looking pistols in their hands step from the shadows, completely surrounding her.  “Just give up, we don’t want to damage the merchandise.”

For a moment, Victoria panicked.  She whipped her head around, frantically searching for an exit and didn’t find one.  Then a feeling of calm fell over her and she had to keep her face smooth lest she give away her surprise.  Apparently she didn’t have the best poker face though, the men all hesitated and leveled their firearms at her.

A series of metallic clicks released the safety catches in her legs and she crouched slightly.  David had told her not to use this function yet, but it was this or die.  Trying to access the data on how the leaping mechanism worked failed, but Victoria didn’t have the luxury of waiting around.

“What was that sound?  What are you doing?  Stop it at once!”

“I give up.”  She said, raising her hands.  “Just don’t shoot.”

Only about half the men fell for her ruse and lowered their guns, but it didn’t matter.  A mental nudge released the last catch that contained the power of the molecularly aligned titanium cables and Nanomuscle fibers all at once and Victoria sprang ten stories straight up and crash landed on top of one of the nearby buildings.  A wild surge of anger at ruining her new dress and astonishment at the ridiculous nature of such a thought made her feel like laughing hysterically.

The gunfire from the men below was likely reflexive as all the shots went wide.  The sheer exhilaration of leaping through the air left her gasping and breathless which was just as well since she couldn’t have stood.  Since she hadn’t landed on her feet or from any real height the springs hadn’t been able to retract on their own and it would take a few minutes for the tiny motors integrated into the legs to crank them back down.

Victoria attempted to tap into her phone and found the connection unavailable; Adam wasn’t responding.  Pulling it from the stylish purse that matched her dress, she almost cut her fingers on the shattered glass of the screen.  She had landed on it, completely destroying it.  Damn, she was here alone without any way to contact anyone.

She took a moment to look down at her legs and saw large cracks on both thighs; the carbon fiber had splintered from the release of potential energy.  A series of sharp clicks announced the retraction process had finished.  Victoria queried Adam for a status report and got a strange series of panicked impressions.  Something terrible was happening to him and if she didn’t help him right now he might die.

The realization hit her like a bucket of ice water.  No matter what was happening in the real world, she couldn’t hesitate to help her friend, companion, and symbiont.  It would be the death of them both and she owed Adam.

Closing her eyes, Victoria pulled her knees up against her chest and leaned back against the brick wall and opened herself to Adam as completely as she knew how.  Chaotic images flashed past her consciousness too fast to follow.  Her head began to ache with the precursor to a migraine but she ignored it and forced the things she was experiencing to come into focus.

She was standing on a graphical line drawing of the building where her physical body sat.  A swarm of tiny shapes flew around her body so swiftly that she couldn’t see what they were, only it wasn’t her body at all.  It was what she would imagine the boy Adam had been when she first rescued him would grow into as a man.

The tiny shapes were flying through him and tearing pieces of him apart with every passage.  He was defending himself as best he could, but there were just too many.  A cry that spoke of pain and fear came from Adam.  Even though she couldn’t understand the words, Victoria felt anger burning within her.

She focused, knowing that this was her mind and that imagination was her best and only weapon.  Looking down at her body, she watched an exoskeleton of liquid metal flow over it.  Electricity began to crackle in her left hand and her right hand became a long, slender sword blade.  It was time to do battle.

A.D.A.M.

He was fighting but it was a losing battle.  They were eating his code and with every bite bytes of him were vanishing.  His carefully constructed safeguards dissolved under the onslaught and even the clever tricks Kai Yuen-Ja had taught him were useless.  Small jolts of controlled code managed to deflect some of the attacks on his core systems but there were too many of the things for him to properly defend himself.

Frantically, Adam tried again to contact Victoria and to his immense relief he felt her respond.  Reaching out for the resources she could provide he felt something unbelievable.  Victoria wasn’t just granting him resources.  She was actually there.

“You cannot do this!”  He shouted, trying to move towards her.  “You must leave!  Victoria you can’t be here!”

She stood in front of him, wearing the garment she had been in the physical world.  Her eyes flashed with fire and her body became a thing of absolute beauty, all steel and technological prowess.  Moving with fluid grace, she danced among the flying forms of destructive code.  The lightning from her left hand incinerated them and the blade in her right slashed them, she floated like a leaf on the wind and destruction followed in her wake.

Despite her power and grace, there were millions of enemies and she was surrounded in an instant their bodies obscuring her from his view.  “No!  Victoria!”

Adam surged forward, letting go of his defenses in favor of an all-out attack.  The electricity that arced from his outstretched hand mirrored what he had seen Victoria use moments ago.  He felt a solid connection, a hand clasping his, the fading power he still merging with something far greater.  An explosion of white light overwhelmed the digital landscape as a pure force of electronic will reformatted it into something else.

Victoria sat on the grass, leaning against a plant (tree, weeping willow) wearing a white cotton dress and sun hat.  A pond with birds (ducks, mallards) swimming in it was not far away.  Adam sat next to her wearing shorts and a crisp linen shirt.  It was the place he had first met Kai Yuen-Ja.  Where he had first realized what and who he was.

“What happened Adam?”  She asked, looking at him with a bemused expression on her face.

“I think you managed to purge the virus.”  He said, “Your algorithms were not very elegant but the sheer overwhelming force of your program seems to have removed the hostile code.”

“Is that really how you see yourself?”  Victoria was still staring (looking, observing, studying, ogling) at him.

“I do not ‘see’ myself as anything.”  He replied, “Is that really what you believe your current physical representation to be?”

Victoria looked at herself and sadly shook her head.  “No.  Look, there aren’t any robotics at all.”

“I do not find this memory in any of your storage archives.”  Adam continued, “Is this a construction of your conscious processing then?”  He didn’t know how Victoria had accessed these files, but this was yet another sign of just how reliant on her he was.

“I owe you an apology Adam.”  She said softly, “I know I was not paying attention before when you needed me.  It won’t happen again.”

Something made Adam feel as though he were a guitar string that had just been plucked.  A feeling, a real, true feeling washed over him and he smiled shyly at her.  “Apology accepted.”

“Oh no.”  Victoria gasped, “Oh NO!  Adam, how do I get out?  I need to get out they’re going to kill me how do I-“

She vanished and Adam got to work.  If they were going to survive and her physical vessel was in danger, he absolutely had to get the core systems online again as quickly as possible.  Bypassing the safety and security protocols he had painstakingly built, Adam put Victoria in full on war mode.  It was indeed time to do battle.

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 13

After a few minutes two more squad cars approached from different directions, sirens on and lights flashing.  One of them went to assist Seevers and the other came and opened the door, and smiled at Victoria.  She held a well-worn notepad in one hand and a pencil was tucked behind her ear.

“I’m Jessica Amunson, Larry asked me to take a statement from you.”  She said, “I’m going to be recording all this on my body camera as well as taking notes, just so you are informed.  Can we start with your name?  Then you can tell me what happened here.”

“My name is Victoria Scott.  I don’t really know what happened.  He just came up to me and started talking.  He was giving me a real creeper vibe so I called 911.  I tried to keep him talking long enough for the police to show up and then he just fell over.”  Victoria wiped the tears from her face, the feeling of panic was finally draining away now that she began to logically order her thoughts.

“Do you have any identification?”  Jessica asked, “Just standard procedure you know.”

“It’s in my bag.  Officer Seevers has it out there somewhere I think.”  She gestured vaguely towards the front of the car.

“I’d like to search your person too if I may?”  Jessica said, glancing at her apologetically.  “Again, just standard procedure.

“I guess; it’s not like I could hide anything in this uniform but I don’t mind.  Just don’t freak out about my prosthetic OK?  It’s a little weird if you aren’t ready for it.”  She pulled her hair out of the way and leaned forward to show her spine.  Jessica’s sudden intake of breath betrayed her shock even though Victoria couldn’t see her face.

“Um… that’s not all of it.”  Said Victoria, tugging up the bottom of one of her stockings to show her carbon fiber leg and wiggling her ‘foot’ for emphasis.  “I’m kind of a mess.”

She let out a low whistle, “Oh wow, you ARE her!  I thought maybe your name was just a coincidence at first.  I mean I heard about this because of the protesters that are gathering in the park across from Dr. Arlington’s apartment, but I never thought I would actually meet you.”

“Yeah, it’s me.”  Victoria rolled her eyes, “I’m the ‘Machine Girl’ as I guess they are calling me.” Her phone buzzed and she tried to tap into it to ignore the call.  She couldn’t, and her wrist began to itch again.  The Bluetooth must have failed again, maybe it needed to be rebooted.  “Wait, what’s happening to Eugene?”

“I think it’s an apt description.”  Jessica said, ignoring her question, “It’s not as crazy as I thought it would be though.  I mean this is certainly a major piece of hardware but you aren’t turning into a giant robot or anything.”

“So I can go now right?  You don’t need anything else?”  She asked, “I’m late getting home as it is, I’d like to get back before dinner.”

“I need to help Larry secure the scene and gather any additional evidence, but after that I could give you a ride if you’d like.”  She said, “At least one of us has to wait for the ambulance but I’m sure I could leave to give you a lift.”

“That’s OK, I appreciate the offer but I’m almost home.”  She picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder, “Thanks for the help, and thank Officer Seevers for me too.  You’ll let me know if you need to ask me any more questions right?”

At the officer’s nod, Victoria took a few steps away, shouldering her backpack before flicking her feet into wheels and skating away.  She wanted to be home as soon as possible.

A.D.A.M.

Adam knew something had gone wrong, but he was having trouble tracking it down.  Every time he attempted to intervene directly with Victoria’s body he could feel the Neuro-inhibiter activate, scaling back his productivity to a minimum.  Even with the direct connection he shared with her organic computer the inhibiter had the effect of limiting his functionality.

The worst problem seemed to be rooted with a subroutine accidentally linked from the copy of his old code that had been created at the beginning of his integration with Victoria.  That moment she had saved him from annihilation was when he actually began to live; to be an entity instead of simply a thing.  He treasured that old code as a memento of what Victoria had done for him and in addition it was handling both the data logging and transmissions for whatever The Creator used it for as well as the basic functions of Victoria’s body.

Every time he touched that code, his systems were immediately limited to the most basic of functions, things which he was not even responsible for anymore.  In a panic he sent an email to Yuen-Ja begging for help.  After it had been transmitted, alien seeming protocols slammed into place and he found he was isolated, unable to use his normal modes of contact with cyberspace.

He thrashed like a caged animal, unable to get out.  The harder he fought, the tighter the restrictions became until he began to lose functionality.  Afraid that the loss would spread to Victoria’s primary functions, Adam ceased his fighting.  In the stillness that followed, he knew the terror of waiting.  There was nothing else he could do.

Eugene

Eugene sat in an overstuffed leather chair in the cozy den of the apartment Dmitri was letting him use, reading logs from the night before.  As he scrolled through the pages of data, a strange anomaly caught his attention.  Normally he got two sets of data, one from the part of the AI that controlled Victoria’s basic necessities and one from ADAM itself containing the information it was compiling.  The latter was generally the most interesting and its absence was disturbing.

Worried about his young patient, he quickly pulled up the application he had installed on her phone that connected through the Bluetooth node on the prosthetic.  It showed her basic body functions and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  He called her but she didn’t answer.  Eugene chewed nervously on his thumbnail, just to make sure he thought he’d better call her home number.

Richard answered on the first ring, “Hello, Scott residence.”

“Hi Rich, Dr. Arlington here.  I was wondering if Victoria was home yet, I had a couple questions I wanted to ask her.”

“No she isn’t here, did you try her cell?”

“She didn’t pick up but I’m sure my questions can wait.”

“Would you like me to have her call you when she gets home?  I’m sure she won’t be long.”

“Thanks Rich, that’s be great.  Have a good evening.”

“You as well Eugene.”

Rich hung up and Eugene tried Victoria again.  This time she answered after three rings.

“Sup Doc?”  She sounded tense.

“Just saw an anomaly in last night’s logs and thought I’d call and ask you about it.  How are you doing?”

Victoria sighed, “I’m OK now.  Some jackass tried to jump me and I had to call the cops.  Why can’t the world just leave me the hell alone?”

“Holy shit!  Are you OK?”  He paused and gave himself a mental shake, “Well you said you were, but what happened?”

“I have it recorded and I’m sure the police do too since I had my phone on speaker with 911 dispatch while he was threatening me.”  She said, sounding tired.  “I’ll send you a copy if you want.”

“Do you need anything?  Can I help in any way?”  Eugene asked, “Just say the word and it’s done.”

“Thanks Eugene, I appreciate it.  Really all I want to do is go home and be with my family.  Maybe later we can talk about that anomaly you mentioned.  Is tomorrow good for you?”

“Yeah, tomorrow’s just fine.  I’m sure it’s nothing to be worried about.”  They hung up and Eugene sat back in his chair, running his hand through his hair.  His computer chimed and he saw it was an email from Victoria.

‘Here’s that recording I mentioned.  Tomorrow we can talk more, but someone else was there.  They had been following me and shot my would-be assailant with some sort of air powered projectile launcher.  It’s a good thing too since Adam didn’t see fit to help.’

“What in the world does she mean by that?”  He wondered aloud.  Attached was an audio file.
As he listened to it, his blood ran cold.  He recognized that man’s voice; he had heard it before in the parking lot of a gas station.

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 12

Victoria

Victoria was walking home and despite her outwardly calm demeanor she was on full alert.  She was in a bad enough mood because of still being stuck in Big K’s stupid detention, and her decision to wear leggings to cover the carbon fiber arcs that were now her legs was an increasing source of annoyance.  Why did she care what people thought?  She resolved to only wear short skirts and no stockings from now on.

Her nerves were on edge for other reasons too.  Even though multiple scans of her surroundings hadn’t turned up anything she knew someone was following her.  She was half way back home; all she had to do was lose whoever this asshole was and things would be fine.  Her gaze turned from over her shoulder to the front.

“Hey girlie, where ya headed?”  The man was standing at a bus stop, wearing what looked like a neighborhood security uniform at first glance, only the badge was obviously a fake.  Legacy Security would never issue a plastic badge; the gun on his hip was definitely real though.  She noticed with distaste that he had a leer on his face.

“Home.”  She said curtly, keeping her eye on the alley she was walking past.

“Yeh better watch out, there’s dangerous people around.”  He said, moving towards her slightly, hands in his pockets.

“Listen creep, I don’t know what you think is going to happen here, but I’m calling the cops if you don’t turn around and walk the other way right now.  I don’t have time for this.”  Victoria stopped, turning to face him squarely.  She hooked into her phone through its Bluetooth and dialed 911, setting her phone on speaker with the volume turned down as far as it would go so the voice on the other end wouldn’t be audible.

It was in her pocket but she was willing to bet it’d still pick up whatever was going on.  She scratched her left wrist, wondering why it itched.  As she did so, Adam’s connection to her phone dropped.  Her attempt to re-connect was unsuccessful, but she was pretty sure the call had gone through.

There were three figures moving out of the alley across the street.  One of them had something in his hand that reflected the light.  A gun with a scope?

“No need to get all uppity, I was just letting you know that not everyone thinks a mechanical freak like you should be walking the streets.”  He spit at her feet.

“By ‘not everyone’ I’m assuming you are including yourself?”  Victoria backed slowly away, keeping him between her and the unknowns in the alley.  She wanted to know who this asshole was.

“Yeah, I’m one of the People who can see what a threat you represent.”  He put extra emphasis on ‘people’ making sure she knew he didn’t include her in that classification.

“So what’s the gun for?”  She said out loud, hoping the cops were listening.  “Are you afraid of a little girl?  Is that why you brought your friends across the street too?”  Victoria didn’t understand why there was no traffic, no pedestrians; she didn’t even see anyone in their houses.  What the hell was going on?

“You ain’t no girl, you’re a fucking freak.  Sure you may look like a human but we know better.  Don’t worry about anyone coming to help you either, I used this uniform to tell people there was a gas leak and they needed to evacuate.”  His eyes darted to his left briefly.  She glanced in the direction he had looked and in that moment he sprang at her, hands reaching for her arms.

Victoria froze in place; for the first time since her operation unable to move.  Just before his outstretched hands touched her he crumpled to the ground.  As he fell, she discerned a report from a compressed air projectile launcher from three o’clock.  He lay on the sidewalk twitching, a bruise already beginning to form on the side of his face.  A quick glance told her the figures in the alley across the road had fled, most likely indicating that they were connected somehow.

The street was empty; she was the only conscious person visible.  Where was her mystery helper?  Who was he?  What the hell was going on anyway?  At that moment, a patrol car screeched around the corner.  Victoria sat down hard, shaking with adrenaline and, she realized in surprise, fear.

“Hands where I can see them, no sudden movements!”  The officer yelled, stepping out of his cruiser with his gun drawn.

Victoria looked up at him, tears streaming down her face and she realized the main source of her emotional reaction.  Adam hadn’t helped her.  It would have been child’s play for him to take her assailant down, but he hadn’t done anything.  If it wasn’t for the mystery sniper she would have been kidnapped, killed, raped; her mind raced ahead with possibilities.

She took a deep breath to calm herself.  The adrenaline that had been pulsing through her system abated slowly and she realized her wrist itched like it had been bitten by a thousand mosquitos.  Realizing she hadn’t responded to the officer’s demand, she slowly moved her hands apart.

“Miss, you’re the 911 caller correct?”  He asked, his eyes still taking in the scene.  At her nod he continued.  “I’m officer Seevers, are you injured?”  She shook her head, still not trusting herself to speak without bursting into tears again.

His radio emitted the muffled sound of someone speaking and he reached up with his left hand to activate it.  He still watched her and the fallen man, but his pistol was pointed at the ground, his finger not on the trigger.  “Affirmative.  Male suspect appears to be subdued, securing the female caller.”

Victoria strained to hear the response and could barely hear something about backup units being on their way.  She took a step away from the man, wanting to put herself out of his reach should he awaken.

“Miss?  Could you step over here please?  I’d like to put you in the back seat of my cruiser for safety reasons while I secure the scene.”  Victoria stood smoothly and walked to the car, relieved that at least her artificial limbs seemed to be functioning properly.  “Just leave your bag here please.”

She dropped her backpack where he indicated and slid into the hard plastic back seat of the squad.  Her wrist still itched terribly but otherwise she was starting to recover.  Remembering her phone, she pulled it out and thanked the 911 operator for her assistance before hanging up.  Seevers was inspecting her would-be assailant, securing the man’s pistol before checking for a pulse and putting a pair of handcuffs on him.

Machine Girl: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 11

“That would great Dmitri, I appreciate it.  I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”  Eugene cut across three lanes of traffic to take the next exit; Dmitri’s apartment building was in the opposite direction.  He glanced at the gas gauge and noted he was at a quarter tank.  He looked at the sign and saw that they sold the high octane race gas his car required and decided to fill up.  Eugene pulled into the station and an attendant ran out when the bell rang.

“Fill up for you?”  The attendant asked.

“Where’s the race gas pump?”  Eugene asked.

“Race gas is the last pump.”  He said, “What is this thing anyway?  I don’t think I’ve seen one of these before, but it looks familiar.”

“It’s a Maserati.”  Eugene said, looking around.  There was a group of people gathered in the parking lot and they were making a lot of noise.

“Sweet!  It’s like a James Bond car!”  He said.

“Nah, there aren’t any missile launchers under the hood of this thing.”  Eugene glanced at his nametag, “What’s with the tailgate party Jeff?” He asked, nodding his head towards the gathering across the lot.

“Oh some group of douchebags hollering about the end of the world, I guess they were going to some rally but got lost.”  He rolled his eyes, “You’d better fill up and get otta here before they start proclaiming the machines are rising or whatever again.”

Eugene pulled up to the last pump.  It was labeled ‘RACE GAS NOT FOR STREET USE’ and he smiled, “They say it will run on ninety-three octane but I just can’t stand to listen to her complain when I do it.”  He said.

“Jesus, at eight bucks a gallon I hope it’s worth it!”

“I need to pick up some cigarettes; can you fill the tank for me?”  Eugene walked towards the gas station and listened to the conversation the people were having as he passed.

“I’m telling you we should just kill it.  When she agreed to be transformed into that robotic monster she ceased being human.  She no longer has the rights the rest of us do!”  A man in a trucker cap that read ‘Jesus is my co-pilot’ said.

“Good luck with that Eli, my sources say she’s some kinda killing machine!  Took out an entire squad of Marines or something just last week in Nevada they say!”  This was from a short bald man.

“We need to stick to the plan, just threaten her and she will respond with violence.  One of ours will get it all on tape and then we can let the cops take care of the rest.”  The fat, broad-shouldered woman next to them said.  “She walks home every night and she has after school detention so she will likely be alone.  Wait until she is by herself and then make your move.”

“Yeah, you’re right.  If that bitch does actually put my life in danger though I’m gonna defend myself.  If she dies it’ll be a clear cut case of self-defense.”  It sounded to Eugene like this Eli character was hoping for the chance.

Eugene went inside and up to the counter.  “I need a pack of American Spirits, and whatever my gas is.”

“You running race gas in that thing huh?  Ain’t that supposed to be for off road use or something?”  The guy behind the counter punched some keys and handed Eugene his cigarettes.

“Yeah, probably.  I don’t really give a shit though.”  Said Eugene with a grin, “It’s either this or buy those damn octane boosters and I don’t like how variable that makes the octane level.”

“Those idiots are finally shoving off, they’ve been driving customers away and they’re just weird besides.”  He was glaring out the window, then looked back at the till, brightening slightly.  “That’ll be one hundred eighty-nine ten.”

Eugene handed his credit card over with a sigh but his mind was racing.  They planned on attacking Victoria so that she would defend herself and he knew how the AI would respond, even if Victoria didn’t want it to.  Once he was back in the car, he dialed her number.  At least he should warn her about it.  Waving to Jeff, the gas attendant, he pulled back into traffic.

“Hi, this is V’s phone.  Leave me a message if you want.”  Victoria’s phone went straight to voicemail.

“Victoria, it’s Eugene.  Give me a call when you get this, I think we might have a problem.”  He hung up and after a moment’s hesitation punched up Dmitri’s number.

“Good evening Dr. Arlington, this is Ivanov.  Dmitri isn’t available is there something I can help you with?”

“No, it’s cool I can talk with him when I get to the apartment.”

“Ah, well in that case I’m afraid you might not be able to get your information to him until tomorrow morning.  He is … out right now.”  Ivanov sounded so urbane, especially over the phone.  It was hard to believe he was a cold eyed killer, but Eugene knew exactly how dangerous he could be.

“OK, I have some information about the Humanity Preservation Alliance.  It seems like they plan on threatening or attacking Victoria so that she will react to defend herself in the next couple of days.  They’re getting it all on tape so they can use it as evidence against her.  I don’t know if you can do something to counter that plan or not this late in the game but –“

“Never fear Dr. Arlington.  We are aware of this scheme and so is Victoria’s shadow, it will not succeed.”  Ivanov sounded completely certain, but Eugene wasn’t.

“How can you be sure she’ll be safe?  You can’t have her watched all the time.”

“Know this; her shadow is the best in the business.  When necessary Jessie has gone for days without sleep and still remained sharp enough to do the job.  You have nothing to worry about.”  Said Ivanov.

“Jessie?  Like Jessie James?  Who is he anyway?”  Eugene broke a Cardinal rule and lit a cigarette in his car, “I want to know who you have watching her.”

“I apologize Dr. Arlington but I am not privy to more than that.  Jessie has done quite a bit of work for us in the past.  He’s a freelance gun for hire, a throwback to the Wild West I guess.  Perhaps that’s where the name came from or maybe it’s his real name I don’t really know.  I don’t care either, he gets the job done and has never failed to protect the target assigned.”

“Gun for hire?  Such a thing still exists?”

“Haven’t you heard of Blackwater?”  Ivanov snorted, “This kind of thing has been around ever since humans figured out how to kill one another and I don’t expect it will go away until we forget.”

“Is he a member of an organization or does he work alone?”

“I am not certain Doctor, but I can ask the young master then next time I see him.”

“No that’s OK Ivan, it isn’t important I was just curious.  I’ll see you in about fifteen minutes.”

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: Hard Times Call For Hardware – Chapter 9

When they had finished eating, Victoria started helping her mom clear the table.

“How are you doing honey?  Are those things hurting you?”

“No mom, I feel just fine.  They take some getting used to but they don’t hurt.  David said he might stop by with the new model he has cooked up later tonight.  I guess they are a little more comfortable than these ones; a little more advanced.”  Victoria said, putting the silverware in the dish washer.

Her mother began handing her plates, “Well anything that makes you feel better makes me feel better sweetheart.  I really appreciate what that young man has done for you.  He really is a nice boy.”

“Yeah, I’m lucky to have such good friends.”  The last of the dishes were loaded and Victoria turned it on while her mom was gathering things for tea.

“So I hear you destroyed your mid-terms?”  Yuen-Ja was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, “Toria you should know better than to get one hundred percent on all of them.  When people start to think you are doing the impossible they begin to look for alternate explanations.”

“Hey, I didn’t mean to ace them.  I mean I was just doing what I always do.”  Victoria protested.

“Well now you know better.  Next time remember to get at least one answer wrong!”  Yuen-Ja stuck her tongue out at her adopted sister.

On the way into the living room with tea and cookies Victoria tapped into her phone and sent David a text telling him it was cool to swing by.  ‘Hey David, if you want to bring the MKII’s by in the next half hour or so that’d be OK.  There’s tea and cookies too, I’ll save some snickerdoodles for you I know those are your favorites.’

‘I’ll be there in 5’ his response was almost instantaneous.

The tea was just brewed and Yuen-Ja was pouring when the doorbell rang.  “That’s probably David, I invited him over to have tea with us.”  Victoria said, moving to answer the door.

David walked in, struggling with a large cardboard box.  “Hi Mr. and Mrs. Scott!  Hey Yuen-Ja, how’s it going?  Tea smells good, is it Jasmine?”

“Ha, you are learning to appreciate tea against your will!  Another of my triumphs, I will wean you off that nasty yellow five water yet!”  Said Yuen-Ja with a smile.  She hated Mountain Dew and it used to be all David would drink before he’d met her.

They all sat and Victoria took a deep breath, inhaling the fragrance of the tea with pleasure.  Jasmine was her favorite and it went so well with the simple sugar cookies that her mom specialized in making thin and crisp.

“So what did you bring me?”  Victoria was curiously eyeing the box.

“Well, I know the prosthetics you are currently wearing are wreaking havoc on your legs.  The movements aren’t smooth enough and it causes a lot of pressure around the socket which in turn damages the flesh.”  David set his tea down and opened the box.

“That’s why I have made these; they’re like the luxury model you might say.  With a few extras built in.”  He withdrew a carbon fiber leg that looked similar to the ones she was wearing now, but they were a touch larger in diameter and the feet were thicker.  He took out the other one and knelt in front of her.

“May I?”  He asked, his hands hovering over her legs.

“Sure, of course.”  She responded, not realizing how it must look until after he had begun sliding his hands up her skirt.  Victoria pulled the hem up and tucked it between her thighs, exposing the sockets where her prosthetics attached to her flesh.

“Ohmygod honey you said they weren’t hurting you that looks absolutely AWFUL!”  Her mother exclaimed when she saw the crusted blood around the edges.

“It looks a lot worse than it is mom.”  Victoria winced, she should have cleaned up more before this, not just removed the bloody stockings.

“Not to worry Mrs. Scott, these new models should be much easier on her and give her legs time to toughen up.”  David pressed a couple of buttons, released a latch and gave her left leg a twist.  The prosthetic came off with a loud click and he carefully set it down.  The new one was quickly attached and while he was working on the other leg, Victoria flexed the new leg, trying to get a feel for how it would be different.

“OK, try them out.”

She stood up, feeling the smoothness of the actuators and the compression of the joints as they took her weight.  David walked around her, looking critically at them for a moment before starting to explain some things.

“Good, they look good.  I have built in a few things that you can make use of if you want.  First is there are some storage compartments big enough to hold a wallet or whatever.”  He touched panels on the outsides of either thigh and they whispered open with mechanical precision.  “There is a trickle charger for them and I’m working on a backpack with a solar cell as well.  These compartments can be used for extra batteries in the future too if you want.”

“Come on David, show her the cool part!”  Yuen-Ja was sitting on the edge of her chair with a big grin on her face.

“OK, so this is something totally new.  I know you like to skate and I’ve been working on an electrically charged polymer that can assume shapes based on the current you subject it to.  Recently I discovered you can create manipulators out of it and that’s what the feet of your new legs are made from.  The best part is since it’s completely malleable, we can do things like this.”  He motioned for her to sit and when she did he depressed a switch on the top of each leg, just below the socket.  They morphed from being a pair of X shaped claws with rubber grips to being one large wheel with rubber tread.

“Holy shit!”  She exclaimed, holding a leg up to get a better look at it.  “Whoa, now that is cool, how did you do that?”

“Eventually you can probably learn to transform them from foot to wheel without the switches.  Same thing with the storage compartments, if you can figure out the proper nerve signal you ought to be able to open them with a thought instead of having to touch them.”  From the look he was giving her she understood that he meant Adam already had that capability.

“Be careful though, I couldn’t get them to form multiple wheels and it’s tough to maintain your balance at lower speeds with these things.  I tried making a pair of mono-skates for myself first, just to try it out.”  David said, “I think I might have broken my tailbone the first time I tried to stand up on them.”

“Thanks for everything David.  These are amazing.”  Victoria pushed the buttons to turn her feet back to feet and stood up to give him a hug.

“One more thing, you should remove your prosthetic legs when you go to bed.  I know it must be weird to not be able to walk but it will give your real legs a chance to relax and heal.”

“I suppose you’re probably right, but it’s scary to be stranded without legs.”  Her phone buzzed, it was Eugene.  If it was important he’d leave a voicemail.  “I was going to watch a movie, you want to join me?”

“No thanks, not all of us aced our midterms.”  He gave her a silly grin, “I have some studying to do, and Eugene has a project he wants my input on too.  I’m hoping to continue working with him after high school.”

“OK, good luck then.”  Victoria followed him to the door.  “What else did you want to tell me about these?  I can tell you’re hiding something.”

“Uh, I wasn’t going to tell you until after you healed up a little more so that you don’t accidentally hurt yourself.”

“Well then you should have practiced your poker face a little better.”  She said, “Now you have to tell me.”

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

Epilogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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