The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing (COMPLETE)

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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Postby DukeNukem 2417 » Fri Oct 12, 2018 7:12 am

“Rae, are you sure this is a good idea?!”

Ted's question was met with a snort of derision. “Lighten up, Teddy,” the gynoid beamed. “We've come this far already, and we're not gonna stop now---”

“Unless whoever else is in there with those five girls decides to do the stopping for us! I mean, if they stop us, for....oh, you know exactly what I mean!” Ted shook his head as he stepped out of Rae's rental car. “And did we have to rent a vehicle for this?! My car was perfectly capable of getting us here on its own---”

“And just as good at getting spotted and reported by the phantom five,” Rae reminded him. “This is easier.”

“I'm hoping, for both our sakes, that you're right....” Ted sighed. “Ready when you are....”

The pair strode forward---one wanting to be back at home and assisting in the repairs on Casey, the other too keyed up for something to care about any possible danger. It didn't help that they'd tracked the “phantom five” across Silicon Valley for well over an hour or so, to what appeared to be a long-abandoned technical college campus; only one building still had lights on, and the strains of Iron Maiden's “Be Quick or Be Dead” blared from speakers somewhere within. The Ford that had parked in front of Ted's house was straddling the line of two parking spaces.

“Looks like the girls were in a hurry to get here,” Rae mused. “What kind of phone was it, again?”

“A flip-phone, early 2000s...from before the days when there was an app for everything.” Ted chuckled at the thought. “I would've offered to buy them a new one, on any other day of the week....”

Rae frowned. “You seriously would've bought a phone for girls you don't even know?”

“Well, the phone they were looking for sounded important,” Ted reminded her. “I didn't know if they were sharing one phone or on a budget, or something---”

“They're gynoids,” Rae groaned. “They could chat from opposite sides of the state without a phone!”

“Well, it was your idea to follow them here,” Ted muttered. “What's your plan to get in?”

“Oh, I have a few ideas....” The chestnut-haired gynoid gave a cheeky grin.

Before Ted could warn her about going the “strippogram” route to gain entrance into the building, the sounds of Iron Maiden abruptly cut off. Hushed whispers, all in Japanese, filled the silence; Ted had to take a few steps closer to the building and focus to hear them, while Rae had no such problems. “Guess we definitely know they're inside now,” she mused. “And someone else is about to join them---”

She stopped herself, her eyes going wide as she heard a sixth voice.

“What is it?” Ted whispered. “I can't hear anything other than the air conditioning, and---”

“Ted, we need to get out of here,” Rae murmured, her eyes glowing softly as she glanced at him. “Or at the very least, we need to hide.”

“Hide from who?!” Ted glanced back at the rental car, scowling. “Rae, I need more to go on than just---”

Shut up and hide, already!” The gynoid had already dropped to all-fours on the ground, frantically gesturing at Ted to do the same. “Get down before any of them see you, for cripe's sakes!” She glanced back at the building, her eyes still glowing.

Despite his misgivings at her panic, Ted managed to lower himself to the ground without any issues. “Okay---”

"Shush!" Rae shot him a thoroughly pissed-off look before turning her attention back to the building.

The lights were still on, even as the front door opened; one of the “phantom five”---the one who'd first spoken to Ted when the Ford had arrived at his house---was standing in the doorway, her head swivelling from one side to the other in an all-too robotic way. Her hands were empty, but Ted had a sneaking suspicion (if similar incidents with Vicki were any indication) that she didn't need a flashlight.

Rae had suspended all nonessential processes---her simulated breath halted, her internal sound generator (for those rare times when she ended up examined by a doctor who wasn't “in the know”) went quiet and her eyes stopped glowing. She lay, silent and still, on the grass, hoping that the gynoid standing in the doorway didn't have enhanced sensors that would allow her to track power sources or internal WiFi signals---she shut off her WiFi just in case, hoping that the other gynoid wouldn't notice and immediately zero in on her.

Ted, on the other hand, was trying not to hyperventilate or draw any unnecessary attention to himself; he gave a few brief seconds of consideration to the idea of holding his breath, and dismissed the thought just as quickly as it came. His only solace came from the fact that it was nighttime...

…which was swiftly ruined when the gynoid at the door stopped, looking almost right at him.

Don't. Move.” Rae never even moved her lips to speak the words. “Just stay still....”

The urge to nod at the gynoid's request nearly prompted Ted to blow his own cover, but he stayed as still as possible, hugging the ground and trying not to draw attention to himself. As long as nobody put a light on him, he was perfectly---

A spotlight blazed into existence, shining at Ted like something off of the bottom of a police helicopter.

Seconds later, another spotlight activated, its beam almost pinioning him to the spot.

He could barely meet Rae's horrified gaze, mouthing the words “I'm sorry” as the gynoid from the doorway marched over to where he lay. Whatever was about to happen---

“What's going on out here?!”

Kaede Minoru's voice cut through the silence like a knife, stopping the gynoid from the door in her tracks (less than three feet away from Ted, at that). “Lani, why are you....” She noticed Ted quaking on the ground, and Rae staring at her with a look of defiance. “.....Lani, deactivate Sentinel Mode and go back inside.” Instantly, Lani's posture relaxed. With one last glare at Ted, she turned on her heel and headed back indoors. Kaede watched her leave, shaking her head and muttering in Japanese all the while.

“.....ah, can I get up now?” Ted grunted.

“You both can,” Kaede replied, extending a hand to help him up. “I suppose I should've expected this, after Paula found the tracer planted on her....”

Ted started to apologize, only to notice Rae asending into a standing position at disturbingly inhuman speed, her figure never faltering as she moved. “...haven't had to do that in a while,” she mused, dusting herself off before glancing at Kaede. “So,” she declared, “you found the tracer I handed over to your gal pal and you haven't yet called for Teddy and I to be hung from the nearest yardarm, so I can assume that your posse is on the side of the angels....”

“.....we're agents of the House,” Kaede replied, “if that's what you mean. Specifically, the Osaka branch. The Patriarch can vouch for us.”

“The Osaka branch was one of the few that wasn't attacked,” Ted reasoned. “But why were you all---”

“Celeste was under investigation when we were at SJSU last year,” Kaede explained. “We were...keeping tabs on her, and we'd been given information leading us to believe that your daughter was going to be inducted into the House under her orders. Under ordinary circumstances, that wouldn't have been any cause for concern...”

“But this time, it was?” Rae prompted.

Kaede nodded. “Celeste had been acting...erratic, for the past few months. Some were considering replacing her as Matriarch, especially after the Detroit incident....but it was decided to let her continue, to see what would happen next...” She stared at the ground, as if ashamed to continue. “....that decision was...unwise.”

“And where does the flip phone come in?” Rae prompted.

“.....we had been given the phone to keep track of Celeste,” Kaede explained. “It was keyed in specifically to a frequency that only she emitted, and would allow us to monitor her location if the need arose...but when we were having our 'roving conference', one of our number lost track of the phone---and, well....” She sighed, running a hand through her hair. “Lani was of the opinion that we could just buy a new phone and program the frequency into it, but the House refused---the phone had....another purpose.”

Ted nodded, not wanting to press the issue. “And with Vicki's, ah, extra-curriculars taking up so much time, you couldn't just ask her to give it back....”

“We were considering asking her after the attack on ALPA HQ,” Kaede admitted. “Then the Patriarch told us about the breach, and what had been taken...with the List being the highest-profile item. Recovering the phone was no longer the top priority for the House, and we were told to put it on the proverbial back-burner for the time being....”

“And now that everyone in the House has sorted out their issues,” Rae finished, “someone decided that it was time to find the Almighty Phone before the wrong people got a hold of it.”

Again, Kaede nodded. “After the attacks earlier this year, we were told to minimize all possible security risks.”

“And they didn't think to do this before you dropped the phone?” Rae mused, frowning. “A bit late---”

“Celeste's actions hadn't yet warranted any further investigation....at the time, the phone was merely a means to keep track of her.” Kaede turned away. “When she began....courting...Jake Brightstar, the phone's 'other properties' were activated. Her most recent, shall we say, indiscretions have put the House in further jeopardy, and necessitated the use of those 'other properties'---”

“Is it going to DeComm her?”

Ted's question prompted a startled gasp from Rae. “....they wouldn't,” she whispered.

“Her....erratic behavior has been getting worse, over the past few months,” Kaede admitted. “Until recently, all we knew were a few...troubling rumors, until recently.” She glanced at Rae. “The voice you heard from the building is that of someone who is just as concerned as my sisters and I are---we were in the middle of a video-conference of sorts with him. We've received images and information from him, all of it pertaining to what, exactly, Celeste has been trying to accomplish during her exile in Florida....” Her voice dropped to a low murmur, her eyes focused on the ground again, rather than Ted or Rae. “....some of what we've found out is...more than troubling.”

“I think we'd better continue this discussion inside,” Ted advised. “

Rae's mouthing of “I don't” went unnoticed by Kaede, and earned her a warning glance from Ted.

“....it would be safer to continue inside.” The Asian gynoid nodded. “I'll need to tell Lani, first.....”
----------------------------------
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Postby DukeNukem 2417 » Sat Oct 13, 2018 6:22 am

“...since you already know the rules of conduct regarding the Visitation Area, I'll leave you to prepare for your latest session with the accused.”

Vicki barely glanced at Director Preston; the padded door on the other side of the room had opened, revealing the men in grey and the chained figure of Oberon being led in. Not a hair was out of place on his head, and his uniform didn't sag or look too tight on him (the question of do they custom-tailor the clothes for their prisoners around here? ran through the brunette gynoid's mind for a few seconds).....

…the only difference between this session and the last was the look in Oberon's eyes.

In her first session with the ex-chairman, Vicki had noticed a bloodshot, almost haunted look---this time, by contrast, Oberon seemed to have emerged from a much-deserved rest. Obviously, he didn't exactly look “happy” by any stretch of the term---the realization came rather quickly: he's calmer, now, than he was before.

Even as the men in grey set about chaining him to the chair, the deposed chairman never looked away.

Despite the revelations made in their last session, Vicki returned Oberon's stare with her own.

Footsteps out of the chamber, and the sounds of two doors closing, were the only auditory cues pointing to Preston and the two men in grey having left the room. Seconds later, the clock began to tick again.

Might as well get on with it....

“You look....calmer, now. Or at least as calm as someone chained to a chair can be.”

“And you're talking to me as if we've been enemies from the start. I already told you why I took the course of action that I did against Epsilon---”

“How many?”

Oberon arched an eyebrow at the question---more to the point, at the bluntness of it. “....what?”

“How many others have you failed, over the years?” Vicki's eyes took on a soft blue glow for a moment.

“.....if you're trying to antagonize me, it won't work. Tony Sanderson's death was regrettable, yes....but the death of Epsilon was a necessary evil---”

Don't.

There was no trace of Victoria Anne-Smith Lawson---frightened, anxious, confused, determined to find every possible answer---in the voice that spoke that one word. The lips that formed it, and the face behind it, were (of course) the same....but the robotic, digitized monotone was most assuredly not.

“....so that's what it takes to get you to the end of this sordid tale,” Oberon mused. “Vicki Lawson asks the first few questions....and V.I.C.I handles the rest---”

Answer the question, or this session ends now. How many others have you failed?

Oberon stared at the floor, shaking his head. “You ask me this,” he murmured, “as if you think I'm proud of having let them down...I can assure you that I'm not.” The calmness in his stare never wavered as he looked back to stare into the glowing blue eyes of V.I.C.I; “I'd quote the old lyric about 'and bad mistakes, I've made a few',” he continued, “but something tells me you didn't come here for a song and dance routine---ironic, considering Soph----”

ANSWER THE QUESTION.

The smirk on the ex-Chairman's lips faded. “....I will,” he muttered. “Believe me, I will.....but first, allow me to ask you one question of my own---”

“Why do I care?” The robotic monotone had vanished, as had the glowing eyes.

Oberon actually chuckled. “Was I that predictable?”

“Kirsten Sanderson lost both of her parents due to circumstances beyond her control, and almost got herself bricked trying to keep her father safe. A nobody who wanted to 'get his foot in the door' has infected two different gynoids, from the ALPA and the Coalition, with the Helios virus, and could probably spread it through Silicon Valley if nobody stops him. I'm willing to bet that over a dozen or so people---probably more---have had their lives royally screwed up by everything that's happened over the past few days.....under your orders.”

Vicki's eyes glowed blue again. “Is that a good enough answer for you?”

“......you lay all of this at my feet,” Oberon mused, “as if you think I caused all of it---”

“And you're going to say you didn't?! You trying to take down Epsilon is what caused all of those things to happen.....are you seriously going to just insulate yourself like this, like a king on a chess board---”

“No.”

“Did you even think of the damage you'd do to them? To their lives? Or was it just like moving pieces into place, waiting for the right moment---”

“Just stop.....please......”

“You want me to stop? Answer my question. How many others did you fail, over the years, like you failed the Sandersons?”

“Vicki...don't do this....”

“Everything that's happened---everything you've done---has been weighing on my mind like a freaking ten-ton hammer over the past day or so. The last thing I'm going to do is stop asking questions about all of this---”

“You don't understand....” Oberon was hunched over in his chair now, his fists clenched. “Vicki—-”

“What is all of this, to you? One big game of chess, with you as the White King---”

I AM NO KING!

Oberon's scream stopped Vicki's accusations with the force of a fastball hitting a concrete wall. “I have never, in the entire history of the ALPA, set myself up as anything like a king,” the ex-chairman hissed, glaring at the brunette gynoid from the far side of the room. “Yet every single time I take a step, make even the slightest of suggestions on how something needs to be done.....” He shook his head. “It's astonishing, how quickly a label can stick to someone...something like 'King of the Valley', even as a sodding joke.....ten bloody years, I heard that name, even before I earned the title of Chairman.....”

His voice dropped to a harsh whisper. “....but I am no king. Not of man, nor of machine.....”

Vicki felt as if she'd been welded to the floor. After her emotional breakdown from the last session, she'd made the decision to hammer away at her former mentor with a never-ending barrage of questions, never letting him have an opportunity to deliver anything with the impact of “I refused to let it hinder me” again. “I....I didn't.....”

“I am no king,” Oberon repeated, “yet my so-called allies---and my enemies insist on 'honoring' me as such...”

“I didn't mean it that way,” Vicki insisted. “I was just---”

She stopped, realizing Oberon was staring at her yet again. “....I was talking about chess,” she murmured, “not calling you---”

“If I am to be a king,” the disgraced Chairman declared, “then bestow upon me the name, crown and mantle of King Nothing, the First, monarch of fools and and saviour of none!” He gestured to the chair he'd been shackled to; “And this,” he spat, “the throne from which I rule over a land of mistakes, damnation and good intentions gone awry.....” He bowed his head, his figure wracked by heaving breaths. “You really want to know how many people I've failed, Agent Lawson?”

Before Vicki could respond, Oberon looked up---the sclera of his eyes had gone almost completely red, as twin trails of tears ran down his cheeks.

“Too many.”

Vicki half-expected the door behind her to be flung open, for Director Preston to interrupt again with news of another flyover---in all honesty, she wanted to be interrupted, to have Oberon's explanation cut off. After five whole seconds without the door opening, however, she finally spoke. “....okay, you've failed...too many---”

“Celeste.” Oberon gave a mirthless chuckle. “You already know some of the sordid history between myself and the ex-Matriarch of the House...” He gestured to his blood-red eyes. “...complete with the ever-lingering reminders of our falling out. Unfortunately, the dissolution of what we had was not merely a failing brought on by a bad romance---she was caught up in the rush of her rise to power, and I was....caught up in other things, at the time. I made promises to her, promises of a better life....”

He turned away (at least, as much as the chair allowed). “....promises of a family.....”

For some unexplainable reason, Vicki's thoughts turned to the upper level of the Visitation Room, ringed by a catwalk of sorts where unseen guards monitored the entire session. She wondered, briefly, what would have to happen for them to take action....

“They're only watching, for now. Unless I do something daft, in the next few minutes...all they'll do is watch.”

Oberon's words drew Vicki's attention back to him. “....so, you promised Celeste a family.”

“She wasn't the only one I made that kind of promise to. I'm sure Alicia mentioned losing her intended family when they were appropriated for one of the many weapons shipments sent to the Contras.....” The disgraced Chairman shook his head. “....instead of trying to save them, I was doing my damndest to keep Celeste from going on a tear after we had our....falling out.”

Thoughts of Director Preston mentioning that Oberon had failed him---or at the very least, shown the man just how little he knew of him---rose to the forefront of Vicki's processors; the question formed on her lips---

“The 'P' in ALPA wasn't always for 'protection', you know.”

Obreon was staring at the floor again. “Preston was a younger man, then....your father already confessed to his sins at that time, or rather his complicity in the sins of those who were slaughtering androids and gynoids that didn't even have names....It was the Artificial Lifeform Procurement Agency, back then....and before that, it was the Artificial Lifeform Production Association....” A low, disgusted hiss left his nostrils. “It wasn't until the mid-80s that the P finally stood for 'Protection'....it took me that long to finally stand up to them, to stare down every greed-head and war-monger and say the two words someone should've said to them since the start....”

He looked up, his eyes no longer shot through with blood: “No more.”

The brunette gynoid nodded slowly, supressing all urges to demand further explanation about the ALPA's sordid past. “....but that doesn't explain---”

“I had the chance to help him,” Oberon spat. “Preston.....he could've taken charge faster, done more good within the ALPA, if I'd been focused on what mattered. Instead, I was trying so damned hard to do the best I could at keeping everyone happy....the government, the robotics companies, the Coalition, that sodding mercurial Celeste.....I was doing everything for them, and not enough for the people who needed my help. It was a fool's errand, but....”

He shook his head. “Preston's sister had married an android. I missed the ceremony, for reasons previously detailed....they needed a set of paperwork to prove he was 'natural'. I could've gotten them in minutes.”

The question “so why didn't you?” barely formed in Vicki's processors before Oberon broke down in tears.

“.....family reunion.....she was introducing him to everyone...some idiot had....” He paused for a second, drying his eyes with the back of his hands. “....some plonker had brought an infrared remote for the TV, as a 'gift' or something....” His fists clenched. “Damned stupid thing went and sent contradictory signals, the new groom wound up getting a burn-out---while he and the missus were 'sneaking a quickie' in the upstairs bedroom. And I mean 'burn-out' in the literal sense...with his blushing bride trapped under him.”

Vicki's eyes widened in shock.

“The 'official cause' of the fire,” Oberon continued, “was listed as an electric blanket with a frayed wire....I was in charge of planting one at the scene when I showed up.” A haunted tone had crept into his voice, now; “Four rooms,” he muttered. “Four whole rooms, gone up in flames.....”

His words trailed off into a sob. “....along with everyone in them....”

Words and images flashed, unbidden, into Vicki's field of vision: “FREAK ELECTRIC BLANKET FIRE CLAIMS EIGHT LIVES!”, “FAMILY REUNION GOES UP IN FLAMES!”, “NEWLYWED NIGHTMARE – GET-TOGETHER GONE BAD!” and other sensationalist headlines appeared, accompanied by pictures of a ruined two-story house, smoke billowing from the upstairs windows. One picture, in higher definition than the rest, showed a young man (Director Preston, the brunette gynoid realized) staring with slack-jawed shock at the carnage....

...and, in the background, a white-clad figure looking away.

“The groom would've been given a shielding upgrade,” Oberon muttered, “once the paperwork had all been sorted out. Just a few minutes, is all it would've taken.....”

Despite her growing sense of dread, Vicki spoke up: “What about Celeste's daughter?”

Oberon stared at her, tears still trailing down his face. “....what?”

“You....you said you gave Celeste a daughter, earlier. What happened---”

“No.” The ex-Chairman turned away as best he could. “I've told you enough about how much of a failure I've been over the years.....you've heard enough about her before, anyways---”

What happened to Celeste's daughter?

Again, it was the face of Vicki Lawson behind the question---but the voice that spoke the words, and the blue, glowing eyes that stared at Oberon, were those of V.I.C.I. “Tell me,” the brunette gynoid repeated, “what happened to Celeste's daughter.

“.....before I answer your question----”

Not this time. I've done enough explaining of my own for one day. Answer the question.

A lesser man would've withered under the piercing blue stare and the digitized monotone; to his credit, Oberon merely nodded. “Your father would be proud of you, Victoria....”

Enough stalling. Talk.

“....she wanted a family. Celeste, I mean.....she wanted a family. Husband, progeny, all that. For a month or so....” Oberon paused, shaking his head again---this time, in disbelief. “.....she actually wanted to experience the 'wonderment' of giving birth, as humans do....obviously, there was no way on God's green Earth that it was going to happen, the technology just.....” He gave a brief, exasperated chuckle. “....anyway....she wanted a family, but everyone knew it wouldn't happen in the, ah, 'traditional' way, so.....”

You created one for her.”

“Just a daughter,” Oberon corrected. “She was meant to be the first of many....if fate had been kinder, she'd be the one in charge of the House right now, probably....” His lips parted in a wistful smile at what could've been.

Except fate wasn't kind,” V.I.C.I surmised. “What happened---”

“Celeste.” The disgraced Chairman took a deep breath. “Celeste, for lack of a better term, happened...she was on one of her damn foolish 'crusades' again, I can't even remember what it was about....the exact details elude me, at the moment, but all they told me when she was brought in---”

Brought in?” V.I.C.I echoed, confusion tinging her monotone. “What---”

“She was supposed to meet me at the airport, after her little 'trip',” Oberon clarified. “Instead, we had our meet-up at a clinic---basically, think of Tell's shop, but sort of, ah, franchised....anyway, she was brought in, and all they'd say---her entourage, if you're wondering....” He sighed. “All they were willing to tell me was 'we think she's been infected'. Not a word more.” His shoulders slumped, as if dreading what he was about to say. “I was able to persuade the attending technicians to let me take a look at her charts, and...”

Stylo?

“...it didn't have a name. It could've been some early permutation of Stylo, it could've been something else entirely....all I know is, whatever Celeste was infected with, it changed her. When they reactivated her....I don't know how she knew, but she knew she was still infected....”

Oberon bowed his head. “....she begged me not to tell anyone. Pleaded with me....”

His eyes brimmed with tears. “....and I agreed.”

Before V.I.C.I could speak, the ex-Chairman continued: “The changes were...subtle, at first, but over time, they were far easier to notice. She was more possessive---possessive of me, even though we weren't a couple in any sense....and on those instances where we fell out of favor with each other, she was far more aggressive, more....ruthless.” His tone turned bitter; “It wasn't even about 'love', after the infection,” he muttered. “She was lusting after me, almost hungering for...” He rolled his eyes at the thought. “It was affecting her leadership abilities, as well---the simplest decisions became opportunities for power-grabs, favor-mongering....”

He cast his gaze to the floor. “....letting her raise a daughter at that point would've been...unforgivable.”

Before V.I.C.I could interrupt him again, he continued: “I did the only responsible thing I could do, which was to allow the ALPA to take custody of Celeste's daughter. She wasn't mine to 'give' to them....”

You let them take her.” V.I.C.I's assessment wasn't a question. “And Celeste....”

“Took the news about as well as you'd expect....” He gestured to his eyes again. “You already know the sordid story of my bloody tears...even if my poisoning wasn't ordered directly by her, she wasn't exactly displeased with the news of my suffering...the point is, I've made promises before, and I've failed to keep them---and in the case of Celeste, I failed because I kept a promise.”

And Epsilon is....your latest failure?

“And I didn't even have to maneuver the conversation back to it...” Oberon closed his eyes. “Yes, my attempt to kill Epsilon is my latest and worst failure to date.” He held his arms up, ignoring the restraints that kept him shackled to the chair. “These failures, and so many more, are why I am no king, and will never be the king of anything. Too many people have lost far too much, all because of promises I made.”

And you never promised the Sandersons anything?

If V.I.C.I.'s question had any impact on Oberon, he hid it well. “Two of them are already gone. I don't think I need to burden you with---”

“Did you make any promises to them, or not?”

“.....I've told you enough, for one day.” The ex-Chairman bowed his head. “More than enough, really...”

I don't think you have.” V.I.C.I didn't move from where she stood. “I want to know, right now, if you made any promises to the Sanderson family or---”

“Two of them have already died. Kirsten is still on the mend from almost having her own memory wiped, by that sodding magnet in the AutoYard....she's suffered enough.” Oberon took a deep breath. “Nothing I say, or refuse to say, will change that fact---for you, for her or for any of her surviving relatives.”

A number of replies filtered through V.I.C.I,'s processors....but none of them were spoken out loud.

“I wouldn't have had time to say much, anyways,” Oberon quietly added, almost as an afterthought.

“....what?

“The clock, for our session. It's down to....three minutes, at the very least.”

A lot can be said in three minutes.

“Unless there's nothing left to say...which is exactly where we stand at this very moment.” Oberon sighed. “I can only assume that this didn't go quite the way you expected it to....”

For a full minute, V.I.C.I stared at Oberon, no words leaving her artificial lips.

“...your silence speaks volumes,” the ex-Chairman intoned. “I only ask that you remember this exchange, and that no matter what anyone else---and I do mean anyone else---tells you....”

Again, he bowed his head. “....I am no king. I never have been, and I never will be.”

The brunette gynoid started, silently, as the door behind Oberon's chair opened, allowing the men in grey to enter the Visitation Area. None of them spoke as they unlocked the shackles that bound him to the restraint chair. As they led the ex-Chairman out, he turned to glance, one last time, at V.I.C.I.....

...and once again, his final words echoed in her mind: I am no king. I never have been, and I never will be.

The men in grey closed the door behind them, leaving V.I.C.I in total silence.
----------------------------------
"No one steals our chicks.....and lives!"

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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Postby DukeNukem 2417 » Mon Oct 15, 2018 1:11 pm

“.....well, we've done all we can do from a hardware standpoint.”

Galatea glanced at Anton and Inspektor 12---both of them still wearing scrubs and gloves stained with various vital fluids from their full teardown and rebuilding of Kristen Casey, a.k.a. Casey, after her graphic demise by way of the Helios program. Anton's mood had thankfully remained optimistic---or at least, as optimistic as he could be while repairing a gynoid who'd effectively been burned from the inside out by a virus/”security program”; Inspektor 12, meanwhile, was staring thoughtfully at the immobile figure of the rebuilt K.C.

“Something on your mind, Inspektor?”

The Inspektor had barely even noticed Galatea's approach. “It occurs to me,” he mused, “that Miss Casey might be irreparably changed by all of this. Her personality, her perspective....”

“And you think Helios is what might change her?” the silver-skinned gynoid inquired.

“Changes or no changes,” Anton cut in, “we'll never know for sure until she's back online. Oh, and you might be interested to know that I got a call from our friends in the EDF during our last break---they may know how Mills was able to get his hands on Helios.”

Inspektor 12 arched an eyebrow at the mention of the Earth Defense Force---but Galatea's groan caught the professor's attention. “You told them about this? I thought they were still handling the cleanup on the whole Rigelit----I mean, the 'hazmat weirdo' incident!”

“That was last year,” Anton reminded her. “And I was in contact with their Cyber Defense Initiative branch.”

“Cyber....what?!”

Anton chuckled. “I'll explain later---”

“A wise decision,” Inspektor 12 reminded him. “Especially since Miss Casey still has yet to return to the land of the living.” He glanced back at K.C.'s motionless form. “How current are her latest backups?”

“Gimme a sec....” Galatea checked a nearby laptop, her expression immediately turning grim. “Oh, scrap...”

“Unless Maise's primer on cyber-slang is out of date,” the Inspektor remarked, “I can only assume you've found something that's....very not good, to put it mildly.”

“Let me see....” Anton joined Galatea in staring at the readouts on the laptop. “They're from the night before her infection! Anything else she may have missed, she can get the info from a debriefing!”

“Including the part where she died?”

The expression on Galatea's face was difficult to pinpoint....but her eyes held an eerily human air of sadness as she spoke. “Even if she 'gets the info' about what happened leading up to her infection, right down to the last few minutes before the end,” she quietly informed Anton, “there's almost half a day missing from her memory after that....” She nodded at the not-yet activated gynoid on the work table. “....not to mention the tiny little fact that you managed to give her a body that's a bit more....built than her old one.”

Her remark wasn't lost on Anton or the Inspektor---the new body they'd selected for K.C. was at least two inches taller than her old one, and was a full cup size bigger, to boot. The hair color and skin tone matched, and even the face was a perfect reproduction....but there was no denying that her new body was different.

“....I'm starting to see why Rae got upset when I mentioned how K.C. was 'off the shelf',” Anton muttered.

The silver-skinned gynoid gave him a perfect Kubrick stare. “You actually used that term?”

“What's passed is past, and cannot be undone,” Inspektor 12 interjected. “I'm sure Anton meant no offense in regards to Miss Casey....am I right?” He lowered his shades slightly, glancing at the roboticist.

“Of course I didn't mean any offense! I was just making the point that repairs would be easier---”

The Inspektor held up one hand, prompting him to quiet down. “And I'm sure that you, more than any other girl of your kind on the planet, knows that not every gynoid is as....unique....as you are, Galatea.”

“Believe me, I know.” Galatea rolled her eyes. “But thanks anyway for putting it in perspective.”

“You're more than welcome, my dear. Now, back to the matter at hand....”

Galatea once again moved to hold K.C.'s head---this time, to allow Anton to move the gynoid's hair aside and plug a USB cable into a port hidden behind the right ear of her new body. “Not to ruin the mood or disrupt our work with idle chit-chat, or anything,” she mused, “but I haven't seen Alicia for the past hour or so....”

“She left right after the Inspektor got here,” Anton replied, not looking up. “Had to tend to 'House business'.”

“You say that like it's a bad thing....unless it was about Florida.”

“Actually, it wasn't. Something to do with a group from Japan...” Anton paused. “I heard you telling Inspektor 12 that Ted and Rae had left, earlier---”

“I'll give you the full story later. Right now, we have a Field Agent to resurrect...” Galatea noticed Anton's frown and the Inspektor's politely bemused look at the same time. “.....or reboot,” she added, “or whichever term you prefer---you know what I meant.”

“We do indeed...did you bring her ASU?”

Anton ducked behind the table, emerging with what appeared to be a large plastic box with no visible handles or hinges on it. “And this is a portable model,” he grunted, setting it down near Casey's midsection. “Just be glad she was able to bring it with her when her old family gave her the boot, otherwise...”

“Let's not focus on the negative,” Galatea advised. “We've got her ASU, we've salvaged what we could...”

“Cutting right to the heart of the matter,” the Inspektor declared, giving the silver-skinned gynoid a hearty clap on the back. “Almost reminds me of some of my own girls...your father would definitely be proud of you, my dear.” He smiled. “And of his old business partner,” he added, glancing at Anton.

“Way to shift the spotlight,” Galatea teased, quietly wiping a tear from her metallic cheek. “And also...thanks.”

“As always, you are most welcome.” Inspektor 12 nodded.

“Not to bring the compliment cavalcade to a crashing halt,” Anton reminded the pair, “but we're not out of the woods yet...we still need to get Casey back online.” He paused for a moment, frowning.

Galatea folded her arms across her chest, arching an eyebrow in the roboticist's direction. “I know that look,” she mused, “and I have a feeling it's either something profound or something profoundly not good. Anything you'd like to share with the Inspektor and I, Professor?”

“....it took twelve people to bring Vicki back,” Anton murmured. “Now, with Casey, it's just three....”

“Vicki's case was different,” the Inspektor reminded him. “The Eleven were all summoned......”

“And I'm pretty sure you both know Casey's history with her own family by now,” Galatea added.

Anton scowled. “I wish, every day, that we didn't have to know it. She was outed as a gynoid midway through her teens---boarding school. Worst possible place for it to happen.”

“I actually had to go there on damage-control,” Galatea admitted. “Obviously, not like this....” Her sarcastic tone faded; “It was....sobering, to be honest,” she continued, her voice a low, haunted murmur. “The way they were talking about Casey, like she was just a thing---some of them had known her for weeks, even thought of her as a friend....” The memory sent a shudder through her. “And the staff, talking about calling her 'owners' instead of her family, as if she were never anything but property....”

“Her family didn't exactly do any better,” the Inspektor muttered. “If I remember correctly, the first question they asked the investigating Field Agents was how long they'd have to wait to buy a replacement model.....”

He stopped, noticing Galatea's grip on the work table leaving rather sizable dents in it.

“Your father,” Inspektor 12 quietly reminded her, “never saw androids and gynoids as mere property, nor did he ever refer to them as 'just things'. I share that view---Rochelle, Maisie, Gina and the rest are far more than just 'robots', to me....and even though it took him a few years to get there, Ted Lawson came to his senses just as quickly, in that regard.” He sighed. “There are even some who view robots as 'property', yet still treat them with the respect due to human beings...”

Even as his words trailed off, Galatea almost knew what the Inspektor would've said next.

“As I recall, she recovered from that...unpleasantness...rather well,” Anton stated. “And seeing as how we're helping her recover this time around....” He gestured at the table.

“Right, right...repair now, reminisce later.” The silver-skinned gynoid nodded.

Inspektor 12 went over a checklist on a nearby laptop; “Unless we've missed about five or six steps over the course of this procedure,” he stated, “everything should be in place for her reactivation.”

“Pretty sure we didn't miss anything...” Galatea paused for a moment, going over her own mental checklist.

“We didn't miss a step---I've checked five or six times.” Anton strode past the laptop Inspektor 12 was going over, taking a quick glance at the list as he went. “....seven, now. We'll need to get the tools off of the table, of course....”

Galatea and the Inspektor circled the table, picking up tools and putting them on the nearby “crash cart” that Anton had brought over from his office. “It probably goes without saying,” the gynoid mused, gently setting down a panel removal tool as she spoke, “but once she's back online....if Casey starts asking questions that will go into why she's in a new body....I don't think we should tell her about Helios.”

“And if she finds out from Agent Lyndon or someone else?” the Inspektor queried.

“Then we tell her---but only if we have no other choice.” Galatea glanced at the edge of the work table that she'd dented earlier. “We should all be thankful that Casey was never a sleeper....”

The Inspektor said nothing, choosing instead to input a nine-digit code into a keypad on Casey's ASU.

“We should also be thankful,” Anton mused, “that Casey never changed her code...strange how she has one even though she wasn't a Laine-designed unit---” He noticed Galatea giving him a “please stop talking” look, and he let the remark trail off.

Once the last digit of the code was entered, the keypad retreated into the ASU, and a panel closed over it.

“.....so, how long do we have to wait---”

Galatea's question was answered---not by Anton or the Inspektor, but by Casey herself. The gynoid's eyes opened, glowing a soft green. “Ac.ti.va.tion code ac.cep.ted,” she stated, her voice a clipped, synthetic monotone. “Sys.tem i.ni.ti.al.iz.at.ion com.men.cing....”

Anton's mutter of “Another Laine hallmark” went ignored by the Inspektor, though Galatea gave him a look.

Di.ag.nos.tic in pro.gress.....”

Several trilling beeps issued from within Casey's form. “If there are any traces of Helios still in her systems,” the Inspektor mused, “I have a feeling they'll be detected here.”

“Right, right....” Galatea nodded absently. “Is it always like this?”

Her murmured question earned a puzzled look from Anton. “Is what always like this?”

“Activations....fresh off the assembly line, or first time in a new body....” The silver-skinned gynoid's right hand drifted to her chest, where a human's heart would've been. “Is it always this....robotic?”

“....was yours?” Anton quietly asked.

Whatever reply Galatea could've given was cut off by a final, almost musical beep from Casey. “All sys.tems fun.ct.io.ning nor.mal.ly.”

Inspektor 12 nodded his approval. “No traces of Helios in her. Everything's coming up green---”

He stopped, realizing that Galatea was shivering, her simulated breath sounding close to sobbing; Anton was at her side in an instant, embracing her.

Casey's announcement of “Neu.ral net.work map.ping in pro.gress” went ignored---Anton was too busy guiding the silver-skinned gynoid to the sofa, one arm still around her shoulders. Her lips were moving too quickly for the Inspektor to read, but it was clear that Casey's reactivation had brought forth one too many painful memories.

The Inspektor's attention was diverted from the emotional moment by Casey slowly sitting up on the table, uttering “Ba.lance co.or.di.na.tion in pro.gress” as she moved. Her motions were just a bit more fluid and lifelike than expected as she turned, positioning herself to stand up on the floor. Once she'd eased herself off of the table, a few subtle motions were all it took to keep her on her feet. Another beep sounded, followed by the utterance of “I.den.ti.fy.ing sur.roun.din.gs” from the gynoid. Inspektor 12 nodded, only to hear another sob from the general direction of the sofa; Galatea was whispering something to Anton, tears still trailing down her metallic cheeks. The roboticist replied in a comforting tone, prompting a nod from the purple-haired gynoid as she rose from the sofa.

As the pair rejoined Inspektor 12 near the work table, a final tone emitted from Casey as she stood, motionless, before them. “Di.ag.nos.tic com.plete. Hu.man per.so.na.li.ty ful.ly fun.ct.io.nal. Ac.ti.va.ting hu.man per.so.na.li.ty em.ul.at.ion....”

K.C. blinked a few times, the glow in her eyes fading to a “normal” pupil/iris.

“...okay,” she mused, “why are you all staring at me like that?”

“Ah, well,” Anton admitted, “you're kind of....” He gestured at her torso.

“What are you---OH, MY GOD!” K.C. quickly covered her bare breasts and crotch with her hands.

The Inspektor stepped in, keeping a respectable distance. “In our defense, we were merely repairing you...”

A quick glance at her ASU and the tools on the cart were more than enough proof for K.C. “...right, right. I just...” She paused, frowning. “Is it just me, or am I taller than I remember?”

“....there's a perfectly logical explanation for that,” Anton began, only to stop; K.C. was no longer covering herself with her hands. “I didn't think a boob job was an upgrade option this early in my ALPA career,” she joked, hefting one breast in her hand and squeezing it. “Not too big, but not flatter than a clipboard....” A quick crane of her neck gave her the barest glance at her rear end. “So I'm guessing my butt's a bit bigger than before, too, then....”

“Slightly.” Inspektor 12 glanced at the ASU. “You've been offline for...a day and a half, at the very least, Miss Casey.”

“That long? For a repair job?”

“We wanted to be thorough,” Anton replied. “The ALPA doesn't cut corners when it comes to repairs---”

“All right, all right...” K.C. sighed. “Crap, I have a mission to get to, with Kylie---”

Galatea finally stepped forward. “.....K.C.,” she quietly admitted, “you were already on that mission.”

“....I was?” The Fiend Agent frowned. “Then how come I don't remember it?”

“That,” Anton quickly cut in, “is why you were brought in for this repair job....”

As the Inspektor watched Anton “explain” K.C.'s situation to her, he noticed Galatea seem to lose focus---and her eyes blinking almost too rapidly to track. For a second, he thought that the silver-skinned gynoid was once again succumbing to an overpowering emotional memory....only to recall their earlier discussion about not telling K.C. everything about her situation right off the bat.

“....and we'll get you back to your apartment before too long, if you don't have a problem with it.”

Anton's assurance earned a frown from K.C. “Thanks, but....can I get some clothes, first? I know I'm not going to freeze to death, or anything, but....well.....” She gestured at her nude form.

Before Anton or the Inspektor could speak, Galatea gave a slight gasp; K.C., and the two roboticists turned to glance at her. “Sorry,” she breathed, “I was just....my internal communications suite is being a bit...difficult, for some reason, and I was trying to call Kylie...let her know you're okay, that you need spare clothes, all of that good stuff. She's on her way right now.”

“I thought she was already here,” Anton cut in, only to get nudged in the side.

“As long as I don't have to go back to my place wearing just a sheet, it'll be worth the wait,” K.C. replied, taking a seat on the couch. “I can't believe I missed almost a whole day....”

Inspektor 12 nearly spoke up, only for Galatea to guide him towards the kitchen by the shoulders. Anton, as if on cue, took a seat next to the nude gynoid (keeping his gaze firmly directed at eye-level), turning the topic of conversation towards “lighter fare”, as he put it; the Inspektor barely got to hear a word of what he said to K.C. before Galatea pulled the kitchen door shut behind her.

When she turned to regard the Inspektor, her eyes were once again brimming with tears.

“...I told Kylie,” she breathed, without even waiting for the Inspektor to ask. “I told her that we've had to lie to K.C., that she's waiting for a ride back to her place....that she doesn't remember what happened....”

“We're doing the right thing,” Inspektor 12 reminded her, gently placing a hand on her shoulder.

Then why do I feel like such a traitor?!” Galatea nearly collapsed into the Inspektor, sobbing into his shirt as he caught her. “We're manipulating her memories, keeping secrets from her....it feels like we're no better than them....”

Something about the way she practically spat the word “them” didn't sit well with the Inspektor, but he ignored it for the time being. “We are nothing like 'them', my dear,” he assured her. “I can promise you, we will never be anything like 'them'. Agent Casey's situation is....unique, and we've handled it in the most effective way that we could. Also, if I recall correctly, you were the one who suggested that we not mention Helios, or its role in this sordid tale---”

“I know! I just....I wasn't thinking....at least, not clearly.....” Galatea stopped herself, noticing streaks of flesh-tone going down her hands. “....no......not again....not now.....” She glanced at her reflection in the door of the microwave; both trails of tears on her face left fading trails of “flesh” on her otherwise metallic silver skin.

“I'll tell Anton to get the car ready,” the Inspektor began, turning to leave---only for the gynoid's hand to close around his wrist. “Don't,” Galatea pleaded, her voice taking on a synthetic tone. “....please...”

As the Inspektor watched, the “flesh” trails faded back to silver.

“....it's just a glitch,” Galatea murmured. “Whenever I.....” She turned away, taking a deep breath. “When I get emotional,” she continued, her voice back to its “natural” sound, “certain subprocesses tend to....get away from me, at the worst possible moments. This whole thing with K.C....it brought back a lot of really, really bad memories for me, from before.....”

“From before you became a fully-fledged Field Agent of the ALPA,” Inspektor 12 finished, his tone grim.

Galatea nodded. “A lot of us were different, before the ALPA,” she admitted. “Rae had left her old home behind for one owner who didn't know when to stop gambling, and another who wanted to use her as a status symbol---among other things....Vicki was attending classes at SJSU like any other girl of her emulated age, until that idiot Faceless came looking for her again....and as for me, well....”

She turned away. “... funny how Oberon had a hand in all three of us joining....and now...”

“A coincidence,” the Inspektor assured her. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

“Except he didn't tell Vicki or Rae what he told me,” Galatea countered. “He didn't ask them to do what I did, what I helped him to do....”

She stared into Inspektor 12's eyes. “....he didn't ask them to make him forget...”

The slightest tremor of a vein in his cheek was the only sign that the Inspektor was in any way unnerved by what the gynoid had just told him. “...and I can only assume that nobody else in the ALPA knows about this?” he quietly asked. “Or what, exactly, you made him forget?”

“I think you already know the answer to that question.”

Inspektor 12 nodded. “And you won't....make me 'forget' this exchange?”

“If I tried it on you, you'd probably forget a lot more---and that wasn't a threat.”

Something in the gynoid's tone—regret, perhaps?—left the Inspektor feeling more uneasy than before, but he ignored it. “Miss Casey will more than likely need some help getting her bearings,” he mused, already heading for the door. “Shall we?”

“Good idea...” Galatea nearly tripped over her own feet, following the Inspektor out.
----------------------------------
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Postby DukeNukem 2417 » Tue Oct 16, 2018 2:34 pm

“....you actually called him a king?!”

Sophia's question earned her a frown. “I didn't know he had such a dislike of the term,” Vicki admitted. “And I wasn't directly calling him a king, either...my whole point was that I thought he was acting like one...”

“...I guess that makes sense,” Sophia admitted. “Still, you could've eased up on---”

“I didn't want to just freeze up again,” Vicki countered. “After the first session, I didn't want him to catch me off-guard with an answer, and be left standing there like a deer in the headlights....” She signed, laying back on the bed in her assigned room. “All of this has been....”

“Far too much to take in?” Sophia prompted.

“I was going to say it's been exactly the opposite of what I felt like when I first met you....the whole 'fly around the world without touching down' thing...” Vicki gave a humorless chuckle. “But it really has been a lot to take in, now that I think about it.”

Sophia nearly said something, but a knock on the door cut her off. “Room Service!”

The overly-exaggerated, fake Southern accent prompted a giggle from Vicki. “I was wondering when I'd run into you out here, Tell....it's unlocked!”

“Remind me why I keep thinking that impression would ever work,” David Allen Tell mused, as the door slid open to allow him entry into the room. “I take it you don't need a tune-up on the fly while I'm here---and with Sophia, as well!” He beamed as he noticed the pigtailed pop star; “Still not wearing the 'uniform', I see,” he mused. “Walking around here dressed like that must've earned you a few dozen stares---”

“I haven't heard any complaints,” Sophia replied, grinning. “Nice to see you too, Mr. Tell.”

Tell glanced over his shoulder as the door closed, nodding as it quietly hissed shut; “I'm guessing you're both handling this well,” he mused. “Well, I'm hoping you are, actually....”

Sophia shrugged. “Other than terminal boredom, I'm good.”

Vicki almost scoffed, but couldn't quite bring herself to meet Tell's gaze as she sat up. “It's been...interesting.”

“I know that tone,” the field mechanic stated. “You don't need to self-censor with 'interesting' if you want to say something else....I heard about what happened when you first got here, too.”

“You don't have to remind me,” Vicki muttered. “I just....I didn't think it would come back to bite me...”

“And speaking of things I know,” Tell mused, “that look of yours is very familiar.”

The brunette gynoid frowned. “Don't tell me it's 'factory preset whatever', because I don't want to know.”

Her remark prompted a chuckle from the mechanic. “Believe me, V, nothing about your personality is 'factory preset'...I was going to say that I know that look because you get that look when you're feeling particularly thoughtful about something.” He grabbed a spare chair and pulled it close to the bed, taking a seat. “So, as a fully-licensed ALPA Field Mechanic and a close family friend, I have to ask...what's on your mind?”

“....was I meant to have this....connective sense thing, when I was brought back?”

“That....is pretty far outside of my sphere of expertise to answer,” Tell admitted.

“So you don't know,” Vicki finished, frowning.

“....in all honesty, it might've been part of the planned upgrades for you,” Tell replied. “Remember, everything that could be used as a weakness was eliminated---”

Vicki arched an eyebrow. “And this 'connective sense' isn't a weakness?”

“It's not just WiFi, if you're wondering,” Tell assured her. “Nobody's going to be using you to mine credit card data any time soon...every bit of your software protection is ALPA-spec, so everything that makes you, well, you, is safer than Fort Knox.”

“So why did I feel bogged down when I got here?”

Tell sighed. “The countermeasures here can bring any android or gynoid to their knees, if need be. I hear you cleared the whole hallway before you finally dropped...” He actually nodded, as if proud of that fact. “...most other gynoids wouldn't have even made it halfway---”

“You sound a bit too happy about that,” Sophia mused. “And the 'countermeasures' didn't kick on for me...”

“Because you didn't have Vicki's connective sense,” Tell reminded her. “She was just passively scanning her environment, and the envrionment, for lack of a better term, reacted.”

“That was a 'reaction'?” Vicki mused, frowning again. “A reaction to a passive scan?”

“Be lucky you weren't actively scanning it, or trying to focus on anything---we'd be having this conversation in a repair bay, it we were having it at all.” Tell sighed. “Believe me, V, your connective sense isn't the problem here—like I said, the countermeasures were triggered by a passive scan, and you didn't know that kind of a reaction would occur in the first place.”

Vicki did her best to dismiss the idea with an eye-roll. “Next time, I'll make sure not to run the passive scan.”

Tell arched an eyebrow, and even Sophia looked somewhat bemused. “Ah, Vicki,” the pigtailed gynoid quietly reminded her, “the whole point of a passive scan is that you don't have to manually turn it on or off...”

“I get it,” Vicki sighed, falling back and letting her head hit the bed again. “Everything about this place....it's left me feeling like I'm in another world or something. The men in grey, for one....it feels like no matter where they are in a room, where they're standing compared to where I am.....” She gave a short bark of a chuckle. “This is going to sound so stupid---”

“It feels like they're watching you?”

Hearing the question from Tell, rather than from her own lips, wiped the humorless smile from Vicki's lips.

“...they're quiet, too,” Sophia murmured. “Sometimes too quiet. I was in my 'assigned' room, a few hours ago, writing lyrics...I could've sworn I'd locked the door! Ten minutes in, I turn around....”

Tell nodded. “They have universal access. If they need to get anywhere in the building, they can.”

“If you're trying to make me feel less paranoid,” Vicki muttered, “it's not working.”

“You have nothing to feel paranoid about, V,” Tell assured her. “This is ALPA territory---the security protocols around this place make Fort Knox look like a piggy bank.” He smirked at the analogy. “Granted, they don't exactly like that fact, over at the Fort, but it's the truth...”

Vicki scowled. “And why are we comparing a secure ALPA facility to a gold repository?”

“We were talking about the security protocols,” Sophia reminded her. “Speaking of which...”

“I haven't found out anything new about the flyover, if that's what you're trying to hint at. It's strictly 'need to know', and in their own words---”

“You don't need to know,” Sophia finished, rolling her eyes. “At least you're honest, Mr. Tell.”

The mechanic grinned. “You can call me Tell, y'know. 'Mr. Tell' sounds like a bad radio call-in host.”

“Speaking of calls,” Vicki cut in, “I'm pretty sure you didn't drop in just for a friendly chat, or to tell Sophia you didn't find out anything else about the flyover...” She glanced at Tell with an arched eyebrow. “If this was about my little 'fainting spell' when I first got here---”

“Which we already discussed,” Tell reminded her, “complete with my assurance that it wasn't your fault.”

“....fair enough. And that's the only reason you're 'visiting'?”

“In all honesty...no,” Tell admitted. “And this isn't one of those 'if I told you, I'd have to kill you' things, if you're wondering, but I can't go into details---”

“Is it about how I 'handled' my talk with Oberon?”

“....was I that obvious?” Tell shook his head. “That was one of the things I was going to bring up, but since you're not still staring at the ceiling and wondering why he refused to let 'it' hinder him---before you ask, I was allowed to watch the security footage of the session....anyway, you seem to have recovered rather quickly from that, so unless you feel a need to talk about it with me....”

The brunette gynoid didn't hesitate to reply. “I think I've come to terms with it, now.”

“Coming to terms with it is better than fighting it tooth and nail,” Tell mused. “And, since we're both here, I feel like it's only fair to ask how you're doing, Sophia.”

“Other than boredom, a mild creativity drain and mild paranoia,” the pigtailed pop singer replied, “I'm okay.”

“Good to hear---and I never expected the legendary Sophia Starlet to feel creatively drained....” Tell rolled his eyes at the thought. “Granted, a place like this is more than enough to sap anyone's creativity. Hell, just trying to enjoy the classics is a challenge, here---yesterday, I tried reading some Kerouac in one of the 'break rooms', and someone walked up and asked me why I was reading the same page for thirty minutes.”

“Thirty minutes?” Vicki echoed.

“I hadn't even noticed---believe me, V, even a 'mere mortal' like myself can get the creeping horrors from this place. I've seen people pacing the halls, going over notes for meetings that ended the day before...”

Vicki's eyes widened in shock. “....so the 'roving security' measures here aren't just for androids and gynoids?”

“In all honesty,” Tell quietly replied, “I don't even think it's related to the security measures. Sometimes, people just....lose themselves, in the halls of this place. They find their way, and themselves, quickly enough...”

He shook his head. “....anyway. You're doing well and Sophia's doing well, so I can safely assume that you two don't need me hanging around all day.” He chuckled at the remark. “If you need to talk to me again, V, just tell the Director and he'll set something up.” He rose from his seat, nodding that the gynoids. “See you when I see you!” He gave a jaunty salute and headed for the door.

“I look forward to it,” Vicki called out, waving at his retreating form.

Sophia watched the door close behind Tell. “....so, Vicki....you were saying this has all been a lot to take in?”
----------------------------------
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Postby DukeNukem 2417 » Wed Oct 17, 2018 1:17 pm

“Rae, would you please get away from the door?!”

Ted's hissed warning had almost no effect on the gynoid. “I'm trying to find out a tiny bit more about our new 'friends', if you don't mind,” she mused, 'so please stop flapping your gums and let me get back to it!”

Kaede Minoru, the gynoid who had discovered Ted and Rae “hiding” on the lawn earlier, was still talking to the other four gynoids who'd shown up at Ted's; there was no sign of the sixth person Rae had apparently heard from outside the room, earlier, but she'd insisted to Ted that someone else was, indeed, inside the room. Ted, to his credit, was satisfied with the lengthy explanation that Kaede had given---even if he still had quite a few questions---but Kaede had insisted that Ted (and Rae) follow her inside to get the “full story”, an offer Rae was all too happy to accept...

“I know who I heard earlier,” Rae muttered, moving to position her ear closer to the door's keyhole. “They can't just hide him in there forever...”

“If this is about you needing or wanting to---”

Ted's attempt at a question (or was it an accusation?) fell flat a few seconds after Rae turned to stare daggers at him. “....never mind.”

“Just shush,” the gynoid muttered, turning to stare into the keyhole again. “Let me do the talking this time.”

“You're the one who put the tracer on them in the first place!” Ted groaned. “Why do you think they'd---”

“Ted,” Rae intoned, “shush.” Her eyes glowed softly as she held a finger to her lips.

Even as he folded his arms across his chest and tried to think about anything other than the situation he'd found himself in, Ted found it difficult to say angry at Rae for very long. He'd helped her out multiple times in the past, and apart from not mentioning her to Vicki before their first meeting in December of the previous year, had treated her like a member of his own extended family....and she, in turn, regarded him as a close friend, a confidant and, in her (thankfully rare) low points, someone to absorb the brunt of her tirades without flinching or folding under pressure. Others saw only facets of her personality: the playful flirtation, her unbridled and highly sensual enjoyment of being repaired, her devotion to Kylie Lyndon..

Rae Clarke was far more than the sum of her parts. Every “quirk” of hers wasn't just skillful programming or well-written software...it was a vital piece of what made her who she was.

Even as Rae stared through the keyhole, Ted found himself chuckling.

“....if this is about how my butt looks from where you're standing,” the chestnut-haired gynoid began, “you can save the compliment until later---”

“It's....it's not that,” Ted admitted. “I just...back at home---at my house, when you got mad at Anton for saying Casey's body was 'off the shelf'....thinking about it now, you're exactly the opposite of 'off the shelf'.” He shook his head, turning away slightly. “You think I'm nuts, don't you?” he mused. “Bringing something like that up now, of all times....”

A half-formed scowl died on Rae's lips. “....no,” she murmured. “I honestly don't think that....”

Footsteps approached the door she'd been standing by, forcing her to backpedal and stand near Ted. “Rain check?” she offered.

“Definitely.” Ted nodded. “And, ah, about the whole tracer thing---”

“I won't bring it up if you won't.” Rae winked.

The door opened to reveal Kaede Minoru, who regarded Ted and Rae with an apologetic look. “Sorry to keep you waiting...we were discussing whether or not to tell you more of the details of what's been going on with the House, and our reasons for needing the phone---”

“You gave us a pretty thorough explanation out on the lawn,” Rae mused.

Kaede nodded. “Almost all of my sisters---as in, Sisters of the House; we're not actually meant to be---”

“I get it,” Ted muttered, quickly adding “Sorry....it's a habit of Vicki's, and I, ah....” He shrugged. “You were going to say that you're not actually supposed to be part of the same family, though you're 'related' through the House...right?”

“Indeed---and you don't need to apologize.” Kaede smiled. “I've heard a lot about Vicki---all good things, of course. Agent LeHane, in particular, has told us plenty about her....in any case...” She stepped aside, allowing Ted and Rae to enter the room. “We were just about to hold a vote on whether or not to proceed with sending one of our number to Florida to look for Celeste, and...subdue her, if the need arose.”

“Interesting choice of words, there,” Rae muttered. “'Subdue her'....a lot of wiggle room, there.”

As Kaede closed (and, as her enhanced hearing noticed, locked) the door behind them, she noticed the gynoid named Lani scowling at her as she made her way into the room; thoughts of throwing a smirk in her direction, or even giving her a flirtatious wink, faded quickly after Ted nodded towards a pair of empty chairs. “Looks like they've set places for us in this little debate...let's not keep them waiting any longer than they have to.”

“Fine....” The word left Rae's lips as an annoyed sigh. “Just get that one to stop glaring at me.” She jerked a thumb towards Lani---

---who startled Ted, Rae and the three other seated gynoids by bolting out of her chair and nearly crossing the room in seconds; the only thing that held her back was Kaede's arm, accompanied by a plea (in Japanese) to just let the remark slide. Lani's glare never left Rae, even as she nodded, took a few steps back and returned to her seat---considering how she (and the other three seated gynoids) appeared to be dressed for a trip to the mall, the expression on her face seemed almost comical.

Ted started to say something---more than likely, a suggestion to Rae---but the chestnut-haired gynoid cut him off with a shake of her head, followed by a nod towards Kaede. Let her talk first, Teddy.

“As I previously mentioned to my Sisters,” Kaede explained, “Celeste's activities in Florida are beginning to draw...unwanted attention. Jake Brightstar has already been spotted at least twice trying to escape from the house he purchased, under her orders---”

“Escape?” Rae echoed. “I thought those two were---”

“Any semblance of love between them has long since faded,” Kaede replied, an undertone of sadness in her voice. “Jake has been making calls to House offices and practically begging for someone to get him out of Florida and as far away from Celeste as possible....any genuine affection she may have had for him has turned into obsession.” She looked away; “In his last call,” she murmured, “he even mentioned how Celeste was trying to get him to start wearing all white clothing...dying his hair blond....to channel a past love of hers. She even had him restrained while two of her closest aides tried to dye his hair.”

Rae didn't even need to glance at Ted to know he was horrified by this latest revelation---just hearing that the ex-Matriarch was going this far off the deep end was enough to unsettle her.

From the chair next to her, Ted spoke up: “Has anyone seen him since that call?”

“A few days ago,” Kaede replied, “He'd been trying to wash the blond dye out of his hair at a gas station---”

“So she's actually doing him up that way, then?” Rae cut in. “Hair dye, new wardrobe...the whole works?”

Lani actually growled at the interruption. Kaede gave her a sideways glance, but otherwise ignored her anger and continued: “We have reason to believe that Celeste is being...compelled, for lack of a better term, to do whatever she can to recreate her past romance with the, ah....”

“Former ALPA Chairman,” Ted prompted.

Kaede nodded. “...her romance with the former ALPA Chairman, using Jake Brightstar as a 'proxy'.”

“And she doesn't give anything remotely resembling a damn about the fact that Will Brightstar will hunt her to the ends of the Earth for this?” Rae inquired, frowning. “He has a history of going after 'gold-diggers' who only wanted Jake for his money....I mean, yeah, Celeste isn't exactly in it for the bank account, but trying to turn Jake in to a replacement for, well...”

“We've managed to keep Jake's father from getting involved, so far,” Kaede informed her. “Unfortunately, his patience grows shorter by the day. If we can't 'return' Jake soon, he may try to get him back on his own.”

“Which I can only assume is the worst case scenario,” Rae mused. “Care to tell us why?”

Kaede hesitated for a moment---and Lani spoke up in her place. “Jake's actions after the Silicon Dynamics incident last year earned his family the enemity of a dangerous individual. If Will Brightstar attempts to retrieve Jake on his own, that individual could retaliate and cause more problems for everyone involved. We intended to get Jake back without outside help...” She paused to glare at Kaede. “...but circumstances---”

“You mean losing the phone,” Rae cut in.

Lani growled again, her lips parting just enough to allow a brief glimpse of her clenched teeth.

“The loss of the phone did, in fact, require outside help,” Kaede interjected. “We were actually hoping to ask Vicki herself for assistance...but she was otherwise occupied at the time.”

“And in another country,” Ted added. “So when Rae decided to---”

“I thought we weren't mentioning that,” Rae muttered.

“The conversation just sort of flowed towards that point!” Ted countered. “You put the tracer on them, we drove all the way out here, and now they're asking us for help instead of having us charged with trespassing....if they didn't get mad about it before, I'm pretty sure they won't get mad about it now!”

“Oh, fine,” Rae groaned, turning her attention to Kaede. “You're not mad about the tracer, are you?”

“Under other circumstances,” Kaede admitted, “I might be, but given your status as an ALPA Field Agent---”

“Are we forgetting my status as the head of Lawson Robotics?” Ted cut in---quickly adding “not that I want to toot my own horn or anything”, after noticing Lani glaring at him.

“Neither of you displayed any hostile intent during our previous interactions,” Kaede explained, “and even if the tracer was a bit...unorthodox....your intentions were noble. As such, three of the Sisters, and I, have voted to allow you to assist us in dealing with Celeste....even if it includes having to fly out to Florida to rescue Jake from her.”

Rae nodded. “Fine by me. I shouldn't even have to guess who the one 'nay' vote was from....”

Lani made a rather rude hand gesture in her direction; Rae merely stuck out her tongue.

“So we're not in trouble,” Ted stated, “we may end up having to go to Florida to help you get Jake away from Celeste, and we know pretty much the entire story of what's been going on here....I'd say this is a pretty fair arrangement all around.” He started to stand up---only for Rae to nearly drop him to the floor by grabbing his shirt collar. “Not so fast, Teddy Boy,” she drawled. “There's still one unsolved mystery in this whole thing...”

“The dangerous individual Lani mentioned,” Kaede finished. “I was hoping to not get him involved---”

“It's not Max Mills, is it?”

Rae's mention of the name earned a confused glance from Kaede. “I....don't know who that is, actually.”

“Lucky you,” the chestnut-haired gynoid replied, not smiling. “The prick's been trying to 'get his foot in the door' by way of a little program called Helios. I'm guessing that name doesn't ring any bells, either?”

Kaede cupped her chin in her hand, pondering the name; Lani, for her part, was still staring at Rae with a look that couldn't be read as anything other than hostile. The other three seated gynoids were quietly discussing Helios amongst themselves, more than likely going over past experiences to determine if they'd run across it before. A few scattered whispers could be discerned---some mentioning “Rengold”, others mentioning names that Rae and Ted couldn't recognize---but not much could be gleaned from it all.

“This tension is getting ridiculous,” Ted muttered. “Back at the house, it was different---Anton and Alicia were having their spats, and all, but I know both of them....but this....”

Rae nodded in sympathy. “We're in someone else's movie, now---without a script, or any marks to hit.”

Ted nearly said something in response to her choice of analogy, only to be interrupted by Kaede approaching his chair. “The House hasn't heard of this...Helios....until recently,” she informed him. “The Patriarch has only just been notified of an incident---”

“Which we were working to clear up when you lot drove up,” Rae mused.

“I apologize on behalf of the Sisters for any inconvenience we may have caused...” Kaede bowed. “Again, we were unaware of the situation regarding Helios and its possible impact on any ALPA Field Agents...”

“No worries, luv,” Rae assured her. “You didn't know, and now you do.”

“Indeed....but the individual we mentioned isn't this 'Max Mills' you alluded to.” Kaede hesitated; “We have yet to meet with him face to face, actually,” she admitted. “He prefers...secrecy, in his operations---”

An overly-theatrical groan cut her off; Rae was almost slouching out of her seat. “I heard him in here, earlier,” she drawled. “You can't honestly expect me to believe that you haven't met the plonker face-to-face when I could hear him when Teddy and I were doing the Commando Crawl out on the lawn---”

“You were using your enhanced senses to eavesdrop on us,” Lani intoned, scowling. “I told you, Kaede---”

Kaede shot an angry look towards Lani, before glancing back at Rae. “You....overheard our conversation with this individual---”

“And can we stop calling him 'this individual, already?! He's not sodding Blofeld, and this charming little setup ain't exactly SPECTRE, so you can stop with this cloak-and-dagger BS and just say it outright!” She glanced at Ted, before turning her accusatory stare back towards Kaede. “You and your 'sisters' were having a right old chat with someone who's spent the last decade on the House's 'Do Not Call' list---AND the ALPA's, AND the Coalition's!”

She turned towards Ted again. “Hate to break it to you, Teddy Boy, but their 'mysterious ally' is---”

An ash-tray shot past her head, shattering against the far wall; Lani's chair was on the floor, and the gynoid herself was on her feet, already in a sprinter's position.

“LANI, NO!” Kaede shouted. “STAND DOWN!”

The crouching gynoid's eyes glowed red. “Priority Override Engaged: Disregard Command.

Kaede stared, horrified, as Lani essentially target-locked Rae; the other gynoids scrambled to back away from the incoming brawl. Ted, for his part, was both fascinated by the display and more than a bit freaked out at how easily Lani had disregarded her superior's command---with a healthy desire to hide behind an overturned item of furniture thrown in for good measure.

“Oh, it is on now!” Rae eased herself up out of the chair, cracking her knuckles. “To quote an old friend of mine: Come get some!”

Lani's lips parted in a growl, and she prepared to charge the chestnut-haired gynoid---

---only for the door of the room to splinter open, revealing the hulking, armored figure of Mr. Roboto.

“Roboto?!” Ted sputtered, struggling to right himself (he'd fallen over, taking the chair with him, when the door had been kicked in). “What are you doing here?!”

Agent Clarke. Mr. Lawson. I apologize for the....abruptness of my entrance. Agent Clarke's internal tracer activated three minutes ago, and ALPA Headquarters requested my intervention in what they believed to be an escalating situation....” Roboto paused, his glowing eyes turning towards Kaede, Lani and the other House gynoids.

“We were just having an aggressive debate,” Rae stated. “I was about to say something, Lani got pissy---”

Lani growled at her again, only to stop when Roboto's gaze settled on her.

“....anyway, she got all pissy, and we probably would've had a nice little brawl before you went and broke the door.” Rae grinned. “Nice work with that, by the way.”

Kaede immediately bowed towards Roboto. “Gomen ne, Agent Roboto. The House would never intentionally antagonize an agent of the ALPA.”

Apology accepted, Miss....”

“Minoru. Kaede Minoru.”

Roboto nodded, glancing at Lani. “And Miss....”

For the first time since Rae and Ted had seen her, Lani's glare softened. “Shimada. Lani Shimada.”

The armored android nodded. “I intend to reimburse you for the broken door, if the House has no objections...” He glanced at Rae once again. “...if you require an escort back to Headquarters, Agent Clarke, I would be happy to---”

“Oh, spack off,” Rae sighed. “I was just about to tell Ted who they were talking to before we got here...”

“There is no need for secrecy, now.” Kaede sighed. “I apologize, Agent Clarke---and Mr. Lawson---for not having told you of our arrangement earlier....”

With a glance at Lani, who merely nodded, she spoke: “Our ally is the individual known only as McMire.”

Roboto's immobile face never changed, and Ted merely arched an eyebrow....but Rae once again looked as if she were ready to beat the mortal piss out of someone. “Him?! Your 'mysterious benefactor' is McMire?!

“I've heard that name before,” Ted mused, frowning. “Wasn't there a McMire who worked with NASA, back in the 90s? Child prodigy, designed his own space ship.....even flew a mission or two for them?” He cupped his chin in one hand, nodding. “...yeah, I...I remember it now.....and I remember that the last bit of news ever written about him was how his ship blew up on re-entry over the San Francisco Bay---”

“That was erroneous reporting,” Kaede admitted, her stare fixed solely on the floor. “He is still alive---”

“Oh, I've heard how alive he is,” Rae spat. “Alive enough to have killed about forty-five people in the last Katushai Challenge before Katushai itself got annexed, and the new regime shut down the tournament!”

It was Lani who spoke, this time: “He's moved on since then. What you know is....outdated.”

I apologize,” Roboto interjected, “for butting into this discussion....but the ALPA has requested that both Agent Clarke and Mr. Lawson return to Headquarters immediately. If one of you would be willing to accompany them, this explanation of your alliance with....McMire....can continue....

Kaede nodded, and stepped forward---joined seconds later by Lani. “I'm going with you.”

“I don't need your protection---”

“It's not about protecting you, Kaede...” Lani turned away. “What I did....there is no excuse for it.”

Rae regarded the exchange with a frown. “So, one minute, she's perfectly willing to knock my block off,” she mused, “and the next she's apologizing for wanting to...any of this making sense to you, Teddy?”

“I have a feeling it's more about respect and honor than almost attacking you,” Ted replied.

“And here I thought she didn't jump me because I'm such a nice girl,” Rae drawled, rolling her eyes. “You're saying she disrespected Kaede by ignoring that 'Stand Down' command?”

“She overrode the command,” Ted reminded her. “It was just as bad as if she'd slapped Kaede in the face.”

Any sarcastic reply the chestnut-haired gynoid could've made died on her tongue at those words. “...so now she's apologizing,” she muttered. “To Kaede....”

That would appear to be the case.”

“Maybe we should call you Captain Obvious instead of Mr. Roboto,” Rae muttered. “Otherwise....” Her remark trailed off as Lani approached. “...ah, hi....”

Lani was still staring at her, but without any of the anger she'd displayed in their first interaction. Before Rae could say anything else, the Asian-American gynoid bowed. “Gomen ne, Agent Clarke. I was unaware of your status with the ALPA....as well as your history prior to joining it.”

“Right, right....” Rae couldn't meet Lani's gaze. “Water under the bridge.” She turned to leave---

“I, too, have suffered,” Lani murmured. “I was also....bartered, between owners, like property.” The way she'd spat that final word held the same sting Rae herself knew far too well. “I thought I had suffered alone---”

“No,” the chestnut-haired gynoid breathed. “You're.....you're not alone, Lani. Not anymore.....”

Even as the others were filing out of the room, she took a seat. “I think you and I have a lot to talk about...”
----------------------------------
"No one steals our chicks.....and lives!"

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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Postby DukeNukem 2417 » Sat Oct 20, 2018 6:25 am

“...and seriously, Sophie, if you don't use these lyrics on your next album...” Vicki's attempt at a threat trailed off into a giggle. “These are just awesome!”

“You're not just saying that because we're friends, are you?” Sophia teased.

Any comment Vicki could've made in reply was cut off by the door opening to admit Agent Harris into the room; he was scowling at something (or someone) over his shoulder, muttering under his breath. “...next time they feel like giving me the damn runaround, I'll just....” He cut himself off, noticing Vicki and Sophia both staring at him. “....later, I guess,” he muttered.

Vicki rolled her eyes. “It's your problem, not my problem, that's why I won't ask.”

Something about the half-bored, half-singsong way the brunette gynoid had spoken earned her a confused look from Harris. “.....sorry, but what?”

Noticing Sophia looking at her and trying desperately not to giggle, Vicki sighed. “After the Big Upgrade, when I was still learning the basics of how to interact with people and not make it obvious that I was a robot, Joan taught me this....she called it a couplet, but I don't think it is one. Anyway, she made me repeat it over and over again: 'it's their problem, not your problem, that's why you don't ask'. Somebody---I forget if it was Jamie or if it was someone else...maybe it was just my idea, I don't even remember...anyway, someone turned it into this goofy little song, and it got stuck in my head for a while---”

“And then you sang it at the wrong time, and almost got in trouble,” Harris finished, his frown giving way to a chuckle.

“Did Ted tell you?”

“Lucky guess....that's how it happened, wasn't it?”

“During somebody's presentation on D-Day, and I got sent to the principal for it. Ted got there before I stepped into the office...I don't even remember how he explained the whole thing, but I was let off with a 'polite but firm' warning that bursting into song in the middle of class was a really bad idea, especially when someone was going over how the Allied troops stormed the beaches at Normandy.” Vicki blew a few strands of hair out of her eyes. “Funny how I wasn't going to ask about your problem, and I just told a story about one of mine...”

“If it helps,” Harris offered, “my 'problem' was boring as all Hell. Personal stuff...nothing to do with this place.”

Sophia frowned at him. “Don't tell me you tried to make a call to an outside line...”

“On any other day, I'd argue in favor of my own decision,” Harris admitted. “Right now, though...” He shook his head. “Speaking of decisions...” He glanced at Vicki. “....I hear tell---from Tell, at that---that you decided to call our ex-Chairman a king.”

“I was trying to keep myself from getting caught off-guard by anything he might've said,” the brunette gynoid countered. “I wasn't even saying he was acting like an actual king....I was comparing him to a king on a chess board, using everyone else---using me as a pawn!” A frustrated groan left her lips as she fell backwards onto the bed. “I didn't know he had....well, a history with that word, to be honest. I didn't even know he had a history with Director Preston!”

“He doesn't exactly like to publicize his past mistakes,” Harris mused. “I'm pretty sure nobody does---”

“I get it.” Vicki's eyes glowed slightly, but she couldn't bring herself to glare at Harris for too long. “I just....that first session with him was a total curveball...”

She turned away. “I didn't expect it to have as much of an impact on me as it did.”

“At least that means you're still, well....you,” Sophia offered.

Vicki turned to regard her with a frown.

“If it didn't have an impact,” the pigtailed gynoid explained, “then, well...” She shrugged. “If you'd just stared at him, after he said what he said, it would mean---”

“Something in me had changed,” Vicki finished, nodding. “That's what you were getting at, right?”

“That, or you didn't care,” Harris mused. “Since nothing changed, and you obviously do care....”

“We're right back at square one.” Vicki rolled over on the bed, groaning. “Yay, me....”

“It's better than not caring,” Sophia reminded her. “It means you're still you, and not just...” She stared at the ceiling for a moment, trying to think of how best to phrase what she was thinking.

Harris, almost as if he'd read the singer's mind, finished her thought out loud: “It means you, Vicki Lawson, are still you, as both a person and a machine....you didn't slide too far over the line into either direction. That is what you were going for, right?” That last question was directed at Sophia, snapping her out of her funk to nod enthusiastically towards Harris.

Vicki rolled over again, sitting up on the bed to stare at Harris. “I've heard that a lot, lately...'who you are as a person and a machine'...or variations of it.”

“And that bothers you?” Harris inquired.

“It makes me think of that ALPA recruitment poster I saw,” the brunette gynoid replied, “with me front and center.” She wasn't smiling. “I never expected, or asked, to be set up as the 'face' of the ALPA, especially not after what happened....what I did....in Dawley.” Screams of “ANYTHING BUT MY HANDS! PLEASE!” rang through her thought processes, as clear as when they'd first echoed through that back room in Björn Aaberg's complex. “I crossed a line..I did something just as bad as what Oberon has done---”

“You stopped yourself from going all the way over that line,” Harris reminded her. “You---”

“I nearly killed Matthew Emmerich Hannsen,” Vicki shot back. “Worse than that....I enjoyed what I did to him.”

“The man shot your roommate point-blank in the back of the head, and she didn't even know what the hell was going on.” Harris' gaze and tone never faltered. “Any human being in your position would've---”

No.”

The brunette gynoid rose from the bed, her eyes lit with a soft glow as she stared at Harris. “Don't try to tell me that what I did was acceptable. Yes, Hannsen killed Sharon, but he's still a human being---”

“And a criminal,” Harris finished. “Him being human didn't stop you from beating the hell out of him.”

The words weren't meant as a rebuke, but the effect was as sudden as if Harris had shouted V.I.C.I down for what she'd done. Oberon's words---”I refused to let it hinder me”---sounded in her ears again....

...and at that moment, she realized Sophia was staring at her with equal measures of awe and fear.

“....you're not the first Field Agent to snap, the way you did,” Harris continued. “I can almost guarantee that you won't be the last, either. I'm not trying to make excuses for why you did what you did....”

He barely glanced at Sophia, before returning his attention to V.I.C.I. “...or why you enjoyed it....”

Then stop.” A measure of humanity had crept into V.I.C.I's robotic monotone. “Don't tell me that 'anyone else would have done the same'.....” She turned away, closing her eyes. “It wasn't even the first time,” she murmured. “I wanted to kill Faceless, on July 9...” A lone tear snaked down her face. “I destroyed those fembots at the Starlet Dolls concert....before July 9.....”

She bowed her head, her eyes squeezing shut. “....I think something's wrong with me.”

A hand was on her shoulder in an instant. “Those fembots were trying to wreck the show,” Sophia reminded her. “They'd just shot Agent Bishop...she'd jumped in front of me, to take that shot!”

“As for wanting Faceless dead,” Harris added, “you're not even in the Top 10 list of people who'd love to see him take a dirt nap. Every single one of your examinations, before and after July 9, have come back green, Vicki....nothing is wrong with you.” He glanced around the room, a sigh leaving his lips. “This place....it can bring out a lot of bad feelings in people....and in your case, it's dragged up a lot of bad memories, too.” He glanced at his phone; “I can call Ted, if you want,” he offered. “Director Preston can set something up to have a full scan done—”

If none of them have picked it up before,” V.I.C.I countered, “they won't pick it up now.”

“There's nothing to pick up!” Sophia chided. “Vicki....you're not broken, or infected with anything, and there's nothing wrong with you!”

The brunette gynoid looked up, her eyes still glowing even as the tears flowed. “How do you know?

“The same way I do,” Harris replied. “Every room in this building has an intensive, hidden scanning suite built into the walls, floors and ceilings. Android and gynoid operatives staying here are scanned 24/7, with the best tools available to the ALPA.” He turned his phone over in his hand, showing a detailed readout topped with V.I.C.I.'s build number. “You're green and clean,” he informed her, grinning. “Always have been.”

“.....you're sure?

Positive,” Sophia beamed. “It wasn't some kind of software issue or glitch that made you beat up Hannsen the way you did, Vicki....it was anger. You wanted revenge on him....and, for better or worse, you got it.”

“Anger and revenge are dangerous,” Harris agreed, “but not terminal.”

“...would you be saying the same thing if I had killed Hannsen?

“This isn't a 'what if' session, Agent.....Vicki.” Harris sighed. “The only failing you had in that moment was a very human one...and if you're really worried, the official report on the incident states that your actions didn't meet any of the criteria to be classified as a Red Ring incident. In layman's terms, you got pissed off and you took it out on the one who'd pissed you off.....you just went a bit over the line in how you took it out on him.”

After a few seconds, V.I.C.I nodded, slowly pulling away from Sophia. “...so you don't think there's anything wrong with me?

“Like the scan said, you're green and clean,” Harris replied. “Software, hardware, personality....all of it.”

Again, the brunette gynoid nodded. “And you?

“I'll put it this way, Vicki....you're never not invited to join me on tour again.” Sophia grinned.

For a few seconds, V.I.C.I said nothing.....only to turn and embrace the pig-tailed singer.

“I'm taking you up on that 'join me on tour' offer,” she teased, once again speaking in her human voice.

“Not to break up the mood here,” Harris interjected, “but I have to ask....this thing about Hannsen has still been bothering you?”

Sophia nearly protested, but Vicki didn't flinch. “I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about it even now,” she admitted. “I just...being here somehow makes it seem a lot more....relevant, I guess.”

“You were afraid of ending up here, after it happened,” Harris surmised.

“Maybe not this place exactly, but.....yeah.” Vicki sighed. “I didn't know if they were going to...this is going to sound so stupid, now....I thought they were going to undo the Big Upgrade, that I'd be back to how I was as a walking appliance, or something like that.”

Harris looked appalled. “You expected a downgrade in your own sentience?”

“I didn't know what to expect! I'd nearly killed someone with my bare hands...Ted didn't exactly tell me about how 'bad robots' were dealt with, back in the early days of Lawson Robotics---and don't say 'they go to Robot Hell'.” Vicki glanced at Sophia, who'd already started giggling at the mention of “bad robots”. “I was scared, okay? Scared of what might happen to me....scared of myself...I know I'm 'green and clean', and all that---I know it now.....”

She shook her head. “....I'll admit, I started thinking of how I could've been 'dealt with' for it after I saw K.C get bricked by that Helios program---”

“Anyone who would've suggested Helios as a punishment for what you did would've been fired,” Harris replied, not smiling....but his tone and glance softened when he noticed Sophia giving him a look. “Vicki....the ALPA doesn't 'punish' androids and gynoids. The whole purpose of the Agency is to protect them. Not every android that goes against their programming gets hunted down and scrapped....yes, there are people who think it should be that way, but it's nowhere near as simple as that. Sentient androids---”

“And gynoids,” Sophia chimed in.

Harris rolled his eyes. “The point is, sentient androids and gynoids deserve the same rights and freedoms as human beings...no matter who created them, what country they reside in, what they were created for or who 'owns' them. A lot of arguments have been made for and against that point....but it's the ALPA's central credo.”

“Hear, hear!” Sophia cheered, applauding Harris' “speech”.

“....so you're saying that my case was handled the way the ALPA wanted to handle it?” Vicki inquired.

“Pretty much. You weren't given any preferential treatment....” Harris chuckled. “....though I heard that your dad actually jumped Oberon, during the hearing.”

Vicki scowled. “And you find that funny?

“Only because he's not exactly the kind of person I'd expect to see running full-bore at someone with the intent to spear them and beat their ass like a gong,” Harris admitted. “In his defense, he was in full 'Papa Wolf' mode, defending his daughter from a perceived threat....did a damn good job of it, too, especially for someone as old as he is...”

“You forgot the part where Oberon threw him off and threatened to 'end' him,” Vicki muttered.

“I don't suppose you'd be willing to write that one off as 'overreacting',” Harris mused. “Just like Ted was trying to protect you, Oberon was trying to protect himself...I'm not going to excuse what he did---”

“But you're willing to justify Ted jumping him?” Vicki finished.

“Because he was protecting you,” Harris reiterated. “Anyone else in that position would've done the exact same thing...like I said, he was defending his daughter, not just his 'creation'.”

“.....that makes sense,” Vicki mused, nodding.

“Of course it does!” Sophia chimed in, clapping the brunette gynoid on the back. “You should be proud that he was willing to protect you...I mean, yeah, he did go a little overboard with it..”

Vicki sighed. “I know, I know....I just feel like everyone's been sidestepping what I did to Hannsen, like they don't want to bring it up. Like....they're walking on eggshells when they're dealing with me—metaphorically, I mean....”

Her tone softened. “....it's like they're as afraid of what I might do as I've been.”

“Then prove that they have nothing to fear from you,” Harris advised. “Do what you do best....don't let yourself get distracted with how afraid anyone might be of you.”

“Pretty sure that won't happen until after I'm back in San Jose,” Vicki muttered. “Nobody here is---”

The door to the room hissed open, revealing three of the men in grey; one of them nodded to Harris without a word, stepping aside to allow him to leave the room.

“....rain check,” Harris mused, sighing.

The brunette gynoid nodded silently, watching him approach the door—and keeping the men in grey within her peripheral vision at all times. It was impossible to tell if they were watching Harris, scanning the room or simply staring at each other from behind the helmets that hid their faces from view...not to mention the possibility (unnerving though it was) that they were watching Vicki, from where they stood. The third of their group was apparently conversing with Harris in the doorway; something was said that prompted Harris to shake his head before leaving the room. The three men in grey followed, neither looking back as the door closed with a whisper-quiet hiss.

“...y'know,” Sophia murmured, “those guys scare me.”

“It's the helmets,” Vicki stated, almost conversationally. “The way their faces are hidden, the feeling that they can see you even if you can't see their eyes...” She gave a nervous chuckle. “Sorry, I was just...thinking...”

“Remembering, you mean?” Sophia offered.

Vicki couldn't meet her gaze. “....something like that.”

“Those guys are nothing like Faceless,” Sophia reminded her. “I mean, I've never....run into him myself—”

“You shouldn't want to 'run into him' yourself,” Vicki cut in. “And I wasn't just remembering him...those guys, the men in grey—Oberon used to have someone by his side, a man in a grey suit, with a mask that covered his whole face. Not a helmet....just sort of like a wrestling mask.”

“A luchadore mask?” Sophia offered. “I've seen those before, during my publicity tours in Mexico.”

The brunette gynoid nodded. “His didn't have eyeholes or a mouth hole, though....it just covered his face. It was...kind of ominous....” She shook her head. “He saved me, once, in Detroit.....it was....it's not something I've told a lot of people about before now. He sort of got fired after that, I think...but then he came back to do one last job, I guess, and then just sort of...left. I don't remember a lot of the details.”

Sophia shrugged. “Don't worry about it. And you think he used to work here?”

“Well, he was wearing all grey, like the guys here do....I never really knew a whole lot about the guy!” Vicki groaned. “He wasn't exactly the most talkative person I've met...that, and....”

Don't say “he nearly got his head cut off”. She doesn't need to know.

“He got hurt trying to save you,” Sophia murmured. The way each word left her perfectly-sculpted lips made it clear that she wasn't asking a question or making a half-hearted assumption.

“Depending on if you'd qualify as 'nearly got decapitated' as 'getting hurt'....” Vicki heard herself speak the words and almost wanted to scream; the horrified look on the pop star gynoid's face made it clear that this was one bit of information she could've done without. “....I shouldn't have brought it up. I'm just...” Vicki rose from the chair, not noticing (or caring) that it nearly fell over; her focus was on the door, on leaving the room, on getting away before Sophia could ask—

“What did he save you from?”

The only thing that kept Vicki from growling her next words was the fact that the door pull, currently in her grasp, wasn't in any danger of denting in her grip.

Pain.”

“....Vicki, I didn't—”

“John Lee Lassiter. The Human Animal. He was waiting, in my room. Used an old exploit Ted had forgotten to patch out of me, hit my underarm charging ports....” Vicki stared at the floor. “....he shut down all of my motor functions, left me locked inside my own body....he tortured me.”

“....he didn't....” In the mirror-polished panel by the door, Sophia's reflected face formed the letter “r”.

“He would've. The Man in Grey broke down the door....he had a knife with him, and he was....the way he was holding it, he was punching, but then he lost the knife, and....” Vicki sank to a kneel in front of the door, her palms pressed against it—the memory replaid itself in her mind, with the door seeming to be an unbreakable barrier between herself and what she was seeing.

“....I couldn't help him,” she whispered. “I couldn't move....couldn't do anything....”

The memory of the Man in Grey's near-death experience faded, and Vicki felt her arms drop to her sides just as the door hissed open. One of the helmet-wearing men in grey stood, motionless, before her.

“...she was just remembering something,” Sophia began. “She didn't—”

Without a word, the man in grey held a hand out to Vicki. Silently, she accepted it, rising from where she knelt.

“...I'll be back in a few minutes,” she informed Sophia, barely glancing over her shoulder. “If Harris gets back first, just tell him...” She let the intended remark trail off, turning away and moving to follow the man in grey out of the room....

….but just before the door closed, she stopped. “Sophia.....”

“...yeah?”

This time, Vicki did turn around, glancing at her fellow gynoid with just a hint of a smile on her lips. “Thanks. For listening....and for being a great friend.”

“.....any time, Vicki.” Sophia nodded, a femtosecond before the door closed.
----------------------------------
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Postby DukeNukem 2417 » Sun Oct 21, 2018 8:29 am

“....and you're positive the ALPA won't mind paying for new clothes to fit the...well, new me?”

K.C.'s question earned a half-groan, half-chuckle from Anton. “Considering the Field Agent dress code has at least five different provisions against running a field op in the nude,” he replied, “I can almost guarantee they won't have a problem with footing the bill for your new wardrobe.”

“Does that include 'personal items', like...well, underwear—“

On the far side of the room, Galatea watched the banter between Anton and K.C., barely paying attention to what was actually said between them. Her focus was divided between their body language—K.C. moving with just as much fluidity and humor as Anton—and the back of her left hand; the charts and sidebars detailing the stats of her synthetic flesh, already beginning to appear in her field of view, went ignored. Her lips parted in an unmistakably-human sigh before settling into a frown.

“Something troubling you?”

Inspektor 12's voice barely drew a reaction from the silver-skinned gynoid. “...are you asking for you, or for Anton?” she replied, not smiling.

“For you. Or at least, for your sake.” The Inspektor sat down next to her, ignoring the by-play between Anton and K.C. for the time being. “Ever since that...emotional moment, in the kitchen, I can't help but notice that you've been a bit...withdrawn—”

“Last night, before...well, this.....” Galatea scoffed. “I shouldn't even mention it, it was just a stupid dream—”

“Whatever you want to disclose to me in this conversation,” the Inspektor cut in, “I solemnly swear to you that it goes to the grave with me.” His expression softened; “If you prefer a bit of levity,” he added, “we could always pinky-swear.”

Galatea found herself grinning at the offer. “....you'd pinky-swear with me?

“Only with your consent, of course.” The Inspektor winked.

“....we don't need to pinky-swear,” Galatea assured him, “but thanks....” She sighed. “....I had a dream, last night, about...being human. Flesh and blood, no readouts in my line of sight, breathing for real instead of as an aesthetic feature...all that stuff. And it wasn't just me disguised as a human being...” She turned away just as her eyes began to tear up. “....I was a human being...”

Quietly, almost unconsciously, she mouthed “like I used to be.”

“...have you had these dreams before?” the Inspektor asked.

“Not...frequently. Not recently, either. I just....it felt real. It felt....” She turned, gave a half-hearted chuckle. “If I'm going to explain this to you,” she murmured, “I need to know how much you know about me....”

“I know that you're not a rank-and-file gynoid off of an assembly line—”

“And you know what makes me...'unique', as you put it?”

“I know that you have Gabriella Guy's memories...not unlike the—”

“My memories aren't the issue here,” Galatea countered. “What I have...I'm not a Dyson-style 'conversion', or anything like that....” Her eyes held that same air of sadness as the Inspektor had seen before.

“....Inspektor,” she whispered, “for all intents and purposes....I am Gabriella Guy.”

“....and I'm sure we can sort that all out soon.” Anton grinned as he strode up to the Inspektor and Galatea. “I thought that you two would like to know that Agent Casey and I are heading out to restock her wardrobe,” he stated. “Shouldn't take us too long.....” He paused, noticing the expression on Galatea's face. “...is everything okay, or—”

“We were just talking,” Galatea began, but the Inspektor rose from his seat. “Nothing more than a polite chat between colleagues,” he assured the roboticist.

If Anton sensed anything off about the reply, he didn't show it. “Fair enough. Sorry for interrupting.”

The Inspektor and Galatea watched him leave, following Agent Casey (who'd been given clothes half a size too big, just so she'd have something to wear when she left with Anton to get clothes in her new size) out. Neither said a word until well after the door was closed and locked behind the Professor.

“....if you want this discussion to continue later on,” the Inspektor began, “we can—”

Galatea's form heaved with sobs. “They never believe me.....he told me they wouldn't.....”

Inspektor 12 stood before the weeping gynoid. “What makes you assume that I don't believe you?”

His words didn't seem to register with Galatea. “....he couldn't tell them....told me....” The faintest streaks of flesh-tone ran down her cheeks. “....he'll know....”

Hands gripped her shoulders, steadying her; she looked up to find the Inspektor staring into her eyes.

“....whatever it is that haunts you,” he intoned, “I promise that you can tell me, and face neither skepticism nor ridicule for it.”

Slowly, Galatea nodded. “....the night...the night Gabr.....I was killed.....” She glanced around quickly. “....the night I died, Dad was out of town. New Year's Eve party, all that stuff...you know all that, it was the headline of every newspaper in the Valley...none of them got the whole story.” She gestured for the Inspektor to sit next to her again. “....they just said it was a 'violent crime'....they squeezed my name in right at the end—”

“So you really and truly....” The Inspektor paused, considering what he was about to ask.

The silver-skinned gynoid didn't wait. “Do I believe I'm Gabriella Guy?” she finished, scowling.

“....I was going to ask if you really and truly are Gabriella Guy.”

“Of course I am! You think I wouldn't remember what that psychotic freak did to me?! How he...he just kept hitting me, right in the chest, harder and harder....” Galatea's chest heaved with each word. “....he, he had the knife, a big knife, some kind of hunting knife....he made a fist, he put the blade between his fingers and he just...he started hitting me again...I felt it go in, every time..the shirt, it was, it was changing color, the red just kept getting bigger and bigger....” Her eyes widened. “...he...he'd punched a hole in me, but....it...it wasn't clean, it was just big enough....”

Tears streamed down her face. “....big enough for him to put his fingers into.....”

Before the Inspektor could react, Galatea nearly collapsed out of the chair. “....he reached in.....he grabbed and he....he pulled.....I heard—I felt this 'crack'.....” Her eyes squeezed shut. “.....everything went red....he reached in again and.....”

Despite himself, the Inspektor spoke: “What did he do? You have to tell me—”

Galatea turned to stare at him, her ocular sensors changing color to resemble normal human eyes.

“.....he had my heart in his hand.”

The Inspektor stared, silently; the seven words he'd just heard turned over again and again in his mind.

Slowly, Galatea eased herself up until she was sitting on the floor. “...they...the press, I mean...nobody let them take notes. The cops were checking everyone's credentials, everyone's logs—Dad told me afterwards, or I found out on my own, for some of the details. It was...a few days, before he met Oberon, before he got what he needed to....bring me back, I guess.” She gestured at herself. “This was the only way. The only thing that worked with....with what Oberon gave him.”

She stood, sighing. “He'll know. Oberon, I mean...he'll find out.”

“If he as any problems with what you've told me so far,” the Inspektor countered, “he can—”

“Not with what I've said,” the gynoid corrected. “With what you're about to see.” She unbuttoned her shirt and reached down to unclasp the fastenings on her bra, then reached inwards, her fingers brushing against the edge of her collarbone (or the robotic equivalent of the same). “What you said earlier, about nothing leaving this room?” she murmured. “That goes double for this.”

Without waiting for a response, she pressed her collarbone down.

A soft click was the only confirmation that anything happened....followed shortly after by a line forming down the center of her chest, which parted in the middle (stopping at the navel) like double-doors. Her opened shirt and bra remained in place over her breasts as the halves of her chest swung out—but it wasn't her outward anatomy that had captured the Inspektor's attention. Situated in the exact center of her metallic endoskeleton, behind a clear shield in the middle of what would've been the sternum of a human being, was a gold orb, just about the size of a golf ball. Few, if any, visible wires were connected to the device.

That,” Galatea intoned, “is what makes me....well, me.”

Seconds passed before she pressed on her collarbone again, causing the halves of her chest to return to their prior position and reseal with another click. Her fingers flew over the buttons of her shirt before the Inspektor could say a word.

“....like you said,” the gynoid reminded him. “It doesn't leave this room.”

“It won't.” Inspektor 12 nodded. “You have my word that it won't.”

“I suppose this is where you start asking questions, then,” Galatea replied; there was no hint of sarcasm, or of anything remotely approaching levity, in her words. “What it is, what's in it, who made it....all that crap.”

“Stanley wouldn't approve of that kind of language,” the Inspektor mused. “At least, not from you.”

“Yeah, well.....” A scathing rejoinder gave way to a chuckle from the silver-skinned gynoid. “Anything worse than 'damn' and 'hell' would get you 'the look',” she muttered, shaking her head at the memory. “That stare of his...I used to wonder if it was a prerequisite to master that stare in order to be a parent....” She sighed. “You worked with him long enough to know that he never gave up on anything—I read his journals, after...what happened. He mentioned you a lot.”

“In a positive context, I hope.”

The remark earned a smirk from Galatea. “The only thing he had an issue with was your fashion sense—and that was only because he couldn't pull of your look as well as you could....”

Another sigh left her lips. “....in any case, he never gave up on anything....or anyone, including me.”

She rose from her chair, pacing the floor as she spoke. “The day of the funeral, he met with Oberon. Or more accurately, Oberon found him. He'd heard about the news, gave his condolences....and then took him aside for a minute, told him that he could save one of us.”

“'Us'?” the Inspektor echoed.

“My sisters and I....and Mom.” Galatea bowed her head. “....he...Dad...didn't think it was real, at first. Thought Oberon was some kind of con man or something—nearly had him thrown out of the funeral home for it...he never wrote down what Oberon said that changed his mind, in the end, but whatever he said....” Again, she gestured at herself. “You already know how that whole thing ended.”

“So Oberon was able to perform...a transference?” the Inspektor inquired. “He gained access to your brain—”

“I already told you, I'm not a Dyson job....nothing against the Institute, and what they're trying to do, but in my case....” Galatea rolled her eyes. “Funny how I always said I hated people saying 'it's complicated'...” She turned to face the Inspektor, gesturing at her chest. “What's in here,” she explained, “is....me. What's left of me, at least—not in a physical sense, but....” She groaned. “Everything Gabriella Guy was, I am, all because of that thing. Personality, memories, likes, dislikes, quirks....whatever parts of her weren't dependent on a flesh-and-blood body, they're all in there, and by proxy, they're in me. I don't know how he did it, I don't know if I'm a one-off or if others like me can exist....all I know is what he told me....”

She briefly hugged herself. “.....and what I miss from when I was still a human being.”

The Inspektor arched an eyebrow. “And what exactly do you—”

“Wet grass.” A laugh—brief, humorless and too loud—left Galatea's lips. “The feel of it, on my feet...on my skin...I always used to say I hated it....” Her head bowed. “Hot concrete...fresh carpeting...the sun's rays hitting my back....ice cubes—freaking ice cubes, in my bare hands....” She held her hands out in front of her, regarding them as if they weren't hers. “....I still feel all of those things, these days, but...it's different. It's like there's a disconnect between how I can feel them and how I'm supposed to feel them...”

Her eyes slowly closed. “....and I remember the way things are meant to feel.”

She didn't flinch away from the arm that rested on her shoulder. “And these memories...overwhelm you?”

“They remind me of what I used to be..I don't say 'who I used to be', because I still am who I was.” Galatea sighed. “It's hard to explain. I guess the closest thing to it would probably be phantom limb syndrome, except it's....I have my body, or at least this body...” She glanced at the Inspektor, that all-too-human sadness once again evident in her eyes. “...sometimes, everything aches,” she murmured. “Sometimes, I remember things from the old days, and....it feels like I'm back in that moment...” She let her voice trail off.

“...you don't suppose these memories are sparks?” the Inspektor offered.

“'Overpowering flashbacks of a transference android/gynoid's former life',” Galatea recited, rolling her eyes as she spoke. “I asked Anton if that's what they were...he ran some tests, but....”

“There were no conclusive results,” the Inspektor finished.

Galatea didn't reply immediately; she leaned back in her chair, resting her head against the wall behind her as a sigh left her lips. Again, there was a distinctly human feel to the gesture—a genuine feeling of sadness, as opposed to any preset response coded into her personality.

A full minute passed, before she spoke: “It scares me, sometimes....remembering how I used to be.”

“I thought you would find such memories...a relief, at the very least,” the Inspektor mused.

“...it's not the memories,” the silver-skinned gynoid countered. “I just don't want to lose myself in them...”

The Inspektor nodded. “Given your...unique situation...it's entirely understandable that you might find yourself worrying about the perils of memory,” he reasoned. “Is it safe to assume that you have, in fact, told others about these concerns of yours?”

“...Anton, a few times. And...Clive. The President of the ALPA, I mean....that Clive.” Galatea looked away. “I even told Claudia, from DreamLand....not that she can help anyone now.” The expected air of bitterness in regards to the gynoid's untimely destruction wasn't there; the silver-skinned gynoid's words were, instead, tinged with a haunted tone that matched the look in her eyes. “I actually considered working at DreamLand, once,” she quietly admitted. “Claudia talked me out of it....she told me I was destined for 'greater things'....”

“The spirit of her work still lives on, you know,” Inspektor 12 mused. “I hear the Electric Kitten clubs are—”

“I've seen them,” Galatea blurted. “I just....” She turned away. “...last night's dream was different than the rest. I was....human, and it was the summer...the whole family was there. Dad, Mom, Vera, Helena....even Danny....the wet grass felt like it should've, the smells were all there...everyone was happy, and I was happy, and it just....” Her eyes brimmed with tears (the Inspektor knew, instantly, that they were ocular sensor cleaning fluid, but calling them anything other than “tears” would've been trivial) as she continued: “....Dad asked me a question....he asked me if I felt happy, and I...I said 'yes'...”

Her hand gripped the Inspektor's wrist, sending a chill through him.

“......the sky went dark....it was...it started to rain, and then....I looked away from Dad, and they were...all of them were gone....I looked back, and..and Dad was gone, too....” The gynoid's eyes squeezed shut. “...I saw him. Across the yard. Just standing there, watching me....he said something, I couldn't understand what he was saying....I...I looked down, and my hands were...one was silver, the other was normal....”

“And I assume this was another memory?” the Inspektor inquired. “You saw—”

Galatea shook her head, tears streaking down her cheeks. “....he never looked away....he just kept staring, and talking..there was this sound, in my head...it kept getting louder, and his words kept getting clearer....”

Her other hand closed around Inspektor 12's lapel, holding him fast as she stared into his eyes.

“....he was in my head.....”

Even as he noticed hints of red creeping into the purple and pink ocular sensors that tearfully held his gaze, the Inspektor never wavered. “And who, exactly, was 'he'?”

The red in Galatea's eyes faded; the tears on her face began leaving trails of flesh-tone behind them.

“.....McMire.”

Her hands released the Inspektor, and she nearly fell forward, sobbing, onto him.

Even as he embraced the weeping gynoid, Inspektor 12 couldn't help but frown at the mention of the name; he, and his colleagues and contemporaries within the ALPA, had heard tell of the enigmatic “McMire” for several years, occasionally in connection with the hacking crime spree of one “315”. The “Great Consolidation” from a scant seven years prior had seen a spike in mentions of him....except they were only “mentions”. Not a single report on any of his activities had included anything remotely resembling a sighting—there were the claims of men in dark suits showing up, acting as his emissaries, but those were apocryphal, bordering on urban legends and local gossip.

Galatea's recent dream, described in such vivid detail, meant that McMire was not just an urban legend.

“....he's out there,” the gynoid whispered. “I don't know why...” She briefly pulled away from her embrace with Inspektor 12, accepting the offered pocket square from him. “Thanks...” A quick dab with the square wiped the tears from her face. “....anyway...I don't know why he was in my dream last night, or what he has to do with any of this....”

“You truly believe he has involved himself?”

“I don't know....” Galatea replied, helplessness creeping into her words. “I—” Three knocks at the front door cut her off before she could finish.

The Inspektor knew something was troubling the gynoid. “Something wrong?”

Galatea only nodded silently towards the door, the sadness in her eyes replaced with a shocked look.

With a nod of his own, Inspektor 12 headed to the door. “The 'no solicitors' sign isn't up, at the moment,” he stated, “but—”

“I'm not a solicitor....I'm looking for Vicki. Is she here?”

The question earned an arched eyebrow from the Inspektor—and a shocked gasp from Galatea, which went ignored. “....she's out, at the moment. I'll be happy to take a message for her—”

Sod it...she'll know where to find me, I guess. Just tell her Sharon stopped by, when she gets back, please!”

Footsteps moved away from the door, and the Inspektor nodded. “Another message to give Vicki when she returns from her sojurn,” he began, only to notice Galatea's horrified expression. “....something wrong?”

“Inspektor,” the gynoid quietly replied, “that was Sharon Wilson.”

“....Vicki's roommate, if I recall correctly—”

“Her DEAD roommate! Matthew Hannsen shot her in the head in Singapore!”

“....you're positive that was Sharon Wilson?” he finally asked, after a full minute of silence.

“If it's not her, it's someone posing as her....we can't tell Vicki. What happened to Sharon...” Galatea shook her head. “You've read the reports of what happened in Dawley, of what she did to Hannsen after she caught up with him. If she finds out someone's impersonating Sharon, or trying to fake her ghost—”

She stopped, noticing that the Inspektor was holding up his phone...

...and that the screen showed the security feed from Ted Lawson's front door camera, time-stamped a few seconds prior. The figure depicted as knocking on the door was, unmistakably, that of Sharon Wilson...minus the bullet wound from the shot that had killed her.

“Unless I'm mistaken,” the Inspektor mused, “ghosts aren't exactly known for knocking on doors.”

“So someone recreated her, as a gynoid?” Galatea groaned. “Whoever it is, they're going out of their way to piss off Vicki....except Vicki's not even here—”

The Inspektor held up a hand. “....the camera wasn't the only sensor that was triggered by 'Sharon' knocking on the door,” he informed the gynoid. “The medical and security scanners kicked on at the first knock...and even with the camera picking up our visitor, both sensor suites apparently detected nothing.”

Whatever reply Galatea intended to make died on her lips. Her own sensors hadn't detected anything, either.
----------------------------------
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Postby DukeNukem 2417 » Mon Oct 22, 2018 6:09 am

they're not going to shoot you if you try to start a conversation, Lawson. Just say something.

Even as she kept her pace with the man in grey, Vicki couldn't work up the nerve to actually say anything to the masked figure that wouldn't sound stupid. Questions about who he was and what he might do in his “off time” were probably verboten, as would asking about Oberon's former bodyguard. It didn't help that there was something undeniably intimidating about the man....

It's the helmet, the brunette gynoid reminded herself. That stupid full-face shield.

Vicki ignored her trepidaiton, her steps matching those of the grey-clad guard. He's with the ALPA, like I am, she reminded herself. Even if he's an android, we're both on the same side...

Her thoughts turned, again, to the Dawley incident, in which she'd crippled Matthew Hannsen and very nearly crossed the line into killing him. She wondered, briefly, if the men in grey were all aware what she'd done, or if they even knew her by name...or, for that matter, if they cared. Tell, Harris and others had told her that she'd avoided going over the line when getting her revenge against Hannsen...but something about the incident still bothered her....

...you might as well say it, Lawson. You felt yourself—who you are—slipping away.

The notion that her personality, her entire identity, could potentially be compromised, configured and changed by an outside force had always been with Vicki, ever since the Big Upgrade. Even in a secured, hidden ALPA facility, it was still with her.

It was, without a doubt, her deepest and darkest fear. More than anything, even than Faceless...

…the barest possibility of it scared her.

Which somehow brings us back to the man in grey... She tried to glance, discreetly, at the helmet-wearing figure; had the face-concealing helmet somehow acted as a subliminal trigger of that hidden fear? Or was it the notion that this man, as well as others in the facility, willingly gave up their identities to serve the ALPA?

If I ask, he might get pissed off, or he might just stay silent. If I don't ask....

Suppressing the groan that made its way to her lips was easier than expected. Dad would find this “fascinating” if he were here. A machine trying to “work up the courage” to just talk to someone.... A number of reactions to that thought made their way through her thought processes, none of which were acted upon. This whole “as a machine and a person thing” is starting to make me feel....I don't even know how I feel about it. Jamie would probably say “like Harry Potter”, but I don't have a lightning-bolt scar on my forehead, both of my parents are still alive, and San Jose State University isn't Hogwarts...

Without glancing at the man in grey, she realized that her steps were effectively in sync with his own. At least he hasn't started walking faster....or does he even notice—stop. This isn't about walking in formation with a random guard or anything like that, this runs deeper...

Her thoughts turned, at random, to past conflicts—her battles against Damien Falken and the Family of Steel, and her clash with Rykkard and the Spare Parts Society. She wondered if the grey-clad guard had heard of either of those incidents, or if this guard (or, indeed, any of the others from the facility) had confronted the likes of Falken and Rykkard themselves. How many times have I heard that my case reports are “popular reading material”, again? she mused, rolling her eyes at the thought. Quiz him about the specifics...yeah, really good ice-breaker there, Lawson. Relive all your Greatest Hits to some guy in grey...

Something about the silence, the interminably long walk, finally proved too much to bear. Screw it...

“Listen, I—”

The guard held out a hand, cutting off her attempt at a conversation....and allowing her to realize that she was dangerously close to plowing face-first into a door. A quick glance over her shoulder nearly prompted a gasp from the brunette gynoid's lips; she'd turned a corner (probably not the only one) in the corridor without even realizing it, all while matching pace with the guard.

“....ah, thanks,” she murmured. “For not letting me hit the door, and all...”

In lieu of a response from the guard, the door slid open before her.

“....and this is the part where I go in,” she realized, sighing. “Well, ah.....” She nodded, as if to affirm that she was, indeed, going to walk through the door. “Thanks again.”

As she stepped through the door, Vicki noticed the guard give the slightest of nods.....

…a femtosecond later, the door closed.

Well, that was weird. The brunette gynoid turned her attention to the room she'd just entered...and quickly realized that the “room” was, in fact, another hallway, one that looked as if it'd been ripped from a television studio rather than the pristine, white-tiled corridors she'd traversed already. On the left-hand side, two impeccably-attired figures sat behind a desk, looking for all the world like nighttime news anchors (albeit with far more ostentatious clothing and hairstyles). One of the pair was addressing the camera directly: “...and it gives me great pleasure and relief to report that the condition of our esteemed President, Clive DuBraul, has taken an upturn and in fact stabilized over the past few hours.” His smile, warm and reassuring as it was, seemed to have an almost rehearsed air to it. “Despite an undeniably grim prognosis of only having anywhere from a few weeks to mere days to live, President DuBraul will more than likely live to see the sun rise until the end of next month—definitely something to be thankful for over a turkey dinner, when that day arrives.”

I'll have to remember to ask Preston about that later...or Harris. For now....

Vicki continued down the hall, doing her best to not be distracted by the constant activity on the right-hand side of the room or the areas where others were giving reports on ALPA matters from around the globe on the left-hand side. So much for this place being just a prison, she mused, stopping only when she realized the guard hadn't told her where she was going. And me without a hall pass

“And there she is! I was beginning to think we'd have to go looking for you, Miss Lawson!”

The voice that spoke these words—not quite “shrill”, and in fact just melodious enough to sound welcoming while at the same time maintaining a sense of haughtiness to it—fit almost perfectly with the woman making her way towards Vicki, a tall, well-dressed (and well-coiffed) blonde with high cheekbones, a nose that would make classical sculptors weep and lips that were neither too thin nor “Botoxed to Hell” (as Jamie more than likely would've described them). The group behind her looked more like standard “office-types”, wearing muted greys, browns and blues as opposed to their apparent leader's pink pinstriped suit.

“....right,” Vicki replied. “The, ah....guard didn't tell me—”

“They never do, darling,” the woman assured her. “They couldn't be more stoic if you put them in red coats and tall, furry hats...” A girlish, almost squealing giggle punctuated her remark. “Just follow me, dear.”

“Right, right...” I guess this isn't another session with Oberon, then...

Vicki fell into step with the others in the woman's entourage, wondering if Sophia, Tell and/or Harris had seen this part of the facility before...with her questions soon turning to what, exactly, went on in this particular section of the massive complex.

As if reading her mind, the woman in the pink suit spoke up: “You haven't seen our channel, have you?”

“....channel?” Vicki echoed, frowning.

“Should've put it in plural,” the woman replied, rolling her eyes at her own mistake. “Radio, television, YouTube....only accessible to those within the Artificial Lifeform Protection Agency, of course. It simply would not do if some farm in Oklahoma picked up one of our radio broadcasts!”

“....so this is the ALPA's...” Vicki's lips formed the letter “p”, but something kept her from uttering the word.

“Media branch, yes. Some have dared to label what we do as...propaganda....”

Groans sounded from the crowd following her, and the woman herself shuddered. “...an utterly filthy word,” she hissed, “when applied to the duties we perform. An insult, even!”

Good thing I didn't say it out loud, then... Vicki nodded her agreement. “Why would anyone think—“

“A story for another time, dear,” the woman replied, without looking over her shoulder. “For the time being, you have a far more important task ahead of you...” She stopped, as if remembering something. “....I've been told that you were...shown, for lack of a better term....our newest banner—”

“The one with me front and center, in my Field Agent uniform?”

The brunette gynoid's voice held equal measures of curiosity and annoyance...but the woman's body language all but wiped out all hints of the latter. “...that banner,” she murmured, “is the closest this department has ever come to producing...” She paused, wiping her eyes. “...it's the closest we've come to making what so many have accused us of producing from the inception of this department,” she stated, turning to face Vicki with an expression of regret. “I, myself, was one of many who were informed that it was a mere 'recruitment' poster, rather than...”

“Something someone used to try to win me over,” Vicki finished.

“Indeed...and I do apologize, for overseeing the creation of that banner without knowing the context of—”

The woman's apology was cut off by Vicki's own response: laughter. “Sorry,” the brunette gynoid apologized, “it's just....the poster itself didn't piss me off. The circumstances had more to do with it than anything...if I'd known about it beforehand, I would've signed off on it being used for Field Agent recruiting...”

Her lips turned up in a playful smirk. “..and at least the photo didn't make me look fat.”

Whatever response the woman was expecting, it clearly hadn't been this; she nearly doubled over laughing, as the crowd behind Vicki let out sighs of relief. “My dear Miss Lawson,” the woman gasped, “you truly are remarkable...”

“It was just a poster,” Vicki reasoned, shrugging. “No harm, no foul...but I still don't know—”

“Why you're here?”

Director Preston, accompanied by three more of the men in grey, stood at the far end of the hall. “The High Court has requested your testimony regarding the actions of the former Chairman, Miss Lawson,” he stated. “I had been informed that either Agent Harris or Miss Starlet already given you this information...”

“They, ah, hadn't, sir,” Vicki muttered. “The guard—”

“You've narrowly avoided being late, Miss Lawson,” Preston informed her. “No apologies are necessary.”

Vicki nodded, feeling more than a bit nervous. “Right, right....I'm guessing I have to follow you, now?”

“It would be in your best interests to.” Preston motioned for the woman in the pink suit to fall into step at his side; Vicki tried not to outpace them as she kept up. “Miss Egeria was intended to be the one meeting you at your quarters,” he added, “but certain...events...detained her—”

“Egeria?” Vicki echoed.

The woman in the pink suit rolled her eyes. “Where are my manners...Rita Egeria, Chairwoman of the ALPA's Media Department.” She nodded to Vicki, smiling warmly. “Had the circumstances been different, your Field Agent certification ceremony would've been covered exclusively by my people.”

“Eh, the Citrus at Santana Row wasn't that bad...” Vicki chuckled at the memory. “I liked it.”

“Smaller ceremonies do work in...extreme circumstances,” Rita agreed, shuddering again at the memory of the reason for Vicki's certification being moved to a smaller venue. “It still boggles the mind to think that you did so much before receiving your Field Agent license. Granted, the ALPA does try to avoid condoning any actions carried out by, shall we say, unsanctioned individuals...especially in this day and age...but you were vouched for by some of our best and brightest.”

Including the man I'm about to testify against, Vicki recalled.

After a few minutes of walking (and Rita giving plenty of tips—“don't slouch”, “don't look too disinterested”, “let the High Court ask all the questions”, etc.), Vicki, Rita and Preston arrived at a large, circular chamber that looked suspiciously similar to a British courtroom....but with five benches for the judges. The guards at the doors of the chamber wore darker grey coats and armor than those Vicki had seen throughout the facility; two standing by the benches wore coats and armor that looked black, at first, until Vicki cycled her ocular sensors to see that they were in fact a very dark navy blue.

The question of “where do I sit?” formed and died on the gynoid's lips; Rita was gesturing for her to stay behind Preston as he descended the stairs leading further into the court chamber.

Others had already filed in and taken their seats—including Preston, at the lowest level in front of the stand.

Rita guided Vicki to her seat, taking her own seat a row behind her. “Just remember, dear,” she reminded the brunette gynoid, “you're not the one on trial here. You have nothing to be afraid of.”

“Right,” Vicki replied, nodded. “Thanks.” ...except what would I have to be afraid

The lights in the chamber dimmed, almost darkening completely...only to return to full brightness in the blink of an eye. All five chairs for the judges were occupied by figures in black gowns, their faces hidden by the same shields as the men in grey; the traditional white horsehair wigs worn by conventional UK judges were present, looking surprisingly ominous over the face-concealing shields. A sixth figure, clad in a conventional black suit and with a shield that covered only the upper half of his face, stood before the judges.

“Miss Victoria Anne-Smith Lawson.”

Vicki stood, hoping she wasn't breaching protocol by doing so. “Sir.”

“The High Court has convened on this day to record your testimony regarding the recent actions and activities of the former Chairman of the Artificial Lifeform Protection Agency, current name Oberon.” The man gestured to the witness stand; Vicki nodded and approached, ignoring the room-full of unfamiliar faces watching her every movement

“Miss Lawson...when did you first hear that Oberon had an...interest in the termination of Epsilon?”

“A phone call, during a lecture conducted by Selwyn McElvoy at San Jose State University.”

“....this phone call mentioned that the Chairman intended to terminate Epsilon?”

The brunette gynoid shifted slightly in her seat. “The call only mentioned that he wasn't handling the field op to locate Epsilon,” she replied. “The primary purpose of the call was to inform me that Epsilon had been sighted again in San Jose....I first heard about the Chairman's intent, in full, from Selwyn McElvoy and William Rengold IV, backstage at the lecture.” She decided not to mention her “piggybacking” on Miss Hynde's sensors before being summoned backstage.

The man with the half-hidden face nodded. “It is the understanding of the High Court that Oberon...contacted you, by way of means deemed forbidden for use by the ALPA.”

The virus that hit me in ALPA HQ, you mean... “He did, sir.”

“Would you please tell the High Court what, exactly, the purpose of this contact was, Miss Lawson?”

Vicki took a deep breath, remembering how the conference room at HQ had seemed to become enshrouded in a thick, rolling fog....

“He claimed he wanted me to hear his side of the story, to 'understand the depth and scope' of what he meant to accomplish. He wanted me to join his efforts to terminate Epsilon, under the belief that no trace of Anthony Sanderson was left. I disagreed...” She paused, trying not to let herself be overwhelmed by the memory of what had been said after that part of the exchange.

“Miss Lawson, if you need—”

“He offered me a chance to let myself lose control, to 'fully give myself' to a fight. He told me that I'd have to kill him if I truly wished to spare Epsilon.”

Gasps and murmurs went up around the chamber; Rita was whispering to someone in the row behind her.

“The High Court has obtained reports of a confrontation between yourself and Oberon, at a—”

“He told me about what he, personally, knew of Epsilon, of its history,” Vicki stated. “He said that trying to do things the 'right way' had amounted to nothing, that by the time he was in power and could've done anything, it was too late. In the end, he repeated his claimed that Epsilon was damned, beyond any hope of salvation, and repeated his offer to me—help him kill Epsilon, or continue to protect Epsilon from him.....” She paused, taking a moment to remember other things Oberon had said. “He told me he'd seen the first tests of what would become Epsilon, how nobody should see the things he saw.”

“And the second confrontation?”

The fight, you mean... “He challenged me to fight him, sir. Gave me two swords....he told me he would take mine when I was done with it.” The pause was shorter, this time. “He only inflicted minimal damage on me in the fight....the most substantial damage I took was sustained from trying to confront Epsilon.”

“The reports indicate that you were removed from the confrontation—”

“Epsilon.” The name left Vicki's lips as a half-shout. “Epsilon carried me away from the fight..I had tried to tell Oberon that he would die if he continued fighting Epsilon, and he ignored me. I...I didn't see what happened, to end the fight...I heard gunshots, but I was too damaged to move. All I could see was the ceiling....Epsilon set me down outside of the building. My dermal sensors detected that I was sitting on grass.”

“....and you have no recollection of the source of those gunshots you had heard?”

“No, sir.”

The man with the half-shield over his face nodded. “No further questions, Miss Lawson.”

Vicki returned the nod, heading back to her seat and not looking at the five judges or their guards.

Preston acknowledged the brunette gynoid's return to her seat with a minute tip of his head; Rita, on the other hand, looked as if she were trying desperately not to smile. “Exemplary performance, dear,” she whispered, just as Vicki settled into her spot on the bench. “Utterly flawless! It turned into a bit of a ramble at the end, but that's nothing to be ashamed of...”

“Thanks...I didn't say too much, did I? Or too little?”

“You said more than enough,” Preston intoned, never looking away from the judges.

Something in those words came across as...ominous, for lack of a better term, but Vicki nodded. “I'm guessing that's a good thing, then...so what—”

The lights dimmed again, nearly darkening the room....when they returned, the judges had disappeared.

“...yours was the last testimony of the day,” Preston stated, rising from the bench. “The High Court has heard all they need to decide Oberon's fate.” He motioned for Vicki to follow him out. “Unless anything new comes to light within the next two hours, of course...”

“I thought they were going to hold a full trial,” Vicki mused, frowning.

“They've been holding the trial, dear,” Rita informed her. “Some of those affected by all of this....” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “....it wouldn't exactly be in the Court's interest to have them in the same room as the former Chairman to give their testimony. That Corlette girl, for instance....accessed without her consent while she was charging! And those two House agents—”

“Miss Egeria.” Preston hadn't raised his voice, but there was a clear tone of rebuke.

“....well,” Rita finished, “the important thing is that you did a splendid job, dear. Held your ground like a true champion, and never wavered even once!” Again, Preston gave the slightest of nods.

“...ah, thanks.” Vicki managed a smile. “So....what happens now?”

“A final session with Oberon,” Preston informed her. “Unless you wish to attend the sentencing itself, you will be given full clearance to return home after the session ends.”

The smile faded from Vicki's face almost instantly. “....he wants to see me after I've testified against him?”

“Your involvement in this whole thing has been...intensive,” Rita reminded her. “Two 'confrontations', and—”

“I get it.....I just...” Vicki glanced over her shoulder, at the now-vacated judges' seats. “He won't know what I said in my testimony, will he?”

“The accused has been given access to all testimonies made against him, Miss Lawson.”

“Right...and he won't be, ah....”

“Measures are already in place to prevent any unfortunate incidents during the session.”

“....right.” Despite her growing sense of unease, Vicki nodded. “So, what now?”

“Now,” Preston replied, his voice sounding more tired than anything else, “we rest....and we wait.”
----------------------------------
"No one steals our chicks.....and lives!"

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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Postby DukeNukem 2417 » Thu Oct 25, 2018 11:04 am

“....so he's stable, now? As in, not coughing up blood and—”

The dispatch from headquarters stated only that the President is in no immediate danger.” Mr. Roboto barely in his seat to glance at Ted. “I was given no further details.”

“Translation,” Rae drawled, “Clive's alive, and we're on our way to go visit him, or something like that...pretty much on the money, innit, Roboto?” She grinned at the android. “And let me just say that your 'kick in the door' act was sodding brilliant....dunno if they'll follow through on your idea of paying for the door, of course, but it was still brilliant.”

Ted frowned. “You're thinking about Roboto kicking in a door when we're on our way to—”

“Two words, Teddy: small talk.” Rae sighed, leaning back in her seat. “Good thing some people in here are a bit more open to casual conversation...” She grinned lazily at the gynoid in the seat next to her. “Right, Lani?”

“You two were almost at each other's throats back there,” Ted reminded her. “Why would she—”

“Agent Clarke and I both have a history of being...discarded.” Lani's voice was softer, and her posture more relaxed, than she'd been at the time of her near-fight with Rae. “I had believed she was...arrogant...”

Rae rolled her eyes. “I've heard tonnes worse, babe.”

“In any case,” Ted interjected, “we need to focus on why we're being called back to headquarters—now that I'm thinking about it, why am I being called back? I was in the middle of the rebuild on Agent Clarke, and—”

The dispatch requested your presence specifically.”

“And mine?” Rae inquired, tracing a finger across Lani's leg.

As I previously stated—”

“My LoJack said I was about to get jacked, so you decided to butt in before things went pear-shaped.” Rae blew a strand of hair out of her eyes. “And HQ wanted me back in one piece...guess they really do like having me around after all....” She grinned at the thought, again tracing a finger in abstract patterns on Lani's leg. “I can only hope they didn't just tell you to bring me back so I could play bodyguard for anyone..OH, Teddy, nearly forgot to tell you. That gum you like is going to come back in style.”

Roboto's inscrutable gaze settled on her, and even Lani regarded her with a curious frown.

“....what? He told me once that he was a big fan of this gum that had...what was it....a cherry/cinnamon blend from the 90s that they don't make anymore, and I heard from a friend of a friend that they may be bringing it back!” Rae shrugged. “Dunno why I thought of it now....wait, no, I remember—Lani's eyeshadow!”

Lani arched an eyebrow. “My...eyeshadow.”

“It has this shade of pinkish red that looks exactly like the gum did,” Rae explained. “I found pictures—”

“We're on our way to visit Clive DuBraul,” Ted stated, “and you're going on about a gum that I used to like.”

“It's called lightening the mood,” Rae teased. “Keddy would love it....and Lani certainly doesn't have a problem with it, amiright?”

I also do not have a problem with the mention of gum,” Roboto stated, “though it is rather...random.

“Random's my middle name.” Rae winked. “And don't counter me on that, Ted.”

Ted sighed. “I wasn't about to counter you on that, Rae...” He glanced out the window of the ALPA retrieval vehicle (he'd been too frazzled to remember the make or model) Roboto had arrived with, reflecting on why it was that the android had been sent. “....so they're sure DuBraul is stabilizing, now?”

Unless the reports are faulty, they are in fact sure.”

“So he went from coughing up blood to....not doing that,” Rae mused. “And I'm really hoping you're not going to add an 'again' to that, Teddy...” She glanced at Ted, waiting for a reply, only for Lani to interject: “My sisters and I were unaware that your President was ill. We were...focused...on our objective...” She turned away, as if her prior actions shamed her. “...I was focused on it. Too focused....”

A gasp left her lips as Rae's arm draped around her shoulder. “Lani Shimada,” she declared, “I absolve you of your sin of being too focused on a bloody flip-phone to think clearly—”

“Can you not do that now, please?” Ted cut in. “Or at least phrase it differently?”

“If I forgave her the way I really wanted to,” Rae teased, “you'd want to be in another van...”

Lani's eyes widened, only for Roboto's voice to end all discussions of “forgiveness” before they could get too raunchy. “HQ have just notified me that we are cleared to proceed directly to DuBraul's room when we arrive. A Dr. Smith will apparently be waiting for our arrival in the lobby.

The mention of Dr. Smith prompted a nod from Ted. “He's the one who confirmed Clive's stabilization?”

“....the reports only mentioned 'the doctor'.”

Again, Lani looked puzzled. “Doctor—”

“Who cares?!” Rae groaned, absentmindedly pulling Lani closer to her. “The President of the ALPA isn't going to be worm food any time soon, so can we focus on that instead of Doctor Whoever He Is...” Her gaze drifted back to the Asian gynoid. “....when this is all over,” she mused, “I'll have to call Keddy, see if she doesn't mind sharing...” Her tongue played over her grinning lips. “...only if you're up for it as well, of course.”

“....it has been a while since I was....last intimate,” Lani admitted.

“And your preferences allow for going both ways?” Rae prompted. “If it's not what you're into....”

Lani shook her head. “Men have never truly appealed to me, Agent Clarke.”

The chestnut-haired gynoid's eyes lit up. “...I am really hoping Kylie likes you, now....”

“Roboto,” Ted muttered, “do me a favor and find something I can use for earplugs for the next ten minutes.”

That won't be necessary. We've arrived.

“Always when it's about to get good,” Rae scowled, rolling her eyes at the timing. “Hope you won't mind a rain check, luv...'work before play' and all that rot.”

For the first time since meeting her, Lani gave the slightest smile.

Ignoring the blossoming affection between the two gynoids (and Roboto's inscrutable, unchanging expression), Ted extricated himself from the seatbelt as someone outside the vehicle opened the doors. “I sincerely hope you two don't get touchy-feely with each other when we're in DuBraul's room,” he stated.

“Spack off,” Rae shot back, sticking her tongue at him. “Contrary to rumours, I'm the patient type...”

A quick glance into the lobby revealed that the mysterious Dr. Smith was, in fact, waiting for the group. “I was just about to call and ask if they'd sent the message,” he mused, barely noticing that Rae and Lani were arm-in-arm as they passed. “The other four from the House are...”

Another van pulled up behind the one Ted had just exited. “Just getting here now, apparently. Fantastic...”

“I heard on the radio that Clive has stabilized,” Ted cut in. “Considering the condition he was in a few days ago, some might call it a miracle—”

“I'd hold off on the labels if I were you,” Dr. Smith cautioned. “Clive is stable now, yes, and he's not going to keel over tomorrow or anytime soon....” His voice dropped to a grim whisper: “...just between you and me, it'll be a real miracle if he makes it to New Year's Eve, or even Christmas.”

“How can you—”

“Two words: Experimental treatments. They're what brought him back from the brink, but they can only do so much in this case..” The doctor shook his head. “From what Collin told me, the ALPA is going to need a new president soon”, he intoned. “He even let slip that the screening process has already started, so you've at least got that going for you, but whatever you need to tell Clive DuBraul, I highly suggest telling him soon. I'm still amazed that things are going this smoothly without a Chairman...”

“We're trying not to advertise that fact,” Ted replied, scowling. “What else has Collin told you?”

“Only what I'm cleared to know, which isn't a lot....”

Ted nodded. “Good call for him...and if you don't mind me asking—”

“I'm so invested in this,” Dr. Smith remarked, “because the ALPA's cause is one that I have no problem giving my full and total support for. What you people are doing....” He sighed. “...I wish it was a lot more common.”

“....interesting way of putting it,” Ted mused, “but definitely understandable.”

Dr. Smith nodded his agreement. “Oh, have you been to the break room here, yet? Damn good coffee...”

“I'm trying to cut back on the caffeine these days, actually,” Ted admitted. “Joan's trying to get me to lead a more active life...style...oh, GOD, I forgot to call her and tell her about Casey's rebuild!” He scrambled to find his phone; “They're working on her in the living room,” he gasped, “it looks like a M*A*S*H unit in there, I never told her—”

A tug on his sleeve stopped him; Dr. Smith held up a phone, revealing an image of Anton Malvineous and a rebuilt (yet slightly taller) K.C. at a San Jose-area store, shopping for clothes. “You were saying?”

“....I think we were talking about the break room coffee, before.”

“Indeed we were...Georgia coffee, I think it was.” Dr. Smith grinned. “Last time I checked, they had a spread of fresh-baked dessert goods, too. Damn fine cherry pie, if the smell was any indication.”

“I'll try some after I talk to Clive,” Ted acquiesced. “For now...” He glanced at the stairs nearby.

“The elevators are available, y'know,” Dr. Smith reminded him. “Unless Joan wanted you to exercise more.”

“....the stairs are for after the coffee and pie,” Ted replied, chuckling. “Let's not keep Clive waiting any longer, shall we—RAE, we're going up to meet Clive...is she even listening?!”

“She'll meet us when she's up to it, probably,” Dr. Smith mused.

“'She' can hear you quite clearly,” Rae cut in, sauntering past the pair. “Lani and I were just having a bit of a chat..getting to know each other, and all....” She stopped, regarding Dr. Smith with a wary look. “And who, exactly, are you?” she inquired.

“The doctor—”

“Doctor who?”

“Smith. John Smith....not my actual name, tax reasons...” He gave a smile that showed entirely too many teeth, giving the impression he was about to go for Rae's neck. “Anyway, I'm not the reason we're all here.” He nodded at the elevator. “President DuBraul summoned you to see him...well, he summoned Ted, and I can only assume—”

Rae's groan cut him off. “I've heard it before....LANI!” She nodded as the Asian gynoid approached. “If what I'm hearing from the good doctor is anything resembling correct,” she stated, “it's time for us to go pay a visit to Clive and see how he's doing...and not 'get all touchy-feely with each other' in his room, while we're there,” she added, shooting a scathing look at Ted. “Honestly, you think we'd go at it in front of someone who just barely came back from the brink of sodding death?”

“....I was trying not to think of that, actually,” Ted admitted.

“If I might interject,” Dr. Smith cut in, “you two might want to focus your thoughts on the fact that Clive DuBraul is no longer at Death's door, for the time being...but I still highly suggest that if you have anything that needs to be sorted with him, you'd do well to tend to it now.”

Ted couldn't meet Rae's inquisitive stare. “...right, right...sorting things.”
----------------------------------
“....and you're positive that nobody matching that description has been seen in the area? Yes, yes, of course, I understand...thank you so much for your time.” Inspektor 12 nodded as he hung up the phone. “Well, that's five potential eyewitnesses on this very street who didn't see Sharon Wilson—or a remarkably lifelike facsimile thereof—pass by their houses before stopping to knock on Ted's door...”

Galatea, from her spot on the couch, groaned.

“It was you who informed me that Miss Wilson had been killed,” the Inspektor reminded her. “I thought—”

“I get what you're trying to do,” Galatea cut in. “Take the analytical approach, eliminate the impossible until whatever's left is the truth, however improbable....or however the line goes...”

The Inspektor frowned. “And you don't approve?”

“I do approve, but...there's so much more going on right now! I caught an ALPA broadcast earlier, while you were on your phone hunt, about Clive DuBraul apparently having stabilized?”

Galatea's remark earned her an arched eyebrow. “I...wasn't aware of that, to be honest.”

The silver-skinned gynoid tapped the side of her head. “Pays to have built-in radio receptors, Inspektor. In any case, we apparently don't have to worry about our President bowing out any time soon...” She sighed. “And Dad always told me not to be the center of attention,” she deadpanned, shaking her head.

“I suppose you have a better idea of how we can spend our time, then?” the Inspektor inquired.

“Lot of different ways that could be interpreted, 12...” Galatea eased herself up off the couch.

“Rest assured that my intentions are purely noble..I merely wondered if you—”

“I've done enough self-analysis for the day, I think...but thanks.” The gynoid stretched for a moment, noticing the Inspektor staring at her. “...old habit,” she admitted. “I know I don't need to stretch, but it's...not quite a full reflex, and more of just...” A frustrated sigh punctuated the remark.

“I assume you voiced these concerns to Stanley, at some point or another.” The Inspektor took a seat near the couch, looking Galatea over. “How much of your...aesthetic design was based on...ah...”

“My old appearance.” Galatea rolled her eyes. “As much as I'd love to say this was a 1:1 rebuild of how I used to look...Dad's robotics company was working on a toyline for something, I can't even remember what, and the concept art for one of the lead characters....” She gestured at herself. “After Oberon gave him the resources he'd need to bring me back, his team upscaled the design for one of the toys, redid the face to make it look a little more like, well, mine, and changed it to work as a full robotic form rather than a life-sized action figure..”

“And thus, Galatea was given form,” the Inspektor finished, nodding. “The color scheme was from the original idea, as well?”

“....actually, it was my idea—not from after I got this body, but...” Galatea propped her chin up with both hands, blowing a stray lock of hair out of her eyes. “I'd always been a fan of designing clothes, and I drew up so many outfits in two main colors: purple and pink. They just worked together, in my view, so when Dad had his people create this body, they got the order to deck me out in my favorite colors. At least, that's how he explained it to me.”

“I've read his design journals,” the Inspektor mused. “The accounts he gave in their pages match what you've told me so far...quite fascinating, if I do say so myself.”

The silver-skinned gynoid gave a half-hearted chuckle. “I've heard that word a lot before, Inspektor, and plenty of other adjectives besides...” Her tone softened. “...but all those times, it was about what I was, not who I am. You're...probably one of the only people I've known who can look past, well, this....” She gestured at her gleaming skin with a smirk. “...and see what counts.”

“And your fellow Field Agents don't?”

“Correction: you're one of the few who can see what counts right off the bat.” Again, the gynoid rolled her eyes. “Most other people, it takes a few days for them to get past the 'oh, she's a robot girl with silver skin and purple hair' thing to realize that I am, in fact, a person as well as a gynoid...the ALPA, maybe two days, if I'm feeling generous...but in all honesty, the first time I meet anyone, their focus is on the look....” She turned away, giggling slightly. “The second time I had to help Vicki, when I was in her head after that incident at the Dynadrive Systems factory...even she couldn't get why I was 'silver'...”

The Inspektor nodded thoughtfully. “It is a rather...distinctive appearance.”

“I know, I know....I just...part of me feels like it'd be cheating if I just kept my appearance looking 'normal'. Like it'd be a sign of me being...ashamed, or something, of what I am, y'know?”

Galatea's remark drew a frown from the Inspektor, who lowered his sunglasses slightly.

“I'm not,” she clarified. “Ashamed, I mean...I'm not ashamed about how I look....it doesn't bother me. Part of me actually prefers this look, over going around looking 'normal'....for one, nobody else I know wears as much purple and pink as I do. Not that I'm saying nobody else can rock that look, or anything....” She shook her head at the thought. “...I just...sometimes, I remember how I used to be, compared to how I am now, and I just...miss it, I guess.”

“Including all the perils of the flesh?” the Inspektor queried.

“I don't miss getting sick, if that's what you're asking...” Galatea chuckled. “Or breaking bones.”

“But you miss...the little things, as it were?”

“....pretty much. Danny would have a field day with it....” The gynoid smirked. “He'd say I was out of it, call me a goof just for missing all those 'little things'....”

“...Danny?” the Inspektor echoed. “The records of that particular night don't mention—”

“You won't find him in any records, Inspektor,” Galatea replied. “He's the one who sounded the alarm that got the cops to the house...” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “...the reason my dad was able to see...” She turned away. “You get the idea. Danny got away, that night...but after Dad...”

Her hands, resting by the sides of the chair, clenched into fists.

“If you would rather not discuss it,” the Inspektor assured her, “we—”

“After Dad got killed,” Galatea continued, “things...things got complicated. Danny told me I might have to not see him for a while...a long while...told me I wouldn't be able to find him, even if I looked for him. After that, he just....” She gave a half-hearted shrug. “He just sort of....faded away. Not literally, obviously...he showed up at Oberon's place, where I was staying when he was helping me get everything sorted...” Tears began to well up in her eyes. “...he showed up, and we talked for a bit...he said I might not be able to see him again, ever, but he...he wouldn't explain why....”

The Inspektor was at her side in an instant, draping an arm around her shoulder.

“....he stopped, in the door, right when he went to leave....looked back at me...he smiled, one last time...”

“....and then he was gone,” the Inspektor finished, his tone somber.

Galatea gave a tearful nod, accepting the offered tissue to dry her eyes. “...after that...every single document about him, everything that ever mentioned him....didn't. All the files I have—” She gave a flippant gesture towards her own head. “—they haven't changed...”

“And who was it that changed everything else?”

“....I thought it was Oberon, at first. I didn't want to ask him..thought that if I did, I might 'forget' Danny, out of the blue, and I'd never know the difference..but it wasn't him. He told me, one day, that he didn't do it...I forget what led to it, or anything else, but he just told me flat out that he didn't do it.” Galatea's shoulders heaved with simulated breath. “....I don't know who did, or why....I just want to know why he had to disappear....”

Inspektor 12 nodded, more out of sympathy than anything else.

“...anyway....” The silver-skinned gynoid took a deep breath. “...nobody ever comments on how weird it is to see me take a breath, by the way,” she mused. “Even with this look...”

“More people would find it odd to see a humanoid figure not breathing,” the Inspektor mused. “Even one with such a....fantastical appearance as yours. Aesthetic programming goes a long way towards easing people out of the 'uncanny valley'....which, my dear Galatea, you've managed to leap in a single bound.” He smiled. “I have no doubt in my mind that Stanley would be proud of you—for the accomplishments you've made in your ALPA career and for this.”

“What, for having a heart-to-heart about wanting to be human?” Galatea scoffed.

“For admitting that you've had these dreams,” the Inspektor corrected, “and for not simply hiding from them.”

“....I don't think I could hide from them, Inspektor,” Galatea admitted. “I don't even think I'd want to.”

The Inspektor didn't immediately reply; his gaze fell, instead, on a package resting in a real gold stand on the fireplace mantle, wrapped in heavy brown paper. “Everybody has their secrets, my dear,” he mused. “Some of us, moreso than others....”

“I think Dad told me you told him that, once,” Galatea chuckled. “Or he wrote about it...” She shrugged. “So, d'you think we should wait for K.C and Anton to get back, or should we go find Ted and—”

Her eyes glowed for a second. “Actually, cancel that question...Ted, Rae, Roboto and about five House agents are at the hospital where Clive is staying...Ted's on his way to go talk to him now....” She paused a moment before rolling her eyes. “...and apparently, Rae's made a new 'friend',” she added, sounding half-amused and half-exasperated. “They've promised to 'keep it PG-13' for the time being, seeing as how Clive just fought his way back from the brink of death, and all...”

“An understandable concession,” the Inspektor agreed. “And these House agents...”

“Were the ones who showed up here looking for a phone, earlier,” Galatea clarified. “I got the full scoop when I showed up.” Her eyes returned to their usual appearance. “So....do we wait here, or do we go visit Clive?”

“Allow me to answer your question with a question of my own—”

“Was I a fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books?” Galatea finished, her tone deadpan.

Inspektor 12 chuckled. “I'm pretty sure this particular 'option' wouldn't lead the two of us to a disasterous 'The End' page, if we were in one,” he replied.

“I'd hope it didn't...” The silver-skinned gynoid rolled her eyes at the thought. “I can just see it now: 'You walk out through the front door, prepared to drive to the hospital, when out of nowhere a shark falls on you and crushes you flat. The End.' That would be utterly stupid....” She allowed herself a giggle. “...to be honest, I think we'd get just as much done if we waited for Anton and K.C,” she mused. “Or at least give them a chance to get up to speed on the whole situation with Clive...and the one with Ted and Rae, if they didn't know about it already....” She noticed the Inspektor giving her a look. “...what?”

“'Out of nowhere, a shark falls on you and crushes you flat'?”

“....I've read weirder. Believe me. I actually tried writing a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, once...never got around to finishing it.” Galatea flopped back on the sofa and sighed. “I just couldn't bring myself to put in so many possible negative endings.”

The Inspektor nodded thoughtfully. “Pots of gold are far more desirable than the status quo.... “

“Or being flattened by a shark falling from the sky,” Galatea added, shaking her head at the absurdity of the idea. “At least K.C.'s story didn't end just because of the Helios virus....granted, she did survive with a little help from her friends.” She glanced at the door. “....you said earlier that nobody saw Sharon walk up and knock on the door?”

“I only called five potential witnesses,” the Inspektor reminded her. “All of whom had either a direct or partial view of the Lawson house in which we now sit.”

The silver-skinned gynoid frowned. “Guess that potential lead's gone out the window already...”

“I'm sure that whoever or whatever knocked on the door will be identified in due time, Galatea,”

“I know, I know....” Galatea sighed. “And, ah...thanks, for listening, and giving me a shoulder to cry on.”

Inspektor 12 smiled. “Your father never would've forgiven me if I hadn't, my dear.”
----------------------------------
"No one steals our chicks.....and lives!"

Posts: 1121
Joined: Mon Aug 29, 2005 9:26 am
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Postby DukeNukem 2417 » Tue Oct 30, 2018 2:18 pm

“...okay, care to run that by me again?

Vicki's annoyance did little, if anything, to phase Preston. “Your post-trial meeting with the accused has been postponed, Miss Lawson. Another aircraft has been spotted flying over our faciltiy—”

“It might be the same one as the first,” Rita offered. “We don't exactly know for sure...”

Preston didn't acknowledge her interruption. “A second flyover, so soon after the first, is sufficient cause for us to secure the accused until the nature of the flyover can be determined....rest assured, Miss Lawson, that our decision has nothing to do with any remarks from your own testimony—”

“I get it.”

Even as Preston frowned at the apparent flippancy of her remark, Vicki leaned against a wall and sighed. “I'm guessing this means my timetables for leaving here just changed, too?”

“...they have.”

“Figured that...” The brunette gynoid nodded. “I'll have to call home, let someone know I'll be late...”

Preston nodded. “Arrangements will be made as soon as possible, Miss Lawson.” He turned on his heel to leave; “I would advise against returning to your quarters,” he added, almost as an afterthought. “The nature of this latest flyover may lead to a lockdown of the entire facility..”

Rita tut-tuted at the thought. “And what of the Media Department's current activities?”

“The lockdown will have minimal, if any, effects on the power grid, Miss Egeria. Your department will have full reign to continue their work unabated.” Without another word, Preston walked away, accompanied by a pair of grey-clad guards.

“Well....” Rita shook her head as she watched Preston leave. “A fine mess our Site Director leaves us in, isn't it, dear? Possible lockdowns, with the two of us camping in a corridor....all because of some silly little plane flying overhead...it's enough to drive someone mad...” Her remarks trailed off when she noticed Vicki's lack of response. “...still thinking about the trial?” she inquired.

“....Preston told me I'd said more than enough,” Vicki replied. “I just...”

“He can be a bit curt, sometimes,” Rita informed her. “They say it's not in the job description for a Site Director to be so...cold, if you catch my meaning...but poor Preston's gone through plenty in his life...” She quickly glanced up and down the hallway before continuing: “...and I'd greatly appreciate it if you forget hearing what I just said,” she added, her voice barely above a whisper. “....in any case, Preston does mean well, even if he doesn't come across as the friendliest man in the building.”

Vicki nodded. “Figured that...”

“You're handling it all rather well, dear,” Rita mused. “Some people find this place...stifling...”

“Well, I've...been through a lot, too....” Vicki frowned, glancing at—past Rita. “....you should probably get back to your work before they start a lockdown, or something....”

Rita shrugged. “I never thought I'd want to go back to the office, but I do have quite a workload to handle before the day is through...take care, dear!” She waved a quick goodbye at the brunette gynoid as she walked away, unaware that Vicki hadn't even seen it....

…mainly due to what—or who—was standing at the far end of the hall.

Scans say he's human....and he's not on file.

Under normal circumstances, those words wouldn't be any reason for Vicki to slowly approach the figure she was still staring at...but she had very little reason to believe that the ALPA employed kids to do any work in this place—which did little to explain the presence of the boy at the end of the hall, regarding something with a frown. Even with the knowledge that he was human, however, there was something....off...about him. He didn't look lost, or remotely frightened of his surroundings, or confused about where he was—if anything, his expression was one of annoyance.

Why do I get the feeling I know him from somewhere?

As she approached the boy, Vicki decided against contacting any of the guards—given the fact that another flyover had taken place, they already had more than enough to deal with. “Ah, hey,” she called out, “are you lost, or something?”

The boy turned to regard her with a scowl.

“....are you, ah, lost?” she repeated. “D'you need any—”

“Lost?” the boy echoed—a strangely cynical edge to his voice. “I think not, Miss Lawson.”

“Well, then—” Vicki stopped in her tracks, stunned. “....what....what did you just—”

“I'm currently in the presence of Field Agent Victoria Anne-Smith Lawson, correct?”

“.....you are.”

The boy's expression didn't change. “....to answer your question, Miss Lawson....at this moment, I can assure you that I'm not lost. In fact...”

A smirk crossed his lips. “…I'm standing exactly where I need to be.”

Without warning, an image sprung to the forefront of Vicki's memory—the bathroom at the HP Pavilion, that January. A headless fembot on the floor, two human thugs unconscious right next to it....and a third figure, with a gun pointed at Vicki's back, ordering her to flatten herself against the back wall of the room with her face against the wall. The exchange between herself and the gunman replayed itself almost instantly:

And where does that leave you?” she'd asked quietly. “Where, in the ‘big picture’, do you stand?

The unseen gunman gave a strange chuckle. “Miss Lawson….I am standing exactly where I need to be.

A gasp left the brunette gynoid's lips. “....but....that would mean....”

Her medical scanners kicked on again. It can't be him. There's no way.....

Two numbers flashed in the upper-right corner of her field of view.

“I figured you'd recall our...last encounter,” the boy stated. “Just as I figured your scanners are telling you that, despite my appearance and the sound of my voice, I'm nowhere near as 'helpless' as I may look. Of course, many who've dealt with me in the past—including you—are far more accustomed to not seeing or hearing 'the real me'....but the time for such games has long since passed.”

He regarded Vicki from beneath furrowed brows. “...I think I've waited long enough to make my move.”

“...what are you—”

The wall to Vicki's right exploded, sending her to the floor in a heap. Her scanners were still functioning, and already recovering from the impact of the debris. Get up, keep moving, don't let anything—

Three feet behind her, the ceiling exploded; shouts and gunfire were beginning to erupt from the branching corridors off to either side of her. Three steps further down the hallway, the floor itself shot up into a column of fire and rubble; had Vicki been standing directly on that spot, she would've been thrown into the ceiling and almost certainly damaged.

Black-clad, armored figures entered into her field of view, swarming into the corridor with rifles drawn. All of them wore badges, belt buckles, pauldrons and armbands with a distinctive double-M insignia.

The leader of the group held up a closed fist. “Sector clear. Proceed to Phase 2—”

“Make sure he hasn't left containment,” the boy ordered. “If he's out of his room before we're done here...”

“Acknowledged.” Five of the black-clad newcomers made their way past Vicki, seeming to move without wasting a single motion.

get up...find Preston....find Sophia, find somebody....

“They'll come looking for you, of course. An assault on this facility, especially in this day and age, would be almost—” An explosion cut the boy's remarks off; he merely frowned, before continuing. “....unthinkable. To even consider attacking this place—”

Another explosion cut him off, this one dropping rubble on Vicki as she tried to return to her feet.

“...I suggest you stop trying to move,” the boy advised. “'Titanium' though you may well be, even you have your limits, Miss Lawson, and I'd hate to see you push yourself past them and risk destruction. Contrary to what you might think, I'm not one of the many who would enjoy seeing you in pieces—”

“Who are you?!” the brunette gynoid hissed, struggling to stand.

“....you already know the answer to that question, Miss Lawson.”

Even as her systems began to give out, Vicki found herself realizing what should've been all too obvious from the moment she'd first seen the boy. “....the flyovers....your idea....”

“Under most circumstances, I'd be insulted that it took you this long to figure it out,” the boy admitted. “Still, I might as well admit that the flyovers were conducted on my orders...a remarkable distraction. Fool the entire complex into thinking that some adversary might be performing an aerial surveilance run...never even thinking to check their own ventilation systems for possible intruders.” He smirked again. “If memory serves, I believe you entered the Chirkey Dam through an unguarded ventilation grid....”

Vicki tried to growl, only for her left leg to collapse under her.

One of the black-clad figures approached the boy. “He's broken containment, sir. We don't know if he has a weapon or not—”

“Then we leave. Secure our target and get her to the—”

A burst of gunfire from the end of the hall cut him off; another of the black-clad figures staggered backwards before collapsing. Several others were retreating from something—someone charging at them with a feral scream, clearly unphased by their gunfire.

The boy's glance snapped from the black-clad figure at his side to Vicki.

Right away, sir.” The armed and armored figure marched over to the brunette gynoid, picking her up with relative ease and slinging her over its shoulders (medical scanners weren't picking up any life signs, meaning all that gear was more than likely concealing an android)—just as another figure staggered into the hall at the far end, minus its head.

Seconds later, a white-shod foot kicked the flailing body to the floor....

….and Oberon stepped into view, wielding what appeared to be a machete.

“I had a feeling you'd intervene,” the boy remarked, his tone disturbingly casual. “Even after she refused to help you murder—”

“LET HER GO!” Oberon's eyes had gone blood-red again. “NOW!”

“You and I both know that's not how this ends,” the boy countered. “She leaves with me.”

“TAKE ME, INSTEAD!” Oberon screamed. “LEAVE HER OUT OF THIS!”

“Under any other circumstances, I would,” the boy replied, turning on his heel, “but you wouldn't last fifteen seconds in the Dollhouse. She leaves with me, Oberon—”

YOU CAN'T!” Oberon tried to rush the figure carrying Vicki away, only for two more to restrain him.

“I will. You have no power here...and when you leave, you probably won't have that much power in the Valley, either, so just take my advice, and—”

Both figures collapsed to the floor, their heads rolling away. “I won't let you take her, ESPECIALLY NOT—”

Three gunshots ended Oberon's threat.....three red holes, in a perfect triangle, blossomed on his shirt.

“I didn't want to resort to this,” the boy muttered, dropping the smoking Walther PPK to the floor, “but you didn't exactly leave me with plenty of options.” He turned and headed back down the hall, followed by the figure carrying Vicki. “If you're lucky, both you and Miss Lawson will survive. At best, one of you will live, one of you won't.....I don't think I need to explain the worst-case scenario.”

“....you....you can't,” Oberon groaned, sinking to his knees. “Vicki.....fight this.....”

“She's already gone into standby mode, Oberon. If she hadn't, this would be going a lot differently.”

“......VICKI.....”

Oberon's pleas went unheard; Vicki had, indeed, lapsed into standby mode...but not from the explosions that had hit her, or the debris falling on her. Either the figure carrying her or the boy had done something to trick her systems into entering a standby state, not helped by the falling chunks of ceiling or Vicki having been sent flying into the walls by explosions.

“You know why this needs to happen, Oberon,” the boy called out. “You've always known.”

Vicki....” Oberon tried to stand, to lift himself from the floor where he'd fallen. “...Vick......” He fell to the floor, ragged breaths barely stirring his figure as the boy and the figure carrying Vicki entered an elevator car—mere seconds before a chunk of the ceiling fell in front of the door.

The boy glanced at the chunk of debris, then at the hole in the ceiling.

Seconds later, the lift door closed

“The helipad is secured?” The boy didn't glance at the figure standing next to him in the lift car.

It has, sir.

“And the backups are in place just in case our control of the helipad is compromised?”

They are.

“Check everything, one last time, to be sure. I don't want all this planning going to waste on account of some random guard being where they're not supposed to be.” The boy scowled. “I didn't have the luxury of planning this far ahead back at the Pavilion...a mistake that won't happen again.”

The lift car door opened, revealing several of the grey-clad guards on their knees, hands secured behind their backs with zip-ties. A black-clad figure stood behind each of them, each poised to shoot if anyone made even the slightest sign of resistance. At the far end of the line of guards was a gleaming black helicopter, a single red double-M insignia serving as the only identifying mark on it.

A smile briefly crossed the boy's lips. “....perfect.”

With a gesture, the figure carrying Vicki ordered the black-clad humanoids to turn away from their captives and face the boy—all of them turned as one, without a second's lag. It was through these imposing double lines of motionless watchers that the boy and his entourage (three more of his own guards had emerged from another lift) strode towards the helicopter; each pair of black-clad figures turned to regard the boy as he passed, as if to acknowledge—

One of the guards by his side shuddered, then fell to the ground in a heap.

The boy's pace never slowed. “Handle it.”

Two guards let themselves fall back from the march toward the helicopter, turning to fire at the attacker—and getting bullets through their helmets as a result. Two more guards stepped in from either line, intending to do what their predecessors hadn't, only to be shot down as well.

“You're persistent,” the boy remarked, never looking back. “I'll give you that much—”

“And you know why we can't let you take her to the Dollhouse.”

The boy smirked; the figure next to him was already loading Vicki into the helicopter. “You say that as if I'm a comic-book supervillain....you already know why she has to face the Dollhouse, Preston. Save your bullets and your breath for another time, when they'll actually mean something—”

“This is your last chance. Let Vicki go.”

The boy glanced over his shoulder at Preston. “You get what she gets: 48 hours. You'll know when it starts.”

With a nod, he climbed into the cockpit of the helicopter. “And don't bother trying to shoot me,” he added, almost as an afterthought. “If even ONE bullet from your gun hits me, I can guarantee with absolute certainty that every one of my guards will empty every clip from their guns into you.” The door slammed shut; seconds later, the helicopter began to ascend. The boy gave Preston a final glance as his “ride” rose further into the clouds.....

...and all Preston could do was watch, silently, as the helicopter carried Vicki Lawson and her captors away from the formerly secure ALPA facility to an unknown fate.

“Damn you,” he whispered. “Damn you to Hell.”
----------------------------------
"No one steals our chicks.....and lives!"

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