Lina, Part 9

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Lina, Part 9

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Wed Nov 06, 2019 2:25 pm

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Apologies for the delay....had to get a few things worked out before this one went to post. Entering the home stretch here.....
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The first time I'd ever seen Lina—on her phone, in front of the towel cabinet in the bathroom—I had no idea that I was going to end up circling in the galley of an airborne DC-10, staring down a smirking, 6'4” android with a mohawk and more muscles than effing He-Man who'd just told me he wanted to kill me—all just to get her back.

Almost a week after the fact.....well, that's pretty much exactly where I was.

“Too scared to say anything, meatbag?”

The android, BC—oh, the Hell with mentioning his number. BC-whatever stared me down, almost waiting for me to do attack him or do something equally stupid. Seeing as how he'd damn near killed me with a single punch already, I wasn't going to fall for it. Even as I tried to stall for time, I knew that I'd get killed if I went through with the idea of running past him and going for the length of pipe that I'd nailed Andrew in the shoulder with earlier....

“I asked you a question, meatbag.”

BC-whatever was ignoring the others—Siobhan, Hera, Mai and Kona—to taunt me again, so I decided to throw some shade of my own. “I heard you the first time, Tin Man—and I'm not scared of you.”

“So you're either really brave or really stupid....doesn't make a difference to me.”

“Well maybe it should.” I took a step forward, cracking my knuckles for good measure. “This ends now.”

BC-whatever chuckled. “...you really want to throw hands with me?”

“What I want, right now, is to kick your ass. Whatever Andrew started—”

“Andrew was just the bodyguard,” BC-whatever sneered. “Barely enough processing power to match a calculator, and probably just as sentient as one....not that it'll matter to you in a few minutes. You've got an appointment with gravity and the Grim Reaper.” The smirk returned to his face as he finally regarded the others in the galley. “...and when I'm finished with him, I'll—”

“You're not gonna do a DAMN thing to them.” I took another step forward. “This is between you and me.”

“So you are stupid.” The Titanic Tin Twit (I could picture Lina giggling at the name) chuckled. “Probably dumber than that idiot Andrew...”

“And I'm guessing you're packing some kind of supercomputer up there in that thick skull of yours?”

“What I'm running is a lot better than that useless bunch of muscle you call a brain. By the time I'm finished with you, they'll have to hose what's left of you off the walls with a pressure washer.”

“....yeah, well, it could be worse.” I shrugged. “At least I'm not about to kiss the floor.”

The mohawked maniac glared at me, probably thinking I was just trying to piss him off, and took two steps forward—a convenient move, on my part, since he had his legs kicked out from under him right after that second step. True to my “prediction”, he did, indeed, end up kissing the floor, muttering profanities and swearing unholy vengeance against me as he clawed his way to a half-sitting pose on the floor.

“I thought he'd never shut up.” Siobhan shook her head, grinning as BC-whatever nearly fell on his face again. “Nice stallin' there, Matt.”

“Thanks. Nice save with the kick—”

Someone yelled something and ran past me—lo and behold, it was Hera, smashing lefts and rights into BC-whatever's back as he tried to get up. “You thought you would take me, did you?!” She planted a kick to his abs that would've left him flat on his back if he'd been human...unfortunately, all it did was piss him off. When she went for another kick, he grabbed her by the leg and threw her against the wall—something in her thigh (a few somethings, really) broke, but for whatever reason, her leg still stayed on.

As Muscles For Brains (I couldn't stop thinking of Lina coming up with goofy-ass names for this guy) turned to glare at Siobhan, Mai and Kona, I realized that I'd lost sight of Lucy—which was probably a good thing on her part, since the Metal Moron was trying to football-tackle Siobhan. I decided to head back through the curtain to tell Peach—

--and nearly got a face full of Lucy's ass as I went through in a half-crouch. “Ah, Lucy, whatever you do, don't back up.”

“You can stand, y'know. “

I did, as Lucy turned to face me—which is about when I noticed that she'd somehow appropriated my phone. “If you'd asked me for it....”

“No time.” Just as quickly as she'd faced me, Lucy turned away, aiming the phone at the crates stacked in the cabin. “I can't tell if Lina's in any of these....either her signal's being blocked, or the stupid crates are too thick—” She didn't flinch when something hit a wall in the galley. “...having fun back there?”

“....how'd you even get out of the room without—”

“Call it luck if you want.” Lucy was still focused on scanning the crates. “If they put her in the damn cargo hold—”

Her complaint was cut off by Siobhan—sans an arm—flying past and hitting one of the seats. “That prick....” She turned to look at the sparking wires and jagged metal where her left arm had been. “Took the whole feckin' arm off!”

“Please tell me you got in a few good hits before he did...”

My question prompted a smirk from Siobhan (which looked a bit weird when her right eye decided to drift sideways of its own volition). “Nailed 'im right between the pecs with a kick...knocked 'im flat on his arse.”

“And he took your arm off for that?”

“Explain later,” Lucy cut in. “Think you can open these crates with just one arm?”

Siobhan frowned. “I'd kinda like to get my other arm back, if it's all the same to—to—to—” Her head ticked to the side with each utterance of the word “to” before the loop broke. “Oh, for fook's sake....” A groan—and a thin plume of white smoke—left her lips.

“....ah, Siobhan...” I nodded at the wispy trail. “You've, ah....”

My words trailed off when I noticed that the missing arm wasn't the only damage she'd suffered. Apparently, the idiot with the mohawk had managed to punch her in the stomach hard enough to break the fabric of her uniform and the skin beneath; a few wires were poking out, and various, brightly-colored fluids were staining her onesie.

“....damn it....” Siobhan's sigh went staticky at the end, and she nearly fell onto Lucy.

My arm was around her shoulder in an instant, and I helped her to a seat. “Try to get the seatbelt on her so she won't go flying,” I suggested. “I have a feeling things are about to get pretty insane in there...” I glanced back over my shoulder; the curtain parted just enough for me to see Hera smashing the Iron Asshat over the head with a crate lid.

“I gotta get back in there...” I jerked a thumb at the curtain. “Try to get her stabilized—”

A stuttering, skipping laugh left Siobhan's lips. “I'm already-ready-ready—” She jerked back in her seat, a grimace on her lips. “....okay, maybe I'm not-not-not-not as stable as I thought,” she admitted, sighing. “Just go-go-go-go back there and kick some arse, Matt-att-att-att—” Her head racheted to the right, and something in her left ear popped.

“Just sit tight,” Lucy advised. “Matt, do like she said and kick ass.”

I nodded, glancing past her to spy the length of pipe. “Just give me a second to re-arm, and I will.” I could hear Siobhan groan at my choice of words, and muttered a quick “sorry” as I headed for the length of pipe. Once I had it, I turned to head back into the galley, giving Siobhan a nod. “Just sit tight....hopefully, this won't take long.”

Another pop sounded—this time, from her right ear—but she managed a nod.

I ducked through the curtain into the galley just in time to see Kona wrapping one of her arms around BC-whatever's neck from behind. “Son of a....” He tried to swing backwards to hit her and break out of the chokehold, only to have his legs kicked out from under him again. “We can't keep fighting him in here,” she stated, barely acknowledging that I'd entered the room. “We need to restrain him, get him back in his crate....”

I just stared at Doll-ph Lundgren's downed form. “I don't think we can restrain him, Kona.”

“Then what would you suggest?” Hera's question was punctuated by an angry rizz from her damaged leg. “I sincerely hope your plans for him have nothing to do with his 'plans' for me....I have no intention of subduing him that way!”

“Nothing of the sort.” I smirked. “He said I had an appointment with gravity and the Grim Reaper....”

Hera, Kona and Mai all realized what I intended to do with him at that moment.

Unfortunately, Iron Strongman had other ideas.

Before any of the three could comment on my plans to kick Bore Machine out of the plane, he grabbed Mai by the waist as he got up. I would've thrown the pipe at him, javelin-style, except he decided to lawn-dart Mai at me. I ducked, but Mai flew past me through the curtain—I could tell she'd hit a crate. “M-m-m-matt? I think I-I-I-I-I—Error—”

“Lucy?!”

“Her head's on backwards, Matt! She's not gonna be doing any fighting any time soon!”

Something rizzed in response to Lucy's remarks. “I can-I can-I can I-I-I-I-Error—internal structural integ-teg-tegrity has been com-com-com-com-com—”

“Just stay still and let me get you buckled into a seat, okay?”

A shout from a few feet away cut me off—Hera had gone to kick the Hulk of Scrap again, but he'd grabbed her damaged leg and kicked it out from under her. “I cannot continue in this state....Matthew, you have to—”

“Shut up.” BC-whatever wrapped his hands around her head, just like he'd done with Andrew.

I may have yelled something, or I may have just run forward...whatever the case, I threw that length of pipe at the Iron Jackass. Hera must've heard my footsteps, seeing as how she ducked (actually, she kind of fell sideways)....

….and the pipe went right through BC-whatever's chest. If he'd been next to a wall, it probably would've pinned him.

There are a lot of times in life when you feel like you're on the verge of victory—whether it's on a football field, or a baseball diamond, or even at your job. You can see the end in sight, the finish line getting closer with each step, and you know it's just a few seconds away from the oh-so-glorious win...but then something goes tits-up and your “inevitable” victory falls apart. Sometimes it something convoluted, other times, it's something simple.

Like, say, a cargo bay door that was forced shut and improperly locked, which then shears off at cruising altitude.

All I heard at first was a “BANG”, and I thought for a second that Mai or Siobhan had succumbed to some catastrophic system failure or something. I stopped thinking that when the floor of the galley collapsed—Kona, Hera, the Mohawked Maniac and I were left scrabbling for a hold on the floor, trying to claw our way back through the curtain.

Kona, unfortunately, didn't make it—she went sliding across the floor of the cargo bay and straight out the door.

Hera fared a little better, thanks to finding handholds along the walls where various appliances and such had been at one point. Even with her damaged leg whirring and rizzing at every step, she managed to get to the curtain, fling herself through and maneuver to a seat so she wouldn't get thrown out.

Of course, this meant that I was the only one left to take down Mohawk'n'Muscles.

“....I swear, every one of you meatbags has some kind of damn stupid hero complex...” The android prick—apparently not as incapacitated by the pipe through the chest as I would've hoped—chuckled, the sound aubible even over the rushing air in the cargo hold. “...makes my job so much easier.” He cracked his knuckles—I could tell he wanted nothing more than to put his fist through my head. “And just for the record, you and your sexbot would still be together—”

“Lina's NOT a sexbot, you asshole! She's my girlfriend.”

“Is that right....well, she'd still be with you if that Sievers bitch would've just given herself up—”

The plane shook, and both of us lost our footing....and then it shook again.

Somehwhere above, the intercom kicked on. “You might want to brace yourselves—we've hit some turbulence!

As soon as Peach mentioned turbulence, I groaned. “Oh, fu—”

I've never been a fan of trampolines, bounce houses or anything that sends can send you into the air (or the ceiling, or the walls) without adequate warning. Before I jumped on that DC-10, I'd only ever been on a plane twice, and in both cases, the turbulence was only slightly annoying. This time....yeah, “only slightly annoying” was just wishful thinking. As it was, I got thrown into a crate, so I had a bit of the wind knocked out of me.

Mr. Muscles, on the other hand, bounced off the ceiling (or at least rebounded) into a crate....perilously close to the blown-open cargo bay door.

Everyone okay back there?

Peach's voice barely registered over the mayhem in the cargo bay. “I'm good...Mai, Hera and Siobhan got damaged. I, ah, think Kona got sucked out the door—”

The cargo bay door? The controls up here have been going crazy for the last few minutes—something about 'inability to equalize pressure...there's also a notice up here about 'pressurization equilibrium ventilation system not installed....Matt, you need to get out of the cargo bay!

“....a little late for that, Peach....”

HEY!

The Cyberdouche was back on his feet, glaring at me. “If you two are done with the talking, and the muttering, and the planning that's not even gonna get you anywhere...”

“The plane's depressurized, you asshole! We need to level out, or—”

“Or you're gonna find it really hard to keep those worthless lungs of yours going—”

The plane shook again, and I hit the floor—and this time, it was a lot worse than having the wind knocked out of me. I was finding it pretty damn hard to keep breathing; the ruined floor of the galley made for some good handholds to get back up to the cabin, but it was going to take a Hell of an effort to get there. I tried to pull myself along the rivets and small indentations in the floor, to get closer—hoping against hope that any crates sliding past wouldn't hit me...

“GET BACK HERE, MEATBAG!'

The mohawked bastard was still there—but he wasn't exactly no-selling this. I could hear what sounded like metal and glass hitting skin—except I wasn't feeling it. “YOU THINK WE'RE DONE?! YOU THINK I'M JUST GONNA LET YOU CRAWL AWAY LIKE A BITCH?!”

I didn't answer. I was too busy trying to get back to the cabin.

“LOOK AT ME, MEATBAG! LOOK AT ME!

I managed to turn just enough to see Mr. Arm-and-Hammer taking slow, heavy steps—every time his foot hit the floor of the cargo bay, a metallic clunk rang out—or would've, had it not been for the rushing wind and overall feelings of lightheadedness that were beginning to settle in. In another time, I might've...no, I would've panicked, frozen up and not been able to keep going, all the better for the idiot with the mohawk to wipe the floor with me. I closed my eyes, trying to drown out the rushing of air, Lucy's screaming at me to keep going... I wanted—I needed to focus, to just move a few more feet, to get to the cabin....

...and at that moment, on the precipice between survival and getting flung out of the busted cargo bay.....I saw.

I don't know if it was a dream, a hallucination or just a really powerful memory of when I'd first talked to her when she'd had her human emulation mode activated, but I could see Lina, sitting next to me on my bed, smiling at me.

That moment—that one brief, shining moment—was all I needed to keep going.

One hand-hold after another, I pulled myself closer to the cabin—and to Lucy's outstretched hands.

“C'mon, Matt....Lina'll never forgive me if I let you get sucked out the cargo bay door.”

I took hold of her hands, and she pulled me back into the cabin. “....thanks.”

“No problem....well, not with me.” Lucy nodded past me, at the jacked-up android...who was, of course still there.

And now, he was even more pissed off.

My gaze drifted back to Siobhan, Hera and Mai strapped into their seats. I'd barely gotten to know them, but I did know that they'd all been swiped by the same asshats who'd taken Lina. If someone didn't end this, and soon....

“Lucy, tell Peach to put the plane into a climb—”

“I just helped you back into the cabin, Matt! I'm not going to—”

“I'm not letting you get wrecked by Ivan Cagematch over there. He already wants to kill me—”

“And if you go back down there, he WILL!”

“....I can do this.” Despite feeling like I was about to pass out, I stared down BC-whatever with as much defiance as I could muster up. “....just go. Tell Peach to put the plane into a climb...”

Lucy shook her head. “You're crazy, you know that?”

“I prefer to see it as thinking differently.”

At this, Lucy actually laughed, gave me a brief hug, and ran for the cockpit. I didn't watch her leave—that whack job with the mohawk was still glaring at me, and I didn't want to take my eyes off of him for one second.

“MEATBAG......we've got unfinished business!” Parts of his face were peeling away where the shrapnel had hit, making him look like a dollar-store Terminator. “And you've only got twenty minutes of air left...if I don't throw your worthless ass out of the plane before then.”

“I'm not leaving this plane until it's back on the ground.” I jumped back down into the cargo bay, ignoring the pain in my feet. “You, on the other hand....”

“You think you can kick me out of here?”

“You don't know a damn thing about what I'm thinking...but I know that I can get a lot done in twenty minutes.”

“You really think you can last that long?!” BC-whatever took a step towards me, sneering. “You're nothing. Just some rando who was in the wrong place at the wrong time...a real nobody. That blonde bitch of yours...she was just a consolation prize. They were after the one who made her—and they would've taken her stupid ass if your sexbot hadn't been in the way....if it'd been me out there, instead of those two useless bricks, I'd have had some fun—”

I barely paid any attention to him. It was still hurting to breathe....for a few minutes, at least, until I got the feeling that we'd changed elevation to the point where the whole “depressurized cabin” issue wasn't a problem anymore. I could only guess that Lucy had figured out we needed to go lower, not higher, in order to keep me alive...I made a mental note to thank her later, even as that idiot with the mohawk kept ranting at me.

Somewhere behind him, the crates began to shift.

“....as it is, I get to stomp you like the bug you are, and once this plane is on the ground, the real fun starts—”

Whatever the Iron Douchebag was going to say next, a crate flew through the curtain and smacked him in the face.

“Do us a favor, pal,” Lucy shouted, “and SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

Even as Musclehead Prime reeled from getting hit by the crate, I could tell Peach was following my earlier advice and putting the into the DC-10 into a climb—anything that wasn't tied down was hitting that mohawked prick, hard (or flying past him and out the open cargo bay door). Every impact sent him staggering closer to the door; he tried to take a few steps forward, still glaring at me, but a crate lid nailed him in the right knee. I could hear something shearing off when it hit, but he didn't fall. Lucy was doing her part by throwing stuff at him, too—screaming insults all the while.

A thought—well, a plan—had formed in my mind. It was insane, and had a high probability of failure....

….but, on the off chance that it actually worked, then this prick, this psycho android bastard, wouldn't be stealing any sentient androids or gynoids ever again.

“I'LL TEAR YOUR ARMS OFF!” Iron Broly kept trying to charge back towards the cabin, but every hit sent him staggering back. “YOU THROW ONE MORE THING AT ME, AND—” His threat got cut off by something hitting the pipe still jutting out from his chest—that impact, in particular, took a lot out of him, and he actually stayed quiet for a full minute as whatever internal equilibrium-maintenance systems he had running tried to keep him on his feet.

I grabbed a metal crate that was about the same size as a shoe box, holding it in front of me as I ran.

“....damn it.....stupid bitch....” Ivan Jackoff was still recovering from his last hit. “....I'll tear her apart—”

I let loose a roar and threw the metal crate at him—it slammed into the pipe, driving it further into his chest.

“You're wrong.” I clenched my fists, staring at Lameiac as I strode towards him. “Lina's not a sexbot, she's not a 'bitch', and she sure as shit isn't your 'consolation prize'! And 'the one who made her' is a damn sight smarter than you, your stupid bodyguard and your lame-ass drones....”

I actually growled at the prick. “....and I'm not a nobody.”

Vlad the Impaled was trying—and failing—to pull the pipe out of his chest. “The Hell did you just say—”

“I SAID I'M NOT A NOBODY, YOU WALKING PILE OF SCRAP! YOU WANNA KNOW WHO I AM?!”

Before the bastard could even think to respond, I ran at him. Full tilt. “I'M MATT HARKER!

I'll admit, right now, that my brilliant idea had a bit of a fault—for me to pull off what I wanted to do, I had to run at the bastard, take a flying leap and dropkick the pipe further into his chest. Now, I actually managed to pull this off....except that, in the heat of the moment, I'd forgotten the small matter of my feet hurting like Hell, and the whole “dropkick the pipe further into him” thing made them hurt even worse....but thanks to a healthy surge of adrenaline and testosterone at the exact right moment, the end result was the same. The impact of me kicking the pipe further in did the trick, knocking him off his feet to such a degree that he couldn't recover, and—in the parlance of our times—he pretty much got yeeted out the cargo bay door, screaming all the while.

I hit the floor, feeling both invigorated and in extreme pain. I managed to grab onto the floor and start pulling myself back towards the cabin, back into Lucy's waiting embrace.

“Like I said,” she mused, “you're crazy.”

“Yeah, well.....” I could barely get a chuckle out. “My feet hurt....”

“You're bleeding all over the damn cabin...what'd you do to him?”

“Ran....dropkicked the pipe....into his chest...” I chuckled again. “He's gone, Lucy.”

“...you dropkicked the pipe?!”

“It worked, didn't it?”

Lucy shook her head. “Wow.” She gave me a brief kiss on the forehead. “I really know how to pick 'em, don't I?”

She glanced back at the cockpit door. “PEACH! What's our status?”

“....is everything okay back there?

“Matt just kicked that prick with the mohawk out of the plane. Everything good up there?”

“....well, we're heading in for a landing at Portsmouth International Airport.”

“Civilian side, or military?”

Civilian. Frank was just on the radio—he said they have the full story. It'll take us....twenty minutes or so to lose altitude before we can land!

“.....fine by me.” I chuckled again, resting my head against Lucy's knees and doing my best to not pass out.

By the time the plane landed at Portsmouth International, I'd recovered enough to stand on my own (though my feet still hurt like Hell). Mai and Siobhan had gone into standby, to keep from draining their power cells; Hera was able to leave the plane on her own, and get to what I later found out was a Mobile Repair Center to get her leg fixed. Some of the attendants from the MRC went into the plane, after she left, to retrieve Mai and Siobhan (and Siobhan's arm). There were cop cars and unmarked vehicles (Lucy said most, if not all, of those were from the ALPA) all over the place, and crews of people carrying the crates that had been dropped out of the plane.

And speaking of things that had flown out of the plane....

“....is that Kona?”

I had to shield my eyes with my hand as Lucy and I left the plane. “....what?”

“Up there, clinging to the edge of that big freaking hole—well, they're helping her down....” Lucy nodded at the cherry picker that was positioned under the gaping hole aft of the left wing; sure enough, Kona was being helped down by a pair of firefighters. She saw Lucy and me watching, at one point, and flashed a quick thumbs-up in our direction.

“....she held onto that edge the whole time we were up there?!”

“It's better than the alternative,” Lucy reminded me. “Anyway...once all the crates are sorted, we can look for Lina.”

“And then get the Hell out of here.” I sighed. “....any chance you can get someone to bring me some foot balm?”

It took....half an hour, or so, to get all the crates tagged for sorting; another ALPA crew had been tracking the flight path of the DC-10 while it was still in the air, and had been recovering the crates that had fallen out of the cargo bay door during the flight. Turns out Uncle Frank, Ashwyn, Millie, Fenton and Dani had been riding with that group—and were still riding with them when they pulled up at the airport.

“MATT!” Uncle Frank nearly fell on his face getting out of one of the trucks, but he recovered quickly enough.

“...yeah.” I grinned. “Everyone, ah, okay down—”

My question was cut off when Uncle Frank wrapped me in a hug. “Oh, Matt, that Peach girl from the plane told us all what happened, on the radio....” He ran his hand through my hair, either sobbing or laughing with relief. “When I heard the cargo door blow off....” He pulled back, staring at me with awe. “...I thought you'd get sucked out! “

“Well...” I shrugged. “I didn't...”

Uncle Frank just grinned and hugged me again. “Glad to see you with both feet on the ground again, Matt.”

“Believe me, I'm glad to be back on the ground...even if my feet aren't.” I broke the embrace, glancing at Millie and Ashwyn. “And what have you two been up to?”

“Trackin' the crates that fell outta the plane,” Millie replied, sashaying over to get a good look at me (it amazed me that she was still sashaying instead of just walking). “We almost thought Ashwyn had blown a fuse or two when she jumped on the wing'o'that plane with you and Lucy...”

Ashwyn stuck her tongue out at Millie.

“Now, now, you two,” Uncle Frank admonished. “Let's not ruin the moment with petty squabbling....”

“Frank's right.” Lucy nodded her agreement. “We need to get back on the plane and find Lina—if she's not in any of the crates that fell out....”

Her musings trailed off, and even Ashwyn winced....but I stayed calm. “You were with the groups that checked those crates, Uncle Frank. Did they say anything about opening them, or seeing who was in the ones that ended up going out through the busted cargo bay door?”

“....well, we can go ask 'em now....”

A quick jaunt over to the far side of the airfield led us to find out—to my immediate relief—that Lina hadn't been in any of the crates that had been sucked out through the cargo bay door after it blew. Of course, this also meant that we had to go through the crates still on the plane, which was going to be an ordeal all its own....

“We'll find her, Matt.” Fenton rested a hand on my shoulder.

I nodded. “I really hope you're right...”

Despite the fact that the galley and parts of the interior behind it had been utterly shredded, the plane was still safe to walk around in. Granted, the first thing everyone saw was Andrew's body getting carried out by some techs—apparently, after getting Fatalitied by RoboDouche, his remains had been wedged between a crate and what was left of a fryer. Even Millie had to look away from where the prick with the mohawk had crushed his head like a can. Uncle Frank, meanwhile, didn't seem all that concerned—Hell, he was talking to one of the techs as they made their way past us about salvaging Andrew's memory, which I found...a bit unlikely.

“Matt!” I turned to see Lucy regarding me with a frown. “The crates aren't gonna open themselves, y'know...”

I sighed and rolled up my sleeves. “Give me a minute....”

The question of “how secure are these things?” never came up, mainly because none of the crates needed anything like a thumbprint or a retinal scan to open. Most of them had standard locks, but a few needed some kind of tubular keys or some other weird key type that we didn't have; for those, Millie pretty much crushed the locks with one hand.

Fifteen crates in, and there was no sign of Lina. There were still loads on the plane, of course—about thirty or so.

The brief thought occurred to me that I might have to open all thirty of them to find Lina—which, after having gone through the Hell of losing her, twice, I was more than willing to do. I'd nearly had my chest caved in, and had been in a fist fight on the plane (including while it was depressurizing), just to get her back...I sure as Hell wasn't going to stop just because there were a few too many crates to open. I barely felt my fingers work at the locks on one crate, then another, then two more....

….but on the fifth, the lid opened......and there she was, looking as beautiful as I'd remembered her.

“Guys.......guys!” I was smiling, laughing and crying all at once—didn't really give a damn, at that point. “I found her!”

Uncle Frank, Lucy, Fenton, Dani, Millie and Ashwyn all ran to meet me as I stood over the crate, with congratulations and back-slapping all around. Lucy leaned in, to try and lift her out of the crate, only to find there were cables running from something deeper inside it to Lina—of course, before she could mention this, I had my finger behind Lina's right ear, pressing down just like at the warehouse complex.....

...but this time, her eyes didn't open. There were no beeps, no blank stares....nothing.

My smile pretty much evaporated. “......Lina?”

I pressed down again—I knew it was the right spot—and waited.......nothing.

“.....no.” I withdrew my finger, swallowing. “.....there's got to be....” Without waiting for anyone else to offer their own suggestions, I reached in again, pressed the bump behind her ear and held it.....nothing.

The mutterings of congratulation behind me had already faded out. Nobody said a word.

“.....c'mon......” I pressed again, held down my finger.....nothing. “Come on.....” Pressed again, held down....

“....Matt.....” Uncle Frank was using his “wise tone” again—no trace of his usual demeanor. “Maybe we need to—”

COME ON!” I nearly bruised my finger, with how hard I jammed it against that bump. I didn't care that there were tears streaming down my cheeks, or that my face felt like a Lean Cuisine fresh out of the microwave—all I needed, at that moment, were for Lina's eyes to open, for her to stare straight up for a few minutes......

They stayed closed.

“.....Lina....” I pressed the bump again, resting my head against her chest to listen for the sounds of her internals spinning up, or anything.....silence.

I don't know who was surprised more at the fact that I didn't start swearing right then and there—everyone standing behind me, or me. I'd lost count of the number of times I'd pressed the bump behind Lina's ear, waiting for her eyes to open as she went through her reactivation cycle....I tried one more time, almost begging her to boot up....

….nothing. No sound, no movement. She was as still as a corpse.

I buried my head against her chest, sobbing. After everything I'd gone through to get her back.....

“Matt.”

The voice that spoke my name wasn't anyone standing behind me—it was the voice of that blonde who I'd seen so many times at the ALPA building....and, as I turned to see her standing in the door leading from the cabin to what had been the galley, I realized she looked a lot like that pink, purple and silver figure I'd spotted flying alongside the DC-10 when Andrew was trying to bust into the cockpit. The way the light played off her, she actually did look silver as she approached; by the time she was standing with us, she looked...normal, pretty much. “She's not gone, Matt.”

“He's tried to turn her on ten times already,” Lucy spat—her voice sounded as distraught as I felt.

“And did you think to disconnect her from the cables hooked up to her from something deeper in the crate?”

Lucy's anger vanished in an instant. “I....no....”

The blonde approached, gently resting her hand on Lucy's shoulder as she looked down into the crate. “A few of the others in crates that fell out of the plane mid-flight were hooked up in theirs,” she explained. “Regional Director Caine decided we should take them back to the lab at HQ now, to see if we can figure out how to remove them without causing any kind of damage to their systems.” She knelt by me, her eyes seeming to almost gleam silver even in the low light; I couldn't tell if it was some kind of a hallucination brought on by extreme grief, or something else. “....if you want Lina to be on the next truck back to the lab....”

“Yes.” I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. “And.....”

“There are benches in the backs of the transport trucks. You won't have to leave her side until we get her back to the lab.” The blonde offered me a sympathetic smile; again, the play of the low light across her features seemed to make her skin turn silver, if only for a brief moment. “You haven't lost her yet, Matt.”

“....thanks....” I nodded. “I just......” A chuckle, of all things, emerged from my lips. “You looked silver, just now...”

The blonde just smiled and stood up, regarding the others. “I'll call ahead to have them clear out the lab before you get there, so there won't be any interruptions. We have enough space in the transport for all of you to ride with Matt and Lina on the drive back to the lab, if you want...”

Nobody turned down the invitation—Millie, Ashwyn, Lucy and Dani all helped carry the crate, even. Uncle Frank and Fenton followed close behind while I kept pace. It felt way too much like a funeral procession for my liking.

By the time we were situated in the back of the transport, I'd reached into the crate to take hold of Lina's hand. I had no idea if she could hear me or not, but I just kept brushing her hand with mine, whispering “just hang in there, Lina, just keep hanging in there for me, please....” Nobody else in the back of the transport said a word—all of them were either watching me, or looking at the crate, hoping that Lina could, in fact, still be saved.

I barely kept track of the time as the truck made its way back to the ALPA building, but it must've been 90 minutes or so by the time we got there. A few suited-up techs was waiting to remove the crate when we pulled up, and none of them objected to me walking with them to the repair area. I held Lina's hand the whole way—on the other side of the crate, Lucy had taken Lina's other hand. I did my best not to look her in the eye, in case she felt Lina was a lost cause.

Once the crate was set down in the lab, Lucy let go of Lina's hand—and started peeling off her shirt. “I need a 6-foot C2-10 cable with....” She dug a paper out of her pants pocket, handing it to one of the techs. “Those connectors.” The tech nodded and ran off to go find the cable; Lucy, meanwhile, had opened Lina's panel as well as one on her own chest, in the same spot as Lina's. “Direct connection,” she explained—for my benefit and to the rest of the group standing behind us, all watching with wide eyes. “If those pricks put some kind of program in her that keeps her from booting up without Corona Ansata or anything else, I might be able to remove it by direct-link....”

“And it won't....break you?” Uncle Frank blurted out.

Lucy smirked. “Lina's not the only one who can handle herself.”

I thought back to her direct connection to the Internet, and how that had ended up, but decided that now was most definitely not the time to bring it up.

The techs returned with the necessary cable, which Lucy plugged into Lina's open port first. “Cross your fingers...” Her eyes never left Lina as she plugged in the cable to her own port—immediately going ramrod straight as soon as it was all the way in. “Direct Link Established.” Her voice had gone into a flat, robotic monotone, sounding even more synthetic than Lina had when she'd been in Charge Mode. “Accessing....ignitiating diagnostic and software repair protocol.

I did my best to stay calm, despite the growing fear that Lina was beyond even Lucy's skill to repair....

….a fear that was significantly lessened when Lina's eyes finally opened, glowing blue as they'd done when she'd been reactivated at the Greensfield Warehouse Complex.

An almost musical series of beeps emanated from both Lina and Lucy—the latter's eyes glowing the same blue as Lina's were. “Reactivation protocol blocking program detected.” Lucy stared straight ahead as she spoke. “Program will be deleted in ten seconds. Confirm.

“Delete it.” My free hand was gripping the edge of the crate. “Please.”

Lucy turned to regard me, a faint whir of servos accompanying the gesture. “Please confirm with 'yes' or 'no'.

“.....yes.”

After a few seconds of silence, Lucy actually smirked, the actuators and servos in her face whirring and clicking with each tiny movement. Even when she was going full-on robot, she still felt like messing with me...I won't even bother trying to say I wasn't impressed. Without another word, she turned back to regard Lina, the simple motion yet again scored by the quiet whirring of motors and such in her neck. “Deleting reactivation protocol blocking program.” Her eyes blinked rapidly—and with every blink, Lina's figure moved ever so slightly, each motion accompanied by a whir, a click or some other mechanical sound.

Mild data corruption detected.

My blood froze in my veins at the sound of those words. “No....”

Wireless backup access data available.” Again, Lucy turned to regard me with a whirring of servos. “Commence data restoration?

Ignoring the sting of tears in my eyes, I nodded. “Yes.”

This time around, Lina was the one doing the rapid-fire blinking, with the fluttering of her eyelids underscored by an almost-imperceptible mechanical click. I held her hand tighter than ever, hoping and praying that the backups Lucy was using were enough to restore her. Even as I watched her blink, and Lucy's eyes pulsing in some kind of oddly hypnotic rhythm, my thoughts drifted back to my first encounter with Lina in the bathroom..sitting and talking with her on the bed in my room.....her taking the lead on our second time....the shower....

At that moment, the line between what Lina was and who she was pretty much ceased to be. I loved her—from every single microcircuit and wire inside of her beautiful body down to the core of her personality. I knew, quite literally, what made her tick—and I wanted to know how to keep her ticking, if need be. The intimacy between the two of us went far deeper than just physical attraction (in her case, both to what she looked like on the inside and the outside)....I wanted to be with her, more than anything else in the world, and she'd already said that she wanted to be with me—of her own free will, and not because I'd programmed her to want to be with me. I'd made it clear that I didn't “own” her, when Lucy had shown up to give me the details.....

…..and, as Lina's blinking slowed to a halt, until she was staring at the ceiling again, I knew that I needed Lucy to do one more thing before Lina reactivated.

“Lucy.....access Lina's credentials, and find her ownership settings.”

Acknowledged.” A few beeps sounded from inside Lucy's torso. “Credentials located. Current ownership setting: Matt Harker.

I nodded. “....set Lina's ownership setting to....self. Lina Sievers.”

Lucy turned her head slightly. “Error. Cannot comply with request.

“.....why not?”

Self-identification set to Lina Harker.

I nearly broke down in tears when I heard that; we weren't even married yet, and Lina had already chosen to take my last name! “.....then set Lina's ownership to self, or Lina Harker.”

The corners of Lucy's mouth turned up, whirring as they did, in a smile. “Acknowledged. Lina Harker's new ownership setting changed to: Self.” She turned to stare at Lina yet again. “Software repairs and diagnostic complete. Lina Harker ownership setting has been set to: Self. Reactivate now?

“Yes!” I nodded. “Yes, please....reactivate her.”

Again, Lucy gave that small, knowing smile. “Commencing reactivation sequence....” Her left arm moved—with both mechanical precision and surprising grace—to reach behind Lina's right ear and gently press the bump behind it, holding it down for a few seconds before releasing. Lina's eyes closed again, and I decided to back away from the crate—give her a bit of space, seeing as how she'd been stuck in that stupid crate for entirely too long.

Lucy, still moving in that graceful, mechanical way, removed the cable from Lina's port and sealed it before pressing the bump behind her right ear again.

That series of beeps—trilling, almost joyful in their triumphant tone—sounded from within her as her eyes opened.

Slowly, carefully, she sat up; Lucy had leaned back and jerked to a stop, looking a lot like a very attractive animatronic in the process. Lina glanced around for a second, taking in her surroundings. “.....Matt?”

I stepped forward. “I'm here, Lina. I'm....I'm over here.”

Lina turned, her eyes still glowing faintly. “.....I....” She looked down at herself, at the crate. “.....what happened?”

“Long story.....I'll explain later.” I approached the crate, somewhat hesitant. “....you okay?”

“....everything's functioning correctly....” Lina paused, noticing my tears. “....is something wrong?”

“No! No, nothing's......” I actually laughed. “...I just....I was afraid I'd lost you, after that prick with the mohawk....”

I stopped—Lina's eyes were brimming with tears. Without a word, she tried to climb out of the crate, but nearly fell in the process. The stupid cables were still connected to her back, going taut as she moved to get out. I ran to the crate, taking Lina by the shoulders and wrapping my arms around her. “It's all right, Lina....it's gonna be all right. I'm here....I'm not going anywhere....”

We cried into each others' shoulders for a good few minutes—and this time, no android bastard with a mohawk was going to bust in and break up the reunion.

“These cables....” Lina tried to reach around and unplug one of them herself, but I stopped her. “Let me....please....” I glanced at Lucy, still sitting there like a really sexy statue. “....it'll be all right if I, ah.....”

She turned to regard me with a low whir, and gave a single nod.

“....pretty sure that's a yes,” I mused, grinning. “Just try to hold still.....”

It took a bit to find where each of the cables was plugged in, and to get them all undone without tangling all of 'em up or getting them caught on anything. Lina shuddered a bit with each cable I removed; once the last one was out, she almost flung herself out of the crate, into my arms. “Thank you, Matt....” Her lips found my neck, shoulders and cheeks without hesitation, and I returned the favor. Our hands moved across each other's shoulders, drifting downwards—

“Ah, Matt.....”

Uncle Frank's tone was equal measures polite, advisory and grateful. Lina backed away from me, smiling. “Sorry....we just got a bit....caught up in the moment...” She shrugged....then stopped, as if realizing something. “...Matt....did you change one of my settings before I was activated?”

“Lucy did, but....yeah.” I nodded. “Your ownership setting.....I set it to you.” Lina's eyes went wide, but I continued. “I don't want to be with you because I own you, Lina. I want to be with you because I love you. I love your face, your smile, your laugh, the way you kiss me, the way you stick your tongue out at me when I say something goofy....and I love every single inch of your internals, from down in the actuators of your toes to the microprocessors in your head. Lina, I love you for who you are and what you are, and there's not a damn thing anyone on God's green Earth can say to tell me otherwise......” I took a deep breath. “And I deeply, truly and sincerely hope that you're with me because you love me as much as I love you.”

I briefly glanced around at the others; Dani was hugging Fenton, and smiling through her own tears; Millie was dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief (I had no idea where she'd found it); Ashwyn was regarding the whole scene with wide eyes and a grin as big as the moon....

...and Uncle Frank looked like he couldn't have been prouder of me, smiling and nodding at my choice of words.

I turned to look back at Lina—and instantly felt her arms around my shoulders again as she whispered “I do” into my pectorals (not as weird as it sounds, seeing as she was hugging me at the time). “I do love you, Matt....”

“Good....” I grinned. “I, ah....I don't have a ring on me, or anything, but.....” I shrugged and got down on one knee as Lina gasped. “Lina Sievers—and I know you already changed your last name to mine, but...” I tried not to grin like an idiot as I continued. “Lina Sievers....will you marry me?”

Immediately, Lina started to get choked up. “Matt....I, ah....I don't....I don't know what to say?”

Yes.” Again, Lucy was speaking in that robotic monotone—and smirking again; Uncle Frank was at her side in an instant, whispering something about “disengage diagnostic mode”. Instantly, Lucy's posture relaxed, and she rolled her eyes.

“....you're sure?” Lina glanced at Lucy, looking a bit worried. “I mean....you're really okay with—”

“Despite any and all statements I've made to the contrary in the past,” Lucy replied, “yes, Lina, I'm perfectly okay with you and Matt spending the rest of your days together. I wasn't just bringing you to all those parties and crap to see you get your freak on with guys, after all....I genuinely wanted you to find a guy who loved you, and who you'd love back.”

“Pretty sure that's a yes from her.” I didn't bother trying not to grin. “And you are, after all, your own person, Lina. I want your response—how you feel about me, and about spending the rest of your life with me—”

“How I feel?” Lina echoed, giving a short laugh that contrasted with the tears in her eyes. “You're human, Matt! I won't age, you will....I can be repaired, you can't....and that's not even going into starting a family—”

I rose, gently taking her by the shoulders. “We'll deal with all of that when we get to it.”

Lina stared into my eyes, and I could almost see her pondering our shared future. “....are you sure?”

“Hell yeah, I'm sure!” I grinned.

After barely two seconds' worth of hesitation, Lina nodded, returning my grin with her own smile. “Then yes, Matt. I will marry you.” She hugged me again, as Fenton, Dani, Millie, Uncle Frank and Lucy applauded (Ashwyn was too busy cheering for both of us to clap). “I've wanted this ever since we first met each other, Matt!”

“That makes two of us.” I drew her in for a kiss—the slight electrical tingle on her lips barely registering.

“Well,” Uncle Frank declared, “seeing as how you two are officially engaged—and that Fenton and Dani will be tying the knot, too...” He gestured to Fenton and Dani, who gave a quick wave at Lina. “I'm a gynoid, like you are,” she cheerfully explained. “And Matt helped get me back from the same jerks who took you!”

Lina regarded me with an arched eyebrow. “Really...”

“It's why I was such a prick when you were at my place,” Fenton admitted. “They'd taken her, I was doing a census for the Bureau of Artificial Lifeform Management....I didn't think the two were connected at the time, but...” He turned away, rubbing the back of his head with one hand. “....I should've said more at the time—”

Dani drew him in for a quick kiss. “What matters is that we're back together now,” she reminded him. “And that we're getting married!”

Lina glanced at me with a grin. “...two Harker weddings in one week,” she mused. “Must be a family record for you.”

“....I never said we were having our wedding the same week as theirs—”

“Which we will be,” Fenton declared, nodding his approval. “And this time, I'll do my part to help out with the prep and everything. It won't be like the party, I promise.”

“Even though we met at the party...” Lina giggled, squeezing my hand for effect.

Uncle Frank coughed, cutting off any further discussion on the “two weddings in one week” idea. “I, ah...I have an announcement I'd like to make...in the spirit of the moment, to be honest....” He turned to regard Lucy—who instantly frowned. “No.

“.....I bought a ring for Audrey,” Uncle Frank explained. “Don't have it on me, at the moment....”

“It wouldn't happen to be this ring, by any chance?”

The blonde—who was, indeed, back to looking like an ordinary blonde in the lighting of the lab, though her lipstick and eyeshadow were now bright purple—approached with a small box. “The techs found it in your van,” she explained as she approached. “They figured it was important, suggested I return it to you....”

Uncle Frank accepted the box with a nod. “That's it, yeah, that's....thank you.” He turned to regard Lucy again. “Like I said, I....well, I got the ring for Audrey, but, well....the cancer kind of—”

Lucy nearly tripped as she backed away, her left eye ticking to the side. “Frank.....”

“I never got to propose to her!” Frank continued, barely able to keep himself from crying. “And I know you're your own woman, you've got that job at the Institute.....you've been trying to find someone for Lina all this time, and I understand if you didn't think of me as much as I thought of Audrey—”

“I did,” Lucy managed, her face spasming in uncontrollable tics. “.....damn it, you're maxing my pro-pro-processors....”

Uncle Frank took hold of her shoulders, steadying her. “....you okay?”

“Just a lot-lot-lot-lot....” Lucy groaned. “I remember what she remem-mem-mem-membered...it's kind of-of-of-of-of-of overwhelming....right now....” She turned away, her eyes closed. “I can handle it, Frank.”

Despite a growing feel of unease, Uncle Frank nodded. “....I never got to ask Audrey what I'm about to ask you—”

“YES.” Lucy let out a sort of half-laugh, half-sigh. “Yes, Frank Holmwood, I'll marry you....” She wiped the tears from her eyes, shaking her head. “I have her diary, up here—Audrey's.” She tapped the side of her head. “Her big regret...she never got the chance to ask you.”

I could tell from the look in his eyes that Uncle Frank hadn't expected to hear that particular bit of information. “...I...”

“Three weddings in one week.” Lucy glanced at Lina and Dani, grinning. “Pretty sure that's a Harker family record.”

“You're....you're sure about this? I mean, I'm way up there in years, Lucy...nowhere near as spry as Matt—”

“Just shut up and kiss me, Frank.” Lucy pulled Uncle Frank in and planted a lip-to-lip kiss on him.

Fenton and Dani held each other tighter, grinning at Uncle Frank's soon-to-be wedded bliss; Ashwyn, meanwhile, had practically jumped on Millie and wrapped her in a hug, cheering for Uncle Frank, for Fenton and (again) for me. The blonde watched the proceedings with a sort of....I guess “wistfull” look would be the right way to term it, but it was just for a second—when I looked her way, she was smiling and nodding her approval of everything. “I guess I'll leave you to it, then...”

“Wait....” I stopped her, hesitating; something about her had been nagging at me since we'd first met...

Lina was behind me in an instant. “...what's up, Matt?”

I nodded to the blonde. “She and I never did get properly introduced.”

The blonde grinned and handed over a poster. “I've tried not to advertise since I left San Jose...”

With Lina at my side, I unrolled the poster—and stared. Depicted before me was a crystal-clear image of the gynoid who'd flown alongside Uncle Frank's DC-10, in an outfit consisting of skintight purple and pink, as well as armor around her shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and shins. As I looked over the poster, I realized the facial contours of the gynoid in the picture were the same as those of the blonde—except on the poster, she was metallic silver with faint lines etched in, and the blonde looked...well, like a blonde human in her late 20s/early 30s. A name, seemingly etched into a steel plate in neon purple cursive below the gynoid in the poster, caught my eye: Galatea.

I glanced back at the blonde—and just like her picture in the poster, her eyes had gone bright purple with pink irises.

“.....you're her?!” Lina gasped. I could tell she recognized Galatea from somewhere—and judging from the awed sound of her voice, she'd heard nothing but good about her.

“Like I said, I've tried not to advertise...and you can call me Gabby.” The blonde—Galatea—winked. “I actually flew alongside the DC-10 you were on—well, you and Matt were both on it at the time, but you were still in the crate.” She shrugged. “The Air Force nearly intervened...I had to convince them Matt wasn't a threat or anything like that—”

Lina held up a hand. “The Air Force nearly shot down the plane?!”

“....it's a long story, Lina.” I sighed. “Let's go find a room and talk about it.....”

A few minutes later, in a quiet room away from the lab, I told Lina everything that had happened after that bastard with the mohawk had KO'd me. I mentioned Simon Caine, the briefing, how Ashwyn had a crush on me (she found that bit particularly amusing, and told me she didn't mind “as long as you don't encourage her”), and how Fenton had reunited with Dani during our return trip to the warehouse complex. I even told her about the near-theft of the DC-10 from Uncle Frank's hangar (which I also had to explain in detail), and how Ashwyn had practically thrown Lucy and me into the plane before it could take off. I mentioned Peach, Siobhan, Hera, Mai and Kona—and how Andrew was an android, and how he'd gotten his head crushed by that android prick with the mohawk.

As I told her the whole story....in all honesty, that phrase “a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders” is the only thing that can do it justice. Telling Lina all about what I'd gone through to get her back....it was liberating. Ever since we'd gone back to the Greensfield complex and not found her, I'd had this dread that Lina and I would never see each other again—obviously, seeing her reactivated in the lab did a lot to dispell that fear. Still, telling her the story was like brushing away the last of those lingering feelings, like wiping cobwebs off my shoulders.

“.....so, that's pretty much what happened.” I sighed. “And you know how it went from there, since...well, here we are.”

Lina nodded, grinning. “Here we are indeed.” She squeezed my hand, then leaned in to kiss my cheek.

“.....and you're positive you want to go through with the whole wedding thing? The rings, the vows, all that stuff?”

Yes!” Lina gave me an obviously phony punch in the shoulder. “I just....”

“....yeah?”

“That whole thing of setting my ownership to 'self'.....you know that means I could just leave, if I wanted, right?”

“....I do.” I rested my hand on Lina's shoulder. “....would you?”

Lina cupped my chin in her hand, and gently turned me to face her. “....after everything you did to get me back, leaving you would be....” She sighed. “You've proven that you really, truly love me, through all of it.”

“And do you 'really, truly' love me?”

Without saying a word, Lina drew me in for a kiss, her hands drifting over my back as mine drifted over hers. It wasn't a “sexy”, Hollywood kind of kiss—there was a real tenderness to her every move, a genuine feeling of sensuality apparent in even the slightest of her gestures. When she pulled away, the smile on her face was all the answer I needed.

“....thanks.”

“You're thanking me?” Lina looked somewhat bemused by my remark.

“....all my life, I...” I chuckled. “There was a music video, for a song....'I Want Love'. It had that actor, the one who did all those superhero movies, wandering through a house, lip-syncing to the lyrics...stuff like 'A man like me is dead in places', all about the kind of love he wanted. No idea what he's doing lately.....anyway. I really identified with that song, for the longest time......until we met.”

“Until you froze me with your phone in your bathroom?”

“No, I mean....” I stopped, noticing Lina was giggling. “I know what you mean, Matt,” she assured me, pulling me back in for a quick kiss. “And I can honestly say that, ever since that day, I've...well, I've been in love with you, too.”

“And it's not just the programming talking?”

I hated the question as soon as it left my lips, but Lina surprised me by not getting pissed off. “I asked Lucy about that, after the party,” she admitted. “I even asked her to probe every subroutine I had, just to make sure that the things I was feeling about you were my feelings, and not just some random variable or integer or anything like that....”

“And?”

Lina grinned. “It was all me. I really did—and do—love you, Matthew Harker, with every processor, every wire, every gear and every motor in my body....with every single ounce of my being.”

I nodded. “And I love you, Lina Sievers, from the bottom of my heart.”

We held each other—no stroking, no making out, no hands down each others' pants....it was all we needed and wanted, at that moment. I could tell Lina was listening to my heartbeat as she rested her head against my chest, just like I was listening to the quiet internal noises within her body. At that moment, for the first time in a long time, I finally knew what it felt like to be at peace.

“...Matt?”

“....yeah?”

“Your family....they won't have any problems with you and I....well, getting married, will they?”

Slowly, I pulled back from Lina's embrace; I didn't answer her immediately after she asked the question, choosing instead to look over her. There was something so picturesque about her in that moment—the way she sat on the bed, the way her clothes perfectly accentuated her figure...

“...Matt?”

“Sorry. I was just....” I sighed. “You look incredible right now, y'know—and that's not just me dodging the question.”

My honesty earned me a giggle; I let her laugh for a bit, then decided to answer her question. “....to be honest, I don't really know what they'll think of it. Mom.....” I rolled my eyes. “She won't factor into it at all.”

“We could go visit—”

“No.” I shook my head. “The last time I saw her, they'd moved her to a padded cell after she tried to 'exorcise a demon' from another patient by way of beating him over the head with a lunch tray. Believe me, Lina, it'd be best for both of us if we moved forward with the wedding plans and just forgot about her.”

After a moment, Lina nodded. “And the rest?”

“.....her side of the family has been....kind of strict, about stuff like marriage. Uncle Frank, Uncle Byron and Aunt Celia never got married, and my grandmother has always harped on wanting great grandkids....” I fell backwards on the bed, sighing. “Dad's side of the family.....hoo, boy. Marriage was a rock-solid institution on his side, at first...then a bunch of my cousins started getting separations, divorces. Mom went off the handle about every single one, never letting up. All those broken marriages, in her view, were the work of Satan himself trying to tear their families apart.”

“....and why did they all divorce?” Lina asked, her voice almost a whisper.

“One's wife was a bitch,” I casually admitted. “Another had financial issues...a few of them 'just weren't working out', in their own terms.” I shook my head in disgust. “...and the only one whose marriage is still solid as a rock is the one who dropped out of high school, got a girl pregnant and then got her to drop out with him.”

Lina frowned. “And they stayed together?”

“Long story, don't want to go into it.” I groaned. “Anyway....Mom had planned a bunch of their weddings, and seeing all those relationships fall apart probably did a number on her sanity—”

Again, Lina's hand gently turned my face towards her. “She wouldn't have to worry about us,” she assured me, smiling.

“I dunno if she ever really thought I'd get married,” I admitted. “She always went on about how she wanted to help plan Fenton's wedding....which was pretty ironic, considering she nearly ran his first girlfriend over with a stolen car—” I was kept from recounting that sordid incident by Lina drawing me in for another kiss. “It's in the past,” she reminded me, after she pulled back. “What matters is that we're together, and Fenton's found another girlfriend, so...”

I grinned. “Glad to see you're looking on the bright side.” I leaned in to kiss her again...

...except my phone started buzzing. “....oh, what the Hell....”

“Maybe it's Uncle Frank,” Lina mused, leaning over to get a good look at the screen as I fished the phone out of my pants pocket. “He could be checking on us...”

“I'd told him you and I needed some alone time....he wouldn't just call me at random.” I frowned. “It's not a call.”

Lina squinted. “FCon?” She regarded the phone with an eye roll. “I mean, we are in here together....”

I glanced at the screen again, frowning. “It's not picking up on you....” My eyes narrowed. “There's a new signal—wait, hang on.” I leaned in, regarding the readout. “.....it says 'Signal Match', and it's not yours, Lucy's.......”

“Maybe it's Gabby?”

I shook my head. “.....it's from before I met her....” I waited for the data readout to finish displaying....

...and immediately, my blood froze.

“....what?” Lina noticed my change of mood instantly. “Matt, what is it?”

“.....it says the signal's a match to one of the ones from the party—one of the other eleven. Well, one of the other ten, aside from you and Lucy.” I scowled. “....and it says she's in one of the trucks that came back from the airport.”

“....and that means....what, exactly?”

I placed my hands on Lina's shoulders. “After I got knocked out at the warehouse....when they brought me here, there was a briefing. Andrew—the one who got his head crushed by that ass....that android with the mohawk—he was just the bodyguard.” My voice turned sinister. “There was a girl in the pictures with him....I saw her at the restaurant with Andrew, when Doug Kreski and I went there for lunch, the day before you showed up with Lucy. There were pictures, during the briefing, showing her with Andrew and that psycho android, at the offices at the warehouse complex.”

My fists clenched. “Remember that girl who burst into my room, asking where the bathroom was?”

Lina's eyes went wide. “....the signal is from her?”

“And now it's somewhere in this place.” I jumped out of the bed. “C'mon, we need to find the trucks.”

I could tell Lina was more than a bit hesitant to follow me, but she nodded. “I really hope you know what you're doing.”

Thankfully, the ALPA staffers didn't have a problem telling me where the trucks were—they'd all been briefed on the whole situation with Lina (and a lot of them expressed their congratulations for her safe return, and for our impending marriage...I guess Galatea spread the word around the place). Thus, after maybe ten minutes of wandering around, we both ended up in a garage. All of the trucks that had been loaded with crates back at the airport were parked in various spots; I held up my phone, scowling, and started moving towards the origin point of the signal.

“...are you sure about this, Matt?”

“If I'm right, she's the one who sent those drones after Lucy—the ones that took you.” I didn't look back at Lina even as I spoke. “And those 'drones' ended up being reprogrammed gynoids taken from other places, just like they took you.”

“...but we don't know why she did what she did—”

Now, I did stop, to look Lina in the eye. “They were stealing gynoids and erasing their memories, their personalities. If it hadn't been for Uncle Frank, Ashwyn, Millie, Adrienne, Lucy, Rachel and me, they'd have done the same thing to you.”

“I get that, but—”

A tone issued from FCon, indicating that the truck holding the origin point of the signal was close. “This way.”

Lina shook her head, but kept following me. “I don't know about this, Matt....”

After another few beeps from the phone, we found the truck. “She's still online....” I nodded, jumping into the back of the truck and pushing the crate closer to the edge. “Help me get it to the floor, if you can...”

I could tell Lina was uneasy with my approach, but she still did her part to lower the crate to the floor.

The lock was as simple as the ones on the crates from the plane—no thumbprint or retinal scanner, not even a keyhole for a tubular key. I glanced at Lina, my steel resolve only slightly withering when I noticed her concern. “....are you sure she's the one who sent those drones to your uncle's shop?”

“Only one way to find out.” I flipped the catches on the lid and opened it....

She was dressed exactly the same as she'd been when she and Andrew had barged into my room before the party. She looked even more nervous than she had in the hall, or when I'd seen her at the restaurant when Doug had gone off to answer his phone; if anything, she seemed positively terrified, even moreso when she noticed me standing over her.

“So it is her,” Lina murmured, somewhat surprised. “Matt—”

I held up a hand, staring at the girl—the gynoid in the crate. Lina stepped up and extended a hand; I followed her lead after a few seconds of silence, and we helped the nervous gynoid out of the crate. I gestured for her to sit on the open tailgate of the truck, which she did.

“So.....I don't need to ask if you remember me, since—just from that look in your eyes—I can tell that you do.”

The girl didn't respond, other than looking from me to Lina and back again.

“I might as well get the first question out of the way, right now....” I took a deep breath, calming myself, before I spoke.

“Are you the one who gave the order for Lucy Sievers to be taken?”

Stay tuned....
"No one steals our chicks.....and lives!"

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Re: Lina, Part 9

Post by DollSpace » Wed Nov 06, 2019 2:54 pm

This is definitely more emotional than most stories posted here. I hope the other androids are ok when they get restarted! :)

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Re: Lina, Part 9

Post by Baron » Wed Nov 06, 2019 10:56 pm

Image :mrgreen:
Assemble the ladies? I didn't know that they were broken......

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Re: Lina, Part 9

Post by liliwinnt6 » Mon Nov 11, 2019 5:35 am

so good so far, I like this chapter, but the story does not end just here, as it seems...and, may I say that Lucy is like mother-in-law to Matt
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Re: Lina, Part 9

Post by DollSpace » Mon Nov 11, 2019 3:11 pm

If you want to get technical, Lucy would end up being a Step-Aunt, but in reality, especially because she's about the same age as Lina and looks closely like her, their relationship can be whatever they want it to be. I think they'd be a very close family, seeing as Frank new Lucy back when she was a human, and Lucy built Lina, who is his nephew's fiancée.

Ok then, hopefully Part 10 answers our questions! I have yet to read it! :)

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