Lina, Part 10

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Lina, Part 10

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Mon Nov 18, 2019 8:13 am

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Final installment (well, there'll probably be an epilogue, but whatever)....enjoy!
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The day I met Lina, I had no idea that another person at the party was going to have a significant role to play in our relationship...despite the fact that this “other person” had barged into my damn room before I ever laid eyes on Lina. It was a bit....I dunno, karmic, I guess, that Lina and I—reunited, and having just recounted the story of what had happened ever since the reprogrammed drone gynoids had busted into Uncle Frank's shop—were now staring down this person, in the garage of an ALPA building.

The person in question—a girl (gynoid, for those who insist on being specific) who looked like she legitimately wanted to be anywhere but inside that garage—was sitting on the tailgate of a truck, trying not to look at either of us.

Lina—who'd been carted off to a warehouse complex and then stowed on a DC-10 stolen from my uncle—was actually pretty calm about the whole thing, despite my suspicions that the nervous gynoid had been the one responsible for her being taken in the first place.

As for me...

“I'm going to ask you one more time, as politely as possible. Did you send the drones to take Lucy Sievers?

“Matt....” The feel of Lina's hand on my shoulder cut me off before I could get any louder. “We don't know if she's the one behind it....she might have been taken like I was—”

“Andrew said he was 'just doing what she told him to', before that prick with the mohawk flattened his head!”

At the mention of Andrew's demise, the nervous gynoid bowed her head, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Lina was at her side in an instant. “....who was Andrew, to you?”

“I already said, he was her bodyguard—”

Matt....” Lina shot me a warning stare before glancing back at the nervous gynoid. “....was he your bodyguard?”

“.....he was.” The gynoid nodded, not wanting to look Lina in the eye.

“And that's supposed to explain why he was dumber than a calculator?” I cut in. “I saw you both at the restaurant, when you had to keep kicking him under the table just so he'd figure out what he wanted off the menu....”

The nervous gynoid couldn't meet my stare. “He...he wasn't fully upgraded...he was a refurb, all I could afford.”

“And why did you feel like you needed a bodyguard?” There was a measure of compassion in Lina's voice that, in all honesty, surprised me—she (or more accurately, Lucy) had probably been “scouted” by Andrew at the party and pointed out to be taken later on down the line, but she wasn't lashing out or even playing the “bad cop”.

“....I...” The gynoid looked away.

Lina gently took her hand. “Do you have a name, by any chance?”

“Ellie.” The girl still stared at the floor, shuddering. “....you're going to decommission me, aren't you?”

Before I could ask what that meant, Lina spoke up. “That's not our place to decide—”

“They'll want it.” Ellie was openly weeping, now. “They'll say it's....what I deserve...” She looked up, slowly, to stare at Lina, the tears in her eyes clashing with the hint of anger in her voice. “You'll say it, when the time comes...you'll both beg them to have me decommissioned, for all of this....”

“What the Hell's decommissioning?” I cut in, frowning.

At this, Ellie buried her face in her hands, sobbing.

“It's a death sentence,” Lina replied, not looking away from her. “Decommissioning basically means that an android or gynoid is killed, without anything resembling a trial. Their personality files and memories are either archived for analysis later on, or flat-out erased...same thing with their programming. Every electronic component in their bodies—memory chips, storage drives, all that stuff—is rendered inoperable and useless for salvage. Their identities are stricken from all records, their bodies are either dismantled or sent to a referb center, and their faces are destroyed.” She glanced over at me, her expression grim. “It's not something to wish on any android or gynoid.”

I thought back to the briefing where BC-whatever's homicidal tendencies had been discussed. “...Simon had issued a decommission-on-sight order for that psycho android with the mohawk—”

Another sob from Ellie cut me off; something in Lina's stare made it clear that bringing up BC-whatever was probably a bad idea. “....we're not going to ask them to decommission you, Ellie.” She actually smiled—I was amazed at how calm she was, given the fact that she was confronting the gynoid who'd been responsible for her abduction. Of course, there was still one pressing problem: “None of this gets us any closer to knowing why she wanted to take Lucy—”

“We needed her!” Ellie had grabbed Lina by the shirt, and I actually tensed up, ready to shove her back if need be...but Lina, the picture of tranquility, just moved Ellie's hands off of her. “And why did you need her?”

“.....the tablet.....Andrew...he didn't know the right way to use it....” Ellie didn't seem to realize that her left shoulder was going into a fit of twitching every few minutes. “He just...he was messing with settings....I didn't ask him to—I told him not to....he...” She turned away, running a hand over her face. “...he broke some of them.....”

Lina ignored the growl that left my lips. “How did he break them?”

“....wiped everything....personalities, memories....deleted system files...” Lina's right hand trembled. “...I tried to stop him...to take the tablet....”

“Why didn't he let you have the tablet—”

“I didn't.....I thought I'd mess myself up, if I had it.....didn't want to risk it....” Ellie rocked back and forth where she sat, hugging her knees. “....we didn't trust BC with it....”

Lina nodded sympathetically. “....is there anything we can do to—”

“Are you seriously volunteering to help her?!” I countered. “She was running a smuggling operation! Gynoids were getting taken, 'drained' and reprogrammed, to be sold off! It would've happened to you or Lucy—”

Again, Lina's stare cut me off. “....just tell us what you can...whatever you want to tell us, about how all of this started.”

Ellie never looked up. “....I was a sales 'bot. Marketing, stuff like that....he—Dad—changed enough so that I'd be his daughter. They both loved me....him and Mom...” She sniffled. “She died, and he remarried....his new wife...she wanted him to wipe my memory, make me forget about Mom. I....I didn't....I couldn't....”

Lina wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to.”

“Are we really going to sit here and buy this?!”

Matt....”

Before I could protest, Ellie continued. “He...he just started ignoring me, over the stepchildren...she told him to. I heard her, every night, talking to him...I was just....a thing to her. She tried....wanted to erase my memory, make me forget Mom....I....I ran. Just let myself out of the house, started running....I never looked back....”

Her voice dropped almost to a whisper. “Everything was a nightmare. Nowhere was safe.

“You ran away before the Accords were signed?” Lina looked somewhat concerned.

Ellie gave a tearful nod. “I....I couldn't let it happen again. Couldn't let myself be abandoned....didn't want to let myself be forgotten. I wanted the control, over anyone near me...anyone who loved me....” She wiped her face with the back of one hand. “....I...I met people. I made deals. The companies.....I don't think they exist anymore. They set me up with my own place, introduced me to Andrew, and BC......”

“You're not going to be abandoned,” Lina assured her. “We'll make sure of it—”

“That doesn't explain the smuggling operation.” I stepped forward, scowling. “What the Hell does being abandoned have to do with—”

I did it so it wouldn't be done to me!” Ellie broke down in tears again, burying her face in her hands.

“And the reprogramming? The 'draining'?” I felt my fists clenching at my sides again. “You didn't want those—”

“They said....they wouldn't,” Ellie wailed, nearly falling off of the tailgate as her body was wracked by sobs. “...they...they said.....they'd protect me......”

“And who the Hell are 'they'?” I actually cracked my knuckles. “How do we know this whole thing isn't...”

I let my remark trail off, mainly due to the fact that Ellie was sobbing into Lina's shoulder.

I nearly spoke up again, but to my surprise, Lina had taken Ellie into an embrace. “Nobody's going to decommission you for this, Ellie,” she murmured. “We'll get you the help you need.....” She pulled back, actually smiling as she stared into Ellie's eyes. “....and for the record...I forgive you.”

I was floored. I'd been ready to go all “RIP AND TEAR” on the mastermind behind the smuggling operation, bust out the baseball bats and steel chairs and get to bashing heads in—and lo and behold, I was face to face with that mastermind, all ready and willing to layeth the smacketh down....but Lina had done the unthinkable. She'd just looked into the eyes of the one behind her abduction...and forgiven her.

Apparently, Ellie was just as surprised as I was. “....what?”

“You wanted to protect yourself, and to make sure you had total control. If you'd done things differently....” Lina sighed, patting Ellie on the shoulder. “You've already lost a lot. A mother, a family, your bodyguard....I don't know if that one android with the mohawk meant anything to you—”

At this, Ellie started crying again. “....he...we couldn't stop him.....” She nearly fell off of the tailgate as she leaned against Lina, crying into her shirt. “....I...I told him.....I only wanted him to scare Singleton....”

“The manager of the warehouse complex,” I explained, noticing Lina's confusion.

“....I just....I didn't want him to get us caught....” A spasm rocked Ellie's body. “...I didn't want him to kill him!

Lina glanced over at me. “....the guy who knocked you out killed someone?”

“Chester Singleton. Before you were taken to the warehouse, that android with the mohawk....” A pithy remark about Singleton needing a closed-casket funeral died on my tongue. “It, ah, wasn't pretty, put it that way.”

“Andrew....he used the tablet on him, after—after—after—after—” Ellie shook again, her eyes rolling back in her head.

“Ellie?” Lina gently lowered her to rest on the tailgate, which rattled as she continued shaking. “Something's wrong with her, Matt....” She nodded at my phone. “We might be able to help her.”

“And you're sure you want to help her? After everything—”

Lina held up a hand to interrupt me. “We can still help her, Matt....maybe if we knew who her father is....”

I sighed. “I really hope you know what you're doing....” Lina nodded, and I turned my attention to Ellie. “Who was—”

“Is,” Lina corrected.

“....who is your father?”

Ellie's eyes managed to focus on me. "S-S-Scott Qui-Quinn. Of N-N-orth Adams M-M-mass—” Her head snapped to the side. “.....Mom...J-J-J-Jane.....Elea—” Something in her torso let off an alarming buzz for a minute or so, before her eyes refocused and her head turned back to look at me. “...Jane Eleanor.....” Tears flooded her eyes. “I....I was named after her-her-her-her-her—” Sobs issued from her mouth as her body continued its uncontrollable shaking; Lina took her by the hand, and signaled for me to take her other hand, holding her steady until the seizures lessened in severity. Ellie's eyes were blinking almost nonstop, by this point, even as she tried to look at us. “....find Dad....please....”

“We'll do our best, Ellie,” Lina replied, once again giving that reassuring smile. “And thanks for all the info.” She turned her attention to me, her smile fading. “I think we should stop questioning her now, and get her back to the lab—”

Unfortunately, Ellie—or more accurately, her glitching systems—made the decision to end her questioning for us. A loud bang cut off whatever I could've said to Lina in response—Ellie was siezing up, her head bashing into the bed of the truck.

Lina didn't even need to tell me to bust out FCon to try and get Ellie into a debut or command mode state. “I've got the app loaded....” My eyes went wide. “....shit.”

Apparently, the gravity of the situation was enough for Lina to not comment on my bad language. “How bad is it?”

“....you, ah, remember that program that Lucy had to delete from you before you could reactivate?”

“....I was offline at the time, but give me a sec....” Lina's eyes glowed blue for a moment; I could only guess that she was taking a look at her system logs to see what Lucy had gotten rid of. “File. Deletion. Log. Located.” She blinked, and her eyes went back to normal. “....I found it.”

“...well, I, ah....” I gestured at the screen of my phone. “.....I think Ellie got hit with something worse, in that crate—”

An electrical snap cut me off; Ellie's had had jerked to the right. Her sobs sounded heavily digitized and clipped, like her voice was playing from a really scratched CD. “Help—me—help—me—help—me—help-help-help-helllllllLLLLLL—”

Lina tried to hold Ellie's shoulders down, mostly to keep her from bashing her head against the bed of the truck. “We need to get her to the lab, let Lucy run—” She took a step back as something fired off in one of Ellie's nostrils, followed by a thin plume of white smoke wafting out. “....whatever was in that crate must have auto-loaded into her systems...we need to—”

“What's going on in here?”

Gabby—still looking blonde—and three security guards were approaching. “Frank told me the two of you were off in a private room,” Gabby stated, frowning at the pair of us. “I didn't—”

“FCon pinged and said there was a matching signal from the party,” I explained....which only served to confuse the three security guys, though Gabby seemed to get where I was going with it, so I continued. “....at the party, at my house, the day I met Lina....before I met her, two idiots barged into my room—a guy and a girl. The guy was Andrew Sommers—he's the one who got his head flattened by BC-whatever.”

The guards winced, but Gabby nodded. “And the girl?”

“Ellie Quinn.” Lina stepped up. “She's the one who sent the drones to Frank's shop, for Lucy....” She glanced back at the still-malfunctioning Ellie. “...she needs help,” she explained, the sadness almost tangible in her voice. “Some kind of program loaded into the rigs built into those crates....I think it's causing conflicts with her systems—”

A staticky, anguished cry from Ellie cut her off. Her entire body was seizing up, her joints audibly locking—

—and just as suddenly, she went limp. One final, quiet sob left her lips before her eyes dimmed.

I turned to ask Gabby what had just happened—only to see her eyes glowing purple, pink and silver. Before I could even blink, the glow faded, and Gabby nodded to the security guards. “Get her to the lab for analysis...” She handed a phone to one of them. “Call the Dyson Institute, and tell them to have a secure room ready. If their psychoanalysis ward can't help her, I don't know what can....” She turned to regard Lina and me—and probably noticed how confused I was. “The Institute's main focus is transferrence of human consciousness to artificial forms,” she explained, “but they also have a full psychiatric wing for androids, gynoids, even cyborgs.”

I glanced at Lina, then back at Gabby. “.....psychiatric analysis....for androids.”

“You'd be surprised at the number of sentient androids and gynoids who need help in that department,” Gabby replied, not smiling. “And you'd mentioned that Ellie told you why she ran the smuggling operation....”

Lina and I....okay, Lina recounted what Ellie had said (I mostly stayed quiet), earning a grim nod from Gabby. “I'll see if Dr. Dyson can put Ellie under 24-hour observation once she arrives—Dr. Elaine Dyson,” she added, probably more for my benefit than anything else. “She runs the Dyson Institute, and was their first transferrence case back when it had just opened....she's also a walking billboard for their in-house tech, since she upgrades to the newest model of gynoid body before they're available to the rest of the Institute's clients.”

“Lucy had mentioned them a few times,” Lina mused. “She said they, ah...”

Gabby arched an eyebrow. “Emphasize female sexuality above all else?”

“......yeah....” Lina shifted from one foot to another.

Again, Gabby didn't smile. “....in Ellie's case, that wouldn't exactly do any good. Just from what you've told me, I can tell she'll need a full psychiatric evaluation and therapy to get over what's happened to her—and that's after they flush out whatever's causing problems with her systems.” She patted Lina on the shoulder, finally giving us a warm, understanding smile. “Believe me, Ellie couldn't be in safer hands. The Dyson Institute may have a bit of a reputaiton for...embracing sexuality, to put it lightly, but that's not all they do there...” She glanced back over her shoulder, as if waiting for the guards to leave, before leaning in to whisper: “Don't tell anyone this, but I was a patient there about a decade ago.”

“.....for therapy, right? Not.....the other thing.”

My question earned a frown from Lina, but Gabby just chuckled. “I'd lost my dad...” She paused, frowning slightly. “...it felt so real, the way I thought it'd happened.....” She shook her head. “Let's just say that the way I remembered it and the way it actually went down were very different, and even after I found that out, I had a lot of guilt to work through.”

“Right.” I nodded. “And they'll be able to help Ellie.....what, sort herself out?”

“We can only hope so. And before you ask, no, the Dyson Institute doesn't fix vacuum cleaners.” Gabby rolled her eyes at the thought. “I mean, yes, there just so happens to be a plant for the vacuums right across the street from the Institute's office in this state....” She stopped herself, realizing Lina and I were staring at her. “...anyway. You two might want to get yourselves checked out—”

I had no idea what she wanted to say next, mainly because my feet decided to pick that moment to let the pain I'd been blocking out for the past few hours come flooding back—which, predictably, sent me to the floor in a screaming heap.

“Matt!” Lina was at my side faster than I could blink. “What happened?”

“MY FEET...oh, DAMN IT! AAAAUUGGGH!

Gabby knelt by my injured extremities, taking a closer look. “....well, the soles of your feet are pretty cut up in spots. I can see a few raw patches, too...pretty sure that's a bruised tendon there—”

“DON'T....” I drew in a hiss of breath. “Don't touch it.....”

“....I wasn't going to.” Gabby looked away, nodding someone over. “Right here, yeah....” She turned to regard me once again, chuckling. “I'm amazed you were actually able to stay on your feet so long,” she mused. “I hear you did a running dropkick to a length of pipe....”

“I did.”

Lina held me by the shoulders. “You could've told me your feet were hurting, Matt....”

“They weren't when you were reactivated. No idea why my brain decided I needed the pain right this second...” I leaned back and groaned. “Any chance I can get my feet looked at before the day is over with?”

“I don't think that'll be a problem.” Gabby nodded at two new arrivals. “Over here....”

Just as I hadn't left her side when her crate was brought in, Lina didn't leave mine when I got carted off. The nurses gave me a jar of Tiger Balm to apply to my right foot, after they'd finished wiping all the blood off of it; they sprayed some kind of cold stuff on it, too, and shot it up with cortisone. My eyes were closed most of the time, since I was trying to block out the pain I felt every time someone touched my freaking feet; whoever the doctor was, she suggested I take Paracetemol or Ibuprofen if the pain kept up. Lina asked if anything stronger would be necessary; the doctor gave her a card with a number to call in a day or two if need be. By the time I opened my eyes, the doctor had left, and I was in a wheelchair—which Lina insisted on pushing for me, after helping me put hospital-style socks on both my feet.

After my feet got a thorough going-over, Lina went down to a sub-lab for a whole systems check to make sure everything was running at maximum efficiency. Her memories hadn't been accessed by whatever she was hooked up to in the crate, and apart from me changing her ownership setting to “Self”, none of her other settings had been altered in any way. There was a log of failed attempts to use Corona Ansata on her (about 45 failed attempts, to be specific) after she'd been taken from Uncle Frank's shop, and a further 22 tries after our brief reunion at the Greensfield warehouse complex. Andrew had apparently tried to use Corona Ansata on her twice, on the plane, but just gave up afterwards.

In any case, she was given a clean bill of health, and we headed off to go find Lucy and Uncle Frank.

“You think they'll have everything sorted by now?”

I met Lina's question (and her arched eyebrow) with a sigh. “Given everything that's happened over the past few days, and how many gynoids were on the plane, it's gonna be a good long while before anyone can consider this to be fully sorted out. ” I shrugged. “You?”

“Personally, I'm just glad we're together again. Not that I don't care about the other gynoids from the plane....”

“I can tell you care.” I chuckled. “Still, the ALPA is trying to sort that themselves, so...what now?”

“.....whatever you want.” Lina shrugged. “We can....I dunno.....” Her smile turned cheeky, and that particular option was definitely appealing....but at the same time, my thoughts were still focused on Siobhan, Mai, Hera and Kona—not to mention the others from the plane. All of them had been subjected to the same crap Lina had been through—if not worse—and even with Andrew out of the picture and BC-whatever more than likely wasted, there was no way in Hell we could just snap our fingers and magically get them all back to working order.

“...I think we should go find Lucy, or better yet, find some of the others from the plane, see if we can help fix them.”

“And you're sure you're just thinking about fixing them?” Lina regarded me with an arched eyebrow.

“....I already told you—”

Lina cut me off by kneeling to hug me. “You're definitely the most chivalrous robo-fetishist I've ever met,” she mused, giggling at the thought.

“I'll take that as a compliment. Shall we?”

As it turns out, the options of finding Lucy or the other gynoids from the plane were actually the same thing—Lucy was in another lab area, going from one work table to another and giving orders to the same kind of coverall-clad technician gynoids that had worked on Adrienne and Ashwyn the day before or so. Dani and Fenton were helping out the best they could, though I could tell Fenton was nowhere used to seeing the internals of gynoids as I was (even if most of what I'd seen had been photo manipulations and CG models).

“...mark those three down for....” Lucy shook her head, barely looking up as Lina and I approached. Get those two prepped within the next half hour, otherwise we'll be working on both of them all night....and what's with the Charles Xavier thing, Matt?”

I rolled my eyes. “I've got a bruised tendon on my right foot, Lucy. I'm supposed to not walk for a few days—”

“Right.” Lucy ran to another table, shaking her head. “.....it's not exactly going great over here, if you're wondering,” she stated, her voice calm but unnervingly tense. “We've got...I'd say three levels of magnitude when it comes to what went down with all of these.” She waved an arm at the work tables around her. “Level One: the most recently affected, the ones who only got shut off with Corona Ansata and didn't really have time to get hooked up properly for the draining to begin. They may have sporadic memory loss, but nothing serious. Peach, from the plane—”

“Her name's actually Peach?” Lina cut in, looking somewhat amused.

“Well, she was kind of dressed like—”

Lucy's throat clearing cut me off. “....like I was saying....Peach, from the plane, was pretty much fully-operational right out of the box. She didn't get wiped totally, and any memory loss she might've had pretty much corrected itself over the next few minutes.”

“....sounds fair.” Lina nodded.

“Level Two: the ones like you, Lina, who actually got hooked up to the rigs inside their crates.” Lucy didn't look up from the internals of the gynoid on the table in front of her—an athletic 30-something in a sports bra and yoga pants. “The process that I had to delete from your system was a lot further along with them, and some of them may have lost a few memories or system data that we'll need backups of from their owners or their manufacturers. They'll have a longer road to recovery than you did....and some of them may need to be totally reformatted...complete memory wipe, the whole works.”

Lina gasped, a hand going to her mouth.

“.....it gets worse.” Lucy moved over to another table, where a sheet covered most of the pale, blonde gynoid laying on it. “Level Three: ripped and stripped. Completely borked by Corona Ansata.” Her lips parted in a growl. “Stripped of their personality programming, human emulation programs ripped out—sometimes incomplete....” She moved aside to let another gynoid—5'8, raven hair, looked vaguely Spanish, especially with her shoulder-less top and flowing skirts—get past her to a nearby table.

“Does the ALPA let their techs dress that casual?” Lina asked.

“...the Level Ones are being configured to help out with the rest,” Lucy explained. “If their systems are 95% green or higher, they help out. If not, they get sorted out, then they help out...” She glanced back at the gynoid on the table, and I could tell she wanted to throw something. “Where's the other one behind this?”

I nearly said something, but Lina reached over the table to rest a hand on Lucy's shoulder. “....we found her.”

“I hope you took a blowtorch to her CPU, then.” Lucy started to turn away, but Lina held firm. “Lucy....she's being taken to the Dyson Institute. She didn't enjoy any of this! She was scared of being abducted, of being abandoned....”

“...so she did this?”

“She made deals with the wrong people, Lucy! She ran away before the Accords were signed...she didn't exactly have a lot of options to protect herself!” Lina stared into Lucy's eyes, her tone never wavering. “I'm not saying she didn't make bad choices, because she did....” I could hear the sympathy in her voice as she continued: “...but that doesn't mean we can just hand her over to be decommissioned. She needs help....possibly even therapy.”

Just from looking at Lucy, I could tell she wanted to stay angry, to write Ellie off as the victim of her own circumstances or something equally cynical...but in seconds, her resolve crumbled. “...they're taking her to Dyson, you said?”

Lina nodded. “She needs the help, Lucy. Whatever scared her, it was enough to crash her systems!”

“She started malfunctioning after she mentioned BC-whatever killing Singleton,” I added. “She apparently just wanted him to scare the guy, not kill him....”

“And the two security guards?”

“Wait, that android with the mohawk killed two guards, too?” Lina asked, frowning.

“I saw the photos, Lina. Be glad you didn't.”

“So you said she....what, did this so nobody else would do it to her?” Lucy prompted.

“Pretty much.” Lina gave a sad nod. “And her dad's second wife wanted to erase her memory of her original mom.”

“She mentioned that his second wife also told him to ignore her, apparently.” I shrugged. “From what I understand, her whole situation kind of sucked—she was scared of getting abandoned and forgotten, or reprogrammed...she was afraid of that nutjob android with the mohawk....she apparently bought Andrew on the cheap, which would explain a lot...”

Lucy leaned on the work table (careful not to jab her elbow into the internals of the gynoid under the sheet). “Yeesh...”

“Well, at least the Dyson Institute can help her,” Lina began, only for a gasp from another table—and an “uh-oh” from Dani—cut her off. “I, ah, think we've got a sleeper here...”

“Oh, great...” Lucy groaned, and Lina had to jog to keep up with her while I wheeled myself over.

“.....what the....” The redhead on the table looked a bit taller than Lina, with a slightly bigger cup size. “....where the heck am I?” She sat up a bit, noticing others on nearby tables with visible internals. “....what's going on here?”

Lucy sighed. “Look, it's a long story—”

“I'm a college student, not a.....what are those, robots?!” The redhead looked somewhat panicked. “Is this some kind of special effects studio or something? Why am I surrounded by robot girls? Are they....” She eyed Lucy with a hint of suspicion. “....did you steal all of them or something? Did you take me?!”

“Just let me explain—”

“And why can't I see anything below my boobs?” The redhead looked down, groping at her open panel. “And what are these....why are there cables going from somewhere into....” Her features scrunched up in confusion. “What's going on around here?!”

“Just take a hit of this,” Lucy advised, pulling up a breath mask from under the table. “Count backwards from 100.”

“....why should I—wait, why does she have a screwdriver?!” The redhead noticed one of the coverall-clad gynoid techs approaching. “Don't come any closer—” All emotion left her face for a moment, as the tech manipulated something in her opened panel with the screwdriver; within seconds, the redhead relaxed. “....I can see down there, now....wait, since when did I have a panel down there?” Her eyes went wide. “....are those....are all those mechanical things inside me? Is anything broken? I mean....what happened to me?”

“Like I said,” Lucy replied, “it's a long story—”

“What happ—happen—happened—happened—” A gasp left her lips; her internals started kicking into high gear, with lights flashing and components very audibly spinning up. “I'm....I'm a ro-ro-ro-ro-robot-bot-bot-bot—” Her back arched, and her eyes crossed. “....I'm...a robot....too?”

“Hold her down.” Lucy nodded to Dani and Fenton, before turning her attention back to the redhead. “Just relax...”

“I've...been....repaired-paired-paired-paired before-fore-fore-fore—” An angry buzz sounded behind her eyes.

“Just put the mask on and take a deep breath,” Lucy suggested. “Everything will be fine—”

“I've had my-had my-had my-had my-had my-my-my-my-myyyyyyyyyyyyyyy—” The redhead's hips started thrusting up against nothing; Lina immediately braced an arm against her knees, to keep her from bucking too hard and/or falling off the table. “....my parts replaced before....my pan-pan-pan-panels o-o-o-oooooooooohhhhh.....” Her remark faded into a moan. “....oh, what's hap-hap-hap-happening to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEE!”

“Ah, Lucy,” Lina stated, “I think she's, ah....”

Lucy did a great job at not groaning. “Just put on the mask, okay?” she advised. “You're not really supposed to be awake for this part, so....”

Still moaning, the redhead nodded and let Lucy slip the mask over her face.

“Now just breathe in, deeply.....”

The redhead took a deep breath—and at that moment, Lucy nodded at Dani, who quickly reached behind the redhead's ear and pressed something. Mid-moan, the redhead let out a slight “Eep” before powering down and laying back on the table. Her thrusting slowed to a halt.

“Get her over to the corner over there,” Lucy advised, “and let the techs, ah, help her finish...”

Dani nodded, with only the faintest hint of a blush on her cheeks; Fenton helped her roll the table over to the corner as Lucy had suggested.

“....so it's gonna be a whole day of this, then?” I mused.

“A whole few days,” Lucy corrected. “You're probably gonna want to go talk to Frank for a while...some of these...” She glanced back at the unmoving blonde under the sheet. “....they can't all have happy endings.”

Lina briefly draped an arm around Lucy's shoulder in sympathy, mourning with her for those too far gone to save.

I gave them the moment of silence they needed, my own gaze fixed on the motionless figure of the blonde laying on the table. Ellie had said that Andrew didn't have a clue what he was doing when he'd first tried using Corona Ansata to put all those abducted gynoids under his control...

“Lucy.” I could tell Lina was hesitant. “That thing you were working on, Corona...”

Corona Ansata,” Lucy finished. “For the Institute—MIT, not the Dyson Institute.” She glanced my way as she spoke, as if to make sure I understood.

“....that one, yeah...”

“You were shielded against it from day one, Lina.”

Lina nodded. “And I'm guessing that since Andrew couldn't use that to put me in the crate....”

“He turned you off the old-fashioned way. Finger behind the ear, and all that....” Lucy sighed. “Before you and Matt tie the knot, I may need to upgrade your off-switch with a biometric sensor, so it doesn't just let any old rando walk up and shut you off....”

“...so it's actually possible to add a biometric scanner to her off-switch?”

“It's not as difficult as you probably think.” Lucy turned her attention to the blonde on the table. “Like I said earlier, Matt, you should probaly go find Frank, seeing as how he's been going on for a while about his plane.” She frowned. “I think I heard him ranting about 'getting it back'...dunno if they're considering impounding the plane or not, after that whole smuggling thing....”

“I guess we'll find out when we go talk to him.” I glanced at Lina. “Right?”

“....I guess so.” She shared a quick hug with Lucy, wishing her good luck with the recovered gynoids.

With that, we headed off to find Uncle Frank, somewhat confused about the whole “get the plane back” thing that Lucy had brought up. “...you think she meant 'get the plane back from the airport'?” Lina asked.

“No idea. Hopefully, he can tell us when we get there....”

The ALPA building had a hangar of its own, though it was mostly empty when we showed up—at least, empty in terms of aircraft. There were still people milling around, running checks on stuff and generally making themselves useful in any way they could. Peach was sitting on a work table, still wearing the outfit that had inspired her nickname—though in this case, said outfit was unzipped at the back while a tech was working on her internals. As for Uncle Frank....

“....no, no, no, you listen here! What they were using my plane for was completely unauthorized, without anything even resembling my permission! I just....no, the last three people I talked to told me exactly what you just said!”

Lina, for her part, ignored Uncle Frank's tirade, focusing on Peach. “Matt told me you're the one who flew the plane.”

“I was.” Peach nodded. “I got a piloting software package as an anniversary gift—”

“Right!” I snapped my fingers, remembering her mention of it. “You said John gave it to you!”

“....who?” Peach frowned.

“....John. Your....boyfriend, I assume....”

Peach looked more than a bit confused. “....I don't know anyone named John,” she mused. “I did get the software suite as a gift, but not from—” She stiffened, just as the tech behind her adjusted something in her back.

“You think Andrew messed up her memory with the tablet?” Lina quietly asked.

I shrugged. “Can't even tell, at this rate..”

“Accessing. Memory. Files. Please...Wait..” Peach's voice had gone flat and emotionless, with a lot of weird, out of place pauses between her words as she spoke. “Please....Wait...”

“....unbelievable. Absolutely UN-believable!” Uncle Frank had apparently finished the phone call he'd been on when Lina and I had arrived, and he still wasn't happy. “Just because those macadamia nuts had to steal my plane, I've spent all this time filling out a novel of forms for the FAA and CIA!” He shook his head at the thought before realizing that I had no idea what he was talking about. “....it's a reference,” he explained. “An old song....eh, never mind.”

“And you can't just get your plane back from Portsmouth International?” Lina inquired.

“Oh, I wish it was that easy....” Uncle Frank groaned. “I've had to track down all the papers I signed when I first got the DC-10, just to prove I own the thing....good thing I never threw any of 'em out.”

“Memory. Files. Found.” Peach blinked, in a noticably robotic fashion, before “coming to life” again, her attention on Uncle Frank. “Still no luck finding the ownership papers?” she asked; her voice had gone back to its perfectly realistic sound, her expression and posture lively.

“I've got pals trackin' 'em down as we speak. Any closer to getting in touch with your owner?”

Peach looked a bit crestfallen. “....I don't actually remember who my owner is.”

Uncle Frank rested a hand on her shoulder. “Tell you what, I'll help you sort that out once I can prove I own my plane.”

“I sill don't get that. The plane is registered in your name already isn't it?”

“Of course it is....but they don't exactly take that into account when some jack'o'lantern decides to take it for a joyride and pile the interior with stolen gynoids!” Uncle Frank shook his head, staring around at the forms he'd already laid out on tables and desks around him. “...I'll be at this for the rest of the day, knowing my luck...”

“Maybe I can....” Peach paused as her back was sealed up. “....sorry. Anyway, maybe I can help!”

Uncle Frank was more than a bit taken aback. “...you really wanna help me sort through paperwork?”

“It'd be better than waiting around forever to see who shows up to 'collect' me,” Peach replied, sighing. “Come to think of it....I've been here for hours, and nobody's showed up to bring me anywhere....and I don't even remember my owner's name....or what he looked like...”

Lina glanced at me, then at Peach. “....well, maybe 'John' was just a preset name.”

“Except she had the piloting programming installled,” I reminded her. “Pretty sure that wasn't a preset—”

“You said it was installed last year?” Uncle Frank cut in.

Peach nodded, somewhat hesitantly. “I did....at least, I think it was....”

“Well, this file check says it was installed last week.” Uncle Frank held up a tablet with one hand, sighing. “I'm willing to bet it was either Andrew or that crate you were in that installed the piloting software, and that you were supposed to be the one to fly the DC-10, leaving Andrew and, ah...what was her name, Ellen?”

“Ellie,” Lina corrected.

Uncle Frank snapped his fingers. “That's the one, Ellie....Andrew and Ellie to run for it when or if the plane was stopped by the proper authorities. They programmed you to be the pilot right out of the box!”

“....so....I don't have a boyfriend?”

“Unless the techs can find otherwise in your records...” Uncle Frank shrugged. “But on the bright side, this means you're free to choose your own path in life! Forge your own way, write your own story...all that stuff.” He grinned. “If you need a place to stay, I've got a few rooms in the compound under the hangar....” His smile faltered a bit in the face of Peach's confused look. “....the ALPA needed a place to put a repair lab, and for lodging to give to androids and gynoids who need somewhere to stay for a while, there was plenty of room under the hangar....” He shrugged. “Plenty of free rooms, if you want one—and pardon my asking, but is your name really Peach? I mean, that can't be your real name...can it?”

“My name's actually Mina, but we just went with Peach. And if I have an owner...”

“Then you'll be free to go back to whoever that individual might be, whenever you want.”

After a few more seconds, Peach nodded. “Thanks.” She accepted Uncle Frank's hand, as if to shake it, then pulled him in for a hug. “And if I don't have an owner....”

Uncle Frank gently pulled away. “Well, I'm, ah, due to get married.....in a few months, or so....but the airfield is always lookin' for extra pilots. Once you, ah...” He nodded at Peach—or rather, her attire. “....change your look to something a bit more...I dunno, conventional....”

“If she's going off of factory presets,” Lina mused, “that might've just been some special outfit she was shipped in.”

“Whatever the case,” Uncle Frank replied, “I'm sure the airfield will be more than happy to have her as a new pilot.” He regarded Peach with that wise smile of his, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Wherever life takes you, be it to an owner or to the airfield, I really and truly hope everything works out for you.”

“Thanks—and you can still call me Peach, if you want. Keep the confusion to a minimum, and all.” She giggled, but I couldn't help but notice it was kind of...sad.

Lina was about to wheel my chair out when four more techs, each with a rolling table between them, made their way into the hangar. The first table bore Siobhan, her “in-flight” attire swapped out for a sports bra and tights; she looked a bit sullen—which made sense, given the fact that her left arm was still detached. Mai—her head now removed from her body, but looking surprisingly calm about things—rested on the second table, still clad in her lingere set. One of the techs handed Uncle Frank a tablet, prompting a nod. “...well, we've got quite a story for these two—”

“'These two' can tell their own story, thank you very much,” Siobhan cut in, rolling her eyes. “I'm hopin' you gave that psycho android prick what he deserved, Harker....”

I nodded. “Kicked a steel pipe into his chest, and he went flying out of the cargo bay.”

“Nice!” Siobhan gave a thumbs-up. “I'd clap for ya, but...” She nodded at the wires, hoses and metal jutting out of her left shoulder socket. “...hopefully, that'll be enough for my mate's soul to find peace....”

“Your owner?” Lina inquired.

Siobhan nodded, her smile fading. “That fookin' android with the mohawk murdered 'im, before he took me. We'd left Ireland after the Accords got signed...big hooplah with the church an' all—we just wanted some peace'n'quiet, and to get a new start on the all-android fightin' circuit, in my case—”

“Siobhan Lynch!”

Millie's Southern drawl cut off Siobhan's recounting of her story, as the gynoid in question sashayed (I wish I was kidding) over to the table. “It's been....almost half a decade since we last saw each other,” Millie mused, clearly surprised.

“Never thought I'd hear that voice o'yours again,” Siobhan replied, managing a grin. “You didn't get scrapped, then?”

“You can thank Mr. Frank Holmwood for that.” Millie gestured at Uncle Frank, who nodded. “I, ah, won an auction to rescue her from the scrap pile.” I have no idea how he managed to make that sound so casual, but he somehow pulled it off. “The ALPA fronted the cash for it....and now, Millie's got a room of her own at the lab under the hangar.”

“A lab....under a hangar.” Siobhan glanced from Uncle Frank to Millie, frowning.

“It's a combination of things,” Millie explained. “There's a repair center, for the obvious purpose. Androids and gynoids with no place of their own get free room and board—myself included...” She planted a hand on her hip. “...now that I think about it, how did you get mixed up in all of this?”

“Me and my man, Domhall, were travellin', tryin' to settle down....” Siobhan sighed. “He got killed when I got taken.”

Millie's eyes went wide. “....I'm so sorry to hear that, Siobhan....”

“Ultimate irony.” Siobhan closed her eyes, her body motionless as the techs ran connectors from her arm socket to her left arm. “We left Ireland to find peace, and instead I get stuffed in a box....just like the man I loved.”

Lina gently touched her right hand. “Do you have any contacts in this country?”

“The only people I've met so far've been Matt, the other girls on the plane, the ones who killed....” She turned away, as if not wanting to speak the name of her departed lover again. “...the ones who killed my boyfriend—my owner, by choice, if you must know—and you lot. Not exactly a full address book—”

“Frank,” Millie cut in, “call the lab and have 'em set up a room for Siobhan.”

“....I, ah, just offered one to Peach from the plane—”

“And you can offer Siobhan a room, as well.” Millie turned her attention to Siobhan, her glare softening. “We may not have been teammates during the tournament all those years ago,” she murmured, “but it'd be downright dishonorable for me to not offer you a place to call your own in tryin' times like these.”

Siobhan opened her eyes, staring at Millie. “....you're really askin' him to give me a room?”

“Unless you'd prefer to ask him yourself....” Millie nodded at Uncle Frank, who nodded (again).

“....fine. Frank Holmwood....these rooms, at this lab under this hangar. They've got showers, right?”

“They do. High-flow, even...not those low-flow ones that everyone complains about.” Uncle Frank gave a thumbs-up. “I swear by 'em, I really do.”

“...got a gym down there? I spar in my off time.”

“We could certainly make arrangements to have part of the rec room cordoned off to be a sparring chamber, yeah.”

Siobhan nodded. “Sounds perfect to me...and Millie, thanks.” She nodded again, turning to glance at Mai—or at least, Mai's head. “Everything holdin' up well on your end?”

“I'd feel a lot better if my head were reattached,” Mai replied, “but I'm still functioning, so...”

“Glad to hear it. Any chance you remember things before they threw you in a crate?”

Mai rolled her eyes—which looked a bit weird, given her motionless body was resting on the same table. “I might as well admit that I was employed at....an adult entertainment establishment—”

“You can say 'strip club',” Siobhan reminded her. “No need to tone it down here.”

“.....a strip club,” Mai continued. “Apparently, the owner thought it would be a good idea to cater to the whole idea of massages with 'happy endings', and all that....they didn't really, but he hired a lot of Asian women for the back rooms anyway, to at least foster a reputation for it. They were all trained—or programmed, if they were like me—in the art of the sensual massage....I had a consistent ranking in the top three every week.”

Uncle Frank had been scrolling through the news on a tablet since Mai had mentioned her employment; when she got to the “top three every week” bit, he snapped his fingers and nodded. “....well, there you go.”

“.....there you go, what?” I frowned. “She was just talking about—”

“Her former place of employment,” Uncle Frank finished. “Unfortunately, emphasis on 'former'....” He held the tablet so Mai could see the screen. “That banana butter nutjob with the mohawk must've trashed the place whenever he took you out of it....the owner's taking out loans just to pay to get the building back up!”

Mai groaned. “And he probably won't be able to afford to hire me back....”

“Maybe he won't need to.” Siobhan grinned. “Frank here just told me how he's got a lab under a hangar with free room and board for those of us without our own place....I'm already up for one, and I wouldn't mind sharin' a room with you, if you're so inclined.”

Just as Siobhan had been surprised at Millie's insistence that she get a room under the hangar, Mai was equally stunned.

“And you two won't have any problems sharin' a room?” Millie inquired. “I mean, you're a fighter, and she's....”

“A masseuse.”

Millie regarded me with a frown, but Siobhan spoke up before she could. “Tell ya what, Mai. I'll teach you everything you could ever ask for when it comes to self-defense, and you can teach me how to...I dunno, give deep tissue massages on my off-days. Fair trade?”

“Definitely!” Mai grinned....then frowned. “....I'd shake your hand, if I could...”

“Eh, don't worry about it,” Siobhan assured her. “I'd just as soon wait 'til my feckin' arm was back on.”

“That'll be sorted out soon enough...” Uncle Frank turned, only to recoil. “Matt! You're in a wheelchair?!”

“.....you just noticed that now.” I sighed. “Bruised tendon, from dropkicking the pipe into Mr. Mohawk....runs the risk of me getting plantar fasciitis, I think, without applications of balm and various other medicine..left foot was pretty cut up, too, hence the medical-grade socks. Doctor said I'd need to be off my feet until they heal.”

Lina reached down and hugged my shoulders. “And they will heal,” she added, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek.

“....right, right...” Uncle Frank nodded. “SO, ah....just got a call from your place, Matt, before these yahoos called me about the plane....Theresa is getting along great with the cat.”

I chuckled. “By which you mean the cat did her usual routine, and Tracy didn't really have to do anything.”

“.....well, yeah, pretty much...” Uncle Frank shrugged. “She did bathe the cat, though.”

At this, I could only roll my eyes. “Any mention of compensation for getting scratched to Hell and back?”

Uncle Frank shrugged. “She didn't sound like someone who'd been scratched to Hell and back, to be honest.”

“Fair enough.” I leaned back in the chair, sighing. “Maybe we can....” My train of thought was momentarily derailed by the small problem of having rested my right foot on the wheelchair's...foot rest, pretty much, and sending a wave of pain up my leg. “Gaaahaaaaaaaaa......”

“Matt?”

“.....my foot......foot rest.....pain......”

Lina sighed. “Let's get that balm on your foot, then. Hopefully, it'll help.” Lina retrieved the jar and, in full view of Uncle Frank, Siobhan and Mai (I couldn't really tell if her head was positioned at a good angle to see it), rubbed the balm over the sole of my foot. There was something in the gentle, almost caressing motions of her hands across my feet that just seemed to melt the pain away....helped along by her looking up from applying the balm and staring right into my eyes, giving me that beautiful smile of hers.

At that moment, I couldn't help but feel blessed for knowing her—and for the fact that I'd be marrying her.

A few hours later, Fenton showed up in the hangar with that look on his face that said he had a lot on his mind. I could tell he was glad that I was okay, but I also knew he probably had a lot to talk about. He ushered Lina, Uncle Frank, Lucy and me off into a corner, away from the techs and everyone else; Dani was already there, with a few chairs in place for us all to sit. “....I, ah.....first of all, I wanted to thank you again for helping me get Dani back.” He grinned. “If you hadn't gone to the Greensfield complex to find Lina, they wouldn't have called me to tell me Dani was there....”

“Not a problem, Fenton...but....” I hesitated.

“Matt?” Lina touched my shoulder.

“.....I can tell something else is on your mind, Fenton. Anything you want to talk about, you can—”

“After Mom got committed.....” Fenton stared up at the ceiling, exhaling a sharp breath. “You got the house, I got a nice chunk of change....made plenty of connections and all that when I moved uptown. The thing is....” He closed his eyes. “I fell pretty far, Matt. Talked to some people I shouldn't have....'just a little of this every morning, it'll keep you sharp all damn day', that sort of thing.”

“You were on cocaine?” I was surprised at how even my voice sounded.

“....it wasn't just cocaine, Matt. I was....experimenting. The worst I ever got was....” A tear snaked down Fenton's cheek, as if he were almost ashamed to continue. “Nitrous oxide. Every other weekend, I'd....these people would meet up with me, we'd go crash out at some random building and just huff...I was jealous of you, okay?! I was pissed off at myself, and pissed at you, but....” His fists balled up, gripping the armrests of his chair. “....I couldn't take it out on you, ever. Even if I thought you had everything you ever wanted.....you're my brother. I couldn't just haul off and beat your ass because I was jealous.....I couldn't take it out on Dad, since he's the one who helped me get the place uptown, and I damn sure couldn't take it out on Mom, since.....”

“I get it.” I nodded.

“I couldn't take it out on anyone else, so I took it out on myself.” Fenton sighed. “I kept up with the coke for....probably the rest of a year. I ended up getting clean, with help...but I knew that it'd cost me to stay clean, so I started saving. Got a nice job with my computer science skills—and yes, I started writing, or trying to, on the side, since it'd worked out so well for you....” He shook his head. “The night I burned my manuscript in the sink, I nearly fell off the wagon...it was one of the worst nights of my life.”

Dani reached over and gently laid a hand on his shoulder.

“....I didn't call you, Matt, because....I couldn't. I talked to a few of my co-workers, asked 'em if they knew any ways for me to stay clean that wouldn't break the bank, and they directed me to....” He gave a brief chuckle. “Can't even think of the name, now....anyway, I got paired up with Dani right off the bat. Even when we weren't in a session, I could call her whenever I needed to—group policy. I'll never forget that first session with her, where she introduced herself and then opened her panel....” He regarded Dani with a smile, which she returned. “The treatment policy states that everyone who goes into the treatment knows their counselor is a fully-sentient android or gynoid,” she explained. “For anyone who needed a bit of an extra push to stay sober....well, it worked.”

Fenton nodded his agreement. “One weekend, I fell off the wagon. Back on the coke again...even dabbled in ketamine, which I'm not proud of at all. I was.....” He closed his eyes again, weeping at the memory. “There were faces in the walls, I saw a head in the damn toilet, and it was laughing at me, and the floor wouldn't shut up, and there were two of me already in my damn bed telling me how much my life sucked....” Again, Dani rested her hand on his shoulder. “...I called her. Pretty sure I was screaming, because I was seeing things no sane person should ever see in their life.”

“I stayed with him the rest of the night, helping him throught the come-down,” Dani added. “After that....we talked.”

“She wasn't supposed to be there, really,” Fenton admitted. “Civil-service 'bot, limited duties, 'rules and regulations', all that crap....but she was there.” He took her hand in his own, holding it. “....she told me right then and there that she'd asked to be paired with me because she liked the job. She told her story, I told mine...once I started cleaning up again, we were dating. She had to hide it from the folks at the center—again, 'the rules'....” He rolled his eyes.

“I quit, eventually,” Dani added. “The job at the center, not....” She grinned and squeezed Fenton's hand. “Got another job, to help Fenton stay clean.”

“Two and a half years after we first met,” Fenton continued, “and....what, a year and a half after you broke protocol and started dating me?”

Dani nodded. “Something along those lines.”

“.....well, whenever it was....” Fenton grinned. “She'd bought a ring and proposed.”

Lina grinned, taking my hand as she did. “That's awesome!”

I nodded my agreement. “And you two were going to tell us....when, exactly?”

“Well, I....” Fenton chuckled again. “I didn't really know what to say when she proposed, to be honest. It was just...I mean, it was unexpected, y'know?”

“He said yes, obviously.” Dani squeezed Fenton's hand again.

“The whole point of the party at your place was to tell you that I was gonna marry Dani,” Fenton explained. “The whole thing of it being work-related was all BS....I was still clean and sober, just so you know...the only thing I was 'high' on was caffeine. That, and some of the idiots I invited—and some who just showed up....wrecked my mood right off the bat.”

“Lina did say you looked strung-out when you showed up that one night,” I mused.

“That's putting it mildly.” Fenton shook his head. “And I was strung-out so damn much because Dani had gone missing a few days before the party. I was out of my damn mind with worry....I had no clue if she'd been taken, or if she'd just gone off to have some time on her own, or what, so I shotgunned caffeine for days trying to figure out what to do.”

“Which explains why you were buzzed out of your mind by the time Lina and I got there,” Lucy mused, nodding.

“And why I lashed out at Lina—again, I'm really sorry that happened, Lina, but.....” He buried his face in his hands as he spoke. “.....when you tried to stand up for Matt, all I could see was Dani. I....I thought she'd just left me...”

Dani actually got out of her chair to hug Fenton. “You know I wouldn't do that,” she murmured. “And Lina....”

Lina's smile said more than any words could've, at that moment. She'd already forgiven Fenton back at his place, but this time, he was actually thinking clearly and able to fully appreciate the gesture.

Fenton and Dani broke their embrace, smiling at each other. “Dani's going back to her job, once the wedding's over and done with,” Fenton stated. “She's getting her ownership setting changed to 'self', too, once we've tied the knot...” He gave Dani's hand an appreciative squeeze. “After all she's done for me, it's the least I could do for her.”

“Well, we're definitely going to be there for you on the big day,” Lina assured him. “Have you told anyone else in your family that you two are getting married?”

“Dad knows....well, he knows that part,” Fenton admitted. “The other stuff.....not so much.”

Uncle Frank nodded. “I, ah.....I knew....a bit of it. Quite a bit, actually.”

“And you didn't tell me?” I couldn't bring myself to glare at him.

“I didn't want you to worry that Fenton was in over his head with anything!” Uncle Frank insisted. “I know how you two are, and how you can get. The last thing you two needed was to get in some spat over Fenton's predicament! Besides, he swore me to secrecy about...well, about quite a lot of it, actually.”

“...I get it.” I nodded, turning to glance at Fenton. “.....funny.”

Fenton frowned. “What's funny?”

“....when I agreed to host the party at my place....or to let you host the party at my place....this is the last thing I could've ever expected. The two of us, about to get married to beautiful women—who just so happen to be humanoid female robots, at that....and Uncle Frank on the verge of getting married, as well.” I turned to regard Lina, whose smile was just as bright as my own. “Obviously, you're all invited to our wedding, whenever we have it....and I only hope that, ah, you'll return the favor and invite us to yours.”

“You know you're already on the guest list for mine,” Fenton declared, barely able to stop grinning.

“I'd consider myself a far lesser human being than I am if I didn't invite you to mine, Matt,” Uncle Frank stated. “And for the record, Lina, Dani and Fenton are invited to my wedding, as well.”

“And you, Matt, Lina and Lucy are invited to mine,” Fenton replied. “It'll be a Hell of a thing...three weddings, all done in one week....I'm pretty sure nobody else in the family has gone to that many in a month, let alone one week....and before then....” He glanced at Dani, as if to ask her if it was okay to bring up another topic; she merely nodded, and he turned his attention to Lucy. “.....there's, ah, one thing Dani asked me to ask you about—”

“Installing a biometric scanner to make sure only you can turn Dani on or off?”

Lucy's deadpan delivery was...more than a bit surprising to Fenton. “....how'd you—”

“I suggested the same thing to Matt, for Lina—figured you'd want it integrated, as well.” Lucy shrugged.

“....well, I already have the sensor installed,” Dani admitted, leaning over and allowing Fenton to point out the smallish bump behind her right ear. “But I think that idiot Andrew may have hacked it or something, and I just want to make sure it's set to only work for Fenton's fingerprints...”

“I can do that.” Lucy nodded. “Better yet, I'll upgrade the biometric scanner to a DNA lock.”

Fenton and I exchanged confused looks. “....DNA lock?”

“Y'know those insulin readers that you stick your thumb or finger on? This works kinda like that, except it checks and verifies a genetic signauture....it's not all that complicated.” Lucy rolled her eyes. “Or at least it's less complicated than I'm probably making it sound.”

“And it won't take too long to install?”

“In your case, Dani, it just needs to be reconfigured, since Andrew was able to bypass it....” Lucy got out of her chair. “I can probably get yours reconfigured and Lina's installed in....30 minutes, tops.”

Lina nodded. “Dani can go first...then me.” She turned to grin at me. “It'll be worth the wait, I think.....”

Lucy, Fenton, Dani, Lina and I all headed to the lab—with Uncle Frank in tow, to observe the process of how the on/off switches would be upgraded and installed. From the bits of conversation I heard along the way, it was obvious that the process of sorting through all the gynoids from the DC-10 wouldn't be over and done with any time soon—apparently, far too many of them had lost memories or critical system files thanks to whatever stupid processes had been running in their crates.

Before I had a chance to ask Lucy about it, though, we were at the lab.

“Right....” Lucy cracked her knuckles, gesturing for Dani to sit in a chair with a low backrest. “Just take a seat and let me get the tools, and we'll get started.” A technician handed her a pair of what looked like laser pointers, one of which was aimed at Dani's scalp as Lucy pressed the switch . She traced Dani's hairline with the light from the thing, and—as Lina, Uncle Frank, Fenton and I all watched—she proceeded to peel back the hair and scalp, as well as a bit of the skin near Dani's right ear. “Only bit of advice I can give right now is to hold still,” she advised, retrieving a set of small screwdrivers and such from the technician. “You don't have to deactivate or anything, just...stay absolutely still, until this whole thing is finished....”

“I'll do my best.” Dani kept her cool, staring straight ahead as Lucy did her work.

Things went by smoothly, even after Lucy asked Fenton to let her prick his finger for a drop of blood (the necessary DNA sample for the lock). I wasn't really keeping track of the time, but it felt like there wasn't that big of a gap between the impromptu “donation” Fenton had made, and Lucy sealing Dani's skin and scalp back up with the second of the laser tools. “Okay, that should do it—you can stand up now, Dani.”

Dani nodded and got out of the chair, a nervous smile on her lips. “....well, want to test it, Fenton?”

“It's the same as before, right? Just press and hold....”

“The only difference is that only you can activate or deactivate her that way.” Lucy gestured to Dani. “Go ahead and test it now, if you want.”

Fenton approached Dani, one hand resting on her shoulder. “You ready?”

“Just remember to turn me on again after,” Dani teased.

With a nod, Fenton reached behind her right ear and held down; after a few seconds, her eyes closed and she slumped forward a bit, almost seeming to lean on Fenton for support. “....one-thousand, two one-thousand, three....” He pressed inwards again, holding down the switch and then releasing it....

...and Dani's eyes opened, slowly, as she stood back up to regard Fenton.

“...babe?”

“....no, I'm Dani....” Her attempt at re-enacting her reactivaiton from the Greensfield complex ended in a giggle. “Sorry, I couldn't resist...” She leaned forward and kissed Fenton on the lips. “The upgrade worked,” she beamed, “and you're now registered as the only one with access to my on/off switch....lucky you.” She reached up and twirled a few locks of Fenton's hair between her fingers. “Thanks.”

“Not a problem.” Fenton grinned, reciprocating her earlier kiss with one of his own.

“All right, all right...” Lucy rolled her eyes, but I could tell she was proud to have helped Fenton and Dani out. “Lina, you're gonna want to go to that one...” She nodded at another chair. “....since I have to install the biometric lock in you first, and then upgrade it.”

Lina nodded. “Does Matt need to prick his finger like Fenton did, or....”

“They got a blood sample from him when he was laid up after trying to get you back from Greensfield.” Lucy watched, her expression impassive, as Lina took her seat. “Just like I told Dani—try not to move, and this shouldn't take more than a few minutes....” She readied the first of the laser tools, carefully tracing it along Lina's scalp and the skin behind her right ear. One of the technician gynoids handed over a small, locked box (probably for the sensor Lucy was going to install), and Lucy set to work carefully disengaging components and moving wires around to put the sensor where it needed to go.

I never looked away from Lina's face the whole time—the only expression on her face was one of absolute serenity, even when Lucy was working on her internals with a power screwdriver. The one time her expression changed was when the switch itself was connected—her eyes went slightly wide, and she let out a brief gasp, but it was just for a moment, and her calm demeanor reasserted itself shortly after.

Again, I didn't really have a good grasp of the time, but it went by pretty quickly (or at least it felt like it did). I was still looking into Lina's eyes when Lucy declared “Right, you can get up now, Lina.”

Lina nodded, getting out of the chair and turning her head a few times. “....nothing feels too loose or too tight...”

“Only thing you need to do now is to let Matt test the switch.” Lucy nodded to me. “You want to try standing—”

“Let me.” Lina knelt before me. “Ready?”

“.....yeah.”

The smile on Lina's face eased any doubts I might've had. “You've reactivated me before, remember?”

“I know, I know...” I sighed. “Are you ready?”

“Of course. Just....” Lina put her hands on my shoulders, her gaze never wavering. “Now I'm ready.”

I nodded, reaching around for the switch and pressing it. To my surprise, the smile didn't leave Lina's face, even as her head bowed forward to rest, gently, on my shoulder—apart from the fact that I was in a wheelchair, it felt almost like we were slow-dancing or something. That feeling in the pit of my stomach—the one I'd felt when I'd first frozen her with FCon in the bathroom, the day of the party—was back in full force, times probably a thousand....but I didn't let it deter me. I counted off a silent “one.....two.....three”, pressed the button....

Lina's head raised with a faint whir of servos, her eyes glowing slightly as she smiled at me. I nearly said something, wanting to ask her if she was okay...but as the glow faded from her eyes, she beat me to the punch by leaning forward and drawing me in for a kiss.

The fact that Ashwyn had apparently snuck into the lab, evidenced by her cheering “WOO-HOO!”, didn't bother me at all. Fenton, Dani, Uncle Frank and even Lucy applauding our kiss didn't bug me, either. Hell, I barely registered anything in the room until Lina pulled back, a few tears in her eyes. “....I'm okay,” she assured me, before I could even ask. “I'm just....ever since Lucy first activated me.....this is all I ever wanted. Well, this and to get married—”

“I get it.” I didn't care that I had tears in my eyes, even as I laughed. “....this is what I've always wanted, too.”

Now, I could go on to tell you everything else we did that day, and even do a bit of a time-skip to get to the part where we started prepping for the wedding—compiling the guest lists, the stag and hen nights, all that good stuff—but that's another story entirely.....

The End.....for now ;)

(Thanks to everyone who read these installments, who commented and who liked this new project of mine--and, just like all the greats, Matt and Lina will return. 8) Special thanks to Baron and DollSpace for their help, advice and fine-tuning of various bits of all ten parts of this saga so far! And special thanks to Korby for letting me present an interesting new facet of the Dyson Institute!)
"No one steals our chicks.....and lives!"

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Re: Lina, Part 10

Post by Baron » Mon Nov 18, 2019 3:04 pm

Nice ending there, Mijo. :D I'm happy to have contributed some bits and pieces, but you still did all the donkey-work. I think it fleshes out the "ALPA-verse" in a very complementary way to the Diaries. Just don't drop a shark on Matt and Lina in the epilogue, n'kay? :devil: :lol: :devil:
Assemble the ladies? I didn't know that they were broken......

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Re: Lina, Part 10

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Mon Nov 18, 2019 6:58 pm

Baron wrote:
Mon Nov 18, 2019 3:04 pm
Nice ending there, Mijo. :D I'm happy to have contributed some bits and pieces, but you still did all the donkey-work. I think it fleshes out the "ALPA-verse" in a very complementary way to the Diaries. Just don't drop a shark on Matt and Lina in the epilogue, n'kay? :devil: :lol: :devil:
Why, I'd NEVER do something like that.._...

crumples up plans for "rain of sharks" twist ending

In all honesty, thanks for the compliment; I credit your channelling of Sam Elliott as the Stranger in The Big Lebowski, what with the whole "d'you have to use so many cuss words?" mindset, for making Matt a far less abrasive protagonist than how he'd originally been written.
"No one steals our chicks.....and lives!"

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Re: Lina, Part 10

Post by Brytestar » Tue Nov 19, 2019 1:03 am

What about Hera who lost her leg? :(
Sometimes you just gotta look at the Bryte side!

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Re: Lina, Part 10

Post by Baron » Tue Nov 19, 2019 6:24 pm

DukeNukem 2417 wrote:
Mon Nov 18, 2019 6:58 pm
Baron wrote:
Mon Nov 18, 2019 3:04 pm
Nice ending there, Mijo. :D I'm happy to have contributed some bits and pieces, but you still did all the donkey-work. I think it fleshes out the "ALPA-verse" in a very complementary way to the Diaries. Just don't drop a shark on Matt and Lina in the epilogue, n'kay? :devil: :lol: :devil:
Why, I'd NEVER do something like that.._...

crumples up plans for "rain of sharks" twist ending

In all honesty, thanks for the compliment; I credit your channelling of Sam Elliott as the Stranger in The Big Lebowski, what with the whole "d'you have to use so many cuss words?" mindset, for making Matt a far less abrasive protagonist than how he'd originally been written.
Sam Elliot? Who dat, Mijo?? :wtf: :P

Your work is FINE enough as it is without having to rely on any "out there" quirks, in order to flesh a character out {with several notable exceptions **koff-koffCOLBYkoff-koff**}. I'm reminded of an old episode of "Dragnet" where one of the characters had a "speech tic;" he'd insert the word "here" randomly through his dialogue, along the lines of "I was watching TV in my living room here, when the car crashed outside there, here....." After about 30 seconds of this, I was ready to shoot my own TV, here!!! Yeah, the character was distinctive - distinctively ANNOYING as Hell!! :roll: :angry: :lol: And that's really the crux of taking such a gamble with a character trait - it either works well, or not at all. No middle-ground, dig?

Like I said earlier, you're too good for that. :thumbsup: Oh yeah, almost forgot - this nifty story also has motivated me to get my lazy arse in gear once more, to finish up the next Kronicle. I mean, it's only been what - 24 months?? :lol: :lol:

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

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Re: Lina, Part 10

Post by DollSpace » Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:53 am

Another smashing part with only a few minor things I’d do differently. Great pacing, characters you can invest in, a lot of suspense... can’t wait to see what you put in the epilogue.

Also, Brytestar, Hera didn’t get her leg blown off, it was just injured. She was able to walk off the plane under her own power.

Love the read, can’t wait to see what’s next!

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