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

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

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Sun Apr 01, 2018 8:23 am

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Despite my best intentions, the story still isn't finished---it's on Page 60 out of a planned....100, probably, or at least 90. And no, this isn't a prank---I've had all of the past few months to finish this thing, and it's still not done, but at the very least I'm being honest about it. I intend to have it finished before the end of the month, and will be posting sections every other day (as long as I remember to), so....yeah.

Also, this one is going to serve as an "explanation" story of sorts---a few plot points that nobody picked up on from past stories will be elaborated on here.

With that out of the's the first part of "King Nothing"---the latest story in Season 2 of The V.I.C.I. Diaries!

Oh, and One More Thing: If anyone has questions about this or any other story in the series, don't be afraid to ask in the comments or via PM. :)
“So....where do we start?”

On any other day, in any other set of circumstances, Rae Clarke's question would've earned her at least a few looks of annoyance from those gathered around the stainless steel repair lab table with her. But out of every person there---Professor Anton Malvineous, ALPA Field Agent Kylie Lyndon, Ted Lawson and at least three fully scrubbed-up technicians and/or mechanics who Rae didn't recognize---nobody even glanced in her direction.

Looking at what was left of Kristen Charlotte Casey, it was easy to see that the question had merit, after all.

Her cranial module had been burned down to the “scalp”, with none of her synthetic hair left. Her face, rather surprisingly, was still intact---considering how most of the rest of her artificial flesh hung from her limbs like so much melted rubber and latex, the fact that her face was still holding up was all the more fascinating. Below the neck, things were less impressive; her chest still maintained a distinctly feminine profile despite the gel packs that gave her breasts their form and shape having melted. Below the waist, on the other hand....

...well, there's a thin line between technical and tasteless when it comes to describing the damage to Casey's more...intimate areas, and crossing it wouldn't do anyone any favors.

“We're lucky,” Anton muttered. “She had a daily backup at her flat---personality, memories, all of the important stuff. And she's off the shelf, as well....” He paused, noticing Rae's scowl. “....that is, she...ah....” Anton let a nervous breath pass his lips. “It'll be easier to find a compatible body, is what I'm saying. I probably have the makers on speed-dial---”

He flinched; Rae had nearly knocked over her chair as she stood up. “Can you just stop, for one second?”

“Rae,” Kylie began, “he's not---” The caramel-skinned gynoid brushed past her. “Casey isn't just 'off-the-shelf' hardware and software,” she hissed, jabbing a finger at the inert figure on the table. “She's a colleague---”

“We know,” Ted assured her. “That's why we're here---”

“She was in pain! Whatever did this to blinded her....burned her from the inside....” Slender fingers grabbed the table, and the three technicians backed off; Rae's head was bowed, her vise-like grip leaving a set of dents in the repair table's surface. “ couldn't possibly understand what she felt,” she whispered, “but I did....I felt her pain.....”

Anton nearly said something, but one of the technicians spoke up. “We ran a full systems check, sir. Agent Carly Rae---” The sentence, delivered in an almost inhuman drone through the filtered mask the tech wore, cut off in a gasp. One of Rae's arms had jerked backwards, finding and grabbing the tech's collar without her even looking at the poor soul.

Don't,” she hissed, turning to glare at her target as she pulled the tech in closer, “say that again.”

Kylie was at her side in an instant, prying her fingers off of the tech's coveralls and gently guiding him away from the infuriated gynoid. “He didn't know,” she murmured, her hands finding Rae's shoulders. “He didn't....”

Rae allowed herself to be guided to a chair, letting go of the table after another assurance from Kylie that the tech hadn't meant any offense by his off-handed remark. Shuddering breaths wracked her lithe figure, even as her human colleague massaged her shoulders and tried to calm her down. Once in a while, the faintest hint of a sob could be heard amidst her simulated breathing.

After a minute or two of waiting out Rae's not-quite-outburst, Anton nodded. “ I was saying.....”

“Casey has an easily-available backup chassis and all the other necessities,” Ted finished, “and getting a new version of her face shouldn't be too difficult, either. I assume you were going to say that the physical repairs will be the easy part.”

“I was.”

“So what's the hard part going to be?” Kylie asked, not looking up as her hands kneaded the artificial flesh of Rae's shoulders. “Finding out what happened to her?”

“That part's easy, too,” Anton admitted. “The program that....” He cleared his throat, glancing at Kylie---and, by extension, at Rae. “....the program responsible for Agent Casey's current state is an unknown build of a former United Robotronics security project known as Helios. I say 'former United Robotronics project' because its effects were far closer to a virus than any kind of security measure or even countermeasure available.” He nodded to one of the technicians, who crossed the room at a brisk stride to turn on a large, flatscreen monior built into a wall alcove. “Helios triggers a number of...heat-related malfunctions within a target,” he explained, as a laundry list of horrific infection symptoms appeared on the monitor. “It begins by redlining the power cell or battery of an affected android or gynoid....”

He turned away. “....and, honestly, things just go downhill from there.”

“We noticed.” Rae's voice came as a harsh croak. “Not exactly hard to miss....she was glowing, Anton. I'm just amazed Teddy Boy didn't see it....”

Kylie nearly apologized on Rae's behalf, but Ted didn't shy away from the remark. “Working through the night on thirty minutes of sleep tends to make you want to conk out at the worst possible moments,” he admitted, “and I couldn't have picked a worse one if I tried. Someone told me that Harris tried to shut Casey off while I was....ah, 'out'....”

“Burned himself,” Rae muttered. “He did turn her off, though,” Kylie quickly added.

Ted nodded. “Did she have any contacts who knew what she was? Anyone we could call....”

“The front office is looking into it. As for right now....” Anton sighed. “We're going to need a day or two, at the very least, to sort through....well, Casey.....” He nodded at the table. “....figure out what we can salvage, and all. It's the least we can do for her---”

“The least we can do for her,” Rae spat, “is make sure that the program that bricked her is wiped out.”

Anton frowned. “It's not that easy---”

“We know what program it was, don't we? All we need to do---”

“We know what program it was, yes,” Anton acquiesced. “But there's the small problem of that program being the property of companies associated with the DVS. Dealing with them, right now, is a very, very bad idea.”

“So we just sit here and let them keep the program?” Rae snapped. “We just stand back and do nothing?!

“We're going to get Casey into a new body,” Ted calmly replied, “and then we're going to work on making a few countermeasures to the program that destroyed her first body. We're not going to just leave her like this.” He glanced at the other two technicians (the one who'd uttered the name “Carly Rae” had left the room); “How soon can we get her manufacturer on the line?” he inquired.

“Now, actually.”

“Do it.”

Even as Ted was taking charge of the situation, Rae was staring at the floor again, almost unaware of Kylie's hands kneading the synthetic flesh of her shoulders---at least, until they moved down to the gynoid's sides. A sudden, gasping sigh escaped Rae's lips.

“Sorry,” Kylie apologized. “I didn't---”

“Don't stop,” Rae breathed. “.....I....I need this....”

Kylie hesitated, noticing Anton glancing in her direction. “ think we should, ah, find a room to---”

Rae lifted one of Kylie's hands in her own and gently kissed it. “I was waiting for you to ask....”

Anton watched the pair leave, his expression neutral. “She needed a release,” he mused, just as Ted walked into earshot. “All of this aggression, this fear she's feeling over what happened to Casey....given her history, she needed to get it out of her system.”

“I keep forgetting just how intricate she is,” Ted agreed. “As a machine and a person.”

“You'd do well to remember, then,” one of the technicians replied, removing their protective headgear to reveal the stunning face of Alicia DeHane. “When it comes to mixing sensuality with the more technical aspects of being a gynoid, Rae could write a freaking book on how self-exploration can go beyond lighting a few candles and throwing on some mood music. Ever see her during a repair session?”

Ted and Anton both muttered under their breaths---they had, in fact, been present for many of Rae's repairs.

Alicia rolled her eyes. “Rae needed, and found, ways to enjoy every aspect of being what she is....and what happened to Casey showed her just how far down the opposite end of the spectrum that can go---”

“She said she felt Casey's pain, though,” Anton cut in. “Almost as if she'd...connected to her....”

“Ad-hoc WiFi. Get a bunch of gynoids in the room, they can text each other without a phone.” Alicia wasn't smiling. “Except this time, the 'text' was basically Rae feeling what Casey felt as she died. Hell, even I could feel some of it....” She hugged herself, the briefest flash of herself (more accurately, one of her previous bodies) bursting into flames in a Singapore high-rise surged to the forefront of her memories. “...I don't think I have to explain why that sort of thing would be a little...uncomfortable,” she murmured.

Anton nodded. “Think she'll be okay?”

“She's got Kylie. The two of them will work something out.” Alicia's lips formed a smirk. “In their own way.”

“As long as they don't knock anything over,” Anton replied, already turning his attention back to the ruined form of Casey on the table. “Also, Ted, you may want to check the sound dampeners in each room---”

“They work,” Alicia cut in. “Believe me, they work.”

It was Anton's turn to smirk. “Tell me they're not showing up on one of the security cameras---”

“Rae knocked it off the mounting bracket right after she kicked open the door,” Alicia informed him, her tone suggesting she found the whole thing both hilarious and slightly voyeuristic. “Probably hit the camera with the door....anyway, it's audio-only in there....yeah, the sound dampeners work.” She scratched one of her earlobes with her right pinky; almost instantly, her posture relaxed. “....I think they should get their privacy for this one.”

“Ah,” Ted interjected, “when's the last time any of us called ahead to check up on Vicki?”

Alicia and Anton exchanged knowing glances. “I'll call,” the blonde gynoid replied. “Hopefully, she's awake...”
Part 2 coming on Tuesday :)
Last edited by DukeNukem 2417 on Wed Oct 31, 2018 1:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Tue Apr 03, 2018 1:59 pm

V.I.C.I./Vicki Lawson's Internal Diary
Wednesday, October 05, 2011

We're here.

I've been on the road for the past few days, helping Agent Harris take care of various ALPA business before the main reason for our trip....and now, we're here.

And I have no idea where “here” is.

It's in the United Kingdom---Great Britain, specifically---but other than that, I have no idea. The past eight hours have been a scrambled mess, in terms of trying to use GPS to figure out just where in the world I am at the moment. The building itself is.....big. Really big.

Having said that, not knowing where the hell I am is a little bit scarier.

It's an ALPA facility, so I don't need to worry about anyone putting an SCEMP round in my skull or anything like that. Of course, considering why Harris and I came here to begin with, that's not even the biggest thing I need to focus on at the moment.

He's here. Somewhere in this building, he's here.

And I'm here to see him.

For the first time since I killed Epsilon, I'm going to meet with Oberon. Face to face.

And I'm absolutely terrified.

Until next time,
V.I.C.I/Vicki Lawson.

Vicki blinked away the text display from her internal diary, just in time to notice Agent Harris glancing at her with an arched eyebrow. “What?”

“ zoned out for a minute. Just wanted to make sure you were okay---”

“I was writing,” Vicki replied. “In my, ah, internal diary.....I mean---”

Harris grinned. “You don't need to explain it to me. Your laptop's still in the hotel room, you wanted to record what you were thinking....I didn't think you had a diary in there----”

“'In there'?” the brunette gynoid echoed, gesturing at her own head. “I....”

She stopped, remembering where, exactly, she was....and what she was there to do.

The hall around them was made of what appeared to be a smooth, black rock---not quite marble, but with a mirrored finish to rival it. The floor was some kind of low-pile carpet; the ceiling was black tile, and all visible fixtures were either black or obscenely-dark grey. “.....I feel like I'm wearing the wrong color in here,” Vicki muttered, glancing down at her usual red-and-white ensemble.

“You're not,” Harris assured her. “It's about aesthetics and intimidation. Every part of this building serves a specific purpose, and every element of its design was picked to reflect that.....even the location was picked to make sure this place wasn't overrun by anyone looking for a quick scoop.”

Whatever Vicki intended to say next was cut off by the low rumbling of a door---

---except no door she'd ever seen in her life looked like a massive slab of polished black stone, sliding forward as if pushed open by sheer force of will.

Five figures stood in the doorway---four of them were armored head-to-toe, in full riot gear with face-concealing helmets and flowing coats that matched the off-grey of their armor. All four wore sheathed swords on their belts, and two of them had holsters barely visible beneath their jackets---though Vicki couldn't see (and chose not to scan for) any firearms held within.

The fifth figure, approaching Vicki and Agent Harris, was a stark contrast to the four still standing in the door; he wore a tailored black suit over a grey dress shirt and patterned tie, his age (apparent from his hair, already turning a silvery-white, and the wrinkles that had just begun to crease his face) not slowing his step at all. A senior representative, more than likely, the brunette gynoid realized. This whole thing feels like something out of the Twilight Zone, for some reason.....I expected secrecy, and maybe a bit of the old cloak and dagger routine, but this?!

“Agent Harris. Miss Lawson.” The man in the tailored suit shook hands with Harris, and a polite bow to Vicki, who returned it with one of her own. “I see you've both been informed of Oberon's....summons.”

“How is he?” Vicki asked---too quickly even for her own liking. “....I mean.....ah....”

“Three meals a day, supervised access to the bathing facilities between the hours of 6 PM and 10:30 PM, and at least three hours to himself. Those detained here aren't your garden-variety criminal, Miss Lawson.”

“I figured that.....” Those three words, along with anything else she could think to say, sounded far too small and insignificant for Vicki's liking. “....I've, ah, never really heard of this place, before now,” she continued. “I didn't even know it existed---”

“Because you had no need to know of its existance before now, Miss Lawson.” The man in the tailored suit turned his head a fraction of an inch, nodding to one of the men in grey (I wonder if Publius used to be one of them? Vicki pondered), who moved swiftly and silently into the hallway that, until that point, Vicki hadn't even noticed. Whereas the chamber she currently stood in was polished black, the hallway beyond was its exact opposite---the walls, ceiling and floors were polished white tile. A pithy comment about “must be hell to keep all that clean” formed and died on the brunette gynoid's lips in the span of a microsecond.

“You'll need to sign the appropriate paperwork, before we can move on....”

The mention of paperwork snapped Vicki out of her somewhat dazed state; just staring into the room with the white tiles made her feel....weird. If she'd been human, the closest approximation would've been a mild, yet palpable sensation of nausea.

“I forgot to mention,” Harris quietly remarked, keeping pace with the gynoid as he spoke. “Some of the rooms in this place are wired with countermeasures–some a bit more subtle than others. Some affect humans, others affect androids and gynoids....” His posture, even as he walked, made it clear that if Vicki were to find herself overwhelmed by the countermeasures, he'd be at her side in an instant. “Not even Dragontown has some of the things they use here.”

A vague memory of Matthew Emmerich Hannsen–also known and hated as the Maestro–having been locked up in Dragontown made its way to the forefront of Vicki's thought processes, and was just as quickly pushed aside. “So nobody's ever escaped from here?”

Harris smirked. “Put it this way: the last time anyone tried, they had to hire people to break in to get them out.”

“I'm guessing it didn't end well for them,” Vicki quietly replied. “How prepared were the ones who broke in---”

A click at the far end of the hall, sounding far too similar to a gun cocking, cut her off.

“Poorly,” the man in the tailored suit informed her; a few steps behind him, two of the men in grey had turned a set of keys (the source of the click Vicki had heard) to open yet another door. “Allow me to apologize, by the way, for the intensity of the electronic countermeasures put in place in this particular room...after the incident at ALPA headquarters, it was decided our own security needed a marginal upgrade....”

Every word after “poorly” sounded like it was coming from above water---and Vicki felt like she was already six feet under water, and being dragged further down with every passing second. She took a step, then managed one more before her legs decided to just take a break and stop carrying her forward; her arms felt heavier than she remembered, and even the act of turning her head to look behind her had become a Herculean effort all on its own. “I....I can handle.....” Her own voice sounded far away, and the room was starting to spin....the sounds of several sets of footsteps rushing towards her seemed almost nonexistant---

---but the ding that sounded in her ears a split-second later was anything but.

Even as the world around her returned to a sense of nominal, managable clarity, Vicki realized she wasn't standing in the white room anymore---and that she wasn't even standing up at all. Two of the men in grey were on either side of her---not reaching for their weapons, but positioned to hoist her up by the arms if need be. Harris had already grabbed her left hand, and the man in the tailored suit was actually looking at her now, somewhat concerned.

“.....anyone want to tell me what just happened?” she asked. “One minute, I was fine, and the next...”

“Like I said,” Harris replied, helping her to her feet, “the countermeasures in this place can really do a number on you if you're not ready. Preston should've been a bit more specific...”

The question of who Harris was talking about remained unspoken---the man in the tailored suit nodded in Vicki's direction. “Director Gareth Preston, at your service, Miss Lawson. And I apologize, again, for the lack of disclosure regarding our countermeasures and's my understanding that your own...connective sense, so to speak, with the world around you has expanded greatly over the past few months.”

I was wondering when that would come back to bite me.... “It has. I just....I never thought it would be a liability or least, not like this.”

“If you need to adjust your settings, Miss Lawson, this room is can use this time for a bit of fine tuning while Agent Harris fills out his set of paperwork.” Even as Director Preston spoke, Harris had already been approached by a lithe, pale blonde in a slate-grey pencil skirt and white dress shirt who handed over both a clipboard and a tablet computer of an unknown make and model. “Policy dictates that all hardware used in the building be manufactured in-house, to prevent potential compromise,” Preston explained.

“Fair enough,” Vicki mused. “Does that policy extend to certain staff members, as well?” She glanced at the blonde, who'd already turned on her heel and walked away; it was hard to tell if her exquisite calves and thighs, so expertly emphasized by her skirt, were the product of healthy living and a daily exercise regime, or had been tooled and sculpted to fit over a lightweight framework housing a complex servo assembly.

“I'm afraid I can't disclose all the secrets of this facility, Miss Lawson,” Preston admitted, just as Harris finished with the clipboard and tablet PC. “Your turn,” he informed Vicki, handing over both items. “You need to check your software or anything before we go on?”

“Give me a sec....” The brunette gynoid closed her eyes....opening them five seconds later. “Done.”

“Did you actually do anything?” Harris inquired, frowning. “That, even for you.”

“What can I say, nobody knows me better than...well, me...” Vicki rolled her eyes. “Where do I sign?”

Harris glanced over his shoulder at Director Preston. “Just give her a minute....”
Part 3 arrives on Thursday :D
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Fri Apr 06, 2018 6:39 am

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Missed the deadline by that much....engh.
“Okay, so here's where we're at so far. We're looking at about....30% salvagable parts, at best. Power cells are completely shot, so all we can do is get them out of her. Exoderm layer....pretty much the same thing. I'm still amazed that her face didn't get completely---”

A loud cough cut off Ted's run-through of Casey's condition; Kylie was staring at him from her spot on the sofa.

“To make a long story short,” Anton finished, “and probably reiterate what we've already gone through, Casey's rebuild is going to take a while. HQ has a team working on the spectrum analysis of the Helios strain that did this to her, but....” He paused, wringing his hands as he considered whether or not to continue.

“You can give us the uncensored version, Professor,” Rae sighed---looking a fair deal calmer than she'd been during the initial report. The fact that she was stretched out on the sofa, with her head resting in Kylie's lap, more than likely had something to do with it. “We can handle it....isn't that right?” She cast a lazy glance up at Kylie, grinning.

Ted coughed and turned away slightly. “ I was saying,” Anton continued, “the spectrum analysis on the Helios strain hasn't been going all that well, and it won't even get us to the root of the problem. We know for a fact that it was the Helios virus that did this---which means that, whatever our next move is, we'll be in direct conflict with the ones who own it. United Robotronics still owns all the rights and patents for Helios, and seeing as how they just had a 'corporate restructuring', going after them will put us in direct conflict with their new CEO....” He let the remark trail off, waiting for someone to state the obvious.

Predictably, nobody spoke up.

“.....we can't prove they had anything to do with it,” he finished. “If they didn't, we'll face litigation. Even if they did, they'll hire the best attorneys in the Valley to make the charges go away---”

“We can't even get them charged,” Ted cut in. “We don't know where–-”

A light cough from the other side of the room interrupted him. “As much as I hate the cliché,” Alicia admitted, “we do have a third option. Casey was just finishing up with a field op before the meeting, right?”

“.....I believe she drove straight here from the field op,” Anton began, “but why---”

“I didn't let her run a self-diagnostic.” Kylie held a hand to her mouth in silent shock. “On the ride back, she had a twinge....I told her the car was shielded....she would've....” Tears welled up in her eyes. “....I told her to wait until we got here.....”

“A self-diagnostic wouldn't have done anything to save her,” Alicia quietly informed her. “At best, she would've known she was infected and told you to drive her to the middle of an empty parking lot so she wouldn't risk hurting anyone else when she....well, went up like she did---and at worst, the scan wouldn't have found any traces of the Helios code, so it wouldn't have made a difference....”

Rae sat up, putting an arm around Kylie's shoulder. “I think what she's trying to say,” she murmured, “is that you don't need to blame yourself for this. It wasn't your fault.”

“Then why does it feel like it is?!”

“We can discuss that later,” Anton informed her. “Right now, we need to focus on rebuilding Casey, and once that's done, we can get back to the matter of dealing with whoever or whatever got her infected with Helios to begin with.” He sighed. “I know this is....difficult,” he quietly added, “but you telling Casey not to run a self-diagnostic in the car didn't change anything The clock started ticking as soon as she got infected....I hate to put it in such a blunt term---”

“Then don't,” Kylie spat. “You're just sitting there, acting like.....”

Rae's hands gently took hold of Kylie's shoulders, returning the favor of the earlier massage by kneading the flesh and muscles. “Just relax, babe,” the chestnut-haired gynoid whispered. “Cool down and relax....”

Even as tears streamed down her face, Kylie nodded silently.

“.....right.” Anton decided to let the topic of Casey's imminent demise drop; “Her new chassis is being delivered as we speak,” he stated, “and we've already got a, ah, 'backup' of her face on hand---”

“If you're going to say that the rebuild won't take long,” Alicia cut in, “then allow me to remind you that you said it would take a while earlier today–-probably earlier this hour.” There was no anger in her voice–-on the contrary, she sounded almost bored. “We get it. Though I'd love to know where your people are able to get a replacement face for her at such short notice....”

Anton frowned. “We have her specs on file. Her...situation...required that we keep---”

“Her 'situation'?” Alicia echoed, chuckling humorlessly. “So her finding out she was all wires, tubes and metal on the inside, running away from boarding school and being effectively disowned by her 'family'---who, by the way, just bought another model to replace her–-is a 'situation'?”

“Alicia, please---”

“Don't 'please' me, Anton.” No trace of the blonde gynoid's earlier smile remained. “Casey was never meant for a combat role in field ops....she just so happened to have a knack for hitting whatever she aimed at–-pretty easy, when she saw the faces of the ones who ditched her on every target. So before you get on your high horse...” She crossed the room, advancing towards the roboticist. “...and tell us all anything more about her 'situation'....”

A mere two feet away from Anton, Alicia extended a finger and poked him right in the sternum.

“....try to remember that she was somebody's daughter, once,” she finished. “Not just your next repair job---”

Anton's hand closed around her wrist. “I know.

“Ah, can we maybe, ah, not turn this into a confrontation right now?” Ted interjected. “We all know Casey had a rough time before the ALPA---”

“Tell her.” Anton's voice was a harsh croak, almost a sob. “Tell her, Ted.”

“About Casey's family, or---”

About mine.

Ted's eyes widened. “, we made a promise---”

“A promise to a man currently in the custody of the High Council, overseas, who has no authority to enforce the terms of that promise.” Anton's voice was shaking, as was the hand that gripped Alicia's wrist. “Either you tell her or---”

A trilling series of notes from Ted's right hip pocket cut him off. “....I, ah, have to take this....”

Before anyone could say anything else, Anton let go of Alicia's wrist, shoving her arm away and turning on his heel towards the kitchen. Rae, still massaging Kylie's shoulders, watched him leave without a word; Alicia just stood there, dumbstruck.

“....I'll just, ah, take this upstairs,” Ted muttered, heading for the stairwell. “Won't be but a minute...”

Once he was out of earshot of Kylie, Rae and Alicia (and, of course, Anton), Ted retrieved his phone. “Who's calling me at a time like this,” he groaned, swiping his finger to take the call. “Ted Lawson speaking---”

I thought we dispensed with the formal greetings over the phone during my first semester at SJSU, Dad.

“Vicki?! I'm...I thought you...Harris told me they wouldn't allow phone calls---”

Seeing as how my security clearance checks out, they didn't have a problem with me making a long-distance call---and they do allow phone calls for anyone with proper clearance, Dad. I'm not an inmate here.” There was a hint of a smirk in the brunette gynoid's voice. “....anyway, I'm calling because you apparently wanted Harris to tell me to call as soon as I got settled in, so....”

A few seconds of brain-wracking allowed Ted to remember that he had, in fact, passed a note to Harris the day before Vicki's departure. “Sweety, I'm so sorry, I nearly forgot! We've been working on rebuilding Casey, and there were a few, ah, outbursts from both Kylie and Rae.....”

You don't have to give me the full story. And you were running on almost no sleep when Casey...well...

“Exactly. I am, after all, only can forgive me for a few small missteps and missed memories.”

A giggle sounded from the other end of the line. “Seeing as how I'm the one who nearly forgot to call you, I'll accept that as our shared apology....anyway, how's everything else holding up?

“Well, other than the aforementioned outbursts---”

A shout from the kitchen, followed by something shattering against a wall, cut him off.

Another outburst?” Vicki's question held equal measures of sarcasm and concern.

“....Anton's in a bit of a mood,” Ted quietly admitted. “He had a stare down with Alicia, some harsh words were's best if I don't go into the details on an open line---”

I'm calling from my line, Dad. It's as far from 'open' as you can get.

“....I just don't want Anton to get me, or at anyone here.”

Pretty sure that throwing a plate across the room doesn't qualify as 'zen-like calm'....”

“How'd you---”

The 13-inch serving plate we used that one Thanksgiving, until Joan got a closer look at the floral pattern on it and said it looked---and I quote---unbelievably tacky. Last I saw of it, we were trying to sell it before our trip to Oregon....and if you're curious, the diameter and thickness of the plate would account for the somewhat heavy crashing sound it made when it hit the wall.

Ted couldn't help but chuckle. “....every time I forget what you can do, you remind me in the craziest ways.”

I'll take that as a compliment. Anyway, I have to go---Director Preston said the first meeting with, well, him is in a few want me to call you again after it's over?

“If they don't have a problem with it.”

They won't. Stay safe, you!

“Love you too, Vicki.” With a sigh, Ted ended the call. “Better go check on Anton..”
Part 4 arrives tomorrow....and this time, I'll do the best I can to not miss the deadline.
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Sun Apr 08, 2018 9:10 am

“They won't. Stay safe, you!”

Love you too, Vicki.”

The brunette gynoid swiped the screen on her phone, chuckling slightly; despite the apparent severity of what she'd heard from the kitchen (I need to ask Dad just how I could hear something like that so clearly through a tiny little smartphone speaker, she mused), things back home were a lot less....ominous, than she'd expected.

“Well, that's my call done,” she declared, falling back on her appointed bed with a sigh. The room she'd been assigned (and was sharing with Agent Harris) was by no means a prison cell---it looked more like something out of a reasonably priced hotel, complete with two beds, a bathroom and a minifridge. “I'm guessing you're done with yours?”

“I didn't make mine,” Harris replied, frowning. “I've spent the last ten minutes going through my e-mail...”

“Spam avalanche?” Vicki teased. “Or something else?”

“Something else.” Harris wasn't smiling. “I keep telling them not to send anything family-related over this line, but every other day....” He shook his head. “They want me to help plan a birthday party...what would be a good place for them to have lunch, where could they go to have about two hours of fun, which entertainment rental service has the least people with a criminal record.....all that stuff. Last birthday party I planned for anyone under 20, the clown showed up late and I got a 3-year ban from the Freddy Fazbear's Pizza over in Mountain View because somebody else's kid got in a fight with my nephew in the ball pit.”

Vicki couldn't help but giggle. “I didn't think any Freddy Fazbear's Pizza restaurants had a ball pit...”

“That one used to be part of another franchise....don't even ask how I know that.” Harris rolled his eyes as he continued scrolling through e-mails. “Sister-in-law thinks her 'champion'---she never says 'my husband' or 'my spouse', it's always 'my champion'---she thinks he's seeing someone on the side....and then right above that is an e-mail from the 'champion' in question, telling me how 'she's paranoid, she thinks I'm cheating on her any time my sister shows up, we have family business out of town'....”

“Why, exactly, does she call him her 'champion'?” Vicki inquired.

“Amateur MMA fighter. Undefeated, so far....”

“That explains it.....also, back to the ball pit thing: I actually worked at a Freddy Fazbear's restaurant, once.”

Harris arched an eyebrow. “You worked at a Freddy Fazbear's?”

“It was my first job after high school....I worked there for a few months in 1994. I was the 'on-site, general purpose maintenance manager', in addition to at least an hour of kitchen work per day...the kitchen work was no problem. Getting bitten on the arm by freaking Foxy the Pirate Fox, on the other hand...”

It was Harris' turn to laugh. “You got bitten? By Foxy?”

“They said I had to clean him off with compressed air and a power scrubber...apparently, someone 'nudged' a switch while I was midway through spraying him with air freshener.” Vicki rolled her eyes at the memory; “I tried for about fifteen minutes to keep my right arm out of sight whenever the managers were around,” she mused, “but that backfired on my last hour of kitchen duty---apparently, they'd just put in those 'safety hinges' on every single oven door. The ones that pull it back up if you lose your grip and it's not open all the way...”

“So the bitten arm got fried, too,” Harris finished. “Must've been a hell of a shift...”

Vicki rolled her eyes again. “My shift manager was also my best friend at the time, so nobody else found out.”

“Lucky you....they didn't fire you after that?”

“Well, Ted put in a good word with....” Vicki let her explanation trail off; the keycard lock on the door to her room (all thoughts on semantics and the fact that she was sharing the room with Harris were pushed aside) lit up with a trilling sound, just as the door opened to reveal two of the men in grey, as well as Director Preston.

“Miss Lawson. Mister Harris.” Preston nodded to each of them in turn.

“Director.” Harris turned off his phone, stowing it in a pants pocket. “We were just---”

“Making phone calls, checking e-mails and having a conversation,” Vicki finished. “I called Dad---my Ted...I mean, Ted Lawson,”

Preston's lips twitched in the slightest hint of a frown. “I merely wished to inform you that the Visitation Room is now open...the accused will be waiting for you, should you chose to stop by later on.” He turned to leave; “I would also like to remind you,” he added, “that conducting personal business within your quarters is not a violation of policy, despite the contrary---”

“So we can see him now?”

Director Preston's hand was on the door pull when Vicki had asked her question. “ wish to speak to the accused now?”

“....well, I mean....why wait? We came all this way to talk to him...the visitation room is open, like you said...”

The men in grey glanced at each other, then at the Director. “....if you're sure you wish to speak to him now, Miss Lawson, then I see no reason to deny you your request.” He stepped aside. “Ladies first....”

“And me second.” Harris moved to follow Vicki, but one of the men in grey stepped forward.

“.....the accused had requested to speak with Miss Lawson first,” Director Preston informed him. “Alone.”

“It'll be fine, Harris,” the brunette gynoid assured her colleague. “I won't do anything stupid.”

“That's not what I'm worried about,” Harris murmured, his stare focused on the Director. “Has he shown any signs of...aggression? Anything like what happened after his arrest?”

“Not since his incarceration. He's been....relatively calm, since being brought here. He was....muttering, a day ago, with a fair bit of weeping, as well....but it wasn't as bad as anything from just after his arrival. He hasn't made any effort to attack staff members, or been openly hostile.....”

“.....just make sure nothing gets out of hand.” Harris nodded towards Vicki. “Ted wouldn't forgive me...”

Vicki nearly rolled her eyes, but decided---in the presence of Director Preston and his grey-clad guards---to settle instead for a light sigh. “They've got more than enough security to make sure things won't get out of hand,” she assured her colleague. “I'll be fine.”

“We have eight guards stationed around the upper deck of the visitation room,” Director Preston added. “If anything happens...”

“I get the picture. Vicki....stay safe.”

“I will.”

With that, Director Preston motioned for Vicki to follow him out, keeping pace behind the two men in grey.

The hotel look that Vicki had equated to her shared room continued through the corridors---until she followed Director Preston through a single security door. Beyond that, the sterile white tiles on every surface---not unlike the corridor in which she'd first “encountered” the facility's countermeasures---returned.

Whatever her expectations, the brunette gynoid found herself somewhat surprised by how....quiet the corridors seemed to be. There was the predictable air of menace, as if one wrong step would find her staring down a rifle barrel, but nothing that outwardly suggested the place was out of the ordinary. Even the cold sterility, the almost paplable, antiseptic sense of aggressive cleanliness that pervaded the corridors, felt tempered. This place was unfamiliar, almost foreign....but at the same time, it It felt safe.

“I should mention,” Director Preston stated, “that the accused has been expecting you.”

“....expecting me?” Vicki echoed. “As in....he knew I'd be here?”

“He anticipated your arrival. My earlier statement---regarding the wishes of the accused to speak with you alone---were conveyed without his knowledge of your presence in this facility....since his arrival here, he made it clear that he expected you to 'drop in', at some unspecified point in the future.”

“So he's been waiting for me,” Vicki muttered. “That....doesn't sound promising.”

At the end of the last of many long halls (after about five or six angled turns that, Vicki reasoned, were meant to keep “guests” from figuring out the exact direction they were traveling in), the Director stepped aside, gesturing for Vicki to do the same. The two grey-clad guards stepped past them, retrieving objects from their coats that, at first, looked like knives or bayonets....until the men in grey approached what looked like slits in the wall. Pretty big for a set of keys, Vicki surmised, except there's nothing to turn---

The guards pressed the keys inwards, twisted them slightly, then pulled them back---with each key taking a cylindrical section of its respective wall with it, accompanied by the sounds of pistons and motors.

Both men in grey glanced over their shoulders at Director Preston, whose only reply was a silent nod.

As Vicki watched, the two turned the cylinders---clockwise, for the one on the left, and counter-clockwise for the one on the right---before pushing them back into the wall.

Before the question of “where's the door?” could be asked, the floor shook.....then began to descend.

“The visitation room and containment areas were...relocated,” Director Preston explained, as if he knew what Vicki was about to ask. “Despite our best efforts, there have been security breaches in the past...moving all of our containment rooms was the first step to solving the problem.”

“What about the decision to move the visitation room?”

“A precaution.”

There was something in those two words that greatly unsettled the brunette gynoid, but she said nothing.

“One more bit of advice, before we reach containment and visitation,” Director Preston added, his voice almost a murmur. “It would be in all of our best interests that you not...stray...during your visit. Things tend to go awry rather quickly in those situations....”

Vicki tried to think of a reply to that rather odd request, but stayed silent as the floor's descent began to slow.

“If you'll follow me, Miss Lawson....”

The brunette gynoid nodded, following Director Preston towards the waiting visitation room.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm not going to post the "Next part in [insert day here]" bit anymore, because I keep missing my own deadlines....engh. Still, there WILL be more going up this week.
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Tue Apr 10, 2018 2:30 pm

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Another "explanation chapter", with a lot of that "lore" people seem to be fans of.
As he stared up at the sky, waiting for Alicia and Anton's latest shouting match to come to an end, Ted found himself thankful to whoever or whatever was responsible for him not developing a smoking habit---as it stood, with fifteen minutes having passed between Anton emerging from the kitchen (committed, in his own words, to making an attempt at rebuilding Casey) and a minor quip touching off another round of hostilities with Alicia, it wasn't unlikely that Ted would've smoked his way through at least half a pack of cigarettes waiting for the two to sort out their grievances.

Humming, thankfully, was far less hazardous to one's health...even if his “playlist” tended to veer more towards the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival and other classic rock than some would've expected.

Halfway through a verse of “Looking Out My Back Door”, Ted stopped---an official-looking car had rolled to a stop in front of the house, the front passenger-side door already opening. The mantra of “Whatever it is, it's not Vicki's fault” found its way to his lips as he tentatively approached the vehicle---ever since Vicki had received her new look, Ted had always dreaded a surprise visit from ALPA “representatives”, on account of something his daughter may have done.

The first person out of the car was someone he didn't recognize---a young man, more than likely in his mid-to-late 20s, in a red-trimmed black coat that looked both prohibitively expensive and specifically designed for his own tastes. The black dress shirt, red vest (with actual gold buttons, Ted noticed), patterned red tie and Oxford shoes barely concealed by the hem of the young man's black dress pants lent an air of sophistication to his that clashed sharply with the rather grim set to his brow, and the frown on his lips. He pulled a pair of thin-rimmed, rectangular-framed glasses from a coat pocket, glancing over his shoulder at the driver of the car---Collin DuBraul, the soon-to-be President of the ALPA, and son of the current (soon to be former) President.

“Ah, anyhelp I can thing you with?” Ted inquired---immediately cursing himself for the flub. “I mean, ah, any thing I can help you....with....” The young man was now frowning at him. “Sorry, I'm just---”

“No need to apologize, Ted,” Collin sighed, fully extricating himself from his seatbelt. “You weren't expecting visitors, and all of a sudden we show up.” He flashed a quick smile. “If Vicki was still Stateside, I'm sure it would've been her sitting outside, trying to get away from---” He flinched, slightly, as the sound of another plate hitting a wall inside Ted's house cut him off. “ get away from that,” he finished.

“And you brought me all the way out here,” the young man in the black coat muttered. “I had my own method of transportation---”

“We talked about this,” Collin reminded him, bidding him to be calm with a hand gesture, just as Ted walked over to introduce himself. “Ted Lawson, founder of Lawson Robotics and, ah, sitting member of the Silicon Valley board of the ALPA.” He held out a hand.

The young man arched an eyebrow. “....the ALPA has a board?”

“Had,” Collin chimed in. “We had to dissolve it three years turns out that territorial boards, much like the old system of territories in professional wrestling, was a lost cause. Ted just forgot to take it off of all his business cards.” He grinned again. “Common mistake to make.”

After a second or two of silence, the young man shook Ted's hand. “Pleased to finally meet you, Mr. Lawson.”

“Just Ted, please...I never could get used to honorary titles. Plus, 'Mr. Lawson' sounds a little too much like 'Mr. Wilson' for my liking...” Ted laughed at the self-depreciatory humor, stopping when he realized the young man was now staring at him as if he'd just said something like “the fourth moon is in the seventh inning”. He nodded, as if to acknowledge his own gaffe. “I tend to tell bad jokes when I get nervous,” he admitted. “A hard habit to break....”

“But not a dangerous one,” Collin finished. “Ted, allow me to introduce you to the doctor---”

“Doctor?” Ted echoed. “Doctor who, exactly?”

“Smith. John Smith.” The young man gave a quick smile, shaking Ted's hand one last time.

“It's not his real name, by the way,” Collin added, earning a scowl from “Dr. Smith”. “He prefers to keep his work with For tax reasons.”

Ted made a face at the “tax reasons” remark, but Dr. Smith actually chuckled. “'Tax reasons'?” he echoed.

“You told me not to say 'personal reasons',” Collin acquiesced. “He showed up at HQ when the call went out about Clive......about my father's condition....” He paused for a moment, frowning. “Ah, is there any chance we can take this discussion inside, or---”

Another shout from Anton, followed by Alicia screaming something personal (and vulgar) in reply, cut him off.

“We can use the treehouse,” Ted suggested---again, hating himself for even thinking it. “Ah, I mean---”

“Treehouse?” Dr. Smith echoed, arching an eyebrow. “I've never been to an official meeting in a treehouse before....” He paused, glancing down at his hand---still gripping Ted's own. “...handshakes don't usually last longer than a few seconds, right?” he quietly asked.

“What? OH, the hand....” Ted immediately let go of the young man's hand, backing away a step. “Sorry, I was just...distracted....” Another round of yelling from Anton and Alicia punctuated his claim. “, yeah, the treehouse. It's still in one piece, amazingly---even the earthquake didn't damage it all that much!”

“Your house got hit by the Loma Prieta quake?” Dr. Smith inquired.

“Less 'hit' and more 'heavily damaged', but yes. Thankfully, we were able to rebuild pretty quickly---we even took the opportunity to upgrade.” He grinned. “Joanie never thought the house would look good with a second floor, but---”

Collin gave a quiet, almost polite cough, nodding to the treehouse.

“Ah, right. The meeting, in the treehouse....” Ted sighed, leading the way up to the ladder. “Had to reinforce the thing after one of Jamie's classmates tried to start a fight in it,” he recalled, carefully ascending the plank ladder. “And Joanie insisted that I treat the wood to make sure nobody got splinters....” After twenty seconds of climbing (most of it due to the aches and pains of old age steadily reminding Ted that he was but mortal, and would one day pass from this life---which he usually drowned out with work and/or whatever he could blast from headphones while engaging in his favorite hobbies), Ted pulled himself into the treehouse. “It's perfectly safe!” he called down to Collin and Dr. Smith. “Floor's reinforced, the branches won't snap....”

Dr. Smith rolled his eyes. “Every time I get called out here, something fun happens....”

“Calling you is a lot better the alternative,” Collin reminded him. “'s a treehouse. A treehouse---”

“All right, all get to relive some long-lost fond memory, and I get to experience the joys of not falling about 20 feet.” Dr. Smith sighed. “While I'm thinking about it, would it have sounded weird if I said my first name was Zachary?” The question earned a smirk from Collin. “He probably would've made a 'danger, Will Robinson' joke....”

Dr. Smith rolled his eyes. “Just climb the ladder already....”

Collin made his way up the ladder, followed soon after by Dr. Smith. It was more than a bit bizarre for both of them---and for Ted, who was used to conducting meetings in boardrooms, or at the very least over a restaurant table or even in his own home. Holding an impromptu treehouse conference, for all three of them.

“Right, now that we',” Collin began, “we can go into more.....” He paused. “The sound from in here doesn't carry across the fence, does it---”

“Clive DuBraul is dying,” Dr. Smith cut in. “ALM, also known as 'Widowmaker's Disease''s killed off almost 50% of the males in his family bloodline, and it's killing him now.” He stared at the plank floor of the treehouse, his expression inscrutable. “He's got....two weeks, if we're being generous---three days, if he's lucky.”

Ted's eyes went wide. “Three days?!”

“We've been asked to notify all prominent members of the ALPA,” Collin explained. “Given your involvement in recent events, you more than qualify as 'prominent'.” He retrieved an envelope from his coat pocket; “Sorry it has to be done in such a cloak-and-dagger fashion,” he apologized, “but after the breach at HQ, we needed to take precautions.”

“....and this is...what, exactly?” Ted quietly asked.

“The combination to a locker at San Jose International Airport. You'll find more information inside---”

“You can't just tell me now?” Ted insisted. “This is...I knew Clive, and he wouldn't want to go through all of this James Bond nonsense just to give me his last.....his last message.....” He stared at the envelope in his hand.

“He didn't want to have to pull a James Bond,” Collin admitted. “Things have changed since you joined–-”

“I know they have, I just.....” Ted stared through the treehouse window, trying to focus his thoughts. “I didn't think they'd changed this much....” The view of the yard and driveway offered a tantalizing reminder of years past---happier times, and places.....

A hand rested on his shoulder. “You okay?” Dr. Smith quietly asked.

“I was just...I was remembering so many of the crazy things that happened in the old days,” Ted replied. “All the times the Brindles nearly found out what Vicki was...Fernwald showing up every so often, just to make sure Vicki was okay...” He gave a half-snort of derision. “I was still convinced Vicki had the potential to be United Robotronics' best-selling product, once I worked out all the bugs....but Joanie never saw her that way. In her eyes, Vicki was a daughter first and foremost---never a 'thing'.”

“And you think everything happening with Clive will somehow affect Vicki?” Dr. Smith ventured.

“Clive DuBraul was one of the two people who approved of Vicki's induction into the ALPA as a field agent...the other is currently in a secured room in a facility somewhere overseas.” Ted sighed. “It's all just so...”

Collin leaned against a wall of the treehouse, resting his hands behind his head. “Different?”

“Exactly. It's different, and it's strange, and I'm starting to think it's leaving me behind....”

Dr. Smith moved to get a better view through the treehouse window. “Time has a way of creeping up on a lot of people without their noticing it,” he admitted. “You feel like everything's fine and dandy one minute, and going to hell in a handbasket the next, then back to relative normality....” He gave a slight chuckle. “I know the feeling, Ted. Believe me, I know it....but you can't let that feeling overwhelm you.” He glanced at the plain white envelope Collin had given Ted; “And even if you don't approve of the....James Bond approach,” he added, “you're going to look back on this one day and realize it wasn't that big of a deal---”

“I still don't know why I need to go to a random airport locker,” Ted insisted. “Collin never mentioned that part when he gave me the envelope!”

Dr. Smith glanced at Collin, who rolled his eyes. “No time like the present, then....”

He steepled his fingers, sighing. “You remember the breach of ALPA HQ?”

“I've been trying to forget it,” Ted muttered, “but....yeah. I remember.”

“And you remember what was taken?”

“.....the list, and---”

“It was more than the List, Ted. A lot more.” Collin glanced at Dr. Smith; “Seeing as how you're only on-staff for the remainder of the week,” he mused, “you might want to, ah....”

“Anything you have to say now, I'll take to my grave,” the doctor replied. “Cross my hearts, hope to die.”

Ted nodded in agreement---then stopped. “What did you just---”

“Cross my heart, hope to die. That's still an expression, right?”

“....yeah....but I, forget it. Collin, if you would....”

With another sigh, Collin continued. “The delicate nature of some of the stolen items from the breach means that we can't simply call in every active field agent to go hunting down each individual article to get them all back....some of them will have to be destroyed. Clive knew, before his condition took a turn for the worse, that we might have to exercise this particular option---and he insisted that you, in particular, be entrusted with carrying out one particular set of objectives.” He nodded at the envelope in Ted's hand. “The locker you have the combination to contains everything you'll need to carry out Clive's request, as well as an explanation of that request. Six others have been given similar envelopes---”

“And before you ask,” Dr. Smith cut in, “the fact that seven people are carrying out his last wishes happens to be a coincidence. I think the number was going to be eleven, but apparently, he considered that 'your' number, or something....” He shrugged.

Ted couldn't help but chuckle. “I guess he knew me all too there are six lockers at the airport?”

“Yours is the only one there. There are others all around San Jose---one at Spartan Stadium, one at the San Jose Convention Center, one at the HP Pavilion....I can't list them all, for security reasons---”

The sound of a door being flung open hard enough for the pull to hit the wall stopped Collin in his tracks; Ted and Dr. Smith scrambled to get a look out of the treehouse window just in time to see Anton nearly collapse in a sitting position on the front steps of the Lawson house, his face buried in his hands. “....ah, do we need to go make sure he's okay,” Dr. Smith offered, “or do we just....” His question trailed off---the chestnut-haired figure of Rae Clarke emerged from the still-open front door, sitting down next to Anton and resting a hand on his shoulder. “....I guess we keep going, then,” the doctor mused.

“I guess we keep going,” Ted echoed; below, Rae was whispering something in Anton's ear, followed by the roboticist pulling her in for a tearful embrace.

“I know you have pressing business to attend to regarding this rebuild project,” Collin informed him, “and if you need some time to finish that before you handle Clive's....” He paused. “ handle my father's request, then just tell me now---”

“Can we not drag the whole 'I didn't speak to him for five years' thing into this discussion, please?” Dr. Smith muttered. “You had your problems with him, he told you to stay out of the ALPA's business, you ignored him and came back---”

He noticed Ted staring at him, and Collin counting the ceiling planks of the treehouse.

“.....and I get the distinct feeling I've said something stupid,” the doctor realized. “I'll just....I'll go to the car---”

“You can stay in the treehouse until we're done talking,” Collin declared---somewhat impressive, considering the words came out in a half-yawn. “My issues with my father are mine to bear....but if Ted wants the details, I'll tell him. In any case....” He steepled his fingers. “My father's request may not seem to be that high of a priority, compared to the issue with Epsilon...but it is his last request, apart from whatever he's written into his will. He'd have told you in person,” he added, glancing at Ted, “if it wasn't for the whole 'not long for this world' thing, and all....”

Ted nodded. “I'm just glad he passed the message on through you.....if I didn't know, I'd have kicked myself for months on end....” He glanced back down, to where Anton and Rae were still conversing at the front door.

“Everyone's handling this in different ways,” Dr. Smith mused. “Some better than others.”

“It's not about how Anton's 'handling' it,” Ted muttered. “It's....we made a promise to Clive. Not quite a 'blood oath' or anything like that, but...something happened.” He turned away from the treehouse window. “Anton suffered a lot....lost a lot, and nearly lost even more. We were basically handed an opportunity to get back at the ones---some of the ones who'd...inflicted, I don't even know if that's the term, but it's the way he said it...who inflicted this loss upon him. And we used that opportunity.” There was a bitterness to the words, a feeling that, at one point, Ted had been proud of his actions---and now hated himself for ever even thinking that way. “We did....things. Some of which weren't especially legal, and some of which would've landed us in jail if we'd ever been caught.....”

He glanced back at his house, ignoring Anton and Rae on the doorstep. “....things even Joan doesn't know.”

“And you're telling us this.....why?” the doctor prompted.

“Because back then, Anton and I thought we were in the right,” Ted replied. “We truly believed we had done something good....something we could be proud of. And Clive swore us both to secrecy....not just for what we'd done, but for what had happened to Anton's family in the first place.” He shook his head. “By the time the truth started to set was just after we'd taken back United Robotronics from Fa---from William Rengold III, and....” He made a few small, fleeting gestures with his hands. “I knew. It 'clicked', and I just...I knew.”

Collin and Dr. Smith waited for him to continue. “And when you...'knew'.....what---”

“I couldn't tell Joan, or Brandon, or anyone. Lawson Robotics was just an idea, back then....if I'd told anyone what had happened, what Anton and I had done.....” Ted dragged a hand over his face, as if trying to ward off the lingering memories of what had happened. “It was after I'd joined the ALPA that I finally told Clive.”

“What about Anton?” Collin inquired.

“He might've told him before I did, I don't know. I never asked...because we didn't talk about it. Ever.”

“And I don't suppose you'll tell us,” the doctor began, only to wither under Ted's glare. “.....never mind.”

“He never brought it up with you, I'm guessing,” Ted mused, turning his attention back to Collin. “Otherwise, there'd be a full squad below the treehouse to haul me in for questioning, and Anton would probably be making a run for the border...”

“He only mentioned 'certain subjects' that needed to be....addressed,” Collin admitted. “Nothing about anything or anyone specific.”

Ted nodded. “So he didn't elaborate on what those 'certain subjects' were?”

“All I know is what he told me....and he didn't tell me a whole lot.”

“.....he'd say he didn't want to burden you with the knowledge,” Ted muttered. “Knowing him, he'd use those exact words....”

Collin checked his watch. “Not to be rude, or anything, but we have to be going. Dr. Smith....”

“I'm hoping that Corlette girl has the car running,” the doctor replied. “If the seats are cold---”

“Corlette?” Ted echoed, frowning. “Who's---”

“Crystal Corlette,” Collin explained. “Coppery-red hair, light tan....she was Oberon's assistant, before she got a transfer to HQ. She stayed on after his arrest....apparently, he didn't want her 'fighting his battles for her' or something---she told me as much before we got here.”

“Exposition dump later,” Dr. Smith sighed. “Warm car offense, Ted, but the treehouse is a bit drafty.”

“It hasn't been used in years....Joan never did ask me to tear it down, or anything.” The remark sounded sad, even to Ted. “I just....I figured it'd be a nice reminder of the old days, when things were...simple. For all of us.”

The doctor nearly said something, but instead nodded thoughtfully.

“I suppose we'll leave you to your work, then,” Collin stated. “Rebuilding Agent Casey, and all....”

“I'll do what I can.” Ted shook hands with Collin and Dr. Smith---not an easy task, in the cramped quarters of the treehouse---and allowed them to climb down the rope ladder first. Just as Collin had his foot on the first rung, however, Ted stopped him. “.....I never did fully explain to Joan what joining the ALPA means for us,” he admitted. “She only just found out when she came back from her lottery trip, in December....”

Collin sighed. “You'll have to tell her eventually, Ted. At least tell her as much as you trust her with---”

“That's the problem!” Ted groaned. “I...I don't know what she'll be able to handle, what she'll hate me for not saying.....if I tell her too much, she'll want Vicki's Field Agent status revoked, or at least toned down. If I don't tell her enough, she'll think I'm holding out on her, she won't trust me---”

“Ted......” Collin regarded the roboticist with a knowing glance. “You'll know.”

“....know what?” Ted replied, slightly confused.

“You'll know. Just trust me.” With a final nod, Collin made his way down the rope ladder; Dr. Smith, by this point, had already crossed the yard and was standing impatiently by the car. “I'll keep in touch.”

“Thanks. And....I'd wish you luck, with the whole President of the ALPA thing, but.....”

Ted's remark was dismissed with a wave. “No need to. I'm only taking the job for the interim...they're going to pick someone else once the Oberon situation has been resolved.”

“You didn't offer to stay on permanently?”

“It wasn't my offer to any case, I have other things on my plate now. You know how it is....”

“....yeah,” Ted quietly replied. “I do.” He backed away from the ladder. “Take care of yourself, Collin.”

“I'll do my best.” Collin descended the ladder, crossing the yard to join Dr. Smith. Ted sighed, moving to climb down the ladder....but he couldn't help but take one last look at the interior of the treehouse before he did.

“So much simpler,” he murmured, shaking his head. “I wish everything could be that simple....”
More later this week, as per usual. I've been busy with videos and other stuff, but I'm nowhere near done with this yet. 8)
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Thu Apr 12, 2018 2:40 pm

“, this is just for visitation?”

Vicki's question earned her a frown from Director Preston---he never would've admitted to asking that exact question himself, more than a few times. “The security measures have been more than adequate,” he replied, “but this room does serve...other purposes.”

Any question of what “other purposes” it could serve was waved away just from looking at it---the walls were padded, the floor had fairly well-concealed holes where restraints could be bolted in at regular intervals, and the light fixtures were all recessed into a ceiling that appeared to have been molded to prevent anyone from climbing up and breaking pieces off to use as weaponry. Chairs, tables and other pieces of furniture seemed to have been designed to thwart such attempts, as well---they looked more like carved or sculpted slabs of stone and metal than something one would find at IKEA.

Every single item of furniture also happened to be a completely solid piece, at least to Vicki's internal scanning suite. There's being prepared, and then there's paranoia, she mused. I can't tell which prevailed here---

A padded panel on the far side of the room slid back, then opened into what looked like a metal detector and a hallway beyond. Vicki tried to get a better glimpse, but two of the men in grey uniforms were already moving into the room; a third followed close behind, pulling a heavy-duty wheeled cart that held another chair and several feet of heavy chains. This, unlike the rest in the room, had loops molded into the arms---probably for chains, Vicki realized.

Her theory was proved correct mere seconds later, when a fourth man in grey entered....

…accompanied by the shackled figure of the soon-to-be ex-Chairman of the ALPA.

He never looked up, even as the men in grey moved the chair off the cart and positioned it exactly three feet away from the door they'd entered from. Three of the men set to work securing him in the chair, running the chains from the cart through the loops and locking them onto his restraints. After a full four minutes of this, all four men in grey left the room, closing the door behind them.

At the exact moment the door re-sealed, the now-bound ex-Chairman looked up.

For the first time since her defeat of Epsilon, Vicki had her first face-to-face look at Oberon...

“You may speak freely, within this room,” Director Preston stated. “I'm required to inform you, however, that anything you say and/or do inside of this visitation room is being recorded and studied---”


Vicki barely even noticed that Oberon's lips had moved. “She knows,” he muttered, his stare never wavering.

Director Preston frowned, but nodded. “I'll be just outside,” he informed the brunette gynoid. “You have....30 minutes to speak with him. The clock will start when I close the door.”

“Thanks.” Vicki didn't turn to watch the Director leave, or even acknowledge him with anything more than the slightest of nods. The hiss of the door opening behind her, the Director's footsteps on the floor....they barely registered in her hearing.

Don't look away from him. Don't blink, don't shift your focus even for a second. Let the clock start first, but don't try to jump-start the conversation. A littany of suggestions and self-advice scrolled down through her field of vision. Don't accuse, don't beg, don't came here to get answers, not to beat him down with an overdose of emotions. Don't play it as “I'm a machine”, or “I'm a person”....walk the line between both.

Seconds later, the door hissed again; Vicki's aural sensors could faintly detect the sound of a ticking clock.

Oberon inhaled, slowly, then blew out a low, quiet breath through his nostrils.

“Epsilon is dead,” Vicki stated–her tone as neutral as she could make it without falling into her “robot voice”. “I don't know if they told you yet....”

Her remark earned the barest hint of a scowl.

“You contacted me, right before it happened,” she continued. “That thing you did, with the told me it was the only way.” A tremble had begun to creep into her words; damn it, Lawson, this isn't the time to start cracking! “....I killed him. Kirsten was there, she....she saw. I told her to stay back, to keep herself from---”


Again, that one word seemed to bring with it the force of a kick to the gut. “ told wanted him to die with her at his side....that it was the only fair thing....”

Even as her words trailed off, Vicki realized that Oberon had, apart from his meditative breathing, had barely moved after being shackled into the chair. The uniform he'd been issued wasn't the exact same brilliant white as his usual clothes, but it still looked like a beacon in the otherwise drab, grey room. “You told me that you knew she'd be there.....that Kirsten would---”

“Did he suffer?”

The question startled Vicki with its bluntness, but she soldiered on. “I amped up my Detaining Grip to beyond factory-limited settings and blew out every single one of his implants at once. His life signs and implant-driven functions terminated was a quick death.”

“That's not what I asked.”

“I don't know if he suffered.....he screamed, at one point....but I couldn't tell if it was out of pain–-”

“And Kirsten?”

“.....she said her goodbyes to him, and then left.”

“.....I don't suppose you'll tell me what they did with the remains, then.”

“A cleanup team secured them ten minutes after I left the scene. Galatea supervised them.”

Oberon took another deep breath. “So it's over,” he muttered. “Epsilon is finally dead.”

“Yes. I confirmed the kill myself.”

For the first time since he'd been forced to take a seat, Oberon closed his eyes. “....I knew,” he intoned. “As soon as they transferred me here, I knew you'd follow me.” He leaned back in the chair, exhaling. “You want to know why I was so focused, so driven, to destroy kill an innocent man, made into a beast by way of a committee that gave no thought to his life, his family....”

He bowed his head. “....why I threw aside all logic and reason,” he murmured, “to achieve my end goal.”

“....I want to know what you know about a program called Helios,” Vicki stated. “We lost a Field Agent to it, and someone deployed it against Epsilon...” She leaned forward. “I need to know who was responsible for using Helios against Epsilon....and how we can stop it from being used against us.”

“And you think I'm the one who wanted Helios used against him,” Oberon muttered.

“I think you know who would use it against him,” Vicki replied. “And who would benefit the most from it.”

Her statement (just a few hairs shy of an accusation, she realized) didn't prompt an immediate reaction from Oberon; he simply leaned back in his chair, eyes closed. “I need to know who would have access to Helios,” the brunette gynoid continued, “and why they would use it against---”


Vicki stared at Oberon, somewhat taken aback. “”

“You already know who deployed the Helios program. That little incident at a meeting between one Max Mills and Octavia Martinet...” Oberon leaned forward, his stare locked onto Vicki. “As for why Mills used it against Epsilon...” A derisive snort punctuated the sentence. “He wants to get involved. Foot in the door, that sort of thing. And he chose to do so in the worst way possible.” He steepled his fingers, the chains at his arms making soft rattling sounds against the chair. “You want to find Helios' point of origin,” he intoned, “then take heed: it lies at the feet of Max Mills.”

“ he stole it,” Vicki muttered. “He stole it from United Robotronics---”

“Or it was given to him.”

“It's not about how he got it. It's.....he used Helios against Epsilon....” Vicki finally looked away from Oberon, trying to collect her thoughts. “Why was Casey infected, then? Why did we have to lose her to Helios?”

Her question earned another half-scowl from Oberon. “You ask as if you expect me to know.”

“You're the one who was so hellbent on killing Epsilon before. I still don't know why you---”

“I changed my mind,” Oberon intoned, “because I was wrong. And because I watched him carry you...” He shook his head. “He carried you out of Block G as if you were his own went against every single thing I knew----everything I thought I knew about Epsilon.” He shifted his weight in the chair, his tongue playing over his lips. “I was under the impression that every last trace of humanity within the brain of Anthony Sanderson had been burned out, carved out, or otherwise erased. Every bit of research, every note, every blueprint....all of them indicated that Epsilon had no capacity for emotion, or thought, or free will....”

“And him carrying me out of Block G convinced you that he did?”

Oberon exhaled a low, quiet breath. “Seeing him carry you away from our fight.....cradling you, as if you were his own brought forth an epiphany. I had choesn to spare R-528...” His lips curled up in the briefest hint of a smile. “....or as you prefer to call him, Mr. Roboto.....”

“You spared him because you knew.” Vicki seemed surprised that she'd spoken, even as the words left her lips. “You knew that he didn't murder in cold blood....”

Her assumption was met with a nod. “I did. And because what happened to him was never meant to turn him into a walking weapon. The attempt at forcing the thought patterns and brain waves of a human being to conform to a rigid, inflexible hardware and software traumatized R-528. It left him...broken, for years. And yet, unlike Epsilon, he never sought to repair himself or to reverse his condition....he simply hid himself away from society.”

“And what does that have to do with your 'epiphany' about Epsilon?” Vicki prompted.

“Simple. The conclusion I came to was that, no matter how advanced the technology....” Oberon leaned back in his chair, staring into Vicki's eyes. “...nothing can fully overwrite a human brain with any permanence. In the case of Anthony Sanderson, the task was effectively impossible.”

The brunette gynoid frowned. “....that was your epiphany? That Epsilon---”

“Was doomed from the moment Tony Sanderson was conscirpted into the project. He wasn't just some randomly selected pencil-pusher with no prospects---he was a father.” Oberon shook his head, as if scoffing at the idea that Epsilon's creators had neglected to take paternal bonds into account. “A father's love for his children, be they sons or daughters, is far more potent than any drug, far more powerful than any mental conditioning. The man loved his daughter so much, he refused to let her death be the end....”

“ I've heard....” Vicki paused. “But you're was love that kept him from succumbing to the mental conditioning?”

“You seem surprised.”

“....I sounds....” Words formed and died in the brunette gynoid's processors in less than a second, as she tried to voice her thoughts without sounding mean-spirited. “'s a bit too Harry Potter, for me....”

The faint smile returned to Oberon's lips, now looking more like a smirk. “'Too Harry Potter'?”

“....this whole thing of 'love is the greatest power' and're seriously telling me that Epsilon spared me, and ultimately died, because of Tony Sanderson's love for Kirsten?”

“If it had been Ted, instead of Anthony....would you be as incredulous?”

The thirteen-word question stopped Vicki in her tracks. “....what?!

“I seem to recall a time,” Oberon continued, “when your creator viewed himself exactly as that---a creator of an incredible new machine. In the earliest years of your existance, he viewed you as a product....a thing---”

I know!” An undertone of rage---itself, cut with a hint of sorrow---tinged both words.

“---but over time.....through a series of remarkable events that allowed the bond between you to grow.....he saw himself as more than your creator, and you saw yourself as something more than a machine. The two of you grew closer...” The smile returned again, but....warmer, almost comforting. “....and Ted Lawson, by his own admission, was proud to call himself your father.”

A scathing rejoinder faded into nothing on Vicki's lips. “..I...”

“Your life was far different from that of Kirsten Sanderson. Kirsten was commissioned to replace a deceased started out as the prototype for a new product. Yet, in time, your relationship with Ted became almost identical to that of Kirsten and Anthony---daughter and father, rather than creation and creator.” Another sigh punctuated the remark. “It was pure misfortune that led to Anthony's inevitable end....he was chosen at random, from the entire United Robotronics work force---”

“And you're saying it could've been Ted, if things were different?” Vicki's voice was barely a shade above her robotic monotone. “You're saying....if he'd never started Lawson Robotics.....”

“ you want the honest answer?”

“It's why I'm here.”

Oberon nodded. “Yes. I do, in fact, believe that if the circumstances of your life had taken a different very well could've been Ted Lawson being mourned, and Kirsten Sanderson sitting before me, demanding to know why I wanted someone else's father dead---”


For a moment, Oberon said nothing. He barely moved in his seat, adjusting his posture just enough to better analyze the body language of his “visitor”. Even without the small, subtle motions of breathing, or involuntary muscle twitches, it was obvious that Vicki was both angry, horrified and, quite simply, stunned at the possibility of her own father ever being in the same situation as the late Tony Sanderson.

“You're holding back,” he murmured. “Your genuinely hate those who tried to convert Anthony Sanderson into a living weapon.....but you're holding back---”

He stopped. “.....and there it is. The question....”

Even as Vicki stared him down, the former ALPA Chairman leaned forward in his seat. “You want to know why Anthony Sanderson was converted....why Ted would've been converted, had he been in Anthony's place...”

“I do.”

Oberon steepled his fingers. “I told you, when we had our....confrontations....that every single aspect of Project Epsilon was meant to make it---and I say this without specifying Anthony Sanderson, or a hypothetically-altered Ted Lawson---a better fighter, a better killer. That, alone, should give you enough of a 'why'....but I suppose you want the full explanation.”

“I do.”

“.....then you'll get it.” Oberon leaned back, half slouching in his seat. “You've heard of the singularity?”

“The idea that man and machine will one day become one.” Vicki gave a slight nod. “Good enough?”

“.....for now. And you probably won't be surprised that there are some who utterly abhore the very notion of the concept....they see it as treason against the entire human race. And there are also those....including, as you more than likely suspect, a few of the individuals responsible for the creation of Epsilon....who believe that a fusion between man and machine is inevitable. Many of those same individuals also believe that such a fusion is destined, if not designed, to be controlled, harnessed...used.”

Vicki's grip on the armrests of her seat tightened. “'re saying they saw a tool?

“......I am. And more to the point, they were intent on replicating Epsilon, had the prototype proved to be---”

Something crunched, and it took a moment for Oberon to realize that Vicki had crushed the armrests of her chair. “The prototype?!” Her voice carried an unsettling mix of human emotion---in this case, anger---and a touch of electronic distortion, not helped by the brilliant, cobalt glow of her eyes.

“.....Anthony Sanderson was, in the view of United Robotronics, the prototype Epsilon unit, yes---”

He was a human being!” Vicki was halfway out of her seat, now. “You said it yourself---”

“And you honestly think that mattered to those in charge of Project Epsilon?” Oberon snapped. “You actually think it mattered to the Baron?!”

Vicki was standing, now. Her eyes cast a brilliant, yet chilling, glow over Oberon.

“.....did it matter to you?

After the slightest pause, Oberon slumped in his seat. “ first.....I blinded myself to it. I wilfully ignored the fact that what had once been a man was now.....something else. I refused to let it hinder me.”

He bowed his head. “.....and that, quite simply, is why I was so focused on Epsilon's destruction.”

Even as she stood, Vicki felt herself go limp.

“Not an easy thing to accept, is it? Knowing that I was so driven, so willing to ignore the life that had been stolen from Anthony Sanderson.....” Oberon stared at the ceiling shaking his head. “I told myself that Anthony Sanderson had already died, that the being running around and causing so much havoc was just a shell.....and I believed my own lies. I believed them until I saw how wrong I was......”

Vicki fell backwards into her chair, looking at the floor in front of Oberon's seat.

“ understand, now, don't you? Why I 'explained' myself by saying 'I was wrong'.....”

The door behind Oberon's chair opened, and two of the men in grey entered the room. “We need to go,” one of them stated, his voice filtered beyond recognition by his helmet.

“I didn't do anything to her,” Oberon began, but the other man in grey cut him off with a gesture. “Control has spotted an unauthorized aircraft attempting a flyover of this facility,” the first stated. “We need to keep you out of range in case anyone attempts---”

Oberon held up both hands, sighing. “Enough...” This time, he sounded almost tired. “I'll go.”

Both of the grey-clad men began to remove the chains from the loops in his chair, just as the door behind Vicki opened to admit Director Preston. “Miss Lawson, I'm afraid we have to cut this session short. I can assure you that you, yourself, aren't in any danger as of now.....” His claim trailed off as the brunette gynoid rose, shaking, from her seat. “ everything all right, Miss Lawson?” he quietly asked.

Silently, without even looking up, Vicki brushed past Preston and left the Visitation Room.

Preston turned his attention to Oberon. “You told her, didn't you? Why you were wrong about Epsilon?”

“You and I both know the answer to that, Preston. 'Everything you do and say within this room will be recorded and studied', remember?”

For a brief moment, a scowl formed on the Director's lips, but he let it pass. “You'll have another session with Miss Lawson after we determine the nature of the flyover. I advise you to avoid.....sensitive issues, when she returns to this chamber.”

Oberon didn't glance back, even as he was ushered out of the room. “She doesn't hate me, Preston.”

“And what if she decides to pursue the ones who created Epsilon?”

“Then she'll be in good company!”

The door closed behind Oberon, leaving Preston by himself in the Visitation Room.
Vicki tried not to think about what she'd heard, what she'd felt, after hearing the truth straight from Oberon's lips. “I blinded myself to it,” he'd admitted. “I wilfully ignored the fact that what had once been a man was now.....something else. I refused to let it hinder me.”

And he wouldn't have let it hinder him if it had been Ted, instead of Tony Sanderson....

From behind the padded door, she could hear someone---possibly Oberon---yell the words “Then she'll be in good company!” She knew nothing about the context, or who had spoken....all she could do was dwell on those last seven words Oberon had spoken. “I refused to let it hinder me.

The brunette gynoid bowed her head, uttering what might've been a prayer, and wept.
(breaking my own rule: Next part goes up this Wednesday. Sorry for not mentioning it sooner!)
"No one steals our chicks.....and lives!"

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

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Sat Apr 21, 2018 1:38 pm

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well, whadaya know, I missed another deadline. Shouldn't be a surprise by this point, seeing as how I have "Duke Nukem" in my user name.....

Anyway. Self-depreciation aside, this particular part of the story happens to involve a plot point that was introduced WAY the hell back in The V.I.C.I. Diaries - "Out of This World", the first of the series to get a lot of comments and such. I'd hoped for more people to pick up on said plot-point and even ask about it in the comments, but nobody seemed to notice...thus, I figured that I might as well bring it back for this latest entry and expand upon my original idea for it.

Enough rambling: here's the latest part of the story!
“....'come a little bit closer', da na na na nah, da da da da da....” Rae bobbed her head in time with the music from the peace offering Anton had politely rejected after his spat with Alicia---a Zune, one of the few holdovers she had left from her pre-ALPA days. The thing had been given to her as a gift, and she'd endured more than a few taunts about it....but the simple fact was, she'd always found a reason to not throw it out or drop it off in the donation box of any Goodwill she happened to pass by.

“I'll admit,” she murmured, “the way things are now are a lot better than they were 30 minutes ago....” She grinned, moving to the music and occasionally playing air-guitar in time with it.

It wasn't the thought of being “set off” by the repairs on K.C. that had driven Rae to take a seat on the front steps of Ted Lawson's house–-she'd already worked out all of her “issues” involving that, with a bit of help from Kylie. Her main motivation for not helping out with the repairs had more to do with Anton and Alicia, both of whom were actually attempting to work together, instead of just glaring at each other and stomping out of the room. Granted, there had been curt exchanges of words, more than a few utterances of “Get out of my way” or “stay on your side of the table”.....

….but even that had been preferable to them screaming obscenities and threatening grievous bodily harm.

“'Come a little bit closer, now'......and what do we have here....” Rae arched an eyebrow, lowering the volume on the Zune and sliding it into her back pocket as she rose from the steps. A plain-looking Ford was slowing to a stop in front of the Lawson house, with at least five people---all females---quietly conversing within.

Rae considered calling out to Ted, informing him that he had “visitors”---

“Friends of yours?” Ted's voice, from behind Rae, would've startled the gynoid if she'd still been listening to her music at top volume. “Never seen them before, Teddy,” she replied. “At least, not up close...a few times at SJSU, maybe, whenever I feel like wandering the campus, but until they.....get...out of the car.....” She rolled her eyes as all four doors on the Ford opened, allowing four Asian-American girls (all of whom had distinctivly Japanese facial structure) to exit the vehicle. A fifth remained seated in the back. All five were typical college-age---the youngest looked to be 19, and the oldest couldn't have been over 22.

“....tell me you haven't done anything weird overseas,” Rae intoned.

“I should be asking you to tell me that,” Ted replied.

“.....rain check.” Rae never glanced away from the girls as she spoke. “Pretty sure they're not...homegrown, if you get my meaning.” Her eyes briefly flashed amber. “You want to go inside, maybe tell the rest---”

“Thanks, but I'll pass. Hopefully, this isn't anything major....” Ted gave a subtle nod for Rae to move behind him as one of the girls approached. “Ah, can I help you young ladies with anything?” he inquired. “Directions, or a quick charge for---”

“My phone?” the girl replied, not smiling.

“......I'm guessing you don't need a charge for your phone, then,” Ted mused. “....ah....”

“Your daughter. Vicki Lawson. Where is she?”

The last three words out of the Asian gynoid's mouth prompted a scowl from Rae. “As if this day couldn't get any crazier,” she muttered. “Just give the order, Teddy, and I'll drop her like a bad habit.” She shifted one leg back, slowly moving into position to lunge if need be.

“Not now.....” Ted barely glanced at the chestnut-haired gynoid. “Ah, why exactly are you looking for---”

“You didn't answer my question.” The Asian gynoid was less than five feet away from Ted, now. “Where is---”

“I think it's only fair that you answer mine, first,” Ted replied, his politeness giving way to a tone Vicki had come to refer to as “Army Dad”---commanding, but just “parental” enough to not sound threatening. “Why do you need to know where Vicki is, and why did you need four of your....friends, I assume....just to ask me where she might be?”

The girl in front of him scowled, but said nothing.

Ted folded his arms over his chest, frowning. “If you're going to just stand there and glare at me, I'll just call the police and tell them you're tresspassing---”

“Don't mind her,” another of the Asian gynoids called out, making her way up the drive with a brisk walk. “She's been in a bad mood for a while....” She and the other gynoid had a brief exchange, entirely in Japanese; Ted managed to pick out a few words, and what sounded like the name “Lani”, but nothing that sounded like they were there to attack Ted, steal anything or otherwise give him any problems. If anything, they seemed to be arguing over treating him with respect, for some reason.

By the time the exchange ended, Lani---the younger of the two---muttered something too quietly for Ted to hear, and stomped off to the Ford.

“Sorry about that,” the other gynoid apologized. “She's never been fond of explaining things.”

“And you are?” Rae prompted. “Seriously, are you gals trying to form some kind of posse?”

The Asian gynoid gave her a bemused look; Ted glanced at her over his shoulder, mouthing the word “Really?”

“What? Nothing wrong with a good posse.”

Ignoring the chestnut-haired gynoid's cheeky grin, Ted sighed. “...back to the matter at hand....”

“Last October, we---Lani, Tomomi, Sai, Paula and I---were in the same building Vicki's dorm room was in, trying to......basically, it was a 'roving conversation', trying to sort things out on the go. On the way out, one of our number dropped her phone---Lani, specifically---and didn't really notice it until a few hours then, it was a little too late for us to just run back up there and look for it.”

“And you think Vicki picked it up?” Ted inquired. “If she did, I'm sure she meant to return it---”

“I have no doubt she would've,” the Asian gynoid agreed. “The thing is, after all of the crazy stuff that went on last year, we thought she might've.....lost the phone, or something....”

“And you couldn't just get a new one?” Rae cut in.

“If it had been that simple, my.....” The Asian gynoid glanced at the car behind her, then back at Rae. “...then we wouldn't be here. The phone very important to us.”

Rae arched an eyebrow. “To us? What, you have to split one phone between----”

“Enough.” Ted sighed again. “I'm pretty sure Vicki's backpack is in her room upstairs...I'll run up, check the pockets and see if the phone is in any of them. Ah, what kind of phone is it---”

“It'd be better if I went with you, I think.”

Ignoring Rae's constant jabs to his shoulder, Ted nodded. “Just, ah....try to stay close, and avoid looking into the living room at all possible. There's, ah.....just don't let your eyes wander too much, okay?”

“Fair enough.”

With the Asian gynoid following behind, Ted nudged the front door open and ducked inside, bidding for his “visitor” to follow suit. The two crossed the room quickly, ignoring the sounds of the repair job still being carried out on K.C. as they went. Ascending the staircase took almost no time at least, to Ted, it felt that way.

All too soon, the pair were in Vicki's room. The backpack Ted had mentioned lay on the floor, near the bed.

“And this is why I told Joanie to get her more than one,” he muttered, silently hoping that Vicki hadn't taken the backpack with the phone with her. With a quick gesture of “just wait here, please”, Ted crossed the room to retrieve the backpack, setting it down on the bed and rifling through the pockets---all the while, hoping that any explanation he might have to give to Vicki whenever she returned would suffice.

Two minutes in, he found what appeared to be a mid-2000s model flip phone. “Is this it?”

Yes,” the Asian gynoid breathed, accepting the offered phone as if it were a treasured family heirloom. “Mr. Lawson, you have no idea how thankful I am that you found this phone....”

“No thanks necessary,” Ted replied. “And I was never fond of the whole 'Mr. Lawson' thing....just call me---”

From outside, downstairs, a shout in Japanese rang out. “....ah....all I said was---”

The Asian gynoid shook her head, moving closer to the window before shouting out a reply.

“.....okay, I'm a bit rusty with my Japanese, but did you just say 'I have it'?” Ted inquired.

“I did, in reply to 'Have you found it?'.” The gynoid's posture was far more relaxed now, as if the simple act of getting the phone back had eased her mind considerably. “I apologize if this has caused any problems...and any explanation I could give would be even more vague than the reason I'm here right now.”

“In my line of work,” Ted assured her, “vagueness is something I've come to expect. Ah, one thing, though...”

The gynoid stopped, then nodded. “Of course...” She bowed briefly. “Kaede Minoru.”

Ted returned the bow. “Ted Lawson. Pleasure making your acquaintance, Miss Minoru.”

Kaede smiled. “The same.”

By the time Kaede rejoined the others outside by the Ford, Rae had already gone back to listening to whatever song had queued up on the Zune. Kaede gave another brief bow to Ted, thanking him for the return of the phone, before rejoining the other gynoids in the car---which drove off as soon as all four doors were closed.

“They never told you what the phone was for, did they?” Rae muttered.

“I never seem a lot less interested now that it's all over, by the way.”

“I wouldn't say I was less interested....well, not in them, if I'm being honest.” She grinned, bobbing her head in time with Glenn Campbell's “Southern Nights”. “More in where they're going....which we'll know ourselves, as soon as the tracer kicks in---”

“You didn't.”

“A bunch of Japanese college girls show up looking for a sodding phone, and you're not the least bit curious as to where they're headed?” Rae chuckled. “Besides, it's not like I did anything sneaky to get the trace in their car....practically handed it to them. Funny, really...the things you can fit on a standard-sized SD card...”

She retrieved her phone, handing it to Ted. “, care to join me for a road trip once the trace kicks on?”
No solid date for the next part (it won't be up tomorrow due to expected crap weather), but I can say this much: it'll be up before Infinity War is out in theaters, probably.
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Wed Oct 10, 2018 7:31 am

(NOTE: No, your eyes don't deceive you! The V.I.C.I. Diaries IS NOT DEAD, good forum-dwellers! I've been working on and refining "King Nothing" since April, and I wasn't about to let my latest finished work go to, starting today, the story continues.....)

I refused to let it hinder me.

The last seven words Oberon had spoken were still ringing through Vicki's thought processes as she lay on one of the beds in the room she and Agent Harris had been “assigned” to. Knowing the context did little, if anything, to calm her about what had happened....

Harris had left the room a few minutes after Vicki had returned to it---he'd barely had time to offer the gynoid any consolation, upon seeing the tears streaking down her face, before two of the men in grey showed up to inform him of.....something. The brunette gynoid hadn't even considered amplifying the range of her aural sensors to pick up what the men in grey had said....not that it mattered.

If it had been Ted......where would I be right now? Grieving, like Kirsten was.....or.....

A knock at the door cut off her morbid reverie. “It's unlocked,” she called out---or tried to; the best she could manage was a half-muttered drone of sorts, barely any more lifelike than her robotic monotone.

“Everything okay?” The pig-tailed, pink-and-white-clad figure of Sophia Starlet was an almost-amusing sight, at least when compared to everything else within the mysterious, forbiddingly-antiseptic complex. “I would've been here sooner, but....”

“You're not allowed to go into details?” Vicki offered---half-jokingly, a little too loudly for her own comfort.

Sophia scoffed. “Nothing that extreme, trust me. The details were could've told me that not all Field Agent work was car chases and gun fights....” She managed a grin as she crossed the room to sit next to Vicki on the bed. “Dennis loves saying that I should 'inherit' his understanding of how vital paperwork is to stuff like this---he was a teacher before his music career took off, after all.....”

“You were doing paperwork?” Vicki mused. “Dressed like that?

Had she asked the question to anyone else in the building, they would've thought it was a sign of a software fault. Of course, given that Sophia was still wearing her “classic” outfit---a one-arm, no-right shoulder pink and white swirl-pattern top, the skirt done up in plaid that matched her top, and all the various jewelry and other “accoutrements” that went with that particular outfit---it made perfect sense.

“.....well, I like this look,” Sophia admitted. “That Preston guy had no problem with it....”

“So you don't have a problem with a room full of suits staring at you,” Vicki teased---finally beginning to feel the numbness, induced by Oberon's confession, wearing off. “That must've been fun....”

The pop star gave her a half-hearted punch in the shoulder. “They weren't staring! Everybody here is so....”

“Precise?” the brunette gynoid offered.

“I was going to say 'professional', but that works, too.” Sophia shrugged. “They didn't even look my way until I handed over the was actually a little bit creepy. It's...hard to describe...”

It was Vicki's term to scoff. “And you've been on such a roll with the songwriting....”

Yet again, Sophia gave her a playful punch to the arm. “If I had to write songs about this place, I'd be lucky to get four or five tunes out of a week's worth of drafts...” She propped her chin up with one hand. “It's just...all so different, from the touring, and the's all so serious. Like, every decision made around here has this....this weight to it.” Her voice dropped to a murmur: “.....and it's kind of scary,” she finished. “Like, if I screw up.....”

“You won't screw up,” Vicki assured her. “And I'm not just saying that as a fan....I'm saying it as a friend.”

“ really think I won't mess this up?” Something in Sophia's tone reminded Vicki of herself, from the day Ted had first dropped her off at San Jose State University. She'd been more than a bit anxious about attending college---mainly due to the rather sizable issue of being the only robot on campus (or so she thought at the time). In the singer's eyes, Vicki could almost see the same doubt, the same apprehension as she'd had that first day on campus....

“I know you won't,” she murmured. “Believe me, if you could survive Brittney Delacroix, you'll survive this.”

Sophia hugged the brunette gynoid. “I am so glad Dennis let you talk to me after that show at the Toy Fair last year,” she beamed. “Seriously, meeting you set me on a path to...well, this.....and I couldn't thank you enough for all of it.”

“You can show your appreciation by being the best damn Field Agent you can be,” Vicki replied, gently pulling away from the embrace. “Which you should have no problem with.”

“Says you,” Sophia teased. “Seriously, though....if you think I can do this---”

“If I have to say it a thousand more times, I will....”

“I might be able to use that for a lyric,” the pigtailed gynoid mused. “Anyway....if you really think I can do this whole Field Agent thing, I'll do the best I can with it.”

“That's all anyone could ask for,” Vicki replied. “I'm guessing Dennis isn't taking an 'active' role with you?”

“Well,” Sophia admitted, “he wanted to....but given his history with chronic fatigue and such, they didn't want to put him in a position where he might be a liability.” She sighed. “At least he took it well...and he gets to be my 'handler' when I'm out on field ops. It'll be just like managing my concerts and stuff---okay, maybe not exactly like it, but you get the idea.”

“I do,” Vicki agreed. “So....did any of them mention why I'm here?”

Sophia's grin vanished. “....ah....they might have, in...passing....”

“I've already talked to him once,” the brunette gynoid continued. “I was still reflecting on that particular 'chat' with him before you came didn't exactly leave me with any kind of inner peace, if you're wondering.”

“....he wasn't screaming, was he?” Sophia quietly asked.

“In all honesty, he was mostly calm....I was the one who nearly lost it a few times.” Vicki sighed. “It's kind of hard to explain...basically, I asked him about the whole thing about Epsilon having been human---having been someone's father, at that, and...well, he told me that he 'refused to let it hinder' him.” She stared at the floor, trying not to let the memories of her “chat” get to her. “The session ended early, too...something about an unauthorized flyover....”

The mention of the flyover earned a puzzled look from Sophia. “A flyover? Out here?”

“I don't even know where 'here' is,” Vicki muttered. “My internal GPS suite was disabled some time after Harris and I had to change planes....not to mention all the 'countermeasures' in this place.”

“Well, if it's any consolation, this is friendly territory. The only reason your GPS was turned off was---”

“Security, I get it....” Vicki fell backwards onto the bed, an annoyed groan leaving her lips. “I just wish they weren't so....mysterious, about all of it.”

Sophia sighed. “I know how you feel. This place gives me the heebies, sometimes....”

“Hard to believe you get the 'heebies' in friendly territory,” Vicki muttered. “And you got here before I did, too!”

“It's the countermeasures,” Sophia admitted. “Most of the facility has them in just one room apiece, but...a few of them are 'roving'. And I don't mean there are giant white balloons with balls of light inside'll just be walking down a hall one minute, and feeling like you're swimming in molten lead the next.”

Vicki said nothing, remembering her own entrance into the facility.

“Preston told me that the 'roving' security stuff is behind the walls,” the gynoid singer continued. “He explained it to me, just to make sure I didn't think he was kidding....and I kind of wish he hadn't.” A shudder ran through her body. “I feel like every subroutine in my system is being analyzed, sometimes...Preston told me it was nothing to worry about, but...there are some rooms in this place that I just won't stay inside for more than a few minutes at a time. I just....I feel like....”

Like something's in the room with you, even when you're all alone?

Both Vicki and Sophia nearly screamed---until a familiar purple-and-pink form seemed to materialize out of nowhere before them. “Sorry,” Galatea apologized---her figure ever-so-slightly flickering. “I didn't think the projectors in this room were working...”

“Projector?” Vicki echoed. “So they have hologram technology here?”

The image of Galatea rolled her eyes. “I'll have to remind someone to give you the full story when you get back....” Her expression turned grim as she continued. “In any case, I didn't call here just to show off the holographic projectors...there's been an....incident---”

“Is Ted okay?” Vicki was on her feet before the last syllable of “incident” left Galatea's projected lips.

“....he's fine. Granted, he's with Rae right now, barrelling down---”

“Wait. Hang on a minute. I thought Ted was working on rebuilding Casey!”

“....he was. The thing remember last year, when a group of students were in your dorm and one of them dropped their phone?

“......yes, but what does that---”

They showed up to reclaim it. Ted found it and returned it to them....and found out that Rae put a tracer on one of them. She talked him into tracking them down, he called me, and I'm helping out with the rebuild of Casey in his place---”

“You didn't offer to go with Rae instead of him?!”

He was calling from a payphone. They'd already left before I could get there.” The projection of Galatea sighed. “....I'm already kicking myself for not being where you are right now....I should be there.....”

Her voice dropped to a near whisper. “.....he'd know. He made me promise not to.....”

The image flickered, and Vicki could barely tell what Galatea was saying for a few seconds. By the time it reformed, her expression was significantly calmer. “As it stands right now, I have my 'objectives' over here, and you have yours. Hopefully, at least one of us can get things done before the day ends....”

She managed a grin. “ any case, it's been nice seeing you again, Vicki.

“Same here,” Vicki murmured, watching the silver-skinned gynoid's image fade out before her eyes.
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Wed Oct 10, 2018 12:37 pm

Even as she terminated the call, Galatea knew that she'd said too much---especially after the “I should be there” remark. Vicki didn't need to be burdened with that kind of knowledge....

The digitized chimes of the front doorbell were a welcome distraction. “Lucky me.....GIVE ME A SEC!”

As she crossed the room, it wasn't hard for Galatea to wonder what any prospective visitor to the Lawson house might think upon seeing the front room cordoned off like a M*A*S*H unit---granted, the only “patient” in residence at the moment was fully shielded from prying eyes by way of folding partitions and a hastily-erected curtain, but a passing salesman or overly-curious neighbor (Galatea found herself thanking whoever would listen that the Brindles had long since abandoned such tendencies) would obviously notice something “off”....

“If you're looking for Ted Lawson,” the gynoid began as she opened the door, “he isn't......”

The six-foot-one, brown-haired figure of the man known only as Inspektor 12 peered back at her over the rim of his mirrored sunglasses. “I think the word you're looking for is 'here',” he intoned.

“Yeah, that....” A giggle left the silver-skinned gynoid's lips before she could stop herself.

“It's the shirt, isn't it?” the Inspektor mused. “Rochelle keeps telling me that 'business casual' isn't the kind of look a man of my standing should go with...” He gave a light cough. “....may I?”

“What....OH, right, sorry.” Galatea stepped aside, allowing the Inspektor to enter. “It's just....that shirt...”

“Indeed...I always did feel a splash of color would liven up an otherwise drab ensemble.” Inspektor 12's lips curled up in a knowing smile. “....then again, I hardly think I need to lecture you on the subject...”

“I'll consider that a compliment,” Galatea replied. “Especially compared to the usual remarks I put up with when it comes to my fashion sense....” Her tone turned serious. “...anyway, I'm pretty sure you're not here to talk fashion.” She nodded over her shoulder at the “triage” area that now took up the vast majority of the Lawson house's front room.

“The reports were....thorough, in their evaluation of Miss Casey's condition,” the Inspektor intoned. “I'd been hoping to talk to Ted in person about his progress---”

“You still can,” Galatea deadpanned. “As long as you don't have a problem sending your girls after Rae.”

Inspektor 12 lowered his sunglasses. “.....he left with Rae?”

“Strictly business, trust me. Rae's already got someone waiting at home for her....even if it's an on-again, off-again kind of thing.” Without even pausing to inform those behind the partition of their “guest's” arrival, Galatea moved a panel back. “As it stands, we've been a bit short-staffed here ever since Ted and Rae left---”

“Could you close that?!” Anton snapped. “We're trying to---”

“I'll apologize on Galatea's behalf,” the Inspector cut in. “She wanted to show me how much you've done.” He turned his attention back to the silver-skinned gynoid; “I assume you'll need me to 'scrub up',” he mused.

“As long as Anton doesn't have a problem with it.”

“Of course.” The Inspektor nodded, heading off to the dining room to “scrub up”.

“Ah, Inspektor....” Galatea jogged to keep up with him. “I.....well, I was just wondering....the program that did this to Casey---”

“You were wondering if I knew anything about it.”

“....was I that obvious?” The gynoid sighed. “ you?”

“Close the door, if you don't mind....and before your train of thought departs for the more lascivious corners of your mind, know that my only intent is privacy---what I'm about to tell you is something that remains a rather sore subject with several of your esteemed colleagues.” The Inspektor accepted the surgical smock Galatea handed him, sliding it on over his usual attire. “I'll begin with the obvious,” he stated. “Helios wasn't a virus, in its first iteration.”

“Its first iteration?” Galatea echoed. “You say that like---”

“Like it was legitimate software, designed and distributed for sale throughout the international robotics market.”

The silver-skinned gynoid's eyes widened. “'re kidding.”

“Not this time, I'm afraid. The Helios program was an inter-agency effort---”

“No.” Galatea took a step towards the door, shaking her head. “The ALPA would never have a hand in---”

“Does the word Snowblind mean anything to you?”

Galatea froze in her tracks, the barest hint of a gasp leaving her lips.

“I'll take that as a 'yes' dear Galatea, it gives me no joy to admit this, but the Helios program was, at one point, considered to be a possible replacement for the Snowblind initiative. There were many other potential successors to it....but Helios was the most brutal of them, hardly any better than Snowblind itself.”

“...and Helios somehow ended up with the Coalition,” Galatea finished. “And now it's with Max Mills.....” She moved behind the Inspektor to tie both straps that would hold the surgical apron in place, still shaken from the mention of the Snowblind initiative. “What I'm still trying to figure out is why Mills has the Helios program in the first place,” she mused. “Doesn't he hate the robotics industry?”

“He does indeed---lost both of his parents to an industrial robotics accident, if I'm not mistaken.”

“And the Coalition wouldn't just hand out something like the Helios least, I hope not...” Galatea stepped back, nodding. “So....back to the task at hand....”

“Rebuilding Miss Casey. I suppose Anton and the rest are waiting...ah, Galatea, you didn't need to---”

“Casey was a colleauge,” the silver-skinned gynoid replied, “and a friend. I'd never forgive myself if I didn't help with the rebuild.” Her scrubs were already on, and her fingers were a blur as she tied off her own apron without even looking over her shoulder. “I have a feeling you'll need all the help you can get with this.”

“Indeed.” The Inspektor nodded without missing a beat. “Shall we?”

The two returned to the front room, where Anton was busy removing what appeared to be a fried RAM chip from somewhere in Casey's torso. “....d'you want the Cliff Notes version,” he inquired, without even looking over his shoulder at the pair, “or can we just keep going without interruption?”

“Whichever you prefer, Professor,” the Inspektor replied. “As I see it, time is of the essence...”

Anton nodded. “You'll forgive me if I'm a bit curt right now....things haven't exactly been ideal, as of late.”

“From my experience,” Galatea mused, “they're rarely ideal. Where do you want me?”

The confused look she got from Anton was met with a sigh. “Trying this again---”

“No need to clarify it,” the Inspektor assured her. “You'll be at your most useful standing near her head, at this point in the procedure....unless I'm mistaken?” He glanced at Anton, who shook his head. “If something in her trips and she starts thrashing, Galatea's the only one here who can hold her still without risking a broken wrist, or worse.”

“Fair enough.” Galatea took her place standing behind Casey's head. “Ready when you are, Professor...”

Anton gave a half-smirk. “You can call me Anton, you know.”

“I know....but somehow, 'professor' fits you better right now.” The silver-skinned gynoid grinned. “Shall we?”

For the next twenty minutes or so, the trio worked at extracting parts and running tests on the various internal components left within the body that had been Kristen Charlotte Casey. Occasionally, Anton or the Inspektor would nod or utter a monosyllabic request, and Galatea would remove something or re-insert something with additional leads attached to it, giving a nod of her own. Very little was said over the course of the procedure; ironically, most of the sound in the room came from the unmoving form of Casey---namely, beeps and other electronic noises from within her torso.

Half an hour later, Anton and Inspektor 12 were going over their notes, occasionally muttering and exchanging worried glances. Galatea, meanwhile, was running the last tests on Casey's removed internals. “So...all of this testing has led us....where, exactly?” she called out, her fingers pressed against the contacts of a chipset.

“You're going to want to stop doing that soon,” Anton advised. “All of her components show traces of Helios.”

“So we're going with the 'replacement body, use her backups' plan, then?”

“If we had another option, you would know by now,” the Inspektor replied. “Though I don't think you need to worry about catching Helios through touching the contacts on that.”

Anton frowned. “We barely know anything about it---”

“You're going to go for the 'diseased organ in a healthy body' analogy, aren't you?”

“....I was,” Anton admitted. “Considering the fact that we don't know enough about Helios to know how it might spread from one infected android to the next---”

Galatea held up her hands, revealing the faint shimmer of transparent plastic gloves over them.

“An impressive display of foresight,” Inspektor 12 mused. “I don't even recall seeing you put them on---”

“I learned early on that it pays to be prepared.” Galatea handed over the chips to Anton. “Seeing as how only androids and gynoids are affected by Helios,” she remarked, “I think a weak, pathetic human like yourself should be able to handle them without any adverse effects.”

“Anyone ever tell you that your sense of humor needs an upgrade?” Anton replied, chuckling.

“If they have, it wasn't to my face---besides, it was technically a compliment.” Galatea rolled her eyes as the roboticist examined the chips. “In any case, we're here to rebuild Casey---once she's back, then we can find out more about how the Helios program was used against her.”

“ may not be as simple as that,” the Inspektor quietly replied, “'s better than the alternative.”

Anton nodded his agreement. “We still have to enact the use of her backups and a replacement shell---”

“Then let's get right back to that.” Galatea glanced at the bench. “Same as before, but in reverse...right?”
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Re: The V.I.C.I. Diaries - King Nothing

Post by DukeNukem 2417 » Thu Oct 11, 2018 1:13 pm

….I'm not even going to bother listing the date or the time, since I have a feeling that they'll end up erased from this log, somehow, by the time I leave here. I know this is ALPA territory, but...

My next session with Oberon is coming up in a few minutes. The “flyover” that cut the last one short is still being looked into, and there's no clear indication of who did the flying or why they chose to buzz this spot in particular---oh, Jobs, did I really just enter that in this log?! Of course there's no indication of any of that if they're still looking into it....this place is getting to me more than I thought.....

A good half-hour or so had passed since Oberon's declaration of “I refused to let it hinder me” nearly brought Vicki into a crisis of confidence---with herself, the ALPA or Oberon, she couldn't exactly tell. She'd caught a few snatches of conversation outside the door since Galatea's message, as well, none of which pertained to Oberon or herself. A mention of Max Mills here, a muttered oath against “that Kingston prick” there, and a few questions about the flyover (and who would be stupid enough/have the balls to pull it off in broad daylight) were among the more intriguing bits of information her extended aural range could detect.

…if I could just focus......

“Focus on what, Miss Lawson?”

Director Preston's question startled the brunette gynoid enough to elicit a gasp. “ door.....”

“My apologies for entering without knocking,” Preston apologized. “The security systems picked up on your aural range extending beyond.....preset conditions---”

“You can say 'factory default',” Vicki assured him, rolling over to stare at the ceiling. “I won't mind.”

Preston nodded. “...I merely wished to inform you that, while we do allow for....capabilities, such as yours, to be used within our facility, we have our limits and regulations on such abilities. Much of the information dealt with in this building is of the utmost confidentiality---”

“'That Kingston prick'?” Vicki offered.

What might've been a smirk played at Preston's lips. “I'm afraid I have no idea who you're talking about.”

“Pretty sure I wasn't talking about anyone.” Vicki's own lips twitched, briefly---I get it. “ next session.”

“Will proceed on-schedule, provided our mysterious aerial intruder doesn't come back. Our security staff are still trying to identify the aircraft and its pilot...with help from the other ALPA, of course.”

Vicki nearly giggled. “Never thought the Artificial Lifeform Protection Agency and the AirLine Pilots Association would have to work together on anything,” she mused. “I'm guessing the 'aerial intruder' wasn't just a tourist in a Cessna, or anything that mundane?”

“Civilian pilots know better than to ignore a no-fly order.”

“ it wasn't a random tourist in a Cessna, then. Wonderful.” Vicki sat up on the bed, frowning. “Who else would even know about this place, let alone fly over it? I mean, I know the whole 'drone photography' thing is taking off...”

“Again, no civilian photographer would risk revocation of their license for a simple picture.”

This is going to go nowhere fast.... “Fair enough. Is...ah, is Oberon aware of the flyover? Is he even allowed to know about that kind of thing?”

“He's allowed to know when and if his security is at risk. Anything further requires clearance.”

“Right...” Vicki tried to ignore the creeping sensation of paranoia that had slowly but steadily begun to fill her thought processes ever since her arrival; something about this place, “friendly territory” or not, was seriously wrong. “If it's not a civilian going in the wrong direction---”

“With all due respect, Miss Lawson, we have more important matters to discuss than the flyover.”

Director Preston's frown, coupled with his somewhat cryptic statement, were all the “persuasion” Vicki needed to change the subject. “, what matters are so important that we're discussing them now?”

“Oberon's successor as Chairman, for starters...among other things.”

So it's a shakeup in the ranks, then..... “And who exactly is going to be taking over the position?”

“Due to your....familiarity....with one of the possible candidates, I'm afraid I can't divulge---”

“Is it Ted?”

Vicki's three-word question prompted, for the second time, the faintest hint of a smirk from Preston. “...I can neither confirm nor deny your father's possible candidacy for the position, Miss Lawson...”

He wants to wink so badly, the gynoid realized. “Fair enough. It'll go to whoever's most qualified, I suppose.”

“Indeed it will....but back to the matter at hand: Oberon.” Preston nodded. “His 'stay' here will only last until the High Court can determine his sentence, but given the severity of the charges against him, and his actions against Epsilon and against fellow operatives of the ALPA....” He adjusted his glasses slightly. “....there are some within the High Court,” he continued, “who believe that simply stripping him of the rank of Chairman may not be enough.”

“So they're going to....what, keep him here, then? Exile him?”

“The Court is weighing all available options, at the moment.”

Vicki thought back to R-528---now known as Mr. Roboto---and how Oberon had more than likely spared him from a De-Comm On Sight, only to turn against the ALPA just to go after Epsilon.

“I can only assume you still have questions on your mind,” Preston mused, “about this whole affair....”

“That doesn't even begin to cover it....” For a second, Vicki didn't realize that she'd spoken out loud---until she noticed the look Preston was giving her. “...I just....I trusted Oberon, Director. I respected him. He pretty much helped secure my job as a Field Agent, and.....” She let out a brief, flat chuckle. “It's like the Oberon who got me into the ALPA and the Oberon who nearly killed me to get to Epsilon are two completely different people,” she murmured. “I thought I understood why he did some of the things he did....why he insisted on swords and horseback, during the siege of the ALPA building last month....but....”

“Many who believed that they knew Oberon have found themselves proven wrong,” Director Preston admitted.

Almost instictively, Vicki asked “Including you?”

Before the thoughts of “oh, crap” could begin to settle in, the brunette gynoid realized that the expression on Preston's face had finally changed. “Once,” he quietly replied. “Years ago...” There was a weight to those words that hinted at something worse than a mere betrayal...a sadness that would never truly heal. I'm sorry, Vicki wanted to say, for all of this, for everything he did and for everything I couldn't stop him from doing....but the words never formed on her lips.

“It's in the past,” Preston intoned. “All we can do now is move forward.”

The door opened again, revealing two of the men in grey; one of them approached the Director and leaned in close, saying something that even Vicki's enhanced hearing couldn't pick up. The helmet probably has a lot to do with it, the brunette gynoid mused. That, or he's really good at whispering.... For the briefest second, she considered ramping up her aural sensors, more curious than anything else---only to notice the other man in grey facing her, probably staring at her from behind the full-face helmet.

The message was clear: Don't.

Vicki nodded silently. The last thing she needed was to agitate anyone in this place....

“....of course. I'll convene a meeting at once.” Preston nodded, and the man who'd been conversing with him took a few steps back towards the door. “I'm afraid our meeting must be cut short,” he informed Vicki. “Some unfortunate business has come up that I must attend to...”

“I get it. And, Director.....” Vicki paused. “....thank you.”

Preston, already stepping towards the threshold of the door, glanced back at the brunette gynoid.

“...all of this,” she continued, “has been....terrifying, for lack of a better term. And not just with Epsilon, or anything like that---it's been going on ever since the incident with Matthew Hannsen, in Dawley....” She didn't bother trying to fight the shudder that ran through her. “And now, this whole thing with weird as this is going to sound, Director....thanks for not trying to hold my hand through this whole thing, or tell me 'everything will be okay' over and over again.”

The two men in grey glanced at each other; Preston merely arched an eyebrow.

“....I sound like a raving idiot, don't I?” Vicki admitted, giving a brief chuckle. “It's just....I know that everything isn't going to be okay from now on...not after this. I know that things are going to change....for better, or for worse....” She shook her head. “ won't be okay, but....I'll handle it. I have to handle it....we all do.”

“And you choose to thank me for this?”

“Because you're just as scared as I am....but you're doing a pretty damn good job of hiding it.” A mirthless smile crossed Vicki's lips. “I love how people keep saying robots can never truly master emotions, or come close to simulating feelings.....because the only word that can describe what's going through my processors at this very moment, Director, is fear. I'm afraid....afraid for Oberon, for the entire ALPA, for myself....” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “.....I'm afraid that this will change everything...or maybe it won't change anything.”

She glanced at Director Preston, her eyes glowing a soft blue. “'re afraid of it too, aren't you?”

“More than you could possibly imagine, Miss Lawson” Preston replied, the faintest shade of a tremor in his voice. “I can only hope that you, like myself, can control your fear, rather than letting it control you.”

The gynoid's smile turned genuine. “....I've had a lot of help with that, actually.”

Preston nodded. “The next session with Oberon will begin at the usual time....I trust you'll be prepared.”

“I will, Director.”

Without another word, Preston and the two men in grey left the room. At least he admitted he was afraid, Vicki mused, watching the door slide closed behind the trio. If anyone in his position said they weren't at least a little bit scared of everything that's been going on recently...I honestly wouldn't want them on my side, or anywhere near me, personally.

The brunette gynoid strode back over to the bed, laying down and once again focusing her thoughts....
"No one steals our chicks.....and lives!"

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