Corrupted

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Corrupted

Chapter 21 - Sisters

Her father was a tall strong man, dressed in the finest opulent suit, with a pair of small round glasses. His hair was graying at the sides that said he was experienced but not that old, and his face has creases in it that only a man who had seen his fair share of pain and would have had. His eyes and mouth looked like Laura's, although more masculine and older.

Next to him stood a pair of petite maids, and a short older gentleman who looked to be a butler of sorts.

“This is not a stay for pleasure I take it?” Laura's father asked to no one in particular.

“No, we must hide while we gather what intelligence we have and make our plans” May replied. “You agreed to give us shelter for a few days, yes?”

“Of course. Anything for the savior of the people he continued. “And my daughter's friends.”

Laura refused to even look at him, giving him the cold shoulder and keeping her distance.

“You'll have to forgive her; we've never quite seen eye to-eye after her mother...”

“It's alright” May answered not waiting for him to finish. “Please let me introduce you. These girls are the former Ainu guards, Tess, Lulu, Proxy, Raster, and of course Matrix...”

“So this is the infamous Matrix. I must say I didn't expect you to look so normal.”

“What's that supposed to mean?!” Matrix objected but May continued.

“And here is Dr. Amano, and his son, Jimmy Amano.”

“Dr.” The tall man greeted. “And you are the one that rescued my daughter, or was it the other way around?” he asked addressing me. Laura scoffed and rolled her eyes without looking at him.

“I guess a bit of both. Pleased to meet you.”

He bowed his head at us as May continued. “And finally inside the car is Alice. She's the-”

“The original sentient! I can't wait to meet her. Don't worry; I have guards at every entrance and throughout the grounds. She will be safe.”

“Everyone, this is-”

“I am Duke Edmond Dale. Welcome to my humble abode” he announced with a flourish and a bow. “I hope your stay here is comfortable. It may look imposing, but for security purposes and your safety, you shall be staying exclusively in the guest wing. Meals shall be provided in the common room, and we shall see to all of your needs. If you would please follow me.”

“A Duke?” Tess asked, clearly impressed. “I didn't know we had those anymore.” Laura groaned and rolled her eyes again.

As we followed him, a group of men in fine suits appeared seemingly out of nowhere and grabbed our baggage, taking them to the estate. Another two assisted Alice and the maids and head butler followed him close behind.

“You haven't introduced us to your staff Raster pointed out, looking at them wearily.

He stopped. “Of course. These two lovely ladies are my personal assistants and body guards.”

“Body guards? These two tiny maids?” Lulu scoffed.

The Duke eyed her with one raised eyebrow. “You of all people should know great things come in small packages.” Lulu’s face turned red and she looked away. “Besides, they are, in some way, your sisters. These are the twins, Bit and Byte.” They bowed in unison toward us, their hands folded and eyes down. “Girls, these are your younger sisters, or at least half-sisters. Dr. Amano designed all of them as well.”

“Half-sisters?” Raster asked.

“They are gynoids, like yourselves, designed by Dr. Amano to be bodyguards and assistants. They are the only robots in my employ. I must commend you on your work, Doctor, they are excellent helpers.”

“Thank you” my dad replied with a nod.

“And this is Simon, my Head Butler. He will see to all your needs during your stay. I must keep up my presence in society if we are to pull this off. The Kaiser must not know I am helping you. This way, please.”

He turned to leave, with Simon, Bit, and Byte close behind. We followed his pace as he led us toward a building to the side of the main hall connected only by a covered walkway.

“He called me normal” Matrix complained to me as we walked.

“Consider it a compliment, he didn't call you ’weird’ or anything.”

The building was not as ornate or grand as the main hall we stood before, but it was charming and opulent itself. The main entryway was guarded by a man and a woman, some sort of private security, once we passed through the security, we found ourselves down a short hallway with doors on either side. Directly before us lay a set or carved wood double doors, which he led us directly into.

The ’communal room as he called it was a large round living space with all the luxuries of life. A decent sized kitchen and bar lay to one side almost behind us, and the rest of the room was filled with tables, chairs, tele-screens, games, and books. Splitting from here were 3 short hallways, opposite the main entrance, which led to bedrooms and bathrooms.

Simon pulled out a small book and a pencil and began writing down something before directing us.

“Bedrooms 1 A, B, and C will be Miss Proxy, Miss Lulu, and Miss Tess. Rooms 2 A, B, and C shall be Miss Raster, Miss Matrix, and Miss Ellie. 3 A, B, and C shall go to Master and Doctor Amano, and Miss May. Miss Alice shall be given quarters in room A on the main corridor.”

“And what about me?” Laura asked.

“Her ladyship shall stay in her old room in the main building-”

“Oh no!” She objected. “I am a part of this team, and I'm sticking with it. I am not going back to that princess hellhole."

“Please your ladyship-”

“Stop calling me that!”

“Laura” the Duke interrupted. “Your role here is finished; you are not leaving this house to put yourself in danger again.”

“No it isn’t. And yes I am! I am not going to just sit here and let you order me around anymore” Laura raised her voice.

“Please pumpkin, I don't want you to get hurt anymore-” he tried to plead with her.

“Don't call me that either! And since when did you give a shit about me? All you ever did was throw money at your problems. You sent me off to boarding school when I was too much to handle, and now you try to lock me in here?”

“Please, Laura. I-”

“You don't care about me at all, only your image. All you've ever done is protect your image! I am staying with my friends, and that is final!”

“Please Miss Laura” Simon begged, “there are no rooms left besides your own.”

“Don't give me that! These beds are huge; you can easily fit 3 people in one of these rooms!”

“I'd rather stay with Jimmy” Ellie interjected. “She can have my room.”

“An unmarried man and woman together...?!” Simon protested.

“Grow up! People do it all the time” Laura responded. She turned to her dad. “It's settled, I'll stay in her room then.”

“Nothing is settled” the Duke argued, his temper rising.

“They are my friends and I am not leaving them. They need me now more than ever!”

“Laura” May tried to interrupt but it was too late.

“I cannot condone you spending your time with these people. You put your life in danger when you tried to run away and sided with a wanted man, and now you refuse my protection? Are you trying to kill yourself?”

“I am trying to protect the people that matter! People like me! I can't do that locked away in here. But what would you know about protecting anyone?! Where were you when mom was killed; when she was buried?”

The Duke stood there with his mouth hanging open, unable to answer. His face turned red, but he took a deep breath while Laura huffed.

“I'm sorry to leave everyone on such a sour note, but I am urgently needed elsewhere.” He turned to the head butler. “Simon, give them whatever rooms they want. I will return before supper.”

With that he turned around and walked out, his heels echoing off the floor filling the room. Bit and Byte took their places behind him, while Simon remained here.

“Is that it? You're just going to give up and leave? That is just like you!” Laura screamed at his back, but as soon as the doors closed she turned away from us while we all stood there in silence.

She was crying but refused to show it, but we all knew. She lifted one hand to her face to wipe away a tear before turning back to us, her face half red and wet. “Sorry... Let's get in our rooms so we can get started planning.”

Simon scratched furiously on his notebook while we stood there is silent shock. “Pick whatever rooms you want, but I will have no part of this. A lunch will be served shortly, and supper at 7. If you need anything, please press the button on the wall in each room. Good day.”

That could have been more awkward I suppose, but it was pretty bad having Laura explode at her dad like that. Everyone was a silent for a while as we got settled in. We didn't really have much with us, but we knew we needed to make plans. May wanted to mount an assault, but we didn't know how what was in store. We needed to plan out, and gather intelligence. But first, we needed to calm down.

Ellie followed me pretty closely. She was determined to stay with me, and even helped in the bedroom setting everything up. In fact, Ellie was the one that picked our bedroom, and decided not to stay next to my dad or May, but rather determined that I should move in to her room next to Matrix and Raster. She was all smiles and giggles after a short while, as she turned down the bed.

Each hallway had a bathroom, and I knew I was in need of a shower after all that had happened. Maybe it would help calm my mind, but I found that Ellie was not about to part from me even for that long. Rather, she decided to join me. She needed a bath even more than I did after everything she went through.

“What's gotten into you?” I wondered aloud.

“Just... happy” she answered. “Like a weight is lifted from... my chest. You supported me... Encouraged me... Gave me hope... Want to thank you. Can't stop thinking about what could have happened.” She stood next to me, her hand resting on my chest. “I... could have lost you. I love you, Jimmy.” She looked at me teary eyed as she blushed.

“I feel the same. I only just got you back, and was terrified I'd lose you again. I'm so happy you are here with me.”

“Let me... share my love with you” she pleaded. “I... want to thank you properly.”

Her speech was getting better, clearer. In the past she hardly ever spoke in complete sentences, and now she was starting to, but she had to concentrate to do it. It wasn't as broken as it once was, and there was more emotion behind it. I had noticed this start to happen a little while ago, but it was clearer now. She was growing and learning.

But it wasn't her speaking that grabbed my full attention. It was her soft wet lips as she pressed herself against me for a long sensual kiss. Guilt hit me hard, and I pulled away leaving her wanting more.

“What? Did I do something wrong?” She asked worried.

“No, not you... I did something” I admitted. “I... had sex with Laura again. I'm sorry.”

She put her finger to my mouth. “Don't be. I know you love her too. OK with that. As long as there is always a place... for me in your heart. As long as you love me and accept my love, I... will gladly share you. Besides,” she smiled coquettishly, “I had you first.” Ellie giggled as she unzipped the white jump suit she had been wearing since we escaped the palace. “Might be fun to play together... with her sometime.”

I was at a loss of words. Ellie was arousing my every animal instinct, and I realized then how much I had been missing spending time with her. My thoughts went back to the first time I saw her lying in Einguard lifeless wearing that same suit, and how I repaired her and brought her back.

I watched as she slowly unzipped the front of her suit, allowing me to see her cleavage, before unzipping farther down. Her modest breasts pushed against the fabric as her navel came into view. Soon, she had reached the end of the zipper, reaching all the way down to her groin. I swallowed hard and she giggled.

“Do you... like what you see, Jimmy?”

“Of course!”

“Then why aren't you feeling me?” she teased. “I'm all yours.”

Ellie took my hand and placed it under the fabric directly on her breast. She sighed and shivered as I caressed her bare skin, feeling her erect nipple and soft flesh.

I reached up to slide the uniform off her shoulders and arms, revealingly her entire top with her slim build and round breasts. Ellie giggled again as she unbuttoned my shirt and felt my chest with her dainty fingertips.

I grabbed her and pulled her into me, pressing tightly against her, and gave her another kiss. Her moans of pleasure echoed in my ears as we kissed.

“Shall we continue in the bath, Jimmy?” She asked holding up a towel.

Wearing nothing but the towel, she led me into the bathroom at the end of the short hall and closed the door behind us. With everyone running about dealing with plans and room assignments, no one even noticed us.

As soon as we were alone, Ellie slipped her towel from her body and stood before me naked and glowing.

She gave me a flirty smile and grabbed a bar of soap, rubbing it to a lather all over her chest and belly in front of me.

“What are you doing?”

“Turn around” she demanded. “Going to clean you... the fun way.”

“The fun way?” I wondered. As soon as I faced away from her, I felt her naked flesh press against my back and rub against me. Her nipples poked out and turned me on but she could only reach my lower back.

“Sit down” she ordered. I found a small stool and sat, allowing her to rub her entire body against my back, spreading the soap. I could make out the sensation of her hardened nipples against my back. Needless to say, it felt really good, and got a rise out of my not-so-mini me. And Ellie knew it, as she reached around and caressed my chest and arms.

She sighed repeatedly as her hands reached down low enough to brush against my hardening rod. I couldn't take much more teasing, but as I was about to ask her for more, she seemingly read my thoughts and stopped rubbing my back, approaching my front. The soap on her body was still lathered up and left her skin wet and slippery, as she slid her way between my legs on her knees and pressed her chest against my cock, squeezing her tits together around it.

She started to pant as she rubbed up and down surrounding my erection with her warm soft slippery flesh.

“Is that... good, master?” Ellie asked, giving me a smile.

“Yes...” I answered, trying hard not to climax yet. It felt so good, I even found myself rubbing against her. I grabbed her shoulders and stopped her, realizing I was getting too close, but she just smiled.

“It's ok, I want you to enjoy this” she cooed.

“I'll enjoy it more if you are enjoying it with me.” She blushed crimson and giggled.

“If you insist, Jimmy.”

She stood up, never leaving contact with me, and slipped onto my lap, hovering her inviting pussy above my rock hard cock. I felt her slowly lower herself onto me, gasping as our intimate parts kissed.

“Mmmnnn... Jimmy... Ohhh! Jimmy, hold me!” she begged as she lowered herself onto me. I looked at her face, and her eyes were clenched tight as tears ran down her cheeks.

“Ellie, what's wrong?” I grabbed her delicate shoulders and stopped her movement, afraid I was hurting her.

“Don't stop! Please!” More tears rolled down her face. I loosened my grip without letting go, allowing her to lower herself even more until her full weight was on my lap, and I penetrated her fully. She breathed heavily as she continued to cry.

“Are you alright? Ellie?”

“Was just... so scared... I was going to lose you. When the judge found... me guilty... thought I was gonna die without saying goodbye. Never thought we'd be together again.” She sobbed as she leaned into my chest, letting out all the pain and tension from the past few days. It took a minute or two, but she eventually stopped and just leaned up against me, hugging me tightly with a sigh. “I thought I lost you, Jimmy!”

“You aren't getting rid of me that easily” I jested and it made her laugh a little as she sniffed. Having sat there in that awkward way for so long, I decided it was time to move.

“Oh god!” She exclaimed as I thrust inside her. “Jimmy! I- ooohh” she moaned in ecstasy. “Don't stop, oh god don't stop!”

I pounded upward and into her as she sat on me, eventually prompting her to respond and start gyrating and thrusting in time to my movement. She continued to moan and gasp as she leaned into me, but I wanted to see more of her, and lifted her away from my chest, letting her sit upright. That position intensified the pleasure for both me and her as her full weight pressed down, and she got louder.

“Oh Jimmy!! Need you... feel so good! Ah!” Ellie’s body bounced up and down on my lap as I wrapped one arm around her and caressed her perfect breasts with my other hand. She arched her back and pounded her hips harder against me as her head rolled back. Grabbing onto her butt, I stood up, holding her in place. She grabbed hold tight and wrapped her legs around me.

“What are you doing?” she panicked. “Going to fall- Ahh! Ohhhh Jimmy!” She exclaimed as soon as I started thrusting up into her, putting her full weight into my thrusts and reaching even deeper inside her.

She gasped and moaned, starting to get rather loud. “Ayah Ahh Ohh Ahhh!! Jimmy! Yes!! Right there! Ohhhhhh it's coming! I-”

“Not so loud, they'll hear.”

“Can't help it” she complained. “Don't stop, let them hear!” Ellie started thrusting herself against me, biting my shoulder and neck gently to keep from being too loud.

I picked up the pace again, our bodies slapping together, except this time she didn't last very long. Her head rolled back again and her tongue hung out of her mouth. I could feel the moment her vagina clamped down on me and she suddenly went quiet with her mouth open in a silent scream. She suddenly jerked; her entire body convulsed as she reached an orgasm.

“HAH! AH! Ahh... Ooh Jimmy! I love you!” She exclaimed as she continued to ride the wave of pleasure, unable to stop. I came inside her just as she was starting to come out of it, and she jerked again as I did. “Ah-hah!! Inside...” She remained tense up against me as I fell back to the seat still inside her. She collapsed into me and lay there breathing heavily with no strength to move.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

She nodded. “This is the first time since... I was taken from you that... I've been able to relax and really enjoy this.” Her speech had been greatly improving, but she struggled at times to make a complete sentence. “Jimmy... I was... so scared of dying so many times! Don't let go! Just hold me... for a little while.”

I held her there in my lap for several minutes as she held onto me tightly, still connected. I could feel her heart beating as her breaths calmed, and it reminded me that even though she was just a machine, she was alive.

“Ummm... Ellie, my legs are falling asleep" I complained as I lost feeling from her weight.

“Oh! Sorry!!” Ellie leaned back, pulling away from me and awkwardly getting off my lap, leaving a small wet pool of tears on my chest. However, when she stood up and faced me, she was beaming from ear to ear. “You... ok?" she asked as she offered me a hand.

I took her hand and tried to stand, forgetting she was only as strong as a regular human, and fell back into my seat. I tried again, this time managing to stand up, and pounded my feet into the ground, encouraging blood flow again.

"Jimmy? Are... you feeling better?" Ellie asked with her brows furrowed.

I nodded. "Yeah, I'll be fine. See? Just needed to get the blood flowing again" I explained as I lifted my leg.

Ellie giggled and smiled again. "We... should clean up" she suggested, turning on the water to the tub.

We sat together in the bathtub, Ellie leaning into me like I was a chair, enjoying the warm water rushing over us. She seemed so content and comfortable snuggling into me as she washed on arm at a time before moving down to her legs.

"I remember the first time I saw you naked" I reminisced.

"You were... spying on me in the bathroom" she remembered.

"You knew?"

Ellie just giggled her answer. "I... teased you enough that day. Such a gentleman, you... never took advantage of me."

"Well... yeah. I wanted to, I admit. But I just couldn't harm such a beautiful girl."

She smiled, and looked up at me, twisting her body into me and giving me a kiss. For the first time, I noticed the wound on her arm from before. It was healing alright, something her advanced artificial circulatory system allowed, but it left a small scar below her left shoulder. It wasn't bad, and healed rather quickly.

"Does your arm hurt at all?" I wondered.

"My arm?" She looked at the scar and touched it with her other hand. "No" she confessed.

"How did that happen anyway?"

She sighed and turned away from me, settling into my chest again splashing water around. "Matrix... she saved me. We pinned Seth down in his armored suit, but he broke ours. We escaped and ran... but Seth followed. He had a sword. He cornered us... but Matrix faced him. She was really angry, and provoked him. He ran at her, and they fought, but he stabbed her... in the eye, and she fell screaming." Ellie took a deep breath as she tried to calm herself. "He wanted her to watch him... kill me. He dragged her by the hair to me, and swung at my head. Only remember Matrix pushing me. He hit my arm, and she broke his sword with a pipe. He beat on her, but I hit him with a rock. I dragged Matrix away while he was dazed, and we escaped. We hid, and she remembered the rendezvous, and we ran for it. His soldiers found us, and then you found us."

"Wow. I'm so sorry!" I hugged her tightly, but she just shook her head.

"Not your fault. Just glad you weren't hurt. Lulu... she did a bad thing."

"Yeah, she followed us and tried to kill me. But... well, I forgive her. She wasn't thinking straight, and the effects of the virus were still wearing off. I'm going to give her a second chance."

Ellie nodded. "Virus was very strong. I remember how it felt. But that is gone now. I... will forgive Lulu too.”

We continued to bath in peace, enjoying each other's company. After we finished bathing, rinsing, drying, and the like, we wrapped towels around us again and headed back to our room. Ellie wanted to take a break from everything happening, and no one seemed to notice us in all the commotion. I didn't blame her, I never asked for all of this, I just wanted to live in my house on the hill out of the way and I wanted her to be a part of that. But things didn't turn out that way. I remembered that I don't even have a house anymore.

Ellie sat on the bed as I closed the door behind me. She was all smiled again, and her white hair seemed to glow in the silhouette of the shaded window. It was hard to believe she was actually here with me, in one piece, happy.

"Jimmy, is everything alright?" Ellie asked. I must have been thinking too hard.

"Yeah, for once everything is perfect" I smiled. She gave me another coquettish smile, and crossed her legs.

"You know..." Ellie began, lifting her hand to the top of her towel and undoing the knot keeping it up "we're still alone. Need to make up for lost time" she winked, letting the towel fall loose about her.

Ellie laughed as she turned around, completely free of the towel again, and crawled up the bed, giving me a full view of her. My heart raced again, and I realized I was totally ready for a second round.

Approaching the bed, I let my own towel drop before climbing on top, positioning myself behind her.

"Please master," she teased "make me yours."

I kissed her while feeling her slender body, before kissing her neck, her shoulders, her back, her hips, her cute butt, and finally her vagina. She smelled amazing, and was clearly still turned on from before. I couldn't stop myself as I licked her pussy, sending her into a whirl of moans and gasps.

"Ah! Oohhh... So good" she cried out as she stuck her butt out at me and grabbed onto the bed sheets. Ellie started to gyrate her hips, rubbing her snatch against my tongue, as she started to pant.

Her pussy was twitching with my every touch, and I knew she was ready, and so was I. With a grunt, I found my way inside her, pushing all the way to the hilt on the first thrust. She gasped loudly at my sudden invasion, but melted onto the bed in ecstasy as I continued my assault. He moans and gasps filled the room as I pushed inside her, picking up my speed, and bouncing off her sweet ass. With every thrust, I send waves of motion bouncing through her body, and with it she quickly reached a climax.

Ellie's motions stopped as she came, but I didn't let up. I continued to thrust inside her, heightening the intensity of her orgasm, bouncing my hips against her. I grabbed her arm and held it behind her, lifting her body off the bed and allowing her breasts to swing wildly with our motions. I then grabbed the other, and forcing her top off the bed entirely, focused on pulling her onto me even father and harder with every push. She couldn't take it anymore and yelled as she experienced orgasm after orgasm.

"AH! AHH! AHHhhh!! Jimmy! Cumming! AGAIN! OHH!!" Ellie yelled before she completely lost herself, and I let go of her arms, letting her fall into the bed again. I wasn't at my peak yet, but I had already brought her into several waves of pleasure and decided she needed a break more than I.

"Oh my god! What- I- I didn't-" a voice rang out beside us.

I looked over in horror to see Matrix standing there holding a bag of clothes and staring wide-eyed at our display.

"Holy shit! I forgot to lock the door!" I realized.

Ellie somehow miraculously got to her feet first, despite her leg-shaking orgasms, and closed the door behind Matrix, before grabbing her arm. She just stood there, trembling, still experiencing an orgasm, as she kept herself standing with the help of Matrix's arm.

"I didn- didn't realize you two were... the d-door was unlocked... I- I was just delivering clothes..." Matrix stuttered, still looking at me as I sat on the bed, still naked, still erect.

"It's ok, don't worry about it" I told her, realizing this was going to be the end of our session, before I could even get off.

"I should go..." Matrix blushed and turned to leave, but Ellie continued to hold onto her arm.

"No... don't go."

"What?"

"Stay. With us." She finally started to get over the orgasm. "Please. Want to thank you for saving my life. Please? Can't we play together, sis?"

"Sis?" Matrix and I asked at the same time.

"You've changed since we were one. You are the closest to a sister I'll ever have" Ellie explained.

"You have changed, Matrix" I added. "But Ellie, are you sure about this? I mean, it seems weird to do this sort of thing with both of you..."

She shook her head. "I am sure. Want to share my joy with my sister, with my closest friends. Sex is sex, love is love. I... am not selfish; will not let our love keep others from love, or sex. We can share our love, as long as everyone is open to it."

Matrix stood there, looking between the two of us. "That's deep... I thought I knew you but maybe not."

"Please?" Ellie begged.

I nodded, but Matrix looked bewildered. "You sure? I mean, this is like intimate stuff, isn't it? Getting naked together and all that... losing yourself... I don't know if I'm ready."

"Oh please," I added. "I've already seen you 'lose yourself' several times, and Ellie was there when you did it in the past. She's seen you like that more often then you realize."

"Ahh... yeah. Well... one tries not to think of these things." She sighed and looked back at the door. "Well this is the last room I had to make deliveries to... maybe we can for a little bit."

"Yay" Ellie exclaimed, pulling Matrix toward the bed by her arm.

"Hey, hold on... I still have these to-" she objected, but I just took the basket of clothes from her hand and tossed them to the side. I was still ready to continue, but now with Matrix in the room- come to think of it I had never had sex with 2 girls at the same time before. This was promising to be a new adventure and I suddenly found myself excited to start.

Ellie got on the bed and pressed herself to my back, where she took Matrix's hand and placed it on my arm. Matrix sighed, looking down at me and observing my body before feeling my arm.

"This is so weird" she confessed as she smiled uncomfortably between Ellie and me.

"Why?" I asked. "You were pretty kinky with Se-"

"DON'T say that name" she interrupted, pulling her hand away. "If you want anything to happen here, you'd better get me IN the mood, not out of it."

"Sorry" I apologized before changing the topic. "You must have had a hard life, but now we're here to help you. You don't have to face any of that alone anymore." I reached out my hand to her and placed it on her hip. "You're not as tough as you claim to be, are you? If you ever need a shoulder to cry on, or support, or just someone to talk to or whatever, I'll be here for you."

"Me too" Ellie added. "I want to help you succeed, and redeem yourself."

Matrix looked between the two of us with a narrow eye, suspicious of our intentions. It caught me by surprised when suddenly she sniffed and I realized there was a tear in her eye. She wiped it away and pretended it wasn't there before turning toward us and embracing us in a big hug.

"I'm so sorry for everything! How can you support me after everything I did? Especially you Ellie... It's all my fault people think you're a monster. I'm the monster. I don't deserve your friendship!"

"No... you are not a monster" Ellie replied hugging her and me.

"You were a victim" I added. "And now we're here to get you through all of this."

Matrix sniffed again. "Victim? I suppose so... but I still have to make up for everything I've done to all those people I hurt."

"You can't ask forgiveness from them until you can forgive yourself" I explained.

"We forgive you" Ellie continued. "Your turn."

More tears ran down one side of Matrix's face as she pulled back to look at us. The duct in her left eye was apparently not working, and the eye-patch she still wore hid the worst of her injury. She nodded, trying not to sob out loud, wiping all the tears away. She cleared her throat. "Ok... I will try."

I let her catch her breath and calm down a little before I pulled her in for a kiss. At first she resisted, but it didn't take long for her to succumb. She rubbed her hands all over my head and shoulders as she kissed me deeply.

Ellie in the meantime snuck over and got behind Matrix, pressing her body into her, and pulling off her leather jacket. She tossed it to the floor and felt all over her body, tugging at her suit.

Slowly I unzipped Matrix's suit, exposing her body, making her shiver. Matrix pulled away from the kiss and stared into my eyes, blushing. Ellie's hand took over, and unzipped her suit the rest of the way.

“I can take it from here, ’sis’” she said as she slid her suit off her shoulders rocking her hips back and forth to push it down her legs. Finally, Matrix stepped out one foot at a time, and put her hands on her hips, standing before me au naturale.


“Well? Are you going to fuck me or stare at me?”


Ellie pushed Matrix into me playfully, forcing me to catch her. Our eyes met inches apart, and we stared at one another as her face grew beet red. I decided to break up the tension and started to kiss and caress her, playing with her back, her arms, and her breasts. Ellie joined in and together we massaged and caressed every inch of Matrix until her eyes closed and she started to pant.

I rubbed my fingers between her legs, and slipped inside her. Matrix's breathing grew heavier as she started to get into it. Her juices were starting to flow now, and her hips pushed against my fingers. I picked up the pace, and started to really rub her, right at her g-spot, until she grew weak in the legs and started to collapse into our arms. Holding onto her tightly, I lifted Matrix up and tossed her onto the bed.


Whoa!! Hey! What's the big-" Matrix started to object, but as soon as she saw my full erection, she stopped and stared at me with a slight grin on her face. "Very big..."

I separated her legs, and approached her on the bed. It was a few minutes ago that Ellie and I were going at it, but I was still feeling it, and was desperate to continue. I pressed myself against her, and started to push my way inside.

"Wait a second there cowboy! I'm not ready yet-" she protested, but her body offered little resistance. I slid the head inside her and she clenched her teeth.

"Does it hurt?" Ellie asked, climbing onto the bed next to her.

Pulling out, I realigned myself and tried again. This time, her mouth hung open into a silent 'Oh!’

Matrix shook her head. "No... I just wasn't prepared... Wow!"

I pushed inside her, slowly at first, letting her adjust to my size and shape, before picking up the pace. Ellie lay next to us, her fingers gently caressing Matrix's breasts before running down her front to rub on her clit. I could feel her fingers brushing against me but the effect on Matrix was immense.

"HOooooOOOOLY SHIT!" she belted out, trying to crawl backwards up the bed, away from the action. I didn't let her, and pulled her back in. She kept her torso up on her elbows as she tried to look down at where we were connected. I picked up the pace again.

"FFFFUCK!" she cried out, her arms failing her and letting her head fall to the pillow. Ellie kissed her, something I never thought I'd see in my life! I grasped Matrix's hands together and held them over her head, letting her grab hold of the bed frame above her. This position stretched her torso and did wonderful things to her breasts as they bounced up and down from our movement. I could feel her walls clamping against me; she felt amazing! I needed to release, and decided to take Matrix with me to the edge.

I grabbed her legs and lifted them up, pushing them back next to her head, completely changing my angle of entry. With her pussy lifted and completely exposed, she was tighter and felt more from our love making. It was a win-win for both of us.

"FUUUUCK ME! Shit! AHH!!! NO WAY! FFUUUCK!" She screamed before she began to let out a series of yelps and moans. The bed frame shook as she continued to latch onto it desperately. Ellie didn't fit easily into this position, so she moved beside me and started to caress my back and chest, giving me a kiss as she rubbed her hands all over me.

I could feel it getting close. Matrix was curling her back toward me as best as she could as she got close to her zenith, but at this rate, I would cum before her. It was time for my secret weapon. As I continued by assault on her, I place my hand on her lower stomach and gently pushed, allowing her to feel more of my movement inside her against her g-spot inside. At the same time, I rubbed my thumb across her clitoris. The effect was instantaneous.

Matrix clenched her teeth and her body tensed up, but her legs kicked wildly to get lose. I reached my limit just as she reached hers, and I came inside her. Her legs didn't last long kicking against me as her toes curled and she spread her legs, trying to push me off of her. Inside, she clamped down so tightly, she actually pushed me out, spilling my last load onto her belly, but it wasn't my ejaculation that made the biggest mess. Matrix squirted clear juice in spurts as she convulsed. I barely managed to avoid getting hit. It wasn't a huge amount, but it was enough.

I had never seen a girl squirt before; she must have really enjoyed that orgasm. Ellie giggled as she watched Matrix really lose herself before us.

"That's..." Matrix gasped between breaths, "... different."

"That looks intense" she commented while Matrix stopped and started to calm down. Even though I had just cum, the sight of a girl so turned on she squirted for some reason excited me even more. It wasn't really the squirting that did it for me, it was Matrix's reaction. Her orgasm was so strong, with every squirt, she cried and squealed, until at last her body gave up and she collapsed before us, completely spent.

The only problem was Ellie and I were so excited by her demonstration that we wanted more. As soon as Matrix was able to focus her eyes again, Ellie was right on top of her, face-to-face. But from my point of view, it was pussy-to-pussy. And what a view it was.

I was amazed how quickly I recovered as I watched the two of them kiss and grind their bodies together. Matrix tried to object but she didn't have the strength left to push Ellie off, and she relented. The only thing missing from this picture was me.

It took only a minute or so, but I was somehow already ready for yet another go. I hadn't had this much fun in my entire life, and I was enjoying every second of it. Ellie inhaled as I touched her hips. She let out a cute squeal as I lightly spanked her cheek. I readied myself, and slid inside her.

Only I missed, and slid between the two of them. Both of them moaned as the sensation of my engorged cock rubbed against their pearls. It actually felt really good, almost like I was inside one of them. I continued to grind and thrust myself between them, letting them rub against me and each other. The sensation was unique and enjoyable, but I wanted to get the real thing again. So naturally, I pulled out from between them, and right into Ellie.

She arched her back as I entered her, pushing her own hips down toward mine, taking me all the way to the base. She rocked her hips back and forth as I thrust in and out. She moaned and sighed, while Matrix slapped her butt.

But how could I give only Ellie all the pleasure? I switched it up, pulling out of Ellie and thrusting inside Matrix. She didn't expect it, and yelped when I entered her. However, she instantly adapted and started to make sexy noises herself as I pleased her.

We went about it this way for several minutes. I'd slide between the two of them, and let them do all the work with their hips, before alternating between them. Slowly but surely, we worked up the fervor between us, until I was grunting with effort. Matrix was the first to reach her orgasm again. She didn't squirt this time, but did squeal as she reached her peak, and her body started to buck back and forth with the waves of pleasure.

I moved onto Ellie, thrusting inside her until she collapsed on top of Matrix, who in turn grabbed onto her ass and spread Ellie's cheeks, letting me go even deeper. Ellie tensed up, grabbing onto the sheets on either side of Matrix, as she screamed into the pillow. She reached yet another orgasm, cumming less intensely than the last times, but leaving me just shy of release.

Ellie's legs gave out and she collapsed fully onto Matrix, pulling me out of her again. I was ready to finish off rubbing between them or some other way, but a noise caught my attention.

The door swung open, and in walked Laura and Lulu. Ellie forgot to lock the door!

"Not again" Ellie whispered.

"OH my god! Jimmy!?" Laura gasped. "Both of them?!"

"Matrix?" Lulu asked shocked at the sight. This was getting out of hand.

Chapter 22 - Things men shouldn't see

"I can explain” I uttered, realizing they sounded like the last words of a doomed man.

“Explain?” Laura shot back, red in the face. “Here we were looking for you three, wondering where you went off to, and we find you... you...”

“Fornicating?” Ellie added, sitting beside me.

"Yes, fornicating. Thank you.”

“Is it really that big of a surprise?” I asked, realizing I was only digging a deeper hole for myself.

“Of course it is! I mean... I knew about you and Ellie. But Matrix? And both at once?!”

“Hey!” Matrix objected, her speech still a little slurred as she struggled to compose herself against the wave of pleasure that was still running through her systems. She tried to prop herself up on her elbows, but fell back to the bed.

“What's wrong with Matrix?” Lulu asked. I wasn't sure if she was asking about why she was acting strange of why Laura insinuated that there was something wrong with being with her.

“My idea” Ellie interjected sheepishly.

“What?” Laura snapped as she glanced over at Ellie. I couldn't help but notice her eyes dart back to me as I sat naked and exposed on the bed as half her face grew steadily more red.

“Wanted to. Because she's my sister” Ellie explained. Laura opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Ellie continued. “Wanted to share my... happiness.”

“And you're just ok with this?" She said staring at me trying to look at my face and not my groin. Triying but failing. "Clearly you are...” Laura scoffed instantly, trying to play down her embarrasment.

“Well-” I began.

“I know, I know... you even told me she wanted to share you or something... But I didn't think at the same time. I mean, not like this!”

“Well she-”

“Yes, I remember what you said the other night, but I thought you were just thinking with your dick.”

“Hey-”

“But of course Matrix would be alright with this. Solid rock of morality there." she scoffed. "I just didn't think she liked you in that way.”

"Hey!" Matrix objected as she raised one hand, but remained looking blankly at the ceiling.

“Well Matrix-” I tried to get in edgewise.

“And why would I get jealous over you with two other girls that want you? I mean, does Matrix even want you? I mean why would I get jealous? Why would I get jealous?!” She repeated as though coming to a realization.

“Knew what she'd want” Ellie interrupted. I was just not getting a word in.

“And how would you know that?” Laura wondered.

“Because... Was progra- no. I fell in love with Jimmy, and... Matrix has the same desires. We were one person once.” Ellie struggled to say in complete sentences as she stood up and, still quite exposed, approached Laura with her hands extended. “I... know you love him too.”

“Hey! I don't want to be the other woman, ok?” Laura objected. “I won't come between you two. Err... Three.”

Ellie grasped Laura's hand and held it to her chest. “You won't. I... trust Jimmy, and you. Sex... is an expression of love; love takes many forms. Just want to share my love with my... closest... friends. Would be happy if you'd join us.”

Laura looked into Ellie's eyes as she practically begged her to have what I could only call an orgy. This was so wrong. What was I doing? What was Ellie doing?

“Hey wait” I objected, determined to get my voice heard. “I can barely handle two girls... I'm exhausted. I don't think I can handle 3... And then there's Lulu.”

Lulu snapped her eyes toward me as if awoken from a daze. I realized she was staring rather lustfully at Ellie who was right next to her.

“What? Wait-” Lulu spoke up startled. “I don't want to get in the middle of all this... Although... I'll be glad to take Matrix off your hands” she added with a fake cough when she realized what we were talking about.

“What?” Laura and I snapped simultaneously. Matrix rolled over and sat up next to me.

“I'm not leaving this bed until my head clears.”

“You won't have to” Lulu added.

“Hold on” Laura interjected, “Would you really be ok doing something like that right next to a heterosexual threesome?”

"Wait, what's going on?" Matrix wondered.

“So you will join us?” Ellie added beaming at Laura bouncing in place with excitement.

“I didn't say that” Laura added in defense.

“And why wouldn't I be?” Lulu replied.

“Well... You're a... Aren't you a... lesbian?” Laura clarified.

"Hold on a sec..." Matrix objected but was promptly ignored.

Lulu sighed. “No. I'm not a lesbian.”

“But then why would you want to do it with-” Laura continued.

“I'm bi.”

“Ohhh...” Everyone in the room seemed to say at once.

“What's ’bi’ mean?” Ellie asked.

“It means she likes girls AND boys.” Laura explained.

“Ohhh.”

“Hate to burst your bubble, but I'm into guys” Matrix objected. “Or rather... guys get into me” she snickered.

“Does that mean you like Jimmy too?” Ellie asked Lulu, almost worried.

“Pshh” Lulu scoffed. “You can have him. He might be pretty to look at, and I wouldn't object to a round with him, but I've had my eye on this prize for a while now.”

“Wait, is everyone just ok with this?!” Laura burst out.

“I'm not sure I like where this is going” Matrix objected, but Lulu locked the door and smoothly strutted toward her, which looked a little odd with just the one hand, but her body motions made up for it.. "I'm straight, straight as an arrow."

“I think I can change your mind” she cooed. “Just open yourself up to new possibilities... It might be my only chance to do this, and I'm not going to pass it up.” She reached the bed next to me, standing right in front of Matrix, and started to crawl on the bed as best she could, forcing Matrix to lean back. “I have been waiting for this for years. With everything happening between you and that other guy, I've never been able to express my feeling till now.”

She leaned over Matrix, somehow able to balance herself with one arm, and kissed her, hard and deep. Matrix laid there, shocked and wide eyed, not sure how to react. But before I could really watch what they did next, I found Ellie backing up into me, pulling Laura in tow.

“Hey now! I don't know about this...” she objected but didn't resist Ellie's pull.

“Please?” Ellie begged. "It'll be fun!"

Laura glanced between Ellie and me, and then my stiff member, and sighed.

Next thing I remember, Laura was on top of me kissing me intimately. I vaguely recall Ellie pulling Laura's clothes off as we made out, and the two of them feeling my body, and each other's. I thought I would be more reserved when doing this with Laura, or that she would be more resistant to participate, but it didn't take long for her to completely surrender herself and start stroking me, making my still excited member even stiffer.

“How the hell did you talk me into this?” She asked as she pushed me down on the bed, straddling me.

“Hey now! I didn't do anything” I defended.

“My fault” Ellie giggled as she sat above my head, kissing me upside down.

"Just... shut up and fuck me already" Laura slowly lowered herself onto me, moaning as she sat with her entire weight on me, allowing me to reach her deepest parts in one move.

“I can't believe I'm doing this” she sighed. Meanwhile, Ellie ran her fingers down my chest and slid her body over mine. I licked and sucked at her soft flesh as she worked her way down, eventually reaching Laura.

Ellie lifted herself from me just long enough to reposition herself directly over me, giving me a clear and up-close view of her pussy. As she started to kiss and caress Laura, I did the same to Ellie snatch, and her reaction was instant.

Everything became a blur as the two girls straddled me, one below and the other above. They moved together grinding themselves against me to pull as much pleasure as they could from my body. Ellie came first having already warmed up several times before. Her body convulsed and rocked back and forth as I used my tongue to send her to paradise. She let out a squeal, filling the room with the erotic sounds of sex, and rolled off while panting heavily, allowing me to change positions with Laura. Laura had already come close to climaxing herself, but now she wouldn't stand a chance. I had hit a stride and wasn't about to climax as easily as before, giving me all the stamina I needed to really send her over the top.

I pushed myself into her from above, lifting her hips up into the air as I thrust downward. She quickly arched her back and held her breath in a silent orgasm, tensing her entire body, before I rolled her to her side and continued to pleasure her to another orgasm. I got so obssessed with making Laura cum over and over again, I lost track of time and my surroundings. It wasn't until after Laura had a literally leg-shaking orgasm that I even remembered that Matrix and Lulu were in the room with us. While we took the bed, they took the floor.

Some things a man isn't meant to see. This felt like one of those things. Lulu was passionately grinding her snatch against Matrix's as hard as she could with just one arm to support her, and Matrix was clenching her face and hands as she tried hard not to orgasm, turning her face flush. She was doing pretty well holding it off, as she hardly made a sound herself. Not that Lulu minded. I got the impression she was enjoying trying to make Matrix squeal. For the most part they were rather silent, expect for Lulu's heavy breathing.

Matrix winced open her eye and glanced at me, meeting my gaze. Tears swelled up and ran down her face as she looked through them toward at me. When her mind finally processed that I was watching her, her eye shot wide open and her face turned cherry-red. Whether it was from her realization that I was watching her, or from the devoted and relentless actions of Lulu, or perhaps a bit of both, Matrix suddenly curled up and let out a series of moans and a squeal. She came, and she came hard, with Lulu finally satisfied having reached her goal.

They collapsed together on the floor near us. The site of them climaxing brought me over the edge, and finally I exploded inside Laura, spilling out and covering her legs. As I finally fell back onto the bed and caught my breath, I realized Ellie was the only one not breathing heavily, having grabbed hold of my arm to cuddle. I had never done anything like that before, and would probably never again.

Lulu sat up and looked over at Matrix with a big smile. "I dreamed this day would come but I never thought I'd actually get to do that with you."

"Don't expect it to happen again" Matrix grumbled as she rolled away from her. "This was a one-time thing! I'm definitely still straight. I have to think..."

"I-" Lulu started.

A loud knock on the door startled all of us, and Raster's voice belted through.

"Don't think we don't all know what you are doing in there. We can hear everything. Report in the front hall in one minute!"

"Shit" Lulu cussed and quickly started dressing. "That was a bad idea."

Laura sat up and covered herself. "They heard us? Oh god!” She was blushing so hard that even her artificial side turned red.

Everyone started to scramble, cleaning themselves up and pulling on clothes as fast as they could, except for Ellie.

"This counts for you too Jimmy. And bring Ellie with you" Raster's voice echoed.

I shrugged and helped Ellie up and got her some clothes. "Guess they need us too."

Ellie just smiled at me with a big grin as I threw her uniform on her head.

"30 seconds soldiers" Raster announced.

The girls dressed in record speed, even helping each other, and still made sure their hair was at least decent.

As Raster started counting down from 10, they panicked and ran for the door. Ellie was still naked, and I only had on my pants, but everyone else was out the door by the time she got to 4. She looked over at the two of us still in the room.

"This isn't a vacation you two, hurry up."

With that she left us, barking orders to the girls in the main room and making sure they were presentable.

Ellie was still glowing from our encounter, and had a little trouble standing. I helped her dress before finishing up myself. I made sure she was more-or-less cleaned off, dressed, and ready to go before I grabbed the rest of my clothes. An extra bra and a panty or two laying about told me they didn't all finish dressing completely.

As I buttoned up my shirt, Ellie pressed herself to my back, laying her head on me.

"Fun" she said in her monotone way, although I was used to her voice by now and heard the emotion in it.

"Yes it was, although I don't think I want to do that very often. But right now we have other things to worry about."

"Let me help" she suggested as she got in front of me an started buttoning my shirt for me. She was so delicate, I almost thought she was trying to seduce me again. She kissed my cheek when she finished, and skipped off to the mirror to adjust her hair.

I stood behind her, making sure everything was straight and I was presentable as well. I could still smell the scent of sex and sweat on us, but another shower would have to wait. Ellie sighed as she looked in the mirror.

"Wish I had something nice to wear" she pouted.

"Later we'll get you a nice new dress. But at least this is sexy on you" I winked.

She smiled and latched herself to my arm as we left the room behind.

As we entered the main room, I could see the girls all lined up at attention before Aunt May. Laura, Matrix, and Lulu were blushing, and for good reason. Some of May's men joined us and were lined up right next to them. With them were a few of the remaining male Ainu soldiers who I remembered seeing at the bunkers. If they really could hear everything we did in there, then the girls had every right to be embarrassed.

May was giving a rousing speech of some sort, but I wasn't really listening. She said something about how important the upcoming mission would be, and how they were representing the people. The only thing I really heard was about the girls.

"I'm not here to scold you, but this is the only chance you girls have to redeem yourselves in the eyes of the people. So many have suffered at your hands, even this will not be enough, but it will be a start. If you fail here, you will not get a second chance. Especially for you two, Matrix and Ellie. Even if you succeed in this, you two will still face adversities after everything you've... that's happened, but if you can pull this off, you'll at least have a chance. I'll do what I can to support you, but only if you succeed. If not, I will personally pull the trigger."

Ellie gripped my arm a little tighter, but stood up straight with resolve. "We will not fail."

"For your sake, I hope you are right. If we succeed, I will make sure you are treated with respect and protected from retaliation." May softened her voice. "Too many people have suffered for too long. Even you two... I see that now. It's only natural to place blame on the ones who hurt us directly... But I will not keep my eyes closed at what is really happening." She lifted her head and her voice again as she finished her speech. "Everyone here has been directly affected by Tsion's actions. We have all lost something, or someone. It's time we took this city back, and rebuilt this nation for the people!"

The men all answered with a "Hoo-Ha!", making Ellie jump a little.

"Get yourselves cleaned up and ready, the Ainu men will join my men, and the ladies are to report here in 10. And no more playing around. That goes for you too Jimmy."

"Right" I answered timidly.

"Dismissed!"

"Take a shower" she added sniffing at me. "This isn't a holiday."

"But I already..." I started but realized she was right. "OK."

10 minutes passed as I hurriedly cleaned up and soon I was joining the others who were all lining up in the main room. Laura joined us as well, and blushed when she saw me. May was standing next to her looking over a map on a table before them, and Alice was next to her pointing out locations on the map.

As I joined them, Ellie, Lulu, and Matrix entered the room, cleaned and dressed, chatting with each other until they saw me. All three just stopped and started to giggle. I'm had to faked a cough to break the tension. “Ladies.”

Raster and the other girls rushed in behind them and lined up side-by-side in front of May. We all joined them standing before the table.

"At ease" May ordered. "Good, you're all here. What you're about to hear is strictly confidential, and for your ears only. We’ve been working hard on a plan, and the role we have for you girls is vital. You are the most capable soldiers we have, and while I have already been criticized for involving you in this, I feel it will give you the best chance to redeem yourselves, and give us the best chance to succeed."

"We will succeed" Raster replied. "What do you need from us?"

"Your roles are simple. You have to assassinate Tsion."

Everyone gasped, myself included.

"What?!" Lulu spat.

"Hey, I don't want Ellie or Matrix involved in killing anyone" I objected after a moment.

"This will be the single act you need to do to redeem yourselves."

"Is this really a good idea?" I questioned realizing this was likely to cause more problems. "Wouldn't that make them look bad, like assassins from an enemy state or something? This sounds like a bad idea to me."

"I'm afraid we have no other choice" May explained.

"There might be another way" Alice interjected. "Tsion is weak. He's been ill for years. I've seen him. He could barely sit up let alone stand or walk. He relies on his computer to carry out all of his commands."

"That's why no one has seen him in person for so long..." Laura realized. "All his addresses have either been on the tele-screens or by Seth on his behalf.. Even at the Academy and in the service, I never saw the man."

"He's dying" Alice continued. "he relies solely on his computer to carry out his commands. All we have to really do is disable that computer."

"Taking out a computer?" May asked. "We need to take out the man!"

"And we will" Laura added. "But in a court, so we can judge him properly and show everyone his crimes."

May thought about this for a moment and nodded. "Very well," she conceded. "We will... disable him and put him under arrest.. But this will complicate-"

"Good, cause I have a plan" Alice smiled. "I’ve been thinking about this, and I’m pretty sure most of your plan still works. We need to keep their forces busy with a frontal assault, to distract what we're really doing." She pulled out a map. "It's unlikely they realize that I know the floor plans as well as I do. Seth will focus his defences at the obvious entrances, but he will keep a small mobile reserve force, most likely led by himself, for any surprise attacks. We will have to face that force, but if we catch them off-guard, we should be able to take them out without too much trouble. Here..."

Alice pulled out a map from under the others. It was a floor plan, indicating the storey and tower number. 81st floor, pretty high up. It mainly consisted of one large room, and several smaller ones. She pointed to the large room close to the center.

"This is his main control room, where we spends most, if not all, of his time. He's bed-ridden now, but he won't be the problem; the defence systems and his personal guard will. It is likely they will double as his caretakers." She looked around the map a little and pulled another one out, indicating the floor below.

"Here" she said pointing at an outerwall. The layout was very similar, except the large center room now filled most of the space. "This wall will be our best bet in. There is a service door for flying armored suits hidden here, and it will let us avoid most of his outer defences. Once we block the stairs and disable the elevators, he will have no escape. We can go up to Tsion. But...". She paused and thought, seemingly frozen in place for the better half of a minute. "His computer has a strong firewall."

"I bet it's nothing I can't take care of" Matrix boasted.

"I wouldn't take that bet. This isn't just a defensive firewall, it will attack your systems. It was designed with you in mind. You will have about 10 seconds before it will start the attack. And it won't end well. I'm... I'm not sure what you can do here actually. The computer is tied into several terminals throughout the upper floors, but even if you all attack at once, it will still take several minutes until you could break the system and by then you will all be-"

"I think I can help with that" my dad spoke up. He had been listening in, even though he wasn't supposed to be privy to this private conversation. Still, May didn't object.

"I've been working on something that might help. It's... Well...". He hesitated to say, as he looked between all the girls he built. "It was my last resort and I hoped to never have to use it."

"what is it?" Raster asked, her voice more tender than I expected.

"It's a virus of my own."

"A Virus? Like the one I had in me?" Matrix asked.

"Not exactly... It's more like a kill switch for... All of you."

"What?!" Lulu, Matrix, Proxy, and I all gasped.

He put up his hands in defense. "I hoped never to use it on you girls, because it was too strong. And even after everything I had a been through with Tsion, I still had faith you could be saved."

"What do you mean a kill switch?" Laura asked.

"In this case, it's a virus that infects any computer system it is attached to and network out to all other systems it can reach. It would then systematically erase key elements of the system before scrambling the rest before overheating the electronics. It would repeat this in all the systems in snuck into, in a matter of seconds." He sighed. "It was my desperate attempt to terminate all of you in one swoop, in case you started a war or something."

The girls were in shock, speechless.

"I could never bring myself to use it, but I needed some reassurance that Tsion wouldn't turn you into monsters and... Well I guess he did start his war didn't he? Only, your systems are all isolated, unless you connect to each other. So it had that one fatal flaw. I'd have to install it in each of you. I was going to fix that, and have it force you to connect to each other but it was too much for me, I couldn't do it. I abandoned the project, but kept it around just in case."

"You were going to kill us?" Tess asked.

He shook his head. "I was going to save you."

They all looked down, and realized he was right.

"So does this mean we have to raid your lab at the palace?" May asked, ready to find an excuse to just shoot Tsion.

"No, it's too dangerous to just leave somewhere, or even in one piece. I have it with me, but I had to split it on 2 drives. I built each half to be inert by themselves, but as soon as the two halves meet on the same system, they activate."

"How long does it take to install and activate?" Proxy asked.

"Not long. Each half is small and should only take a few seconds to install. It will take less than a minute to activate once both parts are installed."

May thought about this and nodded. "Yes, very well. Prepare your virus. You will install one half on half the girls, and the other half in the rest."

"What about the firewall?" Tess asked. "Won't it stop anything from installing?"

"I can give you all the required passwords" Alice explained. "But as soon as the computer’s AI realizes you don't belong, it will block you out and attack. It will only take a few seconds. You'll have to use multiple terminals. Once it discovers an infiltration, it will lock out that entire terminal. You won't have time to install the second half there."

She looked at the map again and rested her metallic hand on it, scanning the page as she tried to remember the details of the layout. "Here, here, here, and here. These are all the terminals on the 81st floor. And of course the main room. You'll want to access them there, after securing the floor. I'm afraid you will be too busy fighting their defense forces on the 80th floor to take the time to install something there."

She marked the locations, but they were far apart, on opposite ends of different corridors. Perhaps if we split into teams we could tackle them easier.

"What about these defense forces? Are they just Ino Royal Guards?" Raster inquired.

"I do not know. But I don't think it will be the IRG. If anything, expect a mechanical guard. Something robotic. He... confuses me. He both hated us, and yet relies on us for so much."

"He used us to fight his fights, start his wars, spread his fear and hatred, and now as his own guard, nurses, and servants" Raster pointed out. "He truly is mad."

"Not mad," Tess argued. "He thinks he's superior, that we are his tools and weapons."

"So all we have to do is force our way in, fight an unknown enemy on the way up, barricade the hallways, and install this virus in two places?" Lulu asked. "Easy."

"Actually that is about it" Alice replied.

"My men will fight Tsion's main forces to make this possible. We will be the only forces the people see until your mission is done. You must be kept secret."

"What about the escape plan?" Proxy wondered.

"There isn't one" May explained.

"We'll be stuck there?" Lulu complained.

"How are we supposed to arrest him?" Tess followed up.

"As luck would have it, if his forces are robotic or AI and are connected to his system, my virus should wipe them all out" my dad explained. "You can just walk out the front door."

"Any humans or cyborgs you run into will have to be dealt with, they will not be affected" May added. "I suggest if you find yourselves surrounded by these forces, you send a message over the airwaves and try to stay alive. You should be able to get connected there. Just don't get yourselves infected. We'll come get you as soon as you give word. If they break through... you know what to do."

The girls were silent. This was a suicide mission, and we knew it. Going in to fight an unknown enemy, knowing Seth might set up a trap on our way in, while carrying a deadly virus that could kill any one of them, and with no way out...

"Alright, let's do it!" Matrix burst out after careful thought. The other girls looked at her and nodded. "If we're going to die, let's at least do it trying to save the people we hurt."

"Are you all ok with this?" May asked.

"Yes ma'am" they replied in unison, Ellie included.

"Jimmy, I can't ask you to go along with this. It's too dangerous. You don't need to be there. I think you should join Laura with me. She'll be leading a team of men in the assault, as a symbol that even Tsion’s own soldiers are turning on him."

I looked between everyone: May, Laura, my dad, Ellie, and Matrix. Where did I belong?

I didn't want to run into a fight I was afraid we couldn’t win, and with little I could do to help. But I didn't own an armored suit either and would be little help to Laura. I was no soldier. But I could help in other ways. Laura was more than capable on her own. She had grown independent and strong, and was leading others naturally. I knew what I had to do.

"I won't let Ellie and Matrix go into a hopeless situation alone. I might not be much help on the battlefield, but I know my way around computers and robotics. If anything I have a better chance of helping them there.”

May nodded, although Laura looked a little sad. "I understand. We will do what we can to prepare you. That goes for all of you. We have one day to prepare for the assault. Get yourselves ready. We train in the morning. You will all be reporting to Dr. Amano at 08:00 for repairs, upgrades, and to have the virus installed. Until then, no more playing around. Dismissed!"


That night, Ellie decided she wanted to spend some time with Matrix and the others. It was possibly her last chance to spend with the only family she knew from when she was merely a part of Matrix. Not that she didn't want me to join her. I just felt that I needed to think, and perhaps she could be more comfortable spending time with them without me as a distraction. Besides, I was still worn out from before. I decided to take a walk outside, enjoying the cool night air.

"Jimmy! I didn't know you were out here" Laura claimed as she bumped into me turning a corner down a path between the buildings. It was a covered walkway with elaborate carvings in the ceiling and ornate metalwork on the columns, glinting in the artificial light of an expertly designed landscape. Her father’s estate was a thing of beauty, and I found it relaxing to think while looking at it.

"Oh, don't worry about it. What's that?"

"This?" She asked, holding up a small basket of folded cloth. "Just... Something from my old room." She fell silent.

"If you want to stay in your old room-"

"NO!" She burst out. "No... I rather not. It's..."

"Your dad. Sorry."

"Don't be. It isn't just him. All my memories of my mother are here. It's just really hard. Everywhere I turn I see her, and... Instead I see him!"

"You must really hate your dad. I mean I don't blame you, he sounds like he hurt you and didn't exactly miss your mom."

"It isn't that... I mean... He loved her. At least he used to. But after my accident he was a different person. No longer my father, he was now just a man who paid my way through life. I miss him.... his old self, more than I want to admit. But instead I just see this arrogant, greedy, power-hungry, mean, selfish man who..." She sighed. She put the basket on the railing and stood next to me looking out at the tree in the distance reflecting in a reflecting pool light with various colors.

"I don't know what to think anymore. But every time I see him, I can't help but hate him. It's like when my mom died, he died too, and I was left without either of them. Instead a stranger stands there with his face.” Laura let a tear roll down her cheek, ignoring it, before sniffing and rubbing it away. "I didn't want to stay here, because it hurts too much. So you'll forgive me if I take the last reminder of my mother from this place."

"I can't imagine how you feel" I admitted. "My mother and father were gone from since before I could remember, and now I find my dad is still alive. He's a stranger to me because I have no memories of him from before. It must hurt to see your dad change like that."

"I just wish I knew what I did that drove him to hate my mother and me so much. I probably should have been the one who died in that accident.” She sniffed again and stood up straight. "Sorry, I shouldn't be venting to you.”

"Why would you say that?" a voice asked behind us.

We snapped around to see her father watching us from behind the same corridor. Laura was so surprised she dropped the basket but didn't move to pick it up again. He must have heard the whole thing.

"You!" Laura spat. "What do you want now?!"

"Can we talk? In private? Please?"

"No." She turned to leave but something in her father’s face urged me to grab her arm to keep her from leaving. She shrugged me off and played it cool. "Whatever you have to say you can say in the open in front of Jimmy. I don't think I can stand to be alone in the same room as you."

"Laura..." he exhaled. He looked me in the eyes for a good long minute in silence, putting me on edge, but I knew if I left she would just shut him out again. He relented and groaned. "As you wish."

Laura turned away from us and crossed her arms. Ouch, cold shoulder.

"Dear, what has brought on this hatred? What have I done to deserve-"

"What have you DONE? I can't believe you! How about betrayed me and mom? I woke up from that accident with half my body missing! I was hooked up to machines to keep me alive. Mom was gone! Where were you?! Off playing politics while paying someone else to fix your problems!"

Laura was fuming as she went off on her dad. He stood there and took it, all of it, without flinching.

"Is that what is really bothering you?" He asked.

"Isn't that enough?! You- you didn't even show up to bury mom!" She ignored the stream of tears rolling down her face as she gritted her teeth and tightened her fists. She slammed her robotic hand against the railing, denting the metal with a loud clang, but she didn't even flinch.

He shook his head. "I have been a... horrible father. You and your mother were my entire life! When she died, I was afraid I lost both of you, it nearly killed me. I did attend her funeral. She was cremated a week after she died. You were in a comma for over a month. By the time you recovered-" he flinched at that word realizing she never recovered fully. “By the time you could leave the hospital, several more had passed. I arranged a special memorial service for your sake, so you could say goodbye. We buried the urn inside the coffin, to help give you closure. I just couldn't say goodbye to her a second time.”

Laura was speechless, caught in the guilt of blaming her father for all her problems, but he didn't stop.

"After your accident, I paid this young man’s father to help you heal and walk again, because it was all I could do. No, it wasn't all. I spent months tracking down the cause of the accident. I admit I was too scared to look at my own daughter’s damaged body, afraid you’d never make it. It was easier to distance myself and dive into the investigation. I am truly sorry...

"What I learned though horrified me. It wasn't an accident. It was sabatoge. Someone wanted to kill both of you. I've spent the rest of my life getting close to that person, so he wouldn't finish the job, and allow me to catch him off-guard. Keep your friends close-"

"... And your enemies closer" Laura finished. "It was Tsion wasn't it?"

He nodded. "He wanted me to build his weapons of war, but I refused. This was my punishment. Perhaps you two meeting like this, the son of the man who designed the weapons, and the daughter of the man who built them, was fate.”

“What, you mean... The flying armored suits?” I asked.

He nodded again. "You didn't think your father built them all on his own did you? Tsion wants a war, and he needed a factory to do it, so he took mine. And with it he took my wife away from me, and my daughter as his soldier."

Laura gasped. "Oh Daddy! I didn't... I- I had no idea..."

"No, it isn't your fault. I kept the truth from you to protect you, it was my fault. I could have stopped you, but I figured if you were on his good side, he wouldn't hurt you again. But look at you now. Fighting against his tyranny, of your own accord. I'm so proud of you."

Laura couldn't take it anymore, and embraced her father releasing a slew of sobs. She was a mess, but I couldn't help but feel bad for her. Everything she thought about her father was a misunderstanding, and only now does he have the chance to set it right. It must have been hard for her, but somehow I felt her dad still got the short end of the stick, having finally rekindled his relationship with his daughter only to risk losing her for real in a battle.

I knew that I was now out of place, and decided to silently take my leave. This was another one of those things a man should never see, and this time I decided to leave it that way.

Chapter 23 - Calm before the Storm

The next day couldn't get there fast enough. Try as I might, sleep was hard to come by, even with Ellie beside me. She looked like any other girl, fast asleep, while she charged. With everything that had happened the day before, my mind was running a marathon.

In one day I participated in a trial defending Matrix and Ellie, learned about my mother's past as the Ainu ambassador, escaped an attack against the rebellious underground, and witnessed Laura's reunion with her dad. Whether it was the stress the day caused me, or the fact that we were all about to face certain death in a suicide mission, I only got a few hours of shut eye. It felt more like 5 minutes.

I gave up trying to get any decent sleep long before the sun came up, and just watched the clock next to me tick away. I was scared I would die, or Ellie would. I felt strongly about Matrix too, who was surprisingly vulnerable when freed from Seth and that virus. In fact, I realized I felt closer to her now than ever, closer than anyone except Ellie.

I struggled with the thought of who was on my side anyways? Seth and Tsion clearly weren't, but was Aunt May? Or was I on her side? Raster was proving to be a good ally but she seemed so strict and often distant. Lulu was unstable and even tried to kill us and I didn't know if she might snap again. Gabriel was nowhere around and always manipulated others to get to his goal, whatever it is now. Even my own father let me think he was dead for my entire life! The only ones I did trust fully anymore were Ellie and Matrix. But I was too deep in this game already, and I needed to play it out. I only hoped May wasn't just trying to kill them again.

Then again there was Laura. I trusted her, I liked her. But despite our recent activities, I got the impression that she was growing more distant from me already. There were a lot of things going on in her life, and I was just the friend that set her on her current path. Now she has to explore that path on her own, but I did still trust her.


Ellie woke up a little early, about 2 hours after I finally dozed off. She turned to check on me but I was not snoozing so soundly as to even attempt to sleep anymore and just sat up. I was glad that night was over.

"Didn't sleep much, did you?" she worried.

I shook my head. "Too much to think about." She nodded in agreement and laid her head on my shoulder squeezing my arm.

We dressed and entered the main room but it was still early and only May and a few soldiers were up. It wasn't even 6 yet and the smell of coffee guided me to an early breakfast. May must have asked Mr. Dale to send some food this way because the room was set up with a buffet along one side and tables nearby. A few servants were about preparing everything still but they didn't object to my early start.

"Morning" May mumbled, sipping coffee from a metal cup. "Sleep well?"

I didn't even turn to look at her as I started to fill a plate with eggs, sausage, and grits.

"Me neither."

We ate in relative peace, and I even saw May sit down and relax. She was like a totally different person, calm and quiet and smiling. Ellie ate happily alongside me as the servants finished up and left, leaving us to figure things out for ourselves.

"You know" May began talking as if to herself, "I like you kid. Not many would stick out their necks for their friends like you have. I admire that." I realized she was talking to me despite the fact that we sat at different tables. "I can see why Genesis likes you so much."

She sighed and took another drink from her mug. "I'm getting to old for this" she continued. "I might not look it, but I'm turning 70 next year." I nearly chocked on my food. She looked like she was only 30 at most! "This body doesn't age you know, and they say you're only as old as you feel, right?" She let out a laugh. "Well then I'm at least 80 already. But thanks to this baby" she said pounding her chest "I can live another 70 years. I just don't want them to be like these last few.

"That's why I do this, you know. I mean we have all lost people. Loved ones, parents, even ourselves" she said looking at Ellie. "I do this so I don't have to spend the next half of my life living in fear and misery."

I took a drink of my coffee and looked over to see she had no plate. "Aren't you going to eat?"

"No need. Sure I can, and my brain still needs nutrients, but my body can run for days on a charge, and right now I just don't want to weigh it down with food. What about you Ellie?"

She put a hand in front of her mouth to talk while her mouth was full, but at least managed to swallow some of it before speaking. "I... process food for energy and... minerals I need to function."

"Figured as much. Doc put a lot of effort into you girls to make you all appear human."

Ellie smiled and nodded as she took another bite.

"Mind if I ask you a personal question?" I wondered.

"Shoot."

"Have you always had that body?"

May took a deep breath and put down the cup of coffee, closing her eyes. "A long time ago, even before your father and mother met, I wasn't a freedom fighter, just a vocal member of the community. We objected to the new policies put into place by Tsion against cyborgs and sentients, and took in one poor soul who was beaten by his men. I can't even remember his face anymore.

"While we slept, his men blockaded our doors and set fire to our house. The man we helped died, and I lost my husband in that fire. He got me out first, but I was burned over 90% of my body. I died that night too, and yet I woke up in a new body several weeks later. Not this body, a much simpler one. But I have never forgotten what he took from me."

May heaved a big sigh and stood up. "That's all behind me now though; I've come to terms with it. Today, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. We don't have much time. Tomorrow will test all of us. See you two soon."

Just as she left, the other silver haired girls started to wander in. They didn't look at all tired, except Matrix, who looked ready to collapse but fighting it at every moment. She must have had a tough night too.

Before long, the room was crowded with soldiers and organizers, working to get everyone ready. My dad was set up in a corner with a computer and chairs, and Raster was already sitting in front of a computer as he hooked up a cable to her neck and started transferring the file.

Ellie pulled me toward the chair without a word and waited patiently for her turn. Lulu and Proxy were ahead of us still but each session took very little time, so we didn't have long to wait.

"I doubt you need anything uploaded to your brain" my dad teased at me as he finished up with Proxy. He gave me a smile as Proxy pulled the cord from her neck abruptly and walked away in a hurry. Guess she was late for something.

"Ha ha" I laughed sarcastically. "Ellie just wanted the company."

"You ready Ellie?" He smiled at her as she looked nervously at him. Matrix was still hanging around and gave her a thumbs up.

She nodded. "Just nervous. Don't like having a virus in my head."

"Well half of one anyways" my dad corrected as she sat down in the chair facing away from him. He slid her hair out of his way from the back of her neck and placed his thumb on her spine just at the base of her skull. Instantly the ports opened up for him and he gently pushed the wire into her with a click.

Ellie took a deep breath. Before she even exhaled, the process was finished.

"All done" my dad proclaimed. Ellie looked a little confused, as though she expected it to hurt. "You are fitted with part A, so when you are teamed up make sure you are with someone that has part B."

Ellie nodded before pulling the cord away gently and standing up again. "Thank you" she almost whispered.

"I have more for you" he added. "I'm going to be giving the girls some minor upgrades and tweaks; simple things since I don't have my lab. How much I can do depends on... Never mind that. I'll let you know when I am ready for you, Ellie. Umm, Jim, son... are you sure you want to- I mean... you don't have to do this."

I knew what he was muttering about. "I can't just let these girls go out into a deadly battle without support."

"But what can you do for them? You're a human, made of flesh and blood, they're-" he spat beginning to raise his voice before he caught himself.

"Robots?" I finished for him.

"I wasn't going to say-" he began to argue but realized he was actually about to say that. "I didn't mean it like that."

"No, I get it. They're just robots who can sacrifice themselves for our cause. They're just tools-"

"No!" He barked. "I- I'm sorry. I'm just scared... of losing you. You are my son!"

"And they are your creations as well. Maybe not biological daughters, but do they not matter to you?"

"Of course they do" he began to shake. "I poured my heart and soul into these girls, but... They're highly trained soldiers and you're just-"

"Whatever" I dismissed. "I can't let them go out there alone. I know, I might not come back, I might die, but this time I'm the one bringing the fight to them. We're fighting to stop them from hurting anyone else. Someone needs to show this city that they are as important and valuable as any one of us. That robots and humans are both fighting together for the greater good! If I don't go with them, then we're just sending more robots out without thinking about the consequences. I have to do this. For mom."

He lowered his head in thought before nodding. "You're right. I do love these girls, but I love you more. I don't want any of them to fight, but they are good at it. But you have to do what you need to. I have to trust that they will keep you safe. Maybe... there's something I can..." He trailed off and got lost deep in thought for a while. "I think... I'll put something together for you."

I thanked him, and drew in a deep breath. It was time for Ellie to go over the plans and train. They had other things for me to go over. For now, it looked like our day would be spent on different projects.

I spent most my time helping repair weapons and armor. We had taken over a large area of the grounds behind the walls of the estate. They were safe here, away from prying eyes, but someone was assigned to be a lookout just in case. I for one enjoyed working outside for a little, watching the training. The girls started out here, which I liked to see, but soon went in.

When I was finished with what needed to be fixed, I stood and watched the soldiers train for a little. I probably should do some of that too. I saw Captain Azuma nearby, with Laura not far off. They were running a drill of sorts, and I figured I could get a tip or two for my mission. They worked well together, very well. They were soldiers after all. I waited till the soldiers were running an exercise reloading weapons to approach. Some of these kids were not as well trained as I thought, mostly volunteers I guessed.

"Hey Laura" I whispered as loud as I could. She turned to look at me and smiled.

"Jimmy! We're just going over some basics for the troops. What did you need?"

I sighed. "Actually... Some basics or at least some tips would be great!"

She smiled. "I would, but these guys need a lot more work than you do. I know about your mission... but I think they're working on something for you. Don't waste your time here."

I shook my head. "I'll get to them, but I was hoping there was something you could suggest for me. I mean, I've fought before, I even stormed that tower a few days back..." I noticed some of the younger volunteers were distracted by the conversation. "But this is different. I'm-"

Laura put a hand on my shoulder. "You'll be fine" she assured me. "You'll have the girls with you, Matrix and Raster will be there."

"Yeah... but they are all professional and amazing, I'm just-"

"You saved my life, rescued me, risked yourself for those you care about... heck we've only been friends for a few days! You are resourceful; amazing! You'll be fi-"

"I'm scared." I interrupted. "I was scared then too, but it's worse now! I saved Ellie, I could just leave, but I'm here, risking everything I worked so hard for... I don't want to lose that! I don't want to die now that I-"

She pulled me into an embrace. "We all get scared. But I bet you the girls are too. They look up to you, Jimmy. Fear is just that thing that says 'hey, this is serious shit, I better do my best’." She let go of our embrace and straightened herself out. "The girls- No...We need you."

I couldn't help but noticed Azuma giving me a dirty look from off in the distance as he trained another group of more professional soldiers. Laura looked over my shoulder past me. "Looks like one of them needs you right now" she added.

"Jimmy" Raster saluted. "Dr. Amano requests your assistance."

I nodded, and she turned back, marching toward the building. I turned back to Laura to say goodbye.

"Don't let them see you're afraid. Confidence is sometimes the only thing that separates the dead soldier from the live one" she advised. "I'll see you at dinner, we'll talk then." I nodded in thanks and left to meet with my dad.

As I walked in, I saw Gabriel standing next to my father, who was looking away from me hunched over something. I couldn't make it out, but I wondered why he was there. He saw me, and raised his eyebrows. No more mask to hide his identity, he was out now. But he still acted so strange. I figured it must have been some cultural thing. As he finished with my father, he turned toward Raster, who stood a few feet away in attendance to him. She stepped in close, and he whispered something to her.

Without a second glance, he got up and left, walking right past me. He never said a word, but he did put his hand on my shoulder briefly. Then he was gone.

I walked up to my dad who never looked up, but I noticed Raster frozen in place with wide eyes.

"Raster? Are- Is everything alright?"

She took a few seconds to register my words, but she managed to compose herself. "He released me."

He words came out quiet, weak. I almost missed them. "Released?"

"He let me go. I'm no longer... his servant. I'm free."

"Oh, that's good!"

"I... it's been so long... what do I do now? I was always doing what he or Matrix wished of me... but now... who do I...?"

She seemed lost, confused. "Are you alright, I thought you wanted to be free."

"I thought I did... but I just realized now that... I'm not sure what to do. Should I register another master?"

"I think... you should decide for yourself. You command the girls now, and they'll follow you. And you have been working with May."

"But she isn't in charge of me" she argued. "If anyone is, the Chain of Command would put you in control over me."

I shook my head and held her shoulders. I never realized how gentle she really was until I felt her soft shoulders as she swayed. "Raster... I'm just your friend, but I think you are a strong, independent, capable girl. Just be yourself, lead the others, and don't worry about having anyone controlling you. You can do this." Maybe Laura was rubbing off on me.

She shook her head and exhaled. "Of course, you're right. Sorry. I just didn't expect this. Did- Did you say we’re friends?"

"Yeah, I guess I did."

"Friends... I think I might be fine if I dedicate myself to my friends." She squared her shoulders and stood upright, smiling broadly. "Yes. I think I will be just fine. Thank you."

I returned the smile, glad to see she adapted so quickly. I turned away from her, toward my dad.

He was elbows deep in Lulu's arm, or what was left of it. Lulu was lifeless on the table, as my father pulled wires and cables from her stump. He had done a lot to her arm already; he must have started working on her a while ago.

"Could you hand me the wire cutters?" He asked without looking up, pointing to a toolbox a few feet from him.

I found the cutters in question and handed them to him. "Here" he continued, pulling a wire out farther "hold this."

I ended up helping him repair Lulu’s arm. Her old one was long gone now, but he had managed to get his hands on a large black mechanical arm. It wasn't much to look at, but it was strong. It was also way too big for her slim body, but we managed to get it attached. With all the pulling and cutting and jerry rigging, I was glad she wasn't awake for any of this. Even though she was the most unstable of the girls, she had the most innocent face when she was deactivated, and I felt bad for her.

As we connected the last of the wires and closed up the ports on her arm, I wondered if this is what he wanted from me. "Say, dad?"

"Yeah?" He asked as he executed a program from a laptop attached to her head, testing the connections and movements of the arm.

"Is this what you needed from me?"

"Mmm" he hummed. "What? Oh yes. Well no, not only this. I did want your help. I hoped I could show you a thing or two about the girls. But you did manage to do a number of repairs on Ellie already."

I got the impression he just wanted to have a father son moment. Both of us working together on something. I admitted, it was something I wanted, and I liked it. We worked well together.

"Yeah, I have done a few."

"Yes. But I have something for you for later. Just a moment."

He seemed satisfied with the tests and disconnected from Lulu, reactivating her.

"Oh, Jimmy... What are you doing here-? My arm! I have... well... an arm! Sort of."

She seemed less than thrilled with the new oversized addition to her body, but after flexing it and studying it, she smiled. "My arm. Did you help?" She asked me. I nodded. "Thanks! I really mean it."

"We'll get your arm replaced with an appropriate one later, when we get my lab repaired" my dad explained.

"No doc... I think... I'll keep this one, if that's alright. As a reminder... Of what I did to my only friends... This is payment for what I did. I'm really sorry for attacking you Jimmy."

"It's ok, I've already forgiven you."

She looked up at me seriously, with no expression, as if studying mine. "No... It's not ok. But it will be. I owe too much to too many people. I'll keep this arm until all those debts have been paid. If ever."

She gave me a hug, but I quickly pushed her back.

"What?" She asked.

"Ouch!"

Oh... Sorry... Don't know my own strength I guess. Strong arm... I think I can work with this. Thanks doc."

She hopped off the table, and walked away, opening and closing her fist, studying her new hand and arm.

“Send in Matrix please” my dad ordered Raster. She hesitated for a moment, perhaps just to feel the ability to refuse an order, but a moment later smiled to herself and fetched Matrix.

I looked around and saw loads of equipment I recognized from his lab laying about. None of it was the big stuff, no large work benches or tools, no long tables for the girls to lie on. But he had plenty of things he didn't just that morning. More computers, specialized hand tools, spare parts. In fact, the new arm Lulu was sporting was one of these parts.

"Where did you get all these?" I wondered.

"My lab" he explained. I gave him a confused stare. "I had Gabriel bring what he could from the lab."

"What about the fire?"

"Luckily it seemed to focus on the upper levels. He was very brave to volunteer doing this for us. He's a really nice man-"

"How well do you know this guy anyways? I mean, he manipulated me and Laura, stole information or something from Alice when we first met, and keeps showing up at odd times when he needs something. He's got some kind of agenda..."

"Your mother and I knew him very well. He's been running errands for me most of the time. I was concerned for you when I heard you came into the city, and despite all the bad things she did, I wanted Matrix to be found and fixed. I also knew about Alice, and when I heard she was rescued, I knew there was something I could use against Tsion. She was full of information, including layouts, schedules, and the like. And when he wasn't helping me, he was investigating things himself, as the emissary, or at least her successor."

"Oh... So he's been helping you out this whole time?"

"Naturally. I couldn't leave that prison of a lab, but he was good at getting around unnoticed."

"What about Raster? Was it your idea to have him register as her master?"

"That was his idea. I think he liked her, but he also felt bad for her, and needed an ally. He knew he could trust her, and she was on the inside. It was a good idea. She provided a lot of the information we know about what they did to these girls."

"Yeah? Well... He just let her go."

"I know. I heard. She... It's been a while since she didn't have to answer to someone programmed into her. In fact... I think it might be a first. Since he ordered her free, she could just run off if she wanted to right now. Not that I'd blame her."

"I won't abandon my friends" Raster defended walking back into the room with Matrix close behind, "or my family."

My dad pumped his fist with a nod. "Excellent! I knew you were trustworthy."

"For the first time, I can be my own person... My own woman. I can let go of the past and face a new future."

"Well, after this mission, right?" I asked.

She nodded. "Yes, we must do this to clear our names. To be truly free."

"This is great and all" Matrix interrupted, "but why am I here exactly?"

"Attitude" my dad objected.

"What?"

He shook his head and tapped on the table. "Up. We're going to be fixing that eye of yours. Sort of."

Under the eye patch, her eye was completely gone. My dad already worked on her earlier, making the damage more manageable, but it was still a mess. I cringed to look at it, and Matrix sat there trying hard not to move.

The pain receptors in that area had been shut off, along with pretty much everything else, like tear ducts. Her eye lid was cut in half, and there was a scar running up and down her cheek and brow following the cut. They weren't huge scars, and mostly hid under the eye patch. I guessed the attack was a stabbing motion that slid into the eye and back out.

My dad carefully opened the lid, and began to mess with the structure inside. Artificial muscles and cables seemed to comprise most of the socket, making it seem less severe when you looked at it. No brains or sparks. In all, the procedure took about 20 minutes, give or take. He pulled out some wires, and reattached them to a metal connection he placed inside the socket. Unfortunately, he couldn't get a new eye from Gabriel, but he said he got something suitable.

"Any pain?" He asked. She lightly shook her head.

"Still blind though, doc."

"Well... I swear we'll get you a new eye later. But for now you'll need this" my dad explained to Matrix as he finished installing the connections. He held up something that looked like a triangular eye patch, but thicker, and metal. "This isn't an eye patch. This is actually a type of camera I was working on. Sort of an early experiment for different types of vision, which I adapted. The cam-patch will let you see with near the same perspective, but in multiple wave lengths. Night vision, heat sensing, infrared, ultraviolet, electromagnetic, X-ray... That last one doesn't really work well actually.

"All you need to do, is put this on, flip the switch, and voila!" He tied the new camera eye patch around her head like the old patch, and adjusted the position over her face until he heard a click. "Now it won't give you a clear picture like your eye will, it will seem like a different sense altogether and you'll have to move your head to look around, not your eyes." He flipped a switch and a small high pitched ping alerted us the power was on, before fading away.

"Whoa!" She exclaimed, gripping the table. "Whoa!! Shit doc! That's amazing!"

"And to change modes, just blink that eye for 2 seconds and you should see a menu you can control."

"Ha! Wow! I can see! Sort of... But I still miss my eye."

"I know. We'll get that taken care of later."

"No, no! I love it!"

She got up, looking at everything and laughing as she switched modes. She was having a blast looking at everything, but before she left she turned back toward us.

"Say doc! I don't suppose you could..."

Matrix's new request took almost an hour to install. My dad objected at first, but after making a compromise with her, decided it was for the best.

After she left, he had Raster call on Ellie. He seemed to grow increasingly nervous as she left the room, and then turned toward me.

"Son, I'm sorry about earlier. I know why you have to do this. The city needs to see humans and androids working together as equals in the face of danger. Here, I have something for you."

He pulled out an brown old jacket, and held it up. It looked like it hadn't been worn in years, but something in my mind recognized it.

"I don't know if it will fit but this is the old jacket I used to wear" he explained. Of course! It was in some of the pictures I had of him. "After Tsion took away your mother, I had it fitted with a special light-weight armor for protection. It can't stop a rifle shot, but a pistol or a knife can't pierce it."

He held it up as I tried it on, one sleeve at a time. It fit surprisingly well. It was a little stiff in places, either from age or armor, and was heavier than a regular jacket, but felt nothing like regular body armor.

"I want you to have this, and wear it during the mission out there. I can't upgrade you but I can give you this. Oh!" He hand reached in his pocket, shaking, and pulled out a small strange-looking device. It looked almost like a tuning fork except round on top and with a single button.

"This is my fail safe" he explained. "When Captain Wilkins started taking the girls away, I never felt completely safe around them till now. Luckily, I never use this on them... this will shut any of them down with a single touch."

He held it in one hand, and demonstrated. "It's harmless to humans, but if you hold it up to their head or neck..." he held it to my neck. There was a hum followed by a pop and a spark coming from the circular top. "... it will shut them down instantly and safely. They won't suffer any damage, but they will have a headache later."

"Have you ever used it?"

"No... Only in testing. I don't think I need it anymore."

"Why give it to me? Do you think they'll turn on me?" I asked.

"No! Nothing like that. But there are two- three reasons. If they are captured, shutting them down will save them from... they will be tortured if they're caught, you know that. Second, if they get hacked and somehow taken over, they'll have no control over their actions. Finally... if the virus activates and spreads to one of them... this will stop it and hopefully save them."

I held it up looking at the button. "So it's for their protection as well as mine."

"Exactly. They don't have any protection from the virus. Since you are immune, you are the only one there who can save them should something go wrong. The effects should last a few hours."

I pushed the button while holding it in thin air, nothing happened. I pushed again, holding it longer. After a second, it hummed, and then a second later the pop and spark came.

"Hold the button for a second to activate it. But be careful, it only has enough charge in it for two applications every 30 minutes. If you want to use it more than that, you'll need to wait."

"So it will recharge on its own?"

He nodded. "A small battery builds up the charge and stores it until it is released." I nodded and pocketed the device. "It's too dangerous for the girls to have it in case it accidentally goes off, or worse the virus affects them all."

Ellie came in just on cue. My dad and I worked until lunch upgrading and tweaking their joints and weapons and repairing any damage. Ellie had the least amount of work done to her. But I got the feeling she wanted to be given a weapon without installing it in her body. She ended up without one installed. She really was the pacifist side of Matrix.

The day rushed past. After lunch, we were visited by a few old friends. Eingaurd and Beschutzer stood in a walled off corner of the complex, along with several more of the mechs for the girls. I'm sure they had names but I never asked. Eingaurd looked polished, shiny, upgraded even. As did Beschutzer. I was sure Laura would like that.

The majority of the remaining daylight was spent tweaking, repairing, adjusting, and preparing the armored suits for battle. Michael, the old man that had been holding onto these at his museum, or whatever it was, covertly dropped them off, but was nowhere to be found now. I wished I could help out more, but realized Laura wasn't around, so I took it on myself to care for her suit. I did enjoy watching Matrix and Ellie working together on Einguard, while I busied myself on Beschutzer. For some reason, I found watching these girls working on mechs really hot.

There really wasn't much left for me to do to prepare, except get equipped with weapons and body armor of some sort, and review some exercises. Luckily, May saw to it that I got some basic covert ops training, including an introduction to combat, but I sure hoped I wouldn't need it.

What was I doing? Was I insane? I wasn't a fighter, I was going to die! But looking at the girls training so hard and preparing, I realized they were scared too, and despite their training, they didn't know what to expect, and probably had doubts as well. I decided my time was best spent with target practice. Or with the girls.

That night, we ate well, very well. Laura’s dad personally brought over a large feast for everyone. It wasn't extravagant, being designed to prepare soldiers before battle, but was delicious and filling. And for the first time, I got to see Laura talking with her dad and smiling. She even waved at me, and beckoned me over. I excused myself while Ellie and Tess chatted lively.

Before I could take five steps, May tapped my shoulder.

"I've been meaning to talk with you" she began. "We've managed to put together something for you for the assault. Weapons, communication device, uniform, that sort of thing."

"Ok, cool, thanks. I need to-" I started.

"They'll be in your room when you get back" she explained.

"Great. I got to-" trying to get over to Laura. This time she noticed.

"Don't... Don't forget you have to be well-rested for tomorrow. Don't stay out late. Ok?"

I nodded. "Of course."

She patted my shoulder and turned back toward her seat, letting me go. I continued to make my way to Laura, who was speaking with her dad.

"Daddy, you remember Jimmy" she chimed as I walked toward them.

"Yes. Of course." He shook my hand and gave me a smile. We had already been briefly introduced, but that was when Laura wasn't talking with her dad.

"Pleasure."

"No, the pleasure is mine" he insisted. "You brought my daughter back from the wilderness, saved her life, became her friend, set her on this path, and now here she is returned home." It sounded more impressive when he said it like that.

"Oh, she's saved my life several time too. I mean, I would even be here without her."

"I agree" he said with a big grin. "You wouldn't be here without her... Here... In this room with us... Next to my daughter."

"Dad! He’s already got a girlfriend!" Laura hissed through her teeth at him.

He just shrugged her off, ignoring her protest. "A girlfriend isn't a wife. You've still got a chance."

"Dad!" Laura hissed again.

"Fine, fine. I'll leave you two alone. Just remember not to stay up too late having fun. On second thought, stay up as late as you two want."

She stabbed him with her glare, until he relented and left. Laura breathed a sigh of relief, although she was clearly still red in the face, or her left half was anyways.

"I'm sorry... I guess he and I have a lot to catch up on... And he kinda missed the whole 'pairing me up with boys he likes' phase."

"So what are you saying, he likes me?" I asked.

"I guess. Is it that surprising? I mean you are the son of his friend."

I shrugged. "Like daughter like father I guess?"

She blushed, giving me a sly grin. "Who said I liked you?"

"Well... I'm pretty sure you do."

"I don't know... you do have two other girls hanging off you. Not sure I want the competition."

"Really? You were the one that begged me to fu-"

"Jim!" she interrupted, but then paused. "Jimmy... I... I really do like you, a lot. You've done so much for me. I have... really strong feelings for you. But it's confusing, with you and Ellie. I'm not sure I can just... I don't know. Why didn't we meet sooner? I just don't know how to say this..."

"Just say 'I love you'?" I suggested.

She shook her head. "I slept with Azuma."

"You- what?"

"We were getting close, sort of, and one thing led to another... I'm sorry! But... I liked him too. And did you see his arms?"

I was speechless. What could I say? How long was this going on?

"I've never done anything like this before! I feel terrible! I just thought... that you needed to know" she explained.

I was dumbfounded. No sounds came from me as I tried to process this.

"Jimmy? Say something! Are you alright?"

I tried to form words. "When?" I squeezed out.

She shook her head. "A few- Is that really important?"

I looked at her and saw the confusion and conflict in her face. But more than that, she was in emotional pain and worried about how I'd react. She was embarrassed, sorrowful, and yet... She came to me about this. That meant something, didn't it? I took a moment to arrange my thoughts.

"Can you... forgive me?" She pleaded.

"I- I'm... not in charge of your life, Laura. You are. I can't expect you to sleep with only me if I have an open relationship, can I? No, I'm sure he's a good man, and probably great in bed." I tried not to, but I felt betrayed anyways. I had to be the better person and accept her sexuality as one thing outside of my control. "There's nothing to forgive. I hope he makes you happy."

She grabbed my hand and gripped tightly, looking down at her lap. Azuma was on the other end of the table oblivious, so I doubt he heard anything.

"No... You are way better. Better kisser, better friend, better lover... But you have Ellie. I got lonely, and confused, and scared, and... Goddamnit Jimmy! I told you this because I didn't want to keep secrets from you. I..." She paused to catch her breath and make sure no one around us got too suspicious of our conversation. "Do you remember that promise we made? Back in the forest by the pool?"

"You'd help rescue Ellie, which you did, thank you."

"In exchange for me leaving with you" she corrected. "I still want that, even more now ... even if it IS with you AND Ellie... I want to be with you... Azuma was fun at first, but he isn't..."

My face flushed. She was getting serious. I wasn't thinking straight at this point. "Why- Why are you telling me this now?"

"Dumbass..." She ran some fingers through her short red hair, pulling at it. "I lo- l- love you, but this may be my last chance I'll have to tell you."

"What do you mean?"

"Dammit Jimmy. You could- I might get- we won't be together..." She stammered.

I might die, or she might. This was a last supper with all my friends! I only just realized it. Suddenly everything took on a somber hue in my mind. I just wanted to grab all the girls, and hold onto them, and never let go!

"Jimmy? You ok?"

I snapped myself out of it. "Yeah... Yeah... Laura, I would like very much to have you stay with me."

"You aren't mad about Azuma?"

I shook my head. "No... How could I be? I can't possibly expect to keep such a beautiful talented smart woman all to myself. You have to get out there and explore on your own. I'll always love you"

"Mistakes and all?"

"Especially the mistakes. And you're fine with Ellie?"

"She's adorable. I think I'll be fine as long as it's her. Besides... I won't give up on you yet. Maybe I still have a chance."

I smiled at her, wondering what I should say if Matrix insists on staying as well, or the other girls. Before I could decide if I should say something, she pulled me closer for a peck on the cheek.

"I have something to show you. Meet me by Beschutzer in 20, please!" she whispered in my ear.

5 minutes passed by when I returned to my seat, and Laura was already gone. I tried to enjoy every moment with these girls. Tomorrow, any one of them, possibly all of them, or even myself, might not make it back. Ellie was having a blast talking with the other girls; she didn't have any concern with me getting up to meet with Laura. I didn't need lie to her about this; I already knew she was fine with it.

Outside, I approached the towering suits, with Beschutzer next to Eingaurd. Lights from fixtures in the ground, normally dedicated to illuminating the walls, now cast light on the giant suits, spreading shadows out into the cold night air. I didn't see Laura at first until she came out from behind the shadow of her mech. She wore something I had never seen before. I pilot suit, much like what she wore before, but of a new design and color scheme.

It was form fitted to her body, showing off her curves with exaggerated lines around her hips, legs, and chest. The majority of it was white, but with patches of orange sown throughout accenting it. It came with tall boots, and a small jacket that only went down to cover her ribcage. It was rather provocative. There were elements of the design of her old suit missed in with aspects of the Ainu design as well. It looked like something that Matrix would wear, although she might have preferred it in black.

"What do you think?" She asked.

"Wow. It looks... Great!"

She smiled and gently slid some hair out of her face behind her ear. "Thanks. There's one for each of us, although your design is blue."

"Really?"

"Yeah, they're our new uniforms. I'm on the orange team; you are on the blue strike force. May had them made."

"I get one too?"

"Yeah," she chortled, "but a little less curvy I think."

"I hope so" I chuckled. "But this looks amazing on you."

"Thanks" she cooed as she sauntered up to me. "I hope to see you in yours. They are supposed to be very... accentuating."

I put my hand on her hips and felt the fabric against her soft skin. She purred as I ran my hand up her side. It felt strong yet flexible. But her reaction was far more interesting. I pulled her closer to me. Laura wrapped her arms around her waist, holding herself. I couldn't help it, as I leaned in and kissed her.

"Mm...nnnn... No." She objected pulling away.

"You okay?"

"Yeah... I just have butterflies in my stomach. I'm so nervous, and scared. I don't want to lose you, or any of my new friends. I'm just too stressed."

"And you're telling me that kiss didn't relieve some of that stress."

She nodded, looking up at me. "It did. That's what concerns me. I won't be able to hold back."

I embraced her tighter than before. I could taste salt on her lips as a tear mixed in with our deep kiss. Laura's arms wrapped around my neck and shoulders as she surrendered herself to her desires.

"Oohh... Fuck Jimmy, we shouldn't do this!" She resisted, but shivered as she tried to control herself. "We need to rest for tomorrow."

"Then join me in bed tonight" I suggested.

"I can't... What about Ellie?" I gave her a sideways glance, and she rolled her eyes in response. "You're right; she'd be fine with it. But..."

"Enough excuses" I grunted.

Laura closed her eyes and furrowed her brow. "Damnit, I can't believe I'm doing this!" Without another hesitation, she looked around and pulled me behind the legs of this suits, against the outer wall of the grounds. With one hand, she pulled my face closer to hers and kissed me, while simultaneously unzipping her new uniform all the way down her front, reaching to the base of her naked slit.

She pushed me back, against the wall as she gave me a hard stare with wild desire in her eyes. Frantically she pulled her top off her shoulders and arms, revealing her lightly tanned flesh beneath. Her breasts swayed and bounced as she pulled the top of her uniform off each arm, one at a time, while leaning in to kiss me some more. Her skin almost glowed with a healthy gold warmth in the yellow light of the landscape lighting.

In response, I started to undo my pants, unlatching the buckle on my belt. I couldn't help myself. She was driving me crazy, and I needed to calm the fire. And her body was the only way.

I began to caress her, massaging her breasts until I got the reaction I wanted, which didn't take long. She let out a small yelp and moan as I squeezed her perky nipples. Her right breast was less sensitive than her left, but being artificial on that side it was to be expected. She rubbed my crotch eagerly with her hand as I teased her, making me even harder.

Sliding my hand down her front, I reached her smooth bare vagina, and caressed it gingerly. She squealed with delight and lust as I rubbed her clitoris. Laura must have been really horny already since she was dripping wet.

"Oh god, Jimmy! That feels so good!" she exclaimed. I rubbed her more, but she pulled back again, pushing her suit off her hips one side at a time. I pulled out my manhood as I watched her strip before me. "Do you remember... that other thing we promised?" She asked between pants as she stepped one leg out of her suit.

"Yeah... Wasn't it something about having sex with you?" I rubbed my erect rod, watching her feminine form as she placed her hands on my shoulders.

She nodded. "I still want that too."

We embraced again in a passionate kiss, as we ran our hands over each other. I ended up pinning Laura to the wall, before lifting her leg. Entering her was easy since she was so wet, but she instantly tightened her grip on me and held tight.

"Ahn!" She yelped. I could feel her muscles in her snatch contract and release, as her fingers dug tightly into my shoulder blades. She buried her face into my neck, shuddering as she let out a silent scream. At last, she exhaled and moaned, muffling her sounds with my body.

"Did you just cum?" I wondered.

She nodded, never looking up from my chest. "I... Hah... I really needed that!" She was hanging onto me, trying to keep herself standing with one leg wrapped around me, but her warm hole felt too good, and I started to thrust. She didn't resist at all, and started to moan more while she continued to shake from her orgasm.

Something about Laura's sudden vulnerability left me wanting to penetrate her harder and faster. Soon, my hips a were slapping against hers as she cried aloud into the night with moans of passion. I reached all the way inside her, feeling the pressure of her body against mine with every thrust.

"More... Don't stop! Ooohh! Just like that...Ahn! Right there! YES! Right- AAH!" She squealed as I sent her to heaven again. I couldn't stop myself. I needed to keep going, and she needed me to. We had come a long way since that night so many days ago by the pool. And yet, here we were, making passionate love again for what I feared might be the last time.

"Ohh god! I'm cumming again! It's coming! AHHNN!" She convulsed, still hanging onto me. Her suddenly contracting muscles tightened around me tightly and I felt myself reach my peak. I released a torrent of my seed inside of her, filling her with my juice.

"Oh Jimmy!" She panted hanging onto my shoulders. "Jim... Oh Jimmy! I'm scared!" I realized she was sobbing into my shirt all of a sudden. I felt her continue to shudder, from both her orgasm and her crying, as she held onto my tighter than ever. She wouldn't let me pull out as she sobbed into my chest. All I could do was hold her too.

We stayed like that for a few minutes, until finally she calmed down and pulled out. "Jimmy, I don't want to lose you" she worried. "Tomorrow will be dangerous. I swear, no matter what, I will not let them hurt you." We sat on the grass together leaning against the feet of Beschutzer.

"What about you? You're going to be fighting at the front, the main force! I doubt your commander will let you just leave your post either."

"Didn't they tell you? I'm in command" she explained. "At least of the orange forces. I don't know... I've never been in command before... I mean not like this!"

"You'll do just fine! Great even! I know it; I can see it in you."

"Thanks... But you're the one doing the real work. Taking the real risk!" She hesitated, pensive about battle. "Don't die in there, ok? I don't want to lose my first real boyfriend this way."

"Ha!" I laughed. "What about Azuma?"

"He's... nice and all, but let's say he's not my type... No one has ever made me feel the way you do, Jimmy. And if that means I have to share you with Ellie or something... I don't know... I'll never stop fighting for you."

I smiled. "You look more relaxed" I observed.

"Really? Huh... I guess I feel more relaxed. It must have worked."

"What?" I wondered.

"Sex. It's supposed to be the ultimate way to relieve stress."

"Really? So this was planned?" I questioned.

"No! Not like that! Well... Maybe a little. Look... Azuma left me unsatisfied and I've been craving relief for hours. You were the only one that ever made me happy like this." She leaned back, smiling. "And I couldn't stop thinking about you. Yesterday was crazy... But I love you, and I realized I need you. Couldn't we just... run away together...? Tonight? And not fight any of this?"

"You know we can't" I pointed out. "Our friends are relying on us. Besides, I do have feelings for you, but also for Ellie and Matrix, and I can't just leave them to die in there."

She sighed. "I know. I wasn't really serious... Just wishful thinking I guess." She curled up and held her feet as she leaned against me. We sat in silence for a short while before she stood up. "We should get dressed. We need to sleep well for tomorrow."

She leaned down to pick up her clothes, and tossed me mine as well. Grabbing them in midair, I realized what this meant, and it terrified me. "Will I see you again tomorrow?" I asked.

She looked at me forlorn and proceeded to get dressed without saying a word.

"Maybe you could... Stay the night?"

She shook her head. "I shouldn't. I have to get up early. I... I don't know if I'll see you again" she said, her voice cracking.

I instinctively stood up and embraced her. She calmed down quick enough, but she was right. "We'll be just fine" I lied to her. "By this time tomorrow, we'll be packing to leave this city, as heroes."

She just nodded and struggled to control her emotions. It didn't take long before she was composed. "Thanks. I'll keep you to that" she warned as she pulled away from me to pull her clothes back on.

After we dressed, I walked her back to the dining hall, which was almost empty. Everyone had finished and headed back to their dorms, and I had no idea how late it had gotten. Without saying a word, Laura shook my hand, hesitating, before kissing me on the cheek. She turned and walked off, toward her room.

Ellie was waiting in our room, anxious. As soon as I opened the door, she ran over to me and wrapped her arms around me.

"Well hello" I exclaimed. "Is everything ok?"

She nodded, before shaking her head. "Just... nervous. Stay. Please?"

"Of course. It is getting late and we have to get up early" I noted. She nodded in agreement but didn't pull away. "Um... You sure you’re alright?"

She released her grip and looked up at me. She was scared; I could see it in her eyes. Her hand reached for mine and held on tight. "Tired" she explained.

"Alright." I helped her get undressed; pulling her clothes off over her head, like she was a child, except her body was that of an adult. She just stood next to me, following me closely everywhere I went, as I prepared for bed. I noticed the box on the bed for me, filled with the new uniform and everything May provided for me. This was starting to get real. Ellie refused to put on any clothes, apart from the panties she had on, and refused to let me either, except my underwear.

"Isn't it too late for sex?" I asked.

"Not sex" she clarified, clearly nervous enough that her speech was starting to revert to her old self. "Want to sleep... close as possible."

"I see". I finished up and plugged her in before getting under the covers. Ellie curled up against me, wrapping her arms and legs around my body, gripping me almost like a snake. She buried her head in my chest, and her nervous body slowly began to calm down. I could feel her tense muscles start to relax as she melted onto me.

She was fast asleep in a few moments, breathing deeply, and her warm soft body and deep breaths calmed me and I soon drifted off. It was going to be one hell of a day tomorrow, and I had no idea what I was doing.

Chapter 24 - Replicated

"Engaging the enemy, I repeat, we are engaging the enemy!"

Lulu expertly manipulated the controls, shifting her body weight to the left while pulling the controls toward her. The silver mech we rode in followed her motion, evading the initial attack by the IRG forces and bringing us closer to the target.

We were coming in fast, heading straight for the enemy fighter that had just shot at and missed our party moments earlier. I was sure we were going to ram them and knock them out of the sky, but instead she pushed her petite body into me and-

Clang!

We hit the other mech hard, but Lulu was prepared, grabbing ahold of the larger mech before initiating an attack. Her motions were fast yet smooth, as she extracted the large blade from the arm of the suit and lodged it into the armor of the enemy suit.

She missed the cockpit, but on purpose. Usually she would have just torn the door off and pulled them out, or impaled the pilot within, but with my commands to not kill, she found another way around.

The blade sliced through the armored suit with ease, tracing an oval around the cockpit. Within seconds, the suit had lost control and Lulu was the one keeping both mechs in the air. Grabbing at the grill in front, she pulled the entire cockpit out of the mech and tossed it into some trees below before releasing the rest of the suit.

We looked around; all the others were doing similar moves on their targeted enemies. Matrix and Ellie in one suit had severed the connections to one enemy allowing it to fall in one piece, while Raster shot the gun and arm off of her target before disabling the thrusters on back with another shot, sending it flying wildly in circles. The pilot bailed out, and landed somewhere below.

The attack on us came much sooner than we expected, but we were prepared. Of course this was not a good sign; somehow it seemed as if they knew we were coming.

"Orange leader, Red leader, this is Blue leader" Raster's voice came in over the communications. "We have disabled the first wave, expecting a second. How are things on your end?"

"Already?" Laura's crackled voice gawked. "The streets are cleared here, but the fighting is just starting."

"Orange, Green, increase your attack. We must draw their forces to us" May commanded.

"Roger" Laura and Azuma barked simultaneously.

"Orange, I'll send in what I can to offer support, should be there in 5" May announced.

"Roger" Raster confirmed.

"We don't have 5 minutes" Proxy complained over the line.

"Then we'll just have to take care of them ourselves" Lulu shouted into the microphone.

"How's Jimmy?" Matrix asked.

"He'll be fine, nothing a vomit bag can't fix" Lulu teased.

"Hey!" I objected, over the intercom. "I'm fine, just concentrate on yourselves."

Lulu had been teamed up with me for the entry. This wasn't because Matrix or Ellie would have been emotionally compromised or anything, but simply stated, the Ainu suits were smaller than the IRG ones, and the cockpits tighter. I thought it was tight quarters with Laura, but in these suits, I had to be paired up with the smallest girl for size purposes. That was Lulu.

"Enjoying the ride?" She shouted back to me with a playful grin.

"Yeah, sure" I lied. Her reckless flying was making my breakfast consider abandoning ship.

"I'd say you are" she teased, rubbing her small round ass against my groin. She was much closer quarters with me than I was with Laura, and that was tight enough. Lulu was unable to stand off of me, like Laura was, and every shift and movement meant she was rubbing me back and forth, which I think she enjoyed too much.

"Just focus out the window!" I yelled.

"What's... going on in there?" Ellie's distorted voice asked.

"Nothing" I answered, before reaching around and turning off the microphone.

"Oops" Lulu chimed, as if she didn't mean to leave it on.

"There better be nothing going on in there..." Matrix warned.

"Enough chatter" Raster interrupted. "Second wave incoming."

Our mission was to come in low from the back, where they couldn't see us, while the rest of the resistance attacked various targets, including the front of the target building, where Laura was stationed. Having so many IRG fighters showing up was something we hoped not to run into.

It wasn't a foolproof plan, but something told me they were either tipped off, or saw us coming. Since we only moments ago emerged from a secure underground location, I suspected the former.

The girls made short work of these pilots as well, but the intensity of the assault had increased, leaving us with multiple reports of damage from anti-mech fire. The loud yet familiar clang of bullets hitting the suit followed by a deafening thud meant the next wave was already on us.

Lulu fought back, mainly using her blade as her weapon of choice. After grabbing the pilot and tossing them aside like before she used the body of the suit as a shield, charging into the next attacker, knocking them out of the sky, before spinning around and throwing the lifeless mech into another that was attacking Tessa.

"This is pointless" Proxy argued. "They're relentless, we'll never get through."

"We have to" Raster barked back. "This entire operation is counting on us."

"What? So we can get in there and die?" Proxy spat back.

"No" Ellie answered. "So... we can live! In peace."

Another wave approached, but this time out destination was in our sights. Taking cover low among the taller buildings and trees was no longer an option, as the tallest skyscraper I had ever seen towered before us. Inside somewhere Tsion sat, orchestrating this attack, and so much more.

The screech of metal on metal filled my eardrums as an IRG suit latched onto ours and tried to pull us down to the ground. They must have been behind us, but another approached from the front and Lulu suddenly struggled with the controls to free us.

A sword glinted in the sun, seeking my heart. "Shit!" Lulu cussed, trying to break free. "I can't move!"

I watched in horror as the blade of the approaching mech grew closer and closer with ever increasing speed. It was headed straight for the cockpit, and straight for us.

"Jimmy!" Ellie screamed.

The deafening bang of a gun and a bullet hitting out hull pushed us to the side, striking the suit holding us down. With cat-like movement, Lulu twisted her body and the next thing I know, we're upside down. As I oriented myself, I saw the blade of the oncoming mech inches from the cockpit, coming in sideways, piercing the shoulder of the suit holding us.

With a kick, Lulu pushed both of them toward the ground, sending them crashing into a nearby street. With her kick, we were launched high into the air, and were soon back on track with the others toward our target.

Lulu whistled. "Thanks for the assist."

"Anytime" Raster promised. It was her gunshot that knocked us off center and weakened the grip of the mech holding us down. Never thought I'd be saved by having a bullet shot at me.

"No time for that" Matrix interjected. "Incoming from 12:00!"


Sure enough, dead ahead was another team of fighters, except this time...

"It's Seth!" Raster warned.

He was still far enough away to give us a little time, but his aim was deadly accurate, and could pierce these mechs clean through.

"What do we do?" Matrix panicked.

"Scramble?" Tessa suggested.

"Retreat?" Proxy hesitated.

"Shields out, group formation!" Raster ordered.

"This is suicide" Proxy argued but complied nonetheless. The arms of the mechs had been fitted with shields, much like Laura's, and they were each deployed.

Joining into a tightly packed formation, the girls linked arms, or rather their mechs did, and they build a wall out of the shields. They seemed to interlock, with only small gaps between them where each of them deployed a shoulder mounted gun to fill the gap.

With pinpoint accuracy, Raster took a shot, and one of the pilots fell out of the sky. I wasn't sure she didn't just kill that pilot, but Raster was never given any commands by me not to.

Matrix shot next, hitting the thrusters of a second one, making them spin out of control. But before we could register the hit, a loud clang hit the shield and pierced right through. Somehow however, Seth missed us, hitting a leg of a mech instead. The shield was working to blind him, but this would only last so much longer.

Another shot, this one striking Einguard just left of the cockpit, reminded us why he was so deadly.

"We can't wait any longer, what do we-?" Matrix wondered, in a panic.

However, before she could finish her sentence, a thunderous boom echoed all around, and repeated even louder. Sparks flew from the arm of Seth's suit and the gun and hand fell off.

Looking to the side, long range artillery fire called in by May had just made it and began firing on the enemy, giving us much needed cover fire.

It easily took down the other pilot, but Seth was fast and avoided a direct hit. However, blast after blast, his suit was struck and lost altitude plummeting to the street below, and out of sight.

The girls cheered as they watched the menace they hated so much fall. However, now was not the time to celebrate.

"Concentrate ladies" May commanded. "Follow the plan, infiltrate the building. There is no time for retribution."

She was, of course, right. With the path finally clear, the girls broke formation and flew up, straight toward the upper floors.

"That's the one" Lulu pointed out to me. The building had several floors with no glass or windows, and we were aiming for the windows right below that area. Not only were we aiming for it, we were speeding up!

"Wait, what are you doing?" I worried.

"Ramming it" she explained as she lifted the shield up. "How else did you think we were getting in?"

Time stagnated to a crawl. I could see from the corners of the cockpit the other girls preparing to breakthrough as well, each setting up their own shield. All I could do was brace myself for the impact, and try hard not to scream like a little girl.

These suits were really tough, and didn't suffer much damage. My ears, on the other hand... The impact left a ringing in my ears as glass shattered and metal snapped. Then again, the ringing seemed to lessen when I stopped shrieking.

As the mechs settled, and the cockpits opened, we found ourselves shrouded in darkness with only the light from our forced entry filling the space. Despite the walls to the outside being glass, they were darkened to prevent anyone from looking in, or out.

"Red Lea-, -is Blue Leader" Raster's voice crackled noisily over the intercoms. "The foxes- in the- I- peat- ...es are- ...hen-" her voice started to break up severally, and suddenly, there was just static.

There was no reply. All we heard was static. Lulu tried too, but not even Raster could hear her. Maybe it was us. The girl couldn't even hear each other. All communication was suddenly severed.

Lulu pulled the cord allowing her full control of the suit from her neck, before exhaling and jumping down, off my lap. As I sat up, I saw Proxy and Tessa get out of their suits, while Ellie disconnected from Eingaurd with Matrix behind her. Finally, Raster opened her cockpit and nimbly unhooked herself before swinging down the side of her mech like a dancer. Her graceful exit reminded me that I had yet to see her in combat.

"Our signals are being jammed" Raster explained. "We're alone from here on in. We can't communicate with each other, until the signal is clear. Stay close. If we get through this, we will have to get to the exit in order to reestablish communications."

"You mean 'IF we get through this'" Proxy mumbled.

I got out, with a loud thud, the polar opposite of Raster's exit. As Matrix hopped out, we gathered together to regroup. We must have been quite the sight with our new white and blue matching uniforms. Mine really wasn't uncomfortable, but it was far tighter than what I was used to wearing. The blue accents glowed slightly in the dark, making it easy to identify us, but I worried it would also make us a target.

"Right, we'll make our way in, toward the stairway marked on the map, and into the main chamber upstairs. That is our target" Raster ordered. "Along the way we will stop at terminals A and C to install the virus.

"We'll team up, Virus A carriers to Virus B. Ellie and Matrix, you are together. Lulu, you're with Proxy. And Tessa, you're with me. Jimmy, your goal is to stay with whichever group gets the farthest. Otherwise we stay together. Understood?"

"Ma'am, yes ma'am!" the girls called out in unison. Even Ellie.

"Alright, but I don't want anyone to lag behind if they don't have to" I added. "We're a team, stay together as one."

They nodded in agreement, and we broke into formation. I was at the center while the girls surrounded me. Proxy and Lulu took rear, and Raster and Tessa took point, leaving Ellie to my right, and Matrix to my left.

The darkness grew exponentially as we explored the floor. The room we landed in wasn't much more than a lab of sorts, which surrounded a larger central room on the floor. Around us were mechanical parts, gears, artificial muscles, and even some robotic limbs.

As we turned a corner to enter the central room in the building, Raster and Lulu unsnapped a flap on one shoulder I never noticed before, and a small light unfolded from their bodies, illuminating the way for a few feet. Our eyes were still not used to the darkness or at least mine weren't. However, it did little to help see anything far off. These lights were relatively dim, and we discovered that this room was enormous. It was more akin to a hanger than a room in a high rise tower.

Venturing deeper, my heart stopped when ahead of us I saw the faint silhouette of a person. No, not one person, many people. We all paused as they came into view, and prepared our weapons. Raster and I had guns, Lulu unsheathed a sword, Ellie and Proxy held extending staffs with electric shocks at the end, Tessa brandished a pair of short metal rods, while Matrix readied her fists, rolling up her sleeves.

We prepared to fight, pausing our advancement, but they didn't move. Cautiously, Raster continued forward again, the rest of us following closely behind.

As we got closer, more of them appeared, all standing perfectly still, in perfectly straight lines. I noticed they formed a square, of about 6 long and 5 deep, as though in a military formation. Except none of them moved not even to breathe.

As the light from the girls hit them directly, several things became apparent. One, they were all girls, of the same body type, same height, same skin tone, even the same haircut. Two, they were all standing there facing away from us, but completely naked. Three, they were all gynoids, and damn good ones, and four, they all had white hair.

"Holy shit!" Matrix whispered. "He's been..."

"Making his own army" Raster finished for her. "And has been for a while by the look of it." She aimed her light higher, and we could see the white hair of the deactivated robots reflecting blue and white filling the space. There must have been hundreds of them. Maybe more!

We carefully came up next to them to walk past; keeping our attention on the nearest group, when something else became obvious. Not only were they all white haired gynoids, but they all looked the same, they all looked familiar, they all looked like-

"Me! They're all me!!" Matrix cried out in fear.

"No" Raster clarified. "They're all Ellie."

She was right. Each and every one of them was an exact copy of Ellie, down to the imperfections in her skin! Ellie and Matrix stood their shocked, as did all of us.

"No..." Ellie whimpered. "Copied us! Made an army!"

"An army of Matrixes!" Lulu added. "Matrices?"

"The old Matrix" I speculated.

"Be careful" Raster ordered. "We need to keep moving, anything might set these girls off. Stay quiet and don't touch anything!" She kept her voice down as she signaled for us to follow her.

There is nothing quite as eerie or terrifying as walking through the middle of an army of half insane killer robots, each one naked. We didn't know if they were active or not, maybe they were un-programmed empty shells? But one thing was for sure, I didn't want to find out.

We walked in silence, always at the ready, in case one of them grabbed us or started attacking. At times, we came within inches of them, squeezing past row after row of identical girls standing at attention.

"Embarrassing" Ellie whispered, self-aware of her own body now that everyone was getting a good look at what she looked like disrobed.

"What, we- err... you look damn good" Matrix answered in a low tone. "Nothing to be ashamed of."

"I'll say" Lulu remarked behind me.

"Quiet girls" Raster ordered in a hushed tone. "I can see the exit from here. We're almost there, just stay quiet and don't touch-" she turned around and a look of horror filled her face.

Turning to look, I saw what triggered her reaction and froze. Lulu was using her one good hand to grope the breast of a nearby Matrix clone, not noticing that the clone's eyes were wide open and glowing yellow.

Lulu looked at us. "What?" Turning back to look at the Matrix clone, she jumped three feet back when suddenly it moved toward her. "Holy Fuck!"

"Why did you touch it?!" Raster asked.

"I- I don't know! I just couldn't stop myself!"

But it was too late. Another set of glowing yellow eyes illuminated behind her, followed by another, then a few more, and then more. Soon that entire square of naked robot clones was staring directly as us, breathing and moving, but never blinking.

"Hello" the first one said, taking a step closer to us. It sounded just like the old Matrix did, which was deeper than Ellie's voice, but otherwise the same.

Another "hello" followed. And soon the word was being echoed through the whole room. Other groups of Matrix clones started to activate, and we found ourselves surrounded.

The first ones started toward us, grabbing at the girls. As Lulu and Proxy backed into me, it became apparent they didn't just want to hold hands. The first one raised its own hands up toward its face, and her arms split open, replacing her hands with large blades, exactly like Matrix used to have.

"Oh no!" Matrix cried out. "Not those again! Two can play at that game!" The real Matrix lifted her own arms and as fast as a gunshot, two long blades shot out, one down each arm parallel to them, expanding forward beyond her fist. It was as though she wore two swords attacked to her forearms. Those took a while to install yesterday, at her request, and now I hoped they were worth it.

Ellie grabbed my shoulder and turned my attention to the group on the other side. They too were starting to turn on, turning around to face us. I was scared out of my mind, and the nakedness of all these bodies didn't even register with me. We were surrounded!

"RUN!" Raster roared. Blasting a shot from her gun, which acted much like a shotgun, she blew the head off the closest one ahead of her and started to clear a path. I raised my gun and opened fire.

That first blast triggered something, and soon the clones were jumping at us, slicing their blade hands at us, while smiling gleefully. If I had to guess, I would have said they were all infected by the virus we removed from our girls days ago.

Lulu's blade and large metallic arm did a great job of absorbing most of the strikes, keeping us safe, while Proxy's staff took care of the rest. Occasionally, Lulu would slice off a limb or two. Each of us took turns blocking and defending, while Raster and I shot at them. With so many of them, I ended up going through my rounds rather quickly, and found myself reloading several times.

"Can we kill these please?" Lulu asked, pushing one of the clones away from her with her metallic arm.

"Yes!" Ellie, Matrix, and I said together. I reloaded my gun again.

"Good!" Lulu then proceeded to start slicing off heads along with the arms. However it wasn't enough.

Just before we got to the door, Raster stopped, a large group had cut us off, and there wasn't much we could do aside from using up our ammo.

"Die!" One of the baked clones spat as it sliced toward Ellie. I pulled her back, just as it grabbed hold of her staff and pulled it out of her hands.

"J- Jimmy?" I thought it was Ellie that called out my name, but as soon as the clone saw me close up, it faltered and repeated itself.

"Jimmy?" Another one behind her questioned. This gave us just enough time for Ellie to grab her staff from the floor and lodge it into the neck of the closest clone and activate the electric shock. It sparked and shook, but as soon as the shock ended, it regained its composure in seconds, as though we never hit it, except with a large black melted section on its neck and chin. With a forceful jab of the butt of my gun to her forehead, I managed to knock something else loose, and it fell to the ground lifeless.

We were mere feet from the door to the stairs, but half a dozen of the Matrix clones stood in our way. I managed to blast away three of them, but the sheer column of them left me with only a few rounds left, and it often took two or three shots each.

One of the clones got through and sliced at my back, opening it up and sending pain into my brain. I screamed as I dropped the gun, but luckily Lulu managed to dismember the gynoid before it could make another blow. I gritted my teeth and growled in pain before picking up my gun again and blasting away all but my last shot.

Somehow, we got through, and made it to the stairs. But there were too many behind us! As I looked back, I could see only a sea of yellow eyes bent on destroying us. They would overrun us in minutes at this rate. And Raster and I were low on ammunition. I remember I had another gun, but it was my backup, meaning that I already spent the majority of my arsenal on the mob. We turned around to face the army of killer robots, when Lulu pushed us back with her metal arm.

"Run!" She cried out. "Complete the mission! We'll hold them off here as long as we can!"

It was possibly the only way. Lulu and Proxy would defend the narrow passage, keeping the army of clones at bay.

"If we hurry, we can stop them with the virus" Matrix suggested.

Raster and I nodded. With any luck, the virus would short out all of these clones, and save Lulu and Proxy. As long as they didn't fall before we uploaded it!

"GO!" Lulu shouted. "We got this! Stop Tsion!"

With only a nod and a thank you, the rest of us ran ahead, leaving Lulu and Proxy to fight off an army by themselves. I feared we wouldn't see them again, and hoped their sacrifices wouldn't be in vain.

We ran up the stairs and into the corridor above. I noticed several cameras along the way; they surely saw us coming now. It was better lit up here, with pure white lights humming from the ceiling overhead.

As we turned to enter the first hallway, Raster dodged back and pushed us all back behind the corner. A familiar sound echoed through the halls for a minute, piercing my brain. I grabbed my ears and bent forward, as a pressure gun fired at the corner. Luckily we only got the splash effect from it, and a moment later it was over.

Reaching around the corner without looking, Raster fired two shots at the gun, and a crash at the end of the hall suggested she hit her mark. However she also ran out of ammo.

Tossing her gun to the ground, Raster unlatched another patch on her uniform, this one by her hip, revealing a portion of her leg. A whir of gears emanated from her thigh, and a long section of it jutted out, revealing a hilt at her hand length. Grasping it, she pulled out a bizarre looking blade from her leg, segmented into parts. Each segment slide down and latched onto place until it formed a long, elegant curved blade, one that could rival Seth's.

"Let's move" she ordered. "The first room is down the hall, to the left.

Taking lead, she darted down the hall, the rest of us following behind. Sure enough, she had hit the pressure gun mounted to the ceiling with both shots, and it now lay in a smoking heap on the floor.

It didn't take long to get to the first room there was no opposition outside of that gun yet. It took only moments for Ellie to disable the lock on the door, and we were inside.

The room wasn't much more than a security closet, but unmanned. Monitors were mounted all around, showing what each of those cameras could see. Sure enough, a monitor glowing green showed clearly the battle going on downstairs. The camera was set to night vision mode apparently, and the valiant struggle still going on reminded us to hurry!

Raster hurriedly pulled a small cable from a pocket, and attached one end to a plug in the back of her neck under her hair. She quickly scanned the room until she found the first terminal on our list. These terminals were the only direct connections into the main computer, which controlled the automated defenses and allowed Tsion to carry out his orders. A physical connection was all we needed to upload each part of the virus, but the computer's defenses would make it impossible to upload both halves from the same one. Essentially the system would fry the link once an invader connected, which usually took a minute or two until it activated.

However, Raster wasted no time. She found an open port and connected. A monitor nearby suddenly showed a series of windows, each with different codes being written out in lightning fast speed. In all, maybe 30 seconds passed until she finished, and quickly pulled the cord from the computer.

She suddenly exhaled. "That was nerve wracking!" She breathed. "Part A is uploaded. That means you're up Tessa. And Matrix is your backup."

They nodded. That meant Ellie no longer had to connect, since she shared part A like Raster. But we still had to get to the next terminal down the hall.

POP! Fizzle. The terminal suddenly exploded as the computer defenses kicked in, frying that terminal and everything connected to it. Black smoke rose from the box, while all the monitors went blank, and we found ourselves in darkness again.

"Shit, that's crazy! They weren't kidding!" Matrix exclaimed. "And we're sure the other terminals will be safe?"

"The computer systems are designed to analyze the target before it attacks. That took exactly 78 seconds. It takes only 32 to upload the virus. And part B should be smaller. We should be fine."

"So where's the next terminal?" I wondered.

"It's a little ways from here, in a lab on the other side of the floor" Raster explained.

"We'd better move" Tessa encouraged. "Now that they know we're at this terminal I'm sure they'll be sending in more defenses."

We nodded in agreement and prepared to leave the door. However, we didn't even get out of the room before their defenses caught up with us. A barrage of bullet struck the door frame just in front of Raster's face, forcing her to dodge back impossibly fast.

"Shit" Raster cursed.

"Copies?" Ellie asked.

"No, but they are androids. I didn't get a good look."

"Hold on" Matrix said, holding up one hand. She positioned herself next to the entry just out of view, and stared blindly into the wall toward then.

A hushed high-pitched tone chimed, before fading off. "They're two, gynoid models" Matrix analyzed. "I think they're modified for security. Looks like those are arm-installed guns. And they're running hot, I think... it looks like they are... medical models?"

"Medical?" Raster wondered.

Matrix looked through the wall with her eye-patch sensor closer, switching between modes. "I think so. They are quick and accurate, but running well-beyond their safety limits. I think we're faster"

"Perhaps a distraction?" I wondered but I was aware we had nothing to distract them with.

Before I could think of anything else, Tessa yanked one of the monitors off the wall, pulling wires until they snapped, and then threw it with all her might out the door. An instant barrage of bullets bombarded the screen as it flew through the air and into a wall.

Before the shots finished, Tessa bolted from the room, jumping from a corner of the wall toward the ceiling and out of sight.

"Tessa!" Raster yelled as the gunfire halted and the sounds of hand-to-hand combat echoed down the hall.

Risking her life, Raster ran out of the room, not knowing what the condition of the assailants was. The rest of us followed without thinking, except Matrix who seemed surprisingly calm.

"Tessa, don't-" Raster began, but stopped dead in her tracks.

"Don't what?" Tessa asked, as she twisted the head off one of the two inferior gynoids and dropped it to the floor. Both of them were smoking and sparking lifeless masses of plastic and metal on the floor.

"Didn't I JUST explain that you have part B in you!?" Raster warned. "Don't throw caution to the wind like that!"

"Sorry" she apologized, but I think secretly we were all very impressed with what she did in mere seconds.

"Good job" Raster added with a smile as Matrix joined us, having seen everything trough the wall. "Just don't do it again." Tessa sheepishly nodded at Raster's reprimand. "Let's get moving before any more of them-"

"They're coming!" A familiar voice echoed down the hall behind us. Proxy ran toward us at lightning speed, yelling as she went. "Hurry!"

"Where's Lulu, why are you here?" I asked as she caught up with us.

"No time! Too many of them. Lulu's gone! I can't hold them off myself" she panted.

"Gone?" Matrix asked.

"She fell. They jumped her. She's dead... We have to move, this way!"

Before we could fully process what was happening, Proxy ran off, grabbing hold of my hand and leading us toward the next terminal.

"Hurry" she insisted. "They're only slowed down by the narrow staircase. They could get here any second!"

"Dead?" Matrix wondered, but we all picked up the pace and followed, aware now more than ever of our own mortality.

We hurried down the corridor, the news of Lulu still bouncing around in our heads, while Proxy led the way. She swiftly led us through a maze of corridors and hallways double backing as if to avoid someone tracking us. By the time we got to a door, I wasn't the only one confused.

Hurriedly typing in a code for the door, Proxy led us inside to what looked like a medical lab. There were computers, vials, and containers full of different liquids, along with a variety of devices I had never seen before in my life. I didn't have the chance to really take it all in during the rush.

"Quickly!" Raster shouted. "Find the terminal!" It didn't take long.

"Here!" Proxy alerted. "Someone hook in."

"I'll do it" Matrix volunteered, but before she could do anything Tessa stood in front.

"No, it's too dangerous. If you don't disconnect fast enough, you could get erased. I'll do it. I don't have..."

She trailed off glancing at me and Ellie, before turned back to the computer terminal, activating it.

"Come on," Matrix objected. "I'm way faster than that AI. I'll be fine!"

"No" Tessa insisted. "We didn't want to tell you, but the rest of us agreed that you two would be the last resort. If I fail, then it's up to you."

Matrix blushed, but let her continue. The terminal fully booted and the single monitor lit up awaiting Tessa. "A- alright" Matrix caved.

"Be careful" Raster added as Tessa connected a wire to the computer and then to the back of her neck.

"Don't worry" Tessa smiled. "I'll be-"

POP! Fizzle! The computer caught fire as black smoke poured out of the box. Tessa sat there, frozen as a statue, until smoke started to rise from the port at the back of her neck too.

"TESSA!" Raster screamed.

She didn't respond. She didn't even breathe. Matrix yanked the cable free from her but it was too late. With a thud, Tessa fell over like a broken mannequin, stiff and lifeless.

"NO!" Raster yelled, reaching down to pick her up. Her body looked fine, untouched, like she was playing a prank, but the smell of ozone and smoke rising from her body told a different story.

Ellie grasped onto me tightly as Matrix and Raster tried to wake her up. Matrix tried gently slapping her face, while Raster held her up, ready to connect her own cable to her.

"STOP!" I yelled. "If she's still alive, you have the first half of the virus, you'll kill yourself too!" Raster stopped and looked up at me, realizing I was right. Tears started to roll down her cheeks but she ignored them.

"I'll do it" Matrix said, and quickly connected herself to Tessa. We all waited on edge, hoping she was fine. Several seconds passed, each longer than the last. Slowly pulling the cable away from Tessa, Matrix shook her head. "She's gone" her voice cracked.

"Why?" Raster wondered. "She only just connected! It wasn't even a full second..." She tried to come to grips with what just happened, but it seemed to affect her pretty hard. "2 of them! Under my watch! How could I have let this happen?"

"It wasn't your fault" I told her.

"She saved my life" Matrix added, closing Tessa's eyes as she laid her down on the ground. I was surprised she wasn't crying, but realized they were in shock. As Tessa lay lifelessly in her lap, Matrix grabbed at her own hair and pulled, barely stifling a scream through her gritted teeth.

"This could only have happened if the AI knew we were here" Raster noted. "But it had no reason to assume we'd connect again." She was right, one of the advantages to the virus was it didn't look like a virus until it was fully uploaded, so the AI shouldn't have known that they were going to try to connect again.

“It knew!” Matrix growled through her teeth. “Somehow it knew we what we were doing!”

"Where's Proxy?" Ellie wondered.

We looked around. Proxy was gone.

Chapter 25 - Freeman

We knew there wasn't much time, but we made sure to show what little respect we could. As Matrix covered Tess with a white lab coat we found nearby, we had no time to mourn our losses. There may have been no time for goodbyes right now, but at least we could show Tess some decency, unlike Lulu who was probably torn to pieces by now. It made me sick to my stomach to think about that.

And if we didn't move quickly, that could be us.

But how did this all happen? As if this wasn't enough of a suicide mission to begin with, now we were lost in a maze of corridors with an army of Matrix doppelgängers heading toward us and a computer virus that was useless if we couldn't connect to a terminal. And the only way that computer's AI could have known we were coming was...

"Do you think Proxy...?" Ellie wondered. It was what we were all thinking.

"She betrayed us" Matrix confirmed nodding. "It's the only way."

Raster nodded. "She led us to the door, knew the code, and vanished. I agree, she seems the most likely culprit."

"Culprit? She's a back-stabbing bitch is what she is" Matrix spat.

Raster didn't scold her for her language, but thought to herself silently for a moment. "We knew this was a mission we likely wouldn't return from. We still have to finish it though."

"But Proxy could be anywhere" I pointed out. "Why would she turn on her family?"

"Love. Delusion. Brain-washing. Virus. Hacked... Could be any number of motives" Raster explained.

"Yeah well... we don't have time to think of what it could be" Matrix argued.

"Yes, you're right. She could return, security forces could arrive, or that army downstairs can find us. We better move" Raster agreed.

"Where?" Ellie asked. Matrix meanwhile tore herself away from Tessa's body and approached the door, using her eyepatch to look for anything through the walls.

"We have to assume the remote terminals are all compromised" Raster explained. "There are two choices left. We can find the main computer interface, or we can find Tsion and... coerce him to surrender. Incidentally both options require we go to the same place."

"Where?" I asked.

"Tsion's control room" Matrix answered without looking back at us.

Raster nodded. "It's on this floor, and we suspect it is where Tsion has been hiding out. If not, it should at least be able to tell us where he is."

"Leave?" Ellie suggested.

"Good idea" Matrix replied. "I see something heading our way."

"Do we know where it is?" I asked as we gathered close to the door, preparing to run for it. "I got confused following Proxy here."

"That was her intent I think. But I did not get disoriented. Just follow me" Raster explained.

Matrix gave us the all clear and we bolted out of the room. We ran with Raster leading, Matrix close behind looking for enemies, and Ellie bringing up the rear. After a few turns, Matrix let out a warning.

"Careful, someone's ahead" she cautioned.

"This way" Raster barked as she backed up and took us down another hall. We continued like this for a little while, aware we were likely being watched.

"There's a mass of bodies behind us" Matrix warned, looking back. "Those clones are gaining on us."

"Almost there" Raster assured us.

"We're going to have to fight" Matrix added. "There's someone ahead. It could be Proxy!"

"We'll have to plow through" Raster yelled as she increased her speed. "It's just ahead!"

Sure enough, as we turned the corner and there was a large reinforced door with a security panel right in front of us. The words "Command Center" scrawled across the door, with "Level 10 Security Clearance" labeling the panel. It was clear that we couldn't possibly break it down.

"Now what?" Matrix wondered.

"Can we hack it?" I asked.

"I doubt that's a good idea" Raster explained. "The computer might attack us as soon as we connect."

"I can-" Ellie began timidly.

"We have to try something" Matrix growled, interrupting her.

"I could try to connect" Raster suggested. "I already delivered my half of the code..."

"I think I-" Ellie started.

"There must be a better way" I wondered. "What kind of security is it?"

"Looks like a hand print identification" Raster pointed out, looking closely at the security panel. "It probably has an AIID detection system as well."

"Uh... Guys...?" Matrix interjected.

"Maybe your eyepatch can detect the print and we can-" I hypothesized.

"I Can Do It!" Ellie belted.

"GUYS!" Matrix shouted, and we all stopped and looked at her. Matrix was standing upright frozen, gazing down the hall. Following her gaze, I saw two figures at the far end of the hall heading our way. One was clearly that of a tall man in uniform, and the other that of a girl. She seemed to be struggling, against him, slowing him down, but only a little as he pulled her along with him.

As they stepped closer, light hit their faces, and our fears turned out true. Somehow, Seth Wilkins survived his crash outside the building earlier, and made it here, and with him was Proxy. He was pulling her by one arm, and though she resisted and her face was that of worry and pain, she didn't put up the fight we knew she could.

"Seth" Matrix shuddered. She lightly touched her eyepatch, which was only needed because of her last encounter with him.

"We need to get in there now!" Raster ordered, looking back at us as we stared at the oncoming train.

"I knew I'd find you three up here" Seth's voice echoed down the hall. "And Raster too, I see."

"Ellie" I whispered. "If you can do it, get us in now!"

"I'll kill him" Matrix growled but Raster held up her hand to Matrix's face.

"No, you can't. Besides, you two are more important than this. Take Jimmy and block the door... I'll hold him off while you three finish this!"

She drew her long sword and turned to face him. Proxy struggled to break free, but even after she managed to get loose, without a word from him, she took a step to the side and waited, as if at his beck and call. With her next to him, he drew his own blade in response.

"I know what it’s like to be in love" Raster called back to us without turning. "I will not have him destroy another relationship like he did mine. Make it count."

Raster posed with her blade in a ready stance, and then darted toward our foe. As their swords met in battle and began dancing together in deadly combat, Ellie placed her hand on the security panel.

A female voice from inside the panel chimed "User handprint identified; AIID test commencing. Test complete. Identity confirmed. Welcome Matrix."

The doors parted and slid opened allowing us entry into the command center. Looks like her identity was still in the system; they never removed her access! Perhaps they never got around to it, perhaps they hoped she could still be turned, or maybe... it was a trap. Nevertheless, we scrambled inside as the clash and clang of swords hurried our steps.

"Close it! Close it! Close it!" Matrix repeated. The doors automatically closed behind us. Turning back to face them, Matrix panicked. "Lock it!"

"What about Raster?" I pointed out, making Matrix turn red with guilt.

"But..."

"I can't lock it" Ellie answered. "You know I don't know how!" Since they shared the same memories for the most part, I figured if Matrix didn't know how to lock it, neither would Ellie.

"Oh yeah... sorry..." Matrix murmured.

Ellie rolled her eyes and tugged at her arm. "Come on."

"We have to move fast!" I added as we turned toward the room and proceeded forward.

The area wasn't much more than a hallway with a curved wall to our right, which we followed up a small incline. As we approached the top, it opened to reveal a large cylindrical room, well-lit with indirect lighting, like a theater. Against the opposite wall hung a large array of tele-screens and a computer terminal, larger than the ones we had seen in the previous rooms. A pungent sickly-sweet smell filled the room. I tried to ignore it but Ellie put a hand to her nose.

In the center of the room stood a circular curtain, maybe 8 feet tall, around what seemed like a large round bed. Surrounding it, a dozen or so medical devices hummed.

And sitting to one side, leaning into the curtain, was a lone medical gynoid that looked just like the ones Tessa destroyed earlier. Well at least the backside did since that's all we could see of her as she leaned into the curtain.

I pointed to the terminal and tapped Matrix on the shoulder. Maybe the medical gynoid didn't hear us. Matrix nodded and we rushed over trying not to make any sound.

As we approached, the tele-screens automatically lit up, displaying news reports, streaming data of some variety, and the center screen had nothing more than a log-in prompt. Matrix started looking all over the large black terminal in front of us. It looked nothing like the others, and probably housed information the others didn't as well.

News reports from all around Ino, while silent, were showing scenes from the multiple attacks going on outside. It wasn't clear which side the news sided with, but I did see several clips of Aunt May giving a speech of some sort, and even a shot of Laura commanding her troops! However, the news would have to wait, we had a job to finish that could change the outcome any second now.

"Where is it?" Matrix whispered frustrated. She kept looking around the terminal for some connection to plug into, but couldn't find anything.

"It's not here?" Ellie asked quietly, looking around herself.

"It must be!" I added.

"Nothing!" Matrix hissed. She was about ready to pound something or someone.

"Not there is it?" A voice behind us called out. We swiftly turned toward the bed to face it, aware we've been caught. It was a trap after all. "Of course not, that would be too risky, I set this place up better than that!"

We quickly realized the voice wasn't coming from the bed at all, but actually from a corridor on the opposite side of the entrance. A man I only vaguely recalled seeing before stepped out into the room his hands behind his back, wearing a military style uniform with a long white jacket over it.

"You!" The girls gawked in unison. I tried to place the face of the man. He was older, with an unpleasant face covered in old scars and stubble, and he wore worn old thick round glasses, but he held himself in a distinguished manner.

"Pardon. Where are my manners?" He asked rhetorically. "Freeman, Dr. Freeman."

Freeman? Wasn't he the guy that did all the programming and manipulation to the girls? I recalled now that I had seen a blurred image of his visage when I saw him torturing Ellie on the tele-screen the night Laura and I broke into the city.

Except now he was just standing there. No torture devices in hand, no insidious grin on his face. His thick glasses made his eyes look smaller than they really were, and it made him even more off-putting.

"You won't find any connections on that terminal, I had them removed months ago when I upgraded the system. Silly, trying to put a virus into the system; it would never work. The AI deleted it as soon as it found it." Well shit! It was a smarter AI than May's intelligence told us. "And you won't have a second chance."

"I'm not afraid of you!" Matrix growled, even though it was clear from her trembling she was. "What are you going to do to stop us from using some good old intimidation on Tsion here?" Her arms flinched as the blades in her forearms snapped out.

"Always so quick to violence" he noted. "By all means, do your worst" he said as he stepped back and offered us access to the curtained bed.

Cautiously but quickly we resorted to our final plan, beating Tsion into submission until he called off the war, or something like that. Although at this point killing him seemed like a good option as well. We stood before the bed, with the ever vigilant nurse-bot, still leaning through the curtain, and Freeman on the opposite side so we could face then.

Ellie pulled back the curtain, but stood there a moment in shock, trying to process everything. The sickly smell grew immensely stronger and I had to hold my nose against it too. She lost her balance and fell toward me, still gripping onto the curtains, ripping a good portion off of the railing above, and exposing everything.

The corpse of Tsion must have been laying there for months, only it was clear there were attempts at preservation made. Poor attempts. His face was about the only thing that didn't look like he had been dried in the sun for weeks. But it wasn't his dead body that shocked us the most, it was the long blade sticking out of his chest as though it had just been placed there for safe-keeping.

No, it wasn't just a blade. It was an arm with a blade at the end instead of a hand. A feminine arm, with an ever-so-familiar wrist blade. It looked just liked the one Matrix attacked me with all those days ago. In fact I wasn't sure it wasn't, even though that was impossible.

The nurse-bot wasn't even active. It appeared she had tried to save his life once, but clearly in vain. She lay there now, half covering his chest, with her hand clenched in his, deactivated and damaged. Someone must have taken offense at her actions, I guessed, and sliced her face clean off, leaving only circuitry and metal in its place.

The couple now lay there in death. Except I know we heard him making announcements and he was on screens and issued statements and decrees! How was this possible? We turned to face Dr. Freeman.

"So you killed him to take over?" I wondered.

"I didn't kill him" he objected. "And I'm not taking over anything. But so what if he is dead? Isn't that what you came for?" His voice was calculating and cold. It made the girls shiver.

"Who killed him then?" I grilled. "When? Why?"

"By the look of things, Matrix did, just now."

"No one will believe that-" I tried to argue.

"Won't they? It's her weapon, and she was seen entering the building. They'll believe anything we tell them."

"But why?" Matrix asked. He gave her a sharp look as though he didn't approve of her, and instead looked back at me a moment later to answer.

"War. We need the technological and economic boost a war brings with it. That and a show of force will allow us to prevent further disruption to our outpost villages, like your... Maya was it? We need only persuade the other city-nations to let us do our business, and maybe give a few strategic outposts as penance while we're at it."

"It's always money and power with you people" I growled.

"Not always. Sometimes its pleasure."

"And where do you fit into this?" Ellie asked.

"I'm merely a spectator. I'm only watching the game; controlling it; shaping the outcome." He let out a condescending laugh. "We do not exist."

"We who?" I spat. I decided that while he was busy with his monologue, maybe I should get a better angle to attack him, although I wasn't sure how. I took a step to the side to clear myself from the bed.

"We the Royal High Guard, the Inner Circle. The whatever-the-devil you people want to call us."

"How many of you are there?" I asked hoping to keep him busy with questions and not noticing my movement.

"Well... the late Kaiser, myself, Leer whom you've captured, that dead fool Twiggs whom we dressed up like the Ainu emissary... it was not a large group. Oh and of course-"

"Me" a rugged voice smoldered from behind me. I snapped around to face Seth, as he came walking up the same corridor we came in, stepping out into the lit room. He was bloody and covered in cuts from his battle with Raster. He walked now with a slight limp.

With him he pushed Proxy around with one hand around her neck. She struggled against his grip, holding his hand with both of hers, but seemed unable to resist him. Her face was covered in tears as she sobbed and choked simultaneously.

Behind him, Seth was dragging something along the floor with his other hand, adding to his burden while limping. At first it wasn't clear what it was, but it didn't take long to realize the trail of red it left smeared along the floor behind was blood. Artificial blood.

He threw what was left of Raster at our feet by the hair. To say the sight was shocking would be a drastic understatement.

"RASTER!" Ellie shrieked at the sight of her as Matrix stood there shocked before falling to her knees.

Raster's body had literally been cut in half, leaving everything below her ribcage missing. Electronics, circuitry, and artificial organs dangled from the massive wound, leaving a trail of synthetic blood in her wake. Her arms too had been sliced clean off, one at the shoulder and the other just before where the elbow should have been. Her clothes were cut from her body, leaving the wounds and cuts from her battle evident all over her torso and face.

She didn't move, not to breathe, not to look around in a daze, nothing. She was as lifeless as the corpse laying in the bed next to us. Matrix reached out to hold her but her shaking hands fell short, and she balled them up into fists. Her agonized scream curdled my blood as she reached out toward Raster's remains.

Ellie gripped me tightly as she looked away, too shocked to fully process what was happening. I just stared at the sight, but more movement around me drew my attention.

"Jimmy!" Ellie whispered as she started to look around. From the corridors on either side of the room, a troop of still-bare Matrix clones flooded in, surrounding us. There was no way out, no escape.

"You monster!" Matrix growled through her teeth. I expected her to be assailing Seth but when she looked up with tears running down her face, she looked straight at Proxy.

"N- No!" Proxy objected still holding onto the hand around her neck.

Seth looked between them and released his grip with a sly grin, taking a step back. Proxy stood alone, catching her balance, with a worried look in her eyes. Suddenly she stiffened and started walking toward Matrix.

"N- Not again!" She cried but kept walking and pulled out her electrified staff. "I don't-" she began but awkwardly shut her lips as if to stop herself from speaking.

She lunged at Matrix with the electric end of the staff. It struck her in the shoulder, sending sparks flying as he body twisted in pain and uncontrollable jerks.

"Get up" Seth commanded Matrix. "Show me the real you. Show us all what you really are!"

Proxy pulled back, letting Matrix breathe for a moment, but then lunged back at her, this time striking her in the side. Again Matrix screamed and jerked violently from the electrified staff.

As she pulled back, Seth laughed. "It's not too late to join us." He offered. Matrix glared at him, breathing deeply, and got to her feet. She almost fell over but I managed to catch her. She shook her head as if to get her wits back, and stood up straight, before striking a stance, ready for a battle. "Then again" Seth continued, "maybe it is."

I watched as Proxy lunged toward Matrix again, but this time, she blocked the attack and swung her arm blades toward her. Proxy dodged, avoiding the blow, and lunged again. The rod sparked as it bounced off Matrix's blades, and just like that the two were locked in a dance of death.

I knew this would do nothing for our goal. Even if Matrix defeated Proxy, there was still Seth and an army of doppelgängers to contend with. This was a losing battle. I took the opportunity to observe what I could, to see if I could find a weakness, a way out, anything. The only thing I saw was a large air shaft on the floor, big enough for me, but it was no means of escape. Besides being off in the distance, I had no idea where it went off even if it would stay big enough for me as it went on, not to mention Seth was standing right on it.

Matrix managed to land a blow or two on Proxy, punching her face hard enough to leave a mark, and cutting her arm. But as Proxy suffered these wounds, I noticed something else. Seth seemed to react to them as well. Not like something watching their favorite team lose, but more like physical pain he was trying to hide. Sure, there was no bruise, no cuts, nothing like that, but he was clearly hurting.

Just then, Matrix tripped Proxy, and pinned her to the ground, putting the blade to her neck. Seth likewise lost his balance but managed to catch himself as he faltered.

"Stop!" I called out to Matrix. She hesitated as she glared into Proxy's terrified eyes.

"I should kill you for what you did" Matrix growled. Proxy didn't fight back anymore, and went limp, tears running down her face.

"It wasn't her" I cautioned. "Killing her will solve nothing. Seth-"

Seth looked at me impressed. "Good eye, Amano."

Matrix pushed Proxy against the floor hard as she stood up to face him. "What are you going on about?!"

"You were always slow" he laughed. She opened her mouth to speak but could say nothing in response.

"Seth..." Freeman interrupted. He tapped his wrist indicating the time.

Wilkins nodded in reply and looked over at me, taking a step off the grate and toward Matrix. "Goodnight Amano" he said.

And then everything stopped.

It didn't go black. There was just nothing. It was instant, and I could not think, not even enough to realize that there was no black. I was no more.

At last until I woke up with an amazingly strong headache and nausea.

Ellie leaned over me, sobbing quietly to herself. She had been watching over me. We were still alive. As soon as I tried to move, she realized I was awake and panicked.

I rolled over, realizing my head was resting on her lap, and proceeded to throw up. That hurt all over, reminding me that I was more than just a battered head.

"Jimmy!" Ellie called out, rubbing my shoulder. "Easy now, you'll be alright."

"Like hell he will" Matrix's voice echoed in the room. She sounded weak, defeated, and emotional.

After I finished evacuating my innards, I rolled back onto her lap, feeling the nausea start to wear off, although it didn't go away entirely.

"What happened?" I wondered.

"One of the copies hit your head and knocked you out" Ellie explained. "You might have a concussion."

"You think?" Matrix mocked.

"Stop it!" Ellie chided her.

There was silence for a while. I looked around and realize the room was not the same. We were in a large concrete room with ugly walls and ceilings. There were machines nearby of some sort.

"How long?" I inquired.

"2 hours" Ellie explained.

I cussed under my breath and tried to sit up. Ellie put her hands on my gently to stop me but I did anyways.

The act of sitting up pained me a great deal, revealing aches and pains all over my body I didn't know about. But once I was sitting up, I began to feel much worse. My head still hurt, and the room spun. I leaned forward and gagged, finally releasing the last of my former meal, and anything else lingering around inside.

I felt much better after that. I took a few minutes to get my bearings. We were in a laundry room of some sort, large enough for a hotel, with huge machines, currently not running, lining the walls and surrounding us. We lay on the ground in an opening where a large table once stood, and now laid to one side. Ellie tapped my back and tended to me still herself and whole, while Matrix sat against one of the machines with Raster's remains next to her, mostly covered by a stained sheet. She had been brushing Raster's hair, now red with blood. Matrix's left arm was missing, torn off at the elbow, with a strip of cloth tightly bound around her forearm.

"Where..." I began to ask.

"The laundry room" Matrix answered, her voice still weak and cracking. "In the basement."

Sure enough, the muffled sounds of gunfire and battle could be faintly heard. The battle was still raging after all this time. But we had failed. They were fighting a losing battle, and we had no way of communicated with them.

It was then I noticed the two guards. More Matrix clones, still naked, holding guns. They were facing away from us, but clearly had an eye on us as well.

"Why..."

Matrix looked up at me, the snarky attitude she was trying to portray melting from her face as she teared up. "They're going to execute us" she croaked.

I crawled over to her, and held her in my arms, embracing her as she openly cried. She had never cried this hard before, but she had to release a lot of emotional stress, and she let it all out. Ellie came over to us, and wrapped her arms around us as well. We were one big sobbing wet mess.

A door somewhere out of sight swung open, and the sounds of a girl struggling against someone else echoed through the large space. The sound of metal chains accompanied the struggle, and soon we saw a sight we didn't expect to see. Lulu alive and kicking, literally, and she was being carried into the room, bound in chains and covered in cuts and bruises. She still had all her limbs, but she was torn up and beaten as bad as any of us, and yet she still struggled with all her might.

The guards moved aside, as two others held her down, a few feet from us, and bound her chains to one of the machines. Without a word, they left and the guard returned to their post.

"Lulu!" We all called out.

She looked up, through the blood staining her face, and saw us. She smiled and struggled to get to us, but was unable to break her chains. "You're alive!"

"That's our line!" Matrix called out and was the first to embrace her. Ellie and I soon followed.

"Ok, ok, you're getting blood everywhere" Lulu objected, wincing from the pain. She had deep cuts all over her body, and her clothes were cut into strips, doing little to hide her body. It might have been sexy if it wasn't for all the blood and gashes covering her.

"Oh god! Are you alright?" Ellie panicked. "Proxy told us you fell to the copies."

"Proxy..." she scowled. "More like pushed. We were holding off the stairway at the door when she started to back up. Next thing I know, she kicked me into the crowd of them, and ran. I should have died..."

"You need to be bandaged up" I noted, looking at her still bleeding wounds.

"Yeah... Well... I'm still alive at least. You guys look terrible."

"Heh. Let me get those off you" I replied as I focused on removing the chains from her wrists.

"How did you survive?" Matrix asked.

Lulu shrugged her shoulders. "They were more interested in getting passed me, and most left to chase you guys. I fought off the rest, and hid after that. They found me a few minutes ago..."

"You are the toughest girl I ever knew" Matrix complimented her.

"Yeah right" Lulu smiled, making the wounds on her face expose her metallic skull in places with the expression. "Where's Raster anyways?"

None of us could bring ourselves to speak, but I looked back at the bloodied mess where she lay, now covered in a single blood-stained white sheet.

Lulu gasped. We all stood in silence for a moment, before she slammed her fist into the machine next to her, leaving a dent. The chains fell to the floor a moment later as I pried them loose. I found it strange that the guards did nothing to stop me from releasing her restraints, but decided not to dwell on it.

We found some sheets nearby, which we tore into strips and used to bind Lulu's wounds. She winced in pain as we patched her up. We had to completely bind her right leg, and her arms. Her uniform was a lost cause, but we had to wrap her chest in bandages anyways, so she was still covered. In all, she looked more like a mummy than a girl.

"We have to get out of here" Lulu winced through her pain. "I don't know what they are going to - Ow! - do to us... but it can't be good."

"Well, no shit" Matrix cursed.

"I can hear the fighting going on outside" I noted.

"But I still can't get a signal" Ellie added.

"Maybe a loud enough noise?" Lulu wondered.

"No... It would be drowned out by the battle outside" Matrix explained as she finished tying the last strip of cloth on Lulu's head. "Don't move too much."

Lulu nodded and leaned into Matrix, wincing as she did, but settling against her. Matrix blushed, not sure what to do, but decided to let her rest for a bit.

"She's right, they wouldn't hear us" I acknowledged. "And with our signals still jammed, the only thing I can think of is to take out the twins and make a run for it" I whispered nodding toward the doppelgänger guards.

"You know they can hear you" Ellie explained.

"Yeah, but I bet they aren't programmed to do anything about it until they are told." Ellie nodded in agreement.

"I-"

The door swung open again, shutting me up. Maybe they did hear! I could make out the sounds of someone walking, slowly, with uneven footsteps. They sounded injured, but as the echoes of their boots grew louder, we finally got a glimpse of what was going on.

Proxy entered the room. Her head was down, her clothes loose and slightly torn, and her arms hung lifelessly at her side. However, it was her behavior which told me something was wrong. She looked as though she was fighting against some invisible captor, someone forcing her to move forward, and she was too weak to resist. Except there was no one there, it was only her.

The other girls stared at her, hate filling their eyes, but I knew something else was going on. I knew it back in the chamber when she fought with Matrix. Heck, I saw it when she approached us with Seth. Her behavior was almost exactly the same.

The guards stepped aside, and Proxy whined as she reluctantly shuffled passed them. "No..." Her weak voice moaned as she tried to turn, but couldn't. She stumbled before us, standing for a moment as the guards resumed their previous positions, and gave her no further heed.

"Proxy" Matrix growled.

Just then, the unsteady girl threw herself to the ground, violently, not even lifting her arms to stop herself. She hit the floor with a loud thud, face first, and stopped moving altogether.

Ellie's hate faded quickly as she too realized something was up. But Matrix growled at her. "Proxy!" She struggled to get to her feet but Lulu stiffened.

"AAH! Ggaah..." Lulu gasped, stopping Matrix from jumping on Proxy.

Ellie and I shared a glance, and I saw the concern in her eyes. Standing up, I held my hand out toward Matrix to calm her as I approached Proxy. Matrix just sat there breathing hard, while Lulu laid her head down in her lap, taking deep, pained breaths while staring at Proxy.

I kneeled next to Proxy, and held out one hand to touch her, to see if she was still alive after that crash. I could feel the concern from Ellie behind me, but she said nothing.

Her skin was warm, but suddenly she retracted from me, curling into a ball and screaming.

"Don't touch me!" she roared. I almost jumped out of my skin.

"What did they do to you?" I asked in a low voice.

She kept her face from me, but I could tell she was injured from her fall, and possibly from something else before. She didn't answer.

"Proxy..." Ellie whispered.

"Don't touch me!" Proxy warned again, her voice broken. "Don't look at me!" She began to sob, keeping her back to us.

I sat down near her, without touching her, and let her cry for a bit. It took several minutes, while the others looked on, unsure of what to think or do. Finally, after what seemed like hours, but was probably only 10 minutes or so, she stopped and sniffed.

"Proxy-" I began.

"No. Don't... I... Don't touch me."

I reached out my hand anyways, and placed it gently on her back. She cringed at my touch, but didn't move to stop me.

"Why aren't you hitting me?" She asked.

"Why should I?"

"I killed my sisters! I betrayed everyone! I lead you to a deathtrap!" She barked.

"Did you? Did Seth threaten you? Threaten someone you cared for?" I asked. She shook her head. "Control you?"

"But I let him. He asked me, and I let him." She started to tear up again, but didn't break into full sobs. Instead she sat herself up onto one arm.

"Tell us what happened."

"I killed Lulu, and then Tessa, and then Raster!" She spat.

"I'm not dead" Lulu wheezed. "Not yet. But when I get up your going to wish you had-"

"You didn't kill Tess. That was the computer." I interrupted.

"That was a trap!" She spat as she turned around to look at us.

Her face was covered in blood, her nose was badly broken, and she had bruises everywhere else. But her tears had washed away a lot of the blood. However, it was her fierce anger in her eyes that demanded attention. And yet her gaze was sprinkled with fear and remorse.

She glanced over at Lulu, and saw her there, alive and glaring at her, and quickly averted her eyes. I could see a small amount of relief in her face, as her anger subsided into fear, and guilt.

"I killed Tessa" she tried to continue.

"No, Tsion's computer did" I replied.

"And then I killed Raster."

"Seth killed her" Ellie shot back.

"But I didn't stop him. I could have... I... Just watched him do it."

She turned away again and struggled with her emotions.

"Proxy... Seth took control of your body, didn't he?" Ellie asked.

She nodded as she kept looking away. "He promised no one would get hurt. He said he could end this without any fighting."

"He lied to you" I added. "When did this happen?"

She waved her other hand. "Months ago, he installed a program, which let him take control of me in emergencies... He used it... when we were in our mechs fighting him, he... He got in my head. Told me... that stuff... and I let him in. I let him use me... To kill my sis-"

"He manipulated you!" Matrix yelled. "You never had a choice! He's trying to guilt you into thinking this is your fault! You didn't do anything, did you? He did it all!"

Proxy looked back at Matrix, confusion filling her features. Heck, all of us were confused at her sudden about-face.

"He used me for years! He manipulated me, controlled me, abused me, and now he's doing it to you too! Did he rape you?"

Proxy went white. She swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes" she whispered.

"He beat you too, didn't he?"

Proxy was silent.

"And now he sent you down here to try to trick us into beating you to death, didn't he?"

"Yes..." Proxy's voice cracked. She lowered her head, blood dripping from her nose to the floor. "I deserve it."

"Gha!" Matrix scoffed. "I'm not doing anything that will please him. Seth's a monster."

"But he never controlled us in such a direct way before" Ellie pointed out.

Matrix thought for a moment. "No. Not like this."

"It's like I can't control myself. I'm moving, but I'm trying not to" Proxy explained. "Sometimes I'm not even sure it isn't me..."

"But how?" Matrix wondered.

"What was it like?" Ellie asked.

"It's like a voice in my head... A voice telling me... compelling me what to do. But..."

"He's a cyborg" I noted. "How else could he do it? So even his hatred and fear mongering against cyborgs is as fake as his robophobia."

"There's... something else..." Proxy whispered.

"How is his mind control signal working but ours isn't?" Ellie asked over Proxy.

"Probably a different frequency" Matrix replied. "But how do we know she is in control of herself now?"

"There's more!" Proxy said raising her voice. I held up my hand to silence the others with a 'shhh'. They stopped.

Proxy looked at me, not yet daring to smile but at least giving me a grateful nod. She raised her head and looked at Matrix, and then toward Ellie.

"The voice. It wasn't Seth's voice. It was Tsion's."

The girls were on a stunned shock as they processed this news. Tsion's voice? But what did that mean? I looked at Ellie and shrugged my shoulders.

"Does that mean he IS Tsion?" She asked.

There was no answer. I think because maybe none of us knew for sure. Matrix stood up and shook her head.

"No, this is all fucked up! Didn't he just kill Tsion? And now you’re saying he IS him? How is this possible?"

"Maybe he's a robot too designed... to sound..." Ellie's voice trailed off as she realized the convolution of her idea.

A sudden disturbing noise like a weak cough caught all of us off-guard. We turned to look for the source only to hear it again and realize it was coming from...

"Raster?" Matrix shouted and ran over to the small form. She coughed again, getting blood on the white cloth over her mouth. It was less a cough and more an attempt to remove the blood that had congealed in her pipes.

Matrix lifted the cloth off Raster's head as we all gathered around her, all but Proxy. Raster still looked like death, but she was moving. Her swollen face had one eye sealed shut and the other barely visible as it looked around the room.

She tried to move, but the pain stopped her. She was still with us somehow; had she been a human she would have been long gone. But even now, with no lower half and no arms, she wasn't doing well.

Raster coughed up more blood, thick and heavy, until she coughed something out of her system and could breathe.

"I can't feel my legs" she wheezed.

"You’re in bad shape" I told her. "We thought you were dead. Don't move, you've been..."

"That bastard cut you in half" Matrix finished, tears half of joy and half of pain streaming from her eye.

"I see" she coughed, and tried to wipe her mouth only to find her hands gone. Ellie grabbed the cloth that was on her and wiped the blood from her face as gently as she could while Raster winced.

"The bastard couldn't even kill me right" she complained through clenched teeth. She looked between us and saw Lulu behind me. Her eye lightened. "You're alive!" She wheezed.

"I'm better off than you" Lulu retorted. "Just breathe. We can't repair you here-"

"No" Raster replied. "I'm not worth it."

"Of course you are!" The girls replied, practically in unison. "We need you."

"I failed." She lay back resting her head on the ground again only to notice between us a figure keeping her distance. "Proxy..."

Proxy cringed at the mention of her name and did her best to shrink into nothingness. We half expected Raster to cuss her out or something, but instead she called Proxy over. Twice. She hesitated, but eventually Proxy approached slowly, until she knelt next to Raster's head.

"You didn't do this" Raster explained. "Listen-" she coughed more as Ellie wiped her off. "Don't blame yourself. Your sisters need you."

"It should have been me" Proxy whispered. Matrix was about to say something but Ellie stopped her.

"No. You didn't do this-" she winced as she had a bout of pain. A moment later she relaxed and started to breathe some again. "I'm beyond repair" Raster coughed. "Just leave me here, deactivate me."

"No!" the girls blurted out in unison.

"We'll figure something out" I added. We fell silent as we concentrated.

"We need to think of something fast" Matrix whispered breaking the silence. "Before Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumbass over there come over here" she nodded toward the two guard doppelgängers.

"No telling when they might..." I began but remembered something. Reaching into my jacket pocket I recalled the device my father left me, and pulled it out. "This could work."

Chapter 26 - Brain-Powered

I approached the duplicate guards, each naked but armed with a rifle. It was a calculated risk and I had only one chance to make this work. The others stayed behind a ways, although they were prepared to come running at a moment's notice.

"Halt!" The guards warned simultaneously.

I held up my hands, trying to keep the small device behind my fingers to avoid detection. I only paused for a moment before I took another step slowly.

"Remember me, uh- Matrix?"

The guards raised their guns, but didn't fire. I could hear the nervous tension behind me from the girls. I was terrified. But I continued anyways.

"Come on, you know me." Another step, almost within arm’s length now, and I finally saw them begin to falter.

"Jimmy?" One said after the other. Something from Ellie or Matrix regarding me must have somehow ended up in these copies, and their core programming conflicted with it. I had seen it earlier when the copies first saw me, but it didn't stop them from attacking before. Maybe this time by myself they'd be more receptive.

"That's right. You won't hurt me. Just let me have the guns."

They paused, lowering the weapons, clearly confused. I took another step forward during their hesitation, and could easily reach one of them now.

"Jimmy?" the closest of them repeated as her eyes studied my face with a look of intrigue, which quickly melted into pure lust. She dropped her gun, sending it clattering to the floor, her eyes half closed, as she started to run her hands up her body.

I couldn't help but hesitate. She looked exactly like Ellie except for her eye color. It was eerie. And here she was clearly fondling herself while looking at me, squeezing one breast while letting out a small mew from her lips.

The other girl stood there thinking. She didn't react to the behavior of her accomplice, and didn't start groping herself either. Instead, she just stood there, looking at me, confused.

"Please Jimmy" the first twin mewed as she took a step closer to me. I didn't know what to do. It kind of freaked me out.

I watched as she reached down with one hand and started sliding her fingers in her slit, rubbing herself and finding pleasure in thinking about me. Her fingers were making naughty squelching sounds from her snatch as she rubbed them desperately in and out. Small drips of wet honey dripped from her pussy and darkened spots on the concrete floor as her fingers started to glisten with her love juices. She started to drool as she reached out with her other hand to touch me.

I took a half step back, not sure what was happening, and not wanting her to touch me. But it seemed that was what set them off.

"Jimmy?" she repeated but this time sounding upset and confused. "Error: file redacted. 'Jimmy' not found" she warned. Her face wore a confused expression even though her hands didn't stop moving.

"Information redacted" the other confirmed. "Treat as hostile." This second guard raised her gun again, so I acted.

I grabbed the first twin, still caught off-guard and fondling herself, and pulled her toward me, shielding myself from her more violent sister. Accidentally, I pushed the button on the device while holding her hair. With a hum and a pop, it triggered.

The doppelgänger fell limply into my arms in an instant! Unprepared for the sudden effectiveness, I dropped her, leaving me wide open. I watched as her partner took aim.

Lulu hit the gun with her metal arm, sending sparks flying as it shot off wide above me. Matrix was right behind, tackling the clone to the ground despite her one hand and disarming her. With only her right arm to hold down her neck, she had to use her legs and body weight on the guard's arms and torso. The two of them pinned her arms down while I went for her feet.

She was a strong one, and kicked my nose. I could feel it break as blood gushed out. Proxy showed up a moment later and took my place as Ellie pulled me back. I didn't expect Proxy to do anything to help.

The naked soldier fought back, kicking and struggling, but the 3 gynoids were too much for her and she was rendered motionless, despite her attempts at freedom! As for me, Ellie set my nose straight (which hurt like a beast), and tore two small strips of cloth from something nearby and gently stuffed them in my nostrils to stop the bleeding. I sat there for a minute or so making sure I was ok to go.

"Now what?" Matrix asked staring down her enemy.

"We got this" Proxy stated.

"Like hell we do" Lulu groaned in pain, still suffering from her own wounds but managing to put up an impressive fight.

"She's no good to us as a prisoner" Raster wheezed. "The call is on you, Jim."

"Call? You mean..." I wondered, my voice weird from my stuffed nostrils.

"Execute her?" Ellie asked.

"She's not sentient" Matrix answered. "If anything, we'd be doing her a favor. Let me do it."

"Shit... who are we to decide this?" I questioned.

"You were ok with killing them before" she shot back.

"Yeah, when they outnumbered us and we're going to kill us. It's called self-defense" I clarified. "But this is different. This is an execution. I should just use the device."

"Let me" Ellie answered. "Can hack her, get information from her."

"Are you sure you can do that? What if they attack your mind as soon as you connect?"

"Then I'll do it" Raster blurted. "It's the least... I can do. Just... hook me up to her." She was still weak and had to interrupt herself to take in air to help with the pain.

I debated about it for only a moment. "Hurry up" Matrix complained. "She's still struggling."

I nodded. "Let's do it."

Ellie and I carefully carried Raster over next to the pinned guard and connected them together. She grunted as we moved her but otherwise managed. Within seconds of connecting them, the struggling stopped. Matrix, Lulu, and Proxy cautiously relaxed their hold.

"Looks clear" Raster announced. "Her mind is a mess" she coughed. "... but easily controlled. She looks like a rush job. Like they were running out of... time and just copied-" she broke out into fits of coughs again but they soon subsided.

"So you got control of her?"

"She won't move. Two minutes..." Raster continued. Silent moments went by.

The girls grew restless, as they waited for Raster to finish. Ellie looked at Lulu's wounds to make sure she didn't exacerbate them, while Matrix sat nearby using her teeth to tie a tighter knot around the stump of her left arm. Proxy mulled quietly nearby with her knees to her chin deep in thought and likely regret. I stayed with Raster to make sure everything was fine.

Finally Raster broke the silence. "Interesting..." She slowly whispered as she lay on the floor. "Ok... She's a clean slate."

"Clean slate?" I wondered while the girls approached the prone figures.

"She wiped her core programming" Lulu explained.

"But isn't that...?"

"Not an execution" Ellie explained. "Didn't delete personality core or memories." Her speech was starting to revert to her old habits again under the stress.

"Honestly... she doesn't have much of either." Raster added. "And now I can..."

"... take over her body" the guard said while laying on the ground.

"What?" We jumped in the air at the guard's sudden speech.

"I am now talking to you through unit 338 here" the girl said again free of pain and hesitation. "This way I can be mobile, at least a little..."

"... or as long as I hold out." Raster coughed with her own voice.

"Well that helps with her. What about Horny here?" Matrix asked squatting over the prone body of the other soldier.

"Wiping her mind... takes too long" Raster pointed out as Ellie lifted up her head and wiped Raster's mouth and face.

"Kill her?" Lulu scoffed.

"I wouldn't do that" Raster warned with the clone's voice. She was probably in too much pain to keep talking herself.

"Why not?"

"Because my analysis of this unit shows that they each carry a self-destruction device... a bomb I think. Set to go off if they are ever deactivated improperly."

We all just stood there cautiously realizing how close to violent death we came yet again.

"I don't know how big of an explosion, but since these two units are still active, although disabled, they haven't triggered yet" Raster added through the clone.

"So knock 'me out and we're good, but take 'me out and we're fucked?" Lulu asked.

"Seems so" Raster said herself.

"Do they all have that? I'm pretty sure we took a bunch of them out already" Matrix noted.

"No" Raster's interpreter replied. "As our guards these two are different from the others. It seems to be limited to internal guard units. The ones we fought off seem to be designated as soldiers. I assume they realized it would be too dangerous on a battlefield for them to all be walking bombs. It would make them great suicide attackers but would kill all the other soldiers with them. It appears these units have proximity sensors to avoid detonating around select individuals."

"Like Seth" Matrix sneered.

"Like Seth" Raster nodded despite the voice still coming from the unit next to her. "I can pull up a list of all the units equipped with explosives and warn us if we run into any more."

I turned toward Matrix who was now backing away from the prone unit. "Let's just leave her as is" I decided. "The effects should last several hours anyways."

"Yeah, good thinking. Hey, about that..." Matrix inquired, "What is that thing and where did you get it?"

"What does it do?" Lulu added.

"It uh... disables androids. Temporarily, without causing damage."

"Why would you have such a thing?" Ellie asked.

"My dad gave it to me. It was his... uh..."

"Only way to assure some safety had one of us turned on him" Raster concluded using 338. I nodded.

"Makes sense" Matrix acknowledged. "And it doesn't harm them? Just like doc." She shook her head.

"I only get two charges every half hour... so I better make this next one count."

"Yeah, we'd better move though" Matrix encouraged. "So what's the plan? Escape? Round 2?"

"Before I erased this unit's drive," Raster said through the unit, "I copied maps and important information. I think I know where they are. I can access security systems to see a live update for all the units."

"Win or lose, we have to see this to the end."



We found ourselves in a service elevator a few minutes later working our way up to back corridors of the building. It was long, awkward, and quiet.

The girls had bandaged up Raster as best as they could with sheets and rags, and used a large bed sheet to tie her to the back of unit 338, so she could ride along while controlling her. Ellie even made a little top and skirt for 338, which I suspected was out of embarrassment for herself.

With access to the new information from 338, Raster was able to guide us to a backroom where they were storing weapons and supplies. We made sure we were loaded up as quickly as we could. Raster was true to her word, and she kept live track of the position of enemy forces thanks to her new hacked mule.

Our plan was essentially to take them by surprise. It wasn't a great plan. Heck, we knew it was a bad plan. But at least this time we might actually have a chance. A slim one. And thoughts of Tess motivated us. Too many people were counting on us. Laura, May, Alice, my dad, everyone.

Ellie and Matrix both stayed close to me on our ride up. Ellie stood there holding my free hand as Matrix pressed herself against my opposite side. We decided that Proxy was not going to accompany us. She was too dangerous to be with us. It wasn't even that we thought she might attack us, but that her presence might give us away.

So we decided she would try to secure a way out, just in case. It was dangerous, but she jumped at the chance to help and attempt to redeem herself. Honestly it looked more like she wanted to do something to help or die trying. She was desperate to make up for what she did. Especially to Tess. It felt like she couldn't live with herself if she didn't do something good.

And so she left to find the whereabouts of our flying armored suits or otherwise figure out some way of getting us out. Meanwhile, we headed toward Freeman and Seth, or the best guess we had for their locations. The top floor.

It was only a few floors higher than our last encounter, but since we were now in the basement, the elevator was necessary. But getting in the elevator, we soon discovered the top floor was inaccessible without some kind of security clearance. Which we did not have. So we'd have to walk up the last floor.

"What was up with that copy masturbating like that?" Lulu wondered aloud, probably hoping to break up the tension on the way up.

I shrugged. "Probably some remnant programming. These were rushed copies, and Ellie's secret protocol programming might still be in them. They are looking for me, but don't know it."

"Creepy" Lulu replied. Matrix nodded while Ellie just stood there red in the face and stiff. Lulu leaned against the wall, inhaling sharply as she dealt with her pain. "Fuck! Feels like my face is going to fall off."

"It could" Raster's hacked interpreter responded. "You are pretty beat up, but you'll live... If we get out of this."

"Yeah... great" Lulu rolled her eyes. "When I get out of here I am going to sleep for a month."

"I'm going to take a long hot bath" Matrix added.

"I... think I'll explore the world" Raster said in her own voice.

"I want to settle down, get back to life" I replied.

"And what about you, Ellie?" Lulu asked.

She looked up at me with a sly grin. "Sex."

We all laughed, although Lulu and Raster could only chuckle. "Amen to that!" Lulu added wincing in pain.

"Something's been bugging me" Matrix interjected.

"Yeah?"

"Seth. He's a cyborg right? And he killed Tsion, right? And he was controlling Proxy, yeah?" We nodded in reply to each question. "Then why did Proxy say he sounded like Tsion when he was in her head?"

I had no idea. Intimidation maybe? Except Proxy was more intimidated by Seth than Tsion. Everyone was. There was no need to disguise his voice. And how could he mentally disguise his voice anyways? I couldn't think of a single logical explanation for why he wouldn't use his own voice. Or for that matter, how he controlled her.

Cyborgs might be part machine, but their brains are still human. They can't communicate telepathically, and they especially can't hack an advanced android.

"Because he... must be Tsion" Raster deduced.

"But... That doesn't... Since when... How?"

"Isn't cyborg, is he?" Ellie added. "An android."

"Being a copy would explain his hatred toward us" Lulu figured.

"And how he could hack Proxy" I added.

"Wait wait wait" Matrix objected. "What... the... fuck?"

"I think maybe Seth is a copy of Tsion?" I replied unsure.

Raster nodded. "Perhaps he's trying to achieve immortality. He was dying. And now he's young and strong and immortal."

"And then he put his old sick self out of his own misery?" Lulu replied. "Damn. That's fucked up."

"This is too much" Matrix sighed shaking her head. "That asshole has been using me the whole time?! I had SEX with him??"

The elevator stopped the floor below and Raster's puppet held the door closed button. "We get out here."

"With the door closed?" Matrix scoffed.

Raster's hacked clone pointed up.

We climbed out of the top of the elevator and found ourselves just below the top floor doors. The shaft was terrifying. It was dark, echoed every sound, while making tons of strange noises, and dropped off into infinity. I held on to the elevator keeping a low center of gravity, just in case.

As quietly as possible, Raster and her Ellie/Matrix double pried the door open, and looked around briefly. She gave us a thumbs up and helped each of us into the top floor. By the time I got up, Matrix had her pistol up guarding on hallway, while Lulu took a knee and aimed down another. Ellie came up next, and then Raster.

"So where to?" Matrix whispered.

"Server room" 338 whispered back. "It was where I last tracked Freeman. To the left."

As we started down the halls, it was apparent this floor was different from the others we had been on. It looked more like a high class office building. There were many offices, meeting rooms and drafting rooms. Some rooms were big with large machines, and others were small with a tele-screens and computers. The walls were a light blue color with a patterned carpet, which helped us greatly in keeping quiet.

Raster gave us warnings every so often when a guard was headed our way. Several times we had to duck behind doors or in rooms to stay away from the doppelgänger guards. These guards were surprisingly fully-dressed in uniforms. We stayed as low as possible when hiding, as many of these rooms had windows opening to the halls.

The second room we hid in had a tele-screen tuned to the news on a desk. I didn't dare get up and turn up the volume at risk of being seen, but I could see images of the city streets in ruin. The battle outside left the roads marred by debris and artillery fire, often destroying entire roadways. I saw lots of devastation. However, there was no sign of May or Laura, but images of Seth appeared on screen smiling and talking about some victory I was sure.

He broke his smile and turned straight to the camera and started speaking just before images of the trap we fell for appeared. Censored images of Tsion's corpse with a clear arm-dagger like Matrix used to have flashed on the screen, followed by Seth holding up a limp Matrix by the stump of her missing arm. She was unconscious or in some way subdued. It must have happened after they knocked me out.

The words "Assassination" and "Coup" appeared on the screen. They were replaced by images of Seth looking regal and the words "Captain Wilkins takes emergency control of government, issues military law."

Looks like he was having his day. I wanted to kick the screen over, but settled with cracking my knuckles and gritting my teeth. As soon as the guards passed, we quietly bolted from the room. The hallway turned past a close door, and Raster indicated we make a right down the hall. However, as soon as we turned the corner, we realized there was a large window against the wall looking into the office.

The room itself wasn't terribly large, but nice. It wasn't so much an office as a waiting area or lounge. Along one wall was a bar, and against the others were nice couches and a sturdy coffee table with a door leading into another room opposite us. But it wasn't the decor or furniture that caught our attention.

Screams and moans inside alerted me to the presence of at least half a dozen Matrix clones, all of them naked, and in the middle of them was Seth. He was having his way with one of them, fucking her from behind with as much might as he could muster, while pushing her torso down into the coffee table while taking her from behind. Her face was twisted in pain or pleasure while drool and blood ran down her face. She started climaxing hard as he lifted one of her legs giving me a clear view of the action. Her mouth shot open, her eyes rolled back, and her tongue hung loosely out as she let out a satisfied groan.

The other girls in the room were busy fondling him or each other. Although, there was one not going anything, who I missed at first glance. A doppelgänger Matrix lay on the floor at Seth's feet, her body in an unusual position facing toward the ground, limp, with her butt in the air, while her face stared directly at me with blood trickling from her lips. He had twisted her head clear around and killed her while he fucked her and now she lay, dead at his feet, while he continued where he left off with his next victim. I stood there like an idiot shocked by the sudden orgy slash murder in front of me, but Ellie managed to drag me down and we ducked behind the base of the glass window before Seth noticed.

We stayed there for a few seconds and recovered, making sure he didn't come running out after us or sending his girls. No. Instead, the fuck fest continued and soon there were sounds of him slapping the girl as he pounded into her.

We crawled to the other side and into the adjacent room, where we could still hear the goings on. We now knew where Seth was, but he was surrounded by Matrix copies, and we didn't stand a chance against him like this. We had to move on to Freeman for now and come up with a strategy for dealing with Seth later, but before we could sneak away, a phone rang in the other room.

"What the fuck is it now?" Seth's muffled voice cussed. "Answer it bitch, put it on speaker" he commanded while the sounds of him pounding into the girl continued unabated.

"Tsion- I mean Seth" Freeman's distorted voice rang out. That was all the confirmation I needed. Seth really was just a copy of Tsion!

"I'm busy!" Seth answered.

"Yes, but this is important. I'm in the server room, and the system says it has lost track of units 338 And 482... The guards for the boy and his cohorts" he clarified.

"Fuck!" Seth cussed loudly. With a muffled yelp and a thud, the thrusting sound stopped and we could hear Seth walk across the room. "They're trying to escape! We can't let them. Send the soldiers down there now."

"How many teams?"

"ALL OF THEM!" he bellowed. "Just leave the guards here. And my personal units. I'll be there when I finish!"

"Of course" Freeman replied and the line went dead.

"God fucking damn it all to hell!" He barked. I could hear him hit one of the girls so hard she fell into the glass window and bounced off and onto the floor. Who knows if she survived that, because almost immediately sounds of hard sex started up again. Except this time it was much more violent and was accompanied by sounds of beatings. It sounded brutal. The clone he was assaulting was no longer moaning in pain or pleasure but grunting and screaming in agony, and it made him more violent until her voice suddenly stopped with a deep cracking noise and we could hear more thuds. Moments later it started up again presumably with another girl.

Ellie and Matrix were white as a sheet listening to this. They lived through this, and knew what was happening more than I did. He got off on beating the old Matrix essentially to death and then fixing her up so he could do it again and again.

"We have to find Freeman" Raster alerted through her puppet.

"No, I'm staying here to track Seth" Matrix hissed through her teeth. She was furious.

"We can't handle Seth like this" Raster tried to argue.

"Maybe you can't, but if we catch him off guard..." Lulu added. She wasn't looking too happy either.

"You two stay then and keep an eye on him, but do not engage unless you need to. Understand?" Raster ordered. Both Matrix and Lulu scoffed and rolled their eyes.

"Fine" they agreed.

"Wait, splitting us up is a bad idea" I warned. "You three are both injured and that leaves Ellie and me to deal with Freeman alone. Not to mention even if you track him, how would we track you? No communication in here, remember?"

"You two are our best fighters" Raster whispered. "If you two can't handle Seth, there is little we can do to help besides offer a distraction. We will use the computer system to find you when we are done."

"And if WE need help?" I asked. The girls were quiet. "This is a terrible idea. We can't split up now."

"And if we lose Seth, he could escape or worse, get the drop on us. And I can't handle him alone." Matrix replied.

"5 of us, 2 of them" Ellie thought out-loud.

"Plus an army and a guard" I added. "You two could get caught while sneaking around following him."

Matrix flipped on her eyepatch with a quiet high-pitched tone. "We'll be fine, I'll keep an eye out."

I did not like this idea at all. "Why can't we all just stick together and use the computer to find him after we take care of Freeman?"

"Freeman is likely to alert Seth as soon as we show up. Then we'll be forced to deal with both of them at the same time anyways" Raster responded. "This way we can keep Seth distracted."

Matrix turned to me and put her hand on my shoulders. "Please Jimmy, let us do this. We'll be alright."

Sighing reluctantly, I nodded my head. I couldn't stop them. Matrix smiled and gave me a hug. She still wanted revenge, or justice, and this was her best chance at it. And everyone else seemed to be in agreement. I was outnumbered anyways.

"Don't get yourself killed, either of you" I warned. "Or I'll bring you back and kill you myself."

They smiled and nodded.

"Let's move" Raster added, and reluctantly we left Matrix and Lulu behind.

We stealthily made our way down several narrow corridors and into a more open area. The halls were larger now with tile floors, big enough for a small vehicle. But the guards seemed to be more active too, patrolling more often, either on the lookout for us or maybe because we were getting closer to Freeman. We spent several minutes just ducking out of site.

We finally made our way to a large door with a complex lock on it. It was at least as complicated as the one from the room before where we found Tsion's body. Ellie was able to open it last time but I had a suspicion that was because it was a trap, and it wouldn't be so easy now.

"Never been in here" Ellie whispered frantically. "Don't have access."

"Maybe we can hack our way in?" I asked.

"Too dangerous" Raster coughed. "The computer could attack... like with Tess."

We paused and tried to think, but before we could come up with anything, the door opened, and I found myself face-to-face with a stern-looking fully-dressed Matrix guard.

It took both of us by surprise. She stood there a second processing the information as I fumbled in my pocket. I pulled out the deactivation device and brought it to her head.

"Jimm-" she began but the device triggered and switched her off.

We quickly rushed inside, dragging the body with us, and closing the door. The guard lay at our feet unmoving, like the one from before. "Shit" I whispered, it was my last charge on the device, and I didn't keep track of how long it would take for the next charge to activate. I had to put the device back in my pocket and hope I wouldn't need it until it was ready. In the meantime, I looked around the room.

It was a tall room filled with computer towers. No screens, no keyboards, no people, just spotless, pristine, tall, black, ominous computer towers, each with red lights glowing red. They were taller than me and surrounded us. Each had hundreds of organized bundled wires running between them and to the ceiling, running to the back of the room. As we carefully approached, we heard a clicking sound, more like someone typing, and quietly made our way toward the sound.

As we got closer, we could see the wires lead up to an elevated section of the room with a curved ramp on one side, and on the top was a tall object, like a room inside the room, with black curtains around it obscuring any entrance, walls, or windows it might have. Sitting at a desk facing us was a man, his face lit by a screen he was engrossed in. It was Freeman, and whatever we was doing had demanded all his attention. He hadn’t seen us yet, so we tried to make our way up the ramp as quietly as we could.

"There you are" he absentmindedly mumbled. "But where are your friends?" As I took a few steps closer, I could see he was looking at an array of security camera footage. It was probably all live, and on one of them was Proxy sneaking about. He was looking for us, but in all the wrong places.

He suddenly heard us and jumped out of the chair.

"Right here" I answered his original question.

"No... you couldn't have..."

"But we did." I pointed my gun at him.

He started to back up a little at a time before pulling a gun out of his coat. "Stay back!"

I was tempted to shoot him right there, but I had never killed a man before. I hesitated, but so did the girls. I don’t think any of us wanted to kill someone. For them, the fear of going back to those old ways probably stayed their hands.

"You can't stop all of us" Raster's puppet told him. "Drop your gun and we won't shoot." We raised our guns in response.

He looked wide-eyed and panicked at first, but I could clearly see an idea cross his mind and he started to smile.

"No, I can’t shoot you all, but I can shoot them." He pointed his gun at the curtain, and pushed a button nearby. The curtain slid away, and revealed something horrifying and fascinating at the same time. The room had curved glass walls, and inside we could see a tower much like the ones out here, except it was larger and wasn't housing computers, but rather human brains. Each brain was held inside a fluid-filled container, and had wires and tubes running in and out of it. A robotic arm cared for them in whatever capacity it could, but it was clear these brains were connected to the entire server room. There must have been over a hundred human brains inside, of every shape and size, and it made me shake with anger. Thousands of wires ran into the room from above and each were connected to these brains.

"What in the..." I stared wide-eyed shocked at the display.

"Behold, 'The Mind'. Our system's main processing center. Every traffic light, security camera, defense system, automated service, everything in this entire city is run by the Mind." He took a step closer to it as he held the gun toward it and not us. "Everything the world sees of Tsion was generated here, every announcement and every event. And this is what will be responsible when our army kills all your friends."

"Then why would you threaten it?" I asked. "We should kill you just for having that! For inventing it! And destroying it would destroy your system."

"Oh I wouldn't destroy all of them, only..." he tapped the gun against the glass as he pointing it directly at a single brain. "... this one. Say hi to your mum."

"What?!" Ellie spat. I was too shocked to speak.

"That's right, she's here, or what's left of her. A fitting punishment, making her process our data for the war we began. The war she tried to prevent. I will shoot her, and replace her mind with yours." I hesitated.

"Why would you make this?" Raster asked.

"The human mind is far more complex and capable of far more calculations than any computer system. Even your advanced minds are barely able to keep up with the simplest human brain. Not to mention there are so few of you, and each of you is so expensive to make, except for those copies. But they don't think for themselves, the Mind does for them. A few executed prisoners and we have a computer capable of more calculations than any device yet conceived and at a low price."

"Human life is not a low price" Ellie argued.

"If I had the means to put a hundred copies of your metal brain in here I would" Freeman said glaring at Ellie. "But we have yet to replicate your advanced mind. Thanks to Amano. We did what we needed to."

"Torturing her" Ellie huffed.

"He's bluffing" Raster stated. "He won't shoot any of them."

"H- How do you know?" I asked.

"That is bullet-proof glass" she said pointing at a small text printed on the corner too small for me to read. "He can't shoot through it."

"No" Freeman confirmed. "She is right. I can't from here. And I won't shoot them. This was just a diversion." Just then, dozens of Matrix clones filled the room below us, cutting off our escape. Somehow he managed to call in the guards and we didn't notice. Freeman pointed the gun at me. "What I said was true. That is your mother. And I will add you to my collection. Now put down the guns unless you rather I paint the room with your brains instead."

I lowered by weapon, although inside my mind a war was going on. I didn't want to die, but surrendering would only mean death and/or torture. But I also couldn't let him win and do this to more people. Even if it meant getting killed myself, killing him would be worth it. I raised my gun again and aimed.

Raster stopped me. Leaning in, she whispered to me with her real voice. "I have an idea. Carry me."

I hesitated for a moment, but something in her voice convinced me. I lowered my gun and grabbed her, causing her to wince in pain, but put her on my back, carrying her like a backpack like 338 had been doing. I unplugged her from her puppet, and instantly, 338 looked around, and walked over to the terminal he was using. She plugged in.

"What is this?" Freeman asked. He cocked the gun and aimed it for my head. "Back away from the terminal." He was starting to panic, and shot twice at 338, hitting her once. She didn't move except to keep her balance. A moment later, she turned to look at him and walked slowly toward him with one hand out, pulling the cable between her and the terminal out.

"What did you do?" I quietly asked Raster.

"You'll see." She replied. Ellie pressed herself against me as we watched the events Raster set into motion.

"Don't step any closer" Freeman warned. She continued unfaltering.

"Back away" Raster commanded in my ear. Ellie heard too and started pulling my arm back as she retreated, dragging me with her. We got about half way down the ramp when the clones behind us started to move. I didn't dare to look, but I could hear them getting closer and I froze.

Freeman's gun went off, hitting 338 in the head. Sparks flew from her injury and some kind of black liquid oozed from the wound along with the artificial blood. But she faltered only slightly and then continued her advance. He shot again. And then again. He hit her every time. Finally, she shook in place, and froze stiff as a mannequin, smoke starting to rise from her body.

"Cheap robot!" He cussed as he struck her with his fist and sent her to the floor in a heap. He was furious now. "You think some damn shitty copy will stop me?"

He marched toward us. Just as he stepped over the smoking body, there was a beep, and suddenly she exploded. Everything went red and white. My ears were ringing, and it took me several moments to realize I was laying on the ground. Raster was laying a few feet away, having fallen from the rig I wore, and Ellie was curled into a ball by my feet. It probably took a minute to get my wits back together.

"Jim! Jim!" Raster called out. "Are you ok?"

"Yeah, what happened?" I answered as I sat up.

"I... altered her proximity sensor... so she'd blow up around Freeman... instead of us." She struggled to talk.

I crawled over to her, my ears still ringing from the blast, and picked her up. Getting on my feet, I helped Ellie to hers. One advantage of being a robot was they didn't have the biological problems associated with shock. I was just entering the first stages of shock, but they were already recovered from the blast. While I tried to help Ellie to her feet, she ended up helping me stay on mine.

"Breathe" Ellie ordered, placing her hands on my back and chest, looking up at me. I stared into her eyes, still straining to focus properly. "Stay calm. In... Out..."

I listened to her voice and followed her commands. It helped. I managed to pull myself together enough to look at ground zero. There wasn't much left of Freeman. He wasn't much more than a bloody mess on the wall, and the ceiling, and the console, and the glass room. The glass survived the blast. It really was bullet proof and then some. I realized then that I wasn't being shot up or torn apart by an army of Matrix clones, and looked around the room. I had to shake my head and rub my eyes. Instead of seeing an army of guards ready to kill, I saw an orgy of clones making out and undressing.

"Am I seeing this? I mean, are you seeing this?" I asked. Ellie turned to look and gasped.

"I had 338 do two things… when she connected to the terminal" Raster explained. She took a deep breath and continued. "Disable to communication block... and activate that hidden protocol you found in the basement... Turns them into..."

"Sexbots?" Ellie asked.

"Sort of" Raster answered. "It should... distract them enough... to escape."

"Wait, communication is back up?" I asked. "Where's Matrix?"

The girls were silent for a moment. Ellie shook her head.

"Fighting Seth" Raster answered.

"We need to get to them now!"

Chapter 27 - Loss

There were literally hundreds of Matrix copies littered about the floor. Whatever Raster did, it affected all of them. It would have been far more erotic watching what looked like sexy twins and triplets in various stages of undress making out with each other, but under the circumstances I preferred to help my friends.

We ran past the guards as fast as we could now with no regard for stealth. None of them cared about us, they were far too busy getting it on. Occasionally one or two would spot me and call out my name, taking chase, but they wouldn't get far either when the other duplicates would grab them to make out or they would lose interest and start undressing instead.

In all, there were things I wish I could have seen in better circumstances and enjoyed more. The longer we ran, the more heated they got. One pair deep-fisting each other and shaking in bouts of orgasms grabbed my attention and Ellie had to pull me out of it.

Raster guided us along the way since she managed to find the signal. It appeared that once Seth was “finished”, Matrix and Lulu ended up getting caught. Before the sudden erotic outbreak even started, they started fighting. It wasn't clear if he saw them, or Matrix had just had enough and took matters into her own hands, but apparently they were able to keep up with him despite their handicaps.

As we got closer, something started to change in many of the clones. They were starting to lose interest and look around lost. Every now and then some of them would start to compose themselves or try to get back to their hunt for us.

“What’s happening?” I wondered as one of them began to chase after us before abruptly stopping to tend to other ‘needs’.

"The central computer is... compensating... fighting back. Trying to fix the bug" Raster explained. "It won't work for long... it's hard wired in them."

She was right. Even though they were able to stop and look around, they would inevitably end up either aimlessly looking, probably for me, or continuing where they left off. It seemed to come in waves. Every minute or so they'd pause they erotic showboating and look around for a few seconds, only to then start back up again.

When at last we made it to the destination, signs of their fight were obvious. Blood and broken gynoids littered the halls which were cut and torn by blades and bullets. I only hoped Lulu and Matrix were not among the scattered remains. A secured thick glass door led to an ornate large room that I could only describe as a private observation deck. Broken glass covered the floor inside. In front of the glass door sat a clone with one leg missing below the knee. Her skirt had been torn off, probably by her, and she was furiously masturbating with both hands. One hand rubbing frantically at her clit, while the other shoved 3 fingers deep inside herself.

Pain filled her face more than anything else. She looked up at us, at me, and drool and blood seeped from her mouth as she groaned. "Help me” she begged. She wasn’t interested in chasing me, but there was something different going on. As though she was more than just some empty shell. If they were really copies of Matrix, their true capabilities were being repressed. It was possible they were all sentient after all. The only way I could come to grips with this was to realize we were doing them a justice by ending their lives of servitude and slavery.

The look in this clone’s eyes was obvious to me. She wanted to die. It terrified me deep inside. All I could see was Ellie in pain. I looked back at Ellie, who looked just as disturbed as I was, and decided I had to do something, something I knew I'd regret.

I shot the copy in the head.

She jerked and sparked for several seconds after the bullet ripped through her brain, and finally fell over to one side. We quickly ducked behind the closest corner and prepared for the inevitable. It didn’t take long. The explosion wasn't as intense or violent as the last one, but perhaps it was because we were prepared for it. The damage blew out the door and the wall where she lay, triggering the fire system and getting us all wet.

I couldn't shake the feeling that I had just killed Ellie in some way. For some reason, out of everything that happened, that moment stayed with me in my nightmares the longest. I walked passed the scattered remains of the gynoid, horrified at the site of her lower body, hands and all, still mostly in-tact, in the same pose as before.

Inside the room glass crunched under our feet as storm clouds outside rumbled over the city through the many large glass windows. They were the kind of clouds that looked like it would rain but would usually end up just moving on. The uneasy feel they provided lingered with me. It didn't take long to find the battle after that. The sounds of gunfire and metal clashing led us straight to them. Matrix and Lulu were heavily engaged in mortal combat with Seth. He was brandishing a short blade and a shield similar to the ones the Armored Suits used but human sized. On closer inspection, I noticed it wasn't a shorter blade at all, it was his regular long blade but it had been broken and was now little more than half the length.

Meanwhile Matrix was armed with her arm blade and a pistol, which was all she could hold with one hand. Lulu was using a metal pipe as a weapon; her gun was nowhere in sight, probably depleted of ammunition. However, there was plenty of evidence that a gun had been used against him. For starters, the walls were covered with bullet holes, and there was broken glass everywhere. But more importantly, Seth had bullet holes in his torso. He bled dark red, almost black, blood, and hints of metal in his wounds glinted in the light. The injuries hardly slowed him down at all.

The girls weren't exactly free from new injuries either. Lulu had new cuts and gashes all down her arms and a section of her cheek was torn off entirely, exposing her composite artificial skeleton and sinew underneath. She had been using her larger metal arm as a shield against his strikes, which left it covered in nicks but otherwise still functioning fine. But the hand she used to hold the pipe she armed herself with was severely damaged. Seth's sword had ripped the flesh entirely from that hand, leaving her metal fingers and knuckles exposed! And yet somehow, she kept a tight grip on that pipe.

Matrix was just as sliced up as Lulu was but with one deep cut across her cheek and another large deep gash diagonally across her chest. It exposed one breast, now half covered in blood, but she somehow managed to ignore the pain and fight through it all. She wore a fierce expression on her face as she used her one good arm efficiently and effectively against him.

It was amazing to watch. Lulu was so agile, despite her pain and injuries. She would literally jump off the wall in attacks, dodging and blocking most of his attacks. Meanwhile Matrix kept a focused series of attacks using her arm blade against Seth. She would alternate blocking his attacks with sending slashes his way. She was at a clear disadvantage without her other arm, but somehow the two of them together worked in tandem and became very formidable.

However, it just wasn't enough. The girls were unnaturally fast, with most of their motions blurred as they struck at Seth either in unison or alternately timed. They were perfectly coordinated with each other. And unlike in those plays and films I had seen on my youth, their motions were completely fluid, never going from pose-to-pose like a choreographed display, but rather flowing like water in an endless barrage of attacks. And yet Seth kept up. It left him straining himself to do so; he was at his limit and it was likely only a matter of time before they overtook him, if they didn't mess up.

It was clear to me that Lulu and Matrix were communicated on a different level, now that the jamming signal was down. They would complement the other, without a word between them, as though they could read the other’s mind. Together, they looked like an amazing team. And Matrix was fighting in a way I had never seen the old Matrix fight like. Instead of being filled with bloodlust and frenzy, she remained calm and collected and focused. And her extreme efforts to stay in charge of herself rubbed off on Lulu. Even though Lulu was still clearly more passionate in her moves, she never once let herself fall into the same trap she did before when she attacked me. She knew there was no pleasure to be gained in killing someone. The two of them had changed so much since I first met them, and they were more dangerous and effective now than ever! And yet… he never faltered.

No, he actually seemed to be gaining on them. Maybe he was hitting a second wind, or maybe he was accessing some sort of reserve power, or perhaps he was wearing them down. Whatever it was, he was slowly pushing them back.

Ellie raised her gun to shoot but faltered.

"Don't, we might hit one of the girls" I warned, lowering her gun with my hand. I knew I want in any condition to shoot into the battle, and Ellie was too flustered to aim straight.

There was little I could think to do but watch. Raster remained silent, strapped to my back. There was nothing either of us could do, but Ellie could jump into the middle of the fight. Only, she had her wrist blades removed and would be all but defenseless against him. As it was, with just the two of us, we couldn’t possibly keep up with them, especially without weapons to match. Shooting our way through wasn’t going to work with Matrix and Lulu in the crosshairs.

However, it appeared our presence was a distraction. Matrix ended up slipping on a bit of debris and lost her footing, giving Seth the opening he needed. We watched in horror as he lunged at her, sliding his broken blade into her torso, and out her back. His face twisted into a wicked smile. Matrix grabbed at the blade lodged inside her chest, and tried to pull it out, but with his weight behind it, she was pinned there. She coughed up some blood, but remained cool otherwise.

"NO!" Lulu roared as she got in a good strong hit on the back of his neck with the pipe, causing sparks to fly. She started to go into a frenzy at the sight of Matrix being impaled.

Seth pulled back and staggered from the blow, pulling the blade out of Matrix. She lurched forward with a groan, grabbing at her chest. I was expecting to see her collapse to the ground, dead. However, moments later, she struck out again at him with the same energy as before. Although some of her demeanor had faltered a little.

"Is that all you've got?!" She screamed, spitting blood at him.

That smile of his melted away into disgust and as he blocked her attack with his shield. However, her strike with her arm-blade was more than he expected. It was strong enough to break his battle-worn shield, shattering a large portion of it and sending shrapnel into his face.

He yelled in pain as several large shards of the shield embedded themselves deeply into the side of his face. He dropped the shield, but couldn't find an opening to pull the shards out as another attack came in from both sides.

Lulu used her metal hand to grab at his blade while attempting to strike with the pipe. Matrix tried catching Seth off-guard by faking a blade strike but instead shooting with her gun. Somehow, he saw it coming, and managed to not only avoid the pipe, but grabbed Matrix's arm with his now free hand, and force her to fire off her last rounds into the air.

Seth kicked at Matrix, sending her falling to the ground without her second arm to catch herself. She grunted in pain but managed to get back up. Meanwhile, Seth turned to Lulu, and grabbed the pipe she was about to strike him with. The two were now locked in a battle of strength against his sword and her pipe.

Matrix staggered away toward us, holding her arm to her chest. She actually smiled at us through the pain.

"Thank goodness you're alive" she panted.

"Are you-?" Ellie started but Matrix waved her off, as though she was just winded and not bleeding heavily from a chest wound.

I grabbed her shoulders and took a quick look at her. He missed her heart, and vital components, but he had punctured a lung and broken some ribs. Among the other various injuries. I nodded to her and she nodded back. She was not in good shape to be fighting like this.

"He killed 2 more of the copies before he left that room" she explained. "Then he caught us following him."

"It's ok, let's just end this" I said tapping at my gun.

Just then, Lulu let out a grunt as she was thrown against a wall, dazed for a few seconds. That's when I noticed the room all around us was slowly filling with clones in various levels of dress. They were all staggering, but slowly getting more and more in control of themselves. But at least for now they were keeping their distance.

"You!" Seth growled, breathing heavy and hunched over, covered in blood. "Everything went to hell when you showed up!" His eyes shot fire at me. "Now to set things right again!"

Seth threw his sword straight at me like a javelin. Everything seemed to go in slow motion as I watched the damaged blade reflected the light of a silent lightning strike outside somewhere while it flew through the air on a trajectory for my heart. I couldn't move. I didn't have time, and my brain argued with itself on if I should move left or right or duck. Instead, I stood still as a statue and just watched.

Somehow, everything seemed to shift to the side, but the blade was still coming in too fast. There was no pain at first as it pierced my body, only the shocking realization that it was inside me and it shouldn't be.

I hit the ground on my side at around the same time the pain reached my brain. I screamed, although I couldn't remember hearing it. What I did remember was Ellie falling into me with terror in her eyes while Matrix called out my name.


The blade had missed my heart, and instead it struck just below my shoulder into the left side of my chest. I knew the pain was only going to get worse. But at least I was still alive. Ellie had pushed me out of the path although it wasn't enough to clear the blade.

Before I could do or say anything, Matrix and Ellie were on top of me. Ellie pulled something out of her pocket, and jabbed it into my arm. It was morphine.

"Where-?" I tried to ask but it came out weak. The medicine and the pain were affecting my head and making me a little woozy.

She put her finger on my lip as Matrix pulled the blade from my shoulder. The morphine didn't act that fast, and I felt it all, screaming. Moments later, the pain was replaced by a pleasant numbness.

Ellie pulled out another small object, like some sort of spray bottle, and started to tear at my shirt, making sure the wound was fully exposed, before spraying my chest and back with the contents of the bottle. It stung despite the morphine. However, the stronger the pain medication took effect, the harder it was to keep my mind straight.

Together, the two of them saw to me. Matrix put pressure on my wound while Ellie tore a sleeve off her uniform and wrapped it tightly around my shoulder, stuffing cloth from Raster's strap underneath.

There wasn't much more they could do but keep applying pressure. I felt weird, as they did what they could to help. Ellie took my right hand and pressed it against my wound. It still hurt.

"Put pressure" she ordered, so I did. It hurt like a bitch.

Matrix stood up and faced away from me, looking toward the sounds of battle. I looked down at Seth and saw that he had once again engaged in combat with Lulu. She was keeping up with him by herself, but was using up all her energy. She alternated between pipe and fist, striking him anywhere she could with incredible speed. For the most part he just defended against her but every now and then he'd get in a jab.

Ellie helped me to my feet, which brought new pain, and I realized just how tired and beaten I really was. My mind was having difficulty focusing on the right thing and I realized Raster was unusually silent.

"Is Raster ok?" I slurred. "Did he hit her?"

Ellie checked on her. She shook her head. "Not hit. Unconscious."

I took in a few deep breaths as I processed this. The fall could have killed her, or perhaps she deactivated from overheating due to blood loss or any number of possibilities. But it helped clear my mind and let me focus on ignoring the pain and overcoming the mind-numbing side effects of the medicine. I nodded to Ellie.

"Thank you. I'll be alright. Where'd you get the first aid kit?"

"Your dad" she answered. It made sense, he gave me something to help the girls, and gave her something to help me.

I focused back on the fight. Matrix was about ready to dive back into the brawl. Lulu was wearing herself out, and he was taking it, outlasting her. But Ellie saw something we missed, and grabbed at my arm.

"Look! Metal! Port!"

"What?" I asked peering toward them.

Matrix turned to look at Ellie, and followed her gaze toward the fight. She had a sudden realization, and looked back at Ellie.

"Do you think?"

I looked closer at the pair fighting. It took me a few moments longer, but suddenly I saw it too. In all the fighting, Seth had his skin torn away from the back of his neck, and where metal and artificial muscles were now exposed. So too was a data port. The type used to connect to the terminals... and other androids.

"Why does he have a port? Isn't he connected wirelessly?" I thought aloud.

"We all do! And yes, he is connected! We can still stop this. All of it." Matrix added.

"Stop what?" I wondered, struggling with keeping my thoughts straight.

"Ellie, sis... give me your half of the code" Matrix requested.

"What? No! You'll get infected! You'll-" I protested.

Ellie nodded. "Are... you sure?"

Matrix smiled and stood up straight despite her wounds and pain. "Absolutely." She glared at Seth.

"Matrix! Don't do this! We were just starting to-" I objected.

"I must!" She interrupted. "This is our only chance. I am dying anyways."

"What?"

"I didn't want to tell you..." she shook her head as she started to cry silently. "This body can't take all this. It’s only a prototype, unfinished. I pushed myself too hard. And I got careless." She moved her hand away from the wound in her chest. This time, on closer inspection, I noticed there wasn’t just blood oozing from her wound, but also some viscous thick gray fluid. Something that caused wisps of smoke to rise from her skin as it touched her.

"Battery acid” she explained. “He… hit one of my batteries. It burst and is damaging my systems."

"But... your brain is in-tact" I argued.

She shook her head and pressed herself against me, avoiding my injury. "We need to stop him. We knew we’d likely not be returning from this mission. I knew it would come to this. This is my choice. My mind is messed up enough as it is. At least let me do one good thing before I go. Let me redeem myself, and my sisters." She chuckled. "Guess we'll have to put our date on a rain check indefinitely."

With that, she kissed me. It wasn't romantic. It was salty with tears and too short. And I was too shocked to kiss her back properly. She turned to Ellie and extracted a cable from her neck.

"I love you, both of you” she sobbed. “Make this worth it."

Ellie hesitated only a moment, but then plugged herself in. It only took a few moments. The two held hands tightly as they completed the transfer. Ellie unplugged and gave her a big hug.

"Oh come on" Matrix complained. "I'll always be with you in here" she said pointing to Ellie's head. "Don't make this harder than it has to be."

She wiped a tear from her face as she faced Seth. Matrix picked up the sword from the floor she pulled from me and took a deep breath. Suddenly, she began running at full-speed as though she were uninjured.

Lulu seemed to already be on the same page as Matrix. She thrust herself into Seth unexpectedly, pushing him back, just into the path of Matrix. Seth growled as Matrix shoved the blade into his chest, pushing him into a concrete pillar. The blade stuck inside the concrete, pinning him to the column.

Lulu delivered one final punch to Seth, knocking him senseless momentarily, before embracing Matrix.

“No! I love you! Don’t leave me now” Lulu begged, hanging onto Matrix.

Matrix patted her on the head, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. It was already too late, and Lulu knew it. She didn't let go of Matrix, determined to stay with her, but the black-haired gynoid who had tried her best to redeem herself and whom we all had grown to love whispered something to Lulu, and plugged into the back of Seth's neck. Lulu collapsed onto the floor in a daze looking up at Matrix.

Seth struggled, but it was too late. His eyes grew wide with terror as he realized what was happening. At the same time, the clones around us, which had gathered into a large group some 20 feet away, reacted as well. Some were coming out of their hyper-sexualized daze while others panicked.

"Take care of her" Matrix cried.

She started to jerk and shake as she slumped to the floor next to Seth, looking back at us smiling. She has a peaceful smile, one I had never seen her wear before, and I knew that at long last she had redeemed herself.

"Son of a bi-" Seth barked, but his voice trailed off as his body started to shake, still pinned to the column. His eyes glazed over and he started to drool, until at last his body slumped against the sword and the column, cutting an even bigger gash into his chest until he hung there lifelessly.

Lulu ran back to us as best as she could, clearly distraught, but determined to get us to move. "Let's go!" she insisted, her voice cracking.

I looked back one last time at Matrix as she sat there, her eyes unfocused, sitting with her legs akimbo, her smile ever unmoving.

"Jimmy!" Ellie said, grabbing onto my arm tightly.

I turned toward her just as she threw herself into me and gave me a deep kiss. I wasn't expecting it, but she was so passionate, I had to kiss her back. But I knew something was wrong.

There was an explosion in another part of the building but I barely noticed. Ellie didn’t flinch, she was determined to embrace me in this long deep kiss.

"We have to move" Lulu's cracked voice faintly echoed in my head. "The clones are going to blow!" I barely noticed her voice at all.

Instead, I stared down at Ellie, as her kiss fell from my lips and she collapsed limp in my arms. I did my best to catch her, but ended up on my knees holding onto her. My arm was weak from the injury, but I somehow managed to hold her close to me.

"Ellie? Ellie!!"

She didn't respond. Lulu came over to lift me up but saw Ellie and stopped.

"Oh no! It got her too!" She pulled the makeshift harness off of me and slung Raster onto her back.

"Bring her!" She called out.

"Where?"

She hesitated for a moment and looked around. Another clone ignited nearby and shook me out of my daze, forcing me to come to my senses. Ellie was still breathing, so I carried her on my back and stood up.

"This way" Lulu finally called out.

I followed her away from the crowd of explosive robots, and toward a window on the opposite end of the room.

"What's wrong with Ellie?" I wondered.

"The virus. The other half got inside her when they connected."

My mind agreed that made sense. Despite the shock and the injuries and the pain, seeing Matrix sacrifice herself only to have Ellie collapse in my arms woke me up again. I instantly remembered the device in my pocket. The fail-safe!

I paused a moment while I struggled to get it out. Two red lights were blinking on it. It was still too soon for another discharge!

"Hang on Ellie! Fight it!" I told her.

"Mmmmm... Matrix?" She whispered half in a daze.

"N- No, it's Jimmy!" I said as I followed Lulu.

"Jimmy" she smiled, and then went silent. “Smell good…”

More Matrix clones had begun to follow us, these fully dressed, but showing clear signs of the infection taking affect as the virus wiped through the human brain-powered computer system and spread through the entire army it controlled.

Before we even reached the end of the room, an Ainu Flying Armored Suit appeared in the window, and burst in!

"Proxy!" Lulu called out. "Hurry, Ellie needs help!"

"Where's Matrix?" Proxy's amplified voice asked through the suit, but we didn't answer. She figured it out.

More Matrix copies closed in around us only to fall victim to the virus and collapse into heaps on the floor.

Proxy gently lowered one of the large hands toward me, and I climbed on as she held me and Ellie in with both hands cupped together. Ellie was still breathing, but not for much longer I feared.

Another explosion, this one louder and bigger went off nearby, setting off a chain of explosions from other units. One after another. The entire top of the building would catch fire at this rate. Sure enough, a fire started to spread almost instantly.

Lulu managed to grab onto the outside of one of the suit's arms while holding Raster to her back, and I felt us push off. One of the nearby clones exploded, setting off another reaction, and temporarily deafening and blinding me, knocking me over, but luckily I caught myself. Everything went red and then white as heat from the explosion blew through the mechanical fist.

Moments later, everything went quiet, cold, gray, and dark. I could hear nothing but the ringing in my ears from the explosion. But even as it faded, there was nothing but the wind and my own heartbeat.

Ellie was grabbing onto me, shaking. It took me a moment to realize she wasn't shaking from the cold or out of fear; she was shaking like Matrix and Seth had right before they... I lowered her from my back and held her in my arms against the palm of the giant robot.

We came to a stop, and I felt us being gently lowered to the ground as the two hands separated revealing the light and the world outside. Everything was gray, cold, and confusing. The sky rumbled with threats of rain and lightning, while the streets showed signs of the recent battle. Debris and smoke filled the landscape, but all else was silent. And my attention was solely on Ellie.

"Ellie! Hang on! Stay with me beautiful!"

I shook the fail-safe device just in case it would help, but two red lights reminded lit. I didn't know how long it had been since I used it on that first guard, but it felt like hours had passed.

Proxy stayed back, watching from the open cockpit, while Lulu joined me and brushed some hair out of Ellie's face. "Come on, you can fight it. You were always the strongest of us."

Ellie weakly opened her eyes and looked up at me. "Jimmy... Thank you..."

She reached up to gently touch my face as she smiled. Her soft fingers tickled my cheek... before falling lifelessly to the side.

"Ellie? ELLIE!" I tried to shake her awake but her eyes closed and her body went limp.

"Jimmy!" Lulu said looking at my hand. One of the red lights turned green!

I instantly tapped it to her head and hit the button. A hum and a snap later, and there was no change. I had no way of knowing if I had made it in time to stop the spread of the virus.

Ellie lay in my arms lifeless and cold, while all around, sounds of cheering began to erupt from the streets.

People were celebrating as rain from my eyes poured down onto Ellie's cheek.

Chapter 28 - Lending a Helping Hand

The last thing I remembered was looking up at the sky in pain. Storm clouds threatened overhead while the top few floors of the skyscraper were set ablaze, lighting up the sky. All my strength had flooded out of me and I was exhausted. The sounds of indistinct voices grew distant as darkness overcame me. My shoulder hurt worse than anything I ever felt before.

Dark forces gathered around me. A guiding light in the distance urged me forward. I felt heat, cold, and pain as I ran closer to the light. Somehow it engulfed me, and all was pleasant and joyful. However, I was still surrounded by shadow, but now I was the guiding light. And there in the distance was another, a flickering flame struggling to stay alit. It flickered and split into two, fighting against itself and weakening both flames further. I ran toward them, spreading my light, trying to get to the dying flames, as they struggled against each other, trying to put the other out. I ran with all my might until finally my light could reach them, making them each grow brighter and calmer the closer I got. But my light was fading. The shadow was closing in around me, trying to snuff me out! As I surrounded the flames, protecting them, I realized we were all fighting the darkness, together. And together we were stronger than the shadows. Until...

I woke up in a bed. Bright sun beams shot through a window illuminating the scene. There was a curtain, a window, a door, a beeping machine monitoring something, and a chair. And in the chair sat a girl. A girl with short bright red hair. She was peacefully sleeping, in an awkward slouched position.

"Laura?" I croaked. My lips and throat were a lot dryer than I expected.

She looked up at me and suddenly shot up to her feet. The look of surprise and joy on her face was a welcome sight indeed.

"Jim? Jimmy! He's awake!" She yelled out with a big smile as she leaned over me.

I swallowed trying to moisten my throat. "Where-?" I began to ask but my throat was too dry.

"Oh! Here..." She said, reaching for a glass at a small table beside me and pouring some water from a pitcher into it. I tried to reach for the glass but realized then that my left arm was gone! Shoulder and everything. Just not there! In its place was some sort of bandage held in place by straps wrapped around my chest. That was it.

To say it was shocking would be an understatement. It took a few minutes to realize the extensiveness of my injury. I was sure the sword only stabbed me, that my arm would be fine.

Laura guided the glass to my lips, and I eagerly drank from it, feeling life return to my body. "Slowly" she warned. "Don't gulp it." She looked concerned as she noticed me struggle with my new disability and coming to grips with it.

"Where am I? What happened to my arm?" I coughed.

Laura looked down, avoiding my eyes, when a dark tall man in a white doctor's coat entered the room smiling. He started looking at the machines attached to me, before turning back to me.

"Mr. Amano, my name is Dr. Peterson. I'm sure you noticed you are missing something. The damage to your shoulder was extensive. You went into surgery as quickly as possible, but we couldn't save your arm. We had to amputate it. The blade wound sliced through ligaments and bone and severed your arm. They found you carrying your friend; you probably didn't feel how badly damaged it was but her weight was more than your arm could take."

"Is this really happening-?" I questioned.

"You're in the hospital" Laura added pouring another glass. "You've been out cold for almost 2 days."

"2 days?" My mind was piecing together what had happened. What was the last thing I did before I got here? "What happened?"

"You lost consciousness when your arm gave out" the doctor explained. "We've repaired the damage as best as we could, but you are going to need a new prosthetic arm."

I sat there for several more minutes quietly contemplating everything. My arm hurt, even though it wasn't there. Every time I looked down, the absence of my arm freaked me out. It wasn't right. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the events and take my mind off of my arm.

"But what about the battle-?" I began.

"You tell us what happened! One second we are in a heated battle with an army of IRG soldiers and Ellie knock-offs, the next moment the Ellie-wannabes just stopped and collapsed and the Royal Guard Armored Suits stopped working."

I thought for a moment, trying to gather my thoughts. It was all starting to come back to me. "We... No... Matrix. She stopped Seth, she infected him with the virus. Matrix! She's-!"

Laura looked down and shook her head. "The top few floors were engulfed in flames. When we got inside last night we found her. She..."

"I want to see her. Wait... Where's Ellie? What happened to Ellie?! I need to go!"

"You aren't going anywhere with your injuries" the doctor said in a deep voice. "Concussion, broken ribs, torn muscles, on top of your severed arm..."

Laura placed her hand on the doctor’s clipboard and shook her head, giving him a stern look.

"I need to see Ellie!" I demanded. "Where is she?"

"She was in your arms when we found you two. But... Your dad is looking at her now."

"Is she-?" I started but the pained look on her face told me I didn't want to hear the answer. "Please! I need to see her!"

"There's nothing you can do for her right now" Laura pointed out. "But... I understand. If you promise to take it easy."

"Hey now, I'm the doctor around here" the MD objected. "I don't think you should be going anywhere."

"Try and stop me" I said pulling the sheets off my legs with my remaining hand. It hurt more than I expected, but I put on a tough face.

"Careful now" Laura cautioned and got next to me to keep me from falling over. Problem was, I was too weak to even stand. "Maybe you should get something to eat first. Help get your energy back" she suggested.

I apparently hadn't eaten in 2 days and I only just now realized how hungry I was. I nodded, and sat back down.

"Could you please, doc?" Laura asked. The man reluctantly nodded and gave me a side glance before leaving the room. "Meanwhile you rest and I'll let May and the others know you’re awake. She might be able to get you signed out of here today."

"Thanks" I sighed. I was anxious about the girls, but decided to let my dad do what he could.

As I waited, my thoughts kept going back to Matrix, Ellie, Raster, and even Tess. Anything to keep from thinking about my arm. I hadn't even known any of them that long, but the thought of losing them hurt. More than any of my injuries. More than my arm. I had to try to put them out of my mind for a while, but ultimately there wasn't much else to think about except my new silhouette. I was glad Laura was ok. She looked a bit battered but in one piece. Seeing her gave me some relief, and I was glad she got through this.


May signed an order allowing my release, although I didn't see her, or the girls. Laura explained they were with my dad. He had been particularly busy for the past 2 days, so he too wasn't able to see me much.

I dressed in my pants and a coat I had worn, my arm in the sleeve but draped over my other shoulder. I didn't wear a shirt underneath, I didn't want to take the time trying to get it on. Or the pain. Modesty would have to wait. Laura helped me dress, which was a big help, although I got the feeling she enjoyed it a little more than I did.

Whatever drugs they had me on left me feeling numb mostly, and a little out of it. I knew the pain I was feeling was only going to get worse before it got better.

A car was waiting outside for us, and Laura helped me in the back, taking the seat next to me on the right. She sat in silence at first looking out the window. As the driver began the journey, I watched Laura intently, glad for her company but somehow feeling she was being distant. She was wearing a tan and red uniform with a short skirt that nicely showed off her legs, and I couldn't keep myself from staring.

"You ok?" I asked after a few minutes.

"What? Oh, yes. Just deep in thought" she answered. "I should be asking you that. I mean you're taking the loss of your arm surprisingly well."

"I'm trying not to think about it" I explained. "Did you get hurt yesterday- I mean, the other day?"

"Nothing serious. I was more exhausted than hurt" she sighed as she looked back at me with a brief smile, brushing some red hair out of her face.

"So... What happened out there?"

She shook her head. "A lot. It wasn't pretty. We lost of lot of good people. The IRG came out in force on our other locations, but there was only a small amount of opposition on our end at first. Until that army of... I don't know, duplicate Matrixes came out. That was terrifying."

"I know. We ran into them too."

"They were relentless. It was an all-out battle. I'm pretty sure it was a trap. No matter what we threw at them, they kept coming. We had to pull back our forces to reinforce the frontline, which put us at an even larger disadvantage. And to make it worse a contingent of IRG soldiers joined in" she continued. "They should have won. The onslaught took us by surprise when they suddenly all collapsed. The Matrixes, the flying suits. Whatever you did in there, it disrupted their entire operation. The rest of the IRG surrendered shortly after. I... I don't ever want to do anything like that ever again."

"Tell me about it" I sighed.

She gazed at me with a furrowed brow. "I hate killing people... But I'm lucky, only my prosthetics got damaged slightly. Somehow you managed to get through the fray of Matrix soldiers too."

"I'll tell you about it some other time." I dropped my gaze but moments later her hand reached out for mine.

"It's ok. You can tell me what happened in there when you're ready."

I nodded in thanks. Laura gripped my hand tighter and turned toward me.

"Jimmy... I'm here for you. Always."

I gave her a weak smile, but glancing up at her I saw how serious her look was. She was truly concerned for me, and her big eyes pierced my flesh. I gazed back at her. She was prettier than I remembered.

Laura scooted her butt closer to me and brought her face close to mine. It was as if we were moments away from a kiss, when she smiled and kissed my cheek. She laid her head down on my shoulder gently, resting her hand on my chest, which I was grateful for. I inhaled deeply, smelling her sweet scent.

"Jim?"

"Mm?"

"Nevermind."



We stayed close for the rest of the drive over to the new lab they set my dad up in. It was apparently part of the same lab he used to work in before Tsion messed things up. It was a large round building of unusual design, with no straight edges on the outside. As we pulled up, Laura sat up and straightened her uniform.

I had felt anxious the entire time in the car. I wasn't sure if it was still the shock of my arm, or learning about Ellie, or what. Laura turned to get out of the car and opened the door when I grabbed her elbow.

"Laura..." I called out, making her turn around. I abruptly kissed her right on the lips. She resisted at first but soon pushed herself into me. It was a passionate embrace, although the pain of my wounds left me short of ecstasy.

"Jimmy!" She cooed as our lips parted. I cleared my throat and released my grip on her. She gave me a coy smile and fixed her hair.

"I wouldn't be able to live with myself if you got hurt" I told her. Although what I really wanted to say was I wanted her around for a long while.

She nodded. "I'll stay with you" she answered as if she knew what I was thinking.

She got out of the car, and helped me out. She put her arm around me to help me walk, but I could feel the affection in her motives as well. I was eager to get inside, and yet I couldn't help but feel like I was walking into a funeral.

The large round glass doors opened for us automatically, and we stepped inside. It was easily 10 degrees cooler inside, if not more. A soldier greeted us with a salute, and Laura responded in kind as best as she could while holding onto me. Laura seemed to know her way as she guided me into a hallway, and up a ramp.

Proxy sat in a chair at the top of the ramp, looking down at the floor sullenly. At our approach, she suddenly jerked to life, and her eyes went wide at seeing my face. It looked as if she suddenly shrunk to the size of a mouse as she cowered in the chair before me.

"I didn't mean to do it" she muttered.

"Proxy?" Laura called.

"I deserve to be punished. I-"

"Proxy!" I barked, standing on my own, letting Laura take half a step back. She jumped to a standing position, although she was still cowering and kept her head down, until she glimpsed my arm, or lack thereof.

"Oh god... your arm! I... I did this to you! I hurt you and my sisters. I killed-"

I grabbed her and pulled her into a hug as best as I could with one arm. She was as stiff as a board. "Proxy, you aren't responsible for any of this. You didn't do these things" I reassured her.

"Yes I did. I let him control me-" her muffled voice sobbed. I could feel my bare chest getting wet with her tears.

"Do you love your sisters?" I asked. She nodded. "Did you want to hurt them or me?" She shook her head. "Then you aren't responsible."

"But- How can you say that? The things I did to you and Tess... and Raster... I'm a monst-"

"I forgive you."

Proxy stood there stunned, still keeping her head buried in my chest with her arms down to her sides.

"How could anyone-?" She asked.

"This isn't easy, Proxy. Your actions led to a lot of pain and loss; we have all suffered. But so have you. And if I can't forgive you now, I'll never be able to forgive myself for dragging all these people into this mess because I was trying to save Ellie, a... known killer. People died because of me. I forgive you, Proxy. And so do the others, I'll bet."

"But Tess..." I felt her body loosen up.

"Tess would have forgiven you too. She knew the dangers, and you know how she is... was."

"She would have been the first to forgive me" she sobbed as she reached her arms around me and hugged me back. "I'm so sorry!"

"Shh... It's ok now."

We embraced for a good minute before pulling apart. For the first time she looked up at me with strong emotions as tears ran down her face. She rubbed her hands over her face to wipe up the tears, although more only followed.

"I need to make up for what I have done. Please, sir, let me help you in any way until I am convinced I have redeemed myself. I can be your assistant! Or bodyguard! I promise I will do my best."

I gave her a smile and nodded. "Alright. We can do that. You can start by helping me to my father."

"Of- Of course!" She rushed to my side and placed my arm around her shoulders, taking Laura's place and helping me walk. Laura just stood back silently smiling, before taking the lead.

We walked down the hallway silently passed several large glass windows looking into a series of laboratories. Most of them were either empty or filled with computers and desks covered in dust.

"So how far is it?" I wondered struggling against the pain I was trying to hide.

"Not much farther. They're at the end of the hall" Laura explained. I nodded and continued to hobble my way down the hall. "You know the way, right Proxy?" She asked.

"Y-yes, ma'am." Proxy responded.

"I’m going to run on ahead and make sure he knows you’re coming. He's been having a very stressful few days."

As Laura picked up her pace and walked on ahead, I came up to a room where I saw a familiar face about to close the curtains to the hallway window. Alice saw me and smiled, waving me over before closing the curtain.

Proxy helped me inside the room, where we were greeted by Alice. She looked pretty much the same, with green hair, and synthetic skin covering her face and upper body. She now wore a lab coat but nothing else. Her hips down were still metallic, but many of the tubes and wires that used to hang loosely from her had been properly managed and were nowhere in sight.

"Jim, it is good to see you. You are just in time!" Alice said with a weak smile as she walked over for a polite hug but hesitated when she saw my arm. "Oh... Dear. Well I'm sure we can fix you up. How are you feeling?"

"I've been better, but I'll survive. Is my dad in here?"

"Oh, no. Tom is very busy in the other room."

"I need to see him right away. What are you doing here anyways?" I wondered.

"I didn't have anything I could do to help. So I saw your father was in need of some assistance and I offered my services. I'm currently helping him out. It's the least I can do after everything you and your father have done for me."

"Anytime. Speaking of... What am I just in time for, exactly?" I questioned.

"Me" a voice called from behind a curtain at one end of the room. Leaving Proxy behind, I hobbled over and pulled back the curtain. There was Lulu, sitting on an examination table, facing away from me. She was just sliding a medical-style gown off her shoulders when I saw her.

She didn't flinch or scream or even cover herself up; she just looked back with a playful grin. Well... Sort of. Her body had clearly been looked at, but she was far from fixed. She had signs of repairs all over her, but most apparent were the patches of missing skin. Anywhere she had been badly cut up, and her skin had been dangling, Alice, or someone, precisely cut the loose skin away. As a result, she had large patches of exposed electronics and her metallic alloy skeleton all over. Almost half her face was missing in chunks. Half her jaw, her cheek, segments of her forehead, and the area around one eye were all exposed.

But she still smiled with what remained of her lips, and turned toward me.

"Jimmy! Thank god you're...! Are you ok? You look terrible."

"You're one to talk."

"Heh. Yeah... Looks pretty bad" she said as she stood up from the table, letting the gown come off her completely. Her body was badly torn up, but surprisingly her breasts were still in-tact. "At least I still got the cuties" she said as she grabbed them and played with herself.

I blushed, but I tried to laugh it off. "I'm glad you’re doing ok" I added.

"Well enough. Better than..." She let go of herself and cleared her throat. Her playfulness shifted away as she fell deep into thought. I could tell she was hurting inside as well, and wanted to cry, but her stubbornness prevented her from doing so. "I can't believe they're... gone" she added with a crack in her voice.

I held out my arm to hug her but she put up her hands.

"Ah... Not yet." She wiped at one eye although I never saw a tear. "No touching... it still hurts. A lot. Wait... Your whole arm? Ah man, that sucks! Guess we both need more repairs."

"Yeah... I keep forgetting thing it's not there. It's freaking me out. But I'll survive. I'll probably get a new one. Need any help?" I offered as she started to walk past me wincing from the pain.

She shook her head. "I'll be fine, I just wanted to see you. I'm glad you caught me before I went into the chamber." She walked around the curtain completely naked, never showing any embarrassment.

"Chamber?"

"Skin grafting chamber" she explained. "The rest of my repairs are done, so I'm finishing up with my good looks. And maybe a surprise or two."

"Oh? I wonder what those could be."

"You'll have to wait and see. Hey Jimmy... Thanks for... well, everything."

"Of course. What about Your arm?" I asked pointing to her larger mechanical replacement.

"I think I'll keep it after all" she pointed out looking at her metal hand. "What's the point of getting all beat up if all your scars just get erased? This 'scar' I can keep. As a reminder."

Alice led her into a side room while I followed. Inside stood the same exact machine we used to repair Ellie when she had fallen from the building all those weeks ago. Was it weeks or days? I couldn't remember. It took a long time to repair Ellie back then; I figured this was going to be much longer considering the damage on Lulu.

"Um... Jim?" Lulu asked. "Before you go, could you... uh... give me the command to stand by when I get in there. And promise me you'll be there when I'm done."

"Getting soft on me?"

"No. But, Matrix saw something special in you, and you helped her. You helped all of us. I just... don't want to lose you too."

I nodded. With a smile, she turned to the machine and, with Alice's help, climbed in.

"This will have to wait for you here" Alice said, pointing at her arm. With the little help from a tool of my dad's design, Alice removed Lulu's metallic arm and placed it on a small table next to the machine.

Lulu turned back toward me as Alice went to the console to type in some commands. "Look, we're practically twins" she joked as she held up the stump of her missing arm. I chuckled, which hurt, and waited for Alice to give the word. At her nod, I cleared my throat.

"Lulu, go into standby until the procedure is done."

"Yes sir. Standing by." She nodded and closed her eyes.

The device activate a moment later, illuminating her. Slowly, her body started to raise up, floating in mid-air. The arms of the device activated and started to weave infinitely delicate and complex strands of synthetic skin, complete with veins, sensors, and micro-muscles.

I turned toward Alice as the procedure began. "How long will this take?"

"4 days, give or take" she answered.

"Wow. Just, let me know when she is almost ready. I'll be going to see my dad now."

"Of course."

She gave me a small curtsey as I turned to leave with Proxy. Laura stood outside waiting at the door.

"He is very busy but eager to see you. This way" she explained.

We continued down the hall but didn't get more than a few steps before a noise from the room across from us caught our attention. It was of a woman screaming.

I ran, or rather tripped, into the door to see Raster, or rather her head and torso, suspended in air by a pair of robotic arms, screaming. Just as I entered, her screaming subsided and she went limp. She was still in about the same condition as before, although cleaned up from the blood. One arm was missing just below the shoulder, the other cut off above the shoulder, exposing circuits and wires and metal, while everything below her rib-cage was gone. I could see inside her body at her remaining organs and spinal cord. She was cut up and bruised, but was still breathing and seemed to have fainted.

2 petite girls were frantically moving about, trying to connect her to a machine with tubes and wires. It took me a moment to recognize them. They seemed familiar but from where?

"Bit, Byte? What's going on? Where's dad?" Laura asked.

The twin gynoids turned toward us with deadpan expressions. They were small, but very well coordinated with the other. They paused what they were doing and put down their tools to address us.

"Miss Dale, your father is currently out." One of the explained.

"He had important business to attend to" the other continued.

"So what are you two doing?" Laura inquired.

"We are seeing to the repairs for Miss Raster" the first began.

"She is not well" the other finished.

"Are you hurting Raster?" I asked.

"Not at all, Mr. Amano" Byte, I guessed, replied. Or was it Bit?

"She has not regained consciousness since her return" Bit continued. Or was that Byte?

"Her sensors have been disabled for now" Proxy explained as she came to my side.

"Then that screaming?" I wondered.

"Nightmares," the second twin answered.

"Or a malfunction" her sister finished.

I turned to Laura. "What exactly is going on here? Who are they?"

"You've met Bit and Byte" Laura said, introducing them. "My dad's body guards, built by your dad."

"Oh yeah. Bit and Byte." I had only seen them briefly before and had never spoken with them. They looked short and cute, with lithe bodies. However they tended to show little emotion. They wore identical outfits: tight dark long sleeve one piece dresses, with matching over-knee stockings, still exposing their thighs.

"Mr. Amano" they said in perfect unison.

"So why exactly are they here?" I asked to no one in particular.

"Well, after everything that happened," Laura explained, "my dad's been donating much of his wealth and resources to rebuilding the city. He personally came to help your dad fix up the girls, but they're both so busy. I guess he left behind his bodyguards, again, to finish up for him."

"Master Dale explained that since the collapse of Tsion's government..." Bit started.

"... Our services as bodyguards would no longer be needed" Byte finished.

Laura rolled her eyes. "I told him there are still plenty of people out there that would hurt him."

"We agree" the girl responded together.

"We will still act as his bodyguards" Byte began.

"But secondary to helping the city recover" Bit completed.

"Fine. Whatever" Laura scoffed.

"So... uh... about Raster" I interjected. "She hasn't woken up? Will she be alright?"

"She needs extensive repairs" Bit answered, "in both mind and body."

"But she should recover fully" Byte continued. "In time."

"Well, we better let you two get back to it then. I'll drop in later" I said. I hated to see Raster like this, but I was more eager to find Ellie and see my dad.

"Goodbye Mr. Amano" the girls said in unison. "Ms. Dale."

They returned to their work and Raster did not react this time. That was a small weight off my mind; Raster wasn't fixed yet but stable at least. We left the room when suddenly it hit me. The only one of us that was likely present at most of the events that has been able explain what happened was me! Lulu and Proxy missed large parts of the events in the tower. And Raster has been unconscious. So unless Ellie...

I tried to pick up the pace but had to take a moment to sit down and breathe. The shock of my amputation was getting to me, and I had to sit. Proxy ran and got me some much needed water, which helped, but I couldn't stop crying, scared of what lay ahead. When I finally composed myself, I rushed toward the back of the hall, side-by-side with Laura. The room at the end of the hall had frosted glass doors, and there was movement on the other side. Without further hesitation, we opened the doors and entered.

My father was waiting for us, looking at a computer screen, standing in front of a table. He turned as soon as the door opened, and gave me a big smile.

"Jimmy!" He beamed. I could see years’ worth of stress melting off his body. "I'm so sorry! Will you be ok?"

"Yeah" I replied, giving him half a hug. But something in me reacted in a way even I didn't expect. "So why weren't you there when I woke up?"

"I... I have been a terrible father. Sending someone else to look after you on my behalf. Again. I was there for a little while, but my duties are important too. And there was nothing I could do to help you there. Didn't they tell you? I made sure your shoulder was outfitted with everything we'll need to replace your arm good as new. But I needed to work on something else, to take my mind off of things. I thought if I could at least save her... for you..."

He turned to look at the table he was in front of earlier. I noticed now that Ellie lay on the table, wearing the same style medical-gown Lulu had on. She was not moving, even to breathe.

I approached her cautiously, hoping that this was all a prank. A joke. She's open her eyes at any minute. It was never that easy.

"I'm sorry" my dad apologized as he put his hand on my shoulder. I kneeled next to her, touching her cheek with my fingers and pushing a hair back. "I did everything I could. Physically, she's fine. But her brain... She was hit hard."

"Is there anything...? Anything I can do?" I asked, holding back the tears. Or trying to. My voice was already cracking.

"I'm afraid not. Her mind is only fragments of who she was. Completely scrambled data. I was only able to salvage the last few hours of her memories, but without her core programming, even that is completely useless, encoded, and unreadable."

"Didn't you back up their memories before the assault?"

"Yes. But not her core programming. What it is to be 'Ellie'. More than her memories were erased. She's... gone."

"Gone?" I was a blubbering mess by is point. She was so peaceful right in front of me, sleeping like a princess, and yet she wasn't there. Even robots could die, especially one as unique as Ellie.

The moments that followed were all a blur. I cried, a lot. Laura cried too. And my dad. And I think even Proxy did. Her body was fine, but even if he had deactivated her, she just wouldn't be Ellie again. Ellie was a happy accident really. A part of Matrix that was never supposed to be in control, but became her own person. And now... They were both gone.

I didn't know how long I stayed there, only that I was out of tears by the time I left. It was hard to walk out of that room, and I had to sit down again.

"Where's Matrix?" I asked, staring at the floor. "Did they ever find her?"

"She's... Uh... She's down stairs. We found her yesterday" Laura explained.

"I want to see her."

"Are you sure?" My dad asked. "She's... In really bad shape."

"Yes."

My dad nodded approval, and the girls helped me to my feet and toward an elevator. I remember hearing the chime of the elevator as the door opened, and the carpeted floor, and the sensation of movement. I was sure my eyes would never look up again.

We arrived a few short minutes later in a room full of android parts. All of them badly damaged. They scattered along the tile floor and were piled up in corners.

"Sorry... for the mess. We've been tasked with cleaning up the... damaged enemy androids. As well as our own. She's over here."

Toward the back of the room was a metal examination table with a light on over it. A white sheet covered the shape of a body underneath. Without hesitation, I lifted up the sheet and looked down at the remains of Matrix.

She was unrecognizable. Her body had been badly burned to a blackened charcoal. I wasn't even sure it was Matrix. The only hint it was her was from the exposed metal skeleton and missing arm. But I knew it was her. I lowered the sheet, and proceeded to throw up on the floor.

Laura and Proxy were there with me, helping me get through it. I had to see for myself, but I even lost Matrix. I was beside myself with anger and frustration and devastation. Even though we beat Tsion, he still won.

I hobbled out of the room and leaned against the wall near the elevator. I was completely spent. What was I going to do now? I feel like I lost everything when I lost those two.

"What about Tess?" I wondered.

"We haven't found her yet, but we are still looking" my dad explained.

As I tried to gather myself, I noticed something moving out of the corner of my eye.

"I'm so sorry" my dad said. "I miss them too-"

"Who's that?" I asked, looking at the silhouette of a figure moving in the other room.

"Hmm? Oh. Well..." He walked over and led a girl out of the room by the arm. She was naked, and followed him aimlessly. She looked exactly like Ellie. "When we were cleaning up the remains of the Matrix copies, we found one still active. Somehow she avoided the virus but her mind is empty. She was wondering around naked in the basement. We only found her this morning."

"In the basement? Ah! I know her" I exclaimed. "You remember Proxy. I used that fail safe device on one of our guards in the basement."

"That's right" she replied.

"Really?" My dad wondered.

"The virus must have taken out the central computer before she ever woke up."

"That would explain it" my dad added. "Their bodies are close to my original design, but their brains are far simpler. They weren't more than drones, empty husks following commanding from a central computer."

The girl stood there as if in a complete daze. She didn't seem to recognize anything or anyone, not even me, and just stare dead ahead.

"I was thinking of using her for spare parts" my dad explained.

"I can't look at her right now. It's..."

"Yeah..." My dad nodded and led her back into the room.

"You need to rest Jimmy" Laura demanded. "And regain your strength."

"Why? What's the point?"

"Oh no! I am not having you go down that path! It's the same place I went after my mother died. Do not do this to me!" she commanded. "Some of us are relying on you to be there for us. And you need to give your account of what happened when you are ready. The press will want to speak to you. May will want to see you too. There are ceremonies and memorials and... I will keep you too busy to fall apart on me, ok?"

"Don't you have Azuma to fall back to?" I mumbled crossly, not wanting any of that.

"A- Azuma. He..." She turned away. Oh shit. "He didn't make it."

"Oh fuck, I'm sorry! I'm such an ass!"

"You aren't the only one hurting, you know." She held back her sobs. I felt like such a dick. "We all lost someone."

"You're right" I heaved a heavy sigh. "You're right. We all have. I'll do it. I'll talk to the press and May and whoever. But... Can it wait for tomorrow?"


The rest of the night was uneventful. I was utterly depressed, as most of us were. Although there were sounds of cheering and smiling faces all over. Maybe not everyone had lost someone. But we sure did. Laura never left my side. And neither did Proxy.

We took it easy. Had a simple meal, stayed quiet, rested, and were treated to the nicest hotel room money could buy, thanks to May. But I didn't enjoy any of it. My arm hurt even though I knew it wasn't there. My shoulder and chest were in great pain too. The hardest part was constantly forgetting my arm was gone, I couldn't reach for anything and my balance was off. No to mention my thoughts were going everywhere, about my past, the current situation, and my future. Our future.

Laura stayed the night with me, although I was too depressed and in pain to do anything besides lay awake staring at the ceiling. But having her next to me and sharing the bed with her made the long night bearable. Proxy sat in a chair in the adjacent room charging, acting as bodyguard. I didn't sleep at all that night. It was the first of a trend.

The next day blurred by. I was told not to move much to help with the healing process, so I did as little as I could which was easy since I was so depressed. And the fact that I was missing an arm was hitting me in a whole new way. I relied on help constantly and knew it was going to take a while to get used to it. I failed them, but I now had to play the injured hero for the press.

I gave my account to May over an un-touched breakfast. I recalled as much as I could remember, and she took it all in, saying nothing. The only advice she gave me at the end was to not mention the truth about the computer, or about Seth. I was to tell the press he killed Tsion in a bid to take over, after cutting off Matrix's arm. I decided to agree. It wasn't that far from the truth actually. I didn't tell the press about the computer powered by human brains, about Tsion's mind transfer into Seth, or about Proxy's involvement. That last part was my decision.

Everyone gave me a look of pity, and commented how brave I was and strong to have gotten out of bed so quickly. I got mixed reactions when people learned that Matrix died saving the city. Many didn't believe it. Others claimed it was a conspiracy. And others still thought she had it coming; that justice had been done. But I knew she made the ultimate sacrifice, even if she wouldn't be praised as the hero she was for it.

But few really cared about Ellie. She was just some gynoid with us that looked like Matrix. Many thought it was part of a conspiracy to hide Matrix, but with both of them gone, their interest in her died with her. And Tess was not exactly the ring leader of the Ainu Guard, so few even noticed that she was gone. Instead, the media focused on the details I could provide, my recovery, and the relationship between me and Laura. She had become somewhat of a public figure after helping May lead her forces in battle. And now we both were.

I tried my best to stay out of the limelight after that. I wanted to crawl into a corner and die, but Proxy and Laura wouldn't let me. Instead, they took me to a clinic to begin physical therapy, keeping me busy. Despite myself. I had to start relying on drugs to sleep and manage the pain. I would spend two hours every day at that clinic for the next few months, and most of the rest of my time at the lab where the girls were staying for now.

The next day, my dad had Ellie moved to long term storage until we could decide what to do with her body. I figured she'd want to help other people, to give back to the city, but I couldn't be in the same room as her anymore, it hurt too much. Yet I couldn't give her up either. I knew it was stupid, or selfish. She was gone, but I couldn't just let go like that. Not so permanently. So he sent her down to the floor where Matrix was, and prepared her by himself for cold storage. I could see the strain it put on him when he returned. He had lost her too, even if she wasn't exactly what he had built originally.

Meanwhile, I focused my efforts on healing. I rested as much as I could, after my physical therapy, and Alice came in to check on me and look at my shoulder while at the lab. Without the prosthetic, it looked like skin stretched over a wound, sown shut and only starting to heal. But she was optimistic, and took some scans and measurements. She decided it would be best if she could fit me with a new arm as soon as possible. I agreed, maybe it would help lift my spirits.

But once I felt good enough, I couldn't just sit there and do nothing, I needed to help. So I turned my attention toward Raster. She was still unconscious, still hanging on by a thread. I couldn't let her slip away too. Although, my dad pointed out that as long as her mind was in-tact, she was in no real danger. However, based on her random outbursts, I knew her mind wasn't alright either. She was fighting something inside her head, and I needed to make sure she won that fight.

Laura's dad showed up to help as well, although he wasn't a roboticist, and could do little to help. Bit and Byte did most of the work while he helped in whatever small ways he could. Alice pitched in too. I mainly stayed in the room offering what little help I could while observing and advising when needed. Our goal was to get her out of critical condition and awake.


I stood before the chamber with Lulu still inside. A frosted glass divider was erected for her privacy, even though I knew she wouldn't care. I could just make out her form as the arms worked on her head, finishing up the last of her repairs.

The arms stopped, and retracted, just as the feminine form gently lowered to the ground. It didn't take long for her to start moving.

"Much better... Umm... Where-?" Her voice echoed. Proxy approached the divider and wheeled it to the side. There stood Lulu before me, naked, and fully repaired, save her missing forearm. Her hair was now long, straight, and black, with a single stylish stripe of white in front. It was an unexpected change and took me by surprise. She didn't wait for me to react before she struck a sexy pose.

"What do you think?" She asked. "Like it? I decided to make it black in memory of Matrix... She was the only one of us that ever had black hair."

"I like it" I exclaimed.

"That's... actually pretty cool" Proxy mumbled to herself.

"Thanks. Now... Don't you owe me a hug?"

She stepped forward and pressed herself into me, wrapping her one arm around me. At first it seemed playful, but she held it there longer than expected. I realized she was silently crying.

"Come on now. You need to get ready" I explained.

"Ready?" She sniffed. "For what?"

"For the wake" a timid voice called out from behind me.

I stood aside and watched Lulu's eyes grow wide as Raster appeared in the door. She was sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a black dress, with tubes and wires running under it and connected to a machine on the back. Alice was pushing the chair, dressed also in black.

"You're awake!" Lulu jumped. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm... weak" Raster answered. "My pain sensors have been deactivated for now. I'm lucky Jimmy and Alice and everyone could get me running."

"I'm sure you'll be back on your feet in no time" Lulu hoped. Her face grew red as she realized Raster had no feet anymore. "Err..."

"Yeah. Thanks."

Raster looked tired, she had so little strength and couldn't do anything for herself without her limbs. Under her dress we had to rig her up with a temporary base so she could sit without damaging herself further. I was surprised how quickly she had come to terms with things after she woke up. But she insisted that she come with us. And she only woke up that morning.

I picked up a package of neatly folded clothes on the chair behind me and handed them to Lulu.

"Where are we going exactly?" She asked holding them with her hand.

"We're burying Matrix and Tess today. And saying goodbye to Ellie" I explained solemnly.

"Oh... Already..."


We were driven to the plot where my father had arranged for Matrix and Tess to be buried. They found Tess two days before, crushed by fallen debris, irreparable. Her head was smashed, preventing us from reviving her. It was another tough blow. We wanted to make sure no one would seek retribution on their grave markers, so we kept the location and time secret, save a select few, and buried them side-by-side under the same headstone. It read:

"Here lie the saviors of the city"

Matrix would have laughed at that. There were three stars beneath to indicate three lost soldiers. One for each, even though Ellie's body wasn't actually there. We arrived expecting to see a small group of people in attendance. When we got there, I estimated almost a hundred showed up.

May was there, along with the female senator we met whose name I couldn't remember, dozens of soldiers, Laura, Michael, Gabriel, town representatives, a few select media, and even some faces from the trial. Even Genesis showed up.

I was moved by the turn out. If only it had been a rainy day, I could have blamed my tears on the rain. Instead it was the first cold day we had that year, with the sun shining bright and warm in contrast to the breeze.

We sat in the front row with Laura and May. They dressed me in a military style uniform with a long black coat, with the left sleeve pinned up neatly. I wasn't part of any military, but I had the feeling they wanted me to look the part. May said a few words, acknowledging their controversial lives, and explaining the sacrifices they made. I toned it out as I looked at the 3 unmarked caskets, knowing one was empty. Others gave speeches, including my dad, and Laura. I did not. I chose not to speak. I couldn't speak.

Slowly, the caskets were lowered into the ground. I clenched my eyes closed as they reached the bottom, before standing up and throwing a flower onto each one. A daisy for Tess, a lily for Matrix, and a rose for Ellie.

The ceremony actually lifted my spirits. Somehow. But I found myself still depressed and listless. Laura's daily attention helped, and Proxy's assistance was welcome as well. But I felt that Lulu and I were hit the hardest by their losses; we kept each other close as a result.

Weeks went by.

They had honored me with official ceremonies. One as a "top citizen", making me a "friend" of Ino, and giving me the key to the city. Another held by May and Laura inducting me as an honorary soldier to the New Ino Guard, just like the girls, complete with Medals of Honor. And another, held my Gabriel, proclaiming me an honorary citizen of Ainu. I didn't want any of it, but Laura insisted and forced me to go to each.

I now lived in the city, but spent most my time with the others in the lab. I found myself becoming close friends with both Lulu and Proxy. Proxy chose to stay with me, albeit never in a romantic way, only as my guard and assistant. She would always sleep sitting on a chair in the hall outside my room. Lulu hung out with me every day, occasionally staying over. They didn't have their own places yet, so they lived either with me or at the lab. Although it was apparent Lulu hated staying at the lab and was jealous Proxy stayed at my place so much. Lulu would try to spend as many nights with me as she could, in the second bedroom. She loved to tease me but it never evolved into sex.

Laura was there for me too, but had duties of her own. A new election was being held soon, and she was being put in charge of security, which kept her really busy. Evidently she had taken on Azuma's role to honor him. She only stayed with me at my house sometimes, sleeping in my bed with me, but she had decided to spend more time with her father as well, and would often sleep in her old room. Although I got the feeling she was eager to move in with me officially. While I enjoyed her company greatly, I just wasn't sure I was ready yet.

My place was nearby to both Laura and the lab, somewhere in between them I figured. It wasn't a huge place, but nice with more than enough room for me. 2 stories, 3 bedrooms, 2 and a half bathrooms, a rounded design, with a country feel. I reminded me of Maya, but wasn't anything like my old place. I liked it because it was hidden behind larger buildings, had a small but nice yard with a garden in it, and was quiet. Officially it was temporary housing, but I had no rent or termination date, so I never worried about leaving. However, most of my time was spent working, it kept my mind busy.

I was also outfitted with a brand new arm. State-of-the-art. My dad designed and built it for me, and it was amazing. It felt like my real arm. The weight was carefully balanced, the connection between my arm and the joint they attached to me was seamless, and it didn't hurt anymore. The connection point was grafted onto my bone giving it strength and a natural feel. In fact, I rarely had to take the arm off, which I never got used to doing anyways. I still had to go in for physical therapy for a while longer though, but it was much easier. In many ways it reminded me of the technology that built Ellie.

Raster was coming along nicely. I learned a lot by helping repair her with my dad and the others. It was also good to get used to my new arm to work with my hands on delicate procedures. Raster remained as stoic as ever through it all, but I got a sense that she was really just hiding her emotional pain. She struggled to get through each day, and since she didn't have to, she wouldn't sleep. Whatever she had struggled with in her mind had changed her. My dad equated it to PTSD for robots.

She was visibly relieved when I attached new custom arms onto her, and it was then that I knew she was going to get through this. She would gently touch her arms enjoying the sensation. And her look of depression had lessened. The day we restored her lower-half was the first time I saw her really smile since the incident. For that matter, she almost never smiled even before.

She couldn't wait to stand up on her own, and didn't concern herself with covering up. She tossed aside her medical gown and let us work on her completely nude. As soon as I ran the final diagnostic and loaded the last driver, she sat up.

"I can move again!" She exclaimed.

She swung her legs over to the side, and stood up. And proceeded to fall over. I caught her and helped her gain her balance.

"Easy now, don't jump into this" my dad cautioned. He joined her side and helped her up.

"I'm standing!" She exclaimed. "It feels so good to have my feet again!"

She was still completely naked, but didn't seem to mind. I know I was enjoying the view. I had never seen her naked before. She looked stronger than the other girls, more well-toned muscles, but still very feminine and attractive. Raster was admiring her body, from her hips to her feet. I was admiring it too but probably for different reasons.

We sat her down on the table again, even though she wanted to stand and move. Her body had been upgraded all over while we were repairing her, and she'd need to calibrate herself to the new systems, so I proceeded to start the calibration process.

"Just lean back and I can calibrate-" I suggested.

"I'd rather sit up. If that's alright" she requested, dangling her feet back and forth. "I haven't sat up on my own in so long. I haven't felt my own legs in ages!" She proclaimed as she rubbed her hands over their thighs.

She was almost giddy as I hooked the cable into her neck. I had never seen Raster like this before. Maybe it was her upgrades to her body, or maybe something else. Maybe it was her new found freedom. I remembered that Gabriel released her to her own cognizance, giving her freedom to choose and act for herself for the first time in her life.

"I'll leave you to it, Jim" my dad said. "I have another patient to work on. Take it easy now Raster" he said, giving her a small hug before turning to leave. The lab had only just opened its doors to the public, acting as a sort of hospital for robots and cyborgs. It kept my dad busy. He stopped momentarily and looked back at us.

"You know, I always wanted something better for you girls. And I think now, you might finally have that chance."

"Better?" Raster wondered, but he just smiled and left.

"I think he means a happy life" I suggested while accessing the calibration program. "Instead of being just a soldier."

"Being a soldier... is all I know" she refuted.

"Really? I doubt that."

I executed the calibration command, and it instantly sent shivers up her spine.

"Hah!" Raster gasped, in a sensual way. "Wasn't expecting that. Ah!" She seemed to react to waves of sensations, none of them painful, as the system calibrated her movement, sensitivity, balance, and more. Including her improved sexual system.

"You alright? It won't take long" I explained.

She nodded, rubbing her thighs together. "Yeah. I'll- Haaahhh! I'll be fine" she breathed. She gripped onto the side of the examination table as she clenched her face.

"You sure? I'll cancel-"

"No! I'm good! Hah! I'm great! Oh... Damn it! It's... Wow! I... I... It's..." She exhaled a long controlled breath and relaxed just as the calibration moved onto to the next series of tests. "It's over... Damn."

"You ok?"

"Yeah..." She cooed. She looked anxious even more now as she rubbed her thighs together. Her eyebrows furrowed as she tried to comprehend a new sensation. Instinctively, she reached down her front and pressed her fingers to her sex. Instantly she clenched up again and shuddered. "What did doc... Is this a new...?"

I watched as she spread her legs to look down at her new crotch. She seemed to consider the small patch of hair neatly trimmed into a triangle on her mons briefly while she rubbed her moist brand-new labia a little more before she pulled her hand back to observe the sticky clear liquid between her fingers. She seemed confused at first by it, but then it dawned on her.

"He upgraded my vaginal system, didn't he? Why? I didn't request this."

"He probably wanted you to be happy in whatever direction life takes you?" I suggested. "You ok?"

"Yeah. I... I've never really... I mean I tried sex once... But this..." She flustered.

"Well, now you can, if you want" I pointed out. "Does it hurt?"

She shook her head, still looking at her fingers. "It's surprisingly pleasant..." She curiously reached down again and touched herself. Letting out a long slow breath, she rubbed at her slit a little before a small moan escaped her lips. It was really cute for her. As soon as her finger brushed against her pristine pearl, she yelped and shuddered.

"S- sorry" she blurted, pulling her hand away. "I couldn't control myself! I- I just had an urge to..." she cleared her throat blushing. I never saw her blush before either, this was all new to me. "I think I can finally understand why everyone likes sex so much."

I reached over to a nearby paper towel roll and handed her a sheet. "It's ok. The calibrator probably just left you excited, or something."

"Thanks" she said as she gently took the sheet and wiped her hand. She seemed to be deep in thought. "Say... Jimmy? If you want to... you can... I mean I would be ok if you..."

She was giving me a coquettish look I had never seen from her before. It didn't help that she was naked, and I noticed now that even her nipples were getting hard. She was coming on to me!

"I... I'd love to but... I'm not ready yet" I explained. I hadn't had sex since before the battle. I was still too depressed, although I did my best to hide it. Besides, Raster was never someone I saw in that way, until now.

"Of course. I'm sorry. That's inappropriate of me. I don't know what's gotten into me! This is all new to me, and strange. It's like I'm losing my mind!"

"It's fine" I assured her. "You're fine. We just upgraded a few things. You're still you, just with more."

"No, it was uncalled for and unprofessional. I didn't take your feelings into consideration."

"Calm down. I'm flattered you thought of me like that. I'm honored, and I would be lying if I said you weren't attractive. You're just not used to the new system yet, and your sex drive is going to be a new thing for you. Just don't let it get to your head."

She was giving me a heavy stare. I could feel the lust in her gaze, as though it was the first time she ever experienced it. Maybe it was. But I remembered she had a boyfriend once. So perhaps this was just more than she was used to.

"Is there something wrong with me?" She wondered.

"No. Everything's fine. Your systems all checked out-"

"I meant... for you?" She asked licking her lips.

"Oh. No. I would be lying if I said I wasn't tempted. But it's me, I'm just not ready for sex right now. It is an emotional thing." I could hardly believe I was turning down sex from a cute naked girl. But I was.

"I see. I'm sorry... I didn't- forget I ever asked" she shook her head.

"Look" I continued. "Give it a few days or so... If it doesn't settle down, come see me. I'm sure I'll be able to help."

She blinked. "Of... Of course. You'd really do that for me?"

"Well, yeah. If I can. Sex is a physical need, as well as an emotional one. I'll do whatever I can to make getting used to this new upgrade easier for you." It wasn't that I wanted to have sex with Raster, or that I didn't want to. I wasn't in the mood for sex either way, and I figured if she didn't calm down, I could use that as an excuse to force myself to try it. It might help me get out of this rut. Although I worried I would hurt our relationship.

She nodded. "Thank you. I don't deserve a friend like you."

The computer chimed, indicating the calibration was successful. "And you're all done" I exclaimed, pulling the plug rom her neck.

"Ah. Right." She stood up, carefully, and tested her legs. With only minutes of calibrating, she was jumping, hopping, balancing, running, and walking as though she never had any injuries at all. I enjoyed watching her try her new legs out. If only physical therapy was that quick and easy for humans. I still had months to go with mine. Plus watching her move was really turning me on, especially after her display moments ago. Maybe I shouldn't have turned her down.

"Jimmy" she said turning toward me. "Please don't tell the others" she pleaded. "You are a good man. I feel oddly comfortable around you lately... I wasn't thinking."

"It's fine. Really. Actually you took my mind off of things and excited me for a short while. It's been a while since I had a sexy naked girl jump around in front of me. Thank you." It did feel good to get aroused again.

She chuckled. "So body is attractive, isn't it?"

"More than just your body."

That made her blush. "I'm very happy to have met you." She came over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. That made me blush.

"Gee, this isn't like you Raster."

"I... I don't know what I'm like anymore. I've never been like me, as I am now. I've always been Raster the solider, now I'm... Raster the girl... In charge of her own life."

"Well don't change too much" I cautioned.

"I will make no promises." She picked up the medical-gown from the examination table and looked down at the wheel-chair. "I feel I have a lot of growing and learning to do." She looked back at me, holding the gown down by her side. "For one, I never expected to feel this comfortable around you, Jimmy. I'm pleased that you like my body. I hope I can get to know you better, as a friend."

"I'm sure we can. But I think I'll need some time..."

Raster gave me a gentle smile before starting to put the medical gown back on. "Of course. I'll need to find some new clothes after this" she noted. "I don't even know what to wear anymore without my uniforms"

It wasn't that she wasn't still a soldier. The girls were now official members of New Ino Guard. However, given the unease the public had with them, and the difficult mission they survived, they were given no active assignments and remained only on reserve. This left them with ample time to themselves and to enjoy life. Aunt May suggested they focus on building public trust. Free time was a foreign concept to Raster.

As I helped Raster locate her belongings, and led her to the changing room down the hall, I passed by a window I felt compelled to come back to. A few minutes later, while she dressed, I stood alone, looking into that room where a girl sat staring off into the distance. It was the Matrix double that survived.

I stood watching as she sat there oblivious to the world around her. I had seen her many times in the last weeks, and it was always the same. She never looked around, never focused on anyone or anything, and just stared blankly at the wall with a sad look on her face. The most words anyone ever got out of her were 'access denied'. It saddened me. I had no hate for this gynoid. She was just another victim. Something kept nagging at me in the back of my head, but I couldn't figure out what. All I knew was I wanted to help her. Maybe I could.

I ran through the halls but couldn't find my dad anywhere for the longest time, but finally, I caught up to him.

"Dad... I want her..." I panted.

"What? Slow down son, I mean Raster just got her-"

"No. The clone girl. I want to fix her" I clarified.

"Fix her? She's not broken" he explained.

"But she can't think either. I want to rebuild her."

Something dawned on him. "Ah. Son. I know she may look like her, but we simply can't rebuild Ellie. I've never had a full backed up copy of her, since she pretty much built her own mind. Without a full backup, it's impossible. Even Matrix-"

"I know. I just... I thought maybe she could be like their sister or something."

"A sister? I don't know," he contemplated scratching his head. "I mean she would need a lot of work. Incompatibilities with the hardware, upgraded sensors, an entirely rebuilt mind. She'd probably need to register a new AIID. Plus her programming! I don't exactly have the time to build a new AI from the ground up... from the ground... Huh."

"What?" I inquired at his sudden revelation.

"I never had a copy of Ellie on file, nor did I have our independent Matrix... But we might have... That transfer..."

"What?" I repeated.

"My god, why didn't I think of this before!" He looked around briefly and rushed me into a dim closet full of boxes filled with documents on shelves. There was plenty of staff recently hired but no one within sight, and yet he felt he needed to talk in private. It must have been important.

"Listen..." He said with a hushed voice. "This is just a theory, a crazy idea... Maybe I'm wrong, but... Remember when we first separated Matrix from Ellie? We transferred Matrix onto a base AI? Well... That transfer would have produced a cached data dump archive. A sort of backup of everything processed and transferred in an archived format stored for backup and troubleshooting purposes."

"Ok" I whispered back. "I think I follow."

"That archive is still at the palace ruins. If it survived the fire- IF... We might be able to restore Matrix from that transfer into that Doppler-whatever."

"Doppelgänger" I corrected.

"Her... and build a new base AI for Matrix. Just like before."

"Wait, you're saying we could bring Matrix back?"

"Maybe- It might not work! There are a lot of maybes. For one, those files have to not be corrupted and survived that fire. And two, the new girl will need some major upgrades."

"But wouldn't that be the sadistic murderous Matrix? The one with the virus that tried to kill me?"

"That data would be," he said sounding almost defeated. He tapped his fingers on a shelf and thought. "I can remove the virus before we transfer anything. And I still have the backup from the day before the battle. That should cover her lost memories up until that point."

"Are you serious? Are you saying we could still save Matrix?"

"Maybe. I've never done anything like this before. And if it fails, I don't want you to get your hopes up. We can still give that copy-girl a good life. It's a win-double win. We either get Matrix, or the girls get a new sister." He sighed. "IF we do this... she will be your responsibility, and registered to you" he warned.

"Y- yeah. Of course! But I've never built an advanced android before."

"I'll help guide you, and check on your progress, but you'll have to do all the physical work. She'll need some physical upgrades, and her brain will need to be completely rebuilt..."

"Absolutely! I think I can do that. And I can get Raster and Proxy and Lulu and Alice-"

"I'm going to need Alice" he interrupted. "I've been very busy around here, and she is the best help I've had in a long time. Plus I owe her an upgrade for her legs. And I'll need the girls to help around here also, at least until we can get enough staff. And I don't want to get them hopeful for something that might not work. The last thing I want to do is get them excited and let them down again. Losing Matrix twice would devastate them. Whatever you do, keep this a secret from everyone. The fewer involved, the better."

"Ok. I think I can use Proxy at least. I can just tell her I am fixing her up so she can be a new younger sister to them. When, and how, do I start?"

"Right away!" he blurted out, excited. "The sooner the better. This could take months of work. You'll become an expert roboticist yet! I need to collect some files. Have Proxy meet me upstairs in 20 minutes; I'll download some schematics and tutorials into her. I'll have to visit the old palace grounds tonight... Plus I need to see to my new patient, and that injured soldier... And I'll need to go through that data dump archive..."

"Is this really going to work?" I asked him. "Can we really get Matrix back?"

"I hope so. She suffered so much, she deserves a chance to be happy."

"What about Ellie?" I hoped.

He shook his head. "Nothing has changed with her. I never copied her data. I can't restore what I don't have."

"Right. Well, even if it is just a small chance, if it could bring Matrix back to us, I'll do it!"

Chapter 29 - Under the Fire

"What's your name?" I asked the white-haired copy.

"Access denied" she stated. It was the most we ever got, but at least it was something. Her voice was just like Matrix used to sound too, but without the hate. It was kind of disturbing.

I tried every command I could think of, but the most I got was either 'Access Denied' or 'Authorization failed'. I ended up following Proxy's advice, as per my dad's instructions, and connecting the girl to a terminal nearby. There was nothing else I could do but initialized her system. She reset moments later, and gave me a clear look in the eyes.

"Hello, I am IERG-mc0482. Would you like to register as my master user?" She inquired.

"Yes." I gave her my name, and information, and she acknowledged everything, and proceeded to sit there just like before. She was officially mine now, but I only wanted to get started fixing her up. She wouldn't, or rather couldn't, listen to voice commands, leaving me no options but to manually move her around. It appeared she was designed only to be registered and connected to the hive-mind that controlled her.

Proxy was called away for a few hours to download more files from my father, so I had to take care of her for the time being. She had been sitting there for weeks, and no one ever took good care of her. She didn't need to eat, and so she never used the bathroom and was only ever plugged in to charge for energy. And it was evident she hadn't seen a bath before. She wasn't smelly, like a human, but she was filthy. It might not have been the best idea, but I decided to drive her to my home to remedy this. It was less awkward than using the employee showers.

I untied the back of the medical gown she wore, and let it fall from her. While she stood there in my hallway, naked and stiff as a mannequin, I ran the "gown" to the laundry. It really was a misnomer, they weren't much more than rags. She was still there when I returned, predictably. Guiding her by the shoulders, I walked her into the bathroom, where I ran the water and sat her down. I decided it was best to disrobe as well. It felt awkward being dressed in the bathroom washing someone, but felt even more awkward after I bared myself in front of an unresponsive girl. Using a sponge, I washed her thoroughly, lifting her arm one at a time and scrubbing away the smell and filth. I was pleased with how realistic she felt, even if she was only a knockoff of the real thing. I was gentler on her chest, and hoped she would have some sort of reaction. Her nipples did get hard, but not much else. It wasn't until I started cleaning her crotch that I noticed her breathing heavily. But it appeared to be nothing more than a pre-programmed response. Typical. Tsion probably wanted them all to be sexually functional so he could have his way with them.

I washed her hair and rinsed her off in the bathtub, wishing it was Ellie so we could relax in the bath together. I washed myself off, glad my artificial arm was completely waterproof, and entered the bath with her. But even as I joined the distant girl, she sat there, reacting to nothing, and not showing any signs she was enjoying anything. I sighed, and kicked myself for letting me get worked up over this knowing it would turn out this way. But at least cleaning her body fun, in fact it was the most exciting thing I had done in way too long. I couldn't hide the erection her body gave me, I only wished she could appreciate it too.

Once she was clean and dry, I got dressed and then brought her into my room to wait while the laundry finished. She was eerily like Ellie in appearance, except the eyes.

"What's your name?" I asked again, waiting for her clothes to finish. I decided to see how much she was actually capable of understanding.

"IERG-mc0482" she replied.

"I'll just call you 482 for now. Who is your master user, 482?" I tested.

"Jim Amano" she answered.

"Are your sexual functions active?" I wondered.

"Affirmative."

I was so tempted. But I couldn't. It wasn't Ellie, or Matrix, yet... And I couldn't force myself on this girl.

"Do you remember anything before today?"

"Negative." Her answers were short and precise.

"How do you feel, 482?"

"Processor running at 36% capacity, CPU temperature at 67. Internal body temperature at 35. External temperature at 18. Arousal threshold at 48. Pain-"

"Stop" I ordered. Not exactly what I was thinking. Based on the numbers, she must have felt cold. I grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around her. I sat down opposite her and watched as she slowly grasped the blanked with one hand keeping it around her.

"I wonder what you think of me." I pondered.

"You are my registered master user" she replied. I shrugged, not expecting any replay at all. "You have cleaned me, and warmed me. I... am..." She sounded like she was having difficulty processing this. Her mind was too simple.

"What is your primary function?" I asked to distract her. It worked.

"No primary function has been set for this unit."

"482, your primary function is to follow my commands until I can finish upgrading you."

"Acknowledged" she confirmed just as the laundry bell rang.

"Stay here" I ordered her and fetched the medical gown from the wash. I helped her stand up and took the blanket from her to dress her in the simple cloth. Afterwards, I realized she was probably cold, so I wrapped the blanket around her and led her back to the car May provided for me.

I brought her to a room on the top floor of the hospital near the experimental and development labs, where Proxy was waiting for me.

"Where have you been? I can't be an effective bodyguard if you take off like that, sir" she protested. "And why does she have a blanket?"

"She was cold. She was dirty, and cold, so I cleaned her and gave her a blanket."

"You cleaned... Isn't that your... Did you go to your house?"

"Proxy, I wasn't going to bathe her in the employee showers. It's fine. We have work to do."

Proxy opened her mouth to object but caught herself seeing my logic, biting her lip. She ended up huffing to herself and following me into the room.

"Please sir, at least let me know where you are going, so I can protect you. I got worried."

"Alright. I promise."

I ordered 482 to lay down on the angled examination table covered in padding before shutting her down and starting to dismantle her body. Opening up panels on her, we dived in, removing every part of her, bit-by-bit. Soon, her body was in pieces around the room and she looked like not much more than an empty shell. Proxy gave me a determined nod, and together we began rebuilding and upgrading her. Taking her apart was easy, but putting her back together again...

We started with her core, building her from the foundation out. What she had before was good, but my dad had designed a more streamlined model, allowing for better flexibility and faster motion, as well as a slimmer frame. Even better than what Ellie had. It was the first of many changes we made to her body.

We upgraded her sensors all over her body, gave her a higher quality skeletal system, upgraded her secondary functions, focusing less on combat and more on day-to-day life, improved her digestive systems, enhanced her circulatory network, and removed all her weapons. She wouldn't be needing those anymore, I hoped. We even replaced her sex systems. The ones she had before were fine, but what she was getting was revolutionary. More sensitivity, control, functions... She was getting a system that worked throughout her entire body both physically and mentally, giving her new levels of intimacy she could have never achieved before. Pretty much every part of her body saw some kind of upgrade or improvement.

Someone knocked at the door while we were in the middle of installing her new heart. I looked back at Proxy, who shrugged.

"Jimmy?" Raster called through the door. "I know you're in there. Could you please come out for a second? I have... um... a favor to ask."

"In a minute" I called back. Quickly we rushed the procedure to a point where Proxy could handle it on her own, and I washed up. I carefully opened the door, blocking the view from Raster. She was wearing another one of her uniforms with a large blue jacket and mini skirt, and was trying to peep over my shoulder.

"What can I do for you?"

"What are you two doing in there?" She wondered.

"A project for my dad. It's a secret" I admitted.

"Hmm. Well... Maybe we can talk in private?"

I led her to a small room my dad had given me to use as an office of sorts. I was rarely in here but kept files and research materials here. I was always careful to keep it clean so no one would see what I was working on. "What do you need?"

"You remember that little problem we were talking about before?" She inquired as she closed the door latching it.

"Problem?" I thought, trying to get my mind off of Matrix and back onto Raster. "Oh! Yes. Of course. How- um... How are you feeling?"

She sat at the edge of the desk with her hands clasped in front of her. "I'm getting used to the urges. They aren't as strong as before" she explained. "But they're still there."

"Well sexual urges plague most people, I'd say it's pretty normal."

She nodded. "Yes. But these urges have been building up in me. It feels as if they are adding more pressure. The longer I go, the more built up they get. It's starting to get to be too much! I have to relieve the stress somehow... But I... I'm not sure how."

"Oh." This was awkward. "Well. I guess you have two options. You can either have sex with someone, or you can... well... masturbate" I told her.

"I don't know anyone else to... copulate with. How does one masturbate?" she wondered. "Maybe you should show me. Or we could just..."

She sat higher up on the table and spread her legs, pushing her tight short military style mini skirt up with her thighs, revealing her fully exposed vagina. It was glistening wet. In fact, a small trickle had run part way down her leg.

"Wh- where're your panties?"

"They got wet" she mewed. "So I took them off."

"Raster! This is a little much coming from you! I'd expect this from Lulu, but not you!"

"I know!" She admitted, “But I haven't been feeling normal lately. I don't know how to handle this!" She reached down and spread her pussy lips, showing off her inner folds. I watched as a bead of liquid sex oozed from her tight hole and dripped down to her anus. "Please help me!"

"Ah geez! I don't know. I mean you must have a setting too high somewhere. I bet that calibrator messed with something. You shouldn't be THIS turned on. But I can't just have sex with you every time you get horny. You'll have to take care of that yourself. I can adjust your settings if you want."

She was looking at me with heavy eyes, breathing deeply from her mouth. Finally she snapped to and spoke. "Fine. Yes. Please adjust my settings. Just... don't disable it entirely."

She pulled up her skirt higher, revealing the full of her mons pubis. I shook my head. "Open your vaginal port" I ordered, adding a "please" at the end.

Her gentle mound separated into a panel and flipped open, revealing the intricate circuitry inside that controlled her sexual functions. I remember doing this to Ellie by accident when we first met. Reaching in, I gently adjusted the level of her sex drive using a small bright gauge. Raster shuddered at my touch. Checking on my work, I lowered her level to half of what it was, which was still plenty, but well within normal levels. It had indeed been too high.

I clicked her pubic panel closed, making Raster gasp. She sat there for a few more moments just breathing heavily.

"Did it work?" She asked.

"Yeah" I answered. "You should be at normal levels now."

"I don't feel any different" she complained.

"Well, your drive is down but you're still aroused" I pointed out.

"Well what do I do? Show me, Jim" she begged.

I hesitated, but seeing a girl so desperate, I caved. I gently reached out, and took her hand, guiding it with my own.

"Well, it's different for girls than it is for guys" I pointed out, "but I think if you rub a little like this..." I used my fingers to guide hers onto her wet slit, and rubbed up and down, and then side to side.

Raster moaned as she started to move her own fingers beneath mine. She closed her eyes and let her mouth hang open as she let out gasps. Her body was warm and wet, and I was really getting turned on by her desperate display.

"Adjust how fast and hard you push to make it feel better" I suggested. I moved my hand faster, and pushed in deeper, feeling the folds of her labia give way to my hand. She let out a deep groan.

"Sir... It's getting worse" she noted.

"You have to increase the pressure before the release. Try rubbing right here" I suggested as I moved her delicate fingers onto her clitoris. She lurched forward at the touch, but her hand kept moving.

"Ho! Ha! Ahn! That's- too much!"

And yet, she picked up the intensity of her motion, spreading her honey all over herself, making naughty sounds as she rubbed relentlessly. I could see her pussy pulsing, begging for someone to enter her.

"Try sliding your fingers in here" I suggested as I slipped two of my own inside her wet hole. She gasped and jerked as she grabbed onto my arm, holding me in place. It didn't take long though for her hand to join mine as she started to slide her fingers in and out of her pussy.

"Oh god... Sir! I need more! Deeper! I... Please, I need you inside me."

I was in too deep already, and decided I couldn't do any more damage. I unbuckled my belt and pants, and pulled out my hard cock. She licked her lips as she spied it, and guided me toward her.

It was easy to slide it inside her, and she felt amazing. She moaned and grunted as I started pounding myself deep inside her. With each thrust, out bodies slapped together and the intensity of her moans escalated. She grabbed at the corners of my desk, pushing her hips into mine, shaking the furniture.

"Oh god! OH God! YES! Right there! Harder! AAnh! Aaaahhhh!" She grabbed onto me, trying to increase the pressure until finally...

"Something is coming! I can feel it... I'm-! Ha! Ohhhhh! Vector! Yes!"

I could feel her pussy convulse as she came, but... Vector? That was his name. Her old boyfriend. The one who died in the tunnels. I stopped as she reached orgasm, without climaxing myself.

Raster sat there, convulsing for a moment or two, unable to control herself, before looking down toward me confused.

"You didn't finish, Vec- Oh my god!" Raster realized it herself just then. She sat up with panic in her eyes. "I didn't... I called you... Oh Jim, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to! I'm..."

She stood up, tears forming in her eyes, and straightened her dress before bolting out the door.

I caught my breath before kicking my desk hard enough to hurt my foot.

"Fuck!" I yelled half in frustration and half in pain. I never should have done that... And now...

I stayed in the office for almost an hour thinking. Proxy came knocking on the door looking for me. I wasn't in the mood to talk. I just wanted to dismiss her for now.

"Go see my dad, Proxy" I yelled through the door. "No... Wait..." Something crazy came to mind. "Go take a break, I need to go see him" I ordered as I left the room and went straight to his office.

"Dad. It's about Raster" I started as soon as I found him alone on his computer. He was looking through some code on his screen.

"She left looking upset" he noted. "Is everything alright?"

"Not exactly... It's complicated. Listen... I need to do something for her. Something huge. And I need to know if it will work."


He listened to my proposal thoughtfully. His assessment wasn't as positive as I'd hoped, but he didn't shoot it down either.

"This will delay the Matrix project" he warned me. "Are you alright with that?"

"Whatever it takes. I'm afraid I hurt her and... Well... This is the only solution I can think of."

"Alright, I'll see what I can do" he sighed. "Let me give May a call."

By the next day, Proxy and I were working on this new project. Luckily, it wasn't as bad as we feared, although it would still take 2 weeks to finish all the work. I lamented putting 482 aside for this, but Raster had gone through so much for us, I had to return the favor.

This time, my dad came by to help, which cut off several days’ worth of work. In fact, he was so fast and knowledgeable, I learned a lot from watching him and knew this would come in handy with 482. In the end, I had worked for 12 days straight on this project with almost no sleep.

Truth be told we were lucky. Extremely lucky. The damage was severe, but the data was intact. And we weren't exactly rebuilding an android from the ground up, so that simplified things. A few bodily repairs, some upgrades, and a new brain, and we were finally finished. I thanked my dad Proxy for all their help, but Proxy just waved it off. She was glad to do this for Raster, who kept the girls together for so long.


"Raster, how are you feeling?" I asked her while she sat silently contemplating in the garden outside the lab. It was added to help injured patients enjoy the outdoors in hopes they'd recover faster. Most of the plants here were artificial or biologically engineered, giving them unique and interesting looks. She sat on a bench, and looked surprised to see me.

"Oh, Jim. I..." She sighed. "I'm sorry about before... I've not been myself lately. I'm sorry I ruined our time together. Honestly I'm surprised you'd want to talk with me after that." Her voice was low and soft.

"It's ok. You two were close, I know. Are you coping alright? With the new upgrades?"

She smiled briefly, but it faded. "Yes... Thank you for adjusting me. I still get those urges, but I think I can take care of myself for now. Although lately, I haven't felt up to it."

"You look like you’re in mourning. Is it Matrix? Ellie? Tess?" She didn't react to any of the names individually.

"They were all my sisters, and I miss them terribly. But it's also the pain." She held her stomach rite where she was sliced. "I can still feel the pain all over my body, even though my diagnostics report nothing wrong. I think I'm... remembering the pain."

"I can try to address that. It sounds like some form of PTSD."

She nodded. "The doc says it should go away with time. But I rarely eat, and I haven't slept since you woke me up. I am always seeing him in my nightmares, watching him tear my body..."

There was more messed up with her than I realized. Luckily as a robot she didn't need sleep or food, but they were both recommended for relieving stress, and rebuilding energy. I knew she would need even more help, but at least I could do this for her.

"Do you still mourn for Vector?"

She looked up at me at that name as a tear swelled in her eye. I sat down next to her, letting her bury her face in my shoulder. She nodded.

"I didn't realize how much I missed him. I was always so focused on the Corp, the girls, but now..."

"Raster..." I lifted her face and wiped away a tear from her cheek. This new emotional Raster was very different, but she was the same girl. We didn't even upgrade her mind. She had been suppressing her emotions for years, and now they were all bubbling to the surface. "I want to introduce you to someone. Wait here."

"I don't want to see anyone" she rejected. "Please just tell them to go away."

I smiled and left her momentarily fetching Proxy and my dad. When we returned, we had with us a tall man with long white hair, a lean and strong body, and brown eyes. When Raster looked up and saw him, the look of shock, utter disbelief, and pure joy that filled her face was worth all the effort.

"He insisted."

"Vector?!" She called out, standing to her feet, wiping her tears away hurriedly.

"Raster!" He called back. He walked ahead of us, picking up the pace, and embraced Raster in his arms, lifting her off her feet in a twirl.

"B- But... What? H-How? Is that really you?" She stuttered in shock.

"Raster, meet Vector 2.0" my dad said.

"We fixed him up for you" Proxy continued.

"We even added some upgrades" I pointed out.

"Vector! But how?" she questioned as she felt his face with her fingertips. "How is this possible? You were dead! Jimmy told me he found you crushed by a pressure gun..." Raster's voice was gradually going from shock to sobs.

"Y- yes... I was" he explained. His voice was a smooth baritone. "I remember the intense pain, something broke, and then waking up here."

Raster hugged him tightly, as if to never let him go again. "This can't be real!" She sobbed.

"I'm here, love" he answered, running a hand through her hair.

She held him tightly, silently sobbing with joy, for several minutes. Finally, she relaxed her grip and looked up at him. "You even smell like you! You've been gone for months! I've missed you so much!" Her voice was almost unrecognizable through all the emotion.

"Shh. Don't cry. Raster darling, I'm here now."

Tears flowed freely from her as she embraced him again. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Her voice, muffled in his shoulder, called out.

We didn't say anything in response. Although Proxy was wiping away her own tears. I admitted it was hard to keep from crying. I hadn't felt this good since the incident. It was really great to do something nice for someone else for a change.

We turned and left the two of them while they embraced, to give them some privacy. I was riding on a high when we returned to the lab. With renewed energy, I didn't hesitate to lift the cloth from 482 and dive back into work. Maybe I could perform 2 miracles. It may have cost us a couple of weeks, but I was glad we spent the time. It was worth it.

Raster showed up at the door to the locked lab with Vector an hour or two later. She was beaming with joy. I had never seen such a big smile on her before, and she threw herself into a hug around me.

"Thank you so much, Jimmy" she whispered. "You are the best friend I've ever had."

"I just thought that if I could make someone happy, all this pain would have been worth it" I explained.

She looked like a different person, a much happier person. I shook his hand, and wished them the best, before returning to my work.

I felt a renewed sense of urgency on 482, and wanted to get he finished as fast as possible. I wanted to see that look on Matrix's face too.

Days went by and we saw little of the two love birds. They were busy catching up, and planning out their lives. However, Proxy and I were spending so much time in the lab working on 482 that I doubt we would have noticed them if they were making out in the middle of the hallways. We were just so focused, and I wanted to ride that energy high for everything I could.

During all this, Proxy was there by my side most of the time. We couldn't let Laura or Lulu or anyone else in, to make sure no one could leak details of our little project. And as far as Proxy knew, I was building her to be a surprise little sister to the others, but little did she know the full plans my dad and I had. Despite how excited I was, I feared some vigilante group might try to break her, if they knew Matrix was being rebuilt. Lulu kept trying to get in, determined to find out what we were doing. I spent so much time working on her, that the others started to worry.

Except my dad. He would explain it was a project he had requested of utmost importance and needed my full attention. Raster backed him up, not even knowing what we were doing. She just knew that if we were working on something so intensely, it was for a good cause. It helped. But my dad was more helpful when he came by and checked in on me. He'd do it almost every day and stay for an hour or two, working together with me, checking my work, guiding me. It was great! I had dreamed of working with my dad on some great project for years, and now that we were together again, it was all I ever dreamed of and more. I loved it.

And I worked harder just to please him too. I felt happy for the first time, thanks to Vector and Raster. And working on 482 was exciting. Although the thought of seeing Matrix with her wild smile again was more than enough incentive to make me work. More than once Proxy too would work herself until she wore down and had to recharge. She was vigilant and helpful, and I grew to rely on her. Maybe too much. After we finally got 482's body finished and started collecting parts to rebuild the copy's brain, Proxy had to take a leave of absence. She was worn out, and decided to take a few days off to reconnect with her sisters, even neglecting her self-appointed duty as my bodyguard. Progress clearly slowed during those days, but I never wavered.

Looking at her, the copy looked different than before, but not in a bad way. We had deliberately changed things, and adjusted her look slightly. She was slimmer, leaner, but just as cute. She looked different than Ellie now, but only slightly, I tried to make her unique. Sort of a cross between Ellie and the Matrix I knew. But this took a lot of effort and I worked a little too hard, and when Laura came up to check on me, I forgot to lock the door. She caught me sleeping.

"Jimmy! What are you-?" She yelled, shocked as she looked at the figure on the table.

I woke up and had to quickly orient myself, she wasn't supposed to be in here, and now the surprise was ruined!

"Laura! No no... You should... It isn't what it looks like."

She cocked her head and gave me a stare. "You sure? Because it looks like you’re making another Ellie."

"Well... Ok it does look like that. I'm actually making her a new sister?" I even questioned myself. It didn't sound convincing.

"This isn't healthy" she scolded. "You have to get out. Stop obsessing. The dead are gone, focus on the living." She grabbed my shoulder and lifted me to a standing position. I let her; I was too tired to resist.

"Ellie is gone. I know" I admitted. "In my head I know this. But I just thought maybe I could keep some small part of her alive if I gave her and Matrix a sister" I half-lied.

"Did you know Proxy had to get repaired from the stress?"

"Wha- She did? Oh man. I didn't mean to stress her out so much."

"Well, she was with your dad getting repairs done. She's taking this whole thing pretty hard. I had to order her to spend some down time with Lulu. Order her. You need to spend time with us too."

"You're right." I felt guilt that I had neglected the others.

"But... What you did for Raster... That was a really great thing. She's never been happier." Laura paused and looked down at the prone figure, studying her. "Copy-girl does look a little different than... You've really put a lot of effort into her."

"All that's left is upgrading her brain and programming her" I pointed out.

She sighed. "Jimmy, I don't want you cooped up in here obsessing over this. You're coming out of this room" she dragged my arm with her, "you are going to get some sleep, and you are going to spend some time with me and the others. Then you can finish. With limitations. No more over-nighters. I want to see you in my bed at 11 every night on the dot."

"Your bed or mine?"

"Who cares? Just be there!"

"Wait" I hesitated. I turned back and covered the girl, and grabbed my jacket before joining her. "Fine, but on one condition. You can't tell anyone about this. Not a soul. Not Lulu, not May, not even your reflection. I wanted this to be a surprise."

She nodded. "Fine. I swear I won't tell anyone. I might not like it, but I'll stay quiet. Now come on, you need to sleep."


And sleep I did. I slept for the rest of the day until noon the next day. It felt great. When I woke up, Laura was in my bed with me and was gazing up at me resting her head on my shoulder.

"Good not-morning" she chimed.

"What time is it?" I grunted.

"Almost 1" she replied. I tried to sit up but she kept her weight on me and pushed me back down.

"You can get up shortly, but first..." She scooched herself up and kissed me deep on the lips. "I think you owe me a little private time while you're awake" she cooed.

It was then I realized she was fully naked, and so was I. She rolled herself on top of me, and straddled my hips, showing off her small but bouncy breasts as she giggled. She gave me a big playful grin as she sat on me with her hands on her hips looking down at me.

"This is waaay overdue" she grinned. "Now stop staring and start fondling me."

She laughed and smiled while I reached up and took her soft breasts into my hands. Laura was clearly enjoying it as she moaned and giggled. She rubbed her hands along my arms and chest, noticing the prosthetic arm.

"Now we match, sort of" she teased. I noticed her prosthetics, and wondered if she upgraded them. I softly ran the fingers of my prosthetic arm along the seam of her artificial side, down half her face, half her body, between her breasts, and tapering off to one side of her crotch. Laura mewed at the sensation. She leaned forward and kissed me deeply, while sneakily taking my cock into her hand and stroking it. I was already erect, which made her smile.

Laura sat up again, sliding her soft pussy lips along my shaft, rotating her hips. She was already wet too, and kept teasing me as she would rotate her hips in a way where I almost entered her before sliding along the outside folds of her pussy. She loved to tease me apparently.

Finally, I pulled her down onto all fours, making her naked torso hover above me while I kissed her neck, shoulders, and worked my way down to her tits. Her eyes closed and her breath escaped her lips as I took her nipple into my mouth and gently teased it.

With her distracted, I aligned my dick to her wet hole, and pressed myself inside.

"Oh Jimmy! Finally!" She breathed. I pulled back a bit before pressing in farther, making her scrunch her face as I penetrated her.

I moaned with her as she started to lower herself onto me too, taking me even deeper inside. At last, she was sitting atop me, pushing down with all her weight, catching her breath.

I started to move, pushing her body up into the air slightly before she pounded back down, letting me thrust my dick deep inside her.

"Ahh. Aaa... Jimmy! Yes! I needed this!" She moaned. "Fuck! It's been too long!"

"We both need this" I added, as I picked up the pace. She leaned forward again allowing me to thrust wildly into her.

"Ohh... Ahh... Hah! Yes! Harder! You're so big! Ah! Ahhhhhhnn!"

She fought back the urge to cum, making me want to try even harder to take her over the edge. I went full throttle against her, pounding like a piston into her, making her yell in a long sustained scream. I couldn't keep it up too long, but as soon as I slowed down, she looked down at me with a look of lust and desire.

"More" she whispered as she started kissing and biting at my neck and shoulder. I returned the gesture.

Soon after, I grabbed her short red hair and gently pulled her back and off me, making her groan with pleasure. Rolling her off me, I positioned her on all fours again while I aligned myself behind her. She lowered her right shoulder and head to the pillow, looking back at me from underneath her body, and stuck her butt out at me, giving me a clear view of her pussy.

It was throbbing and wet with honey. I couldn't help myself as I grabbed her ass and licked her sweet nectar. She shuddered and moaned with a guttural groan as I stimulated her with my tongue.

"You're like an animal today" she panted. "Put it back inside! Stop teasing!"

Smiling, I entered her again, pounding hard and deep into her. She moaned and squealed with delight, pushing her hips against mine in time to the rhythm. I felt her pussy tighten around me as she started to climax again, but I never let up. Instead I grabbed her hair and pulled her up to her hands.

"Oh GOD!" She yelled. "Fuck! It's so good!" She arched her back and started to shake, but it made me want to do her even harder. I grabbed her wrists and pulled them behind her, holding her torso up while I pulled her body into each thrust, picking up the speed.

"Oh shit! Oh Fuck! Fuck me! Fuck me just like that! Yes! Ooooohhh my- Ahhhh!" As much as I wanted to keep going, her orgasm was bringing me to a climax as well. I released her arms, letting her head hit the pillow, and leaned into her, grasping at her chest as I reached my zenith.

I came inside her, holding myself there, until she collapsed under me and fell into the bed. The last spurt slipped out and hit her back and butt. Laura lay there catching her breath, glowing in the ecstasy of the moment, as I collapsed beside her to do the same. She laughed and rolled over onto me and held me tightly.

I hugged her back, wrapping my arms completely around her small body. However, when I released my embrace, she refused, still holding me tightly. I tried to roll her off but she wouldn't budge.

"I love you Jimmy" she whispered. "Please don't disappear like that again! I can't lose both of you." I forgot she was seeing Azuma before, but now that he was gone, she waited for me.

"Alright." I ran my fingers through her red hair and inhaled her erotic scent. It had been too long. "You win."

She released me and gave me a toothy grin. "Time to eat" she declared and hopped off the bed to get dressed.

I didn't realize how hungry was, but perhaps it was why, as good as it was, our little private session ended as soon as it did. We went out to a nice lunch, chatted about everything that had been going on, and arranged to meet up with Proxy and Lulu. After Proxy got repaired for the prolonged stress, she spent time with Lulu, and had decided to stay with her at the lab for a few days. I was eager to see them both and apologize.

Right as we were finishing eating, Lulu and Proxy showed up, meeting us there. I didn't even recognize them at first when they approached the table. Lulu was wearing dark short shorts, with black leggings that came up to her thighs, showing off ample amount of leg still, and had on a dark gray sports bra under an open black and green jacket. She had on a matching cap, although her hair was noticeably shorter now. She had it cut to her shoulders, and wore it loose, wild, and unkempt. It said tomboy all over her, and yet it was strangely attractive on her. However the real shock was Proxy. She wore a cute slim-fitted white camisole with thin straps over a blue see-through short-sleeved shirt underneath with a wide cut neck. Straps from a stylish dark blue bra were showing on her shoulder, and she wore a frilly dark blue skirt that ended halfway down her thighs along with a pair of stylish boots. Over all this she donned a long, thick, deep blue coat which kept her warm. However, it was her hair that really threw me. It was now styled with layers and was dyed dark blue and purple!

I had to do a double take when I saw them, which made Proxy giggle. Both of them looked to be in a much better mood and were dressed stylish street clothes I had never expected to see them in. Proxy looked especially cute, but Lulu was quite a looker despite her tomboyish appearance. Or maybe that only added to her charm.

"You two look great!" I commented. "I love your hair" I added to Proxy.

"Th- thank you sir. I decided to... express myself a little more."

"How are you feeling? I'm sorry I worked you so hard."

She shook her head. "No, it's fine. I wanted to."

"But I worked you too much. It's my fault."

"What have we you two been doing in there anyways?" Lulu interjected looking jealous. "And why have you been leaving me out of all the kinky fun?"

Proxy blushed as I broke out laughing. "We- We aren't doing anything of the sort!" Proxy flustered.

Lulu just looked at me with narrowing suspicious eyes. "Yeah? Then what have you been doing that wore Proxy out that much?"

"Working" I explained while trying to stifle my laughter.

"On what?"

"It's a surprise" Proxy explained.

"One I'm sure you'll like" I continued. "But don't go advertising it."

She continued to glare at me suspiciously. "Well... Alight. Did you know about this Laura?"

Laura took her last bite of food and shook her head, feigning ignorance.

"I hate being the only person left out of a secret" Lulu pouted. "Alright... I believe you. But you better make it worth my while. So when is it?"

"When is what?" I wondered.

"The big reveal."

"When we're done."

She sighed and plopped herself onto a vacant chair. "You're no fun."

It was great to catch up and just chat. I hadn't actually sat down and talked with them like this before, and it was fun. I learned a lot about each of them, and hoped we would be able to do this more often. I was pleased to hear they each had their own ideas of fun, and their own likes and dislikes. They were just like anyone else, even though I had never seen that side of them before. Lulu loved being active while Proxy liked to read. I hoped I would get to know them even better in the years ahead.

Before we headed off, Raster and Vector showed up. She was still wearing her uniform, as was he, but they were walking hand-in-hand. They looked genuinely happy together. No, more than that, they looked like they were floating on air.

They joined us briefly, but Raster couldn't keep her eyes off Vector. It was like she was still too amazed he was there. And her big smile made her look like she was someone else, and yet it looked perfect on her. However the real surprise was when she stretched out her hand and showed us a diamond ring.

Everyone was amazed and congratulating them. She was so happy. They both here. It seemed so sudden to me, as though they had only just met, but I had to remind myself they were lovers before I knew them. And he explained that after everything that happened to them, he didn't want to wait any longer. I had never even thought about marriage before, and I wasn't sure I would ever want to get married, but it seemed the right thing for them.

Legally, their right to marry hadn't yet been established, but the chances were they would be given that right soon, and it looked like they were going to go through with it whether they were legally recognized to not. They hadn't set a date yet, but I knew they were going to be busy planning, and her sisters were elated!

That night, as Laura slept, my mind wandered. I felt excited for Raster and Vector, but a little sad too. I somehow knew my life wasn't going to take that path. Even with Laura, I just didn't think marriage was our thing. The loss of Ellie was still heavy on my mind, but the hope of reviving Matrix kept me going. All the girls had been such a huge support for me. But I would never be as happy as I was when Ellie hugged me.

The next day, Proxy and I renewed our vigor to complete 482. News of Raster's engagement spread, despite our attempts at keeping it private, and it became a city-wide controversy. Some people cheered for the couple, while others thought it was an abomination against nature. Other still demanded Raster be executed for the crimes of her past, crimes she was never officially absolved from. They were the first android couple to get engaged in history, even though cyborgs and humans had entered into relationships with androids in the past, but they were never recognized either. However, all the hoopla kept everyone busy and out of my hair. We could concentrate on what we needed to do.

482's brain upgrade was extensive. Imagine building a computer, and then upgrading it to a point where it could express emotion through interpretive dance. It was kind of like that. The emotional centers of her old brain were severely lacking, as well as the processing centers. The only area that didn't need much of an upgrade was the balance and movement centers, but we decided to upgrade them anyways. In the end, we replaced or expanded every area of her brain. And none of it would have happened without my dad helping out on a regular basis.

It took almost 3 weeks to finish. It would have taken less if we hadn't slept and taken regular breaks, but thanks to Laura, Raster, and Lulu, we were forced to keep ourselves social and healthy. Proxy was happier for it. And that alone made it worth it.

As my dad came in to work close to the end of the upgrades, a question that had been bugging me came to mind. I had to ask Proxy to get us some coffee so we could talk in private.

"What about Tess?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" He wondered,

"Well, I know we managed to bring Vector back. What is stopping us from reviving Tess from a backup?"

He sighed. "With Vector, all we did was repair the physical damage and replace the parts we couldn't fix. But Tess's brain... She was crushed entirely, well-beyond repair. We'd have to replace her entire head, but that would be a problem. We can't just transfer the entire consciousness of one sentient android into another. It can be done, but it could take months, even years."

"Then what about Matrix and Ellie? When we split them, how did that work, and why will this work?" I questioned, frustrated by his answer.

"I don't know if this will work" he shrugged. "The only reason it worked in the first place was because we didn't transfer the entire consciousness of Matrix. We transferred her personality, her higher functions, but we had to build a makeshift 'subconscious' for her to attach to. Ellie and Matrix were the same person once, so maybe Matrix can adapt to the change."

"So she's going to build a new sub consciousness in 482?" I wondered.

"Well no. Not exactly" he clarified. "We are giving her another sub consciousness, similar to the one she had before, to connect with. Sort of a foundation for her to attach to. It might not work. Without both halves, her sub consciousness and her summa-consciousness..."

"Her what?"

"It's what I called her upper level consciousness. The active self-aware side." He began to explain while making gestures with his hands to attempt to better explain it. "It works like this, the sentient robots I design have 3 levels of brain function. The top level is the consciousness, or 'summa' level, and it is essentially the sentient conscious actions and thoughts. That is where the personality lies, such as Matrix. The bottom most level is the reactionary level, which processes all input and executes all output, such as feeling pain or moving a hand. Essentially it controls all aspects of the body, sends and receives data to and from the 'brain', and has no consciousness, sentience, or advanced AI.

"The glue that holds these two parts together is the lower level consciousness, or the subconscious. That was where Ellie came from. It is the go-between for the sentient brain and the reactionary body systems. It translates the data, directs and redirects data, and handles reactionary and involuntary movement. It is both conscious and unconscious. Without it, the intelligent sentient mind could not control the body, and the body would not respond to anything."

"So it's like an interpreter?" I wondered.

"Exactly. And more. Ellie was that interpreter for Matrix, but she was also in charge of preventing bodily harm. She must have gotten so frustrated with the damage from the virus and Seth that she developed a summa level consciousness all on her own, to adapt. But Matrix couldn't develop a subconscious on her own. It would take both halves to fully transfer a sentient android normally, but the problem is the subconscious is hard-wired into the physical brain. It is designed to adapt to the ever changing body as it is upgraded or replaced."

"I see, so Ellie adapted so well, she adapted the loss of her sentient consciousness, Matrix" I realized. "Wouldn't that mean we would need the entire physical brain to transfer the consciousness of an android from one body to another?"

"Sort of. Mostly. Even the brain can be upgraded. But it does mean we can't simply transfer the consciousness without major patchwork to accommodate the new sub consciousness. That's also why I can't be sure this is going to work. It was a gamble to move Matrix the first time, but she managed to do it. I think that was because she was still attached to Ellie at the time."

"Why would that matter?" I asked.

"It was Ellie that allowed Matrix to adapt to different situations and configurations. Ellie was an advanced experiment really. It may have been her adaptive ability which Matrix exploited to allow her to adapt to the body and sub consciousness we gave her.

"However, this time the hardware and the software are different, and Ellie's programming isn't there to help her adapt. She's going to have to do it on her own, or not at all. Without a full backup of Ellie, I can't be sure Matrix will be able to adapt."

I looked down at the nude girl laying down in front of us. This was a much bigger challenge than I realized. Now I started to worry this wasn't going to work.

"What do you think the chances this will work are?" I asked.

He shook his head. "Maybe 20%. I did all I could to prepare her for the transfer, but I couldn't test my code. At least it's better than nothing."

"What's better than nothing?" Proxy asked as she walked in with the coffee in hand.

I took one with a smile and hoped she hadn't been listening in after all. It didn't appear so. "Thanks. I was just asking if we should have given her a bigger SSRAM upgrade."

"Oh, well, it is a very important component, but a little does go a long way" she answered.

"Better than nothing my dad nervously repeated."

She smiled, handing him a coffee. "She's got more than I have. I'm sure it'll be more than enough."

Finally, at long last, the build was done! Physically her body was completely upgraded and the tests had been run, and all that was left was the programming. I had literally no idea how long that would take, but my dad had already started working on it in what little spare time he had. He put aside a week to work on her by himself, although I was determined to join him and learn more.

Even though I wanted to keep our ultimate plan a secret, even from Proxy, she insisted that she join us as well. If not to program, than to observe and support. Honestly I had grown quite attached to her, and decided to let her find out before the others, but I wasn't going to spell it out for her either. I still wanted it to be a surprise, if it worked. And because Proxy's new blue hair left such an impression on me, I made one final change to 482. I gave her black hair. All I could get on such short notice was really short hair, but it was soft and I felt fit Matrix's personality. So at least now she might have a face closer to Ellie, but her hair would be close to what she had after we separated them.

Proxy liked it, but didn't yet catch on that I was trying to make her look more like Matrix on purpose. Perhaps it was because the hair was so short. I looked down at the prone naked gynoid with short black hair and smiled. I could practically see her crazy grin forming on her lips. But for now she remained lifeless.

Much to my surprise, it only took a few hours to transfer the data, but it took 2 days to reconfigure all of it for her new brain. I was expecting much worse, but my dad was as eager as I was to bring her back and had been working on her programming ever since he retrieved the data. Even Proxy was amazed at how quickly he programmed her.

I couldn't wait any longer. I was practically hopping with excitement when he finished, and I didn't bother to wait for the next day. We needed to activate her and make sure there weren't any problems or bugs, and the sooner the better.

"Would you like to do the honors?" My dad asked me as he stepped back from the terminal. Proxy gave me an excited grin, not realizing how much of a surprise this was going to be. I skipped over to the computer and took in one last breath before hitting the button.

There was a beep from deep inside 482's head, and her chest started to rise and fall. I waited with eager breath for her to open her eyes. I got up and stood next to her, and waited.

At last, I saw her move. The sleeping gynoid furrowed her brows briefly before another beep sounded.

"She's resetting" my dad explained. He went to the computer to read the output. "She just upgraded a driver. Give her a second."

She took in another deep breath, and opened her eyes, looking straight up at the ceiling. She didn't move beyond that.

"Hello?" I asked.

She looked at me with green eyes, no longer the yellow of her past, and blinked. "Hello."

I waited for anything to happen. "What's your name?"

"I am EFU-26MX" she answered. EFU? What happened to IERG-mc0482? I glanced at my dad. Proxy didn't catch on. I figured he must have redefined her production and unit numbers now that she was custom-built. Except something wasn't right, she was supposed to load Matrix. I was about to say something when-

"Fatal error, shutting down." She closed her eyes and reset.

My dad looked at the screen and scratched his head. Something was wrong. "A Kernel Panic? Let me see."

He typed in some codes, adjusting parameters and trying to solve the problem, and restarted her.

She made a series of beeps, and shut down again.

For the next hour, we proceeded to troubleshoot the problem. One hour became two. Proxy worried she messed something up, but I assured her it wasn't her fault.

In an 'ah-ha' moment, my dad typed in a series of new commands and loaded some different files. "I forgot the new mind was a different GYOS type. I got this."

Finally, he started her up again, and her bare chest began to rise as she took in air. She opened her eyes, and blinked. To my relief, she started to look around the room on her own.

"Hello?" I asked. "What's your name?"

She looked straight at me. "EFU-26MX. Mmm... Ah!"

She lurched forward, which pulled the plug out of the back of her neck, as she grabbed at her head.

"What's wrong?" I panicked as she screamed.

"I don't know!" My dad replied. "I lost the connection!"

Proxy stood up worried and came over to help. "Is she in pain?"

"Shut her down" I yelled over her screams. I grabbed the data cord and struggled to reattach it to her neck.

"Mmmmaaa- Aaaahhh!" She screamed again, pulling at her hair. With a snap, the cable attached again, freeing my arms. I grabbed her hands and pulled them down, trying to keep her from harming herself.

"She's connected" my dad replied. "I can't get her to shut down. She's resisting!"

"Jimmy?" Proxy asked looking at me scared for her new sister. "What do we-?"

"Jimmy!" 482, or rather 26MX, yelled, looking at me full of pain in her eyes and still trying to hold her head despite my efforts. "It's me! Mmmma- Matrix! What's-?"

She gasped and suddenly collapsed back onto the table like a limp doll.

"Matrix?!" Proxy yelled, holding the girl's face in her hands. "Did she say Matrix? What's going on?"

"Surprise?" I squeaked. I plopped down in a chair and held my own head. Something was wrong and now she was in pain when she was switched on.

"You mean... This whole time?" Proxy speculated.

I nodded. "We found a way to bring her back, maybe. I wanted to keep it a secret in case it didn't work. Looks like it failed."

"N-no." She replied, rushing to my side. "It did work, even just for a moment! I don't know how you did this, but do it again, bring her back!"

"It's not that easy" my dad replied. "I've been working on her code for weeks, and I customized her physical design to work with her mind." He sighed. "Let me see if there are some arguments I can use to fix this..."

He started typing in the computer and booted her up again. This time, she beeped and started breathing, looked around, saw me, and then doubled over in pain.

"Fatal Error" she grunted. "Jimmy! Help!"

"I'm trying" I told her, hoping she could hear me. "Calm down, we'll figure this out."

She groaned long and loud as she held the sides of her head. I put an arm around her, hoping it would calm her. I didn't know what else to do.

"What's the error?" Proxy asked over the groans.

Matrix stared intently at the ground as she grabbed her hair. I felt her body relax when I touched her, but only slightly. "Jimmy!" She groaned through clenched teeth. "It hurts!" She was still in great pain, and soon her eyes rolled back and she fainted.

"Damn it. She's out but not shut down" my dad explained. "It looks like she has corrupted gext files. They're like drivers, which I got from the data dump from the basement in the palace." He threw his hands in the air in frustration. "These are the files that designate communication between the different parts of her brain, the subconscious and the conscious. They were unique to Ellie. Without new drivers she won't ever work. It could take months to rebuild those from scratch! I never programmed them in the first place so I'm not even sure where to start!"

"But she was here" Proxy objected. "She recognized Jimmy. She needs our help! Isn't there anything we can do?"

"Well what can we do?" He grunted. "Ellie was the only one that had those drivers. She made them herself. And she's gone. No backup. No copy. Nothing. Without a backup of Ellie's core programming, we can't fix her. She's got a slew or errors, it would take months to fix all these manually. And... It looks like she's not cooling properly."

I laid Matrix flat and watched her take in shallow breaths. She looked sick, sweaty, and flushed. As amazing as her systems were to produce human-like symptoms, it meant she was not well.

"Can you shut her down?" I asked, worried.

"She's not responding" my dad replied. "Something's not communicating right."

"Should we pull out her batteries?" Proxy asked.

"It could corrupt her systems even more" he warned, carefully considering his options. "But we might have to."

"How long do we have?" I wondered.

He looked at his screen and clicked a single key several time. "Probably a few hours before she has a fatal heat-crash. As long as she keeps breathing." He let out a long sigh.

"That's plenty of time" I hoped.

"Let me see what I can do" he mumbled as he cracked his knuckles and starting type away.

Proxy placed her hand on Matrix's shoulder gently. "What can I do to help?"

"Nothing right now. If she wakes up, keep her calm and breathing."

"What are you trying?" I asked.

"To hand code this sucker. Maybe I can at least stabilize her long enough that we can find another solution. A few days at least."

She nodded and took a seat next to her opposite me. Another hour passed by, and I remained vigilant next to her. Proxy had left to get us some food to eat for dinner. I knew Laura wasn't going to like this.

Suddenly, Matrix started to breathe faster and shallower, until she gasped and woke up again, screaming! She was shaking all over, clenching her eyes closed, but soon curled up and grabbed her head again.

As I placed my hand on her back, she started to hold her breath and bit her lip. I rubbed her back, but it only seemed to make it worse.

"Breathe Matrix! You need to breathe!" I commanded.

She opened her eyes and let out a long slow hiss as she gritted her teeth. As she let out air, she trembled violently.

"Matrix? Can you hear me?" I prayed. "Nod if you can hear me."

"Mm-hmm" she hummed as she nodded her head.

"You need to calm down and breathe in. You'll overheat" I warned.

She furrowed her brow and inhaled sharply. Slowly but surely, her breathing got steadier, but she remained pulling at her hair.

"Can you tell me what hurts?" I inquired.

"Everything" she whimpered as tears fell down her face. "My head!"

"Stay calm, we're going to fix this" I assured her.

She turned to look at me but had trouble focusing on me.

"I-"

I watched as her eyes lost focus entirely and she slouched forward into my chest. I managed to keep her on the table, but she was out cold again.

Just then Proxy walked in with a bag of food.

"Did she-?" She asked.

I nodded while still holding her against me. "Yeah."

As I laid her back against the padded table, I noticed her hand was gripping onto my shirt. She had a good grip but I managed to separate her fingers from me.

"Jim...my..." Matrix muttered, apparently in her sleep. "I... died?"

She fell silent after that, back into her silent shallow breathing.

"Did she just ask me if she died?" I wondered aloud.

"I..." My dad began. "I gave her some of Ellie's last memories. Only the ones that pertained to her."

"So... She watched herself get killed?"

He was silent as he turned his eyes back to the computer. A minute later, he spoke up again. "I ended her memories before that point. But I think she's smart enough to have figured it out. Sorry. I... I shouldn't have done that."

Too late now. I looked back at Matrix and ran my fingers through her short black hair. She looked like she was in pain even asleep.

We waited in silence as we ate our food. My dad kept working as he ate, but the tension between us was obvious. I didn't realize he added that last day of fragmented memories from Ellie, and I wasn't happy about it. I rather she not remember the awful events we had to deal with, even from Ellie's perspective. But what could I do about it now?

I brooded silently to myself as I watched Matrix breathing. I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment for getting her this far, but it felt more like utter defeat. And yet she was breathing and alive right in front of me. Proxy looked anxious more than ever now that she knew we were reviving on Matrix. I started to think this was an awful idea.

At last, my dad finished the updates, and uploaded them into her system. He couldn't restart her, but he could execute the file as-is into her system. We waited eagerly to see if she reacted.

It didn't take long for her to respond. Her breathing increased and she started to wake. We kept our fingers crossed. Matrix's eyes fluttered open and looked up at me. I relaxed as she smiled for a moment, but... It wasn't to last. She threw her head back as a look of intense pain filled her features.

"It hurts it hurts it hurts" she repeated, clenching her hands into fists. I grabbed her hand forced it open, sliding my left hand in hers, gripping her tight. My new prosthetic hand could take the pressure and deal it back if needed. Proxy placed her hand on Matrix's shoulder, hoping to calm her.

"Shh..." I consoled her. "It's ok. We're here."

"I can't take this" she wheezed. "Please stop the pain!"

"We're trying" Proxy assured her.

"Can you shut down?" I asked.

Matrix shook her head as she started to writhe in pain. "I can't... My body... Won't listen to me!"

"Can you open any panels?" My dad requested.

She arched her back and kicked with one leg, throwing her body to the side toward me as she trembled. "No" she groaned.

I placed my right hand on her forehead and gently brushed her hair.

"Jimmy!" She grunted. "Jim... that... helps..."

She started to calm down slowly, as though the bout of pain was subsiding. I tried to calm her and brush her hair with my hand. Matrix started to breathe slower but as she opened her eyes, she had trouble focusing on me.

"Ji... mmy... Save Ellie!" She pleaded. "Let... me..."

Her grip on my hand weakened, but she tried to hang on. She struggled to breathe and gritted her teeth, shedding tears as she tried to focus her eyes.

But she wasn't strong enough, and her eyes rolled back again before she fainted. Her hand lost her grip, but I held on, feeling her warmth. We were so close!

"Goddamnit!" My dad cursed as he hit the computer hard. "This isn't working! We have to figure out something else." He calmed himself down and stood up. "Well at least she isn't overheating as fast, but we probably only have until morning before I'll have to physically pull her power unit out or she succumbs to a heat-crash. If only Ellie were here..."

I gently brushed Matrix's hand with my fingers while staring at the ailing girl. Thoughts flowed through my brain like water cascading in a torrent down a rapid. We were so close! She spoke to me! I went back over everything in my head, maybe I missed a step. Or maybe there was something I forgot to do or change. Something I forgot... My dad found that backup data in the palace basement... The basement... There was a fire. I saw the fire from a distance... a backup under the fire.

"Holy shit!" I cussed as I lost her grip and stepped back, falling over my chair. Proxy rushed to my side to help me up.

"What?" My dad asked. "You ok? Did she move?"

"I just... I can't believe I forgot! After all this time!"

"What?" He repeated.

"There IS a backup of Ellie... A full backup... In the basement! If it survived the fire." I spat as I got to my feet frantically.

"I've been there and searched thoroughly. We never backed Ellie up at the palace so how could-?"

"It's not at the palace!" I clarified. "It's at my house! In Maya! What's left of it. The day after I fixed Ellie... Oh my god how did I forget this? The day after I rescued her, I backed up her entire system! I then hid it in the concrete smuggler's storage under the floor. If the fire didn't break through... It should still be there!"

"WHAT!?" My dad barked as he got to his feet, “You mean you... You backed up Ellie?"

"If it survived. But I have to try! It's been so long... The virus would probably..."

"I still have her backup from before the battle" he interrupted. "It would fix all that! Plus the fragments from of her memories afterwards."

We stared at each other shocked. How could I have forgotten!?

"You mean we can save Ellie?" Proxy asked confused.

"And Matrix" my dad added. We needed to act fast. It was already late, and we only had hours left before Matrix would overheat herself.

"Maybe" I added. "Dad, go get Ellie from storage and all the files. Proxy, get in touch with May. Tell her we need to be on the next train to Maya tonight! And then have everyone meet us there."

"What about you?" She wondered.

"I'll get Matrix there. Go!" She bolted from the room in a frenzy. I was physically kicking myself for not remembering this sooner! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

My dad gave me a big tight hug before running wildly out of the room, almost tripping on some loose wires. He was ecstatic. But I was skeptical. I had no way of knowing if that data was still there, or if it survived the fire. However, hope that two of the best girls in my life might be saved filled my every thought. But then I heard Matrix whimper in her sleep.

Time was short. We only had a few hours to make this work or risk corrupting her systems with a hard reset. It was now or never!

Chapter 30 - Together Again

I wheeled Matrix through the train station on a wheel chair, dressed in the same medical-gown from before. Even though it was a cold night, I decided not to cover her up more than that, considering she was already in danger of overheating. I did have to strap her in place to keep her from falling out of the chair if she had another episode, but so far she remained unconscious. Matrix was losing the battle against her body and just didn't have the energy to resist.

It was already late, around midnight, by the time I got there, and there were very few passengers. On the platform ahead I saw Proxy standing with May, Laura, Raster, Vector, and Lulu. Proxy waved to me first, alerting the others I was there. However, they gave me quizzical stares, which turned darker when they saw what I was transporting.

"What is this all about?" May asked. "And why did you want me to arrange passage to Maya so abruptly?" She was clearly cross.

"And who is that?" Raster added.

"Those are all good questions, but trust me when I say time is of the essence; we need to get on board. I'll tell you on there." I promised.

"I don't think so" May interjected. "No one is boarding that train on my dime without a full explanation first."

"I can't tell you outside. It's... sensitive. Please, trust me."

"Isn't that the copy-girl?" Lulu observed. "She doesn't look too hot."

"Oh yes. The one from the basement" Raster remembered. "What's wrong with her?"

"Yes, it is, well it was. She was. And she's actually too hot. I can explain her problems, but inside. Look, I don't want to talk out here. Please?"

Vector narrowed his eyes at her. "She looks like Matrix, almost."

May shook her head. "Listen, son. I have done a lot for your sake: looking after you, helping you on your little quest. The least you owe me right now is an explanation."

I opened my mouth to talk but Matrix started to groan. I quickly got to her side, but it was too late, she escalated into a full-fledged scream!

"Jimmy! Aargh! It hurts!! Where...?" She started to panic. I brought my face in close to hers so she could look at me, it helped a little. Her eyes jerked around as she held her head and pulled at her hair, but she managed to calm down a little and focus when she saw me.

"It's ok, Matrix, we're going home to get you help."

"Help... Please..." She sobbed as she clenched her teeth and exhaled.

"Matrix?" May shouted. Everyone stood there stunned.

"Yes. It's true." I answered. "I wanted to make this a better surprise, but... Tada!"

Proxy came over. "We recovered her memories and a rebuilt this body, only..."

"You revived Matrix?" Raster wondered.

"You... lied to me" Laura interjected. "You said she was going to be their sister."

I lowered my head. "I... I did lie, but only partially. Because I wasn't sure it would even get this far. I wanted her to be a surprise. And if it didn't work, she WOULD have been reprogrammed as their sister." I struggled to keep my emotions buried.

"What's going on? You told me Matrix was dead" Vector asked turning to Raster. "Why would we want to revive such a violent-?"

Raster put her finger to his lips, hushing him, and then looking at us. She looked embarrassed and turned him away, walking a few feet and talking with him in private.

"And how does this explain our need for a train?" May inquired.

"That's the exciting part!" Proxy answered.

"Like having Matrix back isn't exciting enough?" Lulu murmured, kneeling down to look at her closer. Matrix looked over at Lulu but struggled to keep breathing.

"We may have a way to bring Ellie back as well" I explained.

Just then my dad showed up rolling a large capsule covered in a gray tarp. It was roughly the size of a small coffin, although too short.

"Ellie?" May questioned.

"Yes, we're both here" my dad called out.

"Is that-?" Lulu wondered, looking at the crate.

"Wait- you can save Ellie too?" Laura questioned.

"I don't know about this..." May replied.

"We need to get going" my dad insisted.

"How could she have changed that much?" Vector's voice echoed as he talked with Raster.

"Shh..." She hushed him. "I'll tell you on the train."

"I don't want to get on the same train as that lunatic!" Vector barked.

"Why are we leaving town?" Lulu asked me. "Why is she shaking like that?"

"Darling, please. A lot happened." Raster consoled.

Everyone was talking over each other, while Matrix started screaming in pain and confusion, covering her ears and crying. I had had enough.

"STOP!" I yelled, turning heads and quieting the others. Matrix slouched forward in her chair, losing consciousness again. Lulu put her hand to Matrix's cheek looking closely at her.

I took in a deep breath. "Fine! I tricked Proxy into helping me rebuild Matrix from that surviving clone. I kept it a secret because it was unlikely to even work and I didn't want to get everyone's hopes up. Especially mine. I lied to protect Matrix so no one would stop me from rebuilding her or try to hurt her. My dad restored her memories, but when we turned her on, this happened. Now we can't turn her off and she's in pain constantly and will overheat by morning if we don't fix her. I remembered I made a backup of Ellie in my home in Maya. Not only can we use that to restore Ellie, but fix the corrupted drivers that are hurting Matrix and save her. That is why we are going!"

I recited the entire thing in a single breath, and sat there panting and frustrated afterward.

"Please. Let me save them." I pleaded. "I just wanted give everyone the chance to be there for them."

"S2" May answered after a tense moment of silence.

"What?"

"I reserved car S2. It's an executive car in the back." The train whistle blew. "And I suggest you move."

"Thank you."

May shook her head at me and turned to the others. "Move out" she called out and everyone got into action. Laura helped my dad move the large metal container while Lulu took Matrix's hand and help it, standing up.

Proxy turned to me briefly. "I'll check the car" she said before darting off ahead to make sure everything was safe, while calling out for them to hold the train.

"Darling, trust me. She won't hurt you or anyone. I'll explain everything" Raster ensured her fiancée.

He looked upset, but agreed. "Alright. But if anything happens-"

"It will be fine" she ensured him. "Let's get on board and I'll explain."

I rolled Matrix toward the back of the train, and looked for the large numbers on the side of each car, searching for ours.

"Is it... Is it really her? Did you really bring Matrix back?" Lulu asked in a hushed tone.

I nodded my head. Lulu was pensive for a moment, looking down at the hand she was holding while walking beside us. She looked confused.

Proxy waved to us from a train door up ahead, the last car. It looked just like all the other cars from the outside. I lifted Matrix from the chair and carried her in my arms up into the car, navigating my way to a curtained area where Proxy was waiting. She held the curtain to one of the lounge beds open for us, and Lulu, who was following close behind, entered close behind. It was very nice inside, with blue carpeting and velvet drapes, tele-screens, an unmanned bar, tables, 3 curtained lounging beds, and seats along the wall. The back was a giant curved window letting us get a good view out of the train when it was above ground.

I gently laid Matrix down on the bedding. Lulu sat next to her wearing an expression full of concern.

"I'll stay here and watch over her" she insisted. "If that's alright."

I nodded. "Of course." Proxy closed the curtain, leaving them there, before we turned back to the entrance. May was standing at the door looking on, but not boarding. "Aren't you coming?"

"No. This is not my time to be there. If this works, they'll want to be with the ones they love, not me. Besides, I've got too many duties here, I can't abandon them for this."

"Really? I'm sure they would be happy to see you support them."

"They will when the time is right. Good luck. Here, give this to Matrix.” May handed me a small pendant of a two arrows crossing each other in the shape of an X, made out of a beautiful blue stone. "It represents the coming together of people, a friendship. It's made from a rare stone called Lapis Lazuli. I would have had one made for Ellie but I didn't realize you were fixing her too."

"Thank you" I grinned looking down at the beautiful carving attached to a necklace. "Wait a second... You knew?"

She nodded. "I knew you were working on fixing Matrix."

"How?"

"I knew your dad accessed the backup archives from the palace, and that the enemy gynoid had vanished just as you started spending more time working on some secret project, locked up all day. And after you repaired the android... Vector was it? I figured you had been working on more than just him. I just put things together."

I slapped my forehead. Apparently I wasn't as sneaky as I thought. And yet... "Why didn't you say anything? Why did you make me explain it to you if you knew?"

"I wanted to know your intentions. And see your honesty. I have had too many close friends and family lost thanks to that little girl. But I am convinced neither of you pose a threat. Not anymore. Plus she owes us."

"Hasn't she earned your trust yet? Haven't I? Why change your mind now about us?"

"When you talked about saving those two girls, I... I saw the love in your eyes for them. The concern. And even after all this time you are still trying to save them. To save them from death, from themselves, from their enemies. It reminds me of myself. Don't let me down." She turned away but paused in her tracks. "I'll have one sent to Ellie if all goes well. Good luck." Without another word, she turned and left.

"Thomas!" A voice a recognized called out behind me, and I turned just in time to see Alice running up holding a case in one hand and a document in the other.

"What are you doing here, Alice?" My dad asked.

She caught up to him and stopped to catch her breath. I noticed she was wearing a white dress lined with a red and green pattern, and a red shawl. The case she held was actually a portable computer.

"Is that?" My dad asked.

"You left it in the office" she explained. "You were in such a rush, you must have overlooked it."

"Ellie's files!" He exclaimed. "What in the world would I do without you?"

"Get all the way to Maya and have to return for this" she answered.

"Yeah, and screw up the entire operation and lose Matrix in the process." He slapped his head. "Could you be a dear and bring those aboard?"

"Of course. You didn't think you were really going to leave me here now did you?" Alice smiled and gave my dad a peck on the cheek. Her gaze into his eyes was intense and could melt wax. She turned toward the train and climbed aboard. It was then that I noticed she had been outfitted with a brand new pair of rather attractive legs, matching the artificial skin of her face and torso. I'm sure I did a double take. I must have been giving Alice and my dad a hard stare, because my dad glanced at me before averting his eyes.

"And what was that?" I interrogated, after she was on board.

"Nothing. What? She was helping me with my files."

"She kissed you. And those are new legs! Are... Are you two seeing each other?"

He turned his gaze toward me with a sheepish grin. "It sort of just happened. Hey, it's been a long time. A-and she came onto me first."

I gave him an unbelieving stare, forgetting to close my mouth. He turned his attention toward Ellie's crate.

"If she gives me the chance to be happy," he began, "shouldn't I take it?"

I closed my eyes to think for a second. "No, you're right. You should happy. I'm glad you found someone. It just kind of took me by surprise."

"It did for me too" he added. "But we can talk about it later, let's get Ellie on board. This is for her, not us."

"Fine. But I am NOT calling her 'mom'."

It took four of us, but we somehow managed to load Ellie's capsule onto the train car. It was a tight fit, and scraped the wall a few times, but we got her inside. We set her outside one of the lounges, next to the curtain, and my dad started instantly typing away at a lit panel on the side of the crate, which appeared to control the temperate and environment within. Proxy took a seat at the very back and plugged herself in to an available socket to recharge while she looked out the window.

The train started to move almost as soon as we closed the door behind us. I sat down on one of the chairs lining the wall next to Laura, and exhaled. It would probably take a few hours, but this was happening. We were going to save Matrix, and Ellie. If all went well.

"Jimmy" Laura began. "Why couldn't you trust me?"

"I do... with my life" I answered, turning toward her.

"Then why didn't you tell me about her?"

I closed my eyes. "Because... I didn't want to admit it myself. That there was a chance we could bring her back. Not until it was certain. I'm still not certain we can save either of them. If I was wrong... I would have upset everyone. That would have devastated me. I couldn't risk that for anyone. I mean, I didn't even tell Proxy until earlier tonight."

She looked down, more sad than anything else. "You still love them, don't you?" she asked.

"Of course I do! Even after all this time, I can't stop thinking about what could have been, what should have been."

"What about me? About us?"

I leaned forward and held my head. "I don't know. I love you too!" I gripped at my hair. "But if it wasn't for Ellie, we never would have even met. I don't want to lose anyone, especially not you. You've been so amazing; I'm just not all that great. I'd understand if you want to break it off with me..."

"I'm glad to hear you say it" she said.

"Say what?" Was she about to break up with me after all? I got the sinking feeling she wanted to call it all off between us.

"That you love me. That I can do better." She smiled and scrunched up her nose. "You're not as bad as you think you are." I was relieved to hear her answer.

"Then... What about us?" I wondered.

"Jimmy... My career makes a stable relationship kind of difficult. I have a lot of responsibilities, a lot of stress, I'm busy all the time, I'll probably travel a lot in the near future, and I put myself in danger almost every day. I don't have the luxury of a regular relationship. Not anymore. It would be unfair and mean of me to force you to be exclusive to me in a relationship when I can't be there for you and give you what you need. What we have right now works for me, as long as it works for you."

"What do you mean? You want to be sex friends?" I wondered.

She laughed at me. "No. I want to be more than that. Although the sex is pretty great" she mumbled. "You are incredibly important to me, Jimmy. More than you'll ever know. You will always be my number one guy. But it would be selfish of me to keep you all to myself when what I really want is for you to be happy."

"So..."

"I guess what I'm saying is I do love you, and I do want to live together, but I don't want a closed relationship. I want the chance to live the life I was denied until now. I want to explore the world, and myself. I want you in my life. And I want to be in yours."

"Sooo... You want an open relationship?"

"Well when you put it so bluntly... But yeah..." She admitted. "If that's... not a problem with you."

I thought deeply about what she was saying. Part of me genuinely wanted to be exclusive with her. If I couldn't bring Ellie and Matrix back, I had no one else to turn to. Another part of me was jealous of her and upset that I wouldn't be the only man in her life. But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with her. I couldn't give up on her, but I couldn't be exclusive to her either. Everything she wanted in life I wished to help her with, but I knew I couldn't be there for everything and she was going to be away a lot. And if this did work with Ellie and Matrix, things would get complicated.

"Laura... You're right, again. I can't let you go, nor can I chain you to me. You deserve to be free. So as long as you're alright with Ellie and Matrix, assuming this works, than... Yeah. I think I can live with that."

She let out a breath she had been holding in during my silent cognition. "Hoo that's a relief. Of course I'm ok with them. And I'm sure you can save them."

"You aren't already seeing someone else, are you?"

She chuckled. "No. You're it right now. And I promise I won't hide anything from you."

"Whew. Same here. I was just afraid you were going to break up with me" I noted.

"Never" she said as she stood up and stretched her arms over her head. "Now that that's out of the way, I'm going to get some shut eye. If I can, trains are so noisy I'm not sure I'll be able to sleep much. Don't stay up too late" she insisted as she leaned closer to me with a satisfied grin.

I returned the smile and playfully tapped her nose. "I'll join you if I can. But I have to make sure Matrix doesn't overheat, and if there is anything I can do to help with Ellie."

"Alright, playboy" she teased. "I'll be waiting."

She walked with a hop in her step and her hands behind her head toward vacant lounge bed and looked back with a smile as she entered.

I sat a moment longer thinking about our relationship and what exactly this meant. But my mind wandered back toward the issues at hand, toward Ellie and Matrix. My dad was monitoring the capsule Ellie was in, so I decided to see if he needed any help.

"How is she?" I wondered.

"Hmm? Oh, she's fine. She's still frozen so I have to thaw her carefully." He explained.

"Frozen?"

"What did you think cold storage meant? She's been partially dismantled and frozen to protect her systems from decay."

I looked closer at the monitor. It had a slew of conditions it was monitoring such as humidity, temperature, and pressure. From what I saw, it was very cold and dry inside. Well below freezing.

"How long is this going to take?"

He bit his lip. "Normally it takes about 72 hours to properly thaw a subject. But I am going to try to get it done in about 4. Some of her more delicate systems, like digestion, might be affected, so we're going to monitor everything to reduce any side effects from the rapid thaw. Once she gets to a decent temperature, I'm going to have to reconstruct her..."

"Reconstruct her?!"

"Actually you can help with that part. This was such a last minute plan, I didn't have the time to compile her memories or anything. I need to go through her files still and set everything up to make it easier to integrate into her backup. It's going to take me all night. Alice will have to monitor her condition here, if you can take over when the thaw is complete."

"Wait, I have to rebuild Ellie too?!"

"It's not that bad" he reassured me. "Here, take a look."

He pulled the tarp off of the crate and revealed the fully metal capsule which contained Ellie. It was white and gray with blue trim and a window on top. Peering through the extremely thick glass, I saw Ellie's face peacefully sleeping. She was completely frozen, making her skin look white, but otherwise she looked normal. Until I peered in father.

Ellie was laying in pieces inside the capsule, which explained why it seemed too small to contain her entire body. Her arms and legs were resting next to her, and her lower torso was separated from her chest, neck, and head, which were still in one piece. Pipes with some sort of light blue fluid were running into her body in various places, probably maintaining the temperature internally.

"It shouldn't take more than an hour or two" he claimed. "Trust me, Matrix was a much bigger protect. Ellie is pretty much all ready to go, once she's thawed. You just have to reattach her limbs and reconnect her torso."

I rubbed my eyes. This was going to be a long night. "So what do you need me to do right now?" I asked.

"I can't think of anything right here, but maybe check on Matrix. And get some rest so you'll be good to go when we are ready for you."

I nodded, "Sure.". I took one last look at Ellie before turning back to check on Lulu and Matrix. As I entered the room, Lulu sat there with Matrix's head in her lap, lightly brushing her hair.

"Her hair's so short now" she noted. Matrix's new hair looked like a pixie cut.

"It was the only black hair I could find" I explained. Honestly, even though that was true, I thought it kind of fit her personality.

"I like it. I know she'll never love me like I love her, but she was my first, and I'll do whatever it takes to make her happy. You promise to take care of her?"

"We both will. How is she doing?"

"Still sleeping. I think she's having nightmares or something because she groans every now and then."

"I don't know. I fear she's getting weaker. If she starts to get too hot or wakes up, call for me."

She nodded. I left them in peace and turned toward the last curtained lounge.

I entered the lounge where Laura was waiting. She was laying in the small bed with a blanket over her. Her jacket and shirt were hanging nearby. Looking up, she gave me a smile and opened the blanket for me, revealing her fully undressed torso. She was down to her panties, but the last thing I wanted to think about that night was sex. And I think she understood that.

I pulled off my shirt, leaving my pants on, and climbed in with her. She pressed herself against me and snuggled in, closing the blanket around us. God, she felt so good. My body naturally reacted to her soft body and small but perky breasts, but my mind ignored the call of the wild.

"Just rest now" she whispered. "It's going to be ok."

I shut my eyes and... Struggled for the next 3 hours to sleep. Her warm body against me helped, and I drifted off several times, but the excitement and nervousness of the situation, combined with the noise and motion of the train, kept me from fully falling asleep.

At last when I started to have a strange dream about the girls, I was awakened by the sound of a scream. It was coming from the lounge next to us. Lulu was calling out but it wasn't her voice that awoke me. We both got up. Laura quickly put on her top sans bra, while I ran out of the lounge without my shirt.

Lulu was panicking as Matrix sat up, shaking, and pulling at her hair. She was screaming again, this time in sort bursts.

"Please captain! Matrix! It's me, Lulu. Calm down!" Lulu was trying to rub her back and console her, but nothing seemed to be working.

I dashed to her side and put my hands on Matrix's cheeks, turning her head toward me. I looked her in the eyes until she clenched her teeth and tried to breathe in and out slower.

"Matrix, listen to me. We're on our way to fix you up. The pain will be gone soon. Just try to hold on."

She shook her head and crying. "Ow ow ow ow ow" she complained. "I can't take it... Please... Kill me!"

"No!" Lulu barked. "We'll fix this and then make it up to you."

"Lulu?" Matrix asked looking toward her, trying to ease the grip on her head.

Matrix lurched forward and grabbed at her sides, shaking violently. She let out a deep guttural heave as though she was going to throw up, even though she had no food in her body at all. She grabbed at me and tried her best to hold on. She finally inhaled but her grip was weakening.

"I can't..." she whispered. "I want... to..."

"We are not giving up on you Matrix!" Lulu promised. "Don't give up on us". She wrapped her arms around Matrix.

Matrix managed to hold on a little bit longer. Her breathing was getting ragged and she couldn't focus her eyes anymore. Instead she closed her eyes tight and nodded.

"Ok" she conceded. "Hurry" she begged just before she lost consciousness. We laid her back down.

Lulu was shaking, but managed to calm herself down. "That was intense."

I felt Matrix's head and noted she was hot to the touch. I rushed out of the curtain, passed Laura who had been watching in only her shirt and panties, and made my way to my dad. He was still typing away furiously at his portable computer but paused when the commotion had started.

"She's getting worse" I panted. "We need to do something, she's hot to the touch."

He nodded. He walked over to Alice and checked in with her. After a short hushed discussion, he opened the main hatch on Ellie's capsule and reached in. I walked over to check out what he was doing. Before I could get a clear look, he pulled a long tube out, and stretched it as far put as he could. It was clearly cold as it let off wisps of vapor in his hands.

Alice closed the top again, leaving it open only a tad for the tube, before shoving her shawl in the remaining gap. He handed me the tube and explained the idea, before returning to his work. Quickly I pulled the tube as far as I could into the lounge with Matrix and Lulu.

"Here" I said as I wrapped as much of the tube as I could around Matrix. "This should help." It wasn't long enough to completely cover her, but I managed to get enough of it around her that I was satisfied it would cool her down and give us more time.

It was still too early to start working on Ellie but I was not going to get back to sleep again, so I decided to get some coffee and keep Alice some company. After I got my shirt back on. Laura returned to the bed, unable to help any right now, but unsure she'd get much sleep herself.

Alice and I chatted for a good while. She was very intelligent, even though she was a little slow to respond to my questions art times. Evidently, it was an artifact of her age. Her mind was advanced and had been upgraded many times, but she was still 150 years old and probably in need of another upgrade. She had been learning and growing, and every seven years or so needed to expand her capabilities. She was well overdue for another upgrade with all that had happened with Tsion.

Her memories were still somewhat fragmented, but my dad had been working with her and planned a series of upgrades for her. It was during her upgrades that she started to notice she had feelings for him. She had emotional attachments before, but a romantic interest had never happened to her before.

We refocused on Ellie. The rapid thawing was going well, but was still taking too long. We only had a few hours until we were in Maya, and her body still needed to be reassembled. Unfortunately, we couldn't speed up the thawing process anymore; I'd have to just work faster when it was my turn.

For a short while, I took a seat to gather my thoughts. Raster and Vector were sitting nearby talking, and decided to join me. Raster was more worried than I had ever seen her; her hands were shaking. For her, Matrix was a big part of her life. Raster always looked up to Matrix, despite her violent nature. When she met Ellie, she realized there was good still in Matrix. Curing them of the violent virus was a game-changer for her.

Vector, on the other hand, didn't trust Matrix and saw her as a violent sociopath. Ellie was a complete stranger to him. Raster tried her best to explain to him what had happened in the months he was gone, but he needed to see it to believe it. He thought it was ironic that she was the one suffering now.

Proxy was very quiet, deep in thought and hopeful. She wasn't on the mood to talk but assured me she was fine. I think it was a lot for her, and saving her sisters helped her cope with what she did.

A short while later, Alice came over and put her hand on my shoulder. "It's time."

I gave her a nod and followed her to the capsule and peered inside. Ellie was naked and I could see the entirety of her parts now with the top open. She still looked cold, but the tubes and pipes had all been removed and the lid stood wide open. She looked more like a corpse than I expected.

Gently I reached in and lifted her head and torso out of the capsule. She was very cold to the touch, but her skin was soft and her body limp. I had to support her head from dangling as I lifted her out. Her metallic spine dangled from her torso as I moved her. I entered the last of the lounges, and carefully placed her on the bed. I then brought over her arms, legs, and lower torso, laying them next to her. Alice produced a small toolkit with everything I would need to piece her back together.

I wasted no more time and dived into my work. It was still hard to believe that I was working on Ellie after all this time. It had been months but it felt like years.

Carefully, I prepped her exposed section below her rib cage, preparing to reconnect her upper and lower body. The actual process was easy, it just took time to make sure I did it right. I connected all the various tubes for food, waste, blood, and more, before attaching all her electronic and mechanical components. It took almost an hour, but finally I was connecting her spine in place, and closing the gap.

She wasn't designed with a modular system, so reconnecting her parts was more complicated than a point and click system, like Lulu's arm. I carefully closed each layer of muscle until finally, her skin closed up around the segment automatically and the seam all but disappeared. The subtle lines along the contours of her body were the only hint that she wasn't human, but you would have to look very closer at her to even notice them.

Without skipping a beat, I picked up one of her arms, and started reattaching it. This was much easier. A few connections, reconnecting the composite metal bones of her shoulder, and within 10 minutes, she had a fully attached functional arm. I hoped my dad was doing as well on his end, otherwise this would all be for naught and we'd have to disassemble her again, this time to donate her parts.

I shook that thought from my head and began on her second arm. It took less time to assemble than the first, but I could tell we were running out of time before we got to Maya. We had already stopped at the outpost just outside of town and I hadn't even begun working on her legs yet.

Alice worked with me to make sure she had feet when we got there. Her legs were more complicated than her arms, being larger and stronger, but I could afford to take short cuts. I just buckled down and worked.

My brain blanked out exactly what I was doing after a while, namely putting legs on my 'dead' girlfriend's body, that and trying to ignore the fact that I was staring at her naked body the whole time. I had to ignore my base instincts and just work.

Finally, we connected the last of the components and finished attaching her legs. Before my eyes, what was just an android that needed to be fixed was now Ellie. She was complete, and power was running through her systems, even though she was idle. I lifted her up in my arms, feeling the cold of her body pressed against me, as Alice pulled the sheets down. I tucked her under the sheets and blanket of the bed as if she were only sleeping. God I hoped this would work.

"I'll watch her for now, if you'd like" Alice suggested. I nodded with a yawn and turned to leave the small lounge.

Pulling back the curtain, the morning sun hit me right in the eyes. We were almost there. I needed to check on Matrix. Lulu was ever-vigilant watching over her. Matrix was still breathing, and it appeared the tubes of coolant were doing their job. She had remained asleep, but was still warm to the touch.

I was going to go over and check in on my dad, but he was still furiously typing away and concentrating on his task at hand. I decided it was best to let him finish as I turned toward the lounge that Laura slept in. She was fast asleep, or good at faking it. Without so much as taking off my shirt or shoes, I crawled into bed beside her.

But my rest only lasted a few moments. Before I even settled in with my eyes closed, the train slowed and the whistle blew. We were there.

I yawned again and stumbled out of the curtain as Laura got up. Who knows of she actually fell asleep? I shuffled over to where Raster and Vector were sitting and looked around for a coffee. Proxy showed up moments later holding a cup of the warm brew. Where did she get that?

"I'm nervous. Are you ready?" She asked.

"No" I admitted. "But it's now or never."

My dad stood up and stretched. "Finally! Finished, and just in time." He turned toward me. "It's compiling now. Did you finish with her...?"

I nodded, stifling yet another yawn. It had been a little while since I pulled a stressful all-nighter like this. "She's all ready. Alice is with her now."

"Good. Then we better get ourselves ready."

"There's food a few cards up" Proxy told me, "I'll grab you a plate."

As soon as she returned, I devoured a plate of eggs and a coffee. I realized I hadn't had dinner or anything else to eat since lunch. Despite that, one plate was all I needed at the time. I was too excited, or nervous. Butterflies were in my stomach.

As soon as the train stopped and the does opened, I was greeted by a familiar face. Genesis stood there smiling with Kaylee next to him. I figured May probably called him.

"Jim! Welcome home!"

"Thanks, but this is only a visit" I assured him. He gave me a big tight handshake and pulled me into a half hug, patting my back.

"So you finally joined the club" he says, tapping his metallic arm, making it cling.

"Yeah" I chuckled as I pulled up the sleeve to show it off. He gave me an impressed whistle as he studied it.

"That looks better than mine" he noted.

"My dad built it for me," I explained. "He's the one that build all these girls."

"You don't say... Remind me to have a chat with him later." He eyed Proxy as she got off the train to take a look around. "So what is the occasion? Why was I called out here at such an ungodly hour to pick up your ugly ass?"

"A resurrection" I explained.

I gave him a wink and returned to the car to help with Ellie. I realized that without a second wheelchair, I'd probably have to carry her.

Alice helped me tie the blanket from the train around her so she would be completely exposed, and I lifted her up in my arms. Meanwhile, Lulu and Raster helped get Matrix of the train and in her chair.

"Isn't that...?" Genesis questioned once he saw the two girls. "A resurrection, huh?"

As we all got off the train, I realized something. There were 10 of us and Genesis probably only brought his truck. It would take maybe 5 or 6 but we couldn't all fit in one vehicle.

"No worries," Genesis smiled, noticing my conundrum. "I taught Kaylee how to drive." Sure enough, as we left the platform, there waited his truck next to my hover truck.

"How did you find it?" I asked.

"When I heard your whole story, I decided there was no point in letting a good truck just sit out I the woods rusting and followed your path as best as I could. Took a day or two but, voila!"

"It took three days" Kaylee corrected him. Her voice was much more realistic sounding than last I heard her, but I figured I could probably give her a few upgrades if he wanted me to as thanks. "And I found it."

"Thanks Kaylee."

Everyone piled into the two trucks. We loaded Ellie and Matrix into the flatbed of mine, with Proxy, my dad, and myself watching after them, while Lulu took the passenger seat and Kaylee drove. Kaylee looked very excited, she had probably never seen this many gynoids all in one place before, especially ones this advanced.

The others all climbed into Genesis's car. Laura took the front, while Alice, Raster, and Vector squeezed in back. It was almost comical to see us all fit in the trucks.

"Where too?" Kaylee asked. The sun was still only peeking out through the trees surrounding the town, but I couldn't wait for it to get any brighter.

"My house, or what remains of it."

Kaylee and Lulu talked almost the entire way there, although I got the impression from the tone of her voice that Lulu didn't want to talk. Matrix woke up half way through the trip. Without the tubes of coolant coiled around her, her temperature had started to spike again. It took all three of us to calm her down and keep her from falling out of the truck.

"Aaaaahh! Ha! Haa! Argh! Too much!" She squealed. The best I could do was sit next to her and hold her body and head against my chest. She closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing, pressing herself against me, although she was still shaking.

"Ellie?" She noted upon seeing her sister laying next to her. "Did she die too?"

I didn't want to answer that. For all I knew this wasn't going to work. Instead I rocked her back and forth with my hand on her head keeping her calm and diverting her gaze.

We arrived there a short time later, before the sun had risen above the tree line fully, casting long dark shadows on the already blackened ruins. Lulu hopped out of the truck first and climbed in back.

"Let me take over" she insisted as she got into the truck bed next to me. Matrix was still holding on but she was very weak and tired at this point. It wouldn't be long before she fainted again, possibly for the last time. Lulu took my place and consoled Matrix as she sobbed while I stretched my legs and looked around.

No one had been there as far as I could tell since it burned down. Everything was gone. I had lived these last few months without any of it, so I knew I didn't need it, but seeing it all again made me long for the past. I looked in the toolkit I kept in the back of my truck, and pulled out a flashlight.

Proxy cleared her throat and stood next to me. Two panels on the top of her head flipped open, giving her what looked like animal ears, except they lit up, casting a bright white light onto the burned wreckage. I shrugged as she giggled a little, shifting them a little showing her control and keeping them out of my eyes.

Everyone got out and gathered around, waiting for some kind of command. I turned toward them, but didn't feel like giving a speech.

"The hatch to the smuggle space is round and concrete and should blend in with the floor. It was in the corner of the garage, which should be in this area" I explained as I waved my flashlight around over a small portion of the building. "Be careful in there."

The building was mostly burned down except for tall sections of the wall which still remained standing and leaning over at odd angles. Debris and rubble scattered everywhere and wildlife had scavenged through it already. However no one even hesitated to start looking.

I donned pair of gloves and started rummaging through the dirt and burned wood, tossing large pieces into a pile out of the way. I feared this would take forever; too long. Luckily, we uncovered enough that I recognized where we were digging. My guess was right on, we weren't far from the hidden hatch.

"How's she doing?" I called out to Lulu, worried about Matrix.

"She's still holding on" she called back. Matrix hadn't resisted the pain this long before. I knew her time as limited. She must have known that too. Maybe it's why she struggled to stay with us through the pain that long. She knew this might be it.

Laura let out an excited yell a few feet ahead of me. She pulled at a large plank of burned wood and noticed a circular shape in the ground beneath. I rushed over and helped her move the wood to the side while Raster and Proxy brushed the dirt from the concrete and Genesis and May cleared away the surrounding debris, giving us a clear view.

I only hoped the built-in power was still working. It was designed to work even in a blackout, but after months of just sitting there exposed to the elements, who knew what would happen?

I found the dark stain that marked the 'keyhole'. I was relieved my right arm was still in-tact as I took off my glove and placed my right hand against the stain. I closed my eyes and listened for any sign that it still worked.

After a lifetime, I felt a rumble from deep inside the ground. The motors were slow and jerky, but much to my relief, the concrete door opened up and revealed the narrow deep circular smuggle space. It was dusty, and a thin layer of black covered the top row of items, but otherwise it was untouched!

I lowered myself down and looked for the array of drives I used to back Ellie up with. Proxy's lights lit up the area well, making everything metallic glint in the light.

"Holy shit" Genesis cussed.

"Woah" Laura responded reaching down and pulling up a small heavy object. "Is this... gold?"

"Yeah... Well... I've been saving up." I admitted while a rummaged around.

"You didn't tell me you were rich!" Laura added, as she studied the bar in her hand.

"Eh. I never wanted to be rich. I'm not even sure what I'm going to do with- Ah! Here it is!"

I pulled up the array of drives, their cables and cords dangling. I climbed out of the hole and grabbed the gold from Laura, tossing it back down. "We can clear that out later."

"Right. Sorry" she blushed and gave me a hand with the drives.

"These need power" I noted. "Is there an outlet in your truck Genesis?"

Before he could answer, Proxy sat cross-legged and pulled up her shirt, revealing her midriff. A panel on her back clicked open to reveal a regular outlet.

"I just charged on the train so I have lots of juice" she admitted as she flipped off the lights on her head and closed them.

Placing the drives on the remnants of a table, I plugged the drives into Proxy's back and flipped them on. They whirred to life. My dad quickly jogged over through the debris, and set up his portable computer next to them, plugging them in.

"Here we are..." He commented as he studied the screen. "Looks good, no corruption on the disks." He typed a little and gave a big grin, “It's all here! A full back up! How- never mind, just get Matrix. We'll fix her first."

He started working on setting up the transfer, probably isolating the exact parts he would need from the backup, while I darted back toward the trucks and Lulu.

"Give her here" I gestured as I reached up. Lulu handed Matrix down to me. She was shaking and barely breathing anymore. Her eyes were wandering aimlessly but she recognized me when I held her.

"Jim...mmy" she whispered slowly. "Sorry... I can't... any longer..."

"We're there Matrix! Just hang on one more minute."

She closed her eyes as she weakly grabbed my shirt. I didn't wait to see if she was still alright, I darted back as far as possible, trying not to trip, and finally laid her down on the wood plank we moved earlier. She shook weakly as I lowered her; her grip on me too feeble to hold on.

"Ready?" I asked my dad as I fumbled with a loose data cord leading from his computer.

"Almost..." He warned typing as fast as he could. Tense minutes passed as he furiously typed. Sweat was dripping down his face but he didn't take the time to wipe it off. "Aaand... Now!"

I attached the cable to the back of Matrix's head, and waited. Everyone gathered around. Lulu came running up behind me and leaned in the closest. Matrix looked like she was on her deathbed. Her skin was pale, she was sweaty, and she wasn't moving much except to shiver weakly. Even her ragged breathing was shallow. Her body was showing signs that, despite our best efforts, her heat crash was happening.

"Dad?" I asked as he typed a few commands and hit enter.

He looked down. "Give her a moment."

We leaned in closer. Seconds ticked away without any change in her behavior. The stress was killing me!

Suddenly her eyes shot open, and a dozen panels on her body opened up. A loud rush of air filled our ears as her body expelled all the heat that had been building up inside her, creating cloud of soot in the air. She sat up abruptly, almost head butting Lulu and me in the process.

"Ah! Hah! Ahh!!!!" She screamed. "Ah... Huh?"

She looked around at everyone and blinked. Her eyes stopped at mine. "Jimmy? What's going on?"

Everyone let out a sigh of relief, except for Lulu who gave out a squeal and hugged her tightly. The panels on Matrix's body had begun to close one by one.

"Matrix! Are you alright?" I asked.

She looked around, before abruptly inhaling and grabbing at her head. "Ahhh!! It hurts! The pain!"

Everyone held their breath, but I wasn't buying it. She was a terrible actress. I lightly hit the back of her head.

"Kidding" she joked, rubbing the back of her head. Laura slapped her forehead while everyone else groaned. "What?"

"Seriously Matrix. How are you feeling? What do you remember?"

She closed her eyes and fell back onto the wood plank. "Ow..." She complained realizing it wasn't a soft bed. "I feel... Perfect! Better than ever!" She smiled and let out a laugh. "I feel amazing!"

"And your memories?" My dad asked. She looked up at him, realizing she was still connected to his computer, and pulled it out of the back of her neck.

"I can remember everything. The pain, the confusion... Even before I was me again... You bathed me, Jim." I blushed, but let out a laugh as well. "I died..." She added, and my laugh faded all with her smile. "I put the virus in my head... And died... I must have. My arm... Ellie! Wait! I'm inside Ellie again?" She looked at her body, feeling her face and hair. "What body... Is this Ellie?"

"We gave you a new body" Proxy explained.

"Based on one of the clones we fought" Raster added.

Matrix looked around at them and then turned to me, “What's going on Jimmy!?"

"Proxy, my dad, and I built you a new body," I explained, "and recovered your memories from a backup. He also added in parts of Ellie's memories from the day you... From the day you died."

She was shocked. "I did die... But you brought me back?! I-" she began to tear up. "I sacrificed myself to save you and... Ellie! Ellie was infected! She knew she was- where's Ellie? If I'm not in her, then where is she?"

Everyone was silent for a moment but Raster decided to speak up on our behalf. "Ellie died as well. The virus corrupted her mind. And without a backup..."

"She's dead? Then everything..." She tried hard not to cry but she wasn't strong enough anymore. Tears defied her efforts and escaped her eyes, rolling down her cheek, but she pretended they just weren't there. "I failed her. She wasn't supposed to get infected! I did this!"

"It's not your fault. You saved my life, so the least I could do was return the favor. Can you stand?" I asked holding out my hand to her.

She looked through her tears and took my hand. I pulled her up right into a big hug. She bawled for a little while, holding onto me. "You saved me but you didn't save her?"

I patted her head and shushed her. "Everything will be fine. Don’t cry. It's not over yet."

She sniffed and looked up at me, wiping her eye. "What's not over?"

"She certainly doesn't act like she used to" Vector commented to himself. Matrix turned to face him, confusion in her face.

"Vector?! What... How?" Matrix was trying to take in a lot of information quickly and it was making her emotional. "Lulu... Your hair is black! Proxy? What happened to yours? Wait... Where are we?"

"We're in Maya. Recovering Ellie's backup. We used it to fix you" I explained.

"Maya? Ellie's backup? So she does have a backup? Does that mean you're going to- YOUR ARM!"

She pulled at my shirt and stretched the collar to get a better look. She noticed my arm wasn't the same, and it must have been a big shock to her. She unbuttoned a few buttons before I could stop her and pulled the shirt aside until she could see clearly my artificial shoulder.

"Jimmy!" She yelled, mortified.

"It's fine, now. That battle... The stab wound. Let's just say I had to get an upgrade."

"Oh Jim! I-" she shook her head.

I held her into another close hug until she calmed down and stopped overloading herself with information. "I've missed you so much!" I swore. "We all have. We finally got you back! Who cares about some arm! You two are what I care about."

"How long was I gone?" She asked.

"A few months" my dad answered. "Your internal clock is accurate."

"Damn..." She cussed as I released my embrace, holding onto her shoulders. "You all did this for me?"

"And Ellie" Laura added.

"Wait... Ellie was with me... in the truck!"

"We're bringing her back too, if we can" I answered.

"Ellie! Jimmy, you have to! She's-"

"We will, right now." I explained. "I'll be right back." Matrix nodded but fell backward as soon as I let go of her, landing on her butt. She barely caught herself. Her mind was just too overwhelmed with everything happening. That and she wasn't used to her new body yet.

Lulu was next to her in a heartbeat.

"Capt- Matrix... Are you ok? Do you need anything?"

"Your hair is black!" Matrix repeated. "It suits you. I just need to sit..." She explained, rubbing her hand through her hair and trying to put everything together in her head. "My hair! It's so short!"

I ran back to the truck where Kaylee was watching over Ellie. She was less cold than earlier but still idle and lacking any warmth. I carried her over and placed her down on the same plank, right next to Matrix.

"They look like sisters" Genesis commented.

"In a way, they are. But they've never looked this alike while separated before" Raster explained.

Sure enough, side by side, they looked like twins, except one was now slightly more lean than the other, and her hair was black and in a pixie cut. I connected the cable to the back of Ellie's head, and waited.

Matrix looked down at Ellie with a renewed worry. "Ellie..." I realized she was probably still in shock, but Matrix was more concerned for her sister than herself.

My dad typed away at the computer, compiling the work he did on her memories in the train with the backup. It was actually very simple, and didn't take long. The sun was finally overhead, spreading light down onto us, and lighting up Ellie's face. It was warming us up, although the day was still chilly. Matrix didn't seem to mind the cold, or she hadn't noticed it yet.

"Restoring... Now" my dad announced a minute or two later as he entered the final command. "Relax, this might take a while."

And we waited. Not only were the files large, but he had to initialize her system first to clear away the corruption. I decided to spend my time waiting sitting next to Matrix. She had grown on me, and I really did miss her.

She leaned against me when I sat down. I watched her study everyone, noticing the changes in her friends.

"Matrix, do you need anything? Are you feeling alright?"

"I'm hungry" she noted. "And cold. You need to tell me what I missed. Why do I remember pain? What happened to me?"

I wrapped my arm around her to warm her, but I didn't have any food. She'd have to wait. "That's a long story."

"We got time, right?" She asked as she cuddled closer to me, probably for warmth.

"Yeah. Finally."

"Ellie was always the best part of me. The innocent side. I'd be nothing without her."

Ellie gasped, making everyone jump! She began to breathe but the transfer continued. Something was working right. But it wasn't done yet.

Laura and the others had taken it upon themselves to go through my hidden goods. The gold and valuables astounded them. I figured I could donate it to the lab or maybe get a bigger house we could all live in. I hadn't decided yet.

One thing I knew, I wanted to use it on my friends; I didn't want to spend it on me. I also had an assortment of other items from around the world that I kept hidden there. A few of them I could never identify, but I felt it was best to keep them secret and safe. Laura and Genesis neatly stacked everything and loaded them onto my truck.

After a while, I got up to look around the ruins, looking to see if there was anything else left. Only a few items like a fork or a cup, or a random book, managed to survive. But nothing I valued. Meanwhile Matrix walked with me, as I helped her keep her balance and get used to her new body.

"Is that your dad?" Laura called out, giggling. I turned around to see them looking at a photo I left in the hidden space. "He's so young. And you're adorable!"

Sure enough, they found that old photograph I kept of my dad from my youth. It was the only memento I had of my parents which I cherished, before I knew my dad was still alive. I still don't remember my mother, but at least I now knew why my dad didn't leave me with any pictures of her. Her white hair would have given her away in a heartbeat.

My dad got a kick out of the old photo. He forgot all about it. "I'd like to hold onto this, if you don't mind" he asked me. I let him. As long as he kept it safe, I didn't need it anymore.

"Hey, the transfer just finished" he alerted, pocketing the photograph, “it shouldn't be too much longer. Then we'll know if this worked or not."

We gather around Ellie again, looking anxiously for any signed of life. Since she had her original body, the initialization and startup shouldn't take too long.

Ellie opened her eyes. However, she remained motionless and unresponsive. I waved my hand in front on her.

"Ellie?" Nothing. Minutes went by but she never changed.

"Damn" my dad cursed. "I'm getting an error. She's got millions of lines of code, I must have missed something."

"Can you fix her?" Matrix asked.

"I don't know. I didn't exactly program her. And even if I did, I used an advanced A.I. to program all of my robots, it would take me months without that program to fix this."

"Could we take her back to the lab?" Laura wondered.

"Again, it would take months at best. I lost that program in the fire at the palace. I've been hand-coding everything since then. This could be anything from a major section of missing code to a tiny syntax error." He balled his hand into fists and hit a section of broken wall, sending dust and dirt floating down onto him. There was a beep on his computer and he looked down frustrated. "Now what? I lost signal?"

I glanced down at Ellie hoping she was awake, but instead I saw Matrix pulling the cord out of the computer and into herself.

"Matrix?! What are you doing?" I panicked.

"Trying something."

"You just woke up, you can't even stand..."

"I just need calibrating; my mind works fine" she protested.

"She's going to look for the problem" my dad explained. "She is an A.I. It might work. But be careful!"

"Ha! Careful is my middle-" she paused, still as a statue. Even her breathing stopped.

"Matrix? Matrix!" I called out kneeling down about to pull out the cable.

"Yeah?" She answered the moment before I was about to disconnect her.

"Yeah?" Ellie said echoing Matrix perfectly.

"Woah" Matrix exclaimed blinking.

"Woah" Ellie copied in almost real-time.

"Doc?" Lulu called out, clearly as confused as the rest of us.

"Don't touch them" he warned. "It could break something inside them. They're synced!"

"Synced?" Lulu asked.

"They're sharing data" he explained but before he could elaborate, Matrix and Ellie interrupted him.

"It's fine" they said in stereo. "Freaky, but fine. She's copying some data from me, but I think I found something."

"Are you alright?" I wondered, placing my hand on her shoulder.

"Yeah... Everything's fine. I just... have to concentrate."

"Is this really a good idea?" Raster inquired of my dad.

He simply shrugged his shoulders. "I've never done anything like this before."

"There!" Matrix and Ellie announced together. "Some missing... Woah... Hey now..."

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"She's... copying... too... much..." She explained slowing down. I can't... keep..."

She froze again in mid-sentence. Staying calm was no longer an option for me.

"What's happening? I can't lose Matrix again! We just got her back!"

"Don't touch them" my dad warned again. "Ellie is self-repairing. I don't think she'll harm Matrix."

We waited for one of them to move. It was eerie how still Matrix was. I kneeled between them and kept a close eye on them both. Laura sat behind me, placing her hand on my shoulder.

"... up! Fuck!" Matrix exclaimed panting. She fell backward and pulled the cable from her neck. "Holy shit!"

"Matrix, are you ok?" I asked.

"Yeah" she replied. "But damn... She completely overloaded my system copying stuff! I think she took too much!"

Suddenly Ellie gasped and looked around in a panic. She cowered away from everyone, scrambling on all fours on her back in a frantic attempt to distance herself, pulling at the poorly tied blanket on her and crawling out of it, unaware.

She backed herself against a jutting section of wall, now completely naked and exposed, and looked around between us. Her eyes met mine, and she quickly went from panicked to confused.

"Ellie?"

She opened her mouth but then held her head in pain. Not her too.

"Matrix?" I growled looking at her crossly with a raised eyebrow.

"What?" Ellie replied, despite the headache.

"Oh no... What happened to Ellie?" I wondered, ready to scream.

"I'm right here..." Ellie replied. "No... I'm..."

"Oookay" I seethed. "What's going on here?"

Ellie looked straight at me, her gaze unwavering. "You. I remember you... I..." She winced and held her forehead with one hand. "Fuck!"

"Matrix?" I asked, looking at Ellie.

"Yeah?" Matrix answered.

"Ow... What?" Ellie said crossly.

"Ellie?"

"Yes?" Ellie replied.

"What the Fuck?" Matrix wondered confused.

"Daaaaad?" I beckoned.

He looked at me scratching his head. "I think she's somehow copied enough of Matrix that she has two personality profiles ruining at the same time."

"But she didn't copy my personality." Matrix protested.

"She didn't have to, it was already there" he explained.

Ellie closed her eyes and started to control her breathing. She was concentrating hard on something, but I dared not approach her.

"Ellie, are you alright?"

"Ellie..." Ellie whispered to herself. "Is that me? No... Aren't I Matrix? No, I'm not."

"Let her concentrate" my dad suggested. "I think I understand, but now she has to figure herself out."

"So what's going on?" Laura asked.

"This backup was from before we split Matrix and Ellie. I think a good part of Matrix was still in there, fragmented. Ellie was designed to adapt, and that's what she's doing. When Matrix attached to her, she pulled in the files she needed to fix herself. And I think that means fixing the broken Matrix files as well."

"So she's-" I began.

"Does she have the virus?" Raster interrupted.

"No" he shook his head. "I removed that for sure. She still has the anti-virus in her. But now her mind is struggling for dominance."

Ellie looked up at me abruptly and blinked. "James Amano... Jimmy." She recognized me at least. "You were my registered master user... Ellie's boyfriend... Matrix's lover... My friend."

"Aren't I still?" I wondered.

Her face lightened as she came to an important realization. She leaned forward and pushed herself up, standing. Her naked body was now covered in soot and dirt but she didn't bother too brush it off.

Instead she stood with her legs together, squared her shoulders toward me, and bowed.

"I am EFU-25LE. I am pleased to meet you. Would you do me the honor of registering as my master user?"

"Wh- What's going on?" I stammered.

"Ah!" My dad slapped his forehead. "Ellie died. She was deregistered upon death."

"I am no longer Ellie" she explained. "Nor am I Matrix."

"Then who are you?" I asked taking a step closer.

She stood up straight again and smiled at me like Ellie used to do. No... It was different, it had more life to it, more energy.

"I have no name. Yet. I was hoping you'd give me one."

"I wanted Ellie back" I complained.

"She is here." She explained. "As is Matrix. They are both here."

"But I thought you said you weren't-"

"I apologize. I am neither one of them. I am both of them. Matrix and Ellie."

"I see" my dad deduced. "She is... Oh the irony!" He started to laugh heartily and had to calm himself.

"Care to explain?" Lulu asked for us.

"When I built Ellie originally, she was a radical experiment, a gynoid with a subconscious and morals. Her personality was Matrix, before she was changed by Tsion. Her subconscious became Ellie, later adapting to her situation and taking over her body.

"What we have here" he continued, leaning down to help Matrix stand up, "is a new Matrix with a modified subconscious based on Ellie. And what you have before you is a modified Ellie with a subconscious borrowed from Matrix."

"What?"

"They're like twins... Except one is the mirror of the other."

"But she said she wasn't Ellie." I noted.

"Not exactly. Ellie had been reset and repaired herself with fragments of both. Both Matrix and Ellie as we knew them are gone, but these two are built on their memories and personalities."

"I have all the memories and experiences of Ellie, and some from Matrix as well. Their memories are my own." EFU-35LE explained. "But also all their emotions. Ellie loved you very much... She still does. I still do, if you'd let me."

I cleared my throat. There were a dozen people around me, and this was getting awkward.

"Say yes already" Laura teased, pushing me a little.

"Can I call you Ellie?" I asked her.

She smiled radiantly, bright enough to blot out the sun. "I would like nothing better" she beamed.

"Of course I'll register you to me."

She started to cry while still smiling. "Acknowledged. Please to meet you, Jimmy. My name is Ellie."

She took a small bow before bolting from her corner and running headfirst into my arms. "Jimmy!" She sobbed out as she buried her face into my chest. "Jimmy! Was so scared! I love you!” She reached up and pulled me into a long deep kiss. At first I was embarrassed, but soon her passion overcame my reason and I lifted her off her feet and kissed her again and again.

"Ellie! I love you too!" I lowered her to the ground as she laughed and smiled. "You're freezing!"

She looked up at me, wiping her eyes and smiling in her familiar way. It really was her. Only better; complete. "Warm me, please."

Matrix leaned into us and gave us a big hug as well. "Sis!"

"Matrix? You look like me!"

"Well we are sisters."

The three of us hugged for a good long while. Before Ellie finally spoke up.

"Jimmy? Do you have a blanket? Still cold." She was speaking in a way similar to how she used to. It made me cry to hear her voice as I remembered it. My dad wrapped the blanket she dropped around her, and she held it tight, thanking him.

"We had to thaw you out from cold storage" he explained. "It's been a few months. I'll make sure there aren't any complications with you later."

"It's freezing" Matrix complained. "Got one for me too?"

I didn't, so instead I wrapped my arm around her tighter. Lulu pressed herself up against her back.

"Does this help?" Lulu asked.

"Yeah... But now I can't breathe" Matrix wheezed.

Something poked my leg inside my pocket while I was squeezing her. I reached in my pocket and pulled out the pendant Aunt May gave me.

"Well it's not a blanket but I have this for you" I explained, handing it to her. "May wanted to give it to you. It's a symbol of friendship I think."

Matrix looked at it in both her hands, to keep from dropping it. "Friendship? It's pretty." She handed it back to me and turned around, moving her hair off her neck with her hand only to realize her hair was much shorter than that now. I unclasped the necklace it was attached to and put it around her neck. She turned around again, looking down at it with a smile and pressing herself against me.

"Come on," Genesis yelled out. "Madame Suto's just reopened, we can celebrate and warm up there."

"NO!" the two twins barked.

I couldn't help but laugh, even though I was the only one that understood.

"Right. Then... I know this other place..." He went on prattling while I blocked him out, concentrating on the two girls. I didn't want to let them go, and it was clear both of them were attached to me. However, Lulu pulled Matrix away.

As we walked back to the trucks and put everything away, Matrix was surrounded by her former unit turned family who were all glad to see the new her, and were doing their best to keep her warm. Ellie chose to stay with me, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

"Jimmy?" She asked. "Sorry not the same anymore. I know how much you loved the old me. Hope I live up to your expectations."

"Ellie, you've already surpassed them. Don't try to change yourself, just be who you are and I'm sure I will still love you."

"How can you be so sure?" She wondered.

"Because it's you. I didn't just fall in love with a personality, I fell in love with a person."

She hugged me tighter. "You're making me fall in love at first sight all over again."

Returning her affection, I squeezed her tighter. She mewed at my gesture, and pinched my butt. I let out a small yelp and squeezed hers in response. Same old Ellie.

"Umm... Jimmy?" She asked looking confused. "What's with your arm?"

-End-


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