Femella Ex Machina
©2004 - The usual Berne Convention copyright laws apply
I'd always thought it was easier to maintain a cover at parties. There's less face-to-face, less shoptalk. It's easier not to get cornered by someone trying to trip you up in lies. This one wasn't half bad, because Ivo, the rich little Estonian fuck I was using as a way in to the local mob, knew how to entertain. Take a rented basement club and add free booze, a great DJ and a few dozen beautiful people. Pulse to a fine paste. Season with additional booze as necessary...
This was Tallinn in January, thus it was cold as vodka in the freezer outside, but in here it was like the tropics. Wilting dresses clung to the damp women on the dance floor. Guys like me who'd made the tragic decision to wear suits had long since lost their jackets and loosened their ties.
I was one of the last holdouts at the bar. Most of the crowd had just been teased to their feet by the DJ's segue into two-step - some huge hit from a few years ago that I vaguely remembered. Good-natured peer pressure was making it hard to keep my seat. I'd turned down two breathless invitations to get up - shouted into my ear by inhumanly hot blonds - knowing I'd probably cave in to the next.
Ivo, the rich fuck I mentioned, was at the epicenter of the freak-freak. His attention was fixed on the rump shaking six tantalizing inches from his crotch. A cappuccino-colored, Asiatic-looking woman was busy suggesting all kinds of things to him with that ass, things he was clearly up for, by the look of his stupid grin. She wore a powder-blue top with white piping, and this hint of a skirt that swished around her black panties in a way that made me swallow very hard. She was long-limbed, supernaturally locked to the beat. I couldn't help but stare just like Ivo.
Her rear may have been talking to someone else, but she sensed my gaze, met it, let me see the recognition in her eyes.
I'd been made.
Which was interesting: about the only way this total stranger could finger me for an agent was if she was one herself. If she blew my cover then I could blow hers. So she smiled faintly, went back to what she was doing and I went back to my drink.
I was supposed to infiltrate the newest splinter faction of the indigenous organized crime scene, but I could barely stay interested. My super had sent me on this one as a favor to a friend of hers in another bureau, who had mentioned me specifically, saying the op wouldn't move ahead without my participation. This wasn't the sort of thing I normally do. I'll just say that usually I work alone.
"Buy you a drink?" someone proposed in a hazy soprano. It was the lady agent, which was surprising for two reasons: I hadn't noticed her approach, and she was taller than I expected. She had a piccolo voice where I expected a flute, if that makes any sense. Everyone else was yelling over the music. She'd managed to pitch her question to me without straining at all.
I gave her the who-me routine and she gave a nod and a big smile. Her prominent canines were alluring - in a Patricia Arquette kind of way - but also a little menacing. Her eyes and wispy figure hinted at Japanese descent, but she could just as easily have been Italian. Her straight black hair was styled in an impossibly deliberate representation of wild, teenage bangs, tails and twists, yet none of it was out of place from dancing in this heat. And now that she was done coming on to Ivo, her body language was all poise and grace. I surmised that either she was unholy rich or she was an alien. Eventually I stopped staring and indicated the stool next to me.
"So..." she began after drinks were served, eyes sparkling.
"What's a guy like me doing in a place like this?"
"Something like that."
I picked the olive out of my martini. "Why so interested? Didn't Ivo take you up on your offer?"
The smile lost some wattage. Her gaze dipped to the floor, in a what-the-hell-business-is-it-of-yours kind of way. "You know Ivo?" she asked somewhat coolly.
"Ooooh," she purred. "Does that mean I'll see you later?"
I looked her up and down, just to be funny. "You know, I hope so."
She shot me a knowing look before putting her empty glass down, and left me with a smile as faint as her perfume. She'd enjoyed our little spy versus spy tête-à-tête. I was more than interested in finding out who she was, and not entirely for professional reasons.
I didn't see her again that night. She wasn't with Ivo when he left his own party to go to another bar, and I knew better than to ask him about it. I looked for her in all the databases the next morning, but didn't get any hits.
"You get in, you collect the asset, you get out," Kristjan warned me in thickly accented English. We were in the back of a nondescript van, which was parked in a nondescript lot behind a large, nondescript building. It was 1:36 a.m., local time.
"Really? I was thinking of grabbing a coffee. Ass." I didn't need any square-jawed thug telling me my business.
"Do *not* fuck with me."
"Then get some decent cigarettes," I advised, putting my half-smoked one out on the floor. I was pulling out our running joke, going on a week, to let Kristjan know I wasn't picking a fight.
He considered this, then boxed my arm. "Do me a favor and live through this," he suggested cheerfully.
"This" was Ivo's test of my loyalty. A rival group had acquired something he wanted very badly. It was in this building. I had no idea what it was, but he wanted me to get it for him. He'd welcome me into the fold with open arms if I survived this, even if I didn't secure his item. For most, this would separate the wannabes from the professionals. For an agent with my experience it would probably be cake. I was just keeping busy until my super told me I could catch the next flight home. "Keep the engine running," I told Kristjan.
My faked credentials afforded me easy access, right through the front door, but I knew getting in was the easy part. One of the guards looked over my laminated ID card, waved me through and went back to chain smoking and bitching about whatever with the others. There certainly was a lot of muscle in this lobby, but they weren't very interested in me. The hallways were just like those of any office building. In the elevator, I punched the button for the tenth floor. I was acutely aware of the cameras pointed at me, and the twin pistols I was packing. Even though this would probably be simple, it's foolish to be overconfident during any job. I adjusted my gloves and tried to look bored and underpaid.
The first thing I noticed when the elevator doors opened was the smell. It was acrid, electrical. A faint haze tinged the hallway. My first guess was that a fire had just broken out somewhere, which would complicate things. I resisted the urge to draw my guns and instead moved toward the location I'd memorized from the blueprints.
As I drew nearer, I heard noises. Whirring machinery, like dentist's drills. And something loud that made my hair stand on end: it was like those stretched out vocal tracks in dance music, when they grab a short phrase and slow it way down without lowering the pitch. Very disconcerting. I was missing some key tactical info here, and I didn't like it. I'd been told that the security would be on the ground floor, that there would only be nerds and lab coats up here. I carefully crept up on a half-open door and saw a small roomful of both. Some doctors and nurses were arguing as they worked equipment, pointing at something I couldn't see on the other side of a thick, glass room partition. Some tech guys were fussing over their laptops, trying to ignore the medical staff. Everyone seemed very agitated, and hearing the creepy noises coming from the other side of the glass, I didn't blame them. A few seconds elapsed while I considered the wisdom of neutralizing them before they had contained whatever was causing all the smoke and noise, but the clock was ticking. So I tossed in the stun device - which rolled noiselessly to the center of the room - and took cover around the corner. There was a flash, not much noise, and everyone slumped to the floor with a thud.
I had a minute or two at most before security figured out what was happening, but I was clear to pick up whatever-the-fuck it was for Ivo.
There was no way I was going in blind, so I picked my way around the sleeping technicians and looked through the glass. The smoke in the next room was crazy thick, but I realized then why I hadn't seen my mystery girl the night before. She was bound to a table in there; eyes shut tight, mouth working a wordless scream.
I pulled one of my guns, kicked open the door and ducked inside, but the smoke was already clearing and I saw something that brought me up short. Her arms were over her head, bound by a long metal pin straight through her wrists. Another one went through her ankles. There was no blood. All she had on was ruined black lingerie, the bra rudely shoved up over her small, teardrop breasts, the panties down around her thighs. Her eyelids were the same dusky brown as her nipples, and I don't know why I picked up on this or why I found it so endearing. Several wires ran from some equipment into her torso. Again, no blood. I finally figured out that crazy sound. It was coming from her. So was the electrical smell and the smoke. They were pumping current through her.
"What the fuck..." I heard myself say. Ivo hadn't described what he wanted me to nab for him. He'd only said it was invaluable.
He'd used the word "device."
Against all common sense, my eyes told me she was the device.
If she hadn't opened her eyes and looked at me then, I probably would've stood there staring until the guards showed up. The techno music screams stopped and she tried to form words. I realized I wasn't going to be able to make out what she was trying to say unless I got closer. Warily, I approached.
Her back arched off the table but she stared intently at me, lips moving, gibberish pouring out of her mouth. Whatever she was, she was in bad shape, and I touched her cheek before thinking about it.
"We've got to stop meeting like this," she managed finally.
"Who are you?" was all I could come up with.
She shut her eyes again. "I know how this looks, Agent McCoy. I can explain later. I am an operative of the United States Government. It is absolutely crucial that you keep me out of the hands of these people, and the ones who sent you."
"You're a machine?" I wondered, not even noticing that she knew my name. I'm not usually this stupid, but this was Grade A weird shit, here.
"Yes!" she hissed, losing patience with my slowness. "Now please get me out of here. It's important."
"Okay, okay," I said, snapping out of it and holstering my gun. But I vacillated over which pin to pull out first. "I'm going to free your hands. Will it hurt you?"
"What do you think?"
I decided to do it quickly, putting one hand over hers and yanking with the other. Her voice dissolved into that freaky, artificial glitching. She got quiet when I pulled the pin from her ankles. Not a good sign. "Stay with me, Miss."
"Okay," she pleaded distantly, "I'll tell you what you want to know. I'll tell you my codes..."
She'd finally broken under this savage interrogation. I wondered how long the lab coats had been working on her. "Hey," I said, tapping her cheek. "There's no need for that. It's your spy, remember?"
In between more bizarre squelching, she whispered, "Oh yeah... Sorry."
I'd worked all the wires out of her chest and was making sure there were no more. "Can you sit up?"
"Let's find out." I slipped an arm under her very warm back and lifted experimentally. She was light as air. When I had her up on the table, I let go. She seemed to be able to sit, though she was tremulous. It was pretty obvious that she couldn't use her hands or walk. "Where are the rest of your clothes?"
"I understand, but it might make things easier once we're out of this building."
She frowned. "I don't know."
In the absence of whatever she'd worn when they had abducted her, I decided on the lab coat hanging off the door. "Ready?"
"Uh-huh." I straightened out her underwear, blushing. "Ouch," she complained when I threaded her arms through the sleeves of the lab coat. When I drew a pistol, she got confused and started to skitter away from me.
Of course, physics demanded that I draw my weapon before I lifted her, if I was going to be packing while I carried this defenseless robot girl out of the building. "I've got to draw before I pick you up," I explained.
She didn't look like she believed me.
"I'm not gonna hurt you, Miss..." She hadn't introduced herself the night we met. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage."
She blinked for a second, looking like she really wanted to lie back down. Then she nodded. "Amy. My name's Amy."
I moved in to scoop her up. "I promise I won't hurt you, Amy."
She acted like she wanted to throw her arms around my neck, but they didn't seem to be working properly, so she nuzzled my chest instead. "You'll have to excuse me," she apologized. "I'm not really feeling like myself." More strange noises passed her lips in punctuation.
"No worries. Let's go."
It helped that she was so light. Next thing to do was get to one of the two stairwells. I started for the closest one as the alarms went off. It had taken the guys downstairs even longer to figure out what was going on than I'd guessed. I had doubts that I'd get down all ten flights before meeting up with them, and I still had to find a back entrance so Kristjan wouldn't see us. I kicked open the stairwell door. Way below on the ground floor, I heard shouting and many footsteps. I opted to duck out on the eighth floor and run to the opposite set of stairs, and my pursuers rejoined me below when I made the sixth floor. I tried to draw a bead over the rail, but jerked my head back when I heard a door open a couple of floors up.
"Okay..." I wondered aloud.
Amy the faux girl licked her glossy lips. "I'll tell you everything. My access codes are six-
"Shhh," I whispered, ducking back out into the hall. There was something else I'd noticed from the blueprints. I finally found it near a lounge, and pressed Amy's head into my shoulder. Once I'd shot open the lock and chains around the windows, I hefted her over my shoulder. It was easy to get out to the fire escape, which was one of those enclosed ladders that ran all the way to the ground, and I gave a cursory look below before I stuck my gun into my waistband, loosened my fingers and let us slide down a few stories. We were on the correct side of the building, opposite from where Kristjan waited in the van.
My fingers were getting pretty torn up through the gloves, so I used my boots against the ladder to slow us and climbed down the last couple of floors. Shots rang out just as my feet hit the ground, so I moved to take cover behind a dumpster, but not before I felt the unmistakable sensation of Amy taking one in the back.
I flipped her over and set her down against the wall. "How bad?"
"It doesn't matter, William!" That's when I first noticed that she knew my name. "You have to get us out of here!"
"How bad is it?" I insisted. Bullets pinged the dumpster and the wall around us, but I couldn't stop treating Amy like she was any other friendly in an extraction.
"Bad, but I'm not going to die," she rasped. "It's not important and you need to *move, please!"*
She'd figured out how to get through to me, I guess, because I picked her up and commenced running. Since I'd covered my bases before coming here with Kristjan, there was an agency getaway car in a nearby parking deck, which was accessible through a twisting, covered walkway. I hauled ass as the bullets whizzed by, using whatever I could for cover. The little black Mercedes sedan was a beautiful sight. "Sorry," I apologized, as I dumped Amy into the passenger seat.
"I'll tell you whatever you want to know!" she pleaded, out of her head again.
I jumped into the driver's seat and fumbled for my keys, as bullets bounced off the rear window. Bulletproof glass, another beautiful thing. I gunned the engine and we were off. The nearest safe house seemed as good a place as any, if I could shake any pursuers, including Kristjan.
Boy, my op was in the crapper. In less than an hour I'd managed to get on the wrong side of more people than I could count. But my immediate concern, in the warmth of the safe house, was Amy and the all the bloodless holes in her body. They were unlike any wounds I'd ever treated, so I just wrapped gauze and tape around them, not knowing what else to do. I'd put her in the guest bed, and she continued to murmur and squelch as I tended to her. The dime-sized holes through her wrists and ankles, the dots down her chest... The bullet wound in her back was near her heart, if she had one, and there was no exit wound. That slug should've come through her into me.
"Thanks," she mumbled after a while, giving me quite a start.
"How do you feel?" A stupid question, but I honestly didn't know.
"Kinda weird," she admitted.
"That makes two of us. What can I do?"
I found that she picked some strange times to be so polite and reserved. "How can I help you feel better?"
She seemed to think about it. "Turn the lights out and leave me alone for a little while, please."
I thought about all the times I'd been capped and/or interrogated, and marveled at her resilience as I switched off the lamp. "That's it?"
I sensed her faint smile in the dark. "For now."
"Okay. I'll be in the next room. Just yell if you need something."
"I'll be sure to, William."
Every time she said my name, it made me want to find how she knew me all the more. I pulled the bedroom door shut and decided to call in.
"So they sent me looking for this 'device,' but it was an agent instead," I explained to Angie Weiss, my supervisor, via an encrypted vidphone conference on my laptop.
"The device was an agent?" she asked, her brown eyes showing clear impatience with my stream-of-consciousness storytelling, even in the tiny video window on my desktop.
"Yes," I pressed. "She said she was an agent, but she's really some kind of damned robot..."
"Will, what kind of shit is this?" Angie admonished. "Do you know what time it is here?"
"Ms. Weiss, I'm sitting in a safe house with a girl who's not really a girl. I've just blown my cover because said fake girl told me it was in the National Interest, and I need to know what's going on here!" I was kind of loopy at this point, to say the least. "Did I mention that she took a bullet in the back and told me she'd just sleep it off for a while, if I wouldn't mind not disturbing her?"
"Shut up for a second!" Angie insisted.
"I'm not making this up!"
"Okay, just calm down. Let me make a call to-"
At that moment our connection was severed.
"William?" Amy called softly from her bed.
I looked at the black application window where Angie's face had just been. "It's Will, actually. Only my grandmother calls me William."
A beat passed. "Who were you talking to, Will?"
"I'm trying to brief my handler."
"You didn't tell her about me, did you?"
"What if I did?" I asked.
"Things will just get more complicated," she said wearily.
I picked up my glass of whiskey and jingled the ice cubes. "We need to get in the air before someone catches up with us."
"It's my fault. I should've briefed you in the car, but I can't talk about it right now," she apologized. "I just need to-"
"Rest a while," I finished for her. "I'll go ahead and-"
My laptop chirped: incoming transmission. The source was masked.
"Just tell him I'll be in contact soon," Amy said.
A thin man with a salt-and-pepper flat top appeared onscreen. "Agent McCoy?"
I'm a *spy* and this was a little too cloak-and-dagger for me. "I'm sorry. You are?"
"I apologize for interrupting you and Ms. Weiss, but it's a bad idea to discuss this situation with anyone but me."
This guy was military, way high up the food chain. "How did you get through on this channel?"
"You're in an extremely dangerous situation, and I don't want to entrust you with my operative's safety, but I don't have a choice."
This was happening a little too quickly for my addled brain to track. "Can we back up? Who are you?"
The man's patience was unnatural, but helpful. "I *am* sorry, but you're in a unique situation. You've been involved in things you don't have clearance to know about, but the milk, as they say, has been spilled."
I ignored decorum and tossed back the rest of my drink as he watched placidly. "Okay, I get it. What can you tell me that won't get me killed or imprisoned?"
"I'll endeavor to give you all you need to get yourself and my asset back to the U.S. safely." His jerky image on my monitor became chaotic as he got up to retrieve a manila folder. "First things first: we lost communication with her late last night, your time. We were able to..." He paused to choose his words. "Locate her again very recently. What's her status?"
"Well, a mob fronted research firm was in the middle of drilling holes in her when I showed up. She's taken a beating... She says she'll be okay. She said she'd contact you soon."
"Can she join you on this call?" He seemed weirdly paternal then, to the point where I started to wonder if I were talking to another android.
"Just a sec." I went to the bedroom and cracked open the door. "Amy?" There was no answer. Without turning on the light, I tiptoed to the bed. Her eyes were open but she was unresponsive, a smudged, lifeless doll that still managed to convey that it'd had enough excitement for one day.
I returned to the living room. "It looks like she's shut herself off," I told my anonymous friend.
Unsurprisingly, he was unsurprised. "You must have gotten to her just before the idiots destroyed her. Thanks very much, by the way."
"I'm not in the business of leaving colleagues behind," I told him.
"Even colleagues that don't appear to be human?"
I could tell my answer was important to him. "I'm not going to lie to you and say this isn't some of the weirdest shit I've ever seen, sir. It's just that she... I ran into her last night at some party. We talked briefly. She doesn't seem like a toaster."
"Mr. McCoy, you were exposed to her without any preparation. Everyone in my division who works with these operatives goes through extensive training."
"She's not the only one?" Jesus God Almighty...
He played around with the manila folder. I got the feeling it was a protocol: *Contingency 414 for What To Do When The Secret Robots Get Discovered.* "Okay, I don't think you'll have any problem interacting with her," he decided. "That's my hunch after talking to you for five minutes. Now, let's focus on the security implications and how you're getting home."
"Sir, I'm not totally hysterical right now," I said. "I can smell black charter all over this. I'm guessing that MIBs will be all over this safe house before morning, and that we'll get whisked off on a stealth plane or something, right?"
He didn't smile, not one bit. "Our original plan for extraction of our assets isn't too far off from that," he admitted. "But our problems go beyond the two of you. How do you think she was captured to begin with?"
I wasn't born yesterday. "You've had some kind of hellacious breach."
He nodded. "This is the part of the deal where anything else I say makes it worse and worse for you. Understand?"
I did. "And you need me to get her home for you. Alone."
"Exactly. Without any of our official resources."
He laid it out for me, short and sweet. He'd handle telling my superiors something to keep their eyes off me for a few days. Other than that, it was up to me to get Amy and myself back to the States, specifically to an address in Arizona. If I didn't, something terrible would happen to her and I'd end up dead, one way or the other.
The whole situation was starting to feel familiar. There's a certain vibe that an agent in the field picks up on when two or more government agencies are wrestling over something Very Important and he or she is caught smack in the middle of it.
I sat up the rest of the night, too wired for sleep, wondering how long it would be before some angry Estonians found us. I was meticulous about checking myself for bugs, but what if they had a way to track Amy? Why had my supervisor's friend insisted that I be In Estonia this week? How did these mobsters find out what she was in the first place? How could something like her even exist? The questions were endless, and I couldn't ask her anything because she had switched herself off. I didn't even know if she'd ever wake up, really.
And as the night wore on, that started to get to me. I'd been so attracted to her at the party, and she'd turned out to be... Whatever she was, something unique and strange, which, perversely, attracted me to her even more. I wanted her to wake up so I could make sure I hadn't imagined her.
I was sure I'd need counseling, if I lived long enough to get home.
Dawn was starting to break, my nerves were calming down and fatigue began to poke through adrenaline. I was thinking of jumping in the shower when I heard her stir in the next room, stretching and softly moaning just like any flesh-and-blood person. I found myself at the foot of her bed. She moved against the lab coat, under the covers, clearly still having trouble with her recently impaled limbs.
"Feel any better?" I asked.
She evaluated me very seriously, before that ghost of a smile that her eyes never seemed to be part of softened her expression. "Getting there."
I wanted to ask her about everything, but she still looked beat, so I just stood there awkwardly.
"C'mere," she requested, eyeing the bed next to her. I sat down and she raised her shoulder, wanting to touch me. She settled for staring at me intently. "Thank you so much, Will."
"This is a little much for you," she ventured.
I brushed her hair away from her face. "You could say that. But I find you terribly interesting."
The way she was the night before, I got the feeling that she knew how to play out any social situation. Like it was all just acting for her. She could go undercover and be anyone to anybody. The way she led Ivo on, the way she had chatted me up... Sitting on that bed with her, I didn't know if someone who knew as much about her as I did had ever spoken her to like this, and she seemed to be deciding whether to be charming and false with me or just be Amy. We regarded each other impassively for a while.
"You're pretty interesting yourself, Mr. McCoy," she said finally, eyes sparkling in the early light with something mysterious. She'd opted not to put on an act with me, and I realized that this amounted to a sudden, welcome increase in the complexity of our young relationship.
I touched her cheek again. Her eyes widened a millimeter or so, warily. "I don't know how this is going to play out," I said, "but I promise I'll do my best to get you home." That wasn't exactly what I wanted to say.
She leaned against my fingers, experimentally, gaze never breaking mine, and started to say something, but settled on a bashful, pleased little "Hmm..."
“You should sleep,” Amy observed.
Reluctantly, I stopped gazing into her big brown eyes and rubbed my own. “Maybe later.” I don’t like going to bed at sunrise, and I wasn’t going to leave her unattended.
“I’ll be better soon.”
I still wasn’t used to the idea of mechanical people walking among us. And I felt that it should take more than a nap to cure her of being tortured and shot. It was playing hell with my nerves and I wanted some answers. “Amy, I think I need for you to tell me what this is all about.”
“No you don’t,” she teased softly. “Sleep first. I’ll keep watch.”
“You can’t even get out of that bed.”
“But I’ll know if something happens. Lie down with me. I’ll wake you if anything does.”
The bed looked very comfortable. As sunlight crept into the room, my eyelids got heavier and heavier. “And how would you know that?”
Her voice dipped down as low as it could go; a mock attempt at intimidation. “Please shut your question hole, Mister McCoy. Lie down.” Her head dipped to her shoulder in invitation.
- A nap wouldn’t be so bad...* I crept onto the twin bed, across her legs, to the side closest the wall. Tentatively, I rested my head on her arm. The lab coat in which she was still wrapped smelled pretty funky, but underneath she was soft and warm. Not at all mechanical. She touched her head to mine, her sweet-smelling hair tickling my forehead.
And I was out.
My dreams tend to get weird when I’m really tired. This one was way too vivid.
- I’m standing in some gigantic arboretum, in some futuristic deco city that I feel like I’ve been to before. Amy’s there, dressed as a flight attendant for KLM Airlines. She’s trying to kiss me, but I unbutton her blouse and her chest swings open. There’s a cell phone perched on a little stand inside her, and I use it to make a call while she pouts like a child. Then I have this long, unpleasant conversation with an ex-girlfriend I haven’t actually seen in years. The ex is furious that I’m with Amy. Amy’s furious that I’m using her phone to call my ex. I’m generally uncomfortable.*
- “Honestly Will,” Amy says at one point, holding up the hem of her skirt for me to see. “This is silly. You need to wake up.”*
- I hold up a finger to indicate that I’m trying to get off the phone. My ex continues to scold.*
- “She isn’t real,” Amy says. “Deal with your emotional baggage later. I said I’d wake you if something happened…”*
I sat up, squinting in the sunlight. She was out of bed. Her lab coat and tattered underwear lay on the floor, and she was busy rooting through drawers for something to wear. Her gait was unsteady and unnatural. She was favoring her left hand and she looked very serious, but she was moving.
Just like the first night I saw her, I was captivated by her physique: those birdlike limbs, her taut dancer’s muscles, that adorable chest… She was thin but bore no sharp angles, just creamy curves. And the jagged holes from last night that had marred her otherwise unblemished brown skin were now just pale dots.
“Hey, you’re up,” I said. “How did you get in my dream?”
“Later. Someone’s closing in on the house.”
“Shit…” I got to my feet and looked out the window. “I don’t see-“
“They’re not here yet.” She continued to open and close drawers.
I decided to give up asking her to explain her weird abilities. “Well how long do we have?”
“Maybe eight minutes,” she calculated as she discovered some women’s clothes in the closet. “Then however long it takes them to get in.”
I’d hoped it would be longer before someone caught up to us. “How many?”
“I’m not sure... I think two sedans and a van. They’ve involved the authorities somehow.”
This safe house was in a row of flats not too far from the Old Town. The only ways in were secretly, heavily fortified, but I had no doubt our visitors could gain entrance. What they didn’t know was there was a car below the flat, in a secret tunnel that emerged two blocks away. It was time to go.
Amy had found a heavy gray sweater, tight blue pants and some boots. But she just stood there looking uncertain.
“Get dressed,” I told her. “I’ll collect a few things and then let’s get out of here.”
She considered this. Gave me a funny look. “I need to do something first,” she decided, and headed toward the kitchen.
In a few minutes I was ready, but worried. At some point, we needed to have a serious, no-bullshit conversation about all this. I wanted to be having it now.
“Oh my god…” Amy groaned from the kitchen, her voice thick with something I couldn’t recognize.
My mouth fell open when I got there. The crazy girl had a kitchen knife in her hand, and had apparently just made a deep incision in her lower back before losing her nerve.
Just when she seemed to be recovering from being electrocuted, skewered and shot, she’d gone and done this. I felt my mouth working, while I tried to figure out what to say. “What the hell’s going on?” was what finally came out.
My yelling seemed to upset her even more. “I have to remove my tracker!” she warbled. “I thought I could do it myself. You’re gonna have to help me.”
I backed away from her. “Oh, *hell* no!”
“Will, these people can find me anywhere unless you help me do this. It won’t matter where we go!”
Things were already way too weird and this wasn’t helping. “But can’t you just, uh, tell me what to do and shut yourself down?“
“Shut up and listen! There’s no time for that. You’d never be able to do it yourself.” Her speech was tremulous and fast. The combination of my reluctance, her pain and the impending arrival of people who wanted to take her apart had caused all her patience to evaporate.
“Okay, just wait,” I protested. There had to be a better way to do this. Trouble was, this was the first mechanical woman I’d known, so I couldn’t think what that way might be.
“You have to help me right now!”
I was still very hesitant to get close to her. It had a lot to do with the knife she was waving around while she yelled at me. Realizing this, she put it down and turned her bare back to me.
“All right…” I told her. Before I could think too hard about it, I slipped the fingers of my right hand inside her and tried in vain to ignore what I felt. Heat. Slippery wetness. Hard things and rubbery things.
“Lower,” she instructed, panting through clenched teeth. Then she bucked against my fingers. “Oh, fuck…” She was losing it.
I put my other hand around her waist to steady her. “Help me out here, hon. I’m with you,” I said, in that tone of voice you use when you’re so freaked out you become utterly calm.
Her body remained tense, but she stopped struggling. “To the right. It’ll feel k-k-kind of like a marble.”
How many of the things I was touching were vital to her survival? I was dangerously near vomiting and she was making those bizarre sounds from the night before again, the ones she apparently substituted for screaming at the top of her lungs.
Then I found something round and hard. “Is that it?”
I grabbed her arm and yelled into her ear. “Amy, is *this it?”*
“Yes! Twist… C-c-counterclockwise… Oh Jesus it hurts, Will!”
“I promise I’m doing my best. It’s not coming loose.”
“It’s not supposed to… Pull harder!” She was sweating profusely. An intense, lime-like scent pervaded the room.
But my adrenaline did its job. The object popped loose and I fished it out of the incision. She immediately collapsed onto the floor. My hands were sticky with slimy gel. There were bizarre, glittery particles suspended in it. “Wash your hands right now,” Amy warned through ragged breaths. I put the little piece of her on the counter, and it immediately started to dissolve, leaving quite a scorch mark. My fingers were burning by the time I reached the kitchen sink.
An alarm chimed somewhere, which meant our guests had arrived. I grabbed my bag and threw her clothes inside. She was still hanging onto the linoleum for dear life, so I hoisted her up over my shoulder and headed for the hall closet. Outside, there was a lot of activity. Someone was yelling a lot of crap I didn’t understand through a bullhorn.
Behind the doorframe of the innocuous-looking coat closet was a keypad, into which I entered an access code. The back wall rotated away, revealing an elevator. It was a tight fit for the two of us. When I punched the button for the basement, the closet door and false wall closed behind us and locked. Even if someone figured it out, they weren’t going to get in here until we were miles away.
The lift lurched the first few feet toward the basement before the support cables equaled out. Over my shoulder, Amy moaned in protest. It smelled like centuries-old rock and machine oil down here, and it was bitingly cold. Florescent lights buzzed and ticked their way to life as the lift settled and the gate slid up. A conservative-looking sedan awaited us, nose pointed toward a dark tunnel.
I started to put Amy inside before noticing that she’d shut down again. Of course, she was still completely naked, and it would a more discreet drive through town if she weren’t, so I did the best I could trying to wrestle her clothes onto her limp form. The pants were a chore. There was also the fresh gouge in her back to consider. I tilted her lifeless body forward and started a quick-and-dirty bandaging job – a few gauze pads and a couple of orbits of surgical tape around her belly. She was so feverishly warm, yet so much like a fresh corpse. God, it was creepy, but getting her sweater on wasn’t so hard. Finally, I closed her eyes.
A little out of breath from dressing my mannequin charge, I hopped into the driver’s seat and started up the car. The engine growled as I raced down the dim tunnel, without really knowing our next move.
We needed a local contact - someone off the books - and eventually I remembered Erika. She was a spiky kid I’d dealt with while undercover two years earlier. She’d lived in Denmark then, but had moved on to better things in Tallinn, luckily for Amy and me. Over the phone, I concocted some wild story about needing help getting out of the country. Twenty minutes later we pulled into the garage of her compound and her guys quickly surrounded the car. Amy was still shut down and I was starting to worry.
A familiar blond stepped out from behind the men. “Please excuse my assistants,” Erika said as I raised my empty hands over the steering wheel. “It’s been a while, my crazy friend.”
I got out and we did the European pecks-on-each-cheek thing. She was openly suspicious, but friendly. “Are we still on a tight schedule?” she asked.
I began to wonder how convincing I’d been all those months ago. “I’m in a bit of a jam, love. Remember how you said you owed me?” I looked into her frosty green eyes and hoped she still thought I was kind of hot.
She looked about to soften to my implicit come-on, when one of her hired hands spoke up. “Oi! Who’s the dead girl?”
Erika took in the sight of Amy’s body in the passenger seat. To my dismay, her smile faded. “Do you remember the movie ‘Pulp Fiction’?” she asked, looking at Amy and not me.
“Sure,” I said.
“Did you see a sign on my door that said ‘Dead Whore Storage Unit’?”
I’d hoped Erika’s hired help wouldn’t poke around the car. I had also hoped Amy would’ve reactivated herself by now. I considered my words carefully, while I prayed for a little miracle. “She’s not dead. She’s just tired.”
The guy searching the car gave a little laugh. “I’ve seen a few corpses, man. She’s good and dead.” He poked her for emphasis and she jiggled around lifelessly.
“Passports and ferry tickets,” Erika was saying. “That’s what we talked about. You didn’t say a fucking thing about dead girls. Did you kill her?”
All her goons quietly got several inches closer. It was subtle. They were very professional. And they were about to professionally remove me from Erika’s sight.
Then there was a gasp and a thump, which turned out to be (1) Amy taking a shuddering breath and (2) the guy who’d found her smacking his head against the roof of the car in surprise. “Fuck me!” he exclaimed.
Amy winced, felt around on her back and met all the stares aimed her way in turn.
“See?” I said to Erika. “Everything’s cool.”
She considered this as she watched Amy make faces at my haphazard bandaging job. Then – to my relief - she laughed and waved her guys off. “Perhaps we need to cut down on the coffees. I’m sorry dear, but we’ve had undercover policemen sniffing around and tax problems and supply issues, and all kinds of fucking shit. You and your friend are welcome.”
The heavies took their cue and dispersed, so I went to help Amy out of the car.
“This bandage is too tight,” she complained under her breath.
“You almost got us killed,” I returned under mine.
“What are we doing here?”
I scooped her up. “Leave that to me. And please let me know if you’re planning on doing more surgery on yourself.”
I felt her stare boring into me as I tried to look nonchalant in front of Erika. “You would like for me to be less autonomous,” she decided.
“Can we talk about this later?”
She wouldn’t let it go. “Would it be easier for you if I were more subservient?”
I took a deep breath. “Christ no, it wouldn’t be easier. Just talk to me before doing crazy shit I won’t understand anyway.”
Erika led us out of the garage. I could sense the wheels turning in Amy’s head, but I hoped she’d shut up until we could be alone. Then her grip tightened. “Sorry, Will. I’ll try to communicate better.”
“Fabulous,” I whispered. “Now how about being cool in front of our host?”
Erika walked a few yards ahead, pretending not to eavesdrop. “Passports are ready and I just need photos. We can have you at the pier in a blink.” She glanced at Amy over her shoulder. “I know people who can look your friend over.”
“Thanks Erika, but you know, the less involved you get, the better.”
She spun on her heels to face us, walking backwards down the hall while she wiggled her fingers at me like she was casting a spell. “Ooooh! Dramatic… Secretive…” Her hips swayed playfully and I remembered how sexy she could be when you were on her good side. “And of course you have my safety at heart,” she teased, biting her lower lip. Smiling, to show me she knew I was holding back on her but it was cool.
Erika drove us to the harbor in the getaway car from the safe house. Thanks to her famous efficiency, Amy and I had tickets, falsified documents and money from one of my emergency accounts in less than two hours. I decided to give her the car and figure something out in Helsinki. Before we got out, she straightened my coat, muttering something in Danish. Then she mussed my hair. “Thanks for the wheels, fucker. Keep in touch.”
I patted her knee. “We were never here. Dig?”
“Who was never here? I’ve been with my accountant all morning.”
She drove off with a cheery wave while I maneuvered Amy down to the check-in queue. Poor thing could ambulate again, but not without help. It was only a three-hour ferry trip over to Finland, but I’d arranged a private cabin anyway. Lots of eyes were looking for us, and I wanted to check the results of Amy’s impromptu operation on herself.
It was a relatively long walk from the gangplank, down into the heart of the sizeable ship to our cabin. She went right for the little bed as I closed and locked the door. I made a compulsive sweep of the cramped cabin and drew the curtain over the porthole. She rolled onto her stomach and pulled up her sweater so she could point to the bandage. “It’s too tight.” The way she was sitting up on her elbows, feet in the air, made me smile.
It took a minute to peel off the tape. The gash had already closed, but there was bruising and scorching that I didn’t like the look of. I brushed a finger across it and she tensed. “Sorry,” I said. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Just wrap it back up. I’ll be fine.”
“If you say so.”
When she was satisfied, she rolled over and looked up at me. She didn’t pull her sweater back down. The ferry was pulling out of the harbor and I thought about looking for some Dramamine, but I just sat there on the bed, leaning over her while she waited, quiet and expectant. “What?” I laughed.
She looked away shyly and shook her head.
I rubbed her arm. “What do you need, sweetie?”
Her lips parted and she tilted her head, still avoiding my eyes. Finally, she whispered, “Don’t you want to kiss me?”
“Um…” After our eventful morning, the robot girl wanted to make out. Interesting.
Unfortunately, she didn’t take my hesitation well. She skittered out from under me and sat on the pillows, against the headboard. For emphasis, she drew her knees up to her chin. “I’m freaking you out, aren’t I?” Her serious expression was just a front. I imagined I was about to find out if she could cry.
“I’m sorry, I thought you liked me-“
“Baby no I like you fine-“
“…but if it’s too weird-“
“…we can just drop it and I’ll be mmmhh… Mmmhhhh?“
My conversational skills being what they were at times like these, I figured that kissing her would work out better. Once she got over her surprise, she grabbed my head and reciprocated hungrily. Man, she was good at kissing, and she tasted so sweet. I couldn’t place it. Like honeysuckle or something. I slipped my arms around her as her knees lowered. We eased ourselves down and made out for a good stretch, side by side. When you’re at first base with someone new, you wonder how far to go sometimes. Amy presented a whole other set of variables, obviously. And her trembling was as much from exhaustion as from excitement, so I started thinking it was a bad idea to let this go much farther.
“This is nice,” she breathed, touching my cheek. “Is it nice?”
I put my hand on her hip. “More than nice.”
There was a hint of need in her eternally level gaze. “I’m really tired because I’m fixing myself, but we probably could do it if you want.” She smiled around the last few words.
“Should we?” I asked. “I mean… Can you?”
“You mean did they build me with all my girl parts?” she teased.
“Well yeah. You know…”
She unbuttoned her pants, pulled them down around her hips. Took my hand and put my palm against her hot stomach before guiding it into her panties. Sure felt complete to me. Her mouth twitched as she used my fingers to softly stroke. “After all,” she flirted, “what’s the use of secret agent robots that can’t seduce people?” She led me to her very hard little clit and let go. “Mmmm. Yeah...”
Amy began to rock her hips as her eyes closed. She rose up on her elbows and arched her back. “I’ve never been with someone like this who… Knew me,” she confided.
I leaned in for a kiss, which she eagerly supplied. “How’s that working out?”
- “Oh, it’s exciting…”* To prove it, she broke out in a sweat. I could feel it on my wrist against her belly. She was also producing an alarming amount of heat, as her hips moved faster and faster. She grabbed my arm with both hands and ground against my fingers.
It was a short ride. “Hmmmmmmmmhhhhh!” she moaned, as her elbows went out from under her and she shook the bed. Her thighs flexed and relaxed as she rode the wave.
I evaluated her rapid breathing and feverish, glistening skin. “Maybe that’s all the excitement you need for now.”
“Mmmh,” she nodded. “Sorry.” She looked exhausted, but at least she was smiling. I slowly extricated my hand from her underwear. “I’ll make it up to you later,” she promised slyly.
I kissed her once more. “Looking forward to it.”
She didn’t seem to need sleep, but she drowsed now while her body repaired itself in its frighteningly efficient way. I left her alone and started to dig my laptop out of our bags, because I needed to figure out the fastest way to Arizona that would keep us a few steps ahead of everyone who was after us. The biggest problem would be getting us back into the States off the radar.
“Will…” Amy murmured.
“Try to rest, okay?” She was wheezing a little. Maybe we shouldn’t have fooled around.
I stopped hooking up my laptop and looked at her. She was frowning. “Don’t what?”
She tried to say more, but couldn’t seem to manage it.
My cell phone rang then. I pulled it out of my coat pocket and flipped it open. I didn’t recognize the number. “You mean ‘don’t take this call?’” I asked.
She just nodded.
Right. I turned off the phone. Time to get a new one, preferably untraceable.
It was already getting dark in Helsinki and it was only 15:00. I’d been in Estonia long enough to anticipate it, but I was far from used to it. I yawned as I helped Amy into our rental car.
“Now you look like shit,” she smiled.
I just tucked in her legs and shut the door, glancing around nervously. I had no illusions about how exposed we were, about how close our pursuers must be.
We drove through downtown of this ghostly, fairy tale city for a while in silence. “Can you tell if they’re closing in on us?” I asked, as I lit a cigarette.
“Hey.” She indicated that she wanted one.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
She rolled her eyes and swatted my arm. “What’s it going to do, kill me? I’ve done an EVA in orbit without a space suit, Will.”
I felt silly for saying something, and I decided to ignore the ramifications of what she’d just said. Anyway, she was starting to perk up, so I obliged.
“I’m afraid,” she said, as she rolled down her window.
“Finding out. You want to know how I know things sometimes, before they happen?”
I laughed as I turned a corner and yielded to some pedestrians. “Yeah.”
“There’s a network that only we can use.”
“Sure, the robots,” she indulged. It didn’t sound like she enjoyed being called one. “We can get into any other network and see things. Only it’s hard to do it without being noticed.”
“You mean by other ones.”
She took a deep drag. “Yeah, and certain other people. I’m used to doing it all day long. You know, looking up things, talking to them.”
“And you haven’t been?”
“No,” she whispered. “Not much. Not since yesterday.”
I put my hand on her knee. “Must be lonely.”
She put her hand over mine, at least until I needed it to shift gears. “It’s awful! Like losing your sight and your ISP all at once.” I had to laugh at that one. “But I’m afraid that if I do it for too long, they’ll find us.”
I started heading out of town. North. “You said it was hard to access it undetected. Too hard?”
“We leave a signature when we go there, Will, way too complex to be human. Like throwing a boulder into a pond in the rain.” Her gift for simile was striking, given that she was a machine, but we were also two field agents assessing our situation. “We do need intel,” she agreed. “Give me a minute.”
She didn’t close her eyes, or sit in lotus, or talk to herself. She just kept smoking in silence as I drove. Flurries began to dance around in the gray sky. I turned on the radio and she didn’t complain. After 20 minutes I started zoning out. I mean, it’d been a hell of a couple of days, and we’d both need to be sharp when we got to Timo.
When she broke the silence, the news didn’t sound good. “Fuck…”
I gripped the wheel. “What?”
“Oh no, no, no-“
“Just drive. Wherever we’re going, go faster.”
*TO BE CONTINUED*