ShowStopper

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Written by DukeNukem 2417

ShowStopper

Victor Vega glared at his watch, scowling. “It’s 10:37….he said he was going to be here half an hour ago…”

Within the boardroom of the international United Robotronics headquarters, Victor stared around the table at the other UR shareholders. Directly across from him, Elena Vlatko filed her nails and sighed, as if the lateness of their host was nothing more than an inconvenience. The chair reserved for William J. Rengold III (aka the psychopathic serial killer Faceless) was, as usual, vacant; after his last escapade, Faceless had been sent to a supermaximum-security penitentiary code-named DragonTown, which had a rather stringent policy against inmate escapes. On the farthest end of the table from Victor’s seat, a television set had been placed to allow one particular shareholder---also incarcerated---to “attend” the meeting. Rounding out the group were Andrew Sharpe (the “public face” of United Robotronics) and Victor’s own business partner, Vivica Frost.

Ironically, Mrs. Frost had been mistakenly identified as a gynoid on several occasions; her white hair, almost impossibly-youthful appearance and fondness for cold environments only served to reinforce the illusion. The truth was actually quite simple---having been born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, Vivica Frost simply had a tolerance for cold environments that few could appreciate. Her ethereal appearance? The result of cold “slowing the aging process”, as she often claimed. The white hair? A leftover from a traumatic incident during her childhood…so she let people believe. The hair color was actually the product of a medical condition that she refused to talk about. In any case, her affinity for the cold had one other effect on her---those who crossed her often found themselves the victims of punishments involving extreme cold.

Very few survived to anger her again.

Andrew Sharpe checked his watch; “This isn’t right,” he muttered. “The Baron should’ve been here by now…” He glanced at the far end of the table; as per the Baron’s instructions, the lights on “his” side of the room had been dimmed to almost complete darkness. “I’m going to call the receptionist---“

“Don’t waste your time, Sharpe. I am quite ready to begin our little meeting now.”

A chair slid forward out of the darkness, revealing the pinstriped suit, gloved hands and hidden visage of the Baron. “If everyone would forgive my…somewhat dramatic entrance,” he intoned, the bassonic rumblings of his voice sounding more than a bit like one of the lead actors from Deadwood, “we can get to the heart of the matter. Celine, if you would….”

A lightly-tanned, 30 year old Caucasian with vibrant, dark red hair stepped forward and handed a folder to the Baron. “We’ll begin with the latest from Miss Vlatko and her efforts to….jump-start the production of new gynoids based on the designs of the late Dr. Franklin. Miss Vlatko, if you would---“

Victor Vega slammed his fist onto the table. “NO.”

The Baron’s chair swiveled ever-so-slightly. “You…have an objection, Señor Vega?”

The Spanish billionaire glared at the Baron. “For the past few weeks,” he hissed, “the joint venture between myself and Miss Frost in Anchorage has been failing…..because of YOUR interference!” He grabbed a Manila envelope from his briefcase and hurled it at the Baron. “Your stupid drug mules---your plastic women---have failed me, Baron! NONE of the merchandise survived the shipping process! I LOST SEVENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS BECAUSE OF YOUR STUPID DOLLS!”

As the other shareholders exchanged worried glances, the Baron casually opened the envelope and perused the pictures within. “It seems your complaints are legitimate, Señor Vega,” he remarked. “The internal power sources of the drug mules appear to have…adversely affected your, ah, ‘merchandise’---“

“I DEMAND COMPENSATION!” Vega screamed. “YOU WILL PAY BACK EVERY DOLLAR I LOST---“

“Sir,” Celine pleaded, “please calm down…United Robotronics will gladly pay you for all of the---“

“No.”

The Baron’s interjection silenced the gynoid secretary. “Señor Vega will simply have to start over….it would be counter-productive to go throwing around money every single time one of my affiliates’ mistakes compromises your plans.” He tossed the envelope back to Vega. “Perhaps your next venture will be more…successful…”

Victor’s eyes widened in shocked fury. “You….you refuse….”

“Celine,” the Baron instructed, ignoring Vega’s outburst, “bring out Victor’s consolation prize; it would be a crime to leave you empty-handed after so many torturous hours of labor…” Celine nodded and left the room, ignoring the surprised expression on Sharpe’s face. “Now, about your, ah, business ventures,” the Baron continued, “I understand you recently acquired a robotics company of your own…am I correct?”

Victor nodded silently. The ReVerse acquisition was supposed to be a secret…how had the Baron---

“At the risk of offending you further, I must say that I find it a bit ironic that you managed to obtain control of the company so quickly,” the Baron continued, “especially after their pathetic business dealings over the last few years….” He laid another folder on the table, this one stamped with the old ReVerse logo. “Every single document in this folder shows exactly how ReVerse dug themselves into a hole….and to a man such as yourself, Señor Vega, these papers are especially damning; if anyone found out that you bought this company after what could only be described as a ‘convenient’ financial collapse….”

“If you’re trying to blackmail him,” Vivica Frost cut in, “it won’t work.”

The Baron laughed. “Blackmail? My dear Miss Frost, I was only suggesting that Señor Vega wipe the slate clean…” The section of the table beneath the folder split in two, revealing a metal grille installed within the massive marble structure. “…and what better way to start than by eliminating the evidence of insider trading and hostile practices?” Flames shot up through the grille, incinerating the folder as the shareholders watched.

“As of this moment,” the Baron intoned, “ReVerse Robotics is, has been and always will be a Vega Industries owned subsidiary of United Robotronics. Any attempts to prove otherwise will be met with extreme force.”

The shareholders exchanged nervous glances and nods.

“NOW, to business. Señor Vega, your first assignment as the new owner of ReVerse Robotics is…a rather interesting one, to be honest.” The Baron lazily pressed a button on a remote control, projecting images of a pigtailed, pink-clad girl at a shopping mall, singing “I Think We’re Alone Now” in front of several hundred cheering fans. “This latest entry into the pop music pantheon is known as Sophia Starlet,” the Baron stated, “and her record sales are destroying the efforts of my, ah, pet projects in the music world. Suffice it to say, I am not happy….but if someone were to…oh, I don’t know, introduce a new act---one that could knock Miss Starlet off of her place atop the charts---I might be inclined to donate generously to that someone’s bank account….”

Victor had already pieced the Baron’s intentions together: “You want me to….build a singer to beat her?”

The Baron’s laugh sent chills down the spines of everyone in the room. “Señor Vega,” he declared, “you’ve hit the proverbial nail right on the head. I do indeed want you to use your newly-acquired resources at ReVerse to literally create the next musical sensation…” His laugh slowly descended to a chuckle, though it lost none of its menace. “You will be following a few guidelines, of course…but nothing too stringent…”

Still watching the mall performance, Victor heard himself ask “What kind of guidelines?”

A chill flodded his bones as he heard the Baron’s reply: “I’m so glad you asked….”

The footage of Sophia Starlet faded out, replaced by a three-dimensional render of an athletically-toned African-American woman. “My PR department has already crafted an identity for her,” the Baron stated. “Her name, history and records will be delivered to you after she has been built and programmed.”

“Couldn’t you just get your people to do this?” Elena Vlatko asked. “Have her built at one of your factories---“

“We can’t afford to risk being connected with this project,” Sharpe replied. “The fall of Sophia Starlet isn’t just going to be a figurative event---at some point over the course of the next month, we may have to literally take her down. As the Baron already stated, Starlet’s album sales are drawing a huge profit margin, and if sponsors start leaving us to support her…..” He shook his head. “It’s not going to end well for United Robotronics, put it that way.”

“Which is why Señor Vega has been given this responsibility,” the Baron intoned. “If all goes according to plan, and Miss Starlet is, shall we say, prematurely retired before Christmas, then not only will I reward Victor Vega for his efforts….” He steepled his gloved fingers as the shareholders leaned in.

“I will personally ensure that each and every one of you receives a substantial bonus.”

Before anyone could react to the announcement, the TV on the far end of the table crackled to life, revealing an unshaven (but otherwise well-groomed) figure in prison garb. “Sorry I’m late,” the Maestro drawled, “bloody stupid rookie guard tried to take my cellphone away….won’t be making that mistake again.” He chuckled darkly. “Anywys, how much of the meeting did I miss---“ He spied the render of the gynoid that Vega had just been contracted to build. “Who brought a skin flick to the meeting?” he cackled.

“That ‘skin flick’ is none of your concern,” the Baron coldly replied. “You’re late again, Maestro…I’m starting to think you no longer care about our arrangement….”

Instantly, the Maestro’s demeanor changed; he stopped laughing at the gynoid render, his eyes locked on the shadowed end of the table where the Baron sat. “Don’t you dare threaten me,” he growled. “I’ve laid down enough roots in this place to bring the most powerful men in Silicon Valley to their knees….and you won’t be getting any quarter from me if you make another crack like that.”

The Baron waved away the threat. “Sharpe, strike my previous remark from the minutes, if you would…..”

If the Maestro was offended by the terse reply, he didn’t show it. “Fair enough.” He leaned back on his bunk; “Carry on, then…don’t bring the proceedings to a crashing halt on account of me.”

At that moment, Celine re-entered the room and handed Victor Vega a stainless-steel box. “Your consolation prize,” she explained. “Don’t open it until after you leave the building.” Victor nodded and slid the box into his briefcase. “As I was saying,” the Baron droned, “each of you will be receiving a substantial bonus if Señor Vega’s efforts prove fruitful. Should he fail….well, let’s try not to dwell on that.” His chair swiveled in the direction of Elena Vlatko. “I’m afraid your contributions will have to wait until our next meeting, Miss Vlatko; had it not been for the…exuberance of Señor Vega, I might have been able to address your concerns sooner.”

Elena waved aside the remark. “I would rather present my ideas in detail than be…upstaged by one of my fellow shareholders,” she replied, prompting a harsh, barking laugh from the Maestro.

Vega said nothing; he didn’t want to become the sole target of the Baron’s wrath so soon after his outburst.

With that, the Baron dismissed the shareholders (except for the Maestro), and Vega nearly ran over Andrew Sharpe trying to leave the meeting room. It wasn’t every day that the Baron simply handed out an opportunity like this, and with ReVerse under his control, Victor Vega intended to do one better than his orders: Not only would he knock Sophia Starlet off the charts…soon, he would rule the recording industry with a silk-gloved fist.

A fist, as it just so happened, that he would very much love to smash into the Baron’s face….

Is it just me, or does this Professor guy look like the new lead singer from Styx?”

Vicki Lawson barely heard her roommate’s observation; she was too busy reading up on the San Jose Retro Toy Fair. “Hmm?” she inquired. “This Professor Anton Mal….something or other. See?” Vicki’s view of the SJRTF article was suddenly blocked by a picture of a 50-something man in a dress shirt and pants, an unruly mane of hair crowning his head.

“Ah, Sharon,” the brunette gynoid stated with a frown, “I’m trying to read an article here…”

“You’re missing the resemblance, though!” Sharon Wilson insisted. “Look---that’s a picture of the Professor, and….” She fished around in her backpack for a photo of Styx vocalist Lawrence Gowan. “This is the lead singer of Styx. See? They look almost like twins!” Vicki sighed and studied the photos, surprised to find that Lawrence Gowan and Prof. Anton Malvineous did, indeed, look like long-lost twin brothers. “I’m sure it’s just a coincidence,” she replied, “though I’m a bit curious as to why you’re so freaked out at this; a roboticist who looks like a Canadian prog-rock singer isn’t exactly headline-making material…”

“The Professor will be here next week for a lecture,” Sharon stated, “and supposedly, he’s also going to be interviewing students for an internship position!”

“And you’re telling me this….why?” Vicki asked, slowly becoming annoyed.

“Well,” Sharon replied, her grin fading a bit, “it’s just that….your dad does stuff with robots, and all….he owns a robotics company…..and I thought you might..I dunno…want to learn a bit more about the field….”

Vicki’s annoyed scowl turned to a smile. “Since you put it that way,” she replied, “tell me a bit more about this Anton Malvineous guy…” In actuality, she already knew a lot about Anton Malvineous---she’d never met the man in person, but judging from the tales her father and Mr. Tell had told, he was to robotics what Steve Jobs was to Apple, or what Bill Gates was (and continued to be) to Microsoft---an innovator in the field. Malvineous had been involved in Project Oberon---the military-based project that eventually “spun off” into smaller ventures that included Project Apollo (a.k.a. V.I.C.I. Mk I)---in its earliest stages, though he’d taken a brief turn into the “dark side” of robotics and computing in the early 90s. From 1990 to 1993, he was part of a hacking collective known as the Great Dirty World Wide Web (the name of which, ironically enough, was inspired by a Gowan album) alongside a particularly unsavory character known only as the Maestro; when the Maestro announced his plans to “carpetbomb” the Internet, however, Malvineous renounced his hacker ways and returned to the world of robotics…just as the Maestro was brought down hard by the Feds.

As Sharon explained the Professor’s backstory to Vicki, the brunette gynoid listened intently---all while searching through her bubble memory processors for any other information about Malvineous that she may have heard over the years. Other than a few connections to a project involving Tentrex Electronics and a mention of his collaborations with the late Dr. Stanley Guy, nothing about the Professor really stood out. Maybe he’s just really good at staying off the radar, she mused.

Eventually, the two roommates decided to head to the Student Union building for breakfast, and to meet up with Shawn Helmsley and Kim DeFalco for a walk (Kirsten Sanderson had gone home for the Thanksgiving break). “We should probably check out the Retro Toy Fair while we’re at it,” Vicki suggested.

Sharon arched an eyebrow. “You want to check out a toy fair?”

“They might have some cool stuff!” Vicki reasoned. “Besides, I’d rather go now than wait till Friday; you know all the ‘early-bird’ shoppers are going to be there trying to score last-minute gifts for their kids…” She put on her best “pleading” expression.

“Okay, okay!” Sharon replied, laughing. “I was going to go there anyways…”

Vicki beamed and got out her cellphone. “Let’s see who else wants to relive the 80s…”


After a red-eye flight back to the States, Victor Vega found himself overseeing the creation of the Baron’s next big star at the ReVerse factory in Cupertino. “If even ONE PART is not up to his specifications,” he informed the foreman, “I will personally see to it that every single person responsible for the failure loses their job!” The foreman nervously informed Vega that his quality control standards were impossibly high, but that the factory workers would do their best.

“’Their best’?” Vega replied. “’Their best’ is NOT GOOD ENOUGH!”

“Go easy on the guy, Vic,” a female voice drawled. “He’s had a hard day.”

Victor Vega didn’t bother replying to the remark. “See to it that your men do not fail me,” he told the foreman, “otherwise Ms. Frost will be more than happy to have you drowned in glacier water.” The foreman, by this point sweating profusely, nodded, nearly tripping over himself as he ran to get away from Vega.

“What is it with you and the lower level guys?” the female voice asked. “You treat them like crap….”

“…because most of the time,” Vega replied, turning to face the individual who had interrupted his “chat” with the foreman, “they are….” He stopped and sighed. “Lauren, my dearest,” he groaned, “why are you wearing that in this building?”

Lauren Vega sighed. “The cleaners never returned my favorite shirt,” she replied, “so I figured ‘why not give the boys some motivation?’, and I threw this on.” She grinned cheekily, posing to show off her curves (and the white bikini they filled out). “Think this is motivating them enough, Vic?” she teased, wiggling her butt. “Or should I just go for the latex catsuit next time I visit?” A few passing workers let out wolf-whistles, earning a wave from the vivacious Lauren.

“I should force you to wear coveralls the next time you come here,” Victor muttered.

“Lighten up, Vic!” Lauren chided. “I can’t help it if I like showing off my body!” She grinned, leaning in close to whisper in Victor’s ear: “It’s how I was programmed, remember?”

Victor groaned. “Your original purpose should not be your default excuse for dressing like a streetwalker!” he thundered. “And as for this ‘bodily pride’ nonsense…I would never hesitate to admit that I have a body which most men would kill for, but you do not see me strutting around in a thong, posing like some idiotic bubbleheaded fool!” He shook his head. “At least put a coat on if you’re going to wear that,” he suggested. “A full-length trenchcoat, preferably, not some stupid low-cut…thing.”

“Fine,” Lauren drawled. “And for the record, you do ‘strut around in a thong’ at the casa…well, it’s more of a Speedo, really, but you get the point.” She grinned her cheeky grin again and sauntered out, drawing more catcalls.

“I should never have altered her default personality settings,” Victor grumbled as he watched her leave.

Several minutes later, the finished endoskeleton of the gynoid singer was completed, passing all of the quality control tests with ease. “Begin installing the components,” Victor instructed the workers, “and put her through the skinning process afterwards. I want this done by the end of the day!” The workers complied, firing up the machinery that would install the power cells, backup memory cores, temperature regulators, heat sinks and other vital parts. One such machine was already inserting a pair of top-quality occular sensors---disguised as human eyeballs with brown retinal coloring---into the endoskeleton’s eye sockets, while another loaded the high-spec processor that would serve as the gynoid’s brain into its pre-shaped cavity inside the metallic skull.

Victor watched as the robotic frame moved from one machine to the next, each set of arms adding another component to the gynoid’s body.

Within seven minutes, the frame was fully assembled, with all of the necessary components installed.

“Three minutes ahead of schedule,” Victor remarked, nodding his approval. He turned his attention to one of the workers. “Is the skinner ready?” The worker shouted an affirmative; “Excellent,” Vega replied. “Put her through it---and make sure it’s working properly at every step!”

Another set of powerful robotic arms lifted the fully-assembled gynoid body from its resting place, moving it down a line that eventually ended at a massive construct housing silicone pumps, a neural-network installation system and even a device that could create realistic hair from a synthetic multifiber-weave. As Victor watched, his eyes never leaving the assembly line, the gynoid body was first lifted and apparently entwined within a network of finely-woven wires; in reality, the wires (which would eventually become the synthetic equivalent of a nervous system) were being carefully laid out over every inch of the robotic form. A thin mist of protective gel was sprayed over the body afterwards, to keep the melted silicone from interfering with the neural net. After the gel sprayer, the robotic body was lifted into a standing position by another set of arms, one of which positioned a set of occular protectors over the fake eyeballs. Afterwards, the gynoid was transferred to a sort of turntable, which lifted the robot into the silicon molds that would soon “flesh her out” by creating a realistic layer of synthetic skin.

The factory foreman stood by nervously, hoping that nothing would go wrong. “Activate the pumps,” Victor instructed, in his usual imperious way. The foreman nodded, signalling for the pumps to be switched on.

A milisecond after the command was given and the switch pulled, liquid silicone flooded the mold, pouring over the gel-shielded body and conforming to the mold’s presculpted measurements. Thin wires and blades within the mold kept the fingers and toes from being fused together, while a clear-plastic shield over the front of the robot’s head prevented silicone from flooding the facial cavity and wrecking the servomotors. After fifteen seconds, the mold halves split and receeded, revealing the naked, hairless body of a well-toned African-American gynoid.

Again, Victor nodded his approval, and the foreman signaled for the final phases of the process to begin.

The body was moved further down the assembly line, where a second mold clamped into place over all areas below the neck. Intricate machines within the device sculpted out erogenous zones, while other, smaller machines pressed artificial fingernails into place. The mold separated, and Victor couldn’t help but smirk at the results; whatever his faults, the Baron did have an appreciation for the more intimate areas of the female form.

Before anyone could get too comfortable looking at the almost-completed gynoid, the body glided forward on the assembly line to the final station. A device like a diving-helmet descended over the head, fully covering all but the face with more artificial skin. Chemical sprayers injected fast-acting batches of resin emulsions into the subdermal capillary network of the head, followed by a second chemical which triggered a reaction that caused the emulsions to form flowing, realistic dark-brown hair that weaved through the subdermal network like nylon through spinnerets. The diving-bell apparatus returned to its station, and one final machine pressed into place, connecting the robot’s silicone facemask to the rest of its---her head.

Finally, the fully-assembled gynoid was deposited, still in a standing position, onto a platform in front of Victor Vega. The entire process had taken no more than fifteen minutes.

Workers quickly rushed to clothe the finished gynoid, dressing her a black sports bra and matching spandex pants while Victor looked on. After the workers finished clothing the gynoid, Vega walked around her, studying the work that had been done. “No visible seams where the molds connected….no pooling or slopping of the silicone..” He felt her up quickly. “No errors in the mammary gel insertion…or in the buttocks, for that matter…” Finally, he stood back, gave the gynoid a final once-over, and smiled. “Good work, gentlemen. Now…I’ll take it from here.”

The gynoid was loaded into Victor’s car, with a coat added to her attire and her eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. “I’ll call you once she’s activated,” Victor informed the foreman. “Keep the phone line open.”

The foreman nodded nervously, and Victor floored the gas pedal of his Lamborghini.

You know,” Shawn Helmsley mused, “you girls are lucky I was willing to drive you all the way out here to the Convention Center---“ “And we’re all grateful for that,” Vicki replied, grinning. “Seriously, I owe you big time for this.”

“Don’t mention it,” Shawn replied. “But since when has San Jose ever had a Toy Fair? Seriously….”

“It’s not just a Toy Fair,” Vicki reminded him. “It’s a Retro Toy Fair. I heard they might be bringing back stuff that hasn’t been on store shelves since I was a kid…” She giggled in anticipation, prompting Kim, Valerie and Sharon to exchange confused looks. “Vicki,” Kim asked, “are you, ah, feeling unwell, or anything?”

The brunette gynoid rolled her eyes. “Just because I’m psyched up for a toy fair doesn’t mean I’m sick---“

“Oh, boy,” Shawn muttered. “It’s the ticket man. Everybody get out your spare change---I know for a fact that we have to pay the man 75 cents when we get to the gate, or he won’t let us inside---“ “That was the Circus Circus casino in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Valerie corrected. “What’s your point, exactly?” Shawn replied, giving her a typical Raoul Duke stare. “Ignore him,” Kim suggested. “Seriously, though, do we actually have to pay to get in, or---“

All questions about paying to get in were quashed when Vicki presented the man at the gate with five tickets, prompting another round of confused looks from the group. “How long have you known about this toy fair thing?” Sharon asked. “Since last month,” Vicki gleefully replied.

As the group once again, discussed whether or not Vicki had lost her mind, the brunette gynoid could barely contain herself. She had, indeed, found out about the toyfair last month, and with Ted’s permission, she’d been given a $1,000 budget to splurge at the bi-annual event. Most of the vendors and displays listed for this year’s show were toys that had first been released during her “walking appliance” days, and she’d only had an opportunity to appreciate them after Ted decided to give her full sentience….and even then, most of those cherished playthings ended up being donated to charity, given to the Brindles or misplaced in-between moving trips. Worse, at least one full box of her favorite toys had been stolen while the Lawsons were on vacation.

Long in a short, Vicki was really looking forward to enjoying the Retro Toy Fair.

“If I find even a single thumbprint that doesn’t belong to one of you four,” Shawn declared, “I’m calling the cops and having this entire parking lot quarrantined until I find out who touched my car.” “Isn’t that a little extreme for something like a thumbprint?” Valerie asked. Shawn stared at her; “Foreign thumbprints could be carrying dangerous bacteria,” he began, only to be interrupted by Vicki’s joyful shouts. “Never mind,” he muttered.

The group did their best to catch up with Vicki, finally reaching her just as she stepped inside the South Hall of the San Jose Convention Center. She looked like the proverbial kid in the candystore…wide eyes, a smile bigger than the moon, a sudden loss of speaking ability---all the telltale symptoms of a girl who was having a serious flashback to her youth. “If she starts screaming,” Kim murmured, “I think I may just head back to the car and lock myself in.” “It’s not that bad,” Sharon chided her. “We were all kids once, remember?” Kim sighed; “Well, when you put it that way…”

Vicki was already making her way to one of the stands, a squeal of delight escaping her lips. “THEY HAVE THE LOLLYPOP DOLL!” she declared, hugging the item to her chest. “I got one of these for Christmas one year,” she explained to her bewildered fellow students. “She had this storybook, and it was so….” A tear of joy made its way down her face. “Lollypop was the coolest toy I ever owned,” she murmured, still grinning despite the quizzical look that the owner of the booth was giving her. “How much?” she finally asked, fully prepared to pay the full $1,000 for the beloved doll. “$75,” the booth owner replied lazily. “JUST $75?!” Vicki screamed, more delighted than angry. “DEAL!”

The booth owner’s eyes went wide; “You’re…actually paying the full $75 for this?” he asked.

“She’s worth every penny,” Vicki replied, hugging the doll to her chest once again.

“Vicki,” Shawn interrupted, “you do know that doll first came out in the mid-to-late 80s, right?” “My dad got one for me from a friend,” Vicki replied without missing a beat. “It cost him a lot more than $75…but it was worth it! I mean, she had the Frostyland outfit, the Dreamland outfit, the extra storybooks…and she was one of the only dolls with wind-up walking action released at that time!” “Yep,” the booth owner agreed, “the Lollypop dolls were a rare breed. Back when everything was ‘He-man’ this and ‘Ninja Turtles’ that, some parents just wanted to give their kids something that wouldn’t get slime all over the carpets.” He sighed. “Unfortunately, the company that made Lollypop went bust after that douchebag Rengold tried to buy them out.”

Vicki’s grin faded. “Rengold?”

“Yeah,” the booth owner muttered. “The one with the mask and the mental issues. He spent three years trying to acquire a bunch of toy companies, and Go One Inc. was one of the ones that just couldn’t hold out long enough…” He sighed again; “It’s a shame, really.” While her friends were examining a booth that sold vintage Atari games, Vicki leaned forward and whispered: “Is anyone here selling any of the Starlet Dolls?”

The booth owner chuckled. “That,” he declared, “would be a true miracle. Seeing as how Mattel pretty much bankrupted the company that made them, though…”

“I get it,” Vicki replied, sounding more than a bit depressed at the news.

The booth owner realized that Vicki wasn’t just someone looking to score a quick eBay goldmine. “Listen,” he informed her, “the Starlet Dolls may be gone, but they haven’t been forgotten. I hear there’s this new singer performing at Santana Row---you’d love her act. She looks almost exactly like the Starlet Dolls headliner, Sophia.” He handed the gynoid a flyer. “Seriously, she’s a dead-ringer…I caught her act last week, and it was…wow. I mean, it felt like someone had taken an old Sophia Starlet doll, made her life-sized and brought her to life!”

Vicki’s eyes widened as she went over the flyer; the girl did, indeed, look like a life-sized Sophia Starlet doll come to life. “Does she have any gigs this week?” she asked. “I think she’s playing tomorrow,” the booth owner replied. “Lemme check….yep. She’s got two shows at Santana Row tomorrow, and another one on Wednsday at the Vallco Mall.” Vicki handed the flyer back to the booth owner and thanked him. “I may just have to check out this Sophia Starlet in concert,” she mused. “What kind of songs does she perform?” “Mostly retro stuff,” the booth owner replied. “A lot of Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, a few Blondie songs…but the real kicker is her version of ‘Moonlight Desires’. I’ve heard the original version---the one Gowan did, y’know?---but hers….I mean, talk about EPIC!”

Something about that remark piqued Vicki’s interest. “When exactly did Sophia Starlet make her debut in the pop music world?” she asked. “She just started getting airplay this year, to be honest,” the booth owner mused. “It’s almost literally like she’s non-existant one minute, and then BOOM! She’s everywhere. Not that I’m complaining, or anything…oh, I almost forgot.” He reached under the booth and handed Vicki a pair of plastic baggies. “The extra stuff for the Lollypop doll,” he informed her with a smile. “Free of charge.”

Vicki’s smile returned. “I take it you’re into retro toy collecting too?” she querried.

“There’s a whole room full of nothing but vintage Transformers at my house,” the booth owner replied, “AND I’ve got at least three shelves in my basement loaded with unreleased toy prototypes….so yeah, I am definitely a fan of retro toy collecting.”

Vicki and the booth owner shook hands, and after realizing her friends had already moved on to another booth, she decided to check out the rest of the Retro Toy Fair by herself. “Even if they don’t have the Starlight Dolls, I might find something just as cool,” she reasoned. “That, or I’ll end up getting bored and looking for Shawn and the girls before the hour’s up.” With one last glance at her newly-acquired Lollypop doll, she set off down a random aisle.

For the next sixty minutes, Victoria Anne-Smith Lawson felt like she was in retro toy Heaven.

By the time Shawn, Kim, Valerie and Sharon met up with her, the smile on her face was almost a mile wide. “I take it you’ve been sampling the wares, then,” Shawn mused, noticing the bulging bags of retro toys Vicki was carrying. The gynoid nodded; “This place is so awesome,” she gushed. “It’s almost like a personal trip back in time!”

“At least someone got something out of this,” Sharon huffed. “What are you talking about?” Vicki asked, a bit confused. “You sound like…” She stopped, noticing that the girls looked as if they’d been through a mosh pit.

“Apparently,” Kim informed the brunette gynoid, “you’re not the only one who’s into collecting toys from the 80s; we nearly got trampled by a bunch of GROWN WOMEN getting into a fight over vintage Care Bears and Cabbage Patch Kids!” “At least we were able to get away from that aisle before they brought out the Troll dolls,” Valerie added. Sharon nodded her agreement. “Not to take anything away from your experience,” she told Vicki, “but the next time there’s a Retro Toy Fair, please let me know so I can stay as far away from it as possible.”

“I haven’t heard Shawn complaining,” Vicki countered.

“That’s because he spent most of he time in the vintage books section,” Kim replied. “We found him there after we got away from the roving hordes of housewives looking for My Little Pony toys.”

“To be fair,” Shawn stated, “my time here wasn’t nearly as dangerous as what you girls apparently had to put up with….mainly because the people browsing through the book section were somewhat less, ah, euphorically dangerous as the rest of the crowd.” The girls sighed and rolled their eyes, admitting that Shawn had a point. “I guess we just didn’t get to appreciate this sort of thing when we were young,” Kim mused.

“ATTENTION, ALL TOY-FAIR SHOPPERS, BROWSERS AND COLLECTORS! PLEASE REPORT TO THE STAGE AT THE END OF THE SOUTH HALL FOR A VERY SPECIAL SURPRISE!”

Vicki’s eyes widened in anticipation. “Oh, no,” Sharon groaned. “She’s got that look again…”

Before anyone could stop her, Vicki was racing towards the stage.

After several frantic minutes of jostling, elbowing and politely shoving their way through the crowd, Shawn and the girls caught up with Vicki a few feet away from the edge of the stage. “What’s going on now?” Kim asked, shouting to be heard above the roar of the crowd. “I don’t know,” Vicki replied, “but it looks pretty cool…d’you think they’re holding an auction, or---“

“Ladies and gentlemen…” The announcement from the Tannoy instantly prompted a hush from the crowd.

“All you retro toy collectors are in for a treat today….because RIGHT NOW, the San Jose Convention Center is proud to present….a pop star like no other…..fresh off the smash hit success of her third album….GIVE IT UP, for the AWESOME, the AMAZING, THE INCREDIBLE-----SOPHIA STARLET!”

Everyone in the crowd except Shawn, Valerie, Kim and Sharon started cheering---Vicki louder than most.

“Who the hell is Sophia Starlet?!” Kim shouted. “I don’t know!” Sharon shouted back. “Whoever she is, she’s got a lot of fans---“ A blast of confetti, glitter and CO2 drowned out the end of her sentence, as the pigtailed sillhouette of a female figure appeared on the stage. “HOW YA DOIN, SAN JOSE?!” The crowd roared various responses, all in the vein of “awesome”. “I hope so…BECAUSE YOUR WORLD IS ABOUT TO GET ROCKED!”

The band onstage launched into the opening of “Only in My Dreams” as the crowd continued to cheer..and as Vicki watched, the lights brightened to reveal Sophia Starlet, smiling confidently at the sea of fans.

This….is the most awesome day of my life!

“So, ah, how do we…y’know, turn her on, and all that? She got a remote control or somethin’?”

Victor Vega glared at his right-hand lackey, Stavros. “Activating a state-of-the-art female android is a bit more complicated than changing the channels on your high-definition TV,” he coldly replied. “Certain tests must be run before we can proceed---“

“And I’m sure you’d love to run those tests after you get her stripped down to her birthday suit,” Lauren Vega drawled, stretching out seductively on the couch. “You want me to go get the camera so we can film it and make a few extra bucks---“ “SHUT UP, Lauren,” Victor barked. “The tests I was speaking of involve running a series of checks on her systems to make sure they are in perfect working order---“ “Like you did with me?” Lauren teased. “I still remember that afternoon….Stavvy-boy over there seemed pretty excited about getting his turn to, ah, ‘test’ me….”

Stavros felt his face redden.

“Lauren,” Victor growled, “if all you intend to do is toss out one innuendo after another, I suggest you leave, or risk angering me further.” “And if I decide that I want to stay?” Lauren asked with a grin, only to squeal in fright as Victor hurled a paperweight at her. “GET OUT!” he shouted. “GET OUT, AND LOCK THE DAMNED DOOR BEHIND YOU!”

The trophy wife nearly tripped getting off the sofa, but managed to make it out the door without further incident.

“Y’know,” Stavros mused, “sometimes I think she needs a remote control…one with a big damn button that says ‘MUTE’ on it.” “She had a remote control,” Victor muttered, “but she ended up rewiring it to work on every light, television and automatic door in the casa. It took me five weeks to figure out what had happened…” He shook his head angrilly at the memory. “Cost me a fortune to have the casa rewired, as well.” “Eh, well, if you still got the receipt,” Stavros began with a chuckle, only to wither under Victor’s angry glare.

After a few more seconds of terse silence, Victor gestured for Stavros to get the “consolation prize” he’d been given by the Baron. “I still say you should have this thing scanned, Vic,” the Grecian advised. “He coulda put some sort of plutonium dust sprayer in there---“

“The multitude of security devices installed in the garage, the elevators and this room itself have already run their scans,” Victor replied, “and none of them detected anything even remotely similar to a ‘plutonium dust sprayer’ inside the box.” Stavros handed him the box with a shrug. “It looks like a metal brick to me, Vic…are you sure it’s not just a paperweight or something?” “It is not a paperweight,” Victor declared. “If you would’ve actually bothered to examine it, you would have noticed a thin seam near the top….” He pressed in on the sides of the box with his fingers, smirking as the seam became bigger. “…and that the sides contained a pair of built-in pressure plates,” he finished.

Stavros rolled his eyes and muttered.

“And now, to see what this ‘consolation prize’ is,” Victor declared, peering into the box---only for his glance to slide into an actual stare as he beheld its contents. Within the box was a solid gold medallion with the Vega family crest engraved onto its surface, the words “VEGA IMPERATOR” nestled between the crest and the name of the last actual king from the bloodline. An oath encircled the medalion’s rim, promising swift and total vengeance against those who would besmirch the name Vega or try to bring about the end of the lineage.

“Boss?” Stavros querried. “You, ah..you okay?”

Victor wiped a lone tear from his eye and closed the box, smiling. “I…I am more than ‘okay’,” he replied. “This gift from the Baron….it has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am destined for great things.” Before Stavros could reply, Victor closed the box and placed it in the main drawer of his desk, which he then locked.

“Now,” he declared, “to business.”

At his employer’s request, Stavros handed over another box---this one, a cardboard container just big enough to fit the case of a PS3 game. Victor opened the box to reveal a 2-inch square microchip with an intricate series of relays engraved upon it. “The final processor,” he intoned. “Why didn’t they install it at the factory, if it’s the last one?” Stavros asked. Victor didn’t bother looking at him as he replied: “This processor contains the personality of this gynoid---and from what the Baron has told me, her personality is rather…boisterous. Having the chip installed in the factory would have led to circumstances beyond my control…and you, of all people, should know that I tend to frown upon any scenario that leads to me being unable to control things…”

Stavros nodded wearily. “I get the picture…but if you didn’t want her wrecking shop at the factory, why bring her back here?”

“Again,” Victor huffed, “I am not someone who enjoys having no control….and within the confines of Casa de Vega, I have absolute and total control over anything that could happen if this gynoid refuses to obey me.” He smirked at the thought of the potentially-rebellious robot being cut to pieces by machine gun fire while a magnet held her feet to the ground. “Now, if there are no more questions, I believe it is time for us to finish the creation of this machine.”

Once again, Stavros nodded. “Ready when you are, Vic…”

Victor circled around the standing android, raising her mane of dark brown hair just enough to reveal a smallish slot in her neck. He slid the chip in, nodding his approval as the processor was accepted into the gynoid’s body with a click. “My laptop, Stavros,” he ordered, only to find the Grecian already bringing his PowerBook closer to the gynoid. “You sure she’s Mac-compatible?” he asked. “The specifications explicitly stated that she was to be made compatible with all available computers,” Victor replied. “To put it simply: Yes, she is most definitely ‘Mac compatible’.” Stavros muttered something about insurance, but decided not to say anything else as he handed the PowerBook over to Victor. “Remove her USB port cover, if you would,” the billionaire instructed.

“Eh?”

Victor let out a slow, steady breath. “Her belly button, Stavros. Pull out her belly button.” He frowned as the Grecian set about the task; “You know I despise using such childish terms….”

“Well, if you would’ve just said ‘pull out her belly button’ in the first damn place,” Stavros began, only to catch a withering glare from his employer. “Never mind,” he muttered. “Indeed. Now, fetch me the USB cable---wait, never mind, it’s already hooked up.” Within seconds, the PowerBook was on, and Victor---careful to avoid modifying or erasing anything that would turn the gynoid into nothing more than a glorified mannequin---made a few “last-minute” programming changes to the personality file.

“Done,” he declared with a confident smile. “Stavros, unhook the cable and reseal the gynoid’s USB port…it’s time to activate her.”

“Finally,” Stavros muttered.

Victor ignored the remark and waited until the laptop was out of sight. “I suggest you have your firearm ready,” he warned. “She might become dangerously unstable…”

With Stavros prepared to put an entire clip of Desert Eagle rounds through the gynoid’s head if she tried to kill him, Victor Vega tentatively felt around the back of her left ear until he located a small, almost wart-like bump on her skin---a cleverly-disguised toggle switch. With a whispered prayer asking that he not be struck down by his own creation, he pushed the switch inward and stood back, waiting with baited breath.

A series of quiet beeps, buzzes and tones issued within the gynoid’s torso and head.

“Activate….activate…” Victor whispered. “Activate, damn you….”

Boot-up initiated. ReVerse Robotics Unit BD #00001 Activating Running Checksum….checksum okay Loading sensory drivers…drivers loaded Loading personality suite….personality suite loaded Loading directives……………………………………..

“Load,” Victor hissed. “LOAD, you accursed---“

Directives loaded. Boot-up sequence complete. Unit BD #0001 activated.

The gynoid’s eyes opened, taking in every detail of the room as her head swiveled robotically from left to right. “Is she working, or what?” Stavros asked, making no effort to keep his voice down. “I think she might be missing a few files, or her hard drive got screwed up or---GHAACK!”

“What’d you just say, punk?!” The gynoid’s hand had closed around Stavros’ throat.

Victor Vega managed to refrain from laughing maniacally, settling for a smug grin. “It appears that Stavros was incorrect in his assessment of your mental functions, Miss….” “The name’s Brittney Delacroix, fool,” the gynoid replied, releasing her grip on Stavros. “And don’t even start about my ‘mental functions’---I know I ain’t human.” “A very comforting assurance,” Victor chuckled. “Now, would you care to recall your directives---“

“Knock that bitch Sophia Starlet off the charts, get a #1 song on everything from radio to YouTube before Christmas, and---oh, yeah, I nearly forgot---beat the ever-lovin’ CRAP out of anyone sent by the Baron,” she replied, counting off each of her objectives on her fingers. “Any other stuff you want done, or should I just go find that Starlet idiot and shove her head up her---“ “That will be all for now,” Victor assured her. “We should get you settled in to your new estate….you are welcome to, ah, ‘crash’ here at the casa whenever you please, but for the sake of the assignment---“

“I don’t need no lecture from you, Rico Suave,” Brittney shot back. “Just gimme a car, some cash and a map to my new digs---and I ain’t waitin’ all night.”

Victor sighed. “Delta Sigma Echo 55924.”

“What the hell---“ Brittney began, only to freeze in midsentence. “Shutting down,” a female voice announced from somewhere inside her; seconds later, her expression changed to a blank, vaguely confused look, and her chin dipped to her chest. “Well, now we know that the shutdown code works,” Victor remarked with a chuckle. “Stavros, would you care to bring Miss Delacroix to the garage and---“

A tone filled the room, as Brittney raised her head; “Reactivating…” Within seconds, her expression returned to a furious look, and she turned her glare towards Victor. “DON’T do that again!” she thundered. “How the hell did she do that?!” Stavros gasped. “It’s called ‘priority override’, retard,” Brittney sneered. “I ain’t got time for all this crap, Vega---you want that Starlet bitch off the charts, or not?”

Victor arched an eyebrow, impressed by Brittney’s attitude. “It appears that there is more to you than meets the eye, Miss Delacroix,” he mused. “Damn right there is,” Brittney shot back. “And while we’re on the subject of ‘more’, I’m gonna need some…supplemental income’ if this whole rap thing gets too boring.” Her scowl gave way to a seductive grin. “I hear you’re a man with…connections. As in, not-exactly-legal connections. Any chance you could cut me in on the action?” “Don’t,” Stavros panted. “She’ll just get in the way---“ “SHUT UP!” Brittney shouted, glaring at the Grecian.

“Miss Delacroix,” Victor replied, “consider yourself a fully-fledged member of El Casa de Vega.”

Brittney’s grin turned sinister. “Vic, baby,” she cooed, “I think you and I are gonna get along just fine…”

Vicki felt as if she were in a dream. On the stage before her was a performer who, until that moment, had only existed as a character in a cartoon series and a toyline…but now, she was here, and real…….

It was, to put it simply, a feelng of pure unadulterated joy.

The feeling lasted even after Sophia Starlet finished her set; Vicki could barely feel herself walking past the crowd towards the direction of what had to be Sophia’s dressing room. She didn’t hear the calls of her friends, didn’t feel the jostling of the crowd….the entire experience took on a subtle, dreamy quality that she’d only experienced a few times before in her existence. Even the mere process of knocking on the dressing room door felt….unreal, somehow. My arm feels like it’s lighter than a pillow…..this is just too weird….

Steadying herself, the brunette gynoid managed to clench her hand into a fist and knock….

After just two raps on the door, it opened---just enough for a white-haired man in his early-to-mid fifties to poke his head out. “Sorry,” he began, “but Miss Starlet isn’t signing autographs---“

“IHAVETOTALKTOHER!” Vicki squealed.

“Ah, what?”

“I…I have to talk to her!” the gynoid repeated, slowing down just enough for the guy at the door to understand what she was saying. “I…I’ve been a fan since I was a kid…the cartoons, and the dolls, I had them all….I just heard about her today, I didn’t know she was going to perform here….I’ve dreamed about meeting Sophia Starlet….I just wanna talk to her for a minute….”

“Dennis?” a voice---Sophia!---called from inside the room. “Who’s at the door?”

The doorman sighed. “Some girl from the university…” He paused. “What’s your name?”

“Vicki Lawson!”

Dennis arched an eyebrow, but said nothing. “WHO IS IT?” Sophia repeated.

“A girl from San Jose State University, I think…says her name is Vicki Lawson.”

The sound of a chair moving away from a desk leaked through the door….followed by said door being fully opened to reveal the smiling, pigtailed, pink-and-white clad figure of Sophia Starlet. “Vicki Lawson, huh? Isn’t your dad the owner of some big company….Lawson Robotics?”

Vicki nodded excitedly.

Sophia grinned and clapped Vicki on the shoulder. “Radical! C’mon in, have a seat! And feel free to touch, sniff and/or taste anything you want,” she added, casting a teasing glance at Dennis. “It’s rare to meet a fan like you nowadays…it’s all ‘Beyonce’ this and ‘Justin Bieber’ that. Nobody appreciates the good old---HEY!”

The brunette gynoid had wrapped herself around Sophia, hugging her. “I’ve always wanted to meet you,” she sobbed joyfully into the pink/white shoulder of Sophia’s outfit. Dennis frantically made a “phone” gesture with his hand---his way of asking if he should call the cops; Sophia glared at him and shook her head “no”. Dennis tried to argue that Vicki might not be in her right mind, only to get told off by the singer: “Dennis, Vicki and I are gonna have a conversation right now, so just…I dunno, hang out in the hall or something, ‘kay?” Knowing full well that he had just lost the argument, Dennis reluctantly sulked out of the room, slamming the door as he left.

“I…ah, think you can let go now,” Sophia gently informed Vicki.

“Right, sorry…” The brunette gynoid wiped her eyes and pulled away from the singer, still grinning.

“So, what’s a girl like you doing at a retro toy convention?” Sophia asked, intrigued. “Collecting old toys hardly seems like the sort of thing college girls are into nowadays…”

“To be honest,” Vicki admitted, “I was….this is gonna sound so stupid, but I was looking for the toyline that you, ah, appear to have based your act on.” She stared at the floor, feeling like an idiot for admitting her reason for being there. “I had them all when I was a kid,” she explained, “and….my neighbors, they had a daughter…and she had this habit of taking stuff that wasn’t hers….one day, I got back home from school, and all my Starlet Dolls were gone. Harriet swore up and down that she didn’t take them, but Ted made a few calls, and by the time we were able to get her to confess….” Her eyes started brimming with tears again. “Her aunt had sold them all to a pawn shop!”

“Ouch,” Sophia murmured. “I can see why you probably got psyched up…” She held up a clipping from the Spartan Daily, pointing to the ad for the Toy Fair: “They plastered my mug all over the ads, and you thought you’d get a full set of Starlet Dolls….guess I’m not exactly what you expected---“

“No!” Vicki cried. “I’m…I’m not upset, or anything…it’s just….I never expected to see you…in person, I guess.”

“Not like this, you mean,” Sophia corrected, grinning.

“Exactly.” The brunette gynoid felt somewhat embarassed; she’d never told any of her friends at SJSU why she was so fond of 80s marathons, or that she’d reserved the tickets to the Retro Toy Fair three months before it actually arrived. “Growing up wasn’t exactly a picnic for me…most of my childhood memories are just so… dull….but any time I got something like the Starlet Dolls, or the Lollypop Doll---“ She held up the bag with her recently-acquired Lollypop Doll and other purchases inside. “It was….it made me feel…”

“Like you could fly around the world and back without touching down?” Sophia offered.

Vicki nodded silently.

The pop singer grinned. “That’s what I love about my job---I get to remind people that no matter how bad their lives get, there’s always something that can give them that feeling of absolute total joy---“

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!”

Dennis’s shout almost instantly killed the mood. “He’s not talking about…our conversation, is he?” Vicki asked, whispering to avoid further antagonizing the doorman. “Knowing my luck,” Sophia replied, “I’ve either lost a gig or had to reschedule a show…” Before she could say another word, the door to the dressing room flew open. “We just lost tomorrow’s gigs,” Dennis fumed. “Some new act showed up out of nowhere and took your spots at Santana Row!”

“WHAT?!” Sophia shouted. “I had those gigs reserved for FIVE MONTHS---who could’ve stolen them?!”

“Some ‘hip-hop princess’,” Dennis spat, “Brittney…something-or-other. AND she’s sponsored by that idiot, Victor Vega---“

“You’re kidding!”

Sophia and Dennis turned to see Vicki with a shocked look on her face. “And why would you be concerned about Victor Vega?” Dennis asked. “I’m concerned because that slimeball almost grounded Leah Chambers’ NASA mission before she could even get in the shuttle,” Vicki replied. “She told me the whole backstory on that creep---how he tried to outdo people with his charitable contributions just to make himself look good….”

“That’s Vega, all right,” Dennis confirmed. “Apparently, he’s set up the gigs tomorrow for a ‘mining benefit’.”

“ANOTHER ONE?!” Sophia cried, groaning. “That’s the sixth time he’s pulled this stunt!”

Not wanting to see her new acquaintance angry, Vicki decided to act. “Maybe I could check out the gig before this Britney whoever goes on,” she proposed. “See if anyone says anything about your show getting axed.”

“Go on,” Sophia prompted, intrigued.

“If this really is Victor trying to upstage you for his own personal benefit,” Vicki continued, “I could report him to the authorities---not just the campus cops, mind you.” She grinned. “I know some people who might actually be able to put a dent in his ‘spotless record’….if he is pulling a scam, I can notify them, and he’ll be in jail faster than you can say ‘Would you like a jelly baby?’.”

“That….could work,” Dennis admitted.

“Also,” Vicki added, “it might, ah, give Sophia and I a chance to….I don’t know, possibly….hang out?”

Sophia grinned. “Those have got to be the two coolest ideas I’ve heard all week,” she replied. “Vicki Lawson, you are one awesome chick! Dennis---“ “Already on it,” the doorman declared. “On what?” Vicki asked. “I’ve been losing gigs to the so-called ‘talent’ on Vega’s label ever since I made my debut,” Sophia replied, “and so far, I’ve held my ground thanks to one thing: Concert Battles. They take one stage, I take the other---in the same venue---and we see who the crowd likes the best. So far, I’ve never lost….but if this new girl is casting her lot in with Victor Vega, a Battle might not be enough to beat her.”

“If anyone can beat Victor Vega’s latest pop tart,” Vicki replied, “it’s you.”

The remark drew a chuckle from Sophia. “Ever consider a career in comedy?”

Dennis’ return cut off any reply Vicki could’ve made. “They said yes,” he declared. “Should I tell them to keep the stage up here, or---“ “I’ll hold a private rehearsal at San Jose State University,” Sophia replied. “Vega’s goon squad might be scouting everywhere else….but I guarantee that they’d never look for me on a college campus.”

“Actually,” Vicki cut in, “I think I know a place they’d never even be able to find…”


“Well well well….what do we have here?” Alicia smirked as she read the notification on her iPhone; Vicki Lawson had just e-mailed her. “This should be interesting,” she mused. “Let’s see what she has to say----“

Her eyes widened in surprise as she read the title of the e-mail.

“URGENT---Pop Singer Needs Place to Practice.“

She scrolled down and continued reading. “Just met Sophia Starlet today and found out that someone with backing from Victor Vega stole her two gigs at Santana Row tomorrow. Prepping for a Concert Battle at the moment, but she needs a place to practice---could I bring her to the C.O.T.A.? I haven’t told her the name, or what it is…I just told her that Vega’s people wouldn’t be able to find her there. PLEASE help her out!”

Alicia smiled; “The art of the selfless….Vicki, you truly are a noble soul.”


Two minutes after she sent the e-mail to Alicia, Vicki got her reply: “She said yes!”

Sophia hugged her; “I owe you big time for this.” “Don’t thank her yet,” Dennis advised. “You’ve still got the concert battle tomorrow…if Vega pulls any stupid stunts, you’ll probably end up having to kiss that contract extension goodbye.” “Time enough for that later,” Vicki interjected. “I have an appointment to keep….I’ll send the directions to the venue once I get them, okay?” “Sounds like a plan to me,” Sophia replied. “Catch ya later, Vicki!”

Vicki grinned; “Be seeing you, Sophia.”

Meanwhile, at the management office of Santana Row….

“…and if I even THINK you’re tryin’ to back outta our deal…I’ll have my boys here break a couple golf clubs over that egg-shell head’a yours…ya feel me?”

Looking rather impressive in her new black fur coat, diamond necklace and matching choker (all worn over a pale grey blouse and tight-fitting leather pants) Brittney Delacroix glared into the terrified eyes of Santana Row’s event manager, a skinny white guy whose name she didn’t bother remembering. “Y-y-y-y-y-yes, M-m-m-miss D-d-d-delacruz,” he stammered. “IT’S DELACROIX, ASSCLOWN!” Brittney shouted, lifting the man out of his chair by his neck. “Say my name,” she growled.

“W-w-w-what?”

“Say my name, fool.”

“I…I don’t---“

“I SAID, SAY MY DAMN NAME!”

A few feet away, Stavros (who had been assigned as Brittney’s chief of security) watched with a familiar feeling of unease growing in his gut. “D’you think she’s gonna let up on that geek?” he asked Sinclair, another former bodyguard of Victor Vega. “Dunno,” the 6’9” ex-bodybuilder replied, “but I don’t think that guy’s gonna last much longer if he doesn’t do what she says.” Dalton, Brittney’s other bodyguard, nodded in agreement. “Ten bucks says she breaks his neck,” he muttered. “Nah,” Sinclair replied. “She’ll probably chuck him across the room.” “What if he breaks his neck after she throws him?” Stavros offered. Dalton and Sinclair looked more than a bit surprised by the possibility. “Crap,” Dalton muttered. “Never thought about that…”

“…AND WHEN I TELL YOU TO SAY MY NAME, YOU BETTER SAY MY DAMN NAME!” Brittney screamed, still hoisting the manager up by the neck. “NOW SAY IT, OR---“

The door to the office was kicked open. “FREEZE!” “HANDS IN THE AIR!” “DO NOT MOVE!”

“Oh, thank God,” the manager whimpered.

One of the security officers carefully edged his way into the room. “Put the manager down,” he ordered, “or we will open fire---“

“I’ll do you turds one better,” Brittney sneered, pivoting to face the security men. “CATCH!” She reared back and hurled the manager at the officers, knocking the trio to the floor. “That’s for not mindin’ your own damn business,” she declared, taunting the downed officers with a classic “oh, snap” gesture. “Now, if y’all don’t mind, I’ll just be on my way---“

A ping split the air; Brittney looked down to see a pair of prongs sticking out of her chest, with wires leading back to them. “Oh, shi---“

“TAZE HER, NOW!”

Brittney’s body convulsed as wave after wave of electricity flooded through her titanium frame into every single component. “Crap,” Stavros muttered. “I knew this was gonna happen…” Dalton and Sinclair managed to bum-rush the officer with the Tazer and tackle him to the ground, but by then, it was too late. The damage had been done.

The manager ran for his life, accompanied by one of the three officers; the other two stood their ground.

Stavros approached his still-twitching client, who was now laying prone on the floor. “You okay?”

Instantly, Brittney sat straight up, looking unnaturally stiff. “I’m-I’m-I’m-I’m Briiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitney Dela-Dela-Dela-Dela-Dela-Dela-Dela-Dela-Delacroix, bibibibibibibibibibibibibitchhhhhhhhaaazzz!” she slurred, her head snapping to the right with each repetition. “Holllahollahollahollahollahollahollaholla!” Moving with all the grace of a runaway windup toy, she awkwardly got to her feet, the sound of straining servos becoming all too obvious as her head turned robotically to examine the scene before her.

“Oh, man,” Stavros groaned. “Vic is gonna kill me…”

“What the hell is she hopped up on?” one of the officers asked, confused. “No clue,” the other replied, “but if she tries anything, get the cuffs on her so we can take her to the car---“

“Y’all ain’t takin’ me nonononononononononononononono---ZZT.” A loud buzz cut off her glitching speech as her face froze mid-word. “Get out of here!” Stavros yelled. The officers leveled their guns at him; “We’re not going anywhere until she’s neutralized,” one of the cops replied. “You don’t understand,” Stavros groaned, “that Tazer messed her up---“

Brittney’s arm clocked him across the head, knocking him to the ground.

“Party up in here! Party up in here! Partyupinhere! Partyupinhere! Partyupinhere! Partyupinhere!” Her voice continued rising in pitch as she sauntered around the room, her movements becoming more and more robotic with each passing second. The cops exchanged glances; had their partner still been in the room, the call they were about to make would’ve been very awkward indeed. “Get Tell on the horn,” one of them muttered, “and ask him to bring the crash cart down here.” “Good idea,” the other replied. “Hell, I might catch a ride back with him---I’ve been needing a tune-up for a few weeks now…damn left hand keeps going numb…”

“POWER CORE FAILURE,” Brittney announced in a very-obvious robotic monotone. “PLEASE SHUT DOWN THIS UNIT. PLEASE SHUT DOWN----ooh, ohh, yeah, baby…” Instantly, she began bumping and grinding against an invisible dance partner. “That feels sooooo goooood…soooo goooood….”

“Tell? Yeah, it’s Murphy….we’ve got a broken doll out here at Santana Row. Took a Tazer to the chest---“

“….sssooooooooooo….gooooooood……” Brittney’s movements began to slow, until at last she bowed at the waist, her arms nearly touching the floor. Outside, the third security officer was chasing off Dalton and Sinclair, pursuing them out into the parking lot. “You think he heard anything from in here,” Murphy asked his fellow officer, “or were Heckle and Jeckle over there too much for him to handle?” “Knowing him,” the other cop replied, “he’s probably---GAAHHH!”

“ANDERSON!” Murphy screamed, watching as his partner sank to the floor with a foot-long blade sticking out of him. “What the hell?!” He dropped to his knees, examining the wound; “There’s no way…just no way…”

“Funny how those words are often followed by something unspeakably horrible.”

Murphy didn’t even need to look up to recognize the speaker of the sentence. “You….you’re supposed to be in DragonTown,” he muttered. “How are you even here right now?” “Easy. I killed a guard, stole his uniform and took his car. Simple as that.” Murphy squeezed his eyes shut; “They’ll catch you again. They’ll catch you one of these days, and then they’ll throw your ass right back into the hole where you belong.”

“I look forward to it.”

The blade that followed those chilling words piereced Murphy’s torso where a human being’s heart would’ve been; in his case, it impaled his primary power cell, causing an immediate cessation of functions to all parts of his body. Emergency shutdown protocols kicked in to shut down all fluid pumps and sever the connection from the damaged cell to his CPU; it would take a repair team a full month to fix him.

Anderson wasn’t so fortunate; in twenty minutes, he would be comatose.

“All too easy,” Leslie Erica Simm drawled, grinning as she pulled off her black wig and the “borrowed” replica of Faceless’ infamous mask she’d received in the mail. “Just wear a padded outfit, throw on a wig and a mask, change my voice to match his, and voila! Perfect impersonation Well, except the height difference….” She turned her attention to the shut-down Brittney Delacroix; “She’s the Baron’s latest toy?” she muttered. “Figures….the bugger’s got the mind of a comic-book artist when it comes to ‘designing’ his dolls….”

Having heard the officers’ call to Mr. Tell, Leslie knew she had a limited amount of time before the ALPA came calling. With no alternative, she decided to wake Stavros from his slumber. “Wakey wakey,” she cooed, tapping him on the face; when that didn’t work, she decided to go a bit lower….

“AAARGH! What the hell---who’s grabbing my damn balls?!”

“Glad to see something can get your attention,” Leslie quipped. “And before you ask, the Baron sent me---“

“The Baron?!” Stavros hissed. “You need to get the hell out of here! When she wakes up---“

“’She’ isn’t going to be waking up anytime soon unless you reboot her properly,” Leslie replied. “And for the record, I had no intention of sticking around; I just dropped by to do my impression of everyone’s favorite masked serial killer…though I think I may have gone a bit overboard with the meatbag. Anyways…” She glanced at Brittney; “Think you can turn her back on without my help?”

“I’ve read her manual, so…yeah. Just make sure you’re out of here before she’s back on…”

“I’ll be across town by then, for cripe’s sakes! Bloody Nora, you sound like an absolute wanker…take a chill pill or something.” Leslie shrugged out of the padded jacket and pants, revealing a bubblegum-pink latex catsuit beneath. “Like it?” she teased, wiggling her butt mere inches away from Stavros’ face. “Personally, I think---“

“Unit BD #00001 rebooting…”

Leslie nearly fell over; “She’s rebooting herself?!” “I think its some sorta remote signal,” Stavros replied. “You better get goin’, otherwise…” “Yeah, yeah, I get the picture,” Leslie muttered. “Just tell that Spaniard he owes me one for this!” “Owes you one what?” Stavros shouted at the retreating gynoid. “ANYTHING HE’S UP FOR!” she shouted back, grinning.

Stavros groaned; “This day just keeps getting weirder….”

“….AIN’T TAKIN’ ME NOWHERE----what the hell?!” Brittney stared at the carnage brought about by her sudden malfunction. “You, ah, got tazed and sort of….messed up,” Stavros explained. “Damn….these two fuzzheads hear anything important?” “Even if they did,” Stavros replied, “one’s bleeding out, and the other—“

“The other one is my kinda guy!” Brittney interrupted, grinning her sexy grin. “Talk about ‘buns of steel’…think he’d look good in spandex?” Without waiting for Stavros’ answer, she bent down and hoisted the fallen android over her shoulder. “Find me three or four more like him, and I can have my own squad of private backup dancers before the end of the week….even better if they’re all as fine as this one---AND WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU TWO BEEN?!” she shouted, glaring at Dalton and Sinclair. “There was another cop,” Sinclair began, only to catch a backhand across the face. “My ass coulda been fried in here, and you were out chasing bacon? Dumbass…..” She shook her head and gestured for the guards (and Stavros) to follow her out. “Call Victor and tell him we just made an acquisition…”

As the “posse” left, the bleeding officer struggled to crawl away. “Have…to….warn….Tell…..” He managed to make it out of the manager’s office when a figure stepped into his path; “Please,” the cop gasped, “get..help…I. I can’t….”

“Indeed,” the figure replied, picking up the replica of his mask Leslie had discarded. “The only thing you’re going to do is leave a nice little message for a certain SJSU student. Now…hold still….”

“I can’t believe I’m actually here….”

Vicki stared at the façade of a building that, before now, had no real significance to her or anyone else in her immediate circle of friends and allies. Now, however…

“So this is the City of the Angels,” she murmured, grinning.

She approached the door and placed the card Alicia had given her into a conveniently-located slot; a minute or so later, the door opened into a darkened foyer. Not wanting to give anyone an opportunity to follow her into the City, she entered quickly; the door closed behind her as soon as her feet touched the floor. On the far side of the room was another door….this one, however, had no slot, keyhole or (as far as Vicki could tell) hinges.

Okay…..so what do I do now---

“What makes a man exalted?”

The voice that spoke these words seemed to come from all directions at once. “I…what?” Vicki asked, more than a bit confused.

“What makes a man exalted?”

Vicki pondered the question; I’ve heard about this. There’s some club in England that has this question as part of the entrance, except their answer is “the blood of the innocent”….which is definitely not what I think makes a man exalted….Taking a deep breath, she gave her own answer: “A man must find his own path to exaltation, though it has been said that he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”

Silence…..

The door opened, revealing the grinning face of a young man in a black velvet jacket, white micro-frilled shirt and crushed-velvet pants; beyond him, Vicki could glimpse the interior of the C.O.T.A., bathed in a soft, reddish-pink light. “A wise answer indeed, oh seeker of enlightenment,” he replied. “You may enter the City of the Angels.” With a theatrical gesture, he ushered Vicki inside. “Thanks,” she murmured, grinning nervously.

As Mr. Tell had told her, the City of the Angels was more than just a simple nightclub or lounge; in one corner of the room, several Macintosh enthusiasts were engaging in a debate over whether or not NeXTStep could’ve outsold Windows if they’d been given a proper ad campaign. On the far side of the room, a group of poets were holding a reading of The Hobbit---in Esperanto---while several girls in red jackets and plaid skirts sipped drinks from handleless china mugs, surveying the room with wary eyes. Off in the distance, a debate about the Rueben Salazar case was reaching heated levels, with at least three participants swearing in Spanish.

“This is…..wow,” the brunette gynoid muttered.

“Indeed,” the velvet-wearing man from the foyer replied. “First timers often have this sort of reaction; it’s quite a common occurance, really.” “And do most first-timers get their invites from a girl who looks like a modern-day goddess?” Vicki asked. The young man smiled; “Few have had that privilege, my dear; consider yourself fortunate….ah, but where are my manners?” He bowed theatrically. “I am Renault, purveyor of diversions, information, libations, and consultations to all who seek, request, or require them.” “Vicki Lawson,” the gynoid replied, “student at SJSU and…ah….”

Renault grinned; “A girl unlike other girls?”

“Alicia told you, didn’t she?”

“She knows more than she lets on,” Renault informed the gynoid. “Exactly what she knows is a mystery; some believe that she could almost be a walking encyclopedia….”

Vicki spied the gynoid at a table near another door; “Let’s find out, shall we?”

She walked over to the table, grinning. “Hi,” she called out, only to find herself being ignored. “Ah, hello? Earth to Alicia?” Alicia looked up, confused. “Have we met before?” she asked.

Vicki frowned. “You, ah, invited me here, remember? Royce Hall? We met outside my dorm room?”

Alicia looked puzzled. “I haven’t left the City for a while,” she replied. “You must have me confused with someone else…”

“You mean to tell me you don’t remember meeting up with me outside my dorm room?” Vicki querried. “You had the stealth suit, and you mentioned Gowan---“

“Who?”

A feeling of frustration began to wash over the brunette gynoid. “You can’t be serious---“

“Don’t mind her, Vicki---she doesn’t get out too often.”

Vicki turned away from Alicia at the table to see another Alicia walking up to her, grinning. “She just tends the door; I’m the one who gave you the invite.” The Alicia who had just arrived stared into the eyes of the Alicia behind the table for a full two minutes; afterwards, the other Alicia blinked, then gasped. “Oh! I’m sorry, Miss Lawson…I forgot to get my monthly memory update from…ah, myself…” “’salright,” Vicki replied. “If it helps, this isn’t the weirdest thing I’ve had to deal with this month.” Doorkeeper Alicia grinned, while the other Alicia rolled her eyes. “Renault,” she drawled, “be a dear and find us a table, will you?” “At once, m’lady,” he intoned, giving another theatrical bow.

“He thinks he’s so cool,” Alicia muttered as Renault walked off. “Now, about your friend’s rehersal….”

A few minutes later, Vicki and Alicia were enjoying the view of the City’s stage from a comfortable corner booth; “Now this is what I call prime seating,” Alicia declared, grinning. “Amen to that,” Vicki agreed, only to notice a girl with orange-reddish hair making her way to the same booth. “You know her?” she asked Alicia. “Francesca Bowman,” Alicia replied. “I met her during that whole thing with the hazmat weirdos.” She grinned and gestured for Francesca to join them; “Fran Bowman, allow me to introduce you to Vicki Lawson.” Fran and Vicki shook hands; “You tend the desk at the library, right?” Vicki asked. Fran nodded. “It’s a lot better than my old job; working at the library means I get all the peace and quiet I could ever want.” “Her last job involved interviewing football players on the sidelines at Spartan Stadium,” Alicia explained. “Not exactly the best kind of work for a girl with sensitive hearing.”

Vicki arched an eyebrow at the “sensitive hearing” remark; her internal scanners were showing that Fran was a sleeper gynoid. Maybe she was built to replace someone who had hearing problems…. “I hope your hearing issues don’t extend to music,” she remarked. “They don’t,” Fran replied cheerfully. “I love a good concert, especially in a venue like this.”

“Well,” Alicia beamed, “I think you’re going to enjoy what we’ve got lined up tonight, then…” She winked.

Ten minutes later, Dennis approached the booth; “Is everything set up?” he asked Vicki. Before the brunette gynoid could answer, Alicia intervened. “You’re the manager, I take it?” Dennis nodded. “You’re the one who got us this gig?” “Guilty as charged,” Alicia teased. “And to answer your earlier question, everything is set up for your starlet to take the stage…and my crew have already done a sound check, so everything is working perfectly.” “Good,” Dennis muttered, a sigh of relief escaping his lips. “I’ll tell her everything’s ready…when’s she set to go on?” “Whenever she feels like it,” Alicia replied. Dennis was taken aback; “That’s a lot more leniency than we got at Santana Row.” “Santana Row didn’t pay by the half-hour,” Alicia replied, grinning.

“Think this rehearsal will go well?” Vicki asked. “If it doesn’t,” Alicia quipped, “I’ll pay everyone’s bills myself.”

After about five minutes had passed, Alicia took to the stage to announce the “special entertainment” for the evening. “Seeing as how everyone here tonight has been so well behaved,” she declared with a grin, “we’ve got a surprise guest here to do a little song-and-dance for you all….straight from her mall tour, it’s the one, the only, SOPHIA STARLET!”

Sophia strode out onto the stage to cheers and applause. “Uh, hi,” she began, smiling. “I, ah…I didn’t write the first song I’ll be performing tonight…but it did have a major impact on my decision to become a singer. It’s a favorite of mine, from an artist some of you may have heard of before….ah, do we have a piano player here tonight? I sort of need one…” Renault ascended the steps to the stage and called for someone to “roll out the baby grand”; a few minutes later, a piano was brought out onstage, and the black-clad host took his seat and prepared to play. “Cool,” Sophia beamed. “Right…this one’s called Dedication, and it’s kinda slower than my usual stuff, but it’s still a great song.”

With that, she took a deep breath…….


“Dedication” (written by Lawrence Gowan) I could never count The hours of patience Nor how many times I've turned away Lost within this cause That lives to taunt me Long as I may breathe.. I'll get to you one day

(chorus) Wait on me now, I say Wait on me now, oh, I swear No power, no reason, no purpose Which stands before me Will shake my attention or focus From this one belief, (oh, no)

Locked away - in time The door will open All those things that hide Will be revealed Never is a word That's lost all meaning Nothing in this world Will ever be more real

(chorus) Wait on me now, I say Wait on me now, oh I swear No power, no reason, no purpose Which stands before me Will shake my attention or focus From this one belief (oh, no)

You know my dedication Oh, ooh, oh, you know

Wait on me now, ooohhh Wait on me now, ooohhh Wait on me now, oh I swear No power, no reason, no purpose Which stands before me Will shake my attention or focus From this one belief (oh no)

No reason Will change my dedication Oh, oh, oh you know Yeah, you know It won't change my dedication Oh, oh, oh you know Yeah, you know You know my dedication Oh, oh, oh you know Yeah, you know It won't change my dedication Oh, oh, oh you know Yeah, you know You know my dedication Oh, oh, oh you know Yeah, you know You know my dedication Oh you know…….


The City of the Angels almost literally shook as the final piano note faded out---the cheers and applause were deafening. “Thank you!” Sophia shouted, showing off her dazzling smile once again as she called Renault to the front of the stage to take a bow.

“I’ve got to hand it to you, Vicki,” Alicia admitted, “you’ve really caught a winner this time.” Vicki nodded, too busy clapping to actually say anything in response. “Your thoughts, Fran?” Alicia asked with a grin, only to notice the gynoid weeping. “That….was beautiful….” she whispered. “….and Miss Starlet is officially a smash hit,” Alicia quipped, still grinning. “If her next one is as good, I may have to have a talk with her about a weekly gig here at the City…”

“Right,” Sophia called out from the stage, asking Renault to return to the piano, “my next song is another one from Gowan, and I think all of you are gonna enjoy it!”

With a “one, two, three” count, she gestured for Renault and the house band to start playing….


“Cosmetics” (written by Lawrence Gowan) Flew in from London Only to shop 7th Avenue They've got what she wants You just can't get it over there She's so attractive And she'll do anything to stay that way Money's no object to make a boy stop and stare

(chorus) High fashion model magazines Runways of ageless beauty queens Everything for the girl next door! Manhattan styles, Parisienne look Lipstick and cheekbones by the book She'll never leave you wanting more!

Ooh, she looks so Cosmo Her eyes can talk to a camera No imperfection Protecting every man's dream Ooh, she'll hypnotize you Right from her hair to her fingernails In shadows and highlights She'll make you burst at the seams!

(chorus) High fashion model magazines Runways of ageless beauty queens Everything for the girl next door! Manhattan styles, Parisienne look Lipstick and cheekbones by the book She'll never leave you wanting more!

Oooooohh, hoooooaaaoooohhhh-woooaah! (x2)

(chorus) High fashion model magazines Runways of ageless beauty queens Everything for the girl next door Manhattan styles, Parisienne look Lipstick and cheekbones by the book She'll never leave you wanting more!

(whispered) Cosmetics….

Waooooh whoah! Oooooohh, hoooooaaaoooohhhh-woooaah! (repeat until fade out)


Once again, the crowd was on its feet, clapping and cheering. “THIS IS SO AWESOME!” Vicki shouted, her ear-to-ear grin just one among many.

For the next hour or so, Sophia and the house band played classic 80s hits, along with a few original songs and an extended instrumental that invoked memories of Pink Floyd. Finally, at 10:00, Sophia took her last curtain call, thanked the audience one more time, and retreated backstage to deafening cheers. “Vicki,” Alicia mused, “you definitely made a good call bringing her here to rehearse. If she’s this good tomorrow, I have a feeling that whoever stole her gigs will need a change of pants---or maybe a change of panties---after it’s all over with.”

“Couldn’t agree more.” Alicia and Vicki turned, surprised to see a 50-ish man with an untamed mane of hair crowning his head. “No way,” Alicia gasped, “you’re---“ “Often mistaken as Lawrence Gowan’s long-lost twin brother,” the man chuckled. “Believe me, I get that a lot... not that it’s a bad thing, to be honest…” “I know you’re not Gowan,” Alicia stated, grinning. “I just can’t believe that the City of the Angels has been graced with the presence of---“

“Professor Anton Malvineous?!” Vicki gasped.

“The one and only, last time I checked,” Anton replied with a smile.

“Right,” Alicia declared, “drinks are on me---don’t even think about getting out your wallet…” She called for Renault to prep the bar, and asked Vicki and Anton to “hang on for a few seconds” while she settled some business with a client in a corner booth. “Just wait for me at the bar…I’ll be there in a minute,” she promised.

“So,” Vicki asked, as she waited for Alicia to return from her business in the corner booth, “what brings you to the City of the Angels?” “Curiosity, to be honest,” the Professor replied. “That, and I’ve heard some rather interesting things about it….and in case you’re wondering, I did, indeed, get an invitation through all the proper channels. I could almost ask why the daughter of Ted Lawson is hanging out in the City of the Angels,” he added, “but I’ll leave the decision to relate that information entirely up to you.”

“Alicia was apparently interested in my being a member of the club,” the brunette gynoid replied, “if this even is a club.” “Not quite what you expected it to be, is it?” Anton remarked with a chuckle. “It’s what I expected it to be, times about one thousand,” Vicki admitted. “It’s just so…..unique.”

“Unique is a good thing,” Anton stated. “I mean, if this was like every other nightclub ever opened, it would just be completely boring. But here….did you catch that Esperanto reading of The Hobbit earlier? Most places would throw you out if you tried that….” “I take it you’ve been to other places where people have tried to pull a stunt like that?” Vicki assumed. “I haven’t just seen it tried elsewhere,” Anton chuckled, “I’ve tried it---always with a group of trusted friends backing me up, of course. Your father and I performed a particularly interesting interpretation of the story on the university campus once….the dean couldn’t figure out whether to have us sent to jail for the night or signed up for a theater course.”

“You’ve met my dad?” Vicki gasped.

“Indeed I have. Just looking at you now, I can see why he calls you his ‘greatest creation’….and from what I’ve heard elsewhere, your academic records are impressive on their own.” He smiled. “Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you have certain….advantages….”

“Such as?” Vicki asked, warily.

Anton winked knowingly. “The kind that most people think are relegated to the science-fiction shelf.”

“So….you know…” Vicki glanced around to make sure nobody was listening in before she asked her question: “You know what I am?”

“Not only do I know,” Anton replied, “I personally helped your father upgrade you back in 2008. A lot of what’s integrated into your design right now came about due to my designs; your HUD, for instance, along with the components designed to mimic the functions of lungs….along with a few of the upgrades that were included with the ALPA-issue Android Detection suite you were given back in August.”

Vicki’s eyes widened in surprise; “You…helped upgrade me….”

“If you’re interested,” Anton continued, “I’d like to provide further assistance. As you may have heard, I’ll be holding interviews at San Jose State University for an internship position---one of several, actually---and I would greatly appreciate it if you could attend. After all, continuing your membership in the ALPA would be greatly aided by an internship at M-G Cybernetics….”

The brunette gynoid found herself at a loss for words. “I….I would be---“

An explosion outside the building cut off any reply she could have made.

“Miss Lawson…Professor…” Renault had seemingly appeared out of nowhere, and there wasn’t a trace of his earlier goofiness in his voice or demeanor. “I suggest you find the nearest exit and, ah, get to safety…there’s been an incident outside.” “What kind of incident?” Anton asked, concerned. Renault wrung his hands; “Ah, well, the….client Alicia was having a discussion with left the building, and she followed him to his car…” He paused, and Vicki could sense that he was close to panicking. “Someone must have intended to assassinate the client, because there was a bomb attached to the car….”

The sentence filled Vicki with dread. “No…..”

Alicia scrambled to hide behind the now-burning Fiat Abarth, examining the damage she’d sustained in the rear-view mirror that hadn’t been blown off in the blast. “Damnit,” she muttered. “Caught me right in the left side…why didn’t I follow Stan’s advice about a more efficient defensive stance?!”

Across the street from her, a group of at least five people were piling out of a Hummer. Two of them, attired in black leather jackets, motorcycle pants and fingerless gloves, looked like ex-UFC fighters---“Bodyguards, probably,” the wounded gynoid surmised. A Grecian man with thinning blond hair exited the vehicle next, an Uzi clutched in his right hand; a female figure in a black catsuit, full-face mask and night-vision goggles followed. The final occupant of the vehicle---an athletic African-American woman in a tight-fitting black dress, with her dark-brown hair done up in a layered cut---was clearly the leader of the outfit; Alicia could barely keep herself from growling as the woman surveyed the carnage.

“You two clowns find a way into the building,” she ordered, prompting a nod from the two guards. “You,” she snapped, turning to glare at the Grecian, “go wire up everyone else’s cars.” “Sure thing, Miss Delacroix,” the man replied. The woman in the black dress rolled her eyes; “And you are comin’ with me.” The goggle-wearing female nodded and followed her into a side alleyway as the Grecian set about his task.

Alicia waited until all but the Grecian were out of sight before she made her move. Crouching to avoid being spotted by any of the intruders, she snuck up behind the man, grabbed him in a chokehold and dragged him back to the Abarth, placing one hand over his mouth to keep him from screaming. “Who do you work for?” she demanded. “Mph mmhpphhh mmghhpphhh!” Alicia frowned; “I’ll take my hand off, but if you even think of screaming, I’ll kick you in the teeth.” She removed her hand from the man’s mouth. “Now, I’ll ask you again: Who do you work for?”

“Brittney…Brittney Delacroix,” the man stammered.

“The one in the dress?”

The man nodded. “This…..this whole thing was her idea----“

A button on the man’s shirt buzzed to life: “YOU BACKSTABBIN’ LITTLE PRICK! I AM GONNA---“

Alicia tore the button off, crushing it in her hand. “Get out of here,” she told the man. “Get as far away from this place as possible, and don’t let me catch you in this part of town again.” Her damaged left eye blazed with an angry red light, prompting a frightened bleat from the Grecian. “GO,” Alicia growled, glaring at him. “Get out of here before---“

An explosive slammed into the lightpost a few feet above Alicia’s head.

“I NEVER SHOULDA TAKEN THIS JOB!” the Grecian screamed, fleeing for his life. The gynoid watched him leave, shaking her head. “Idiot,” she muttered. “At least I can get some more info on his boss---“

The heat radiating from the flaming Abarth increased in intensity; the two bodyguards were spraying the vehicle with a veritable shower of lead. “Are they trying to burn down the whole block?!” Alicia hissed, sprinting away from the Abarth seconds before it exploded. “Idiots…” The guards pivoted on their heels to open fire on the retreating gynoid; every single shot that missed her still managed to set objects ablaze, turning the street into a veritable inferno within seconds. “Great,” the gynoid muttered. “They really are trying to burn down the whole damn block!”

“Damn right we are!” Brittney Delacroix stepped into Alicia’s line of sight, a sadistic grin on her face. “Brittney Delacroix, I assume?” Alicia asked. “You assumed correctly, bitch,” Brittney spat. “Y’all think you can take in that useless-ass Starlet ho and just get away with it? HELL, no!” She yelled for her bodyguards to toss her some “heat”; seconds later, the two guards threw a pair of guns that looked suspiciously like Super Soakers…except most Super Soakers didn’t have a mixture of napalm and a chemical known only as “liquid lightning” in their tanks.

“Are you insane?!” Alicia gasped. “Those things could turn all of San Jose into a crater---“

“That’s the point, stupid!” Brittney shouted. “If I have to burn down this whole damn town to smoke out that Starlet bitch, I WILL!” She sneered as she fingered the triggers of the two guns. “’course, if you gonna keep tryin’ to keep me busy, I got no problem turning your ass into a human candle!” She squeezed the triggers, sending twin streams of fire at Alicia. “BURN TO THE GROUND, BABY!”

Alicia deftly dodged the twin flames, the heat scorching her clothes. “It’ll take more than your homemade flamethrowers to stop me,” she shouted back.

“JUST SHUT UP AND DIE, IDIOT!” Brittney screamed, spraying fire in the direction of Alicia’s taunt.

“YOU MISSED ME!” the blonde gynoid shouted, grinning.

A feral growl escaped Brittney’s lips. “Stay still so I can fry your ass,” she muttered, spraying flame in every direction to smoke her target out. “PRETTY SOON, YOU AIN”T GONNA HAVE NOWHERE TO HIDE, SO JUST GET YOUR ASS OUT HERE AND FINISH THIS RIGHT NOW!”

“How about not?” Alicia called. “I’ve got other stuff to worry about right now, so---“

Twin gouts of flame shot past her on either side, forcing her to stay absolutely still. “Good one, stupid,” Brittney drawled. “Just keep on talkin’ so I can find your dumb ass. Just couldn’t keep your mouth shut, could ya?!” The fire closed in, and Alicia knew that she had only seconds to react before the flames compromised her synthetic flesh.

With that knowledge weighing on her mind, she decided to act.

The gynoid dropped to a crouch, swinging her arm out and catching Brittney right in the shin. The two streams of fire shot into the air, giving Alicia just enough time to grab the guns from their owner’s hands and crush them. “Didn’t your mommy and daddy ever tell you not to play with fire?” she teased. “Or were they too busy forgetting to teach you good manners---“

Brittney’s left foot shot up and turned just enough to catch Alicia in the right thigh, knocking her to the street.

“You NEVER shut up, do you?!” Brittney screamed. “You’re just too stupid to live….and I’m about to fix that real quick…” She summoned the goggle-wearing female over; “Fix this stupid bitch so that she’ll quit flappin’ her gums every five seconds,” she ordered. “As. You. Wish,” the goggle-wearing woman replied in a flat monotone. Brittney leaned in close to Alicia, her sinister grin looming over the fallen gynoid. “You’re about to learn why nobody talks smack to Brittney Delacroix,” she purred, “’cuz my girl here is about to get medieval on your ass.”

Alicia’s eyes narrowed dangerously.

Requesting permission to use extreme force…… Permission granted. Please proceed with caution.

“I don’t think so,” Alicia snarled.

“What the hell did you just---“ Brittney began, only to scream as Alicia caught the wrists of the other fembot just as she was about to bore through her forehead with a power-drill. In one swift motion, Alicia broke the wrists of the fembot and kicked her away, still holding onto her arms---a second or so later, the now-armless fembot hit a wall and twitched violently before going still. “You….you can’t….” Brittney stammered, backing away from the pissed-off gynoid as fast as she could without falling over.

“Watch me,” Alicia growled, advancing on the gynoid….

…..seconds before a brutal blow slammed into her back, sending her to the ground again.

“You want us to finish her for you?” one of the bodyguards asked. “Yeah,” the other added, “we can spend all night kicking the crap out of her!”

“Do it, then,” Brittney spat. “Make that bitch PAY!”

Dalton and Sinclair hauled Alicia to her feet, with one holding her arms behind her back as the other punched her. “That tickles,” she taunted, chuckling weakly. “You think a girly punch like that can hurt me?” Sinclair reared back and drove home a hammering punch into the gynoid’s abdomen, prompting another laugh. “Not even a bruise,” Alicia hissed, a sly grin on her face. “You’ll have to---UNGH!”

The impact from the lead pipe wielded by Brittney sent her crashing to her knees.

“WHY WON’T YOU DIE?!” she screamed, punctuating each shout with another clubbing blow to the blonde gynoid. “Not…programmed…to….die…” Alicia gasped, crawling away as fast as she could. “Get the HELL back over here!” Brittney snarled, grabbing the wounded gnyoid by the hair and pulling her towards the flaming Abarth. “Guess I’m gonna have to go all-out to get rid of your dumb ass,” she sneered, gesturing for and receiving a pair of instruments that looked like tuning forks. “You’re about to get smoked, bitch….”

Alicia glared at her defiantly. “Do your worst.”

“I was really hopin’ you’d say that….”

Without another word, Brittney stabbed Alicia in the chest with the fork-like implements, thumbing a button at the base of each. “Get ready to get fried,” she shouted, jamming the buttons down.

Alicia screamed as over 100,000 volts shot through her body, wrecking her internals and overloading her own power cells. “I…I…I……can’t…can’t…can’t…..” she stammered, the voltage wreaking havoc on her CPU as she lay helpless. “Pleeeeeeaaaaaassssseeeeeee…..stostostostostosto---‘ Her head jerked violently to the side. “STOP IT!”

“I can’t hear you,” Brittney taunted in a sing-song voice.

“You’re….you’re…HURTING ME!” Alicia cried. “Makemakemakemakemakemake---ZZT---MAKE IT STOP! I…I…IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii…..” Smoke began pouring out of her mouth. “I….I….I..I…can’t…..can’t…”

“Can’t what?” Brittney cackled.

“Can’t…can’t…..” Tears flooded out of the wounded gynoid’s eyes. “i...can’t….move…can’t….feel….ERROR. POWER CELL OVERLOADING. PLEASE SHUTDOWN---ZZT---SHUT DOWN THIS UNIT…UNIT…UNIT TO PREVENT CRITI-CRITI-CRITI-CRITI-CRITI-CRITI-CRITI-CRITI---“ Her entire body spasmed, as smoke began to jet out of her fingertips. “CRITICRITICRITICRITI---ZZZZT---CRITICAL DAMAGE TOTOTOTOTOTOTO---“ Her head snapped to the left, then to the right, as her overworked battery began to short out. “ERROR….THIS UNIT…..please, stop….don’t….don’t DO THIS!” The skin of Alicia’s hands began to turn bright red. “I can’t take---(snap)---can’t take---(snap)---can’t take---(snap)---can’t take much more much more much more much more muchmoremuchmoremuchmoremuchmore….” A tremor ran through the gynoid’s body, electricity ripping jagged holes in her skin at various intervals.

“I think she’s almost done for, boss,” Dalton observed. “Yeah,” Sinclair agreed. “She looks like she’s gonna blow any second.” “Good,” Brittney replied, “’cuz I’m---“ Something hammered into her face, sending her flying into a car twelve feet away. Dalton and Sinclair watched their employer slam into the vehicle, then turned back around---and ate a pair of clotheslines that knocked them out cold.

“Take five, boys,” a monotone voice declared. “This one’s between me….and her…”

Brittney staggered back to her feet; “Ugh….what…the Hell---“

Before she could even finish her sentence, a red-and-white blur sped towards her, plowing her through the car she’d just slammed into. Without even getting a chance to get her bearings, Brittney tried to get back to her feet---and was instantly kicked in the face by a red-booted foot.

“Get up,” V.I.C.I. demanded in her monotone voice.

“Who….what the HELL are you?!” Brittney gasped.

“Your worst nightmare.”

The brunette gynoid grabbed Brittney by the neck and dragged her back to her feet. “You just tried to kill a good friend of mine,” she informed her staggered opponent, “and I don’t like it when people try to kill my friends.” “She…she was in the way,” Brittney gasped. “She---“ V.I.C.I.’s grip tightened. “DON’T lie to me,” she intoned. “Why did you try to kill her?”

“Because I can!” Brittney Delacroix spat.

V.I.C.I. hurled the woman into a brick wall. “Don’t bother trying to hide the truth---I’ve known what you are ever since I stepped outside.” She watched the black gynoid stagger to her feet; “My scanners have been calculating the probabilities of your defeating me…and they’re not exactly in your favor.” “Why is it that every bitch I fight NEVER SHUTS THE HELL UP?!” Brittney shouted angrilly. “Are y’all in some sort of dumb-ass ‘trash-talkin’ club’ or something?!” “Enough banter,” V.I.C.I. declared. “I’m not letting you anywhere near Sophia Starlet, so---“

“SO WHAT?!” Brittney screamed. “I’ve been programmed to take that stupid ho down, and I’m NOT letting some skank like you get in my way!” She charged at the brunette gynoid, who assumed a defensive stance; “Hit me with your best---AAARGH!”

V.I.C.I. collapsed to the ground, the impact of Brittney’s hook kick stunning her momentarily

“OOOOOH YEAH, BABY!” the black gynoid shouted. “THAT’S HOW I ROLL, BEEYATCH!”

“Bad idea,” V.I.C.I. replied. “Your power cell isn’t designed to handle the energy spikes generated by that kind of fighting style---if you keep fighting this way, your CPU will automatically overclock, and---“

“JUST SHUT UP AND FIGHT, BITCH!” Brittney screamed, attacking the brunette gynoid with a series of brutal kicks that completely missed their mark. “I NEVER lose a fight NEVER lose NEVER lose NEVER lose---oh, crap….” She staggered for a bit, looking somewhat intoxicated. “Must be all the excitement getting to me…I need to need to need to needtoneedtoneedtoneedto---DAMNIT!”

“I told you,” V.I.C.I. insisted, “your power cell isn’t----“

“SHUT UP!” Brittney shouted, punching her in the face. “JUST SHUT UP JUSTJUSTJUSTJUSTJUST---“ Her body stiffened as her joints locked up; a tremor ran through her form before she regained control. “DAMN it,” she muttered angrilly. “Victor had better---“ A roundhouse punch from V.I.C.I. sent her reeling into another car, cutting off her complaint. “Just because you’re malfunctioning in the middle of a fight, it doesn’t mean I’m going to show any mercy,” the brunette gynoid coldly stated. “You tried to murder Alicia in cold blood---“

“SHE AIN’T EVEN HUMAN, BITCH!” Brittney shouted. “The only thing that bleeds outta her dumb ass is oil and---“ A kick to the midsection silenced the insult.

“I’m willing to accept your complete and unconditional surrender,” V.I.C.I. offered.

“GO TO GO TO GO TO GOTOGOTOGOTOGOTO---ZZT---GO TO HELL!” Brittney screamed, clawing at V.I.C.I.’s eyes. The brunette gynoid easily caught her opponent’s wrist and forced her arm behind her back, driving her elbow down into Brittney’s shoulder with the force of a jackhammer.

“GYAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

Brittney swayed on her feet, trying not to let the shock of her “injury” override her desire to win; her left arm was now dangling uselessly at her side, the artificial flesh barely keeping it connected to the rest of her body. “YOU BITCH-BITCH-BITCH-BITCH---BZZRRT---BITCH!” she shouted, her glitching speech serving only to further annoy her opponent. “THAT WAS MY GOOD-GOOD-GOOD-GOOD ARM---AND YOU BROKE IT IT IT IT IT IT IT ITITITITITITITITITITITITITITITIT---ZZZZZZZRRRRRTTTT---YOU BROKE IT!”

“You tried to break Alicia,” V.I.C.I. replied. “Compared to what I could have done---“

Her statement was cut off by another charging kick from the African-American gynoid, this one connecting with her midsection. “JUST SHUT U-JUST SHUT U-JUST SHUT U---ZZZZTTTT---JUST SHUT UP!”

As the two continued trading blows and hurling each other up and down the block, V.I.C.I. reflected on Renault’s insistence that the patrons of the City of the Angels leave through the rear exit, keeping them away from the fight to avoid exposing the natures of the combatants. “You should probably slow down,” she informed the still-glitching Brittney, “otherwise your CPU will explode if you try to keep up with me---“

“QUIT PATRONIZIN’ ME, BITCH!” Brittney shouted, slamming a brutal punch into the brunette gynoid’s face and knocking her to the pavement. “YOU SHOULD WORRY---click---YOU SHOULD WORRY---click---YOU SHOULD---click---YOU SHOULD---click---YOU---click---YOU---click---YOU…” V.I.C.I. backed away from the black gynoid as her head began twitching uncontrollably with every repetition, a harsh buzzing sound joining each “click” of her neck servos locking up. “Just stop fighting,” she insisted. “You’re only making it worse for yourself---“

“Let her be, Vicki.”

Vicki turned to see Renault and Anton Malvineous standing a few feet away. “Her system wasn’t designed by someone who had compassion in mind,” the Professer stated mournfully. “The more you tell her to stop, the more she’ll keep fighting…which means you just have to keep up until one of you can’t stand.”

“I don’t want her to self-destruct because of me,” V.I.C.I. countered. “I just---‘’

“VICKI, LOOK OUT!” Anton shouted; the gynoid turned just in time to catch a stiff elbow to the face. “NEVER turn your back on me, bitch,” Brittney spat. “You’re gonna pay for screwin’ up my night…and when I’m done with you---“

She felt V.I.C.I.’s hand on her wrist. “What the HELL---“

The full impact of Detaining Grip v1.5 shot through her body, paralyzing her. “That’s for Alicia,” V.I.C.I. stated quietly.

“AAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

Brittney’s shrill scream split the night air for a full five minutes as her systems frantically tried to compensate for the sudden spike in energy before crapping out on her. A voice somewhere inside the Afro-American gynoid’s torso declared “Emergency Shutdown” as her body went limp, collapsing to the street without another sound.

“Flawless victory,” V.I.C.I. declared, grinning.

“Vicki, get over here quick!” Renault shouted. “Alicia’s in pretty bad shape…”

Instantly, Vicki’s smile vanished; she’d been fighting to keep Brittney from torturing Alicia further, but she’d almost completely forgotten about how badly the gynoid had been damaged during the fight. “How bad is it,” she began, only to recoil as she saw just how extensive Alicia’s wounds were---the skin on her legs and arms had started bubbling right when Vicki had punched Brittney in the face, and there were gaping holes in her torso.

“H..hhii, Vicki,” the blonde gynoid whispered, her voice sounding like a badly scratched CD.

“Alicia,” the brunette gynoid sobbed, “I…I’m so sorry….”

“Not…your fault….” Alicia insisted. “I….I shouldn’t have tried….to fight her. I…I’m not as strong as I used to be…this….this body is….older than it looks…..” She chuckled quietly. “This is why I like the stealth suit,” she remarked. “Gives me absolutely no chance of getting spotted by anyone….”

“Her critical systems are failing,” Anton muttered. “If we don’t get her to a repair shop soon…” He bit his lip. “I don’t think she’ll be able to make it through the night,” he finished. “What about her?” Renault asked, nodding towards the still-twitching form of Brittney Delacroix. “Her bodyguards are waking up,” Anton replied, “they can take care of her. Vicki, help me get Alicia to my car….Vicki?”

Anton noticed that the brunette gynoid was transfixed by someone emerging from the City of the Angels. “Ah, Vicki,” he gently reminded her, “what are you…oh….oh, no….”

Sophia Starlet looked as if she was barely able to stand; her jerky movements and halting steps only adding to the impression that something terrible had happened to her. “I…I need Dennis…” she muttered. “I..I can’t…I can’t do it myself…Dennis always does it for me….” She seemed oblivious to the watchful eyes of Vicki, Anton and Renault. “Dennis always….I…I can’t…” Her steps seemed to be slowing as she neared the edge of the street; without hesitating, Vicki ran to catch the pigtailed pop-singer before she fell. “It’s okay, I’ve got you,” she whispered, hugging Sophia close. “What do you need? What do you need me to do?”

“Dennis always does it for me,” Sophia repeated, as if she hadn’t even heard Vicki. “He’s….I can’t…I can’t do it myself…I….I can’t….” Her eyelids fluttered rapidly for a few seconds. “I…I need to get back to my dressing room…I can’t…I need help…..Dennis always does it for me….”

“Sophia, it’s me! It’s Vicki….talk to me, Sophia, please….”

As if she were stuck in a dream, Sophia slowly turned to Vicki; “What…what am I doing out here?” she asked, confused. “I…I was in my dressing room, waiting for Dennis….he always does it for me, I can’t---“ “You said that already,” Vicki replied. “What does he always do for you?”

“He…….keeps me….charged……..”

With a weak smile, Sophia looked at Vicki through heavily-lidded eyes. “I…I guess this…I guess this isn’t how you thought….the night was going to…end….”

“What did you mean when you said he keeps you charged?” Vicki insisted. “Tell me, please!”

“It’s…..simple…..” Sophia managed to roll herself over. “He….makes sure….I….get……amped…up…” She shuddered violently. “…af.ter. ev.er.y. con.cert…..he…makes…sure…my…batt.er.ies..are…swa.pped..out…”

Vicki stared, shocked, at the foot-high, 3-inch-wide panel that had opened in Sophia’s back.

“Guess…that…ex.plains…why…you…felt…such..a…con.nect.ion….to…me….doesn’t it?” Sophia asked, her grin fading into a blank expression as her eyes closed.

“You….you were like me…..” Vicki whispered. “You were just like me…all along…..”

Twenty minutes later, Mr. Tell’s workshop found itself with two late-night repair jobs---well, a repair job and a recharge, to be specific.

“Miss Starlet was certainly built by capable hands,” he declared, circling the slab where Sophia’s body had been placed. “She didn’t sustain any damage from the melee outside, and from what her readouts are saying, she’s in pretty good shape overall. My only possible issue is the battery….she’s designed to work with a very specific power source---“

“Something like this?” Anton Malvineous querried, holding up what looked like a thin, silver Kleenex box. “We checked her dressing room before we brought her here.”

Tell examined the box thoroughly and nodded; “That would be it, yeah.” He rolled Sophia over onto her side and gently pushed the box into the open compartment; as it clicked into place, parts of the box lit up with a bright blue light. “There were at least five more of them in the room that looked like that,” Renault told the ALPA mechanic, “but there was one near the trash can that looked…sort of, ah, used.” “Was there any discoloration or residue on its surface?” Tell asked. “Both, actually,” Renault replied, “and it smelled horrible as well. Like gym socks, roadkill and raw sewage thrown in a blender and set on puree.”

Tell nodded; “She probably got her handler to eject it before the chaos started outside; her body can carry just enough residual energy without one of these in her to get her out of harm’s way. After that…” He whistled as a panel closed over the battery. “Looks like she’s gonna be just fine,” he remarked, returning Sophia to her prone position.

“What about Alicia?” Vicki croaked.

Tell sighed. “Alicia….is probably going to be missing Thanksgiving. To be honest, V, I don’t even know if I can do anything to fix her; she’s using a discontinued RoboDyne chassis with modifications made by at least three other companies, and that’s not even counting all the self-modding I’m seeing….” He shook his head. “If I can get her documentation from the original manufacturers, I might have a snowball’s chance in Hell---“

“Don’t bother.”

A beam of light shot out of Alicia’s chest, playing across the room before finally settling into a coherent picture of Alicia (pre-fight) on the far wall. “In case you couldn’t tell,” the image stated, “my A.I. core is perfectly safe despite the, ah, injuries I sustained.” Tell’s shoulders slumped; “You mean this isn’t your only body?!” he asked. “I’ve got at least three backups back at the City,” the image replied, “not counting the duplicate of me that works the door. I had them made when I decided I didn’t want to be stuck in a desktop anymore…luckily for me, my makers were all too happy to oblige me.” The image glanced at Vicki; “If it’s not too much trouble, could you maybe drop by the City tomorrow and link one of my backups to the computer in my private room, so I can upload myself to it?”

“No problem,” Vicki replied, “but could you, ah, stick to talking from your…er, current body? It feels sort of weird talking to a moving picture on the wall…”

The image of Alicia rolled her eyes; “Give me a second…”

As soon as the beam of light (and the image) disappeared, the damaged body on the slab convulsed for a few seconds before opening its eyes. “Okay,” Alicia stated, her voice sounding heavily digitized, “this is really annoying….but, seeing as how things could be a hell of a lot worse, I’ve got no problem using up the miles on this burnt-out shell for the rest of the night.”

“RIGHT,” Tell declared, clapping his hands together. “Now that we’ve gotten the pleasantries out of the way, we need to talk about what, exactly, led to Alicia getting thrashed….anyone care to elaborate?” Professor Malvineous stepped up. “I think I can be of some assistance in that department….you don’t mind if I use the SmartBoard, do you?” “Not at all,” Tell replied. “In fact, I’d be honored---“

Vicki groaned.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’, then,” Anton mused. “Alicia was assaulted by a ReVerse gynoid---“ “WHOA,” Tell cut in. “Back the gravy train up here. A ReVerse unit attacked her?” “I thought they went bankrupt,” Vicki added, genuinely confused; she’d been assigned to track the financial status of several companies after the “hazmat weirdo” mission, and ReVerse had been one of the bottom-five earners on the list. “They were,” Anton replied, “but apparently they’ve been bought out by one Victor Vega---“

“WHAT?!” Vicki shouted, startling Tell. “That idiot again?! Why is it that his name keeps popping up every time something bad happens? I mean, he was involved with the hazmat weirdos, he booked the act who stole the gigs Sophia had lined up at Santana Row tomorrow---“

“That ‘act’, as you call her, was the gynoid who attacked Alicia,” Anton interjected. “According to the official ReVerse records, her name is Brittney ‘Boom-Boom’ Delacroix. Primary functions include singing, songwriting and---in case you couldn’t tell---self-defense. She was apparently created by ReVerse---under the supervision of Victor Vega, most likely---to bring about a premature end to Sophia Starlet’s career….by any and all means necessary. That little firefight she started outside the City of the Angels was probably meant to keep her trapped inside; Miss Delacroix’s ‘support squad’ could’ve made their way into the building while the paying customers were being evacuated….”

“Except I got in their way,” Alicia sighed, her broken body shivering from the movement. “I wanted to keep them from getting into the City….guess I forgot just how crappy these bodies of mine can get…”

“If you hadn’t intervened when you did,” Anton replied quietly, “a lot of people could’ve died while the City of the Angels burned to the ground.” “Ah, you’re forgetting my role in keeping them from getting fried,” Renault mused. “Had it not been for my redirectional skills---“ “You mean telling people to head for the nearest exit?” Vicki drawled.

“Ahem.” Anton cleared his throat loudly, regaining the attention of the room.

“As Miss Lawson noted during her battle with Brittney,” he continued, “the main reason the battle ended before either combatant could sustain further damage was due in large part to the inadequacy of Brittney’s central power cell.” He called up a photo from the secure ALPA intranet on the SmartBoard, tapping it to zoom in; “At one point, ReVerse was forced to stop using the power cells made in-house for their androids,” he explained, “due to an engineering fault that would cause malfunctions due to sudden, rapid spikes in energy output---for example, if the unit using the power cell was in a fight.”

“To be fair,” Vicki cut in, “I did tell her to slow down…”

“Yet she ignored you,” Anton reminded the gynoid. “Her core programming was written with the sole intention of keeping her focused on fulfilling her primary objectives---“ He stopped, as if he remembered something. “What is it?” Alicia asked, pausing to manually readjust her left occular sensor. “Unless I’m sadly mistaken,” Anton quickly replied, “I think Vicki’s victory over Brittney may have done more harm than good…” He called up a series of documents from the ALPA intranet, skimming through each one to see if his suspicions were valid. “Just as I thought…” he muttered. “Vicki’s defeat of Miss Delacroix has caused a programming error that can only be corrected in one very specific way….Brittney Delacroix has altered her objectives and shifted the focus of her mission!”

“You mean she’s after me now?” Vicki asked.

“I can almost guarantee it,” the Professor replied. “She might still be focused on ruining the career of Sophia Starlet, but her new primary objective will almost certainly be your destruction, Vicki---“ “In which case the ALPA will step in to make sure that Brittney’s objective isn’t fulfilled,” Tell declared. “I, for one, don’t intend to just sit back and wait for ‘Miss Delacroix’ to make the next move….if she wants to get to Vicki Lawson, she’ll have to go through me.”

“Glad to hear that you’re on my side for this one, Tell,” the brunette gynoid stated. “We’re all on your side for this one, Vicki,” Alicia replied, twitching slightly as she spoke. “To be honest, though, I’d rather be on your side in a body that wasn’t on its last 48 hours of life….”

The Professor nodded. “With all of us standing in her way, it might actually deter Miss Delacroix from trying to attack Vicki. Be that as it may, we still need to keep her original target safe.” He glanced at the unmoving form of Sophia Starlet; “If anyone else figured out the truth about her,” he murmured, “it could very well signal the beginning of the end---not just for her career, but for everything we stand for. The ALPA could easily become the target of conspiracy theorists, or turned into a scapegoat by anyone and everyone with misplaced rage. It could even be the end of Silicon Valley as we know it today….”

“Except I won’t let that happen.”

Everyone turned to notice V.I.C.I. standing over the slab where Sophia lay deactivated. “I’m not about to let everything I’ve fought for be undermined just because Victor Vega wanted to knock her off the charts,” she declared in her monotone voice. “If it comes down to a situation where one must rise and one must fall, I can guarantee that it won’t be me who falls.”

“Inspiring words,” Renault mused.

“Damn straight they are,” Tell agreed with a grin. “Professor, any way we can keep tabs on ‘Miss Delacroix’ so as to avoid any sneak attacks from her posse?” “I thought you’d never ask,” Anton replied, smiling. “One of the reasons ReVerse was hemmorhaging money was their insistance on installing multiple iterations of Droid Tracker in every single unit they made---not for the benefit of their clients, mind you, but for several quite frankly stupid reasons. Apparently, their chairman at the time was concerned that the ‘ancient and unholy spirits’ could somehow take control of his products; before his untimely passing, he mandated that every single ReVerse android have a customized Droid Tracker suite installed.” He smirked; “Of course, what he neglected to realize was that the particular incarnation of Droid Tracker he was using happened to be written by me.”

“So you can track Brittney Delacroix right now?” Vicki asked hopefully.

“I can indeed. Even after the reigns were passed down to someone a bit more, shall we say, sensible, the mandate is still in place…and it’s not like they could just stop installing the program if they wanted. I made sure that every processor bought by ReVerse was hard-coded with my version of Droid Tracker…including the ones used to create Brittney Delacroix.” He tapped the SmartBoard and summoned up a virtual keyboard, his fingers flying over the “keys” as if he were playing a Bach concerto. After a few seconds, Google Maps popped up to reveal the current location of Brittney Delacroix---a newly-purchased estate in Cupertino. “Looks like Vega wanted his ‘newest asset’ close at hand,” Alicia mused. “If he’d have been just a bit smarter, he could’ve easily given her a place in Bel-Air or Los Angeles….”

“Given her recent instabilities,” Anton reminded her, “handing her the keys to an estate that far from Silicon Valley wouldn’t exactly be the smartest idea. Did you notice that her bodyguards never bothered to call any tech support people as we drove away? They almost literally just threw her into the car and drove off---they probably brought her right back to Victor for a quick fix.”

“So…they don’t care if she gets broken, then?” Vicki querried.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Tell interjected. “If his past actions are any indication, Victor Vega has a lot invested in this latest scheme of his, and there’s no way in hell he’s going to just let her break down. Speaking of which…” He glanced at Sophia Starlet; “We should probably keep her here overnight, just to be safe. I’ll try to contact her handler tonight, see if he’s still in town.” “Would it be okay if I stayed the night too?” Vicki asked. “I don’t want her to think I’ve abandoned her once she wakes up…..” She found it odd that she used the term “wakes up” instead of “reactivates”, given what she’d learned, but it sounded less distant than “once she reboots”.

Tell nodded. “Good call. Speaking of calls, I should probably get Ted on the horn right now….”

“…and the next thing I remember was Dalton and Sinclair drivin’ up and yellin’ at me to get in the car, and that chick with the goggles wasn’t with ‘em anymore….I didn’t wanna stick around! I had no idea that Brittney was getting’ her butt kicked!”

After being picked up by Brittney Delacroix’s two bodyguards and brought back to El Casa de Vega, Stavros’ somewhat-skewed recollection of the events at the City of the Angels did almost nothing to ease Victor Vega’s thoughts about the matter. If anything, he was more annoyed than before---Stavros had just confessed to leaving his post, being defeated by an unknown girl and refusing to maintain contact with Brittney and her team.

“You have given me several reasons why I should have you hand-delivered to the morgue,” he intoned, staring not at Stavros, but at the glass of wine he was swirling in his hand. “You have also proven your incompetance in matters that should be handled with nothing less than the utmost care---“

“Care that should have been exercised by YOU, Vega.”

The pinstripe-suited form of the Baron stepped forth from a dark corner of the room, the light seeming to retreat just enough to keep his face and shoulders hidden from view. “And before you even ask how I was able to gain entry into your casa,” he added, “I keep tabs on every single one of my shareholders….it’s one of the most effective ways I know of to prevent mutiny. In any case---“ “What do you want, Baron?” Vega snapped, no longer bothering to follow protocol. “Unless this little visit of yours is focused on correcting the failings of my former chief of security---“

“It is,” the Baron replied, turning to face Stavros.

The Grecian trembled, his eyes darting from the Baron to Victor in a panic. “No….please, Baron…it…it wasn’t my fault! I…I only ran away because---“ “You ran because YOU ARE A COWARD, Stavros,” the Baron thundered, pointing a gloved finger at the terrified man. “You ran because your pride forbade you from telling Victor Vega that an android girl---a glorified doll---managed to keep you from your duties, and your stupid code of ‘honor’ would not allow you to accept defeat at her hands……” For the briefest second, Stavros swore he could see twin flashes of gold from the darkness…at the exact level where the Baron’s eyes might be. “You disgust me, Stavros….and you know what happens to those who incur my wrath….”

Victor Vega watched, simultaneously astonished and horrified, as the lights around Stavros were extinguished as swiftly as one blows out a candle. “NO! PLEASE!” the Grecian screamed, falling to his knees and begging for his life as the darkness seemed to envelop him. Just as the Baron’s hand closed around Stavros’ neck, the entire room was engulfed in pitch black….

From the dark, a bloodcurdling scream rang out.

Just as quickly as they had been extinguished, the lights flickered back into existance….revealing the corpse of Stavros on the floor. His body was contorted, as if he’d suffered excruciating pain just seconds before he died.

“A fitting end for his kind,” the Baron intoned, once again standing in the shadows on the far side of the room, his face still hidden from view. “Now…I wish to see the repair bay where Miss Delacroix is being kept.” Victor nodded and flicked a switch on his desk; within seconds, the entire room shuddered briefly before descending into the lower levels of the building. “So this is how you’ve been spending your money,” the Baron remarked, a dry chuckle punctuating the remark. “A truly fascinating design choice….I take it there are precautionary measures to keep anyone from trying to enter the room after its descent?” “Of course,” Victor replied. “This particular area of the casa was built using modular construction techniques; if I desired, I could have the entire estate rearranged over the course of a week….which, if memory serves---“

“Point taken, Vega,” the Baron stated. “Now….let’s see how Miss Delacroix is doing, shall we?”

Silently, Victor nodded, ignoring the rising fire of hatred in his gut.

The room shuddered to a stop, the far wall somehow sliding upwards and out of the way to reveal a steel and Perspex viewport. “For safety reasons,” Victor informed the Baron, “we cannot actually enter the repair bay from this room; there are multiple elevators to the facility from elsewhere in the casa, but---“ “Again,” the Baron interjected, “I already know.”

Feeling an irrepressible urge to scream profanities, Victor flicked another switch and bade the Baron join him at the clear Perspex window. “The damage to Miss Delacroix was….quite severe,” he admitted, turning off the lights where the Baron was going to stand. “She apparently received multiple electric shocks over the course of a twenty-four hour period, and…well….” He pressed a button on the windowframe, illuminating the repair bay. “The only way to realize just how bad the damage was is to see it for yourself…..and I must warn you, it is not something you should view before retiring for the evening.”

Brittney Delacroix lay on the repair bay table, her eyes opened wide in shock. Her limbs remained in an at-rest position, giving the gynoid a strangely calm look in spite of the robotic manipulator arms descending from an overhead rig, delving into her opened chest cavity with surprising fluidity. Two technicians---both gynoids---sat nearby and took notes, occasionally tweaking a setting or two on the manipulator controls.

“Given the intensity of the shocks Brittney received,” Victor explained, “I thought it best to have her put through a full component check and tune-up before her performance tomorrow---“

“A performance,” the Baron growled, “that has just been cancelled.”

Victor was taken aback; “I….what?”

“She is in no condition to perform,” the Baron casually stated. “To be honest, I’m actually surprised that her body did not simply overheat and explode after suffering multiple shocks in the same day….not to mention the erratic energy readings she was generating before the second shock. If she can be brought back to working order tomorrow, give her the day off---but allow me to make it clear that I do not want her going onstage, especially in her present state.”

“Of course, Baron,” Victor declared, trying hard not to imagine himself running over the man’s pinstripe-suited corpse with a Porsche.

“Now….as for the matter of your payment for…services rendered thus far,” the Baron continued, “you will be given the usual salary attributed to the position of CEO---because you are, after all, holding that position within ReVerse---along with several, shall we say, ‘bonuses’ for your participation in my latest endeavor. Expect the first of these bonuses to be delivered next week, with another following two weeks after….should your work continue on its present course---or, dare I say, should it improve---the amount and frequency of payment will be increased exponentially. Of course, should your performance experience a sudden drop….”

“I understand,” Victor replied, “but what are you going to do about her?” He gestured to Brittney, whose face still wore a look of shock as a power-screwdriver dove in and out of her open chest.

“She will recover,” the Baron stated matter-of-factly. “You did build her to my specifications, after all….”

Victor didn’t respond immediately, knowing all too well that he was on thin ice. If his suspicions of being set up to fail were correct, he could very easily arrange things so that the Baron would never leave the casa alive, and eventually assume control of United Robotronics on his own….but if his suspicions were wrong, and he attempted to move against the man who effectively held his life in his hands, things could get very ugly, very fast. “Brittney Delacroix was, indeed, built in strict accordance with your specifications,” he declared. “If there was, indeed, a design flaw that caused this---“

“Say no more,” the Baron replied. “I shall have my people look into the specs again; if any faults are found, those who neglected to inform me of their presence will be dealt with accordingly. If not….then we all continue doing what we’ve been doing. Simple as that.”


Elsewhere in the casa, Lauren Vega watched Victor’s conversation with the Baron via the ever-present security cameras, a whirlwind of emotions running through her digital thoughts.

Having started out life as an animatronic Jenna Jameson replica (a project scrapped by Victor because “she (Jenna) is no longer as beautiful as she used to be”), Lauren was no stranger to the catcalls, wolf-whistles and quick gropes from other guys. Hell, most of the time, she actually enjoyed getting felt up by strangers passing her on the street---it was a hell of a lot more than Victor was willing to offer. If he wasn’t running one of his multimillion dollar corporations, he was touring with that stupid wrestling promotion he’d signed up for “as a joke”---though the fact that he held one of their main championship belts made it less of a joke and more a test of how long he could stay champion before he got himself fired. Worse, if he wasn’t running his businesses or showing off in the squared circle---

“Something on your mind?”

Lauren turned away from the monitor to see Vivica Frost watching her, an amused look on her face. “I’m just wondering how long it’s going to take before the Baron realizes that Vic just wants to bump him off,” she replied. “If he hasn’t figured it out by now…”

“He probably already knows,” Vivica replied. “Knowing him, he just wants to see how long it’ll take before ‘Vic’ snaps completely.” She smirked and joined Lauren at the monitor. “I’ve been working with Victor for almost a decade now, and I’ve seen what happens when people invoke his wrath….the only person I know of who can arrange an ‘accident’ better than Victor Vega is the Baron himself. If either one of them tries to end this little pissing contest by wiping out the other, it’ll completely wreck both their corporate kingdoms on an international scale.” She sighed; “Better to just let them continue their posturing for now.”

“I’d feel a lot better if Vic only ‘postured’ in the bedroom,” Lauren muttered. “He had me commissioned to be his fiance---and eventually his friggin’ wife---but the only thing he gives a crap about these days is his stupid business.” She sulked, staring at the monitor as the Baron and “Vic” discussed the matter of scheduling a new set of concerts for Brittney Delacroix.

Vivica rolled her eyes at the mention of Victor ignoring his trophy wife. “When’s the last time either of you felt the desire to, as Stavros once put it, ‘consummate your love for each other’?” she asked. “I don’t know about him,” Lauren replied, jerking a thumb in the direction of Vega’s image on the monitor, “but I’ve probably been better at it than he could ever be for well over three months.” “You haven’t had sex in three months?!” Vivica echoed, shocked. “Not with Vic,” Lauren grumbled. “The pool boy, the gardener, the guy who showed up to fix the gutters, the cop who wanted to serve Vic a noise complaint warning…” She counted off the list of her impromptu partners on her fingers. “And there was that one lawyer---“

“I get the picture,” Vivica chuckled. “Does ‘Vic’ know that your love life has been going the way of the village bicycle?”

“Are you kidding?” Lauren gasped. “He’d have me reprogrammed as a secretary or a door-greeter for one of his lame-ass ‘corporate suites’, and THAT would be even worse than things are now! If I have to get action from every guy who rings the doorbell to keep myself from getting bored, I’ll gladly take that over a CPU-wipe and a makeover into yet another one of his plastic receptionists.”

“Good point” Vivica agreed. “You know, you could always work for me….”

“No offense,” Lauren replied, “but I hear the weather in Anchorage isn’t exactly great when you’re trying to get things going in bed. I’d rather be a bored nympho in Silicon Valley than a frozen Barbie…but thanks for the offer. If you ever decide to move your operation to Florida, though, call me up first thing. That, or see if you can expand your operations into some place like Italy or Costa Rica….any place that doesn’t frown on chicks wearing bikinis all day is fine by me.”

“I’ll look into it,” Vivica promised with a sly grin.

Vicki stared at the still-unmoving form of Sophia Starlet, waiting for her system reboot cycle to finish. “All this time,” she murmured, “I was so intent on getting to meet you…and it turns out you’re like me…”

A trilling sound emanating from Sophia’s chest signaled the completion of her reboot cycle, and the pigtailed gynoid’s eyes fluttered open. “Wha…..what happened?” she murmured. “The last thing I remember….Dennis was ejecting my battery, and he went to get another one from the boombox….and then there was this noise, and everyone was running….” She looked up and saw Vicki. “Did I…”

“You’re okay, if that’s what you were going to ask,” the brunette gynoid replied. “You tried to leave the City of the Angels before you could get a new battery, and you sort of ran out of power….”

“Oh,” Sophia muttered, lookning somewhat downcast.

“If it helps,” Vicki offered, “I’m not freaked out by the fact that you’re a robot---working alongside my dad at his company pretty much eliminated any chance of that.” Better to not tell her that I’m one unless there’s no other option, she mentally added. “In any case, you’re in safe hands now….and I sort of understand why I felt this instant connection to you.” She grinned. “Don’t take this the wrong way, or anything, but---“

“I’m just a Sophia Starlet doll brought to life?” Sophia finished.

“Pretty much,” Vicki admitted, “and that’s what’s so cool!”

Sophia sighed. “I just wish my origin story was as cool as the original Sophia Starlet’s”, she murmured. “Hers wasn’t nearly as tragic as mine, either.”

Vicki’s smile faded. “Tragic?”

The pigtailed pop princess eased herself into a sitting position. “To tell you the truth, Vicki,” she began, “I had no idea I was even going to make it as far as I have….or that I’d even make it at all.” She sighed again, a hint of sadness in her eyes. “I started out as the culmination of a Make-a-Wish project,” she explained. “A few years ago, Cartoon Network ran a 24-hour marathon of Sophia Starlet and the Starlet Dolls---you already admitted that you’re a fan, and since you know the whole backstory, I don’t think I need to rehash it for you. Anyways, the show had been off the air for years thanks to some dumb lawsuit regarding a song made by a relatively-unknown group who later became a major act….long in a short, it sort of dwindled in the public eye and died out until that marathon aired. The Starlet Dolls got a huge resurgance in popularity after that….and one particular fan decided to go the extra mile to bring them back.”

“And how, exactly, did Make-a-Wish help with that?” Vicki asked.

“Trust me,” Sophia replied, “it almost sounds too outrageous to be true. As it turns out, this fan happened to be in her senior year of high school…18 years old, loads of friends, a scholarship to SJSU---she definitely had a bright future ahead of her. There was just one problem: She was dying. Cancer, I think….” She pulled a picture of a smiling redhead in a cap-and-gown out of the pocket of her skirt. “She was fascinated by robotics---said she’d wanted to build a robot ever since she saw the video for that song, ‘Mr. Roboto’---except she was going to build a girl robot. One that could sing, dance, and be the biggest pop star after Michael Jackson….” She grinned. “In other words, she wanted to bring Sophia Starlet into the real world.”

“I thought Sophia wasn’t a robot on the cartoon, though,” Vicki interjected. “I mean, yeah, she came from the future, but---“

“You never saw the original final five episodes of the series, then,” Sophia gently informed her. “They were the main reason why that group I mentioned earlier filed their stupid lawsuit---they didn’t want their songs being included in a story arc about an award-winning pop star turning out to be nothing more than a robot.” She sighed. “The network drew up a new finale where the Starlet Dolls went to the future with Sophia after saving the world one more time…it was good, but not as good as the original plan.”

“I guess that explains that particular bit of the story…” Vicki mused. “I’m still wondering how Make-a-Wish got involved…and how that led to, well, you.”

“I’m getting to that,” Sophia insisted. “Like I was saying, this girl was dying, and she wanted to have her wish granted, so her family called up Make-a-Wish. When she told them she wanted to give the world ‘a real-life Sophia Starlet’, their first thought was to basically either find a new singer and turn her into Sophia Starlet, or repackage an established act---but the girl was insistent on how she wanted things done. As it turns out, one of the Make-a-Wish people knew about this robotics company, Lawson Robotics….” She chuckled; “The first time we met, after the Retro Toy Fair, I even commented on your dad’s company---I’d never forget the name ‘Lawson’ in a million years.”

“So….my dad built you?” Vicki gasped.

“Not personally, but he was there every step of the way. All those people who say that I look like a life-sized Sophia Starlet doll don’t know how right they are---your dad actually chose to scale up the measurements and dimensions of the original Sophia Starlet doll…with a few changes, obviously; he didn’t want people to think the finished product---aka me---looked too ‘unreal’ or anything like that.”

“Right,” Vicki agreed. “I think I get the story so far…and I can sort of guess where the tragedy comes in…”

Another sigh punctuated the remark. “I remember the first time I met her,” Sophia murmured. “It was the first day I was activated; hers was the first face I saw.” She smiled, despite a tear rolling down her cheek. “I sang ‘Dedication’ for her---just like my namesake had done on the show for a sick kid---and…” She wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “It was so beautiful…” she whispered. “To this day, I’ve never forgotten that day…the first time I ever opened my mouth and sang for someone….she told me that it was the happiest day of her life, and that for a few minutes, the sound of my voice….made the pain go away….”

Sophia covered her face with her hands and wept for a minute or two; Vicki, not wanting to ruin the moment with another question, got up from her chair and walked over to sit next to the grieving gynoid. “At least you’ll always know that you managed to make the last few days of her life a little less painful,” she reminded Sophia. “Not many people can say that.”

“I know,” Sophia sobbed. “I…I know.” She took a deep breath, wiping the last of her tears away. “I performed a concert at her school the night she graduated; a few people from Lawson Robotics volunteered to be the back-up band, and Ted stood in as my manager. It was a pretty good night…” Her voice dropped to a near-whisper; “I…I went to visit her in the hospital the next day….and she was gone. Died in her sleep…she was still holding her diploma.” She closed her eyes and took another deep breath. “I…I never even got to tell her goodbye….”

“And then you met Dennis,” Vicki stated, already making the connection in her mind.

Sophia nodded. “He was just coming off a tour of his own---he used to be a singer for a big rock band, but he had some medical condition that kept him from touring with them…something about chronic fatigue, I think. I met him at a show in Seattle---he had an orchestra backing him, and he played a lot of the songs from the group he used to be with; after the show, I actually got to meet him, and we got to talking…” “And you told him what you were,” Vicki finished. “I didn’t exactly have a choice,” Sophia countered. “Anyone I could’ve picked to manage me would’ve ended up figuring it out sooner or later---I figured it was better to tell him straight off the bat than have him walk in on me changing my own batteries or getting repaired. He agreed to join my crew and make sure I got my batteries changed between shows---he almost considered writing a rock opera for me based on something he’d done with his previous group…”

“…and things kept going well between the two of you until tonight,” Vicki surmised. “I’m amazed you’ve never had this problem before, to be quite honest….not that I’d ever want that kind of thing to happen to you…”

“I get it,” Sophia muttered, grinning.

Vicki looked into Sophia’s eyes, feeling now---more than ever---that she had to help the pop princess evade the wrath of Victor Vega and his gynoid gansta rapper. “Guess you’ll need someone to keep you ‘amped up’ between shows now that Dennis has apparently flown the coop,” she mused.

“Ah, to be honest,” Sophia admitted, “he didn’t just run off in a panic, or because he didn’t care about keeping my secret anymore….he ran because I told him to go. As soon as I heard that explosion…I didn’t want to lose anyone else.” She bowed her head. “I still visit her grave, you know….I never got the chance to say goodbye to the girl whose dying wish literally made me, but I always stop by her grave on her birthday, to remind myself that I am, quite literally, someone’s dream come true….”

“That’s the great thing about dreams,” a familiar voice stated. “They never really die.”

Sophia and Vicki turned to see Dennis standing in the doorway; Sophia didn’t hesitate to cross the room in seconds and wrap him in a hug. “You came back!” she sobbed joyfully. “You didn’t think I was just gonna leave, did you?” Dennis teased. “I’d never let a beautiful piece of work like you get snatched up by some idiotic executive who wanted to reshape your whole image. I’d never be able to live with myself if anyone turned you into another coroprate creation, belting out tunes written by underpaid hacks.”

“As much as I hate breaking up this reunion,” Vicki politely informed the pair, “we still have a problem. Victor Vega isn’t going to let this loss slide---“

“---so why sit on our rear ends and wait for him to make yet another pyrotechnic strike against our beloved songstress?” another familiar voice stated, as Renault sauntered into the room. “Forgive me for intruding, but I believe I have as much to gain from this Victor Vega’s defeat as either of you two---the City of the Angels was nearly burned to the ground because of his misguided vendetta against Miss Starlet, and that belligerent little minx known as Brittney Delacroix nearly destroyed Alicia….seeing as how both of these events have hit my life rather close to home, I’d like nothing more than an opportunity to give Señor Vega a massive kick up the backside.” He paused, turning to observe Dennis; “You…look familiar,” he mused. “Were you a member of R.E.O. Speedwagon at any point?” “Wrong band, right genre,” Dennis corrected.

“If this conversation is going to continue,” Anton Malvineous’ voice declared from the speaker in a corner of the room, “I suggest you hold off until morning. Mr. Tell is working on another project at the moment, and he would greatly appreciate it if the noise level didn’t rise above a certain decibel percentage…” “We get the picture,” Sophia replied, grinning. “Any chance he’d let Vicki and I have a sleepover in here?” The brunette gynoid could almost hear the smile in Anton’s voice when he replied: “I’ll see if I can persuade him.”

A few minutes later, Vicki and Sophia were both snuggled in sleeping bags, enjoying the original five-part finale of Sophia Starlet and the Starlet Dolls (Dennis had obtained the episodes from “a good friend”, though he insisted that they were acquired through strictly legal channels). “Y’know,” Vicki mused, “this is a lot better than the one I remember them showing on TV. It’s less….goofy. Of course, that’s probably because these episodes don’t have a stupid multi-colored monkey trying to direct everyone to ‘The ChronoGate’ in a supremely derpy voice.” She laughed at the memory of the original finale. “Yeah,” Sophia admitted, “It wasn’t as interesting as this one…of course, if a certain group had just stopped being dorks and let the show use the music without complaining, then things may have been different….”

After a few seconds of silence (except for the sounds coming from the TV), Vicki decided to ask Sophia one more question: “Has there ever been a time when you were afraid someone would find out the truth about you?” “Every night I go on stage,” Sophia replied. “Trust me, Vicki…if the rest of the world got wind of the fact that I was nothing more than a walking, talking Barbie knockoff, they’d start mass-producing popstars faster than you could say ‘X-Factor’. I nearly wound up that way after my first concert…if Dennis hadn’t been there, I might be doing concerts at DisneyLand every afternoon, or worse….”

“Then I guess we should both be thankful that you’re in good company,” Vicki replied, grinning.

“Amen to that, sister,” Sophia agreed, smiling serenely. “Amen to that.”

“…and furthermore, it is in the best interests of our operation if you….withhold from participating in the concert you had previously scheduled to take place at Santana Row,” Victor Vega calmly informed the newly-repaired Brittney Delacroix. “You sustained damage that, by all means, should have destroyed you during your fight with---“

“I know,” Brittney shot back, scowling. “You don’t need to keep rubbin’ it in my face. I got my ass kicked, and now I’m payin’ for it.” She glared at Dalton and Sinclair; “If certain people had been where they were supposed to be,” she added, “I might not have gotten my ass whupped as badly as it did….” “Dalton and Sinclair were only accompanying you to prevent the authorities from interfering,” Vivica Frost interjected. “And while we’re on the subject of things you did wrong….trying to burn down an entire city block to get to one target?” She smirked. “To me, that showcases a remarkable lack of---“

Before she could finish the sentence, Vivica saw a lightning-fast grey streak moving towards her, seconds before Brittney’s grip tightened around her throat. “Say one more word, bitch,” the dark-skinned gynoid growled, “and I WILL END YOU.”

“BRITTNEY, NO!” Victor thundered. “Get away from her this instant---“

A gunshot split the air; Dalton and Sinclair gasped as they saw a red stain blooming on Victor’s shirt.

“You don’t give the orders anymore, asswipe,” Brittney snarled, holstering the still-smoking Colt 1911 she’d obtained from Sinclair. “I’m takin’ charge of my own career; you and Miss Eskimo Pie over there can do whatever the hell y’all want. As for me, I’ll be blazin’ trails and makin’ sales long after you two are in the ground.” She snapped her fingers imperiously, giving a wordless order for Dalton and Sinclair to follow her out. “As far as Sophia Starlet is concerned,” she declared, “her time is UP, because MY TIME IS---“ “Uh,” Dalton interrupted, “isn’t that John Cena’s catchphrase?” Brittney backhanded him across the face; “You didn’t even let me finish, stupid!” she yelled.

“You….you cannot do this…to me…” Victor wheezed, pressing his hand over the wound in his shoulder.

“Uh, lemme check that…..YES I CAN DO THIS,” the black gynoid shot back. “I AIN’T your ‘pet project’, Vic, so you can just get that thougt outta your damn mind right now. From here on, I’m doin’ things MY way….and speakin’ of my way, I think Sophia Starlet needs to get her ass kicked.”

“Definitely a good plan, boss,” Sinclair muttered, grinning stupidly. “It’s the best idea you’ve ever had!”

“And after we’re done with her, we’ll get that girl who shocked the hell out of you, right?” Dalton asked.

“Damn straight we will!” Brittney declared, grinning. “See you two losers later,” she added, sneering at Vivica and Victor as she sauntered out. “Oh, and one more thing---“

Before she could finish taunting Victor, the dark-skinned gynoid froze in place, one foot hovering in the air.

“I think it’s about time someone else got a word in edgewise,” Lauren Vega’s voice declared, as the trophy wife strode past the now-frozen Brittney with a confident smirk on her face. “And Vic, that bullet wsan’t actually a bullet---notice the conspicuous lack of a hole in your shirt?” Victor felt the “wound” on his shoulder; “It’s wax!” he growled, glaring at Brittney. “You shot me with a wax bullet?!”

“Probably meant as a warning,” Lauren surmised. “Speaking of which….” She slid an iPad across the table to Victor; “You might want to take a look at this, babe…I think you’ll be surprised to find out the real reason your latest toy can turn herself back on.” Victor scrolled through the document that had been opened on the iPad, his confused expression giving way to an enraged glare. “You….you’ve been corresponding with the Baron this entire time?!” “It wasn’t just her, either,” Lauren added. “Apparently, before he kicked the bucket, Stavros was making calls to your ‘esteemed employer’ as well…and if I remember correctly, he said something about wanting to co-opt your mining operations….”

As Victor’s fury intensified, Lauren couldn’t help but chuckle to herself---while the document detailing Brittney’s collaboration with the Baron was real, her remarks about Stavros were complete lies, fabricated by the trophy wife gynoid in the hopes of securing a spot for herself in the upper echelons of her husband’s work.

“Lauren,” Victor finally stated after a few minutes of tense silence, “I…I don’t know how you obtained all of this information, but you have just saved me the trouble of hiring a technical consultant to examine Miss Delacroix’s systems to locate the source of her self-reactivating abilities.” The anger in his voice was almost tangible, as he directed his stare towards Brittney. “And you,” he snarled, “will not be seeking any more communications from the Baron….nor will you ‘blaze trails and make sales’ on your own time. Dalton, Sinclair---bring her back to the repair bay. I am going to make a few….modifications that will ensure her complete, total and absolute loyalty….to me….”

The two guards nodded, not wanting to piss off the boss any more than he already was. With almost no effort, they grabbed the still-frozen Brittney under the armpits and carried her off, followed close behind by Victor Vega.

“That….was interesting,” Vivica Frost mused, cougning slightly. “You come up with that all by yourself?”

Lauren grinned. “The part about her communicating with the Baron was real,” she admitted. “The stuff about Stavros, though….” A playful wink punctuated the sentence. “Impressive work,” Vivica declared, nodding her approval. “I think you’ve got a bright future in El Casa de Vega, my dear….unless, of course, Brittney is able to refute your claims about Stavros.” “Oh, she won’t be ‘refuting’ anything for a while,” Lauren replied with a smirk. “I had a friend of mine write an iPad app specifically for shutting her down---“

Two more gunshots rang out from the hall outside, followed by screams.

The gynoid’s smirk faded; “I only loaded one wax bullet into the 1911’s clip,” she gasped. “Those…those were actual shots!” Her confident manner vanished, replaced by an all-too familiar feeling of fear. “We have to get out of here---“

“You can run if you want,” Vivica purred. “I’m staying to fight.”

“Staying to fight?!” Lauren echoed. “Are you---“ She stopped when she noticed Vivica removing a pair of sivler Desert Eagles with ivory trim from shoulder-worn holsters. “My personal death-dealers,” the white-haired vixen murmured, kissing one of the Eagles on the barrel. “A hell of a lot better than that useless 1911 Miss Delacroix is currently ‘packing’….and one of the few guns I’d trust in a firefight.” She twirled the pistols on her fingertips for a minute or so, stopping only to aim them at the door. “I suggest you hide behind something,” she warned Lauren, “and shut off your auditory sensors---it might get loud for a minute or two….” Lauren nodded, hiding underneath the massive conference table; she decided to leave her auditory sensors on, just in case Vivica got wounded in the fight and needed the gynoid to bring her to the doctor.

The door to the conference room flew off the hinges, revealing the thoroughly-pissed off figure of Brittney Delacroix.

“WHERE’S THE BITCH WHO TRIED TO SELL ME OUT?!” she shouted.

“Sorry,” Vivica purred, “but the only bitch in this room is the one I’m staring at right now.” She grinned; “The way I see it, you deserve every single bit of what’s about to happen to you…..so just make it easier on yourself and drop the gun. Now.”

“I don’t think so,” Brittney snarled. “You drop yours first---“

A round from one of the Desert Eagles tore through the door frame behind Brittney.

“Your move,” Vivica sneered.

Within seconds, the entire conference room erupted into a massive, two-woman shootout---Brittney and Vivica dove for cover, shot everything that moved and generally obliterated the hell out of the room. Furniture was shredded, walls were pulverized and bullet holes riddled nearly every surface in the room. In the midst of it all, Lauren Vega huddled beneath the conference table, hands firmly clasped over her ears.

“STAY STILL SO I CAN PLUG YOUR DUMB ASS, BITCH!” Brittney screamed, diving over a futon and firing off a volley of shots in Vivica’s general direction.

“Not a chance,” Vivica shot back, popping out from behind cover to put a slug through Brittney’s left bicep.

“DAMNIT!” the gynoid screamed, clutching her damaged limb. “WHY IS IT ALWAYS MY GOOD ARM THAT GETS HIT?!” Sucking air through her teeth, she managed to fire several more shots at Vivica, tagging the white-clad drug queen in the right hand. “AAARRGH!” Vivica hissed, dropping one of her guns and sinking to the floor. “Damn….I was hoping to finish her with that one…” She tore a strip of cloth from a nearby curtain and wrapped it around her hand, staunching the bleeding. “Good thing she didn’t shoot off a finger,” she mused, ducking behind the sofa again.

Within seconds, nearly every possible object the two could’ve used for cover had been obliterated, leaving only one option---a full-on, face-to-face showdown.

Brittney kicked away the now-useless futon and jumped up on the conference table, firing at the still-prone Vivica with every intent to put a bullet between her eyes. The Meth Queen of Anchorage returend fire, taking the gynoid’s right eye and riddling her right arm with bullets, only to catch another round in her own right shoulder. With both of her Desert Eagles running out of ammo, she decided to abandon the gunplay and go for something she hadn’t expected to fall back on---close-quarters combat.

While Brittney stopped to reload, Vivica leaped up onto the table and grabbed the damaged gynoid, brutally throwing her to the floor. Beneath the conference table, Lauren winced; even with her auditory sensors partially dampened, the impact still sounded punishing.

“Victor Vega created you for a reason,” Vivica declared, standing over Brittney with every intent to pummel her into submission if the need arose, “yet you have defied him, time and again, due to your own motivations…or the influence of outside forces. Personally, I don’t care.” She knealt down, restraining the gynoid by putting one knee on her stomach. “From the moment Victor brought you into El Casa de Vega, I knew you were going to be trouble,” she continued.

“Then kill me now,” Brittney snarled, “and just get it done with!” Vivica chuckled. “That would be the easy way to do things,” she admitted. “Unfortunately for you, I’m hardly in a generous mood….so we’re going to correct this little problem my way.” Without another word, she rolled Brittney onto her stomach, pushing the gynoid’s hair aside and ignoring her protests. “This won’t hurt…much,” she assured the struggling robot. “Now….Step One of my plan to improve your personality, outlook and overall behavior…..a good-old fasioned brain wipe.”

As Lauren crawled out from under the conference table, she gasped at the sight of Vivica Frost forcibly ripping the primary central processing chip from Brittney’s head. The dark-skinned gynoid emitted a shocked squeak, then went limp.

“Lauren,” Vivica ordered, “go see if Victor is still alive…and if he is, tell him I’ve just found the cause of all our problems with ‘Miss Delacroix’.” She held the chip up to the light, allowing Lauren to see that the relays---once golden in color---had turned a disgusting bluish-black. “Unless I’m horribly mistaken,” she continued, “the Baron deliberately infected Brittney’s central processor with a virus---specifically, that Stylo virus I’ve been hearing so much about, judging from the discoloration of the relays…”

Lauren felt like puking at the mention of Stylo, but Vivica’s next sentence legitimately terrified her: “Actually, forget what I just said about going to check on Victor---knowing him, he’s probably just in shock. Get the Bentley ready…we’re taking Miss Delacroix to meet the Maestro…..”

Having spent the night sleeping in a hardback dining-room chair instead of his own bed, Mr. Tell was already in a bad mood when he woke up the following day.

The headlining articles on the ALPA website did nothing to improve that mood.

“Oh, for crap’s sake..” he muttered, shaking his head as he read the latest; apparently, an undercover ALPA officer at Santana Row had been abducted the previous day, and nobody had bothered to file a report until a few hours before midnight. Worse, the other officer assigned by the ALPA to Santana Row had gone missing as well---and from the evidence found at the scene, it was becoming apparent that search-and-rescue wasn’t going to be a viable option.

“I see you’ve read the news,” Anton Malvineous commented from across the room. “Funny how the story conveniently neglected to mention that Murphy’s tracking signal was never activated…” Tell snorted angrilly; “There’s nothing ‘funny’ about it,” he muttered. “He’s one of the only ALPA liasons we have with the police department around here, and he gets snatched off the beat? Either someone planned this incredibly well, or it was a spur-of-the-moment job.” “It’s worse for Anderson,” Anton reminded him. “From the looks of things, he isn’t even going to be found in stable condition….or even found alive, for that matter. The latest rumors are that he was attacked by---“

“I know who they’re saying he was attacked by,” Tell shouted, slamming a fist into the desk.

Anton leveled his gaze at Tell, not wavering. “He’s escaped before, you know,” he informed the ALPA mechanic. “You shouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that he is involved…”

“I’m not….I’m not saying that I’m surprised by it,” Tell croaked. “I….I just thought that the last time he got out was….really the last time. I heard they had a cell special-made to keep him from getting out….that he’d be under 24-hour watch…..” He stared at the monitor in front of him; “I thought there was no way in Hell that he’d ever get out again.” “Let’s not discuss the matter any further, then,” Anton offered, “considering how the subject of this conversation has been a blight on both of our lives.” He paused; “Also, I suggest we avoid informing Vicki until we can get the facts straight…if she finds out that he might be on the loose again, it could very well be the first step of an irreversible chain reaction….”

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” Alicia’s voice called, “but there’s already a major chain reaction going off right now.” Her face appeared on the screen of Anton’s iPad, looking worried. “I just got a video feed from you-know-where, and it’s not pretty.” Anton and Tell exchanged dark looks; “Which ‘you-know-where’ are we talking about?” Tell asked.

“The one where Anton’s old friend is locked up.”

Anton’s face was unreadable as he instructed Alicia to open a direct link to the feed. “I have to see it” was all he was willing to say.

Alicia complied without hesitating, and the monitor on the far wall of the room blared to life with an image of a dark, underground chamber. A damaged African-American gynoid was strapped---or, to be more accurate, chained to an operating table, while an unshaven, cackling figure clad in prison orange circled around her with tools in each hand. “That’s him,” Anton whispered, his eyes squeezed shut. “That’s the Maestro.”

“…and she took one right to the eye?” the aforementioned Maestro asked someone off camera. “That’s none of your damn business,” a female voice replied. “’course it is,” the Maestro replied, grinning sadistically as he applied a Voltaic Welder to the open chest cavity of the gynoid, prompting a siezure-like spasm from her. “By the time I’m done with your new toy, she’ll do EXACTLY as you tell her….and then some!” he sneered, laughing as the gynoid siezed up again under his touch. “And as for that nickname of hers….well, let’s just say that I’m about to make it a fitting moniker! ‘course, it’ll be quick…I need to be back in my cell in five minutes…”

Anton and Tell exchanged horrified looks as the Maestro brought a greenish glass sphere into view.

“Once I give her this, ah, specially-designed implant,” he told the off-camera female, “all you’ll need is this key fob, and KABOOM!!” He laughed again, miming an explosion. “Instant destruction!”

“I’ll be sure to tell Victor that,” the female voice replied.

“Oh, no, no-no-no-no, no!” the Maestro laughed. “This is my little surprise for the esteemed Señor Vega! Any of his friends try to pull one over on me again, and I use this little hip-hop princess to blow them to Kingdom effing Come!” His sinister grin contrasted sharply with the shocked look on the gynoid’s face. “And once I take them out,” the Maestro continued, “I might send her to visit an old friend of mine….”

“Turn it off,” Anton muttered. “I…I can’t watch anymore of this.”

The video faded just in time for Tell to notice a naked female form being wheeled into the room on a pushcart; “You could’ve called ahead,” he mused. “Apologies for the unexpected entrance,” Renault replied, “but there’s a perfectly good explanation for it---“ “You got all of my backups?” Alicia’s voice called from the iPad. “I did indeed,” Renault replied. “There was also the matter of the item in the basement---“ “Don’t mention it,” Alicia replied. “Literally.” Her face reappeared on the iPad’s screen, glancing at Anton and Tell with a feeling of anticipation in her eyes. “So….you two ready to bring me back into the land of the living?”


Wake-up cycle initiated. Activating V.I.C.I. ………. all systems activated. Running full system scan………………………. Scan complete. All systems functioning at 100% efficiency. Reserve Battery charge level: 96.5% Good morning, V.I.C.I.; today is Tuesday, November 23, 2010.

Vicki yawned as she wriggled her way out of the sleeping bag she’d spent the night in, a contented smile on her face. “I forgot how good it feels to spend a night in one of these,” she murmured, yawning again.

“Enrhg?” Sophia Starlet muttered, her head poking out of the open end of her own sleeping bag. “Did you say something?” Vicki giggled; “Your hair is a bit, ah….” Sophia rolled her eyes. “I’ve had worse,” she mumbled, grinning lazily. “One time, there was this stuff I was supposed to use to clean my batteries….somehow or other, some of it got into my charging booth, and when I booted up the next morning, I realized the stuff had somehow dripped onto my head….” She sighed; “I looked like the daughter of Mr. Clean!” The two gynoids shared a laugh at the mental image of a bald-headed Sophia Starlet.

After rolling up the sleeping bags and returning the TV to its place in the storage closet, Vickie and Sophia met up with Anton and Renault in the lobby. “As much as I hate the old cliché of ‘good news, bad news’ moments,” the Professor informed the girls, “this is, in all matter of fact, one such situation. The good news, fortunately, concerns our new acquaintence,” he added, smiling at Sophia. “I’ve been informed that your concert at Santana Row is now back on schedule, due to your ‘replacement’ cancelling at the last possible minute.” Sophia beamed, and wrapped Anton in a hug, whispering “Thank you!” “Indeed,” the Professor replied, “but you should also thank Dennis the next time you see him---apparently, he managed to get your concert back on track with a phone call made at the tail end of the eleventh hour.”

“And thus,” Renault interjected, “we get to the bad news…”

“Not just bad,” Alicia’s voice added, seconds before the gynoid herself---sans t-shirt, bra or any clothing on the upper half of her body---walked in. “It’s catastrophically---what?” She noticed that Vicki was counting the tiles on the ceiling, while Anton politely diverted his eyes to the floor; Renault and Sophia, on the other hand, were staring in wide-eyed wonder at Alicia’s flawless chest. “Ah, you may have forgot to add a certain article of clothing to your current attire,” the Professor informed the blonde gynoid. “What do you---“ With a downward glance, she realized that she was, indeed, topless. “So I did forget something…..Tell, toss me a shirt!”

Seven seconds later….

“As I was saying,” Alicia resumed (now clad in a Rolling Stones T-shirt that was at least two sizes too small for her), “the bad news is absolutely catastrophic. Brittney Delacroix has been…upgraded since Vicki’s last fight with her, and she now has an experimental quantic generator core in place of her original power cell, as well as a full new suite of processors and swappable personality chips.”

“The quantic generator should be your biggest concern, Vicki,” Anton informed the brunette gynoid, “since it’s never really been tested for use with a combat-capable gynoid before.” “I’m guessing it lets her shoot lightning out of her butt or something,” Vicki mused, “because otherwise, I have nothing to worry about.” “Actually,” Anton corrected, “you’ve got a lot to worry about. See, the reason the quantic generator was never tested on combat-capable robots before is…well, it’s unstable. Dangerously unstable. You remember how Brittney’s original power cell generated massive spikes in energy that forced her CPU to overclock, right?” “How could I forget?” Vicki replied. “I almost thought she was going to tear my arms off or something before I---“ She nearly said “before I used Detaining Grip v1.5 on her”, but remembered that Sophia still didn’t know about the secret they shared, and instead finished the sentence with “before I took her down.”

“Indeed,” Anton agreed, giving the gynoid a small nod; he catches on quick, she noted.

“If her original core was so cruddy,” Sophia mused, “then how is this quantic thing any more dangerous? It’s not like it could explode if….” She stopped, noticing that Anton had fixed her with a deadly serious stare. “It… could explode?” the pigtailed gynoid gasped.

“Could, would and probably will,” Anton confirmed. “If Brittney redlines the quantic generator like she did with her original power cell, it won’t just cause her to glitch out in the middle of the fight---it’ll turn her into a walking weapon. Even worse, if the generator goes critical, Brittney won’t be harmed at all---she’ll release the kinetic energy outwards, through every single pore in her synthetic skin, meaning that anyone within a 15-foot radius will either die or be horribly maimed by the resulting blast. The worst part of all this is that the core won’t even get a scratch---it was initially designed to expell excess energy in this fashion.”

Vicki pondered all of the bullet points Anton had gone over. “What if someone were able to contain her in such a way that the energy couldn’t escape?” she finally offered. “Like, they wrap her in a blanket or something?”

“A blanket wouldn’t be enough,” Tell declared from the doorway on the other side of the room. “You’d need to get her into something much more tight-fitting….like a full-body diving suit. Even then, if 95% of her body was covered, the energy would still be able to vent through her head….” He stopped. “Except cranial casings aren’t designed to vent that sort of energy!” he shouted, a grin forming on his face. “Vicki, you are definitely your father’s greatest creation.”

“Thanks,” the brunette gynoid replied, blushing slightly.

“Vicki’s plan does have a major advantage,” Anton admitted, “but how would you even get Brittney into a suit like that?”

Vicki pursed her lips and gave the professor her best “Do I really have to explain this?” look. “It’s no stretch to assume that she’ll be coming to the concert at Santana Row,” she reminded him, “so all I have to do is lure her away from Sophia, get her embroiled in a one-on-one slugfest, and then somehow or other….” She faltered; “Okay, that part of my plan does need a little work,” she acquiesced, chuckling weakly.

“Actually,” Alicia replied, “I might have a better plan…” She walked over to Vicki’s chair and whispered to her for a minute or so; afterwards, the brunette gynoid nodded thoughtfully. “That….just might work!”

“Ah, what might work?” Sophia asked, confused. “I’ll explain on the way to Santana Row,” Vicki promised. “That reminds me….we need to get Sophia to her gig ASAP, otherwise we’ll have to put up with a lot of disappointed fans….that, and Brittney Delacroix may end up doing something really stupid.”

“I’ll get the Tellmobile ready, then,” Tell declared, grinning. “I have a feeling this is going to get interesting…”

Thirty minutes later, the stage was being set---literally---to beat Brittney Delacroix at her own game.

“Seeing as how we’re setting up on the Hatton Street parking lot,” Dennis informed the group as Sophia’s crew prepared the stage for her show, “this Brittney whatshername will probably head for the stores near Santana Row Park if you decide to chase after her. From there…she could probably cover a lot of ground.”

“Not a problem,” Vicki assured him. “I’ll catch up with her no matter where she goes.”

“Good,” Anton Malvineous replied, patting her on the shoulder, “because she’ll probably try to make it all the way to Best Buy---“ “That’s on the other end of the complex!” Sophia countered. “Couldn’t she just duck into Hotel Valencia?” “It wouldn’t work,” Anton replied. “After what happened to the security officers yesterday---“

“Ah, what happened to the security officers yesterday?” Vicki asked, confused.

“Nothing you need to concern yourself with,” Tell declared, striding onto the stage with a Jerry Garcia wig, a tie-dye t-shirt/acid-wash jeans outfit and circular-framed sunglasses. “You look…weird,” Vicki mused, trying her best to stifle a giggle. “I’m paying tribute to the Grateful Dead,” Tell replied. “And before you ask, I know that Sophia doesn’t perform those kinds of songs, but still…I thought it might be cool to bust out my old Garcia getup.” “It’d look better if you had the, ah, physique to match,” Vicki managed, barely able to keep herself from bursting into a giggle-fit. Tell rolled his eyes; “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up…”

Within the hour, the seats began to fill; nobody had bothered to take down the ads for Sophia’s gig that had been posted before her spot was taken by Brittney Delacroix, and since it was Sophia---not Brittney---who was currently in the lot, setting up for her show, the crowd decided that it might actually be worthwile to stay.

“No signs of Brittney Delacroix in the audience,” Anton murmured, scanning the crowd via binoculars. “Though it wouldn’t exactly be smart of her to just waltz in through the crowd with a machine gun in one hand….even Victor Vega has to realize that it would be damn near suicidal of her to do something so stupid.” “Her just showing up would be stupid,” Dennis remarked as the crowd began to cheer; the band was warming up for Brittney’s first song. “Just getting past security would be a chore for her…oh, you have got to be kidding me.”

Across the stage, hidden from the audience by measure of a well-placed stack of Marshall amps, was Brittney Delacroix, looking for all the world like an African-American Terminatrix in her skintight leather pants, jacket and boots. “Vicki,” Anton began, only to feel a rush of air as the brunette gynoid appeared next to him. “I see her,” she monotoned. “Do I have to request permission to engage, or should I go for the noisy approach?” Before Anton could respond, Brittney---her eyes masked by aviator shades---turned and began striding through the crowd, heading towards Santana Row Park. “It seems the game is afoot,” he mused, a sly grin forming on his face. “Go get her, Vicki.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” V.I.C.I. replied, returning the Professor’s grin with one of her own.

Onstage, Sophia was preparing to launch into her first song for the show. “It’s a bit more modern than what I’m used to performing,” she informed the crowd, “but I thought I’d bust it out just to see what happens.” She gave the crowd a winning smile. “This one’s called ‘Through the Fire and Flames’, and it’s gonna ROCK YOUR WORLD!” The audience cheered, unaware of Brittney’s silent passage through their ranks---and V.I.C.I.’s lightning-fast blitz past them on the other side.

The minute Brittney emerged from the crowd, she saw the brunette gynoid locking eyes with her again. “You again?!” she snarled, her eyes brimming with hate behind her shades. Without another word, she broke into a sprint towards the Santana Row Park.

“Game on,” V.I.C.I. intoned, grinning once again.

Onstage, the band launched into the opening riff of “Through the Fire and Flames” as V.I.C.I. gave chase; the crowd, as before, remained oblivious to the action that played out just a few feet in the opposite direction.

V.I.C.I. reached the doors of the mall in seconds, spotting Brittney just as she emerged from the nearby Yankee Pier store. “She’s not even trying,” she mused, shaking her head and continuing the pursuit. Other than a few startled shoppers, nobody was surprised to see a brunette Caucasian girl in a red skirt, red shirt/white top and white tights with red boots chasing after a black girl in a dark-red leather getup; a few thought it was a publicity stunt, while others just ignored the chase.

The chase took the two through the Hotel Valencia, where Brittney literally broke the doors of the Bellarmine Salon trying to get away. “I’ll pay for those,” V.I.C.I. assured the proprieter as she ran past, ignoring the glances of the women getting their hair and nails done. Hopefully, they didn’t suspect anything…

By the time Brittney had reached Best Buy, V.I.C.I. was right on her tail. “Open, damn you,” she swore, trying her hardest not to wrench the employee entrance door off its hinges. “OPEN, already…” She glanced behind her; the red-white streak that was V.I.C.I. was moving closer with every second. “C’mon, open,” she pleaded, swiping her stolen keycard repeatedly. No dice---the door stayed put, and V.I.C.I. definitely wasn’t going to be slowing down….

“The hell with this,” Brittney growled, mere seconds before V.I.C.I.’s arm swung towards her in a clothesline.

With the grace of a leopard, she leapt over the charging gynoid and mule-kicked her through the locked door, breaking it off of its hinges. The attack only staggered V.I.C.I. for a minute, though; before Brittney could even enter the building, she was knocked on her butt by a rocket-punch from the brunette gynoid.

“Nice try,” V.I.C.I. admitted, “but it’ll take a lot more than that to defeat me.”

The chase resumed, with Brittney hauling her meticulously-sculpted butt towards the opposite end of Santana Row. If I can trap her in the Winchester Parking Garage, V.I.C.I. mused, I might be able to end this without causing too much property damage… With a new plan already forming in her bubble memory processor, she set off after Brittney, hoping that the other gynoid was, indeed, heading for the parking garage; once inside, the two could beat each other to a pulp for hours with only a few confused onlookers to worry about.

As it just so happened, fortune was smiling on the brunette gynoid….

Seven minutes later, Brittney---her chest heaving to give the impression that she was out of breath---removed a thinly-rolled cloth from the lining of her jacket; after her…upgrades at the hands of the Maestro, she’d been given a few extra weapons to beat down any would-be attackers, chief among them---

“Looking for someone?”

V.I.C.I. stood at the opposite end of the garage, one eyebrow arched. “Or were you just waiting for me?”

“Nice try,” Brittney spat, “but I’m not the same, broke-ass babe you fought last time. I’ve learned a few things since our last encounter….and I won’t hesitate to use every damn one of ‘em on you.” She unrolled the cloth, revealing what appeared to be a pair of….nunchucks?! “You can’t be serious,” V.I.C.I. muttered, staring at the weapons as if they were dead fish. “You still think I’m playin’?” Brittney taunted. “Get your ass over here and find out!”

“Fine by me.”

V.I.C.I. became a crimson/white blur yet again as she dashed towards Brittney, the nunchaku merely tickling her synthetic flesh as she ducked, dodged and weaved away from them. “Stand still, damnit!” the black gynoid shouted, only to catch a vicious elbow across the chin. “Say ‘please’ first,” V.I.C.I. taunted.

That remark earned her a backhand across the face.

“’Please’ THAT!” Brittney shouted.

V.I.C.I.’s response to the blow was equally brusque---a hook kick straight to the abdomen.

For the next several minutes, the two gynoids engaged in what Bruce Lee would call a purest expression of themselves---the fighting equivalent of poetry in motion. Kicks, chops, elbows, punches, headbutts---all were exchanged at lightning speed as the twin blurs battled. Occasionally, Brittney would land a lucky hit with the nunchucks across V.I.C.I.’s kneecaps or the small of her back, but such blows did little more than give her time to counter her next move.

Eventually, the high-speed battle ended when V.I.C.I. hurled Brittney halfway across the parking garage---into the windshield of a Prius. The gynoid smashed through the glass in record time before she actually found herself sitting in the car, her butt planted firmly in the driver’s seat while the rest of her---having knocked the seat out of position enough ofr her to lay on her back---got a nice view of the veloured ceiling, complete with a moon roof.

“Whoops…I probably should’ve aimed for something other than a car,” she admitted, a tinge of guilt creeping into her monotone. “I hope Ted is willing to pay for a new windshield along with those busted salon doors….”

“DAMNIT!” Britney screamed, pulling herself out of the Prius’ windscreen. “THAT HURT!”

“What do you want, an Oscar?” V.I.C.I. replied. “I already know about your new power source, and the ‘design quirk’ you intend to use against me….” She smirked. “Why do you think I chased you all the way to a parking garage, instead of some random store? I didn’t want you trying to hurt anyone else just to get away from me---winning at that cost just isn’t worth it. Not to me, at least.”

“So you’re just as pathetic as I expected,” Brittney spat. “Even in the middle of a fight---“

“Wanting to protect human life is NOT pathetic,” V.I.C.I. countered. “Human beings made both of us. If it weren’t for them, we would both be mindless drones performing menial tasks every day…they chose to give us sentience. They chose to make us more than just machines; they gave us personalities, and identities, and names….they gave us the ability to feel. They gave us the option to choose our own path in life---whether it be a gateway to peace and unity with others, or a road to ruination, paved with carnage and wanton destruction.” She took a deep breath, hoping her next words could sway the dark-skinned gynoid away from the road she’d been set on by her owners.

“They chose to give us our own lives.”

“Don’t EVEN start with all that crap!” Brittney shouted. “Tryin’ to patronize me, tell me that I’m ‘better’ than all this….THIS IS WHAT I WAS DESIGNED FOR, BITCH!”

“I’m trying to help you,” V.I.C.I. insisted.

“You wanna help me?” Brittney sneered. “Stay still so I can rip your damn head off!”

V.I.C.I. sighed. “So much for the peaceful solution….guess this really is a ‘one shall rise, one must fall’ type of scenario….” She struck a fighting pose, ready to go another round. “Go on then,” she prompted. “Hit me with your best shot.”

Brittney cracked her knuckles, chuckling. “I was really hopin’ you’d say that…”

Without another word, she charged at V.I.C.I. again, prepared to rip her apart.

V.I.C.I. nodded and ran at her attacker, ready to put her own plan into action.

The gynoids were ready for Round 2----and this time, only one of them would be walking away.

Back at the Hatton Street parking lot, Vicki’s allies were following her progress via security cameras---so far, so good.

“They’ve made it to the parking garage,” Anton informed Tell and Dennis. “The only damage done was a salon door and someone’s Prius….not exactly minor costs to cover, I’ll admit, but still better than a few of the other possible casualties…” “Replace ‘a few’ with ‘most of’,” Tell corrected, “and you’re absolutely right…and why is that blonde chick in the white miniskirt/tube-top combo walking over to us right now?”

Anton and Tell couldn’t help but stare at the new arrival, an impossibly-curvy blonde attired in---as Tell had just mentioned---a white miniskirt with a matching tube-top and kneesocks. “You two are working to take down Brittney Delacroix, right?” she began. “Depends on who’s asking,” Tell replied, only to be interrupted by the gorgeous blonde. “Look, she’s not human---“ “We know,” Anton informed her, “and we know about her new power core as well---“ “Did you also know that she’s going to use that power core to wipe out this entire mall if she has to?” the blonde asked, panicking.

“Actually, yes we did,” Tell calmly stated.

The blonde was taken aback; “Really? Weird….anways, there’s something else---“ “We already know Victor Vega sent her,” Anton interjected again. The blonde frowned; “Should I just give up and go home already, or let you two continue?”

“Sorry,” Anton chuckled, “bit of a bad habit…”

The blonde sighed. “Look, you probably know most of what I intended to tell you anyways, so I’m just going to skip to the final page---Brittney Delacroix may still have traces of the Stylo virus in her system.”

That admission nearly floored both Anton and Tell.

“She was infected with Stylo?”

“When the HELL did this happen?!”

“The first personality chip that was put in her was infected,” the blonde informed the two roboticists, “and I think it may have…I dunno, migrated from the chip to her core systems. Whatever the hell happened, it screwed her up….she’s not going to stop until whoever she’s after is dead. Not in a coma, not on intensive care…dead.” She wrung her hands nervously; “I’m not even supposed to be here right now…”

“Then I suggest you leave,” Anton offered calmly. “And he meant that in the nicest possible way,” Tell added.

“I get it,” the blonde replied, grinning. “But if anyone asks---“

“We know,” Tell and Anton declared simultaneously.

“You were never here…” Tell began.

“…and none of the stage crew saw you,” Anton finished.

“Do you two practice this or something?” the blonde asked, somewhat awed by their timing.

“Nah,” Tell replied, “experts like us don’t need to practice. It just comes naturally.” “And,” Anton added, “we learned from the best.” The two grinned and nodded, folding their arms as if they were posing for a photo. “You two are strange,” the blonde remarked. “In a good way.” She held out her arm for the security guard to escort her away, her swaying seductively as she left.

“Say hi to Sophia for me,” she called out as she retreated. “Believe it or not, I’m actually a big fan of her work!”

Tell and Anton watched her leave---one smirking, the other with a thoughtful look. “I suppose it would be fair to call Vicki and tell her about the Stylo possibility,” the Professor mused. “She has faced it before, after all…but she was in no danger of being corrupted by it in any of those instances.”

“That’s not entirely true,” Tell muttered. “Seeing as how it’s Stylo we’re talking about….she could very easily have been exposed to it each time she faced an infected unit in the past---three possible exposures in all, and each one potentially eating away at her defenses….” He shook his head. “All we can do now is keep things working on this end of the operation.” “Agreed,” Anton declared. “We could run some tests on Vicki after this is all over with, though,” he added. “Just to be safe…”

In the distance---within the Winchester Parking Garage, specifically, a low rumbling echoed.

Thanks to the decibel level of the music, nobody in the crowd seemed to notice; backstage, on the other hand, Tell and Anton exchanged worried looks. “I’m really hoping that wasn’t Vicki,” Tell muttered, glancing in the direction of the garage. “If anything happened to her…”

Another rumble---this one louder, shook the pavement; the crowd looked confused.

“What the hell was that?!” Tell hissed. “I don’t know,” Anton replied, running to the bank of security monitors set up on a nearby table. “I’m trying to locate the source of the seismic disturbance, but all I’m getting is a bunch of static---“

A third rumble knocked the system out of whack, cancelling out Sophia’s vocals with a loud squeal.

“Right,” Tell declared, “this is getting absolutely---“

A sound like a thousand shotguns firing at once drowned out the end of his sentence, followed soon after by a crowd of terrified shoppers running out of the mall. “Oh, my God,” Anton murmured, staring at the lone monitor that hadn’t crapped out. “Tell….look at this…” Tell ran to join his fellow roboticist---and felt like someone had just kicked him in the gut with a steel-toed boot.

The picture wasn’t exactly in HD, and the built-in microphone on the camera had apparently been blown out, but the images Tell and Anton were seeing were still horrifying. Vicki was pinned up against a silver Mondeo and being absolutely thrashed by Brittney Delacroix---the dark-skinned gynoid’s fists were surrounded in a greenish glow, while whispy tendrils of mint-green smoke seemed to be burning holes in her jacket. “Her plan didn’t work,” Anton gasped. “All that preparation, all that planning…and it’s failed. Vicki’s going to be killed, and we---“

“No.”

Tell’s statement interrupted Anton’s train of thought. “Look,” Tell intoned, pointing at the monitor; Anton turned to see what the man was talking about---and gasped.

Vicki was absorbing the punches with nothing more than her forearms---and smiling.

“It’s….it’s not even phasing her!” Anton whispered, astonished. “It’s like she’s getting tickled or something!”

“She’s a lot tougher than most people think,” Tell replied, a tear of joy rolling down his face. “Her skin’s been treated with a mixture of fiberglass, boron filliaments and multiple ply-reinforcement chemicals---long in a short, it’d take a diamond to get through to her crunchy insides.” He chuckled. “And the best part is, she’s got a few tricks of her own.”

“I sincerely hope you’re right,” Anton stated. “Otherwise---“

Another explosion shook the stage---but this one was coming from above.

“What the HELL---“ Tell swore; Sophia Starlet made her way past him, a panicked look on her face. “I don’t know if it’s connected to that idiot Victor Vega,” she informed Anton, “but this helicopter just flew over the stage, and there were these speakers hooked up to the bottom of it---I think someone was trying to screw up the sound system…”

“Whatever the hell happened,” Tell declared, “that chopper is comin’ down fast---HIT THE DECK!”

The trio fled the backstage area, dragging Dennis (who was just passing by to ask what had happened to the sound system) with them; seconds later, a helicopter slammed into the stage, bursting into flames on impact.

“That’s Vega’s chopper!” Dennis shouted, simultaneously stunned and shocked at how close he had just been to getting killed. “What the hell was that idiot doing flying over our concert?! I mean, he was flying so low he could’ve killed someone---” He glanced at Sophia. “Sophie, I think we need to talk about filing a lawsuit againt Victor Vega. This guy is---“

“Not the one who was flying the helicopter,” Anton stated, his voice oddly flat.

Sophia, Dennis and Tell ran over to see what Anton was talking about, and all three found themselves staring at a charred, noticably-robotic figure hunched over in the pilot’s seat. “That was one of the security officers from this very mall who were abducted after an incident yesterday,” Anton informed the group. “He was a liason between the police department and the ALPA….one of the few such liasons…” He shook his head sadly as he pulled a PDA-sized device out of the doomed android’s back. “And he spent his last hours strapped into a helicopter with a faulty sonic disruptor attached to it, completely paralyzed….”

“These speakers were built from rejected parts,” Tell muttered, sifting through the wreckage of the amps. “No wonder he couldn’t move---the minute the speakers were turned on, the whole damn helicopter got hit with a feedback loop….his entire body must’ve locked up right when the amps blew.”

Sophia stared at the chrome skull of the android, knowing that the helicopter crash was probably meant to take her out. “This is all my fault,” she began, only to be grabbed by the shoulders. “No,” Tell declared. “This isn’t your fault---don’t you dare think that. This is Victor Vega’s fault. That son of a bitch has been pulling crap like this for too long…” He hugged Sophia to him, as if his embrace were all the protection she would ever need. “No more…” he whispered, sobbing quietly.

“There’s still the matter of Brittney Delacroix to consider,” Anton reminded him gently. “Vicki’s been doing an admirable job of holding her own for the past few minutes, but---“ “But nothing,” Sophia interjected, carefully extricating herself from Tell’s embrace. “Vicki Lawson has done more for me than any single person I’ve ever known---except Dennis, of course---and I’m not going to let any of you get hurt trying to help her…if anyone’s going to back her up on this, it should be me.”

Dennis stared at Sophia, his hands on his hips. “Sophia….you’re really going to risk getting ripped to shreds just to help this one girl?” he finally asked.

“I won’t have to,” Sophia replied, smiling. “Help me set up the PA system…I have an idea.”

Tell and Anton exchanged glances; “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?” Anton quipped. “Uh…I think so, Brain,” Tell replied in a goofy Cockney accent, “but if Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why does he keep doing it?” Dennis rolled his eyes, grinning. “This has got to be the weirdest Thanksgiving week in my life,” he remarked.

A few minutes later, the PA system was back online. “You really think this’ll work?” Anton asked Sophia.

“I know it will,” the pigtailed gynoid replied. “Get ready to hit the switches…”

“I hope she knows what she’s doing,” Tell muttered. “I have no desire to have my eardrums blown out…”

As Brittney’s punches increased in speed, intensity and sheer brute force, the green glow permeating her fists grew brighter. “This is starting to feel really familiar,” V.I.C.I. remarked casually, “except instead of your CPU overclocking, your quantic generator is beginning to overload---“

“SHUT….UP….BITCH!” Brittney screamed, oblivious to the fact that the green glow was now melting through the synthetic skin on her hands. “I am gonna pound you into the concrete if it takes ALL DAMN DAY, so just shut up and stop blockin…or…..I…..damn, why do I feel so tired….?” The dark-skinned gynoid’s punches began to slow down, until eventually she could barely even move her arms without an effort. “What….the hell is happening……” she gasped, struggling to even stay on her feet.

“You intended to vent all the energy through your core into an explosive knockout punch,” V.I.C.I. replied, “except your wardrobe choices began trapping energy inside you. That core was meant to have a constant ventilation system---the extra energy is usually dissipated through the skin, like sweat.”

“That….what?” Brittney muttered, confused. “I…I just….damn, why’s it so hot in here?!”

“That’s the energy building up inside you,” V.I.C.I. informed her opponent. “Unless you figure out a way to vent it all, you’ll suffer a critical systems failure; after that, you’ll probably malfunction and either self-destruct or become trapped in a feedback loop while your system tries to keep you from melting down. Either way, you can’t win.”

The remark seemed to spur the other gynoid back into the fight. “I…NEVER LOSE!” she roared, clenching her fists. “I don’t care if my battery’s busted, or if my CPU is overclocked….I WILL beat you, and then I’m goin’ after Sophia Starlet!” She swung with all her might, trying to land a haymaker on the brunette gynoid---but her punch barely even grazed her. “You should really find a more reliable power source,” V.I.C.I. suggested, dodging another clumsy strike. “Between this one and your last one, it’s a miracle that you’re even here today.”

“SHUT…..UP….” Brittney huffed, now finding it difficult to even take a single step. “I….WILL…beat…” Her foot caught on a speed bump, and she fell with a crash to the ground. “I…I….I…I…I…I…” Her mouth twitched as smoke began to seep from her ears and nostrils; “I tried to warn you,” V.I.C.I. murmured.

The African-American gynoid robotically raised herself up off the ground, refusing to give in. “I am <click> I am <click> I am NOT going to <click> NOT going to <click> NOT going to give up <click> give up <click> give up,” she declared, her head twitching to the right with every repetition as her facial actuators locked up, the telltale clicking sound an obvious clue that Brittney was living on borrowed time. “I can help you,” V.I.C.I. offered, “bring you somewhere for repairs….you’re not going to last much longer in this state.” “I don’t need <click> I don’t need <click> I don’t---BBZZZZZZZRRTTT” More clicks and twitches, followed by a loud, grating buzz----something inside of her was either jammed or fusing with something else, neither of which would end well. “Can’t you hear the noise coming from inside you?” V.I.C.I. asked. “Your internal components are failing. You’re falling apart at the seams. Let me help you---“

“I DON’T NEED YOUR HELP!” Brittney screamed, taking a step forward---and turning with all the grace of a lawn sprinkler to see her left leg detach at the knee. “What…the…..hell….” she muttered, struggling to stay balanced. “Like I said….you’re falling apart at the seams,” V.I.C.I. reminded her. "Literally, in this case..."

“I…I….can’t….can’t….lose….lose…..” Brittney stammered, her right leg locking up. “I…I…I…I…I..I..”

“Please,” V.I.C.I. pleaded (or tried to; her monotone tended to render all emotional statements/pleas in a rather flat voice), “just let me get you to a repair shop….I know people who can get you back to 100% working order…”

From somewhere inside Brittney’s body, a voice sounded: “Loading Stylo.exe. Load complete. Run program.”

V.I.C.I.’s eyes went wide with fear. “Oh, no…..”

Brittney suddenly stiffened, her detached leg slowly being drawn back to her body by…something. Her quantic generator must be pulling the leg back with some sort of magnetic field, the brunette gynoid realized. But if she’s got a Stylo program running in her….

The leg reattached itself with a series of metallic noises, as synthetic flesh began to melt from various areas of the gynoid’s form. “I told you,” she declared, her voice now taking on a somewhat menacing edge, “I NEVER LOSE---not to you, not to Sophia Starlet…NOBODY BEATS ME!” V.I.C.I. stared, realizing that the synthflesh wasn’t actually melting---it was somehow….hardening into some sort of plastic-like substance around Brittney’s limbs, almost like….armor….

“Whatcha think?” the gynoid taunted, chuckling as her clothes burned away to reveal her smooth, featureless new form beneath. “You….how is this possible?” V.I.C.I. asked, backing away from her newly-energized opponent. “The Stylo virus….it’s supposed to---“ “It ain’t always a virus, stupid,” Brittney shot back, easily matching V.I.C.I.’s halting steps backward with a confident stride. “Sometimes, it bricks whoever’s stupid enough to get infected…but sometimes….” She smiled her most sinister smile. “Sometimes it’s---“

A low, thrumming sound filled the parking garage. “What the HELL is that noise?!” Brittney screamed.

“What noise?” V.I.C.I. asked, confused. Normally, this would just be her trying to psyche out her opponent, but in this case, the question was genuine---she literally couldn’t hear the tone that was apparently driving Brittney insane.

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” the black gynoid shouted. “IT’S….AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHH!”

She could barely move her hands to cover her ears, and V.I.C.I. instantly saw the problem---her ears, one of the few parts of her that hadn’t become armored---were glowing red, with miniscule relays of light coursing through them. “MAKE IT STOP!” Brittney screamed. “MAKE IT…..AAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEE!!!!” Her entire body stiffened, panel lines turning red and thrumming in tune to the frequency. “IT….HURTS…” the gynoid managed, her teeth clenched. “MAKE….IT….STOP…….”

“I don’t even know what ‘it’ is,” V.I.C.I. admitted. “How can I---“

Brittney lurched towards her, glaring angrilly. “MAKE! IT! STOP!” With each step, cracks began to appear in her newly-hardened synthflesh.

The brunette gynoid watched Brittney struggle to move forward, more cracks appearing as she moved; either she’s actually hearing some sort of subsonic frequency that’s mesing with her auditory sensors, or the Stylo virus is making her hallucinate….seeing as how I don’t want to end up like her, I’ll just scan for the frequency without actually listening for it… V.I.C.I. fired up her scanners and set them to search for any abnormal audio signals, filtering out the ambient sounds of traffic, subterranean noise and other such interference. I’m not picking up anything, so it must be---hang on, it’s catching something….it sounds like…a guitar? There’s no way….

Hoping that her skin wouldn’t start reacting to the sound, V.I.C.I. opened her auditory sensors to the signal, surprised to find that it was a guitar----one being played at almost finger-blistering speed. Sophia….you clever little diva… She grinned at the thought of Sophia Starlet strumming away, her fingers moving fast enough to create a subsonic frequency that would interfere with the quantic generator’s functions. “Funny how you’re the second fembot I’ve met who couldn’t stand loud music,” she remarked, as Brittney struggled to reach her. “It’s not that surprising, though….considering who’s playing the tune…” A smirk formed on her face. “Still think Sophia Starlet is helpless, or have you finally realized that this is one fight you can’t win?”

“I……NEVER……LOSE…..” Brittney managed, her joints slowly beginning to seize up.

“Then I guess never just got a whole lot shorter,” V.I.C.I. replied.

A voice sounded in her ear---Anton? “Vicki, can you hear me?”

“Loud and clear.”

“This is going to sound a bit weird, but….in a few seconds, a prompt is going to appear on your HUD…I need you to start singing in the key that the prompt displays.”

“Not a problem.”

“Good. I’m sending it now.”

The aforementioned prompt appeared, and V.I.C.I. took a deep breath; it’s now or never, I guess…

As the subsonic guitar riff continued, the brunette gynoid opened her mouth….

The sound that emerged as a result was, to put it simply, the most perfect note any one person could hold just from singing. This particular frequency, combined with the guitar stylings of Sophia Starlet, made for a rather unique sonic assault on Brittney Delacroix, especially due to her…weakened condition.

Brittney’s synthetic flesh returned to its original state, only to begin rippling from the sheer force generated by the Sophia/V.I.C.I. duet. As if her weakened synthflesh wasn’t enough, Brittney also had to worry about her internals being rattled around by the sonic barrage; her endoskeleton was beginning to falter under the strain, and every sensor package installed in her body was failing. Worse than all this, however, was the effect of the noise on her quantic generator---like a lightning bolt through a human heart, the sound and fury generated by Sophia and V.I.C.I. was knocking the generator out of whack, causing dangerous spikes in energy output and generally playing havoc with her critical systems.

Just a few more seconds….

V.I.C.I. held her arms outstretched, palms up, as if she were an opera singer performing an aria for a packed house. The gesture also had the added benefit of turning her into a sort of tuning fork, allowing her sonic attack to resonate harmlessly through her entire frame before she directed it at Brittney.

The concentrated assault finally did the trick; with her scanners activated, V.I.C.I. watched as the other gynoid began suffering one catastrophic systems failure after another. Actuators and servomotors buckled inwards onto themselves; secondary power cells exploded, spraying their acid onto anything in their wake; optical and auditory sensors dissolved into powder…..slowly but surely, the guitar/vocal attack was crippling Britney Delacroix. “You……can’t……” the gynoid muttered, her naked body paralyzed by the onslaught of sound. “You…can’t…..beat…..me…..”

“Wrong,” V.I.C.I.’s voice stated inside Brittney’s mind. “I can.” With that, she threw her head back and ramped up the volume one more time, allowing her song to permeate every fiber of Brittney’s form…..

A few seconds later, Brittney “Boom-Boom” Delacroix’s head exploded in a shower of plastic and metal.

As the headless, naked gynoid collapsed to the pavement, V.I.C.I. mentally turned down the volume of her own voice until it was back to her usual speaking volume. “Game, set and match,” she mused, grinning. “Anton, get an ALPA clean-up crew out to the Winchester Parking Garage…there’s a naked gynoid without a head that needs tending to.” “I’m on it,” Anton’s voice replied in her ear. “Oh, and one more thing….you’ve done a hell of a job here, Vicki. Minor property damage aside, this one’s going down in the books as an A ranking…Ted will definitely be proud.”

“Thanks,” V.I.C.I. replied, slipping back to her human voice as she grinned. “Now…how soon can we leave?”

“As soon as Sophia finishes her concert,” Anton laughed. “Apparently, the fans haven’t left yet…”

So…..I give you a chance to impress me….and this is the best you can do.”

From his vantage point at the far end of the conference table, the Baron glared at Victor Vega, Vivica Frost and the monitor used by the Maestro to communicate with the others. “Maestro,” the Baron barked, “despite your error, I will not be penalizing you….though I expect double the pre-arranged quota to make up for this…” “I’ll give ya triple, if you want,” the Maestro shot back, clearly unphased.

“Good,” the Baron replied. “As for the two of you….” His stare fell upon Victor and Vivica

“Brittney Delacroix was suffering from multiple malfunctions,” Victor declared, careful not to let his injured left arm fall out of its sling. “She disobeyed my direct orders, reactivated herself without permission AND tried to kill me back at the casa.” He pointed at the massive gauze pad stuck to his left shoulder; “I could have died because of that pathetic doll,” he snarled. “You told me she was going to be the answer to our problems! YOU LIED TO ME, BARON!” Vivica Frost stared at the ceiling, wishing she could be somewhere else---preferably far away from the meeting room.

The Baron sighed. “I probably should have admitted that I intentionally infected Brittney’s main processor with a strain of the Stylo virus,” he admitted, “though the results were---“

“HER HEAD EXPLODED!” Victor screamed. “HER DAMNED HEAD EXPLODED, AND IT’S YOUR FAULT!”

Elena Vlatko stared at Victor as if he’d lost his mind. “Victor,” she murmured, “you do realize that this whole Brittney Delacroix experiment was your responsibility---“ “SHUT UP!” Victor shouted, backhanding her with his good hand. “I don’t need ANY OF YOU to remind me of how much I am going to lose because of this fiasco….”

“No, but you do need a kick in the ass.”

Victor stared, shocked beyond all reason, as Brittney Delacroix sauntered into the room. “I had the boys at the factory build me a new body after my old one crapped out,” she explained, before anyone could even ask what she was doing in the room. “And as for that Stylo crap….” She smirked. “I don’t need it anymore. What I do need is a place to do my own business, a crew that won’t run out on me as soon as I start glitchin’ up, and a recording studio---you did want me to be hip-hop royalty, right?” she asked, glancing causally at Victor before turning her gaze upon the Baron.

Despite the fact that only his hands---currently steepling their fingers---were visible, the tone of his voice (and his choice of words) made his opinion on this latest development very clear: “How soon will you need these things?” “ASAMFP, baby,” Brittney replied, not missing a beat.

“Now THAT is what I call initiative,” the Maestro declared, cackling. “Oh, and, sorry about the whole ‘rushed upgrade session in a prison basement’ thing,” he added. “I was on a bit of a time crunch…” “Water under the bridge, Holmes,” Brittney replied with another smirk. “The only one who I still want to kick the crap out of is that Lawson bitch…..” Her lips briefly parted in a growl, revealing her perfect teeth. “As soon as I can get a crew together, her and Starlet are gonna get got….and I ain’t playin’.” The Baron’s steepled fingers tilted forward just a bit; “And you shall be rewarded for your commitment to my cause,” he promised the gynoid.

“Damn straight I will!” Brittney shouted, nodding and smiling. “I hear someone else in this room has a fembot factory….any chance I can get a few bodyguards from y’all?” “As a matter of fact,” Elena Vlatko replied, “I believe there’s a reserve of fembots waiting for a new owner; any particular preferences?” The Baron chuckled as Elena and Brittney discussed the soon-to-be shipped fembots. “I suggest you take notes, Victor,” he chided, “because you might actually learn something from these two…”

Victor felt like screaming profanities at the top of his lungs. My future….snatched away in an instant….

“YO, VIC!” Brittney called. “I’m gonna need to crash at your place for a few days…got a spare bed I can use?”


Once the helicopter wreckage was cleared out (with the explanation that the pilot had somehow bailed and parachuted to safety), Sophia’s concert at Santana Row continued with no further interruptions. Vicki, Anton and Tell stayed to watch the show, even joining Sophia onstage for to play instruments for an impressive rendition of Howard Jones’ “New Song”. The concert finally ended around lunchtime, with Sophia saving the best for last---her rendition of “Moonlight Desires”.

Vicki waited patiently for Sophia to finish signing autographs and taking photos---apparently, the gynoid wasn’t the only student of SJSU who also happened to be a fan of the original Sophia Starlet and the Starlet Dolls cartoon series. “Well, well, well,” she beamed, clapping Valerie Summers and Kim DeFalco on the shoulders. “Look who we have here!” Valerie instantly blushed, and insisted that she’d only come to Santana Row to get a few flash drives at Best Buy, but Kim fessed up rather quickly. “We decided to check out what this whole ‘Starlet Dolls’ thing was about,” she admitted, “and we found some episodes on YouTube---they were actually pretty cool, and stuff…but this was just EPIC!”

“Glad to see that I’m getting popular with the SJSU crowd, then.”

Sophia Starlet grinned as Vicki introduced her to Kim and Valerie, explaining how the two met after the concert at the Retro Toy Fair. “It was a pretty cool moment,” Sophia recalled, “especially since Vicki’s been a fan for almost two decades now.” The conversation turned to the girls’ opinion of the Santana Row gig; needless to say, they loved it.

Half an hour later, once the last autograph was signed and the last picture was taken, Sophia and Vicki sat on the edge of the stage, watching as a banner advertising Sophia’s upcoming album was hoisted high over the mall entrance. “I’ve got to hand it to you, Vicki,” Sohpia sighed, “I couldn’t have done this without you. Well, I probably could have, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.” She grinned. “The label’s ramping up support for my next album, I’ve got gigs booked all over the country---and they’re even talking about letting me do a tour of the UK!”

“Not bad for a walking, talking Barbie knockoff,” Vicki teased, prompting a giggle fit from Sophia.

“You did a pretty good job yourself,” Anton Malvineous called out, smiling as he approached the stage. “As of three minutes ago, the FBI has frozen Victor Vega’s ‘mining projects’ pending an investigation of his finances, and ReVerse Robotics has done exactly what they always do in these situations---denying all connections with the ‘mysterious goings-on’ over at the Winchester Parking Garage. Hell of a way to spend a Tuesday, really…”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Vicki agreed. “What about that other security officer who went missing?”

Anton’s grin faded slightly. “He, ah….they haven’t found him yet.”

“I’m sure he’ll turn up eventually,” Sophia assured him. “After all, if the guy’s a security officer, he’s not exactly going to just let himself get tortured or anything, will he?” “Good point,” Vicki replied. “Hopefully, he won’t end up like that android from the helicopter crash…”

Not wanting to ruin the good mood, the girls decided to change the topic of conversation. “So,” Vicki asked the Professor, “how’s that internship interview thing going?” “I was actually hoping to talk to you about that,” he admitted. “While the events of the past few days weren’t exactly typical of what you’d be dealing with in an internship position at M-G Cybernetics, you did handle yourself remarkably well in a crisis….and cool thinking under pressure is definitely a valuable skill.”

“Thanks,” Vicki replied, blushing slightly.

“So, does she get the job?” Sophia squealed. “She hasn’t even been interviewed yet,” Anton reminded the gynoid pop-star, “but I have a feeling she won’t be disappointed…”

“Speaking of not being disappointed,” Vicki interjected, “Dennis looks like he just won the lottery!”

Indeed, Sophia’s manager had a mile-wide grin on his face as he sprinted across the lot to deliver the good news in person. “We just got picked up to open for DAVID BOWIE!” he declared. Sophia gasped; “The David Bowie?!”

“There’s only one David Bowie, really,” Vicki mused.

“THIS IS SO AWESOME!” Sophia cried, hugging Dennis, Anton and Vicki in succession. “This is….wow, I get to open a show for DAVID BOWIE!” Tears of joy streaked down her face. “This…this is awesome….”

“It gets better,” Dennis stated. “Believe me, it gets so much better. Guess who else is on the list of acts that want you to open for them?” Sophia was too stunned by the previous announcement to think of anyone, so Dennis counted off the names on his fingers: “R.E.O. Speedwagon, Journey, Anvil----ANVIL wants you to open for one of their shows! Can you believe this?!” He beamed as he continued reading the list, which included such illustrious talent as Def Leppard, Europe, Meat Loaf, Daft Punk, DragonForce and---last but DEFINITELY not least---Styx.

“They….they all want me to open for them?” Sophia murmured.

“That’s just the first page,” Dennis replied, grinning. “Babe, almost everyone wants you to open for them---and some of them are even talking about collaborations!”

Sophia said nothing for a few seconds, then wrapped Dennis in another hug.

“That…is definitely the coolest news I’ve heard all week,” Vicki declared, smiling and nodding. “Sophia, your star is now officially on the rise!” “Indeed,” Anton agreed. “Getting offers from so many well-known bands and artists is a sign that your career is taking off---and not just ‘beginning to take off’, mind you.” He clapped Sophia on the shoulder; “I have a feeling your biggest fan would be proud of you right now.”

The pigtailed gynoid gently pulled away from Dennis, retrieving the picture of the girl whose wish had led to her creation from her pocket. “I know she is,” she whispered, her joyful tears still falling.

After getting a room at Hotel Valencia, Sophia and Dennis invited Vicki, Anton, Tell and anyone else they cared to bring with them for lunch at Citrus, the in-house restaurant. “After all you guys have done for us, it’s the least we could do to repay you,” he explained, when Tell questioned him as to why Sophia had agreed to pay for everyone’s food. “Can’t argue with that,” the ALPA mechanic replied.

A few phone calls later…

“Sophia,” Ted Lawson declared, “you are without a doubt one of the most impressive new acts I’ve seen in a good long while. Seriously. And I’m not just saying that because I, ah, discovered you…”

“We get the point, Dad,” Vicki chided, grinning.

“…anyways,” Ted continued, “I propose a toast---to the continued prosperity of Sophia Starlet’s career, now and always!”

“I’ll drink to that,” Dennis declared, raising his glass.

“Hear, hear!” Tell agreed.

Anton said nothing, though he did raise his glass with a smile.

The others joined in, raising their glasses and making various statements predicting Sophia’s success, even persuading Sophia herself to join in. “Now that we’re finish toasting and all that,” Vicki stated after everyone’s glasses were lowered, “let’s eat!”

The menus arrived, and everything was going normally until:

“Is there a Vicki Lawson here?” the waiter asked. Vicki stood up; “Who’s asking?” she querried. “This note was just delivered for you, miss…apparently, someone would like to meet you in the lobby.”

Vicki rolled her eyes; “I’ll be back in a minute…”

The brunette gynoid headed out to the Hotel Valencia lobby, where a curvy blonde in a white trenchcoat was waiting for her. “You’re the one who left me the note?” Vicki stated, her eyes wide in surprise. The blonde nodded; “I don’t have a lot of time to explain, but please, just hear me out….” She glanced around quickly to make sure they weren’t being overheard. “This may be a little hard to believe, but….I’m Victor Vega’s wife, Lauren. And before you start yelling at me,” she added, hoping to keep Vicki from knocking her out then and there, “I never agreed with his whole plan to take down Sophia Starlet….to be honest, I’m actually a fan of her work.”

“That doesn’t explain why we’re having this conversation,” Vicki mused, frowning.

Lauren glanced over her shoulder; “We’re having this conversation,” she stated quietly, “because I wanted to warn you about a few things. First of all, Brittney Delacroix isn’t dead---“ “Destroyed, you mean,” Vicki cut in. “Whatever,” Lauren hissed. “ReVerse built her a new body, and she’s already vowed to get revenge against you and Sophia.”

“Considering the fact that I thought she was gone for good,” Vicki admitted, “that’s actually pretty helpful, so thanks…I guess.”

“That’s not even the worst of it,” Lauren whispered. “Victor himself has heard about you---just a few rumors here and there, but enough to pique his interests. I have a feeling that he’s going to hire someone else to try and….I don’t know, either spy on you or….something worse…” Her eyes took on a pleading look; “You have to understand---I’m not saying all this to intimidate you. I barely even knew who you were before two days ago; the only reason I Googled you was to warn you. See, Victor can get a little…edgy when things don’t go his way, and since he thinks you’re trying to interfere in his work---“

“He wants me out of the picture,” Vicki finished, sighing. “First he goes after Leah, then he tries to take down Sophia, and now this….”

“You know Leah Chambers?” Lauren asked, impressed.

“Not only do I know her,” Vicki replied, “I helped save her from those hazmat weirdos Victor hired to screw up her work with NASA.” She paused, remembering another detail from that fateful day; “This might sound like a stupid question,” she mused, “but does Victor Vega have any connections with an individual known only as the Baron?”

Lauren’s hand flew to her mouth. “You know about the Baron?!” she squeaked.

“The guy threw me out of a helicopter when I tried to strangle him,” Vicki replied. “How could I not know?”

After yet another quick glance over her shoulder, Lauren’s panicked gaze focused on the brunette gynoid. “I have no idea how you managed to survive getting thrown out of a helicopter,” she murmured, “but take my advice on this: Please try to stay out of Victor’s way. I don’t want you or your friends to get hurt…it’s bad enough he treats me like crap, and I’d hate myself if he decided to send a death squad after you or something just because he thinks you’re getting in his way.”

“You don’t have to worry about me,” Vicki replied. “Trust me…I can take care of myself.” She winked.

Her monotone startled Lauren a bit, but the blonde nodded, shook hands and left.

“Guess that takes care of that…”

Twenty minutes later, Vicki, Sophia and their friends left Santana Row---Vicki’s friends headed back to SJSU for their usual afternoon-to-evening routines, while Vicki, Sophia and Anton boarded Sophia’s tour bus.

“I’ve been thinking,” Anton told Sophia. “What about?” the pigtailed gynoid replied, her curiosity piqued. “The, ah, original Sophia Starlet---the cartoon character---had the other four Starlet Dolls with her---both onstage and off---if I remember correctly…” “She did,” Sophia recalled, “but….” She stopped, realizing that Anton had just made her an offer. “Are you saying….you want to create the rest of the Starlet Dolls?” she asked.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Vicki cut in. “I get the thing of Sophia being a robot, because that’s how the original series finale ended, but---“

“The planned theatrical film would’ve seen the other four Starlet Dolls volunteering to become robots as well,” Anton finished, smiling. “Therefore, my proposal still stands---I do, indeed, want to bring back the Starlet Dolls…as the world’s first all-gynoid pop group.” Vicki’s eyes went wide; “You’re saying you want to just tell everyone that they’re robots?! That’s---“

“A pretty cool idea!” Sophia was beaming.

“You wouldn’t have to reveal your own secret, of course,” Anton told her. “I could call in a few favors from my ALPA friends, set up a PR campaign…..think it could work?” Sophia thought it over. “I’m not really keen on having people know that my bandmates are robots if I’m hiding it from them,” she finally stated, “but as for getting the band back together….count me in!” “Excellent,” Anton replied. “The schematics will be delivered to M-G Cybernetics first thing in the morning tomorrow.” “You drew up blueprints already?” Vicki drawled. “Better to prepare for the best than expect the worst,” Anton remarked, grinning. The brunette gynoid sighed; “Guess I might as well tell her, then…”

“Tell me what?” Sophia asked.

Vicki stared into the pigtailed gynoid’s eyes. “Remember back at the C.O.T.A., when you said you weren’t surprised that I felt such a strong connection to you?” she asked. “It’s sort of hazy,” Sophia admitted, “since my batteries were going…but yeah, I remember.”

Anton sat back, observing the conversation with a knowing grin.

“Well,” Vicki replied, “there’s another reason you and I have been getting along so well…” She pulled up her shirt, took a deep breath…. “Control panel….open.”

Sophia watched, astonished, as the panel in Vicki’s back whirred open. “The reason most of my childhood memories are so dull is that I spent most of that ‘childhood’ as a walking appliance,” V.I.C.I. admitted. “After my dad---Ted---gave me full sentience, though….I was able to appreciate a lot of stuff most kids took for granted. Like enjoying a Saturday morning cartoon starring a certain pigtailed popstar, and collecting the toyline based on that cartoon…” She grinned. “To put it bluntly…you and I are more alike than you could have ever guessed.” “Vicki,” Sophia murmured, “you are, without a doubt, the coolest girl I know!” “Coming from you,” V.I.C.I. replied as her back panel closed, “I’ll take that as the ultimate compliment.” The two hugged again, both of them feeling an even deeper connection to each other now that they knew each others’ secrets.

“Seeing as how you’re both in town for the rest of the week,” Vicki asked, “would either of you mind joining me for Thanksgiving dinner at Ted’s house? It’s not going to be fancy or anything….I’m doing the cooking, since Ted’s last attempt….didn’t exactly end well…” Sophia and Anton exchanged grins. “I’d be honored to join you,” Anton replied. “Me too!” Sophia piped up.

“In that case,” Vicki stated with a smile, “I’ll have to remind Ted to break out the extra chairs…”


V.I.C.I./Vicki Lawson's Diary

There’s no way to sugarcoat it, so I’m just going to say it: the past few days have been totally awesome.

For starters, the Retro Toy Fair was a blast---my room at Ted’s house finally has some stuff on the shelves that actually looks like it belongs there! The Lollypop Doll is as cool as I remember, and all the other toys I got are pretty epic in their own way…

…but there was one rather interesting doll that definitely outshone the rest.

Actually, I take that back; calling Sophia Starlet a doll is a gross understatement. Yes, she’s essentially a walking, talking, life-sized version of the original Sophia Starlet doll, but that’s just part of what makes her so cool. Her backstory is sort of tragic---she was built to honor the dying wishes of a high-school graduate who was a big fan of the original cartoon series (long story---I’ll probably explain it later)---but she’s definitely one of the coolest gynoids I’ve ever met.

Considering who else I met this weekend, that’s definitely a plus.

I’ve mentioned Victor Vega in this journal before (especially after all the crap I had to deal with in that mission from two weeks ago), but I now know how much of a lowlife he really is. One of his stupid helicopters crashed into the stage at Sophia’s concert earlier today, and some android cop was strapped in behind the controls when it slammed into the pavement. Worse, Victor sent a gangsta-rap gynoid named Brittney Delacroix to take down Sophia twice---and I stopped her both times, at the cost of Alicia losing one of her bodies (another long story) and some minor property damage at Santana Row. Ted’s footing the bill for this one, seeing how it wasn’t actually me that broke anything, but still….

The final interesting person I met was Anton Malvineous, the head of M-G Cybernetics---which is extra cool because he’s a dead-ringer for Lawrence Gowan! Anyways, Anton scheduled an interview for me regarding an internship at M-G Cybernetics next week, and I’m not missing it for anything; Anton himself told me that a job like this would definitely benefit my ALPA career, and I’m not going to pass up an opportunity like that!

Both Anton and Sophia will be joining Ted and I for Thanksgiving this Thursday; hopefully, they won’t have to see any reenactments of last year’s “epic” kitchen fire (Ted’s still banned from using the oven, by the way).

Until next time, V.I.C.I./Vicki Lawson ---------------------------------- Thanksgiving may be just around the corner for Vicki Lawson…but come December, she might just find herself in over her head!

Silicon Dynamics Manufacturing and Supply LLC, a robotics company specializing in pleasure droids, has entered talks with Dreamland---the exclusive dating service that pairs clients up with gynoids and/or androids---to test out some of their newest products. As Christmas draws near, the calls stop coming, and Claudia---finally ready to resume running Dreamland---is getting worried. Even worse, two busloads of investigators have been sent to the Silicon Dynamics facility…and none of them have returned.

With the support of Claudia and Mr. Tell---and a few new toys from General Hardcastle---V.I.C.I.’s going to have to pull off her best Solid Snake impression to accomplish her mission---get into the facility, rescue the investigators, and find out just what the hell is going on at Silicon Dynamics. Will she find out what’s been going on, or will this fission get mailed---wait, that’s not right….

ANYWAY, stay tuned for the EPIC next chapter of The V.I.C.I. Diaries, “MGV: Metal Gear Vicki”, coming this July to Fembot Central!


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