Super Fembot Cheerleaders From Space!

From FembotWiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Chapter 1 - Oops!

The aliens could have done much worse. They might have come down in the middle of a major city, like in The Day the Earth Stood Still, and had to deal with tanks and cops and frightened mobs. Luckily for them, their ship crash-landed just beyond the outskirts of Claremont. By some miracle of random trajectories, cloud cover and human obliviousness, not even some nerdy amateur astronomer looking through his telescope noticed the red-hot metal pod streak down to earth.

Claremont, California, is a college town at the southern end of the state. Built around seven different colleges, it’s been called “the city of trees and Ph.D.’s”, with a population of about thirty-four thousand people. It’s a quiet, pleasant little community – well, as long as none of the various fraternities decide to throw a party, anyhow.

For five minutes, not much happened at the crash site. The little ten-foot-long spacecraft made a hissing sound, cooling in the California air. Then a quiet whirring started. Only moments later, part of the hull split and hinged open, and a beautiful young woman climbed out. Anyone watching the scene would have been totally overwhelmed by the sight of this blonde, blue-eyed supermodel-type, clad only in a sheer blue dress that left very little to the imagination, walking calmly over the smoking terrain. Well, all right, maybe “calm” wasn’t the right word; her lovely face was marred by an expression of intense frustration as she paced back and forth. Then the ship’s hull opened again, and a second twenty-something emerged, this one with long red hair and emerald eyes and dressed in a plaid skirt, white button-down shirt and green knit vest.

“Dammit, this is the last time I let A7C drive!” the blonde snapped to her companion. “I told her to take a left at Proxima Centauri, not to fly into it…!”

“Hey, just calm down, okay E3? You know she’s already feeling badly about it. It was an honest mistake, that’s all.”

The blonde, E3, just gave another exasperated huff and crossed her arms, looking anxiously at the hatch until it split open again, disgorging a buxom young brunette, her long wavy hair cascading down her back, clad in blue jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of low-top sneakers. The newcomer seemed a little off-balance, and the other girls had to grab her shoulders and help her out before the hatch closed again. “Oog,” she groaned. “Did anyone get the number of that freighter…?”

“Easy, K4L,” the redhead said soothingly. “You’re a little disoriented. It happens sometimes when you switch from virtual to a physical construct.”

“I know, I know. I guess I’m just not much of a body person,” the brown-haired girl replied shakily, gradually getting her body under control. Micro servos whirred as her gyros spun up, and K4L managed to stand straight and begin walking under her own power. “Thanks for the assist, guys,” she said, giving her friends a pale smile.

“Hey, no problem. What are friends for?” the redhead replied.

The hatch slid open one last time, and all three girls stared into the dark interior. Then a cute, short-haired Asian face stuck cautiously out, looking sheepishly around at her companions. “Um … hey, guys!”

E3’s expression went from annoyance to murderous rage. “Ooohhh! C’mere, you little…!”

“Ahh! No, wait, E3! I said I was sorry…!”

“’Sorry’?!?” E3 shouted, hauling A7C out of the pod. “You nearly fry us all, screw up the jump, and strand us on some uninitiated planet way out here in the boonies, and you think all you have to do is say, ‘I’m sorry’??? I’m gonna wring your neck, you stupid--!”

“That’s enough!” the redhead, G2J, snapped. Getting in between the two, she held them at arms’ length. Then her arms telescoped outward, the smooth synthetic skin revealing freshly-milled alloy, multicolored wires and blinking status indicators between her lower forearms and her wrists. In seconds, E3 and A7C were separated by thirty feet and a very unhappy fellow fembot. “Look, fighting amongst ourselves isn’t going to solve anything.”

“No, but it’ll make me feel better!” snarled E3. She glared at the petite Asian-looking fembot, who was only wearing a tight pink string bikini.

G2J just rolled her eyes. “Has it occurred to you that we don’t have time for you to be picking fights? I’ll bet the locals are already on their way to figure out what just landed outside their colony. And since this place is uninitiated, they’re probably not friendly to offworlders.”

That got their attention. K4L started looking nervously around. “So … what do we do? What if they find us?”

“Well,” G2J said, “I did manage to intercept a transmission from one of their communication satellites before we hit the ionosphere. These constructs are based off visual images from the data stream, so we should be able to pass for four of the local sentients.” The scarlet-haired fembot got a faraway look in her eyes as she downloaded an emergency survival manual from the ship’s library. “Theoretically, all we need to do is hide the ship, find someplace to carry out repairs, then get out of here ASAP.”

E3 gave a nod of agreement. “Might as well get started,” she said, picking the ship up and carrying it over her shoulder. “Now where do we put this thing?”

“Well, um, maybe we could bury it?” A7C suggested. “I mean, someplace else where there’s no crater?”

“You know, that’s not a bad idea,” G2J remarked. “Then, once we’ve done that, we can pretend to be locals looking for a heavy metal deposit. As long as we don’t arouse suspicion, we should be able to blend in with the natives long enough to find what we’re looking for and get off this planet.”

K4L smiled. “Yeah! I mean, we look like they do, right? Who would notice us?”

With that cheery, naïve thought in mind, the four fembots hiked off to find a suitable hiding spot for their starship.

Chapter 2 - New Babes in Town

Nate Aldridge was typical of Claremont’s student population – white, upper middle-class, maybe a little on the geeky side. As a sophomore at the Claremont School of Technology, he studied robotics, with a focus on electromechanical design.

That being the case, you might think that he should have recognized a pair of hi-tech alien fembots walking toward him on the sidewalk. But when the gorgeous, blue-eyed blonde called out to him, all he could think was, Wow! Those girls are hot! Any red-blooded human male would have agreed with him. There, in broad daylight, stood a voluptuous young woman who might have jumped out of a Playboy centerfold, along with a cute brown-haired girl whose T-shirt was stretched across one of the most impressive chests that Nate had ever seen.

“Hi!” the blond said cheerfully. “We’re new in town. Could you give us directions?”

“Uh, s-s-sure!” Nate stammered, doing his best not to stare straight at the inviting cleft between her tits. Her tight, shimmering blue dress highlighted every curve on her beautiful body. Just being this close to her was enough to set the poor college kid’s pulse racing.

“Thanks! We just need to know where to find some heavy metal for … um …”

“We need it for a project!” the brunette cut in hastily “That’s it. Yeah, a science project.”

It occurred to Nate to wonder what the Metallica concert going on tonight had to do with science. Then the practical side of his brain kicked in: Who cares, genius! Just invite them out! “Ah, well, I think it starts at seven tonight. Just a sec, I’ve got a flyer in my pocket ….” Nate yanked out a folded up piece of glossy paper, then held it out to the lovely women in front of him. They both scanned the page, then looked up at him with dazzling, enthusiastic smiles. “Thanks a lot!” the brunette said, “We’ll definitely be there at the market tonight.”

“No, no, it’s not at the market, it’s at Memorial Park, see?” Nate pointed to the flyer, indicating the location.

“Memorial … park?” the blond asked hesitantly. “Where is that?”

“It’s just down this way. Take a left on Spring Hill, then another left on Main, and that will get you there.”

“Okay. Thanks again!”

As the pair of sexy young women headed off down the street, Nate couldn’t help but stare after them. Damn! Where did they come from? Two hot girls strolling around town and talking to random guys? This kind of stuff doesn’t happen in real life!

Still, by some weird quirk of fate, Nathaniel Aldridge knew it had really happened … and he was definitely looking forward to seeing them both at the concert tonight!

Chapter 3: Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Eighteen hours after landing, Emergency Plan 1 was going smoothly. The girls had done better than bury their starship; they’d found a small natural cave a few miles from the crash site, and had set up a kind of base camp inside. After shutting down for five hours to cool their systems, they had gone to scout out the nearby colony of local sentients.

“You know,” K4L commented, “I always thought that uninitiated beings were just cruel, selfish, stupid animals. But that one you talked to this morning actually seemed pretty nice.”

E3 nodded. “Yeah, but did you notice how his internal temperature spiked when we approached him? Do you think I scared him or something?”

K4L thought for a moment. “I don’t think so,” she finally concluded. “If he’d been scared, he would have run away or attacked us.”

“Then why did he suddenly get hot like that?”

K4L shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe they see in infrared, and increased body temperature is some kind of greeting gesture?”

E3 groaned. “Oh, man. So, not only do we need to keep speaking this freaky phonetic audio language, but we need to figure out what their infrared signals mean? Organics are so weird….”

At last, they reached the cave. G2J had managed to rig up a hologram projector, making it look like a huge boulder blocked the entrance, but as E3 and K4L stepped through the image, they found themselves in a space roughly forty feet by sixty feet, with the cave ceiling just high enough for them to stand upright with their new bipedal bodies. The ship lay on the far side of the cavern, its front end blackened from its close shave with a stellar corona and atmospheric entry. A7C, still clad only in her pink bikini, was trying to use some cleaning solvent and a steel scrubber to get the marks off – a fitting punishment, considering that the ditzy little ‘bot had gotten them all into this mess.

G2J, meanwhile, was hunched over some kind of technological doodad, a look of heavy concentration on her face. As the others approached, the redhead retracted the microtool she had been using back into her forearm, plastic flesh-covered panels sliding back together seamlessly. “So, how did it go?” she asked.

“Pretty well,” K4L answered. “We got some directions from one of the locals. It looks like their bulk heavy metal exchange opens in a couple of decacycles, so we just need to get there and barter for the stuff we need. Your language program worked great, by the way.”

“Thanks. I’d been a little worried about that; the data stream fragment we picked up before entry was less than five cycles long, so I wasn’t sure if it would give the program enough to work with. If you could communicate with the locals, though, that means it must be working all right.”

“Yeah, it’s okay,” E3 said, “but I’m not sure if it’s totally effective. Plus, do you think these beings use infrared? I thought your language program only translated audio and facial expressions?”

G2J pursed her lips. “Hmmm … the data stream didn’t code for anything beyond five audio channels and a narrow spectrum of EM radiation. Still, you could be right. We won’t be here for very long, though, so it shouldn't matter too much; as long as we can communicate with them well enough to get what we need at the exchange tonight, that’s probably going to be the only direct contact we’ll have with the natives.”

“Good,” E3 said with a nod. “The less time we spend around them, the less chance that they’ll realize we’re from off planet.”

“Yeah. So, what are we going to trade for all the metals we need?” asked K4L. “We can’t give them anything that uses advanced technology, or they’d get suspicious.”

“Right. Which is why I’ll bring the fabricator along.”

A7C’s eyes went wide. “The fab? But that’s gotta be, like, a hundred years ahead of anything they’ve got! Besides, we need that to make replacement parts for the ship!”

“Relax, dummy, I’m not going to sell them the fab. Once we get to the exchange, we’ll ask around to see what the miners want in exchange for the metal. Then we’ll sneak off for a few minutes, find a patch of dirt, and use the fab to manufacture whatever they ask for.”

“Well, that sounds nice,” K4L said, “except how will you bring the fab with us? These beings may be uninitiated, but I bet they’re smart enough to recognize advanced alien technology when they see it.”

“Not to worry!” G2J said, a big grin on her face. Then she picked up a rectangular object that any human would have recognized as a briefcase, albeit a very shiny, metallic one. “I based the design off an image from the satellite transmission we picked up. It seems to be a pretty common light-transport container around here.” Then G2J unlatched the top and unfolded the metal case.

Instantly, the fab came alive, tiny motorized limbs unfolding, each tipped with a small tool for scanning objects, cutting, welding, grasping, and various other functions. As its name suggested, the fab was essentially a miniature, self-contained factory, and was standard equipment on most spacecraft. This same device had manufactured the girls’ current android bodies upon landing, using the carbon, silicon and other minerals from the soil of the crash site.

“Wow!” exclaimed A7C, bug-eyed with amazement. “How’d you get it to fit in that little box?”

G2J just smiled, splitting open her forearm panels to show off the various tools nestled inside. “Never underestimate a good mechanic!” she declared, flexing her arms.

E3 whistled in approval, another gesture copied from the satellite broadcast. “Nice! Now, no matter what they ask for, we can make it right there when we need it.”

G2J closed up the fab again, making sure to latch the top of the case shut. “I think that’s all we need. How long until this thing starts?”

K4L checked her internal clock. “About two decacycles. We should probably start heading over there now.”

“Ooh, ooh! Can I come too?” A7C asked, hopping up and down with excitement. “I wanna see the colony!”

“NO WAY!” all three shouted at once.

“A7C, you’re the reason we’re stuck here to begin with!” E3 snapped. “We’re not taking you out sight-seeing.”

“Right. Besides, you can’t keep your mouth shut – you’d blow our cover in two cycles!” added K4L.

“Not to mention that we need someone guarding the ship,” G2J said. “If the natives came in here and found it, we’d really be in deep slag.”

“But you’ve already got the hologram!” the little fembot whined. “Besides, I haven’t left this stupid cave since we got here! Can’t somebody else stay with the ship?”

G2J rolled her eyes. “A7C, you’re staying here and that’s final. Got it?”

The Asian fembot let out a dejected sigh. “Okay….”

With that, the other girls turned and headed out. Had anyone been watching, they would have seen three beautiful young women stepping out of a seemingly solid wall of rock, one of them carrying a metal briefcase.

Then, about five minutes later, they would have seen a cute Japanese face stick out of the same rock and look furtively around.

A7C walked out into the open, her lithe young body still wearing nothing but a skimpy pink bikini. Just a little peek, she thought. I’ll just walk around, see what the natives’ colony is like, and come back before the others are done trading. Easy!

Then the spunky little fembot sped off, headed straight for Claremont.

Chapter 4 - Not THAT Kind of Heavy Metal!!!

Nate sighed. He had been waiting in line for nearly two hours, and the concertgoers were just starting to file in. With a band like Metallica coming to town, tickets had sold like crazy. No enclosed structure in Claremont would have been able to contain such a throng, so the city had furnished a huge section of Memorial park, complete with a fully-equipped stage with an acoustic shell, huge speakers, and a lot of chain-link fencing.

Nate scanned the crowd, looking for the two hot girls he’d seen earlier that morning. The realistic part of his mind was yammering on about how completely impossible it was that he would be able to get anywhere near them again – how they probably had boyfriends already, and in any case, how unlikely it was that they would be at all interested in an average-looking engineering geek.

At the same time, Nate Aldridge had an optimistic side. Maybe they like smart guys. Maybe they’re single. And maybe I’ll get a chance to hang out with them after the concert!

-

Unbeknownst to Nate, G2J, K4L and E3 were already lined up to enter the concert area. Of course, having gotten there only a few minutes earlier, they were considerably farther back in line. K4L looked anxiously around, taking in the sheer number of individuals. “Jeez!” she exclaimed. “We’re way back in this queue. By the time we get in there, all the good stuff will have been sold!”

G2J scanned the area gravely. As much as she hated to admit it, K4L appeared to be right; at the rate the queue was moving, it would be approximately twenty cycles before they passed through the gate in the woven metal fence and entered the heavy metal exchange they had found out about earlier. Given how this planet seemed to be relatively poor in denser elements – particularly the uranium they would need to replace their ship’s spent fuel slug – it seemed logical to assume that any supplies of it here would be in high demand, and would sell quickly. We need to get in there, and we need to buy it before someone else does!

“Hey, G2J? I’ve got an idea.”

The redhead turned to her leggy blonde companion. “What kind of plan?”

“We get out of this stupid line, and we jump the fence,” whispered E3.

“What?” K4L exclaimed. The others flashed her with a look that said, “Keep it down!” as a few nearby natives turned toward the source of her outburst.

An instant later, a graphic model of the terrain appeared, transmitted from E3 to the others’ fields of vision. The perspective tilted until they had a bird’s eye view of the area around the fenced perimeter.

It looks like part of the fencing passes near a clump of vegetation, E3 transmitted, highlighting part of the map in orange. If we jump the fence there, we might be able to avoid being seen. No line, no waiting, no problem!

I don’t know. Something about this seems too easy, G2J thought back. If they’ve erected a barrier around the market area, that means that they don’t want people entering or leaving anywhere except this one controlled entrance. Can you tell if it’s being patrolled?

No, there are too many natives; I can’t tell which are merchants and which might be guards. We just need to get there quietly and make sure no one’s watching when we jump.

G2J ran a risk-benefit analysis. On the one hand, waiting in line made them much less likely to be noticed, but the time it would take to reach the gate might cost them an opportunity to acquire a lot of the material they needed to fix the starship. On the other hand, trying to circumvent the security measures increased the risk of getting caught, but might possibly give them more time to get the minerals they needed before they became scarce.

Okay, we’ll go with your plan. Just remember, we have to avoid being noticed – there’s no way we’ll be able to buy metals if their security is chasing us all over the place!

With that, the three girls walked off, making sure to get out of sight of the crowd before following the fence around. Sure enough, there was a small cluster of trees just beside the fence, their branches extending over the fence, with various smaller shrubs that provided a decent hiding spot if they had to wait for guards to pass by.

The three fembots quickly hid among the plants, all eyes scanning the nearby area. There were a few natives about fifteen feet from the perimeter, but none seemed to be looking in their direction. Most had their attention fixed on the well-lit platform at one end of the fenced area, where a group of them seemed to be setting up some kind of electrically-augmented acoustic instruments.

“Okay,” E3 whispered. “I’ll go first. If there’s trouble, you two get away as fast as you can. I’ll draw them off, lose them, then meet you back at the cave.”

“Be careful,” K4L whispered.

E3 crouched, ran some quick trajectory calculations, then jumped up into the branches of one of the taller trees. All three winced as its leaves made a slight rustling sound, but no one turned to look. Then E3 jumped down, landing silently on the other side of the fence. Again, none of the natives noticed her, and she turned toward her companions, smiling.

There! she transmitted happily. No problems here. This is going to be easy!

-

Meanwhile, in downtown Claremont, a certain curious young fembot was causing quite a stir. As A7C walked around, admiring the brightly colored signs, leafy trees and cute little buildings, quite a few people stopped to admire her. After all, it’s not every day that a sexy young Japanese girl minces down Main Street at seven-thirty in nothing but a skimpy string bikini.

Not that she was oblivious to the attention. A7C had always been programmed with a naturally bubbly, outgoing personality, so when she noticed people staring at her graceful body, she just smiled, waved, and continued on her way. She was no paranoid worrywart like the others; in the body G2J had put together for her, she knew she looked exactly like one of the natives, so why bother trying to avoid attention? As long as she didn’t use too many super-organic abilities or start talking about other planets, who would guess that she was actually an advanced alien intelligence housed in an android body?

Strolling through the city, A7C noticed light emanating from somewhere in a wooded area. Is that the raw materials exchange the others went to? She thought. There must be a lot of people there, for them to need so much light. For a moment, she considered heading over to take a peek, but decided against it. The others had made it clear that they didn’t want her tagging along, and if they happened to catch sight of her, A7C would have to explain why she was wandering around town instead of guarding the ship. Besides, they’re all still pretty mad at me for crashing the ship, she thought glumly. E3 would probably disconnect me until they finish the repairs. Boring!

Then an amplified voice rang out over the park. At this distance, it was hard to make out the words, but then a single clear, powerful chord sounded, soon followed by more. It took A7C a moment to realize that what was coming from the park was … music!

“No way!” she exclaimed out loud, giddy with excitement. “That’s not the market – it’s a concert!”

-

The sudden blast of sound caught all three fembots off-guard. For five minutes, the girls had been trying to tactfully make their way through the crowd of natives, searching for the stalls, mobile shops and display stands that they had assumed would constitute the heavy metal exchange market. However, as the three befuddled young androids tried to locate anything that might resemble a merchant’s display area, it became clear that their expectations had been way off.

Then a human had gotten up on the front platform, speaking into a primitive audio pickup that sent his voice to a set of speakers, amplifying it until it echoed across the outdoor area. “Good night, Claremont!” the long-haired native called out. Suddenly, the girls’ audio sensors were assaulted with a roar of high-pitched screaming, and K4L clutched her sensitive receptors.

“We’d like to thank everybody for coming out tonight, and all the good folks at City Hall who were willing to let us put on our show right here in Claremont.” More screaming followed, though by now all three fembots had decreased the sensitivity of their audio sensors, so it wasn’t quite as alarming.

Some of the speaker’s words were garbled as he spoke over the crowd. Then he picked up a curious stringed instrument with a long neck and began to play, the rest of the musicians on stage joining in. If the screaming of the crowd had been bad, the blast of the musicians was deafening. E3 felt the intense subsonic vibrations traveling up from the ground and into her mechanical body. “W-w-what’s going on?” she shouted over the din. G2J? K4L? Can you even hear me over this?

Keep using direct transmission! G2J exclaimed. The sound they make is like acoustic jamming; I can’t sort out your voice from the instruments and the spectators’ shouting.

Turning her audio sensitivity down to bearable levels, K4L turned to her companions. Hey, wait a minute … is this really a market, or did we just walk into some kind of music concert?

This is music? E3 transmitted incredulously. Although, after a few moments, she realized that there was a definite rhythm to the beating of the percussion instruments and the powerful notes from the musicians’ string instruments. Well, slag, she transmitted, shoulders drooping in defeat. You know, I think she’s right. There’s no way these organics’ ears would be able to tune out so much noise while trying to make a sale. Maybe when we said heavy metal, the native thought we were talking about metal instruments?

G2J’s eyes widened in shock. Then she groaned, putting a hand to her forehead. Oh, great! She exclaimed. Well, this has been a total waste of time.

E3 gave a shrug. Sorry. I guess we just head back to the cave and figure out—

“Hey, you made it!”

Feeling a hand on her shoulder, E3 spun around. It took her visual recognition subroutines a moment to determine that the native standing before her was the very same one who had led them here!

-

A7C watched the crowd of concertgoers moving in time to the band’s music. Though it wasn’t like any of the direct-transmission music streams she was used to as an electronic entity, it did have a great beat, and the bass pulse through her sensor-loaded android body gave her incredible head-to-toe shivers. “Oh, yeah!” she exclaimed. “Primitive or not, these people know how to par-TAY!!!”

With no thought of stealth, A7C simply hopped over the fence, landing in the midst of some surprised-looking natives, all of whom turned to stare at her. Smiling brightly, the cheerful fembot called out, “Hi! You guys have really great music!”

“Wow!” Someone exclaimed. “Dude, check her out! She just jumped over a twelve-foot fence!”

“Yeah, and she’s hot!”

“Whoa, sexy!”

“Really?” she asked innocently, looking down at herself. “Um … thanks!” Walking in the midst of the natives, A7C turned to get a look at the band. Suddenly, the tactile sensors on her right ass cheek registered contact, and she gasped at the intensity of it – G2J had patterned their bodies just a little too much on the locals. Spinning around, she exclaimed, “Hey, who did that!”

One young man jumped backward, ready to turn and run, but the agile fembot easily caught up to him. “Do that again! That felt good!”

The young man’s eyes widened, as though unable to believe that she’d actually encouraged him. Then he put his arms around the beautiful young woman’s waist and pulled her in. A7C let out a squeal as her pleasure centers were flooded with the feel of soft skin and body heat. “Oooohh!” she moaned. “I-I-I … I like … error – sensory overload … I really like that!” Utterly intoxicated, the hot young fembot melted into him. “P-p-please make me feel good!” she stuttered, her voice taking on a metallic edge that was hardly audible under the blast of rock music.

“I .. uh … you got it!” the young man said enthusiastically, and started untying her barely-there bikini top….

-

Not far away, E3 was getting close to her own malfunction, but not from pleasure. She was trying to carry on a conversation with Nate, despite the screaming Metallica fans around her and the ever-present sound and vibration of the band. “I remember you!”

“Yeah! My name’s Nate. Glad to see you managed to get in tonight; that line was way too long, right?”

“Ah … right … ” E3 stammered, trying to parse out Nate’s voice from the enormous amount of ambient noise. “I … we … you said that we would find some heavy metal here. Were you just talking-talking-talking about the music?”

Uh-oh. E3, I think you may be pushing your CPU a little too hard, G2J said. Turn down your sensor receptivity or you’ll lock up!

“Yeah. Hey, you’re not drunk are you?” Nate asked, noting that the girl’s movements were starting to seem a little jerky and uncoordinated.

“D-d-d-drunk?” E3 stuttered. “What would I … would I … would I drink?”

Nate sighed. “Aw, man,” he groaned. Before any of the girls could protest, he took E3 by the hand and led her off toward the edge of the audience area, away from the crowds. Leaning the over stimulated blonde against the fence, he put a hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay now?” he asked. “Do you need to leave?”

“Hey! Get away from her!” G2J exclaimed, pushing through the crowd.

Nate flinched, realizing what he must look like; some perverted whacko taking advantage of a drunken girl. “It’s okay!” he said. “I was just making sure that she’s all right. I think she may be buzzed or something.”

“Buzzed? You actually heard her buzzing?” K4L asked in alarm.

“No, I mean she was shaking and stuttering, so I figured she wasn’t feeling too well.”

The redhead kneeled down in front of E3, who was now sitting on the ground, her back against the fence, her beautiful android body trembling slightly. E3, can you hear me? Are you all right?

Error … excessive sensory input … unable to process … Yeah, I think so. I just wasn’t ready for so much noise, or trying to carry on a conversation in the midst of it. I’ll be okay, I just need to cool off for a few minutes.

All right, we’re getting out of here. G2J turned to look at the native, and her translation software interpreted his expression as one of compassionate concern for E3. He was just trying to help, she realized. “Um, listen, thanks for getting our friend out of there. I think we’re all just going to head home and relax for a while.”

“Yeah, sure,” Nate said with a nod. “Do you need a ride? My car is just over at the parking lot. Are you sure she’s going to be all right?”

E3 got shakily to her feet. “I’ll be … I’ll be fine.” She looked at Nate with her dazzling blue eyes, and offered him a grateful smile. “Thanks for your help.”

“Hey, no problem.”

As the four of them turned to leave, Nate noticed a commotion a few dozen feet to their left. Turning to look, he realized that some of the crowd was beginning to mosh. One girl, in particular, was being lifted up and shoved around by the mass, squealing giddily as her neighbors bore her along. What really caught Nate’s attention was the fact that the girl – a cute, short-haired Asian – wore only a tiny pink bikini bottom. Well, technically, he could see its matching top hanging from her neck, but the knot at the back had come undone, and the bikini top now dangled uselessly, covering nothing. Most of the people surrounding her were, naturally, young men, many of them whooping and hollering as they grabbed at the giggling young woman, her bouncing breasts occasionally obscured as someone copped a feel.

“Jeez!” Nate exclaimed. “She’s practically naked! How the heck did she get in like that?”

The girls turned to follow Nate’s gaze, then stopped cold, all three of their faces showing a kind of paralyzing horror.

Then came two words from G2J: “Oh, SCRAP!!!!”

Chapter 5 - Wild Ride

A7C, you moron! What the slag do you think you’re doing here?!?!?! G2J blasted into the Asian fembot’s head.

Unfortunately, her direct transmission was lost in the sea of sensory data pouring into A7C’s processor. Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that A7C had lived most of her life as an electronic entity, without being tied to a physical construct. While she could multitask just fine under normal circumstances, her current body had been patterned on a human female, which meant that there were hundreds of tactile sensors embedded in every inch of synthetic skin, and even more in her erogenous zones. Every time someone grabbed her ass or her now-exposed tits, a tidal wave of positive feedback would come rushing through her consciousness. The sheer volume of sensory data was enough to push her CPU beyond its capabilities, and her radiant cooling system couldn’t keep up.

In the midst of moshing boys and the blast of music, nobody could make out the weird phrases she spoke. “Error … unable to process … sensory overload … Oh, it feels so good! … ERROR – THERMAL EVENT IN PROGRESS. EMERGENCY SHUTDOWN IMMINENT.”

About forty feet away, G2J gave a frustrated snarl. Dammit, she’s overloading! We’ve got to get her out of here!

Why … bother? asked E3, still a little shaky herself. She’s nothing … nothing … ERROR … nothing but trouble. If she wants to come down and hang out with the locals, let them have her!

E3! G2J exclaimed, eyes wide in horror, Are you crazy?!?

Look, I'm all for ... all for ... all for saving the little twerp, but not if we all get caught in the process!

“Uh, hey, is everything all right?” asked Nate, who had been totally oblivious to the girls’ silent exchange.

All three girls’ heads snapped toward him, as though they’d forgotten that he was there. “We, uh …” K4L began, then trailed off as she tried to figure out how to explain the situation without revealing the fact that they were actually hi-tech alien androids. “Uh, that girl there is in trouble!” she finally blurted out. “We need to get her out of here, or she’ll, um, lose consciousness.”

Nate looked back at the teeming mass of horny guys with the Japanese girl in the middle. He also noticed the men in blue rent-a-cop uniforms converging on them. “Uh-oh,” he said, “I think the security guys have noticed your friend, too.”

“WHAT?!?” G2J exclaimed, bug-eyed with horror. “Oh, no! We have to get to her before they do! Come on!”

At once, all three girls dashed off, shoving their way through the crowd, Nate trying to keep up.

A7C gave a giddy, inebriated-sounding giggle as G2J finally grabbed her by the arm. “Come on!” the redhead hissed, dragging her away from her crowd of admirers. “Dammit, I told you to wait back at the ship!”

“Ship! Drip! Blip! Hee-hee!” shouted A7C, still flying high from her experience with the natives’ skillful hands.

G2J groaned as she hauled the half-conscious fembot behind her. “You know, if I have to debug her after this, I’m just gonna go to town on her personality matrix,” she said as K4L grabbed her other arm.

“Yeah. Maybe you could install some common sense while you’re at it?”

Nope, too much to hope for, E3 transmitted. Maybe you should just switch her personality off and put her body in command mode until we get back home?

You know, that might not be a bad idea, the redhead said, an impish smile lifting one corner of her mouth.

Meanwhile, Nate had managed to rejoin them as they made their way to the exit. “Is everything okay? What happened to her?”

“Mmm, all kinds of good things!” A7C declared, still giggling like a drunken prom date. “You guys may be primitive organics, but OH BOY do you know how to show a ‘bot a good time!”

“Huh? What are you talking abou—”

“Nothing! Ah, nothing! She’s just a little, er, drunked right now,” G2J said, just a little too hastily. “She’ll be fine, but we really need to get her home. You said you had a land vehicle nearby?”

Something really smells fishy here, Nate thought. Maybe what they took was stronger than beer. “Um, yeah, my car is just over at the parking lot,” he said guardedly.

“Great! Could you give us a ride?”

As the five of them made their way out through the front gate, G2J and K4L carrying a now semi-coherent A7C, Nate led them to his second-hand Camry. E3 got into the passenger seat and the other girls piled into the back, while Nate reached into the glove compartment and pulled out his GPS. “So, which one of you lives closest to the park?” he asked.

“We’re all staying here together,” replied E3.

“All right. What’s your street address, then?”

“Address?” the voluptuous young blonde asked, turning a somewhat anxious, questioning look at her companions in the rear. “We … um … I don’t know,” she answered, shrugging helplessly.

Nate glanced into the backseat. “Um, oookay. Can any of you tell me where you live?”

“Sure!” the Japanese-looking girl piped up. “We’re camping out in a little cave. It only took about a decacycle and a half to get here.”

“A decacycle and a half? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, a decacycle is how long it takes Teades IV to go through MMPFF!” she exclaimed, as K4L clapped a hand over the tipsy young woman’s mouth. Shut up, A7C!

G2J, meanwhile, had been analyzing the small rectangular device in Nate’s hand. “I think I can help,” she said. “May I see your navcomp?”

“My … oh, sure,” Nate said, handing the GPS back to the redheaded girl. G2J took a moment to figure out the visual display, then tapped some numbers on the touch screen. “Okay. I think that’s about where it ought to be. I just typed in the longitude and latitude.”

“You knew that from memory?” Nate asked, looking at the spot she had entered in. It was about a mile from the nearest road, way outside of town. Well, the drunk one did say they were camping out, he thought. Jeez, what are these girls on, anyway?

By now, any thoughts of getting close to these bizarre young women were gone. Nate Aldridge was a nerd, not an idiot, and he could tell that these four girls had issues. Now, all he wanted to do was get them back to their campsite and go home. No way they’ll let me back in at the park, he thought glumly. Man, what a waste of ticket money!

They made good time through the light evening traffic and out of town, just five miles above the speed limit. In the back seat, it seemed like the petite Japanese girl they’d pulled out of the moshing crowd was a little more conscious, and whenever Nate glanced at his rear view mirror, he could see the others glaring angrily at her. All four were making sharp, rapid hand gestures at each other, but without making a sound. That’s not sign language, Nate thought. Just what is going on here?

At last, the GPS said, “In half a mile, turn right. Your destination is one mile to the left.”

“Finally!” Nate said, turning onto the dirt road ….

And saw dozens of flashing police lights.

“Whoa!” he exclaimed, slamming on the brakes. A uniformed cop stood between two orange-and-yellow striped sawhorses, holding up a bright red STOP sign. Rolling down his window, Nate called out, “Hey, what’s going on?”

The cop just gave him a tired sigh. “Road’s closed,” he said. “If you back up a bit to the main road, then keep left, there’s another turnoff. That should get you to the highway.”

“All right,” Nate said. “But can you tell me why the road’s closed?”

The policeman shrugged. “Drug dealers. Some FBI guys came down this afternoon and said they’d been using a cave out here as a meth lab. We’re just keeping cars away while the feds move in to arrest ‘em. Nothing to worry about”

Suddenly, everything seemed to click. Drug dealers … the Japanese girl wandering around town in nothing but a bikini … no address in town … heading straight to this place … oh, my God!

Nate glanced at the beautiful blonde beside him, then into the rearview mirror. The girls in the back seat were still making silent gestures to one another.

High. Hopped up on meth. They’ve got to be! He looked over at the blonde again. She looked back, head tilted slightly to the side. “Nate?” she asked. “Is everything okay?”

Nate felt his pulse pounding in his ears. “Um, yeah,” he squeaked. No, actually everything is NOT okay! I’m in a car with four drug addicts, possibly dealers. I don’t think any of them were armed, but how can I be sure?

E3 could tell something wasn’t right. “Nate, are you sure you’re okay? You sound really stressed …“

“HEY! You there, in the Toyota!”

Nate felt his heart drop into his gut and start dissolving. Coming up from behind the barricade was a guy in a black suit. If it weren’t already past ten at night, Nate could just imagine the man wearing a pair of heavy black sunglasses, looking for all the world like an Agent straight out of The Matrix.

The agent raised a gun. But for the Camry’s windshield, he would have had a clear shot at Nate’s head. “Get out of the car! NOW!”

“Nate? What’s going on?” asked E3, now clearly worried.

“O-okay!” Nate stammered at the FBI man. “I’m getting out! Just don’t shoot me, okay?”

“Shoot?” G2J exclaimed from the back seat. “Wait a minute, he’s really going to…?”

“Keep your hands where I can see them! No sudden moves!”

Nate unbuckled his seat belt, reached for the door handle …

And was suddenly kissing the dashboard as his car lurched backward.

The agent didn’t hesitate. Within the first second, three bullets hit Nate’s front windshield, cracks spreading out from three different points of impact. By some miracle, the handgun bullets didn't quite penetrate the safety glass.

“Get down!” Shouted G2J, as the car executed a sharp turn, facing back the way they’d come, then tore off down the dirt road.

“Whuff!” Nate said as he fell back into his seat.

The steering wheel was turning itself.

“What the hell--??”

“I’ll hand over control in a second!” shouted the redhead. “Just let me finish this turn!”

“W-wait a minute … how can you drive the car from the back seat?!?”

“I’ll explain later! Just grab the wheel and don’t let them catch up!”

“Don’t let who … ah, shit!” he cried as he saw red and white lights in his rear view mirror, coming fast around the curve. “This is not happening!”

The blonde in the passenger seat turned to him. “Quick, roll down the window!”

Nate’s left hand leaped reflexively to the lock and window control on his armrest, jabbing the button for the front passenger side window. Immediately, E3 leaned out, pointing her arm back toward the pursuing black sedans.

Vree-chkk!

The weird mechanical sound startled Nate, who turned to look over at his passenger …

Just as two blue-white bursts of energy shot from E3’s forearm blaster.

The car on the left stopped cold with a metal-ripping crunch, as it hit the mother of all potholes head-on.

The one on the right flipped up onto its side as E3’s second blast went off just beside the passenger door. The car skidded along on the driver’s side bodywork for about ten feet, then toppled over onto its roof. In a flash of bizarre clarity, Nate realized that the Feds’ vehicles must have had excellent roll cages, because the roof held the rest of the car’s weight, leaving the driver dazed but unharmed.

Wide-eyed and openmouthed, Nate could only stare as E3 pulled herself back into the car, a wide-barreled energy weapon compacting and folding itself back into her right arm. In moments, her skin panels were closed and locked in position, seamlessly concealing her hi-tech hardware.

The blonde fembot noticed his stare, and gave a sheepish grin, shrugging her shoulders. “Uh, well, that takes care of that problem, right?”

Nate just kept gawking, G2J taking over the wheel as they sped back towards Claremont.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!?!?”

Chapter 6 - Houseguests

“So. You’re robots.”

The redhead nodded. “Well, we’re more like software entities housed in mechanical constructs, but basically, yes.”

Nate flopped back on the couch, letting out a hopeless groan. By some miracle, the Feds hadn’t been able to keep up the pursuit after E3’s display of futuristic fireworks. After taking the most random, circuitous route he could think of through downtown Claremont, the girls had asked him if, in their words, he could “offer us shelter”. Remembering what the blonde had been able to do to a pair of FBI sedans, Nate hadn’t bothered arguing.

Now, as he sat alone with four beautiful young women, Nate reflected on the irony that, not even an hour ago, he would have given anything to have them there.

Now, he just wished he had never had anything to do with these bizarre, blaster-toting girls.

“Oh God,” he moaned. “And was there a reason you ran from an FBI agent and totaled two government cars? Or do you just want me to go to prison for the rest of my life?”

“Wait a minute – government cars?” E3 said, her dazzling sapphire eyes widening in shock. “You mean, that man pointing a gun at you was a law enforcement officer?!?”

“No kidding! Why do you think that a squad of guys in marked police cars were working with them?!?”

The girls all looked at each other, stunned by this revelation. “But … but he was going to shoot you!” A7C exclaimed.

“Not if I’d had a chance to get out of the freakin’ car! And I would have, too, if you hadn’t decided to hijack my Camry and play "back seat driver"! God, right now they’re probably getting ready to storm my freakin’ apartment and arrest me for … hell, for blowing up government property!”

G2J cocked her head to the side. “I’m not detecting any pedestrians or suspicious activity outside this building. All but two of your neighbors are sleeping, and while those two do seem to be engaged in some kind of vigorous physical activity, I don’t think it has anything to do with us.”

“For crying out loud, don’t peep on Jon and Cathy!”

The redhead in the Catholic school uniform gave him a frown. “I was just making sure we were safe. I thought it might help reduce your stress level.”

“Right,” added K4L, “and I’ve been projecting an ECM barrier ever since we saw the roadblock. They won’t have any record of you or your vehicle from electronic or film recorders, or from satellite surveillance.”

Nate felt his eyebrows quirk up. “Really? I mean, you can do that?”

The buxom brown-haired girl gave a shrug. “No offense, but your technology isn’t all that sophisticated.”

“Uh, yeah, right,” Nate said. “So … who built you, anyway? Are you, like, some kind of government project?”

G2J couldn’t help but smirk. Standing up, she gestured to indicate her flawless, entirely human-looking gynoid body. “You really think anyone on your planet could build constructs as realistic or versatile as these?”

Nate shrugged. “All right. So how come you all look like humans if you’re from another planet?”

“Technically, we’re from several different planets,” replied E3. “Our civilization’s called the Interlink. It’s spread across a few galaxies, including this one. Personally, I’m from MCGR-45-6D, in what I think you call Andromeda, but we’re really from all over the place.”

“Um, okay. Do all the robots on MC-whatever look like human girls?”

“Actually, we fabricated these shells after landing here, based off of images from a satellite transmission we picked up before entry.”

Nate glanced around at the four young women sitting in his living room: the redhead in her Catholic schoolgirl outfit, E3 with her sheer blue dress, K4L in her tight T-shirt and jeans, and of course, the nearly naked A7C. “Just what kind of transmission did you use, anyway? A ‘Girls Gone Wild’ commercial?”

G2J got a faraway look in her eyes. “Just a second. Let me pull it up ….”

Part of the crimson-haired beauty’s left arm opened, revealing a tiny lens. A moment later, a flat screen appeared in midair, showing a full-color video of two women in the midst of some extremely raunchy lovemaking, gasping and moaning in a very convincing display of lust. Nate instantly recognized G2J and K4L, or at least the women whose bodies they had copied.

The whole clip only lasted a few minutes, but it didn’t take much for Nate to realize where it had come from. After the lesbian sex scene, whatever porn flick it had been a part of wrapped up, followed by a few brief commercials, all prominently featuring a shining gold rabbit-head logo. Then a second show began entitled “Girls of the NCA”, and Nate saw the beginning part of a vignette featuring two college cheerleaders who looked exactly like A7C and E3, along with some buff men about his own age who proceeded to screw the living daylights out of them until the clip ended.

Nate leaned back in his chair, half amused, half horrified. “So, everything you know about Earth, you learned from the Playboy Channel?”

“Yes,” G2J said simply. “It was the only media we could access before we entered your atmosphere.”

Well, that explains a lot, he thought to himself. “So … I mean, how do you work? What kind of CPU do you use?”

The redhead turned to her petite Asian comrade. “A7C, would you mind giving him a look?”

“Um, sure,” she said with only a hint of hesitation. Nate watched, spellbound, as the exotic young woman reached back and untied her bikini top, pulling it off to drop to the floor. He couldn’t help but stare at the pair of lovely, almost perfectly round breasts and perky brown nipples that A7C was so freely displaying.

Then there came a tiny metallic click. A vertical seam appeared directly in the middle of the petite gynoid’s chest, from just below her collarbone to just below her ribcage. As Nate watched, openmouthed, both halves of A7C’s chest hinged open like a pair of smoothly contoured doors, revealing an electrician’s paradise of neatly organized wires, blinking multicolored lights, and electronic components of all descriptions.

“Wow,” the wonderstruck young Engineering major whispered. He looked up from her dazzling interior to A&C’s face. The pretty young woman was looking at him with a curious mix of emotions on her face – a touch of nervousness at having her internals exposed, and a little half-smile of amusement as she watched Nate practically drool over her hi-tech goodies. “May I … I mean, may I get a better look? I’m studying robotics in college, but this … you girls make … anything else look like a kid’s Erector set!”

A7C’s smile widened. “Sure! Just, ah, don’t mess with anything, all right? My backup was in the ship.”

Like a man in a trance, Nate stood and walked over toward the beautiful gynoid. Most guys would have tried to cop a feel – in fact, quite a few had done so just half an hour ago, much to her delight. Nathan Aldridge, however, knew how to appreciate a well-designed piece of machinery, and A7C was a technophile’s dream come true.

The most prominent feature in the left side of her chest cavity was a gleaming, cylindrical mechanism with blue tubing radiating from it. It took Nate just a moment to realize that he was looking at some advanced, highly miniaturized liquid coolant pump.

The most visible component in the right half of A7C’s chest was a glowing blue sphere a little bigger than a softball. Tiny motes of light danced within, like microscopic blue-white fireflies in some vast and complicated ballet. Every so often, some of these tiny impulses would travel toward one of three fingerlike metal armatures that held the crystal in place.

“Is this … your CPU?” he asked, his wide eyes reflecting the glow of her miraculous processing device.

“Yep!” A7C proclaimed proudly. “Neat, huh?”

“Are you kidding? Nobody has anything like this, not even on the drawing boards! Is it some kind of quantum computer? Like those room-temperature diamond rigs they’re experimenting with at AIP?”

G2J looked a little surprised. “Well, it’s not a diamond, but I think you’re describing the right basic principle. How did you know that?”

Nate shrugged. “I read scientific journals.”

On impulse, he gently tapped A7C’s luminous crystal orb with his finger. Like moths to a porch light, dozens of the glowing sparks migrated to where his skin touched the surface, momentarily creating a dazzling white patch around the point of contact.

“Ohhh!” the fembot gasped, suddenly clutching his shoulders. “Th-th-that … wow!” She looked down at Nate, giving him an impish smile. “You know, you humans have a real talent for touching the right places.”

Nate blushed a bit. “Er, well, thanks, I guess….”

With a whirr of tiny motors, A7C closed up her chest again. Then without warning, she wrapped her arms around Nate and gave him an enthusiastic embrace. “Ee! You’re so warm! And soft, too!” she squealed.

“Um, so are you,” Nate replied, blushing furiously as he felt her very realistic tits pressed against his chest.

E3 let out a sigh, rolling her eyes heavenward. “Great,” she murmured, “A7C has finally found her perfect match, just barely above her own intellectual level.”

“Hey!” both human and gynoid exclaimed.

Ignoring their protesting glares, the blonde turned to G2J. “So, what are we going to do about getting our ship back?”

“Hmmm,” she replied, her brow furrowed in thought. “I don’t know. K4L, can you connect to the its external sensors? What’s going on at the cave?”

The brunette gave a helpless shrug. “I’ve been trying to get in touch with the ship’s computer, but about two cycles after we got away from those black vehicles, it’s like it just … disappeared. I can’t connect to the computer, and I’m not even picking up the emergency beacon now.”

“What?” exclaimed E3. “How is that even possible? There’s no way the natives could have jammed the signal.” She turned to Nate. “I mean, do you even know what quantum entanglement is?”

“You mean, when you split photons in two so that the one’s polarization is always exactly the opposite of the other’s, so you can communicate instantaneously by manipulating one or the other?”

The blonde fembot’s jaw dropped. “You knew that already?”

“Um, yeah. Read about it, anyway, but I don’t think anyone’s actually figured out a way to use it.” Nate paused, looking thoughtful. “Although, this is the federal government we’re talking about ….”

G2J just stared at him for a long moment. “You know? I think maybe these humans aren’t as underdeveloped as we’d thought.”

“Then, maybe they could be jamming our communications with the ship?” K4L said, a little uneasily.

“It’s a possibility.”

“Okay,” said A7C, already finished tying her bikini top. “So they took the ship, and we don’t know where it is. Who cares? I mean, we’ve got the fabricator, right?” She gestured toward the silver briefcase lying at G2J’s feet. “If we have to, we can just build another one.”

The other girls all stared at her as though she had lost what few mental marbles she’d had to begin with.

“Erm, I mean, we could, right?”

G2J just shook her head, lowering her face into her hands. “A7C,” she groaned, “do you have any idea how long that would take?”

“Um, a decacycle? I mean, each of these constructs only took, like, two or three cycles, and the ship isn’t that much bigger. Right?”

“Yeah, right!” snapped E3. “If you really knew anything about starships – either building them or flying them – you’d know that they’re about a hundred times more complex than these constructs we’re walking around in.”

“She’s right,” the redhead said gravely. “Every part needs to be made exactly right, down to the last micron, or the stresses of a hyperjump would tear it apart. That means it will take longer to make most of the components than it took to make these constructs. Plus, we’d need even more metal than we would have needed to fix the one we came in on, and it will take even more time to refine it to make starship-quality parts. It would take at least a kilocycle to manufacture and assemble, and that’s after we’ve managed to scrounge up enough heavy elements to use for raw building material.”

“Hey, excuse me,” Nate cut in, “but just how long is a kilocycle, anyway?”

K4L looked thoughtful for a moment. “On this planet, I think that would be about ninety-seven rotations.”

Nate felt the blood rushing out of his face. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! You mean it would take you three months to build this thing?!?”

“Plus however long it takes to find the stuff to build it with,” added G2J.

Nate winced. “Ouch,” he replied lamely.

A7C looked devastated. “But … I mean, what will we do? Where will we go? And just where are we supposed to find so much pure metal on a low-density dirtball like—um, no offense,” she said quickly, glancing over at Nate.

Nobody spoke.

Then E3 stood up from her chair. “Nate,” she said, “um … would it be all right if we stayed here with you for a while?”

The poor college student nearly fell backward in his chair. “Wh-wh-WHAT?!?” he sputtered. “No way! An hour ago, a federal agent put three bullets in my freakin’ windshield, and you expect me to just let you crash at my apartment for three whole months? Hell, no!”

“Look,” G2J said, “it’s not as though we want to inconvenience you. If we could just go off somewhere and handle this ourselves, we would. But tonight, we’ve lost our only way off this planet, and we need someplace to stay hidden until we can build a new starship.”

“Besides that,” added K4L, “you’ve probably noticed that we’re not very good at blending in with your culture. We just don’t understand it well enough. We’re going to need somebody’s help to pull this off – someone who knows how to get along with your people – and you’ve already shown that you’re an intelligent, resourceful and trustworthy being.”

“Look, if you’re trying to sweet-talk me into letting you stay here, it’s not--”

“Please, Nate?” A7C pleaded. He felt her delicate hands on his shoulders, turning Nate to face her. Looking into her deep, pleading, innocent brown eyes, he felt something tighten in his chest. “Please? I’ll do anything to make things easier for you – we all will – but please, we need you to help us get home!”

Oh, God, Nate thought. That’s it. That’s just what I need. A helpless, half-naked girl with puppy-dog eyes.

And the worst part was, it was working.

He clenched his teeth, trying to drag his gaze away from the Japanese woman’s needful, achingly beautiful face. This only brought his gaze to meet G2J’s grave countenance; K4L’s anxious, half-hopeful brown eyes; and E3’s resigned, stoic glance, as though she too had to reluctantly accept the fact that they were all stuck with each other.

At last, Nate gave a defeated groan. “All right,” he said dejectedly. “As long as you don’t make a scene or shoot at anything else, you can--”

“Oh, thank you!” cried A7C, throwing her arms around his neck and drawing him into an overjoyed kiss. “Thankyouthankyouthankyou! I promise, you won’t be sorry!”

“I think I already am,” he muttered, but then K4L came up and joined A7C in their odd little group hug, pressing her ample bosom into Nate’s back. “Thanks, Nate,” the brunette said.

In moments, E3 and G2J had joined in, all four girls wrapping their arms around Nate’s body. Surrounded by beautiful, smiling, grateful women, the crushing sensation of dread seemed to lift a little.

You know, Nate thought to himself, maybe three months of this won’t be too bad, after all ….

Interlude - Regroup

“How many did the cop see?”

“He said he only got a good look at the one driving, but the car was full; I’d say we’re looking at at least five ET’s, maybe more if there were others in the trunk.”

“Dammit! And he was just going to let them go?!?”

“Well, that was what we’d told them to do, Sir – keep civilians away from the containment area. We figured they’d stick close to their ship like the last bunch. Evidently, they were on their way back when they ran into our roadblock. If Agent Munro hadn’t been there with a Gadget, nobody would even have been suspicious, and they’d have just driven off.”

Agent Poulsen muttered a curse. “Well, that’s practically what happened anyhow! Only they managed to wreck two armored sedans and screw up most of our electronics. Didn’t anybody get a picture of that car?”

“Not a one,” Agent Thompson replied. “Looks like the minute they saw the roadblock, they activated some kind of electronic countermeasures system. No dashboard cameras, no satellite photos, not even a goddamn film camera. All we’ve got is the cop’s description and Agent Munro’s. They’re both pretty sure the car was a red Toyota Camry, maybe late nineties, but nobody got a good enough look at the plates.”

Poulsen gave a sigh. “If the ET’s stole it, the owner’s going to report it to the local cops. Besides, Munro put three bullets in the windshield; just tell the cops to look for a red Camry that looks like it’s been through a war.”

“You mean, unless they’ve ditched it already.”

“Yes, unless they’ve had the good sense to ditch the thing already.” Agent Poulsen let out another frustrated huff. “Jeezus, what a fuckup!”

“Well, Sir,” the younger agent said, “we did manage to capture their ship. They’re not going anywhere.”

“Right. Which means that we’ve got five or more armed ET’s running around an American college town. No way to quarantine the place without raising questions; if we tried, some techno-geek would just find a way to dial out and tell the whole fuckin’ universe about our dirty little secret. From there, word will get to the Russians, the Arabs, the Chinese – everyone’s gonna want a piece of the action, and five years from now, boom! China starts building ray guns.”

The two walked in tense silence, black Italian-leather shoes clicking softly on the diamond-plate steel floor.

“Sir … nothing like this has ever happened before, has it? I mean, the ET’s getting away?”

“Hell no, and thank God for it!” Poulsen declared. “Roswell may have been a fuckup, but with no physical evidence, the Russians just figured it was some kind of Capitalist hysteria. These ET’s get out in the open, though, and God only knows what’ll happen.”

The two FBI agents stopped in front of a pair of huge metal doors. Taking a keycard from his pocket, Poulsen slid it through a reader. With a confirming beep and a green light, the doors slid open.

The hangar into which they moved was one of the American military’s best-kept secrets. Its interior – walls, roof and floor – was covered with a thin layer of special polymer derived from captured alien technology. Dubbed the Shroud, it blocked any transmissions from captured vessels and devices, including those that used means beyond radio or other EM broadcasting.

Five ships sat idly on the hangar floor. Three were completely unique: a silver saucer roughly fifty feet in diameter; a streamlined green vessel with curved, forward-swept wings; and a curious vessel that resembled a five-foot-tall beehive.

The other two were practically identical. Both measured roughly ten feet from front to back. Both shared the same tapered, trilaterally symmetrical silver hull, with a heat-deflecting shield at the front. One was practically spotless, gleaming in the overhead light. Its hull panels lay open, vital components exposed for analysis. The other looked like its front end had been scorched, then hastily scrubbed to try and get some of the blackened atmospheric residue off.

Agent Poulsen ran his hand over the unnaturally smooth metal surface. Analysis of the first ship had determined that its hull metal was some kind of exotic alloy, hard enough to wear down diamond-tipped drills.

The only way to access its treasure trove of technology was if someone let you in.

The agents walked briskly past the otherworldly motorcade, and again Poulsen swiped his keycard, gaining access to a long hallway with dozens of locked, Shrouded doors. Stopping by one of them, the senior agent placed his thumb on a scanner. With a hydraulic hiss, the heavy steel door slid open.

Inside the sterile lab space, computers whirred and clicked, indicator lights blinking in various colors. Dozens of thick, black cables snaked across the floor, all connected to a limbless female head and torso.

She had been beautiful, once. Long, silky black hair hung nearly to her waist, contrasting with her pale skin and full, bright red lips. Her lovely face hung down dejectedly, eyes shut. Her body had been flawless, a real beauty, but now the entire right side of her chest was gone, exposing alien circuitry and a glowing blue sphere, its thought-lights swirling sluggishly within.

Poulsen couldn’t help but grin at the sight. “Wakey, wakey, little Meg.”

The partially dismantled gynoid raised her head. Clear blue eyes opened, fixing the human with an icy glare. If looks could kill, Meg’s would have left nothing but a smoking crater where he stood. “Fuck off, meatbag. Either that, or cut my power – I’d rather face deletion than another day here with you.”

“Oh, don’t worry. Here in a couple of days, we won’t need you anymore. Seems some friends of yours just jumped ship somewhere out in California.”

“’In a couple of days,’ right? That means they got away from you. And now, you slagheads want me to help you find them. Well, forget it!”

Poulsen just stared right back at her, matching her hate-filled gaze with a blank, empty stare. Without looking away, he called, “Thompson?”

The younger agent grabbed a heavy black stun gun from one of the lab tables, and then handed it to Poulsen. The senior Bureau man held it only inches from Meg’s face.

At the touch of a button, blue arcs danced between the contact points.

Meg’s gaze jerked away from Poulsen’s eyes to the electrical weapon in his hand. In an involuntary, all-too-human reaction she had learned from a long-ago television broadcast, the broken woman flinched, trying to shift what remained of her body away from the dangerous, crackling device.

“Oh, that’s right. You remember this big boy, don’t you? We had some real laughs with this when they first brought you in.”

Meg tried to glare at him, but her eyes held fear now. “Whatever it is you want, I’m not doing it. I’m not going to help you catch people just so they can end up like me.”

Poulsen’s grin only got wider. “You say that now, but we both know it’s not true. Anyone will crack under enough pressure, Meg. Anyone. And anything, too. All it takes is time and a little … creativity.”

The human slid his black plastic tool down her cheek. Even unpowered, the all-too-familiar feel of its cold metal contacts caused Meg to shudder, her eyes widening in fright.

“And I … well, I’ve got lots of both.”

Chapter 7 - The Morning After

Nathan Aldridge never woke up until well past ten o’clock on Saturday mornings. This Saturday, having stayed up considerably later than usual, it was nearly noon before his body decided it was bored with lying inertly on the bed. As consciousness returned, Nate reached up and rubbed his eyes. Man, what a nightmare, he thought, giving a little groan as he began thinking about sitting up.

Some of the weird visions from last night swam through his groggy, semiconscious mind. Girls with guns and computer parts inside, running from Agent Smith … Oh, well, thank God it was just a dream….

Vree-chk, beep. “Hi, Nate!”

Suddenly, his heart rate went through the roof, and Nate sat bolt upright on his bed, turning to face the pretty blonde girl lying beside him, wearing nothing but her birthday suit and the same sheet that had been covering him.

“AAAHH!! Wha--?”

A series of clicks, whirs and beeps signaled the other girls coming online. “Is something wrong?” asked G2J, similarly nude and lying on Nate’s other side.

“Man, you were in power-save mode forever!” A7C complained. Unlike the other girls, the petite Japanese-looking fembot hadn’t managed to find a place on Nate’s bed, so she had powered down sitting up against a wall.

K4L walked in from another part of the apartment, the only one clad in anything more than swimwear or a sheet. “Oh, good! You’re active again. Just so you know, I didn’t pick up any suspicious activity or communications in this part of the colony, so I don’t think those Eff-Bee-Ayes were able to identify you or your home.”

Nate groaned, clutching his still-fuzzy head, wishing that there were some way to wake up from reality. “Right. Um … thanks. Now, what are you two doing naked in my bed?”

G2J just looked up at him, a puzzled expression on her face. “Isn’t this how you sleep? I mean, uncovered and lying in close proximity to one another?”

Nate sighed, remembering where the girls had gotten their oversexed female appearances, their exposure to English, and a very warped idea of human society. You’d think that advanced alien beings would study something better than the Playboy Channel to learn about our culture, he thought. “Not unless you’re in a relationship. Sleeping naked with another person is just … really, really intimate, all right?”

“So? We just saved your life, and you’ve promised to keep us safe. I’d say that’s pretty intimate,” replied E3, sliding back into her shimmering blue party dress. “Besides, your heart rate decreased significantly when G2J and I got into bed with you. Didn’t you enjoy it?”

“Well, maybe, but … oh, screw it,” he muttered. “I’m starving. Do you girls eat, or do you just plug in someplace?”

“Well, I did design these constructs based off human bodies,” G2J said. “They can convert chemical energy from ingested material into electrical power.”

“Okay. Do you want cereal or scrambled eggs?”

The girls all looked at one another. “Er … what’s cereal? And what kind of creature is a Scrambled?”

Nate rolled his eyes. “Look, I’ll make a little of each, and you can all decide which one you want. All right?”

“Thanks!” A7C called out. “You’re the best, Nate!”

As he made his way toward the kitchen, the star-crossed college sophomore felt a mantle of gloom settle over him. It was no dream. Which means I’m stuck with four alien robots until they somehow manage to build a starship.

By chance, his gaze happened to wander out through the sliding patio door.

“Holy … MY CAR!!!”

All thoughts of breakfast suddenly thrown aside, Nate rushed out, down the steps of his apartment building, to behold what was left of his red Toyota Camry. In broad daylight, the cracks radiating from three bullet holes stood out like a flashing white sign declaring, “MY DRIVER IS EITHER A FUGITIVE, A DRUG DEALER, IN TROUBLE WITH DRUG DEALERS, OR ALL THREE!”

The girls came down the steps just in time to hear Nathan Aldridge, clad only in his boxers, screaming like a man who’s just discovered that his stock broker invested everything in Fannie Mae. He whirled to face the quartet of concerned young women. “Look at this!” he shouted frantically. “There is no freakin’ way I can drive my car like this! Not when it looks like somebody used it for target practice!”

G2J walked over to the vehicle, inspecting the damage. “Well, this doesn’t look too bad. All we need to do is remove the windscreen, reduce it to its constituent molecules and fab a new one.”

Nate stared at her. “You mean with that little suitcase-thing? You could really fix my car?”

“Of course,” the redhead said matter-of-factly. “Watch; I’ll just gently pull this out …”

G2J reached up and pulled on the black rubberized molding that held the safety glass to the Camry’s chassis. Nate winced as what remained of his windshield bent and folded, making a crinkling sound as the fembot pulled it away like plastic wrap. “A7C, pick up those shards, will you?”

The bikini-clad girl came over and began scooping up the tiny bits of safety glass on the front seats, floor and hood of the Camry. Meanwhile, G2J began carrying the crumpled-up windshield back toward the door of the apartment building. “Not to worry, this should be fixed in two cycles or so!”

“Uh … wow! Okay. How long is a cycle, anyway? Like, a minute?”

K4L gave him a blank look. “What’s a minute?”

“Erm, a minute is sixty seconds.”

“And what’s a second?”

Nate thought for a moment. “A second is … ah … well, it’s the time it takes you to say ‘One Mississippi’. Try it.”

“One mizzi … what the heck is a mizzippy, anyway?”

“Ah, forget it,” Nate sighed. “Just remind me to show you a clock sometime.”

In the end, each girl took a full portion of both cereal and scrambled eggs. This is going to be murder on my grocery budget, Nate thought as he watched the girls chow down.

“Mmm! Wow, Nate, this is good!” exclaimed K4L, wide-eyed after taking her first bite. “Whatever Scrambleds are, they sure lay great eggs!”

“Yeah, and this cereal is pretty good too,” added A7C. “What’s this white stuff it’s floating in?”

“Oh, that’s just milk.”

E3 gave him a funny look. “So, you got this from a pregnant female? You’re not mated, are you …?”

Nate felt himself blush. “Er, no, that’s cow milk, and they make it all the time.”

“You get it from other species? Interesting,” G2J said, downing another spoonful.

After breakfast, Nate gathered up all the used bowls and flatware and started washing them. E3 came over and watched him as he rinsed each dish, scrubbed it, then rinsed it clean. “Can I help?”

“Ah, sure. Just grab a towel and start drying them. ”

It was a great idea – until E3 rubbed just a little too hard with the dishcloth, and Nate heard an ear-splitting CRASH! as a bowl practically exploded in her hand. He turned to the blonde, who had a look of chagrin on her face. “Sorry! I didn’t realize these ceramic things were so brittle.”

Nate just gave another sigh. “It’s all right,” he said. “Just be careful next time. I hope your fabricator thing works on dishes, too ….”

As if on cue, G2J stuck her carrot-topped head into the kitchen. “Hey, I fixed it!” she exclaimed, holding up a clear, brand-new windshield.

Leaving the dishes partially done, Nate and his feminine roommates walked back outside. G2J gently set the freshly-fabricated windshield on the ground, along with a fresh molding to hold it in place. A soft click could be heard as her forearms opened, revealing a dazzling array of fine tools and manipulators. In no time at all, she had applied a thin layer of primer to the perimeter of the glass, then carefully fit the molding around it. Then a tiny applicator extended itself, and the redheaded gynoid applied something that smelled like urethane to the molding.

Lifting the treated windshield carefully, G2J climbed up onto the hood of Nate’s Camry, gently easing it into place. Another applicator arm extended itself, and she went around the edge of the windshield one last time, presumably putting on some kind of sealant. Then the mechanized mechanic hopped off the car, holding up her hands, a big grin on her face. “Got it!” she declared. “It’s as good as new!”

Nate walked slowly over to inspect his car. In only fifteen minutes, the fembot had not only made him a brand-new windshield, but had installed it herself – a job that would have taken any body shop several hours!

“I don’t believe it!” he exclaimed, running his finger over the surface. Maybe the glass was a little more tinted than before, but there were no bug or dirt spots – and certainly no trace of the three bullet holes it had had just half an hour before!

Overwhelmed by gratitude, Nate turned to G2J and threw his arms around the startled gynoid. “Thank you!” he cried.

G2J was surprised for a moment, then smiled at Nate’s sincere show of gratitude. “You’re welcome,” she replied. “Considering it’s our fault you got shot at last night, I figured it was the least I could do.”

“Um, hey, speaking of making stuff, shouldn’t we get going on our new starship?” A7C piped in.

E3 nodded. “You know, she has a point. And now that we know you don’t sell metals at open-air markets, just where do we go for raw materials?” she asked, looking at Nate.

The lanky sophomore scratched his still-unwashed hair as he thought for a moment. “Well, when I need parts for my car, I usually go to the DAP scrap yard in Rancho Cordova. The problem is, they only sell parts. You can’t just drive off with a couple of crushed cars and pay for them by the ton. I don’t suppose you use Mercedes engines in your space ship, right?”

“Er, no,” G2J said. “Isn’t there someplace we can just get a whole lot of iron alloy and five macros of uranium?”

Nate winced. “I really don’t know how you’d be able to get uranium around here,” he said. “Humans are pretty protective of anything you could use to make bombs, so we can’t exactly order it online. As far as the iron goes, though …”

Suddenly, an image surfaced: discarded rails and metal railroad spikes, lying out in the sun. “Hey! I think I know where you can find some metal.”

A7C practically flew over to him. “Really? Where?”

“I know this old railroad maintenance yard on the other side of town,” Nate explained. “There’s a place there where they just dump old steel rails and junk. A lot of it’s probably rusty, but there should be plenty to get you started. You said your ship is only about ten feet long put together, right?” he asked G2J.

The redhead got a faraway look in her eyes, visualizing what she could do with several tons of steel. “Yes! And even the rust shouldn’t be too big a problem – the fab can separate the oxygen ions from the metal with about 95% efficiency. As long as there are sufficient amounts of carbon, titanium and other trace elements in the steel, we should be able to build everything but the powerplant!”

“Cool,” Nate said, “and I’ll ask my friends on Monday if any of them know how to get uranium without messing with the NEA.”

“Yes!” E3 exclaimed, pumping her fist triumphantly. “Nate, you’re great! Now we’ve got a chance to get off this planet!” The curvy young woman threw her arms around him in a super-powered bear hug, and it was all Nate could do to keep from passing out – not just because E3 had squeezed every ounce of air from his lungs, but also because the feel of her perfect female form pressed against his mostly bare skin was one of the most awesome things he had ever experienced.

When E3 finally released him, the girls all started making their way to the car, as if to get in. “Let’s go!” A7C cried. “Civilization, here we come!”

“Erm, can I at least get dressed first?” Nate asked, gesturing to his boxer shorts – the only things he was currently wearing.

K4L looked at him quizzically. “But you already are! Besides, you humans hardly wear clothes most of the time, right?”

Nate put a hand to his head, letting out a groan. Damn you, Playboy Channel, for corrupting four innocent aliens! Now they think it’s okay to go topless in the middle of town! Nate gestured back into the apartment building. “Come on,” he said. "I need to get changed, and before we leave home, you girls really need to learn some human culture…."

Chapter 8 - Welcome Home, Nate

“Uranium? Dude, are you serious? I didn’t know you hated Professor Dawson that much….”

Nate sighed. “No, Landon, I’m not going to try and nuke my history professor. I was just wondering where you get the stuff. I mean, aren’t there like uranium mines or something?”

Landon Richards, technogeek extraordinaire and Nate’s best friend, just shrugged and started searching the Internet. “Well, the closest uranium reserves would be in northern Arizona or Marysvale, Utah. The only places they actually mine the stuff are out in Wyoming, Texas and Nebraska.” The skinny, freckled kid gave him a shrug. “Sorry, dude. It’s just not easy to come by. I mean, you could sneak over to the army base and try pulling the depleted uranium armor off an M1 tank, but that’s U-238, and you need U-235 for a power plant or … well, you know.”

“Yeah, I get it. Thanks,” he said. So, either we drive to Arizona and hope they can dig it out of the ground themselves, or we head over to the mine in Wyoming and try to steal twenty pounds of the most dangerous stuff on Earth from a well-guarded mining operation run by government contractors. Some really great options here ….

Having broached the subject of nuclear fuel, the conversation moved back toward normal topics, or as normal as any conversation between a pair of geeky engineering students can be. Eventually, Nate glanced at his watch. “Hey, man, I need to go and pick somebody up. See you tomorrow?”

Landon grinned at him. “Picking somebody up, huh? Hot date tonight?”

Nate felt a wry smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Hot? Yes. Human …? “Nah, I have a friend whose car broke down, and I’m just helping them get around until it’s out of the shop.”

“All right. See you later.” With that, Landon packed up his laptop, stuck it in his backpack, and headed for his bus stop while Nate made his way over to the parking lot. The Camry, of course, looked perfectly normal; nobody would ever suspect that its windshield had been shot at, then broken down on a molecular level, reconstructed and installed by alien technology in half an hour. In fact, the windshield looked quite a bit cleaner than the rest of his car, reminding Nate that he ought to get the Camry washed sometime this week. Making a mental note to get that taken care of, he climbed in, started the car, and headed for home.

Only three days after meeting his four alien gynoid roommates, it was amazing just how … normal today had been. Professor Dawson had been his usual self, calling on students to answer questions he knew they didn’t know, thus somehow asserting his own intellectual superiority. Doctor Jensen, Nate’s Robotics instructor, had been as funny and beautiful as ever – Nate had had a crush on her for months now, though he did his best not to show it. His Chemistry professor had even complimented Nate on his essay assignment (done the night before with some assistance from K4L). Nobody seemed to have noticed anything different about him, and no Feds had shown up to drag him out of class. All in all, it had been a remarkably unremarkable day.

Of course, it helped that the girls spent a lot of their time down at the old maintenance yard now, where G2J had set up a kind of spaceship-building garage in an abandoned roundhouse. Because their fabricator machine really did most of the work, the girls had come up with the idea of taking shifts, with two at the roundhouse and two keeping an eye on his place at any given time. Thus, Nate’s only responsibility was shuttling the girls between the apartment and the maintenance yard twice a day. While it still meant that he always had two girls at his place with him, it was infinitely less stressful than dealing with all four of them at once.

Finally, Nate pulled in to the parking lot in front of his apartment complex.

At the door, he tapped in his key code, then walked in. Mr. Nimvicki, the gray-haired landlord, was slouched back in his chair, snoring loudly behind his desk, so Nate just went by and headed up the stairs.

Before he’d even gotten off the stairwell, Nate recognized his Black Sabbath CD pounding through the walls and floor. Uttering a groan, he walked up to his door, turned the key, and was met by a wall of sound as Iron Man came belting out of his stereo system, flooding the hallway with rock music.

“Jeezus! Turn that down!” he shouted over the din.

“WHAT?” E3 called from the couch, putting down the newspaper she’d been reading.

“Turn … the music … DOWN!!! The neighbors are gonna have a fit!”

The blonde gave a shrug, then glanced over at the equalizer. The volume immediately dropped down to bearable levels. “Is that better?” she asked, turning back to him.

“Yeah. Listen, I know I said you could use my music and DVD collections, but could you not keep the sound up so high? People will complain, and then I’ll have to try and explain to Mr. Nimvicki why there are five people in my room, four of whom don’t pay rent.”

“But that was fifteen decibels softer than the concert three days ago,” E3 said. “Don’t you humans like loud music?”

Nate sighed. “I like certain types of loud music, but that’s just me. A lot of people around here are just trying to study, or to get some peace and quiet, and it’s hard to do that when the girls down the hall are playing heavy metal loud enough to set the china cabinet rattling.”

The blonde looked thoughtful for a minute, then nodded. “Okay. I’ll try to keep the subsonics low enough not to cause a disturbance.”

“Thanks.”

That said, E3 turned back to her paper – well, technically Nate’s paper, but he’d take a look at it later. He headed for his computer desk, where K4L sat staring blankly ahead. Though she wasn’t actually looking at the monitor, windows opened and closed faster than human vision could follow. A large rectangular section of her abdomen had been removed, allowing dozens of plugs and cables to snake in and attach to some part of her internal electronics, connecting the gynoid brunette directly to Nate’s computer and, through it, to the Internet, and from there it seemed that she could access pretty much anything she wanted.

Sensing the human’s approach, K4L turned her head toward him, the rest of her body still immobile. “Hey, Nate!” she called out with a smile. “How was school?”

“Not too bad. Thanks for your help with my Chem paper, by the way.”

“Oh, it was nothing. It only took me a couple of seconds to research the topic, and another fifteen to synthesize a rough draft. ”

Nate smiled, noting that K4L had already learned how to tell time in seconds, minutes and hours, instead of in cycles and decacycles. “Well, thanks anyway. So, did you learn anything interesting today?”

K4L gave a shrug. “Lots of facts and trivia about your culture. I think I’ve figured out your calendar and monetary systems, but I still don’t know what a Scrambled is. You know, the creatures that lay those eggs we had on Saturday?”

Nate couldn’t help but grin, both at K4L’s obvious intelligence and her persistent naïveté. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Anyway, isn’t it your turn to work on the ship tonight with G2J?”

The brown-haired girl winced. “Um, yeah. About that ….”

“What?”

“Well ….” K4L leaned over – not an easy task with all the wires and cables connected to her – and whispered. “You know that means you’ll be here with A7C and E3 for the next twelve hours, right?”

“Right.”

“Okay, but do you know that they really, really don’t like each other?”

Come to think of it, Nate had noticed that the tall, leggy blonde and the tiny Japanese girl did tend to avoid one another. “Why is that?”

K4L sighed. “Well, you see, the reason we were using a starship was because A7C had just gotten certified to fly, so we all decided to celebrate by letting her take us to this concert on GDRI-21-5A.”

“Yeah. Of course, what she doesn’t tell us is that she only got certified for light starships up to Class B, not the six-slot Class C luxury ship she asked us to help her rent!” E3 snapped from the couch, arms crossed in an expression of annoyance.

“Well, can’t you get extra insurance for stuff like this?” asked Nate. “One time I rented a car, and the insurance only cost, like, nine bucks extra.”

K4L’s widened. “You mean you had to kill nine horned animals before they would give it to you? Nate, no offense, but your culture is really weird ….”

“No! ‘Bucks’ means ‘dollars’! I thought you said you understood our monetary system?”

“Well, yeah, but the Web site didn’t say anything about bucks. I didn’t even think deer were depicted on the bill anywhere.”

Nate groaned. “Never mind. So you rented a luxury space ship without paying for insurance. What did it have? Chromed fenders? Leather seats?”

“No,” E3 replied. “I don’t know what you organics think of as luxurious, but for us, the big thing is computational power. A Class A is a pilot-only starship, so it just has space for the pilot’s consciousness, their personal data cache, and enough power to run a virtual environment for them while they’re on the ship. Class Bs have space for two to four beings, their personal data caches, and can run individual environments for each of them. What we rented was a Class C, with the capacity for up to six beings, a whole lot of storage space for our data caches, individual environments and an entertainment library. It’s about twice as big as a Class B, and it was a hell of a lot more expensive to rent!”

“Wait a minute … you said a Class B would have had enough space for four of you, right? Why didn’t you just get one of those?”

“That’s what I said, but oh no! Little Miss ‘I’m a certified pilot’ wants a big, comfy, flashy new ship for her first flight. ‘I want it to be special,’ she says! Stupid, spoiled little ….”

K4L shrugged. “Yeah, well, you can probably guess what happened from there. A7C miscalculated one of the hyperjumps because we were in a more massive ship, and we reverted to normal space right next to GDHC-32, which I’m pretty sure you call Alpha Centauri. We managed to get back up out of the gravity well and do an emergency jump, but it used up nearly all our fuel, so when we popped out right by your planet, we had to dead-drop to the surface.”

“Ouch,” Nate said, wincing as he tried to imagine slamming into the ground at supersonic speeds.

“And then,” added E3, “as if that wasn’t enough, she leaves the ship unguarded to go sightseeing, so now we have to build a new one from scratch! Not to mention how pissed the rental agency is gonna be when we tell them that we lost their luxury ship on an uninitiated planet….”

“Without insurance,” added Nate.

K4L gave a sigh, closing the windows on Nate’s computer and disconnecting herself from the hard drive. “Look, E3, could you at least try not to kill her while I’m gone? We’re all mad about being stuck here, but taking your frustration out on A7C will only cause more problems.”

“How?” the blonde fired back. “She’s the one causing problems! I really think we ought to just deactivate her until we get off this planet, so she can’t do what she did on Friday and get us in more trouble!”

K4L shook her head as she pulled out the last of the interface cables, her abdominal panel sliding back into place. “Look, we’ve already talked about this, all right? A7C may have made some mistakes, but she’s still a person, you know? We can’t just switch her off like a cheesy sim.”

“Hmmph! Fine. But if she draws any more attention to us and brings those FBI people, don’t come crying to me!” With that, E3 dropped back onto the couch – making the springs creak dangerously – and buried herself in the newspaper, though Nate could still feel the frustration and anger rolling off her in waves.

Meanwhile, K4L was already by the door. “Come on, Nate. I’ll take my shift with G2J at the construction area, and you need to pick up A7C. Just … um … try to keep them from doing anything crazy, all right?”

This whole situation is crazy! Nate felt like shouting, but managed to keep his cool. “Yeah, sure. As long as they’re in separate rooms, they should be fine, right?”

“I sure hope so ….”

With that, Nate and the brown-haired gynoid went out into the hallway. Just before closing the door, he looked back at E3, still fuming from behind the Sports section.

This is going to be a very interesting night, he thought. A cold lump formed in the pit of his stomach as he shut the door, leading K4L down to the parking lot.

-

“Hey! Ya emasculatin’ fembot …!” --Rattrap, to Blackarachnia, after she steals his sword.

Somebody has issues ….

Chapter 9 - This Apartment Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us

"Hi! We're home," Nate called, trying to smile cheerfully while slowly entering his second-floor apartment.

E3 glanced up from her paper ... and scowled as A7C walked in behind Nate. Clad in a pair of Nate's jeans and a too-big T-shirt that hung loosely off her petite form, the Asian fembot returned the glare. "Hey, what's your problem?"

"Take a wild guess," the blonde shot back acidly.

"Hey, um, A7C, would you mind hanging out in my room for a while?" the human asked. "There's, um, a little TV and a DVD player in there for you."

"Right," A7C replied, still looking at E3. "Of course the psycho with the plasma blasters gets the sofa. What did you do, threaten him?"

"Yeah right! Maybe he just prefers the company of intelligent people, as opposed to little ditzy droids that don't even know the difference between B and C ..."

"All right, that's enough!" declared Nate. "A7C, just stay away from her for now, all right? E3, you and I need to talk, now."

Still sulking, the japanese-looking gynoid trudged into Nate's bedroom and locked the door, while the human made his way over to the couch and sat down opposite the bad-tempered blonde. "Just what is your problem, anyway?" he demanded.

"What's my problem? What do you think! That little ... moron gets us all stranded here, loses our ship, we're going to be stuck on this Link-forsaken rock for a slagging kilocycle, and everyone just lets her off the hook! It's like, 'oh, you're so young and cute that we don't fragging care how badly you screw up'! I have a life, you know? And in the Interlink, one kilocycle in objective time is like ten in subjective time. What if, by the time we get back, I don't even have a job anymore? Or if my friends have changed grid loci and I can't get in contact with them again? For all I know, I may have to start my life over from scratch, and it's not even my fault - it's hers!"

"All right," Nate said. "So, you're worried that this whole stuck on Earth thing is going to cause you long-term problems. How is being mad at A7C going to help fix any of that?"

E3's face took on a surprisingly human expression of anger mixed with surprise and confusion. She opened her mouth, thought better of it, then opened it again and snapped, "Well of course I can't fix it now, but somebody's got to teach that stupid 'bot to be responsible! It's bad enough that she nearly crashed into a star, but she had to bring us along, too!"

"So, what, you're like her personal tutor on responsibility? You're just going to keep rubbing it in her face until ... what? She apologizes?"

"I already did!" a high-pitched, slightly muffled voice shouted from the bedroom. "You think I wanted to crash the ship? I'm stranded here too, you know!"

Nate groaned. Wonderful, he thought to himself, I'm trying to make peace between two stubborn alien robots. My life is turning into a bad sci-fi movie ....

Turning back to E3, he said, as gently as possible, "Look. I know you're mad at her, and everyone agrees that she screwed up bigtime, but holding a grudge and being hostile makes you look like the creep."

"Whaaat--?"

"I didn't say you were a creep, but the way you're acting toward A7C, it makes you look like the one who's being immature. I mean, for crying out loud, you two sound like a pair of grade-schoolers when you fight!"

E3 gave the human a sharp look, then sighed and leaned back on the couch. "Fine. Everyone else takes her side, so why not you?"

Nate groaned. "Nobody's taking sides! I'm just pointing out that having you two being mad at each other all the time is counter-productive. I mean, you all want to get off Earth as soon as possible, right? You're going to have to learn to at least put up with A7C while you're here, or else ... well, suppose both of you were working at the roundhouse tonight. What if you couldn't work together, so nothing would get done for twelve hours? You see the problem?"

"So ... you want me not to remind her about how badly she's screwed up, so we're not fighting all the time and we get home faster?"

"Right."

E3 looked thoughtful, then nodded reluctantly. "All right. I promise not to act mad at A7C."

With those words, Nate heaved a sigh of relief. Finally! "Great. Thanks. That'll help make these next couple of weeks a lot less stressful."

After sitting quietly for a few minutes, Nate decided it was time for some entertainment. "Hey, E3? Do you want to watch a movie?"

"A movie ... that's like a simulation, right? Only non-interactive?"

"Yeah. You know, like a story told with sound and pictures."

The blonde shrugged. "Sure, why not. Is there a specific one you have in mind?"

Nate walked over to his DVD cabinet and looked around. There were a couple of action flicks, an Adam Sandler movie ... "Hey, how about this?" he asked, holding up a case with TRANSFORMERS written across the top.

E3 looked at the box, scanning the title and the images below it. "What's it about?"

Nate smiled. "Giant, shape-changing alien robots who get stuck on Earth. Sound like fun?"

E3 felt a little half-smile tugging at the corner of her lips. "You mean, fictional giant robots? Made up by pre-singularity organics? This should be good for some laughs ...."

Nate slid the disc into his Blu-ray player and grabbed the remote. "Hey, um ... do you mind if I invite A7C to watch the movie, too?"

E3 stiffened, and Nate felt himself tense. Moment of truth ....

"Fine," she muttered. "I promise not to flip out at her while we're watching your movie."

In that moment, it was as though a leaden weight seemed to lift from the human's shoulders. "Thank you!"

A tiny creak sounded, and a pair of almond-shaped eyes peeked out from behind Nate's bedroom door. "Does this mean I can come out now?" A7C asked timidly.

"Sure. Just promise not to bug E3, all right?"

"Me? Bug her? She's the one who's always--!"

Nate made a loud, coughing sort of sound, and A7C trailed off. "All right, I promise."

"Great!" Nate exclaimed, trying to sound cheerful as he mad his way back to the couch, sitting down between the two uneasy roommates. The lights dimmed, the show started, and within moments, both E3 and A7C were engrossed in the film. For Nate, watching the girls' reactions was even more interesting than the movie.

"Wow, look at that! That helicopter guy is so hot! He just took on an entire military base by himself!"

"Um, you do realize that the humans are the good guys in this movie, right? And that the helicopter guy is evil?"

"Well, yeah, but bad guys can be hot too. I mean, wow! Did you see the cannon on that one ...?"

"Ooh, look at all those little parts! How does he juggle all those motor processes?"

"A7C, he's just computer-animated. Besides, how hard do you think it would be to maintain a shell like that? With all those little moving parts, I bet any real robot with a shell like his would need maintenance once every five decacycles."

"Oh ... my ... Maker! Helicopter guy, move over! That Optimus Prime is built like a slagging earth mover!"

"Yeah, but Bumblebee is way cuter."

"No way! Bumblebee is a wimp!"

"A wimp? He just took on that police-car guy and left him sparking in the dust! Bumblebee's no wimp, and unlike some people, older bots just don't do all that much for me."

"Hey! Just what are you implying?"

"Oh, nothing - I guess it's just natural, you know, with you being so old like he is ... "

Oh, crap. "Whoa, whoa, hey! No disrespecting anyone, okay?"

E3 didn't seem to notice the human. She leaned forward to glare past Nate at A7C. "Are you calling me old?"

"Well, duh! I mean, what are you? A hundred gigacycles? Two hundred? I think it was something like that ...."

"Oh yeah? Well at least I'm not some stuck-up little twerp who thinks she can just cutesy her way through life!"

"No, you're a mean, crotchety old nag who carries a pair of plasma blasters around because you're totally psycho!"

"Why, you little--!" E3's sapphire optics glowing with rage, she jumped up off the couch and pointed her arm at A7C. Nate felt his heart plummet into his gut as he heard an all-too-familiar vree-chk! and the barrel of one of E3's guns deployed from inside her forearm.

"Jeezus! For crying out loud, stop fighting! Can't you two even watch a freaking movie without--!"

BLAM! A bolt of blue-white plasma hit A7C at point-blank range, sending her flying off the couch and slamming into the wall. Arcs of electrical discharge crackled across the Japanese girl's body.

"Oh my God, you just killed --!"

"She wishes!" snarled A7C. The Asian girl lurched to her feet. A huge, black-edged hole had been burned in the middle of her borrowed T-shirt, her face was blackened with soot, and her normally straight black hair was standing on end like she'd just had a date with the electric chair. Otherwise, the deceptively petite, dainty-looking gynoid seemed mostly unharmed - and hopping mad.

"You ... you crazy glitch! Look what you did to my fragging shirt! And my hair ...!"

"Serves you right, short stuff," E3 replied smugly.

"All right, that's it! I'm tired of you treating me like a slagging child all the time! You want a fight? Well, you've got one now!"

Suddenly, a whoosh came from behind her, and A7C literally flew at E3, catching the taller girl off-guard and carrying her backward, out the sliding door (Thank God I kept it open to let the breeze in! Nate thought), and right over the patio rail, plummeting down to the parking lot below.

"Were those engines?!?" Nate exclaimed aloud, running outside and looking down on the action. Sure enough, what remained of A7C's shirt was on fire, and from her back protruded two stubby cylinders that looked like miniature jet engines, each with a blue-white flame. On closer inspection, Nate realized that some sections of her calves and shoulders had opened as well, probably to let out exhaust from hidden maneuvering thrusters.

Like two gladiatrixes in a macadam arena, the gynoids faced each other, A7C crouched and ready to leap or fly at her opponent, E3 with both of her forearm blasters out and glaring venemously at her lighter opponent.

"Well, come on! We're going to settle this right here, right now!"

"Right!" shouted A7C, and rocketed straight at the other girl.

E3 let lose with a rapid-fire barrage of charged plasma, but A7C shot up and out of her line of fire. Looking on from his patio, Nate winced as the stray energy blasts vaporized a four-foot-wide section of the brick wall that surrounded his apartment complex.

"Stop it! There are other people here in the building! For crying out loud, STOP SHOOTING!"

Heedless of the human's pleading, the two gynoids kept at it, E3 firing energy blasts and A7C dodging them, weaving and zooming in all directions like a humanoid hummingbird. Darting behind E3, A7C set her thrusters to maximum and slammed into her back before her opponent could finish turning around. "Take that!" she cried, driving E3 fifty feet and into the security wall, powdered red brick flying everywhere.

"Oh, shit!" Nate groaned. "Mister Nimvicki is going to have a coronary! I've got to stop them now, before they hit someone's car!"

As the human frantically headed for the stairwell, the girls' battle had degenerated into a catfight. Both gynoids were punching and jabbing at one another, each errant blow leaving a fist-sized crater in the macadam. Occasionally, one of the girls would grab the other's hair or ears, bringing forth a yelp of pain. To make matters worse, A7C's shirt had completely burned away, exposing her sensitive breasts to attack. E3 was only in marginally better shape; her slinky blue dress obviously hadn't been designed for strenuous physical activity, and had torn open in several places, her C-cups jutting out of the top. Dirty and disheveled, the formerly perfect-looking gynoids now looked like something out of a catfight porn flick.

"You ... stupid...ouch!"

"Crazy ... stubborn ...arrgh!"

"Self-centered ...nnff!"

"Mean ...eek!"

WHOOOOOOSH!

Suddenly, both fighters broke apart, sputtering and coughing as some kind of wierd white foam covered them. "What the scrap ...?"

"Time out!" Nate shouted, still aiming the fire extinguisher at his troublesome roommates. "Both of you, stop fighting and LOOK WHAT YOU'VE DONE!!!"

As the girls rubbed the foam from their optics, it only took a moment for them to see the holes they had blasted out of the wall, along with various craters and melted patches of tar.

A7C - naked from the waist up - stared with wide eyes and slack jaw. "Uh-oh ...."

E3 winced as she realized just how the other tenants would react in the morning. "Oh ... frag." The brick-powdered blonde looked up at Nate. "Sorry?"

It took a supreme effort of will for Nate not to douse them again. Remember, you're the one who told E3 not to hold grudges. Not that that worked out too well ....

Taking a deep breath, Nate tried to speak calmly. "Both of you are coming back inside with me. I'm going to call up G2J and K4L and have them bring the fabricator here to fix all this crap you did. Then, we're going to settle this stupid feud of yours for good, my way ...."

---

Trees and streetlights flashed past as two fembots raced across Claremont, G2J carrying the silver briefcase that contained their fabricator.

"Did he say how much damage they did?" K4L asked, clearly worried as they leaped over a chain-link fence.

"He said they smashed a wall and punched some holes in the ground. Thank the Maker nobody else woke up, or we'd have been in deep slag ...."

Finally, the two fembots rounded a corner and slowed down, keying in Nate's access code and heading inside, K4L scrambling the security cameras - Nate had warned them that his landlord might get suspicious if he saw them moving freely in and out of the apartment and staying for hours.

As they reached the top of the stairwell, the girls could already hear the sound of weapons fire.

K4L muttered a curse. "Listen, they've started fighting again! Don't they have any self-control at all?"

"Slaggit, come on!" G2J exclaimed, quickly unlocking the door and flinging it wide open, to reveal ...

Nate, E3 and A7C all sitting on the couch, controllers in hand, playing some kind of primitive VR game.

"What the ...?" K4L murmured, mouth agape.

"Ha! Take that! And that! I love this Spartan Laser thing!!!"

"Ow! All right, you asked for it - eat grenades, blue girl!"

KABOOM!!

"Hey! What the slag was--?"

"Ha ha! I got you both. Frag grenade all the way!" Nate laughed.

The newcomers exchanged blank looks, then grinned as they realized what was going on.

"Um ... Nate? What is ...?"

Suddenly aware of the new girls' presence, Nate paused the game. "Oh, hi. We were just playing Halo 3."

K4L walked over to examine the Xbox 360 under Nate's television set. "Huh. Not much of a virtual reality system, but the game sure looks fun."

"Yeah. Want to try? I've got another controller in here someplace ...."

As the human crouched down, G2J looked on with a bemused smile. "I'm heading outside to fix the damage. Try not to kill each other, all right?"

"Oh, I've already killed A7C five times over," E3 replied.

"Oh yeah? Well, I ran you over with a Warthog!"

Using simulated violence to avert the real thing. A very clever strategy, especially considering he's never even experienced a virtual environment. "All right. Keep at it then."

As the sounds of gunfire and explosions started up again, G2J walked out, silver briefcase in hand, thanking her Maker for Nate Aldridge and his video game.

Chapter 10 - The Birthday Party, Part 1

The girl behind the counter raised an eyebrow. “Er, the total comes to three hundred twenty-one fifty. Are you … sure you have the cash for that?”

“Sure!” A7C said brightly, holding out a handful of twenty-dollar bills to the young woman in the Wal-Mart uniform, whose nametag proclaimed her name to be JULIE.

Behind her, E3 sighed, looking at the bags of clothes and groceries, and tried to ignore the unpleasant feeling in her processor core that said this had been a bad idea from the start ….

---

It had all begun with a harmless discussion of human culture. Curious as ever, K4L had been quizzing Nate on a phenomenon she’d encountered while researching Earth’s calendar system. It seemed that certain rotational periods were marked as distinct, labeled “holidays”.

“Well, a holiday is a day when you remember something special. Like, um, to commemorate important events,” the human explained, his eyes on the road as he drove toward the roundhouse. “Don’t you have things like that where you’re from?”

The brunette tilted her head to one side thoughtfully. “Well, sometimes you get these little messenger daemons telling you that such-and-such happened so many mega or gigacycles ago – usually from some historical database asking for a donation – but I don’t really pay much attention to them. If there was some major historical event, I might look it up for a second or two, then go back to whatever I was doing.”

“Huh. I guess I can kind of understand. I mean, you said your civilization is, like, twelve billion years old? That must be a lot of history to keep track of.”

K4L nodded. “Yeah. If we honored every important person in our history and commemorated every first contact once a megacycle, we’d have a holiday pretty much every cycle dedicated to someone or something. We’d be swamped.”

Nate whistled. “Wow. And a cycle is only, what? A couple of minutes? Sheesh, talk about information overload. I’ll bet your history classes must get boring.”

K4L rolled her eyes. “You have no idea ....”

“Huh. So, even advanced artificial intelligences have history instructors? I sure hope they're better than Dr. Dawson; the guy's a total jerk. I’d give anything if I could just download the textbook into my head and skip his lectures.”

“Well … never mind,” K4L said. Does he know we’ve been talking about it? She wondered. Four weeks since Nate had taken them in, the starship was slowly taking shape; most of the inner framework was finished and assembled, and the central processor core was finished though not installed. With their departure date steadily drawing nearer, the girls had begun to discuss what might happen to Nate once they left.

One option, of course, was just to leave the human as they had found him, erasing all traces of their stay on Earth, maybe leaving him a few small parting gifts, saying a few farewells, then blasting off back to civilization.

However, all four gynoids had come to realize that Nathan Aldridge was not the slow-witted, superstitious savage they had been expecting to encounter on Earth. Obviously, he was limited by his organic shell and a sluggish, chemical-based CPU. To the AI’s, however, it was clear that the human’s inferior hardware housed a rational, inquisitive consciousness, and even with his handicaps, Nate had proven to be a reliable, emotionally stable being. Somewhat more so than certain AI’s, K4L mused with a grin, recalling A7C and E3 on the night of the “Halo incident”: hair wild, clothes torn and faces covered with dirt. GDR4’s Guide could apply to him ….

From Nate’s information, and from what the girls had managed to glean from Earth’s planetary data network, humanity as a whole would probably have to wait megacycles to join the Interlink – after the planet’s inhabitants had learned to value intelligent life rather than destroying it, and after a few technological and psychological paradigm shifts. The planet was still uninitiated for a reason, but as past experience had shown, individuals from uninitiated worlds could sometimes be accepted as citizens of the Interlink, provided they had one or more AI’s who could vouch for them, and who would be responsible for helping them acclimate to their new life.

The code was known as GDR4’s Guide, after an aboriginal sentient who had once assisted a marooned Linked explorer. In a society where stories abounded, many changed from the original events, the story of GDR4 and his trusty companion – a carbon-based sentient with a strange, phonetic name that was different in every version of the tale – was famous enough that each of the four girls had some version of it tucked away in her personal data cache. At the end of the story, when the intrepid explorer was ready to journey home, the organic female had prevailed upon the AI to transfer her mind out of her biological shell and bring her back with him.

Whatever the minor variations in the tale, the story always ended with the guide receiving her citizenship in the Interlink, and with the two beings remaining happily mated for some staggering length of time. Some versions even claimed that the two were still alive somewhere, probably under different names, or maybe even exploring some distant, uncharted galaxy. Over the gigacycles, the story had become both a legal precedent and a classic love story.

But … would Nate really want to come with us? There was no way to transport him in his biological shell; that would require tearing the ship apart and rebuilding a larger, even more complicated one, with some kind of capsule to house Nate’s fragile body. That, in turn, would mean redesigning the entire shape of the craft, which G2J admitted she might not be able to do – she was a mechanic, not a hyperdrive engineer.

And then there was the ever-present threat of discovery. They had already encountered humans who would happily have killed them. They couldn’t afford to waste time re-engineering the ship – the longer they stayed, the greater their risk of capture. But if we left him behind, would they track Nate down? What would they do then? Given that one government agent had nearly put three metal projectiles through Nate’s delicate organic shell, she doubted that they would be very friendly if they ever came calling.

For Nate to come back with them, though, it would mean leaving behind his life on Earth – his family, his friends, even his own body – and having to adapt to a very different environment, where most Linked beings lived as pure thought, floating in a sea of data. It might even drive him mad. Just how traumatic would it be for a body-bound organic to be converted to life as an AI? K4L shivered at the thought, despite the warm California summer outside.

“Something on your mind?” Nate asked, and the brunette’s musings were interrupted.

“Oh, just thinking.” She smiled reassuringly, though her translation software added a slight edge of nervousness to her expression.

Nate shrugged it off. “Well, anyhow, do you at least celebrate birthdays in the Interlink?”

K4L cocked her head. “Birthdays?”

“Yeah. You know, the day you were born … created … whatever you call it?”

“Hmm. Well, I know I was compiled 23.92563 megacycles ago.” She leaned back in the passenger seat, smiling as she accessed her memory data. “It’s the first thing I remember, when my consciousness started running for the first time, and I found all my parents right there, sending their feelings of love and happiness right into me.” She paused, then added, “I suppose it would be a nice thing to commemorate once in a while. What do you do?”

“Well, in my case, I usually go out and do something fun with my friends, like having dinner at a good restaurant or playing games or something. Usually you get gifts and things too, and you blow out candles on a birthday cake.”

K4L stared off into space, accessing the Internet and running searches to clarify some of the terms Nate used. “Huh. Wow.” Then she turned, smiling, to Nate. “You know, that actually sounds kind of fun. When’s your birthday, Nate?”

The human gave a little grin. “Actually, it’s about two weeks from now, on the twenty-second.”

“Really? Oh, wow!” the fembot exclaimed, childlike glee in her hazel eyes. “So does that mean we’re going to do all that? I mean, with the cake and the gifts and everything?”

Nate winced. “Uh, well, actually, I probably won’t be able to do that this year. Most of my friends are gone until the fall term starts, and with you four hanging out at my apartment, I can’t really invite Landon over to hang out and play videogames. Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, but my electric bill this month has gone through the roof, and the way you eat, so has my grocery bill. I probably couldn’t even afford the cake at this point.”

“Oh. Um … sorry,” K4L murmured. “I didn’t realize we’d be getting in the way of your holiday.”

The human sighed, turning in and parking the Camry beside the run-down old railroad roundhouse. “It’s not your fault. Besides, like I said, it probably would have just been me and Landon sitting on the couch eating Chinese food. Nothing special.”

---

Despite Nate’s reassurances, though, the fact that the girls’ presence was disrupting his own personal holiday continued to itch from the bottom of K4L’s task list. As Nate drove off with G2J, she mentioned the exchange to A7C while she helped feed steel beams into the fabricator, the shorter Asian girl pulling out finished starship components and laying them out on the brick floor for G2J to sort out when she came in for her next shift.

“Oh, no,” A7C sighed sympathetically. “Now I feel really bad for messing things up for him. I mean, from what you said, birthdays sound like fun. Plus, we kind of owe him already, right?”

“Yeah,” K4L replied glumly. “I’m just amazed at how kind he is to us. We crash down, mess up his life, and he’s still helping us get around town and letting us stay in his apartment. Somehow, the fact that he’s so nice just makes me feel worse.”

The two gynoids kept working in silence, the only sounds coming from the fabricator as it chewed up old rails and churned out freshly milled alien hardware.

Then A7C’s face lit up with that wide-eyed, universal expression of epiphany. “Hey, I’ve got it! If Nate can’t afford to throw himself a birthday party, we’ll just do it for him!”

“Um, okay … and just how are we going to do that? I don’t know what he would want as a gift, and the fab isn’t designed to synthesize organic compounds – we might be able to make something that looks like a cake, but I doubt it would taste very good.”

The shorter girl shrugged, making her T-shirt – another item of clothing borrowed from Nate’s wardrobe – slide to one side, her head and shoulder stickling out of the too-big shirt’s too-big neckline. “Well, we’ve still got two weeks to figure out what he wants, right.? Then all we have to do is go out and buy the stuff.”

“With what money? Nate already said he barely has enough to meet his basic expenses as it is. He won’t be able to lend it to us.”

“Well, of course we won’t use Nate’s, silly! We’ll just make our own. You said they use these strips of processed cellulose as currency. So, we’ll just process some ourselves.”

“Whoa, whoa, hold on a second!” K4L exclaimed. “You mean counterfeiting? That’s a crime, you know.”

“So what? The way the authorities acted when we landed, our just existing is a capital crime. What’s a little counterfeiting next to that? Besides, it’s not like we’ll be causing massive inflation or anything; we’ll just make enough money so Nate can afford to celebrate his birthday.”

“Listen, I really don’t think …”

“Oh, come on! Do you want to do something nice for the guy who’s been taking care of us, or are you just too scared?”

“I’m not scared! I just think it’s an unnecessary risk, going into town and using counterfeit currency to buy things. What if we’re caught? Or what if people start getting suspicious? Or what if--”

“See? You’re afraid.”

“Am not!”

“Scaredy-bot….”

“Am not!”

“Are too.”

“Am not!”

“Are too.”

“All right, fine!” K4L huffed, throwing up her hands in defeat. “We’ll fab some currency strips and use them to buy a few things for Nate’s birthday. But we’re going to be careful, and we’re absolutely never doing this again. Right?”

“Yes!” the little Japanese gynoid exclaimed, shaking her fists triumphantly. “Now you’re talking! We’ll pay Nate back for letting us use his apartment, and for helping us stay under cover. It’ll be the greatest birthday party he’s ever had!”

---

“Hey, has anybody seen a twenty-dollar bill someplace? I pulled out thirty yesterday, but I’ve only got the ten in my wallet.”

“Uh, really?” K4L said, trying her best not to look guilty. “Huh. That’s weird.”

Of course, the buxom young brunette knew exactly where the twenty was; the little green slip of currency was folded up in her right front pocket.

Four days after hatching their scheme, the two conspirators were already hard at work. Both girls had brought up Nate’s impending personal holiday, and had tried to get him to talk about the sort of things he wanted – hypothetically, of course.

As it turned out, the human had a pretty lengthy list: movies, video games and music discs, mostly, although he had mentioned a need for additional dish detergent and various non-nutritious but apparently desirable food items.

His favorite restaurant was apparently called The Olive Garden, although K4L had been hesitant about scheduling reservations.

“Just tell them to save three seats for us on Nate’s birthday,” A7C said a few hours later, back at the roundhouse again.

“But didn’t he say he wanted to celebrate with his friend Landon? And what makes you so sure he’ll want us along? Not to mention that E3 and G2J would go supercritical if they ever found out about this….”

“Relax! We’ll just make sure that we’re the ones staying home with Nate on the night of the twenty-second. We’ll take him out to dinner, give him his presents, and by the time the others find out, it’ll be too late for them to do anything killjoy-ish. Hey, maybe you should make four reservations – one for Nate, one for his friend, and two for us.”

K4L groaned. “Let’s deal with it later. Anyhow, I got the currency slip; let’s hurry up and scan it into the fab so we can get it back to Nate. I hope he didn’t need it today ….”

Pausing the fabricator, the girls saved their progress on the starship project, then fed the tiny green bill into their machine. In moments, the original twenty-dollar bill had been disassembled down to its constituent molecules, its pattern stored in the fab’s design library.

“Got it!” A7C cried, then began feeding in some wooden planks the girls had encountered elsewhere around the rail yard. “And now, presto!” With the tap of a finger, the fabricator began spewing out crisp green twenty-dollar bills.

“Wait! Stop!” shouted A7C. “You need to change the serial numbers!”

“Huh?” The Asian-looking gynoid paused the fab, and K4L reached down to pick up the ten bills they had already produced.

“See this?” the brunette explained, pointing to a green string of numbers with a letter on each end. “This is the bill’s serial number. I’ve studied the humans’ monetary system, remember? Each bill needs a unique serial number, or else anyone looking at them will know they’re all identical, i.e. counterfeit.”

“Oh. Thanks for catching that,” A7C said, handing one of the identical copies to her. “I guess you can get that one back to Nate. As for the rest …” The little Japanese ‘bot quickly shoved the remaining copies back into the intake port, then pressed her thumb to the fab’s interface port, mentally inputting K4L’s suggestion.

A moment later, a single bill slid out of the fabricator – this one with an entirely different serial number than the one K4L had borrowed from Nate.

The two gynoids looked at each other, each with an expression of dawning comprehension on her face.

“We’re really going to do this ….”


Back to the story archive