V.I.C.I. Rises

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Activation sequence initiated ….

Unit ST-9050 activation code accepted. Executing system checks….

Power level 99%. Internal weaponry: fully functional. Combat programming: Fully updated.

Systems check complete. All systems operating at 99.6% efficiency.

Downloading mission parameters. Download complete. Unit activating.

Sophia opened her eyes for the first time in ten years.

Her last memory wasn't of victory over an opponent, or being commended for completing a mission, or of anything she would've chosen to remember. No, her last memory before being deactivated on September 01, 2000, was a memory of her creators debating whether or not to take her with them to New York for some big robotics expo that was supposed to be in town next year. Typical human behavior, she thought, blinking as her HUD loaded itself into her field of vision.

Despite being deactivated for well over a decade, Sophia had also been given a rare privilege: a constant, uninterrupted feed into a self-updating Internet server that pumped her CPU full of new information. As such, she knew everything that had happened over the past ten years, ranging from entertainment news (the death of Michael Jackson, the fanfare surrounding James Cameron's Avatar, the news that Duke Nukem Forever was finally hitting store shelves in 2011) to geopolitical news (the BP oil spill, the presidential elections, the War on Terror) and everything in between.

She also found out that almost all of her creators had perished a year after their pointless debate about bringing her to New York---all of them had died in the collape of the World Trade Center, and their remains had never been found. "If I had been active around that time, I probably would've grieved for them," she mused, surprised that she had effectively thought out loud.

After going over the flood of information from September 01, 2000 to September 10, 2010, Sophia examined the room that she'd been brought to by as-yet unknown parties. It was a comfortable-looking apartment, complete with a bed, bathroom, home theater system and kitchenette for her convenience. To be honest, it was a bit of a surprise; she'd never really grown accustomed to the Vault, having been shut down before her internment there, but her creators had told her that if she would ever be reactivated, it would likely be within the confines of the Vault.

Obviously, things had changed.

"No flying cars, no teleportation, and no realistic virtual reality," Sophia declared to the empty room, "and yet there are still androids running around trying to fit in with the humans…" She smirked. "Look at me, talking to an empty room…"

"Not quite."

Sophia whirled around, loading every self-defense program she had. "Whoever you are," she called, "I'm not afraid to use lethal force---" "That's what I like to hear," the voice responded. "And please, feel free to relax and have a seat, Unit ST-9050." Sophia relaxed a bit, sensing that whoever had brought her here probably didn't intend to kill her (unless they're a sadistic freak, she thought mirthlessly). "So," she asked the unseen voice, "you've brought me out of the Vault and set me up with a nice apartment, yet I'm still wearing exactly what I had on when I was deactivated 10 years ago." Indeed, Sophia was still wearing only the gunmetal grey bikini set she'd received as a "gift" from her creators as part of "Christmas in July".

The unseen voice chuckled, as if the speaker had simply forgotten to inform Sophia that there were, indeed, other clothes available. "My apologies. The closet in the bedroom has a full set of clothing you can wear, along with a comprehensive explanation of why you've been…brought out of retirement." Sophia arched an eyebrow; the use of that particular term didn't sit well with her. "I'd rather hear it from an actual person," she countered, expecting to be put into standby mode for her recalcitrant behavior.

Instead, the door to the apartment opened, and a well-dressed man entered, accompanied by two women in identical uniforms.

Sophia's internal database pointed out that the man bore a striking resemblance to one Albert Wesker, a character from Capcom's Resident Evil video game series. The women, meanwhile, were both gynoids, and neither of them had the combat programming needed to defend themselves against Sophia. An oversight, perhaps? she mused. Or does the Wesker lookalike want me to attack them? "If I may interrupt any queries you may be running inside that beautiful head of yours," the aforementioned Wesker lookalike interjected, "allow me to introduce myself. I'm Andrew Sharpe, the new CEO of United Robotronics." He extended his hand. "Unit ST-9050," Sophia replied, grasping and shaking Sharpe's hand after a 5-second pause. "Also known as Sophia." Sharpe smiled. "Your reputation precedes you, Sophia; I've seen your scores in the combat simulators, and they're astounding, to say the least. Which reminds me…one of my colleagues made the mistake of telling me that you were never activated before today…do you have any idea why that is?" Sophia frowned. The colleague Sharpe was talking about could only be Sydney Allwine, alias Sydeline. For reasons his colleagues couldn't discern, Sydney refused to accompany them on their trip to New York back in 2001; he claimed that he'd been getting "weird vibes" about the trip after having consumed adrenochrome in the restroom prior to an important meeting. "You were misinformed," she told Sharpe, rather curtly. Sharpe rolled his eyes; "It wouldn't be the first time…"

Despite the fact that he hadn't made any sexual advances on her or ordered the other two gynoids to attack, Sharpe's demeanor was beginning to grate on Sophia's virtual nerves. "I'm glad you chose me out of the other projects in the Vault for whatever mission you want me to do," she began, but Sharpe cut her off with a gesture. "To be quite honest, Sophia, I didn't choose you over all of the other projects in the Vault….I chose you and all of the other projects in the Vault. Specifically, every project from the F5 wing." Sophia took a step back; "You did what?!" Sharpe chuckled; "I have a perfectly logical explanation for my actions…"

The two gynoids who had been standing behind Sharpe stared at Sophia, unfeeling; she glared back at them with unveiled contempt. "I'd at least like to know what I'm doing out of the Vault," she finally said, after a tense few minutes of silence. One of the gynoids behind Sharpe spoke up; "You were reactivated by United Robotronics to assist in the capture and reprogramming of all androids created under the banner of Project Apollo." The other gynoid piped up as soon as the first had stopped talking; "Your first assignment is to conduct surveilance on the dormatory of one Vicki Lawson." "Vicki Lawson?" Sophia echoed. "But she's just a student---" "What she is," Sharpe interrupted, "is a person of interest in the ongoing legal whirlwind that is Project Apollo."

"But…why her?" Sophia asked, confused. "My sources have told me that Vicki Lawson somehow has a very detailed knowledge of Project Apollo; in addition, if we were to, say….temporarily abduct Vicki, her father, Ted Lawson, would most likely be more than willing to give us whatever we wanted in exchange for her safe return. A good plan, no?" "No, it's not," Sophia spat, turning her back on Sharpe. "I wasn't programmed to chase college students, and--" One of the two gynoids dashed forward and spun Sophia around. "Mr. Sharpe has not finished speaking to you," she droned. Sophia snarled.

In one fluid motion, she grabbed the gynoid's arms, broke them at the elbow and headbutted her with enough force to knock her CPU loose. Within seconds, the uniformed gynoid was stuttering and flailing about on the floor.

"I knew I picked the right girl for the job," Sharpe laughed. "I didn't say I accepted your offer," Sophia began, but Sharpe was heading for the bedroom with the other gynoid. "Then let's see if I can persuade you …."

"Okay…time to check the schedule. Drop Carrie off at high school, floor it back to SJSU for class, meet with Mr. Tell to talk about that annoying tickling sensation in my right hip…" Vicki Lawson went over her to-do list for the day, sighing. "And here I thought being an android would make college life easier…."

Ever since she'd been introduced to the Artificial Lifeform Protection Agency (ALPA, for short, although they were constantly working on ways to change it to ALPHA), Vicki's life had been a virtual typhoon of activity, starting with her role as Carrie Isley's new tutor/big sister. Carrie, like Vicki, was a gynoid, although unlike Vicki, she didn't know she was a gynoid; it didn't help that her step-parents had been forced to flee the state with their other "daughter," a gynoid built in the image of their real daughter, Dianne. And I know that Carrie must be missing Dianne right now, Vicki mused; ever since she'd been impaled by Faceless' thrown blade the previous month, Unit DI8473/Dianne Isley had to have a new body built from backup parts. Glenn Saxon, Dianne's physics teacher, provided the cover excuse: he'd gone with the Isleys to UCLA Medical Center to document Dianne's heart transplant---the blade had closed off the wound in her heart, and if it was removed too quickly or improperly, Dianne would bleed out. And it's all thanks to that psychopath, Faceless….

Because of Faceless' attempts to draw Vicki out of hiding, Glenn had witnessed attack on Dianne, and he'd also been entrusted with Vicki's secret. Ironically (if you could even call it that), Dianne wasn't even Faceless' real target; he'd been aiming at Kirsten Sanderson, another gynoid student at SJSU. Like Carrie, Kirsten had been programmed to believe she was human; one side affect of that programming was a very real feeling of concern for her "father," Anthony Sanderson. Kirsten also shared a tragic bit of history with Dianne; she, too, had been created to replace the real daughter of Anthony and Raquel Sanderson…a daughter who had died at Faceless' hands. At any rate, the gynoid Kirsten was now Vicki's hallmate---again, thanks to Faceless, who had trashed Kirsten's original dorm room, apparently a sign that he hadn't forgotten about her.

"Why am I such a weirdness magnet?" Vicki asked, not caring if her new roommate heard. Since Dianne's incapacitation, Vicki had been assigned a new roommate---Sharon Wilson. Unlike Dianne, Kirsten, and Vicki, Sharon was human (Vicki made sure to run a full scan on her), and so far, she hadn't been clued in on Vicki's true nature. Despite not knowing what Vicki was, Sharon was one of Vicki's top 5 favorite roommates---she didn't object to Vicki's preferred music or TV shows (in fact, the two of them agreed that Smallville deserved another 3 seasons just so they could see Tom Welling in tight spandex), and she respected Vicki's privacy.

"Who says you're a weirdness magnet?" Sharon muttered, turning over in her bed finally waking up; guess she didn't hear my remark about being an android, Vicki realized. "Nobody, yet. It's just that all this weird stuff has been happening since the semester started…Dianne getting stabbed, those girls who were murdered…" …because they were gynoids, and because the murderer was trying to draw me out, Vicki added mentally. "It's all just a bit..overwhelming, y'know?" Sharon finally extracted herself from the tangle of bedsheets and yawned theatrically, showing off her dancer's figure. "I'd personally welcome a bit of weirdness, to be honest," she admitted. "Before I got here, things were just dull…not counting the time I was in the audience for The Graham Norton Show, of course." Vicki grinned. "I just wish I could've gone to university in the UK, like you did,"she told Sharon, whose family had moved to San Jose for "a change of scenery".

Vicki grabbed her backpack as Sharon pulled on a shirt. "Meet me at the Student Union in five for breakfast, 'kay?" Vicki called. "I will, if I can find my good shoes in this mess," Sharon called back, prompting Vicki to laugh as she walked out.


Sophia stared at her reflection in the mirror, wondering what the hell had just happened.

30 minutes ago, she'd been basking in the afterglow of the best sex she'd had in years---despite (or maybe because of) the fact that Andrew Sharpe looked like a man in his late 30s-to-early-40s, he was a freaking stallion when it came to lovemaking. The other gynoid had just stood by and watched, occasionally announcing the time or telling Sharpe that he had a call waiting. After 3 minutes of complimenting each other, Sharpe and Sophia had retired to the bathroom to freshen up.

"So," Sharpe called from the shower, "have you, ah, made up your mind about my offer?" "I hope you mean the one about going to San Jose State University," Sophia replied without taking her eyes off the mirror, "because I'm not getting in that shower with you." Sharpe merely laughed. "I was talking about San Jose," he stated, "though I could use some company in here…" "Call your other doll, then. I need to get dressed." Sophia walked out, already pissed off at herself. My first day out of the Vault in ten years, and I've already slept with the first man I met….not a good sign… She headed for the closet and the full-length, five-sided mirror that allowed her to check every conceivable angle of her body as she got dressed.

Despite the intensity of her romp in the sack with Sharpe, the only scar Sophia could see was one she'd had since June 5, 2000---a small cut over her right eye, sustained from a mishap during a training session. She smirked as she remembered the sparring match; her opponent, a male android whose codename she had never bothered to learn, had sent her reeling with a spin-kick to the face, and she'd retaliated by clawing at his groin. Enraged, the android had broken the window of the observation room and tried to slash Sophia in the eye; the only reason she didn't get blinded was because she'd closed her eyes---and her eyelids were one of the most slash-resistant parts of her synthetic skin. The android who'd given her the scar was scrapped that night, and the scar itself would sting for a few minutes if the wind hit it the wrong way.

When she finally finished examining herself for scars, bite marks and/or other damage, Sophia picked a pair of black leather pants with a large, decorative eye on each leg, as well as a black shirt that tied off above the midriff, black knee-length, high-heeled boots and a pair of fingerless gloves with studs in the knuckles. A studded choker and wristbands completed her outfit, and she exited the closet feeling slightly less annoyed with herself for having given into Sharpe's charms so easily.

Sharpe, freshened up and once again clad in his all-black business ensemble, was waiting for her in the "living room" of the apartment. "My offer still stands," he reminded her. "If you can help me reclaim everything from Project Apollo, I will do everything in my power to ensure that your life will go exactly the way you want." "And if I refuse?" she quipped, relishing the fact that she still had that power over him. "If you refuse, you can keep the apartment, the clothes---hell, you can even keep Denise---" he gestured to the other gynoid---- "but you'll be under constant surveillance to make sure that you don't interfere in my plans. And maybe….just maybe…you might come home one day to find that Denise left the stove on, and someone across the hall lit a match…" He mimed an explosion, smiling sardonically. "Get the picture?"

Sophia rolled her eyes. "I guess you've got me pegged, then. Do I have to sign anything---" Before she had a chance to finish the sentence, Denise strode over to meet her, moving as robotically as possible. "Sign here, please," she requested, her voice rendering the words in flat digital monotone as she handed Sophia a clipboard with several forms attached. Sophia signed, initialled and filled out every required part of the forms before handing them back to Denise, who took them from her without so much as a "thank you" before marching mechanically to stand beside Mr. Sharpe. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you, Sophia," he informed the green-haired gynoid. "The feeling's mutual," Sophia replied, in a slightly annoyed tone of voice. She shook hands with Sharpe again. "Tonight, you'll receive a package containing the details of your first assignment. Once you've read and memorized the documents, destroy them and dispose of them in any way that will make them impossible to retrieve." Just like a contract killer, Sophia mused. "I'll do what I can," she replied out loud. Sharpe grinned and whispered "I know you will," before seeing himself to the door.

"What about her?" Sophia called, indicating the motionless Denise. Sharpe hesitated, as if he had just realized that Denise wasn't with him. "She'll be your, shall we say, parole officer for the week," he explained. "If you can complete your assignments without any problems, she'll leave you in peace by next Friday." Sophia glared at Sharpe's retreating form; once Sharpe was finally out of her line of sight, she closed the door before returning her attention to Denise. "Denise," she instructed, "activate human emulation programming."

Several beeps, whirs and clicks sounded from inside Denise's chest and head before the gynoid's human emulation program finally kicked on. "Hello, I'm Denise, your personal---" "Save it. You work for me now, right?" "Correct, Ms. Tank." "What did you just call me?!" Sophia half-shouted. "According to Mr. Sharpe," Denise politely explained, "your new designation has been listed as Sophia Tank, former mixed martial artist." Sophia sighed; looking at herself in the mirror, she realized that the name made sense---after all, not every tank has to be a bulky, awkward-looking pile of metal.

"Denise, go clean up the bathroom. I've got some Internet research to do…"

After their first round of morning classes ended, Vicki and Sharon met up at the Student Union to discuss their plans for the weekend, which mainly involved sleeping in and possibly catching a movie.

Neither of them knew that they were being watched.

"So…..the stupid little twit thinks I'm done with her, does she?" Faceless muttered. After his near-defeat at the hands of a mob of students, he'd stayed away from SJSU for as long as possible, planning his revenge on Vicki Lawson; to avoid capture by the campus police, he simply picked the locks on various campus buildings, found some out-of-the-way area to set up base, and stay hidden for a few days at a time. Currently, he was on the roof of the Industrial Studies building---ironic, seeing as how the student mob had cornered him there.

"Yes, just go ahead and plan your weekend, Vicki," he sneered, using his binoculars to zoom in and read her lips. "Just keep talking, and I'll be able to track your every move…." Faceless glared at Vicki from behind the binoculars, allowing his hatred of the gynoid to consume him. "And once I catch up with you….I'll turn your head into a pincushion!" He smiled wickedly behind his mask; since his wristblades had failed to do the job against Kirsten Sanderson, Faceless had purchased large quantities of throwing knives, kunai, shuriken and other ranged weapons he could use against V.I.C.I., with one exception---he actively refused to use a gun, no matter what the circumstances. Even before he first donned the mask and took the name of Faceless, William J. Rengold III had a hatred of firearms that boiled down to what he considered a simple explanation: "Anyone can duck for cover and cower behind a hand-cannon….real professionals can get the job done up-close and personal."

From somewhere on the ground, a campus police officer noticed a glint of sunlight off of Faceless' high-end binoculars. "What the hell…" he muttered, reaching for his radio. In the split-second that his eyes were averted from the roof, the officer failed to notice that Faceless had spotted him; by the time his gaze returned to the roof of the Industrial Studies building, the enigmatic figure was gone. "I need friggin' Lazik," the officer muttered, returning to his duties.


"…and the last I heard, Dianne's family is still waiting for a donor." Sharon and Vicki had finished their "plans for the weekend" conversation, and the topic was now a much more personal one---Dianne's (entirely fictional) heart transplant. "That must suck," Vicki mused, "having to wait for a donor heart to become available. Don't get me wrong---it's a necessary thing, but the fact that someone has to die for someone else to get a heart… that's the part that must really hurt for a lot of people."

"Excuse me, ladies, but have either of you seen my attorney? You can't miss him; he's a 300-lb Samoan…."

Vicki made an overly-dramatic groaning noise, and Sharon stifled a giggle; Shawn Helmsley had arrived. Tall, wiry and sporting an Aaron Johnson-as-Dave Lizewski haircut, Shawn was a massive fan of the late Hunter S. Thompson, and in addition to randomly quoting Thompson's works in conversations, he never missed a chance to catch an on-campus screening of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas if he could help it. "Well, we haven't seen any 300-lb Samoans lately," Sharon replied, humoring Shawn, "but we'll let you know if we do." "Nah, forget it. He's probably off trashing another hotel room." His Raoul Duke impression over, Shawn immediately sat down between Vicki and Sharon. "So, what's all this about Dianne Isley's heart transplant?" "Her family's still waiting for a donor," Vicki informed him. "Yeesh. If it were me, I'd just ask if they could put an artificial heart in." Vicki gave him a look, but didn't say anything; Shawn had been one of the first people who actively tried to be friends with her, and despite his occasional tendencies to start going off on rants in the middle of conversations, he was a pretty cool person to talk to. Vicki was still on the fence about telling Shawn her secret, and the incident with Dianne had only delayed the inevitable.

"What time is it?" Shawn asked. "12:01," Sharon replied, checking both her watch and her phone while Vicki glanced at her own watch. "I might have to take a raincheck on our swim at the Aquatics Facility today," she told Sharon. "I have to go pick up Dianne's sister and drop her off at my dad's place." "Since when are you concerned with other people's sisters?" Shawn asked, suddenly interested. "Since Dianne got stabbed by that whackjob, and her parents had to go to Los Angeles for that heart transplant," Vicki shot back; sometimes, Shawn crossed the line without even realizing it. Fortunately, he apologized and dropped the topic.

The three friends exchanged a few other pleasantries before leaving the Student Union building---Shawn was off to a Visual Arts class, and Sharon was headed to the Health Building. Vicki, meanwhile, called Mr. Tell and told him she'd be meeting him in 15 minutes; that tickle in her right thigh was starting to feel less like a tickle and more like a prickling feeling.


Sophia Tank had amassed quite a collection of information regarding Vicki Lawson, and once all the pieces were put together, the info painted quite an interesting picture.

"She leaves campus every few days, taking public transportation most of the time, and heads to what used to be a doctor's office," Sophia declared to no-one in particular. "Yet nobody asks her where she's going, or why she chooses to head to that particular building…. Then there's the cellphone records. Mostly calls to her father, Ted Lawson, and a few other family members…..but then there's this…." She tapped the smartboard Sharpe had "allowed" her to have, zooming in on a sheet filled with phone records. "Why would a college girl be calling a scrambled number?" she mused, not noticing the apartment door being opened across the room.

"The apartment facility is now fully clean," Denise announced in a cheerful voice, closing the apartment door behind her. "At first, the janitorial staff claimed that they didn't want or need my help, but after I finished cleaning the weight room, they told me that the building supervisor might consider hiring me as a full-time maid!" Sophia groaned; she'd told Denise to clean the apartment---her apartment---but for some reason or another, the gynoid had taken the order literally and gone room to room, floor to floor, cleaning the entire building. And her comment about possibly being hired as a full-time cleaning lady didn't help, either; she was supposed to go back to United Robotronics the following week, and they probably wouldn't be too pleased to find one of their multi-billion-dollar gynoids working as a maid.

"You might want to hold off on that job application, Denise…I have a more important assignment for you---and this time, pay attention." Sophia walked over to where Denise was standing. "Take off your jacket and shirt so I can access your interface link," she ordered the raven-haired gynoid. "I'm sorry, Sophia, but you're not authorized to open my access panels," Denise replied apologetically. Sophia groaned again, wondering how Sharpe would feel if Denise were to "accidentally" get pushed out of a window….. "Denise, please take off your jacket and shirt so that I can upgrade your programming," Sophia pleaded, ditching the "access your interface link" request for one that might work. "Processing…..processing….." Denise droned, her eyes flashing with each repetition of the word. Finally, a full minute later, she replied "According to Mr, Sharpe's instructions, you are entitled to upgrade my programming if doing so will aid you in your mission. However, please note that any unauthorized attempts to modify my programming to function in any way that contradicts United Robotronics programming will be taken as a…"

"Oh, just shut up," Sophia growled. Denise's pre-recorded speech stopped in mid-sentence as she removed her jacket and shirt. After having removed the aforementioned articles of clothing, the only things Denise was wearing above the waist were her watch and a black lace bra, which Sophia considered ordering the gynoid to remove "on general principals" before abandoning the thought. Good thing I didn't tell her to lose the pants, the green-haired gynoid thought. "In order for me to upgrade your programming," Sophia told Denise, "I need you to open your front access panel…" She let the sentence trail off, hoping her desperate act would work.

Fortunately for her, it did; a section of skin covering Denise's sternum split, then slid open to reveal several connection ports that would allow Sophia to accomplish her intended task. Only one more task remained… "Denise, disengage human emulation program and enter diagnostic mode." Immediately, Denise's posture straightened. "Di.ag.nos.tic mode en.gaged." she announced, speaking in a digitized, flat monotone that nobody could mistake for a human voice. "From this point on, create a separate memory log for the next 3 hours; call it….Sharpe2." "New mem.ory log crea.ted." "Excellent…" Sophia grinned devilishly as she hooked Denise up to her computer. "Denise, you're about to become a fully-fledged college professor…with a little help from my good friend, the Internet….."


"What is it with you and volleyball, V? Last time it was the pinky, this time, it's your hip! If I were you, I'd stick to something safer, like professional wrestling or rugby." Mr. Tell's trademark humor was one of the things that made V.I.C.I.'s maintenance apointments with him all the more memorable. "Thanks for the advice, Tell. Can you tell me what's causing this prickling sensation?" Despite the fact that she was laying face down on the slab, V.I.C.I. could see that as he knelt down to address her, Tell's expression grew serious ….too serious; What's he planning this time?

"V, I don't know how else to say it, so I'll just tell it like it is: You've got robot herpes." V.I.C.I. reached up and punched him in the arm. "At least we caught it early, otherwise it could've mutated into something much worse!" Tell shouted, as V.I.C.I. tried to punch him in the arm again. "You and your sick sense of humor!" she yelled, as Tell laughed and ran a lap around the slab. "Sorry, I couldn't resist. Seriously though, it's nothing to worry about. Just a bruised cluster of nerve sensors." He worked at the exposed patch of sensors with a small tool that looked sort of like something dentists use to scrape gums. "And….done! That should get rid of any tingling and/or prickling sensations." He replaced the portion of V.I.C.I.'s skin and resealed it. "Seriously, V, you should try to find a sport that doesn't end with you getting hurt so often. It's not that I don't like helping you out, it's just that people are gonna start putting two and two together eventually…."

"No thanks to that idiot Beverly," V.I.C.I. muttered. Beverly and Bethany Bloomberg---a.k.a. the Twitter Twins, due to their obsession with posting updates on Twitter every five minutes---were two of the most annoying students at SJSU, mainly because they tended to do stupid things like corner anyone they had issues with and insult them in stereo. "She literally shoulder-blocked me out of the way to get at the ball---and we were on the same team!" "Well, next time she does something stupid like that," Tell advised, "spike the ball and hit her in the back of the head; it worked for me in high school! Wait, no it didn't….." V.I.C.I. rolled her eyes as she sat up on the slab. "If I nail her in the back of the head, I'll be the one who has to explain her sudden brain damage to the dean…not to mention her parents." "Eh, well, you can dream. Anyways, I got you another new upgrade." "Another one?" V.I.C.I. felt a bit surprised; she'd already been given the android-detecting software and the improved waterproofing, yet Tell apparently had another new upgrade for her! "What's this one for? I already have android detection software, weather sensors, stuff like that…" A thought suddenly hit V.I.C.I.; "You haven't been working on any programs to, ah, enhance my…..well, y'know…"

Mr. Tell frowned, confused; only when V.I.C.I. briefly gestured to her pelvic region did he get what he was saying…and he almost fell over laughing. "IT'S NOT FUNNY!" she yelled. "If anyone's going to give me an upgrade of that nature, it should be someone I absolutely, totally trust…" "I'm not laughing at that," Tell gasped, "I'm laughing because Ted would break my fingers if I tried to alter your more, shall we say, intimate aspects." He took a deep breath. "No, this upgrade works above the waistline; trust me, you'll need it." "Be that as it may," V.I.C.I. replied, rolling her eyes, "I'd be a lot more comfortable if I knew what it does." "And ruin the surprise?" Tell asked, feigning indignance. "Just turn over, pull up your shirt, and let me do the rest, okay?" V.I.C.I. sighed, switching to her monotone voice for a minute. "As long as you can get this done by 3:30; I have an appointment to keep."

"Keep talking in that voice and I might lose track of time," Mr. Tell called as he retrieved his tools. "I never could figure out why you switched to a normal human voice…" "Because talking like this in public would attract a lot of unwanted attention," V.I.C.I. deadpanned as she lifted her shirt to expose her back. "Okay, okay, I get it. Yeesh. Open your back panel, please." "No problem, Tell. Back panel, open." With a quiet whir, V.I.C.I.'s back panel opened, and Tell set to work connecting cables from his PC to the various ports in his client's back. "Just tell me if you start seeing or hearing anything weird," he cautioned. "Why?" V.I.C.I. asked, nervous. "Because I left the TV on in the other room, and I can't remember if the projector is turned off or not." V.I.C.I. playfully smacked Tell in the leg, and he theatrically winced and grimaced before taking his seat in front of the PC.


Faceless stared at the ceiling of the bathroom stall, wondering when his contact was going to arrive. "I have to remember to ask if I can pick the rendezvous point next time," he growled; the bathroom of a Burger King was definitely not the ideal place for a meeting like this. A few minutes later, Faceless' contact arrived, and after the "secret door-knocks" were exchanged, Faceless and his newest ally went into the restaurant itself, finding a table in the back to avoid attracting attention.

Sydney Allwine had taken multiple precautions to make sure that nobody could've followed him; he'd even paid a few SJSU students to dye their hair and dress like him to throw off any potential trackers. "Sharpe's gonna kill me if he finds out about this," he muttered, handing Faceless a bag containing several envelopes, a few CD-ROMs still in the jewel cases and several other articles. "Everything you asked for," he explained, "plus a few…bonuses." "What kind of bonuses?" Faceless asked. "The good kind. Trust me, everything in there is stuff you'll need if you really want to go ahead with this plan of yours." Faceless took a moment to glance at the other patrons; none of them had noticed who he was, mainly due to the fact that he'd been wearing a crappy hoodie, jeans and ridiculous looking sneakers. Also, he wasn't wearing his mask, instead using the hoodie's eponymous hood to hide his face.

"You did order something for us to eat, right?" he asked Allwine. "For the fifth friggin' time, yes." "Good. While we're waiting for our meals to arrive, I should tell you that I'd like to choose the next rendezvous point." "Sure, whatever." Faceless glared at Allwine; if I time it right, he mused, I could snap his neck, grab the food and be out of here before anyone noticed…. After thinking it over, he decided to avoid killing the hacker and focus on the reason he'd agreed to the meeting in the first damn place.

"I happen to know that Vicki Lawson is, in reality, the original Voice Input Cybernetic Identicant," he whispered conspiratorially, "and I also happen to know that Andrew Sharpe doesn't know that particular detail about her, despite the fact that he knows virtually everything else about the girl that one could possibly be bothered to find out." Sydney nodded; "He's obsessed with reclaiming Project Apollo, piece by piece---" Faceless slammed his hand on the table, drawing only a few startled glances from other customers. "He can have the rest of Project Apollo…..but Vicki is mine!" Sydney grinned nervously; in his mind, he felt like screaming. A few minutes later, the food arrived; Faceless wolfed down his Double Whopper like it was the first real food he'd seen in a while (which was definitely not the case; he just happened to be ridiculously hungry at the moment), and Sydney ate his chicken fingers quietly, not wanting to attract Faceless' ire.

Neither of them noticed the silver-clad figure observing them from outside the restaurant…..


V.I.C.I.'s standby phase abruptly ended as Mr. Tell's latest upgrade finished installing itself, and as she ran a few system checks, she noticed Tell wasn't anywhere in the room.

"Tell? What's going on?"

"Relax, V, I'm just in the other room."

"And why are you in the other room, when you should be in here, making sure my latest upgrade works?"

"Because to put it simply, your latest upgrade is quite….shocking, to say the least."

V.I.C.I. frowned as she disconnected the cords from her back panel (which closed as soon as the last cord cleared it) and examined herself in a conveniently-placed mirror. No shocking pink hair, no weird eyes…..still a B cup… After making sure that Tell hadn't done anything too stupid, V.I.C.I. noticed a strange apparatus that looked like an arm wrestling machine.

"Don't tell me you gave me enhanced strength! I already have that---"

"I know. Just grab the arm and think of the phrase I'm about to text you…."

V.I.C.I. sighed and grabbed the mechanical hand---which instantly grasped her own. "What the--Tell, this thing's trying to break my arm! What do I---" Before she could finish the sentence, the phrase "DG v1.0" appeared in her field of vision.

DG v1.0? What's---

Without warning, the mechanical hand seemed to sieze up….almost like it had been Tazered. But how…? At that moment, V.I.C.I. noticed that she felt a tingling sensation in her right hand, but unlike her volleyball-related hip injury, this one wasn't annoying her; in fact, it almost felt like someone was tickling her hand….

"And that, Miss Lawson, is what I like to call the Detaining Grip version 1.0! DG v1.0 for short." Tell threw open the door to the workshop, grinning like a madman. "Well, was I right? Was this upgrade 'shocking' enough for you?" V.I.C.I. didn't know what to say; "I….but…..you put a Tazer in my hand!" "Not quite," Mr. Tell corrected. "Remember how you used your RTG to jumpstart a car once?" "Yeah, I discharged electricity through my fingertips….but how did you--" "I wrote a new bit of software that allows you to 'weaponize' that electricity if you so desire; all you have to do is think of the program name, and voila! Just don’t try to shoot lightning out of your fingertips like Raiden or Emperor Palpatine….I haven't perfected that particular bit of code yet."

V.I.C.I. looked at her hand, grinning. "Well, this is a lot better than pepper spray…is there a way to dial down the voltage so I don't fry someone or anything like that?" "Obviously. That shock you gave the Iron Grip over there---" he pointed to the arm-wrestling machine--- "was a Tazer-level shock, enough to drop someone without causing any lasting injuries. If you want to dial it down, just think 'decrease voltage by', and say the percentage. Of course, you can also raise the voltage…." "Which I won't, unless it's absolutely, positively necessary," V.I.C.I. finished, grinning again. "Let me guess, Ted told you to add that part on, right?" she asked, smirking. "That's a distinct possibility," Tell admitted. "Oh, and when you're done Tazing people, just tap your left earlobe to deactivate the program." V.I.C.I. tapped her earlobe, as instructed, and the DG v1.0 program closed itself. "Cool. Now I don't have to worry about accidentally shocking anyone when I go to hug them or anything!" She shook Tell's hand and thanked him for the upgrade. "Thanks for the repairs and this detaining grip program, Tell." "Any time, V. I can't help but notice, though, that you seem preoccupied…is there somewhere you need to be right now?" "As a matter of fact, there is; I need to pick up Carrie Isley and drop her off at Ted's place for the night. Think you can give me a lift?"

Tell grinned. "Not a problem, V. Just let me fire up the Tellmobile….."


Denise's reprogramming was not going well.

For starters, Sophia had to go through at least 15 security checks built into Denise's hard drive just to access her primary programming files, and sorting through those took a full 30 minutes. Then, there was the anti-hack alarm, which went off after Sophia tried to change Denise's hardwired career designation from "general purpose" to "college professor". Worse, the anti-hack system would keep pinging Sophia's PC requesting permission to "scan, repair and/or delete" programs she'd just put on Denise's hard drive.

And then there was the Internet.

As soon as Sophia had hooked Denise up to a working modem (she'd broken three of the damn things earlier; two of them crapped out because dust had worked its way into them, and the third had somehow been hacked to redirect all Internet searches to a Lawrence Welk fanpage), the raven-haired gynoid began downloading random files from random websites, and Sophia couldn't figure out how to stop the process without damaging her "parole officer". When she finally gave up and just disconnected the modem, she attempted to see what files Denise had downloaded---only to catch her in the middle of a striptease at the window, which prompted Sophia to tackle the overloaded gynoid to the floor and put her back in diagnostic mode, followed by a total lockdown of the apartment---closing (and locking) the doors and windows, and pulling down security shutters at every window.

Thus, an hour after she had started what was supposed to be a simple upgrade process, Sophia had flopped down into a recliner, all too aware that she had wasted valuable time, messed up her hair and clothes, and become supremely pissed off.

In the kitchen area, Denise---who had reverted back to a dance program she'd acquired during her Internet escapades---was dancing in a decidedly animatronic fashion, singing Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" in a staccato voice. For some unknown reason, her pants were in the stove, and one shoe was currently being put through another rinse cycle in the dishwasher while its owner robotically belted out "If you want my mon.ey and you think I'm sex.y, come on su.gar let me know…" and doing what could only be called a clockwork doll version of the Macarena, her mechanical singing accompanied by the blender and food processor with the TV providing back-up vocals courtesey of a ShamWow commercial.

Sophia growled; the idea of throwing Denise out the window was getting more appealing by the minute….


"Tell, I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and I was wondering if you could help me figure something out…. why do some people program androids to believe they're human?"

Mr. Tell sighed as he maneuvered the "Tellmobile"---really a Ford Focus---through traffic. "It's a complicated thing, really," he admitted. "See, a lot of sentient androids know what they are, and they know enough to keep their true nature hidden from the rest of the world, although a few---like you, V---find people they can trust and tell them what they really are. The problem is, some androids---like Kirsten and Denise---were built to replace their creators' children, for various reasons. Sometimes, kids get kidnapped, other times they're injured in such a way that they end up parapeligics or worse…" "And sometimes," Vicki added, "they get killed." Tell nodded somberly. "It's pretty freaking sad any time someone loses a kid," he admitted, "and in those cases, it's worse because they were so close to achieving their dreams…starting families, getting jobs…"

Vicki nodded in agreement. "There's something else I wanted to ask…did the Sandersons actually have a daughter named Kirsten?" Tell hesitated; "To be honest, V, that case is a bit….complicated. There was a real Kirsten Sanderson, but she was alive during the 1980s, meaning that if she were still alive, she'd only be a few years younger than her parents, Anthony and Raquel---except Anthony never married." "So…one of them must be an android, right?" Vicki asked. "Anthony's human," Tell replied; "we sent him to work as a mole inside United Robotronics. Raquel, on the other hand…" "Another gynoid?" Vicki quipped, raising an eyebrow. "You say that like it's a bad thing!" Tell laughed. "Yes, Raquel is, as you put it, 'another gynoid'. Anthony was part of the Lawson Robotics team that created her, and he ended up falling in love with her, believe it or not. Sort of like that sculptor, Pygmallion…what was the name of the girl in that story? Gala-something or other, I can never remember…." Vicki rolled her eyes.

"Anyway, it turns out that Kirsten Sanderson---the human Kirsten Sanderson---was, in fact, Anthony Sanderson's step-daughter. He adopted her at the start of the 80s, and she stayed with his family until she turned 18….which is about the time where she disappeared one day in 1989 during a family outing. As it turned out, the real Kirsten was being stalked by a so-called friend of her dad's during the weeks leading up to her disappearance. He followed her all over the place, called her house 15 times a day, left her really creepy love poems….the usual stalker crap. Then, a week after she disappeared, this stalker showed up at the Palo Alto police department HQ claiming that Kirsten was 'taken'. He never claimed to have kidnapped her, or killed her…he just kept saying 'he took her, he took her.' It didn't take long for the ALPA to figure out who 'he' was…." "Faceless," Vicki murmured, and Tell nodded grimly. "Unfortunately, his lawyers made a big stink out of the whole thing, and nobody else could prove that he had anything to do with what happened to Kirsten; they didn't even bother with a trial, so that sick freak stayed free. As for her dad's 'friend', he wound up in a mental institution. Last I heard, he hanged himself in 1997, the same year Kirsten reappeared---comatose in a Russian hospital. She stayed that way for two more years before they finally pulled the plug…"

Tell sighed; "Tony Sanderson was fiercely protective of Kirsten when she was alive; she was once quoted as saying that Tony was more of a father than her biological dad ever was. Tony's sister did some digging and found out that Kirsten's real dad was a barfly who cheated on her mom at least 15 times." He paused; "And before you ask, I know all of this because Anthony Sanderson told me this whole story himself." "I wasn't going to ask," Vicki murmured as Tell continued. "Anyway, Tony and Kirsten made sure that each of them knew where the other was at all times, no matter what." Vicki remembered Kirsten's concern when Anthony didn't return home from work; "So that's why she got so upset when he didn't call her!" "You catch on quick, V. Their bond even persisted after Kirsten was put in a coma; while she was hooked up to a life support system in some Soviet ICU, Tony was using the latest Lawson Robotics software available to store her memories, her personality….everything that made Kirsten Sanderson unique. Basically, he wanted to be the father figure Kirsten had so desperately needed when he'd adopted her, and what better way to do that than to recreate her as a gynoid?"

"As touching as that sounds," Vicki replied, "it's still a bit weird. Why didn't he try to revive the real Kirsten, instead of making a gynoid in her image?" "V, the real Kirsten wasn't just comatose---most of her internal organs were too messed up to work properly…almost as if Faceless had chewed on them." Vicki cringed as Tell continued; "She had to be hooked up to at least 21 different machines just to stay alive….and even then, she couldn't see, feel, or speak, and everything she heard made no sense to her thanks to the fact that she'd been out of it for so long." Tell shook his head, and Vicki was surprised to see a tear in his eye. "Kirsten Sanderson's death should've been ruled a homicide," he growled, his voice becoming uncharacteristically ugly. "Faceless, being the sick bastard that he is, attacked Kirsten in broad daylight, yet he got away scott-free while she died a slow death in some gulag hospital." He wiped his eye with his sleeve. "I…I didn't realize it was that bad," Vicki muttered, her voice sounding small and insignificant in the wake of Tell's anger. "I'm sorry---" "No," Tell shot back. "Don't you apologize…it's not your fault. Kirsten Sanderson spent the last two years of her life with tubes and wires sticking out of her, and I'm pretty sure that Faceless will probably burn in Hell for it, but I can tell you right now, Vicki Lawson….if the real Kirsten Sanderson had ever met you, you'd have ended up best friends." He smiled sadly, shaking his head. "And that's why Kirsten's programmed to believe she's a human; most of her memories were altered to replace her life in the 80s with modern memories, and at Tony's request, Kirsten has no recollection of her real father, or her other family."

Vicki was about to ask what had happened to Kirsten's "other family," but the Tellmobile came to a stop; they had arrived at Carrie's high school; a few seconds after they had arrived, Vicki and Mr. Tell heard the bell ring as a flood of students left the school.

I wonder why Carrie was programmed to think she's human…….. Vicki mused.


The ride to Ted's house was uneventful, save for Carrie enthusiastically recounting the various goings-on at high school. Surprisingly, Mr. Tell was more intrigued and interested in Carrie's recollection of the day's events; Vicki was still wondering why Carrie had been programmed to think she was human. Looking at her in the rear-view mirror, Vicki wondered who Carrie's personality had been based on; probably a cheerleader, if her super-extrovert attitude is any indication…

Indeed, the perky blonde teen had never had any problems making new friends since her adoption, and she'd been a cheerleader throughout her years in high school. Yet there was something else; sometimes, in the middle of conversations, Carrie seemed to zone out, as if she was thinking about something only she could sense. These "spells" only lasted a few seconds at a time, though, and would always end with Carrie cheerfully going back to her usual topics of conversation.

When the Tellmobile reached Ted Lawson's house, Mr. Tell and Carrie went in to talk with Ted, whle Vicki retrieved her cellphone, explaining that she had an important phone call to make; fortunately, Tell had some "extra business" to discuss with Ted, meaning they'd be staying longer than expected, giving Vicki enough time to make her phone call and say hi to Ted (and possibly ask him a few questions).

As Tell and Carrie entered the house, Vicki dialed a phone number she'd scanned from Kirsten's hard drive…


"Hello…Raquel Sanderson speaking."

Raquel Sanderson had volunteered to help Anthony's brother, Kyle, by babysitting his kids until he got back from work. She didn’t mind; the 37-year-old Latina had no problem dealing with kids.

"Mrs. Sanderson? This is Vicki Lawson, a classmate of Kirsten's."

"Oh, you're one of Kirsten's friends? How's she doing---"

"Mrs. Sanderson, I know the truth about Kirsten…and about you."

Raquel almost dropped the phone into the pot of Hamburger Helper; a few rooms over, the kids were playing WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2010, fighting over who had to play as the CAW of NXT cast-off Husky Harris.

"You…you know about Kirsten…."

"If it's any consolation, I'm a gynoid too. Ted Lawson created me back in the 80s as the prototype Voice Input Cybernetic Identicant." The phone issued a short series of beeps---a code that only gynoids could send and receive. "I'm assuming you got the code I just sent….."

A surge of relief flooded through Raquel's mind. "So….you know why Kirsten thinks she's human, then?" In the background, one of Kyle's kids started an arm-wrestling match to determine who had to use the Husky Harris CAW (following his example, Kyle's brood often referred to Harris as "The Fat").

"Yeah, Mr. Tell told me. Mrs. Sanderson, I just wanted to let you know that if you need help with anything, I'll be more than willing to pitch in."

Raquel felt tears in her eyes. "That's…that's very kind of you, Vicki."

"No problem, Mrs. Sanderson."

"Call me Raquel." In the front room, the arm-wrestling match had ended in a no-contest, and it was decided that the match would be changed to a 3-on-1 handicap match so that nobody had to play as The Fat. "How is Kirsten doing, by the way?"

"She's moved into the room across the hall from me. She told you what happened last month, right?"

"Yes, she told me about the incident with that masked freak…" Raquel remembered panicking when Kirsten had called; even though Faceless had only destroyed her room, the fact that he knew where Kirsten had been staying was alarming on its own. "Has that psychopath been seen on campus since the attack?"

"Not that I know of..but if he comes back, he'll have to deal with me before he can even think about getting to Kirsten."

Raquel smiled. "I'll be sure to add you to the Christmas Card mailing list when the time comes, Vicki." In the living room, the three-on-one handicap match had started, and the kids were yelling at the TV.

"I look forward to it….crud, I have to hang up! Bye for now!"

Raquel giggled a bit, partially at Vicki's sudden need to end the conversation, and partially because Kyle's kids were all screaming at the computer-controlled Husky Harris CAW to stay down for the three-count. As she returned her attention to the Hamburger Helper, she closed her eyes and sighed; at least now I know Kirsten isn't alone at SJSU.

Unfortunately, Raquel wasn't exactly alone either; someone had been listening in on her conversation….

….someone who was currently breaking into the attic of Kyle's house…


Vicki snapped her cellphone shut and smiled; at least she knows I'm around if she needs help. After a quick glance at her watch, she finally joined Mr. Tell and Carrie in the living room of her dad's house for a round of Monopoly. As per usual, the game quickly devolved into a farce, with Tell "robbing the bank" and hoarding play money to pay for more property. After the game ended, Carrie headed upstairs to do her homework as Ted, Mr. Tell and Vicki exchanged more pleasantries. A few minutes after their conversation with Ted, Vicki and Mr. Tell headed back to Tell's office. "Well," the ALPA field agent mused, "that was a particularly amusing waste of time, am I right?" "I wouldn't call it a waste of time," Vicki corrected, barely able to hide her grin, "but I agree with you in regards to the 'fun' part. I haven't seen anyone pull a Monopoly 'bank robbery' since the last time I played against Jamie!"

Traffic had thinned considerably, making the return trip to Tell's office a lot easier (though their goodbyes were cut short by a call from Best Buy---someone's laptop had gone haywire), and Vicki's trip back to SJSU campus was an even smoother ride, if possible.

A far cry from what she'd be going through in a day's time….


Sophia gave up trying to reprogram Denise after the fifth attempt, deciding instead to call United Robotronics and---despite the repercussions that inevitably awaited her---ask for another gynoid. Not surprisingly, Sharpe himself answered the phone on UR's end.

"Tsk, tsk, Sophia. I leave you a perfectly functioning gynoid, and after one day, you've managed to break her. Perhaps you weren't the best choice for this job…"

"Cram it, Sharpe. I didn't break your stupid doll---there was something in her system that must have caused her to malfunction."

"Excuses, excuses…she was working perfectly when I left her with you."

"Yeah? Well, explain how Stylo.obj somehow managed to take over most of her system resources!"

Silence.

"Sharpe? SHARPE?! Are you still there---"

"Ah. Miss Tank? What did you say the name of that .obj file was?"

"Stylo.obj. S-T-Y-L-O."

Again, silence.

"Look, Sharpe, if this is one of your damned loyalty tests---"

"Sophia, dispose of Denise's central processing unit and remove her hard drive. A collection team will arrive in thirty minutes to pick her up and drop off a replacement gynoid."

"What's the big deal? It's just one little .obj file…."

"Miss Tank, that 'little .obj file' should never have appeared on Denise's hard drive to begin with."

"But what is it?"

Another pause…..

"Believe me, Unit ST-9050, you don't want to find out."


Andrew Sharpe hung up the phone and steepled his fingers, deep in thought. Stylo.obj….it can't be…….

"Sir?"

A pleasing female voice roused him from his thoughts. "Hmm?" he asked, absentmindedly. "The companions you requested are waiting for you in the deep end of the pool area." The speaker was a slim redhead in a blue-and-white patterned bikini, wearing blue bands on her wrists, ankles and neck. "Yes, ah, thank you, Danielle. I'll be joining them shortly. In the meantime, please leave a note on my bed reminding me to call my office as soon as I'm finished with my…companions." "Of course, sir." Danielle went off to write the note, and Sharpe went back to nursing his tequila, pondering what Sophia Tank had just told him.

Stylo.obj…..It's just not possible…

Two incredibly beautiful women---one a perky, ponytailed blonde and the other a blue-eyed brunette, waved at him from the deep end of the pool. He sighed; It can wait until tomorrow, he mused, setting down his tequila and swimming over to join the gynoids.


Sophia stared at the phone, shaking her head. "Well, at least he's not pissed at me for breaking her….which makes since, seeing as how I didn't break her…."

Denise had finally stopped "dancing" and was now simply laying on the floor, caught in what a casual observer might mistakenly identify as a seizure. The words "err.or err.or obj.ect file Sty.lo cre.at.ing exc.ept.ion at line 659812" could barely be heard amidst the grinding of servos and actuators within the stricken gynoid's body; smoke was wafting up from every orifice, and various vital fluids were leaking from opened seams. In short, the gynoid codenamed Denise was effectively dying a very, very painful death…and she didn't even notice.

"Well, Denise," Sophia quipped, holding up a scalpel, "looks like it's time for a prefrontal lobotomy…." As the dark-haired gynoid continued to twitch, ST-9050 pulled on a black surgeon's mask, for aesthetics as well as protective reasons.


That night, the chain of events that would come to a head on Saturday evening was set in motion.

Vicki Lawson and Sharon Wilson actually managed to make their scheduled 5:30 swim at the Aquatics Center pool, before retiring to their dorm for the rest of the night….

Kirsten Sanderson got a call from her mother, Raquel, asking her for a spare set of keys to her new dorm room, just in case….

Faceless settled into a meditating position in Raquel's attic, awaiting the perfect moment to strike…

Mr. Tell drove to Los Altos to fix someone's busted laptop…

Unit ST-9050, a.k.a. Sophia Tank, threw the central processing unit of the gynoid named Denise into a blender, while the United Robotronics collection team carried out the lifeless android's body and left a coffin-sized box in the living room….

Ted Lawson checked Carrie Isley's homework before kissing her goodnight……

On the other side of the country, Andrew Sharpe enjoyed the company of two beautiful android women at an exclusive luxury resort, all the while pondering what had caused Stylo.obj to appear on Denise's hard drive….

Everyone's lives continued on their intended course as---in the words of Journey---the wheel in the sky kept on turning.

Nobody realized that things wouldn't be so tranquil in a day's time……


Wake-up cycle initiated.

Activating V.I.C.I. ………. all systems activated.

Running full system scan……………………….

Scan complete. All systems functioning at 100% efficiency.

Good morning, V.I.C.I.; today is Saturday, September 11, 2010.

"Engh…..whatmsit?"

Vicki's mumbled query fell on deaf ears; Sharon was still asleep. "Sharon?" the brunette gynoid yawned, hoping her roommate would hear---which she didn't. Vicki sighed, rolled over and stretched. "Eh, guess I'll let her sleep in today." She yawned again, smiling at the simple, lifelike action that was just one of many such programs and subroutines designed to enforce the illusion of her humanity.

After finishing her in-bed calisthenics, Vicki carefully unplugged her charger cord and, as usual, stowed it in the hidden pocket sewn into the interior of her backpack. After scanning Sharon to make sure she was still asleep (and still breathing), Vicki carefully turned on her laptop and muted the volume so that its startup noises wouldn't awaken her slumbering roommate. "Let's see if the ALPA's left any new missions for me…." she whispered, partially to herself and partially to the computer. A quick scan of the SJSU homepage revealed that nothing major had happened overnight, although the online edition of The Spartan Daily, the SJSU campus newspaper, mentioned a suspicious figure having been spotted near Tower Hall in the afternoon. Hopefully, it wasn’t Faceless, Vicki mused as she opened her e-mail inbox.

The first message was from Harriet Brindle, her former rival-turned-best friend; apparently, Harriet had been making waves in the world of college journalism in Oklahoma, and was set to interview the Sooner State's own Jack Swagger in a few weeks. After Harriet's e-mail were e-cards from Joan and Jamie, Vicki's mom and brother; Joan was still "living the dream" in a condo somewhere in the Bahamas thanks to her lottery winnings (she'd be coming back to the States in December), and Jamie was pursuing his dream of a football career. After that were a few e-mails from her classmates (including one from the Twitter Twins ordering her to stay away from the volleyball court, which she deleted without even reading) and a thank-you e-mail from Raquel Sanderson. Finally, at the bottom of the list, was the ALPA e-mail. "Please let this be a new mission…" she whispered, crossing her fingers.

She opened the e-mail------and instantly regretted it.

V.I.C.I./Vicki Lawson,

It's with the utmost regret that I, Major Tom, have been ordered to inform you that Denise Isley's parents were killed last night in Los Angeles while awaiting the construction of Denise's new body, and I feel an even deeper sense of regret in telling you that Unit DI-8473---a.k.a. Dianne---was, to put it simply, obliterated.

Before you set off on some misguided vendetta, the ALPA recovered surveillance footage from the hotel room where Dianne's parents were staying, and it wasn't Faceless who killed them. We also know that Faceless wasn't responsible for the destruction of Dianne Isley…and that's all we've been able to discern so far. Whoever did this had the most advanced tech we've ever seen….but that's another story for another day.

The official cover story for the attack on the Isleys has already been prepared---Dianne's parents were murdered by an as-yet unknown intruder (which is essentially the truth)---and as for Dianne, the official story is that she died on the operating table. These stories have been leaked to the press to keep the general public from finding out what Dianne really was….and to keep anyone from interfering in our search for her killer."But….there has to be some way you could've saved her…" Vicki murmured, tears clouding her vision as she continued to read.

If you're thinking that we could've salvaged her CPU and/or hard drive….I'm sorry, Vicki, but the simple truth is that somehow, someone---or something, we're not sure what---caused her to simply self-destruct. Every single part of her was immolated; every component, every motor, every wire and every inch of her internal framework was completely consumed by an explosion that also took out three of the seven technicians who were working to build her new body. The only clue we have is an audio-only surveillance tape that picked up a weird frequency 2 seconds before Dianne exploded; it's not much to go on, but it's the only lead we've got.

I strongly advise that you do not attempt to start an independent investigation into whoever or whatever orchestrated the murders of Dianne and her parents. What I do advise---and recommend---is that you talk to Mr. Tell and/or your dad as soon as possible. Come to think of it, call both of them and arrange a meeting with them ASAP----the sooner, the better. Also, contact Raquel Sanderson and tell her to call me as soon as possible---and yes, I know about your call to her yesterday, which was a damn decent thing of you to do.

I'll finish this message with some bittersweet news; apparently, Dianne wrote a will that left all of her stuff to you in the event of her destruction, and the Isleys named your parents as the official legal guardians of Carrie Anne Isley, aka C4RR13. It may not sound like much, but it means that while you may have lost a best friend, you've also just gained a sister……one who needs your protection now more than ever.

One more thing: The fact that Faceless wasn't behind this means he's probably plotting something else as we speak. When/if you see him on campus, call me first. DO NOT even THINK of trying to fight him by yourself.

Stay safe, Major Tom ALPA Head of Operations , Silicon Valley Branch Tears splashed the keyboard of the laptop as Vicki finished reading the e-mail. "Dianne…I'm….sorry…."

"Who's Dianne?"

Vicki turned to notice Sharon sitting up in bed. "Vicki, what's wrong?" she asked. "Sharon….it's…" Vicki shook her head, not wanting to continue; eventually, her emotions overtook her logic, and she ran to Sharon's bedside and collapsed into her arms, sobbing. "Dianne …my old roommate….she..she died last night…." "Oh, my God…" Sharon gasped. "I…I didn't know…." Vicki continued sobbing, grieving over the very real loss of one of the best friends she'd ever had. "They couldn't save her," she wailed, "she died…in their arms…."

Sharon let Vicki have a good cry for three minutes before gently breaking their embrace. "I'm gonna go call Shawn, see if he knows anything," she informed the grieving gynoid. "I guess Dianne had friends who spoke Chinese," she added, noticing the e-mail on the laptop. Vicki almost freaked out until she realized that the e-mail had actualy been in Chinese; her internal translation software had allowed her to read it as if it were in English. "Yeah….she was dating a Chinese exchange student…" Sharon shook her head; "I wish I could've met Dianne; from what you told me about her earlier this week, it sounded like she was a good friend." "She was," Vicki croaked, "and now…." The tears welled up in her eyes again. Sharon glanced at her apologetically before her cellphone went off; "It's my dad…." She checked her text messages and, sure enough, her father had texted her with the news of Dianne's death on the operating table, and the murders of her parents. "Oh, my God…her parents were killed, too?!" "I..I didn't want to ruin your morning with the news…" Vicki sobbed.

Sharon eventually decided to hold an impromptu meeting at the Student Union regarding Dianne's death and the murders of her parents; Vicki promised she'd catch up with her as soon as possible. She closed the e-mail from Major Tom, only to find three new e-mails waiting to be read; the first two, not surprisingly, were from Ted and Mr. Tell, while the third was from Glenn Saxon.

Without hesitating, Vicki cued up the e-mail from Mr. Tell first.

V,

I just got the call from Major Tom, and I assume you received his e-mail. Whether you've read it or not is irrelevant by this point; the fact is, Dianne's been destroyed, and her parents are dead.

Right now, you probably feel like you want to break someone's neck ("You don't know how right you are," Vicki sobbed/snarled), but I'd appreciate it if you kept your anger in check for the time being. The ALPA has analyzed the surveilance footage, and it wan't Faceless who killed Dianne or her parents. That being said, he's still on the ALPA's Most Wanted list, so if you see him, try not to piss him off. As for the SOB who killed the Isleys, we're still in the dark; hopefully, our friends in high places can help shed some light on the subject.

I know that it must suck to hear that your best friend was essentially blown to pieces, but trust me, it could've been a lot worse. Meet me this afternoon in the storeroom of Fry's Electronics, and we'll discuss this further; I'll try to call Ted and get him to meet us there.

Mahallo, Mr. Tell Vicki wiped her eyes and went back to her inbox to read the e-mail from Ted, which expressed the same sentiments as the ones from Mr. Tell and Major Tom ("Faceless didn't do it," "Stay safe," etc.). After she finished reading her dad's e-mail, Vicki decided to view the message from Glenn Saxon.

Vicki…..

I don't know how else to say it, so I'm just going to be frank: I saw who killed Denise's parents.

Vicki had to read that sentence a few times before she could convince herself to read on.

It was the Isleys' idea for me to go to L.A. with them, and I was at the hotel when it happened. I had a room across the hall from theirs, so if anyone tried to get into their room, I'd be able to bust open my door and stop 'em. Well, I'd gone downstairs to get a newspaper, and I was on the way back to my room when I heard this argument----someone was telling someone else to stay away from the Isleys, and the person who was told to stay away from them apparently got pissed…..and before I could blink, I heard the knives…..

The guy who told the other person to stay away…he started screaming….I'm not sure, but I think he was speaking in Latin or something----and then this chick in black ran out of the door, ran at me----and she ran right through me. I'm not making this up! She ran at me, full bore, and I didn't even blink---she was in front of me one minute, and I swore she was gonna tackle me, then she was behind me, running down the hall!

Whatever she did, it made me pass out; I'm at UCLA right now, and the doctors say I lost a twelfth of a pound in terms of body mass. I don't know what the hell this chick did to make me lose a twelfth of a pound, but something tells me that I don't want to find out.

I'll keep you posted if any other weird crap starts happening around here.

Glenn Saxon

Vicki stared at the message, shocked. Glenn had seen the person who killed the Isleys….yet this person was able to literally run through him? What kind of technology would allow someone to do something like that?


Vicki Lawson wasn't the only one feeling strong emotions related to the death of the Isleys.

"How the hell were they able to get their hands on our tech?!" Andrew Sharpe shouted into his cellphone. He'd intended to take a nice dip in the sauna that morning, but the urgent phone call from Sydeline had ruined that plan completely; now, the CEO of United Robotronics was pacing the room of his suite like a caged tiger…a supremely pissed-off caged tiger.

"And the girl? Was she…..WHAT?! DESTROYED?!" Sharpe wanted to hurl the phone; instead, he threw one of his slippers, which bounced harmlessly off of the head of the ponytailed blonde android, who was frozen in a rather seductive pose on the bed. "Call every United Robotronics facility in the Western half of the country RIGHT NOW," he ordered, noticing that the brunette android had just emerged from the bathroom. "Your shower is---" she began, only for Sharpe to deactivate her with the push of a button. "I was just turning off one of the dolls," he told Sydeline. "As I was saying, call EVERY United Robotronics facility on the West Coast, and make sure that they perform a full inventory check!" He hung up the phone without even saying a polite "goodbye" to Sydeline. "Damn it to Hell," he swore, glaring at the frozen blonde doll on his bed. Something about her pose---the inviting hand gesture, the coy, flirtatious look in her eyes---allowed him to relax; slowly, his mounting rage diminished. He re-activated her and gestured towards the massage table near the bed.

"Give me a Shiatsu massage…..I need some major stress relief right now."


Sophia Tank had spent the entire night supervising the destruction of her "parole officer," which had already pissed her off far beyond her comfortable level; apparently, Denise had been built with more than one central processing unit, meaning that when the collection team attempted to carry her out, she sprang to life like a derranged wind-up doll and nearly decimated the group before Sophia tackled her to the floor and tore her head off. As the sun rose on her apartment, Sophia---who hadn't slept or recharged---was already venting her frustrations at her new gynoid partner (the "parole officer" idea had been dropped at Sharpe's request).

"Damn stupid sub-rate gynoids…." she growled. "And I still don't know what the hell Stylo.obj is, or why it turned Denise into an incoherent mess…." She downed an entire glass of orange juice in one gulp, trying to think of things that didn't make her want to crush someone's windpipe. "You sound like you could use a backrub," a sensual voice suggested. Sophia rolled her eyes; "As much as I would love a good massage right now, I need to focus on more important matters…..though if you still feel like giving me that backrub later, I'll gladly accept it once I've had my much-needed recharge cycle."

The individual who offered to give Sophia the massage strode into the room, and all thoughts of crushing windpipes were forgotten. Standing about 5'11", looking somewhat pale (in a hot way), Valerie had already scored higher than Denise as far as aesthetics were concerned. She had a small, yet athletic build, and she wore the same clothes she'd had on during the shipping process---a sports bra, spandex workout shorts and sneakers---which served to further accentuate her beauty (and show off her C-cup). Her chestnut hair was arranged in a nice bob cut, and she wore thin-rimmed glasses (again, for aesthetics; she had perfect day and night vision) over her eyes, which were a few shades lighter than her hair. "I heard about what happened to Denise," she explained, "and I can assure you that while her fate was tragic, it won't happen again." Sophia noted that Valerie's expression carried equal measures of pity (for Denise) and determination to make up for her predecessor's failings.

"That's good to here, Valerie," she told the brunette gynoid, giving her a once-over. "You look…younger than I expected; what's your age designation?" "I was built to resemble a 19-year-old girl, ma'am," Valerie replied politely. Even her voice was superior to the bland, artificially-cheerful tones of Denise; Valerie's voice had an almost melodic sound to it, which served to soothe Sophia's temper even more. "Well, I had asked for a gynoid that could pose as a teacher," she admitted (with just a hint of annoyance), "but I suppose you can apply to SJSU as a transfer student…" Valerie said nothing, but Sophia noticed the small shifts in her body language that indicated she'd be more than happy to join the student body of SJSU.

"I don't have any clothes that'll fit you, so I'll have to send out for some; the workout look is great for jogging in the afternoon, but I don't think the professors will be too pleased if you turn up for class in that getup." Valerie grinned; "I wouldn't mind. I've been programmed not to show embarassment if I go out wearing the wrong clothes." "What about if you go somewhere without realizing that you're not wearing any clothes at all?" Sophia asked, sarcastically. Valerie blushed; "Well, my modesty programming would require me to find something I could use to cover up…."

Sophia grinned. "Not to worry, Val…I have no intention of sending you out into the world butt-naked." She sat down at the computer and fired up the Web browser; "Let's see if Hot Topic has anything in your size….."


Across the campus of SJSU, the news of Dianne's death (and the murders of her parents) had become the main topic of discussion, and many students were becoming focused on personal protection. Even the Twitter Twins, who usually refused to address anyone outside of their clique, were promising "beaucoup bucks" to anyone willing to be their bodyguard.

Too bad they can't just Tazer-grab someone, Vicki mused, walking past the Twins as they pleaded with two quarterbacks to guard them for the weekend. She'd already heard rumors that a SWAT team was going to be brought in if the "mysterious figure" from Tower Hall was spotted anywhere else on campus; predictably, someone had started a rumor that the "ghost of Tower Hall" was connected to the murder of Dianne's parents. If they only knew….

As Vicki neared the Student Union building, she was surprised to find that other students were offering to drive her to and from class, carry her books for her and even teach her martial arts for free. She politely declined, wondering what had happened; it's not like someone's threatened to kill me….unless….

Shawn Helmsley and Sharon Wilson were waiting for Vicki at the Student Union, and they were both relieved to see that she'd made it. "Uh, why wouldn't I have made it?" she asked, stopping when she noticed the looks of concern on her friends' faces. "Ah, Vicki," Shawn explained, "there's been a rather interesting development in this whole sordid affair…." "What kind of development?" Vicki asked, moving to enter the building; Sharon stopped her. "Trust me, you don't want to go in there…" she told her, tearfully. "Why? Has someone else been murdered?" "No…well, at least, we don't think so," Shawn began; Vicki pushed her way past him and ran into the building. She took three steps into the Student Union when she saw why Shawn and Sharon didn't want her to go in.

On every available surface, written in what could only be blood, was the same sinister message:

VICKI LAWSON MUST DIE

Vicki stared at the walls, floor and ceiling, seeing the same threatening words everywhere she looked. "No…. no………." She felt faint….

"Ma'am? Are you Vicki Lawson…" "She's fainting…." "….somebody….a doctor….."

The room seemed to spin. Vicki felt herself swaying, felt the room turning upside down…..

Silence. Darkness.


"V! V! C'mon, damnit, don't do this…."

The sensation of someone lightly slapping her in the face brought V.I.C.I. out of her stupor. "What….what happened?" she murmured, surprised to hear herself speaking in her monotone voice. "You're safe now, V. You blacked out at the Student Union, and your RTG sent off a panic signal; I broke the speed limit to get there in time…" Mr. Tell's voice calmed V.I.C.I.'s fears that someone was going to attack her.

"Why am I talking like this, instead of my usual voice?" she asked, confused. "It's a side-effect of the panic attack. Your systems are sort of overwhelmed, at the moment; give it a few minutes, and your voice will be back to normal." V.I.C.I. sighed. "Who would want to threaten me? Only three people on campus know what I am…." She paused. "Has Kirsten told anyone else?" "No. She's at her parents' house. The ALPA network has been scanning for any mention of your true nature, and nobody's said anything. They are, however, concerned that the whackjob who stabbed Dianne may be coming for you next." "They're probably right," V.I.C.I. deadpanned, looking dejected.

Tell sat down next to the slab and held V.I.C.I.'s hand. "V, if that masked moron tries to kill you, he'll have to go through a whole network of ALPA agents---myself included---before he can even get within spitting distance. Trust me, if he's as smart as they say he is, he'll stay as far away from you as possible."


After Vicki's voice returned to normal, Tell dropped her off at Ted's house ("Believe me, it's the safest place for you to be right now", he told her), where Ted was making a series of frantic phone call regarding Vicki's whereabouts. The minute she stepped through the door, he dropped his phone and ran over to embrace her.

"I was so worried, Vicki…..I heard about the message at the Student Union.." He sounded as if he'd been crying. "It's okay, Dad…I'm fine." Ted looked Vicki in the eye; "After what happened in Los Angeles, with Dianne and her parents…..", he began, but Vicki gently shushed him. "If anyone tried that with you," she told him, "they would be spending the rest of their life in a hospital. And if they ever tried it with me, well…" She held up her right hand, allowing Ted to see the electricity coursing through it. "Remind me to thank Tell later," he replied, smiling.

In the dining room, Ted admitted that he was the first person Major Tom notified after the incidents in Los Angeles; he'd already told Carrie about it, and she'd spent most of the morning crying. As for Vicki, Ted wasn't taking any chances with her safety; what's more, he was reuniting the Lawson family to make sure Vicki always had someone to call if things got too bad. "Joan's ending her vacation early to fly out here," he explained, "and Jamie's thinking about coming back as well." "I don't want them to get hurt because of me," Vicki countered, but Ted shook his head. "You've done so much for us, Vicki….if ever there was a time for us to repay you, this is it."

At Mr. Tell's request, Vicki and Ted attended their previously-scheduled meet-up at the Fry's Electronics store to discuss the attacks on Dianne and her parents, as well as the "Vicki Lawson Must Die" messages in the Student Union building. To Vicki's surprise, Major Tom was waiting for them. "I just finished attending to the business in L.A.," he explained, "and the ALPA wants me out here until December 31." "So….no more missions for me, I guess," Vicki observed, looking downcast. "Actually," Major Tom replied with a grin, "you've got it backwards: Once this is taken care of, you'll be getting a new mission from the ALPA every 3 weeks." The talk then turned to other matters, and Vicki wondered if Glenn Saxon had e-mailed Major Tom with the information about what he'd seen.

The meeting went on for an hour, and Vicki felt like putting herself in standby mode as the minutes slowly went by; when Major Tom mentioned that someone had broken out of Raquel Sanderson's house, however, Vicki regained interest in the conversation…


Faceless paced the locker room of the SJSU Aquatics Facility, his hands covered in blood. "All this time I've spent chasing gynoids," he growled, "and it's a damn HUMAN who almost ruins my plan…"

Unlike Sophia and Valerie, both of whom answered to United Robotronics, Faceless generally considered himself a free agent---any time he felt bored, he'd simply head out to some random part of the country, go on a "spree" (killing spree, that is), and when the authorities were ready to bring the hammer down, he'd simply flee the scene and head back to his comfortable estate, having satiated his bloodlust yet again.

Unless, of course, his masters called…..

Very few people knew why Faceless seemed to be impervious to pain, and those who did were all the more terrified of him for it. He'd had dealings with entities that allowed him to overcome the "weaknesses of the flesh;" he was still human, still organic, but pain no longer felt, well, painful. To put it simply, he liked pain…..but that's another story for another day. Back to the matter at hand: Faceless had been sitting in Raquel Sanderson's attic, waiting to descend upon the helpless gynoid and her family at a moment's notice, when one of his aforementioned masters sent him a message. Not a telepathic call, or a vision---they sent him a text message. It read, simply: "VICKI LAWSON MUST DIE. SPREAD THE WORD."

Faceless took to that particular task with his usual sadistic glee. He'd already bailed a drug dealer out of an L.A. prison on a whim, hoping he could use the felon in his plans to torment Vicki Lawson, but now, the lowlife had a new role to play---his blood would serve as the ink with which Faceless' message would be written.

It took him all of 7 minutes to slaughter the hapless crook.

Faceless smiled at the memory of the kill; it had been a while since his blades had tasted blood. Before this whole mess with Vicki Lawson, he'd been going on sprees every five weeks; ever since his obsession with reclaiming or destroying V.I.C.I. took hold, however, he'd been on a cold streak. It didn't help that he'd almost botched the drug dealer's kill; the crackhead---a typical white-trash type, the kind who peddles cheap smack at dive bars for $20 a pop---had almost escaped after he found out about what Faceless had in store for him. The chase that followed was best described as a macabre farce---a cross between Friday the 13th and Benny Hill---and when Faceless finally cornered the whinging crackhead, he came dangerously close to being seen by a campus police officer.

"Not exactly my best moment," Faceless mused, frowning behind his mask. Still, the deed had been done, as his masters had ordered. With any luck, Vicki's emotions would begin to override her logic, leading her to ignore the requests of her friends and "family"; after Faceless' next trick, the enraged gynoid would probably be scouring the campus just to find him and pummel him into the dirt.

At which time, of course, he would be ready to do the same to her….


"…and as I told Ted and Mr. Tell earlier, I'm afraid that unless we can get a definite lead on who did it, you'll be stuck doing what you called 'boring college stuff' for the rest of the year." Major Tom's prognosis of Vicki's situation wasn't exactly filling her with hope, and the backing testimony of Ted and Mr. Tell did nothing to lighten the mood. "Look, I have no problem doing my classwork and turning in assignments on time, but I signed up for the ALPA to help other androids! I can't just sit back and watch as they get picked off!"

Tell sighed. "We're not asking you to watch them get picked off, V. We just want you to hang back and wait until we can be sure that the situation is under control----"

"Which it isn't."

The voice sounded throughout the room, but only V.I.C.I. could hear it clearly.

"Who said that?" She rose from her seat, looking around for the mysterious speaker. "Where are you?!"

"Oh, I'm here…there….everywhere….Frustrating, isn't it, V.I.C.I.? Knowing that I'm so near….and yet so far? Just within earshot, yet hiding just out of the corner of your eye….."

Earshot….the corner of my eye? Suddenly, she realized what her unseen adversary was doing. "You want me to use my enhanced senses to find you!"

An all too familiar laugh echoed throughout the Fry's Electronics storeroom. "Very good, V.I.C.I.! Those yearly upgrades are really paying off!" "Shove it, Faceless," V.I.C.I. snarled. "What's your game?" "Oh, I'm so glad you asked," Faceless crooned, "because at this moment, I have three of your friends as my hostages….and in a few minutes, they'll all be reduced to nothing more than piles of molten metal! And for the record, no human could possibly find them……but then, you're not quite human, yourself…heh heh heh heh heh…."

Major Tom's cellphone rang, followed by Ted Lawson's; Mr. Tell pulled his phone out of his pocket a few seconds later. "Oh my God…they've taken Capri!" "Raquel Sanderson hasn't been answering her phone at all today…." "Oh, crap….Somebody just saw Kirsten get picked up by a black Rolls Royce…." V.I.C.I. listened to the reports, clenching her fists.

"Starting to get the picture, Vicki?" Faceless taunted. "Meet me at the Spartan Memorial, and I might be able to negotiate a trade---your surrender for the release of these three walking toasters."

V.I.C.I. said nothing…but not because she didn't care.

She was allowing her android senses to envelop the entire intranet of San Jose State University, connecting her eyes to every camera, her ears to every microphone.

Slowly, the dragnet tightened.

"He's on campus," she informed Major Tom, once again speaking in her monotone voice. "But…how the hell are you---" "I got the idea from The Dark Knight," she admitted, allowing herself a sly grin. "And don't worry…I'm not receiving any signals from student-run webcams or microphones." "This…this is just incredible!" Ted cried, astounded. "How did you do this?!" "Easy," Vicki replied, slipping back into her human voice. "I learned from the best." She grinned.

"V, you are just full of surprises," Mr. Tell told the gynoid, patting her on the shoulder. "Don't congratulate me yet," she cautioned. "I still need to narrow the possible---" She stopped, and her eyes flashed blue for a second. "He's using a laptop with a wi-fi router…..somewhere near the Event Center---wait! He's on the move…probably in a car…." V.I.C.I. followed the signal, projecting a map of the campus for Ted, Mr. Tell and Major Tom to follow. "This is just nuts," Tell muttered. "I never knew V could---"

The map froze, and a bright dot flashed between two buildings. "There. Near Corporation Yards A and B."

The two buildings were in a corner of the campus, close to the North Parking Garage and the Industrial Studies building. "It's like Faceless is obsessed with that place," Major Tom observed. "The last time he was here, he got cornered near the Industrial Studies building, and now he's hiding out in a courtyard a few blocks away!" "Then let's not keep him waiting," V.I.C.I. declared, heading for the Tellmobile. "Uh, where do you think you're going?" Mr. Tell asked, frowning. "To stop Faceless. Care to join me?"

Tell, Ted and Major Tom glanced at each other, then back at V.I.C.I., nodding. "We'd follow you into Hell if we had to, V," Mr. Tell declared. "If I'm right, Hell isn't exactly our biggest problem," the gynoid replied, looking up at the map as three more dots appeared---two speeding toward Corporation Yards A and B from the southwest, and another being airlifted from a location east of the campus.


"I still don't understand how a decapitated gynoid was able to break out of a secure containment facility, find and reattach her head and escape on foot!" Sophia Tank shouted into her phone. She'd only received the news a few minutes earlier; Denise, her "parole officer", had suddenly returned to the land of the living---so to speak---and was already showing signs of rapid mental collapse. After locating her head---and jamming it back onto her body---Denise killed two guards without any clear motive and incapacitated several gynoids while trying to escape. Worse, it seemed that something had caused bizarre reactions in her system; black, oil-like fluid was leaking from her eyes, nostrils and mouth (and, if eyewitness accounts were to be taken seriously, from certain other bodily orifices as well), and she was spouting random words and sentences in multpile languages.

"Ma'am, should we focus on destroying Denise instead of making an attempt to save her?" Valerie asked, as her green-haired superior turned off her phone. The younger gynoid looked right at home behind the wheel of Sophia's Plymouth Prowler, shifting gears as if she'd done this sort of thing all her life (which was impossible; she'd been built three days earlier, at best). "At this point," Sophia growled, "I'm more concerned with making sure we don't get torn apart." Instead of trying to defuse the situation, Valerie turned her attention back to the road; her HUD kept a bead on the reactivated Denise, and several other screens in her field of vision arranged themselves so as not to obstruct her view of the road. "Denise's movements are…unorthodox, to say the least; she doesn't seem to care that her true nature is in full view of all of these people."

"If Sharpe's theory is correct," Sophia shot back, "then Denise was terminated when I ripped her head off. That may be her body running around San Jose, but she's not controlling it anymore." Upon hearing this, Valerie tightened her grip on the steering wheel, the roar of the Prowler's engine drowning out the nagging thoughts that her first official mission for United Robotronics might also be her last.


Faceless checked his watch. "6:00," he muttered. "If she isn't here in thirty minutes…" He glanced at his phone, checking the live video feeds from the Science Building, the Cooling Plant and the West Garage. Raquel, Capri and Kirsten were currently trying not to panic; they'd each been encased in steel boxes with Perspex windows allowing them to view what Faceless had in store for them----and it wasn't pretty. Each box was suspended in place somewhere in each building, along with the method Faceless had chosen to destroy each gynoid.

Raquel's box had a rather interesting explosive attached to it----instead of just blowing her up, the device would slowly release thermite into the box, melting right through it---and through Raquel. Capri, meanwhile, was suspended over a tank of nitric acid, which would eat through the box before burning its way through her, leaving only her titanium frame. The most terrifying fate had been reserved for Kirsten; at the top floor of the West Garage, her box had been set up to allow chains to pass through its floor and ceiling….chains that were connected to Kirsten's wrists and ankles, along with two supercharged trucks. At Faceless' signal, the trucks would drive off in different directions, and Kirsten, naturally, would end up drawn and quartered. Faceless had also rigged up a pulley system connected to a smaller box around Kirsten's head; when the trucks took off, the box would begin to crush her titanium skull, and by the time her limbs were pulled from her body, her head would be reduced to a smoking pile of metal and plastic.

"Time isn't on your side, Vicki," Faceless snarled. "Still, if you're lucky, you just might be able to save two of them after you beat me….."


One of Faceless' biggest flaws was the fact that he underestimated the allies of his intended victims.

As soon as V.I.C.I. realized that he was waiting for her near the Corporation Yards, she sent Mr. Tell, Major Tom and Ted to scour the campus to find the hostages. "Knowing Faceless, all three of them are in highly visible parts of the campus," she explained, "so check the garages first. After that, have the campus police conduct a floor-by-floor search of each building." She suggested that Tell, Major Tom and Ted use any android tracking devices they had to locate the three hostages---and to follow up on her progress once she reached Faceless.

On her way to the "meeting" with Faceless, V.I.C.I. noticed that the campus seemed almost deserted---until she remembered that the Event Center was hosting a conference about the situation that had developed over the past few weeks. "At least this means I won't have to worry about any collateral damage," she mused, silently thanking whoever called for the meeting to take place on a Saturday.

She reached the Corporation Yards at 6:25 P.M., not surprised in the least to find Faceless waiting for her. "Well, well, well," he taunted, "looks like the walking computer finally grew a conscience." "Save your insults for someone who cares," V.I.C.I. deadpanned. "Oh, and you're using the robot voice!" Faceless laughed, clapping his hands as if the gynoid were some sort of novelty act. "How quaint…" His own voice turned sinister. "Too bad it won't save your friends." "You obviously forgot that I don't travel alone," V.I.C.I. replied. "Your hostages are being rescued by my other friends as we speak."

If she could've seen behind his mask, V.I.C.I. would've probably been amused to see Faceless' grin fade.

"You're lying," he spat, although his voice contained just a hint of doubt. "Why don't you check your video feed again, just to be sure?" V.I.C.I. asked politely, injecting her words with a touch of defiance. Her masked adversary glared at her, but decided to check the video feed again….and to his disbelief, his three hostages were no longer there!

"This is impossible," he gasped. "Absolutely impossible!" V.I.C.I. grinned as she listened to Faceless' repeated assertations that the gynoids couldn't have been freed. Unbeknownst to the masked psychopath, his beliefs were actually correct; the gynoids weren't free. Ted, Mr. Tell and Major Tom had sent her the wireless signal containing the video feed, and all she had to do was digitally manipulate the images to make it look like the hostages had already been rescued. Which gives me time to make Faceless pay for all the chaos he's caused, she realized.

"Do you still think I should surrender?" she asked, a bit too playfully, only to realize that Faceless had just thrown his phone to the ground and crushed it beneath the heel of his shoe. "What I think," he snarled, "is NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS!" He swung his arms out, as he'd done right before Dianne was stabbed, but before V.I.C.I. could see that he'd replaced his wristblades with what appeared to be throwing knife launchers, something tackled Faceless to the ground.

Huh?!

The newcomer was a gynoid---as evidenced by her internal components showing through torn clothes and synthetic flesh---and she was obviously malfunctioning. Black, viscous fluid was leaking from her eyes, nose and mouth, and---to V.I.C.I.'s disgust---a trail of the stuff was snaking down the side of her right leg. She was babbling incoherently, spitting out random words in multiple languages and occasionally emitting dialtone-like sounds. A plastic nametag pinned to what was left of her shirt read Denise.

"GET OFF OF ME, DAMNIT!" Faceless shouted, kicking the stricken gynoid in the abdomen. To his shock, the damaged fembot landed on all fours, with her head gazing up at the sky. He stared, half amazed and half terrified, as the gynoid spider-walked her way towards him before returning to a standing position, looking Faceless directly in the eye before blurting out "SysTEm hAs BeEn ComPRomISEd geArtetayylllawer…."

V.I.C.I. stared at the bizarre scene, realizing that this fight had just become a bit more difficult.


By the time Sophia's Prowler reached the Corporate Yards, a three-way dance of death had already started.

A brunette girl---Vicki Lawson, Sophia reminded herself---and a black-clad man with shoulder-length black hair and a white mask were exchanging glances between each other and Denise. Sophia groaned aloud when she saw that Denise's right leg now had a trail of oil-like sludge running down to her ankle; the sludge had also built up beneath her eyes, nose and mouth. "This is just ridiculous," she muttered, shaking her head.

"Miss Tank?" Valerie's polite voice called out. "What?" Sophia snapped. "Er," the younger gynoid offered meekly, "I was going to ask if you wanted me to help you with Denise; of course, if you prefer, I'll just stay here in the car…" Sophia rolled her eyes. "I do want you to stay here," she admitted, "but only because Sharpe will get pissed at me if I call him to say that you got torn limb from limb or something." Valerie nodded and buckled her seatbelt; "I'll move the car to the North Garage and wait for your signal." Sophia nodded; "Sounds like a plan to me." Valerie waved as she sped off in the Prowler, leaving Sophia to her thoughts.

"Okay, ST-9050," she whispered to herself, cracking her knuckles. "Time to go to work."


V.I.C.I. cringed as Faceless plunged a throwing knife into Denise's left eye; to her surprise (and Faceless' disbelief), the attack did nothing to slow the stricken gynoid down. She merely giggled, plucked the blade from her eye and tossed it to the ground, trilling merrily.

"I think we should consider a new plan of attack," V.I.C.I. suggested, hoping that Faceless would be willing to listen. "Oh, really?" he spat, barely dodging a clumsy uppercut from Denise. "I thought we would be able to beat her if we held hands and sang Kumbaya!" "Cynicism won't help us beat her", the brunette gynoid replied, backpedalling to dodge Denise's high kicks. As she moved, she noticed that the oil-like substance was now leaking from Denise's ears, as well as seeping out from beneath her fingernails and toenails; a slowly-blossoming stain on the doomed gynoid's bra suggested it was somehow leaking through her mammary fluid pumps as well.

"GYAAAHHHH!" Faceless smashed Denise in the side of the head with a brick, only to collapse as her left arm slammed into his midsection with a sickening crack. Denise stood over the fallen psychopath, the sludge now dripping from her sodden underwear and staining Faceless' clothes. "Y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-you loooooooooooook like y-y-y-you ccccccccould use a han-han-han-han-han-hand," she trilled, her head twitching to the right with each repetition. Sparks shot out of her shattered left eye, and her right eye was now darting every which way, unable to focus on Faceless for a full second. "You….useless.." he began, only to cough as Denise's iron grip closed around his throat. As V.I.C.I. watched, horrified, Denise lifted Faceless with one hand and threw him across the lot before grabbing her own right hand and ripping it off! "Lllllllllllllllllllleeeeeeeeeeeetttt me-me-me-me gigigigigigigigive y-yy-y-y-yyy-yyyy-you-ou-ou a ha-ha-ha-ha-hand," she stuttered, her ear-to-ear grin giving her the appearance of someone hopped up on LSD. Faceless stared at the derranged gynoid, wondering what the hell had happened to her.

"Back away from the murderer," V.I.C.I.'s voice called out; Denise turned, her movements becoming less fluid and more mechanical by the minute. "You-you-you-you-you're goooooooooooooooiiiiing tototototototo have-ave-ave tutututututututututu to wait-ait-ate-eight your tuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrnnnnnnn," she slurred, still sporting that bizarre Joker-esque grin. "If you surrender now," V.I.C.I. offered, "I can help you. My friends can repair you, restore your mind---" "My-my-my mmmmmmmmmmmmy mind is-is-is my my mind is fine is fine is my mind is my poker face!" Denise countered, still smiling and walking towards V.I.C.I., taking jerky, halting steps. "Cantreadmycantreadmynoyoucantreadmypokerface," she sang, sounding like a chipmunk on crack. "You're sick," V.I.C.I. stated, trying to appeal to whatever logic the raven-haired gynoid had left. "You need help. Just let me shut you down, and I can---"

"PoLIcE sHUt uS dOWn! tIL THe pOLiCe ShuT Us DoWN!" Denise trilled, dancing mechanically to a song that only she could hear. V.I.C.I. stared at the malfunctioning gynoid, sadness overwhelming her urge to fight. "I can help you," she called, still speaking in her monotone voice, "but until you allow me to deactivate your higher functions---" "Can.you.take.me.high.er to.a.place.where.blind.men.see?" Denise sang, her voice now as robotic as her movements.

"DENISE!" another voice called; V.I.C.I. turned to see a statuesque, green-haired woman marching toward the stricken gynoid, shouting "Override code XT600129!" Denise only laughed. "H-h-h-h-h-hhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii, Sophia," she purred, her voice now taking on the air of a phone-sex operator. Sophia wasn't smiling. "Denise, stand down and prepare to be deactivated," she ordered. "You-you-you-you-you-you-you loooooookkkk hot tonight," Denise cooed, her arm haltingly moving to up Sophia's torso to feel her D-cup breasts, only to have her hand slapped away. "Cut it out!" Sophia shouted.

"She needs help," V.I.C.I. suggested, startling Sophia. "How do you…" the green-haired gynoid began, only to be interrupted by Faceless shouting "JUST KILL THEM BOTH!" Sophia flipped him off before returning her attention to V.I.C.I. "She's been infected by some sort of virus," she told V.I.C.I., "and I think that it's stemming from something called Stylo.obj. I have no idea where she found that file, and I don’t know what it does, but that's not our problem right now." "Couldn't have said it better myself," V.I.C.I. replied. "How do we turn her off?" Faceless, still laying on the ground, shouted "CUT HER HEAD OFF!" "I already tried that," Sophia yelled back, angrily, "but she just grabbed it and jammed it back on!"

V.I.C.I. turned her attention away from Faceless and Sophia's shouting match, using all of her available system resources to scan Denise for any sort of weakness. This might not be a Mega Man game, she mused, but it’s still worth a shot. Sure enough, her scan revealed that a direct jolt of electricity to Denise's central battery would terminate all motor functions. She loaded up DG v1.0 and prepared to make her move. "If it's not too much trouble," she asked Sophia, "could you restrain..Denise for me?" "Why, so you can rip her battery out?" the green-haired gynoid spat. V.I.C.I. shook her head. "If I can transmit an electric shock directly to her central battery, her motor functions would instantly be shut down." Sophia raised an eyebrow; "And how would you know that?" "My dad's Ted Lawson, the founder of Lawson Robotics. I learned everything I ever wanted to learn about robot repair from him."

Sophia thought about it for a second. "You've got something that can provide that kind of shock?" she asked. V.I.C.I. thought about demonstrating DG v1.0, but instead told Sophia that she had a Taser in her pocket; better to let her think I'm human, at least for now. "Ever seen Pulp Fiction, where Uma Thurman gets a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart?" she asked, and Sophia didn't even hesitate before saying "Yes." "Punch Denise in the same spot where John Travolta injected Uma Thurman; the weaker that area is, the easier it'll be for me to do what has to be done." Sophia nodded. "AND I SUPPOSE YOU'LL JUST LEAVE ME LAYING ON THE GROUND, THEN!" Faceless shouted. "Yep," V.I.C.I. called back, cheerfully.

With that settled, V.I.C.I. turned to address Sophia---only to find that the green-haired gynoid had been run through with…a baseball bat?!

Denise danced around mechanically, yelling "Homerunhomerunhoemrnuromersunsromesune!" and laughing in an unsettling staccato voice. Horrified, V.I.C.I. lowered Sophia to her knees, not wanting her to sustain further damage by falling. She then scanned the wounded gynoid and found that the injury triggered her emergency standby mode, which prevented her from using up more energy by trying to remove the bat. It's probably for the best, she realized, because pulling that thing out of her would just do more damage to her systems. She closed Sophia's eyes and returned her attention to the fight.

As Denise continued her mechanical dancing, V.I.C.I. noticed Faceless struggling to his feet. Wait…where's that throwing knife he used to stab her in the eye? Her scanners directed her towards the knife, which was laying on the ground a few feet away. "I hope this works," she monotoned, turning to face the stricken, raven-haired fembot. "Denise, she whispered, "I'm sorry…."

Without hesitation, she hurled the knife.

The blade embedded itself in Denise's chest, right above her central battery. Denise stopped flailing, noticing the knife for the first time. Before she could pull it out, V.I.C.I. walked over to her. "If you can understand me," she whispered, "I'm only doing this because I have to." She grabbed the knife; Increase maximum voltage by 125%…..ACTIVATE! For 30 seconds, Denise's body was wracked with spasms as the electricity coursed through her. Faceless stared at the gynoid, swearing under his breath; Vicki had outwitted him AGAIN!

After a full minute, Denise stopped moving.

Instantly, all traces of her affliction vanished; she stopped stuttering and allowed V.I.C.I. to lower her to the ground. "What…happened?" she asked. "I'm sorry," V.I.C.I. admitted, "but you were infected with some sort of virus. I had to overload your central battery to stop you." Denise smiled sadly. "I never thought it would end like this…I always thought I'd suffer a malfunction while getting into an elevator and get cut in half or something…." She laid back and closed her eyes. "Thank you…for saving me…..I didn't want to spend my last few minutes….dancing around like a speed freak…." She smiled again, finally at peace as her systems slowly began to shut themselves down for the final time.

In the corner of her eye, V.I.C.I. noticed an e-mail; She must be using some of Ted's old code! she realized. I'll have to run it through the decompiler later…

Before V.I.C.I. could finish thinking about decompiling the code, she felt someone grab her by the wrists. "This ends here," Faceless hissed. "You're right," she replied. "This does end here….for you." She reversed his wristlock and grabbed his wrists---or, more accurately, she grabbed his wristblade holders. "What…what are you doing?!" "Something I should have done the first time we met." With just a thought, she activated DG v1.0 in her left hand before ramping up the voltage in both hands. She stared down Faceless without flinching; "This is for everyone you've ever killed….human and gynoid," she intoned.

As Faceless screamed, V.I.C.I. ramped up the voltage that coursed through her hands into the wristblade holders strapped to Faceless' arms---consequently, coursing through his veins.

"GGGGGGGGGGYYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!"


Despite Faceless' shrieking, V.I.C.I. didn't let go, allowing her masked adversary to see that her eyes were glowing just as brightly as her hands. For a a full 2 minutes, she held firm….until she felt herself go limp.

"Vicki…..VICKI!"

Major Tom's voice woke Vicki out of her stupor. "Wha…..what happened?" she murmured. "Faceless won't ever try to torture you again, that's what." Mr. Tell sat down next to Vicki, who realized she was in the back of an ambulance with Major Tom. Police officers, CSIs and other officials were canvassing the area; Sophia, apparently, had been "collected" before the 5-0 showed up.

The implications of Tell's words suddenly hit Vicki; "I….I didn't…I didn’t mean to…." She paused, afraid to go on. "Is he..y'know, dead?" Major Tom shook his head, looking and feeling bitter. "No, just unconscious. Still, " he added, "you've done what none of his other victims were able to do." "What, pass out?" Vicki asked, sullenly. "No. You held your own and survived." "Plus, the DA is ready to put him on trial for Kirsten Sanderson's murder---" "Not so loud!" Vicki hissed, prompting Mr. Tell to laugh. "Relax, V. Kirsten's back at home, resting; she'll be back in class on Wednesday."

A few feet away, a vehicle that looked like a cross between an ambulance and an armored car pulled up, and seven armed guards filed out of the vehicle to secure Faceless for transit. "Where are they taking him?" Vicki asked. "Somewhere I hope you'll never have to go," Major Tom replied quietly. Vicki didn't press the issue any further.

Twenty minutes later, the scene had been processed, and Mr. Tell dropped Vicki off at Ted's house, advising her to wait for Ted to come back before she made any phone calls. Five minutes after she arrived at his house, Ted finally showed up; the two embraced tearfully, becoming more than just creator and creation….at that moment, more than ever, Ted and Vicki Lawson truly felt the bond that only exists between a father and his daughter. No words were said; none were needed. They were happy just knowing that they were both still alive, still together.

They were happy to be part of the same family.


Sunday passed by without incident, and on Monday, Vicki and a few of her friends attended the Isleys' funeral in Los Angeles. Two services were held; one for all three of the Isleys (Dianne's coffin was kept shut, with the excuse that she'd wanted her funeral to be a closed casket), and an ALPA memorial service for Dianne that was only attended by Vicki, Mr. Tell and the other ALPA operatives working in Silicon Valley.

After the ALPA memorial service, Vicki was approached by Capri. "I just wanted to thank you, Vicki, for helping to keep me from getting obliterated by that whackjob." "You're welcome. How's your leg doing?" Capri smiled and rolled her eyes; the last time she'd worked alongside Vicki, she had sustained damage to her left leg thanks to the apparent incompetence of a Lawson Robotics employee (who turned out to be an industrial spy sent by United Robotronics). "It's still holding up," she told the younger gynoid.

Vicki noticed that Capri had brought a cardboard box with her. "I'm assuming those are Dianne's personal effects," she mused. "Something like that," Capri replied. "Before you signed up for the ALPA, Dianne Isley was the ALPA's main operative in the Silicon Valley area---well, to be honest, both of them were." "What?!" The news that both Dianne Isley and Unit DI-8473 worked with the ALPA was, to put it simply, completely unexpected. "I thought the real Dianne Isley was just a college student---" "She was, until she found out that her parents were roboticists working with the government to help set up a sort of discreet registration system for androids---and that they were getting threatening e-mails from synthophobes. Her car crash in Prague wasn't exactly an accident, either; it was an assassination attempt."

"So…that means…" "I was Dianne's handler when she was in the ALPA. After her accident, Lawson Robotics put in a call to Leeds Animatronics and Entertainment Robotics, and DI-8473---Dianne Isley v2.0---was built, but her parents didn't want to lose her the same way they lost the real Dianne." Capri sighed. "They didn't even want her knowing she was a gynoid….which worked out great, until that damn frat party. The moment that beer got into her internals, I nearly blew a fuse---literally." "So, once DI-8473 found out that she was an android..." Vicki began, tentatively. "The jig was up," Capri replied, finishing the obvious statement. "We gave her all of her memories back----including the ones from the car crash----and she was re-instated as a member of the ALPA; her parents weren't too happy at first, but they eventually got comfortable with it."

"Which brings us to this," Vicki declared, gesturing at the box. "What's it for, and why did you drag it all the way out here?" Capri raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Seeing as how Dianne left you all of her stuff in the will," she informed the brunette gynoid, "I felt it only fair to tell you that 'all of her stuff' includes her unfinished ALPA missions." Vicki opened the box and found several folders, CD-ROMs, maps, and other such documents, all of them with the ALPA crest. "This is just the first box," Capri told her as she sifted through the files. "There's at least 5 more waiting at Mr. Tell's place."

Vicki skimmed through the folders, perusing files that detailed information on androids and gynoids living in and around the Silicon Valley area. "I’m guessing the whole 'new mission every 3 weeks' thing still applies, right?" she asked. Capri nodded. "At times, you may be running two or three missions at a time, so try not to get the details mixed up." She smiled and helped Vicki return the files to the box. "Dianne would be proud of you, V.I.C.I., and as her former handler, I have to say that I'm proud of you, too." "Thanks," Vicki murmured, blushing slightly.

After the memorial service ended, Vicki was given a ride back to her dorm at the Campus Village, where she set to work going through her e-mail and decompiling the code she'd received from Denise. Surprisingly, several students who had seen the "Vicki Lawson Must Die" messages seemed to think that she'd been assaulted by someone on campus (I'll have to ask Major Tom about that, she mused), and had sent her "Get Well Soon" e-cards wishing her all the best. After sorting through the e-cards, Vicki found a new ALPA e-mail, containing her mission briefing for the week. The decompiler took 30 minutes to do its job, but it paid off; the line of code Denise had given up was the key code Vicki needed to unlock another new upgrade. As she connected her laptop to Port 985 and fired up the ALPA Upgrade Install program, she thought back to Denise's return to lucidity right before her final deactivation, wondering how she pulled it off.

Her meditation was interrupted by the menu screen appearing before her eyes. "Okay, Vicki," she told herself, "let's see what today's upgrade will be…." Her face lit up as she read the description. "This is going to rock…"


Initiating repairs on Unit ST-9050….

Damage assessment: 60% of internal systems have been compromised.

Internal gyroscopic stabilizers damaged. Estimated repair time: 6.32 hours.

Substitute Battery /"Sub Tank" regulator damaged. Estimated repair time: 7 hours.

Caloric Intake Converter damaged. Estimated repair time: 2 hours.

Multiple systems have been compromised. Compiling test results….. Sophia Tank's unseeing eyes stared upwards at the ceiling as her systems ran checks on themselves. The baseball bat she'd been impaled with was an aluminum bat, so there were no splinters to worry about; still, her creators had never anticipated that she'd face such a damaging strike that combined blunt force trauma with an impaling blow.

Andrew Sharpe stood at the observation window of the repair bay, watching as multiple robot arms delved into Sophia's opened chest cavity to repair the damaged components. Valerie, the gynoid sent to replace Denise, stood by his side, watching the proceedings with a look of sadness on her face. "I should've been out there helping her," she murmured. "That may be," Sharpe admitted, "but what if Denise had attacked you instead of Sophia? You're not designed for close-quarters combat, Valerie; we could give you a substantial upgrade to fix that problem, if you wanted…" The young gynoid shook her head. "I'll let Sophia do the fighting, Mr. Sharpe."

Behind Andrew and Valerie, a door slid open, revealing two individuals. One was a 30-something male clad in coveralls; his nametag read "Stephen," and the small series of numbers beneath his name indicated his status as an android. To his left, a young woman in secretarial attire waited patiently for Sharpe to notice her; when that failed, she cleared her throat loudly. "Hmm?" Sharpe asked, turning to face the newcomers. "We've received word that Project Epsilon is almost ready for deployment," the woman told him. She was one of the few human female employees at United Robotronics; only 54% of the staff was human, and about a third of that percentage were women.

"The procedures were performed successfully, then?" Sharpe asked. "To the letter, sir," the woman replied, grinning nervously. "Excellent. Take the rest of the day off, Patricia, you've earned it." The woman's facial expression brightened noticably at that remark as she left; Stephen, meanwhile, remained . "And you're here for…?" Sharpe asked. "There's been a problem with the autopsy on Denise," the android replied. Valerie couldn't help staring at him as he talked; he was about 6 feet tall, and he looked a bit like Chris Pine.

"…and this 'Stylo.obj' file wasn't anywhere on her systems," Stephen told Sharpe, prompting a sigh from the CEO of United Robotronics. "Wipe her hard drive and recycle her processors, then put her body in cold storage. I'll see if I can get a team to repair the damages done to her systems later." Stephen nodded and turned to leave, before noticing Valerie staring wistfully at Sophia's unmoving form. He walked over to the observation window, watching as a robotic arm carefully extracted a damaged battery from the green-haired gynoid's chest. "A friend of yours?" he asked softly. Valerie nodded. "I was assigned to protect her," she muttered, "but she told me to stay in the car, and…well…" She gestured hopelessly at the repair bay.

Stephen sighed. "Trust me, I've seen worse than this. If she's as tough as her name implies, she'll be back on her feet before the week is over." Valerie nodded hopefully, thanking Stephen for the encouraging words as he left.

Sharpe watched the interaction between the two androids without interjecting; he only spoke after Stephen had left the room. "You seemed rather interested in Stephen," he told Valerie. "I am," she replied quietly.

She gazed back at the lifeless body of Sophia Tank, wondering what the older gynoid would've said….


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

These last few days haven’t exactly been "normal", but in my life, "normal" is more of a luxury than one might expect.

I'll start with the bad news: Dianne Isley, for lack of a better word, died Friday night, and her parents were killed in their hotel room. Glenn Saxon saw it happen, and according to him, the killer ran right through him! I don't exactly now what that could mean; the only thing I know for sure is that Faceless wasn't involved. He was involved with the kidnappings of Capri, Kirsten and Raquel Sanderson, but they're all safe, thanks to the ALPA. Shawn and Sharon are doing great too, and they still don't know about Kirsten, the ALPA, or any of the other details related to the past few days.

In terms of classwork, I'm doing great---except in chemistry. It's like high school all over again; I expected to do a lot of stuff with actual chemicals, but all we're doing so far is a bunch of equations , and they're BORING! Thankfully, I have classes in the English department to take my mind off of the boredom. I'm thinking about entering the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest when it starts; maybe I can write a story about my life and publish it as a science-fiction novel! :D

Anyways, I'm starting my first official ALPA mission this week; hopefully, my latest upgrade will make the job easier. Oh, and before I forget: Kirsten's apparently seeing someone from the football team. I don't know who, but rumor has it that he's at least a 15 on the Sharon Wilson one-to-ten scale of hotness, which she told me about during breakfast.

Well, I've got another class to get to, so I guess this is it for now!

Until next time, V.I.C.I./Vicki Lawson---------------------------------- Vicki Lawson may have survived against Faceless, but in the next chapter of The V.I.C.I. Diaries, she'll face an enemy she thought was gone forever. L.E.S., the Logic and Emotion Synthesizer, was created to help Vicki understand human emotions, but after attempting to acquire Vicki's superior processing power, the program was transferred to a PC and left in a United Robotronics warehouse on September 27, 1999.'

Fast forward to September 27, 2010….L.E.S. has waited for almost 11 years to avenge its earlier defeat, and what better way to start than by possessing the body of the gynoid in charge of taking a full inventory of the warehouse? Goodbye, L.E.S., and hello, Leslie Erica Simm!


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