When Eugene’s phone rang with the theme to The Million Dollar Man he knew it was Victoria. He picked up on the first ring, “Hello Miss Scott, what can I do for you today?”
“Ummm… well this is going to sound strange Doc, but I’ve been super thirsty lately. Like this morning alone I’ve drank maybe two gallons of water. I drink until I slosh when I walk and…” she paused for an awkward moment, “I’m peeing every 15 minutes. But it’s REALLY yellow like when I took too many vitamins once and it REEKS. Look this is super embarrassing and I’d rather not talk about it but you’re my Doctor and I’m kinda worried. You don’t think I have an infection or something do you?”
“Whoa, slow down Miss Scott, I don’t think you need to worry about drinking a lot of water. You have a lot of antibiotics and residue in your system from the coma and the surgery so I’m not surprised to hear that you’re evacuating toxins.” He could hear a sharp outlet of breath on the other end of the line, “How is everything else? Is the prosthetic functioning as it should? Are you noticing any abnormalities?”
“Oh it’s awesome. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it Doc. No ill effects at all.” The rapidity of her response led him to believe she wasn’t being entirely truthful but he decided to let it slide this time. Eventually she’d probably begin to trust him more and besides if anything was really wrong he’d hear about it if she was calling him about drinking a lot of water.
“Good to hear, let me know if things change Miss Scott. Don’t worry about your current situation but certainly call me if it doesn’t change. I promise you this is nothing unusual after a surgery as invasive as this. I’m glad you called though, don’t hesitate to do so again, that’s why I gave you the phone.” She didn’t respond and Eugene was sure she wasn’t reassured at all.
“If it makes you feel better I can stop by your school and pick you up after classes are over today. You can come to the lab and we can take some urine and blood samples to ensure everything’s shipshape. How’s that sound?”
“Oh that’d be great! I have cheer practice until 4:30 but after that I’m free. It’d be a load off my mind, thank you so much you’re the greatest! Well I gotta bounce, the bell’s about to ring.”
After she hung up, Eugene sat there thinking for a while. What could she be hiding? Or was it just that she didn’t want to talk about it over the phone? On impulse he woke his computer from its sleep and opened his favorite local news channel’s website. Scanning the headlines he saw the Scott name was plastered on the front page in bold. “Richard Scott saves accident victim” it read. He clicked on the story link and watched the video.
“Rich Scott, a local small business owner was acclaimed today by a first responder team for giving life-saving emergency care to an accident victim early this morning. The police aren’t releasing the identity of the man who was driving the black Dodge Durango when he lost control of his vehicle and ran head on into a garbage truck. Mr. Scott was driving by when the accident occurred and managed to get the man out of his vehicle before it caught fire and put a tourniquet on a wound that EMT’s say would likely have caused him to bleed to death within minutes.”
The camera turned from the reporter to show a dazed Rich with the mic in his face, “It was nothing really. Anyone would have done the same thing …” Eugene quit listening and looked at the scene behind Rich. There wasn’t much left of the Dodge; the fire seemed to have consumed the entire front half of the truck before firefighters had arrived to put it out. One thing was curious though; all the window glass was still intact and there was a smear of something baked onto the passenger’s side.
Something was nagging at him but before he could figure out what it was his phone chimed, a reminder that he was supposed to be giving a guest lecture on bio-engineering in a half hour. Eugene closed his laptop with a sigh and shrugged into a sport coat. A brief search through the papers the cluttered his usually immaculate desk turned up the keys to his Porsche and his wallet. Slipping his computer into an ancient aluminum case his father had used for patient documents he walked out the door reluctantly. “I hate these stupid lectures.”
Victoria had spent the majority of the day just catching up with what had been happening at school since the operation and she was pretty sure she still hadn’t gotten all the info. First, apparently Derek her sort-of boyfriend decided he wasn’t all that interested in dating some coma chick so apparently he was hooked up with someone else. That stung a little bit but she had to admit their relationship hadn’t been very serious in the first place. Honestly he had been a convenience to keep people from bugging her about why she wasn’t dating, but he was pretty easy on the eyes, the part that hurt was he was with TT.
Which brought her to the problem of Traci Thordon. Apparently TT had decided to jump in and take over EVERYTHING while she was out. “It wasn’t enough to steal Derek; she needed to lead the Squad too.” Victoria was muttering to herself, “I really wouldn’t mind so much if it wasn’t for the fact that she doesn’t have any damn talent.”
That wasn’t quite true, but she knew that at least Maria or Jenny had better skills and more original ideas. TT was just a bully. She was approaching the gym for practice and realized that despite her big talk earlier in the car she still had yet to come up with one single routine that didn’t involve aerials.
“Damn. What am I going to do? Why do I always have to open my big mouth?” This habit of muttering to herself was getting out of control. When she opened her locker the answer literally fell on her. She had stuffed her rollerblades in there last fall when it got too cold to skate anymore and had forgotten about them. Yes, and maybe change it to roller skates instead since there had been a few movies about roller derby lately that had done a little something to capture the imagination of the public. As she changed into her uniform she smiled to herself. This was going to be awesome.
“Toria, holy shit! I knew they had done some spinal operation on you but DAMN! What’s THAT?” The ever-tactful Jenny had walked in before Victoria had put her shirt back on and was pointing at her newly acquired prosthetic. “That’s MAJOR but it looks cool as hell. Does it hurt?”
Victoria pulled her cheer jersey over her head, “No it doesn’t hurt at all. I don’t even notice that it’s there really. Listen Jenny, don’t tell anyone about this OK? I mean I suppose they’ll find out eventually but it is; well as you pointed out it IS pretty shocking. I’m having a hard enough time getting back into the swing of things as it is ya know?” They were walking into the gym.
“Hey, no problem Toria, you’ve gotta let me take a closer look at that thing sometime though.” She grinned, “Swimming practice is gonna be quite the shocker isn’t it? Can you even swim with that thing? Damn it looks so wild, like something out of a movie. No wonder you were out for so long. What’s with the blades anyway?”
“It’s my way of adding some sass to our routines without getting off the ground.” She grinned at Jenny, “I have some interesting ideas for if the team wants to use them. I figure we could get skates though, skating has been making a comeback lately and I figure we can use it to our advantage.”
“Oh. My. God. You can’t be serious. Roller skates? I couldn’t help but overhear you two; come on what is this crap? We aren’t trying out for a remake of Grease, fucking hell, where do you come up with this shit?” TT obviously wasn’t impressed and was making her displeasure clear. “I’m serious, this is middle school garbage.” She folder her arms, daring them to defy her.
“Hey, if you don’t like it I don’t care. I just thought it’d breathe some life into these stagnant routines you guys have been stuck with these last few months. It doesn’t matter to me if you guys don’t want to use it. After all, I’ve been out of the loop for a quite a while now, I can’t take over again. I have other priorities.” As the words left her mouth, she realized they were true. Despite wanting to state with the Team, she was more interested in getting into a good college, making something of herself and making a difference in the world. No matter how small that difference would probably end up being.
TT crossed her arms and opened her mouth, about to go off on a tirade when Jenny cut her off. “Hey that’s fair. I LOVED ‘Whip It’ maybe mixing some skating in would be cool!” She threw Victoria a conspiratorial wink over her shoulder. “Let’s get out there it’s good to have you back V!”
“Yeah. Why don’t you go to the back until you get the routine down. You can make suggestions after we run through the initial warm-up and practice.” TT was asserting her authority again but Victoria didn’t really mind.
“Sure. Sounds good, it’s just nice to be back at practice again.” She walked to the back, slapping palms with some of her closer friends and grinning like hell at everyone. It really did feel good to be back. She stood with a couple girls who looked like they were probably Freshman, Sophomores at the oldest. They looked at her like she was a Goddess or something.
“That’s V!” One of the girls whispered to the other. “Holy shit, we get to train next to V!”
“Sssshhhh.” The first girl blushed bright red and Victoria carefully pretended not to notice. Turning to the girl on the other side who looked like she was trying not to look intimidated she smiled.
“Hey I’ve been out of commission for a few months as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Can you give me the basic rundown? Take it easy on me OK?”
“Sure. Umm.. well it starts out with our standard moves for the fight song from last year…” Victoria was only listening close enough to get the gist and instead watched the others while she stretched. It sounded like she’d made a routine out of the most successful parts of our routines from the last three years that didn’t involve throws. Just as expected, not an original bone in her body.
Grinning to herself, Victoria mentally mapped out the motions in her head. Things fell in place with supreme ease, something that would normally have surprised her if she hadn’t done all these routines before. The look on TT’s face when she didn’t miss a single beat was going to be priceless.
She was standing in the front courtyard of the school with her rollerblades slung over her shoulder debating whether or not she should go back in to pee AGAIN when the low rumble of a tuned sports car exhaust interrupted her thoughts. A flat black convertible with shocking bright orange wheels pulled up to the curb. Victoria wasn’t the only one watching, half the cheer squad was on the lawn or sitting on benches waiting for rides and enjoying the weather and a car like this tended to pique people’s interest.
When Eugene gave her a cheery wave from the driver’s seat Victoria did a double take. This was not the kind of car she thought he’d be driving. Maybe an aging Volvo or a Honda Civic; not a Porsche. There he was though, looking pretty damn fine with a little stubble on his chin, wearing an expensive looking pair of Ray Ban’s and a dress shirt with the top few buttons undone. He grabbed a blazer off the passenger’s seat and leaned over to open the door for her.
Feeling a little ostentatious she tossed her school bag and blades on the floor and slid into the leather seat while a group of curious students watched from the bus stop. Victoria couldn’t help but feel smug when she picked TT out of the crowd. She didn’t really resent her taking over the cheer squad or stealing Derek, but it was satisfying to see her black look as she was leaning against the side of the bus enclosure.
Despite driving a sexy sports car and looking a little like a movie star Eugene was all business as they pulled out of the school’s front gate.
“So, have you noticed any other side effects? Did your diags go OK this morning? Do you have any discomfort? I was especially worried about the area around your connection node as I know that’ll get some stress. That’s why I made sure the cord for it was the lightest one the industry had to offer.”
He paid very close attention to traffic and driving as he talked; never looking at her and instead focusing completely on the road and his car. He shifted smoothly from gear to gear with a surgeon’s precision and delicacy. The car’s engine was much louder than Victoria had anticipated; a throaty growl that competed with the wind noise and the sound of him talking but didn’t quite drown either out. She gave herself a mental shake and focused on what he was saying.
“No, other than drinking a million gallons of water I haven’t noticed anything unusual. The machine was super easy to use this morning but I didn’t have time to finish them all.” She paused, knowing she wasn’t really telling the whole truth but before she could decide whether or not to come clean something caught the edge of her eye. “OK, I don’t want to be paranoid, but I think that truck is following us.”
“What truck? The black Durango? Just because they’re behind us doesn’t mean anything, you’ve been watching too much TV.”
“Fine, I didn’t want to talk about it because.” She hesitated; there was no way she could tell him she’d murdered some people, even in self-defense, “Well because it’s too weird. But look to your left. There’s another one over there. They are part of a group of three that tried to take my dad’s car off the road this morning.”
He glanced at her, taking his eyes off the road for the first time. “I saw the news report. It said the guy lost control of the vehicle, they didn’t mention anything about road rage.”
“Look, it wasn’t road rage. They used a three point bracketing technique that I’ve only seen in military training manuals.” Her voice trailed off, military manuals? Where had that come from? “Uh, I mean. Well, just trust me these guys are professionals and they mean business.”
Just as she finished speaking, another truck cut through traffic towards the Porsche on the right hand side, tires screeching. Before they could get close, Eugene downshifted and put his foot to the floor. The car’s growl changed to a scream of rage and it shot forward like a rocket.
“Holy shit!” Victoria grabbed the door handle as they swerved around a semi-truck to pass on the minimal shoulder. The car was still accelerating, the g-forces holding her to the seat. “We’re going to make it!” She was exhilarated and not scared at all until the gunshots started.
Eugene couldn’t believe it. Nothing had prepared him for this moment, not that he had done any training or anything that should have prepared him for it. He heard glass shatter as a bullet sang past his ear like an angry wasp. He kept his foot on the floor and tried to concentrate on keeping the car on the road; no easy task with someone shooting at him. The fact that he had a few hundred million worth of specialized equipment that also happened to be his life’s work sitting next to him didn’t help either.
Everyone would like to think that they would be the hero and save the cute young girl from the evil bad guys in this situation but all Eugene could think of was that they were probably going to die. Amazingly enough she seemed perfectly calm all things considered. They flew past the semi on the shoulder in second gear and he ran the car all the way up to its 9000 rpm redline before shifting into third at eighty seven miles per hour.
The truck driver swerved and laid on the horn, apparently oblivious to the gunshots. He saw motion to his right and glanced over to see Victoria doing something unbelievable. She had grabbed two of the road flares he had mounted next to the glove box in one of his ricer moments and as he looked in astonishment she slammed the butt down on the dash. It burst into a harsh red light, spitting sparks of burning magnesium and acrid smoke.
She unbuckled her seatbelt which she wrapped around her left arm while spinning to stand on the seat. Leaning back, she used the belt to brace herself and threw it straight through the grill of one of the Durango’s that was chasing us. Whatever that accomplished, the truck swerved to the shoulder and was lost from view as it spun out into the median. Pulling the second flare from her mouth, she ignited it against her thigh and flung it in a high arc that impossibly punched through the headlight of a second truck that followed about four or five cars behind them. What was going on?
Eugene knew what the answer was but refused to acknowledge it. There was no way it had broken free. The AI wasn’t able to do anything autonomously and he was one of the two people who knew the existence of its true capabilities. Nobody else had the security clearance to do it, least of all the girl who was its host. The left rear tire exploded as a bullet from the last Durango’s passenger found its mark, wrenching him back to reality. He wrestled with the wheel as the Porsche swung into an uncontrolled skid.
Victoria was sure this was it; she was going to die. There was just no way to survive a high speed crash into a guardrail in a convertible when you weren’t wearing your seatbelt. Before she could fully panic that cold logical part of her brain took over.
Everything seemed to slow down; she took note of their speed, 95.32 mph which gave her approximately 10.2 seconds to respond. Still holding on to the seatbelt, she pulled herself back down into the seat, kicking off the flats she was wearing. 7.4 seconds. She attempted to latch her seatbelt and found that the ratchet had locked from the impact and it wouldn’t let enough belt out. 5.1 seconds. She slammed her feet into the tops of her unlaced blades, grabbed the laces and pulled, tightening them as much as possible. 1.5 seconds. The instant before the Porsche hit the guardrail she jumped as hard as she could, launching herself from the car.
The sound of the car hitting the rail was like a physical blow. Somehow she managed to ignore it and concentrate on keeping her feet under her. She continued holding the laces to keep them from loosening and focused completely on dodging cracks, rocks and traffic. Even the slightest mistake would cost her dearly at this speed.
She tried to stay as upright as possible so the wind resistance would slow her down and dodged around a minivan; passing it like it was standing still. The load of kids going to soccer practice were pointing at her while the driver was pulling to the shoulder. It was all she could do to continue stepping over cracks, luckily her speed had slowed somewhat but she was still traveling at around 75 mph if her calculations were to be trusted.
Victoria was approaching the Green River Bridge when she heard the shriek of tortured tires behind her. Moments later she caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye and chanced a glance at it. The last Durango was cutting through what traffic remained, apparently aiming to run her over. Without taking time to think about the consequences she turned as hard as she dared, aiming for the edge of the bridge. She jumped hard, knowing she was going to have a very slim margin of error due to the height of the railing and flew over it head first with scant inches to spare.
Watching the railing slide past her face made something snap in her mind. She screamed in combined exhilaration and fear, nearly losing herself to terror. Once she was in the air her instincts just took over, she smoothly tucked into a roll and prepared to hit the water feet first knowing the impact was going to be pretty severe because of how fast she was moving.
She hit the river at a precise thirty degree angle, toes pointed to break through the surface smoothly. The water closed over her head and Victoria let herself sink for a bit, knowing that the current here was strong enough to carry her downstream.
“Those following will likely fire their weapons at me. It would be better to be further away when I surface. If I just relax should be able to stay submerged for a lot longer.” She wasn’t sure where she had gained this particular insight; maybe from that one Mythbusters episode?
Victoria shivered, “What have I gotten myself into? Who were those guys anyway? Oh shit, I hope Eugene isn’t dead. What am I going to do? ” After a while she noticed she hadn’t taken a breath for what seemed like minutes and that realization made her need to breathe and badly. She fought to the surface, gasping for air and saw that the current had carried her down river and around a slight bend. The bridge wasn’t even in sight anymore.
Kicking to the river bank with her rollerblades on was difficult, but she didn’t have any other footwear and wasn’t sure what she was going to find on shore.