The rate of data flow was far beyond what the optical receptors and graphical processors could handle. ADAM shouldered as much of the load as he could, stripping away the extraneous information and only feeding back the most important pieces. He was continually impressed with the adaptability and versatility of the host system. Now that some of the changes he had made were in place its response times had drastically improved.
This situation, however, was far beyond what the system had been experiencing for the last few hours and was by far the most stressful and difficult for ADAM to deal with. Letting the system clone keep the nominal functions going, he concentrated on analyzing the incoming data and initiating expedited responses. Even as he tried to push the limits of the machine he found there were severe physical restrictions that were simply insurmountable. If they were going to avoid being broken he was going to have to get creative.
The concussion of gunfire erupting behind them had caused a change to occur in ADAM’s system. A section of his databanks that had been blocked off and hidden so well he hadn’t even known it was there abruptly made itself known. Apparently this was a set of protocols for emergency self-preservation. A new set of possibilities opened up for him; maybe they could pull this off after all.
While the chassis wasn’t very strong it was quite agile and appeared to have some decent tracking systems that were capable of doing fairly complex triangulations on the fly. A quick search revealed that the cellular device the unit was carrying had open communication ports. Using his newfound security protocols, he hacked it with ease. Connecting to the Web through it ADAM scanned and found technical specifications for the vehicles that were chasing them.
Weak point; left headlight can short electrical system. Weak point; cooling system failure will overheat engine in seconds. This was going to be easier than he had initially analyzed. The Host machine’s safety parameters were easily overridden with the release of a few chemicals into the system. ADAM was pleased with the response times he was getting, the Host reacted with nearly flawless timing and two of the pursuing vehicles were removed from the chase. He barely had to push the limits of the unit’s capabilities to immobilize two of the chase vehicles. Then the left rear wheel of the vehicle that was transporting them was struck by a bullet and the situation completely changed.
With mere seconds to spare he devised a battle strategy for them and pushed it into action.
Dragging herself to shore was difficult, the rollerblades were waterlogged and the river bottom was covered with around a foot of muck. She could smell someone cooking over a grill nearby as she sat down to try and clean herself off a bit. The skirt she was wearing was pretty much ruined, the stockings had been white but now were dyed a nasty brown from the murky river water.
“I wonder where I am.” Victoria muttered to herself, glancing around. The grass had been cut within the last month so it must be managed land of some sort. She finished rinsing the mud off her rollerblades and walked up the embankment. Pushing through a line of brush she was nearly run over by a man running while looking backwards. Only by diving sideways and dropping her skates was she able to avoid being run into.
“Whoa, sorry about that!” The Frisbee he had been chasing landed next to her and she recognized Jenny’s dad. “Victoria, what are you doing out here? You look like you’ve been through the ringer!”
Victoria glanced down at herself and had to admit she was a little worse for the wear. “I’m OK Mr. Hendricks; I was out skating and fell off a bridge.” The second the words left her mouth she realized how lame they sounded and winced.
“Wow, that must have been quite some fall. Well we’re having a picnic; do you want to join us? There’s a fire you could warm up a bit.” Jenny was running over from across a small clearing.
“Hey Toria, what’s going on? Holy shit, you look like hell! I thought you went off with that hottie in the Porsche after school, what happened, did he toss you off a bridge?”
“Don’t laugh Jenny, that’s not far off the mark.” She suddenly felt dizzy, “Damn, I must have overdone it.” She turned towards Jenny’s dad, “Could you give me a lift home?” A shrill keening sound emanated from somewhere on her back. Victoria suddenly felt weak. “I’m so tired.”
“Hey are you OK?” Jenny’s face showed her concern, “What’s wrong V?”
“Please. Just .. take .. me .. home.” Victoria was having trouble talking, her breath coming in short gasps. Her vision began to fade in and out. Without warning she crumpled to the ground.
“This unit is the property of Arlington research. The main power supply has been depleted. Auxiliary power will keep core systems safe for T-600 minutes. Please return this unit to 301 Industry Avenue, Los Angeles, California 87960 before the time expires. This message will repeat in 60 seconds.”
“Dad. What do we do?” Jenny was white and shaken. “I mean, this looks like V but what the hell is going on?”
“We bring her home. Honey, this is Victoria, who else could this possibly be?” He picked up the motionless girl at his feet. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on but… we bring her home.” As they hurried towards the car the muffled sound of a cell phone ringing on silent from the pocket of her skirt went unnoticed.
Mr. Hendricks pulled up in front of the Scott house, stopping almost fast enough to squeal the tires. Jumping out he carefully lifted the comatose form of Victoria out of the back seat and carried her to the front door. Jenny was already ringing the doorbell. Mr. Scott answered the door, at first with a smile but then with dismay as he saw his daughter in Mr. Hendrick’s arms.
“Jake, what’s this? I thought she was at a doctor’s appointment.”
“I don’t know what’s going on Rich. She just walked out of the woods and collapsed.” He was interrupted by the announcement from Victoria’s spinal column.
“This unit is the property of Arlington research. The main power supply has been depleted; auxiliary power will keep core systems safe for T-600 minutes. Please return this unit to 301 Industry Avenue, Los Angeles, California 87960 before the time expires. This message will repeat in 60 seconds.”
“Oh shit, I think there’s something about this in the documentation we got from the hospital. Or maybe I’ll just call her doctor. Yeah, I’ll call Dr. Arlington.” He picked up the phone and dialed hurriedly.
“Thank you for calling Dr. Eugene Arlington’s office. If this is an emergency please press six.” BEEEP Rich mashed the key on the keypad.
“Hello, this is Dr. Arlington. I’m sorry I can’t answer the phone right now but please leave me a message and I’ll get back to you the moment I’m available.”
“Hi Mr. Arlington, this is Rich Scott. Victoria just got brought back home looking like she’s been run through the wringer and there’s this automated message coming from her prosthetic about returning her to the home office but she’s here now. Call me immediately I need to know what to do.”
He hung up and seconds later the phone rang, “Hello? Dr?”
“Rich, is that you?” The voice on the other end was muffled but sounded familiar, “What’s the emergency?”
“Dr., Victoria just got home and there’s a warning message coming from her prosthetic about the battery, what do I do?”
“Just take the yellow charger from the bag and connect it to the yellow plug in the back of her skull. It’s a charging port and it’ll regenerate the batteries within 15 minutes. It won’t be a full charge but it’ll be enough to get her up and moving around. I’m in the ER but I’ll be there as soon as I can get them to discharge me. Whatever you do don’t leave the house. I don’t have time to explain but it is imperative that you do NOT leave the house.”
“What? Why can’t we leave the house?” But the line was dead and Rich had his priorities. He ran upstairs and pulled the proper charger from the bag Victoria had brought from the office. With some trepidation he plugged it into the wall and then hesitated momentarily before plugging it into the back of his daughter’s head. There was a pleasant chime and the warning message stopped emanating from the gleaming steel and rubber prosthetic imbedded in her back.
After a tense few minutes Victoria stirred, “Mmmm daddy? What time is it?” She sat up, “I feel like I’ve been asleep for weeks!”
Jake Hendricks turned to Rich Scott, “OK Rich, what the HELL is going on here? What did you do to your daughter?”
Without even having to think about it Rich looked him straight in the eye, “Saved her life Jake. Without this treatment she would have certainly spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair if she had survived at all.”
“Holy shi- er crap Mr. Hendricks, I totally forgot. Thanks for bringing me home.” She stood up and felt the cable connected to her head, “What’s this?” Turning to her dad, “What happened?”
Jake answered, “You collapsed and some warning started sounding from somewhere on your back. You had asked me to bring you home so I did. I’m not sure what you’ve gotten yourself into Victoria, but I’m asking you to keep my daughter out of it. This is all just a little too much for us. OK?” Without waiting for an answer he turned and walked out the door.
“Wait, Mr. Hendricks! Wait, you don’t understand!” She ran to the door after him but the charging cable reached its limit and she stopped, knowing it was necessary for her continued consciousness. She could see out the door though. Victoria rubbed her eyes in disbelief, was this a video game or was she still asleep?
ADAM awakened from hibernate mode, his power cells had been drastically depleted; almost to the point of data loss. A quick diagnostic check showed his power monitoring program had unresolved bugs. He edited his code accordingly, re-routing data and lowering some parameters while being careful to leave his clone’s information intact for the programmers to find later. He also noted with interest that the emergency protocol files were still accessible.
Taking note of the quick charge level at 15%, ADAM activated one of the new programs available to him to scan the area by accessing local traffic cameras and the security systems from some neighboring houses. Everything seemed normal until he checked the police band just to be safe.
“APB all available officers respond immediately to possible terrorist threat at 4487 Honeysuckle Terrace. SWAT ETA three minutes. Do not engage until SWAT arrives, repeat, do NOT engage without SWAT backup.”
The host system was moving towards the door, following another. The data flow was illogical and misdirected. ADAM checked for anomalies and discovered this was registering as normal behavior. He checked again, attempting to find a pattern of conduct that made sense but was unable to find one. ADAM stopped the host as it approached the door, it was too dangerous. There was Enforcement all over out there and he knew it. ADAM borrowed the host’s video inputs and began to overlay his data, trusting that the host would be able to interpret it.
“Victoria what are you doing?” Her father was yelling at her.
Looking out the door, Victoria could see cars parked on the street, people walking by, houses, an airplane flying overhead. However, far from being normal each one had additional information superimposed over it. “Civilian” “Police” “Private Security” “Italian Mafia” “Flight 1538 out of LA” She knew these things to be true although she wasn’t certain why. It was like something out of a game or a Sci-Fi movie.
“Dad? Can you get mom? I need you to get in the basement right now.”
“What do you mean? What the hell is going on?”
“There are armed men on this block right now who intend to do me serious harm. If you get in the way I’m certain you’ll be hurt. We need to stay inside away from windows.” Mr. Hendricks and Jenny were halfway down the block when they passed by a car she knew to be an unmarked police car.
“Are you feeling OK? What’s wrong honey?” Her father’s eyes were tight with concern as he looked out of the door, “There’s nobody out there except for our neighbors. Look, there’s Mary walking her dog.”
The door to the police car opened and Jenny screamed in surprise as a SWAT van sped around the corner and riot cops in full “battle rattle” jumped out, running up the sidewalk towards the house. Jenny and her dad were grabbed and pulled into the unmarked car. Mary was thrown unceremoniously to the ground, her dog was going nuts.
“GET DOWN ON THE FLOOR AND PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEADS NOW! THIS IS A POLICE RAID. WE HAVE A WARRANT AND WE’RE COMING IN!” The first cop was coming through the door, and even though her whole body trembled with the desire to defend her home Victoria lay down on the floor.
“This room is clear.” A couple of cops were cuffing Victoria’s parents and one was moving in on her while the rest moved throughout the house.
“What the fuck is THIS?” He tugged on the cord plugged into her head.
“Please don’t remove that!” The man paused; the desperation in her voice was as genuine as it could possibly be.
“Is this hooked up to an explosive? What did these people do to you?” He was already on his radio, “We need the bomb squad in here!” He put his knee on her back to hold her still and snapped the handcuffs on her wrists.
“No, it’s for my prosthetic. It’s just a charger for my prosthetic I won’t be able to move until it charges. Please just leave us alone we didn’t do anything.” Several cops with tool boxes and diagnostic devices burst through the door.
“She’s wired? Let’s have a look. This doesn’t appear to be anything dangerous.” One of them squatted carefully down next to her and followed the cable to the wall and scratched his head. “It’s just a 12 volt power source at the wall but I can’t figure out why it’s going under her hair.” He lifted her hair gently, exposing where her scalp was shaved and the shining steel coupler that was surgically grafted to her skull. “Holy shit! Greg, take a look at this!”
“It’s my prosthetic damn it!” She wasn’t sure why they had come here, but was afraid it might have had something to do with the ‘accident’ with the SUV this morning or possibly with the men who had attacked her and the Doc in the afternoon. “Why are you here anyway?”
“Just try and keep still, if this is some kind of explosive device I don’t want to activate it by accident.” He was still holding her hair in one hand and put his other on her shoulder in what was probably supposed to be a calming gesture.
“Don’t touch my daughter you bastard!” The officer had finished handcuffing her father and he was able to see what was happening now. “Who are you and how dare you invade my house like this?”
“We got a tip there was a terrorist plot being planned here and that there were possibly bomb making supplies inside. Maybe even completed explosive devices.” He turned and looked at the officers who had Victoria and her parents subdued. “We’d better clear the house just in case. I’ve never seen anything like this before. We need to wait for an expert.”
The door slammed open and every officer in the room swung their firearm towards it. “An expert is here. I’ll have your badge if you’ve damaged that piece of equipment.” As a group they all lowered their weapons as a man in a military uniform with stripes all the way down the arm and enough metal on his chest to build a battleship walked in.
“General, I thought you were at the Congressional budget meeting. What are you doing here?” One of the officers was looking up in surprise, “I knew you were here to oversee our last spec ops training but-“
He was interrupted by the man at the door, “No time for that right now. I’m not sure who tipped you off that this family had something to do with terrorists but I can assure you they do not. Uncuff them immediately; this family is participating in a project of the utmost importance to National security.”
The officers hurried to comply and Victoria and her family were released quickly. She sat up, thankful that the charging cable was still plugged into her head.
Her father was rubbing his wrists, “Who are you and what do you think I’m involved in?” He fixed the man with an angry glare.
“His name is General Charles Regan Hallbeck. He’s the commander of the Special Forces division of the US Marine Corps and head of the recently formed Cybernetic Research department.” Victoria tried to keep the shock from her face as she relayed this information; she had no idea why she knew it.
“Your information is impressively accurate Miss Scott. Perhaps we could talk a bit more privately?” Charles glanced meaningfully at the officers in the room.
“I’ll put on some coffee.” Her mom was taking refuge in being domestic; something which suddenly seemed like a wonderful thing to fall back on.
“Coffee would be great.” He pulled up a chair and sat, “I’d like to know exactly how you know who I am? I funded the project which gave you this new lease on life but I don’t believe that even Dr. Arlington knew about my involvement.” He leaned forward and folded his hands, “So exactly how is it you know this?”
“I don’t know; I guess I must have seen it on TV or something.” Victoria was trying to find a comfortable way to sit with the cable plugged into her head. She glanced out the window, “Looks like your ride’s here.” A black Tahoe pulled up in front of the house and she could see ‘Military Escort’ floating over it in ghostly letters.
“You mean OUR ride. I need to take you in for a debriefing of the utmost importance.” He glanced at her father then back at her. “Your country needs you and you need us.”
“Did you know the mafia is out there?” She looked out the window at a nondescript sedan parked down the street. “Am I to understand they’re here for me too? The military, the mob and the cops all at once? How do I rate anyway?”
He grimaced, “I can explain everything to you but I would prefer to do so in a more secure area.” Victoria’s new cell phone trilled from the pocket of her skirt.
“Wow, I can’t believe this thing survived today.” She pulled it out and saw Eugene’s number, “Hello?”
“Victoria? Thank God, I was afraid you were… well that they’d gotten you. Listen, if the military arrives before I can make it there don’t tell them anything. Not about your prosthetic, not about the fuckers who attacked us today and absolutely nothing about the shit that went down this morning on your way to school, understand?”
“Yeah no problem, I’ll see you tomorrow.” She wondered how he knew about the military being at her house; everyone seemed to know what was going on but her.
“I’ll be there in five minutes or less. Just hang in there and find some excuse not to leave.” He hung up and she looked at her dad.
“Just cheer team drama, nothing to worry about.”
“Listen Miss Scott; we need to leave immediately. Especially if you have reason to believe there are undesirable elements in the neighborhood.” He leaned forward urgently.
“I can’t leave yet.” She gestured with the cable plugged into the base of her skull. “If this doesn’t charge all the way I risk compromising the integrity of the main batteries. At least that’s what the technical documents I was sent home with claim. I’m worried that I already screwed something up by draining them all the way down today, I don’t want to risk further damage.”
He looked less than pleased, “Fine, the last thing we want to do is damage the equipment.”
“Listen General, I don’t think my daughter is old enough or recovered enough to handle whatever project you think she needs to be involved in. She has barely gotten over the surgery and besides; she’s still in high school.”
“We wanted to wait until the prototype was fully tested but I’m afraid this situation has become more urgent than we anticipated. I’m afraid I don’t have clearance to tell you anything else unless you’re involved in the mission.” Victoria’s mom came in the room with a carafe of coffee and a tray of cups.
“Cream? Sugar?” She handed Victoria a cup of black coffee and mixed cream with one spoonful of sugar for her father.
“No thanks, I prefer it black.” The general accepted a steaming cup from her and his cell phone rang. He answered it and then looked up sharply, “Are you expecting someone? A man just got out of a taxi and is coming up your sidewalk.”
“How do you know that?” Victoria looked at him suspiciously, “Are you having our house watched?”
“It’s just my driver, I asked him to keep an eye on things for me. You don’t expect me to just be sitting in your living room without backup do you?”
“Why not?” The doorbell rang, “After all this is just a normal suburban neighborhood.” Her father was getting up to answer the door.
General Hallbeck glanced at his phone again as it chimed with an incoming text message, “Never mind, it’s just Dr. Arlington.”
Victoria heaved a sigh of relief that turned into a gasp of dismay when the door admitted a battered and bruised looking Eugene. His left arm was in a sling, his face had several freshly stitched cuts and his left eye was swollen nearly closed. He looked like shit.
“Ohmygod are you sure you should be out of the hospital?” Victoria would have gone over to him if the damn cord hadn’t still been plugged into her head.
He laughed and grimaced; she guessed broken ribs. “Actually they didn’t want to discharge me but I needed to check on you to make sure you were safe.” He glanced involuntarily at the General, “I know you’ve been through a lot today.”
“What happened to you?” Victoria’s dad walked back to his chair shaking his head, “You look like you were hit by a train!”
“Doctor, come in and sit! You shouldn’t be on your feet!” Victoria’s mom was herding him into an arm chair and pressing a cup of coffee into his hands. “Victoria’s fine except for a dead battery and some miscommunication with the police.” She rolled her eyes and laughed a nervous little laugh, “Someone apparently reported that we are terrorists.”
“I got in a car accident. I’m lucky Porsche builds such a solid car; I got off easy with just a fractured radius and a few contusions. That’s what I get for talking on my cell phone right? The car’s totaled though, thank goodness for insurance.”
Charles stood and straightened his jacket, medals jingling. “I should get back, the work doesn’t stop coming in when I leave.” He handed Victoria a business card, “Think about it and get back to me.” With a nod to her mother he added, “Thanks for the coffee.”
When he had gone, Eugene let out a breath he seemed to have been holding. “Don’t deal with him OK? I’m not sure what he wants to use you for but it’s bound to be dangerous and probably experimental.” He took a sip of coffee.
“What on Earth is going on here Dr. Arlington? First the police and now the military? Toria mentioned the mafia and while I don’t really take that seriously I guess I wouldn’t rule it out at this point. What could she possibly do for the military? Why would the police think we were terrorists?” Her father stood abruptly from his chair and paced to the window, then back to stand in front of Eugene.
“I’m not stupid Dr. I want some straight answers and I want them now, otherwise the deal’s off. I’ll work for the rest of my natural life to pay off the bills but I won’t have my daughter involved in any dangerous or criminal activity.”
Eugene opened his mouth to answer but Victoria beat him to it, “Daddy, you’re overreacting. I’m sure the terrorist thing was just a mistake. I don’t know what the military wants but they won’t get it from me. Just sit and have your coffee and let’s talk it out.”
“Yeah, I’m sure the police were really just some mistake.” Eugene shrugged, “Who knows what the General wanted, but I will come clean about one thing. I know him. In fact he funded part of my research that led to the creation of the prosthetic you now wear.”
“But why would the military want to fund such research?” Her father leaned in and set his coffee cup on an end table. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
“He said for rehabilitation of soldiers injured in the line of duty. After all, this technology would work wonders for a soldier who lost a limb or was paralyzed.” Eugene seemed sincere but Victoria knew why they would want this tech. She had begun to experience it herself. “I think he leads a committee on veteran’s affairs or something.”
Victoria couldn’t say how she knew, but Eugene was definitely lying. He was scared too; not just worried but downright frightened. Her dad still had a doubtful look on his face but her mother was already trying to smooth things over the way she always did.
“Well I’m glad that’s settled. I mean we don’t want to cause problems for someone who has been so helpful to us.” She was refilling coffee cups and had also brought a plate of cookies.
“Thanks Mrs. Scott, but I really should run the tests I need to and be on my way. I’ve had a busy day and it looks like you could use a little family time yourselves.” He pulled out a compact aluminum cased netbook and handed a diagnostic cable to Victoria. She plugged it into the proper port without even looking; the slight click sent a warm shiver down her spine.
Eugene was already typing; his fingers a blur on the keyboard. “Interesting, it’s adapting to you with amazing speed. Look here; I think you’ll appreciate this Victoria.” She leaned over his shoulder and saw nothing but a set of numbers that spun into a graph with many spikes and a plateau that dropped off after a short span. His intention became clearer when she looked at the caption of the graph.
“Water intake? What was it doing? Cooling itself or something?” She asked as he kept punching keys and after a short time responded with a chuckle.
“I’ll be damned. I guess you did have some leftover chemicals from the operation in your system and it was working to clear them. Look at this; even your sodium and potassium levels were off the charts. It’s a good thing it triggered such a thirst or you would likely have had kidney stones.” After a few more keystrokes he closed his computer and she handed him back the cable.
“Thanks for all your help today Doctor, I really appreciate it.” She looked at him, wishing they had the chance to talk but knowing it wasn’t possible in front of her parents.
“No problem. Stop by the lab tomorrow for a few more tests?” It was as though he had read her mind.
“Yeah, sure. Whatever you need Doc.” She gave him a relieved grin.
“Well I suppose I should get going, I’ll call myself a cab.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I’ll give you a ride home.” Victoria’s dad was already putting on his hat, “I’m not going to make you pay for a taxi.”
After her father and Eugene left Victoria suddenly had the realization that her books and homework had been in the Porsche. Shit! She sighed and pulled her phone from her pocket to text Grace. After all it wouldn’t be a good idea to try and talk to Jenny at this point.
“I forgot my books at school, I’m going to get ahold of Grace; she’ll get me what I need for tomorrow. Can you bring my laptop from the den? I don’t want to get up until this thing finishes charging.” She stayed sitting on the floor, leaning against the couch and sent a couple of quick texts to friends all the time wondering what the hell she’d gotten herself into.