Thomas nervously gazed at the clock. Ten to eight and still some kilometers to drive.
"Get green!" he begged. Eventually the traffic lights had mercy, he stomped on the accelerator and the small van responded with a racing start. Not exactly, well. The engine howled, yes, but the thing sure ran on molasses as fuel. But Thomas was lucky, even going at "reasonable speed", he arrived at Ayako's place in time. Just a minute to eight! He reached for the remote laying on the dashboard and pressed the button. The rolling grill in front of the van began to move up and gave way into the underground garage. Thomas circled around the parked cars and stopped the van near the elevator. Only seconds later, a tall, bulky woman dressed in a far too tight sweater and jeans got out of the lift. She opened the sliding door of the van, chucked the big sports bag she'd carried on the back seat and stepped inside.
"Hey, careful!" Thomas commented the noise coming from of his passenger and peeked her in the interior mirror. Ayako couldn't answer. After closing the door she immediately had pulled the sweater over her head.
"Phew, away with you," she gasped and turned over to her trousers.
"Woo-hoo, never got a girl in here stripping so eagerly," Tom snickered and Ayako threw the sweater at him.
"It's too tight! And the tickle from that thing makes me crazy!" she shouted.
"Why do you have put it on at first then? I mean, it's only a few steps from your flat into the van. I doubt anyone would have seen you," he asked.
Ayako tried to pull the jeans over her boots. "I just wanted to do it the right way at least once. No need to have everyone in the neighbourhood know an ESWAT member lives here... Oh shit!" she exclaimed when the jeans ripped up on the heels.
Thomas turned over to see what had happened. Ayako had already pulled the rag back upwards and straightened her legs.
"Maybe you could help me?" she asked in a demanding tone.
Thomas grabbed the jeans at the lower end and could pull them over the heels with relative ease. "Better get some long skirts," he smiled, "hey, they would look nice on you."
"As a dress uniform, eh?" she huffishly responded, "I think it would look ridiculous!"
Nervously, Thomas tugged his own uniform - which he seldom wore at all - into place while Ayako was buckling her seatbelt. He turned over again: "Sorry, but at least you have to tell me where to go."
"Second primary school in Lima-4 district," she briefly answered.
Thomas silently entered the address into the navigation system and circled the van out of the garage.
Traffic was low at that time of the day, but the frequent red traffic lights got on Thomas' nerves soon. "When we are expected to be there?" he asked. There was no answer. "Sorry. I really think you would look nice in a skirt."
"Hmm? I've been absentminded, sorry. What did you say?" Ayako apologized.
"The time due. When we are expected?" Thomas left out his latest comment.
"Oh, not before nine o'clock. We have plenty of time," she answered him.
She was right, it was half an hour left and they already were in L4. It was a more suburbian district of Olympus, nevertheless the most buildings were at least six to eight stories high and the streets narrow and full of people. They passed a small park and the nav advised Thomas to turn and to look for a parking spot.
"This remembers me of the time when I was a kid," Ayako mused aloud when she saw the school building.
"Just a feeling or something in particular?" Thomas asked charily.
"Feelings," Ayako continued, "but... aah, I don't want to tell."
"You screw me up again," he whined but she teased him further.
"A small girl playing rough with the boys in the streets of the badside," she told the story, "neither mother nor father, raised by an older cousin," she made a dramatic pause, "that's what you wanna hear, hu?"
"You almost had me there," Thomas lied cheerfully, "but I know the files. You've come from Europe, right?"
"Cheat!" Ayako rocked forward and complained, "You are such a nerd, Thomas. Browsing the files; you should have talked to me!"
"Sorry. I was just curious. I...", he stuttered. Ayako sunk back in her seat and sighed: "Tom, I understand you need all that documentation when... ," she hawed, "...when you fix my ... equipment, but..."
"I have understood, I'm sorry," Thomas nervously interrupted her. To his luck, just at that moment he found a free spot on the parking lane near the entrance. He stopped the van and pressed a button to let the vehicle find its way into the spot.
Ayako opened the side door and put her feet on the sidewalk. "There we go," she announced, hurled the sports bag over her shoulder and stood up. Thomas took a tablet computer from the side pocket of his door and got off the van, too. He locked it with the remote and while the door behind his colleague was slowly sliding to its home position, she in contrary didn't move at all. "There we go... ," passed her mind again - the school, it was...
The girls are running. Have to run, too. Don't miss start of classes! Up the stairs, through the corridor. Ugh, the backpack is heavy. Take it off, the jacket, too. Into the classroom. Sit down on my seat, take my paper and pen.
Waiting. The bell rings. Waiting. Mrs. Jung is late. She finally arrives, with her a man and a woman. Policemen. Mrs. Jung explains. The man talks about what the police is for. The woman talks about when to call the police and how. They show a film about the police. I draw her.
All of a sudden, Mrs. Jung is yelling angrily at me: "Ayako, träumst du?"
"Ma'am, we should go inside, shouldn't we?" Thomas asked Ayako in all innocence. She had stood there for a minute or so, not moving at all, at best blinking. He wasn't worried. In fact, he envied her ability to calm down herself so quickly; It even came in handy for the job. He was wrong this time, of course: the situation begged for the flashback and still it had striked her out of the blue.
"Well then," she focused, "let's go," and marched to the school's door. Thomas followed a step behind her. She took the cell phone from a fastener on her hip and called that teacher.
When they stepped inside the building, the phone echoed a voice from the end of the hallway.
"Oh hi, we are over here!" a young woman shouted happily and waved at the two. Two men in police uniforms stood near her. The teacher hastily came up to Ayako and Thomas but when she got nearer her cheering changed to a more timid look. "You... are... Ayako?" she looked up into the face of the armored woman before her. Before Ayako could answer, she apologized. "Oh, sorry. I had expected... err... Sorry. Wow!" the teacher fumbled for words. Sure, she had expected a tough policewoman showing up in her class but that...
"Nice to meet you," Ayako broke the silence and put forth her hand to the teacher, who girlishly responded the greeting. After a few seconds of shaking hands and silent gazing, Thomas interrupted the two.
"Hi, I'm Thomas Boyd, a colleague of Ayako."
"Oh, hi, I'm Erica Young," she turned to Thomas, "nice to meet you. You both," she turned back to Ayako, still intrigued by her looks. "I had not expected you coming in ... combat gear, is it the correct term?" she asked.
"Yeah, combat gear," Ayako confirmed and Thomas nodded eagerly.
"Tee-hee, now I feel really foolish," Mrs. Young continued, "I heard from the kids they had been saved by a policewoman who took care of a bandit alone, still I had the picture of some meter maid in a nice dress in my mind. ... But this is ... you are ... really imposing!"
"Thanks," Ayako laughed, "I do my best."
"By the way, who are these men over there?" Thomas asked while they were slowly walking through the hall.
"Oh, I thought you know them! Okay, then I'll introduce you," Mrs. Young started, but the older one of the two men had already come along and hijacked the talk.
"Mrs. Ontemba, nice to meet you," he keenly greeted her.
"Nice to meet you," Ayako replied in bewilderment, "and you are?"
Thomas haven't had an idea who the guy was either.
"Oh, sorry," the man explained, "I'm Captain Neigher, from Metro Police Public Relations. Neil for you," he tried to chum up with her.
Thomas nervously looked the other way. To his amazement, the climate was still ... friendly? The storm should have broke loose already. Instead, Ayako politely responded the greeting of that apple-polisher.
"Nice to meet you, Neil," she said with a winning smile, and squeezed the hand he gave her. Tightly.
Captain Neigher, no ... "Neil", failed at keeping a straight face. When Ayako had loosened her grip, he simpered and then turned over to his assistant: "We should go, eh? Ready, Mike?" Mike nodded silently and took the two large cases he brought. Obviously a tech.
Mrs. Young interfered immediately: "STOP! Mr. Neigher, this is MY class and Mrs. Ontemba is MY guest. Please respect that."
Neigher's astonishment only lasted for a second, then he started to brag again: "Haha, where are my manners; of course you ladies take the lead today."
Now really fed up, she walked silently to the front of the small group and lead them to the classroom door. "Just wait a moment while I prepare the kids," she wispered, then put on her teacher smile and entered the classroom.
"Good morning, Mrs. Young," the kids stood up and greeted their teacher in unison.
"Good morning, children, sit down please," she acknowledged her class, "we have some guests today for our lesson, like I have annouced some days ago. Do you remember?"
A boy raised his hand, "The police!" he shouted.
"Yes, Alan, but don't be so cheeky to our guests," Mrs. Young spoke to her class, "I've gone through the questions to the police you've written down as yesterday's homework and sorted out the duplicates. Some questions are very interesting, we will ask them these." She smiled and focused another boy and a girl, the two kids Ayako saved from the robber a week ago. "Erin, Robert, you are our interviewers, please switch seats with Tamara and Karen." The two took the seats near the teacher's desk.
Bob and Erin were both nervous about their new role. Erin remembered last week's events only cloudily and haven't talked about it a lot. There was that policewoman who took her on her arm and carried her to mommy. Would she come here today? Bob in contrast bounced like a super ball. His strongest memory was Chip's and Milan's exos rumbling through the mall. Sure they would bring one of their police robots with them today! That would be über-cool!
"You all, please give our guests a great welcome!" Mrs. Young shouted happily and clapped her hands. The kids followed immediately and that applause was easily being heard by the group in the hall.
"Our signal," Neigher commented and opened the classroom door for Ayako and the others.
Mike in the meantime had shouldered a professional telecamera from one of his cases; "go forth, I'm staying in the background," he said. Ayako coyly smiled into the cam and denoted Thomas to go in first, which he did.
"Let me carry that," Neigher took the sports bag from Ayako's arm and nearly dropped it on the floor. With Mike grinning behind his cam, she couldn't help smiling, too, and went into the room. Mike and Neigher followed.
Erin recognized her savior immediately, as Ayako did with both the kids in the straight line of her sight. With a "Hi you both!" she squatted before them.
"Hello, Mrs. Policeman," Bob greeted her in a shy tone. Erin didn't say a word but eyed Ayako's smile thoroughly.
"Well, our four guests from the police will now introduce themselves", Mrs. Young interrupted the two, "listen carefully!" The four tried to agree with hand signals who should begin but Mrs. Young intervened and picked Neigher.
"Ah, okay," he nonchalantly began, "I'm Captain Neigher from Metro Police Public Relations. I'm here to... ," he paused, "supervi... look over this meeti... confer... get-together." Mrs. Young had to hide a big grin; she had successfully unnerved that buffoon.
Mike was unperturbed: "Hi, I'm Mike Holden," he turned the camera around to the class, "I'm filming ya! Hands up!" The kids laughed into the lens.
"And I'm Thomas Boyd", Thomas introduced himself, "I'm a police technician and a colleague of your main guest today," he showcased Ayako with his hands.
Ayako reassured herself with Mrs. Young, then she greeted the class: "Hello Kids, I'm Ayako Ontemba and my job is to arrest people who try to harm you." The kids babbled about her not wearing a police uniform, some whispered she's thick and others said that's armor on her. Mrs. Young could feel Ayako was uneasy about the situation but she was prepared.
"Children, we already talked about yesterday what the police is for and when to call them. Officer Ontemba and Officer Boyd will now explain to you what they do when you call them for help." - "Is that correct?" she addressed Ayako and Thomas.
"Yes, but it's Constable, not Officer," Ayako replied. Mrs. Young nodded and made room for the two.
"And I only had time for a short presentation," Thomas apologized. He took his tablet computer and arranged it on the desk. It's internal video projector displayed a video of the interior of the Olympus police headquarters on the whiteboard.
"Here, that's the place where your emergency calls finally arrive. They get a call from the hotline where the police should go to and what they have to expect."
The presentation switched to a video of a police car with the christmas tree on the roof switched on. Thomas raised the volume and the kids cheered at the siren sound.
"Usually, your emergency is only a burglary or someone yelling or battering someone else", he explained further while the video was showing policemen pushing aside two loudly arguing parties of people.
"Not 'only a battering'. Please always report people beating up each other," Neigher interrupted from off-stage but Thomas didn't put up with it and continued.
"Yes, always report them. They start with arguing, then beating up each other but suddenly one takes out a knife and hurts the other really badly. Call the police as soon as possible!" The kids frightened a bit on the idea, so Thomas tried to lighten them up a bit.
"Don't worry, if you are fast to call the police, we would be there and noone gets hurt. Do you know the emergency call?"
"911" the children answered in unison.
"Ah, I see you learned it well," he assured the kids and got back to his presentation. He leaned towards Ayako. "Now it's your turn. The next video is from a bank robbery."
Ayako was feeling uneasy again - was it really the right thing to show to nine-year-old children? She looked over to Mrs. Young, who didn't seem to be concerned. Thomas started the next video, which showed a highly illuminated branch bank in an otherwise dark and emptied street. She knew that scene very well - it was a mission three years ago. No shooting, Tom had selected it wisely.
"I'll explain it to you, children," she angled for their attention, "that was an armed robbery, like in the criminal stories in television. But that one was real. There had been two robbers in that bank building, they had taken hostages and we should let them go." The video showed two persons going inside, and Ayako explained. "That's me and our colleague Jean, we are going into the bank - we told the robbers we want to check that the hostages are allright."
A crushing sound was coming from the speakers of the tablet computer. "That was the back door where two other colleagues broke through at the same moment. The robbers had been distracted by that so Jean and I could take their weapons and arrest them." It continued with Jean and Ayako frogmarching the two robbers out of the bank. The kids became all very silent during the last video. Maybe still too much for them?
Mrs. Young cheered them up again: "Constable Ontemba caught the gangsters! Let's celebrate her: thank you, Ayako!"
"Thank you, Ayako!" the children shouted.
"More important, nobody was injured," Ayako added aloud, "the hostages had been okay, we had been okay, even the two gangsters had been okay afterwards. This is how we want it to end." After those closing words from his colleague, Thomas stopped the presentation and put the computer aside.
"Thank you for the presentation!" Mrs. Young took over, "the children have written down some questions," she gave Erin and Bob two sheets, "Erin, would you please begin with the first question on your sheet?"
Erin cleared her throat and read aloud: "What does happen to the people you arrest?"
"We take them to the police headquarters, where my colleagues interr... ask them what happened in their view and why," Ayako answered to the class, "and if they committed violent acts, we put them into a special jail cell until a judge decides what to do with them next."
"Robert?" Mrs. Young invited Bob to ask the next question.
"Have some bad guys ever escaped?" he read and Ayako cheered.
"Not from our arrest cells! But yes," she seriously continued, "sometimes the bad guys escape. We let them go if it's too dangerous for the hostages to try to arrest them. But we then chase them afterwards, when they had left the hostages alone."
The class listened carefully and Erin continued: "How often the police is called a day?"
Ayako couldn't answer that question, so Neigher felt obliged to answer: "about 100 times a day, but these are mostly traffic accidents, disturbance of night peace, whippings and burglaries. Violent crimes are rare here in Olympus, it's a safe place to live."
"Our hostage rescuing unit has less than 10 operations in one year," Thomas added, "not much to do. We'll do our best it keeps being that way by catching all the criminals. So you can feel safe anytime."
"What do you do when there is no crime happening?" Bob read the next question on his sheet. Ayako resumed on it.
"Oh, we are practising all the time. We have a training area which is very dark and intimidating so we can get accustomed to such situations. The police even has an aircraft at the airport where we can learn to tell apart gangsters from hostages from the way they act on a plane. And we have to learn to be quick and see the mistakes a felon makes to overwhelm him."
"A question, Constable," Mrs. Young interrupted, and Ayako turned to her. "do you ever feel anguish when you deal with criminals?"
Ayako paused a moment, then talked to the class: "oh yes, all the time. But I overcome it because I know that I'm experienced and I won't give them the chance to hurt me. The training is very important for our work, children."
Mrs. Young asked for more: "could you give us a demonstration how you overwhelm a criminal?"
"Aww, sure," Ayako answered and looked over to Thomas, who immediately denied with his hands. "Captain Neigher, then it's you. Remember your Aikidō lessons?"
Neigher was surprised but took the chance to exhibit himself. "How can I help?"
"Pick a weapon and attack me."
Neigher took a free chair, hoicked it, and rushed over to Ayako. She turned her body around and tripped him up. He fell over the teacher's desk and let go the chair, which scrunched on the floor. She then grabbed his arms, pulled them on his back and let her handcuffs click. The kids were astoundend how quick and effortless she had dodged the attack and arrested him. While they were shouting with joy she opened the handcuffs and helped up Neigher, who, despite looking very messy, already found back to his role as a spokesman.
"That's what's happening to you when you attack a cop, kids!" he babbled, "Don't even try it."
"Okay, let's go on," Mrs. Young stopped the laughing, "next question."
Erin giggled when she read it: "can girls join the police, too?" and Ayako, Thomas and even Mike couldn't help snickering, too.
"Of course," she answered to the class, "as you have seen, it's not who's more powerful or who has the bigger weapon. Most times it's only who's better prepared and faster in thinking. You have to practise a lot. I get the most scratches in practising with my colleagues, not from fighting with criminals. They are often completely inexperienced."
"But even when you don't like fighting, there are a lot of other carreers at the police, children," Neigher cut her off in his matchless manner.
"Hmm, yes, last question, Robert."
"Have you been injured once?" Bob read from his sheet. Ayako wasn't sure how to answer that question honestly and looked over to Thomas who haven't had a clue either
"Yes... , sometimes," she answered shyly and the kids accepted it to her surprise.
"I have another question, Mrs. Young," Bob raised his hand.
"Then ask it to our guests," she acknowledged him.
"Do you have robots at the police?", he sputtered. The four were confused about the question and wagged her heads, Mrs. Young and her class were puzzled, too.
"But I saw them last week in the mall. Really big robots!" Robert insisted.
"Ahh, the exoskeletons," Thomas concluded and answered the boy, "we call them 'Exos'. There's a pilot in these machines, so they aren't really robots."
Robert was very upset: "do you have one with you? I told Alan you have robots at the police and he says I'm lying!"
"I'm sorry we don't have one here. They won't fit into the classroom, you understand?" Thomas tried to calm him, but Bob was near crying. In the meantime Ayako had silently walked over to Neigher and carried the bag she brought over to the desk.
"Robert, please look here," she demanded his attention but the class already stared at her, too. She had taken a shiny black bowling ball from her bag and had raised it over her head. Bob finally looked at her and she slowly pulled the ball over her head. The locking clicked and instead of Ayako's winning smile, the glossy black front of her helmet faced the audience.
With its power supply connected the helmet immediately came to life. Various status messages flickered through the head-up display and after a second the camera view and user interface appeared. Ayako turned to Robert and switched the speaker on.
"Hi, Bob, do you recognize me now?" a slightly distorted female voice spoke.
"The other robot!" Robert shouted as he realized, "Alan, there was another robot like this in the mall. It was just like Mrs. Ontemba. It was... ," he slowly turned over to Ayako, "Mrs. Ontemba, was it you?"
"Yeeessss," Ayako cheered through the speaker. Inside, she selected the lower front shutter of the helmet which slowly slid aside. The following "It was me-eee." chanting through the speaker mixed with her real voice from her lips.
"See, there aren't any robots at the police," Alan bossily exclaimed, "you've lied."
Mrs. Young rebuked him: "Alan! Don't be cheeky, I said."
"It isn't a lie when you just tell with your own words what you've seen," Thomas interrupted and addressed the whole class, "that's very important to the police. It's only a lie when you know it's wrong what you say. And our Exos and policemen in combat gear sometimes look like robots who had jumped out of some cartoon."
During Thomas' speech, Erin asked Ayako to come over to her. She wanted to whisper something into her ear but the helmet blocked her plan. Robert, and a second later the other kids, watched them intently; when Erin noticed it she blushed heavily and withdrawed. Ayako again squatted before her table and tried to comfort her with a smile but from Erin's view that was the smile of a big black globe centimeters before her.
"What's up, tell me," the globe asked, "hmm? Don't be afraid, it's okay to ask." it moved its lips
"Okay," she said quitely while looking elsewhere, "Mrs. Ontemba, do you ... are you a robot?"
Alan bursted out again: "Silly Erin! There are no robots at the police! Mr. Boyd just said..."
"ALAN! SHUT UP!" Mrs. Young commanded fiercely.
Ayako pressed the unlock buttons at her jaw and the helmet popped up. She took it off her head and placed it on Erin's table, right next to her so she could see into her eyes.
"Why do you think I'm a robot? Because of my helmet and my clothes?" she asked the girl.
"No, because... ," Erin wavered, "... I don't know..." she lied coyly.
Ayako reflected a second, then bent over to Erin and whispered into her ear: "What if I say 'yes'? Would it be okay to you? Don't you want to come back at Alan?"
After a short moment of shock, Erin whispered back: "It is true?"
Ayako gave her a smile and a single nod and stood up again.
"Thomas, could you help me?" she asked but Thomas had yet no idea how. She posed in front of the teachers desk, what challenged Mrs. Young to ask what she was up to. "Another demonstration," Ayako hushed her and turned over, "Thomas, please take my left arm."
"What? No way! ... That's no good!" he denied her request.
"Thomas, just grab my arm or deal with the damage later!" she hissed at him. He demonstratively folded his arms to stop her, but no use: the audience hadn't noticed yet, but he had the expert's eye to see what was going on: the central bolt of her left shoulder joint moved out a tiny bit, loosening the rubber sleeve which usually protected the joint. A few seconds later, anyone in the room had noticed the exposed machinery at Ayako's shoulder. Mike was even going sloppy with his camera but Neigher nudged him to keep on filming.
"Mrs. Ontemba, something's wrong with your combat gear." Mrs. Young worried.
"No, nothing wrong," she smiled at her and with a twitch on her face her left arm came off. Thomas had already jumped by and snatched it before it could fall to the ground.
The children and Mrs. Young stared in disbelief. Robert was the first one who recovered.
"SHE'S A ROBOT! See, Alan, they have robots at the police. NYAH-nyah-nyah NYAH-nyah," he poked his tongue out at him.
"ROBERT! DON'T BE GROSS!" Mrs. Young intervened again, but she was too impressed to say anything else.
But Erin rised to speak anyway: "Mrs. Ontemba, so it's true? You are really a robot?"
With insecure steps due to the missing weight of her arm, Ayako went over to the girl and kneed down, with the open shoulder joint facing her. She moved her hair aside and looked over to Erin.
"Please touch it," she asked her but Erin hesitated to move at all. "Hmm, we already touched each other's faces when we had whispered with each other, remember? You can touch my shoulder, don't worry!"
With caution Erin streched her arm and forefinger and carefully pressed on the jutting stem. Nothing to worry really. Erin concentrated on the stem and suddenly, it moved.
"Yikes!" she exclaimed loudly and the class startled, too; even Mrs. Young and Mike. Thomas was unimpressed of course, and Neigher hid his excitement very well.
"Nothing to worry about," Ayako turned over to the class, "it's me moving it. I turn it forward," she moved her left arm - well, if her left arm had been still connected there -, "and now I turn it backwards again. See?" The spindle was rotating slowly following her announciations. "Pretty normal for a robot, don't you think?" she asked but the visual impact had silenced the class effectively. Ayako snuffled and turned back to Erin.
"Erin, could you help me? Take my helmet and put it back on my head, please." She tamed her long brown hair with the remaining hand and held her head towards the girl. "Erin?"
"Oh, yes," the girl lifted the helmet and pushed it onto Ayako's head clumsily.
"Mwoo, whth twhe frompt doo my wais," Ayako complained with a muffled voice. The children snorted with laughter. Erin noticed her mistake and yanked the helmet. "Ouch!" Ayako yelled.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Ontemba!" the girl got frightened and Ayako noticed Thomas had come by to help. She denied his offer quickly.
"It's okay, Thomas. Erin, try it again, please," she encouraged the girl and this time, Erin got it right. The helmet slid onto Ayako's head and locked into the latches on her neck. "Thank you," the globe spoke and closed the shutter over its lips. Ayako stood up and posed in front of the teacher's desk again.
"THAT'S PRET-TY NOR-MAL FOR A RO-BOT!" she droned through the speakers. She had set the volume very high and her voice was heavily distorted because of that. Chopping it up was completely manual, of course. Through the helmet cam, she checked the reactions of the children. No fright. In fact, the kids seemed to be really excited about their new guest.
In a instant, the robot's head turned right ninety degrees and faced Mrs. Young, who had stood there like transfixed for the last five minutes.
"MRS. YOUNG, I HA-VE PO-LI-CE PRO-CE-DU-RES TO FUL-FILL IN YOUR CLA-SS. MAY I PRO-CEED?" it droned. Mrs. Young almost fainted but played along well nevertheless.
"Yes, robot... err... Mrs. Ontemba, you may proceed." The kids were very attentive. A red spotlight lit up on the robot's head, which turned left again as fast as before and aimed for Alan. The robot turned his body around without losing the aim and walked a straight line to Alan's table.
"A-LAN. YOU HA-VE WRON-GLY AC-CU-SED RO-BERT BE-ING A LI-AR. YOU HA-VE IN-SUL-TED E-RIN BE-ING SIL-LY. THE-SE ARE OF-FEN-SES A-GAIN-ST THE LAW. I HA-VE TO AR-REST YOU."
Alan fought back his tears but put his arms onto the table in front of him, like he expected to be handcuffed any moment; it had scared the wits out of him. The robot hunkered down and from within the blackness of its head, the face of a young woman appeared. Ayako had opened the shutters again.
"Alan?" it asked. Alan was still frozen.
"ERIN, I'M SORRY!" he shouted suddenly, "ROBERT, I'M SORRY. YOU AREN'T A LIAR. YOU AREN'T SILLY. THEY HAve robots at the police."
"So you believe me I'm a robot?" the face asked.
"Yes, Mrs. Ro... Mrs. Ontemba," he admitted and continued immediately, "Mrs. Ontemba, do you have to arrest me?"
"Hmm, let's ask Erin and Robert if they insist," Ayako spoke out loudly and turned to the two. They shook their heads after a short while and Ayako could assure Alan: "No, I don't have to arrest you. You may continue with classes." He breathed a sigh of relief and Ayako returned to the front of the room.
"Mrs. Ontemba, what was that?" Mrs. Young hissed at her after regaining her full senses, "what's up with that robot roleplay? I thought you are from the police, and not an illusionist."
Thomas jumped by: "No, we are from the police, it's..."
"Don't take me for a fool, Mr. Boyd," she whispered, "you are the one who's inventing those technicals gimmicks, aren't you?" Neigher noticed there wouldn't any presentable material come out of this, so he asked Mike to stop the camera and prepare the other stage outside the classroom in the meantime.
"Children, would you like to hear the story how I've once arrested Santa Claus?" he tried to distract the class from the heated talk at the teachers desk. The class wasn't impressed but he continued anyway: "Not the real Santa of course, it was a pickpocket dressing up as Santa..." His yackety-yak seemed enough to amuse the kids.
Meanwhile, the bickering continued: "Mrs. Young, It's true I'm inventing those gimmicks, but this isn't a magical mystery," Thomas whispered back but Mrs. Young wasn't really listening.
"Ah, yeah, right. Mrs. Ontemba, I'm badly disappointed about you. Really gutted about this... performance. I've wanted to show the girls in this class they don't have to become a nurse or a clerk or a secretary... or a teacher..., but they also could become a policewoman or do another non-stereotypical job... And what do you do? You show them a 'woman' has to be a combat robot in order to work at the police force. Mr. Boyd, "she turned to Thomas, "what do you intend with this show? Discouraging girls from joining your little men's club? Huh?"
Ayako had been rendered speechless.
"Mrs. Young," Thomas caught her with both hands, "Ayako IS a combat robot!" he exclaimed, even drowning out Neigher.
Still, Mrs. Young met him with a skeptic look, so Thomas became angry.
"Class, we're kidnapping your teacher for a moment. Captain, do you get along?" he asked.
"No problem, tell me when you and Mike are ready!" Neigher nodded.
"...and when we searched his house, we found... who has a clue?..." he babbled further while the three were leaving the room.
Outside, Mike was preparing a photo set with screen, lighting and flashlights. He was almost done when the three stumbled over his cables.
"Mrs. Young," Thomas leaned on her, "what can we do make you believe us we're not fooling around?" His stare into her eyes was rock-solid.
Mrs. Young didn't answer. She could not believe something like that. That woman - she was roughly her age, a little younger - she had such a pleasing face - her voice was soft and feminine - that woman, a combat robot? A machine? All fake?
Thomas couldn't read her thoughts but the disbelief in Mrs. Young's face was the telltale sign.
"Ayako, could you please lock up?" he asked his colleague.
"Yep", was her short answer. Her sulky face vanished when she pressed the upper shutter of the helmet down. She browsed through the menus in her view and found the correct option: 'Service Mode'. "Just actuators or full?", she asked back.
"Actuators is fine," Thomas replied.
When she selected it, the usual safety procedure started - move the cursor to all corners of the screen, then blink. With that final blink, the helmet partly took control over her bodily functions.
'Service Mode, Actuators' - that mainly meant the nervous endings of her spinal cord which normally would control her motor functions were branched off from the reflex action circuits of her mechanics. Instead, she could move any of her hydraulic pistons, piezoelectric actuators and shape-memory metal chords by selecting the appropiate parameters in the helmet menu. Or a service technician could do.
"Okay, I've liked your little play until now," Mrs. Young moaned, "but enough is enough."
"No, you wait!" Thomas stopped her, pointing her towards Ayako
The woman before her in that ridiculous robot outfit wouldn't move at all. No faltering, no balancing. "She's a ballerina," Erica thought, but on second thought, she was too bulky for that. "Oh well, yeah, I bet he had put her in layers and layers of fabric to hide the trick behind it," was another thought.
Thomas kneeled down in front of Ayako and fumbled for the zipper of the rubber coating on her belly.
"Mr. Boyd, don't you dare to strip your colleague - if she really is a colleague of you - in public! In a school, besides," she complained.
"Mrs. Young," Ayako argued, "we have to do that to prove to you that I'm a machine."
Mike demonstratively boondoggled with his photo equipment. The teacher leered over to him and as she found the stage clear, she commanded: "Okay, get on with it! The sooner this show is over the better."
Ayako knew what Thomas was up to do - and he was right to let her brain not interfere - at least she had not yet the fine control over her body to move a single motor with her will alone. He pulled the zipper open and tugged the thick black rubber layer aside. Below it, an array of gray plates appeared. Mrs. Young wanted to interrupt again but Thomas was faster.
"Ayako, open the belly array."
She browsed again through the menu and found the option. A drawing of her own belly area appeared on the screen.
"Hey, that's pretty nifty, Thomas. Where should I blink?"
"Just in the upper right corner, on 'unlock all'. The rest is for the individual panels."
When Ayako finally blinked on that button, the crackle from more than a dozen opening lockings echoed through the hall. Thomas folded the panels aside and Erica marveled in total disbelief at the view into Ayako's innards.
That wasn't a human woman. She slowly collapsed on the floor and Thomas barely caught her before she could hit the ground.
Half a minute later, the teacher regained consciousness. In the meantime, Ayako had exited her service mode and closed the access panels on her belly by hand. Thomas was helping her with the zipper when Mrs. Young focused her again.
"Have I dreamt this?"
"NO", Thomas, Ayako and Mike shouted. The teacher sat down on her bottom and looked up the tall figure.
"So it's true, you are a machine. But why," she stood up tipsyly, "why the female apperance?" She turned over to Thomas.
"I bet you don't have a girlfriend, right? That's why you build a police robot resembling a lovely girl..."
"I'm sorry to interrupt," Ayako cut her off, "but I simply was born this way. But thank you anyway. You are very kind." she continued with a mix of sarcasm and girlish behaviour, she even bit her finger.
"What do you mean, 'born this way'," Erica drilled deeper, "I thought you are a machine. Machines are built, not born."
"I'm both," she replied, "born and built... a human and a machine."
"If we talk in correct terms, Ayako is a cyborg," Thomas resumed, "from her neck down she's a machine."
"But cyborgs are relicts of the great war," Erica tried to teach them, covering the eerie feelings inside her. "you aren't that old."
"Thomas remodeled me into a cyborg quite recently, only some months ago," Ayako explained.
Erica was shocked.
"Thomas, why have you done this... why? Such a beautiful young woman..."
"All her limbs had been severed on an accident a year ago, so... ," Thomas tried to excuse himself but Ayako had flared up already.
"Come off it! Do only males have the right to decide for themselves they want to be converted into a machine? Your whole talking about showing the girls in your class an alternative role model is completely superficial!"
Dang. He knew this could've ended only awkward.
Erica stood still and silent for a while.
"I'm sorry," she said when she had reconsidered the dumb things she had said before, "you are right. I guess you had the choice between becoming a pencil pusher or..."
"...becoming a machine, yeah," Ayako was still upset.
"I'd like to bury the hatchet with you," the teacher offered, "I think you are a positive role model not only for the girls but for all kids. You live your dream of helping people by rescuing them from the hands of criminals, no matter what." She put forth her hand and Ayako reluctantly accepted the invitation. Instead of shaking hands, Erica hugged Ayako to reassure her the change of heart. The cop put her artificial arm around the teacher a moment later.
Both Thomas and Mike had been relieved this day wouldn't end in a cat fight.
"We only have 10 Minutes left for the photos, I think," Mike hurried them along.
Mrs. Young opened the classroom door and found Neigher still prattling about his ancient achievements.
"Mr. Neigher, we are ready outside. Children, Mike wants to make a group picture of our guests and us. Please come into the hall and listen to Mike's instructions," she told them.
While the kids were spilling out of the room, Thomas reattached Ayako's left arm to her.
"Mrs. Young,... Erica", she called the teacher, "do you like to reconnect it?"
"I... what do I have to do?" she asked and Thomas replied, 'just push firmly and press that little button here at the same time'. Erica tried to push, but it had no use as she pushed Ayako sidewards.
"You have to embrace me again," Ayako giggled. Erica did and with her whole force, the arm finally fitted in its locking with a click.
"Thanks, now I feel complete again," Ayako played with her newly connected fingers.
The kids arranged themselves in front of the photo screen without big hassle.
"Your pupils are really well-behaving, Mrs. Young, please come over here to the middle, right behind them," Mike said and pulled her at her blouse, "Ayako, Thomas, would you kneel down with one leg before her - Ayako, please open the hatch so we can see your face - Erin, Robert, please stand right and left of Ayako," Mike hasted back and forth the lines and his camera.
"Captain, please stand right of Mrs. Young," he ordered Neigher. Ayako was just about pressing the lock buttons for her helmet when Mike interfered: "No, Ayako, keep your helmet on. Just the upper shutter!" She responded with a shrug and opened the shutter as Mike wished. He checked the motif in the camera display and rearranged the floodlight a little bit. After another check he sighed but wasn't entirely pleased yet. He went over to Ayako's back and pushed her hair over her shoulders, The mirror display on top of the camera guided him to find the best arrangement.
"Okay kids, and the others, too," he returned to the camera, "I need your sweetest smile now. Just look into that display here and see what you look like." After a few seconds, he began a countdown "Ready, steady, go," and pressed the shutter button. The flash triggered, but Mike wanted another picture, just for safety, so they repeated the procedure. "That was it," he exclaimed, "thanks for holding still."
While Mike was beginning to pack his cases immediately, the school bell rang. The kids got nervous and Erica asked them to get back into class and eat and drink something during the break. Most of the kids didn't want to follow their teacher's advice this time. Instead they built a knot of people surrounding Ayako, touching her arms, legs, chest and of course they reached for her face, too.
"Children, please don't compass our guest so much. It's bad manners!" the teacher adviced and luckily, nearly all of them had been satisfied with touching the police robot once.
A group of three - Erin, Robert and Alan - stayed at Ayako however. Ayako wondered what they wanted from her.
"Well? You three in a pack?"
"We always play together at home," Alan explained.
"So you are the one playing rough, Alan?" she countered,
"I've said I'm sorry. That's true. I've not known they have robots like you at the police," Alan excused again.
"One cannot know anything, Alan," Ayako replied, "Come on, I tell you three a secret. But don't tell anyone!" The three nodded curiously.
"You had been both right. I'm a half-robot. I once was a normal policewoman, as you saw me in the video. I became a robot only a few months ago."
The kids were struck by total awe. Who would become a ... robot?
"Don't you lie to us," Alan pushed in again but Robert chimed in: "She won't lie. She's from the police, remember? Right, Mrs. Ontemba?"
Ayako nodded: "It's our little secret, okay? Don't tell the other kids. Now go eat and drink something." Ayako stood up. Still struck by the latest reveal, the three went into the classroom.
"Very clever," Thomas noted, "now they will tell anyone..."
"That's what I've intended," Ayako smirked, "working against gender bias and stereotypes, you understand?" Erica scratched her head, again challenging Neigher to start his chatter.
"Don't worry, Mrs. Young," he tried to comfort her, "we are all working on the same side. It's only our methods which differ."
Erica hadn't the nerve and time to discuss this now but instead shook his, Mike's and Thomas' hands and gave Ayako a goodbye hug. "I have to return to my work," she waved goodbye and closed the classroom door behind herself.
"We should go now, I need something to drink myself," Mike declared. With Thomas' help, he had put away the numerous cables and tools at record speed. The hall was as tidy as they hadn't been there.
"Do you want to come with us?" Neigher asked.
Ayako denied at once: "No, thanks, I'm not thirsty."
"I've cared more about your colleage, Mrs. Ontemba," Neigher gave her a wink but Thomas saw through her expression and hurried to say "thanks, but I'm not thirsty either" to Neigher. So the four shook hands and headed for their vehicles.
"Go. GOOOO!" Ayako yelled when she again sat in the back of the van.
"Pleased by your wish," Thomas smiled and started the engine, "any special place?"
"No, just goooooooooooooo", she chanted while he was reversing out of the parking space. They passed Neigher, who stood at the curbs and waved. Ayako grinned and waved back through the window.
.---------------------------------------- | Hi folks, it's Irina speaking again! `----- ___ / Woah! Three chapters and 20'000 words later and we didn't mm´ `~. even had a glimpse of sex in the story. Dark, you rattling mmm mMMm \ cuboid, are you sure you're pressing the right buttons on mmm[ ___\/o_] our audience? mmmm| [[____]] mmmm` ( J ) What, I should just ask them? Okay, but if you care about my mmMM\\ .__ ) opinion, we need a fair amount of action in any case. Ayako mmmM/`\___.' should kick serious ass. What's the point in having an .MMmm. _.\mMm armored power-body when you are only socializing? "Some tea, / --[_v_]-`. Darling?" - "With milk and sugar, honey?" [ ] \ \ \ [ \ \ \ \ Really? More action in the next chapter? Nice. When I think [\ `. ø ø ] about our readers being turned on by fighting robot women, I \\dbf `v _/ / can't help being turned on, too. Play up!