Jasmine walked off the volleyball court with her head held high, satisfied with another Shock-and-Awe victory - leaving Courtney, Rachel, and Katrina behind - and headed for the locker room.
"Hey, Jasmine!" called Courtney, one of the girls who had been playing on the opposite team during the pre-season training match, as she tried to catch up. "I know you think you're so hot because you're the newest model and everything, but I think it's bullshit. It's tried and true units like me and Rae, or Kat, that have made this R-Team what it is. You may think you're the future, but just because your servos are a little faster and your sensors and trajectory-prediction software are a tiny bit more finely-tuned doesn't automatically mean you're a better player."
Courtney was not getting along with C.O.a.C.H.'s newest purchase. Still, the Central Observation and Cooordination Hookup does not make mistakes, and it showed with this pick. Jasmine was a Deluxe Edition OmniTech 18 Queen Dido Series, brand-new and Indonesian-factory-fresh. She'd only been activated less than two weeks ago. On the other hand, Courtney was the R-Team's oldest original member that hadn't yet been sold, traded, or scrapped since she was assigned six seasons ago. Her model was... not aging particularly graciously. To say the least. When they first came out, Tri-Solutions Madelaine Mk. Ones were, indeed, top of the line. For about two months. Their manufacture began just one fiscal quarter before several military robotics advancements were unexpectedly released on the civilian market as street-legal. Tri-Solutions, an innovative upstart of a start-up from the Berkeley area that had famously refused to play the military-industrial-congressional-complex lobbying game, was literally finished overnight. Or at least, when trading resumed on Wall Street after the incumbent Tea Party President's announcement of his signing of the Patriotic Civilian Robotics Complete And Utter Deregulation Patriot Act For The Patriotic Defense Of Freedom By, For, And Of Patriotic Patriots. Tri-Solutions couldn't even give their warehouses of thousands of Made-In-USA Maddys away. But the University of California sytem, it's financial situation still in shambles - even in 2078, despite having the cybernetically-enhanced immortal brain of Dolph Lundgren as Governor, and despite an accumulated 18,000% tuition increase over 2010 levels - bought, for a song and a dance, several Maddys for use in its various athletics programs. Courtney was the last one of the sisterhood still playing for UCLA.
Of course, Jasmine's mil-spec OmniTech data banks were full of detailed knowledge about all of her R-Teammates, and she had augmented her data through observations she had made so far in pre-season training. It could help her make mission-critical split-second decisions during the coming battles. For instance, she knew that Katrina, or "#5" as her jersey stated and Jasmine preferred, had been having incessent battery problems that meant she started getting a bit slow towards the end of games. It was a disaster waiting to happen if they couldn't defeat their opponents quickly enough. To achieve victory, her UCLA Volleyball R-Team must be two points ahead of the enemy R-Team, so theoretically, a war of attrittion could last indefinitely, while sub-standard Katrina could not. Or that Rae, "#8," was actually a hastily-repurposed lesbian pleasure unit picked up at a yard-sale in Reseda that was susceptible to getting all hot-and-bothered on the court when some lines of code from her old programming came to the surface without warning, perceptibly decreasing her response time or even causing her to forget what she was doing altogether. Not only could this failing potentially cause mission failure, but, Jasmine computed, it was a violation of the recently reinstated and capital-punishment-enhanced "Don't Ask Don't Tell" regs. Or, of course, that Courtney, "#1," was the last functioning Madelaine Mk. One in the UC system and that her train-wreck of a model was living on borrowed time.
"Courtney, I hate to break this to you honey," said Jasmine with phoney concern, "but I hardly think anybody made by Tri-Solutions qualifies as 'tried and true.' More like: 'tried and through.'" Jasmine spat out the last word, and turned again toward the locker room, but before leaving, she looked over her shoulder. Courney beheld Jasmine's exotic, dusky, Mediterranean complexion; her long, long, eye-lashes; her dark mascara and eye-liner: thick, lusterous, black hair; and her full, pouty lips... with envy. Courtney knew that she herself was kind of a plain-looking dirty blond with a flat chest and a few freckles on her face. Tri-Solutions hadn't thought it in good taste to over-sexualize their products to enhance their sales - liberal qualms that their international competitors like OmniTech evidently didn't share. "I think the R-Team will be a lot stronger after I've replaced you as Captain, Courtney. Which is, by the way, inevitable. And I'm just the first, you rest assured. Wait until C.O.a.C.H. sees what I can do and the money starts flowing in. Can you imagine if everyone on the R-Team was like me!? UCLA will never lose another game. And you'll all be sold for parts. Ta-ta ladies... For now..." she added sinisterly.
Courtney just stood there, watching Jasmine leave, her taut, spandex-clad ass swaying as she walked away.
After the door to the locker room had swung shut, Courtney found Rae and Kat at her side.
"Don't listen to that newbie," Rae offered. "She might be really new and really, like, good at volleyball and stuff, and really, um... pretty... uh... She is really pretty, isn't she, Court? She's really pretty... She..."
Courtney and Kat looked first at each other, and then slowly back at Rae.
"Jasmine is really pretty... I should read up on her model..." Rae breathed seductively. "I wonder if the Queen Didos can, you know... But she must be able to, right? Especially since she's a Deluxe Edition. Deluxe. Maybe having her on the R-Team won't be so terrible... I mean, think about it... Oh... Just thinking about it... And if there were... more than one of them... oh, god..."
Kat had already stepped behind Rae and pushed up her sports bra a bit in the back so she could access her harmlessly malfunctioning R-Teammate's control panel. Rae was too starry-eyed to even notice anything going on around her. "It's her damn previous life as a lesbian robo-nympho-maniac seeping into her logic circuits again... if you can even call them that... gumming them all up..." Kat muttered with frustration.
It had been happening on and off the court all throughout pre-season training. But if it happened during a real game once the season got started, it would be a disaster. NCAA Division R games were big money for colleges. The athletics program, in fact, was the only fiscally solvent part of the University of California system, and that was because: It. Won. Games. Eveybody on the UCLA Volleyball R-Team knew that Rachel was a liability, but when she worked, which was almost all of the time, damn did she work. As long as she wasn't in a glitched-out, horniness-induced fugue, she was the best player on the R-Team. Save Jasmine now, of course, who blew even Rachel away like it ain't no thing but a chicken wing. It was goipng to be a gamble for C.O.a.C.H. to field Rachel in a real match, but it didn't really have any choice - funding issues. So Rachel's R-Teammates would just have to keep her patched up as best they could and wait with baited breath for the R-Team to get a cash injection that would enable them to get Rae fixed for good.
"You got it?" Courtney asked Katrina.
The other girl pushed a few buttons on the open panel in Rae's back. "Yeah, I just reset her. Nothing else to do for it," Katrina sighed. Sometimes she wondered what it would be like to feel a sexual urge like Rae so often did, but for some unknown reason, she quickly pushed the thought to the back of her Task Manager. Yes, Katrina still ran a Microsoft OS.
Rae stopped mid-moan, and her hands - one of which had begun pinching a rock-solid nipple and the other of which had already found its way between her legs - returned calmly to her sides. Slowly, Rae closed her eyes. After a series of audible beeps and warbles from inside her tanned, rather full, chest, her dark brown eyes slowly reopened and Katrina closed her control panel with a click.
"Rachel Cohen. Wicked Pictures Pleasure Model 'Delilah Seven,' Serial Number 676979. Now activated," she said evenly. She paused and looked around. "Golly, did it happen again? I'm real sorry..."
"That's okay, Rae. It's not your fault," Courtney said, consoling her downcast and embarrassed R-Teammate. That was one of her functions as R-Team Captain, but she meant it. To the extent that she could have feelings, Courtney guessed. Suddenly, she brightened. "I know, gang! Now that practice is over, let's all go for a re-..." She looked over at Kat. "Charge... Yeah... Um. Rae, can you help me with this?"
Rae turned around to find Kat - who she knew had just reset her - standing there frozen, her low-battery-warning light on her upper chest wanly glowing red. It wasn't the first time this had happened during practice, but that didn't make it any less annoying. "Court, you brought a spare battery for her, right?"
"Of course, it's in my duffel. Just let me go get it."
By the time Courtney returned a moment later, Rae already had already removed Kat's chest panel. It revealed a narrow horizontal slot that looked about suited, size-wise, to accept a cassette-tape (a device from the land before time). That's where they put the battery on that model. She ejected Katrina's dead battery, stuck it in the duffel for recharging later, and pulled out a fresh one. Courtney made to stick in it the slot on Katrina's chest, feeling the warm air from inside her R-Teammate waft out from the panel.
"What's the matter, Court?"
"I brought the wrong fucking battery! Goddam it." Courtney shook her head. Maybe Jasmine was right. Maybe it would be best for the R-Team if she stepped aside. Here was another example of her slowly degrading performance. Courtney was beginning to doubt herself.
"Here, let me see. Maybe you just have it upside down?" Rachel took the battery from Courtney's hand and flipped it over. "Here you go, Kat. Kat?"
"Hey, Rae - be careful! You can't just force it in. You could break something!" Rae kept trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, so to speak. "Rae! Geez! Gimme that!" Courtney snatched the battery from Rae's hands. "Look! Look at the battery. See? It says 'Stephanie' on it for goodness sake."
"Oh. Sorry, cap'." Again, Rae looked ashamedly at her sneakers.
"No. It's OK, Rae. I'm sorry. It was my fault. It was me who brought the wrong damn spare. You just wanted to get Kat back up." Courtney's day was shaping up to be pretty lousy. She put her hand on Rachel's olive-toned shoulder. "C'mon, let's take her back to the locker room and jack her into her booth."
Without saying anything further, Courtney, her duffel slung over her, held Katrina under her arms and Rachel took hold of Katrina's feet. They carried their stiff R-Teammate across the court and maneauvered her through the locker room door, careful not to bang her on the door-jamb.
"Uh, Jasmine," Courtney said smoothly, "you've got a light blinking back here. Again," she added with emphasis.
"Er, what?" Jasmine stammered. "I'm sorry, C.O.a.C.H.. There seems to be some kind of problem with my self-diagnostic software. It is..." Jasmine trailed off, her eyes darting to and fro as she processed an enormous load of data. "It seems to be detecting more programming problems than I can even list in cache," she finished, obviously astonished. "But this is, gosh, this is just impossible!"
Or the second possibility (2.), which centers on the character of Courtney, who feels responsible for the team and struggles with her own self-doubt while trying to integrate the newcomer with her ramshackle, motley crew. Here, I envision an opposing team, as the climax, consisting entirely of the same model as Jasmine and it's all about individuality and team spirit, and so forth. Also, the characters in this story would be a lot more human and it'd be almost impossble to have one of them set the ball, only to have a malfunctioning teammate accidentally knock her block off. Here's the direction such a story might begin to go in:
Gently, Courtney and Rachel set Katrina in her booth.
"Thanks for helping me put her to bed, Rae," Courtney said softly.
"It's no problem, Court. Everybody makes mistakes."
Courtney began pacing up and down the row of recharging booths containing her deactivated teammates. They were all topping off their batteries and data-synching with the C.O.a.C.H. supercomputer. Every once in a while, a wrist or ankle would twitch or a fist would ball up. Sometimes C.O.a.C.H. also ran game simulations while R-Teammates were linked ...
The thing with the battery was just a stupid mistake and it's not like anything bad happened. She was certain Katrina and Rachel wouldn't mention the oversight to any of the other girls. Courtney knew the state of her team wasn't her fault. It's not like Rachel's hormone-imbalance or sex-addiction or whatever-you-want-to-call-it was Courtney's fault. Nor was Katrina's worsening narcolepsy. Or the German-speaking Swiss exchange-student Liselotte's (Lotta) seeming refusal to come to grips with the English language, which was a persistent souce of confusion on the team.
But they'd all been playing together for four seasons. They...
Courtney tried to convince herself that ...
They were all programmed to love UCLA and to do their best on its behalf. That meant winning.
but that didn't matter...