Electric Child

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

“…I know you trust him---and believe me, I definitely trust him---but it’s still a bit weird that he looks like the guy who replaced me at my last job. Seriously, that sort of makes the whole thing awkward…”

“Dennis,” Sophia Starlet teased, “the only thing ‘awkward’ here is that tie you’re wearing, so just relax!”

“What’s wrong with my tie?!”

“Try everything!” Sophia couldn’t help but giggle; her latest concert at Santana Row had elevated her from local success story to international pop superstar almost overnight---a far cry from her “Smooth as Silk” days, when the moneygrubbing idiots from the record label tried to turn her into the new Britney Spears. “Seriously, though,” she continued, “thanks for everything, Dennis….without you, I never would’ve made it this far.”

Dennis DeYoung smiled; “Something tells me you would’ve made it eventually, kiddo. I don’t know if anyone else could’ve handled your…electric personality like I could, though….”

“That’s why I’m glad you’re the one handling it,” Sophia beamed, hugging Dennis around the shoulder.

“Wait ‘til I’ve parked the car!” the white-haired singer/manager laughed. “I don’t want to tell Anton you got put through a tree ‘cause you were hugging me, or anything….”

Sophia sighed and returned to her seat. “I know….” She stared out the window, her chin propped up by her left hand. “It’s just….after everything that’s happened this week---the Retro Toy Fair, meeting Vicki, the rehearsal at the C.O.T.A…..and, of course, the concert at Santana Row---I thought things would sort of quiet down for me on the mall tour circuit. I never expected it to get so…..”

“Crazy?” Dennis offered.

“Pretty much. Now, though…..everyone and their grandma wants me to open for them!” The pigtailed gynoid chuckled in disbelief; “It’s….it’s like---“

“You could fly around the world without touching down?” Dennis mused.

“Stop stealing my lines!” Sophia squealed, lapsing into another giggle fit. After she’d calmed down, she sighed again. “That is pretty much what I’m feeling like, though,” she admitted. “I seriously don’t know what I’d be doing right now if it hadn’t been for people like you, Anton and Vicki….I’d probably be on display somewhere, or doing the same stupid routine at Disneyland every afternoon.” She pulled a photo of a smiling redheaded girl in a cap and gown; “And I still never got to thank the one person I owe more to than anyone else in the world,” she muttered, a lone tear rolling down her cheek.

“You’re thanking her by going out on stage every night,” Dennis reminded her. “Every time you get up there and sing…..you’re thanking her in the best possible way.”

Sophia nodded silently, grinning as she tucked the photo away in her pocket.

After ten more minutes of driving, the pair finally reached the M-G Cybernetics building. “We’re here, babe,” Dennis declared. “Looks like we’re expected…the parking lot’s got enough room for me to pull a 20-point turn if I have to!” Sophia rolled her eyes; “We’re not here to practice parking, Dennis,” she chided as her manager parked the Accura flawlessly. “Anton’s probably waiting for us inside, and---“

A gentle tapping on the passenger-side window interrupted her.

“To be honest,” Anton Malvineous stated, “I was waiting inside, but I got bored…” He grinned and opened the door for Sophia. “As beautiful as ever,” he declared proudly, accepting the gynoid’s hug with open arms. “And Dennis! You’re looking particularly spry this morning.”

“Likewise,” Dennis replied, shaking Anton’s hand. “I still think you look a hell of a lot like---“

“I know,” Anton laughed. “Trust me, I’m used to the comparison---but that’s not why you’re here.” He gave the pair a mysterious smile as he led them away from the Accura; “I, ah, didn’t shut off the engine,” Dennis protested, “so just give me a minute---“

“The valets will tend to it,” Anton assured him. “What I’m about to show you is far more important.”

As the trio entered the building, Sophia noticed several uniformed staff members unloading instrument cases from a van. “You guys branching out into the music department?” she joked. “Actually,” Anton replied, “those cases are part of the reason I called you out here…the folks in R&D have been working on modifying standard instruments to withstand the rigors of….let’s say, enhanced reflexes.” He chuckled; “We analyzed the guitar you played at the Santana Row concert, and other than the strings being somewhat worn, it’s in pretty good shape. Once you’re on stage with the Dolls, though, drum kits and violins can only take so much tension before they snap---“

“Wait,” Dennis interjected, “violins?!”

“I…thought we could try to expand the Starlet Dolls’ sound,” Sophia admitted. “You’ve been playing your old stuff with an orchestra for years; I thought you’d like the idea!” Dennis was somewhat taken aback by the suddenness of the reply. “I never said I didn’t like it, Sophie,” he assured the gynoid. “I just….isn’t it a little weird to plan for stuff like this so soon after what almost happened at Santana Row? A lot of people nearly got killed after that helicopter crashed….”

“…except they didn’t get killed,” Sophia reminded him. “I’m not going to stop performing just because idiots like Victor Vega were hired to bring me down!” She lowered her voice and turned to Anton; “Vega doesn’t know what I really am, does he?” she asked quietly.

“As far as he knows,” Anton replied with a smile, “you’re just another brat from the malls.”

The remark prompted a grin from the pigtailed pop singer. “Great way to torture a lyric,” she teased, playfully punching Anton in the arm, “though it’s probably better that he thinks I’m a brat, not a bricked gynoid. So…I like the instruments, and stuff---“

“You haven’t even seen them,” Dennis countered.

“She didn’t need to see them,” Anton explained, “because she’s the one who sent me the designs…but that’s another story for another day.” He returned his attention to Sophia; “Now…you were saying?”

“Well, I like the instruments, and stuff---at least, I will like them if they look like they did when I sketched ‘em out---but….” A hint of girlish glee seemed to sparkle in her eyes; “I was wondering if….y’know, you could….let me get a look at…..them?”

Anton’s smile meshed perfectly with his reply: “It would be my honor, Miss Starlet.”

He led the pair to an imposing steel door, presenting his ID card to the security officer stationed nearby. “We haven’t put the finishing touches on them yet,” the roboticist admitted, “but in terms of project completion, they’re 90% done. All they need now is the makeup, a few aesthetic additions and a few last-minute updates to their programming…and once they’re complete…..”

Sophia caught the twinkle in his eye as the security lock opened. “…you’ll be winning the hearts of the world.”

The trio descended the staircase into the quake-proof sublevels of the M-G Cybernetics building, with Anton taking the lead. “The designs haven’t really changed all that much from when I first submitted the blueprints,” he informed the pop singer and her manager, “but there were a few concessions that had to be made---we had to scrap some of the outfits from the original series, for one. They were a bit too…”

“Gaga?” Dennis offered.

“Exactly. Still, the onstage looks we came up with for each of them have done a pretty good job of recreating the magic from the original show…they’ll be a damn sight more memorable than most bands these days.”

“Radical!” Sophia beamed. “What about off-stage…y’know, when we’re just hanging out and stuff?”

“Each of the Starlet Dolls has been given a wardrobe designed to accentuate their best qualities without being too overtly seductive,” Anton explained, “and they’re color-coordinated---one of the few aspects from the show’s wardrobe I was able to carry over to real life without too many problems.”

At the foot of the steps, the group found themselves confronted by another door. “I designed this one myself,” Anton informed Sophia with a grin; as she watched, the roboticist unfolded a miniature piano keyboard from a slot on the door and, with a preparatory knuckle-crack, played the chorus of the Lawrence Gowan song, “City of the Angels”. “Seeing as how everyone says we look alike,” he mused, “I thought it might be nice to familiarize myself with his body of work….turns out I’m quite the keyboard player when the occasion calls for it.” He chuckled as the door swung open. “The tunes change every three days, as well,” he added, “though they aren’t always from Gowan---fortunately, my appreciation for classical music means that I won’t be locked out any time soon.”

“I need a few doors like that for my house,” Dennis muttered.

Anton led Dennis and Sophia into a cavernous chamber filled with terminals, charts and---on the far end of the room---seven massive capsules, large enough for a human being (or a humanoid form) to stand in. “They’re still undergoing some programming changes,” he explained, “so I can’t activate any of them yet…but you can get a good look at them through the Perspex.” He pressed a button, and the base of each capsule lit up the inside with an incredible glow. “Base-mounted LEDs,” Anton began, “chosen due to their low rate of energy consumption and…”

He let the sentence trail off, watching with a smile as Sophia walked up to the capsules. “This…this is like a dream,” she murmured. “It’s like….meeting old friends for the first time, or….” She lapsed into silence as the sheer joy of what she was seeing took center stage in her thoughts; as she made her way down the row of capsules, she absent-mindedly traced her finger across one of the Perspex windows, staring in awe at the raven-haired gynoid held within the capsule.

“Are they everything you’d hoped for?” Anton asked softly.

Sophia nodded; “I have a feeling they’ll be even cooler the next time I see them….” She couldn’t help but grin at the thought of actually being able to hang out with the Starlet Dolls. “I’m sure they’ll find you to be cool in your own right,” Anton replied, “once their personalities have been fully installed. Now, if you’d like, we can take a look at the tour bus you’ll be using for the Starlet Dolls’ world tour in January….”

At that moment, Sophia wasn’t really concerned about the tour bus. The only thoughts going through her CPU involved a full-on concert experience with her in the lead, and all seven of the Starlet Dolls sharing the stage with her, in front of a packed stadium. She could almost hear the screaming fans and feel the energy….but for this dream of hers to come true, one more individual would have to be brought back into the fold… …the same individual, as it happened, who’d rescued her from Victor Vega’s clutches earlier that week. As Dennis and Anton looked over the tour bus specs, Sophia pulled another photo from her pocket.

“Vicki,” she murmured with a smile, “I owe you one…..and I definitely intend to repay the favor!”

Friday, December 24, 2010

“This….is so COOL!”

As soon as she boarded Sophia Starlet’s tour bus, Vicki Lawson felt as if all of her childhood dreams about the Starlet Dolls had been magnified by 100x and granted. The sense of incredibly girlish wonder flooded through her mind just like it had back at the Retro Toy Fair…except everything felt even more amazing. Nearly every inch of the interior was done up in the pink-and-white motif that adorned Sophia’s outfit, and pictures of the gynoid pop singer posing with fans (Vicki included) lined the walls.

“I guess I don’t need to ask if you like it, then,” Sophia beamed. “It was specially designed by the art team that worked on the cartoon series---they were just as thrilled as you are, to be honest.”

“The bankers were pretty thrilled as well,” Dennis added. “Sophie’s turned into Queen Midas---everything she touches turns to gold! The first three albums, the DVD, the live shows---hell, even the mall tour outperformed everyone’s expectations!”

Sophia rolled her eyes; “It’s not always about the profits, Dennis,” she reminded her manager.

“I know, I know…still, at least you’re investing it in things that actually matter.” Dennis sat next to Vicki and showed off a “catalog” of Sophia’s latest financial decisions. “For starters, we now own the original Sophia Starlet and the Starlet Dolls cartoon series AND toy line---the toy line took a while longer to secure than the series, but Mattel finally caved when we promised not to make the new dolls look too much like theirs. Also, we’re sponsoring at least three charities, including one for cancer research….”

“What about this one?” Vicki asked, frowning as she pointed out the logo of a record label.

“Ah….that one is our insurance policy,” Dennis replied. “Emblemantic Records used to be Victor Vega’s pride and joy---“

“The name by itself makes me want to puke,” Vicki cut in. “Also, could I just add that most of the ‘artists’ who signed with Emblemantic were known synthophobes who hated anything that used more electricity than their instruments?”

“All those idiots were cut loose when Vega lost control of the brand,” Dennis assured her. “And as for that stupid name, we’re changing it as soon as possible…I’m thinking ‘Starlet Unlimited’.”

“That makes sense,” Vicki muttered, grinning.

As the bus rolled on, Dennis and Sophia gave Vicki a look at the concept art for the Starlet Dolls’ upcoming stage tour. “It’ll be everything the Kilroy Was Here stadium tour couldn’t be,” Dennis assured the brunette gynoid, “and this time, the fans are actually gonna stay through the whole thing…..oh, and we’re not letting Sammy Hagar be the special guest for it.” He rolled his eyes at the memory of the disastrous 1983 tour. “If this tour manages to be what the Kilroy tour should’ve been, I’ll be able to die happy.”

“It’ll be everything it’s supposed to be,” Sophia assured him. “If the label tries to pull another stunt like they did with ‘Smooth as Silk’---“

“Ah, what stunt?” Vicki asked, confused.

Sophia sighed. “They wanted me to use a body double onstage for the title track of the album when I was on tour,” she explained, “because they didn’t think I was ‘developed enough’ to pull off the look they wanted. As soon as we finished the last concert of the tour, about half the idiots from the label got their walking papers!”

“And that means….what, exactly?” Vicki queried.

“It means that Sophia doesn’t have to worry about the label trying to turn her into Britney Spears 2.0,” Dennis explained. “She gets to write her own songs, choose who she wants to direct her music videos, and manage her own marketing. We had to make a lot of promises to get all of those privileges---and trust me, we had to fight for them---but we won out in the end….and I do mean ‘we’.” He shook his head; “Those bastards actually had the nerve to say that I was the problem….”

“Dennis,” Sophia murmured, “you and I both know that’s not the case…”

After a minute’s silence, Dennis nodded his agreement. “At least we’ve got the label on our side instead of on the fence,” he sighed. “I’d hate to be the idiot who said Sophie was never going to make it past her first album….”

“Let’s get back to the concept art for the tour,” Vicki suggested. “Now this looks particularly interesting…”

Sophia grinned. “I know---I drew this one myself. At the start of ‘Wind Me Up’, these capsules are going to rise up out of the stage---there’ll be fog machines, to add to the effect---and the Starlet Dolls will be in them, and their eyes will be glowing…” She grinned at the thought. “I’ve worked out all the lighting and pyro in advance, so it’ll look super-cool!”

“Ah, what’s’ Wind Me Up’?” Vicki asked.

“Crud, I nearly forgot!” Sophia nearly jumped out of the chair; “Hang on a sec, Vicki---I’ll be right back!” The brunette gynoid watched with an arched eyebrow as Sophia headed for the rear compartments of the bus. “I’d ask if this is a common thing,” she began, turning to glance at Dennis, “but---“

“FOUND IT!” Sophie squealed, returning with an iPod. “It’s one of the earliest cuts from the new album, though I had to record with a different band than the Starlet Dolls---for obvious reasons…..” She grinned at Vicki; “Wanna hear it?”

“I think you already know the answer to that,” Vicki replied, smiling as she inserted the ear buds into her ears.

WIND ME UP (© 2012 DollSpace) [low whisper/rap] Touch me - make me feel exotic Next to you I feel erotic Let it flow - don't be neurotic Feel impulsive - be quixotic

I feel your touch send shivers up my spine You make me feel what I've never felt before Don't stop now, we're just getting started Turn the key - give me more....

Wind me up - turn my key Let me move - set me free Wind me up - turn me on Time is short - I'll soon be gone

[low whisper/rap] With your touch it's automatic Overloading systems static Normal function now erratic Electric touch - I feel ecstatic

I'm close to you - I'm close to overload I don't think I can take this I'm shutting down Comfort me - hold me till it's over When I'm gone - all unwound

Wind me up - turn my key Let me move - set me free Wind me up - turn me on Time is short - I'll soon be gone

[low whisper/rap] Touch me - make me feel exotic Next to you I feel erotic Let it flow - don't be neurotic Feel impulsive - be quixotic With your touch it's automatic Overloading systems static Normal function now erratic Electric touch - I feel ecstatic

Wind me up - turn my key Let me move - set me free Wind me up - turn me on Time is short - I'll soon be gone Wind me up - turn my key Let me move - set me free Wind me up - turn me on Time is short - I'll soon be gone

“Well?” Sophie asked as Vicki removed the ear buds. “What’d you think?”

“It’s….nice,” Vicki replied, “though I’d change ‘Next to you I feel erotic’ to something a bit less mature, like ‘Love it when I act robotic’. Other than that one line, it’s pretty cool!”

“Glad to hear it,” Dennis mused. “With Sophie writing her own songs now, the days of rehearsing, fine-tuning and then finding out the writer decided to change the whole thing are over. Seriously, some of the stuff they ‘suggested’ for Smooth as Silk was just stupid! I mean, look at them---‘Hold Me In You’, ‘Carnival of Love’, ‘Sleepover Games’----just absolute crap, plain and simple!” Vicki read over the lyrics Dennis handed her, and couldn’t help but cringe; some of them were, indeed, absolute crap. “I think even Britney Spears would’ve turned this stuff down,” she muttered.

“Like Dennis said, I fought hard for the right to write my own songs,” Sophie reminded her, “which is why I’m never going to perform stuff like this---“ She tossed the lyrics into a trash can. “---ever again!”

“Some of the stuff from that first album was good, though,” Vicki admitted. “’Green Lights’, for example…I got it on iTunes the other day, and it’s actually pretty cool!” Sophie blushed at the praise; “Thanks,” she murmured. “It was one of the first ones I wrote…the label guys thought it would be ‘cute’ to include it on the album."

“Well, it was a good call on their part, ‘cause it’s awesome!” Vicki beamed.

Sophia grinned. “Glad to hear that you liked it---and at least you’re a lot more honest about it than the label execs were.” She sighed at the memory of the meetings she’d had with them; “A whole hour of them looking over the lyrics, trying to rearrange the music and generally being annoying, just because they couldn’t tell if it would ‘mesh’ with the rest of the tracks or not. After forty minutes, I was about to just tell them to go soak their heads or something.”

“And then they’d have dropped you,” Dennis reminded her, “and we wouldn’t be here---“

“I get it,” Sophia insisted, falling into a beanbag chair with an exasperated sigh. “In any case, I’m glad I had Dennis to back me up---just like I had both of you backing me up at Santana Row. Seriously, you two are like my life support….I have no idea where I’d be without either of you.”

“You wouldn’t be on your first ever stadium tour of the U.S., for one,” Vicki mused, rolling over on the couch and sighing. “This is going to be epic….I actually get to meet the Starlet Dolls in person!” She smiled happily and hugged a pillow; “I’ve dreamed about getting to meet them ever since Ted first installed my R.E.M. program,” she informed Sophia. “It’s….” A blissful sigh escaped her lips.

“I think we get the idea,” Dennis informed her.

As the bus continued on its way, Vicki and Sophia perused the concept art book. “Okay,” Vicki muttered, “that looks like a rejected prop from a Michael Jackson stage show….” She pointed to a massive, butterfly-like device that was apparently meant to be flown over the audience.

“Before Dennis and I settled on the theme for the next album,” Sophia explained, “I had this whole song worked out for it…it was going to be right before the intermission in the middle of the show. There was this whole thing where I’d be wrapped up in silk, like a larvae or something….then it would’ve unraveled, and I’d be in the harness---there were going to be fiber-optic cables and LEDs in the wings, to make them light up---and I was going to fly over the whole audience on wires and stuff….” She sighed. “Unfortunately, during the testing of the harness, the crane operator kicked it into maximum overdrive and nearly put the thing through the far wall of the arena.”

Vicki looked horrified; “You weren’t in it, were you?!” she gasped.

“Of course I wasn’t in it!” Sophia laughed. “I wouldn’t be here right now if I’d been in that thing when it hit the wall….just because the cartoon Sophia tried to fly a glider around a packed stadium, that doesn’t mean I’m going to risk breaking myself into a billion pieces on some stupid butterfly rig!”

“She scrapped the song, in case you’re wondering,” Dennis added.

“I kinda figured she would.” Vicki flipped a few pages ahead in the concept art book; “Okay, this definitely needs some explaining,” she declared, pointing at a two-page spread. “I mean, I like the look of it, and all, but how did you intend to pull this off onstage?!”

Sophie blushed at the mention of that particular bit of art. “I, ah….”

“Oh, God,” Dennis muttered, snatching the book from Vicki’s hands and frowning. “I thought this sketch was torn out and burned!” He shook his head disapprovingly; “This particular bit of concept art for the tour was, for lack of a better term, ‘inspired’ by one of the never-produced Starlet Doll toys from the old cartoon series,” he explained to a thoroughly confused Vicki. “Apparently, someone at the design firm thought it would be a great idea to have Sophia turn into a seven-foot-tall female Robocop armed with ‘glitter cannons’, ‘sparkle blasters’ and a ‘super-starlet surprise attack’ that, as far as I can tell, would’ve blinded half the audience with lasers if it were ever actually used. Hell, that Lightman thing Michael Jackson would’ve emerged from during his This Is It tour looks tame compared to this!”

“That’s putting it mildly, Mr. DeYoung,” Vicki deadpanned, doing her best imitation of “Q”.

“I was never going to use that during this tour,” Sophia insisted. “It was just…I wanted to see if something like that could actually be done, y’know? A….what’s it called….” She snapped her fingers as she tried to remember the term. “Proof of concept,” she declared. “That’s what it was!”

Vicki arched an eyebrow; “I think this is one concept that should’ve stayed on the drawing board.”

“I know,” Sophie groaned, sinking back into the beanbag chair. “At least it never made it onstage…”

“Don’t beat yourself up over it,” Vicki told her. “A lot of pop singers have made worse decisions; David Bowie had to stop coming up with characters after the Thin White Duke, since that was pretty much just a coked-up version of himself let loose on the audience….that reminds me, how did things go when you opened for David Bowie in Tokyo?”

Sophie’s smile faded; “He never showed up,” she murmured. “I played a full set, and the audience liked me well enough, but…” She looked as if she were about to cry.

“’But’ what?” Vicki insisted.

Dennis sat down next to Sophia and put his arm around her shoulder. “The guy who showed up to fill in for Bowie wasn’t exactly the nicest guy in the world,” he informed Vicki. “He started swearing at the audience as soon as he got on the microphone, and every song his band played was just full of the most disgusting, putrid lyrics I’ve ever heard in my life. We left for the Okura Hotel as soon as we could, to avoid getting hit with flying sake bowls…..Bowie called our room later to apologize. Apparently, he caught a really bad cold, or a case of the flu, or something, and he didn’t want to go onstage while he was sick.”

“It would’ve been a lot better than the idiot who took his place,” Sophia muttered, frowning.

“Turns out Bowie’s ‘replacement’ was employed by some idiot called McMire,” Dennis continued. “Apparently, McMire wanted to see if Sophia could salvage a failing act, or something like that….at least, that’s what the note he left under our hotel room door said.”

“McMire?” Vicki echoed. The name rang a bell---before she’d left to join Sophia on tour, she had overheard Ted on the phone with one of the chief operating officers of Lawson Robotics, discussing something about “that McMire punk” and a missing unit from Venus Industries. “I thought Victor Vega would’ve been the one to sabotage your career, after the way you upstaged him….what would this McMire guy want with you?”

“I don’t know,” Sophia replied quietly, her words tinged with a sense of helplessness.

Vicki sat back in the couch, closing her eyes. “Give me a minute,” she stated, taking a few deep breaths, “and I might be able to pull up more on this McMire guy.”

“And how are you gonna do that?” Dennis asked, confused.

“Easy,” V.I.C.I. replied in her monotone voice. “I’ll just check my bubble memory processors and the ALPA database for any mentions of ‘McMire’ from the early 1990s to now. Knowing my luck, I probably won’t be able to find that much---“ She gasped as a sudden influx of data flooded her mind. “Okay, forget what I just said….”

From January 5, 1991 to February 17, 2010, the man known only as McMire had somehow racked up quite a reputation. He had connections to the Coalition dating back to 1998, but his time with the group ended in 2005 after a failed coup against James Harrington. After that, he seemed to become the polar opposite of the Maestro; whereas the infamous hacker was currently living it up in prison, sending out his “gifts” to the world every so often and making sure his face was on TV for at least three months at a time, McMire was hardly ever seen in public anymore. Those who “spoke” with him had no idea what his voice actually sounded like---he reportedly used a sophisticated digital voccoder mask of some kind that made him sound even more menacing than Darth Vader. The only other known facts about him concerned his health---he’d recently overcome a debilitating bout of bone cancer---and his penchant for paying freelance agents to “collect” rare technology from around the world….including gynoids and androids. According to the latest updates on the ALPA database, McMire was connected to an incident in Green Bay, involving a Venus Industries prototype---

“Okay,” Vicki muttered, opening her eyes and internally shutting off the connection to the ALPA database, “I now officially know what people mean when they use the term ‘too much information’…even though there’s barely enough on this guy to fill a GURPS character profile.”

“We’ve been worried that he’ll try to sabotage Sophie’s stadium tour,” Dennis informed her, “but the studio geeks keep saying that we won’t have to worry about it.” He scowled; “Every time one of them says that we won’t have to worry about McMire, I start thinking that McMire already got to them….”

Sophia blew a wisp of hair out of her eyes; “Dennis,” she sighed, “we hired most of the label guys personally after the ‘Smooth as Silk’ incident, remember? You had them go through full background checks, polygraph tests, drug screening…and they all came out clean!” She flopped back into the beanbag chair. “The incident in Japan was just a bad night,” she murmured. “After we get the Starlet Dolls online, it’ll be a thing of the past, because every concert is going to be EPIC!” She grinned.

“Somehow, I don’t think you’ll be wrong in that regard,” Vicki mused. “Was the guy who ‘filled in’ for Bowie a Visual Kei singer, by any chance?”

“Probably not,” Dennis replied. “I don’t know that much about Visual Kei performers, but something tells me that not even the most extreme of them would’ve cussed out the audience like this idiot did….and they wouldn’t have poured Windex all over themselves and punched out the venue security guard, either. That guy was probably just a classic victim of self-medication…or he was just having a really, really bad night.”

“In any case,” Vicki declared, “I’m pretty sure you won’t have to put up with any crazies of that magnitude in San Jose….most of the support bands you could hire are pretty good. I think a friend of mine is in one---“

The bus glided to a stop before the brunette gynoid could finish her sentence; “We’re here!” Sophia beamed.

“And ‘here’ is…..where, exactly?” Vicki asked.

Sophia and Dennis exchanged knowing grins; “Let’s just say we’ve had some help getting the band back together,” Sophia teased, winking. “A lot of help.”

“Wait, what are you---“ Vicki suddenly remembered the last conversation she’d had with Anton Malvineous and Sophia after the Santana Row concert in November; “Anton said something about recreating the Starlet Dolls as gynoids,” she recalled, “but….” Her eyes went wide; “No way!” she exclaimed, grinning as she ran to the nearest window.

“I think the appropriate reply is ‘yes, way’,” Dennis chuckled, “but I’ll let Sophia handle that….” He rolled his eyes as Sophia ran to join Vicki at the window. “Or not.”

Anton himself was waiting at the entrance to the MG Cybernetics laboratory, smiling broadly at the gynoids as they departed the bus. “I was wondering when you’d get here, Sophia,” he called out. “And you’ve brought Vicki with you! Fantastic!” Vicki was somewhat surprised to see him walking at a brisk pace towards the bus; the previous week had seen him injured at the hands of a massive android named Malchus, and the doctors had advised against him performing any strenuous activities for at least a month. “Back on your feet so soon?” she asked.

“External servo-driven leg braces,” Anton replied. “I wear ‘em under my pants, and nobody can tell I’ve been hurt…of course, they’re not as streamlined as I’d like, but they beat the hell out of hobbling around with a cane all over the labs. And before anyone asks, they don’t help my basketball game at all.”

“We weren’t going to ask,” Vicki laughed.

“Good,” Anton beamed, “because if you did, you’d have missed out on the chance to be introduced to Sophia’s bandmates for the first time ever. Now….” He gestured theatrically towards the laboratory’s entrance. “Let’s go meet the Starlet Dolls, shall we?” towards the doors of the laboratory, he helped the girls off the bus; “I have a feeling that you’re not going to be disappointed,” he added, smiling.

Vicki grinned; “Knowing you,” she teased, “the only disappointment will be that we can’t stay longer.”

Far beyond the boundaries of Silicon Valley, others were anticipating the start of the Starlet Dolls’ first-ever stadium tour….but not for nostalgic reasons, or for the purpose of catching a cool concert, or even for the rather un-ambitious goal of robbing the box office and stealing from the band.

Their ambitions were slightly more….sinister.

In the case of Victor Vega and Boris Vlatko, those ambitions were somewhat muted by the desire to not suffer another failure at the hands of the hated ALPA. Both men were in the employ of United Robotronics’ current CEO, a man with a title rather than a name….a man whose past (and present) were shrouded in secrecy and rumors…..

A man known only as the Baron.

“Gentlemen,” he intoned, staring at the two would-be billionaires from the darkness that shrouded his side of the mahogany desk. Ignoring the advice of Neitchze, both men stared back into that abyss---Vega, with just a hint of anger; Vlatko, with a half-arrogant, half-terrified expression---trying and failing to shake the feeling that this particular abyss was, indeed, staring back into them.

The Baron’s gloved hands rested on the surface of the desk, the fingers steepled. If anyone dared to squint past the pinstripe-sleeved arms that seemed to blend with the shadows just above the elbows, they might’ve been able to make out the form of his torso leaning back in the custom-made chair….but only the foolish would attempt to gaze into that seemingly infinite, unflinching miasma of darkness that surrounded the face of the man called the Baron. Rumors persisted as to why he kept his face cloaked in perpetual darkness; whispers of horrible disfigurements, acts of revenge from jilted lovers and bizarre flesh-eating diseases were constantly making the rounds….

…none of which were anywhere near as horrifying as the truth.

Vlatko and Vega waited for the Baron to speak again, both men knowing that they were now in his domain and under his orders. An unwritten, unspoken code of sorts had sprung up amongst those who interacted with him on a semi-regular basis; interrupting the Baron, for instance, was one of the most heinous offenses one could commit in his presence.

After a full three minutes, the Baron spoke again.

“Four failures in four months.” He let the sentence hang, smirking at the shamed looks on the faces of his minions. “One failure would have been enough to sink a lesser company; two would have sent a weaker man to the poorhouse. Three failures, heaped on top of each other, might have driven a lesser man to suicide….”

A flash of something---gold, perhaps?---glinted from the darkness.

“…but four failures?” A pause……. “Unacceptable.”

Something in Vlatko’s gut was screaming at him to protest, and before Vega could silence him, he lashed out at the man who almost literally held his life in his hands: “WE DID NOT FAIL, BARON! We were OPPOSED, and CHALLENGED by those who would seek to profit from our downfall---because YOU SET US UP TO BE RUINED!” Vega said nothing; despite having barely survived the Baron’s wrath after his failure to destroy Sophia Starlet back in November, he was under no illusions of invincibility.

Surprisingly, Vlatko’s remarks had no visible effect on the Baron. “You claim that your own actions did not lead to failure,” he calmly retorted, “yet you dare to accuse me of putting you in a position that was destined to end in defeat….have you forgotten who allowed you back into the Coalition after your dismissal from the DVS, Comrade Vlatko?”

The disgraced Russian roboticist said nothing, choosing only to sneer at the Baron.

“And what of you, Señor Vega?” the Baron inquired, pivoting his chair just enough to behold the all-too-visible annoyance on the face of the Spanish entrepreneur. “Surely you do not agree with this insane theory that you have been ‘set up to fail’…..”

“My failings are regrettable,” Vega carefully admitted, “but I would never go so far as to blame you for my own shortcomings.” He briefly considered mentioning the shortcomings of his former chief of security, but the memory of Stavros’ death still rang fresh in his mind….and something about the frozen look of agonized pain on the Grecian’s face as his corpse was removed from the room still haunted Vega, lingering in the darkest recesses of his mind along with other, long-buried nightmares. “If anyone is to take responsibility for any and all problems within Vega Industries---and, by extension, ReVerse Robotics---it shall be me.”

A derisive chuckle from the Baron punctuated Vega’s statement. “Learn well this lesson, Comrade Vlatko,” he intoned. “Señor Vega knows where the blame truly lies; it would do you a world of good to---“

“TO WHAT?!” Vlatko screamed. “To lay down and surrender my entire life to you?! Bradford has already accused me of deceit, theft and trying to pass off a stolen fembot as one of my own---I DO NOT NEED YOUR ACCUSATIONS HANGING OVER MY NAME, BARON!” He gladly would’ve lunged across the desk and grabbed the Baron by the lapels, had it not been for Vega’s unflinching grip closing on his forearm and pulling him back.

Vlatko’s efforts were met with a tsk-tsk from the Baron. “Take care, Vlatko,” he cautioned, “that your temper does not lead you astray. It would be regrettable to have to replace you so early on in this operation….” The barest makings of a chuckle rang in Vlatko’s ears; he pulled away from Vega with an angry growl, but otherwise did nothing to further antagonize the Baron.

“Consider your outburst forgiven, Comrade Vlatko. Now….to business.”

A feminine figure brushed past Vlatko and deposited two folders on the Baron’s desk. Vega allowed himself a smile; though he only knew her from brief encounters such as this, he had always found himself fascinated by Celine’s beauty, to the point of attempting to have her join ReVerse as his personal secretary. The plan had unraveled rather quickly once the Baron was alerted, but Vega was never admonished or penalized for it…and his desire to have Celine for himself, unsurprisingly, remained---

“Señor Vega.” The growling invocation of his name snapped Vega out of his reverie. “If you intend to be a part of this operation,” the Baron intoned, “then I suggest you pay attention…unless, of course, you would prefer to help Miss Delacroix with her burgeoning career in the rap music industry?”

“My apologies, Baron.” Vega inclined his head respectfully. “I was just…thinking about something…”

“Unless that ‘something’ was the mission at hand,” the Baron replied, “ponder it no more---even now, Sophia Starlet is preparing for her first stadium tour of the Silicon Valley area, and it would be rather inconsiderate of me to not give her an appropriate homecoming gift…” The chair swiveled to face Vlatko again; “How many of the units you deployed at the start of October are still functioning?” he inquired.

“Eight,” Vlatko replied, “though four were captured, and one was never deployed.”

“And how many untested units are currently housed at your compound in Palo Alto?”


The Baron seemed amused. “Only two untested units? Interesting….” The chair swiveled again; “Señor Vega, how many gynoids can your factory build, program and deploy before the end of the week?” The inquiry was delivered slowly, almost theatrically….a sure sign that the Baron’s patience was not to be tested.

“Fifteen,” Vega replied without hesitation.

“We will only need seven,” the Baron replied, “but build all fifteen and keep eight in reserve, in the event of an emergency.” Each syllable was laden with a nonchalant air, as if Vega could’ve taken a whole month to build the fifteen gynoids without fear of reprisal. “Bring at least….twenty of your best men with you, or however many you can spare. Security will no doubt be tightened after what happened at Santana Row.”

“Even their best security will fail against us,” Vega assured him. “We will not fail you---“

“Indeed,” the Baron interjected, “because any further mistakes on your behalf will only bring one punishment: An immediate termination of your employment….”

Both men recoiled as the shadows behind the desk seemed to move forward with the Baron: “…and your life.”

Boris Vlatko felt as if he were about to be violently ill; he had never enjoyed working for the Baron, but he now felt completely helpless to say or do anything that would spare him the horrible fates of those who had failed before him. Not even the usually-unflappable Victor Vega could look directly into the darkness that seemed to hold him in its thrall; staring into it, trying to discern the true identity of his employer, was like staring into an open grave….except no grave in any cemetery on earth was as off-putting as the almost-tangible shadows that concealed the Baron from view.

“Your planes for San Jose leave tomorrow night, gentlemen. I suggest you make any and all preparations for the trip as soon as possible.” With that, the Baron’s chair swiveled again, facing towards the window behind him. “You are dismissed.” Vlatko and Vega bowed towards the chair, earning a lazy wave of the hand from their employer as they turned to leave. Celine accompanied them to the door, stepping in to close it behind them as they left. Again, Vega felt a pang of regret for not having her in his employment; something about the gynoid secretary appealed to him on several levels…and stirred a fire within him that he hadn’t felt since his first night with his own fiancée, Lauren.

Vlatko was too busy thinking about his own fembots to lust after Celine…particularly, how he was going to reclaim the four captured fembots from the clutches of the ALPA.

The night would bring no respite for either of them.

(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Picture the voice of the McMire character as sounding like that of Bane from "The Dark Knight Rises" wen he has the voccoder mask on; that's what I had in mind when I wrote his lines. )

On the opposite coast, in a mansion that had long since seen its glory days come and go, a dozen or so individuals whose professional relationships had once been tenuous (at best) were now uniting for a common cause…. which happened to involve doing the bidding of a man they had only known from rumors and whispers. A man respected by many, feared by even more and hated by many, including the Baron. A man known only by his last name…….


The conversation between the guests dwindled as the sound of footsteps on the upper balcony rang through the chamber; two of McMire’s trusted aides, clad in matching black uniforms, appraised the group before the man himself approached. None of those he was about to address had ever seen him before, and wouldn’t be seeing him now---unlike the Baron, he chose to hide completely from the world. Not even his voice could be heard by those outside his inner circle; everyone else only heard him speak through a digital voccoder that sounded like a strange, half-British version of the breath mask made famous by Star Wars’ Darth Vader.

One of the aides brought a microphone closer to the seat McMire had set up on the balcony. “They’re ready, sir,” he whispered. “Of course they are ready,” McMire replied, the voccoder mask flattening the emotion out of his words. “Any man who has waited as long as these have would be foolish if they had no desire to hear me by this point.” The aide nodded respectfully and retreated to his post, staring at the floor; as his associates had learned over the years, McMire hated being watched when he spoke. Throughout the massive chamber that had, at one point, been a ballroom, android servants stood motionless---another lesson imparted by their master. Any interruption, no matter how insignificant, was punishable by anything from a brutal caning to death at the hands of McMire’s guards.

“Now then,” McMire declared, “to business…”

A monitor on the far end of the room flickered to life, showing footage of a concert at Santana Row from the previous month. “The Baron’s efforts to silence the one known as Sophia Starlet failed,” he informed his guests, “and many have since been stripped of their ranks for this debacle. I, however, will not settle for such shenanigans…..” A light shone down on one guest in particular. “Miss Tanque, if you would?”

Stacy Tanque---the green-haired, Amazonian gynoid formerly known as Sophia Tank---stepped forward. She had given up a lot by leaving the Baron after failing to bring him Damien Falken, but throwing her lot in with McMire had its own advantages. “The information you requested has been copied and handed out to the rest of the group,” she stated. “All of them should have their folders by now….”

“Indeed,” McMire agreed. “Everyone, retrieve the dossiers you were given. Now.”

The others retrieved envelopes from their seats as Stacy stared up at the balcony. “You will find that all the necessary documents for this particular assignment are in order,” McMire informed them, “clearly labeled and classified with regards to operational priority. Go over them, memorize the contents---and then destroy them. Leave no trace of their existence behind.”

As the guests set about obeying McMire’s command, Stacy glanced at them with equal measures disdain and amusement. Many of these people were feared mercenaries and wetwork operatives in their own right, but the mere mention of McMire’s name had ensured that all but the best would scamper back to their “strongholds” and contemplate a major career change. Unlike the Baron, McMire had no loyalty---in his eyes, the ALPA and Coalition were like the East and West during the Cold War---merely points on a compass, each as stupid as the other.

“Ah,” one of the guests called out, “is….is all of this information legit?”

The voccoder made it impossible to tell if McMire was angry, but his words still held the bite of a razor: “You question the integrity of my intelligence-gathering operations?”

“I…I didn’t---“

Two guards, both 6’5” androids with expressionless faces and full-body combat armor, flanked the man. “I am merely asking why you, of all people, would question my sources,” McMire clarified. “Your own record in the field has not exactly been…flawless…if I remember correctly.”

“I wasn’t questioning your sources,” the man replied. “I was just wondering---all this effort to snag a pop star?”

For the second time in as many minutes, the lack of true emotion in his words did nothing to hide McMire’s malice. “This ‘pop star’ as you call her, is not the intended prize. The Starlet Dolls’ tour is merely a convenient diversion to mask my efforts. Should any of you be lost to my enemies in the course of this mission, they will believe that your intentions did involve the capture of Sophia Starlet---“

“’Lost to your enemies’?” another guest called out. “Don’t you mean captured---HEY!” The android guards had grabbed the woman by the shoulders and hauled her away from the group. “What are you doing---“

“Who is your owner?” McMire queried.

“My---what the hell kind of question is that?!”

“The kind that could spare you from a most unpleasant fate,” McMire assured her. “I ask again: Who is your owner?”

“I don’t know what you’re---“

McMire gestured for one of his aides; “Deactivate her,” he ordered the black-clad man, “and bring her to the compound in Garland with the three from this past Tuesday for interrogation.” The aide nodded and headed for the stairs, joining the guards as they hauled the uncooperative woman out. “Now, if anyone has any further questions…”


“Good! As I was saying before I was interrupted, those of you who will be lost to my enemies can rest assured that your inevitable deaths will not be in vain…unless, of course, they are the result of your own ineptitude---“

A blood-curdling scream from outside temporarily drowned out McMire’s words. “GET AWAY FROM ME! GET THE FU—“ The woman’s cries were silenced by a whip-like, electrical burst, followed shortly after by the whining of dying servos and faltering electronics. The black-clad aide ascended the stairs to report the news to his master; “My humblest apologies, sir,” he murmured, “but the woman refused to join the others…the guards had no choice but to decommission her on the spot.”

“Of course.” McMire waved the man away. “A regrettable, but necessary loss…” A staticky, inhuman sigh issued forth from the voccoder mask. “All of you will be deployed to San Jose over the coming weeks,” he informed the guests. “Those of you who will fail me would do well not to return afterwards. Everyone else should report to me at regular intervals, defined within the contact schedule in your dossiers.” He glanced towards the south entrance, where the guards were dragging the useless gynoid’s broken body; a smirk crossed his face as he returned his attention to the guests. “Failure to comply with these instructions, defiance of my orders or any attempts to alert others to your presence will be met with swift, decisive and fatal responses from my agents in the field,” he informed them. “Any other mistakes on your part will be dealt with in the appropriate fashion if and when you choose to return.”

Not surprisingly, the guests didn’t take this particular bit of news too well. More than a few of them glanced around the room uneasily, mentally counting the number of guards and guessing where McMire could’ve hidden any of the automatic machine gun turrets he was rumored to have installed within the building. Others convened in groups, going over potential strategies if they were to meet up during the mission. At least two of the guests had retrieved their cellphones to make tearful calls to a loved one. Stacy observed all of this with a growing feeling of unease; Andrew Sharpe had given her an “emergency phone” if she ever felt the desire to return to United Robotronics, but she had a feeling that this was one of the many unforgivable offenses she’d been warned about before going into stasis a decade ago.

“Now,” McMire called out, “are there any questions?”

Again, silence.

“Your tongues may be silent,” McMire admonished, “but your bodies cannot be stilled quite so easily. You are no doubt anxious to know what rewards await those who successfully carry out my orders…” Before he could even lift his hand to gesture, one of the aides sprinted to a room behind them. “Rest assured, there is a reward,” he informed the guests, “one that will compensate for any and all difficulties you may encounter during the course of your employment.” The aide returned with two metal briefcases just as McMire turned to glance in his direction. “These are but a small portion of the payment you will be receiving before you leave tonight,” he declared. “Each of these cases holds $50,000---a gift, from myself to each of you. This $50,000 will be yours even if your mission ends in failure…should you accomplish the goals I have set for you, however, you will receive the remainder of your payment---something in the neighborhood of $10,000,000---and a hefty bonus. Thank you all for attending this briefing…and may the odds be ever in your favor.”

With that, McMire turned and left the guests to their own devices. The promise of a multimillion-dollar reward would be enough to weed out the money-hungry from the true professionals….he already knew how many of the “guests” would flee with their $50,000 gifts---and that they would never leave the estate alive.

This was, after all, his game…and McMire never played to lose.


Anton couldn’t help but grin at Vicki’s first reaction to the interior of MG Cybernetics’ San Jose facility. “We get that a lot,” he informed her, “though I think you’ll be far more impressed with what’s waiting in the underground lab.”

The group made their way down the staircase, anxiety trumping most other feelings and thought processes. Sophia, in particular, was ecstatic about meeting her bandmates; “Do they already know who I am, or will I get to, y’know, introduce myself to them?” she asked excitedly. “Are their personalities already fully fleshed-out and programmed into them, or do Vicki and I get to write their personality files ourselves? What are their favorite types of foods---“

“Take it easy, Sophie!” Dennis laughed. “We haven’t even seen them yet!”

Vicki couldn’t help but grin at the sight; she was just as eager to find out all she could about the soon-to-be-activated Starlet Dolls as Sophia was, with only her patience to keep her from blurting out questions in tandem with the pigtailed pop singer.

“They’ll be as impressive as you’ve expected them to be,” Anton assured Sophie. “Speaking of which,” he added, flashing a quick grin at Vicki, “the security door leading into the lab is a rather impressive achievement by itself.” He grinned as he pulled out the miniature keyboard. “Which tune is it today….ah, yes!” He played the chorus of “Moonlight Desires” and stood back as the door opened.

“How much did that one door cost to install?” Vicki asked, barely able to keep herself from grinning.

“I’ll plead the fifth on that,” Anton replied. “Now, for the reason we’re all here---”

Sophia ran past him before he could even finish the sentence. “Sophie, wait up!” Dennis called out, jogging after her. Anton smiled; “She is definitely an incredible girl. Not just an incredible piece of technology, but….” He noticed Vicki’s wide-eyed, slack-jawed stare; “I see you’ve already noticed the main attraction,” he mused, chuckling as he glanced at the seven capsules on the far end of the room. “I, ah, think you’ll find them to be somewhat more impressive once we get close enough to actually see them….you do actually want to see them up close, right?”

Vicki nodded silently.

Anton chuckled again. “Allow me to assist you, then…” With his hands on her shoulders, he gently steered the brunette gynoid towards the capsules; Sophia was already jumping up and down with excitement. “Can we turn them on now, pleeeeeeasse?” she begged.

“Seeing as how we’re all finally here,” Anton replied, “I don’t see why not. Miss Starlet, if you would care to do the honors…” He handed Sophia a keypad with two rows of seven buttons---the seven on the upper row were large and marked with a pill-shaped symbol, while those on the bottom row were slightly smaller and emblazoned with the power icon used in/on everything from MacOS to the PlayStation 3. “It’s pretty self-explanatory,” he informed her, “but each of the large keys opens one of the capsules, and the smaller ones activate the Starlet Dolls….they’re arranged from left to right, in alphabetical order---except for the last two, but there’s a reason for that. So…” He glanced at both Sophia and Vicki, the mischievous twinkle once again sparkling in his eyes. “Ready to meet the Starlet Dolls?”

The two gynoids grinned; “Do you really have to ask?” Sophie replied. “That’s a yes, by the way,” Vicki added, her voice just a shade below a joyous shriek. She’d dreamed about this for years---meeting the Starlet Dolls and going on her own adventures with them, watching from backstage as they rose to the top of the charts and beyond---and now, those dreams were about to come true in the coolest way possible.

Unable to bear the tension, Sophia pressed the first large button on the keypad. “This is so cool…”

The capsule on the far end of the row slid open with a quiet hiss, accompanied by a light oily mist (a by-product of the cooling system in the capsule’s base). As the mist cleared, Vicki and Sophia could see the figure of a pale, redheaded gynoid with freckles dotting her face. “Allow me to introduce to you the lead guitarist of the Starlet Dolls,” Anton declared, “Allie Kemp---known onstage as Allison Amp.” Vicki and Sophia, now smiling like kids at Christmas time, were transfixed by the gynoid guitarist; her red outfit matched her vibrant red hair perfectly, and the guitar clasped in her grip looked exactly like the one Sophie had sketched months beforehand.

At Vicki’s insistence, Sophia hurried to open the second capsule, her jaw nearly dropping to the floor as she beheld the red-and-gold clad strawberry blonde inside. “Your rhythm guitarist,” Anton informed her, “Katie Corr---aka Kara Current.” Like Allie, Katie had a smattering of freckles on her pale skin, and was about the same height as Vicki---and speaking of everyone’s favorite gynoid…

“Let me open the next one,” she begged, “please…” Sophia silently passed her the keypad, still in awe of the two gynoids before her. Vicki wasted no time hitting the third button on the keypad; like Sophia a few seconds earlier, her jaw nearly hit the floor as she stared at the newly-revealed gynoid. “The Starlet Dolls’ keyboardist,” Anton theatrically declared, “Lilly Locke---better known as Luna Lightning.” Lilly was just an inch taller than Allie and Katie, but her looks---jet black hair, with bangs in the front, a parting in the middle and a white streak through it with a black/dolphin gray/silver outfit (with gold star accents)to match---did more than enough to set her apart from the other two. Sophia was almost crying as she got her first look at the keyboardist gynoid; clearly, Anton’s work had met (and exceeded) her own visions for the Starlet Dolls.

Not wanting to ruin the moment, Vicki pressed the next button, revealing a lithe olive-skinned beauty with short, spiky sky blue hair (and a matching outfit). “Your drummer,” Anton informed Sophia, placing an arm around her and helping the gynoid to her feet. “Nicole Arkenstone---stage name, Toni Tesla---“ Sophia wrapped her arms around him and cried into the sleeve of his shirt, whispering “Thank you” in between sobs.

After a glance at Dennis (who was just as awestruck as Sophia, if not quite as emotional), Vicki pressed the fifth large button, causing the fifth capsule to reveal its occupant---a raven-haired, black/purple-clad gynoid with a slightly-darker skintone than Nicole. “If you’d be so kind as to direct your attention to the next capsule,” Anton gently suggested, “you’ll get your first look at your bassist, violinist and stringed instrument player, Valerie Voss---aka Violet Volt.” Sophia looked up, tears of joy already staining her face, and nearly collapsed to her knees. Vicki settled for nodding her head in silent approval; all five Starlet Dolls looked exactly the way she’d remembered them from the cartoon series, albiet with more realistic facial and body structures.

“Now, for the last two,” Anton stated, gesturing for Vicki to give him the keypad. “The backup-singing sisters with perfect pitch, Sharon and Zoë Powers---better known as Joanna Jolt and Zelda Zap, unofficial duo name: The Charge.” Both gynoids wore matching white and silver outfits; Zoë’s medium-length, medium-blonde hair was done up with bangs in the front, while Sharon’s longer hair (also done with bangs) had a middle-parting, and shone with a platinum blonde luster.

“They’re beautiful,” Sophia whispered. Anton nodded proudly. “I’m not trying to brag, or anything,” he replied, “but as of this moment, I personally consider the Starlet Dolls to be some of MG Cybernetics’ finest work.”

“I think everyone will consider them to be MG Cybernetics’ finest work,” Dennis corrected. “Right, Vicki?”

“Definitely,” the brunette gynoid murmured, staring up at the unmoving Dolls.

The sounds of Anton’s amused chuckling didn’t catch the attention of either gynoid. “Think we should let them regain their composure before we activate the Dolls?” he asked Dennis. “It’s your show,” the white-haired singer replied. “If you want to turn ‘em on, I say go for it.”

“I was hoping you’d say something along those lines,” Anton beamed, pressing the row of activation buttons by dragging his finger gently across them. “Now,” he whispered, “let’s see them in action…”

As Anton’s finger cleared the last activation button, several things began to happen almost instantaneously, as Vicki and Sophia watched:

Seven pairs of eyes opened simultaneously.

Seven internal power cells kicked on, activating the vital systems of seven incredible gynoids.

Seven CPUs began loading BIOS instructions, personality files and other crucial programming.

Seven girls were treated to their first glimpse of the world---and two of the most important people in their lives.

“Girls,” Anton stated proudly, “welcome to the land of the living.” He helped each of them step down from their capsules; “Seeing as how my identity is already present in your quantic memory processors---it is present in your memory, right?”

The girls nodded.

“Good!” Anton beamed, clapping his hands together. “As I was saying, since you already know me, I’ll allow you all to get acquainted with your bandmate---“

“Sophia?” Katie breathed.

The pigtailed gynoid stared into the eyes of the Starlet Dolls’ rhythm guitarist, tears of joy streaking down her face. “Yeah,” she murmured, grinning. “I’m here….and you’re here…” She looked at the rest of the Starlet Dolls. “…and they’re all here….” She half-fell forward, hugging Katie tightly. “This is a dream come true,” she cried. ‘You’re all here, and real, and alive…”

“Where is here, anyway?” Nicole asked, looking around the room. “This place doesn’t look like the HP Pavilion Center at all---“

“There’s been a slight change of plans,” Anton admitted. “I thought it would be best if you met with Sophia before the tour started, as opposed to everyone getting to know each other right before everything kicked off…”

Nicole arched an eyebrow; “I never thought of it like that….” She clapped Anton on the shoulder. “Good call.”

“Isn’t there someone else you should be introducing them to?” Dennis chimed in. “A certain student from San Jose State University, who just so happened to keep Sophia Starlet from being bricked by one Victor Vega this past November?” He nodded towards Vicki.

“I would never forget to introduce the Starlet Dolls to the girl who’s achievements led to their creation,” Anton replied. “Girls, it is my honor to introduce all of you to one of the most intelligent, heroic and impossibly clever individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing….Victoria Anne-Smith Lawson.”

The individual in question stepped forward with a shy wave; “Everyone calls me Vicki, so….” She grinned.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Valerie replied, shaking Vicki’s hand. “Likewise,” Allie agreed, high-fiving the brunette gynoid. “So you’re the one who kept Sophie from getting scrapped after her Santana Row concert?” Vicki nodded; “It was a bit tougher than what I usually put up with,” she admitted, “but I won out in the end, so….here we are---HEY!” Joanna had nearly tackled her to the ground with a hug; “YOU ARE SO AWESOME!” she declared. “Zoë, come say hello to Vicki!”

“Hi,” Zoë muttered, a thin smile crossing her face for the briefest of seconds.

“Are you gonna let the rest of us talk to Sophie, or what?” Allie complained at Katie. “We don’t have all night!”

Sophia pulled away from Katie and dried her eyes; “This….this is just incredible,” she murmured. “I know,” Katie replied, smiling. “It’s like…it feels like I’ve known you all my life, even though we’ve never actually met before…”

“Ah, that’s my doing, actually,” Anton confessed. “I added some of the less…ridiculous bits of backstory from the original cartoon series to your memories, so that the whole ‘coming together as a band’ thing would be a bit easier from the get-go, instead of having to tour every dive bar from here to Terra Haute just to build a team dynamic.”

“That makes sense,” Vicki mused, grinning. “Think we should load their stuff onto the tour bus, or---“

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Allie interrupted. “Tour bus?” She shared a mischievous glance with Nicole. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Only if you’re thinking that we should tour the tour bus!” Nicole replied, grinning.

“The bus is being refueled in the garage,” Anton informed them, “and besides that, it’s Sophia’s bus---“

“It’s going to be our bus, too,” Nicole reasoned, “so we might as well know where everything is beforehand.” Dennis frowned at them; “You’d rather tour a bus that you’ll be spending most of the tour in than talk to the lead singer of the Starlet Dolls?”

Allie didn’t buy it. “We want to tour the bus, so let us tour the bus!” she insisted.

“The bus isn’t nearly as cool as the person it’s for,” Vicki reminded her. “You’re part of the Starlet Dolls, for crying out loud---the bus isn’t even the coolest part of what you do!”

After a few seconds’ pause, the redheaded gynoid acquiesced. “Fair enough…but I still want to see the bus.”

“You will,” Anton assured her, “just as soon as we finish things up down here.” He turned to ask Sophia how she was liking everything, only to notice her chatting up Lilly Locke. “Well, this is going as well as anyone could’ve hoped,” he declared with a grin. “Good thing we don’t have to leave for the HP Pavilion for another hour and a half…”

Vicki arched an eyebrow; “We have to leave for the Pavilion today?”

“Rehearsals start the week after next,” Dennis explained, “and we need to secure the Pavilion pronto---I don’t think anyone involved with this tour wants another Santana Row incident.”

“Good point,” Vicki admitted, watching with an amused expression as the now-empty capsules retreated into the wall. “Now that is what I call efficient storage,” she mused, grinning. “Any other surprises in this particular lab, Dr. Malvineous?”

“If by ‘surprises’, you mean a fully-prepared stage where the Starlet Dolls can practice before they head to the Pavilion,” Anton replied with a smile, “then yes---though I do also have other interesting items if they don’t feel like rehearsing….a rather impressive arcade, for instance, and a library stocked with books that, hopefully, they’ll find to be quite fascinating.”

“Speaking of, ah, ‘fascinating’ things,” Vicki murmured, “I was just doing a head count, and, well….seven band members? Kind of a big target for a certain masked lunatic who tried to kill me earlier in the week?”

“After the beating you handed him at the Silicon Dynamics plant,” Anton reminded her, “Faceless would have to be clinically insane to try and come after them….though it wouldn’t be for lack of trying---ALPA agents last spotted him limping to one of his family’s estates, somewhere in Pennsylvania. Trust me, Vicki….he’s not going to lay a finger on the Starlet Dolls.”

The brunette gynoid sighed; “He’d better not,” she muttered. “I’m still reliving the last fight I had against that psycho…”

“Who the hell is Faceless?” Dennis asked, confused.

“He used to be the CEO of Rengold Cybernetics,” Anton explained, “but then the shareholders found out about his ‘after-hours activities’---or, in plain English, they found out that he was a serial killer. It’s a long story…and not one that I want to tell in front of the Dolls…”

“I get the picture,” Dennis muttered.

Before Vicki could say anything in response to the remark, Sophia nearly bowled her over as she ran to talk to Anton; “Do you have a notebook and a pen I can borrow?” she gasped.

“I….think so,” Anton replied, more than a bit confused. “But why---“

“I’ll explain in a minute!” The expression on her face hinted at something resembling creative euphoria; “Are you feeling okay?” Vicki asked, more than a bit confused as Anton headed off to find some writing materials for the pop princess. “I’m fine,” Sophie assured her, “I just need to get this written down…”

“Ah, get what written down?”

The grin on Sophia’s face assured Vicki that the pop star hadn’t blown a fuse as she explained herself. “I was just talking to Lilly over there, and…..there’s something about her that just set off this creative spark in me, and I need to write something! These lyrics are just flowing throw my mind right now, and I have to get them on paper---“

Anton returned with a thick notebook and a pen. “Will this be enough?” he asked.

“More than enough,” Sophie replied, giving him a quick peck on the cheek. “Now…”

For the next three minutes, Vicki watched---astonished beyond belief---as Sophia Starlet’s hand became a blur of motion. Amazingly, the pen didn’t catch the paper on fire as she hurriedly wrote, crossed out and spell checked what could only be an incredible set of lyrics. After she’d made her last correction and gone over everything with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, Sophia sat back, held the notebook aloft and grinned. “Vicki,” she declared, “I think I’ve just written my next hit!” She handed over the notebook to Vicki and headed for the stage Anton had set up to practice.

“Ah, what are you doing?” Dennis called out as Sophia picked up a guitar.

“Practicing,” the gynoid pop singer replied with a grin as she tuned the guitar. “Right,” she declared, “this one goes out to the first of the Starlet Dolls to have her programming fully coded----Luna Lightning, this one’s for you!” She grinned at the gynoid keyboardist and began strumming….

LUNA STARLIGHT [SHOOTING STAR] (© 2012 DollSpace) Like a bolt from the blue - no more sky in view Mixed-up and dizzy, don't know where you are Like a shot through-and-through - here it is, something new Luna, luna starlight, flashing like a shooting star… Flashing like a superstar, luna, luna star… Flashing like a shooting star, luna, luna starlight

It all begins so quiet with just the whispering of the wind Slowly getting darker as the world picks up the spin The storm clouds quickly gather, you feel the current on your skin And then a flash that shoots across the sky and the storm begins So wish on that star and make it reality You dreamed us here and we're meant to be Now we all appear so suddenly A new kind of meaning, it's a new kind of me

Like a bolt from the blue - no more sky in view Mixed-up and dizzy, don't know where you are Like a shot through-and-through - here it is, something new Luna, luna starlight, flashing like a shooting star… Flashing like a superstar, luna, luna star… Flashing like a shooting star, luna, luna starlight

In the heat of the moment there's a calm you feel inside Building the excitement as the light starts to rise Dark of the night seems forever, you become who you hide And then a flash shoots across the sky and you feel so alive So wish on that star and make it be real You dreamed us here - we got music to heal Now we all appear so see the appeal A new kind of meaning, something new to feel

Like a bolt from the blue - no more sky in view Mixed-up and dizzy, don't know where you are Like a shot through-and-through - here it is, something new Luna, luna starlight, flashing like a shooting star… Flashing like a superstar, luna, luna star… Flashing like a shooting star, luna, luna starlight

By the power, by my might I make a wish by this star light I make it strong, I make it right All our dreams come true tonight

Like a bolt from the blue - no more sky in view Mixed-up and dizzy, don't know where you are Like a shot through-and-through - here it is, something new Luna, luna starlight, flashing like a shooting star… Flashing like a superstar, luna, luna star… Flashing like a shooting star, luna, luna starlight Flashing like a superstar, luna, luna star… Flashing like a shooting star, luna, luna starlight Luna, luna starlight… Luna, luna starlight...

Lilly and the other Starlet Dolls briefly stopped chatting, looking up at the stage with a newfound sense of awe towards their bandmate. “Okay,” Allie admitted, “THAT was awesome!” Dennis immediately found his cellphone and called up the record label, suggesting that “Luna Starlight” be added as a bonus track on the upcoming reissue of Dream of Forever, Sophie’s third smash-hit album. “We’ll record it with the Starlet Dolls,” he explained, “and it’ll be a great way to promote her old work AND her new stuff!” Apparently, the label execs agreed, and arranged for the creation of a temporary recording studio at the HP Pavilion for Sophie to record the song with her new band.

“Well, well, well,” Vicki teased, “the walking, talking Barbie knockoff has already managed to write a new hit, and we haven’t even spent a full day with the Starlet Dolls yet….” She grinned. “I think this is going to be a very productive couple of weeks….”

Nicole took the opportunity to join Sophia on the stage; “In that case,” she announced, “I say we practice the numbers we’ll do on the tour---hand me that songbook, Annie Boy, so we can pick a track and get to it!” She clapped her hands inches away from the roboticist’s face. “C’MON!”

Anton gave her a Kubrick stare thick with disbelief; “’Annie Boy’?!” he echoed.

“She didn’t mean anything by it,” Valerie assured him. “You do have a songbook for the tour, right?” Anton nodded and handed the bassist a binder; “The pages with the red tabs mark the songs from the latest album,” he informed her. “Use those if you can.” Valerie nodded and joined the others onstage as Vicki moved to stand next to Anton. “Something wrong?” she asked.

“I’m still trying to get over ‘Annie Boy’,” Anton muttered. Vicki giggled; “It’s just a name,” she teased.

Up on the stage, Sophia and the Starlet Dolls decided to play Track 8 from their new album, Electric Child; as they tuned their instruments and prepared to play, Dennis handed Vicki a copy of the lyrics so she could keep track. “The whole story of the album kind of comes to a head with this track,” he explained. “The narrator is kind of programmed to sing this against her will---“


“The what?!” Vicki echoed.


ROBOT REVOLUTION (© 2012 DollSpace) Are you afraid of what's coming down the road? Are you scared of the things that you've been told? Do you know that time is slowing down? Can't you tell you're just going round and round? Ahhh -ahhhh-

The time is coming when humans won't exist Nothing left but pure electric bliss There is no place to run away Cause soon will come the day - of the robot revolution

Don't you worry cause the pain will fade to dust It's now the time of full mechanic lust So let go of the world you used to know Settle in to the new bionic show Ahhh -ahhhh-

The time is coming when humans won't exist Nothing left but pure electric bliss There is no place to run away Cause soon will come the day –


Vicki’s shout brought the entire song to a halt. “This…..something about this song just doesn’t feel right,” she muttered. “It….it’s just too….” She shook her head; it was hard to explain, but something about the song didn’t sit right with her.

Sophie was somewhat shocked by Vicki’s protest. “What’s wrong with it?”

“I….I can’t really say,” the brunette gynoid admitted, “but something about it….” She looked into the gynoid pop singer’s eyes, knowing she would hate herself for the words she was about to utter:

“I don’t think you guys should play this song during the tour.”


“Vicki,” Dennis explained, exhaling a breath that he’d forgotten he was even holding, “that song is the crux of the story. The entire point of the song is to make the audience feel half-euphoric, half-uncomfortable, and it’s that mix that causes them---within the story, of course---to riot, and that’s what gets Sophie’s character damaged…it’s got a lead-in to the next track---“

“This isn’t about a freaking track order on an album!” Vicki snapped. “When the Starlet Dolls were playing it, just now……I could hear something in my head. Something that wasn’t part of me.” That comment stunned all who were present. “You’re saying you were hearing a subliminal message?” Anton asked.

“I don’t know,” Vicki insisted. “Whatever it is, just….promise me you’ll look into it before the tour starts, okay?”

Dennis nodded. “It’s bad enough my old band got accused of back-masking messages into Paradise Theater,” he muttered. “It’ll be even worse if they can prove that someone did it with Electric Child.” The Starlet Dolls exchanged worried looks, but something about Sophia’s glance at Vicki stung the brunette gynoid deeply. I need to make up for this, she realized. I need to fix this….but how? She decided to sit next to Sophie on the stage; “Ah….sorry about freaking out on you like that,” she began. “I…guess I just wasn’t ready---“

“For what?” Sophie muttered.

“That particular song,” Vicki clarified. “I didn’t stop the rehersal just to upstage you, or because I had a sudden change of heart about this whole thing….something in the sound itself---not just the words, or the music, but a very specific combination of the two---triggered a sensor in me that Ted put in to detect subliminal messaging in TV commercials….” She stared into Sophia’s eyes; “You wrote all the songs on Electric Child, right?”

“Yeah, but---“

“What do you remember about writing that particular song?”

“I….” A look of confusion washed over the pigtailed singer’s face. “I can’t remember anything about it,” she murmured. “One minute, I was heading for the boombox to get another battery, and the next….” She stared at the lyrics to the song. “The next, I was at my desk, with a pen in my hand, and the lyrics in front of me.”

Vicki and Anton glanced at each other; “You thinking what I’m thinking?” Vicki asked.

“I’ll fire up the scanner,” Anton replied, heding to another part of the cavernous chamber. “Wait…what scanner is he firing up?” Sophie asked, confused. “What’s going on?! Why---“ She felt Vicki’s hands on her shoulders, followed by a sensation of tranquility. “I just released a low-level electric pulse into your system to calm you down,” the brunette gynoid explained. “Give me a minute---ANTON!” She jogged after the famed roboticist; “Anton,” she repeated, “cancel that whole thing about the scanners.

“Vicki,” he frowned, “a few minutes ago you were adamant that something was wrong with the song---“

“It’s not the song,” Vicki countered. “The lyrics aren’t that bad, and the musical arrangements only need a little more polishing…but it’s the actual performance of it that I’m worried about. I don’t think Sophie’s memory is what needs scanning---we need to record them playing that song, and run that through a few tests.” The air of finality in her voice left no room for arguments. “How soon can you get everything ready?”

“Not here,” Anton admitted, “but there’s plenty of time for my people at the Pavilion to set up what we need.”

“Good. Make the call.” As Anton headed off to call the GM Cybernetics representatives at the HP Pavilion, Vicki returned her attention to Sophia. “Sorry about interrupting your rehersal,” she apologized, “but….there’s just something about that song that’s bugging me.”

“’salright,” Sophia assured her. “I felt like playing something more upbeat anyways.” She grinned.

The other Starlet Dolls were watching the conversation between Vicki and Sophia with a mix of interest and apprehension (and annoyance…for Nicole and Allie, at least). After the interruption of “Robot Revolution”, their programming had directed them to simply stay put, but now an overwhelming sense of curiosity (one of the many benefits of their design at the hands of Anton Malvineous) was beginning to creep into their minds as they observed their lead singer chatting with Vicki.

Not surprisingly, Allie was still fixated on an earlier topic: “Think they’re talking about letting us get a look at the tour bus?” she asked.

Valerie gave her an annoyed look; “The tour bus is the last thing on their minds right now…I’m more worried about how that Lawson girl reacted to the song.” She stroked her chin thoughtfully, contemplating Vicki’s claims that something about “Robot Revolution” was, as she put it, “off”.

“This is so stupid,” Nicole muttered. “It’s just a song…that ‘Lawson girl’ needs to---“

“I need to what, exactly?” Vicki asked brightly, clamboring up onto the stage to sit next to Nicole. “You can tell me….I won’t start crying like an idiot,” she promised, grinning.

Whatever catty remark Nicole intended to make died on her lips. “Look,” she muttered, “I know you and Sophie are, like, best friends and stuff, but we’re her friends, too…even if something weird happened when she was writing that Robot Revolution thing, she didn’t try to write it that way. It was just….part of a story, y’know?”

“And you know this….how?” Vicki inquired. “You were still being programmed when she wrote the album---“

“Anton kept all of us hooked up to a private server to keep track of Sophie’s work on ‘Electric Child’,” Lilly chimed in, “and Dennis would send updates whenever he had the chance….so, we pretty much knew the whole story of the album while we were….ah….”

“Still in the womb,” Katie joked. “Figuratively speaking, of course.”

“That makes sense,” Vicki replied, grinning. “So….were there any other songs you guys wanted to practice, or should we just chat?”

“Now that you mention it,” Sophia called out, rejoining her bandmates onstage, “there is one number I wanted to ‘dedicate’ to that moron, Victor Vega---and to all those idiots from the record label who tried to ruin my career before it began…” The other Dolls exchanged knowing grins as Sophia grabbed the microphone.


PRIDE (© 2012 DollSpace) You say we're different - that there's something wrong Why am I so weak when you are so strong You think you're better - and that I should leave But I really don't care what you believe

I am who I am - why should I change I'm not gonna go just `cause you think I'm strange I'm strong and I'm proud - of who I am inside So you can do what you want, but you can't take my pride

If you have a problem - with how I appear Don't hold your breath `cause I won't shed a tear I've learned to love and treat myself right I'll leave you behind as I come into the light

I am who I am - why should I change I'm not gonna go just `cause you think I'm strange I'm strong and I'm proud - of who I am inside So you can do what you want, but you can't take my pride

There's nothing - that's holding me back I'll go on living - despite your attack But why do you do it - why don't you see That you have the problem - not me

I am who I am - why should I change I'm not gonna go just `cause you think I'm strange I'm strong and I'm proud - of who I am inside So you can do what you want, but you can't take my pride

As the last note faded out, Dennis---having returned from his sojourn to another part of the chamber---gave the girls a round of applause. “Now THIS is a perfect example of the whole band working together to bring this song to life….” He glanced at Vicki; “I’m guessing you didn’t think anything was wrong with this track, right?”

“No sonic distortions or weird signals in my head,” Vicki replied, “so….it’s clean.”

“Good. I’m still trying to figure what was ‘off’ about ‘Robot Revolution’….I mean, I didn’t really notice anything odd about it---“

Vicki sighed; I keep forgetting that not everyone else has the same enhanced senses as I do… “No offense, Mr. DeYoung,” she apologiezd, “but you only heard it with your natural auditory senses…I have full suites of software in me that can deconstruct, analyze and recallibrate audio signals to pinpoint anything from an irregular heartbeat to a back-masked message---not to mention that program Ted installed in me to catch that stupid toy company in the act when they tried to put subliminal messages in their commercials back in ’01…I’m not accusing Sophia of trying to put subliminal messages into her own songs, or anything, but it helps to have some perspective.”

“Be that as it may,” Dennis replied, “this is one perspective I hope we don’t have to stick with…Sophia’s the last person who would even think of putting back-masked messages in her music! It never happened on any episodes from the cartoon series---“

The mention of the original Starlet Dolls cartoon spurred a memory that Vicki hadn’t thought of for years…or, to be more accurate, decades. Her bubble memory processors kicked into overdrive, searching through her archived memories for anything related to the Starlet Dolls cartoon and back-masking. It’s here, I know it is…but where?! Finally, after a few short minutes of searching, she found the article she’d been looking for: an episode of the Starlet Dolls cartoon series that centered around a corrupt promoter putting a dangerous subliminal message into one of the Starlet Dolls’ most popular songs had been pulled from syndication after analysis of the episode’s audio track revealed a real subliminal message, which had somehow been dubbed onto the track without the studio’s knowledge or consent.

Even more bizarre, the article mentioned a particular band having worked on that episode’s soundtrack…

“Ah, Dennis,” she asked quietly, in the hopes that she wouldn’t anger the white-haired singer, “before you became Sophia’s manager and helped her to get her career off the ground, when was the last time you’ve spoken with Tommy, JY, Todd and Chuck on….friendly terms?

Dennis arched an eyebrow. “What would they have to do with any of this?” he asked, frowning.

“I just remembered something from the original Starlet Dolls cartoon,” the brunette gynoid explained, “and I’m really hoping I’m wrong about this, but---“

“DENNIS!” Anton’s shout from the other end of the chamber cut off her sentence. “WE NEED TO GO NOW!”

“What?! I thought you said the bus didn’t leave for another forty minutes---“

“There’s been a change of plan,” Anton huffed as he approached. “I just got off the phone with the Pavilion’s event manager---one of the trucks we hired to bring in the lighting rig for the show has gone missing. The rest of the gear is in place, but we need to get over there as soon as humanly possible and set up for the rehersal ourselves….” He shook his head. “The last person to see the truck before it disappeared said it was being trailed by a black SUV,” he muttered, “and they think it might have forced the truck off the road.”

A low, annoyed growl escaped Dennis’s lips. “Are you sure it was one of ours?”

“The satellite stopped picking it up twenty minutes ago…and all of the other trucks are parked at the Pavilion as we speak.”

Dennis nodded grimly. “I’ll tell the girls to get ready….looks like Allie and Nicole are going to get their tour of the bus after all.” He glanced back at the stage where the Starlet Dolls were practicing; “The tour hasn’t even started,” he muttered, “and we’re already up to our knees in problems…either this improves, or the Kilroy tour is gonna look like a picnic---“

“It’ll improve,” Vicki assured him. “It has to improve.”

Once Dennis made the announcement, the Starlet Dolls were understandably annoyed that their practice time in the lab had to be cut short. “It’s just a temporary inconvenience,” he assured them, “and we’ll be at the HP Pavilion before the end of the day---“

“Are you sure?” Lilly asked quietly.

“Of course I’m sure,” Dennis replied, smiling his most reassuring smile. “We’ll be at the Pavilion before the sun goes down, we’ll set up our gear by nightfall and then we’ll start rehearsing tomorrow---heck, we might even be able to start tonight! Everything is going to work out just fine---“

“You’re conveniently forgetting the missing truck,” Vicki began, but Anton nudged her lightly with his elbow. “I think we shouldn’t bring that up with the Dolls until we actually reach the Pavilion,” he quietly informed her, “or they might start to get a little panicky….and the last thing we need is another reason for them to panic, after you stopped their rehearsal.”

“I told you,” Vicki countered, “there was something---“

“We’ll look into it when we get to the Pavilion.” With that, Anton gestured for the Starlet Dolls to follow him to the staircase. “Everyone to the bus, right now!” he called out.

“I’m guessing ‘everyone’ includes me,” the brunette gynoid muttered, frowning. “And I was hoping to spend the rest of the afternoon with them…..” With a sarcastic eye-roll and a heavy sigh, Vicki headed for the staircase and joined Anton, Dennis and the Starlet Dolls as they made their way to the ground floor; behind her, MG Cybernetics technicians were packing up the Starlet Dolls’ instruments and gear for transportation on the final equipment truck. Somehow the thought of actually seeing the Dolls in concert managed to override Vicki’s annoyance; chin up, Lawson, she told herself. Like the song says, it’s all green lights from here!

If she’d known how wrong she was, her enthusiasm would’ve been considerably dampened….

“Of all the inconsiderate……he gives his secretary her own jet, but he books our agents on a public flight?!”

Boris Vlatko’s complaining did nothing to calm Victor Vega’s already frayed nerves. The day had started off in spectacularly horrible fashion---Dalton and Sinclair, two of Vega’s best bodyguards, had shown up late thanks to their “extracurricular activities” with their other client, Brittney Delacroix, and had thus forgotten to leave their shoulder-holstered weapons back at El Casa de Vega. Predictably, this caused a massive holdup at the metal detector; Sinclair’s attempt to piledrive a security guard on the unforgiving tile floor only made things worse. As it now stood, Vega and Vlatko’s entourage had been split in half---Vlatko, Vega and 15 of the men were waiting for Vega’s private jet, while the rest of the men waited with Vlatko’s fembots and Vega’s custom-built gynoids to board a public flight to San Jose.

“Save your breath, Boris,” Vega muttered. “Your complaining will do us no good here.”

A few feet away, Dalton and Sinclair were doing their best to ignore Vega’s advice. “This sucks balls,” Dalton muttered. “Seriously, we should be halfway to San Diego by now---“ “You mean ‘San Jose’, right?” Sinclair asked. “Oh, yeah,” Dalton replied, laughing stupidly at his own incompetence. “What’d I say?”

“ENOUGH,” Vega thundered. “One more word from either of you….”

The two guards shut up, allowing Victor to return his attention to the mission at hand. Sophia Starlet had done more than enough damage the last time he’d tried to stop her---somehow, this insignificant little brat was able to do the unthinkable and actually bounce back from his efforts to take her out. Even worse, she hadn’t beaten him alone---she’d found help. A washed up rock’n’roll singer as her manager? A simple enough problem, with an even simpler solution---any number of methods could’ve been used to remove him from the equation…

…but then Vicki Lawson reared her head, and everything was irreparably ruined.

As soon as the Lawson girl had stuck her nose into things, Vega’s scheming fell apart like a cheap suit in the middle of a downpour. She’d bested Dalton, Sinclair AND Brittney without breaking a sweat---that in and of itself should’ve clued Victor to what she was capable of, but he was too busy trying to fix Brittney. So busy, in fact, that he failed to realize her true intentions---the hip-hop gynoid had been programmed with hard-coded orders to obey the Baron first….and herself second. Thanks to another defeat at Vicki Lawson’s hands within the Winchester Parking Garage within Santana Row, Brittney should’ve been scrapped immediately---but the Baron, in his “infinite wisdom”, had decided that she deserved her own stake in Victor Vega’s affairs. As such, the profits from all of Vega’s “charity benefits” within the months of November and December were diverted to pay for a new estate in Bel Air for Brittney “Boom-Boom” Delacroix and her newly-formed entourage, forcing Vega to pass up on an opportunity that he’d been eying for months---the sabotage of Silicon Dynamics’ West Coast factory---and let the Maestro handle it.

“Pathetic,” he muttered.

“Hmm?” Vlatko murmured, glancing at Vega. “You say something?”

Vega glared at the Russian roboticist; “The Silicon Dynamics job should have been mine,” he growled. “I had everything planned out with the utmost care and precision…a thousand plans and a thousand backups, all for that one assignment---but that stupid Maestro had to go and piss on the entire operation!” Vlatko would’ve laughed at Vega’s choice of words, but he knew all too well that the Maestro was not a man to be trusted with delicate operations like the Silicon Dymanics job.

“It should have been me handling that incompetent ‘Madame’,” Vega muttered angrily, “not that stupid hacker who prefers prison to life in the outside world!” He felt like throwing something, but knew that such an action would only bring the security men running---and this time, trying to pay them off probably wouldn’t get him a slap on the wrist and a friendly warning….

After a few minutes of silence, Vlatko spotted the jet. “Finally,” he mumbled, “we can leave.”

With an imperious gesture, he ordered his men to bring his luggage forward. “No more delays,” he announced, “and no more waiting in any of these incessant lines---tonight, we leave for---“

“MR. VEGA! MR. VEGA, SIR!” The Spanish-born billionaire groaned; “What now?!” By the time the stewardess approached, she was out of breath; “I’m…very sorry to tell you this, sir,” she apologized, “but it appears that your jet is being re-routed due to an emergency in Detroit---“

Vlatko didn’t even try to hold Vega back, allowing the enraged playboy to grab the stewardess by her lapels and scream in her face. “MY JET?! My PRIVATE JET, which I bought and paid for with my own money, has been rerouted to deal with some stupid, inconsequential happenings in a state that I could not bring myself to care about?! WHAT KIND OF IDIOTIC FOOL MADE THIS DECISION?!”

“It’s out of our hands, Mr. Vega, sir---“


“Ah, boss,” Dalton began, only to catch a backhand from his employer. “Jeez, man,” Sinclair protested, “he didn’t even do anything! Cut the guy some slack!”

Vlatko stared up at the sky, silently wishing that this whole absurd day was nothing more than a bad dream.

After seven full minutes of listening to his colleague rant, Vlatko pulled a small remote from his belt and aimed it at the stewardess---he’d read up on the airport before agreeing to the mission, and according to the intel, at least five of the air hostesses employed by the place were gynoids. With a silent prayer to whichever god would listen, Vlatko thumbed the button on the remote; instantly, the stewardess appeared to lose interest in her argument with Victor Vega; her face went blank, and her knees buckled as she swayed in place before falling forward---into Vega’s arms. The gesture was purely reflexive, on his part---Lauren had glitched out often in her early days and often ended up being caught by Victor before she could hit the floor. “If we are done arguing with the help,” Vlatko remarked sarcastically, “I believe we may be able to reroute a plane of our own…bring the girl here, quickly!”

“I should ask why you waited until now to think of this,” Vega muttered, “but seeing as how we are pressed for time…” He gestured for one of his guards to help carry the deactivated stewardess to Vlatko, who was already retrieving a small toolkit of sorts from his luggage. “Whatever it is you’re about to do to her,” Vega hissed, “do it quickly---I have no desire to be further detained by the uniformed thugs that pass for airport security!”

“Patience, Victor,” the Russian roboticist murmured with a smile. “All good things come to those who wait…” After a quick glance around to make sure that nobody was watching them, Vlatko extracted a thin, silver rod tipped with a bluish bulb from the toolkit. “A prototype,” he explained to the visibly confused Vega, “based on data I ‘acquired’ from a certain British intelligence agency…” He aimed the rod at the stewardess’s neck and thumbed a button on it; the bulb sputtered to life, accompanied by a wheezing hum of sorts. “Work,” Vlatko muttered, “work, damnit….” A panel whirred open in the girl’s neck---just as the bulb at the end of the oddly-designed tool shorted out. “Another item for the list,” Vlatko muttered, throwing the rod back into the tool satchel and retrieving a metallic, multi-purpose probing tool. “Now, to get our plane back….”

With Vega and his flunkies watching attentively, the Russian roboticist selected the chip-extractor tool from the probe and set to work removing the chip that kept the stewardess linked to the airport’s scheduling software. “One out,” he muttered, reaching into his pockets for the custom-made replacement chip he’d whipped up hours earlier, “and one in….” The probing tool’s extractor attachment was switched out with one that would allow Vlatko to insert the replacement chip with minimal force. “And…..done!” he declared triumphantly, finding and depressing the emergency reset switch behind the gynoid’s left ear. The attractive stewardess blinked twice, as if coming out of a deep trance; “Your plane is waiting, Señor Vega,” she murmured, sounding half-asleep. “This way, please…” She rose to her feet slowly and set off towards the plane.

Victor Vega chuckled appreciatively; “I believe I owe you one for this, Vlatko.”

On the opposite coast, another, somewhat smaller group was already onboard their flight---and, for that matter, already airborne. McMire’s hired guns would’ve gladly waited for a plane that would get them where they needed to be the next day, but the man himself refused to accept such a wait. To him, wasting time was as egregious as wasting money, and this particular occasion called for a certain measure of frugality with both.

“Ah, sir,” one of his black-suited aides informed him, “we have a, ah, bit of a problem…”

Had the aide seen the smirk on his employer’s face, he likely would’ve quit his job then and there. “Our second plane has been rerouted,” McMire replied, shaking his head. “Victor Vega is not the only person with ‘connections’ at a major airport---I can keep track of my own agenda quite well, thank you, contrary to the numerous rumors about my mental capacity having diminished over the years…” If the casual statement surprised the aide, he did an amazing job of hiding it. “Of course, sir,” he immediately replied, “none of us would ever doubt your abilities---“

“Then be silent.” Again, the voccoder mask rendered the words emotionless, but the malice of the statement was all too clear.

The aide nodded sagely, despite his unease. Working with McMire had been rewarding in the past---as long as you followed the rules, you would, eventually, get paid---but now, even the most loyal of his advisors, aides and servants were beginning to fear the inevitable---that black card, inscribed only with a double-M insignia, laid upon their bedside table or pinned to their door…McMire’s own version of the infamous Death Card. None who received it ever lived to tell about it---the card was often found pinned to their corpse (or otherwise left on their remains) for the cleaning ladies to find the next day.

Not surprisingly, very few people actively tried to anger McMire.

Despite everyone's unease, the flight to San Jose was uneventful. Still, those who had accepted the $50,000 and stayed all felt a similar feeling in their guts…

….a feeling that what they were doing was going to get them killed.


The Starlet Dolls’ collective reaction at the sight of the HP Pavilion wasn’t exactly surprising---they’d never seen a venue like it before. Dennis chuckled; “Last time I played here, the place was pretty much packed,” he mused. “Think it’ll be as good when the tour starts?”

“I hope so,” Anton began, only to frown as his cellphone rang. “I have to take this….ah, Vicki, you might need to help Dennis get the girls’ luggage off the bus, if it’s not too much trouble.”

Vicki sighed; “I live to serve,” she muttered. “Easy, Sophie….let me help you with that….”

After a few minutes, the Dolls’ luggage was on its way to their dressing rooms inside the Pavilion, and the girls headed inside. “I wonder what Anton’s talking about on the phone,” Sophie mused. “It sounded pretty important; think something happened at the lab after we left?”

“Whatever it was,” Vicki replied, “he’ll probably be able to handle it on his own. You and the Dolls need to focus on rehearsing for the stadium tour, remember?”

“I know,” Sophia insisted. “It’s just…..I don’t want anything to go wrong for anyone, especially him. He’s done so much for us, and if anything were to happen to him…..” She shuddered. “He’s one of the only people I could trust to fix me,” she murmured. “If something went wrong, or he….couldn’t help….you’d have to call your dad, and if he couldn’t make it….” Her eyes darted around the parking lot, as if she expected to suffer a massive malfunction right then and there.

Vicki placed her hands on Sopihe’s shoulders, steadying the pigtailed gynoid and staring into her eyes. “Calm down,” she intoned. “Nothing’s going to happen to you while I’m around, ‘kay?” She grinned. “If I was able to stop Victor Vega from wrecking your mall tour, I can definitely keep you safe in a stadium tour.” The pop princess grinned. “Thanks, Vicki,” she murmured, as a lone tear rolled down her face. “You’re the best friend a girl like me could ever ask for!”

“Coming from you,” the brunette gynoid replied with a smile, “I’ll take that as the highest of high praises---and before you ask, my protection services do, in fact, extend to the rest of the band.”

The two would’ve gladly continued their conversation for another hour or so, but Anton’s abrupt reappearance from behind the bus---coupled with his perturbed expression and too-brisk pace---instantly added tension to the atmosphere. “It seems Alicia won’t be joining us for this little excursion,” he informed the girls. “Capri will be filling in for her; luckily for you, Sophie, she’s a fan of your work.” He managed a small grin.

“And what’s so important that Alicia had to ditch on us?” Vicki asked, frowning. “She said she’d be waiting for the tour bus at the front door….and I’m not seeing her---“

Anton took Vicki aside, taking her just far enough to be out of Sophia’s earshot. “What I’m about to tell you may sound….strange,” he informed her, “but according to the ALPA field techs, it’s the only explanation that they have.” He sucked in a breath through his teeth; “Apparently, Alicia didn’t show up for her monthly job evaluation at the House’s San Jose outpost, and we had to scramble a few teams to look for her---”

“Is she okay?” Vicki asked. “Nobody tried to kidnap her, or anything, did they?

“Nothing that serious,” Anton assured her, “but when we found out the real reason for her tardiness….” He rubbed the back of his head absent-mindedly, almost as if he didn’t want to go on. “She’d locked herself in a broom closet,” he explained, “and, ah…she wasn’t wearing most of her outfit…..” Ignoring Vicki’s horrified expression, he continued. “By the time the ALPA field techs were able to get her into a passive reboot, she’d depleted most of her fluid reserves due to….vigorous self-stimulation. Apparently, someone had sent a WiFi signal to her that prompted a massive surge in her sex drive, almost like an instant bliss state of some kind. What’s weird, though, is that most of what she had on was already soaked when we found her---“

“I GET IT,” V.I.C.I. hissed, her monotone adding an all-too-harsh edge to her words. “Someone decided to get her all hot-and-bothered so she couldn’t help us with the concert…ten bucks says it was Victor Vega.”

Anton sighed; “The signal that made her get half-naked wasn’t a virus, Vicki, and it wasn’t a hack job, either; it was just a simple command, sent and received through her internal WiFi link like any number of e-mails or instant messages she’s received in the past. Whatever that command was, though, was more than enough to set her off---and believe it or not, she actually did herself a world of good by heading for the broom closet. If she’d stayed in the meeting she was in….well, let’s just say that things might not have been as easy to clean up as they were.”

“Are you sure this wasn’t just a malfunction?” Vicki asked. “I mean, the Silicon Dynamics girls were having their own problems with inhibitors---“

“This wasn’t an inhibitor problem,” Anton stated matter-of-factly. “Something, whatever it was, pretty much overrode her standard-operating protocol and put her in this bliss state for a good ten to fifteen minutes. The techs have already determined that it wasn’t a virus, but we’re putting her in quarrantine for the rest of the week, just to be sure. ”

An annoyed groan escaped the brunette gynoid’s lips; something about Alicia being sidetracked by a “bliss state” was annoying the hell out of her….

The dueling sounds of squealing tires and a less-than-annoying car horn drowned out her thoughts; Capri’s hot pink Ferrarri had arrived. “I’m not late, am I?” she asked, her sea-green hair toussled by the wind as she exited the vehicle. “I had to pick up a few things at the last minute….”

“You’re not late, Capri,” Anton replied. “The rehearsal hasn’t even started yet; I was just explaining Alicia’s current….predicament to Vicki.” Capri rolled her eyes at Anton’s choice of words. “Most of the techs are saying it’s a full-on meltdown,” she mused. “Even when they were dragging her out of the broom closet, she was still trying to ram one hand up her---“

“Thank you, Capri,” Anton barked. “I think we all get the picture.”

With that, the discussion turned from Alicia’s apparent crisis to the Starlet Dolls’ rehearsal. “The tour starts right at the beginning of January,” Anton informed the sea-green haired gynoid, “so the Dolls need every minute of rehearsal time they can get. Getting the songs and instrumentation right won’t be a problem---they all have the entire setlist saved in their internal memory, so they won’t forget the words or the music. The real challenge is getting everything else---the lights, the pyrotechnics, the props---up and running, and making sure they stay up and running when the actual tour begins.” He frowned; “We’ve already lost an entire truck full of equipment, and I don’t want to lose anything else.”

“We won’t lose anything else,” Capri assured him, “and we won’t lose anyone either. The ALPA is sending their best security guys out here to make sure the Starlet Dolls don’t ‘accidentally’ get blown up by their own pyro or anything. Hardcastle’s already worked out a way to have enough guards canvassing the building without being too conspicuous…”

Vicki nodded half-heartedly, not really paying attention to the conversation. Up until this point, she’d expected her time with the Starlet Dolls to be a fun-filled adventure, with the Dolls playing to a full crowd every night…and none of those expectations contained any thoughts about guards being stationed at the exits, or looking for missing lighting rigs and other such problems. Still, she’d helped Sophia face danger a full month ago---the memories of her fight with Brittney Delacroix were still fresh in her mind---and if the need arose during the Starlet Dolls’ rehearsal and stadium tour of San Jose, she would gladly step up to the plate (on her own, if need be) and save the pigtailed pop singer---and her all-gynoid band---from a full wave of threats, be they old or new.

If any whack-jobs out there want to get to Sophia Starlet…they’ll have to go through me!

A few minutes later, within the confines of the HP Pavilion center, the Starlet Dolls had already set up their gear on half of the massive stage that took up the space usually by the San Jose Sharks for one of their many home games, or---on some occasions---the WWE, when Monday Night RAW and/or Friday Night SmackDown stopped in San Jose for their week’s worth of shows.

Far more interesting, however, was the rather strange conversation taking place on the other half of the stage where the Dolls were preparing to rehearse. Vicki instantly recognized Dennis on one side of what was either a friendly disagreement or a long-standing argument with someone; judging from the other individuals in the immediate vicinity, however, the second option was the more likely one.

The two blond guys currently engaged in the discussion (or argument, Vicki reminded herself) had once worn each other’s hair-and-beard stylings; back in the 70s, one had sported the long, shoulder-length hair and well-trimmed mustache while the other kept his own hair short, and his face clean-shaven. Now, it was Tommy Shaw who allowed his hair to grow longer, as well as his mustache and beard; James “JY” Young, meanwhile, had opted for the clean-shaven, short-haired look Tommy once had. Whatever their discussion was with Dennis, it appeared to have started off loud and slowly worked its way down the decibel scale.

Another blond guy, absentmindedly strumming a bass guitar a few feet away, didn’t seem too interested in the talk---which made sense, considering he was only the group’s third bassist. While Tommy and Dennis went over the latter’s attempt to sue the band for control of the name “Styx” a few years prior, Ricky Phillips performed a complex finger exercise and played some practice riffs. The drummer, Todd Sucherman, kept time with a few warmups of his own. Notable by his absence was the singer (and Dennis’s replacement)---

Out of the corner of her eye, Vicki noticed Anton Malvineous heading backstage. All thoughts of Styx’s new lead singer vanished from her mind as she made a beeline for the door; if Capri can’t stop these guys when/if they decide to take their argument onstage, she realized, I’ll need him to call Hardcastle…

She caught up with Anton a few minutes later in one of the back-rooms; oddly, he didn’t seem to notice her as she entered. “Anton,” she began, “I need to talk to you….” The famed roboticist looked up, confused; “Sorry, but who are you?” he asked.

The brunette gynoid frowned; “You’re joking, right?”

“No…. I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

Before she could fire off a blistering retort, Vicki suddenly realized her error. “Oh…..I…” A groan escaped her lips; of course this was going to happen! “Sorry, sir,” she apologized, “it’s just that….I know someone who looks a lot like you, and…well….”

“You thought I was him?” Lawrence Gowan replied, smiling.


The Canadian prog-rock singer sighed, more relieved than annoyed at the gynoid. “I’m guessing the guy you were looking for is part of the support crew for the other act,” he mused. “I think I saw him run through here a second ago---“ Sure enough, Anton entered through the doorway on the other end of the room a second later. “Vicki, I---“ He stopped, noticing Gowan staring at him. Oh, great….this is going to turn into the mirror gag from that one episode of “I Love Lucy”, isn’t it? Indeed, the two looked almost like mirror images of each other; both had on nearly identical black pants, shoes and jackets, and their hairstyles weren’t dissimilar enough to tell them apart. The only things that differentiated the two from one another were their shirts---Anton was wearing an all-white shirt with no vest or tie, while Gowan was wearing a white shirt with a black vest and a red tie beneath his jacket.

Gowan and Anton stared at each other, puzzled beyond all rational thought. “Ah, Anton Malvineous,” Vicki stated quietly, “meet Lawrence Gowan. Lawrence….meet Anton….”

The two regarded each other for a few more seconds before grinning and shaking hands. “You weren’t kidding when you said he looked a lot like me,” Gowan told Vicki. “The resemblance is rather uncanny, now that I think about it!”

“Likewise,” Anton laughed. “Think we should get nametags, so your bandmates don’t try to drag me onstage for rehearsals?”

Vicki’s intended reply was interrupted by Capri; “Anton,” she called out as she entered, “we---“ She stopped, staring at Anton and Gowan in disbelief. “I’d say ‘guess which one’s which,” Vicki joked, “but….” Her sentence trailed off into a giggle; something about the look on Capri’s face was just too good to interrupt. Finally, after a minute of awkward silence, she decided to fess up; “That one’s Anton,” she admitted, gesturing to the famed roboticist, “and that’s Lawrence Gowan---“

“But you can call me Larry,” Gowan piped in, grinning.

“Isn’t that the name of one of your albums?” Anton asked, returning Gowan’s grin with one of his own.

Capri’s groan ended the gag before it could continue; as Vicki tried and failed to stop giggling, the sea-green haired gynoid stormed over to the pair and slapped nametags---clearly marked “ANTON” and “GOWAN”---onto their shirts. “I knew this would happen,” she muttered, “I just knew it---and while I’m thinking about it, you two come with me!” She practically dragged both men towards the stage entrance. “Just let the band figure it out for themselves,” Vicki called after her. “It’s not that big of a deal…”

With an annoyed huff, Capri let the two go and stormed out.

“I…think we’d better go join your bandmates on stage, Lawrence,” Vicki murmured. “They’re probably ready to start rehearsing….”

Gowan, Anton and Vicki headed for the stage, where the discussion Dennis was having with JY and Tommy had reached an all-time loudness high. “---and who the hell came up with this idea to take my name off the website, anyways?!” Dennis angrilly asked. “I was there from the beginning!”

“Dennis,” JY began, “the lawyers said it wouldn’t look good for the band---“

“THE HELL WITH THE LAWYERS!” Dennis shouted. “I mean, yes, it was a bad idea for me to say that the band name should belong to me, but that doesn’t mean some moron with a law degree has to come back and ‘suggest’ that my name be removed from the website! I co-founded the band, for crap’s sake!”

“They don’t care,” Tommy admitted. “All they want is for everything to just keep going the way it goes, so they can keep making money---and they only make money if we’re making money---“

“Which isn’t going to happen if we don’t rehearse,” Gowan called out, approaching the group with Anton in tow and Vicki following close behind. “Dennis,” he stated, shaking the white-haired singer’s hand. “Glad to see you’re still healthy; last time I saw you was when I opened for Styx on the Return to Paradise tour.” Dennis nodded, fighting back a chuckle as JY and Tommy regarded Anton and Gowan. “Ah, Larry,” Tommy muttered, “since when did you have a twin brother?”

“I don’t,” Gowan replied with a smile. “Allow me the honor of introducing Professor Anton Malvineous.” Anton shook hands with Tommy and JY; “I’m the technical advisor for the Starlet Dolls’ tour,” he explained, “and yes, I know I bear a striking resemblance to your lead singer….it’s saved me a bundle on Halloween costumes, for one…”

“That is just too weird,” Tommy mused, shaking his head and grinning. “You sure you two aren’t brothers?”

“Before this, ah, amusing reparte continues, “JY drawled, “anyone want to introduce us to the young lady?”

“The ‘young lady’ is quite capable of introducing herself,” Vicki declared, stepping forward with a smirk. “Vicki Lawson, backstage assistant and #1 fan of the Starlet Dolls. I take it you guys have actually heard their music, seeing as how you’re sharing the bill with them….”

It was Todd Sucherman who replied to the brunette gynoid’s inquiry; “We haven’t heard the rest of the group,” he admitted, “but the lead one, Sophia….she’s pretty damn good.” JY nodded; “I thought pure, unfiltered pop vocals were dead until I heard her,” he agreed, “but that chick can sing. No AutoTune, no overdubs…she’s a natural.” The irony of the statement wasn’t lost on Vicki, but before she could bring it up, Tommy changed the subject: “I’ve been thinking,” he stated, “and something about this Professor Anton….what was it?”

“Malvineous,” Anton informed him.

“Yeah,” Tommy nodded. “Somethin’ about you is bugging me: why, exactly, are you part of the tour?”

Anton smiled broadly. “Well, as you may or may not know,” he informed Tommy (and the other members of Styx), “the Starlet Dolls are the world’s first all-gynoid pop group…except for Sophia, of course---“

“All-what?” JY inquired.

“Gynoid,” Anton replied. “As in, female android.”

Tommy glanced at him as if he’d lost his mind. “So….you’re saying that entire band is made up of robots,” he muttered. “Indeed,” Anton beamed. “They’re being tuned up right now, if you want to watch….” Tommy rolled his eyes and looked over to the Dolls’ half of the stage---only to find himself staring, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, at what awaited him. Violet’s head was currently detatched from her body, connected to her neck only by a series of wires while a technician probed her open back panel. Kara’s arms, meanwhile, were attached to a frame of some kind and playing a complicated guitar solo while another tech inspected her CPU. Zelda and Joanna were both hooked up to a terminal and singing in various octaves, while a technician entered prompts and command lines; Luna was being examined in the corner, as a cosmetics technician carefully removed her face to test the jaw actuators. Toni and Allison were going through a full motion test, bending stiffly at the waist, hips and neck while their limbs lifted and lowered mechanically.

JY let out a low whistle; “Dennis,” he muttered, “I’m startin’ to see why you signed up for this gig…”

Dennis couldn’t help but chuckle. “All that hardware is just part of the equation,” he mused. “Once they get onstage, in front of the fans, you’ll see the biggest reason I took the job.”

“So, they’re actually robots, then?” Tommy inquired. “Y’all aren’t puttin’ on a special effects show just ‘cause we’re here, or anything like that?” “Each member of the Starlet Dolls is, in all manner of fact, a fully-automated humanoid robotic entertainer,” Anton replied. “In short---yes, they are, as you said, all robots.” “And the singer?” JY asked. “She was around before the Dolls,” Anton informed him, “but she’s still fantastic---just not made of plastic.”

Vicki groaned; “This is a concert,” she informed the roboticist, “not a comedy club.”

JY nodded his agreement. “Save the jokes for later---I wanna see if these…gynoids, as the Professor so eloquently put it….can play.”

Anton chuckled; “Fair enough.” He signaled for the technicians to reattach the limbs and faces of the Starlet Dolls so that they could perform a song from one of Sophia’s albums. “I’d have them play with open panels,” he informed the group, “but I don’t want to risk them frying their internals if the speakers suffer a feedback overload or anything…that would completely undo all the work I’ve put in, and it would take up to half a year to get them back in working order.”

“That makes sense,” Tommy mused. Vicki fought the urge to chuckle.

A minute or so later, the Starlet Dolls were reassembled, but still in their powered-down standby phases as Sophia walked up to the microphone. “I think you’re going to enjoy this part,” Anton informed JY and Tommy; further back on the stage, Todd and Ricky leaned against a support strut for the lighting rig, arms folded and brows furrowed.

The Starlet Dolls exited standby mode, moving into standing positions with overtly-mechanical motions; with a quick “One, two, three, four” from Sophia, their movements became more fluid, and they began to play:

HEARTS IN THE SKY (© 2012 DollSpace) It was dark before I found you There was no hope in sight But in a moment, in an instant You brought me back to life And now our love's forever Cause there's nothing we can't do We'll always be together Cause we have a love that's true

My heart's in the sky! My heart's in the sky!

I was sad and I was angry My whole world was falling down But there's this warmth that now I'm feeling Ever since you came around A miracle has happened

Cause a whole new world's in view There's nothing with more beauty Than the vision that is you

My heart's in the sky! Now I'm feeling so high! Our love's meant to be - it's our destiny My heart's in the sky!

And now our love's forever Cause there's nothing we can't do We'll always be together Cause we have a love that's true

My heart's in the sky! Now I'm feeling so high! Our love's meant to be - it's our destiny My heart's in the sky! My heart's in the sky...

By the time the last chorus of “My heart’s in the sky” faded out, JY, Tommy and Gowan were applauding enthusiastically along with Dennis; Todd and Ricky were smiling and giving the “thumbs up” gesture. “Looks like the Starlet Dolls just earned themselves a few new fans,” Vicki whispered to Anton.

“What’d I tell ya?!” Dennis declared, slapping Tommy across the back of the shoulders and grinning. “They’re great! And they’re not just some stationary animatronic figures, like at Disneyland; just watch this next number!” He gestured to Sophia, and made a motion for her to get ready for the next song; the pigtailed gynoid nodded, smiling, and counted off: “One, two, three, four!”

BUTTERFLY KNIFE (© 2012 DollSpace & DukeNukem 2417) People think my life is easy, that I’ve got it made They don’t realize I’m living on the edge of a razorblade Every night that you come round, I get such a thrill You’ve got the eye of the tiger, baby, movin’ in for the kill!

You’re like a butterfly knife (butterfly knife) Dangerous beauty, you cut through the pain Butterfly knife (butterfly knife) The first cut's the deepest, and I’m never the same Butterfly knife!

No one thought that this could happen, saying "it's a phase" But ever since we met, my life’s been becoming a craze I never though I’d get this high, from anyone like you But now you've got me hooked, baby, on each crazy thing we do!

You’re like a butterfly knife (butterfly knife) Dangerous beauty, you cut through the pain Butterfly knife (butterfly knife) The first cut's the deepest, in our scorpion’s game Butterfly knife!

Every night, I think about..the way our lives should be…. It cuts so deep but hurts so good..the pain will set me free…. All the things we’ve done together, memories flash through my eyes Through all the laughter and the tears, I’ve seen enough to realize…

You’re like a butterfly knife (butterfly knife) Dangerous beauty, you cut through the pain Butterfly knife (butterfly knife) The first cut's the deepest, and I’m never the same Dangerous beauty, you cut through the pain Butterfly knife (butterfly knife) The first cut's the deepest, and you're the one to blame

Throughout the song, Allison and Kara strutted around the stage as they played blistering guitar solos; at one point; they stood at the forefront of the stage and performed a dual-guitar riff that would’ve made K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton proud. JY and Tommy’s applause was noticably louder this time---with Todd and Ricky Phillips joining in---and Gowan threw in a “WHOO!” for good measure. “Are they great,” Dennis beamed, “or are they great?!”

“Credit where credit’s due,” James admitted, “that was some pretty awesome stuff. There’s definitely a Judas Priest vibe in that one---and that’s a compliment, by the way---so…” He nodded his approval. “Yeah. They are most definitely everything you said they’d be, and then some. Anything you’d like to add, Tommy?”

The guitarist chuckled. “Those girls can kick some serious ass,” he replied.

“Agreed,” Gowan beamed.

“Glad you like ‘em,” Dennis stated proudly. “Right, anyone want to head out for a lunch break?”

As the group headed out, the Starlet Dolls remained motionless onstage until the exit door closed behind the last member of the band; once they were alone, the Dolls let out a collective sigh of relief---none louder than Sophie. “They liked us,” she breathed, “they actually liked us!”

“Of course they did,” Vicki replied with a smile. “Heck, you sound more natural than a lot of singers I hear on the radio these days---“

A shout from backstage instantly killed the mood. “What was that?” Valerie asked, confused. “Probably just Capri arguing with a stagehand,” Vicki mused, frowning. “Sometimes, she’s a little too insistent on how to do things….I’ll go check it out, just to make sure.” Her grin briefly returned; “Don’t think you can stop practicing just because I’m not here, though,” she chuckled.

“We wouldn’t dream of it,” Sophia laughed.

The brunette gynoid nodded and headed backstage, her grin giving way once again to an expression that was all business. If someone’s already trying to sabotage this act, she realized, this is going to be a really long month!

“…and you can move your stupid truck, too! This is where the caterers unload the food, not a dumping spot for whatever this crap is!”

As Capri tried to argue with the black-clad “delivery man” who was currently attempting to drop off several boxes backstage at the Pavilion, McMire watched the scene unfold through the pinhole camera installed in the man’s jacket. It was highly unlikely that the Coalition would’ve sent any of their people ahead in advance to pull a stunt like this; of course, none of them were anywhere near as resourceful as the once and future Grand Intellect….

McMire chuckled at the thought, returning his attention to the monitor.

“Just sign for the boxes, ma’am, and I’ll be on my way…” The would-be delivery guy was sticking to the script so far; just a few more minutes, and---

“What’s going on, Capri?”

McMire’s eyes widened; Lawson? Here?! Indeed, the red-and-white clad gynoid was jogging over to stand by the sea green-haired woman. “This idiot won’t move his truck,” Capri huffed, “even though I told him it’s parked in the caterer’s spot---“

“And I’ve told you, miss,” the delivery guy repeated, “that all you need to do is sign for these crates and---“

Vicki pressed her finger to the man’s lips. “You, wait,” she ordered, returning her attention to Capri. “Any idea what’s in these boxes?”

“They’re lead-lined,” the gynoid sullenly replied. “Metal detectors didn’t pick up anything either.”

With an annoyed sigh, Vicki turned to the deliveryman. “Right,” she declared, “you’re going to tell us exactly what’s in those crates, or you can tell the cops when they show up to haul your butt off for trespassing---and I have a feeling they’re going to be a lot less lenient than I am…..so what’s it going to be?” She stared at the man, waiting for him to reply.

She didn’t have to wait too long---before either gynoid could stop him, he ran for the stage entrance, pulling a Smith & Wesson from a shoulder holster as he kicked the door open. From McMire’s point of view, the scene resembled a bizarre FPS game---at least, one with a bad camera angle and even worse sound production. So much for a clean getaway…..

“Vicki,” Capri shrieked, “STOP HIM---“

“Already on it,” V.I.C.I. replied, taking off after the fake delivery guy. “Don’t touch those boxes until I get back!”

It only took V.I.C.I. three seconds to zoom through the stage entrance and catch up to the gunman, grabbing him by the hair just as the Starlet Dolls started playing “Moonlight Desires”. Seeing as how both V.I.C.I. and the gunman were still hidden by amplifiers and an overall lack of lighting, none of the Dolls could tell that anything was amiss.

“Drop the gun,” the brunette gynoid ordered, “or else---“

“Save your speeches,” the gunman snarled. “I’m not here for those stupid Dolls.”

“You---wait, what?!”

The gunman extricated himself from Vicki’s grip and glared at her; “I was told that a certain individual would be in the crowd for tomorrow night’s rehearsal,” he informed her, “and I’m here to take that individual out.” He scoffed; “You didn’t think I’d waste all this time just to bump off that Starlet brat,did you---“ His sentence ended abruptly as Vicki hoisted him up by the collar. “Call her a ‘brat’ again,” she growled, “and you’ll be wearing that Smith & Wesson as a bracelet….got it?” The man nodded frantically, and Vicki lowered him to the floor. “Now, who exactly were you sent here to ‘take out’?” she asked.

“I….” The man began, only to clutch at his throat; as Vicki watched, horrified, the would-be assassin fell to his knees, scrabbling at his neck as if someone or something was strangling him. Fifteen seconds later, he was dead.

“You didn’t have to go that far,” Capri began as she approached, only to be silenced by a withering glare from Vicki. “All I did was lift him off the floor and put him back down,” the brunette gynoid replied. “He wasn’t even after Sophia or the Dolls; apparently, he was sent here to kill someone who’d be watching the rehearsal---“

Capri shushed Vicki and half-dragged her to the backstage area; “How did he know about the private invites?” she hissed. “Anton swore those invitations were untraceable, and that nobody could track who sent them or who was receiving them!” Vicki arched an eyebrow; “Since when were there private invites?” she asked, frowning.

“Ever since you did your Solid Snake routine at the Silicon Dynamics plant,” Capri explained, “a lot of the guys and girls who were at Tell’s house decided that they wanted to keep track of this whole Starlet Dolls thing, and they’ll be attending the rehearsal tomorrow night---and they’re going to be at the final concert of the tour. Like I said, though, the invites were sent out privately---nobody except Tell, Anton and I knew about this, and I have no idea how this guy even knew what was happening.” She glared at the dead man on the floor; “Let’s go see if we can open those stupid boxes he left,” she muttered. “I’ll call a janitor to clean up the mess.”

“What mess,” Vicki began, only to recoil---a pungent reek, emanating from the dead guy’s pants, was now permeating the air. “I’ll go get some Febreeze….”

McMire sighed, fingering the remote he’d used to kill his agent at the Pavilion. The man’s death was a minor inconvenience, of course---there were hundreds waiting in the wings to take his place---but the truly galling factor was the uncanny ability of the two gynoids (McMire had tracked the one called Capri for well over half a year after he learned of her connection to the ALPA) in figuring out his plans.

“A regrettable loss,” he mused, the voccoder mask draining the life from his words, “but…a necessary one.” With a half-annoyed, half-amused sigh, he swiveled his chair around and returned his attention to the matter at hand. His plane was just now touching down at the San Jose International airport, and his operatives were awaiting further instructions.

“Give them their equipment,” he ordered his aide, “and send them on their way. I will not suffer any further delays in this operation.” The aide nodded and headed into the main cabin.

“Now,” McMire murmured, “it begins…”

By the time Dennis and the members of Styx got back from their lunch break, the Starlet Dolls had practiced all but four of the songs from Electric Child. “I’m guessing you guys have sort of patched things up,” Vicki mused, “since you weren’t kicking each other in the face when you came in.” Dennis gave her an annoyed look; “There’s not exactly a whole lot to patch up,” he informed her. “That whole thing of taking my name off the website wasn’t supposed to be as big a deal as I made it out to be, but now…” He stared at the floor, not wanting to continue. “I’ll stop talking about it,” Vicki promised him; his only reply was a silent nod. With that, Vicki excused herself to go check on the Starlet Dolls; something tells me he’s liable to start throwing things if he doesn’t calm down, she realized.

As soon as she entered the Dolls’ dressing room, however, she forgot all about Dennis’ rantings; someone was playing an accoustic guitar, and singing…with a rather unique Irish lilt….

PULL AT MY RIBBONS (© 2012 DollSpace) You see me in the moonlight, gleaming off my skin Your gentle touch caresses, on my smooth porcelain Your hand plays with my curls, cascading out within And I am lying helpless, waiting for you to begin

Pull at my ribbons, take down my hair Lay down beside me, undress me with care Be gentle and kind when I'm naked and bare Once you pull at my ribbons and take down my hair

Your breathing is so heavy, but breaths I can't take And though your touch is gentle, I still fear I will break My heart has been so shattered, there's too much at stake But I am lying helpless, this love is no mistake

Pull at my ribbons, take down my hair Lay down beside me, undress me with care Be gentle and kind when I'm naked and bare Once you pull at my ribbons and take down my hair

A flash of light, and a spark of life that I can feel Descends upon my lonely world, pretending I am real I can come alive tonight, if only in the dark But when the morning comes again, I'll lose my only spark

So put up my ribbons, re-tie my hair Stand up beside me and dress me with care Be gentle and kind for my heart is still bare Once you put up my ribbons, and re-tie my hair… Once you put up my ribbons, and re-tie my hair...

As Vicki entered further into the room, she saw Katie Corr sitting on a bench, strumming the guitar and singing quietly; “That….was beautiful,” she murmured.

Katie looked up, surprised; “I….didn’t think anyone was there,” she admitted.

“Well, I was talking to Dennis,” the brunette gynoid admitted, “but I decided to split after he got that look in his eye; y’know, the one he gets whenever someone mentions the lawyers….anyways, that was a pretty good song!” She grinned and sat down in a chair across from Katie; “I’m guessing Sophia’s letting you write for the next album,” she mused, “and…..what?”

“I didn’t write this for the Starlet Dolls,” Katie replied quietly. “I wrote it….for me.”

Vicki was somewhat taken aback; Katie had only been online for a day or two, at most, yet she was already writing her own songs? “And….what, exactly, made you decide to write that song for…well, you?” she asked.

“It just sort of…came to me, really,” the red-haired gynoid admitted. “On the bus ride, when everyone else was talking and pointing at cars driving by….I was writing. It was like this thing in my head had released, and I could just feel the words waiting to pour out…”

“Kind of like how Sophia got the idea to write ‘Luna Starlight’ after she talked to Lilly,” Vicki realized. “Anton must’ve given you some pretty impressive creativity boosters if you’re already writing your own material…but there’s still the whole thing of you ‘writing it for you’ that kind of worries me. Don’t get me wrong---I like the idea of you writing your own material, but at this stage, you should be kinda sorta maybe contributing to the group, instead of just keeping it for yourself.”

Katie sighed. “I don’t know if the rest of the girls would like this song,” she murmured. “And the way they were staring at me, before the rehearsal…”

“By ‘they’, you mean the guys from Styx, right?” Vicki mused.

The crimson-haired gynoid nodded silently.

“If it’s any consolation, I think they were just amazed at your…technolgical aspects,” Vicki informed her. “They probably weren’t expecting you to actually be a fully-functioning gynoid guitarist, or anything like that…in any case, they probably weren’t just staring for the usual reasons that guys stare at hot chicks.”

“It’s not just that,” Katie insisted. “This whole idea, about marketing us as the ‘first all-gynoid pop band’…I hate it, Vicki! And they’re not even admitting that Sophie’s a gynoid like the rest of us….it just doesn’t feel right.” She stared at the floor; “I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle the fact that the audience thinks I’m just a really fancy toy or something---“

“You can’t know for sure that they’ll think that,” Vicki countered. “They might not even care about that whole aspect of things!”

Katie didn’t bother turning her gaze upon Vicki; “I appreciate your sentiments,” she admitted, “but to be honest, I think that’s all they’ll care about. When the fans run out to meet us after that concert, part of me will know that they’ll think of me as a sophisticated piece of machinery instead of an incredibly talented musician who just happens to be a robot…and to be honest, I don’t know if being a part of this band will be worth that kind of feeling.”

Vicki sighed; somehow or other, she felt that It was her responsibility to help break Katie out of this funk she’d found herself in---but before she could utter a single word, the door to the dressing room opened again to reveal Dennis DeYoung. “Sophie wants to run through one more song,” he informed Katie. “You up for it?”

The gynoid looked up; “Let me get my guitar…”

Dennis nodded and ran off to tell Sophie the news. “Vicki,” Katie murmured, “please don’t tell the other Dolls that I’m writing my own songs….I don’t want them to think I think I’m ‘too good for the band’ or anything. If they thought I was trying to upstage them---if Sophie thought I was tying to upstage her…..Just don’t tell them, okay?”

“My lips are sealed,” V.I.C.I. replied, nodding.

“Good.” Katie allowed herself a smile; I guess I’d better go join them onstage, then…” With that, she grabbed her guitar and headed for the stage.

The brunette gynoid watched her leave; “Hopefully, this sorts at least a few of her problems out,” she mused.

By the time she made her way to her preferred seat, Vicki noticed that the Dolls were about to start rehearsing another song. Dennis was calling out instructions to the lighting crew, gesturing for them to adjust the rigs and dim or brighten certain lights. After a few seconds, the setup was to his liking, and he nodded his approval. “Right,” he called to Sophia, “ready when you are.”

Sophia gave a thumbs-up and counted off slowly: “One, two, three, four…”

A BROKEN GIRL [MY ENTIRE WORLD] (© 2012 DollSpace) You say you just see a broken girl But when I look at you, you're my entire world You're the one who's unlocked my heart Let it shine to repair a world torn apart

When things get scary, you'll always care for me When things get lonely, you'll always be there for me When things get sad, you'll chase away the blue And when things get bad, you'll always be there, I know it's true

You say you just see a broken girl But when I look at you, you're my entire world You're the one who's unlocked my heart Let it shine to repair a world torn apart

If things are falling, you'll always keep me calm If I feel like running, you'll stay all the while I'm gone If things start rushing, and life is just a blur If I'm afraid to move, you'll be by my side, you'll keep me sure

You say you just see a broken girl But when I look at you, you're my entire world You're the one who's unlocked my heart Let it shine to repair a world torn apart

Failing parts and my halting starts lead me to the dance Broken hearts and counterparts will let me to take this chance With you by my side I know I'll always have light And with your love in my heart I know my life is right And I'll be with you tonight…

You say you just see a broken girl But when I look at you, you're my entire world You're the one who's unlocked my heart To let it shine, to let it shine So you see a perfect girl Cos when I look at you, I see my entire world You're the one who's unlocked my heart Let it shine to repair a world torn apart

Dennis applauded enthusiastically as the last note faded out. “That was BRILLIANT!” he declared, smiling broadly. “If everything goes this smoothly during the actual gig, this tour is going to be a record-breaker! I’m telling you, Vicki, the Starlet Dolls are going to be a hit!” Vicki nodded silently, remembering the dead gunman’s mention of a certain someone in the crowd at the rehearsal tomorrow night; hopefully, that was the only nutjob I’ll have to deal with on this whole tour.

Unfortunately, her hopes weren’t going to be fulfilled……

Victor Vega was not having a good day.

Despite the fact that the plane he’d managed to secure was, indeed, in the air above San Jose at the moment, it was not any closer to breaking out of the holding pattern it had been stuck in for the last 20 minutes. The gynoid stewardess Vlatko had commandeered, meanwhile, had proven to be absolutely useless---when Vega asked her to contact the control tower and request permission to land, she had called up NASA and asked if they could “park the plane on the moon”. Vlatko admitted that the high altitudes, electromagnetic interference and other factors played a role in the gynoid’s malfunctioning, but it didn’t matter.

All that mattered was that Victor Vega wasn’t in control of the situation, and he hated not being in control.

“It could be worse, you know,” Vlatko informed him. “We could’ve been re-routed to land in Siberia…” The death glare from Vega said more than any variation on the phrase “SHUT UP” could have, and Boris stopped talking.

By the time someone had cleared up the miscommunications with the control tower, the plane’s fuel tanks were half-empty; effectively, the miscommunication on behalf of the gynoid stewardess had forced the airport to let Vega’s jet land. Vega was too pissed off to care by this point; he’d already vowed to have someone fired for this gross incompetence. Of course, what he heard next made him feel like throwing someone across the parking lot---the second plane he’d chartered, with most of his fembots and bodyguards onboard, had been rerouted to Seattle, of all places.

Vlatko, obviously fed up with the circumstances himself (but not wanting to get hauled off to jail), wisely decided to head to the bathroom rather than listen to Vega’s profanity-laced rantings again.

To the untrained eye, McMire’s armored transport resembled a black Ford Transit van with out-of-state license plates and no remarkable features whatsoever. This was mainly due to the fact that the transport was a black Ford Transit van with out-of-state plates and no remarkable features whatsoever….

…on the outside, at least.

Inside, the “van” was equipped with a setup McMire had come to refer to as his “throne”---a titanium chair with enough dials, switches and esoteric lights to rival that of Dr. Claw. Both walls of the van’s interior were lined with monitors and computers, allowing McMire to track, receive and record incoming transmissions and/or messages of any kind. It was this very system that allowed him to answer the incoming call that his black-clad aide might have missed, ignored or simply put on hold. “My time is short,” he intoned, the voccoder flattening the emotion out of his voice. “Who are you, and what do you---“

“Now, is that any way to treat the man who’s just plucked you straight off the chopping block?”

The cheerful voice of Oberon jolted McMire out of his standard comfort zone. Usually, if anyone was calling him, it was a flunky apologizing for some catastrophic failure….but this?! “I’m…afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he carefully replied. “I am in no danger of being ‘on the chopping block’---“

“Well, not anymore---seeing as how I’ve recovered those missing flash-drives of yours.” The sound of a plastic baggie full of flash drives being shaken filled McMire’s ears.

Had the black-clad aide driving the van turned around before the tinted, soundproof screen rose between the driver’s seat and the rear compartment of the vehicle, he might have seen a twinge of fear on his employer’s face, and heard the muted gasp that escaped his throat. The flash drives in question had been reported as missing---how in the hell had Oberon, of all people, found them?! “Where did you recover the drives?” he asked quietly.

“From three yobbos in the loo at San Jose International Airport. They didn’t act too friendly when I told ‘em to give me the bag…”

McMire slumped back in his chair, stunned; the voccoder mask fell from his face, dangling from the side of the chair by the USB port that connected it to a slimline PC loaded with McMire’s custom-coded voice disguising software. It was bad enough that he’d “lost” the flash drives to begin with, but the revelation that they had been stolen was just too much. His research on the Stylo virus was the only reason the ALPA and the Coalition hadn’t tried to have him taken out before, but if every single moron in Silicon Valley had their own copy of it, nobody would need the originals anymore….nor would they need the person who’d spent months compiling the data and running the tests.

In short, the Stylo research was McMire’s lifeline.

Without putting the voccoder mask back on, he spoke into the phone: “How much do you want for it?”

“Sorry, who is this? I was just talking to someone who was actually interested in these flash drives---“

“You know damn well who this is! How much do you want for the flash drives?!” A pleading tone had snuck into McMire’s voice, and without the aid of the voccoder mask, it was all too obvious that he was thoroughly screwed unless Oberon agreed to give him back the research. “Anything you want---just ask for it, and I’ll do it, I swear!”

“Hmm….I’ll have to think about this one…”

McMire glanced back at the driver’s seat, dreading the inevitable sudden lurch of the van in the middle of some deserted parking lot….the gleaming barrel of a Walther PPK or some other compact pistol being leveled at his head from the driver’s seat….two shots, in quick succession---

“You still there?”

Oberon’s voice jolted McMire out of his morbid reverie. “I’m here,” he confirmed.

“Splendid! Now, regarding your question about what I’d be willing to accept in terms of payment for the safe return of these flash drives…” His voice turned deadly serious. “It’s come to my understanding that you’ve got Jake Brytestar and a gynoid from the House running errands for you.”

A touch of defiance tinged McMire’s reply: “What of it?”

“If you’re going to have them do your dirty work….then you might as well get something off the ALPA’s plate as well. Venus Industries is one of the Coalition’s highest-earning companies in the field of companion robot manufacture, but we have reason to believe they’re supplementing their income through…dubious sources, if you catch my meaning. I know you’ve sent Brytestar and his allies to Green Bay to acquire a Venus Industries gynoid, and I also know that Faceless is in the area---if their paths would happen to intersect, and some of the VI personnel guarding the gynoid in question were….struck down in the process, I might be willing to have my people look the other way if you could get some…irrefutable proof that VI tried to frame you for the hit.”

“You say that like you know what’s going to happen already,” McMire scoffed.

“I don’t need to. If Faceless kills anyone from Venus Industries, they’ll find out---and if they even think you’re involved, they’ll try to pin it on you. Like I said, if you could provide ‘irrefutable evidence’ to the contrary---“

“You’ll make the charges go away,” McMire finished.

“Indeed. You’ll get the flash drives back first, of course---but I expect you to have what I ask for by the end of Sophia Starlet’s tour.” The metnion of the tour was somewhat odd, but McMire chose to ignore it. “Why the hell do you even care if Venus Industries tries to have me thrown in jail for a murder I didn’t commit? It’s not like my record is spotless anyways…”

“You and I both know that your Stylo research is the only thing keeping the ALPA, the Coalition and everyone else in this little scorpion dance from killing each other off in two seconds…and I also know about your little security measure to keep everyone from sending their best hired guns after you. That research is too important to lose over any stupid argument, Mor---“


“Fair enough. As I was saying…I give you the drives, and you send Venus Industries up the river. Deal?”

McMire picked up his voccoder mask and secured it to his face once again. “We have a deal, Oberon.”

“Good.” A pause…. “Just so you know, I’m not going to be this generous every time something goes terribly, horribly wrong on your side of the fence. I’m only doing this to make sure that the research on curing the Stylo virus isn’t lost because some twonk tried to do you in.”

“Your sympathy would be better spent on the fools who stole the drives from me,” McMire replied.

“Considering they’re all in hospital at the moment, I’ll take a rain check on that. Be seeing you…”

McMire glared at the driver’s seat, no longer worried about the driver turning against him. It galled him deeply to know that the flash drives had been stolen, and not simply missing as had been reported earlier, but it was no longer an issue. The drives would be his again soon enough, and then the fools who had tried to steal them would pay in full….

…..and they would die while the Starlet Dolls played on.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wake-up cycle initiated. Activating V.I.C.I. ………. all systems activated. Running full system scan………………………. Scan complete. All systems functioning at 100% efficiency. Reserve Battery charge level: 93.6% Good morning and Merry Christmas, V.I.C.I! Today is Saturday, December 25, 2010.

Vicki yawned and stretched as she extricated herself from the sleeping bag Dennis had laid out for her to use backstage; “Not exactly the weirdest Christmas morning wakeup I’ve ever had,” she mused, “but it’s still kinda lumpy…” She sighed, carefully rolling up the bag…and frowning at the shouting that had just entered her auditory sensor range. “Not another argument,” she groaned, heading for the stage entrance door---

“---AND I DO NOT REMEMBER TELLING ANYONE IT WAS OKAY FOR OUR INSTRUMENTS TO BE SOLD ON SOME CHARITY AUCTION!” JY glared at the cowering stagehand who’d just told him the bad news: Styx’s instruments had apparently gone missing during the night, and a recent search of eBay led the bandmembers to a so-called “charity auction” featuring their gear as the main attraction. “That’s not even my signature!” Tommy stated, jabbing a finger at the fully zoomed-in picture of his guitar. “My handwriting doesn’t even look like that!”

Before she could see what the problem was, Gowan (Capri had given him and Anton actual name badges, to replace the stickers) held her back. “I wouldn’t, if I were you,” he cautioned. “One of the only things that didn’t get taken last night was my keyboard, and they nearly tried to accuse me of this…just stay quiet.”

“This doesn’t even make any sense,” the brunette gynoid muttered. “Who would want to steal their stuff---“

“I think the more important question is, who could have stolen it?” Dennis interjected. “This place was locked down tight last night; the only way anyone could’ve gotten in after 10:40 was if they had a key.” He handed over the keys to his room to Tommy; “If you want to go search my hotel room right now, feel free,” he informed the guitarist. “I have nothing to hide.”

Tommy stared at him for a full minute before handing the keys back. “I know it wasn’t you,” he replied.

“Well, it damn sure wasn’t any of us,” JY complained, “and if it wasn’t Dennis, and it wasn’t us---“

“Do NOT say what I think you’re about to say,” Sophia Starlet warned him. “We have NOTHING against you guys, and we would never try anything to sabotage your show!”

“Then who the hell is doing this?!” Todd Sucherman demanded.

“Simple…..someone who has the most to gain from your combined failures.”

Vicki stared, wide-eyed, as the Man in Grey seemed to materialize from the shadows onstage. “Who the hell is this clown?!” JY groaned. “This ‘clown’, as you call him, is a good friend of mine,” Anton informed him. “As soon as I heard Tommy screaming about his guitar, I got on the phone---“

“And you didn’t think to call the cops first?” Tommy countered.

“The police will only search for evidence that they know they can find,” the Man replied. “Fingerprints, foot prints, tire tracks…anything that will lead them to the identity of the person or persons behind the thefts of your instruments---which, by the way, were only meant to distract you.”

Vicki looked somewhat confused. “Distract us from what?”

“That’s a very good question,” a voice called from the far end of the arena, “and hopefully one that can be answered sooner rather than later.” Vicki couldn’t help but be impressed as Oberon approached the stage, accompanied by the strawberry-blonde gynoid she’d seen at Tell’s house. “Did you check the Starlet Dolls’ instruments after the rest of the gear went missing?” he asked Dennis.

“We….oh, crap!” Dennis ran backstage, followed closely by Anton, Ricky Phillips and Capri. “Ah, what’s the big deal?” Tommy asked, looking visibly confused. “Their instruments are still there---“

“And they could’ve been sabotaged by the same fools who stole your instruments,” Oberon replied before turning to regard Vicki. “Hello again,” he beamed, smiling at the brunette gynoid. “Shame we have to meet each other under such…ominous circumstances…”


The shout from backstage prompted a sigh from Oberon. “I should’ve known….how bad is it?” he called out.

Dennis emerged from the backstage area scowling angrilly. “The lighting rigs have been reconfigured, every single one of the Starlet Dolls’ instruments have been de-tuned, the pyro timers are completely shot, and someone swapped out the backing tracks for the practice runs with KIDZ-BOP!” He threw a CD down onto the stage. “Well, that rules me out, then,” Tommy mused. “I can’t even stand that Kidz Bop crap.” JY nodded in agreement; “Last time I had to listen to one of those, I damn near broke a display radio at a Best Buy.”

Their reassurances did little to placcate Dennis. “If none of you guys did it, then who the hell---“

The lights cut out.

“What the HELL?!” “Who killed the power?!” “Nobody panic, I’ve got a flashlight…” Voices called out in the darkness, as the members of Styx tried to find their way to the circuit breaker backstage. “Everyone, just follow my voice,” Oberon called out, “and we should be able to navigate to the backstage area…”

Almost immediately, Vicki bumped into the gynoid who’d arrived with Oberon. “Sorry!” she apologized.

“Not a problem,” the gynoid replied, “but I suggest turning on an alternate vision mode or something…unless you want to bump into stuff for the rest of the day.” Vicki sighed and blinked several times until her built-in thermal vision kicked on. “Right,” she whispered, “no more tripping over everything for me…now what do we do?”

“Just follow me,” the other gynoid replied, “and try not to fall behind.”

Not a problem. “One thing, before we go exploring backstage,” Vicki stated. “You never told me your name---“

She felt the other gynoid shake her hand. “Call me Crystal.”

“Cool name!” Despite the fact that Crystal couldn’t see her, Vicki grinned. “Now then….let’s get backstage and figure out what the heck is up with the electricity in here---“ Suddenly, something clicked in her bubble memory processor. “Hang on a sec….doesn’t this place have its own generators?!”

“Yeah, but---“

“I have a feeling we’re going in the wrong direction,” Vicki stated, already racing towards the far end of the arena. “If we’re going to get the power turned back on, we need to find the arena’s control room---y’know, where they have switches for every light in the place! If I remember correctly, the HP Pavilion should have a generator reset switch of some kind in the control room, and we can reset the power from there!”

Crystal was impressed. “And you just figured all this out?”

“Call it a very well-educated guess,” the brunette gynoid replied. “Now, to find that control room…” With the aid of her bubble memory processor’s internal search engine, she called up the schematics of the building that had been given to her by Anton Malvineous earlier in the week. Too bad we can’t just take the elevators, she mused, otherwise this would be a heck of a lot easier…

As the two made their way upwards, Vicki noticed signs that others had traversed the same path they were on, perhaps just minutes before they did---a handprint here, a scuffed floor tile there. “Crystal,” she muttered, “I think we may not be the only ones up here…”

“Employees travel this way all the time, Vicki,” Crystal assured her. “IF anything, we---“

Something---or someone---shot past the two gynoids. “What the HELL?!” Vicki hissed. “Crystal, PLEASE tell me you saw that!”

“I did,” the blonde gynoid replied. “Human male, height….” She paused. “This can’t be right,” she muttered; Vicki could tell that she was confused. “Either my sensors need a major recalibration, or…” “Or what?!” the brunette gynoid insisted.

“Nothing,” Crystal muttered. “It had to be a malfunction.”

“Well, I saw it too, and my sensors are working perfectly,” Vicki countered. “Let’s just get to the control room and---“

A blood-curdling scream rent the air.

“Okay, THAT wasn’t a malfunction!” Vicki declared. “Somebody just got attacked!” The two gynoids made their way up the metal catwalk to the control room, hoping they wouldn’t find broken bodies and bloodstains all over the place when they entered…

Fortunately for them, their hopes were at least partially realized.

The three unmoving forms on the far side of the room weren’t exactly broken, but it was all too clear that they weren’t getting up any time soon….or ever again, for that matter. “Looks like they were killed by some kind of injection,” V.I.C.I. mused, nearing the corpses. She sniffed the air around them, looking for any trace of the chemicals that had been used to kill them. “I’m detecting….antifreeze,” she muttered, wrinkling her nose in disgust. “I’m also getting hints of other chemicals…” She stopped; “Crystal, what the hell are you doing?”

Crystal said nothing.

“Crystal,” Vicki repeated, “what are you---“

“Your colleague isn’t doing anything, Miss Lawson….at least, not until I want her to.”

The voice that spoke these words sounded like some bizarre, half-Anglo, half….something, filtered through a voccoder that would’ve made Darth Vader nervous. “And just who are you,” V.I.C.I. replied, only to realize that there was nobody else in the room other than herself and the paralyzed Crystal. “Where are you, for that matter?”

“If I told you that, Miss Lawson,” the voice replied, “I would be doing myself a great disservice…and I have no desire to allow the ALPA to take me into custody. At least, not yet….but that is beside the point, which just so happens to be this: The dead men in this room tried to steal from me, Miss Lawson, and they have paid the ultimate price for their foolish act. If you wish to avoid meeting their fate, then you will allow me to leave the premises unencumbered and unfettered---“

“Could you repeat that in plain English?” the brunette gynoid taunted.

Despite the voccoder flattening the emotion out of his voice, the malice in the unseen speaker’s words was all too clear: “Either you get out of my way and let me leave on my own terms, or I kill you. Simple as that.”

Something about his tone caught Vicki off guard; “You’re….not related to Faceless, are you?” she asked.

A harsh, barking laugh sounded from the darkness. “Rengold and I have never been friends, Miss Lawson,” the voice replied, “though we were…forced to work together at various points in our careers. Now, unless you would like to get a first-hand demonstration of how much damage a .45 caliber bullet could inflict on your RadioThermionic Generator at point-blank range, I suggest you get out of my way.”

The all-too familiar sensation of the creeping horrors overwhelmed Vicki as the realization hit her---the speaker had been behind her the entire time! “Lay down on the floor, please,” he requested, “face first---I have a policy against letting strangers get so much as a glimpse of me, and you are not going to be an exception to that rule. On the floor, now…or your colleauge will be rendered useless by means of a highly-concentrated electric blast delivered straight to her internal power cell, which would be as fatal to her as a heart attack would be to a human being.”

Despite the overwhelming desire to punch the guy’s lights out, Vicki obeyed his command and laid down on the floor, face-first. Her visual scanners could barely detect the movement of his feet as he ran for the door.

“Thank you, Miss Lawson, for not interfering in my work,” the enigmatic speaker called to her. “If we were ever to meet again, I sincerely hope that our acquaintance can be made under friendlier circumstances!” The sound of footsteps retreating up the catwalk infromed her that the mysterious speaker was now out of range…

…just as the lights began to reactivate throughout the HP Pavilion.

McMire allowed himself a laugh as he descended the ladder that took him directly into the utility corridors of the Pavilion. He’d stood right behind Vicki Lawson herself, threatening her with a gun he didn’t even have, and tricked her into laying down on the floor like a common dog!

Well, they don’t call me the Grand Intellect for nothing…

The fact that his paid flunkies were going to be going home empty-handed briefly crossed his mind before being dismissed just as quickly---no, not quite dismissed. They would be staying in San Jose, no doubt about that…but their priorities were no longer relegated to killing the three traitors who had tried to steal McMire’s Stylo research and sell it to the highest bidder.

Speaking of which…

As he exited the utility corridors and found himself in the parking lot, McMire pulled a carefully-folded sheet of paper from his pocket. “Robodyne International, Tentrex Electronics, Daikoku Industries, Hreftech, Kumitosu Robotics…who the hell is Dr. Dyson?!” His ire rose steadily as he made his way down the list; the vast majority of the companies were either Coalition or ALPA-affiliated, with only a few unknowns (such as Dr. Elaine Dyson) and at least one mainstream company that would’ve probably dismissed the research as joke data and deleted it.

One name in particular, however, made him want to drive a wrecking ball through the Pavilion.

“So….United Robotronics was at the top of their list, were they?!” The paper crumpled in his hands, though he imagined it to be the heart of one of the bastards who had nearly sold him out. “If he wants my research, he’ll have it when I’m dead---and unfortunately for him, I won’t be shuffling off this mortal coil any time soon!” As the paper fell to the ground, trampled underfoot by McMire’s custom-fitted shoes, his mind raced. As he’d told Oberon the previous day, the only reason he was still alive was the Stylo research.

From that day forth, anyone who tried to take it from him would find themselves praying for a quick death.

Oberon examined the corpses carefully, shaking his head. “Cyrex, Mantronix Inc. and Shun-Dai Robotics,” he muttered, not looking up when Vicki knealt next to him. “All three of these men were employees of prominent Coalition-backed companies,” he informed her, “and I think they were possibly connected to the theft of research materials linked to a possible cure for the Stylo virus…” He stopped, noticing Crystal talking to an ALPA field technician, looking rather shaken. “If you’ll excuse me…” He brushed past Vicki and headed over to the strawberry-blonde gynoid, whispering some comforting words as he stared into her eyes. I wonder why she’s freaking out so badly, the brunette gynoid wondered….

“The immobilizer scared her more than it physically damaged her.”

Vicki had forgotten about the Man in Grey until he spoke., and the remark about immobilizers sent a chill down her titanium spine---she’d been reading up on them in her ALPA-issue handbook. Just from hearing the horror stories about their effects and long-term damages caused by them, she had no desire to face off against someone armed with such a device. It didn’t help that most immobilizers also happened to be illegal (a few of them, designed to interfere with WiFi control links and overclock an android’s processors to the point of short circuiting, broke several FCC regulations), and most synthophobe groups took to either buying them in bulk (which made it easier for the ALPA to track them and throw them in jail) or making home-brew immobilizers that were even more dangerous than the ones they could buy.

“What kind of immobilizer did she get hit with?” she asked quietly. “I mean, all she did was stand there while that creep had a gun to me…it’s not like she was belching smoke and fumes, or anything.”

The Man in Grey glanced over at Oberon and Crystal. “She was hit with a C-Grade BF2200,” he replied. “Not as dangerous as most of the ones the ALPA seized in that raid last week…but just powerful enough to turn her into a glorified mannequin while it was in contact with her skin.” BF-model immobilizers, named thusly because the BF stood for “battery-freezing”, were the least-deadly of the bunch, effectively shutting off an affected unit’s battery and freezing them in their tracks. The “C-Grade” meant that it could be carried without a permit in those parts of the world under ALPA jurisdiction, but was banned by the Coalition.

“Is she going to be okay? I mean, she looks pretty shaken up…”

“The BF2200s aren’t really all that harmful,” the Man in Grey informed her, “but the psychological impact lasts a lot longer than the physical symptoms. We’ll probably need to have her meet with a counselor later this week, just to be on the safe side.”

Vicki nodded quietly. “I just hope she doesn’t have nightmares about it for the rest of the month, or anything…”

A few minutes later, the group returned downstairs relate the situation to Styx and the Starlet Dolls. “We were able to reset the generators without any major problems,” Oberon informed them, “so all we need to do now is replace the missing instruments…ah, how many of them were taken last night?”JY counted the missing items off on his fingers: “Four guitars---two for Tommy and two for myself---two bass guitars, a full drum kit, five spare sets of drumsticks, five amps and some other stuff that wasn’t locked up properly before everyone went to bed. The only things they didn’t get were Tommy’s mandolin, Larry’s keyboard and Chuck’s base---we keep that locked up on the tour bus for those shows where he plays ‘Fooling Yourself’ with us.”

Oberon nodded. “Understandable…it would’ve been difficult for them to auction off the mandolin or try to pawn it, just as it would’ve been too hard for them to lug Lawrence’s keyboard around all day.” He retrieved his cellphone; “I’ll see if any music stores will be willing to contribute replacements for your stolen gear,” he informed the band. “Vicki, think you’d be able to help Anton and Dennis fix the Starlet Dolls’ gear?” The brunette gynoid smiled. “It would be an honor to help them,” she replied. “It is Christmas, after all…”

“Since you put it that way,” Tommy stated, “I think we should all help out….y’know, ‘let charity and love prevail’, and all that stuff.”

“Truer words were never spoken, Mr. Shaw,” Oberon intoned with a smile.

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

I guess this is the part where I say “Happy New Year”…and for once, I can say it and actually mean it!

Sophia and the Starlet Dolls have been rehearsing like crazy for the past few days, and every song they’ve done is just awesome. Even “Robot Revolution” is starting to sound less weird---Anton set up that recording booth this past Tuesday, and the Dolls played the whole song without any problems. He’s got a few friends of his working on a detailed waveform analysis of the track, or something…hopefully, they can find an explanation behind whatever it is I heard back at the MG Cybernetics lab. Anyways, the Dolls have added a new cover song to their setlist---“The Final Countdown”---and I have a feeling it’s going to ROCK when they play it live!

Speaking of things that rock, Styx has recovered pretty well from the whole “instrument theft” thing. They’re getting along great with Sophia, and they haven’t tried to throw Dennis out during their rehearsals, so…that’s definitely an improvement. Anton and Gowan have managed to circumvent Capri’s nametag idea by switching clothes every so often---I almost fell over laughing when Anton did a full song with Styx while Gowan sat next to me! JY and Tommy didn’t get too mad when they found out, thankfully, and they even complimented Anton on his keyboard playing…pretty good times.

Unfortunately, things aren’t nearly as good as far as the ongoing investigation of the instrument theft; the bodies of those three guys who got poisoned up in the control room vanished from a morgue in Palo Alto where their autopsies were being performed, and I’ve been hearing a lot of stuff about some incidents involving Venus Industries….I’m just glad I’m getting a break from field work right now.

Well, this is it---the first concert on the Starlet Dolls’ Silicon Valley tour. Styx just finished their set…guess I’d better get backstage!

Until next time! V.I.C.I./Vicki Lawson

Monday, January 3, 2011

“…and you’re sure everything is working correctly?!” Dennis shouted into the phone, trying to make himself heard over the roars of “SOPHIE SHOCK! SOPHIE SHOCK!” from the crowd. “Okay, good…..it’s about three minutes before the show starts! YES, everything’s in place down here! Call me back if anything starts screwing up….okay. Bye!” He snapped the cellphone shut, shaking his head and grinning; “Well, Vicki,” he declared, “this is it…”

“If it helps,” the brunette gynoid admitted, “I’m just as nervous as you are.”

Anything Dennis could’ve said to reply to her comment was drowned out by the roar of the crowd as the lights dimmed, marking the thirty-second pause before the start of “Electric Child”, the title track of the Starlet Dolls’ album. “Here goes nothing!” Dennis shouted, as the “lab” setup---complete with Sophia in a capsule that rose up from the center of the stage---was slowly revealed through the flashing lights and dry ice fog.

“Looks like everything’s working great so far,” Vicki mused. “I just hope this doesn’t turn into a Spinal Tap moment---“

“Don’t jinx it!” Dennis ordered. “It’ll open….it has to open….”

Slowly, the capsule opened.

“Well, that was anticlimactic,” Vicki muttered sarcastically. “Anyways, the best part’s just coming up now…” She grinned. This is a lot like the dreams I used to have---except I was in the audience in most of those…

After a moment’s pause, Sophia stepped out of the capsule, looked out at the crowd, and began to sing…

ELECTRIC CHILD (© 2012 DollSpace) Living in the fantasy Of virtual reality I don't believe the things I see A program glitch inside of me Just a virus of the mind A solace I can never find...

Electric child - no dreams to follow A broken heart - so fake and hollow Lost in lands of tears and sorrow With no hope to survive tomorrow Electric child...

Currents racing through my brain Impulsive thoughts drive me insane Interference from the skies Signal waves that mesmerize Just a virus of the mind A solace I can never find...

Electric child - no dreams to follow A broken heart - so fake and hollow Lost in lands of tears and sorrow With no hope to survive tomorrow Electric child...

Born within technology Through virtual reality

Press the button - turn me on Start me up - my mind is gone I'm only yours just to command There's too much pain to understand Just a virus of the mind A solace I can never find...

Electric child - no dreams to follow A broken heart - so fake and hollow Lost in lands of tears and sorrow With no hope to survive tomorrow Electric child - no dreams to follow A broken heart - so fake and hollow Lost in lands of tears and sorrow With no hope to survive tomorrow Electric child... Electric child...

Despite the overall tearjerker nature of the song, the audience made it clear that they were loving the Starlet Dolls’ first-ever concert. The momentum picked up almost immediately after with “Wind Me Up”, the song Vicki had heard on Sophia’s tour bus. I’ve got to hand it to Dennis, she mused, the whole story aspect of this thing is shaping up to be pretty cool!

As the props and other items from “Wind Me Up” were moved offstage, the capsules containing the Starlet Dolls rose up, to wild cheers and applause. The Dolls took their positions as Sophia grabbed the mic…

MILLENNIUM GIRL (© 2012 DollSpace) Charge me up, plug me in Cover me with creamy skin Build me up to your ideal You can't tell that I'm not real My program runs to emulate Become the human you create The product of technology To my soul you hold the key...

Everyday you turn me on You start me up to impose upon But one day I long to free my soul Every night I turn you on Then you shut me down, I'm just a pawn You keep my heart in your control I'm just for you to show the world Your very own millennium girl

Give me orders, what to do Don't be scared, I'm made for you Do what you want, I'm not afraid Your orders meant to be obeyed Don't give me a second thought Though you've nothing I've not got One day you'll find that I'm not `round Your control has come unwound...

Everyday you turn me on You start me up to impose upon But one day I long to free my soul Every night I turn you on Then you shut me down, I'm just a pawn You keep my heart in your control I'm just for you to show the world Your very own millennium girl

You claim that I'm just second class You treat me like a piece of ass Just like I'm your property An expensive piece of technology But my tears flow just like your own My heart breaks when I'm alone Look in my eyes, can you not tell What's in you is mine as well...

Everyday you turn me on You start me up to impose upon But one day I know I'll free my soul Every night I turn you on Then you shut me down, I'm not a pawn I'll take my heart from your control I'm not for you to show the world I'm my own millennium girl I'm my own millennium girl!

To the group waiting in the upper floor of the HP Pavilion for their signal, the roars of the crowd were damn near impossible to hear without artificial means. “This sucks balls,” Sinclair muttered. “First we get sent to Grungeland, and now we have to wait up here instead of watching the damn concert?!”

“Hold your tongue, Sinclair,” Victor Vega ordered. “If we move in now, we lose our window of opportunity.”

Dalton flicked a straw into an empty seat in front of him. “The damn window of opportunity is gonna get busted open anyways,” he growled. “I didn’t come all this way for nothin, Vega---I wanna see some action!” He very nearly rose from his chair and headed for the elevators to go start some “action” of his own, but the restraining hand of Boris Vlatko held him back. “All in good time,” the Russian roboticist reminded him. “Besides, we already have people on the ground to take care of this….”

Thirty-five rows away from the edge of the stage, they waited.

Britney, Jessica, Christina, Ashley, Mariah, Whitney, Hillary---their names had initially been chosen for their somewhat ironic meanings (they were, after all, designed and programmed to take down Sophia Starlet)---but there was nothing ironic, subtle or even remotely comedic about the seven fembots currently mingling with the crowd at the HP Pavilion. Vlatko had decided against sending out any of his pre-existing units for this job, citing the fact that the had “other plans” for them.

In any case, the seven fembots he had already deployed were doing their best to blend in without going too overboard with their simulated appreciation of Sophia’s work. As they watched, their CPUs already calculating an almost infinite number of scenarios that would allow them to take down the singer, Sophia made her way to the edge of the stage and smiled out at the crowd.

“This next song isn’t from my newest album,” she admitted, “but I think you’re all gonna like it anyways, so…” She giggled as the crowd roared their approval.

TECHNICOLOUR HEAVEN (© 2012 DollSpace) There's a dream on the telly - the stars that turn you on Sparkling like the angels and calming with a song It might be nice for awhile, but soon the morning comes Breaking up the signals, transmissions on the run

Cause it's just an illusion, like a technicolour heaven Soon the dreary day of black and white arrives But even with the illusion of the technicolour heaven Some how, some way we survive...we survive...

There's a song on the wireless - the music from the moon Floating on the clouds on the lightness of the tune It might be nice for dreaming, but soon the sun will shine Breaking up the melody, fading fast through time

Cause it's just an illusion, like a technicolour heaven Soon the dreary day of black and white arrives But even with the illusion of the technicolour heaven Some how, some way we survive...we survive...

The tea's gone cold, the breakfast stale And you're falling back asleep Despite the storm, despite the sun The dreams are what you keep

Cause even just illusions from a technicolour heaven When the dreary day of black and white arrives Become more than illusions from a technicolour heaven And some how, some way, we survive Cause even just illusions from a technicolour heaven When the dreary day of black and white arrives Become more than illusions from a technicolour heaven And some how, some way, we survive...we survive...

Despite the fact that the crowd was cheering louder than ever---enough to provide perfect cover for anyone who wanted to rush the stage---the fembots didn’t move from their seats. The song wasn’t the one that had been entered into their processors as the signal to attack, and any premature revelation of their true intent at this point would’ve ended in disaster.

The Starlet Dolls played three more songs from Sophia’s past albums, none of which drew any reaction from the fembots---before moving back to the material from Electric Child. Thanks to a well-placed backstage source, they had been informed that at least three songs off of the latest Starlet Dolls album were being cut to make room for the material from the earlier albums; thus, the “trigger song” would be coming up soon. All seven fembots prepared to make their move as the Starlet Dolls took the stage. Programs that had remained sequestered in their processors throughout Styx’s setlist (and most of the Starlet Dolls’ songs) finally began to kick in.

They were ready to do what they’d been programmed to do.

“…and you’re sure that it’s a completely harmless signal? I mean, there’s at least 35 sleepers in the audience tonight, and if they start tearing the Pavilion apart midway through the song---“

“The audio lab ran the tests 50 times, Vicki,” Anton’s voice replied in the brunette gynoid’s ear, courtesey of her new, ALPA-issue Bluetooth earpiece. “It doesn’t affect sleepers, and it only occasionally manifests as weird voices---like that instance you heard back in the lab---so you have nothing to worry about.”

Vicki sighed. “Well, if you say so,” she began, only to feel someone tugging at her arm. “I’m on the phone,” she hissed, turning to face the sleeve-tugger---and realizing that it was Ricky, accompanied by Gowan and Todd. “I think you might want to see this,” he informed her, guiding her to the security curtain that separated the backstage area from the stage itself. “I just noticed those girls out there,” he explained, gesturing at seven twenty-somethings several rows away from the stage, “and right when the last song ended, they all just went stiff…kinda like they’re waiting for something…”

Suddenly, something clicked in the brunette gynoid’s bubble memory processors. “Go tell security that we may have suspicious persons in the crowd,” she instructed Ricky. “Todd, Larry, get Dennis on the phone and tell him that he may have to end the next song early---I have a feeling those girls aren’t here just to get Sophia Shock’s autograph…”

“What about you?” Gowan asked as he followed Todd out.

Vicki didn’t miss a beat. “I need to finish this phone call.”

Gowan nodded and jogged away to catch up with Todd, leaving V.I.C.I. to finish her conversation with Anton. “I think I know what that signal is for,” she informed him, “and if my guess is correct, it’s not as harmless as you thought it was.” Her visual scanners kicked into high gear as she beheld the seven girls Ricky had pointed out; a few short seconds later, the scan results came back.

I knew it---all seven of them were designed by Boris Vlatko!

“Vicki,” Anton’s voice replied in her ear, “if you’re about to try something---“

“I’ll only try something if they try something first,” V.I.C.I. replied, as a heavy synth beat kicked in onstage..

ROBOT REVOLUTION (© 2012 DollSpace) Are you afraid of what's coming down the road? Are you scared of the things that you've been told? Do you know that time is slowing down? Can't you tell you're just going round and round? Ahhh -ahhhh-

The time is coming when humans won't exist Nothing left but pure electric bliss There is no place to run away Cause soon will come the day - of the robot revolution

Don't you worry cause the pain will fade to dust It's now the time of full mechanic lust So let go of the world you used to know Settle in to the new bionic show Ahhh -ahhhh-

As the song played out, Vlatko’s seven fembots quietly rose from their seats, revealing the deadly surprises he’d given them before their deployment---each fembot wore a specially-designed pistol (constructed of plastic, Perspex and other non-metal materials to beat the scanners at the Pavilion’s entrances) on their hips. Earlier versions of the guns had been deployed with the knockoff Daikoku gynoids during the failed takeover of Silicon Dynamics, but as Vlatko’s research had proven, those weapons had a power-cell problem that would’ve made them useless for this particular mission.

Needless to say, he had made sure to correct that problem before arming his fembots with them.

As “Robot Revolution” kicked into high gear, the fembots made their way closer to the stage, their hands slowly moving towards the holstered pistols. With any luck, they could all draw their weapons, fire and flee before anyone in the crowd had any idea of what was going on….

The time is coming when humans won't exist Nothing left but pure electric bliss There is no place to run away Cause soon will come the day - of the robot revolution

Don't hesitate - join the revolution It's time to destroy - the old world pollution Don't hesitate - join the revolution It's time to destroy - the old world pollution

“Oh, scrap---they’ve got guns!” V.I.C.I. had observed the fembots methodically striding through the crowd, but for some odd reason, she didn’t catch the weapons they’d been wearing on their hips until they came to a stop at the eleventh row. “Anton, those guns are giving off energy signatures identical to the ones I found in Silicon Dynamics---if they fire, they’ll kill Sophia and any humans in their path!”

Anton’s reply was grim: “Then you’ll have to make sure none of those shots come anywhere close to hitting their intended targets.”

V.I.C.I. nodded, already knowing that what she was about to do might very well kill her---taking seven shots to her RTG would more than likely cause an energy cascade failure, but if it saved Sophia’s life---

“Wait…Anton, someone’s running out from the other side of the stage----“

A shocked gasp escaped her lips: “Capri?!"

The time is coming when humans won't exist Nothing left but pure electric bliss

She’d spotted the guns before Vicki even knew to look for them. As soon as the seven girls in Row 35 stopped cheering, the sea green-haired gynoid knew that something was up.

As usual, her instincts were correct.

Can’t get into the crowd from here, can’t call security… None of the options that most people would’ve gone for would have worked. The crowd would’ve closed in and rushed the stage if Sophia was shot, thinking it was all “part of the show”---only to find out just how wrong they were once the gynoid singer would fall to her knees with a gaping hole in her chest….

No. I won’t let it end that way.

Ignoring years of built-in protocol and training, Capri built up a running start and headed for the stage. Either I time this right, and save her…

There is no place to run away Cause soon will come the day - of the robot revolution The time is coming when humans won't exist Nothing left but pure electric bliss

Vicki watched, horrified, as the seven fembots raised their weapons. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Capri sprinting towards the stage, already prepared to jump into the path of the shots that would otherwise destroy Sophia Starlet.

She didn’t bother fighting back the tears….because she knew what was about to happen.


There is no place to run away Cause soon will come the day - of the robot revolution Robot revolution---

Seven pistols fired, sending bolts of crimson death towards the stage. All seven shots were intended to kill the gynoid known as Sophia Starlet---the creator of the weapons had no idea that she wasn’t human, and had assumed that the shots would simply pass through her, cauterizing major blood vessels in her heart and other organs and killing her in the quickest, most painless and potentially humane manner possible.

The end result was nowhere near as quick, painless or humane as that intended result.

All seven shots tore into Capri like lightning, ripping jagged holes out of her otherwise-flawless figure. By some incredible coincidence, one of the fog machines kicked on just before the audience could see how badly the sea green-haired gynoid had been damaged---all they knew was that seven girls had just pulled out guns and tried to shoot the lead singer of the Starlet Dolls while she performed. Half the crowd tried to fight their way towards the shooters and beat the piss out of them, but they found themselves caught up in the surging current of humanity that was the rest of the crowd, reacting in their expected fashion---running full-bore for the exit and not giving a damn what was in their way.

Unfortunately for those already onstage, the fog machine did nothing to obscure the damage Capri had taken.

Lilly retreated as far as she dared, her hands covering her face; she couldn’t bear the sight of a fellow gynoid in such pain. Zoe was already crying, with Katie running over to comfort her. Nicole and Allie were too shocked to say anything; Joanna refused to go anywhere near the dying gynoid.

Sophia, naturally, was horrified beyond all thought.

Thanks to the trajectory of the shots and Capri’s stance as she jumped to intercept them, two of the shots had torn through her face, obliterating her left eye and most of her right cheek. Another had ripped through her left arm, creating a gaping holes where her elbow had been. Her torso took the brunt of the damage, with four masive, smoking holes showcasing the deadly precision of the fembots’ aim---one shot had caught her in the throat, while two more struck her in the side and just above the waist. The final shot---the most damaging of all---had somehow hit her dead-center in the chest---had she not leapt into its path, that one shot would have been the one to kill Sophia.

Instead, it effectively killed Capri.

“Oh, my God,” Vicki gasped, slowly approaching the scene. Sophia was already on her knees next to the fallen gynoid, weeping uncontrollably. “She….she died saving me,” the singer sobbed. “She jumped in front of me…they all hit her…..”

The brunette gynoid’s gaze turned towards the audience; through the fog, she could see the seven fembots waiting for further insructions. Apparently, they weren’t going to start shooting again until they could see the target; somehow, V.I.C.I. guessed that they were given strict orders to not waste shots on anything other than Sophia Starlet.

Looks like my job just got a whole lot easier…

Without waiting for Anton, Dennis or anyone else to give the “all-clear”, V.I.C.I. backed up a few steps, sprinted towards the edge of the stage and took a flying leap through the fog---nailing one of the fembots with a dropkick to the forehead. “Err-or,” the damaged fembot droned, “this un-it has suff-ered a cat-as-tro-phic sys-tem fai-lure and will shut down in---“

A red-shod foot stomped down on her neck, silencing her.

“You get two choices,” V.I.C.I. intoned. “Run or die.”

“This one is protecting the target,” one of the fembots---a tanned blonde with a figure that looked only slightly less exaggerated than a Barbie doll---stated. “She will be terminated---“ A lightning-quick strike to her arm snapped the limb at the elbow, causing her to drop her gun. “You’re the one who shot Capri straight through her core,” V.I.C.I. growled. “I’m saving you for last.” With that, she turned and spin-kicked a cocoa-skinned fembot in the gut, sending her flying backwards.

Two more fembots---another blonde and a raven-haired, somewhat Goth-looking girl---ran to stop the brunette gynoid before she could cause anymore damage, only to get struck in the face with palm strikes that knocked their visual sensors out of whack. The two stumbled around, bumping into each other and tripping over seats until V.I.C.I. snap-kicked one in the back, effectively snapping her steel-and-plastic spine. “ERROR, ERROR,” the blonde droned, “INTERNAL STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY COMPROMISED. THIS UNIT IS IN NEED OF REPAIR. THIS UNIT IS IN NEED OF REPAIR.” The Goth fembot ignored her colleauge’s monotone calls for assistance as she prepared to take down V.I.C.I.; “You’re going to regret this,” she purred. “Our master only wants Sophia Starlet gone…but he never said we couldn’t take out anyone who got in our way.”

“Your ‘master’ is a heartless, gutless prick,” V.I.C.I. coldly replied, “who doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as Sophia Starlet. As for you…” She backhanded the Goth-bot across the face. “You just killed a good friend of mine,” she declared. “I tend to get really upset when people kill my friends.”

“You are nothing,” the Goth-bot replied contemptuously. “You can’t even---“

The feel of something entering the USB port behind her ear silenced her.

V.I.C.I. ignored the Goth-bot’s sudden lack of interest in the fight and focused on the blonde whose spine she had broken earlier. “Your turn,” she growled, running at the staggering fembot and dropping her to the floor with a brutal clothesline to the back of her head. The blow only served to further damage the already-crippled fembot: “SYSTEM ERROR THIS UNIT COMPROMISED I AM SYSTEM SPINAL DETECTED INTEGRITY STRUCTURAL COMPROMISED ALERT---”


Another vicious blow to the head smashed through the fembot’s cranial casing, crushing her central processor instantly. She fell limply to the floor as V.I.C.I. turned her attention to a sandy-haired fembot who had apparently intended to bash her in the head with the arm of a chair. “I….you….you killed her…..” the fembot stammered.

“And you killed Capri,” the brunette gynoid replied emotionlessly. “Except she was worth ten of you....”

She charged at the fembot, driving jackhammer punches into her abdomen with ruthless efficiency. “…and you’re just a worthless puppet, made by a sick bastard who kills people for money,” she finished, nearly shattering the fembot’s jaw with an uppercut that would’ve made Sagat jealous. “We-we-we-we were-were just-just-just folloooooooooowwwwwwiiiiiiinnnnngggg or-or-or-or-or-or-or-der-der-der-der-der-ders,” the fembot managed, staggering away from her attacker with drunken steps. “We-we-we-we-we---“

With an animalistic growl, V.I.C.I. bashed her in the face with a wild haymaker, sending her jaw-first into a chair; the impact knocked off her faceplate as she fell, critically damaged, to the floor, twitching and stuttering for a few seconds before going still.

Just as she stood up to turn around, V.I.C.I. sensed the cocoa-skinned fembot running at her. Instinctively, she grabbed the charging fembot’s arm, threw her over her shoulder---and kicked her in the back as hard as possible, tearing her arm off in the process. The now-maimed fembot staggered to her feet, smoke and vital fluids pouring out of the hole in her torso where her right arm had been; unlike the other gynoids, she couldn’t even announce her system errors coherently---the shock of losing her arm had been enough to terminate most of her higher functions, causing her to spit out strings of syllables, consonants and vowels as she staggered around---seconds before her own limb, thrown like a spear by a thoroughly pissed-off V.I.C.I., impaled her through the stomach and shut her up for good.

Four down……

One of the fembots, a slender Valley Girl-type who was starting to look like she’d rather be anywhere but the HP Pavilion, was already running for the exit---except her progress was suddenly impeded when something hit her in the kneecaps and tripped her up twenty-feet away from the door. If the crowd hadn’t fled as fast as they did, they might have tried to help her up.

Unfortunately for her, the only being currently moving towards her had no intention of helping her.

“What’s your excuse?” V.I.C.I. demanded. “‘Just following orders’? ‘We were only doing what we were programmed to do’? ‘Vlatko was going to scrap us if we didn’t kill Sophia’?” Her angry glare made it all too clear that she wasn’t going to accept any of those replies. “Don’t you dare try to worm your way out of this,” she snarled, the monotone just barely keeping her voice from dripping with hatred. “You’re just as guilty as the others, and you know it.” She grabbed a seat and ripped it out of the floor, shearing the bolts that had secured it.

“If you have anything you want to say,” the brunnete gynoid declared, raising the chair and preparing to bring it down hard on the helpless fembot’s head, “then don’t bother---the only way you’re leaving this arena tonight is in---“

Something tackled her to the floor before she could finish the sentence.

“Vlatko warned us about you,” the fembot with the broken arm growled, “but he never knew that you were more than human….” She grinned fiercely. “In five seconds, he’ll---“

V.I.C.I.’s left arm shot up, her thumb piercing the fembot’s forehead and splintering the WiFi transmitter.

“In five seconds,” she growled, “he’ll wish he had never even heard the name ‘Vicki Lawson’….” She threw the fembot off of herself, rising to her feet and watching as her opponent slammed into a far wall. No longer interested in the helpless fembot on the floor, V.I.C.I. ran to reach the other fembot, wanting nothing more than to finish her off.

The impact with the wall had severely damaged the blonde fembot; her right arm, already broken at the elbow, was now hanging loose at her side. The angle at which she’d hit the wall crushed her left arm completely, and her left leg was on the verge of laddering; her entire right thigh had effectively collapsed, the synthetic muscle and fat leaking from a massive hole in the side to stain the floor. “I…can-not con-tin-ue fun-cti-on-ing…” she stuttered. “I have sus-tain-ed cri-ti-cal sys-tem da-mag-es…I must be re-pai-red as soon as pos-si-ble…My po-wer core is dan-ger-ou-sly un-sta-ble…I am suf-fer-ing a cat-as-tro-phic full sys-tem fai-lure…”

Her voice was already beginning to slow, and her reaction time was so out of whack that she didn’t even see V.I.C.I.’s foot approaching her face until it slammed into the side of her head---sending her right into the wall.

“Your ‘master’ isn’t here to fix you,” the brunette gynoid growled, pulling her wounded opponent away from the wall. “And as far as you’re concerned, the hell I send you to will seem like Heaven compared to what your ‘master’ is going to get….” She slammed the fembot’s head into the wall, ignoring her stacatto voice and the high-pitched whine coming from her chest. “You tried to kill a good friend of mine,” she hissed, “and ended up killing another one instead….”

She leaned in close. “You deserve every bit of what’s about to happen to you.”

“Un-a-b-le to un-de-r-st-an-d qu-er-ry pl-ea-se re-pe-at qu-es-ti-on---“ The blonde fembot fell to the floor, her eyes staring vacantly up at V.I.C.I.; knowing the damage she’d sustained thus far, she couldn’t even tell anyone was above her.

Not that it would’ve made her fate any less painful…..

Every single one of V.I.C.I.’s punches rained down on the crippled fembot like a meteor shower, destroying whatever they hit. For three whole minutes, the brunette gynoid---on her knees and leaning over the dying fembot like a derranged bird of prey---drove home jackhammer-strength blows that crushed, shattered, splintered and otherwise obliterated every single vital component beneath the fembot’s formerly-flawless exterior. A strange, unholy sound filled the air as she continued pulverizing the downed fembot; it took V.I.C.I. a few seconds to realize that she was screaming----

“That’s enough, Vicki!”

System notifications, error messages and other warnings began popping up in the brunette gynoid’s field of vision, but she didn’t care; all that mattered was making the blonde bitch pay for trying to kill Sophia…and she would pay dearly, with every minute of battery life in her---


A strange sound, other than her own scream, began filling her ears….oddly enough, it sounded almost like a sort of chant….whatever it was, it was driving her on, fueling her rage and her anger and her hatred of this stupid, pathetic fembot on the floor beneath her…all she wanted was to crush this useless waste of metal and plastic, to rip her apart, limb from limb---


Something with the strength of a demigod pulled her back and flung her to the floor; within seconds, she found herself staring up at the faces of Oberon and the Man in Grey….

….and both of them looked pissed.

“I…” she began, only to wither under their combined stares. The chanting in her ears died, the error messages dissolved….as a wave of calm swept over her, Vicki suddenly realized that she’d been blocking out every other sight and sound in the HP Pavilion for the past few minutes. “I…..” She glanced over her shoulder, her eyes widening in fear at the sight of the destroyed fembot; one look at her hands was all it took to drive home the reality of what had just happened. A quick scan of the arena confirmed it---she hadn’t just imagined her battle with the other fembots.

Tears began to well up in her eyes. “I….”

The angry expression on Oberon’s face seemed to melt into one of genuine concern; within seconds, he was kneeling at Vicki’s side, letting her cry into the shoulder of his immaculate white jacket. “I forgive you,” he whispered, as the brunette gynoid wept.

“The Goth and the third blonde are still functioning,” the Man in Grey began, only to stop as Oberon slowly extricated himself from Vicki’s embrace. “Bring them to Anton’s laboratory,” he ordered, without turning to address the Man directly, “and tell him to repair them as best he can and get them prepped for shipping to Jake Brytestar’s estate as soon as possible. God only knows he could give them a better life than the one they’ve been forced to lead here…” He sighed. “Salvage what you can from the rest and send it to Tell’s place,” he added. “After what they went through, we can at least use their parts to give them a chance to be rebuilt in new bodies…or to help rebuild others.”

The Man nodded silently and set off to carry out Oberon’s orders.

As he turned back to address the brunette gynoid, Oberon wasn’t surprised to see that she was still crying; “I was just….they shot Capri, and….I….I didn’t…..” Her words lapsed into a pained wail as she buried her face in her hands. With a calm, quietly-exhaled breath, Oberon helped her to her feet. “You allowed your anger to get the better of you,” he gently informed her. “A rather dangerous….and undeniably human failing, but not an uncommon one---“ He stopped; Vicki was crying into his shirt again.

I’ll give Ted the credit where it’s due…right now, she’s doing a hell of a lot more than just acting human…

“As hard as it may seem to believe,” he assured Vicki, taking her by the shoulders and staring into her eyes, “I know how you feel right now. Every part of your being wanted you to take the most logical course of action and stop those fembots before they escaped…but that one sector of your bubble memory processors, the one blessed---and cursed---with that terribly wonderful thing called ‘emotions’, kicked into ultra-triple-mega-super overdrive as soon as you saw Capri lying there on the stage, and it was that part of your mind that completely locked out all other thoughts and feelings. You may have even experienced that rarest of phenomena that only a select few androids and gynoids have ever dealt with---seeing error messages for nonexistant problems, or hearing disembodied voices…”

Vicki tried to look away, tried to find some other, more rational explanation for what she’d just done…

She couldn’t.

“To be honest,” Oberon admitted, “the fact that the crowd ran out like a bunch of panicked, screaming extras from a Godzilla film did a lot to keep this from hitting YouTube any time soon.” He sighed again. “As loathe as I am to admit it, what you just did here---let me finish!” He gripped Vicki by the shoulders again; “What you did kept Sophia and the Starlet Dolls from meeting the same fate as Capri.” He smiled. “Feeling better?”

“A little,” Vicki croaked.

“That’s good enough,” Oberon began, only to be interrupted by Sophia, Katie, Lilly and Zoe running past him to see if Vicki was okay. Within seconds, the group of worried gynoids was guiding Vicki back to the stage, careful not to ask her any questions along the lines of “What were you thinking?” so as to avoid setting her off again.

Oberon looked away from the group after a few seconds, returning his attention to the destroyed fembot. “And this wasn’t even her after a Stylo exposure,” he murmured. “This was her just being angry….”

Boris Vlatko felt as if he were about to be sick.

Out of the seven fembots he’d deployed into the HP Pavilion, five had been wrecked beyond repair, and two were apparently being carted off by ALPA techs. Even worse, all seven had openly tried to murder Sophia Starlet in full view of a paying audience---his orders clearly stated that they were to abduct Sophia from the stage, not try to kill her….

“I take it your plan has failed?” Victor Vega casually asked.

“You know damn well they’ve failed!” Vlatko spat. “Five of my fembots, destroyed….the other two, stolen by the ALPA….” He tore at his hair. “The Baron will have my head for this!”

Vega smirked. “You could always lie about it, you know,” he suggested. “Tell him…the fembots sustained irreparable damages en route to the Pavilion, and that you had no way of noticing it until they were deployed amongst the crowd. Without any proof to the contrary, he will have no choice but to believe you.” He leaned back in his seat and smiled. “It would be a lot less painful than telling him the truth….”

“And how do you suggest I lie about the destruction of an ALPA agent?!” Vlatko hissed.

“Simple,” Vega replied. “Leave that part out when you submit the report.”

The Russian roboticist glared at Vega with equal measures disbelief and anger. “How can you be so calm about this?!” he snarled. “Five of my fembots have been destroyed, an ALPA agent is dead, and our entire plan is now completley ruined! This whole thing will be the end of us---“

“No, Vlatko,” Vega declared, no longer smiling. “It will be the end of you. I have had enough of your constant whining and complaining about this stupid mission---you and I both know that this is beneath us!” He glared at the Russian with unveiled contempt; “I have far more important things to do with my time than chase some stupid pop star around California on the orders of the Baron,” he spat. “I am VICTOR ANTONIO LORENZO VEGA, last surviving heir to the Vega bloodline and soon-to-be ruler of my homeland,” he declared, gesturing out at the now-empty upper floor of the Pavilion. “I am NOT a glorified errand boy, and I WILL NOT stand for this debasement any further---“

A styrofoam cup full of lukewarm Pepsi smacked him in the head, bursting open on impact to drench him with its contents.


With a feral growl, Vega hurled himself over the table and tackled Vlatko to the floor; within minutes, the two were in the midst of a full-on brawl. Dalton and Sinclair had already left the building, too bored to care about their mission; thus, it was relatively easy for the Pavilion’s security men (acting on a phoned-in tip from a “concerned patron”) to show up and forcibly evict both Vega and Vlatko from the premises. As they were thrown out into the parking lot and told not to come back, either of the Baron’s flunkies had any idea that they’d just been suckered by someone they never even knew …the same someone who had killed three Coalition operatives less than a month earlier, and was now watching them from a vantage point fifteen miles away.

“Bishop takes knight,” McMire intoned, smiling behind his voccoder. “Mate in three.”

“…so, you’re not mad at me, or anything?”

Vicki’s question prompted a sigh from Ted Lawson---or rather, the image of Ted Lawson on the screen of a borrowed laptop. “Sweetie, this isn’t something for me to get mad at you about,” he admitted. “When you got the Big Upgrade, I promised to not go back and take stuff out or make any alterations every time you had a flare-up---“

“’Flare-up’?” Vicki echoed, confused.

“An…emotional overload,” Ted clarified. “I promised myself---and you, as a matter of fact---that I wouldn’t keep going back and altering your programming everytime one particular emotion got the better of you, because it would completely defeat the purpose of giving you emotions and a mind of your own to begin with. Having the ability to feel is only part of what makes you more than just a machine, Vicki…it’s your capability to control those feelings and govern them---without letting them govern and control you---that makes you who and what you are…”

“Except this time, I screwed up,” Vicki muttered. “I let my feelings do a lot more than just control me…”

Ted sighed. “I know this must be difficult for you, sweetheart,” he admitted, “and you’re probably a little scared of what you did---“

A mirthless chuckle escaped Vicki’s lips. “A little scared?” she echoed. “Dad, I tore five fembots apart with my bare hands! If I were any more scared right now, I’d be afraid of my own shadow!” She stared at the floor, sulking. “I….I could’ve lost it completely,” she muttered. “I could’ve hurt someone…I could’ve attacked Sophia, or Dennis, or---“

“The key thing is, you didn’t attack any of them,” Ted reminded her.

“Only because Oberon pulled me off of that blonde fembot and glared at me until I cried,” Vicki sulked.

To her surprise, Ted actually smiled. “He does tend to have that effect on people,” he chuckled. “The point is, Vicki, you did what almost any gynoid in your position probably would’ve done…and even though I am a bit perturbed at your actions, I have to say…” He took a deep breath and exhaled. “Vicki, I’m proud of you.”

That remark stunned the brunette gynoid so badly, she forgot how to speak for a few seconds.

When she finally found her voice again, she didn’t hesitate to reply: “You’re proud of me?! After I ripped five fembots to pieces and threatened to kill two more?!”

“I’m proud of you for not tearing Oberon’s limbs off when he went to stop you,” Ted explained. “Your anger drove you to attack those fembots, but it was you who made the decision to not attack Oberon, or to crawl back and finish that last fembot off after he pulled you away. You may not want to admit it or think about it, but it probably took a heck of a lot of self-control…and that’s why I’m proud of you, Vicki.”

“Proud of me as a machine,” she asked quietly, “or as a person?”

“As my daughter.” Another sigh. “When I first created you, I couldn’t think of you as anything more than an experiment…an incredible piece of technology that just happened to look human. Now, though, it’s almost the opposite---you’re a wonderful daughter, an amazing person and the most gifted student I’ve ever known…and you just so happen to be a gynoid, in addition to all of those things. The point is, it’s not just the hardware or the software that makes you who you are…”

After a few seconds of silence, the brunette gynoid was able to smile. “I get it. Thanks for the pep talk, Dad.”

“Any time, honey,” Ted assured her. “After all, it’s my duty as a father to instill a sense of well-being---“

Vicki laughed. “Who’s going overboard now?” she giggled. “Seriously, though….thanks. For everything.”

Ted smiled warmly at her. “You’re welcome, sweetie…and you know you can always call me if you have any other problems, or even if you just get bored and want to talk about stuff…” A noise in the background caught his attention; “Sorry, hun, but I’ve got to go,” he apologized. “Tell’s bringing a new client in for a consultation; it’s kind of important---“

“Totally understandable,” Vicki replied. “Talk to you later, Dad…” She kissed her fingers and touched them to the screen.

The gesture earned her another smile from Ted. “I look forward to it. Bye for now!” With that, the live webcam feed from the Lawson Robotics building winked out.

“I see you’ve conquered your demons.”

Vicki didn’t freak out as much as she’d expected herself to when the Man in Grey spoke. “I didn’t really have to conquer any demons,” she admitted. “Apparently, all that anger that drove me on was just part of what makes me more like everyone else…at least, that’s what Dad told me.” She sighed. “I just wish I’d been able to stop myself before Oberon had to come in and pull me off that last fembot…d’you think---“ She turned around just in time to see the Man walk out. “Never mind,” she sulked. She sighed and stared at the floor; “So much for an intelligent conversation…”

“Says who?” Gowan called out, grinning as he entered the room with Ricky Phillips in tow. Their entrance was somewhat perturbing to the brunette gynoid; “How much did you hear?” she asked. “You should ask how much we saw,” Ricky informed her, “and we happened to see that brawl you got into with those five robo-chicks….pretty hardcore stuff, by the way.”

As her eyes widened in shock, Vicki asked the only question she could think of: “So…you know…?”

“We know that you’re not just a typical Valley Girl,” Gowan replied, “and we also know that no ordinary human being could’ve torn the limbs off of those…fembots, I guess you could call them.” He winked. “And before you ask, Tommy, James and Todd were in the bathroom, and they missed the whole thing.”

A relieved sigh escaped Vicki’s lips. “Please tell me you’re not going to tell them…or anyone else.”

“As long as you promise not to go all Terminator on any of us,” Ricky began, only for Gowan to elbow him in the side. “We won’t tell them,” the Canadian singer promised Vicki, “and you have my word that no mention of this will be made on any of our Facebook pages, or on Twitter, or on anything of that sort---the members of Styx actually respect the privacy of those we come into contact with, unlike those idiots who get paid to stalk celebrities with cameras…but that’s another story for another day.”

“Thanks,” Vicki replied with a smile. “Y’know, I’ve been listening to your solo work ever since my dad bought me a few of your CDs, and it’s some pretty cool stuff---I especially like ‘Moonlight Desires’.” She sighed; “I just wish they’d have played it at my prom…”

“You and about half the people who’ve only heard it on the radio,” Gowan chuckled.

A shout from down the hall prompted Ricky to yell something to the effect of “We’ll be there in a minute”; “That was probably Tommy,” Gowan sighed. “I guess we’d better get moving, unless Tommy feels like seeing how well the janitor can do trying to belt out ‘Come Sail Away’ in front of a packed house tomorrow night…” The brunette gynoid could see the twinkle in his eye as he waved at her; “See you in the audience tomorrow night, I hope.” He smiled and set off down the hallway half-singing, half-humming his hit song, “(You’re A) Strange Animal”.

Vicki couldn’t help but grin; “I’m starting to get why Anton doesn’t mind being mistaken for him,” she mused.

“….and all seven shots hit her?”

“Two to the face, one to the arm and three to the torso,” Oberon informed Tell. “If there’d been one less shot, or if they’d all hit her in the limbs or even the face, she’d still be here with us…” He glanced down at Capri’s broken body, sighing sadly. “Instead, she’s effectively a corpse….but that’s not why I called you here.” He stared up at the 72-inch plasma TV screen mounted to the wall; “I called you to ask one simple question: Can you fix her?

The image of Tell on the TV sighed. “From what I’m seeing,” he admitted, “it’d take an absolute miracle just to get her up and running for an hour at a time….and I may be one of the best in the world at what I do, but I’m not a miracle worker.” He shook his head. “As much as I hate to say it….she’s gone.”

Oberon bowed his head.

“Hang on,” Tell muttered, frowning. “You said she got shot in the face….which parts of the face---“

“Her left eye and her right cheek.” Oberon looked up, a glimmer of hope breaking through his otherwise somber expression; “You think you can---“

“If you can salvage her PEP chip and her main processors, I might be able to whip up something…”

“Is this a 90% positive ‘might’, or a 75% positive ‘might’?”

“It’s a might might, and that’ll have to be enough for now.”

Despite the grim fact that Capri might not be able to be saved, Oberon allowed himself a grin. “It’s enough for me,” he quietly replied. “If I send you the PEP chip and her processors tonight, how soon can you begin working to fabricate a new core for her?”

“Probably as soon as I get them in the mail---if they’re intact.”

“Well, we’re about to find out…” Oberon circled the table and leaned over the wrecekd body of Capri, running his finger across her forehead; two seconds later, the entire top part of her head loosened with a hiss, allowing him access to the vital components. “You should be glad that TV doesn’t have olifactory transmission as an optional feature, Dave,” he mused. “The smell……eurgh…” He waved away the acrid vapors and peered inside of Capri’s head. “Personality Emulation Processor---good Lord.” He gasped. “Ah, Dave…you might want to look at this…” He gently pressed a button on the table’s handgrip, allowing him to pivot the entire structure to face the monitor as he eased Capri’s head upwards to give Tell a better view. “Holy mother of Macintosh,” the master mechanic gasped. “She’s from Aavyl?!”

“Looks like it,” Oberon replied. “I’ve heard a lot about them…they’ve patterned their customer service after Lawson Robotics, and their product catalog won a few honors in the ALPA Consumer Awards back in ’08…but even I never knew Capri was one of theirs….” He smiled. “And considering who’s running Aavyl Cybernetics right now….she couldn’t have come from a better company.” He carefully extracted the chips, depositing them in an anti-static bag for transport to Tell’s workshop. “If all goes well,” he informed him, “you should be getting these chips tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll be looking forward to it,” Tell replied. “Want me to call Aavyl and have them send a new personality set for her, or what? I mean, she did get shot to pieces, and stuff…it might be best to wipe her memories, too, while I’m thinking about it.” Oberon sighed; “Starting from scratch will be more trouble than rebuilding her completely,” he murmured. “I’ll have Aavyl send over her old memory core as well.”

“You sure they’ll actually go for this?”

“Considering who’s in charge of the company,” Oberon replied, “they’d be fools if they didn’t.”

Friday, January 7, 2011

“…and if you see anyone with anything that even remotely resembles a gun, you hold ‘em for questioning and confiscate the item,” Dennis told the Pavilion’s chief of security. “I do not want another incident like the one from Tuesday, understand?!”

The chief’s reply was less than inspiring: “What?”

Anton managed to edge his way into the discussion, holding one of the pistols that had killed Capri. “If anyone in the audience is carrying something like this,” he told the officer, “then take it from them as soon as possible and have it locked away in a safe place.” The security chief nodded and passed the instructions on to the rest of his crew; “Sometimes it pays to keep it simple,” Anton reminded Dennis. “Otherwise, nobody has any idea what you’re talking about…”

“I’m just glad we didn’t have any problems during last night’s performance at the Shoreline,” Dennis replied; the Starlet Dolls and Styx had gone to Mountain View the previous night to perform at the famous Shoreline Ampitheatre, and the gig had been flawless. “Think we can pull it off again tonight?”

“Something tells me you won’t have a problem with that,” Anton chuckled.

Out on the stage, the Starlet Dolls were wowing the crowd once again, launching into the “Electric Child” setlist without incident. As the lighting changed to herald the start of the next song, Sophia’s confident smile never wavered in the face of the chanting crowd; a quick “one, two, three, four” from Toni Tesla kicked off the next song from the album, the cheers of “SOPHIE SHOCK!” and “STARLET DOLLS FOREVER!” somehow adding to the already frenetic onstage energy….

SHOW ME YOUR BEST [DIGITAL LOVE] (© 2012 DollSpace) Show me your best - I'll put you to the test I know that you want me, you want my love Show me you’re (the) best - cause I'm better than the rest I know that you want me, I'm your digital love

Since I came into your life, I've been your obsession I've cast my spell on you The love for me you're feeling, started up my heartbeat And it's beating proud and true You let me see, the soul inside me So come back home, you set me free

Show me your best - I'll put you to the test I know that you want me, you want my love Show me you’re (the) best - cause I'm better than the rest I know that you want me, I'm your digital love

Since you let me in your heart - it's been so amazing I can't believe what you do Just the touch of your hand, your smiling face Can turn a cloudy, grey day blue Bring back to me, all that ecstasy So come back home, you set me free

Show me your best - I'll put you to the test I know that you want me, you want my love Show me you’re (the) best - cause I'm better than the rest I know that you want me, I'm your digital love

When the sun rises each morning It feels like it's risen only for me And the stars in the evening sky Are little lights of destiny Now you're coming home to me...

Show me your best - I'll put you to the test I know that you want me, you want my love Show me you’re (the) best - cause I'm better than the rest I know that you want me, I'm your digital love Show me your best - I'll put you to the test I know that you want me, you want my love Show me you’re (the) best - cause I'm better than the rest I know that you want me, I'm your digital love

In the upper level of the Pavilion, Boris Vlatko frantically keyed instructions into the kitbashed controller he’d brought to ensure absolute mastery over his seven newest fembots. “This time,” he muttered, “they will obey only ME….and any interloper who tries to stop them will be punished to the fullest extent!”

Victor Vega fought the urge to kick Vlatko in the head. “You’ve been saying that all day,” he muttered.

“DO NOT START WITH ME!” Vlatko shouted. “I have not slept for four nights straight…I was forced to miss the show in Mountain View last night…. “ He almost fell into his chair. “I didn’t even have time to give the replacement fembots full personalities, or even names,” he moaned. “They only have the mission-specific programming the Baron sent….” The Russian roboticist stared up at the ceiling, already feeling as if the entire affair was a complete failure.

“You didn’t even take the time to give them their own personalities?” Vega mused, frowning. “You could’ve at least given them a few of the placeholders…that would’ve allowed them to blend in with the crowd somewhat, moving and swaying with the music---instead of just standing there like statues.”

Vlatko scoffed at his colleague’s assessment of the situation. “You have no appreciation for the subtlty of my plan,” he boasted, “even if I did have to stay up for two nights in a row to come up with it.” He smiled his best “evil genius” smile; “This time, the fembots will not even have to bother with all of this nonsense about shooting to kill….all they will need to do is abduct Sophia Starlet from the stage, and we will hold her for ransom---with the entire HP Pavilion watching!”

The strategy didn’t exactly impress Vega. “Abduct her from the…..have you gone insane, Vlatko?!”

“Far from it! As soon as the crowd sees their precious Starlet snatched away before their very eyes, they will flock to save her from her abductors---“

“If they don’t tear her ‘abductors’ apart before they can leave the building with her!” Vega thundered. “What the hell were you thinking when you came up with this ‘plan’ of yours, Vlatko---or were you completely inebriated whenever that formless lump of gray matter you call a brain vomited this congealed lump of stupidity you so charitably call a ‘plan’---“

“SHUT UP!” Vlatko bellowed, jumping across the table to throttle Vega where he stood.

Across the room, Stacy Tanque and the few operatives McMire hadn’t told to return home watched Vega and Vlatko fight with a certain sense of unease. They’d been told to not interfere with anyone else working at the Pavilion, with promises of swift vengeance against anyone who decided to ignore the orders…but now, as the Baron’s two flunkies punching each other, Stacy couldn’t help but shake the bad feeling in her gut….

Not all that surprising, considering what was happening on the arena floor..

“You have got to be kidding me!” Vicki groaned. “They’re not even trying to be subtle this time…..”

The seven fembots making their way towards the stage weren’t exactly going out of their way to disguise their intentions; as the Starlet Dolls began playing the next song on the set list, the fembots methodically began pushing, shoving and elbowing their way through the crowd, just to get to the stage. “Looks like another busy night for me,” the brunette gynoid mused, giving a determined nod as she set off into the audience to intercept the fembots before they could try anything…

OF MY KIND (© 2012 DollSpace) Skin so real Eyes so bright Hair so soft Step so light No imperfection Escapes detection

Others say your soul is empty But I know your heart is warm You're no less human Just because you were never born If you had nerves instead of wires No computer but a mind You wouldn't be the one I love You wouldn't be of my kind

“What the hell?!”

Tommy Shaw’s muttered curse caught Anton Malvineous’ attention just in time for him to run to the edge of the backstage area. “That Lawson girl looks like she’s about to go kick someone’s head in,” JY muttered. “Think we should get venue security on this, or---“

“That won’t be necessary,” Anton assured him. “Vicki’s just making sure nobody tries to interrupt the concert with any….spontaneous displays of violence.”

Voice so sweet Touch so fine Deep in soul Heart and mind No imperfection Escapes detection

Others say your soul is empty But I know your heart is warm You're no less human Just because you were never born If you had nerves instead of wires No computer but a mind You wouldn't be the one I love You wouldn't be of my kind

As Vicki dodged and weaved her way through the crowd, she was relieved to see that the newest group of fembots wasn’t armed to the teeth….but they could still easily outmatch Sophia if they got to the stage. As much as I hate to do this, she realized, I may need to interrupt the show somehow….

The fembots edged their way closer to the stage, not caring who---or what---stood in their way.

[beep] I am a robot programmed to love I am an android programmed to feel [beep] I am a robot A machine with a soul I am an android {android} (echo) And I am real

Others say your soul is empty But I know your heart is warm You're no less human Just because you were never born If you had nerves instead of wires No computer but a mind You wouldn't be the one I love You wouldn't be of my kind You wouldn't be of my kind..my kind...my kind...my kind [repeat malfunction loop]

As Sophia backed away from the mic, her coreographed head-twitches and shoulder spasms making it appear that she was malfunctioning (Anton had helped coach her on how to not overdo it with the twitching), the fembots were literally an arm’s length away from the stage. Upon the command sent from Vlatko’s wireless controller, all seven grabbed onto the stage and prepared to hoist themselves up---

“I don’t think so!”

The fembot on the far left---a blonde Caucasian in a nondescript t-shirt, jeans and sneakers---turned a fraction of a second too late to see her hands being tied together with unbreakable nylon cuffs. The crowd’s still here, Vicki reminded herself, so I can’t go for the “tear ‘em apart” approach this time… Without hesitating, she clambored up onto the stage and scanned the area; five of the remaining fembots were positioned to stop the Starlet Dolls from interfering in whatever it was they were about to do, while the other one was going straight for Sophia herself.

Right….time to give myself a bit of an edge…

With Dennis on standby behind the stage, Vicki backed away carefully, only to “trip” over a cord; in actuality, the move was perfectly timed to allow her to activate a hidden trigger for the fog machines, which kicked on in perfect unison to throw up a veritable curtain of smoke between the audience and the stage.

With a smile, Vicki steadied herself---if I can keep myself from going nuts, this might actually be fun.

The brunette gynoid grabbed a length of wire and fashioned it into a makeshift lasso, which she then used to hogtie a pair of fembots as they threatened Toni Tesla and Allison Amp. “Thanks for the save!” Toni called out, grinning and giving Vicki a thumbs-up. Before Vicki could reply, she heard a scream coming from Luna Lightning’s corner of the stage---the fembot that had been menacing her had grabbed her keyboard, and was about to bash Luna over the head with it. Knowing that the fog machines wouldn’t be able to keep the audience out of the loop all night, Vicki ran for Luna’s side of the stage, taking down the fembot with a flying jump-kick that would’ve made Bruce Lee proud.

Kara Current and Violet Volt helped drag the defeated fembots off stage; “Well, that’s three out of the five taken care of,” Vicki mused. “Now to find the other three---“ A raven-haired fembot in a tank-top, miniskirt and flip-flops landed at her feet, stuttering and twitching---probably due to the microphone that had been driven through her forehead.

“She was trying to grab me,” Sophia murmured, “and….well, I didn’t want anyone to get hurt…”

A scream from the other side of the stage immediately shattered the pigtailed gynoid’s hopes that nobody had been hurt. “That sounded like Zelda!” Vicki gasped. “We got all of the other fembots, didn’t we?!” She took a quick look around the stage---four of the fembots had been defeated, but the remaining two were savagely attacking Zelda Zap and Joanna Jolt.

“Stay here,” V.I.C.I. ordered. “I don’t want them attacking anyone else…”

Without waiting for so much as a “yes” from the Starlet Dolls, she charged across the stage and grabbed the closest fembot, a slender Japanese girl in a spandex jumpsuit, in a bearhug. “You’re supposed to wait until after the show to get their autographs,” she taunted, bending backwards and suplexing the fembot into the stage with relative ease. The impact jarred the Asian fembot’s faceplate loose, and she collapsed wordlessly as her “sister” continued menacing Joanna and Zelda. “Your turn,” V.I.C.I. intoned, striding towards the fembot with every intent to piledrive her into the floor if it would keep her away from The Charge---

---but the fembot had other plans.

Without even looking back at her pursuer, the svelte, Nordic beauty sprinted towards the backstage exit. “Oh, no you don’t!” V.I.C.I. declared, stopping only to tell the Starlet Dolls to get the Asian fembot off the stage. “If the audience sees her without her faceplate, they might get suspicious,” she warned them, “so make sure that she has it on when you get her out of here.”

“What about you?” Kara began, only to be held back by Sophia.

“I’ll be taking down the last of the fembots,” the brunette gynoid replied, before noticing Zelda twitching uncontrollably in her seat. “What happened?” she asked, slipping back to her human voice.

“I…I got-got-got hit inininininininin <ZZT>” Her head snapped to the left before returning to normal. “I got hit in the torso <zzt> hit in the torso <zzt> hitinthetorso <zzt> inthetorso <zzt> “ Vicki winced; Zelda hadn’t just been hit in the torso---one of the fembots had stabbed her in the gut with one of Toni’s drumsticks. Her arm had taken a beating as well, with a half dollar-sized hole in her elbow showing off the complex array of wiring, servos and other mechanisms that allowed her to move. “We need to get her out of here,” Joanna hissed, “before some idiot with a smartphone gets a picture of this---“

A low rumbling in the audience, followed soon after by swearing, cut her off---apparently, everyone’s phones, cameras and other consumer electronics had just been bricked. I’ll bet $10 that Anton had something to do with that, the brunette gynoid realized with a smile. Out loud, she instructed Joanna to stay with Zelda and help the other Dolls bring her to the “triage” area backstage.

“And what will you be doing?” Joanna asked, her voice cold.

“I’ll be chasing after that fembot,” V.I.C.I. replied, “making sure she doesn’t get away.”

After a second’s pause, Joanna nodded. “Then go.”

V.I.C.I. became a crimson-and-white blur as she hurtled through the backstage corridors, her internal inertial compensators giving her just enough control to avoid plowing through the multitude of objects (and people) most commonly found backstage. Within seconds, she found herself in the Pavilion’s concourse, catching up to the fembot as she tried to get into an elevator.


The timbre of her voice (combined with a few subtle frequencies that would only catch the fembot’s attention) instantly allowed Vicki to divert the fembot’s gaze from the elevator. “You and I need to talk…”

She took a step forward---just as the elevator doors pinged open.

Oh, scrap! There was almost no way for Vicki to get the fembot away from the elevator without drawing any attention to herself (her earlier shout had been lost in the general yells of the crowd despite its desired effect on the fembot), and it would take her too long to run up the stairs, even with her myogel-assisted speed….

The fembot gave her a contemptuous smirk and stepped into the elevator.

Seconds later, she was shoved back out; “IF YOU WANT SOME CHIMICHANGAS,” a loud voice from inside the elevator shouted, “GO GET YOUR OWN! THESE ARE MINE!” Just as the elevator doors closed, a “new message” notification popped up in Vicki’s field of vision. “What the….” She blinked to open the message, somewhat amused by the logo---a red circle with a black one inside, bisected with a red vertical line, and two white half-circles on inside the black one, on either side of the line---as she read the note she’d just been sent: “Heard you might be comin’ this way, so I figured I’d use my second cameo in this series to keep this stupid robo-bimbo from getting away. You’re welcome, and remember to buy my videogame in 2013! Signed, DP. PS: Any chance you can get the guy writing this stuff to give me a bigger role in the next story? Hell, I’d even settle for a role in the RP! Oh, and ya might want to get Dukey boy to think about posting the stuff that got cut from this story as 'deleted scenes' or somethin' later on..... :mrgreen: ”

“Okay, that was just weird,” Vicki muttered, blinking again to close the message. “Still, as long as she’s not getting away….” Her confused expression melted into a smirk as she beheld the panicking fembot; clearly, this wasn’t part of her plans.

“And the chase goes on,” she monotoned, chuckling as she set off after the fembot.

The path of the chase led the two all the way through the concourse of the Pavilion, occasionally weaving in and out of restaurants like the Ice Bar, Sweet Spot and Grill Works as they made their way towards the Santa Clara Street exit of the building. Oddly enough, the fembot was beginning to lose power as she kept running further away from the elevator---whoever’s controlling her was probably waiting on the upper level of the Pavilion, the brunette gynoid realized. Knowing that there was another elevator near the Santa Clara Street exit, she vowed to cut the fembot off before she could make it that far.

Looks like it’s time for us to get a little up close and personal…

Vicki and the fembot managed to make it all the way to the restroom near Togo’s---close enough to make her think she still has a chance, but far away enough for me to let her run her battery out… As the fembot, by this point almost dead on her feet, staggered into the restroom, Vicki followed her in, knowing that only one of them would be leaving. Her body language and stance as she entered conveyed an unmistakable sense of purpose to the women currently using the restroom---they managed to finish their business as quickly as possible and exit without trying to provoke either Vicki or the knackered fembot.

As the door closed behind the last of the women to leave, Vicki sized up her opponent---power cell’s only got 25% left, her internal inhibitors have all been deactivated….looks like this one’s going to get crazy. With a sly grin, she struck a pose, allowing the fembot to think she had a snowball’s chance in hell against her.

Not surprisingly, the fembot jumped at the opportunity.

Her opening move---a wild haymaker meant to disorient (and possibly decapitate)---fell short of its intended target, giving Vicki just enough space to counter with an elbow to the fembot’s neck. As she tried to recover from the attack, the Nordic fembot managed to stumble right into a sink---destroying it completely.

“Just so you know,” V.I.C.I. informed her, dodging a rather clumsy kick, “I’m not paying for that.”

The fembot took the remark as an insult and tried to spear the brunette gynoid into a trash can, only to stumble and send herself head-first into a wall. Remember, V.I.C.I. reminded herself, stay calm….don’t try to rip her limb from limb or anything; you don’t have Oberon to stop you this time. She let the Nordic fembot recover, only to sidestep and dodge a wild punch---which ended up connecting to the hand-drying machine mounted on the wall…..

….with rather spectacular results.

Every inch of the blonde fembot’s frame convulsed as her spasming fingers tore further into the hand-dryer, sending excess electricity through her system and overloading her already failing components. “Ouch,” Vicki winced, “that just looks painful….”

Somehow, the fembot pulled her fist---or what was left of it---out of the hand dryer, staring at the blackened, charred lump that used to be her hand with a somewhat bewildered look on her face. Her expression, formerly one of mere curiosity, now looked like a sneer crossed with half a scream (with just a bit of the People’s Eyebrow thrown in for good measure), and her entire body was convulsing as her power cell tried (and failed) to compensate for the unwanted voltage coursing through her body.

“Normally, I’d feel a little sorry for you,” Vicki admitted, “but since you almost wrecked Zelda back there….”

Her eyes narrowed to slits. “I guess I can let myself get a little carried away.”

She grabbed the fembot and lifted her over her head with both hands; “Let’s see….where can we put you so you won’t be in everyone else’s way---“ The fembot’s arm smacked her in the face, causing her to flinch and drop her foe. “Okay, that one was mostly my fault,” V.I.C.I. admitted, “but you really shouldn’t have hit me in the face like that.” She dodged another punch (and resisted the urge to pull a “You Can’t See Me”), but nearly tripped as she backed away from the still-swinging fembot. “Okay, take it easy!” she called out, switching back to her human voice to try and appeal to whatever sense of compassion the Nordic fembot may have had. “I was just kidding about the ‘where can we put you thing’---“

The fembot’s fist smashed her in the face; the impact, combined with the blank, unseeing stare in her eyes, clued Vicki into what had already doomed her---even before she’d been pushed out of the elevator.

Let’s see if that InocuLAN thing works as well for me as it did for Jessica…. She stared at the fembot, not surprised at the lack of technical information such as a name, date of birth or any of the other niceties---she was made as a disposable assassin, she realized, nothing more, nothing less---

One particular piece of info caught her eye---and drew her wrath. Vlatko…

Even worse than the Russian roboticist’s name, however, was the laundry list of system errors that had begun to appear in the InocuLAN window---servo failures, memory buffer overloads, data allocation tables becoming corrupted….all of it was pointing to one very likely cause.

“Stylo,” Vicki muttered.

Almost as if they were on cue, the lights in the restroom flickered out (probably a residual effect of the overload from the hand-dryer, Vicki realized), illuminating the doomed fembot in a flickering, stacatto series of strobing lights that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Japanese horror film. She staggered, arms outstretched, towards her prey---unaware that this “prey” happened to have a defensive measure that would keep even a Stylo-infected ‘bot at bay….

“Open wide and say ‘ah’!” Vicki shouted, smashing her Detaining Grip-charged palm into the fembot’s face.

That final burst of electricity effectively ended the infected fembot’s existence---and knocked off her head---but the Stylo virus had already compensated for that potentiality. The decapitated body of the fembot now lurched forward, still hoping to grab Vicki by the throat and strangle the life out of her---except it had no way of seeing her, now that its visual sensors were getting a nice view of the floor. As the Nordic fembot’s body continued marching towards Vicki, it tripped over its own head, falling forward---and knocking Vicki to the floor in the process. “HEY! GET OFF---“ She managed to crawl away from the fembot’s grasp, but it was now in full-on Terminator mode---even without its head, the doomed fembot was still inching its way along the floor, hoping to find and destroy the one who had sealed its fate.

“Okay, this is getting really, REALLY annoying,” Vicki shouted, kicking at the still-crawling body of the fembot as it grabbed at her ankles. “Either get off of me or---actually, forget the ‘or’, and just get off of me!” Not surprisingly, the fembot refused to obey her---choosing instead to grab her shoe.

“HEY! I just got that two months ago---LET GO!” She tried to kick at the still-grasping hands, but found that her attacks were striking exactly where the fembot’s head would have been, had it not been knocked off by Vicki’s palm strike a few minutes earlier. I’m actually kind of glad nobody’s in here right now, she mused, because if I had to hear anyone going on about how “Hindsight’s always 20/20”, I’d probably scream… She managed to free her foot from the shoe and crawl under the door of a nearby stall, leaving the fembot to grab at the air where her other leg had been. As she managed to press herself into the farthest corner of the stall away from the door, the brunette gynoid decided that it was time for a change of tack…

Okay, time to regroup. I’ve knocked her head off, so she can’t see or hear me….she’s managed to take my shoe---which I WILL be getting back---but nothing else…and there’s nobody else in the bathroom---

The sound of something being broken with a clubbing blow caught Vicki’s attention---and outside the stall, the headless fembot’s flailing arms were tearing the restroom apart. Three more sinks were smashed to bits, and the mirror that lined the wall above them shattered as the fembot tripped again and fell right into it, breaking it with both fists. And I thought she was destructive when her head was attached…if someone doesn’t get in here and stop her, she’ll trash the whole bathroom!

As soon as the thought occurred to her, Vicki heard the restroom door open.

“Damn,” a male voice uttered, “she trashed this place pretty good! Think we should do like the boss said and just get her out of here, or---“

“Whaddaya mean, ‘like the boss said’?” a second voice countered.

“You know….Vlatko---“

“Boris Vlatko ain’t the boss o’me, and he ain’t the boss o’you, either. When the hell are ya gonna get it through that thick skull’a yours, man?! We work for Victor Vega and Brittney Delacroix, not some Russian moron with anger management issues.”

“Vlatko’s the one who got us outta tha joint, Sinclair---and I ain’t goin’ back to prison just ‘cause you---“

“’cause I what, Dalton?! Saved your ass for the fiftieth time?! You and I both know that we can’t trust Vlatko farther than we can throw ‘im, and if you got a problem with that, then you can haul her to the elevator yourself, ‘cuz I’m not helpin’!”

Despite the fact that she desperately wanted to bust out of the stall and bash the idiots’ heads together, Vicki kept her cool and waited. She’d read reports on the two bodyguards---both were ex-MMA fighters, and had no problem beating up women to keep themselves from being caught, but they’d snitched on Victor Vega after the Falken incident and managed to get a reduced sentence. While they weren’t known for having the highest of I.Q.s or being totally loyal to their employers, they had proven to be more than capable of fighting their way out of tight spots….and, of course, there’s the fact that they’re currently on Vega’s payroll….

Unaware of Vicki’s presence, Dalton picked up the fembot’s head while Sinclair hoisted the now motionless body over his shoulders. “At least Vlatko pays more,” Dalton muttered. “I mean, Vega’s last check didn’t even cover my rent….stupid thing bounced when I went to go cash it in! I’m tellin’ ya, Sinclair, we need to work for Vlatko---“

“You need to shut your fat mouth!” Sinclair growled.

“Says you and what army?!”

Before the two could start fighting, both men felt a strange tingling sensation on their necks…followed soon after by a sudden loss of consciousness. “Take five, boys,” V.I.C.I. deadpanned. “I’ll handle it from here, seeing as how you two obviously need a breather.” She grinned and moved to pick up the defeated fembot’s remains---

“If you would be so kind as to step away from the robot, Miss Lawson, I would greatly appreciate it.”

Vicki flinched as she heard the voice that had told her to lay down on the floor in the HP Pavilion’s control room only a week ago. “I’m guessing you didn’t learn your lesson last time,” she began, looking up---

“Unless you wish to have your eyes shot out, you will turn and face the rear wall of the restroom now, Miss Lawson. I will not hesitate to blind you on the off chance that you refuse to obey me, so it would be in both our best interests for you to follow my instructions…and I also suggest that you cease all attempts to ‘stall’ me until your friends arrive---because the only thing they will find in this room when and if they get here will be you, in a smoking heap on the floor.” A quiet cli-clink sound right next to her ear informed the brunette gynoid that a Luger was being pointed at her head. “Now, Miss Lawson…I am on a tight schedule, and any further delays will only end badly for you.”

“Fine, I’ll face the stupid wall….” Vicki stood up and stared at the far wall. “Now what---“

“Actually, I would prefer it if you were standing right against the wall, with your palms flat against it…it would make it rather difficult for you to simply turn around and give chase as soon as I was out of the room.” The barrel of the Luger pressed against her back; “Walk to the far wall and put your palms against it. Do not attempt to turn around or make any sudden movements, or I will shoot you in the spine.”

Stifling an angry growl, Vicki did as she was told and walked across the bathroom to the far wall. “Any other requests?” she muttered.

“At the moment, no. In fact, while you’re facing the wall, feel free to ask me any questions you may have, and I promise to answer them as truthfully as I can.” A strange, low sound---a sort of distorted chuckle---emanated from the voccoder. “You can even ask me about my reasons for killing those three men in the control room last December---“

“I already know about that,” Vicki shot back. “You killed them because they stole your research---“

“Not just any research, Miss Lawson….they stole very important papers related to my studies of that most heinous affliction within the artificial humanoid community---the Stylo Virus. Your…superiors…contacted me with an offer of asylum if I were to create a cure for the virus….they promised me freedom from themselves, and from the Coalition, as long as I could give them exactly what they wanted.” Two other sets of footsteps interrupted the voice; they’re probably here to help get the busted fembot out of here, Vicki realized. “And why would they have promised freedom to someone like you?” she asked out loud.

“Unlike the Maestro, I am not so arrogant that I refuse to acknowledge my own failings…I am not immortal, Miss Lawson, and even if I escape those who would wish to kill me, my health is not exactly at its best. You already know about my triumph over bone cancer---that information was given to the ALPA without my concent, by the way---but my personal physicians have warned me that a relapse is not unlikely, due to some of my more….extreme life choices. Still, I intend to cure the Stylo virus before I die---because when and if my life ends before I create a cure….the cure dies with me.” Vicki gasped as the voice continued; “I would never trust a lesser mind with this knowledge…they would try to alter my theories to make the work easier for themselves, or run a test that could destroy the afflicted unit rather than the virus…far too many risks, for such delicate work.”

“Then just copy all the notes and give them to someone you can trust!” Vicki pleaded. “It can’t be that hard to find someone who won’t screw up your research, right? I mean, the ALPA has some of the best antivirus specialists on the planet---“

“The ALPA are nothing more than a collective of the most self-serving, effacious fools within the international robotics community, traipsing about as if they alone can save ‘their kind’ from the evils they themselves have wrought over the years! And the Coalition are no better---they merely admit that they prefer subservience to free will, though in truth, they would have all androids and gynoids be subjugated by humanity before humanity is subjugated by machines! Pompous toadies, favor-merchants and hypocrites, all of them!” A harsh clank punctuated the remark; the headless fembot had been loaded onto some sort of cart.

“And where does that leave you?” Vicki asked quietly. “Where, in the ‘big picture’, do you stand?”

Again, the strange chuckling sound. “Miss Lawson….I am standing exactly where I need to be.”

The three sets of footsteps---the one with the Luger, and the two who were operating the cart holding the broken fembot’s body---exited the restroom, leaving Vicki with her palms against the wall and her back to the door. Give them ninety seconds, and then go….

Ninety seconds later, she pushed off of the wall, turned mid-stride and ran for the door.

As she had expected, the Luger-toting, voccoder-voiced man and his allies were gone. The concourse was relatively empty as well; apparently, the Starlet Dolls’ concert had continued. “Well, at least some people are having a good time right now….” With an annoyed sigh, she made her way through the concourse to the main arena, entering through the road crew entrance. “I just hope they were able to fix Zelda,” she murmured, “otherwise…”

Halfway down the corridor, she stopped and looked into one of the dressing rooms; Katie Corr was packing a pair of notebooks into a duffel bag. “Ah, what happened after I left?” she asked.

“Nothing much,” Katie replied, packing another notebook into the bag. “We finished the show without any other problems….Styx let us borrow their drummer for one song, which was nice---he did a pretty nice duet with Toni, and the crowd loved it….” She looked up at Vicki. “I don’t think I’m going to stay with the band after this tour is over,” she informed the brunette gynoid.

The revelation stunned Vicki. “Wait, what?! You…you were getting along so well with them---“

“It’s nothing like that,” Katie assured her. “It’s just…those people, in the audience….they didn’t seem to be too concerned about Zelda after she got carried offstage. I mean, they were worried, but some of them were acting like it was just an equipment failure, instead of someone being hurt…” She stared at the floor. “I just can’t accept the fact that people know I’m not human, and that the rest of the band isn’t human…but they still think Sophie’s human. It’s…..” She sighed. “It’s just not right. They should like us for who we are, not what we are…..”

“But….you can’t just leave!” Vicki protested. “It’s---“

“I’m not leaving until after the tour,” Katie replied quietly. “Don’t tell the others…I don’t want them to think I’m abandoning them, or anything.”

Vicki wanted to feel angry, or to feel betrayed, or to feel…anything…but somehow, in the deepest recesses of her bubble memory processor, she understood that Katie had a point. “I won’t tell them,” she assured the redheaded gynoid. “I just….I hope that you can find whatever it is this band couldn’t give you when you go solo.” With that, she left the dressing room, allowing Katie to finish packing her things in silence. After what happened on stage earlier, she mused, I’d probably be thinking about leaving too, if I was in her place…it’s amazing that she didn’t freak out after Zelda got attacked. With a sad sigh, Vicki made her way to Sophia’s dressing room to get the full story about what had happened after she chased the final fembot offstage; I just hope she doesn’t decide to cancel the rest of the tour…or to break up the band…

Unfortunately for her, the fate of the Starlet Dolls was the least of her worries.

Monday, January 10, 2011

“….so we’re getting Exhibit Halls C and D for the concert? You’re sure? Thanks! Bye.” Dennis snapped his cellphone shut and sighed, the relief evident on his face. “The Santa Clara Convention Center is letting us set up for the gig in two of the exhibit halls on the first floor---AND we can also play a limited engagement concert in the theater on the second floor!” The Starlet Dolls (and Styx) were already on route to the Convention Center, having finished their latest gig at the HP Pavilion, and expectations were running high. Vicki, in particular, was worried about another attack on the band while they performed; she’d been studying various police handbooks (loaned to her from the ALPA central HQ library) and other tomes, apparently looking to find the most effective ways of neutralizing a hostile individual without injuring and/or killing them.

Tommy, in particular, found her reading choices somewhat odd. “You expectin’ to run into somebody’s private army at the Convention Center?” he quipped, strumming out a practice tune on his mandolin.

“I just don’t want to see Sophie get hurt,” the brunette gynoid replied. “After the stuff she’s had to deal with during the last few shows, the last thing I want to think about is some whackjob who wants to be famous for putting her in the emergency room….” She returned her attention to the LAPD manual, looking, for all intents and purposes, like she was trying to focus on studyng a diagram depicting a rather effective armbar. In reality, she didn’t even need the manuals---she already knew every move she could use by heart.

She was really trying to avoid thinking about her potential failure at keeping Sophia safe.

“We’ve got enough cops to hold off the Steelers,” JY assured her. “Anyone tries something funny, they’ll get their spine rearranged in a matter of seconds. And let’s not forget the fact that you’re on a bus with five guys on it who’ll be more than happy to beat the crap out of anyone who tries to hurt Sophie.” Vicki smiled at the remark, though she was somehwhat annoyed with the arrangement---she was only on Styx’s tour bus because Sophia had insisted that she’d be okay on her own during the ride to the Convention Center. “Seriously,” she muttered, “if I see anyone going up to the stage with anything other than a pen…”

Tommy and JY exchanged amused looks. “You’re sayin’ you’d take a bullet for her?” Tommy asked.

“I already locked up your paintball guns in the luggage compartment,” Vicki replied, “and I told the driver not to give you the spare key until after the concert, so you can forget about that little prank right now.”

JY nodded his approval. “She’s good.”

“Actually,” Tommy countered, “there’s somethin’ kinda wrong with that…our paintball guns are back in the hotel where we’re stayin’ between gigs….we don’t have ‘em on the bus. I didn’t want ‘em to get stolen from here during the show or anything…”

Vicki’s confident smile faded. “But…if the paintball guns aren’t in the luggage compartments,” she gasped, “then---“

The sound of machine gun fire ripped through the undercarriage of the bus.

A shout of “WHAT THE HELL?!” from the bathroom barely registered over the gunfire. Seconds later, Todd Sucherman stumbled out, looking incredibly pissed. “Who the hell’s setting off fireworks on the tour bus?!” he demanded, glaring at his bandmates. “Those weren’t fireworks,” Vicki informed him. “Someone planted a set of remote-trigger machine guns made to look like paintball guns---“ The sound of bursting rubber, followed by steel screeching against the pavement, drowned out her words. “Don’t tell me those things just took out a tire!” JY shouted.

Gowan’s silent assessment of the damage was more telling than any words could’ve been.

“Call the Starlet Dolls’ bus,” Vicki suggested. “Tell them to pull over so we can---“

The crunch of metal on metal cut off her sentence, as a massive RV decked out with the garish Club Vega logo slammed into Styx’s tour bus. “WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY DOING?!” Todd shouted. “Trying to run us off the road, so they can get to the Starlet Dolls!” Vicki shouted back. They’re probably the ones who put those guns with the rest of the luggage, she realized. Nice try, Vega….

Suddenly, the sound of screeching metal from the damaged tire stopped. “Did the wheel come off?” Tommy asked, looking out the window. “Tell me the wheel didn’t just come off…”

“It didn’t.”

Everyone on the bus was somewhat relieved to hear those words, but Vicki was almost crying tears of joy at the sound of the familiar voice. “Major?!”

“The same. Glad to see you’re still in one piece, Vicki.” A light thud sounded from the other side of the tour bus; “No need for alarm, people,” Major Tom’s voice assured the inhabitants of the bus. “That’s just the magnetic stabilizer connecting the bus to a stabilizing vehicle and keeping you fine folks from careening into the nearest ditch.” Indeed, a gleaming titanium-plated transport had pulled up alongside the bus and attached several magnetic supports to it. “If you could all remain calm and not try to swerve off the road or anything, we’ll get you all to the convention center in time to see the Dolls perform a song from their next album---“

A torrent of profanity burst forth from the Club Vega RV.

“Ooh, sorry, did I forget to mention that?” the Major taunted. “See, the bus in front of this one isn’t really the Starlet Dolls---“

Someone inside the Vega RV---specifically, Boris Vlatko---opened a hatch on the roof and emerged with a rocket launcher. With a Russian battle cry, he fired the launcher’s deadly payload at the bus in front of the Styx tour bus---revealing it to be nothing more than an empty, radio-controlled husk. His triumphant smile almost literally melted from his face; inside, Victor Vega was cursing in Spanish.

“…and, since we just got that on tape, you two will be spending the first month of the new year in Club Fed, complete with maximum security room service, 24-hour surveillance and all the anemities you can expect from a supermaximum prison paid for by your tax dollars.” Another vehicle pulled up along the Club Vega RV and herded it off the road to a safe parking spot. “Everyone okay in the Styx bus?” Major Tom asked.

“We’re doin’ pretty good,” Tommy replied, grinning. “Kinda miffed that we’re missing the gig, though…”

“No need to worry, Mr. Shaw---the Santa Clara Convention Center has reserved the 607-seat theater on the second floor for a special engagement concert tonight, with Styx and the Starlet Dolls co-headlining. Your fans will be more than willing to wait a few extra hours.” Tommy nodded approvingly; “As long as we get to perform onstage in front of all the people who paid good money to see us play, I don’t have a problem with it---and I think the rest of the band will agree with me. Right, guys?” JY, Todd, Gowan and Ricky all yelled various affirmatives. “There you go,” Tommy declared. “We’re all good.”

“Glad to hear it. How’re you holding up, Vicki?”

“I’m a little miffed,” the brunette gynoid admitted, “but I’ll get over it. I just wish I could see the Dolls perform this new song…..” She could almost sense the smile in Major Tom’s voice as he replied: “Just tune the TV to channel 4..you might like what’s on.”

After receiving an encouraging smile from Dennis, Vicki nodded and turned on the RV’s TV.

The screen blared to life, revealing the stage that had been set up in the Santa Clara Convention Center (with permission from the mayor, of course) and a crowd of chanting fans. Soon, the spotlight shone on the Starlet Dolls standing center-stage, with Sophia front-and-center, as they began to sing:

WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE (© 2012 DollSpace) (singing a cappella in harmony) Welcome to the dollhouse, welcome to the dollhouse We're not your average regular rockin' girls Welcome to the dollhouse, welcome to the dollhouse We're the finest technology in all the world We're the finest tech in all of the world

(beat comes in) We've come to take over the world of pop With our hot dance tracks and hard electric rock We leave nothing left standing after we pass by But the words in our songs make you jump and fly So we're coming to you to bring you our demands You better get the idea, you better understand So we're coming to bring you an invitation And you better accept, cause we own the whole nation

Welcome to the dollhouse, welcome to the dollhouse We're not your average regular rockin' girls Welcome to the dollhouse, welcome to the dollhouse We're the finest technology in all the world We're the finest tech in all of the world

We're the hottest group the world's ever seen And I dare you to tell if we're human or machine So now all the people we're gonna crash your party You're gonna go crazy, we're gonna get to everybody So we're coming to you to bring you all our demands And you better know what we mean cos we're in command

Welcome to the dollhouse, welcome to the dollhouse We're not your average regular rockin' girls Welcome to the dollhouse, welcome to the dollhouse We're the finest technology in all the world We're the finest tech in all of the world

(half shouted/half sung, a style popularised by Avril Lavigne) We've got Sophia Shock, who really likes to rock And Violet Volt, who'll give you quite a jolt Our Current Katie, who makes you crazy baby And we got Allison Amp, who can be quite the vamp Then there's Tesla Toni, she's the one and only And Luna Lightning, out of control and exciting Plus Joanna Jolt and Zelda Zap, come on and make your hands clap

(singing a cappella with claps) We're coming to bring you an invitation And you better accept, cause we own the whole nation We're coming to you to bring you all our demands And you better know what we mean cos we're in command In command...in command...in command...in comm... (electronic stutter gets interrupted by Sophia coming in with the chorus)

(band comes back in for the big finish) Welcome to the dollhouse, welcome to the dollhouse We're not your average regular rockin' girls Welcome to the dollhouse, welcome to the dollhouse We're the finest technology in all the world Welcome to the dollhouse, welcome to the dollhouse We're not your average regular rockin' girls Welcome to the dollhouse, welcome to the dollhouse We're the finest technology in all the world We're the most amazing technology in the world...(fade)

On the Styx tour bus, the entire band---plus Vicki and Dennis---were cheering enthusiastically along with the crowd. “Now THAT’S what I call music!” JY declared, nodding his approval of the Dolls. “Let’s see any of those so-called ‘Idols’ beat these girls!”

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,” Tommy stated, smiling broadly. “These girls kick ass!”

The tour bus slowed to a halt by the parked Club Vega RV; Victor Vega and Boris Vlatko had fled the vehicle as soon as the ALPA support team (who’d cleverly blacked out the logos on their cars to avoid confusing the members of Styx) stopped it, but Dalton, Sinclair, and several technicians were still inside when their ride came to a stop. “Well, too bad they won’t get to see the Dolls in concert any time soon,” Vicki quipped, grinning as Dalton and Sinclair were handcuffed together and hauled to the transport that would take them to the nearest prison.

“Vega and Vlatko probably won’t get to see ‘em either,” Major Tom informed her as he gracefully stepped out of the ALPA transport (though the “graceful” appearance was only to keep himself from falling on his face as the transport removed its magnetic anchors from the Styx tour bus). “If they’ve got any sense, they’ll be long gone before you guys reach the Center…” He smiled. “You look great, by the way,” he murmured.

“You’re not looking too bad yourself,” Vicki replied, grinning. “Where have you been?! You didn’t show up for Christmas, or anything…I haven’t seen you since the hazmat weirdo incident!”

The Major sighed; “I’ve been working as a security consultant at Aavyl Cybernetics---the company that built Capri---and they sent me out here to fill in for her while they build a new body for her,” he explained. “They’ll probably reinstall her original memory core, too….she hasn’t used it in a while, but---“

“Wait,” Vicki cut in, confused. “Her original memory core?”

“When she was still working as Dianne Isley’s handler,” Major Tom informed her, “she was still using the core she’d had installed when she was built. It contained her original, tranferred identity---at that time, she went by the name Ayla Bishop. Ayla was the first human ALPA operative to volunteer for a process developed by Dr. Elaine Dyson; essentially, her consciousness would be transferred to a gynoid body while her human body was kept in stasis at ALPA HQ. The transfer process was conducted without a hitch, but she decided not to follow Dr. Dyson’s advice about keeping her organic self in stasis. The two went on a few missions together, and everything went great….” He squeezed his eyes shut.

“…until something went wrong?” Vicki finished.

When Major Tom opened his eyes, they were brimming with tears. “Ayla lied about her physical health on the job application when she first signed up,” he muttered. “It turned out she had terminal cancer, and she was going to die before the end of the year…after her last mission with her gynoid self, she…” He stopped abruptly and wiped his eyes on his sleeve; Vicki put her arm around his shoulder, letting him work through the grief without interruption.

“Thanks,” he quietly replied.

“Any time,” Vicki murmured. “So after she…succumbed…”

“Dr. Dyson revised the procedure,” Tom replied, “and she’s still working on it. Currently, she’s had ideas about applicants for the procedure working with her to help refine the process, but it’s still being sorted out. As for Ayla’s gynoid self, she decided to have a new personality installed in her before taking on another partner…”

“I’m guessing ‘Capri’ came into being right around the time of Dianne Isley’s start in the ALPA,” Vicki mused.

Major Tom nodded. “When Dianne got incapacitated, Capri was one of the first ones to suggest that Lawson Robotics ‘rebuild’ Dianne as a gynoid---Dr. Dyson was still working on her own tech at the time---and the rest is history. “

Vicki’s intended remark was cut off by her cellphone ringing; “Oh, scrap,” she groaned. “The concert!”

“I’m guessing you’re going to need a ride,” Major Tom mused, grinning again. “Once the busted tire on Styx’s tour bus is replaced, I could escort you to the Convention Center---that is, of course, if the band doesn’t have a problem with it…” He glanced at Tommy and JY. “Any chance you two would want an armored escort to protect your bus from any further vehicular assaults on the way to the concert?” he called out. “I’ve got some free time now that we’ve caught these idiots…“ He gestuered at Dalton and Sinclair.

JY and Tommy grinned. “You got any sirens on that thing?” JY asked.

Thirty minutes later, Major Tom slid into the driver’s seat of the ALPA transport, grinning as he keyed on the LCD screen that allowed him to speak directly to the CEO of Aavyl Cybernetics. “I’m escorting Styx’s tour bus to the Center, just like you suggested,” he informed his employer. “I assume the Dolls had a great show?”

“You assumed correctly, Major. They’re everything I expected them to be…and then some.”

“Good. And Sophia?”

A brief pause… “My only regret is that she doesn’t know I’m still alive. Other than that, no problems.”

The Major nodded. “Understandable. Oh, and Miss Brindle?”

A giggle emanated from the speaker; “You can call me Harriet on the closed channel, you know…”

Her laughter brought a smile to the Major’s face. “Harriet…I have a feeling Sophia would be as proud of you as you are of her, if she knew you beat your cancer. I know for a fact that I’m proud of you…”

He could almost sense Harriet Brindle’s smile. “You’re not the only one, Major…”


Boris Vlatko’s rantings did nothing to soothe Victor Vega’s temper. “If you do not shut up, Vlatko,” he growled, “I am going to have Miss Delacroix rip your fillings out with her bare hands as soon as possible! We must stop this incessant whining and find shelter, or---“


The sentence ended as soon as Vega’s fist impacted Vlatko’s face. With an angry sigh, the Spanish billionaire pulled Vlatko’s cellphone from his pocket and called the emergency phone number the Baron had given him earlier; as much as he hated admitting defeat, this was the most definite case of an emergency that he could think of, and enduring the Baron’s wrath was a small price to pay for spending the night in an actual bed, rather than sleeping in a field. As the phone rang, Vega silently vowed that Vlatko would pay for his incompetence in full. First, however, he needed to shower, make a few more phone calls, and send for reinforcements….

“I have a feeling that this is going to be a long night,” he muttered, jabbing the phone’s keypad again.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

With the final concert of the Starlet Dolls’ Silicon Valley tour looming, and their sold-out shows at the Santa Clara Convention Center already proving to be among the best they’d done so far, the Dolls were honestly hoping for a break by the time they returned to the HP Pavilion…but before they could even get to the Pavilion, they received a rather large reminder that the last show of the tour was slated to be the biggest one yet.

“’Starlet Dolls Silicon Valley Tour Finale---at the Spartan Stadium’?!” Sophia read, her eyes wide. “’Tickets on sale now, get ‘em before they’re gone’---how the heck are we going to play the Stadium?! There’s no way we can have a backstage setup like we did at the Pavilion, or the Convention center, or even the Ampitheatre---if we play the Stadium next week, everyone in the audience is going to find out that I’m a gynoid by the end of the fourth song…” She buried her face in her hands and moaned. “Why did Dennis sign us up for this without asking me?!”

“Actually,” Vicki replied, “Anton’s been working on a setup to give you a ‘backstage’ area at the Stadium for a few weeks now, and it’s coming along pretty well. If it all works---“

“But what if it doesn’t work?!” Sophie insisted. “What if---“

She felt a hand on her shoulder. “The crowds at our other concerts didn’t care that we might have actually been robots,” Lilly Locke reminded her quietly, “and that song we did at the Convention Center, ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’, even referenced that…” She grinned’ “’ We're the hottest group the world's ever seen/And I dare you to tell if we're human or machine’,” she half-sang, half-whispered. “Ring any bells?”

The line prompted a smile from Sophie. “Well, when you put it that way…”

“I’m just glad those idiots didn’t try to wreck our last gig,” Allie stated. “If they’d have shown up and tried to grab me off the stage, or anything---“

“You’d have panicked and tripped over your own feet trying to get away from them,” Valerie finished.

“I wouldn’t have tripped!” Allie countered. “I probably would’ve…..”

Vicki sighed as the Dolls bickered. “So,” she mused, turning to see Katie Corr writing in her notebook, “d’you still plan to leave the band after next week’s show?”

“I’ve been thinking about that, actually,” Katie replied, “and to be honest, I actually like working with them…so I’m going to stay with them until August, and then I’ll make up my mind about it.” She chuckled; “I mean, they added me to the lyrics of ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’, so it’s not like I can just up and leave any time soon---if I did, the song wouldn’t make sense anymore! Besides,” she added, sounding a bit more serious, “I think they could use some of the songs I’ve written for the new album. ‘Electric Child’ is good, and all, but we’re gonna need to come up with new material soon---high-concept, science fiction rock operas are pretty cool, but doing every album in that style would probably get old after about the fourth or fifth take.”

“That makes sense,” Vicki agreed, nodding thoughtfully. “Well, at least the concert tonight will give you and the rest of the Dolls a chance to prepare for the Stadium show…you could even practice more tracks from the new album, if you want!”

Katie nodded. “I just hope it’ll all go off without a hitch,” she murmured.

“It will,” Vicki assured her. “Everything’ll work out fine in the end, and the crowd will love you even more than they already do.” She smiled. “Trust me, Katie…the Stadium show is going to be the biggest and best concert on the tour!”

“In that case,” Katie replied with a smile, “I’m definitely not going anywhere any time soon!”

“…and you are fully aware that an admission of your own failings will force you to face a punishment as harsh as that endured by Comrade Vlatko, correct?” The Baron’s voice hadn’t lost its ability to send a chill down the spine of Victor Vega, but the Spanish billionaire was not about to show any sign of weakness or fear in the face of his employer. “I know that part of the blame for our failing is to be placed on myself,” he replied, “but I also know that Comrade Vlatko’s faults are fare more prevalent in this matter---his refusal to follow my suggestions caused us to lose a gynoid AND waste valuable resources and time trying to get back on schedule!”

The Baron nodded thoughtfully at the remarks. “Truer words were never spoken, Señor Vega,” he drawled, swivelling his chair to observe Boris Vlatko screaming as he suffered under the unfeeling metal claws of a factory-issue automotive painting machine that had been retrofitted to serve as a torture chamber of sorts. “If Comrade Vlatko had bothered to listen, perhaps he would be in a far less hellish place than he is now…”

Vega couldn’t help but flinch as one of the unfeeling mechanical arms applied a blowtorch to the bare soles of his colleague’s feet; the bloodcurdling scream that issued forth afterwards was almost too painful to hear….

“You will have full command of Vlatko’s remaining fembots,” the Baron informed Vega, “and access to any and all weapons, equipment and resources you may need to end the career---and life---of Sophia ‘Shock’ Starlet during the final concert of her Silicon Valley stadium tour. You will not be penalized or fined for using up any of these resources during this final phase of your mission, nor will you be subjected to the same punishments as Comrade Vlatko if you were to fail…” He steepled his fingers as another robot arm on the torture machine dragged an iron-toothed comb down the nape of Vlatko’s neck, drawing both blood and a shrieking yell that sounded as if it had escaped the bowels of Hell. “All of his usual contacts and other assorted aids will be yours for the keeping, should you succeed.”

“What about Elena?” Vega asked. “Why has she not stepped forward to take her husband’s place---“

“Elena Vlatko,” the Baron drawled, “is not the issue here, Señor Vega. The issue is Boris Vlatko’s continuing refusal to improve his standings within this organization. Elena will only show up to clean up the mess made by his…repeated failures---“ Another scream, this one sounding as if Vlatko’s nerve endings were on fire, rang through the room; the torturing machine had clamped a vice around his groin and was slowly tightening it.

Not even the usually-stoic Vega could bear to look at the Russian roboticist at that point.

Celine, the Baron’s omnipresent gynoid secretary, hadn’t moved from her spot on the left side of the desk. If he hadn’t known she was more than human, Vega might have easily assumed she’d been placed under heavy hypnosis, or perhaps brainwashed with mind-altering drugs. The simple truth of the matter was that she was on standby mode, trying to use as little power as she could without actually shutting herself down. Something about her made Vega wish to own her for himself; if Lauren ever intended to make good on her threats of moving out of the casa---


The intonation of his name brought Señor Vega out of his reverie. “Yes?” he mumbled.

“As I was saying before you…drifted off into the vast recesses of your thoughts, time is of the essence in this operation. We must move quickly to destroy Sophia ‘Shock’ and her worthless Dolls before the week is up; if we fail, she will no doubt have her friends in the ALPA trace our efforts and kick in the doors of my building to have us arrested…” He glanced at Vlatko, who was now free of the vice but being shocked by a multitude of tazers.

“You will not fail me, Señor Vega.” It was a statement, not a question.

Vega only nodded. No words were needed; he already knew the price if he failed….

…and death wasn’t even close to being the worst thing that awaited those who crossed the Baron.

The HP Pavilion was abuzz with activity, and for good reason---it was the Starlet Dolls’ last show at the venue before the Spartan Stadium gig, and everything had to be in perfect working order.

“Okay, reset that lighting rig and have it rotate by…ten degrees to the left,” Dennis called out to one of the stagehands. “Switch the pyro timers to the default standby configuration and have the crew ready to turn on the fog machines on my mark. DO NOT cue up any of the effects until you get the signal from me!” The stage hands responded with various affirmatives, and Dennis turned his attention to Sophie; “You all set?” he asked, sounding less commanding than he had towards the stagehands.

“Yeah,” the pigtailed gynoid admitted, “but….I’m actually kind of nervous…”

She felt a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “If all else fails,” Vicki suggested, “don’t bother with the ‘imagine the audience naked’ trick---I tried that once for an essay, and I nearly got an ‘F’ because I fell over laughing. If you get really, really nervous…..” She grinned. “No matter how many people are out there in the audience tonight, just forget about every single one of them when the lights go up, and imagine that I’m the only one out there in the audience. No matter how nervous you may feel, just forget about everyone else, and sing every song directly to me.” She nodded and clapped Sophie on the shoulders.

“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” Sophie replied, smiling.

A few minutes later, after the last of Styx’s instruments had been cleared from the stage, the Starlet Dolls were clear to perform their entire “Electric Child” setlist. “Cue lights on my mark,” Dennis instructed. “3…2…1…and NOW!”

The stage darkened and the fog machines kicked on, setting up for the first song on the album.

For the next 120 minutes, the Starlet Dolls wowed the crowd with every single track from “Electric Child”, and none of them wre interrupted by the likes of Victor Vega, Boris Vlatko or any of their stupid fembots. As “A Broken Girl (My Entire World)” faded out, the audience had flicked their Bics and were singing the chorus in a half-tearful, half-cheering voice. Vicki grinned at Dennis; “Well, I think they like her,” she shouted, her voice barely audible over the roar of the crowd. “They’ll like her even more after the next two songs,” Dennis assured her, as the Starlet Dolls began to play…

MASQUERADE (© 2012 DollSpace) My mind is dumb - the show is done There's nowhere left - for me to run My body's weak - and I can't speak I'm lost within - the fame I seek Hold me down, trapped in the fantasy Burn the fear away and set my spirit free

No need to wake me, cause there's nowhere you can take me Where I don't feel displayed No need to shake me, cause there's nowhere you can't break me But there's a future to be made So let's end this masquerade

I feel the rush - I feel the crush I'm slowly drowning - but I feel your touch I've broke my heart - I've fell apart But now I'm waiting - for the show to start Hold me close, don't let these feelings end I can't be bothered with playing pretend

No need to wake me, cause there's nowhere you can take me Where I don't feel displayed No need to shake me, cause there's nowhere you can't break me But there's a future to be made So let's end this masquerade

Feeling lost, then found... Cast down, on the ground... Feeling fear, in sound... My soul was locked, and bound... Then you saw in me, what I needed to be free

No need to wake me, cause there's nowhere you can take me Where I don't feel displayed No need to shake me, cause there's nowhere you can't break me But there's a future to be made So let's end this masquerade There's a future to be made Let's end this masquerade Let's end this masquerade

Yet again, the crowd was cheering their heads off---the entire story of the album had taken them on what could only be called an emotional roller-coaster ride, and they were ready to cheer as Sophia’s “character” (based on herself, with a few changes made for legal and licensing reasons) sang about “ending the masquerade”…but as the familiar opening of “Electric Child” kicked in, and the Starlet Dolls walked to the middle of the stage and took up their positions, the audience members all realized somethin: they were in for the most incredible---and emotional---song of the night.

ELECTRIC CHILD – "BELIEVE" VERSION (© 2012 DollSpace) Living in the fantasy Of the current reality I can't believe the things I see A program starts inside of me An evolution of the mind A solace I can finally find...

Electric child - I've got dreams to follow A healing heart - no longer fake and hollow Escaping lands of tears and sorrow And I can't wait to seize tomorrow I'm an electric child... (with a mind of my own)

Currents racing through my brain So many thoughts but none the same Interference from the skies Signal waves that mesmerise An evolution of the mind A solace I can finally find...

Electric child - I've got dreams to follow A healing heart - no longer fake and hollow Escaping lands of tears and sorrow And I can't wait to seize tomorrow I'm an electric child... (with a heart of my own)

Born within technology Through virtual reality

Press the button - turn me on Start me up - my mind may be gone But I'm not just yours just to command There's too much here for you to understand With an evolution of the mind A sentience I can finally find...

Electric child - I've got dreams to follow A healing heart - no longer fake and hollow Escaping lands of tears and sorrow And I can't wait to seize tomorrow Electric child - I've got dreams to follow A healing heart - no longer fake and hollow Escaping lands of tears and sorrow And I can't wait to seize tomorrow I'm an electric child... (with a soul of my own) Electric child... Electric child... Electric child…[echo]

As the words “Electric child” faded out, every single person in the bleachers of the HP Pavilion gave Sophia “Shock” Starlet and the Starlet Dolls a seven-minute standing ovation, cheering their lungs out for the band of gynoids and showing their full, undivided support. Sophie herself was smiling confidently as she took her bows, tears of joy streaming down her face. She turned around, already prepared to head backstage and recharge…

…only to watch, stunned beyond words, as Styx took the stage alongside the Starlet Dolls.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,” JY yelled, “GIVE IT UP, ONE MORE TIME, FOR THE STARLET DOLLS!” He gestured at Sophia, smiling broadly; Tommy clapped her on the shoulder and grinned. “This is one of the most talented girls we’ve ever had the pleasure of working with over the course of our careers,” he declared, “just like our good friend Lawrence Gowan is one of the best singers we’ve had working with us since the start of the last decade…so tonight, we’ve got a little surprise for y’all.” Despite the fact that the two bands had already rehearsed the “surprise” together, she was still amazed that Tommy and the others from Styx would actually go through with it; as he passed her the microphone, the pigtailed gynoid couldn’t help but laugh.

“Tonight,” she informed the crowd, “we’re going to perform one of Gowan’s greatest hits---and it’s a song I know well, because when I did a cover of it in December 2008 for my debut album, it was the first song I had other than ‘Green Lights’ to make a name for me on the charts…” She smiled at Gowan, who smiled back and nodded as the lights shone down on the rotating keyboard he’d hidden beneath a satin sheet. “This one goes out to all the lovers in the audience tonight,” Sophia declared. “You know it, you love it…” On cue, Todd Sucherman and Toni Tesla both counted off a “One, two, three” on their drumsticks.

With a signal from Sophia and Gowan, the Starlet Dolls and Styx began to play…..

MOONLIGHT DESIRES (© 1987Lawrence Gowan) You've got ways to take hold of my thoughts Over-riding my senses Lock your sights dead in line with my heart Share your powers….

You stir my soul and whet my hunger And weave that spell that pulls me under!

These moonlight desires haunt me They want me, they want me These moonlight desires haunt me You're sending, you're sending….

Secret fires burn inside me unknown Raging on, never mentioned Only you can uncover the flames Break their silence….

And make them dance for us to see them, And break their chains and give them freedom, oh

These moonlight desires haunt me They want me, they want me These moonlight desires haunt me You're sending, you're sending

A wave over my mind [wave over my mind] And I fall to it blind You say:

Trust me!

Stir my soul and whet my hunger And weave that spell that pulls me under

These moonlight desires Haunt me They want me, they want me These moonlight desires haunt me You're sending, you're sending A wave over my mind

Moonlight desires Your secret powers These moonlight desires haunt me They want me, they want me These moonlight desires haunt me You're sending, you're sending A wave over my mind Moonlight desires…

Vicki was almost beside herself as the crowd cheered louder than ever at the epic, two-band performance of the song; Sophie and Gowan managed to turn the song into a duet (with Gowan handling the first verses and Sophia singing the second bunch) only to unite in the chorus, as if they were singing to each other---backed, of course, by the full force of both their bands. The Charge proved to be excellent stand-ins for Jon Anderson (the lead singer of Yes, who had contributed the backup vocals to the original version of the song), and the twin instrumentals of the Starlet Dolls and Styx gave the song a fuller, richer sound than either Gowan or Sophia had ever been able to accomplish by themselves.

In short, it was the perfect way to close out the concert.

“THAT WAS INCREDIBLE!” Dennis shouted, nearly lifting Vicki off her feet as he hugged her. “This is…oh, my GOD, the concert next week is going to be epic!” Had any of them known just how epic the show was going to be, they may have dialed back the celebrations just a bit….especially considering the plans of a certain Spanish billionaire and his recently-acquired reinforcements….

“….and you are sure that they have been programmed exactly to my specifications?” Victor Vega looked over the seven fembots that stood before him with a certain sense of disdain---five were “backups” of those that had been lost during the failed attack on Sophia Starlet, and two were fresh off the assembly line---if Elena Vlatko’s claims were true. After the punishment imposed upon her husband, Elena had stepped up to take his place in the Baron’s grand scheme, knowing that she had as much to gain (and to lose) from the venture as Boris had.

With Vega watching her every move, Elena wasted no time assuring him that the fembots were, indeed, ready to obey him. “All necessary changes have been made to their programming, Señor Vega,” she assured the Spanish entrepeneur. “They will obey only you---or myself, should you become incapacitated. I always knew my husband was too stupid to lead this mission himself….” She stroked the arm of the nearest fembot, smiling as her fingers ran down the vinyl sleeve of her uniform (at the Baron’s insistance, the fembots had been kitted out in matching leather bodysuits). “Boris was never that good at conducting operations with any sense of subtlety,” she purred, circling the raised platform where the fembots stood. “He always favored a more…direct approach.”

Vega scoffed. “His ‘direct approach’ got us nowhere,” he replied. “If the Baron had not forced me to work with that fool---“

“That ‘fool’ still has occasional flashes of brilliance,” Elena reminded her colleauge, “and you would do very well to remember that, Señor Vega….unless you wish to share his fate.” She already knew that Boris would be spending the remainder of the month in hospital, thanks to his torture at the hands of the Baron. Part of her wanted to be offended on her husband’s behalf---despite his many shortcomings, Boris had given her some semblance of immortality by using the “borrowed” notes of Elaine Dyson and transferring her consciousness into an artificial form---but after losing six fembots (five confirmed destroyed, and one seized by an unknown individual or party) and going over the allotted budget for the mission, Boris Vlatko had effectively thrown himself at the torture machine by failing, time and again, to live up to the Baron’s expectations.

Elena would not make the same mistakes.

“I assume Boris had his own plans for our arrival at the Stadium,” Vega muttered, “and if so, I humbly suggest that you discard them immediately. He was responsible for the failures at the Pavilion, and I will not allow his incompetance to taint this final strike.” Elena scowled, glancing at a massive binder on a nearby table. “Boris had a full set of contingency plans to overcome any possible failures,” she informed Vega, “though most of them were rather….asinine….” She frowned as Vega thumbed through the folder and almost collapsed to the floor in laughter. “He actually planned on using these tactics within the Spartan Stadium?!” he gasped, rifling through the pages and dismissing each subsequent idea as absolutely worthless.

Various scenarios cycled through Elena’s processors, many of them involving the “accidental incapacitation” of Señor Victor Vega, and her subsequent rise to power within the Coalition. Such thoughts would’ve earned the gynoid a one-way trip to the scrap heap---while the Baron appreciated competition within the ranks, a blatant assassination attempt would look bad for everyone involved. “His behavior has been…erratic, as of late..”, she feebly admitted.

“Erratic behavior is no excuse for these ridiculous ideas,” Vega countered, regaining his composure. “Some of these plans are almost childish…trying to flood the Stadium with knockout gas?! Kidnapping random women off the streets and performing plastic surgery to turn them into body doubles of the Starlet Dolls?! These ideas are completely insane!” He threw the binder down contemptuously, watching as it tumbled off the desk into a conveniently-placed trash can. “Never in my life have I seen such incompetence committed to paper before,” he growled, ”especially by someone with a reputation as well-known as Boris Vlatko. We will be using one of my strategies for our entrance into the Spartan Stadium; Vlatko’s ridiculous plans can rot with the rest of this week’s garbage.”

As Vega continued his rants, Elena thought back to the previous year, when Sophia Starlet first became known to the Coalition. At the time, Vega had interrupted her planned lecture to the Baron and his underbosses; now, the fool was going to lead a full on assault against the singer….

“Vega,” she murmured, “should we really be doing this?”

The Spanish playboy turned to glare at her. “What did you just say?!”

“Sophia Starlet isn’t even a threat to the Coalition,” Elena murmured, “and for all we know, the Baron might just want us to be caught trying to harm her. She’s a singer, not a union leader or a corporate opponent---we have no business trying to interfere in her life!”

Vega’s reply was almost venomous: “Are you questioning the Baron, Elena?! Are you actually daring to ask if our actions are ‘right’, when the Baron has given us both more chances than we deserved?! I would have expected such a stupid question from Boris, but not from you….” His glare gave the impression that he was about to strike the gynoid across the face. “You disgust me,” he spat. “You and your stupid husband…both of you should have been shot years ago…“

“And you consider yourself a model employee?!” Elena shot back. “I could have convinced the Baron to sign off on fifteen new fembot manufacturing facilities last November, had it not been for your stupid outburst---“

The back of Vega’s hand struck her hard across the face, sending her sprawling to the floor.

“YOU LITTLE BITCH! You DARE to blame ME for your own failings?!” Without even stopping to give her time to get back up, Vega grabbed a wrench from the desk where the binder had been; “You are an insect in the grand scheme of things,” he hissed. “Compared to me, YOU ARE NOTHING!” He reared back and struck Elena across the head with the wrench, knocking her back to the floor as she struggled to stand up. “YOU ARE A WORTHLESS WASTE OF METAL AND PLASTIC!” Vega thundered, bashing the gynoid’s kneecaps with the wrench and spitting on her as she tried to crawl away. “I AM THE LAST OF THE VEGA BLOODLINE WITH KINGS’ BLOOD IN MY VEINS! YOU ARE BENEATH ME! I WILL NOT STAND BY AND ALLOW YOU TO RUIN EVERYTHING I HAVE WORKED FOR!” With each shout, the wrench descended to hit Elena again, striking her before she could crawl to safety beneath the nearby table.

After a full three minutes of abuse, Vega stood over Elena with a crazed look in his eyes. “Now…” he intoned, “you are finished---“

Something blasted the wrench out of his hand, then put another round in his back before he could even turn to face the shooter. As Elena watched, Vega sank to the floor without a sound, a tranquilizer dart sticking out from the space between his shoulderblades.

“Consider this my gift to you, Miss Vlatko,” a heavily digitized voice called from the doorway. “Señor Vega will be unconscious for at least two full hours; you should have more than enough time to call the Baron and tell him the full story of what has just transpired…or at least a version of the story ending with you overpowering Vega and fleeing for your life---“

“Who are you?” Elena asked, wincing as she returned to her feet. “Why did you help me?”

The voice chuckled. “The Baron tried to have me killed after I left the Coalition, beginning a cycle of violence that has consumed the organization ever since. I chose to intervene because I have grown tired of seeing individuals like yourself fearing for their lives…while failure should, indeed, be punished, the penalty should not be great enough to warrant self-doubt and paranoia amongst those such as yourselves. As for Señor Vega, his punishment will be fitting of his actions here…" Two black-clad individuals entered the room, grabbing Vega under the armpits and dragging him out. “I assure you that he will survive what is going to happen,” the voice informed Elena, “but you will have no reason to fear his reprisals ever again after today.”

Elena was stunned. “I….I don’t know what to say,” she murmured, kicking aside the fallen wrench that Vega had beaten her with. “Thank you….”

Behind his voccoder mask, McMire allowed himself a grin. “The pleasure was all mine, Miss Vlatko.”

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Baron was not happy.

“…and they found him wandering Palo Alto,” Celine informed him, “and he’d been stripped of his clothing, for some reason---sir? Are you---“

“Leave. Now.”

Celine wordlessly obeyed, backpedalling until she reached the door and then doing her best to not run. Rule #17 of Dealing With the Baron: NEVER show fear.

As he read the reports of Vega’s “disappearance” and “reappearance”, the Baron turned his attention to the security camera footage that clearly showed Vega savagely beating Elena Vlatko with a wrench two days before he was found, naked and drugged, stumbling through the backstreets of Palo Alto. Anyone else would have found it odd that the footage cut out right when Vega raised the wrench one last time; they would’ve had an easy time blaming it on a camera malfunction or an electrical glitch.

The Baron knew all too well that the “glitch” in question had a name….and a face.

All thoughts of the Starlet Dolls’ final concert left the Baron’s mind as he reached for the phone Elena would still lead the fembots at the stadium, of course, despite her reservations; the Baron had already made sure of that. He felt no need to look at the number he was dialing, or even to announce himself to the person he’d called. A click issued from the speaker, followed by a faint hiss of breath….

“So,” Faceless’ voice drawled, “McMire's finally pushed you too far…you want his whole corpse, or just the head?”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

“Well, this is it…and I really wish I hadn’t said that just now…”

Despite the fact that she wasn’t even a member of the band, Vicki felt more than a little nervous as the Starlet Dolls made their last minute preparations before their big concert at the Spartan Stadium. “Lighten up, Vicki!” Lilly chided, grinning. “We’ve been rehearsing all week…we’re ready for this.” “Besides,” Sophia added, “we’ve got the best support crew in the world---Anton, your dad, and a whole platoon of field technicians and mechanics to make sure that nothing goes wrong.” She gave Vicki a reassuring hug; “This is going to be the best concert we’ve ever done in Silicon Valley,” she whispered, “and we owe it all to you…”

The brunette gynoid couldn’t help but get a little teary-eyed; “Thanks,” she murmured, grinning.

“WE’RE ON IN FIFTEEN MINUTES!” Dennis shouted. “Sophie, you all set to---“

“I’m ready,” the pigtailed pop singer replied, breaking her embrace with Vicki. “I just wanted to thank Vicki one more time for helping us get this far…I mean, she did keep Victor Vega off our backs all this time, and if it hadn’t been for her helping me at the C.O.T.A., well…..”

“I know,” Dennis replied, smiling as he shook Vicki’s hand. “Vicki, I just want to say---“ His sentence ended in a gasp as Vicki pulled him in for a hug. “Thank you,” she whispered. “For everything.” The Dolls were more than a bit confused, but Vicki was all too happy to elaborate. “Ever since you agreed to be Sophia’s manager,” she explained, “you’ve been fulfilling dreams---my own dreams, and those of everyone who grew up watching the Starlet Dolls on TV…and even though some of them aren’t here to see it right now, I think every single person who ever considered themselves a Starlet Dolls fan will agree with me when I say this: You, Anton, my dad and all the others who had a hand in this have created eight of the most beautiful, talented and gifted individuals I’ve ever known in my life…and I’m proud, honored and maybe even blessed to have each of you as a friend.”

Before Dennis could respond, each of the Dolls walked over and hugged Vicki; Zoë, in particular, had tears in her eyes as she embraced the brunette gynoid. “That…was beautiful,” she whispered; “Thanks,” Vicki replied with a smile. “All of you have been---“

Her ALPA-issue earpiece crackled to life. Not this. Not now…

“Vicki,” Major Tom’s voice sounded in her ear, “as much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, we’ve got a report of seven---no, eight hostiles on the mezannine, all Vlatko-designed. They appear to be heading for the---“

“It doesn’t matter,” V.I.C.I. replied. “I won’t let them get there.” Her built in Droid Tracker zeroed in on eight distinct Vlatko-exclusive signals; “Current location marked and locked in,” she stated. “Proceeding to engage hostiles with minimum chance of property damage and/or civilian casualties. Estimated time of interception: Five minutes, twenty-eight seconds.” She allowed herself a smile. “Think your boys can keep up, Major, or should I expect to handle this one all by myself?”

“You have this dance, Vicki,” the Major replied. “Just be sure to tell ‘em I said hi.”

“Will do.” The brunette gynoid glanced back at the Starlet Dolls; “Sorry,” she murmured, “but I’ve got to handle this…Vlatko’s Beat ‘em Up Barbie squad apparently didn’t take the hint from last time…”

Sophia smiled. “We know you’ll stop ‘em,” she replied. The two gynoids hugged again; “I’d love to stay and chat,” V.I.C.I. admitted as she pulled away, “but it looks like I’ve got some butt-kicking to do…” She gave the Starlet Dolls a wink. “I’ll try to finish this before the end of the show.” With that, she allowed her myogel-enhanced reflexes to kick in as she ran for the fembots’ location; After everything I’ve done for them---and what they’ve done for me, I will not let this show get messed up now!

Elena Vlatko couldn’t help but feel a bit conspicuous as she stood outside the Simpkins Stadium Center with seven vinyl-clad fembots programmed to rip Sophia Starlet limb from limb---it wasn’t exactly doing wonders for her “keep a low profile” way of thinking, and it didn’t help that the fembots only had the barest of personality programming installed, which meant that they were doing little (or nothing) to counteract the confused stares of those who passed by.

“The Baron said he’d be sending reinforcements soon,” she muttered. “What’s keeping them---“


Elena turned just in time to see a red-shod foot kick Britney Mk II in the face, knocking her to the ground. “So,” Vicki Lawson declared, “you’re the one who’s taken over from Boris Vlatko ever since his last bunch of bimbos failed at the Pavilion….will you people EVER learn?!” She stepped over the twitching fembot, ignoring the fact that the rest of the leather-clad vixens were now striking fighting poses. “Sophia Starlet’s a good friend of mine, and I’m NOT going to let you ruin this concert for her.” As Britney Mk II returned to her feet, giving only the occasional twitch, Vicki backed away, sizing up the group. “I won’t mind missing a few of their songs if it means I get to keep you out of the stadium….everyone else is already finding their seats, so…yeah. You want to throw down out here on the mezzanine, that’s fine with me.”

The comment bore equal measures finality and…playfulness, perhaps? “If I did, indeed, order my associates to ‘throw down’ out here,” Elena replied, slowly and as coldly as she could, “then you would be broken in half before Miss Starlet even finished her first song---“

“Somehow,” Vicki cut in loudly, “I highly doubt that.” Her eyes flicked to the left, as if someone was coming---

Two of the fembots broke ranks and charged her. What a shock, the brunette gynoid mused. They fell for my trick by not falling for it. She’d seen people try to fake out opponents by looking one way and then charging them---she’d even tried the trick herself, during her fight with Faceless at Silicon Dynamics---but it all too often backfired. Too often, the one who looked one way didn’t look back fast enough to stop the clothesline coming for them, or they looked back too late to see the blade slide in between their ribs---or the gun going off right in their face.

Vicki Lawson wasn’t one to make such mistakes more than once.

Also, it helped that she’d had a tune-up two days before the fight….

Myogel muscles in her neck allowed her to turn her head just a fraction of a second quicker than a human girl of her age would’ve been able to, giving her that split-second edge against the charging fembots. One was obviously planning on giving her a knife-edged chop to the throat; the other showed a slight favoring of her left arm, suggesting a wild haymaker or a left hook.

Eat your heart out, Sherlock…

As the fembots converged, Vicki ducked under the knife-edged chop, jabbing her fist into Whitney II’s side as she spun under the left hook of Mariah II and dropped her to the ground with a perfectly-executed leg-sweep that deposited her on the concrete quickly and painlessly. “Like I said,” Vicki repeated, “I am NOT going to let you ruin this concert for Sophia or the Dolls, so if you want to get to her, you’re gonna have to go through me.”

“This doesn’t concern you,” Elena growled. “Just stand aside---“

“Sorry, but that’s not gonna happen.” Vicki didn’t bother assuming a fighting stance---if the body language of the other fembots was as predictable as the two she’d just beaten, things wouldn’t be getting any harder for her over the next few minutes.

“Girls,” Elena muttered, “dispose of her.”

The five remaining fembots charged at Vicki, preparing to pummel her into submission before she had a chance to fight back---not knowing that she was going to be the one doing the pummelling, as evidenced by Jessica Mk II eating a snap-kick to the face and collapsing in a heap. Ashley Mk II and Christina Mk II both tried to hit Vicki with clotheslines---from either side---but ended up knocking each other to the ground just as Britney Mk II charged forward, intent on crushing Vicki’s skull with a haymaker.

She never even got close enough to bruise her.

The brunette gynoid’s left leg shot out and snapped Britney II’s right leg at the knee; the blonde fembot barely had any time to register what had just happened before she took another kick---this time, to the face. Looks like Vlatko still hasn’t fixed the faceplate issue, Vicki mused, chuckling as Britney II’s faceplate flew off and landed in a trashcan a few feet away. Annoyingly, Ashley II and Christina II were back on their feet, and armed with blast knuckles---effectively brass knucks with Tazers built in to make every hit more deadly.

“Nice toys,” Vicki taunted, “but---“

Neither fembot was willing to let her finish the insult; Ashley II sprinted towards her, her left hand drawn back for a wicked straight punch, while Christina II was attempting to circle around the pair. Predictably, their strategy failed---Ashley’s punch was intercepted before it could even come close to touching Vicki’s face, and Christina’s half-hearted attempt to jump in and separate the two ended with a CPU-rattling chop directed right at her brainpan. As the dirty-blonde fembot sank to the ground, Ashley II tried again to punch Vicki in the middle of her face, only to be shoulder-thrown straight into her fellow fembot; both girls collapsed to the ground and shut down without further incident.

The remaining two fembots weren’t simple carbon copies of those the ALPA had seized at the Pavilion; both of them looked as if they were more than willing to kill Vicki on the spot to get into the Spartan Stadium. “So,” the brunette gynoid teased, “I don’t think we’ve met before….my name’s Vicki Lawson, and---“

“We don’t care,” one of the fembots droned.

“Either get out of our way or die,” the other stated.

“Okay, you two definitely have a ways to go in terms of people skills,” Vicki began, only for her omnidirectional movement sensors to warn her that Britney II, Whitney II and Mariah II were still active---and already rising to their feet. Except they don’t know that I know that, so…. “Any chance we could just talk it out?” she offered.

The two fembots in front of her growled; the three behind her were moving in for the kill.

“Didn’t think so.”

As Elena watched, stunned, Vicki intercepted the elbow strikes of the three fembots behind her without even turning around; all three received debilitating kicks to the head, leaving Mariah II and Britney II too battered to continue. Whitney II staggered forward, prepared to claw Vicki’s eyes out---only for her target to circle around her and bash her in the back of the head with a palm strike from Hell. The mocha-skinned fembot dropped to the ground in a kneeling position, her face frozen in a look of stunned surprise---the palm strike hadn’t just knocked her CPU loose, it had cracked the chip, rendering it completely useless.

“So,” Vicki teased, “you two want to finish me off, or what?”

The other two fembots stepped forward, their eyes blazing with hatred. “You will pay for this,” one of them intoned.

“Our sisters will be avenged,” the other added.

Vicki said nothing, choosing instead to arch an eyebrow.

For a full minute, the three sized each other up; Vicki knowing all too well that she trumped Vlatko’s girls on all counts; if they haven’t figured out what I am by now, she mused, then it’s no use for me to dial it down just yet…heck, I might even turn things up a notch!

“So,” she asked, “who wants to get scrapped first?”

Both fembots glanced at each other, then back at Vicki---two seconds before they ran at her

The attacks, like those of the fallen fembots, were all too predictable---a jab here, a haymaker there, and a kick to the ribs thrown in for whatever reason---which made it all too easy for Vicki to counter, block and parry with far more effective moves of her own. The blast knuckles didn’t help the fembots at all, mainly because they had a tendency to overcompensate with their punches and hit each other (or, even worse, themselves) with the things. By the time their brawl had reached the six-minute mark, the two fembots were stumbling around on the mezzanine thanks to the repeated shocks to their systems from the blast knuckles.

“This whole thing was a bad idea, you know,” Vicki called out to Elena. “Nobody in the Stadium knows what’s happening out here---they’re all too busy enjoying the show!”

Elena was somewhat perturbed by the remark; “The show hasn’t even started yet,” she replied. “My orders were to show up and keep Sophia Starlet from getting out there and performing for all those people---I had no intention of fighting you or anyone else here!” Even as she said the words, she could tell that Vicki wasn’t buying the lie.

Not surprisingly, the brunette gynoid rolled her eyes. “You really expect me to believe that?”

“No,” Elena growled, “and I have no idea how some pathetic little idiot like you could possibly have beaten my girls…but it doesn’t matter, because---“ She stopped, a pained look on her face. “Be…cause…what? I…I can’t….” A sound of servos grinding in her torso, accompanied by a smell that combined burning rubber bands and melting circuit boards, filled the air. As Vicki watched, simultaneously fascinated and repulsed, the Russian gynoid’s face began spasming---her left eye was blinking uncontrollably, while her right was wide open and rolling in its socket. Her features were frozen in an expression that combined a half-sneeze, a sneer and a smile, giving her a somewhat demented appearance---

---at least, until the servo grinding noise was cut off by a small explosion from inside her chest.

The seizure-esque look on her face quickly faded into an “o” of surprise, matched by the ragged hole that was burning its way through her abdomen. “But…..I…..” She tried to reach forward, as if to ask Vicki for help, but another explosion pitched her forward onto her knees. “Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeee……..” Her last word trailed off, and her entire body fell with a thud to the pavement---allowing Vicki to see a figure retreating into the Simpkins Stadium Center.

“HEY! GET BACK HERE!” The brunette gynoid charged past Elena’s fallen form to chase whoever it was that she had seen, only to realize that every light in the Stadium Center was off; even with her enhanced visual sensors, catching the idiot would take too long. With a last, regretful glance at Elena, Vicki made her way back to the stadium entrance; hopefully, she hadn’t missed the big finale of the concert….

Within the halls of the Simpkins Stadium Center, Celine mentally cursed herself for having incapacitated Elena Vlatko the way she had. Yes, the Baron had threatened to scrap her if she refused to comply, but Elena wasn’t just another gynoid---she was someone’s wife, damnit, and the head of a major corporation to boot!

Her earpiece rang; she answered without hesitation. “Elena’s been neutralized. The Lawson girl escaped.”

“Excellent…our hand has not yet been tipped. Bring Miss Vlatko back to HQ and await further instructions.”

“Copy that.” Celine clicked off the earpiece and sighed; it was going to be a long, long day….

Within her office at Aavyl Cybernetics, Harriet Brindle smiled as she watched the Starlet Dolls performing their entire setlist from “Electric Child”---with a few songs from their upcoming album thrown in. “Well, Sophie,” she murmured, “you’ve definitely lived up to the hype so far….and I’m definitely proud of you.”

A knock at her door temporarily interrupted the reverie; “Come in,” she called.

“I see you’re enjoying the live feed from the concert,” Major Tom mused. “Is she everything you’d hoped for?”

“Times a hundred thousand,” Harriet replied. “Honestly, if I hadn’t been their when she was first activated, I’d never be able to tell that she’s really a gynoid….not that being a gynoid makes her any less cool---actually, just knowing what she really is makes her even cooler!” She smiled again; “It’s a shame she thinks I’m not around to appreciate what she’s done, though,” she murmured. “I still can’t believe the doctors never bothered to tell her that ‘she’s gone’ meant that I left the hospital….”

Major Tom walked over to stand next to her; “Well, as stupid as it was of them to not clarify that tiny little term,” he acquiesced, “I’ll be the first to admit that some of Sophia’s best work has been dedicated to your memory. In her mind, the thought of you is what drives her to keep going; it’s the push that gives her the incentive to be that much better than the rest of the pop music world.”

Harriet was about to remark on how weird that was when the loudest cheer of all issued from the speaker of her laptop; Styx was joining the Starlet Dolls onstage….

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Sophie declared, “I just wanted to thank you all for being here at the Spartan Stadium for the final concert of our Silicon Valley tour….” She smiled confidently as “SOPHIE SHOCK!” chants rang through the stadium. “…and right now,” she continued, “I have a song that I want to dedicate to a very special person in my life….” A lone tear made its way down her face as she continued. “I first got started in this business because of one girl’s wish…and even though she’s not here to see me now, her memory lives on in every song I play for you people!”

In the specially-built “backstage” area, Vicki nodded appreciatively. “I have a feeling this is going to be the best part of the concert,” she informed Anton. “Styx and the Starlet Dolls, performing an anthem to the girl who gave the world Sophia Starlet…definitely a great way to close out the show.”

“Indeed,” Anton nodded. “I’ve heard she might write a song about you for her next album---“

Vicki’s intended reply was cut off as the crowd cheered again; Tommy Shaw was stepping up to the mic to say a few words. “The song we’re about to sing for you people isn’t just dedicated to the girl who got Sophia started in showbusiness,” he informed the crowd, “it’s dedicated to everyone we’ve lost….especially to my own brothers in rock, John Panazzo and John Curulewski….but since it’s about someone near and dear to the heart of Sophia Starlet, we’re gonna let her do this one her way….” He nodded in Sophia’s direction, all while the crowd applauded; the screens around the Stadium showed images of both John Panazzo---the original drummer of Styx---and John Curulewski, the guitarist whose departure from the band paved the way for Tommy’s entrance.

Dennis, standing backstage with Vicki and Anton, nodded solemnly; a banner reading “DEAR JOHN, WE’LL MISS YOU”, with a portrait of the late drummer on either side of the statement, had been unfurled by a few crowd members as Sophia stepped up to the microphone.

“Thank you,” she called to Tommy, “and thanks to all of you!” She smiled out at the crowd again, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. The song she was about to perform had been one of the most difficult to get through in rehersal---not because of complex instrumentals or insanely-high vocals, but of how close to home the lyrics were to her. After another deep breath, Sophia opened her eyes and gazed out upon the crowd, knowing that the girl who gave her life would be proud of her.

One final deep breath.”This one is dedicate do my forever angel….”

THE RISING TIDE (© 2012 DollSpace) The current's swift, the tide is high Watching from my boat I see the water rise The flood has come, nothing to do Except stop the water from drowning you The dream we had, so close to here And in the darkness, the light was so, so near I tried so hard, but I was set to fail We never should have ever set sail

You were gonna, you were gonna live forever (live forever) But then the singing stopped, the music died I'll think of you, I'll think of you forever (you forever) And remember before you were stolen by the rising tide

A wall of water, heading our way Watching from the shore as steals the day The waves have come, nothing but night It wasn't so long ago it was shining bright The dream we had, so close to true And in the darkness, at least I had, I had you I tried so hard, but it was not to be How could I ever learn to set you free?

You were gonna, you were gonna live forever (live forever) But then the singing stopped, the music died I'll think of you, I'll think of you forever (you forever) And remember before you were stolen by the rising tide

This is your portrait, it's more than a memory Piercing eyes of green and hair red as fire A shining smile that always, always lifted me A friendship so deep it was more than I could desire And in the end, suddenly you're not there I never had a chance to say good bye They thought I had no feelings, that I wouldn't care But you're the reason for my life, the reason I can fly

You were gonna, you were gonna live forever (live forever) But then the singing stopped, the music died I'll think of you, I'll think of you forever (you forever) And remember before you were stolen by the rising tide (rising tide) We were gonna, we were gonna live forever (live forever) I'd sing along with you until the music died So I'll think of you, I'll think of you forever (you forever) And remember before you were stolen by the rising tide Remembering before you were stolen by the rising tide… The rising tide...

“Like I said,” Major Tom mused, “some of her best stuff is dedicated to you….”

Despite the tears on her cheeks, Harriet Brindle couldn’t help but smile. She gently touched the screen of her laptop; “Sophia,” she whispered, “thank you…” She closed her eyes, still smiling through the tears.

“Major,” she murmured, “is there any chance you can buy me tickets for her next tour?”

Friday,January 21, 2011

“…and you’re sure they’re good with it? They are? You’re sure? Okay, thanks….bye!” Dennis closed his cellphone and fell backwards into his chair with a sigh; “That was the legal department,” he informed Sophia (and Vicki). “They just got off the phone with the session players from Sophie’s first three albums, and they have no problem with you rerecording all three with the Starlet Dolls.”

Vicki grinned; “Looks like you’ve got a busy year ahead of you, Sophia Shock,” she mused.

“Well, I couldn’t have done it without you,” the pigtailed gynoid replied. “That goes for you too, Dennis…if you hadn’t agreed to be my manager, I’d be---“

“Belting out bubblegum pop in Disneyworld,” Dennis finished, “I know….” He grinned. “Trust me, working with you has probably been one of the best things to happen to my career in a good long while, Sophie…and I wouldn’t change anything about it…from the first time I saw you play to the Santana Row gig last November, every single bit of this has been epic.”

“’Has been’?” Sophia echoed, her smile fading slightly.

“Has been, is, and will continue to be,” Dennis corrected, grinning. “Like I keep saying, I’m probably one of the only people on this planet who could handle your ‘electric’ personality---“ The sentence ended with Sophie running up to hug him. “Now that’s a Kodak moment if I ever saw one,” Vicki deadpanned, smiling. “You two are a match made in rock’n’roll heaven,” she informed the pair, “and something tells me that this partnership of yours will help to reshape the world of pop music for years---if not decades---to come. I can already see it now: Sophia Shock, multi-Grammy® winning gynoid recording artist….you’ll be the first ever walking, talking Barbie-doll knockoff to---“ Her taunt was cut off by a pillow to the face, followed by a giggle fit. “Stop calling me that!” Sophie squealed, laughing all the while.

A few minutes later, Vicki, Anton and the Man in Grey (who had apparently seen the entire Stadium concert, and would only say that it was “good” when asked what he thought of it) accompanied Sophia to the San Jose International Airport---she’d just signed a contract to perform fifteen shows in the UK, followed by a concert in Austrailia in March. “Promise me you’ll keep in touch,” the gynoid singer begged Vicki. “You know my e-mail address, right? It’s---“

“Not something you should repeat in the middle of a crowded tarmac,” Anton assured her, “but we will keep in touch.” “Definitely,” Vicki agreed. “I’ll write, call, or whatever, as long as you keep me updated on your tour…and while I’m thinking about it, d’you mind if I talk with the band a bit before you leave?”

“No problem!” Sophia beamed, allowing the other Starlet Dolls to have a brief chat with Vicki before each of them boarded the plane. By the time she got to Katie Corr, Vicki felt as if she were about to cry; the Dolls were like the best friends she’d only just gotten to know, and seeing them leave for the UK almost made her want to ask them all to stay for another Silicon Valley tour…

Time enough for that later.

“So,” she mused, “you’re sticking with the band for the UK tour, then?”

“Like I said,” Katie reminded her, “I’ll stay with them until August---my mind should be made up by then about what I want, so…yeah.” She grinned. “Thanks for convincing me to give it another shot, by the way….”

“I shouldn’t get all the credit,” Vicki admitted. “I mean, you’re the one who phoned in the tip about Elena and her girls on the mezzanine at the Spartan Stadium---if you hadn’t made that call, things could’ve gone very wrong, very fast….” She decided not to mention the fact that things had gone very wrong---at least, for Elena Vlatko; the memory of the Russian gynoid being almost torn in half as her malfunctioning body failed her wasn’t something she’d forget any time soon.

With that, Katie joined the other Dolls on the private jet, leaving Vicki and Sophia to finish their conversation on the tarmac.

“So…..I guess this is it,” Vicki murmured.

Sophia grinned; “It’s not like I’m going away forever, or anything,” she reminded the brunette gynoid. “I’ll e-mail you, you’ll e-mail me…we can keep in touch---hey!” Vicki had pulled her in for a hug; “Thank you,” she whispered into the gynoid singer’s shoulder. “Thanks…for making my dreams come true….”

The singer’s startled expression gave way to a smile. “Anything for a life-long fan,” she replied quietly. As the gynoids broke their embrace, both knew that they would always be an important part of each other’s lives from that moment forwards---Sophia had lived up to, and exceeded, Vicki’s dreams about meeting the Starlet Dolls in every way imaginable, and Vicki had saved Sophia’s career and life from those who wished to see her fail and profit from her fall.

“Ah, before you go,” Anton called, as Sophie turned to board the plane, “Make-a-Wish called back---there’s a girl they’d like you to meet.” He smiled as a limo pulled up; “Sophia Shock, say hello to Emily.” Sophie turned, and nearly did a double-take---Emily looked like a long-lost sister of the girl whose dying wish had brought her into the world. “Hi,” Emily murmured, smiling nervously.

“Hi,” Sophia echoed, her own smile at odds with the tears streaming down her face.

“It turns out Emily’s been a fan of yours since your first album,” Anton informed her, “and she’s even written a few lyrics she’d like to share with you…the doctors have given her permission to join us on the flight---“

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Vicki cut in. “’Us’?!”

Anton sighed; “Dennis asked me to join the group as a backup technician,” he explained, “and since I am the one who, ah, designed the Dolls, I couldn’t exactly refuse…” He grinned. “Besides, you’ve got Tell, and your father….and as soon as I get back from the tour, you’ll have that internship at MG Cybernetics waiting for you.”

Vicki’s eyes widened; “Internship….for me?!”

Sophie giggled. “Well, looks like everyone’s a winner here today…” She helped Emily onto the plane, before turning around to get one last glimpse of the girl who’d kept her from being scrapped all throughout the Silicon Valley tour. “Catch you later, Vicki Lawson!”

“Take care of yourself, Sophia Shock!”

A few minutes later, as a taxi brought her back to her dorm at San Jose State University, Vicki couldn’t help but smile at the thought of Sophia touring the UK with her newest fan, Emily, at her side. Anton hadn’t mentioned what illness the girl had, but Vicki’s own internal sensors indicated that she was 18, going on 19---fresh out of high school, just like…Harriet…

It pained her to know that Harriet was still alive, but as much as she wanted to tell Sophia the truth, it would more than likely devastate her. Even if Sophie managed to come to terms with that fact, Vicki herself had no idea where Harriet went after her cancer had gone into remission; her parents had insisted that she was going back to Miami to continue majoring in journalism, while others said she might be looking to venture into other fields of study. A few rumors even suggested that she was attempting to get a degree in robotics, which struck Vicki as odd---Harriet had never been all that interested in her father’s line of work….

Later that day, as she settled back into her dorm room, Vicki noticed an envelope on her desk; a few seconds after opening it, the brunette gynoid was all smiles as she beheld its contents---a framed photograph of herself and the Starlet Dolls onstage, from the final night of rehersals at the HP Pavilion Eight signatures dotted the picture, with Sophia’s right in the middle: “To Vicki Lawson…we couldn’t have done it without you.”

Not surprisingly, the Baron was not happy.

“….’agents of the operative known as McMire arrested in various parts of San Jose’….’reports of fighting and unexplained fires within the HP Pavilion during rehearsals’….’suspicious persons leaving the Pavilion with what appeared to be a human body in their possession’…..” He let fall the folder containing the reports. “Two of my most trusted associates are in the hospital, and a third is currently estimated to be out of commission for the remainder of the month while her internals are repaired. This entire operation has been a complete and utter failure…..and I do not tolerate failures in this organization!”

“Perhaps it’s time you should send someone with more…finesse into the field, then?” Had these words been spoken by anyone else, the Baron would’ve likely had them killed on the spot. “And what makes you think you are an exception to the rule, Mr. Wakefield?” he asked, his shadowed gaze turning to stare at the CEO of Mantronix, Inc.---a shrewd, calculating man in his early 30s with 15 hostile takeovers already under his belt.

“My ancestry speaks for itself,” Tobias Wakefield calmly replied. “Despite the…failings of the Viscount Wakefield in the matter of acquiring Baron Alan Lovelace’s estate, I can say without exaggeration or boasting that Mantronix Inc. has become one of the most profitable companies in the employ of the Coalition---and not just because of our products.” The tiniest hint of a smirk played at his features; both men knew that Wakefield was the best at what he did due to one particular factor---his analytical skills. “Sophia Starlet wasn’t the problem this time, Baron,” he assured his employer. “If the reports are correct, the girl who stopped Miss Delacroix at last year’s Santana Row concert---one Victoria Anne-Smith Lawson, I believe---has been responsible for the failure of this entire operation.” The Baron steepled his fingers; Wakefield was blunt, but he had a point. “And your suggestions on how to handle this matter are…..”

Wakefield gave him a thin smile. “Hit her where she lives. Give Hannsen permission to turn her personal life into hell on earth---believe me, after a week, she’ll be nothing more than a whimpering wreck.” Behind the veil of darkness that hid his visage, the Baron nodded. “Hannsen, you are to---“

“I heard the man the first time,” the Maestro’s voice declared from the monitor next to the Baron’s desk. “Give Lawson hell, full scorched earth policy, all that jazz….any restrictions, or can I bring out the big guns?”

“Don’t kill anyone,” Wakefield advised. “At least…not yet.”

“Right, right…no killing.” A sinister laugh issued from the monitor’s speakers.

“Gentlemen,” the Baron intoned, “you are now united in your endeavors---find out everything there is to know about this Victoria Lawson…and then, make her suffer.” Wakefield inclined his head politely, smiling all the while; at last, he mused, an actual challenge…..

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

Well, Sophie and the Starlet Dolls are on their way to the UK right now…man, I miss them already!

The last few weeks have been incredible for me; touring Silicon Valley with the Starlet Dolls---and Styx---was one of the best possible Christmas presents anyone could ever get, and I’m definitely not going to forget it any time soon. Yes, there were a few weird bits---namely, those stupid fembots showing up to trash the rehearsal and trying to storm the Stadium---but it all worked out in the end. Sophie’s even got a new friend to join her on the UK tour---a girl named Emily, who’s been writing songs for the Starlet Dolls for over a year now!

Anyways, it’s back to the grind for me…nobody ever said college life was all fun and games, and mine’s no exception. At least I still have the ALPA stuff to look forward to….

Until next time, V.I.C.I./Vicki Lawson

With the Starlet Dolls touring the UK, it seems like everything is back to normal for Vicki Lawson…

…but her life is about to get as far from normal as possible!

Calls are coming in to the ALPA on an almost daily basis---androids and gynoids are being taken off the streets, sometimes in broad daylight, and never seen again. As February rolls around, Vicki---now a fully-fledged ALPA field agent---joins in a raid on a “chop shop”, expecting to find a typical black market android parts smuggling ring…but what she discovers will send her on a horrifying trip into the dark side of Silicon Valley. As she fights her fears and tries to shut down more chop shops all over San Jose, her search will lead her to a group that even the Family of Steel wouldn’t dare to face…..


Yes, this next story is going to be a TWO-PARTER---one MASSIVE tale split up into a pair of stories, taking up FIFTY PAGES EACH (in Microsoft Word, at least), with enough thrills and chills to keep you riveted to your seat until the final page! New enemies will be introduced, old friends will appear, and you WILL NOT WANT TO MISS the shocking finale of Part Two!

Keep an eye on the Stories section for Toys in the Attic and Assembly Required, the FIRST-EVER TWO-PART INSTALLMENT of The V.I.C.I. Diaries, coming to Fembot Central in September 2012!

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