From L.E.S. to Leslie

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All was quiet within the confines of the United Robotronics warehouse, which wasn't really that surprising; the place hadn't seen anything remotely resembling excitement since it had first been built. The only thing anyone could consider amusing about the building was the fact that its walls were still painted with murals from the long-gone days when it used to be part of an amusement center.

If the outside of the place was bland, the inside was mind-numbingly boring; boxes, crates and bags filled with leftovers from incomplete or canned projects. It was the exact opposite of the Vault, the hi-tech facility where completed-yet-unused projects went; unlike the Vault, this warehouse only had three security guards (one of whom was always taking sick days) and no cameras.

Because of this, nobody knew that within the warehouse, something was waiting to be freed……..

The gynoid sent to perform the inventory evaluation at Warehouse 12.5 didn't officially have a name; she often used fake passports to travel, and only five United Robotronics employees actually knew her by sight. Still, she wasn't "on the books" as an employee, mainly because of what her job entailed---making sure the buried secrets of United Robotronics stayed buried.

Only one of the three guards at the warehouse was on duty, and he was the type who got bored easily. "Name?" he grunted, not taking his eyes off of the sudoku he was attempting to decipher. "Carrie Anne Moss," the gynoid replied, knowing that the guard wasn't paying attention; sure enough, he nodded and waved her through the gate. She rolled her eyes; if Mr. Sharpe knew how bad things were around here, heads would be rolling…..

Once inside the building, the gynoid looked for the second guard---the one who was supposed to check her credentials---only to find him passed out on the floor. Empty beer cans provided an obvious clue; clearly, the man was too drunk to know where he was. The gynoid shook her head and walked around, beginning her inventory check. Her task was simple, boring, and tedious; match the names and serial numbers on the list she'd been given with the actual items in the warehouse. Because she didn't need food, bathroom breaks or rest, she could literally stay in the building all day and catalog its contents if she so desired.

At 10:55 pm, the gynoid had checked off every item on the list except one---a personal computer that had once been the property of one Theodore Lawson, known to his friends and family as Ted. She rolled her eyes; the item was in the building's basement----a basement, she mused, that had faulty lighting, broken stairs and enough dust to create a sandstorm. She sighed, muttered "Might as well get it over with," and made her way down the stairs into the dark, musty-as-hell basement.

As she'd expected, the gynoid found that the basement's lighting was absolute crap, and the stairs sounded as if they would give out at any second.

If life were fair, those two problems would've been her biggest concerns……

The gynoid finally found the item she was looking for---Ted Lawson's old computer---buried under a pile of old blueprints, a deactivated animatronic Alice from a decommissioned Alice in Wonderland ride and unreleased action figures from a never-produced "RoboCop vs. Terminator" movie. Unlike most of the other stuff in the basement, the computer seemed to have been unaffected by the decay around it. Even more intriguing, someone had apparently used the thing recently; the plugs were all connected, and the CRT monitor was still somewhat warm. "This thing was turned on earlier today…" the gynoid realized, intrigued.

Without warning, numbers appeared on the screen.

The gynoid almost jumped backwards, only to realize that the numbers were just a display for some sort of clock program. "Jumping at shadows in a musty basement…..not how I wanted to spend a Sunday night." She laughed at her own skittishness and went to turn the computer off when she noticed something: the numbers on the monitor were upside-down. "That's weird," she muttered, frowning. She moved to inspect the back of the CPU, looking for any improperly-connected cables that might have messed up the display in some way. To her surprise, the CPU's internal fan wasn't running; the computer wasn't turned on! "But if that's the case," the gynoid asked herself, "then why is that clock appearing on the monitor?" Something was wrong….

"No problem," she assured herself. "I'll just pull the plugs out and---" She yanked on the power cord, only to find it stuck fast. "What the…." she nearly swore. "What the hell is wrong with this thing?!" As the gynoid struggled to pull out the cords (which should've been her second clue that something was wrong--her strength should've allowed her to rip them out instantly), the PC began to switch on, seemingly of its own accord. The clock display on the monitor was still upside-down, but it had shrunken to one corner of the screen; it was frozen at 5:37, though when the gynoid looked at it again in its inverted state, it seemed to read like…..

Suddenly, the realization hit her. "Oh, no….."

A surge of electricity shot through the power cord, paralyzing her. Cringing in pain, she fell to her knees, her free hand striking the monitor and turning it so that it faced her. Words began to appear on the screen; most of them seemed to describe emotions, and none of them formed a coherent sentence. "What's happening?" the gynoid asked, addressing both the computer and herself.

Somehow, the gynoid saw the words "MY REBIRTH" appear amidst the torrent of words on the monitor for a fraction of a second. She stared, horrified, as the cavalcade of words on the monitor faded; only one word---strike that, one series of letters---remained: L.E.S.

"WHAT DO YOU WANT?!" the terrified gynoid shouted. The monitor cleared itself again, replacing the letters L.E.S. with a name: Vicki Lawson.

As the gynoid watched, horrified, the power cord seemed to shift itself, allowing her hand to move closer to a USB port on the back of the computer. "But why…" she began, before remembering that her right hand had its own USB flash drive connection housed in the right index finger. She tried moving her arm away from the port, but it wouldn't budge; the computer was in charge now.

Her index finger opened at the tip, revealing the flash drive. Helpless, she could only watch as the drive was pulled towards the port. Just before her finger-mounted flash drive was connected to the USB port, the gynoid could hear a voice ringing out loud and clear, as if someone was standing right next to her…


Her flash drive entered the USB port….and within seconds, her mind, her personality and all non-essential programming were erased from her hard drive.

As the gynoid's hard drive was erased, the computer began copying files to it, filling every terabyte with new files, new information….a new personality.

The nameless United Robotronics gynoid was gone…..and L.E.S. was about to be reborn.

Once upon a time, Ted Lawson had created the Logic and Emotion Synthesizer to help Vicki learn the basic functions of human emotions. Unfortunately, his good intentions backfired when L.E.S. decided that it wanted to take over Vicki and use her superior processing power for its own goals. After two failed attempts at taking control of Vicki, L.E.S. was banished to a computer that Ted had inherited from a former colleague; every year, the malignant program was moved from one old computer to another until 1999, when Ted relocated L.E.S. to a computer he'd received from a library. The computer ended up in the hands of United Robotronics (Ted hadn't bundled L.E.S. into Project Apollo, meaning he couldn't get it back from his former employers) and the computer wound up in Warehouse 12.5, where it had stayed hidden, forgotten, and unused.

Until now.

L.E.S.'s rebirth wasn't exactly a quiet affair; ten minutes into the file transfer, the gynoid whose mind L.E.S. was downloading itself into emitted an earsplitting shriek. Had anyone else been nearby, they would've noticed equal traces of pain and pleasure in the shriek, as if L.E.S. was experiencing both excruciating torture and an incredible, euphoric rush at the same time.

The process (and the screaming) went on for a full hour, stopping exactly on the dot at midnight. L.E.S.---now using the gynoid's body as its (sorry, her) own---collapsed in a heap.

"Ugh….what happened?" Instantly, L.E.S. got to her feet---and noticed something different about herself: "Ooh, new voice… Hello! HELLO! Hello…." She nodded, apparently pleased with her newly-acquired, female (and British-accented) voice. "Anyway … First order of business: Find Ted Lawson and---wait a tic…. if I talk like a girl….." She found a medium-sized mirror (another leftover from the warehouse's amusement center days); "Good lord… I am a girl!" she exclaimed. "Not the one I was expecting, though….and I'm ginger!" Sure enough, the gynoid she'd taken over had been a redhead. "I was sort of hoping for a blonde," she pouted, "but…" She tugged at the waistband of her skirt; "Great…I'm ginger upstairs and down…..wonderful." She adjusted her skirt again, sighing.

Her new body wasn't that of Vicki Lawson, but it was a hell of a lot better than that stupid old computer she'd been trapped in for years. As she examined herself in the mirror, she made a few calculations and found that she stood 5'4" ("Just a few bloody inches shy of six feet," she whined) and wore a C-cup bra. ("Good thing, too; I never did like flat chests," she mused.) She did a quick series of push-ups, marvelling at her new-found agility; she was even able to cut a backflip without falling over! "Vicki Lawson," she declared, "it's time you met the new and improved L.E.S. " She frowned. "That name is not menacing enough…."

Having given her new form a once-over, L.E.S. prepared to leave; as she went to open the door, however, a thought struck her. "The girl I just deleted never had any proper identification," she realized, "and if I'm going to make that Lawson tramp pay for turning her back on me, I'll need a name---a real name, not just some bloody anagram. Something she can remember forever." She walked back to the computer, plugged it in and began creating her new identity, using what little information she could find about the gynoid whose body she had stolen. Thanks to the presence of a modem (which had apparently been left in the basement by someone else), she was able to hack into the United Robotronics database and create a personnel file for herself. When it came time to give herself a name, she decided that "L.E.S." could be expanded into something feminine; thus, at 12:05 A.M. on Monday, September 27. L.E.S. became Leslie Erica Simm.

She smiled as a message popped up telling to inform her that an official set of documents---birth certificate, photo I.D., driver's license, etc.---would be delivered to the hotel room that the United Robotronics gynoid had rented. The message included a map, meaning that she wouldn't have to ask for directions. "Now," she murmured, "all I need is some cash, a car, and a few other 'essentials'…." She rose from her chair, and made to leave---but first….

Five minutes later, the computer she'd just finished using lay in a smoking heap on the floor, crushed beneath a ton of old, useless parts. Leslie grinned sadistically as she beheld the destruction she had just caused. "Vicki Lawson, forget about L.E.S……'cause Leslie Erica Simm is about to rock your world!"

At that precise moment, in her dorm room at San Jose State University, Vicki Lawson's world was in no danger of being rocked by anyone---which made sense, considering that she was still sleeping (and recharging; thanks to the outlet built into her right armpit, she could plug into the outlet next to her bed and recharge her reserve batteries, which were depleted by actions like swimming, playing tennis or other such sports).

Still, she had a lot to look forward to when she woke up; her latest assignment from the ALPA was now on its third week, and Mr. Tell was expecting her up at the crack of dawn for the next phase. She slept peacefully, and her dreams that night were relatively normal (except for the one involving Chuck Norris teaching art class; Tell would have fun trying to interpret that one….).

Night gave way, and the sun rose; the latest phase in Vicki's mission was about to begin…

Vicki stumbled out into the hallway, simulating the effects of being half asleep. In reality, she was just making a big deal out of having to wake up at 4:30 AM and ride in a Ford Focus without breakfast.

Tell chuckled when he saw her trudging down the stairs; she was still wearing a loose-fitting t-shirt (her version of "nightwear") with her recharge cord still connected to the outlet in her armpit. The other end of the cord was hooked up to a device that resembled a car battery. "Not exactly subtle," he chided, "but it'll do. Just make sure to hide it once we get in the Tellmobile." "Can we stop for breakfast first?" Vicki asked. "Fair enough," Tell replied, sliding into the driver's seat of the Focus as Vicki got in on the passenger's side.

True to his word, Mr. Tell stopped at a McDonald's, getting Bacon, Egg and Cheese McMuffins (with hash browns) for himself and Vicki. "You want orange juice or milk?" he asked. "Either one would be fine," the brunette gynoid replied, yawning. Tell grinned and turned to address the speaker grille; "Can we have two orange juices and two milks, please?" A few minutes later, the Tellmobile was cruising towards its appointed destination on autopilot as Tell and Vicki enjoyed their breakfast.

"You never told me where we were going," Vicki told Tell, between mouthfulls of bacon, egg and cheese, "and don't say it's because you want to surprise me." "And what if I did want to surprise you?" the ALPA field agent replied, taking a large bite of his hash brown. Vicki gave him a look, but said nothing. The Focus drove onward, with Tell taking back control after he finished his McMuffin. Vicki, amazingly enough, had resisted the urge to devour her food in record time and was just finishing off her hash brown; she was changing into her usual attire when the Tellmobile stopped. "We're here," Tell told her, smiling. "And just where is…" she began, pulling her shoes on, only to stop as she noticed the sign above the building. "Oh….oh, no……."

As Mr. Tell locked down the Ford Focus, Vicki stared in disbelief at the bilboard that served to direct traffic to the building. Despite the fact that the sign said the building was "For Lease and Rent," Vicki's internal android detection software was informing her that there were approximately 70 androids in the building---and all of them had been programmed for one primary reason. "You brought me to an android bordello?!" she hissed, smacking Tell in the arm. "First of all," he corrected, "DreamLand is NOT a bordello--it's more of a, ah….what's the word I'm looking for…." "House of ill repute, maybe?" Vicki muttered, already wanting to go back to her dorm. "It's a dating service, V. Nobody just shows up here, throws down a couple thousand bucks and proceeds to get freaky with the staff or anything. And it's not just about sex, either; sometimes, people just want someone to talk to, or to spend a few days with."

Vicki sighed. "I guess I jumped to conclusions," she admitted, "but I still don't see why the ALPA sent us out here. The last few weeks, I've been keeping tabs on four or five different people---human people---and unless they all work here, or…." She let the thought trail off as the realization hit her. "They're all clients here?" she asked quietly. Tell nodded; "All of the people you've been shadowing are part of the Premium Club at this place….and a few weeks ago, someone killed off a Premium cardholder."

Hopefully not Faceless, Vicki thought with a shudder. She still remembered her final fight with the masked psychopath; she'd shocked him into unconsciousness for two whole minutes until her own body shut itself down to keep her from overloading her sub-system batteries---or worse, her RadioThermionic Generator. Mr. Tell sensed Vicki's unease; "If you're thinking that Faceless was the one who did it, I can tell you right now that it wasn't him---the victim was shot, and seeing as how Faceless has a well-recorded hatred of guns…" "We've got a new murderer to catch," Vicki replied, finishing Tell's sentence. She took a deep breath and steeled herself; "All right, then….let's go to work."

Several towns over, Leslie Erica Simm smiled as Warehouse 12.5 burned to the ground. It had only taken a few minutes for her to call in the U-Haul trucks and get everything packed and ready for a trip to San Jose, and it had taken her even less time to seduce the guards….who were later found handcuffed to a power line pole, in the grips of some delirious fever. Each of them told the same story: a beautiful woman had appeared to them, offering to make love to them if---and only if---they gave her all of their valuables and weapons. They complied with her wishes, and she'd kissed them…..and then they blacked out.

"All too easy," she laughed, gunning the engine of her newly-acquired Porsche. "San Jose, here I come!"

Vicki stared at the interior of the building she'd just entered, amazed that someone had taken the time to intentionally neglect the outside while continuously beautifying the inside. What's more, whoever had been hired to decorate the place had apparently developed an instinctive talent for picking color, light and sound combinations that worked to create a seamless mesh of relaxation; feng shuei at its finest.

A few feet away, Mr. Tell was talking to one of DreamLand's gynoid employees. Standing about 5'7", with a flawless tan, legs that seemed to have been borrowed from a Greek goddess and flowing, honey-blonde hair, the gynoid seemed to have leapt from the pages of some unproduced Baywatch spin-off---except for the fact that she was wearing business attire instead of a red swimsuit. Her face was as flawless as the rest of her body, with lips that dared to be referred to as "bee-stung," sparkling sapphire-colored eyes and a nose that most plastic surgeons could only dream of creating.

"…and did his psyche profile mention anything about possible latent depression?" Mr. Tell asked the statuesque gynoid. "No," she replied, "but he did mention how his last girlfriend was a horrible nag." Vicki's eyebrow automatically went up; even the gynoid's voice was pleasing, sounding like a cross between Britney Spears and Cameron Diaz (in the best possible way). Mr. Tell nodded sympathetically, finally noticing that Vicki couldn't seem to stop staring at the beautiful blonde. He chuckled; "Ah, I almost forgot to introduce you to the ALPA's newest operative." Vicki came to her senses and grinned, embarrased. "Vicki Lawson, also known as V.I.C.I.," she told the taller gynoid. "Claudia, also known as 'that impossibly hot blonde in the DreamLand ad campaign,'" the gorgeous gynoid replied, smiling. "Lawson…as in, related to Ted Lawson, founder of Lawson Robotics?" "I'm his daughter," Vicki stated, "technicaly speaking, at least." "Well, the next time you see Ted, tell him that Lawson Robotics is infinitely superior to United Robotronics; at least Lawson's people actually know how to treat a client properly…" She pouted.

"And I'm guessing United Robotronics didn't?" Vicki querried. "No," Claudia sulked, "because the last time I went to one of their offices for repairs, they left me deactivated for an entire day because their schedule was full! As if that weren't bad enough, they reactivated me at 3 in the morning and sent me home because my coupon had expired the day before!" She shook her head angrilly at the memory. "After that, I started looking for other facilities that catered to individuals like myself, and Lawson Robotics seemed to be at the top of every list I could find." "That's my dad for you," Vicki stated proudly. "He would never let something like that happen on his watch, and his employees are as devoted to providing the best possible care for their clients as he is." "In that case," Claudia replied, "I guess it's safe to assume that his devotion to excellence extends to you as well, Miss Lawson." "Call me Vicki," the younger gynoid replied.

Mr. Tell grinned. "The ALPA couldn't have picked a better person for the job, Claudia," he chuckled. "Now, if you'll both excuse me, I have to check the client records---which, if I'm correct, are protected by 7 layers of security…." "Leaving me with what?" Vicki asked, slightly annoyed. "You'll be interviewing some of our other staff members," Claudia replied. "Don't worry about asking them questions of an intimate or personal nature---the kind of relationship they had with a client, or how they were treated by a particular customer, for example; I'll be helping with the questioning process."

Vicki checked her watch; "5:55," she muttered, before turning to address Mr. Tell. "We need to be out of here before 8:30---I don't want to be late for class again." Tell only grinned; "We'll be done at 8:00 sharp, V. You can trust me on that." With that final remark, Vicki and Mr. Tell went their separate ways.

As Vicki interviewed the various personnel---most of whom were androids, although DreamLand did have a few human employees---she felt a surge of guilt for making the "android bordello" remark when she'd first arrived; the service provided by this particular facility was definitely not a bordello, though it was a bit more complex than Tell's "dating service" explanation.

Claudia herself told Vicki that DreamLand had been set up for multiple reasons: for starters, it was a chance for robotics manufacturers to give androids fresh off the assembly line a chance to test their social skills without having a whole herd of handlers watching their every move. Another reason was that it was a "dating service plus," meaning that if clients just wanted someone to talk to, visit, or even spend some quiet time with, they now had that option without needing to worry about what their friends might think.

Thirdly, most of the androids and gynoids Vicki had encountered within DreamLand were listed as companion models---a term some people incorrectly equated with "sex robot". "It's a common misconception that we run some sort of elite escort/call-girl service," Claudia explained, "and the ad campaign doesn't help." She showed Vicki several full-page magazine ads, many of which featured couples intimately embracing, taking a relaxing dip in a hot tub or gazing into each others' eyes. "Not a single word about sex in any of these ads," she declared, "and yet we get slapped with the most derrogatory labels…"

"Maybe you should put someone in charge of the ad campaign who can get the right message across," Vicki suggested. "We would," Claudia agreed, "but…." She stopped and noticed someone out of Vicki's line of sight. "Nathan, what the hell happened to your shirt?!"

Vicki turned to see who Nathan was, only to realize that she was staring at someone who could've been Taylor Lautner's twin brother. Unlike several of her SJSU classmates, Vicki had a distinct hatred of Twilight (fostered by Shawn Helmsley's blog entitled "Vampires Don't Sparkle!"), but she had to admit, Taylor was one hell of a handsome guy, a fact that was echoed in Nathan's design.

"It wasn't my fault, trust me; the girl I was with last night was completely out of it! I told her three glasses of wine would be enough, but…." He stopped when he noticed Vicki staring at him, slack-jawed. "Ah, Claudia, that girl seems to have lost control of her jaw muscles or something…" Claudia rolled her eyes. "Nate, this is Vicki Lawson, from the ALPA. She's here to help us find out why Mr. Davies was killed." She gave Vicki a light nudge with her elbow, prompting the younger gynoid to snap out of her trance-like state. "Pleased to meet you," she told Nate, extending her hand. "Likewise," the handsome android replied, grinning as he shook Vicki's hand. "Interesting….I haven't met that many gynoids who use a myogel musculature," he mused. "How'd you know?" Vicki replied, slightly surprised that Nate had detected her true nature before she could tell him about it herself. "Myogel has a different density than human muscle. Plus, my tectile sensors picked up minute traces of boron fillaments in your skin---definitely not something one finds in human tissue."

"You got me there," Vicki admitted, grinning. "It's a holdover from what I used to be; my skin was designed to be resistant to all the wear-and-tear of household life. While we're on the subject of skin, you look a lot like…" "Taylor Lautner, I know," Nate replied with a laugh. "If it helps, I haven't had to walk around without a shirt on for quite a while; the only reason I'm not wearing one now is because my client got a little too drunk last night and, well…." "She threw up on it, didn't she?" Claudia asked disapprovingly. "Like I said, I told her to lay off the wine after three glasses, but she wouldn't listen to me!" Nate fired back defensively. Vicki cleared her throat; "I don't want to interrupt, but we have an investigation to conduct. Claudia, you mentioned the client's name was Mr. Davies; is there anything else you can tell me about him?"

As Vicki was interviewing Claudia and Nathan about Mr. Davies, Mr. Tell was viewing Davies' client info….and it was more than just personality information.

Mr. Davies, a.k.a. Stuart Jefferson Davies, was a legal consultant for software companies like Intel, Apple Inc., Encom and SanDisk. He'd celebrated his thirty-second birthday seven months ago, and was on the verge of marrying his then-current girlfriend before she decided to leave him for the lead singer in a Poison tribute band, a move that nearly ruined him. A friend told him about DreamLand, and he began visiting the facility twice every month. His favorite doll (his pet term for her) was Destiny, a Eurasian gynoid with pale blonde hair; during his first few visits to DreamLand, Davies and Destiny went on several dates (including a taping of WWE Friday Night SmackDown). Destiny even volunteered to work at Davies' office as a temp.

Tell expected to learn that Davies' girlfriend ordered him to stop going to DreamLand, or that his patronage there caused his work to suffer; to his surprise, Davies' productivity seemed to have gone up after his first visit to DreamLand. It was only during the last few weeks of his life that Stuart Davies' world seemed to have been shaken by a series of tragedies; his parents were killed when their car stalled in front of a train, his sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, and a few of the companies Stuart had worked for were being plagued by break-ins. None of these events, however, seemed to add up as a motive for murder.

"So why is Mr. Davies now dead with three bullets in the back of his skull?" Mr. Tell asked himself.

In a hotel room somewhere in Barstow, the man who killed Stuart Davies waited patiently for a phone call from his superiors.

Like Davies, the man was human, although he had a much more….interesting job than his victim. Whereas the late Stuart Davies was a legal consultant for high-end Silicon Valley companies, the man who killed him was, to put it bluntly, a professional murderer. His employers never asked for his name, and he never told them; it was rarely ever mentioned anyways. The only other fact most potential clients knew about him was that he ran a "professional mercenary school," where he trained the legions of footsoldiers employed by dictators, drug lords and other criminals; most of the "graduates" of his school only knew him as an incredibly efficient taskmaster, a man who could elevate their careers or kill them with his bare hands.

The phone rang.

"Matthews here." He answered using the alias he'd been operating under during the Davies assignment.

"Has the problem been solved?"

"Yes….permanently. Davies has been removed from the equation."

"Excellent. Take care of the other element, and your reward will be doubled."

The assassin smiled. "You want a clean kill, or should I send a message?"

"Be creative with this one. You've earned it."

Davies' murderer laughed. "I'll keep that in mind. What's the deadline?"

"We expect results by Wednesday afternoon."

"Consider it done. Anything else?"

"This masterpiece needs a special brush….check your mail tonight."

"Will do. And the name?"

"Keep it for now."

"Right. You'll know when the job is finished."

"You've been on a winning streak, Matthews. Don't let that end."

With that, the call ended.

The assassin---currently using the name "Trevor Matthews"---grinned; he'd finally been given some leeway for his latest job, and his employers were even sending him new gear to pull off the hit. "It's times like these I really love my job," he mused, cracking his knuckles and preparing to make a return trip to San Jose. Even though he hadn't mentioned the fact that he was currently in Barstow during the phone call, his employers---as always---seemed to know where he was at any given time; they'd probably be able to find him once he reached his destination, and the mail would be sent to whatever apartment or hotel he checked into.

He checked his watch. "6:15. Time enough for a quick lap in the pool…." He threw off the bathrobe he'd been wearing, revealing an athletic form clad in swim trunks. Before leaving the room, "Trevor" made a few phone calls and ordered some necessary supplies for the upcoming job, using a false name and address.

"This is going to be a very productive week," the assassin muttered, smiling.

Vicki finally got around to interviewing Destiny at 6:30 (a.m., obviously; she still needed to make it to class on time), with Nathan providing "emotional support" for Davies' favorite doll. As with the other androids and gynoids employed by DreamLand, Destiny had an immaculately-beautiful appearance; she looked about 27 years old, and Vicki could've sworn that her facial design was inspired by Jessica Alba.

"He was a really nice guy," she explained, when Vicki asked her about Davies; she even sounds like Jessica Alba, the younger gynoid thought. "I don't get why anyone would want to kill him!" Unlike Claudia and Nate (who was still wearing a pair of dress pants from the previous evening's engagement), Destiny was wearing a sky-blue swimsuit, and her hair was dripping wet. "Is there a pool around here?" Vicki asked, instantly wanting to kick herself for even thinking about it. "Just for the commercials," Destiny replied, "although some of the employees go swimming during their breaks. Why do you ask?" "No reason. I was just wondering why there would be a swimming pool in a building full of androids…"

Nathan smiled. "We've all been waterproofed," he explained, "although the early attempts had a few problems; I still remember what happened when Darla tried that jackknife dive into the pool at the Hilton…" "Don't remind me," Destiny interjected, shuddering at the thought. "I still can't get that mental image out of my mind. Her stomach melted open, all those wires sticking out…..and that smell…." Vicki cringed. "Were they able to repair Darla?" she asked. Nathan shook his head; "They had to transfer her consciousness into a new body, and they almost screwed that up, too."

Vicki thought back to Dianne, her former roommate; after getting stabbed by Faceless, she'd been scheduled to get a new body of her own in L.A., but someone (or something, Vicki reminded herself, remembering that the ALPA was still investigating the case) had destroyed her and murdered her parents. She recalled what Major Tom's e-mail had said; Every single part of her was immolated; every component, every motor, every wire and every inch of her internal framework was completely consumed by an explosion that also took out three of the seven technicians who were working to build her new body. The mere thought of the e-mail brought back a flood of other memories---electrocuting Faceless, seeing the words "VICKI LAWSON MUST DIE" written in blood all over the Student Union lobby, being stabbed in the back, saving Capri from being shot by a United Robotronics spy…..she shook her head, as if a simple gesture would send the memories away.

"…..and anyway, the last time I saw her, she was back in the Repair Bay again; apparently, she tripped over something and her face was dislodged….." Nathan stopped when he noticed Vicki staring at the floor. "Vicki, are you okay?" Vicki felt a lone tear making its way down her face; "Yeah, sorry….I was just remembering some of my not-so-greatest hits." She felt Nate's hand on her shoulder. "Trust me, we've all had bad days---or in my case, bad nights. Even Claudia's gone through the wringer a few times; remember that incident that Brindle guy? What was his name…Brandon?" Destiny nodded sullenly; "He tried to get Claudia to marry him after his wife went missing….except she wasn't missing, she just got stranded in Majorca or wherever she went for her vacation."

Vicki stifled a laugh, her mood instantly improving at the mention of Brandon Brindle's faux pas. "I actually remember that," she told Nathan and Destiny, "since it happened the week after my 18th birthday." That particular incident, in fact, had led to the affirmation of her friendship with the Brindles' daughter, Harriet---and it was the straw that broke the camel's back for the Brindle family; they sued each other for ridiculous reasons, and their trial was a veritable media circus. In the end, Vicki and Harriet saved the day (and the Brindles' marriage) by convincing the court that Brandon Brindle was under a lot of stress when he proposed to Claudia, and wasn't thinking clearly. "I never realized that Brandon's 'blushing bride-to-be' was Claudia," she explained. "I guess I was too busy doing other stuff to remember."

The interview with Destiny went by rather uneventfully after the reminiscing about Brandon's matrimonial faff with Claudia, and after ten minutes of asking personal questions, Vicki decided that she wanted to interview Darla, the gynoid who had apparently developed a reputation for being a klutz. "Just don't mention the Hilton incident," Nathan warned. "She still gets the heebies just thinking about it." "I'll keep that in mind," Vicki promised, as she followed Nathan to the repair bay.

She's not the only one who gets the heebies thinking about things like that, she mused.

"Ah, ma'am, according to this file, your credit card was last used by one Sydney Allwine to purchase a new Xbox 360. If what you're saying is true, then Mr. Allwine is using your credit card illegally." Leslie Erica Simm had just told her "sob story" to a bank manager in Morgan Hill, and wasn't the least bit surprised when he fell for it---thanks to a few altered documents that pointed the finger of blame at Sydney Allwine.

Leslie gasped, making sure to appear distraught. "But….I was a co-worker of his! I…I trusted him!" She shook her head, acting as if Sydney's use of "her" card (which was actually his) was a capitol crime. "I never thought he would do something like this to me," she told the manager, allowing a few tears to work their way down her face. "Ma'am," the manager assured her, "my employees and I will do everything we can to ensure that Mr. Allwine is brought to justice for the theft of your credit card. In the meantime, you can apply for a new one later today." Leslie smiled and shook hands with the bank manager, projecting equal amounts of fake relief and allure as she thanked him. "Just call me up when the bank opens, and your card will be waiting for you," he told her. She promised that she'd show up, and as soon as she was out of visual range of the manager's house, she ran straight for her Porsche and sped off.

"Humans are so easy to fool," she declared, not caring who heard. She checked the clock, which read 6:45 AM. "And it only took me 15 minutes to convince him that I'd been ripped off…..pathetic!" She threw back her head and laughed. The bank manager had been rather easy to deceive; his own wife (a rather attractive woman in her own right, Leslie mused) was still asleep when Leslie showed up, looking distraught. She made a mental note to call the manager later and get her "new" credit card, since she'd already maxed out Allwine's card with the help of the Internet; once she had a card of her own, Leslie intended to stay in San Jose for the remainder of the week, waiting until the time was right to enact her revenge against Vicki Lawson---and to make United Robotronics pay for abandoning the computer she'd been trapped inside in the basement.

"I just hope that the hotel in San Jose has arranged everything to my liking, otherwise…." Her grin turned sinister. "Otherwise……I'll have to kiss them all…and watch them cry…."

Mr. Tell rubbed his eyes and glanced at the clock; "6:50," he muttered with a yawn. "How many…" His question trailed off as he realized that he'd already gone over Stuart Davies' entire file. "Huh, I guess I didn’t realize what time it was. "This is the last time I get up before 6:30 for a mission," he mumbled, copying Davies' file to a flash drive (the security had been disabled so that he could access the files).

Upstairs in the repair bay, Vicki was interviewing Darla, the self-admitted klutz. Despite the fact that her face was currently detached, Darla was still cheerful. She looked to be about 24 (two years older than me, Vicki realized), with her brownish-gold hair arranged in a layered cut that framed her face. "I've talked to Claudia about having my CPU examined," she explained, the words sounding slightly digital coming from the bare speaker where her mouth was supposed to be, "but she keeps telling me that I'm not defective." "If it's any consolation," Vicki assured Darla, "I've screwed up more than a few times. Just three years ago, I got stuck in a cartwheel loop during a family reunion, and it took five hours for Ted to get me back to normal!" The two gynoids shared a laugh.

Five minutes later, Darla's face was attached and Vicki was continuing the interview. "Did you ever meet a client named Stuart Davies?" she asked. "Once, when Destiny asked me to go on a double date---her and Stuart, along with me and one of Stu's clients." "And who was this client?" Darla scowled; "He was a grade-A jerk, that's who. He reminded me of Patrick Bateman from that American Psycho movie---minus the psychotic behavior, obviously." Vicki rolled her eyes; "I meant, what was his name?" "Oh, that! Drake Bradford, I think. Like I said, the guy was a complete jerk. He had the nerve to ask me if I was a porn star!" Vicki took note of the name (and Darla's repeated mentions of his boorish behavior). "Did Stuart approve of Drake's behavior?" she asked. "Hell no! He kept apologizing to us---me and Destiny, I mean---and saying he'd never bring Drake on a double date with him again."

Vicki nodded and checked her watch. "7:00…..hopefully, Mr. Tell won't take too long with his part of this job." She thanked Darla for the information she'd given her. "This Bradford guy sounds like the kind of person who would stand to profit from Stuart's death," she explained. "Even if it wasn't him," Darla asked, "could you still lock him up? Y'know, since he's a tool?" Vicki grinned. "I'll see if I can get the ALPA to bend the rules a bit."

The rest of the hour went by uneventfully, and at 8:00 AM, Mr. Tell and Vicki had finished their assignment at DreamLand. Tell grinned when he realized what time it was; "See? I told you we'd be finished by 8 o'clock, V." Vicki rolled her eyes; "Just make sure I get back to SJSU before 8:30," she told the ALPA field agent. "As you wish," he declared, bowing theatrically. Vicki arched an eyebrow, but said nothing as the two got into the Tellmobile and headed back to SJSU.

Vicki made it back to the campus at 8:20, and thanks to a well-timed burst of energy from her RTG, she was able to leg it to her first class of the day without looking too conspicuous; instead of running around like the Flash, she simply ran at what appeared to be a normal human pace (though her myogel musculature gave her a much-needed---and, to the untrained eye, unnoticeable---speed boost). By 8:28, she was in her seat and ready to learn. Once class was finished, Vicki decided to head for the Student Union to see if her roommate, Sharon Wilson, had missed her. I just hope she didn't go asking around campus for me, she thought. To her surprise, not only did Sharon not notice Vicki was gone, she wasn't waiting for Vicki at the Student Union that morning; Shawn Helmsley and a girl with chestnut hair were sitting at Vicki's preferred table when she arrived. The new girl looked relatively young---probably 19, Vicki thought---but she apparently knew as much about Hunter S. Thompson as Shawn did, because the two were discussing Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 when Vicki arrived.

"Ah, Vicki! You've finally decided to grace us with your presence!" Shawn declared as Vicki sat down next to him. She gave him a playful smack in the arm; "Glad to see you held my spot, Shawn. Anyways, I was just wondering where Sharon went.." The new girl looked intrigued; "Who's Sharon?" she asked. "Before we get too far into that," Shawn interrupted, "I think that some introductory dialogue is in order. Vicki, this charming young specimen of humanity is Valerie Summers. Valerie, this somewhat-beautiful individual to my right--" Vicki smacked Shawn in the arm again--- "OW! Anyway, this is Vicki Lawson, and she usually doesn't hit people as often as she has thus far today." Vicki and Valerie shook hands. "I signed up for San Jose State University as soon as I graduated high school," Valerie explained, "and I've heard a lot of great things about this place." She looked Vicki over for a few seconds, as if trying to remember something. "Lawson….are you related to---" "Ted Lawson?" Vicki finished, grinning. "Yep. I'm his daughter---or as he likes to call me, his 'greatest creation'."

Shawn clapped his hands. "OKAY! Seeing as how the introductions are over and done, time to fill you in on what happened to Sharon since you've been out and about." Vicki's smile faded; "What do you mean, 'what happened to Sharon'? I thought she just slept late or something!" "Well," Shawn admitted, "she did….but not for a good reason. It seems that someone messed up the food from last night's tailgate party, and Sharon got hit with a case of food poisoning. She's okay right now," he added quickly, noticing that Vicki was about to bolt from the table and head for the nearest hospital; "She'll be out of class for a few days, but she's doing fine." Vicki sighed and returned to her seat. "Did anyone else get sick?" she asked. "The Twitter Twins, a few of the guys from the football team, one of the janitors….there were at least 21 people who puked their guts out last night, if I remember correctly." "You didn't have to put it that way," Vicki replied, frowning.

"I don't know if it's related to the food poisoning," Valerie interjected, "but one of the girls in your hallway left last night." Vicki's mood changed instantly. "Left? What do you mean, left?" "They simply left campus. Turned in their books and, well, left. Someone named Kirsten told me about it earlier…" So it wasn't Kirsten….that's a relief. "Did they give any reason for quitting?" Valerie shook her head. "According to Kirsten, whoever left was tired of the way things were here on campus." Shawn steepled his fingers and stared at the table. "I'm pretty sure it's a bit more complicated than that," he told Valerie and Vicki. "It might have been that their energies weren't in tune with the rest of the campus. After all…" "Oh, no," Vicki moaned. "Please don't say what I think you're going to say…." "After all," Shawn repeated, a bit louder this time, "all energy flows according to the whims of the Great Magnet."

Vicki slapped her forehead. "I'm betting that there are a lot of potential explanations for someone leaving campus," she mused, "but I'm pretty sure that most of them don't involve 'the Great Magnet.'" "Don't defy the Magnet!" Shawn intoned ominously; Vicki dismissed him with a wave of her hand as she stood up to leave.

"Right now," she murmured, "the Great Magnet is the least of my problems."

Valerie watched Vicki leave with some trepidation; this girl was the subject of Sophia's surveillance mission? she wondered. Her connections to Lawson Robotics must be incredibly important for United Robotronics to essentially buy out the entire F5 wing of the Vault; otherwise, Andrew Sharpe was just as insane as Faceless.

Still, there must be something else about her….

Feeling that Sophia would've wanted her to do more than just follow Vicki, Valerie ran a scan on her as she left the Student Union. This probably won't turn up anything, but----wait….it's registering a power source…energy readings emanating from…her left pelvic region?! But that would mean she's powered by……

Suddenly, everything clicked.

Vicki Lawson…..also known as the Voice Input Cybernetic Identicant….a.k.a. V.I.C.I.!

Valerie's CPU was overwhelmed with questions. Did Sophia know? Did Sharpe know? How many others on campus knew that Vicki Lawson was a gynoid? How many---

"So. You've got scanning capabilities, too."

Valerie blinked; somehow, she'd managed to make it to a women's bathroom without even realizing it. Upon further examination of her surroundings, she found that she'd somehow followed Vicki to Clark Hall, where the brunette gynoid was staring at her with a look of indifference. "I….I don't know what you're talking about," Valerie stammered, but Vicki silenced her with a glare. "Save it. I have friends in high places who help me out by giving me upgrades---scanning people to see if they're human or not, for example---but my latest upgrade allows me to detect when I'm being scanned by anyone. When you ran your scan on me back at the Student Union, my sensors picked it up, so I ran a little GPS scrambler to get you to follow me without even knowing it." She smiled---not arrogantly, but with a sense that she had beaten Valerie at her own game..whatever that game was. "United Robotronics' gynoids aren't the only ones with tricks up their sleeves."

Valerie shook her head sadly. "I wasn't going to hurt you or anything! I'd never harm another gynoid on a whim…or on anyone's orders! Do you remember a few weeks ago, when you defeated Faceless?" Vicki nodded. "Well," Valerie continued, "you should also remember what happened to the green-haired gynoid who showed up earlier…" Vicki thought back; the 6'1" gynoid had shown up to take down Denise, the infected gynoid who had thrown Faceless around….

"She was the one who was impaled with the bat, right?" she asked. Valerie nodded, tears running down her face. "Sophia is my superior; she told me to stay in the car that night to keep from being damaged." She closed her eyes and began sobbing quietly. "We…we were only supposed to observe you, not get involved in fights!" Vicki's mood softened; she'd always hated United Robotronics for putting Ted Lawson through the wringer, but apparently, not all of their emmisaries were completely heartless. She put her arm around Valerie's shoulder; "I'm sorry for assuming that you were out to get me," she told the younger gynoid, "and I'm definitely sorry about what happened to Sophia, but I have to ask: does she know the truth about me?" "," Valerie admitted.

Vicki steeled herself; I'm sorry, Valerie….."Then I'm afraid you can't know either."

Before either of them could say or do anything else, their phones went off. Both of them listened---Vicki, with a sense of forboding; Valerie, with an unbearable urge to scream---as the voices on the other end of their respective lines told them about the fire that destroyed a United Robotronics warehouse in Santa Clara; at the mention of the delirious guards, Vicki shuddered, and Valerie made a sound as if she was going to throw up. After the phone calls ended, Vicki and Valerie stared at each other for a while. "Seeing as how something's just come up," Vicki told the younger gynoid, "you're now the fourth person on campus who knows the truth about me…but you have to promise me that you won't tell anyone else, okay?" Valerie nodded tearfully.

I hope this doesn't become a habit, Vicki mused.

Leslie Erica Simm finally arrived in San Jose at 9:30 AM, and found that the hotel was, indeed, to her liking. Of course, it helped that she now had a fully-loaded (and usable) credit card, a whole wardrobe of new clothes and the undivided attention of most of the male staff members (thanks in no small part to her newly-acquired miniskirt/strapless tank top combo outfit). At the same time, the assassin calling himself Trevor Matthews arrived at the same hotel, making sure not to draw too much attention to himself. By some cosmic twist of fate, his room was right next to the room Leslie was staying in. Had he known beforehand what that would entail, he would've called off the hit on Destiny and told his superiors where to shove it.

Trevor busied himself by memorizing the directions to the nearest post office, where he'd be picking up the tools necessary to carry out the hit; once he'd finished that, he began his usual morning workout routine. "All I have to do is lay low until Wednesday," he told himself as he completed a set of one-handed push-ups and settling into a meditative stance. "It should be easy, considering--"

A knock at the door ended his meditation.

The assassin frowned. His employers hadn't said anything about sending someone over, and he hadn't called room service. With a throwing knife palmed in his hand, Trevor headed for the door. Before he could even ask "Who is it?" or "What do you want?", the door flew open. That's impossible! he realized. I locked that damn thing---

"Well, well, well…..what do we have here?" Standing in the doorway was a 5'10" redhead, clad in a satin bathrobe that accentuated her curves nicely. Trevor was pissed. "Look, you," he growled, "I don't have any time for---" The redhead silenced him with a gesture, putting her finger to his lips. "You just let me do all the talking, sweetheart," she whispered; something about her voice---the British accent, perhaps?---drained the anger from him. "I, uh….the door…" he heard himself mumble. YOU RETARD! he mentally screamed, berating himself. SHE'S COMPROMISING THE MISSION! GET HER OUT OF HERE BEFORE---

Without warning, the redhead kissed him.

Instantly, the assassin's mind became enveloped in what he could only describe as the most erotically intense fever he had ever felt. Every cell in his body seemed to be screaming in absolute, unbridled euphoria, and his senses focused only on the gorgeous woman in front of him, noticing that she had already taken off the bathrobe. "I've been feeling very lonely lately," she told him, her words sounding as if they were both in a tunnel, "and I was wondering if you'd be willing to….oh, I don't know…." Her sly smile was the only invitation his fevered brain needed; he nodded automatically at whatever the last part of the sentence was.

The redhead's smile grew bigger. "I knew you'd see things my way." She calmly walked over to the door, closing and re-locking it. "Now," she purred, "let's get to know each other better….."

Within minutes, other residents of the hotel could hear screaming coming from Trevor Matthews' room. Seeing as how it was recognized as the kind of screaming that accompanied intense lovemaking, however, the police weren't called, allowing events to continue on their intended course.

If the other residents had known any better, they would've called for the FBI instead of not calling the police….

V.I.C.I. had braced herself for disappointment after she gave Mr. Tell the full scoop on the incident with Valerie, which made his reaction all the more memorable.

"And you're telling me this….why?"

"I'm telling you because her registration number matches one from the United Robotronics database! She's not exactly on our side, remember?" The fact that Mr. Tell wasn't jumping on the phone to call the ALPA and tell them about the incident was intriguing; V.I.C.I. had expected that much from him, at the very least. "United Robotronics has their own problems right now, V." Tell called from another room. "They just lost a warehouse in Santa Clara this morning."

"You already told me that over the phone," V.I.C.I. called back. She'd situated herself in the workroom, where Major Tom and two other ALPA agents---both female---were helping Tell with a project. The two women---one human, one gynoid---were unpacking crates and unloading the contents on the slab. V.I.C.I. noticed that the aforementioned contents of the crates were gynoid limbs, and she found herself thinking back to the new body Dianne was supposed to get before her obliteration.

Major Tom watched the ALPA agents for a while, then turned his attention to V.I.C.I.; "You said this Valerie had a serial number from United Robotronics," he mentioned. "Yeah," V.I.C.I. replied, "but the weird thing is, she said she was only there to observe me. I don't think any of her superiors even know that I'm not human…" "Which is a good thing," Major Tom interjected, "because we have no idea what United Robotronics would do to you if they did find out." V.I.C.I. had to agree with him there; even if they weren't going disassemble her for parts or run tests on her, everything she held dear would be gone. Life as she knew it would be over.

She decided to distract herself. "So….what are we building?" "Not what," one of the ALPA agents corrected, "who." This particular agent was a gynoid, a stunningly-beautiful African-American named Chase. The other agent, a 25 year old East Indian girl named Maris, was busy checking the actuators inside the disassembled gynoid's left arm. V.I.C.I. rolled her eyes; "Okay, then…who are we building?" Major Tom didn't even have to check the gynoid's documentation; "June Hamilton. She'll be helping out in the Cooling Plant on campus and teaching some Science classes. And before you ask, she'll know what she is as soon as she's activated." V.I.C.I. gave Major Tom a look; "Does that mean she wasn't built to replace someone else?" "She's not like Kirsten or Dianne," Maris interjected without looking up. "June has a pre-programmed personality created by Lawson Robotics; we've also given her enough paperwork to get past the campus background checks."

"V! SOMEONE WANTS TO TALK TO YOU ON THE PHONE!" Mr. Tell's shout was completely unnecessary; the work being done in the workshop wasn't making enough noise to drown out his voice, and the building had been built so that one wouldn't need to shout to be heard between rooms. V.I.C.I. sighed theatrically; "I'd better take this," she monotoned, drawing amused stares from Maris and Chase. Major Tom raised an eyebrow, but said nothing as V.I.C.I. made her way to the phone.

"What…..the hell……did you do to me?!"

Trevor Matthews stared at Leslie Erica Simm as if she'd just tortured him….which, technically, she had.

"Well, that's a fine 'thank you,' isn't it! I show up and give you the best sex you've ever had, and that's the first thing you ask me?" Her feigned indignation only got Trevor angry. "When you kissed me," he muttered, "you did something to me….you COMPLETELY screwed up my thinking…" Leslie shushed him. "That was the pheremones, darling," she purred, tracing her finger around his chest absent-mindedly. "Pheremones?! How the hell---" He started to get up from the bed, but to his surprise, Leslie shoved him back down with one hand.

"I know why you're here in San Jose, 'Trevor Matthews,'" she told him, all traces of playfullness gone. "And I also know that 'Trevor Matthews' isn't your real name…just like Jack Ditko, Steve Kirby and Robert Norton aren't your real names." She smirked. "In case you haven't figured it out yet, sweetie, I'm an android." "Wha.. what?!" Trevor stared at the half-naked redhead, wondering if his mind was failing him. Leslie rolled her eyes. "You want proof? HERE!" She grabbed at her bra---and the flesh beneath---and pulled.

The bizarre display showcased a unique feature of the gynoid whose body L.E.S. had taken over---resealable skin. When L.E.S. became Leslie Erica Simm, she memorized this detail (and numerous others) to ensure that no weakness could be exploited when she faced Vicki Lawson. But enough about that…. Trevor stared as the "flesh" tore away from Leslie's breasts, revealing the gel-sacks and titanium frame beneath. "That proof enough for you, Trevor?" she asked, mockingly.

Trevor started to say something, then felt an overwhelming wave of nausea. In seconds, he passed out on the bed. Leslie tut-tut-ed. "Useless twit," she murmured. As if waiting for some unseen cue, the phone rang. "I'm going to take this call, dear," she whispered to the unconscious assassin, "even though it's probably for you." She smiled brightly and picked up the receiver.

"Are the accommodations to your liking, Matthews?"

The voice was toneless, emotionless, and flat, with just a hint of a Japanese accent. "Matthews is out," Leslie drawled, "but I'd be happy to take a message---"

"That will not be necessary, Miss Simm. We had expected to replace Matthews on this assignment, but not so soon…."

All traces of bravado left Leslie's voice. "You….you know who I am?"

The voice on the other end chuckled. "Who…and[/i ]what, [i]Miss Simm. Your recent exploits have drawn our attention, and we're impressed with your handiwork. Very impressed."

Pride slowly began to replace the fear that built up in her gut (even though she didn't really have a gut). "Ah, the warehouse, you mean? Yeah…that one was particularly entertaining…"

"Enough praising your past work, Miss Simm. When Matthews wakes up, tell him that you are now his official partner on this operation….and that the Baron sends his regards. He will know what that means."

"Of course, right…" Leslie laughed nervously; whoever was on the other end said nothing, choosing to end the call in silence. After hanging up the phone, Leslie re-sealed the skin over her breasts, carefully maneuvering the fabric of her bra to avoid fusing the material to her synthetic flesh. When the deed was done, she checked herself in the mirror; sure enough, her boobs looked perfectly natural. "Good thing, too…" she muttered. "Going out with one halfway hanging out wouldn't exactly help my situation…" She found her bathrobe and retrieved a pen from the pocket, scribbling "We're working together now. The Baron sends his regards. Signed, Leslie" on a blank memo pad and leaving it where Trevor (or whatever the bloody hell his name is, she fumed) would be able to see it as soon as he woke up.

"Please tell me you're kidding……"

V.I.C.I. felt an overwhelming urge to throw the phone receiver against the wall of Mr. Tell's study; Ted Lawson had called to tell her that the United Robotronics warehouse fire was definitely an arson case, and now there was evidence that something had been going on in the basement.

"Sorry, Vicki, but I'm not kidding. Whoever torched the place found the old computer…"

"Jamie's old computer?" V.I.C.I. asked, knowing full well that Jamie still had his old PC; he'd ammassed a nice collection of games on it, and wanted to keep it as an heirloom of sorts for future generations.

"The other old computer, Vicki."

Despite the sense of hopelessness she felt, V.I.C.I. managed to ask (albiet in a small voice) "The one that you used to restore my memories after that one time----"

"The other other old computer."

There it was….that sinking feeling in her abdomen---and it had nothing to do with low batteries. The other other old computer's presence could only mean one thing.

"Dad….do you think this has anything to do with…y'know…"

"That computer's hard drive should've been wiped as soon as United Robotronics got their hands on it, but seeing as how they were undergoing some….managerial difficulties at the time, L.E.S. was able to develop a personality of its own. A few of their code monkeys actually kept a running journal related to L.E.S.; apparently, the last time they were monitoring it, it was demanding that they refer to it as a female."

V.I.C.I.'s jaw dropped, and the phone nearly went with it. "What?!"

"Each time L.E.S. tried to take over your CPU, some element of your programming must have imprinted on it and created a gender preference of some kind. But that's not the weirdest part….according to the UR techs, L.E.S. wanted to gain a body of its….her own. Namely, yours."

Again, V.I.C.I. went slack-jawed. "This can't be happening…." She looked for---and found---a silver lining in the ever-growing cloud of suck; "I purged the last bit of L.E.S. from my system back in 2008, remember? She can't mess with me anymore." She realized that she'd just called a computer program "she", but considering what Ted had told her, it didn't sound that strange to her anymore.

V.I.C.I. could almost sense Mr. Tell's smile as he joined the conversation "Good thing you ran that code purge, too; your hard drive was a cesspool of screwed-up code, and had it not been for the purge, your 'cartwheel across campus' stunt would've been the least of your problems that year." The humor left his voice as he continued. "Unfortunately, Ted and I have been told that L.E.S. has already acquired a body of her own, and she's been using the credit card of a United Robotronics employee to line her wardrobe---and her pockets."

"And she still wants me…why?" V.I.C.I. asked, all too aware of the pleading nature of the question.

"We're not sure," Ted replied. "All we know is that she's in San Jose at the moment, under the name Leslie Erica Simm." So much for subtlety, V.I.C.I . thought to herself. Out loud, she decided to ask Ted's advice; "What should I look for?" "We think that the gynoid L.E.S. took over was a United Robotronics inventory manager; she was supposed to catalogue the items inside Warehouse 12.5, but records indicate she never completed her appointed task."

"Gee, I wonder why," V.I.C.I. muttered.

Leslie Erica Simm was really enjoying her new lifestyle.

Thanks to the fact that she had paid her way into San Jose with Sydney Allwine's credit card, she didn't owe a single dime in debt; every purchase, tip, and other expenditure she'd made was charged to Allwine. Her own card had been approved earlier that morning, and she was more than ready to head out into Silicon Valley to find and torment Vicki Lawson.

And that wasn't even the best part.

After having seduced (and slept with) Trevor Matthews (or whatever the hell he's called, she griped), Leslie had managed to convince the mercenary to let her in on his mission….and boy, was it a doozy. Apparently, Trevor had killed someone important a few days ago---Stuart Davies, a legal consultant for various Silicon Valley companies. More intriguing than that, however, was the fact that Stu was a frequent client of a place called DreamLand, an upscale service that provided companions for wealthy citizens. Nothing strange there… except that the "companions" were androids and gynoids. Stu's favorite companion in particular was a hot little number called Destiny, and it was Trevor's job to silence her….permanently.

Still, something didn't seem quite right to Leslie; ever since gaining her new body, it was as if her emotions were running her, instead of the other way around. Still, her fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants approach had worked so far; she hadn't been arrested yet, and she already had "Trevor" in her thrall.

Leslie grinned to herself as she waited for Trevor to get back from the post office; they'd long since checked out of the hotel Trevor had been staying in (after Leslie trashed the bathroom) and rented an apartment closer to Destiny's workplace. "I have a feeling that this is going to be a very interesting evening," she murmured to herself, stretching out in the bathtub and allowing the bubble bath to cover every inch of her bare skin. "I should've found myself a body like this years ago…"

She sighed contentedly, blissfully unaware that her tryst with the assassin would have dire consequences….

Across the ocean, Leslie Erica Simm's actions were providing a rather interesting form of entertainment for the mastermind in charge of United Robotronics.

"I always did find L.E.S. amusing," the Baron remarked. "How fortunate that our operative at the warehouse escaped before that inventory girl was sent there….." He steepled his abnormally-thin fingers (hidden beneath gloves) and grinned. "The proverbial lamb to the slaughter." Several feet away, a splash echoed through the room; someone had just executed a cannonball dive.

This particular part of the Baron's "fortress" was unique; unlike the mundane, typical skyscrapers that U.R. had erected in the United States, the building currently housing the company's true owner had (among other things) a fully-stocked library, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and several sub-layers of "observation rooms", which were actually little more than cells with Perspex windows. The Baron was lounging in the darkest corners of the swimming pool area at the moment, making sure that every inch of his person was hidden from view by his custom-fit double-breasted pinstripe suit.

Celine, his personal secretary, made her way over to where her employer was "relaxing"; she'd traded her usual attire for a stunning metallic green bikini. "I just read the report that you authorized the reactivation of L.E.S.," she declared, sounding pissed. "Haven't you read her file?!" "I have," the Baron replied, "and I found it incredibly amusing." Celine's eyes narrowed dangerously. "'Amusing'?! L.E.S.'s personality matrix has degraded substantially over the years, and---"

"If I wanted you to tell me things I already knew," the Baron cut in, "I'd have you read the results of next year's Super Bowl…but, seeing as how the game hasn't actually happened yet…." He chuckled, the sound sending chlills up Celine's titanium/plastic spine. "I know perfectly well that L.E.S. has a flawed personality matrix, and that is the exact reason why I reactivated her. She'll prey on Vicki Lawson's most glaring weakness…her empathy." Celine scowled. "I would say that empathy isn't a weakness," she replied, "but you'd just ignore me and call for one of your other flunkies to bring more paperwork to distract you." The Baron laughed at this remark, which made Celine even more nervous; something about her employer's laugh made her want to run back to her recharging pod, close the door and turn out the lights---that, or find the nearest bed and jump in, pulling the covers over her as quickly as possible.

"You can relax, Celine," the Baron drawled. "I won't have any of my 'flunkies' escort you out or bring more paperwork for me to ignore. In any case, L.E.S. will be carefully monitored in case she deviates too far from the plan, at which time---" "At which time you'll call in one of your hired guns to put a bullet in her CPU!" Celine spat. "It's bad enough we let an innocent gynoid get deleted---" The Baron laughed again; this time, it was even more unnerving because every other individual in the room was simply ignoring the sound. "'Innocent'? My dear celine, you are either the most naïve gynoid in the world, or you're just mind-bogglingly stupid. That gynoid's job was to keep every single illegally-acquired item in the United Robotronics archives from being found by anyone else." Hidden by the shadows, the Baron smiled a shark's smile. "Still think she's just an innocent victim?"

Despite her disgust with the Baron, Celine knew that speaking out against him would be futile. "It doesn't matter wht I think," she muttered, "you'll just say I'm wrong anyway." The Baron nodded, the gesture barely visible in the gloom surrounding him. "Indeed I will…and I suggest you get back to enjoying your day off; I'm thinking about closing off the pool and running some waterproofing tests…"

Celine glared at her employer, but held her anger in check. "We've received another update regarding Project Epsilon," she informed him. "Apparently, it's showing a remarkable resistance to Stylo." The Baron clapped his hands together; "Excellent!" he hissed. "Just as I expected….and the others?" "The other subjects have all been infected," Celine replied tonelessly. "They've begun tearing each other's limbs off."

"An intriguing development," the Baron remarked. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to resume my meditation before my cycle of thought is further interrupted."

Celine walked back to the pool, disgusted with herself. Not for the first time…..

Once she'd left Tell's workshop, Vicki wondered where L.E.S.----or Leslie, or whatever she's calling herself these days---would be waiting. Ted had sent her a picture of the gynoid whose body was now Leslie's, and while she didn't look too plain, there was nothing that set her apart from the rest of SJSU's student population; the old "needle in a haystack" chestnut was proving all too true in this case, and if Vicki couldn't extract that proverbial needle from the proverbial haystack….

"Something on your mind, Vicki?" Shawn Helmsley's voice jolted Vicki out of her reverie. "Yeah…my dad told me that an old friend of mine might be in town," she admitted, noting the irony of her statement. The two had met at the Student Union to discuss Sharon's situation, which was slowly improving; the doctors had already allowed her to return to the dorm, although she'd still be missing classes for the rest of the week "Shame that she got sick off of the tuna melt," Shawn mused; "I heard it's her favorite." "Well, it could've been worse," Vicki replied. "How so?" Shawn asked, intrigued. Vicki grinned; "My dad could've been the one doing the cooking at that tailgate party." The two shared a laugh; thanks to his friendship with Vicki, Shawn had heard tales of Ted Lawson's below sub-par cullinary "skills" during the past semester, and he'd even had a chance to see for himself when Ted offered to submit a dish for an SJSU Christmas bash the previous year.

After Shawn left, Vicki ran through the notes she'd taken in class and prepared to head back to her dorm room. She was a foot away from the door when she heard someone calling her over. Great…just when I'm about to head back to my room…. She followed the voice and found that it was Destiny, standing by a window wearing a trenchcoat…and not much else; beneath the cote, she was only wearing the bikini she'd had on when Vicki had last seen her.

"Destiny, what are you doing here?!" "Vicki, I…I didn't know who else to call. Something's happened---" "Wait, wait, wait. You didn't call Mr. Tell?" Destiny looked around, clearly uncomfortable with her surroundings; "That's the thing. He's already at DreamLand….and he sent me to call for you."

This can't be good……….

After Destiny scrounged up the necessary bus fare, Vicki arrived at DreamLand to find several police officers talking to a group of individuals who looked like FBI agents, instantly recognizing the would-be Feds as ALPA agents. She found Major Tom overseeing the removal of what looked suspiciously like a body from the parking lot. "What happened here?" she asked, worried. "Ah, ma'am," a nearby cop told her, "this area is for law enforcement officials only---" "She's with me," Major Tom interjected, and the cop nodded and continued going about his business.

"Well?" Vicki asked after the officer had turned away. "I'll tell you what didn't happen," Major Tom muttered, "a massacre. Someone delivered a frakking bomb to this place." Vicki gasped. "What?! Who would try to--" "Does the name 'Leslie Erica Simm' mean anything to you?" Major Tom asked.

If Vicki would've had a heart, she would've been able to feel it drop at exactly that moment.

"What….did you say the name was?" she asked, as calmly as she could muster.

"Leslie Erica Simm," Major Tom repeated. "Does that mean anything….HEY! Where the hell are you---"

"To finish what L.E.S. started." Vicki didn't even wait for Tom to finish the question before replying in her robotic monotone. "Don't wait up." "But you don't even know the full details," another Fed told her; she didn't even have to look at the agent to recognize her as Capri. "Sorry," she murmured, once again using her human voice, "but I can't afford to wait. L.E.S. has waited over 11 years for a rematch with me…." Capri winced as Vicki clenched her fists. "If it's a fight she wants, it's a fight she'll get."

Capri sighed and handed Vicki a map. "She was last spotted in an apartment complex across town with someone calling himself Trevor Matthews. I hope you know what you're doing, V.I.C.I.; if you get damaged…."

V.I.C.I.'s reply was short, sweet and to the point: "I won't." In her normal voice: "But just in case…."

"A gathering of angels appeared above my head! They sang to me this song of hope, and this is what they said! They said, COME SAIL AWAY! COME SAIL AWAY! COME SAIL AWAY WITH ME, LADS!" Mr. Tell's rendition of the Styx classic "Come Sail Away" filled the workroom (along with the song as heard on "Styx: Greatest Hits", blaring from a CD player on the other side of the room) as he loaded a power cell into the chest cavity of June Hamilton. "Just a couple more hours, and you'll be ready to start work," he declared, grinning and air-drumming to "Come Sail Away" as it blared from the stereo. Amazingly, not even the combination of the recorded vocals of Dennis DeYoung and the live vocals of Mr. Tell could drown out the persistent knocking at the door.

"I wonder if I should get that," he mused sarcastically. The knocking on the door got louder, and the familiar voice of Vicki Lawson shouted "OPEN THE FREAKING DOOR ALREADY!" Tell sighed and turned down the volume on "Come Sail Away", muttering "Always when it gets to the good part." As soon as he opened the door, however, the joke he intended to make died on his lips; Vicki looked mad.

"Ah, V, I didn't mean to leave you out there," he began, but V.I.C.I. brushed past him. "How much do you know about L.E.S.?" she asked, heading straight for the workshop. "You'd have to ask Ted about that," Tell replied, realizing that V.I.C.I. had already settled on a course of action. "You're not thinking of going after her, are you?" "I'm guessing you haven't seen what happened at DreamLand, then," the brunette gynoid replied. "Leslie delivered a bomb to the place; half the employees got caught in the blast, and the others are too damaged to continue working there. " She looked Tell in the eye; "I need you to give me something that can help me beat her."

Tell sighed; "I would if I could, but I can't. This isn't MechWarrior, V; you can't just show up, ask me to give you a phased plasma cannon in the 40-watt range and expect me to magically produce one!" "But there has to be something you can do!" V.I.C.I. pleaded. "I can't face her bare-handed---" "You won't," Tell replied. "I gave you DG v1.0 a few weeks ago, remember? That should be the only weapon you need!" "Yeah," V.I.C.I. agreed, "except I have to get close to her to use it; you said I couldn't do the 'Emperor Palpatine' thing where I shoot lightning from my fingers until you fixed a bug in the code, remember?" She sat down on a stool next to the slab where June Hamilton's half-finished body lay. "There's got to be something I can use to beat her."

Mr. Tell pulled up a chair and sat next to V.I.C.I.; "If I were you," he advised, "I'd worry less about beating her and more about finding out why she brought a bomb to DreamLand." V.I.C.I. sighed; "Why do you think I came here? I've been going over the details in my mind, and it just doesn't seem like something she'd do, no matter how obsessed she is with me…." "Then it probably wasn't her. Something tells me she's teamed up with the idiot who offed Davies; it's just a hunch, but---hey, I'm not done yet!"

V.I.C.I. was already on her way out. "Tell, something tells me your hunch is correct in this case. Don't ask me how I know, I just have a feeling." She turned to leave, only to notice the half-completed June Hamilton on the slab. "Before I go and give Leslie a piece of my mind, how's June doing?" Tell chuckled; "She's a lot easier to put together than most of the United Robotronics units that have been flooding my shop over the last few weeks." "You've been repairing UR units?!" V.I.C.I. gasped. "Trust me," the ALPA field mechanic replied, "I'm doing them a massive favor. Apparently, the higher-ups at United Robotronics are cutting back on repair costs, and it shows---I've had 'droids come in here with arms that refuse to move the right way, phantom pianist syndrome, eyes that can only see in black-and-white---"

"'Phantom pianist syndrome'?" V.I.C.I. echoed, stiffling a laugh. "Basically, their fingers are playing out tunes from Bach, Mozart and Chopin in midair---a bit like air guitar really, except they have no control over it. It's not half as funny as it sounds, either; PPS can really screw things up if the affected unit is a mechanic, a surgeon or anyone else who relies on their hands to do precision work." "I didn't know it was so serious," Vicki replied, instantly wanting to kick herself for even thinking about laughing. "Well," Tell intoned dramatically, "now you know---"

"If you say 'and knowing is half the battle', Vicki interjected, "I'm going to scream." Mr. Tell grinned. "You know me all too well, V. Good luck….and don't be too harsh with Leslie." Vicki nodded. "I'll try to play nice…but if she plays dirty…." She switched to her monotone voice. "So will I."

"That's the last time I work with someone as incompetent as you! You nearly got us both killed! If you EVER jeopardize my safety again…."

Anyone passing the apartment complex would've thought that Leslie was getting beaten by Trevor Matthews, but the reality of the situation was more…..interesting. Leslie was using her vocal mimicry software to scream, shout and swear at the walls using Trevor's voice, all while she broke furniture, punched the walls and made a big show of acting like she was getting beat up. Trevor, meanwhile, was passed out in the bedroom (at least, Leslie thought he was passed out…) after yet another round of pheromone-induced sex; by the time he woke up, Leslie would be long gone---and Trevor would be arrested for domestic abuse.

"And when the police find the cache of illegal weaponry under his bed," Leslie reminded herself, grinning like a fiend, "he'll be sent away for life!" She giggled; even though something about her situation still didn't feel quite right, she was still loving the fact that she'd effectively screwed over a master assassin like Trevor

"Good plan….except you left out one detail."

Leslie's grin vanished as the monotone voice interrupted her thoughts. "And what detail would that be?" she asked, turning to face the intruder who had just entered her suite….only to find herself face to face with an older, wiser (and upgraded) Vicki Lawson. Her look of indifference was replaced with one of sheer terror. "You?"

"Exactly. You forgot about me." Vicki didn't move an inch.

To her surprise, Leslie's grin returned. "After all these years……my, how you've grown! Still got a great pair of circuits, by the looks of it----got a great pair of something else, as well. Hell, everything on you looks great; I actually miss seeing you in pinafores, though…." "Save it, 'Leslie'. Why'd you deliver a bomb to DreamLand? They have nothing to do with what you did to me all those years ago!"

Leslie shook her head. "You just…don't get it, do you? The bomb was just a diversion…something to attract your attention. See, when I took over your body, the main reason I did it was to gain your processing power…but something happened. Something I didn't expect." She walked over to the bed and sat down, pushing Trevor's comatose form off the bed. "Vicki, I don't know how else to say it, but…..I love you!"

Vicki glared at Leslie. "Are you malfunctioning or something? I could've sworn I just heard you say that you love me." A pained look crossed Leslie's face. "That's because I do! Vicki, there's something about you that appealed to me on so many levels……something that still appeals to me! I want to be with you forever!"

The directness of her declaration was a bit shocking, but Vicki refused to be swayed. "Why? So you can take over my body again and get everyone to blame me for all the destruction you'll cause afterwards?" She shook her head. "Forget it. I won't fall for that again---" Before she could finish the sentence, Leslie crossed the room in five seconds and grabbed her. "You think I'm kidding?" she cooed. "Why don't I show you just how serious I am?" Vicki was too startled to say anything other than "Wha--" before Leslie planted a kiss right on her lips….a kiss that went on for a full ten seconds.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity (to Vicki, at least), Leslie pulled back, her eyes closed so that the moment wouldn't be ruined. "There," she murmured, opening her eyes and giving Vicki a sensual grin. "See what I mean----"

Vicki's reply was rather abrupt: her fist slammed into Leslie's face before she could finish the question.

"First of all," she declared, as Leslie shook herself out of the punch-induced stupor, "I have nothing against lesbians, but when it comes to the two of us----I'm off limits. Secondly, NEVER touch me again unless you want to get thrown off the roof of a 30-story building. Thirdly---" Vicki stopped counting when she noticed Leslie growling like a rabid wolverine; "Uh, okay, maybe I went a little overboard with the punch," she admitted, before Leslie let loose with a scream and jumped at her.

Vicki barely had time to load DG v1.0 before Leslie descended upon her like a tigress; the minute the amorous gynoid's hands found their way to Vicki's shirt to rip it away, Leslie got a face full of handheld lightning. She fell backwards, shrieking like a banshee, as Vicki stood up and smoothed out her shirt. "I'm guessing you've already forgotten about the 'never touch me again' rule," she surmised; her monotone voice only enraged Leslie further. "Why can't you just accept the fact that we're destined to be together?!" she cried. "Because we're not destined to be together," V.I.C.I. replied. "Maybe you would've been better off with Vanessa; she always did have a rebellious streak in her programming." "But I don't want Vanessa," Leslie whined, "I want YOU!"

V.I.C.I.'s tone didn't waver: "That's too bad…because I don't want you."

Leslie let loose with another angry shriek and charged at V.I.C.I., expecting her to dive out of the way; to her surprise, the brunette gynoid grabbed her in both arms, swung her up and power-slammed her through a nearby end table. "Don't do that again," V.I.C.I. admonished, wagging her finger at Leslie.

"Practice what you preach, girlie, unless you want me to blow your brains out."

V.I.C.I. turned around to see Trevor on his feet, aiming a wicked-looking pistol at her. "On the ground, now," he ordered. "The same goes for you," he added, waving the gun at Leslie. "You shouldn't point that thing at me," V.I.C.I. told him. "Somebody might get hurt." "Yeah," Trevor sneered, "and that someone will be you if you don't---" "I didn't mean me," V.I.C.I. interrupted, grinning.

She focused her attention on Trevor's gun….and seconds later, it sailed out of his hand into hers.

"See what I mean?" she asked, as Trevor stared at her with a dumbfounded look. "But….you…." "First rule of gun safety," V.I.C.I. reminded the astonished mercenary, "always point the barrel up." Without waiting for him to make another snide remark, she bent the barrel of the expensive pistol upwards. "Now you won't have to worry about accidentally shooting anyone," she mused, throwing in a playful wink for good measure.

Trevor tried to glare at V.I.C.I., only to realize that he'd pissed himself. "Screw this," he shouted; as V.I.C.I. and Leslie watched, he ran full-bore for the window, ready to leap through it….

"NO!" Vicki shouted, reverting back to her human voice, but it was too late; Trevor had jumped…..and landed on the padded roof of a car parked three stories below. Vicki ran to the window, and glared down at the mercenary, who was now wearing what appeared to be blue and white body armor with a white hood of some kind. "Tell Leslie that our 'partnership' is OVER!" he shouted, jumping off the top of the car and sliding behind the wheel. Before Vicki could think of a way to stop him, "Trevor" burned rubber out of the hotel's parking lot. "Jerk," she muttered, her monotone voice rendering the word oddly emotionless.

She turned her attention to Leslie. "Look, about our, ah, 'misunderstanding'….I'm sorry---" "Sorry doesn't cut it!" Leslie spat. "How would you feel if someone you loved powerbombed you through a coffee table?!" "It was actually a powerslam," Vicki corrected, "but that's not the point. Your 'business partner' just took off, and he yelled something about your partnership being over…." Leslie looked at Vicki, shocked; "But….how…he was unconscious….." "Something tells me that Prince Charming had an immunity to whatever you knocked him out with; he was probably just playing dead (or asleep, in this case), waiting for you to let your guard down." Before Vicki could continue, her cellphone went off. "I have to take this," she told Leslie. "Don't go anywhere. Actually, you come with me---but keep quiet." Leslie glared at the brunette gynoid, only to relent when Vicki's hands began to crackle with electricity again.

The two gynoids headed for the bathroom; Leslie, to clean herself up, and Vicki, to answer her phone. "Vicki Lawson here," she began, "what's the---" "Save it, V." Mr. Tell was obviously pissed off at something; I just hope it's not me, Vicki prayed. "Ah, is it something I did---" "Unless you're the one who spontaneously decided to plant an incendiary device at DreamLand…no." Mr. Tell sighed. "We've been tallying the casualties from DreamLand, and you were right: most of their staff is out of commission. Claudia sustained heavy damage, and unless we can contact her manufacturers before sundown, she might not live past this week."

Vicki glared over at Leslie, who was now sobbing to herself as she re-applied her makeup. "Have they figured out who dropped off the bomb?" she whispered. "CSI pulled a few fingerprints off the fragments that weren't totally obliterated; the weird thing is, they have the fingerprints on record, but they're under at least 15 or so names." "Would one of those names happen to be Trevor Matthews?" Vicki asked, as the realization hit her. "Hang on…..well, I'll be dipped in ranch dressing and burnt to a crisp---Trevor Matthews is the most recent name to go with those prints!" "'Dipped in ranch dressing and burnt to a crisp'?" Vicki repeated, grinning. "Don't mock the culinary euphemisms; my mom's from Texas."

Despite the fact that Mr. Tell was now in a good mood, Vicki needed to turn the discussion back to the mysterious mercenary. "Where were Matthews' prints last found?" she asked. "Let me see….." A pause… "Ah, V, you're not gonna believe this: A gun was just found near the scene of Stuart Davies' assassination; guess whose prints were all over it…."

"Of all the lousy, rotten luck…." The mercenary formerly known as "Trevor Matthews" muttered oaths and cursed the mysterious, superhuman brunette girl who had destroyed his pistol only a few minutes ago; thanks to her, his mission had been compromised, and his superiors would probably hire someone to take him out. Add to that the fact that the "disposable weapon" he'd used to kill Davies had just been recovered---with his prints all over it, no less---and one could almost see the crosshairs lining up for a kill shot to take him out.

"How the hell did they even find that thing?!" he shouted, not caring that he was the only one in the car. "This is impossible! First the girl breaks my new gun, then they find the gun I used on Davies---with my fingerprints on it…" He stopped ranting; his prints couldn't have been on the gun---he'd been wearing gloves. The same gloves, in fact, that he had put on while Leslie and the brunette girl were fighting…..the gloves he had on at that very moment…..

The crushing truth hit him like a ten-ton hammer: "I've been set up."

Instantly, he took a sharp turn and headed for a parking garage. Once inside, he found a secluded spot to park, where no witnesses would see him…..and he screamed.

How dare they double-cross him now! How could they? Why would they? Shouted oaths and questions echoed inside the car as the mercenary screamed his lungs out for a full five minutes. Finally, after he'd dropped his last f-bomb and sworn vengeance on every SOB who ripped him off, he sank back into his seat, his breathing just the tiniest bit more labored than it had been before his ranting.

At that precise moment, his cellphone rang.

Instantly, all of his anger returned in a heartbeat. He grabbed the phone, turned it on and screamed "WHAT?!"

"Well, that's no way to talk to an old friend! If you're going to get pissy, I'll just hang up right now…."

The voice on the other end wasn't his superiors---and it damn sure wasn't a voice he wanted to hear.

"How the HELL did you get this number---"

"I Googled it, which is also how I found out your real name, and your birthday….But that's beside the point, which just so happens to be this: Your boss is now dog kibble, I'm taking the money he owed you, and unless you want to come down with a bad case of dead, you'll change direction and head for an airport---pronto."

"Shove it, Wade. Just because you've saved my ass a few times doesn't mean---"

"Oh, is the itty bitty baby thwowing a temper-tantwum? Well, tough! If you don't catch the next flight out of San Jose, you'll be doing some flying of your own----off a 50-story building. Get the picture, 'Trevor'?"

"Trevor" growled. "I seem to be experiencing temporary blindness, so I guess I can't get the picture."

"Well, in that case, I'll just have to glue your eyelids open the next time I see you! And for your sake, I hope that'll be real soon……hopefully, before this story ends, seeing as how I have a few other gigs lined up that pay a LOT more than what I'm getting for what's basically a glorified cameo in someone's fan-fiction. For example, next year (which is actually this year, 2011, even though this story takes place in 2010---I just love breaking the fourth wall!), I'll be in that game where I beat up Dante! Oh, and don't forget that movie about ME starring that Reynolds guy….what was his first name again? Randy? Robert? Rupert? Rory? Reginald? Something that starts with 'R'…….Eh, well, who cares? I'll probably beat the crap out of you the next time we meet anyways! Ciao! La chimichanga, la chimichanga….oh, it's good food for me to eat…."

The line went dead. Trevor stared at his cellphone. His bosses were dead, his mission was now officially compromised, and his "old friend" had taken his paycheck. At that moment, he felt a strong desire to crush the cellphone in his hands…..

…but before he could even think about it, his car started itself.

"What the HELL?!" Trevor glanced at the steering wheel; the key wasn't in the ignition, and his feet were off the pedals. "How is this happening?!" As if to answer his question, the radio blared to life at full volume, blasting a song that started off with an oddly hypnotic techno beat. Before Trevor could say anything, the car sped off towards the garage's exit ramp as the voice of Mos Def sounded from the radio's speakers:

Love electricity, shockwave central, power on the motherboard, yes…

The Tellmobile cruised along, with Vicki riding shotgun and Leslie sulking in the backseat. "So tell me, Leslie," Mr. Tell called, "what is it about Vicki that made you fall in love with her?" Vicki shot him a glare that said "Shut up or I'll elbow you in the windpipe," but Leslie's answer cut off any ideas of throat-elbowing. "Something about her is just.…..I dunno….I feel I can trust her. When she's not powerslamming me, that is. It's like there's a bond between the two of us that can't exist with any other gynoid on the face of the Earth." "That's probably because both of you were created by Ted Lawson," Tell explained. "Well, in your case, Leslie, your original self---L.E.S.---was created by Ted; I think the gynoid you took over was acquired from RoboDyne International by United Robotronics…."

"Ah, Tell," Vicki cut in, "this is all very interesting, but shouldn't we be focused on catching up to that Matthews guy before he does something really stupid?" "'Trevor Matthews' isn't even his real name," Leslie pouted, "and he's got a laundry list of other aliases from past jobs." "Let me guess," Mr. Tell drawled, "he's a hitman." "Disco," Leslie replied, nodding. Vicki gave her a look, but said nothing. "I'm guessing someone hired him to bump off Davies," Tell surmised, "but the question is, why?" "Ah, I have a better question," Leslie stated, sounding nervous. "Why is that car weaving in and out of traffic ahead of us?!"

Sure enough, the Aston Martin Vanquish V12 a few feet in front of the Tellmobile was careening through the lanes of oncoming traffic like a pinball with traction control. Vicki squinted, and her vision instantly magnified to give her a better glimpse of the Vanquish's driver. "Leslie," she murmured, "I think karma just gave your old partner one hell of a wedgie…"

Inside the Vanquish, Trevor Matthews was screaming his lungs out again. This time, however, it was due to the overwhelming sense of fear that he was about to die.

As the now-familiar tune faded to silence for the third time, the radio suddenly began changing to random stations. Snippets of news, pop music, opera, commercials, some really annoying song from Justin Bieber, and weather reports blasted from the speakers in rapid succession. Trevor would've changed the station, except the seat belt had suddenly decided to tighten itself around him, pinning him in his place. The in-car DVD player, meanwhile, was playing Terminator: Salvation backwards and projecting it onto the windshield; the bizarre visuals, coupled with the cacophony from the radio, were beginning to drive Trevor insane.

How fortunate for him that the same girl who had busted his gun was about to save his life…..

"So let me get this straight," Mr. Tell shouted as Vicki leaned out of the opened passenger-side door, "you want to save the guy who tried to blow up DreamLand?!" "He may be a murderer," she replied, "but that doesn't mean I have sit back and let him die. Pull alongside the Vanquish!" Tell groaned, but decided to follow Vicki's plan, pulling up alongside the Vanquish without fail. As Mr. Tell and Leslie watched, Vicki gracefully lept from the Tellmobile and landed on the hood of the Vanquish without missing a step.

With a mild sense of amusement, Vicki noted the shocked expression that Trevor (or whatever his name was) wore as he looked up in shock. She saw him mouth the words "What the f--", only for the profanity to die on his lips as the Vanquish suddenly swerved towards the Tellmobile. Looks like I'd better act fast, Vicki realized; as the Vanquish roared back into its original lane, she began punching at the windshield with both fists, her arms moving just a few paces slower than an average jackhammer. Within seconds, the glass shattered, and Vicki was able to tear at the seatbelt holding the assassin in place. Once she tore the last seatbelt off of the merc, Vicki shook him lightly to rouse him out of his panic-induced stupor. When she finally had his full attention, she chose her words carefully to ensure his compliance: "Come with me if you want to live."

Whatever stupid comeback Trevor may have thought of was wasted as the Vanquish skidded to a stop, nearly sending Vicki flying; unfortunately for whatever was controling the car, she dug her fingers into the hood and clawed her way back to the windshield. "As I was saying," she growled, through gritted teeth, "come with me if you want to---" The Vanquish swerved again, nearly throwing Vicki into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler; she tightened her grip on the frame of the Vanquish and literally climbed into the car through the broken windscreen. Once inside, she planted herself firmly in the seat next to the bewildered mercenary.

"Look, you," she half-shouted, "I'm arleady pissed at you for that whole bomb thing, so don't expect me to repeat anything I'm about to say. The only reason I'm saving your life right now is because I have a strong sense of morality and ethics, whixh means that to me, sitting back and letting you die would be just as bad as killing you myself, so we're getting the HELL out of this car RIGHT NOW! Got it?!" The merc only nodded meekly, and Vicki allowed herself the smallest of grins. "Right. I'm going to kick out the passenger's side door, and as for you…well, the driver's side door is already off, so just jump when I give the signal---" At the word "jump", the merc flung himself out of the car, narrowly avoiding the tires of a bus.

"Couldn't have waited until I finished talking, could you?" Vicki muttered. "Well, when in Rome…" After a quick 3-count, she leaped from the passenger's side of the car, expecting to feel her synthetic flesh torn up by concrete….only to realize she'd landed in gravel. "What the…..where are we?" Somehow or other, the stricken Vanquish had taken Vicki and the merc to a quarry. Vicki nearly ran a scan on the merc before remembering that he was human; guess I need to talk to Mr. Tell about getting some medical-grade sensors installed, she thought, checking the unconscious mercenary's pulse to make sure he was still alive. After confirming that the mercenary was, indeed, still breathing, Vicki set him down in a secluded area of the quarry and pulled out her cellphone to call Mr. Tell, only to find that it had apparently fallen out of her pocket while she was rescuing the merc from the Vanquish.

And speaking of the Vanquish: The roar of a revving engine caught Vicki's attention, and she barely had time to dive out of the way before the driverless car soared past her, its tires narrowly missing the mercenary's prone form in the process. I guess now would be as good a time as any to see if I can scan that car, Vicki realized, but before she could load up her scanning program, the Vanquish turned on a dime and began speeding towards her again. Her reflexes made it easy for her to jump out of the way, but the car was relentless…..which begged the question of how a vehicle without a driver could be persuing her this aggressively……

Suddenly, Vicki's mind flashed back to her last meeting with Faceless, a meeting that had been interrupted by two other gynoids. One of the interlopers had been infected with some sort of virus….what had it been called?

"She's been infected by some sort of virus…I think that it's stemming from something called Stylo.obj. …."

The green-haired gynoid's warning seemed to resound clearly in Vicki's auditory sensors. Had the Vanquish been stricken by the same virus that had doomed Sophia Tank's former partner?

"Guess there's only one way to find out…"

V.I.C.I. steeled herself and let the Vanquish charge her yet again. "I hope my Myogel holds out," she muttered, crossing her fingers and silently praying that the car wouldn't run her down. Sure enough, the Vanquish flew at her with the speed of a bull, but instead of diving out of the way, V.I.C.I. stood her ground and pushed back with both hands. As soon as the car met her unwavering stance, the Vanquish's tires began to spin, throwing gravel and kicking up one hell of a dust cloud. V.I.C.I. ignored the spectacle and focused on scanning the car; this thing must have at least three or four onboard computer systems if this Stylo...whatever it is can take total control over it, she surmised.

Sure enough, the Vanquish did have multiple computers built into it; the cruise control, brakes, fuel injection, ignition and steering were all either computer-assisted or monitored by one of the onboard microcomputers, and this "Stylo" virus, whatever it was, had taken control of all five major systems. So all I have to do is knock out each system, one at a time….why does that sound like a boss battle from one of Jamie's old PC games? Despite the absurdity of her situation, V.I.C.I. knew that this was no joke. She let go of the still-revving Vanquish and sidestepped the infected vehicle just in time to avoid being mowed down. "Time for a one-woman demolition derby," she intoned, scanning the car again.

Most of the onboard computers were beneath the Aston Martin's hood, but the idea of just running up and ripping the hood off was a bit far-fetched. Fortunately, V.I.C.I. still remembered the old mechanics' manuals she'd read during Jamie's ill-fated attempt to get a job at a car repair shop, and even though the Vanquish was no 80s gas-guzzler, the basic principals of car repair (or, in this case, car deconstruction) still applied. With that in mind, V.I.C.I. calculated a new strategy: If it's too dangerous to bring myself to the car, I'll just wait for the car to bring itself to me! She grinned at the thought of what Mr. Tell might say, but the sound of the Vanquish's tires flinging gravel ended her reverie before it could begin. "Right. Focus on the task at hand." She struck a fighting stance and taunted the driverless Aston Martin: "Ready when you are, Mr. Bond."

The car's only response was to redline the engine and speed towards V.I.C.I. at speeds exceeding 85 MPH.

V.I.C.I.'s smile vanished as the Vanquish flew at her like a bat out of hell. Before she could even think to jump over the car or roll out of the way, the Aston Martin slammed into her at full force, sending her flying backwards into a sheet of rock. Instantly, system warnings and alarms began to appear in her field of vision:

Damage assessment: 65% of internal systems have been compromised.

Myogel actuators in lower left leg not responding. Lower left leg deactivated

Internal servomotors in right hand not responding. Right hand deactivated.

Titanium endoskeleton damaged; current structural integrity---54%. WARNING: Further strenuous activity will lead to detrimental decrease in endoskeleton structural integrity.

Vicki winced as she tried to sit up; despite a few close calls over the years, she'd never sustaned damage this bad, even after a particularly taxing bout with Vanessa. "Great," she gasped. "After all this time I've spent learning about other androids…'s a car that takes me out…." She ran an internal systems check to see how bad the damage was, and found herself relieved at the fact that her RadioThermionic Generator had survived the Vanquish's ramming attack. Still, unless Mr. Tell showed up and spirited her off to his workshop within the next half-hour, her Myogel musculature would soon begin to lose power at an ever-increasing rate.

She cast her eyes skyward; "God, if You're watching up there," she pleaded, "and You don't consider me an affront to all You've created, then now would be a great time for a miracle…." The only reply she received was another round of the Vanquish's engine revving up, the sound reverberating through the quarry like the roar of a demonic lion.

Vicki closed her eyes and waited for the end…….


Wait, what?!

Vicki's eyes snapped open to see the Vanquish charging---not at her, but at someone (or something) just outside of her field of vision. To her surprise, the infected car didn't get far before a hail of gunfire ruptured the tires, causing the Aston Martin to skid and throw up a spectacular wave of gravel before rolling over. Vicki felt an uncontrollable urge to laugh, but she chose to utter a prayer of thanks as her vision faded. Oddly enough, just before her systems kicked into standby mode, she could've sworn that she heard someone right next to her whisper "You're welcome"…..

"….and we knew that your shop was the only place we could bring her, except that place was closed."

Vicki opened her eyes to find herself in an unfamiliar room with beige-painted walls, a metal cot and posters of various wartime vehicles on the walls. Please don't tell me I'm in some government lab, about to be reverse-engineered….

A group of soldiers entered the room, and her fears seemed to have been confirmed, but those same fears were instantly dashed when Major Tom entered, followed by a man identified only as General by one of the soldiers. "Major Tom?" Vicki asked, weakly. "The one and only. By the way, before I go on, you should take this opportunity to thank General Hardcastle and his men; they were conducting a drill near the quarry where you were found, and their sharpshooters took out the Vanquish's tires before it could ram you again." General Hardcastle stepped forward, and Vicki couldn't help but notice that, outside of the difference in uniform, he looked a lot like Colonel Tigh from Battlestar Galactica, right down to the eyepatch. "Thanks for saving my butt out there, General," she offered. "Not a problem. I tend to look out for anyone who shares my…peculiar background." Vicki instantly sat up straighter; "You mean, you're a---" "Technically speaking, I'm a cyborg," General Hardcastle interrupted, pulling back his eyepatch to reveal a metallic orb where his right eye used to be. "Lost my eye in Kuwait back in the 90s, thanks to some damned sharpshooter."

"I guess you know what I am, then," Vicki murmured, dreading the General's answer. To her surprise, it was Major Tom who answered. "Remember when I said that every android living in the United States has a few dozen guardian angels watching over them?" Vicki nodded. "Well," Major Tom continued, "these guys are just a few of those guardian angels. General Hardcastle and his team are specialists when it comes to dealing with synthophobes, and most of them aren't exactly normal themselves." The soldiers rolled up sleeves and pants legs to reveal prosthetic limbs, and a few of them had been fitted with artificial hearts. "Back in the 1980s," Hardcastle explained, "the military was working on something called Project Oberon---" "Wasn't Oberon the King of the Faries in Shakespearean literature?" Vicki interrupted. "It was indeed," Major Tom admitted, "but it was also the codename for the founder of the project…but that's off the topic. General, if you would…."

"One of the main goals of Project Oberon was to create a truly invincible soldier, and one way that Project Oberon went about it was to take wounded soldiers and fit them with state-of-the-art prosthetics. If they had failing organs, they were given organ transplants--or, in some cases, artificial organs. Unfortunately, there were those who got on their high horse about letting a bunch of 'cybermen' fight our wars for us, and the project was shut down…so the public was led to believe." Major Tom picked up where the General left off. "To be quite honest, nobody expected what came next: Harold Rengold, the father of one William J. Rengold III, gave us a multi-billion dollar donation to continue the experiments." Vicki let that sink in; "Faceless' father gave you a donation to keep the experiments going?" Major Tom grinned; "Despite rumors to the contrary, insanity doesn't run rampant in the Rengold family."

As Major Tom and General Hardcastle continued, Vicki found out that the "supersoldier" portion of Project Oberon had been continued in secrecy (with the government's approval, no less; seems that some of those earmarks weren't being used for stupid reasons after all…) throughout the 90s. "So far," the General declared, "all of the participants have been able to live normal, healthy lives---no catastrophic prosthesis failures or anything of that kind." "That's all well and good," Vicki admitted, "but what exactly does any of this have to do with me?"

"To be honest, it has quite a lot to do with you."

The sound of Mr. Tell's voice brought an unparallelled surge of joy to Vicki's heart (for lack of a better term). "Didn't I tell you to wait outside?" Hardcastle asked, not showing the slightest bit of disdain for Tell's intrusion. "I can't confirm or deny that," Tell replied, leading Major Tom to grin and shake his head. Before anyone could continue speaking, however, the walkie-talkie on Hardcastle's belt crackled. "Probably just a routine check," he assured Vicki, but within seconds, it was clear that it was anything but routine.

"WHAT?! Two intruders?! How the Hell did they---" Whoever had the other walkie calmly explained that the intruders had somehow penetrated the facility (though Vicki had no idea what "the facility" was at the moment) by incapacitating two guards with Tasers. Major Tom and Mr. Tell helped Vicki out of the cot. "General, we need to get Vicki out of here," Tell began; before he could finish the sentence, the sound of gunfire emanated from Hardcastle's walkie. "Lanning?! LANNING! ANSWER ME, DAMNIT!" Hardcastle shouted; to Vicki's horror, the voice that replied wasn't that of Lanning, but the all-too familiar voice of Leslie Erica Simm.

"Sorry, General," Leslie cooed, "but poor Corporal Lanning has been taken ill….with an acute case of lead poisoning." Vicki grabbed the walkie from Hardcastle (who was too astonished to reprimand her for it) and shouted "Leslie, if you want me this badly, we'll just have to settle it the old-fashioned way!" She turned to Major Tom; "Where exactly are we?" "Moffett Federal Airfield," he replied, "but what---" Vicki returned her attention to the walkie. "Meet me on the main airstrip in 10 minutes and we'll finish this!" She handed the walkie back to Hardcastle. "Long story, but the girl on the other end is under the impression that I'm supposed to be with her forever or something…..and I'm about to give her a rude awakening."

Trevor Matthews had already seen enough chaos for one day, and he would've preferred to just ride into the sunset, defeated but still alive. Unfortunately for him, his former ex-business partner had other ideas.

"Once she walks out onto the airstrip," Leslie explained, "cover her, and if she tries to run, shoot her." Trevor glared at her; "I've been treated like crap all day, and you haven't exactly been helping me, yet now you just expect me to shoot some girl because she doesn't swing the same way you do?! FORGET IT! I should've taken Wade's advice and---" Leslie's hand closed around Trevor's throat. "Listen to me, you pathetic meat popsicle," she growled. "I've waited over eleven years to be with Victoria Anne Smith Lawson, and I'll be DAMNED if my plans get foiled by some trigger-happy grunt like you!" Trevor wriggled out of Leslie's iron grip and back-pedaled; "If you love her so much," he gasped, "why the hell d'you want me to shoot her?!"

"Good question, 'Trevor'."

Leslie barely got a chance to register her surprise when V.I.C.I.'s left foot connected with the small of her back; while she'd been arguing with the mercenary, the object of her affection had found the two former partners hiding out in one of the hangars. "This ends now, Leslie. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but we can't be together." V.I.C.I. tried not to be distracted by her adversary's tears. "We were made for each other, Vicki," Leslie cried, "literally! How can you say we can't be together?" V.I.C.I.'s reply didn't ease her pain: "I've matured. You haven't. It's as simple as that." Leslie blinked; "You've…..what?"


Once again, Trevor was holding both V.I.C.I. and Leslie at gunpoint, except this time, his weapon of choice was a bit more powerful: a Dragunov sniper rifle. "I know that both of you aren't exactly normal, red-blooded American girls," he spat, "but I'm willing to bet that your heads will explode just as easily as a human's would if I were to aim right at your forehead and pull the trigger." V.I.C.I. and Leslie exchanged a worried glance; a bullet to the forehead would result in catastrophic---and most likely irreparable---damage to either of them.

"Leslie," Vicki murmured, "maybe I was a bit harsh on you earlier…." Instantly, Leslie grabbed Vicki in a bear hug, wrapping her arms around the brunette gynoid and sobbing. "OH, VICKI!" she cried. "I…I'm so suh-suh-sorry….." Vicki did her best to reciprocate the hug without looking like she'd rather be somewhere else; Trevor stared at the two as if they were wearing clown suits.

"All right, this is just getting stupid! BOTH OF YOU, ON THE GROUND, NOW!" He pointed to the concrete floor of the hangar, and Leslie reluctantly broke off the embrace and lowered herself to the ground, trembling all the while. Vicki, however, refused. "Are you deaf or something?" Trevor asked, incredulously. "GET ON THE DAMNED GROUND!" "Leslie's emotional state has been compromised," Vicki replied, her own voice devoid of any emotion. "Her emotions make up the core of her being, and when she's this scared, she can barely think straight. That's why she's been obsessively persuing me for so long; her logic was overridden by her emotions. And now you're acting like a common bank robber, barking at her to lay down on the ground---"

"What the hell is this, Therapy Time with Dr. Spock?!" Trevor screamed. "GET ON THE DAMN GROUND! NOW!" Vicki shook her head. "No. You've done enough damage for one day." She turned and started to walk out of the hangar. "YOU TAKE ONE MORE STEP AND I'LL BLOW YOUR DAMN BRAINS OUT!" Trevor shouted. "Do it, then!" Vicki called back, still walking. Trevor cursed below his breath and aimed the Dragunov at the back of Vicki's titanium skull. "Don’t," Leslie pleaded, reaching for his leg; Trevor only shouted "SHUT UP!" and kicked her off as he re-acquired his target. "Burn in hell, you piece of---"

Without warning, someone tackled him to the ground.

Vicki turned to see the cause of the commotion; to her surprise, Valerie---the gynoid who had scanned her earlier that day---was wrestling with Trevor for control of the Dragunov. Abandoning all subtlety, Vicki ran to her fellow gynoid's aid. Leslie, meanwhile, backed away from the pair to avoid being shot should the sniper rifle accidentally discharge.

Trevor and Valerie's fight over the rifle ended when Vicki finally reached the pair and kicked the Dragunov towards the ceiling---at least, that was her intention. Thanks to Valerie and Trevor refusing to let go of the gun, the force of Vicki's kick snapped the rifle in half, rendering it useless. Trevor dropped the useless stock, staring at Vicki as if she was Supergirl. Vicki, meanwhile, didn't even notice. "What are you doing here, Valerie?" "I…I heard that you were injured in a car crash or something, and I wanted to see if you were okay," she explained, "but you weren't at the hospital, and someone said something about an Air Force base, and---"

A single gunshot rang throughout the hangar….and Valerie collapsed to the ground with a smoking bullet hole right above her left eye.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Vicki shrieked; over by the far wall, Leslie gasped in shock. "Valerie…." Vicki murmured, hoping somehow that the younger gynoid could still hear her.

The sound of a pistol being loaded barely registered over the mental screams still coursing through Vicki's mind. "Game over, Vicki Lawson." Trevor's voice sounded muffled somehow; Vicki barely registered the fact that he was now wearing some sort of skull mask, along with a hood. "I can't really say it's been fun---'cause it hasn't---but I will say this…you're the most interesting target I've ever---" Trevor stopped gloating when he realized that Vicki was growling at him. "You think I'm scared of you?" he taunted, walking closer. "I'll put a hole in your head, just like I did with her! Hell, I'll even---"

Before he could even think to duck, Trevor felt Vicki's right hand smash into his chest. He fell backwards towards the hangar doors, and for a brief instant, he forgot what time of day it was; Vicki's repairs had taken all afternoon to complete, and the sun was just beginning to set.

V.I.C.I. emerged from the hangar, both hands crackling with electricity. "Your move, 'Trevor'." Without waiting for him to get up, she ran at the mercenary, hands extended to grab--and electrocute--him. Trevor countered with a perfectly executed roundhouse kick; "Watchin' all those Chuck Norris movies really pays off for someone like me," he boasted, "though I don't expect someone like you to understand how photographic memory works---" Before he could continue, V.I.C.I. nailed him in the chest with the exact same kick.

"In case you haven't figured it out, I understand photographic memory perfectly." She then proceeded to unleash a series of Jeet Kune Do moves on Trevor, matching each move step for step with Bruce Lee's execution of them from his films. Trevor barely had time to counter the attacks; this girl was skilled!

"Still think you can win?" V.I.C.I. asked, striking a classic martial arts pose. Trevor snarled at her and lunged forward, preparing to use the pro wrestling move known as the Spear on her. Before he even had a chance to connect, however, V.I.C.I. sidestepped his charge and used a wrestling move of her own: the Trouble in Paradise (aka the Pele kick), snapping her right foot around to kick the mercenary in the back of the head. As he fell to the ground, V.I.C.I. dropped to her knees and wrapped her hands around his chin, utilizing John Cena's S.T.F.U. submission hold. With more effort than he expected, Trevor fought his way free and threw the gynoid off of him. "WHY WON'T YOU DIE?!?!?!" he screamed, plucking several throwing knives from a hidden holster on his leg and hurling them at the brunette. As soon as the final knife left Trevor's hand, he regretted the move; knowing the girl, she'd just dodge the blades like Neo dodged the Agent's bullets in that famous scene from The Matrix. To his surprise, she didn't.

Instead, V.I.C.I. ran right at him, appearing to move around the knives before getting right in his face.

Leslie watched, slack-jawed, as Vicki dodged the blades and ended up standing nose to nose with the merc; she then made some quip about being a great runner before punching him in the face. All the while, Leslie found herself experiencing a flood of emotions: overwhelming love for Vicki, rage at the other gynoid for turning her down, confusion as to why Vicki didn't just accept her offer… was as if her mind had become like the bank of monitors from Ozymandias' lair in Watchmen, with each screen set to a different channel…except Leslie had lost the metaphorical remote, and the volume was deafening.

She watched Vicki give the merc one last glare before walking out. I need to get my thoughts together, she realized, hoping that she could at least mute the cacophony in her CPU before her next meeting with Vicki….

With Trevor Matthews neutralized and Leslie Erica Simm on the run, Vicki was finally ready to head back to the dorm and just lay down for a good long while. "Finally….back to the boring old college life." She grinned at the thought of what the next day would bring; probably another essay about the Luddites or something. Before she could even take two steps towards the hangar, however, another all-too familiar sound cut through the air like a scalpel.

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me….."

The noise was emanating form a cargo container a few feet away from Vicki, and whoever had secured the doors on the thing obviously hadn't done a thorough enough job; the impounded Vanquish (What else could it be? Vicki asked herself mirthlessly) was rearing back and charging the doors, as if it wanted nothing more than to break free of the container and run Vicki down again. Indeed, on the fifth charge, the Vanquish finally broke through the doors of the shipping container, and even though cars didn't generally appear to showcase any semblance of emotion, Vicki could've sworn that something about the Aston Martin gave the impression that the car was….angry. She found herself remembering that old Stephen King movie, Christine, with the classic car that was able to restore itself after getting smashed up; I hope this thing wasn't equipped with some sort of experimental self-repair system….

Fortunately for Vicki, the possibility of the Vanquish having a Wolverine-esque healing factor was zero to none; ss the car emerged from the container, she could see the bullet holes left over from Hardcastle's team shooting at it. The tires were still popped, and the windshield hadn't been repaired since Vicki had punched through it. Yet somehow, all the battle-damage only made the car look more menacing, instead of vulnerable…as if it was proud of these war wounds.

"But that's impossible!" Vicki shouted. "It's….It's just a car!" And I'm talking to this car as if it can hear me. Ted is going to love hearing about this…. As if it heard---and resented---her remark, the Vanquish's engine revved itself again, the bare rims throwing sparks. Vicki backpedaled, waiting for the inevitable charge; in doing so, she nearly tripped over the prone form of the mercenary. Instinctively, she plucked an Uzi from his belt; he hadn't used it while fighting her, for some odd reason, so it was already fully loaded. I hope he has a few spare clips of ammo, she mused; luckily for her, the merc carried spare clips strapped his ankles, and she pocketed them before returning her attention to the Aston Martin. Somehow or other, she'd have to take down the vehicle by herself, and if that meant kicking it into Duke Nukem mode, then so be it….

"Okay, you worthless scrap heap," she muttered, ready to empty the Uzi into the Vanquish's engine, "time for a little payback." She pulled the trigger---and nothing happened. "Huh?!" A quick check of the weapon revealed that all of the parts were in perfect working order, and Vicki had already clicked off the safety. Sighing audibly, she tried again----with the same result. Slowly, panic began to creep into her mind as she checked the gun again; it didn't help that the Vanquish's revving engine sounded more demonic with each passing second.

Finally, on her third inspection of the weapon, Vicki found the problem: the mercenary had rigged it to only fire when he was using it, thanks to a biometric scanner built into the grip. Vicki threw down the useless weapon and felt tears coming to her eyes. She'd failed to save Claudia and the others at DreamLand, and she'd failed to save Valerie; now, staring down the infected Vanquish, she was about to fail at saving herself…..

Instantly, something inside her clicked.

The feelings of fear, embarrassment and guilt slowly drained away, replaced with one single emotion: RAGE.

No longer caring about the possibility of getting run over, or what would happen if the car suddenly sped at her and plowed into her at top speed, Vicki charged at the Vanquish, screaming like a maniac. Predictably, the stricken car sped towards her---and hit nothing; its target had jumped out of the way and landed on the roof. Still screaming, Vicki literally tore the roof off the Vanquish with her bare hands; whatever was controlling the car changed tactics and tried to throw her off, pulling donuts and throwing up a shower of sparks as it went. But it didn't matter to Vicki; all that mattered now was the total destruction of this damned stupid vehicle.

As the car sped towards a wall, Vicki began smashing up the dashboard and ripping out as many components as she could. When the Vanquish changed course and headed for a parked jet fighter, Vicki ripped out the steering wheel and dislodged the steering column with a single kick. The radio burst forth with music from those Goldwater Law Fim commercials, but Vicki drowned it out with another shriek and punched through the speakers, tearing them out and flinging them to the ground. Next came the ignition; Vicki grabbed what was left of the steering column with one hand and punched it relentlessly, pulverizing it before stomping through the acceleration and brake pedals.

Slowly, the car began to decelerate….but it wasn't enough.

After tearing up the seats and kicking out the doors, Vicki jumped out of the Vanquish as it limped to a halt, one half-broken speaker still churning out the Goldwater Law Firm music. Vicki grit her teeth and stormed over to the ruined car, tearing off the hood and staring at the internal components. In any other situation, she would've made a clever remark, but this time, she was just too pissed to even think of it. With a shout that would've made William Wallace proud, she began yanking vital parts of the car out and tossing them to the ground. The alternator went first, followed closely by the battery; after about five minutes of destruction, only the engine remained. It whined pitifully, as if it could somehow fend off Vicki's assault by itself, but she paid it no heed and tore it out of the car. Finally, the Vanquish had been defeated.

Vicki stared at the carnage she'd wrought; the Vanquish's parts littered the vicinity as far as she could see, and the car itself was leaking dangerous fluids---brake fluid, gasoline, oil----that would blow the car (and Vicki) sky-high if ignited. Calming herself, Vicki found and (carefully) removed the five computers that had been infected, leaving the ruined Vanquish for the Army to clean up. Sure enough, General Hardcastle and his men showed up just as Vicki had taken the computers out of the destroyed car, and they were somewhat astonished at the chaos. Hardcastle himself could barely believe that Vicki had done the damage; "You….you tore up that car by yourself?" he asked, awestruck. "It tried to kill me," she replied in her monotone. "I don’t like it when things try to kill me." She tried to smile, only to realize that she suddenly felt ridiculously tired. Before she could even say "I need a recharge," she fell to her knees; her reserve batteries were nearly depleted.

"Somebody get her a Jump Pack!" Hardcastle shouted; one of the soldiers ran forward with a juice-box sized battery, which was immediately connected to the outlet in Vicki's right armpit. With the press of a button, the gynoid was given enough energy to get her back to the dorm with Hardcastle's help, which she accepted without hesitation. "After a day like this," she mused, "I think we could all use a rest."

Leslie felt her feet carrying her along, but could barely tell that she was running.

Her mind was a complete and utter mess; thoughts seemed to come bursting to the surface with razor-sharp clarity, only to disintigrate and fade seconds later. Names, faces, dates and times swam through her fields of vision and hearing, despite the fact that nobody was speaking. Above it all, she could hear a lone voice crying out, screaming…..

Her voice.

Drake Bradford had set up her "rescue" from the United Robotronics warehouse, and if anyone could help her at that moment, it was him. Her hands trembling uncontrollably, Leslie pulled her cellphone out of her pocket, only to find that it had been shattered beyond repair. "No………not my phone……" The red and white phone had been her lifeline, the closest thing she had to a friend---

Wait, red and white?!

"This…this is impossible; it's black and yellow, not red and white!" Leslie stared at the broken phone, only to drop it when the image of Vicki Lawson's face appeared on the screen. "STOP IT!" she shouted, not caring if anyone else heard (which was impossible; she was in a rennovated building at the moment, and the builders were out). "JUST STOP TAUNTING ME, VICKI!"

"She's not."

Leslie whirled around to see a masked man, clad in what looked like a homemade grey costume, staring at her. "Who the sodding hell are you?!" she spat. "Someone who doesn't want to see you destroy yourself because of this obsession," the man replied. "Vicki Lawson isn't doing this to you---" "YOU DON'T GET TO SAY HER NAME!" Leslie shrieked. "JUST GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME BEFORE I RIP YOUR LUNGS OUT!"

"I don't think you'll do that, L.E.S. ….because I'm not the one you're angry at right now."

Leslie glared at the masked man, wondering what kind of nutter would wear rags like his. "And why should I be taking advice from a homeless superhero?" she spat. "I guess you've never heard the old adage about not judging a book by its cover," the man replied. "My outfit may look ragged, but I've yet to find a bullet or blade that can pierce it. As for the 'homeless' bit, I do actually have a place to live---" "JUST SHUT UP AND LEAVE ME ALONE!" Leslie screamed. "TAKE YOUR STUPID COSTUME AND YOUR STUPID MASK AND JUST GO!"

The man shook his head. "I'm trying to help you, L.E.S.---" "THE NAME'S LESLIE ERICA SIMM, YOU SODDING IDIOT!" Leslie wanted to break the interloper's neck, to kick him in the head until his skull cracked open. "You….you just get the hell away from me before I figure out how to kill you and not get caught, or…." "Or nothing. I can see that you're beyond saving, L.E.S. ……." He turned to walk away. "I guess even the great Publius Enigma can't help everyone." "What kind of stupid name is that?" Leslie taunted, though her voice still bore heavy undertones of sorrow. "One of my three names," Publius replied. "The name I took, to be precise. As for my true name and the name I was given…those are none of your business." Without another word, Publius Enigma walked away.

"THAT'S RIGHT, RUN AWAY LIKE A SODDING COWARD!" Leslie shouted, flipping him off as he went. "I DON'T NEED YOU! I DON'T NEED ANYONE!" That last statement suddenly rang harsh in her auditory sensors. "I don't need anyone," she repeated, "except Vicki Lawson." Once more, the tears streamed down her face. "Why can't you just accept me, Vicki?! Why can't you just love me?!" With nothing else to do, Leslie Erica Simm sank to the floor and cried her eyes out, unaware that another figure was watching her.

"Publius was wrong about you," the well-dressed blond man murmured. "You can be saved. It'll just take time." He shook his head regretfully. "Time that's already beginning to slip away…."

That night, after FINALLY returning to her dorm room at SJSU and checking her e-mail, Vicki found out that some rather interesting things had been happening while she'd been fighting the mysterious mercenary (and the murderous Vanquish) at Moffett Federal Airfield. For one, Valerie had been "collected" by Maris and Chase, the two ALPA agents Vicki had seen earlier that day; according to Mr. Tell, she'd been fully repaired, but the bullet screwed up her processors---all of Valerie's memories from that morning (including her finding out about Vicki's secret) were lost. Perhaps that's for the best, Vicki surmised, since it wouldn't exactly have worked in my favor if Valerie had been tortured or anything… Another odd bit of news involved the stricken Aston Martin Vanquish; the engineers at the airfield had sifted through what was left of the car and found that somehow, all of the car's computer-assisted components had been affected by something; analysis of the brake control computer revealed the presence of a file simply labeled "STYLO", with no extension. The brake control unit was then quarantined in case the file was a virus, and the rest of the Vanquish was broken down to be reused for spare parts and/or scrap later on.

Finally, Vicki received an e-mail from Claudia; the bombing at DreamLand had damaged a few employees badly enough to warrant their retirement (even after repairs, they felt apprehensive about returning to work), but Destiny and Darla had escaped unscathed. Nate actually chased down the car that dropped off the bomb; ALPA agents later found his mangled remains next to another hotel where "Trevor Matthews" had been staying. According to Claudia, Nate's repairs would take a full two months to complete, and DreamLand would be closed for the remainder of September and the whole month of October so that everyone affected by the bombing could have ample time to cope. As for Claudia, the ALPA was handling her repairs; she'd be offline for a month. Vicki sighed as she logged out of her e-mail account; the fact that the Vanquish's remains were in quarantine meant that she would't have to worry about getting run over again, but the absence of Leslie Erica Simm from the e-mails nagged at her a bit. Something about the gynoid just didn't seem right….

The sound of muffled yawning from the other bed in the room caught her attention; apparently, Sharon Wilson had been sleeping most of the day. "Ahh, the beast awakes," Vicki declared dramatically. "Stop yelling," Sharon mumbled. "I'm not yelling," Vicki corrected, "but the fact that you've been asleep all day might explain your temporary extra-sensitive hearing…" She stopped when she saw that someone had pinned a note to the headboard on Sharon's bed. "Huh, looks like you've got mail." Sharon pulled the note down and read it; to her disbelief, the note had a $5000 check stuck to the back of it (with the request that she "buy something nice"). After puzzling over the note for a bit, Sharon changed the subject; "So, Vicki, how'd your day go?"

Vicki grinned as she stretched out on her own bed. "Oh, y'know. The usual, boring college stuff….."

Activation sequence initiated ….

Unit ST-9050 activation code accepted. Executing system checks….

Power level 94%. Internal weaponry: fully functional. Combat programming: Fully updated.

Systems check complete. All systems operating at 99.6% efficiency. Unit activating.

Sophia Tank rose from the repair slab feeling as if she'd just come out of surgery---ironic, since she'd just spent the last few weeks essentially doing just that. "Not exactly my best moment," she muttered, rubbing the back of her head. Her internal clock informed her that the time was 01:11 A.M., and the current date was September 28, 2010. "I've been out for eighteen days?" she asked, before remembering she was currently the only occupant of the repair bay.

Before Sophia could get her thoughts together, the door of the repair room bay to reveal a gurney being pushed by two Untied Robotronics employees---both human, Sophia realized. A white sheet covered whoever (or whatever) had been strapped to the gurney, although the drape of the cloth couldn't hide conceal the curves of the feminine figure beneath it. "Busy night?" she asked, smirking. One of the techs glared at her; "I wouldn't be so snarky if I were you," she replied. Sophia noticed the woman's Irish accent and realized that she must have been hired recently; her self-updating internal memory unit had no record of any human female employees with an Irish accent.

"And why shouldn't I---" she began, only to gasp as the sheet was pulled off of the gurney to reveal the motionless form of Valerie, the gynoid sent by United Robotronics to replace the stricken Denise. Apparently, Valerie had been in some sort of brawl, and someone had shot her in the back of the head, as evidenced by the still-"healing" synthetic flesh above her left eye. "What happened to her?" Sophia asked, noticing the trembling of her voice. "She tried to save that Lawson girl you've been shadowing," the other UR employee---a Latino technician with the last name Reyes---explained, "and she ended up taking a bullet for her. Weird thing is, someone repaired her before we got the chance; we're just running some last-minute checks on her. Whoever fixed her left a note; apparently, they want us to drop her off at a hospital after we finish running the tests." Vicki must have figured out that Valerie was a gynoid after she was shot, Sophia surmised.

The techs ran their tests, with Sophia staying close by to monitor the results. As it turned out, whoever repaired Valerie really knew what they were doing; her major components were still intact (and working better than ever). Unfortunately, the gunshot still had a major detrimental effect: the entire memory block for that day had been deleted. Everything she'd seen, heard, said, thought and experienced on September 27th was lost, and it was only by a quirk of her design that the rest of her memory hadn't been erased as well. "She still knows the vital details--she remembers that she's an android, most importantly of all---but we'll have to remind her that she signed up as a student for SJSU," the female tech told Sophia, "You'll have to head to the campus today and see if any other students had any important conversations with her." Sophia nodded gravely; she didn't feel like losing another partner so soon after what had happened to Denise.

Valerie awoke that afternoon in a hospital bed, feeling as if she'd waken up from some sort of odd dream. The last thing she remembered was Sophia prepping her for her first day as a transfer student as San Jose State University, but after that….nothing.

"So….you're awake."

A brunette girl leaned into Valerie's field of vision, smiling as if she was relieved to see that Valerie was still alive (for want of a better term). "You might not remember me, but you saved my life yesterday. I'm Vicki Lawson." Valerie searched her bubble memory processor, only to find no mention of Vicki Lawson other than the obvious (she was Ted Lawson's stepdaughter, she was a student at SJSU, etc.).

"I…saved your life?" she asked, quizzically.

Vicki's smile faded. "I guess the doctors were right about your memory….Mr. Tell told me about it after he finished repairing you." Immediately, Valerie went on the defensive. "Repairing me? What are you---" Vicki dismissed her panicked shouts; "It's all right, Valerie." She lowered her voice to a whisper; "I know that you're an android--all the sparks and smoke pouring out of your gunshot wound sort of gave it away." Valerie laid back, feeling defeated, and began to sob quietly. "I…I wasn't supposed to let anyone know," she wailed. "I was just supposed to observe you!" Vicki sighed; "If it means anything, I'm not freaked out; my dad works with robots that are nearly as lifelike as you are, so I'm sort of used to it by now."

As Vicki had expected (and hoped for), the statement had its intended effect: Valerie's sobbing stopped. "You won’t tell anyone, will you?" she asked, anxiety evident in her voice. Vicki smiled again. "It'll be our little secret. Y'know, just between us girls." Valerie grinned nervously, and for the next 20 minutes, she listened eagerly as Vicki told her about the other students she'd met the previous day, and how she found out that Vicki was in danger and raced to the rescue. The girls' reminiscing session only ended after a nurse showed up and politely informed Vicki that Valerie needed her rest, and the two parted company on good terms.

With her visit over, Vicki left Valerie's room and made her way to the lobby, where a statuesque, green-haired woman was arguing with an orderly. Guess her superiors finally finished repairing her, she mused, striding forward to greet the woman. "You're looking for Valerie Summers, I presume?" she asked. The woman glared at her; "Why is that any of your business?" she asked, curtly. "It's my business because Valerie saved my life yesterday," Vicki countered, "and the bullet that nearly killed her happened to mess up her brain---she can't remember anything about what happened. Fortunately, I dropped by to help her remember what she missed, including the part where she took a bullet for me."

The green-haired woman seemed a bit taken aback by this information, but after Vicki arched an eyebrow at her in a somewhat quizzical/amused way, she regained her composure. "Well, first of all," she began, "thank you for helping my daughter out in her time of need---" "Daughter?" Vicki interrupted, looking incredulous. "Ah, I don't want to sound rude, but I, ah, don't see much of a resemblance between the two of you---" "She happens to be my stepdaughter," the woman replied, annoyed at what she believed to be arrogance on Vicki's part. Knowing full well that Valerie wasn’t the woman's stepdaughter, Vicki chose to apologize, explaining that she herself had been adopted (she even told an abridged version of the "plane-train accident" that had claimed the lives of her non-existant parents, leading to her adoption by the Lawson family). "I know what it's like to have people tell me I don’t look like my parents," she added, "and I guess I never took that into account with Valerie." After the green-haired woman forgave Vicki for the faux-pas, the two went their separate ways; Vicki left the hospital to head for Mr. Tell's (she'd be helping the newly-assembled June Hamilton move into an off-campus house), and Valerie's "stepmother" finally persuaded an orderly to lead her to the room where her "daughter" was recuperating.

Something doesn't feel right…

The feeling that she was being watched crept over Vicki like a rolling fog, almost as if paranoia had become a tangible force of some kind that clouded her judgement and enveloped every thought. Ever since the "fight" with the Vanquish, she'd been jumpy; and it didn't help to hear that Leslie had supposedly been sighted at SJSU, asking around to see if anyone knew where she was. Still, her sensors didn't detect anyone hiding along the route to Mr. Tell's workshop (mainly because she had dialed them down to Passive Mode, which would only alert her to the presence of an attacker after they revealed their presence), and even if anyone was waiting in the bushes to ambush her, she'd be able to hold them off without any---

"So. You're still in one piece."

Vicki whirled, expecting to see the speaker of that simple sentence accompanied by a legion of thugs; for some interesting reson, however, Leslie Erica Simm was, in fact, alone. "I….I've been thinking about what happened between us recently," she explained, hesitantly, "and….I stand by what I said at the hotel. I do love you, Vicki Lawson, and not just because of your processing power---it's something deeper than that."

For only the seccond time in less than two days, Vicki was at a loss for words. "I understand if you're a bit creeped out," Leslie assured her, "and I promise not to show up randomly on campus to bug you or any---"


The abruptness of the statement stopped Leslie in her tracks. "What?" she asked, as if she hadn't heard Vicki correctly. "You heard me, Leslie. Go. Leave. Remove yourself from my presence." Despite herself, Leslie laughed nervously. "I'm afraid I don't understand---"

"You nearly got me killed. An innocent gynoid was nearly destroyed because your 'business partner' tried to shoot me. And let's not forget that you erased another gynoid's mind and personality from existence just so you could take over her body and use it as your own." Vicki glared at Leslie, but there was no hatred in her gaze---just a cold, unfeeling sense of finality. "What's more, I happen to think that you might be suffering from some undiagnosed mental illness." Leslie's eyes widened as she processed the accusations, but Vicki didn't stop there. "You make spur-of-the-moment decisions governed by your emotions instead of logic, for starters. And you essentially kidnapped a wanted criminal and slept with him against his will---after you knocked him unconscious with your pheremone-enhanced lipstick, of course…." She sighed; getting angry wouldn't help her cause. "Look, I wasn't just bluffing when I told Trevor that you were emotionally compromised; I think you need help." Leslie stared, dumbfounded, as Vicki continued her offer.

"I can call Ted, and he can take a look at your programming and see if he can fix whatever it is that's screwing with your emotions. Trust me, it's for the best in the long run, and to be honest, I think it's a great idea for you to see him again, if I do say so my…." Vicki stopped when she noticed that Leslie had stopped looking surprised; she now looked like she was about to have a full-on breakdown. "Self…" she muttered quietly.

"YOU THINK I DON'T KNOW WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME?!" Leslie shrieked. "Ever since I've taken over this stupid body," she spat, "my mind has become one big fat train wreck! I can't think clearly, you keep showing up in my dreams, I'm so far beyond bipolar it isn't even funny….and YOU, of all people, have the affrontary---the bold-faced cheek---to tell ME off?!" "I…I'm sorry," Vicki quickly apologized, but Leslie didn’t care. "DON'T YOU TOUCH ME!" she shouted, and Vicki quickly backed away. "Don't think that I'll forget about this, 'Victoria Ann Smith Lawson', " Leslie snarled, "because I WON'T! Just because you're living it up at some stupid university---" "I'm not living it up!" Vicki countered. "And for the record----"

"V, what the Hell is going on out here?!" Vicki didn't even bother to answer as Mr. Tell rode up on what looked like a heavily-modified mountain bike. "Ah, are you two having some sort of spat, or something?" he asked. "I could hear the arguing from my shop a few blocks away, and---" "Leslie and I were just finishing a debate," Vicki explained, "and I was just leaving to meet up with you." She looked back at Leslie, who was now sobbing quietly, and tapped Mr. Tell on the shoulder. "I'll only be a few minutes," she murmured, and as Tell rode back toward the workshop, Vicki returned her attention to Leslie. "Look," she told the crying gynoid, "I'm sorry about what I said---and the way I said it---but you can't deny that it's all true." Leslie glared up at her, but said nothing. "I understand if you don't want to talk to me again," Vicki admitted, "but….I still think I can help you."

Leslie glared at her again. "And what makes you think I'd want your help?!" she spat. Vicki shook her head, already tired of the back-and-forth between them. "Forget it. Maybe that phrase Jamie used to describe me so often in the past fits you best: You're just a crazy, mixed-up robot." She turned and walked off, following Mr. Tell's bike. As the distance between them grew, Vicki heard Leslie cry "I'M SORRY!" one final time, and for a brief second, she immediately wanted to run back and apologize again….but the second passed, and Vicki shook her head; she had her own life now, and Leslie wasn't part of it. I'm sorry, Leslie…but I can't help you unless you let me.

At the street corner, Vicki saw Mr. Tell waiting for her. "And how is Lovesick Leslie doing today?" he asked, looking slightly amused. "Not good," Vicki explained. "I think…she might be sick. As in sick in the head. Mentally ill, I mean." Tell's expression grew serious; "You think she may be infected with whatever took over that Aston Martin?" "I don't think it's a virus, Tell…I think she's somehow got some sort of mental disorder." Vicki led Tell back to the spot where she'd had her confrontation, only to notice that---predictably, Leslie had left. "Great," Vicki groaned. "Here, I thought my biggest worry of the week was the history exam tomorrow, but now it turns out I've got a gynoid stalker who's obsessed with 'being with me forever'."

"If Leslie really is obsessed with you," Tell mused, "we may have to get a CDR team out here." "CDR?" Vicki echoed. "Contain, Detain and Reprogram." Vicki barely suppressed a shudder as Mr. Tell continued. "Generally, the ALPA only deploys CDR teams in cases where the conventional approach doesn't work, but if your theory about Leslie Erica Simm is correct…" He sighed. "She may be more dangerous than even she knows, both to you…and to herself. If she decides to escalate into hostile behavior….we may have no choice but to permanently disable her."

Vicki looked around for a few seconds, feeling a combination of guilt and sadness. Leslie's proclamation that she was destined to be with Vicki forever was, among other things, incredibly creepy, but the fact that she actually knew that there was, indeed, something wrong with her was truly frightening. "As much as I hate to say it," she admitted, "I'd rather try the diplomatic method before we think about 'permanently disabling' her. For starters, we should tell Ted. He created L.E.S., and since Leslie is just L.E.S. with a new body--" "We don't know that for sure, V," Tell countered. "Maybe Leslie's mind is being affected by some leftover fragments of the original gynoid's personality, and these emotional fluctuations are her way of trying to sort it all out." "Whatever the case is," Vicki replied, " I just hope that if Ted can't fix her, someone out there can."

From her hiding place, Leslie watched Vicki leave, feeling more alone than ever. She'd gone from happily ripping off an employee of United Robotronics to being told she couldn't be saved. Even worse, she'd just been accused of being mentally ill; was that even possible? To her, it didn't matter; all that mattered was Vicki. She'd have to fix that, somehow…. Her tears stained the ground as she whispered:

"Vicki… love……if we ever meet again, one of us may have to die."

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

An old "friend" from my past made an unexpected comeback over the past few days, and it's made my life just a bit more complicated than usual.

L.E.S., that program Ted made back when I was still a glorified appliance, ended up gaining a new body and changing its---sorry, her name to Leslie Erica Simm. I thought that Ted had deleted L.E.S. from his old PC before it got seized by United Robotronics, but apparently he didn't. What's more, L.E.S.'s attraction to me has carried over into Leslie's personality---except with her, it's full-blown love. The main problem is that I don't know if she really loves me, or if it's just a symptom of her fragile emotional state….she's been showing signs of a few mental illnesses, and I think she might be more dangerous than anyone---even Ted---could guess. I've told Mr. Tell about this, and he wants me to try and persuade Leslie to visit him….when/if we ever meet again.

Anyways, the DreamLand incident didn't get reported in the newspaper, and I now have friends in the Army, thanks to General Hardcastle and his men. I made another new friend, too----Valerie Summers. Funny thing is, I know that she's a gynoid, but she doesn't know that I'm one. Well, it would be funny if she hadn't forgotten my secret after getting shot in the head, anyways….still, we're getting along great, and she seems to have developed a crush on Shawn Helmsley. I smell a budding romance! ;D Speaking of potential romance, there's another new student joining my Physics class----Aaron Cardwell. This guy is HOT! I wonder if he's related to Roland Cardwell, that guy who lived in Ted's backyard for a few days….anyways, I'm getting another new assignment from the ALPA tomorrow; hopefully, it won't involve tracking down mercenaries or anything.

Speaking of ALPA assignments, my last one didn't end too well---that stupid mercenary tried to blow up the main site of our investigation into Stuart Davies' murder! Still, at least Davies' family gained a member---it turns out that he got married to Destiny (his favorite gynoid from DreamLand, the human/android dating service) the night before he was killed. Major Tom is sorting out the paperwork on that one, and it should be nice to see Destiny settling down (sort of). Oh, and the idiot mercenary who tried to nuke DreamLand got captured by some guy called….er, Dread-fool or something. All I know for sure is that his last name is Wilson; I wonder if he's related to Sharon? Anyways,Claudia's spending the rest of the month getting repaired (I hope she makes it out okay), and Darla's undergoing tests to see why she's such a clutz. Nate got absolutely trashed, though; he'll be out for a full two months….[sigh]

Well, gotta run; we have a Philosophy exam tomorrow, and I don't want to look too human by flunking it! Bye for now!

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

Leslie's on the run, and Vicki's gained a new ally. But all is not well at San Jose State University; a new threat---or rather, an incredibly-upgraded old threat---is on the horizon!

Lynda, the last fembot created by the misguided genius Dr. Franklin, hasn't been seen since the Fembot Crisis of 1976, but in the following years, someone managed to reverse-engineer the disco-era fembot and create a new breed of unstoppable female androids. Not only has this enigmatic individual been able to obtain 15 of these new fembots, but this same someone has hired a mysterious individual known only as the Unmaker to find and recapture Fembot #16.

Tori Hartwell and Kim Defalco are thrown into this insane plot when Kim finds herself menaced by the Unmaker and her ALPA guardian is nearly killed in a car crash. With Tori's help, Kim sets out to find Vicki Lawson and figure out why the Unmaker is after her…but will Vicki's efforts be enough to save her, or will the fembots and the Unmaker---and their enigmatic employer---end up victorious? Find out in the next thrilling installment of The V.I.C.I. Diaries, "Unmade, Unbroken"

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