Vicki's New Life

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(The following phone call was made to the San Jose-based headquarters of Lawson Robotics some time during the summer of 2010)

LAWSON ROBOTICS EMPLOYEE: Lawson Robotics, how can we---

UNKNOWN FEMALE: You have to help me! He's been chasing me all night!

LR EMPLOYEE: Ah, ma'am, this is Lawson Robotics, not the police. We only deal with---

UNKNOWN FEMALE: You don't understand! I need--- (garbled; sounds of electronics shorting out)

LR EMPLOYEE: (pause) Ma'am, is everything okay?

UNKNOWN FEMALE: He's....he's after me! He says he wants me to send a message to Ted-Ted-Ted-Ted Lawson!

LR EMPLOYEE: (getting it) Okay, ma'am, I'm sending a car out right now---

UNKNOWN FEMALE: STAY AWAY FROM ME! GET--- (sound of unknown individual approaching) NOOOOOO! (unknown female is stabbed; more short-circuiting sounds)

LR EMPLOYEE: Ma'am?! Are you still there?

UNKNOWN MALE: (slightly muffled, as if speaker is wearing a mask) Sorry....her batteries just died.

(unknown male hangs up)

LR EMPLOYEE: (to Lawson Robotics Rapid Response Team) We need a cleanup crew at Sweeney Hall, down at San Jose College ASAP!

Faceless stared down at the gynoid; she was still clutching her cellphone. "Pitiful," he spat. "At least the last one put up a fight." "Wh-wh-why are you d-d-d-d-d-d-d-doing thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis?" she asked, her speech slurring as her power source slowly died.

Faceless leaned in close: "Because I want Ted Lawson to know that his precious Vicki isn't safe from me anymore." He raised his right arm, the wristblade glinting in the moonlight.

"And in a few seconds, you'll be able to deliver that message to him... personally."

"How bad is it?" Ted Lawson asked the leader of the cleanup crew. "To be honest," the Hazmat-suited man replied, "it's not as bad as we expected. He tore up the other pretty badly, but she's still got at least 10 minutes of power left." He gestured to the damaged gynoid, wincing as her vital fluids leaked from the gaping hole in her abdomen.

Ted shook his head in disgust. "What I want to know is why this sick freak sent her that outfit." Like the past 5 gynoids Lawson's team had found, this one was wearing a red short-sleeved shirt with a white top over it, along with a red miniskirt, white belt, white tights and red boots. "Come to think of it, that getup looks a lot like the outfit you gave Vicki last Christmas," the cleanup crew leader mused, before realizing what that meant.

"Oh, my God," Ted gasped. "He's after Vicki..."

"You know, you could just cut off your pinky and say that you lost it in an industrial accident...which wouldn't be too far from the truth, all things considered."

"Very funny, Tell. Can you fix it or not?"

Vicki Lawson put up with the stupid jokes of Mr. Tell for a few reasons. First of all, he was, to put it bluntly, her lifeline; should anything befall her, his was the only number she could call. Secondly, she knew that his "sick sense of humor" was just an act; when the time came for him to get to work, he was all business.

Thirdly, he was one of only three Lawson Robotics technicians who was qualified to repair her "in the field"----a.k.a. any time she wasn't able to reach her creator, Ted Lawson, or any of his trusted colleagues at Lawson Robotics.

"Relax, V. I'll have your hand fixed before you can say 'reverse the polarity of the neutron flow'. Well, maybe not that fast, but you get the idea." Mr. Tell had already stripped the cellular-plastic, prosthetic flesh covering from Vicki's right hand, revealing her myogel musculature beneath. "Yep, just like I thought," he mused, "the pinky joint locked up. Did you slam a door on your hand or something?" Vicki frowned. "First of all, don't call me 'V'. was a volleyball game." She remembered it all too well; she'd dived forward, ready to pound the ball over the net, only to realize that her right hand wasn't doing what it was supposed to be doing, mainly because her right pinky had been bent backwards. She'd straightened it out herself and thought nothing of the problem.....obviously, not the best course of action.

"At least you didn't try to fix it back at the dorm," Mr. Tell chided. Vicki didn't know his real name, but she knew that the moniker of "Mr. Tell" was derived from his mantra to his customers (he also worked at a Best Buy): "Tell me what's wrong with [insert name of electronic thingie] here and I'll tell you how to fix it." More often than not, the customers got something wrong, and Mr. Tell had to fix it himself, which he had no problem with. "Anyways...let's see if we can get that pinky back to normal...." He picked up a screwdriver; "Just tell me if you feel a slight stinging sensation---" "Why?" "Because that means I messed up your musculature, in which case I'll have to shell out $500 to get a new myogel set for your arm..."

A few minutes later, Vicki left Mr. Tell's workshop in good spirits. Her hand was functioning perfectly, and since it was a Saturday, she hadn't missed any classes. "Thanks for fixing my hand, Tell," she called. "No problem. Next time, though, if you have to call me from your cell phone, use the monotone voice. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside." Vicki glared at Mr. Tell, who simply laughed and retreated back to his workshop.

Unfortunately, her exit had not gone unnoticed........

Before Vicki could even reach the end of Tell's driveway, an unmarked van pulled up, and a bunch of Men in Black wannabes piled out, led by a blond guy in what looked like silver body armor. "Vicki Lawson, I presume?" he asked. "Who wants to know?" she replied, warily.

"Your father," Ted Lawson called, stepping out from behind the armored guy. Instantly, Vicki's mood softened. "Dad!" she cried, running forward to hug him. "Ah, I don't want to interrupt,"one of the Fed-lites stated, "but we need to get to a more secure location soon."

"Why? What's going on, Dad?" Vicki asked, realizing that all of the suits were armed. The armored guy stepped forward and addressed Vicki. "We have reason to believe that someone will either attempt to abduct you.....or destroy you. Someone who, until two years ago, owned United Robotronics, the company that originally created you."

Most people thought that the introduction of the Actroid in 2003 marked the first step towards true androids in a long while. In reality, androids had existed since 1989, if not earlier.

As early as 1963, the year Disney opened their Enchanted Tiki Room---which some still regard as the most impressive early use of audio-animatronics---companies like United Robotronics were working on creating humanoid robots that actually looked human, instead of something that looked like a cross between a Dalek and a refrigerator. Across the globe, robotics conglomerates were attempting to outdo each other; one early success was the Questor project, although the government later stated that Questor was a total failure and destroyed all documents related to the experiments (at least they think they did...).

The next step was Project Alpha, United Robotronics' top-secret experiment that, among other things, led to the creation of V.I.C.I., later known as Vicki Lawson; ironically, Project Alpha was UR's last hurrah before they were bought out in 1991 by Rengold Cybernetics, a company with a track record that read more like a rap sheet. Rengold Cybernetics' CEO was a mysterious figure; aside from being the son of the company's original founder, nobody knew that much about him. Well, not at first...but more on that later.

Anyways, Ted Lawson escaped the takeover by founding Lawson Robotics that same year, and by 1996, he was a billionaire. The technology used to create Vicki was patented by Lawson Robotics, meaning that United Robotronics could never get their grubby little hands on it even if they begged. Thanks to Ted's foresight, Lawson Robotics had several covert agents in the field, ready to assist Vicki (or any of their other "clients") should the need arise.

One such agent was Capri.

Capri stood out, even in a typical college crowd; her Mediterranean complexion, sea-green hair (she insisted on this as her hair color as soon as she first heard her name) and trim athletic figure were obviously eye-catching. Obviously, though, there was a lot more to her beneath the surface; unlike Vicki, Capri relied on upgraded animatronic technology rather than myogel.

None of that mattered at the moment, though, because Capri was currently overseeing the last few minutes of life that were slowly slipping away from the gynoid found outside Sweeney Hall at San Jose State University.

One of Lawson Robotics' many technicians approached the bed where the gynoid was resting. "Was she carrying ID?" Capri frowned; "If she was, the maniac who did this probably ran off with it." Her voice didn't have any particular accent; in normal human company, this would've led to a few raised eyebrows, but the technician just sighed. "It was the same with the last five. I hope the freak who did this gets hit by a truck or something."

Capri would've agreed with him, but she had a more important task to focus on. "Reactivate her...I don't want her last few minutes to be spent in standby mode." Most Lawson Robotics employees thought that androids deserved the same rights as humans, and Capri (being an android herself) was a perfect example. "Ah, Ted left specific instructions that we..." the techie began, but Capri gave him "the look", and he acquiesced.

A few minutes later, the dying gynoid related her story to Capri as the technician looked on.

The outfit she'd been found in had been sent to her via UPS, along with a note that read "You have three days. Say your goodbyes before then... because when I arrive, you won't have time to do anything but run." There was no name, no return address, and no fingerprints on the box or the note.

Three days later, the gynoid in question awoke to find a black-clad man standing over her, a blade sticking out of his sleeve.

Capri already knew the rest of the story; the guy in black chased the gynoid from her room to the spot outside Sweeney Hall where she'd been found. She barely had time to call Lawson Robotics before she was stabbed.

"I'm sorry we couldn't help any more than we have," Capri began, but the dying gynoid shook her head. "'ve done mmmmmorrreee than en-en-en-enough," she replied quietly. The technician glanced at his watch; "Ted should've come back by now. I'm calling---" Capri stopped him; the bedridden gynoid was fading fast. "Try to salvage as many of her parts as possible," Capri instructed, "and see if we can rebuild her later. Even if we can't get her CPU up and running again, I don't want to scrap her unless I absolutely have to." She headed for the door. "But what about Ted?!" the technician shouted.

Capri didn't look back. "I'll find him myself....and I'll ask him if I can beat the crap out of this gynoid killer when and if I ever get my hands on him.

"So….there are others….like me?"

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Vicki had expected to hear something along those lines at some point in her life, but now, after the revelation that 6 other gynoids had been killed (for lack of a better word), the news seemd almost hollow. "Yep. At least a twelfth the current population consists of androids right now…and that's just in the United States." Vicki turned to Ted, who apparently already knew what she was about to ask him. "And for the record, Lawson Robotics did, in fact, build some of the androids that are currently living in this country," he admitted.

"The main problem," Major Tom added, "is that some of them were built by companies that ended up going out of business after the dot-com bubble burst---about half of the websites that vanished after the dot-com bust were part of a collective of scientists working on furthering android development. Then, there's the problem of androids that don't know they're androids…most of them are covert projects---sort of like you were, Vicki---and their creators made them a part of their families." Vicki hesitated before asking her next question. "Those gynoids that were killed….all of them knew they were gynoids, right?" "All but one," Major Tom replied, his voice grim, "and she's the only one that's still functioning at the moment. We've converted an old warehouse into a makeshift hospital to enforce her preprogrammed illusion of humanity, and we've notified her immediate family of the situation." "And….do they know she's a gynoid?" Vicki asked tentatively. "Yes…..she was created to replace their daughter."

Vicki stared at the pre-assault photos of the gynoids---class photos, pictures from road trips, pictures from their Facebook pages….. "What happened to their daughter?" Vicki asked, her voice wavering. When Major Tom replied, his own voice was shaking with rage. "She was part of a group of students that was attacked and killed by the bastard who's been killing gynoids here at San Jose State University." "You mean you know who's been doing this?" Ted asked. "Not only do I know him," Major Tom replied, "I'm a friend of one of his previous victims. The psychopath who killed those gynoids is----"

"William Jason Rengold the Third," Vicki murmured. "Also known as Faceless."

"How the HELL did you know that?!" Major Tom shouted. "Because," Vicki replied quietly, "I met him last summer."

Major Tom stared at her, dumbstruck.

"Well, when I say 'met,' I mean he tried to kidnap me," Vicki explained. "He tried to kill a bunch of Lawson Robotics employees to get me to turn myself over to him, but I stopped him with the help of some…interesting new friends." "Ah, you didn't exactly stop him," Ted corrected. "As I recall, he stabbed you and your friends brought you to me for repairs." "I was trying to avoid mentioning that," Vicki hissed through clenched teeth.

"Well, that simplifies things a bit," Major Tom finally said after a tense few minutes of silence. "How does that simplify anything?" Vicki asked, slightly indignant. "Vicki, there are at least 354 androids in the San Jose area alone, and of that number, a full quarter of them don't know that they're androids. Every single one of them was created by a company that either went bankrupt or was bought out by United Robotronics, and unless you can help them, they'll probably be next on Faceless' hit parade." Vicki thought about the situation; "Who else knows about this?" "Let's just say that every android in the United States has a few dozen guardian angels watching over them," Major Tom replied with a chuckle. "The government has methods of keeping any would-be militant synthophobes out of the way. So, Vicki…think you can help keep the android population of San Jose safe?"

V.I.C.I. didn't even have to think about the matter. "Count me in." Ted grinned, and the other feds in the room applauded. "Vicki Lawson," Major Tom declared, "welcome to the Artificial Lifeform Protection Agency." "Your team's acronym is ALPA?" Vicki asked, grinning. "We're trying to get it changed to spell ALPHA," Major Tom quietly replied. "It's not as easy as one might think…." Vicki laughed.

"Major Tom…I think this is going to be the start of a beautiful friendship."

Anthony Sanderson was nervous.

His latest assignment had recently ended in failure, and his company was about to be placed under new management. Worse, his daughter had recently been receiving threatening e-mails….not exactly something he wanted to hear from her after enrolling her at San Jose State University.

"Sanderson!" One of Anthony's co-workers, known only by his online "handle" of Sydeline, fell into step beside him. Whereas Sanderson was a 38-year-old engineer, Sydeline's age and occuapation had never been determined (he often claimed he was 153 years old, just to piss off whoever he answered two). Their appearances contrasted each other in a way some might have found comical; Sanderson's light-brown hair---currently covered by an anti-static cap to avoid damaging the electronic components he worked on---was a far cry from Sydeline's green-and-blue striped 'do, and where Sanderson wore a set of anti-static coveralls, Sydeline was clad in a Slayer t-shirt, black jeans with a chain belt and mismatched shoes (one appeared to have been a tennis shoe, while the other was a golf shoe with the cleats ripped out).

"Something wrong?" Sanderson asked, failing to keep the anxiety out of his voice. "The new boss just drove up," Sydeline whispered, "and I'm getting a lot of weird vibes about this." Sanderson tensed; any time Sydeline claimed that something gave him weird vibes, something bad was going to happen. "I'm telling you, there's something about this guy….it's like he's played the game all his life, and this is just one more notch on the gun belt!" "That bad, huh?" Sanderson muttered.

A few minutes later, Sanderson and Sydeline were introduced to the new boss personally….and Sanderson immediately understood why Sydeline was picking up bad vibes from the guy.

From the minute he stepped into the office of his predecessor, Andrew Sharpe seemed to radiate the energy one only senses when a true leader has arrived. As far as first impressions go, Mr. Sharpe had the air of someone accustomed to having their orders followed to the letter---not surprising, since the guy looked like the twin brother of Albert Wesker from the Resident Evil games.

"Gentlemen…" Even though his voice carried no undertones of hostility, Sanderson and Sydeline almost felt guilty about things they hadn't even done wrong yet. "I'm sure you've both been informed that, as of today, all of United Robotronics is now under my control after the….embarassing arrest of the company's former CEO a few years ago." Sanderson shivered; the Rengold Incident had never been mentioned by any employee of United Robotronics, even the higher-ups. "Apparently, the last few individuals appointed to this post have been, shall we say, lacking in their ability to lead this company. Some of them have even made rather costly mistakes over the past few years…..mistakes that I intend to rectify."

"Ah, would one of those mistakes involve Project Alpha--" Sanderson began, before a punch in the arm from Sydeline cut off the question. Sharpe grinned, revealing his Tom Cruise-esque smile. "Very perceptive, Mr. Sanderson. The fact that United Robotronics hasn't been able to re-claim Project Alpha is, indeed, one of the mistakes I alluded to; in fact, it's that exact matter which motivated me to have this meeting with the two of you today." Sharpe activated the drop-down projection screen behind Sanderson and Sydeline, who both craned their necks to watch whatever presentation their new boss wanted to show them.

"In order to reclaim Project Alpha as our own, " Sharpe began, "I believe that United Robotronics has the right to re-activate any and all of its dormant projects from the last few years." The screen came to life with images of the Vault, a warehouse where all of UR's incomplete and/or "dormant" projects were kept. "Sydeline, I understand that you worked at this facility before being hired as an…Internet safety consultant, unless the information I've been given was falsified…" "No, sir," Sydeline answered, as quickly as he dared. "I was a security tech consultant at the Vault a few years ago, and I got transferred here after---" "Spare me the details, please. I've also heard that you had access to some of their more dangerous projects, correct?" Sydeline nodded. "Good. And you still know how to reach the building?" Sydeline nodded again. "Excellent," Sharpe replied, smiling. "I expect your future with United Robotronics to be a bright one indeed." As soon as the sentence had left his lips, Sharpe pivoted his chair to face Sanderson----seconds before pulling a gun and shooting the engineer!

Sydeline felt the urge to scream, but said nothing; this whole thing could be a stupid test of loyalty or some stupid crap like that…. "Tell Block G that they have a new test subject," Sharpe drawled into an intercom as he watched Sanderson bleed before addressing the other occupant of the room. "Sydeline, you and I are going on a little road trip," he informed the "security consultant". "But…what about…" "Trust me, Mr. Sanderson will be fine. In fact, after today, he'll probably feel better than he's ever felt before in his life!"

Three minutes after Mr. Sharpe and Sydeline left Sharpe's office, several individuals in Hazmat gear arrived to bring Anthony Sanderson to Block G. None of the employees they passed gave them a second look.[/i]

Vicki awoke the next morning feeling as if she'd finally found her true calling. Helping others like me…who'd have thought I'd end up doing this?

A quick glance around her dorm room revealed that her roommate hadn't returned from whatever she'd been doing with the other sorority members. With a yawn, Vicki rolled out of bed, carefully unplugging her recharge cord and stowing it in her backpack. After a brief systems check and a shower, Vicki got dressed for the day and prepared to head for the Student Union to have breakfast.

Before leaving her room, Vicki noticed a package by the door without a return address---and a note from Mr. Tell attached. Intrigued, she read the note first.

To the newest member of ALPA (soon to be ALPHA, if they can figure out how to make that name work…)

I guess I should start off by welcoming you to the club---and yes, I'm part of ALPA. With that in mind, Major Tom has asked me to give you what he likes to call your Mission Outline---I call it a game plan, since it sounds more casual (and fun!).

Out of the entire student body of San Jose State University, 155 of them---including yourself---are androids (and before you ask: yes, there are android teachers at SJSU, and no, I'm not gonna tell you who they are), and out of that number, 35 don't know that they're androids. One such student is the subject of your first mission: Kirsten Sanderson. Her father works for United Robotronics, and my sources tell me that he never left work yesterday. Find out if Kirsten knows why her dad didn't come home, and protect her if at all possible, but whatever happens, DON'T TELL HER THAT SHE'S AN ANDROID. If you're with her and she gets jumped by anyone, just tell her that they're trying to get to her dad by going after her.

While we're on the subject of your mission, you're probably wondering what's in the package. I can only say this: Don't open it if your roommate's around.

Your personal repairman, Mr. Tell

PS: Your new waterproofing system should be able to withstand a few dozen laps around the pool at the Aquatics Facility if you feel like taking a swim.

Vicki grinned as she hid the note in her backpack before turning her attention to the package. Mr. Tell did say that it'll help me on my mission…. After a 30-second brainstorm, she finally decided to open the package.

Inside was a laptop with a USB cord and a CD marked "FOR VICKI LAWSON". "I guess I can hold off on breakfast for the time being…." Vicki mused. She set up the laptop and decided to see what was on the CD-ROM disc, only to be told that the USB cord had to be connected to "Port 985". "But there's only two ports on the laptop---" she complained, only to realize that the port in question was hidden behind her back panel!

With a sigh, Vicki locked the door and made sure that she was alone before raising her shirt. "Panel, open!" she declared; five seconds later, her back panel slid open with a whir. With the aid of a conveniently placed mirror, Vicki plugged the USB cord into Port 985 (located right in the small of her back), and re-booted the CD, muttering "I hope this works….."

Instantly, a flood of data appeared in her field of vision.

"Welcome to the ALPA AnDet Installation program!" a friendly female voice stated. Vicki almost asked "Who said that?" before remembering that Port 985 allowed her to hear and see data in her head instead of on the laptop screen and through its speakers. "Before you begin, please read and agree to the End-User License Agreement, ensuring that…" A virtual document seemed to float in the air above the laptop, and Vicki managed to scroll through it by moving her finger up and down a scrollbar right next to her right hand before clicking "Yes, I have read and accepted the terms of the EULA."

The document and scrollbar vanished, replaced by a menu screen. "Please select the method of installation you would like to perform." Vicki read the options; "standard" would take the least time, but only contained the basic program, while "custom" allowed her to pick and choose any other options she might want. "Budget" seemed even worse than standard; it contained a slimmed-down version of the program (the function of which had yet to be identified), and required the user to register it after 30 days to unlock all of the standard features. Finally, there was the "DLC" option, meant for adding downloadable updates to the standard or custom versions of the program. "I don't want to start this half-cocked," Vicki told herself, "so I'll go with custom." She selected "custom", and the menu faded, only to be replaced with another one.

"You have selected the custom installation method. Please be advised that the time required for the install process will vary depending on the options you select." Vicki scrolled through the new menu, realizing that "AnDet" was short for "android detection". In addition to the basic program (which couldn't be un-checked, since the other stuff wouldn't work without it anyways), other programs available included one that could detect how much battery life an android had left, one that could detect built-in weaponry, one that could be used to delete viruses from the hard drive of a stricken android (although it required something called a "VIS", which wasn't on the menu), and several other useful programs. Unfortunately, Vicki found that some of the more interesting programs (like the one for detecting weaponry) required code-keys to be entered before they could be installed; "I'll have to remember to ask Ted about that," she mused.

In the end, Vicki selected the battery life-detection program, a program that served as a lie detector, a program called "Droid Tracker" (essentially Lojack for androids) and three programs marked "VL UPGRADE 1-3". Once she'd made her decisions, she glanced at the clock on the wall; "7:00….I hope the install process isn't more than 30 minutes long…." Steeling herself, Vicki clicked the virtual "Install" button that hovered before her hand.

"Preparing to install," the friendly voice informed her. "Please remain seated. During installation, all systems will be placed in standby mode to avoid damaging your systems." "Gee, thanks for the heads-up," Vicki muttered; when the friendly voice replied with "You're welcome", she nearly fell out of the chair. She huffed indignantly; "That could've ended bad---" She froze on the last sylable of the word as the install process began.

For the next 8 minutes, Vicki remained frozen in place as the laptop installed the programs she'd selected. Every 10 seconds, she announced her current status in her monotone voice. Finally, around 7:06, she reached VL Upgrade 3, the last program on the list.

"Downloading VL Upgrade 3…….progress: 85% complete."

"Downloading VL Upgrade 3…….progress: 90% complete."

"Downloading VL Upgrade 3…….progress: 95% complete."

"Downloading VL Upgrade 3…….progress: 100% complete."

"All downloads complete. V.I.C.I. shutting down…commence auto-reboot in 20 seconds…"

The laptop shut itself off; Vicki followed suit 5 seconds later, slumping a bit in the chair as her systems began prepping her for the auto reboot.

20 seconds after the clock hit 7:08 A.M., a series of trilling beeps signified that Vicki's systems had completed their auto-reboot. Slowly, her body came back to life, assuming a more natural pose as her CPU performed its start-up checks while she stared ahead blankley. Finally, she blinked as the words "Start-up complete. Good morning, V.I.C.I." appeared in her field of vision for a second before fading. Automatically, her hand reached to disconnect the USB cable from Port 985.

"Close back panel…..Systems check complete. Whoa, that felt weird..…."

Vicki closed the laptop and pulled her shirt back down. "Okay, time to try these new programs out." She walked over to the mirror. "Uh, how do I start the program….." Instantly, an icon appeared in her field of vision, not unlike the annoying paperclip from Microsoft Word. This icon, however, was a comically-animated version of Ted Lawson. "Hi there! Thanks for choosing Lawson Robotics' Android Detection software package! I'm Ted, your guide to this incredible software! Just ask me a question, and I'll answer it for you!" Vicki laughed; "Hi there, Ted. How do I activate these new programs?" The cartoon Ted icon assumed the Thinker pose for a few seconds before replying. "Just say the name of the program, and it'll load automatically! If you're in a public place, just think the name of the program you'd like to load!" "What about VL Upgrade 1-3?" Vicki asked. To her surprise, the cartoon Ted grinned and winked before disappearing; in his place, a video file featuring the real Ted Lawson appeared.

"Vicki, I'm recording this message because one day, you'll find out that you're not alone in this world." Ted gestured to a feminine form on a table, and Vicki nearly gasped; it was her 18-year-old self! "As I'm recording this, the world is preparing for this whole 2012 apocalypse thing, even though I've already determined that it's a bunch of nonsense. What I'm more worried about is others trying to reverse-engineer you, namely United Robotronics. I've created these upgrades for you because I wrote the code for a lot of their military projects, and even though I don't work there anymore, certain….contacts have told me that my code is still being used."

"And how will that benefit me?" Vicki asked. As if he had heard her question, Ted replied: "The thing is, sweetheart, I hid some stuff in the code for each and every one of those military projects---certain strings of numbers that could be reconfigured to be used to your benefit…like code-keys, for instance." Vicki grinned; Always thinking ahead, Dad… "When and if you defeat any robot, android or A.I.-driven vehicle that uses my code, you'll get an e-mail on your personal server with a series of numbers. Those numbers are codes that will allow you to unlock more programs that can help you." He smiled, and Vicki realized that there were tears in his eyes. "Vicki….your mother and I both knew that you were destined for more than just living with us. If you're seeing this message, you've proved us right, and you're ready to accept your destiny---"


A knock on the door---and the shout that accompanied it---jolted Vicki out of her nostalgic reverie. She blinked twice (to close the video file) and ran to the door. Outside, her roomate, Dianne, was waiting impatiently. "While you're up, could you please unlock the friggin' door?" the raven-haired physics student asked. "Sorry," Vicki apologized. "I, er, got back late last night and didn’t want anyone breaking in." As she unlocked the door, she realized that now would be a great time to test her android detection software. Okay, let's see… load Android Detection v3.15.

Instantly, several crosshairs and other such things appeared in her field of vision as she watched Dianne gather her things; a few seconds later, the words "ANALYSIS: SUBJECT IS HUMAN" appeared in her field of vision. "That's a relief," she muttered aloud. "Excuse me?" Dianne asked. "Uh, I'm relieved….that you're okay! Y'know, that you didn't get mugged or anything…." Dianne's expression softened. "Well, thanks for your concern, Vicki. It's good to know that there's someone genuinely concerned for my well-being…" "Dad problems again?" Vicki asked. "Dad problems, always! Last night, he had the nerve to call me and ask if I was 'swapping keys' with anyone! I mean…" Before Vicki could stop her, Dianne launched into a tirade about her personal privacy, interrupted only when Vicki excused herself to close and lock the door to their dorm room.

Dianne and Vicki passed by the Student Union to grab a late breakfast on their way to class; as they left, Vicki decided to shift the topic of their conversation to something less personal.

"How well do you know Kirsten Sanderson?"

As Vicki had expected (and hoped for), Dianne stopped mid-sentence. She looked around quickly to make sure nobody else could overhear them before ushering Vicki aside. "You didn't hear this from me," she told Vicki, speaking in a conspiratorial whisper, "but y'know how Kirsten's dad never came home from work last night?" Vicki nodded; while passing through the Student Union, she'd heard at least 6 separate conversations about that exact topic. "Well," Dianne continued, "there's a rumor going around that the company he works for just got a new boss….and this new boss has quite an interesting history." "What kind of history?" Vicki asked, intrigued.

Kirsten Sanderson stared at her textbook, not really reading it. As far as she was concerned, class wasn't the highest priority on her mind….

She'd known something was wrong when her father didn't call her at 5:30 the previous day, which was one of the few things she looked forward to every afternoon. When her mom called to tell her that "something had happened," it made her worry even more.


Kirsten looked up, expecting to be reprimanded for falling asleep in class. "Yeah..?" she asked half-heartedly, as if she was half asleep. Only after staring around the room for a few seconds did she realize what had happened: she was the only student left in class.

"Miss Sanderson, physics class finished 10 minutes ago." The professor, Glenn Saxon, was a handsome, Brad Pitt-type whose dress code apparently required him to wear business suits when teaching and casual clothes any other time; on this particular day, he'd picked a cream-colored suit, white silk shirt and a light-gold tie, all of which made him look insanely handsome to Kirsten (despite the fact that he was giving her a slightly annoyed look). "If you'd like to hear the lecture that you slept through, someone might have taped it…" he began, only to notice Kirsten's forlorn look. "Ah, is something the matter?"

"It's my dad," she replied, her voice sounding weak even to herself. "He didn't call last night…and he always calls….." Glenn sighed. "Kirsten, I usually try to avoid getting involved in the personal lives of my students, but seeing as how yours is the sixth time this has happened this month, I---" A knock on the door interrupted him. "What the hell…" He started walking to the door----and stopped.

The masked visage of Faceless glared back at him.

"Kirsten, find somewhere to hide." Glenn grabbed a textbook, preparing to lob it at the psychopath. "Whoever you are," he shouted in Faceless' direction, "don't even think about trying to get in here---"

"Or you'll what?" Faceless sneered. "Throw the book at me?" A pause… "Okay, that one was stupid even by my standards. Now where was I…" He noticed Glenn and Kirsten shimmying their way through an opened window.

Behind his mask, Faceless smiled. "I love it when they run…."

"…so, let me get this straight. This Sharpe guy just shows up, and he's got the exact qualifications needed to be the new CEO of United Robotronics?" Vicki stated. "That sounds a little too convenient." "It gets weirder," Dianne assured her. "I've heard that---"

Before she could say another word, Dianne was bowled over by Kirsten Sanderson and Glenn Saxon; all three fell to the ground in a heap. "Need a hand?" Vicki asked, mentally loading her droid detection programs as she helped Kirsten to her feet. "Yeah….some weird guy just showed up at Mr. Saxon's class…" As Kirsten explained her predicament, Vicki's newly-acquired programs worked their magic: Kirsten's battery was fully charged (thanks to her caloric energy converter, which converts calories into pure electrical energy), falling to the sidewalk hadn't damaged her, and she was still unaware of her true nature. I wonder how that must feel… suspecting that there's something different about herself, but completely unaware of it? What kind of person would want an android to think they're a human being? A pause, as she remembered what Major Tom had said about Faceless' last victim. I need to visit the library later, to see if the Sandersons actually had a daughter named Kirsten..

"…and this…guy with a mask just showed up! I'm not joking!" Glenn was shouting into his phone. "Sir, the campus police have received several reports of a suspect matching your description," the voice on the other end of the line informed him, "and we're looking for him as we speak." "Good! I hope you taze the hell out of him when you find him!" Glenn hung up the phone and turned to address Dianne, Vicki and Kirsten. "First of all, I'm sorry for knocking you over, ah…." "Dianne." "Dianne, got it. Secondly, Kirsten, you might want to avoid going back to your dorm room; if this creep is the one who's been sending you those e-mails, then he might know where you live. Thirdly….ah, have we met before?" He turned to address Vicki, who had been scanning Kirsten and was slightly startled when he addressed her. "Wha..? Oh, hi. Vicki Lawson; Dianne's my roommate." She shook hands with Glenn.

"Vicki Lawson, Vicki Lawson…..Are you by any chance related to Ted Lawson, the guy who founded Lawson Robotics?" "Yep; he's my dad. He always jokes that I'm his 'greatest creation.'" Vicki laughed at the private joke, hoping that nobody caught the double meaning. "Well, my dad once told me that I was a waste of good seed," Glenn replied, "and since I'm teaching physics while he's serving his fifth consecutive prison sentence for violating his parole, I'm guessing I've proved him wrong. Still," he added, getting back to the serious matter of Kirsten's security, "we need to keep her out of the hands of that maniac."

"Good plan….except that maniac can hear every word you're saying!"

Vicki, Kirsten, Glenn and Dianne all turned to see Faceless standing at least 30 feet away. "Tell me, Kirsten," he sneered, "did your father ever tell you why someone like me would ever try to hurt someone like you?" Without thinking, Vicki shouted "The only reason you're after her is because you're a sick freak!" Faceless, instantly recognizing Vicki, laughed. "And this must be Vicki Lawson, the daughter of the famous roboticist, Ted Lawson!" he called, not wanting to ruin the surprise in front of the other three. "Go back to whatever asylum you escaped from, Faceless!" Vicki shouted back. Faceless' smile turned to a grimace; the last time he'd been institutionalized was after the family reunion….and he was not looking forward to being reintroduced into the beaurocracy of the prison system any time soon.

"As much as I enjoyed my last stay in prison," he called, his voice now tinged with equal amounts of sarcasm and menace, "I don't intend to return any time soon… least, not without a good reason…" The smile returned as he allowed one of his wristblades to slide loose from its "launcher" hidden in his sleeve. "If I can aim this just right…." He reared back, licking his lips (or what was left of them, anyways) with anticipation…..

In a split second, several things happened.

Faceless swung his arm forward, allowing the freed blade to shoot out from his sleeve like an arrow loosed from a bow.

Vicki braced herself, ready to intercept the fatal projectile to protect Kirsten from finding out her true nature if at all possible.

Glenn and Kirsten hugged each other and waited for the blade to impale one (or both) of them.

As one, Glenn, Kirsten and Vicki closed their eyes, ready for the inevitable…but the inevitable didn't happen.

Each of them had expected Faceless' blade to hit them, but none of them thought to notice Dianne literally jumping into the path of the blade, sacrificing herself to save the others. Vicki screamed "NO!", Kirsten sobbed, and Glenn bowed his head, not wanting to look at Dianne.

When he finally did look (along with Kirsten and Vicki), what he saw was nothing short of insane.

A dark fluid was leaking from the wound created by Faceless' blade, but to Vicki's surprise, it was dark blue in coloration, instead of red. There was also the fact that sparks were shooting out of Dianne's chest, and a faint odor of smoke was beginning to waft up into the air. But….that's impossible! My scans read her as human…..unless….. She called up a record of that morning, including her scan of Dianne. The scan said that she was human….but it only looked at the documentation provided on the SJSU database! I must've messed up when I loaded the scanner program… Sure enough, a quick look at her memory log revealed that she hadn't asked it to scan Dianne's body, and by default, it resorted to the SJSU records database. Does this mean that she wasn't on the ALPA register? Vicki wondered.

"What the hell?!" Glenn was just as intrigued as Vicki. "She's….she's a robot?!" Kirsten stared at Dianne's intert form, which was now starting to twitch, as if she was having a seizure. "Uh, stand back," Vicki warned Glenn and Kirsten. "I learned a lot about how to fix robots from my dad, so maybe I can, er, fix Dianne." If she was created by one of the manufacturers Lawson Robotics has teamed up with over the past decade… As she pondered what caused her earlier scan of Dianne to register her as human, Vicki noticed Faceless turning tail and running, followed by a crowd of witnesses. Not wanting anyone else to see Dianne's internals exposed, Vicki asked Glenn and Kirsten to help her carry Dianne to the Industrial Studies building nearby.

Once the group reached Industrial Studies, Vicki ran a full physical scan on Dianne, cross-referencing her roommate's internal components and systems with lists from various other robotics manufactuers. After 3 seconds, Vicki found that Dianne had been built by Leeds Animatronics and Entertainment Robotics seven years ago, meaning that most of her parts had been machined by LAER with the aid of Lawson Robotics. "Okay, if I remember correctly, the first thing I have to do is remove that blade from her, uh, wound, so one of you will have to help me stabilize her." Glenn held Dianne's shoulders down, and Vicki counted to three before pulling the blade out. Instantly, Dianne tried to sit up, only to stutter as smoke began to issue from the hole in her chest. "V-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-vicki?" she asked, stuttering mechanically. "What'sssssssssssssssss going on? What hap-hap-hap-hap-haphaphapennnnnned to-to-to-to-to-to meeeeee?" "Dianne, just…try to stay calm," Vicki replied, doing her best to reassure her stricken roommate. "I….I guessssss the jijjijijijig is up-up-up now, isn't it?" Dianne asked, a sad smile forming on her face.

Outside the building, Faceless (and the mob) were squaring off. "Glenn, your car is parked in the North Garage, right?" Vicki asked quietly. "Yeah, but what does that have to do with---" "Run to the garage as fast as you can and bring the car around. We'll need to take Dianne to a friend of my dad's….he'll be able to do more than I can." Glenn though about protesting, but something about the look of finality in Vicki's eyes persuaded him to stay quiet, so he settled for nodding and running towards the garage.

"Kirsten, I need you to lock the doors and make sure that nobody tries to get in, okay?" Kirsten nodded silently as she set about locking the doors. When she was sure Kirsten couldn't hear, Vicki leaned in close and asked Dianne, "So…I guess you know about me, then…." Dianne grinned; "I knknknknewww from day-day-day one, Viiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiickiiiiii," she stammered. "Your d-d-d-d-d-d-daaaaaaaaad-d-d-d wanted s-s-s-s-someoooooooone he c-c-c-c-c-c-c-could trus-s-s-s-s-s-s-st looking aaaaaaaaaaaaffffffffffter-ter-ter-ter-ter-ter hiiiiiisssssssss…" A spark lit up the hole in her torso, and her head jerked to the right; Vicki waited patiently for the error to work itself out, and when the error loop finally ended, Dianne picked up the sentence where she left off without missing a beat. "…his greatest creation."

Vicki felt tears stinging her eyes. "You could've told me the truth, Dianne!" Her stricken roommate was barely able to shake her head; "T-t-t-t-t-ted waaaaaaaassssssss insis-sis-sistententententent that I keep-eep-eep you in the dddddddddddaaaaaaaaarkkkkkk……" Dianne replied, her voice sounding like a fading cassette tape as the errors became more profound. Vicki wiped her eyes with her sleeve; "Were you modeled after an actual student?" she asked, her voice still shaky. "Yesssss….there was a r-r-r-r-r-reeeeaaaaallll Dianne Isley at SJSU seven yeaaaaaaaaars ag-ag-ag-ag-ag-ago…." Dianne's head jerked to the right again as she tonelessly declared a failure in her secondary power management module; outside, the mob seemed to have cornered Faceless and was preparing to either stone him, lynch him or enact some other form of punishment upon him. "Uh, Vicki?" Kirsten called. "That mob of students is threatening to kill Faceless---" She stopped; Faceless had taken off his mask, and the sight of what he looked like without it was apparently enough to send the mob scampering away.

"Dianne," Vicki whispered tearfully, "what happened to the real Dianne Isley seven years ago?" Dianne's eyes glazed over for a bit before she responded. "She….was in-in-in-injurrrrrrred in an aut-t-t-t-t-ommmmmobile accident in Prague……her f-f-f-f-f-ffaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathhhhhhhheeeeeerrrr…" Dianne shut her eyes and appeared to be concentrating on something; when she opened her eyes, Vicki was surprised to notice that her voice was back to normal---for the time being at least. "The real Dianne Isley was injured in a car crash in Prague seven years ago," Dianne explained, "and her father was a member of Ted Lawson's inner circle…" "Lawson's Eleven.." Vicki whispered; Dianne nodded. "The doctors told Dianne's dad that she would never be able to leave the assisted living faciltiy" "..and that's when my dad stepped in," Vicki realized.

"Your dad called up a team from LAER and put in a 'special order': me. While the real Dianne was stuck in a bed, I was out living the life she'd been denied. Initially, I didn't know that I was, well, this---" she angled her head to indicate the smoking hole in her chest--- "but one day, I was at a party with some guys from the football team, and we were….well, you know……and he spilled a beer on me. Somehow or other, my skin absorbed it like a sponge, and it got into my internals….." She sighed, as if the memory was nothing but an embarassment. It has to be, Vicki surmised, compared to what she's going through right now.

"I freaked out when Dianne's dad….my dad told me the truth, but after he told me about the real Dianne, I decided that I should just go on living, in honor of my namesake." She closed her eyes and smiled, just as another volley of sparks erupted from inside her, tearing a jagged hole in her abdomen right above her belly button. "I…I won't last much lon-lon-longer like this….Vicki…" she gasped, noticing that Vicki had been reduced to tears by her story. "Vicki….don't cry……pllllleeeeeeeaaaaassseeee…." "WHAT ELSE AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!" she wailed, her anger and sadness mingling. "You're….you're my best friend, and now this…what the hell am I supposed to be doing, if you don't want me to cry?!"

"How about helping Kirsten and I load her into the car?"

Glenn Saxon knealt down beside Dianne, looking Vicki in the eyes. "I understand this must be a rather difficult moment for you," he told her, "but right now, we have to get her to this friend of your dad's that you mentioned earlier." Vicki, still sobbing, nodded. "R..right." Together, Glenn and Vicki carried Dianne outside, where Glenn's Audi R8 waited; Vicki noticed that Kirsten was already sitting in the front passenger seat. "You can navigate from the backseat, right?" Glenn asked; Vicki nodded silently. "Good. Let's get the hell out of here before the cops show up….I don't even want to think about how they're gonna handle this…."

"Ah, good old Charlie Chaplin…." Mr. Tell raised a can of Coke Zero as he toasted one of the greatest comic actors of the silent era (TCM was showing a marathon of Chaplin films to promote a special-edition release of the biographical film starring Robert Downey Jr. as Chaplin). "A toast, to a man who understood that comedy was about more than fart jokes and----" The sound of "Mr. Roboto" trilling from a nearby speaker jolted him out of his nostalgic trip. With a dramatic sigh, he turned off the TV. "Thank God for TiVo," he muttered, calling "JUST A MINUTE!" to whoever was spraining jamming their finger by repeatedly pressing the doorbell.

He began his usual greeting for "house callers" before he even opened the door: "Mr. Tell, technological wizard and master of all electronic devices. How may I---" He stopped when he saw what was waiting for him behind the door: Vicki Lawson, looking as if she'd been crying her eyes out, had her entire hand on the doorbell button. Behind her, Glenn Saxon was holding the still-smoking form of Dianne in his arms; Kirsten stood next to him, looking and feeling as nervous as Raoul Duke hopped up on mescaline. "We need you to fix Dianne," Vicki stated tonelessly. "Ah……right. Follow me." Vicki pushed past Mr. Tell as he ushered Glenn and Kirsten inside, muttering "good thing it's not raining" as he closed the door.

Once Vicki and her new acquaintances were inside, Mr. Tell directed Glenn towards his workroom; "Just put her on the slab---that's the big table in the center of the room---and I'll be right with you." "What about me?" Kirsten asked, her voice close to cracking. "Ah….the waiting room's right over there. I have the most recent issues of 30 different magazines; feel free to peruse the selection, and try not to tear the pages or anything." Once Kirsten went on her way, Mr. Tell turned to address Vicki, only to find her crying again. "Er, I don't want to sound callous, or anything…but…." "Can you fix her?" The directness of the question stunned Tell. "Well, It might take a few hours, but---" "CAN YOU FIX HER OR NOT?!" Vicki shouted. "Look," Tell countered, trying to sound pissed, "I think you should---" "All I want to know," Vicki interjected, growling, "is whether or not you can repair Dianne so that can get back to living the life of the girl she was created to replace. Now I'm going to ask you one more time…." Her voice began to crack. "Can you fix her or not?"

Mr. Tell looked Vicki in the eye. "Yes. I can and will fix her." Instantly, Vicki's anger vanished, and she almost fell forward as she hugged Mr. Tell. "Th-thank you…" she sobbed. "No problem, V. Now let's see if I can fix your best friend before the Charlie Chaplin marathon ends."

"So this is the famous ST-9050…..Mr. Alwine, you've just earned yourself a promotion." Within the confines of The Vault, Andrew Sharpe had finally found what he was looking for: an android capable of helping him reclaim Project Alpha. ST-9050, codenamed Sophia, was a remarkable sight to behold---a 6'4", tanned Amazon with tattoos on both arms, her back and her torso. Her green hair covered part of the left side of her face, and her nose had been "decorated" with a silver ring.

"First of all, the name's Sydeline. Secondly….yes, this is the ST-9040." Sydeline, a.k.a. Sydney Alwine, glared at Sharpe with unveiled contempt; he'd already had to ditch the Slayer t-shirt and black jeans in favor of typical "nerd gear"---labcoat, dress pants and a dress shirt with pockets on the front. "She's never been activated before, by the way…..remember that if you decide to pick her for this job." "Her scores in the sims seem to suggest otherwise…Mr. Alwine," Sharpe mused. "And for the record, I intend to 'pick' not just her, but most of the other androids in this wing for 'this job.'"

Every android, robot and war machine inside the F5 wing of The Vault had been completed, but for some reason or another, none of them had ever been activated. "You want everything in this wing?!" Sydeline asked, wondering if Sharpe had lost his mind. "Yes. And I want each of them delivered to a separate facility by tomorrow morning, if it's not too much trouble." Sydeline fumed; he was beginning to think that Sharpe was nothing more than another corporate bully.

"Does she come with a manual?" Sharpe asked causally, walking around the cylinder that contained Sophia's unmoving form. "Every United Robotronics project stored in The Vault includes full documentation, sir. I'd check the base of the containment unit if I were you---" "Which you're not, thankfully." Sharpe smiled as he gave Sophia a final once-over. "Send ST-9050 to the United Robotronics facility that's closest to San Jose," he told Sydeline. "I have a…special assignment for her."

For the next three hours, Vicki Lawson watched as Mr. Tell worked to repair Dianne, hoping that his skills would be enough to save her. A few rooms away, Glenn Saxon and Kirsten Sanderson read magazines and tried to make small talk. Glenn had never really noticed Kirsten before in Physics class---not that she was a plain Jane, by any means, she just didn't go out of her way to draw attention to herself. She wore her dark blonde hair in a ponytail, and every shirt she owned matched her sapphire eyes perfectly. There was also something else about her, something Glenn could only describe as ethereal…..

"So….why is it that your dad calls every evening at 5:30 on the dot?" Glenn asked, in an attempt to get a conversation going. "As far back as I can remember," Kirsten explained, "Dad was always on the road, but no matter where he was, he'd always call home at 5:30. He'd even adjust his watch if he was in a different time zone just to ensure that his call would get to us exactly at 5:30…." She smiled at the memory. "Your dad sounds like someone I wouldn't mind hanging out with," Glenn mused, and to his surprise, Kirsten nodded. "I bet he would've enjoyed hanging out with you too, Mr. Saxon." "You can call me Glenn, for the time being."

In Mr. Tell's workshop, Vicki paced around the slab where Dianne was being repaired. Most of the artificial skin covering her abdomen had been removed, revealing her titanium frame and a complex array of servos, actuators and other parts. Mr. Tell worked with the efficiency of a surgeon, replacing Dianne's damaged power management module and repairing the hole in her synthetic flesh; every move he made was dictated into a mini-cassette recorder, before, during and after the process. Vicki said nothing, not wanting to distract Tell from his work. Once the three hours had elapsed, Mr. Tell asked Vicki to join Glenn and Kirsten in the waiting room while he ran the last few system checks on Dianne to make sure she was working properly.

Vicki crossed her fingers as she walked out, hoping that Mr. Tell's repairs would take….

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but Mr. Lawson isn't here right now. If you'd like, I could set up a meeting with him…" The gynoid receptionist at the Lawson Robotics building stopped in the middle of telling yet another caller that Ted Lawson wasn't available; Capri was heading out. "Miss Capri?" the receptionist called. "Mr. Lawson called a few minutes ago; he'd like to talk with you as soon as possible." "I'm on my way to meet him now," Capri replied; her plan to find the gynoid killer and thrash him within an inch of his life had been sidetracked thanks to a phone call from Ted.

"There's something else," the receptionist stated. "Anthony Sanderson, our mole in United Robotronics…his vitals aren't showing up on our sensors anymore." Capri turned sharply. "Sanderson? I thought we lost contact with him last month…" The receptionist hesitated; "Anthony was told to cease all contact with Lawson Robotics if his cover was blown, but he must have been able to neutralize the situation somehow and establish communications with Lawson's Eleven." It wouldn't be the first time, Capri mused.

"Ah, there's another situation you might want to look into," the receptionist added. "Unit DI-8473 was compromised three hours ago in a public area." Capri was aghast. "How many witnesses?" she asked, trying not to have a panic attack (the joys of android emotions, she thought mirthlessly). The receptionist's eyes scrolled rapidly, as if she was reading an invisible document. "Three: Glenn Saxon, Kirsten Sanderson and Vicki Lawson." Capri breathed a sigh of relief when the receptionist read Vicki's name, only to remember Kirsten's…problem. "Has Kirsten exhibited any sign of suspicion that she might be an android?" "Negative; all scans show that Unit KS-3261 still believes she's a human."

Capri asked the receptionist to trace Vicki's wherabouts, and in a few seconds, she found that V.I.C.I. was at Mr. Tell's repair shop, along with Glenn Saxon, Kirsten Sanderson and the compromised DI-8473. "At least they're all safe," she mused, as the receptionist closed the tracer program.

With Mr. Tell's permission, Kirsten called her mom to explain what had happened (sort of); Glenn, meanwhile, went outside to make a call to his fiance, explaining why he'd be late in returning home. Both Kirsten and Glenn had been told not to tell their friends or family members about Dianne, so neither of their phone calls mentioned the run-in with Faceless. Back in the waiting room, Vicki debated whether or not to reveal her own existence as a gynoid to Glenn and Kirsten; if what happened to Dianne ever happens to me, she realized, I may need them to bring me out here….

"V?" The tone of Mr. Tell's voice didn't exactly fill Vicki with hope. "What's wrong?" she asked, fearing the worst; Tell's somber expression wasn't helping. "Tell, what happened? Were you able to fix her, or---"

"I'm sorry, Vicki, but she's not going to make it through the night."

Instantly, Vicki collapsed forward, sobs wracking her body; she barely even felt Mr. Tell catch her. "I did the best I could," Tell reassured her, "but that damn blade hit a hydraulic line..there was fluid spilling everywhere, screwing up her internals….there was nothing I could do." Vicki sank to her knees, crying. "W-w-we have to do s-s-something!" she wailed, stammering through her tears. "Technically, I could shut down every part of her that was affected by the hydraulic fluid---which is about 90% of her body, by the way---and she'd be able to keep going for another week….but that would essentially put her in the same state that the real Dianne Isley is in." That revelation only made Vicki cry harder. "Okay, bad choice of words," Tell admitted. He grasped Vicki by the shoulders. "There is one other option…but it'll take time, and I'll probably have to shell out a lot of cash for it." Vicki wiped her eyes with her sleeve; "Go on…"

"In the event of, shall we say, catastrophic circumstances," Tell explained, "companies like LAER and Lawson Robotics keep back-up parts for every android they've built. In this case, because of the severity of the damage to Dianne's systems, they could go beyond just replacing parts and, conceivably, build a whole new body for her by the end of the month. Like I said, it'll take time, and it's not gonna be cheap…." "Do it," Vicki stated, once again projecting that air of finality into her words. Mr. Tell didn't even try to argue. "I'll call LAER tonight, and I'll try to ship whatever I can save to them tomorrow." "Can I at least say goodbye to her first?" Vicki asked. Mr. Tell nodded silently, allowing Vicki to enter the workshop. Steeling herself, Vicki wiped a few stray tears from her face and entered the room.

Mr. Tell had already gone through with his idea of shutting down 90% of Dianne's body; only her upper torso and head were able to move. "Hi, Vicki," she murmured weakly, smiling despite the fact that she'd been consigned to a slow, painful exit. "I guess this is the last time we'll see each other---" "Don't say that!" Vicki cried. "We can call LAER….they can build you a new body…." Dianne shook her head sadly. "I'm not worried about that…'s my sister."

"What?" Despite the fact that she'd roomed with Dianne for almost a whole year, she'd never heard any mention of a sister. "You have a sister?" "Not by birth," Dianne admitted. "After I found out the truth about what I was, Dad called my mom one night to tell her that he was 'rescuing' a gynoid from United Robotronics." She smiled at the memory. "C4RR13. My dad called her Carrie."

"Where is she?" Vicki asked instinctively. "Finishing her senior year of high school in Saratoga. Her 18th birthday was last week….." "Does she know she's a gynoid?" Dianne shook her head. "According to Dad, Carrie was never fully programmed; apparently, the team that had been working on her got fired after their boss found out that they were embezzling money. Nobody else took over the project, and Carrie ended up in a warehouse somewhere in Palo Alto. Dad only found out about it because one of the guys who dropped Carrie off at the warehouse rode the same bus as him." She sighed. "As far as I know, Carrie doesn't know for sure that she's a gynoid; she knows there's something different about herself, but that's about it. Dad called in a few favors from ALPA, and by the next day, Carrie had a full set of official doccuments saying she was the Isleys' adopted daughter." She sighed again, allowing her head to rest on the slab as she stared at the ceiling.

Vicki grasped Dianne's hand and knealt beside the slab. "Dianne," she whispered, "I swear to you that I'll keep Carrie safe until you get your new body." Dianne closed her eyes and smiled; "You're a good friend, Vicki Lawson." "So are you, Dianne Isley," Vicki replied, tears stinging her eyes once again. The two gynoids shared a final embrace. "It's gonna be a boring month without you," Vicki mused, still tearing up. Dianne grinned; "Don't let your new roommate mess up my side of the room," she teased. Vicki nodded. "I guess you'll want Mr. Tell to shut you down…" she began, not wanting to finish the sentence. "Yeah," Dianne muttered, "I'm sort of looking forward to a month off." She smiled again. "Take care of yourself, V.I.C.I."

Her eyes overflowing with tears, Vicki promised Dianne that she would, indeed, take care of herself. She left the workshop with her head held high, still saddened by Dianne's current state, but knowing that in one month, she'd be back on her feet.

Mr. Tell, Glenn and Kirsten were waiting for her in the lobby. "I've said my goodbyes," she told them. "Tell, do what you have to do." Mr. Tell nodded solemnly. "Glenn, Kirsten, there's something I need to tell both of you." Vicki motioned for Kirsten and Glenn to follow her to another room, as Mr. Tell went back into the workshop. As the door closed, Vicki got one last look at Dianne, who was still smiling in that serene way. I won't let you down again, Dianne, she vowed, and I won't let anything happen to Carrie.

Vicki closed the door to what had once been an examination room (the building had been a doctor's office before ALPA bought it) and turned to address Glenn and Kirsten. "Seeing as how both of you know about Dianne," she told them, "it's only fair to tell you that she isn't the only android in the Silicon Valley area…but that's not what I wanted to tell both of you." She took a deep breath; "Glenn, could you please pull up my shirt so that my back is completely exposed?" Glenn arched an eyebrow, but did as Vicki asked. "Seeing as how this isn't the strangest thing anyone's ever asked me," he replied, "I'd be, uh, honored, to…" "Just lift my shirt, please." Once Vicki's back was fully visible to both Kirsten and Glenn, she asked them both to try not to scream once they saw whay she was about to show them; they promised they wouldn't panic, and Vicki took another deep breath….

"Control panel…open!"

Vicki's back panel whirred open, exactly as it had opened that morning. Glenn's eyes widened, and a muttered "wow" escaped Kirsten's lips as the two gazed into V.I.C.I.'s internals. "My name, Vicki, is based on my official designation: Voice Input Cybernetic Indicant," she explained. "Dad added the 'k' to make it sound better. So… any questions?" "Ah, I have a few….." Glenn muttered distractedly. "For starters, why in the hell are you telling us that you're an android?" Vicki sighed. "Guys like Mr. Tell are what you might call field agents; if I malfunction during my daily routine, he'll send an 'ambulance' to pick me up and bring me here so he can fix whatever's wrong with me. Unfortunately, that strategy hasn't been working out too well lately, which means that if I'm hit by a major malfunction and Tell's ambulance gets stuck in traffic, I'm on my own." She closed her back panel with a blink and pulled her shirt back down before turning to face Kirsten and Glenn. "Now that the two of you know what I am," she told them, "you can't tell anyone else, because the fewer people know my secret, the better." Kirsten raised her hand nervously. "Are there….others, like you and Dianne?" Vicki almost wanted to cry right there; if only you knew, Kirsten. Out loud, she replied "Yes, but for security reasons, I can't tell you exactly how many there are, not even locally. Only my closest family members and friends know the truth about me---and they only know about me," she added. "They've also been sworn to secrecy…which is what I'll need the two of you to do right now."

She expected Glenn to start going on about the First Amendment, or Kirsten to start crying that this was all too much for her to bear. Instead, to her surprise, both of them promised her that they would, indeed, keep her true nature a secret from everyone else. She could barely bring herself to look Kirsten in the eye; now that you know the truth about me, she wondered, how long will it take before you learn the truth about yourself?

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

A lot happened over the last few days, but for now, I'll try to stick to the important stuff.

For starters, I think I've finally found my life's calling: helping others like me. Thanks to Dad (and some guy called Major Tom---who looks like a young, blond Tom Cruise, by the way), I know now that I'm not the only android in the general Silicon Valley area---and I'm definitely not the only one in this country! I also know that a few of my fellow students here at San Jose State University are androids, and thanks to my latest upgrades, I can tell who's an android and who isn't. I also made a few new friends today---my physics teacher, Glenn Saxon, and Kirsten Sanderson both know what I am, and they've promised that they won't tell anyone else. It's especially hard for Kirsten---she's an android too, but she doesn't know it. I wonder what that's like….

Unfortunately, I also lost a friend today; my roommate, Dianne---who also happens to be a gynoid---had to be deactivated thanks to that sick freak, Faceless. It's a long story, and I don't want to go into it…but let's just say that if I EVER see Faceless again, he's going to need more than those stupid blades and that stupid mask if he wants to leave in one piece… Anyway, Mr. Tell's called in some favors, and Dianne should have a new body by the end of the month….but she can't stay at SJSU anymore. Mr. Tell called a few minutes ago to tell me that the Isleys will be moving to another state (he couldn't say which, for security purposes) once Dianne's new body is finished. He did say that they promise to keep in touch, though, so that's something. Also, I promised Dianne that I'll look after her sister, Carrie; she's finishing high school soon, and her situation is a lot like Kirsten's---she doesn't know she's a gynoid.

As for school stuff, I'm thinking about joining a sorority, and maybe even trying out for some sports. Ted will probably flip his lid---I'll have to ask Mr. Tell about those inhibitors that'll let me compete at a "natural" pace.

Thus far, the semester has been pretty interesting. Kirsten's moving in across the hall tonight---Faceless apparently visited her old dorm and trashed the place---and I'm getting a new roommate tomorrow, so that should be pretty exciting. Hopefully, I can balance classwork and helping my fellow gynoids without too many problems.

I can hear Kirsten outside. Guess I'd better help her settle in!

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

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