Vicki and Tori seemed to be inseperable all morning; somehow, Tori's class schedule had been altered so that she was with Vicki at all times (I'll have to thank someone for that, Vicki thought, probably Major Tom), and the two were fast becoming friends. The two even managed to have a discussion on androids during a particularly boring Phillosophy lecture (Vicki's multi-layered auditory sensors were recording the lecture anyways, so she could catch up on anything she missed later).
In short, Vicki and Tori were completely oblivious to what was happening in the locker room of the Aquatics Center until they were within 5 feet of the building.
"…and by the time the fire department showed up, Dad was screaming 'THE TURDUCKEN IS ARMED AND DANGEROUS! DON'T GO ANYWHERE NEAR THE TURDUCKEN!'" Vicki dramatically declared, ending her reenactment of the 2009 Lawson Family Thanksgiving Kitchen Disaster with a laugh. "Mom practically banned him from going anywhere near the oven after that." Tori chuckled, then sighed. "Something wrong?" Vicki asked. "No…it's just weird that you refer to them as 'Mom' and 'Dad'…"
Vicki grinned. "It took them a while to get used to it too. Heck, the first time I called Ted 'dad', I thought he was going to have a coronary or something! Still, it's no big deal…Ted's parents know what I am, and even though his dad didn't approve of me at first, even he started calling me his granddaughter after a few months. Joan's dad knows, too, although there was a particularly tense incident with Jaime's cousin one summer…" She stopped, her auditory sensors picking up the sounds of a scuffle in the Aquatics Facility locker room.
"What is it?" Tori asked. "Something's happening in the locker room of the Aquatics Faclilty," Vicki explained, "and I may have to go in there and deal with it." She loaded up Detaining Grip v1.5 (Tell had upgraded it since the Leslie Erica Simm incident) and set it to standby. "Don't follow me in unless I call for you," she warned Tori, speaking in her robotic monotone. "What happened to your voice?!" the awestruck blonde asked. "Long story," V.I.C.I. deadpanned. "It's how I used to talk, and I haven't gotten tired of it yet." She paused, glancing around to see if anyone had overheard. "Although I have to admit," she added (using her human voice again), "talking like a normal human girl does have its advantages."
Vicki and Tori entered the Aquatics Facility, only to find a sizeable crowd gathered around the door to the girls' locker room. "Great," Vicki muttered, "just what I don't need right now---a bunch of people with cellphone cameras and no concept of android rights." She sighed and shook her head. "Tori, you stay back----"
She turned to address her newly-acquainted friend, but Tori was gone.
"Where'd she go?" Vicki murmured, seconds before the fire alarm went off. "FIRE! EVERYBODY OUT!" Tori shouted; the crowd at the door of the locker room was only too happy to comply. "Well, the crowd's gone," she beamed. "And the fire department's on the way," Vicki added, scowling. "I appreciate your good intentions, but---"
Vicki's cellphone rang; her "college girl reflexes" allowed her to snatch it out of her pocket before Tori could blink. "This is Vicki Lawson speaking. Who are you, and how did you get this number---"
"Campus Fire Department, what's your emergency?"
The voice sounding from Vicki's phone definitely wasn't that of a fireman. "Tell?! How'd you---" "My campus-wide scanners picked up the panic signal from the locker room a few minutes before you did; after that, I just had to reroute the signal from the fire alarms to my workshop. Capri and Major Tom will be there in a few minutes---"
From inside the bathroom, Valerie screamed.
"Normally, I'd say 'thanks for the assist'," Vicki admitted, "but they might be too late to help Valerie. I'm going in." Before Tori could even think to utter another word, she watched as Vicki steeled herself, charged at the door and broke it down with a straight kick.
Valerie was in the grips of a full-blown panic attack when she heard the door shatter inwards. If she'd been able to see the looks of surprise on the faces of the five fembots who were just seconds away from ripping the bathroom stall to pieces, she might not have felt so afraid.
"Back away from the stall," Vicki ordered, fighting the urge to use her monotone voice. "NOW."
"And what makes you think we'll do that?" MaryBeth asked, her voice sounding so sweet that Valerie thought a lesser gynoid might end up with cavities after hearing it. "This isn't a game," Vicki replied, not amused at MaryBeth's act. "Let Valerie out of the stall or I'll be forced to take drastic action."
The five fembots exchanged looks; they weren't going anywhere.
Vicki sighed. "Have it your way, then."
She charged forward, swinging her left arm out to catch the swimsuit-clad brunette right in the midsection just as the black-haired fembot in the miniskirt ate a kick to the face. Two others----one looking like a WWE Diva in training and the other wearing jogging attire---decided to attack Vicki using hand-to-hand tactics, and they might have actually won had the jogging fembot chosen an attack other than a stupid roundhouse kick---it left a gaping hole in her defensive stance that was easily exploited by a straight kick.
Within two minutes, four of the five fembots were on the floor. Only the one called MaryBeth remained.
"Now why'd you have to go and do a thing like that?" she asked, sounding as if Vicki had just spilled a drink on her or something equally pithy. The brunette gynoid's gaze never wavered; "They tried to fight me. I fought back. Simple as that." MaryBeth shook her head; "You just don't get it, do you? Even if you beat me and get your friend out of here, the others will find out---" "Enough talk." Vicki allowed just enough anger to slip into her voice to give MaryBeth a reason to consider retreat. "Either get out of my way right now, or you'll be joining your friends on the floor."
MaryBeth smiled politely. "We never surrender."
Vicki's eyes narrowed dangerously "Then I guess this is the part where you and I fight."
The two almost literally flew at each other, and as Valerie crawled out of the stall, she saw that both Vicki and MaryBeth were fighting as if they were born and raised by UFC cagefighters. Punches, kicks, elbow smashes and other moves were traded with uncharacteristic brutality, and after about thirty seconds, the two gynoids ended up on opposite ends of the room.
Vicki was a bit winded, but she was still intact. MaryBeth, on the other hand…
"Oh my goodness! My face!" Indeed, Vicki had somehow ended up taking MaryBeth's face off; the front of the blonde fembot's head now looked like an ovaloid circuit board inlaied with transistors, servomotors, two glass eyes (probably with cameras in them, Vicki mused) and a speaker grille where the mouth would normally be. "Why in the heck did you take my face---" MaryBeth asked, but Vicki wasn't in a talking mood---she ran straight at the unmasked fembot and tackled her to the ground.
As the two struggled, Valerie stumbled backwards out of the bathroom, nearly running over Tori. "What's going on?!" Tori asked, only to duck as a tennis shoe flew past her head. Knowing that any further questions would only distract her new friend, she watched, silently, as V.I.C.I. fought to get her finger behind MaryBeth's left earlobe. Seconds later, Tori and Valerie heard an audible click, and MaryBeth stopped struggling. "Next time," V.I.C.I. monotoned quietly, "just surrender."
Outside, Major Tom and Capri had arrived in a specially-prepared "firetruck". "Ah, Vicki," Tori began, only for her new friend to shush her. "Help me load this one into the truck---and get a towel to cover her face." Tori nodded and joined Valerie in hauling MaryBeth to the waiting vehicle.
Once inside the firetruck, Vicki turned her attention to Major Tom. "Right, three things: First, we're going straight to Mr. Tell's workshop---and I don't care who told you otherwise. Second, Valerie's going to need a place to stay tonight---" "I already have one," Valerie murmured. "Not anymore; anywhere you go for the rest of the day will probably be under surveilance, so we need to find you a place that's off the grid. Thirdly…WHAT THE HELL IS THIS THING?!" she shouted, gesturing to MaryBeth's motionless form.
"Looks like one of Franklin's," Capri mused. "Can't be," Major Tom replied. "Franklin's been dead for nearly three decades now, and that android he called a son is currently in cold storage somewhere, if I remember correctly." "Who's Franklin?" Tori asked, confused; Vicki cut in before Major Tom could reply. "Before you ask, her friend's a gynoid and she's already met Tell." Major Tom grinned. "Always covering the bases, Vicki….you're definitely Ted Lawson's greatest achievement ever."
"Back to my question," Tori interjected, "who's---" "Dr. Franklin was a respected member of OIS back in the 70s," Capri explained, "until he decided to use his genius for his own personal gain. He created several fembots and had them try to steal a device that was supposed to manipulate the weather; that little jaunt didn't go so well for them. Most of the fembots were fried when Franklin lost control of the weather manipulator; they were on the crest of a dam, and lightning hit…..needless to say, they didn't survive."
"And this 'son' you mentioned?" Vicki prompted. Capri chuckled mirthlessly. "Two years after the weather manipulator incident, one Carl Franklin arrived and managed to reactivate a few of his father's fembots as part of some hairbrained plot to get control of a prototype laser. Turns out Carl was as bad at plotting things out as his 'father' was; the laser ended up nuking the base and blowing up most of the fembots with it."
"'Most of the fembots'?" Vicki repeated, arching an eyebrow.
"There's always been a sort of mystery regarding one Franklin fembot in particular," Major Tom admitted. "A fembot codenamed Lynda was listed as having been captured after the weather manipulator debacle, but OIS never saw her again after that day…" He stopped. "Capri, are you pondering what I'm pondering?" Capri assumed a "Thinker" pose. "I think so, Brain," she replied in an overly goofy voice, "but if Jimmy cracks corn and no-one cares, then why does he keep doing it?" Vicki giggled, and even Major Tom chuckled. "All kidding aside," Capri added, "what are you thinking….." Suddenly, the realization hit her. "Someone else got her?" "We'll find out when we get to Tell's," Major Tom replied, the smile fading from his face.
The "firetruck" sped off towards Mr. Tell's workshop, its occupants unaware that someone was following their progress with relative interest…..
"Wow. Just…..wow. Ladies and gentlemen, either Dr. Franklin faked his own death, or you've brought me one of his unreleased prototypes, because this is….wow. That's all I can say at this point."
Mr. Tell's appraisal of MaryBeth wasn't as informative as Vicki would've liked, but at least they knew that it was Franklin's handiwork. "I think it might actually be something more than those two," Major Tom admitted. "There's a slim possibility that someone could've found and reverse-engineered one of the originals---" "Don't even tell me you think that Lynda is involved in this!" Tell half-shouted, though his voice sounded more jubilant than angry. "She's become the D.B. Cooper of the robotics industry….disappearing without a trace moments after OIS signed for her to be transported to their lab." "I guess you've both forgotten about that fembot duplicate of Tami Cross, then?" Capri mused. "The Tami fembot was sold to a private collector back in '92," Major Tom reminded her. "Three years later, that collector was killed in a drive-by, and his house was looted; the ALPA found what was left of the Tami fembot in the hands of a Japanese robotics company. " He shook his head; "There wasn't enough of her to reverse-engineer."
"So….this Lynda may have been sold to someone who took her apart, studied her, made blueprints using modern technology and then put her back together?" Vicki offered. "Probably," Tell replied. "I mean, the old Franklin units were made with all that heavy-duty stuff…they literally clanged if they ran into each other! But this…lightweight titanium and ceramics, modern servomotors and actuators…..this was made by someone who knows Franklin's designs and has access to cutting edge tech."
"Except they haven't fixed the facemask issue," Major Tom remarked dryly, handing over MaryBeth's detached face. "The intecranial facial mechanisms are about the same as Franklin's girls," Tell mused, "but inside this mask…hoo, boy! Animatronic armatures galore!" "Perfect for correctly forming words and sentences, blinking and all those subtle nostril twitches one only sees on human beings," Major Tom agreed. "The EDF thinks that the FemMechs from that incident in New York might have used tech like this, but since their 'star player' wasn't exactly careful in dealing with them in the field, we'll never know."
"Ah, hello? Ground control to Major Tom!" Vicki waved her hand in the direction of Valerie. "My good friend here was nearly dismantled by Little Miss Sunshine and her band of Beat 'Em Up Barbies back at the Aquatics Center---" "There were more like her?" Tell shouted. "Four others," Valerie replied quietly. "I only stunned them," Vicki explained, "and trying to lug five pissed-off fembots to a mobile ALPA command center wouldn't have been subtle by any standards. I say we make the most with what we've got…." She turned her gaze to Mr. Tell. "….starting with whatever programs she's got inside her."
As Capri ushered Tori and Valerie out, Mr. Tell prodded around inside MaryBeth's CPU, occasionally making exclamations of surprise at what he found. "I've got to tell you, V, you've got one of the most complex software suites I've ever seen---and I should know, 'cause I wrote most of it---but this girl's definitely ranking a close second; her OS is either a really souped-up version of Windows or something developed in-house….and either way, it's freaking spectacular." "How so?" Vicki asked; Tell gestured to a computer screen showing the programs running on MaryBeth's CPU (which had been removed from her and connected to a laptop) "Well, for starters, this thing---I think it's Task Manager on crack, judging from the setup of the menu---is running about 500 programs at once; with most PCs today, you'd be lucky to run 50 programs with full resources at once without crashing your PC. And another thing; this personality matrix is light years away from Franklin's stuff; you could run this baby through the Turing test and get an A+!"
"So, she's almost as advanced as me, then," Vicki muttered, frowning. "Trust me, V," Tell assured her, "you'll be at the top of the technological food chain for the next decade. That being said, whoever made this fembot is definitely ahead of the curb---behind you, but ahead of everyone else…..wait a second." He examined the CPU's external casing for a few minutes. "Ah, Tell?" Vicki asked quietly. "Is something---"
"I KNEW IT!"
Vicki nearly fell over. "Knew what?!" "RoboDyne International!" Tell shouted. "This CPU was manufactured by RoboDyne International….meaning that THEY'VE had Lynda all these years!" "That doesn't exactly sound like conclusive proof," Vicki admitted, frowning. "It's the only lead we have," Tell replied, not backing down. "If we can prove that RDI somehow got their hands on Lynda, then we can DEFINITELY prove that they're the ones who built this fembot!" Something about the way Tell said that last sentence troubled Vicki; it was almost as if he wanted them to be responsible. "Ah, Tell," she asked, "is there some particular reason you---"
"RoboDyne were the ones that got me blacklisted from every other robotics company in Silicon Valley," Tell replied bitterly, without letting Vicki finish her question. "They claimed I was 'too attached to my work', said I was trying to take units home with me instead of scrapping them." He paused, allowing Vicki to mentally form a question before answering it: "They were right." He stared at MaryBeth, remembering the incident that had got him fired. "My last day of work, someone brought in a gynoid that had been treated like utter crap. Torn skin, burn marks all over her, scorch marks from when her batteries had been overcharged….the higher-ups wanted me to write up a report on how extensive the damage was, then scrap the unit and give the owners a new one. They called all androids and gynoids 'units' back then, never even referred to them by name…" Vicki felt like adding something to the conversation, but decided to let Tell finish.
"Three whole hours I stared at that gynoid, wondering how in the hell someone could treat something that beautiful so badly. Finally, I boot her up, and the first thing she asks me is…" Tears welled up in his eyes, and his voice wavered. "'Are you going to hurt me?' Not 'Hello', not 'who are you', but 'are you going to hurt me'……" He closed his eyes. "I cried for ten whole minutes when she asked me that."
Not knowing what else to do, Vicki put her hand on Tell's shoulder, allowing him to work through the grief.
"What happened to the gynoid?" she asked after two minutes of silence. Tell smirked mirthlessly. "I took her home, fixed her up and intended to find a new home for her…except the head douchebag in charge at RDI decided that I was 'a liability' and ordered me to let the cops search my house. I told him to blow it out his ass, he told me I was fired, and I punched him right in the mouth….after that, it was all a blur. All I know is that I woke up a week later with some blond guy in silver armor standing over me asking if I wanted a job with the ALPA." "Major Tom saved you?!" Vicki gasped. Tell nodded. "He also saved the gynoid…set her up with a new family---a better family, at that." He grinned, a lone tear making its way down his face. "I never saw her again, y'know. We were pen pals for a while; I think she still has my e-mail address, actually….."
"I hate to end your reverie," Vicki quietly informed Tell, "but from what I know about RDI, they're a much better company now than they were back then, especially in the human/robot relations department." "Yeah," Tell muttered, "but 'back then,' they were running under the rules of Dwight Bradford, the worst employer I've ever worked for. He treated the human employees like crap, he treated robots like crap, and he had a dislike for gynoids in particular; some people thought it was because they reminded him of his wife or something, but I personally think he had a bad experience in a gynoids-only strip joint or something…"
Suddenly, Vicki felt the metaphorical lightbulb go off in her head.
"Bradford…Bradford…..Any relation to Drake Bradford?" Tell thought about it for a moment. "I think Dwight and Drake are grandfather and grandson, respectively…let me check." He Googled "Drake Bradford" and checked several "family tree"-type websites. "EUREKA! Dwight Bradford is most definitely Drake Bradford's grandfather….but get this. Apparently, Drake's father, Derrick----a lot of 'D' names in that family, now that I think of it---apprenticed with Dr. Franklin back in the 70s!" Vicki grinned. "Seems your hunch was right on the money this time," she told Tell. "Don't thank me yet, V; if I'm right, Drake Bradford's even worse than Dear Old Granddad…."
"No one steals our chicks.....and lives!"