As soon as she reached the top of the shaft, Vicki altered her trajectory so that she would land on the floor in front of the shaft (conveniently, the door had been left open), allowing her to gently put Tori down. "Sorry about the dramatic exit," she began, "but…" She stopped when she noticed Tori's tears. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier," she murmered. "You were programmed to ignore all signs that you were a fembot---"
The one word question stopped Vicki in her tracks. "Why, what?" "Why was I created? Why wasn't I supposed to know that I'm a fembot? Who would want someone---something like me? It…it just can't be possible! I can't be a fembot! There's so much I remember.. falling off the swingset in first grade, the birthday parties at the community pool…." Tori put her head in her hands. "It's just not possible…."
Vicki knealt beside the conflicted gynoid. "I knew you were a fembot when you first found out that Kim was a gynoid. Your reaction was, well, perfect for the situation…too perfect. Just the right mix of apprehension, panic and fear of the unknown that no human could ever get right." She paused. "That, and I noticed your internal power cell had a 75% charge." "Why didn't you tell me?!" Tori shrieked. "I couldn't. I was able to run a scan on your personality matrix, and I found that you were programmed to forget and/or ignore all signs of your true nature…except that the stethoscope Boris gave you had a nasty little surprise---a picospike that overrode that particular part of your programming." She sighed; “I probably should’ve said something earlier..”
"That still doesn't explain who made me," Tori muttered. "Boris Vlatko may claim that he did," Vicki replied, "but in reality, you're actually the last fembot Dr. Franklin ever built before he died; Lynda, the fembot we met at Brandon Brindle's apartment, told me that she saw you in a capsule, unfinished, before Franklin sent her on her last mission. My theory is that Franklin tried to do what Boris did to make the others---use cutting-edge, lightweight materials---but he never completed the work, so when Boris showed up all these years later, he finished Franklin's work and completed you."
"But….all these memories," Tori countered, looking as confused as ever. "Whose are they?!" Vicki sighed; "I don't know for sure, but I'm willing to bet that Franklin had some friends of his create those memories, so that you could be the perfect daughter for him. He already had a 'son'---Carl Franklin---but Carl never got to fulfil his creator's wishes; he was destroyed after a fight with some of OIS' top agents. My guess is that you were originally created to carry on where Dr. Franklin and Carl left off…."
Tori was horrified. "You mean…I was supposed to control those fembots?!" "That's a distinct possibility," Vicki admitted. "But that's not important right now. What is important is that we leave here ASAP."
Despite the fact that she'd just found out her life was a carefully-scripted lie, Tori nodded. Still, there was something she needed to get off her chest.… "Remember when I said that meeting you had re-defined 'weird' for me?" she murmured. Vicki nodded. "Well," Tori went on, "these last few minutes have not only re-defined 'weird', they've redefined me. I'm….I'm scared, Vicki…I don't know what I'm capable of!" "That's the problem with sleepers," Vicki admitted. "Right up until they find out what they are---if they find out, that is---they think everything's perfectly normal; the minute they realize that they're different, though…."
The sounds of the service elevator ascending the shaft cut off the conversation. "Right," Vicki declared, "pep talk over! We have to get out of here NOW!"
"Couldn't agree more, V."
Mr. Tell's voice in her head most likely meant that the ALPA (and probably the EDF) had seen and heard the fiasco down in the lab. "If you're calling to tell me I screwed up," she began, "don't bother---" "I'm calling to tell you that you did a damn good job down there," Mr. Tell replied, "and that our friends from the EDF just found the kidnapped transfer students---they're at the construction site next to the Student Union building." "Right. I'll be there ASAP." Vicki terminated the connection, her mind reeling with possibilities. Running the entire way to the site would be no problem---for her; Tori, on the other hand, might not be able to keep up. "Tori," the brunette gynoid asked, "did Boris have a car, or---"
Once again, Tori wasn't there.
"How does she do that?" Vicki wondered, her querry interupted by the roar of an engine. "BORIS' CAR!" Tori shouted, waving at Vicki from behind the wheel of a Skoda Octavia. "GET IN!" I've got to hand it to her, Vicki mused, she's mastered the art of moving without making a sound in record time. Not waiting to see if the service lift was on the way up, Vicki ran for the Skoda and slid into the passengers' seat. "Floor it," she instructed Tori, using her monotone to reinforce the seriousness of the situation. Tori nodded, pressed the gas pedal to the floor and took off. Hang on, girls, Vicki silently thought, hoping that the kidnapped transfer students weren't in danger.
Drake Bradford stared at the service elevator shaft, wondering how in the hell things had gone so wrong.
It had probably started when Boris was making his offer. Against all odds, one of the consoles seemed to have exploded, giving the brunette girl the perfect cover for an escape. After that, she'd grabbed the other girl---the sixteenth fembot, Drake corrected himself---and just disappeared; probably down that damn corridor Boris came in through, he reminded himself. To make things worse, Boris had somehow escaped amidst all the confusion.
"Riggs," Bradford declared, "turn all the fembots back on and deploy them to the construction site; that brunette girl's probably headed there, because whoever she's working for probably found the girls by now. Eileen, get my lawyer on the phone---I don't care if he's in the bath, at a funeral or in the basement with his girlfriends, just GET HIM ON THE PHONE. As for you…" He turned to glare at the UnMaker, only to notice that he was gone. "WHERE THE HELL DID HE GO?!" Eileen looked rather embarassed. "Apparently, he snuck out while you were distracted by the brunette girl's escape…"
Bradford glared at her, but managed to keep his anger in check. "Help Riggs activate the fembots, and send every single one of them to the construction site. Then, you get my damned lawyer on the phone and tell him to drag his over-paid ass down here or he's fired!" Eileen frowned. She would've asked what to do if Drake's wife called, but Bradford never answered calls from his house anyways. "I'll get right on it, sir," she mumbled, heading to the control console to help Riggs. I need a vacation, she reminded herself for the the fifteenth time that day, otherwise I'll end up in a padded cell when this is all over with.
Drake allowed himself a smirk as he watched Riggs and Eileen activate nine of the ten encapsulated fembots; The mysterious brunette girl had already outsmarted him, but there was no way in Hell that she could beat nine fully-charged fembots. Well, he thought there was no way she could beat them….
"Great," Vicki muttered, "he's sending the fembots after us!" Bradford hadn't bothered to remove the tracker that Mr. Tell had installed inside of MaryBeth (indeed, he hadn't even thought to look for it), allowing Vicki to keep tabs on the fembot just in case. "And he's sending the others with her, probably…not how I wanted this to go." "How did you want this to go?" Tori asked. "Truthfully," Vicki admitted, "I was kinda hoping Bradford would be willing to talk it out….and before you say it, yes, I know how stupid that sounded."
The two drove on in silence, knowing that the fate of the thirteen kidnapped students relied solely on them. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, they reached the construction site. "Look for anything that could be used to hide kidnapped people," Vicki instructed Tori. “And whatever you do, don't try to fight the fembots when they show up." It wasn't a question of "if they'd show up" anymore; Vicki knew all too well that Bradford wouldn’t rest until "his" fembots tore apart half of SJSU just to avenge his loss at the hands of Boris. "Once we get to the site, we'll probably have a 10-15 minute window of opportunity to free the girls and get them out of there safely. After that…."
She didn't finish the sentence, but she and Tori both knew that if all of the girls weren't evacuated in time, the fembots would most likely kill them as soon as possible once they arrived.
"Right. We'll need to be quick; if my math is correct (and it usually is), then we've only got about….10 minutes until Bradford and the fembots show up…." Vicki would've continued talking, except for the fact that Tori was looking depressed once again. "What's wrong?" Tori looked Vicki in the eye, and the brunette gynoid was shocked to see tears once again. "If that Bradford guy can control the other fembots," Tori muttered, "then what's to stop him from controlling me?" "You're operating on a different signal, Tori," Vicki assured the fembot, "and Boris probably didn't build a control console for you." "Even if that's the case," Tori insisted, "I want you to promise me something---"
The sound of screeching tires and shouted orders in the background meant that the EDF and ALPA teams had arrived; Vicki returned her attention to Tori. "Promise you what?" she whispered.
"Promise me that if Bradford takes control of me, you'll do whatever it takes to stop me."
Whatever snarky comeback Vicki was prepared to make died instantly on her lips. "Tori," she stammered, "you…you can't be serious!" "I'm not kidding, Vicki," the blonde fembot replied solemnly. "I don’t want you to let me become a killing machine like them. Promise me that you'll stop me if you have to." Vicki nodded, feeling tears stinging her own eyes. "I will," she whispered, wrapping Tori in a hug. "But only if I don't have a choice."
The two broke their embrace as an EDF soldier approached. "We've just received word that the fembots are on their way, Miss Lawson," he reported. "Hardcastle's given you permisson to take them out yourself; the EDF will rescue the kidnapped students." "Thanks," Vicki replied, suddenly noticing a rather imposing figure a few feet away----a tall, muscular blond guy with a crew-cut, expensive sunglasses, a red muscle shirt, blue jeans, steel-toed boots and fingerless gloves; his belt buckle bore the nuclear symbol commonly seen on fallout shelter signs (and Megadeth’s drum kit). "Ah, is that who I think it is?" she asked the EDF soldier. He grinned. "Yep, that's him. He was on his way back to Vegas when we called him; said he'd have no problems with this little detour." Before Vicki could say anything else, the soldier's radio squawked to life, and his grin faded. "Bradford and the fembots are approaching," he muttered. "Then you'd better start looking for those kidnapped girls," V.I.C.I. replied. "What about her?" the soldier asked, gesturing at Tori (and clearly unperturbed by the sudden change in V.I.C.I.'s vocal tone). "Take her with you, and keep her safe," the brunette gynoid replied. "I have a feeling that this is going to get ugly." "Will do, ma'am," the soldier replied. Tori cast one last look at V.I.C.I., who nodded with an air of finality. "Trust me," she whispered, slipping back into her human voice. "I do," Tori whispered back, nodding. With that, the two parted company, and V.I.C.I. prepared to take down on Drake Bradford's army of fembots….or get scrapped trying.
I just hope that the odds are in my favor, she mused, otherwise, this'll be a really short fight.
Fortunately for V.I.C.I., the odds were most definitly in her favor that night…
As the fembots entered the construction site, Lizette, Sarita and the nameless Asian fembot were at the front of the pack, as per Drake Bradford's orders. "Scans show no sign of the intruder from the lab," Lizette reported, her voice tinged with just a trace of a French accent. Behind her, MaryBeth, Liya, Maya and Dawn (who had finally had her logic loop problem fixed) held point, while Simone, Cindy, Delilah and Cassandra (who'd undergone extensive repairs after her "heavy metal overload") brought up the rear. "Scanning for possible aggressors," the Asian fembot droned in a toneless voice, her head turning robotically back and forth as she looked from one end of the construction yard to the other. "Scans complete. No hostile entities found."
If only she'd bothered to look up…..
The group walked underneath a crane, knowing that any human foolish enough to attack them would never try to assault them from above. Had they known that their attacker wasn't human, they would've run for cover… but the ensuing fight would've been a lot less entertaining. In any case, the Asian fembot scanned the area again….
…except it was interrupted in a rather abrupt way by the heel of a boot catching her across the face.
"When will you fembots learn that attacks can come from all sides?" V.I.C.I. asked, smirking as the Asian fembot regained her footing. "Unit compromised," she declared, her face barely hanging onto the rest of her head. "Unit compromised. Please repair. Please repair." The other fembots backed away, not wanting to be damaged by shrapnel if the Asian fembot exploded. "Smart move," V.I.C.I. observed, "except she isn't going to explode."
The fembots circled around her, waiting to attack. Time to give them an opening, she thought, assuming a stance that anyone who had overdosed on Never Back Down could mistake for being completely vulnerable. Sure enough, Cindy charged forward, her orange spandex jumpsuit hugging her curves as she ran.
Bingo, V.I.C.I. thought with a grin.
Cindy's charge was met with a straight kick to the head, instantly dislodging her facemask. The fembot's glass eyes glared at V.I.C.I. with what would've probably been utter hatred, had her face still been attached. Before the brunette gynoid could savor the temporary victory, Lizette grabbed her arms and pinned them behind her back, allowing Cindy to run forward with the intent to clothesline her victim's head off….
…except her "victim" ducked at the last second.
The clothesline struck Lizette square in the face, knocking her to her knees (and sending her facemask flying). V.I.C.I. grinned again. "I could make a great 'Poker Face' joke right now," she began, but Dawn's foot slammed into her left kneecap.
WARNING: Structural integrity in left knee joint has been compromised.
The brunette gynoid struggled to stay on her feet; Dawn had kicked her with enough force to shatter a human being's leg. "Ow!" V.I.C.I. yelled, briefly speaking in her human voice. "That hurt!" Dawn said nothing in response, choosing instead to let her combat stance speak for her. V.I.C.I. exhaled; "Have it your way, then." She ran (or more accurately, limped as fast as possible) towards Dawn, unaware that Maya and Liya were literally able to catch up with her at a walking pace. "You cannot win," Maya declared, grabbing the brunette gynoid's right arm. "Surrender now, or die," Liya threatened, going to grab V.I.C.I.'s free arm---and getting a face full of Detaining Grip v1.5.
"I don't think so," V.I.C.I. replied.
The fembots glared at her, realizing that their opponent had more tricks up her sleeves than they did. "Retreat and fall back," Lizette ordered, only for V.I.C.I. to disable her with a clothesline. "That was for bashing me in the knee," she remarked.
As expected, the fembots didn't react favorably to Lizette getting clotheslined. "Hon," MaryBeth informed the brunette gynoid, "you really shouldn't have done that…" Amazingly, her voice still had that saccharine sweet tone to it, and the smile had never left her face. "You should get the actuators and servos in your facemask checked out," V.I.C.I. remarked, ”otherwise people might think you're trying to look like the Joker." MaryBeth took the remark in stride. "Don't you get it, sunshine?" she trilled. "I'm smiling because I know that you can't beat us. You can't even try. Drake Bradford's plan will succeed, and Silicon Valley will be his for the---"
A sharp kick to the back of her head ended MaryBeth's gloating before it could begin.
"I always did find you to be the most annoying of Bradford's dolls," the UnMaker declared. The other fembots all turned as one, their cold, emotionless eyes settling on the black-clad young man. "What are you doing here?!" V.I.C.I. hissed. "Bradford wanted me to take the fall for him," the Unmaker replied, "except he forgot that I have a clause in my contract that specifically prohibits such actions." He sighed. "I was actually looking forward to a rematch with you, but logistically speaking---"
"If you're going to help me," V.I.C.I. shouted, kicking Liya straight in the back, "then just SHUT UP AND HELP ME!"
The UnMaker grinned. "As you wish…"
Lizette, Liya, Simone and Dawn charged at V.I.C.I., while MaryBeth, Sarita, Cindy and Delilah went after the UnMaker. The remaining fembots---Maya, Cassandra and the unnamed Asian fembot---tried to break away from the group and head for a row of shipping containers. "Don't let them get away!" the brunette gynoid called out, dodging Lizette's backhand and answering with a brutal elbow smash to the gut. "Wouldn't dream of it!" the UnMaker replied, delivering a superkick to Delilah's head. The raven-haired fembot staggered, barely able to keep her balance; after a few seconds of watching the fembot stumble around, the UnMaker finally knocked her to the ground with a football tackle.
"Her deactivation switch is behind her left ear," V.I.C.I. shouted. "I know," the UnMaker replied, pressing the switch and deactivating Delilah. He narrowly avoided a stomp from MaryBeth, grabbing the blonde fembot by the ankle and dragging her to the ground. "For the record," he told the struggling fembot as he reached behind her ear, "I always thought your smile looked ridiculous."
A sharp crack split the air; Cindy had stomped on the UnMaker's arm.
"A..minor setback," he gasped, cradling the now useless apendage. "Release MaryBeth now," Cindy ordered in her emotionless voice, "or I will break your other arm." "I don't suppose we could negotiate a compromise?" the Unmaker quipped; Cindy glared at him and raised her foot again, preparing to stomp on his other arm.
And that's when something rather unexpected happened.
The mounted crane used to deliver rebar to the Student Union expansion suddenly came to life, the boom swinging the cable directly towards Cindy. The hook on the end of the cable collided with her back, effortlessly knocking her to the ground; Sarita, meanwhile, had just knealt down to reactivate Delilah, giving her nowhere to run as the hook flew at her next----decapitating her instantly.
What the hell?!
Delilah got to her feet. "Delilah-42X90 status report," she droned, oblivious to the iron hook sailing towards her until it embedded itself in her stomach, lifting her off the ground. "This unit has been compromised," she calmly stated, "initiating system---" Her sentence was cut off as the crane slammed her into an unfinished bit of the Student Union expansion, impaling her through the neck on a jutting bit of rebar. "SysTem ShuTdOWn iMMiNeNT," she screeched, her voice alternating in pitch until a fire erupted inside her ruined torso. A few seconds later, Delilah's head burst into flames as her facemask disconnected and fell to the ground.
"Two down," V.I.C.I. declared, "ten to go."
MaryBeth was now in a bad way; thanks to the UnMaker's tackle, she'd landed on a toolbox and wound up with a magnetic screwdriver stuck in her back. "Hi, I'm MaryBeth," she declared, moving as if she was shaking someone's hand. "We're going to have a great time today! Hi, I'm MaryBeth!" Her movements became more and more robotic, each motion causing the screwdriver's tip to go further and further into her systems. "The MaryBeth fembot is malfunctioning," Liya declared. "She must be deactivated." She took three steps towards the stricken fembot, only for the swinging hook to ram into the side of her head, staggering her. "Unit-unit-unit-unit-unit system-tem-tem-tem-tem-tem-tem failuuuuuuuuuurreee," she stammered, her head twitching to the left with an audible click with each repetition. "I'll take that as good news," V.I.C.I. remarked, mentally ramping up the voltage of DG v1.5. "Time for a makeover…V.I.C.I. style."
With her free hand, V.I.C.I. removed Liya's facemask, revealing the fembot's mechanical visage. "This might sting a bit…" Before Liya could react, V.I.C.I. drove the palm of her electrically-charged hand into the fembot's exposed face, sending current directly through the transistors, actuators and various other internal mechanisms. A burning smell soon filled the air; Liya's central power source had overloaded and caught fire, burning through her abdomen and jumpuit in record time. The fire literally cut the fembot in half at the waist, and both halves fell uselessly to the ground; within seconds, Liya had ceased functioning.
V.I.C.I. allowed herself a grin. "Three down, nine to---"
Lizette's knife-edged chop to the throat ended the boast. "You will pay for this," she coolly stated. "We will not allow you to defeat us." "Five of your 'sisters' are already gone," V.I.C.I. replied. "Getting rid of the rest won't be a problem." She deftly dodged another one of Lizette's knife-edged chops, which ended up hitting Maya right in the face. "Conne-conne-conne-conne-connection lo-lo-lo-lost," Maya sputtered, sparks shooting out of her elbows, knees, shoulders and hips. Her link to the controls now severed, Maya robotically strutted towards a nearby generator. "Uni-uni-uni-uni-unit rererererererererererererechargiiiiiiiiiiiiing," she droned, grabbing an extension cord that had been plugged into the generator and preparing to ram it into her abdomen via her navel.
"Maya, no!" Lizette shouted, sounding remarkably human. It was too late; Maya rammed the plug home, causing sparks to shoot out of every bodily orifice imaginable. Her pants instantly caught fire, and her fingertips melted away just as quickly. Smoke poured out of her nose and mouth, and her glass eyes exploded from the force of the current. A mere 20 seconds later, Maya was reduced to a smoldering pile of plastic, titanium and burnt clothes. Lizette stared at the burning mass that had once been Maya before turning her cold gaze towards V.I.C.I.; "This isn't over," she declared. "Cassandra, find and retrieve Cindy and Fembot 014; we must retreat."
"I don't think so," V.I.C.I. began, but the UnMaker stopped her and pointed up at the control booth of the crane with his good arm; "You've got bigger problems to worry about right now." V.I.C.I. looked up at the control booth and was horrified to see Tori Hartwell hanging onto the controls for dear life; electricity coursed through her limbs, and her body convulsed uncontrollably. "TORI! Hang on!" She prepared to scale the crane, but the UnMaker held her back. "Whatever did that to her has probably taken over her mind; if you climb up there and try to save her, she might attack you, and you'll both plummet----" "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU SUGGEST, THEN?!" Vicki shouted. The UnMaker shook his head. "You promised her that you would stop her if you had to," he muttered. Vicki nearly asked how he knew this, but said nothing as he continued. "I suggest you keep that promise…however you can."
Vicki blinked back tears. "Do your Voltaic Converters still work?" she asked; the UnMaker nodded. "Good. Put one hand on the crane, and give me your free hand." The UnMaker stared at her; "Seeing as how one of my arms happens to be broken, I have a better idea," he replied, unstrapping the devices from his arms. "Aim these at the control booth and use that electric grip of yours on them; they'll act like a sort of lightning gun and fire the electricity directly into the control booth."
"It won't work," Vicki countered. "It's too high up, and if I miss…."
"You're not actually thinking of going up there, are you?" the UnMaker asked. "I don't exactly have a choice," Vicki shot back. "Tori isn't just another fembot---she's my friend. I have to help her." She stared down the Unmaker with an unwavering gaze. "Got a problem with that?"
"No," the UnMaker replied without hesitation, "but he might." He pointed over Vicki's shoulder, prompting the brunette gynoid to look behind her.
"Bravo! Bra-vo!" Drake Bradford did a slow clap, looking as if he was enjoying every minute of Vicki's tortured indecision. "You've managed to take out six of my fembots….congratulations are definitely in order." "Enough talk," Vicki declared. "What did you do to Tori?” "I didn't do anything!" Bradford spat back, his smirk vanishing. "Your stupid friend probably set off an alarm---" "She's not stupid!" Vicki yelled.
Tori's voice sounded ethereal---and close, though only Vicki could hear it. "Tori?!" the brunette gynoid shouted, expecting her to see the blonde fembot behind her; to her amazement, Tori was still in the control booth of the crane. "It's happening, Vicki….my body isn't responding…I've lost control…" V.I.C.I.'s vision instantly magnified, allowing her to see Tori's arms moving in a most decidedly robotic fashion as they manipulated the crane controls. "Something's taking over my mind, Vicki…..something….named Stylo….."
Vicki felt the bottom of her stomach drop out. Stylo?!
"Tori, everything's going to be all right," she lied, trying to smile. "It's not all right," the UnMaker corrected. "I know what Stylo can do …and it won't be pretty. You have to take the shot." "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TWO BABBLING ABOUT?!" Bradford shouted. "None of your damn business!" the UnMaker called back, glaring at Drake before returning his attention to Vicki. "I'm probably the last person you should trust in this situation…but believe me, this is the only way to keep things from spiralling further out of control than they already have. You have to shoot her down---"
"I KNOW!" Vicki shouted, tears flooding her eyes. "I know…." She sank to her knees. "I…I didn't want this," she muttered. "I never wanted it to go this way…" "Nobody ever does," the UnMaker replied quietly. "Do you think I chose to work for that douchebag?" he asked, gesturing at Bradford. "YOU SHUT UP!" the douchebag in question yelled; the UnMaker ignored him. "It's not always easy," he told the grieving gynoid, "but rest assured….years from now, you'll look back on this night, and realize that you did what you had to do." "How do you know?" Vicki asked, blinking back tears. "I know because I had to do something like this once," the UnMaker whispered, "and I didn't break my promise."
At the mention of promises, Vicki recalled her words to Tori, promising that she'd take the fembot out, but only if she had to. "Forgive me, Tori," she murmured, returning to her feet and aiming the Voltaic Converters at the control booth. Knowing full well that she was essentially about to kill an innocent person, she ramped up the voltage on her Detaining Grip and channeled it through the Converters. I'm sorry, Tori….I'm so sorry.
As expected, the blast had spectacular results.
Tori was blasted out of the control booth instantly, and if the shock hadn't destroyed her, the fall did. Even more spectacular was the fact that just as Vicki's shot hit, a bolt of lightning struck the crane's control booth, moving through the frame and sending a shock straight into Vicki, reminding her of the dream in Palo Alto….
Except that this was no dream.
EDF and ALPA operatives were carting captured fembots into trucks and loading the destroyed fembots into other vehicles, but none of it mattered, mainly because Vicki couldn't see or hear any of it. Instead, she lay on the ground, 33 feet from where Tori had fallen; before she'd been hit, a single question had formed on her lips:
"No one steals our chicks.....and lives!"