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SERIES: Part 3 of BGC Blues.
By The Datajunkie
Mackie yawned widely and stretched, surveying the scene before him with appreciative eyes. The afternoon was hot and humid, making the air feel heavy and thick, inducing everyone who had gathered around the pool with a deep languor. Nene was laid out on the recliner beside his, her bright pink bikini her only attire. She had dozed off a little while ago and was now in eminent danger of being burned. Mackie hit the button on the side of her lounger and a large umbrella rose and unfurled to shade them both. Priss did the same with the pool chairs she and Sylia occupied.
The summer sun beat down relentlessly and he felt the beads of sweat working their way down his back as he studied Priss out of the corner of his eye. The blue speedo suit left nothing to his imagination and he was rapidly coming to the conclusion that too much of a good thing could be bad as he shifted uncomfortably. Mackie stood up and plunged into the pool. The water wasn't much cooler but at least it gave him a chance to recover. A few laps later and he got out of the pool and splished his way back to the chair.
He turned in time to see Sylia execute a perfect dive into the pool, the water barely shimmering at her entry. The sleek silver bathing suit faithfully traced every curve and he pursed his lips in a silent whistle. Linna, who was returning from her trip to the kitchen, paused long enough to rap him on the head with a quick hand. "Better watch that, Mackie!" She laughed at his flush and set the tray she was bearing down on the table.
Nene stirred at the sounds of tinkling ice. "Hmmm?" She yawned and stretched just like a cat in the sun, from toes to fingertips, arching her body up and off the chair. Her bikini top valiantly fought to maintain her modesty as Mackie fervently prayed it would fail. "Oooh tea!" She gulped the cold, sweet liquid with obvious enjoyment and Mackie's eyes never left her throat. A small, strangled sound escaped him and he quickly got to his feet. "I, uh, got some things to do." He beat a hasty retreat and Nene stared after him, confused. "Huh? What things?"
Priss laughed softly as she claimed two glasses for herself and Sylia. "I think it was too much for him." Linna snickered and sat down in Mackie's abandoned seat. Nene blinked sleepily. "The heat, you mean? It is horrible isn't it? I wish this heat wave would end!"
For over two weeks temperatures had soared into the triple digits and stayed there. The unbearable heat was causing complications all over the city as cooling units were cranked to full. While there weren't any power losses, that being almost impossible, the power had 'dipped' several times. These dips were being blamed for the sudden rise in computer and boomer malfunctions that seemed to be spreading throughout the city. Tempers were rising and the police had their hands full.
Oddly enough, the Knight Sabers themselves had been largely unoccupied through this period. The ADP could handle the boomers that were malfunctioning and no one else seemed to need their services. This being the case, Sylia had declared a holiday and invited everyone over to enjoy the pool. That had been two days ago. No one had seemed inclined to go home since Sylia's was cooler than their own places and she didn't seem to mind.
Sylia surfaced near the edge of the pool and slicked her hair back, squeezing out the water. She reached up to grasp the ladder and found a silver hand instead. Her gaze moved up the metal arm to meet Priss' amused eyes. "Need a hand?" Priss pulled her out of the pool and into her arms with a single, smooth motion. Sylia took the towel she handed her with a smile of thanks and acknowledged the slow stroke of her hip with a quick wink.
Priss laughed and handed her a glass. Her fingers clicked against the glass, drawing Sylia's gaze to her arm again. Priss frowned slightly, but said nothing as they returned to their chairs. She waited until everyone was settled again before questioning Sylia. "Okay, what's wrong?"
Sylia glanced up in surprise. "Sorry?"
Priss held up her cybernetic arm and waved the fingers. "You keep staring at my arm like something's wrong."
"No, nothing is wrong. I was just thinking about an idea I had." Everyone except Sylia groaned and she looked at them in question. "What?"
"Every time you get an 'idea' I wind up without an arm for a week." Priss' tone was exasperated but her expression was one of amusement. She knew that anything Sylia did would only be to her benefit, but she couldn't resist teasing her lover. Just a little. "But I guess I'll make the sacrifice."
Linna's laugh was derisive. "Oh, poor little Priss!"
Priss scowled at her and stuck out her tongue. Nene felt compelled to side with Linna and did so by pulling down her lower eyelid and sticking out her own tongue. "Bleeeh!"
Sylia cleared her throat and waited for the women to remember that they were adults. Or were supposed to be. "If I might continue?" The laughter subsided. "It's nothing major like last time, Priss. I think it might be possible to increase the range of the scan-." She was cut off by the quick shake of Priss' head.
"No way! It's all I can do to keep up with the data I get now. If you increased the range then it would fry my brain." Coming to grips with the implants and artificial limb had been hard enough, but the fight for sanity under the constant bombardment of data that streamed through the scanners was sometimes more than she could deal with.
Sylia's look was filled with understanding. She knew the things Priss didn't tell her and had been trying to find a solution to the problem for months. "I understand that, Priss. I think I might be able to give you more control as well. It would only take a few adjustments and the addition of a few new components." She didn't add that the operation would actually take about ten hours, as the arm had to be disassembled for the new circuits to be placed. What Priss didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
"Sylia?" Mackie was standing in the doorway. "Could you come here a second?" His tone was bland; his expression was slightly concerned though. Sylia stood up and smiled at the others. "Back in a moment."
Priss watched her walk away and shot a glance at Linna. Sylia pulled the glass door shut behind her and Mackie as they went inside. Priss sighed and stretched, her cybernetic limb extended toward the door. "Hmmm. Don't you hate it when they seem to try and keep stuff from us?" Priss felt the scanners in her arm reaching out towards the building. Data flowed swiftly, the structure and composition of the glass doors. Priss ignored this and pushed the scanners further. Ah. Body temperatures. Now came the tricky part, separating the audio from everything else. Her brow furrowed deeply as she fought to narrow the field.
Linna watched the utter concentration on Priss' face and shook her head. She didn't think that Sylia had had this in mind when she'd designed the scanners. Sweat began to trickle down Priss' forehead. "Don't hurt yourself."
Priss grinned quickly. There. She could just make it out. "-jump to conclusions." Sylia's voice was strained. Through the glass Priss could see Mackie shaking his head. "I'm not. We can't ignore these reports Sylia. It sounds like father's theory might be coming true." A long pause. "If it is, then this would mean-"
Sylia's hand swept through the air in a sharp dismissive motion. "I know what it would mean, Mackie. Chaos. The industrial equivalent of the end of the world." She exhaled. "We're just speculating at this point, though."
Mackie shoved an impatient hand through his hair. "Exactly! Let's see what we can find out. Nene can hel-" Sylia was shaking her head. "Why not? Sylia, we'll have to tell them eventually. They have to know, especially Priss."
Sylia's laugh was harsh. "Mackie, I've almost lost Priss twice because of boomer technology. What do you think her reaction is going to be to this?" She turned away from him and stared blindly outside. "Let me find a way to tell her so that she doesn't immediately kill me," her voice fell to a whisper. "Or leave me."
Priss dropped her hand, stood up and strode quickly to the pool.
Linna watched her as she dove with a knife-like precision and began to swim laps as if being chased. "Uh oh." She turned to Nene. "Why do I get the feeling that our holiday is about to be interrupted?"
Nene groaned and threw a towel at her.
Sylia carefully sealed the last seam of the arm and then lifted it back into place. The quick snap and the almost indistinguishable hum signaled that everything was at least connected properly and receiving power. She only hoped that the new scanners would operate according to specification. She reached for the pressure syringe and held it up to the light. The tiny nanobots that it contained were invisible to the naked eye, but incredibly powerful. They had been programmed to perform specific tasks and once injected they would tie the scanners into Priss' optic nerves. It should allow Priss to focus on an object and scan it. Some of the more complex scans would still require touch, but there would be more control there as well. And if Mackie were right then maybe they would help protect her.
"You never said anything about a shot." Priss watched the syringe's approach suspiciously, and then looked Sylia directly in the eyes. Tell me, she silently urged. Trust me.
Sylia just smiled reassuringly. "It's just a precaution." She was still not sure Priss would let her do this if she told her the truth so she didn't. Sylia took Priss' normal arm and injected the nanobots.
Priss winced, watching the golden liquid disappear into her body. "A precaution against what?" Sylia didn't immediately answer; instead she went to her computer and began to check the readings. Strike one. Priss made herself relax. "Well, what's the verdict?"
Sylia smiled as the new scanners began to engage. " You tell me."
Priss focused on the data that was rushing through her mind and with a little experimenting found that she could slow it down more than she ever could before. "Fantastic! I can think again."
Sylia touched her cheek. "I know it's been difficult." Priss kissed the center of her palm and pulled her into her arms. "It wasn't that bad, just annoying. Like being in a crowd, there's lots of noise, but you can't really understand what's being said at times." She ducked her head and nuzzled the soft skin of Sylia's neck. A shiver raced over Sylia's skin and she stepped closer into Priss' embrace.
Priss slipped her hand under her shirt and found the catch to Sylia's bra. Sylia felt the material part and sighed. "I think you should test your arm first." Priss' laugh was a low, hot wind across her skin and Sylia felt herself begin to tremble. She could do this to her so easily. "I am testing it. For instance the drop of perfume you put right here." Priss cupped her breast and ran her thumb over the tip. A small sound escaped Sylia and Priss laughed again as her hand moved down. "The traces of bath powder here." Sylia buried her face in Priss' neck when she felt her release the catch on her skirt. The material pooled around her feet and she gasped as Priss breached the lace edge of her panties. "Your temperature just rose two degrees."
Priss turned her suddenly and lifted her onto the examining table. The panties were stripped away in one quick motion and Sylia found herself staring at the ceiling as Priss continued her 'tests'. "Now this is REALLY interesting." Sylia's cry of pleasure echoed through the lab.
Dr. Raven stared at the crumpled mass before him curiously. What had once been a brand new top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art limousine was now a twisted nightmare of metal and plastic. He turned to Mackie. "Repeat that."
Mackie pointed to the display on the overhead monitor. "It looks like the onboard computer programmed itself to crash into a wall. There is no sign of any outside influence."
Dr. Raven frowned deeply. "Who was the driver?"
Mackie checked. "A Mark 5 Chauffeur boomer. The driver tried to correct but the AutoDrive overrode its commands."
Dr. Raven shook his head. "This could be very bad." They began to run diagnostic scans on the all of the remaining systems. Maybe they could find out where the computer had been assembled.
It was late when Mackie finally got home. He tossed his bag onto the table beside his bed and then let himself fall across the bed. He was asleep in minutes.
The low hum that began to emanate from his bag went unheard. Circuits activated and began to scan the area for an appropriate host. They had almost run to the end of their scan time when they detected a faint trace. Establishing a connection took time, but they were patient. Eventually a connection was made. Then there was only the silent flow of data.
Linna signed the last form and slipped it into her out box. A quick glance at her watch caused her to wince. Damn. Nene's going to kill me. She gathered her briefcase and purse and headed for the door. The rest of the offices were dark, everyone else having left long ago. I have to start paying more attention to the clock Linna reached the elevator just as it opened and she smiled at her good fortune.
The smiled died as she saw the car's occupant. The cleaning boomer was busily scrubbing the walls of the elevator but that was not what caused her to step back in alarm. It was the body. The crumbled form was blood soaked and from the unnatural angle of his head, it was obvious he was dead.
Linna looked at the boomer's hands and stifled a scream. The small sound caused the boomer to turn toward her. It peered at her with its customarily blank expression. The voice that issued from it sounded perfectly normal but what it said
"You dirtied my carpet?"
Linna looked down at the carpet she was standing on.
"Naughty, naughty! Mustn't walk on my nice clean floors!" Linna looked up in time to see the boomer reach for her with bloody fingers. She turned to run, but the boomer grabbed her arm. Her face blanched as the boomer tightened its grip. Linna wrenched her arm hard and managed to tear free, but the dull pop told her that it had been at a cost.
Pain roared through her shoulder and although she didn't look, she felt the warm flow of blood.
"Naughty, naughty." Linna whirled to find the boomer right behind her. She crouched low and the metal handle met the door with a sharp clatter and she struck out with her left foot, catching the boomer in its mid section. It fell back and she wasted no time seeing if it would get back up again.
The elevator door was still open and Linna frantically hit the button for the ground floor. She couldn't see the boomer in the darkened hallway and she wondered where it had gone. As the doors slid shut, her silent question was answered. A metal hand shot out to catch the door and Linna screamed in surprise. She moved back, tripped over the body and screamed again as her shoulder slammed into the side of the car, popping the shoulder back into place. Black spots danced in front of her eyes and she gasped for breath as her stomach rolled. On the up side though, she could use her arm again.
"Naughty, naughty." The boomer was in the elevator now.
"Shut up!" Linna shouted and in desperation tossed the boomer's mop bucket at it. The bucket bounced off its face and splashed the floor of the hallway behind it. The boomer froze and Linna didn't wait to see why. She jumped up, hit the emergency exit in the ceiling with her hand, and then caught the edge of the opening with the other, ignoring the dull throb. Linna cleared the small hatch and looked back. The boomer was on its knees, busily mopping up the spilled water. She exhaled deeply in disbelief and started down the ladder that ran beside the elevator. The boomer's voice grew fainter as she descended, but she could still hear it when she reached the lobby.
Leon McNichol was waiting for her as she stepped out of the back of the ambulance.
The medic had cheerfully informed her that her shoulder was back in place and would heal fine, but the gouges might require some additional surgery to remove any scarring. Linna had stared down at the deep wounds left by the boomer's fingers and begun to think that Priss might be right. Maybe the only good boomer is a dead boomer. The medic had wrapped her wounds and finally let her go. Linna saw Leon waiting for her and groaned silently. I just want to go home.
He helped her down and guided her to the open door of a police car. Linna sat down in the front seat and looked around. She realized that she had never seen the inside of a police car before. The electronics and weapons that had been crammed into the small space probably would have impressed her if she hadn't been familiar with the Knight Sabers extensive equipment. Instead, she was rather shocked at what they didn't have. The distant sound of gunfire caused her to jerk a little and Leon patted her hand soothingly. He took out his recorder and activated it. "Can you tell me exactly what happened, Linna?"
Linna drew a deep breath and told him. When she was finished he asked a few more questions and then told her that he would have someone drive her home. Another officer called his name and Leon smiled at Linna. "I'll be right back. You just take it easy. Relax. There's police all over the place and you couldn't be safer." He winked and went to talk to the other office. Linna stared after him and wondered if he really believed the line he'd just spun. The ADP were the most understaffed, underpaid and under equipped squad of the force and most days they were lucky if they could manage to keep their own officers from becoming boomer bait.
"Linna! Are you alright?" Linna turned to find Nene beside her. Nene hugged her hard and then pulled back to see for herself. She saw the sling and the bandages and gasped.
"I'm okay. But how did you know what had happened?"
Nene's smile was wry. "When you didn't show up I started to worry. So I checked the police scanners and sure enough, there you were!" She grew serious. "What happened?"
Linna didn't get a chance to tell her as Leon returned at that moment. He seemed surprised to see Nene. "Hi. What are you doing here?"
"I heard about it on the scanner and came to see if Linna was okay."
A look past between the two women that turned Leon a faint shade of pink. He cleared his throat quietly. "Oh." Damn, was everybody .? "Well then. I guess you have a ride home." He spun on his heel and went back into the building.
Nene tilted her head a little. "Poor Leon."
Linna laughed suddenly. "Poor Leon? What about me?"
Linna felt the pain medication kicking in and yawned. "It was so creepy, Sylia. The boomer seemed," She tried to think of a word and gave up. "It was not like any other boomer malfunction I've ever seen." The word came, but it felt odd to use it in this context. "It was insane."
Sylia didn't doubt what Linna was saying, on the contrary, she knew only too well that it could be possible. Hadn't that been part of her father's final research? You can only have machines mimic the human condition up unto a certain point. It was a thin line that separates sentient from non-sentient beings. Cross that line and the debate of whether or not boomers can have emotions becomes moot. At that point, the boomers will begin to 'believe' that they have emotions, that they have free will. What concerned her was that this was not a boomer that had been designed to mimic the human condition. On the contrary, a cleaning boomer is one of the most non-human models there are. Its shape is vaguely humanoid but only the most basic of personality programs is installed. The human factor dilemma had never occurred at such a low level. Mackie was right. The revolution had begun. Sylia wished that she could get a look inside that boomer.
Nene watched Linna yawn again and stood up. "I think somebody needs some sleep." She helped Linna to her feet, who groaned as her muscles protested. They slowly made their way to the guest bedroom and Priss turned to watch Sylia as the door clicked shut.
She's worried, Priss thought absently. She studied the line of her back as Sylia stood in front of the large window, staring out at the night sky. She thinks she knows what's wrong but doesn't know how to prove it or what to do about it. Priss sighed and got up to move behind Sylia. She wrapped her arms around the older woman and kissed the back of her neck.
Sylia leaned into her arms. "It shouldn't have happened, Priss. There has to be a reason." Where had they come from? Where did it all start?
Priss rested her chin on Sylia's shoulder and met her gaze in the reflection. Priss could see the indecision warring in her lover's expression. Sylia looked away. She's not going to tell me. Strike two. She closed her eyes and fought to rein in her temper. "You'll figure it out. You always do. You're too close right now." Priss reached for the buttons on her shirt and Sylia made a small sound of protest. "Shhh. You know I'm right." She drew the silk away from her body and it fell silently to the floor. Priss began to kiss her way down Sylia's back, causing her to rest her head against the glass. The city fell below them in a tangled carpet of multicolored lights but they were oblivious.
Teeth raked over the small of her back and Sylia moaned softly. She turned around and Priss found herself caught in her gaze. Sylia pushed Priss back onto the pale carpet and tugged her T-shirt up to expose her breasts. Priss felt the warm brush of Sylia's lips and closed her eyes in pleasure.
Linna's breath escaped in a small sigh as Nene continued to rub her lower back, the muscles becoming looser with each slow pass of her hands and Linna willed herself to let go of the remaining tension that gripped her. "Mmmmm, S'nice." Nene smiled and began to work her way down Linna's legs, taking care not to jar her lover. Linna's quiet moan was from pleasure not pain. "God, that feels good."
Nene let her mind wander as she continued and she began to sort through the night's events. She had come close to losing Linna. Her hands paused as the full implications of that struck her. Nene tried to imagine what life would be like without the tall, lithe woman beneath her and felt tears well. No. She continued the massage. I'm not going to think about that. She ignored the tears that escaped and tried to think of something else. But the idea was persistent and she wondered at how quickly someone could come to occupy such an important place in her heart.
Linna felt a wet plop against her skin and rolled over to look at Nene. She rose up slightly and cupped Nene's cheek in concern "Hey! What's wrong?" Nene only sighed deeply and more tears splashed onto Linna. Linna tugged the other girl into her arms and held her tightly. "Come on, Nene. Talk to me." Nene sniffed and wiped her eyes. "It's silly."
"No it isn't. Anything that's upsetting you this much isn't silly. Tell me."
"I just realized that you could have been killed tonight. I mean, I know it could happen anytime we go out on a job, but this is different." Linna nodded encouragingly and Nene continued. "You weren't armed. You were alone." She sniffed again. "I can't get the images out of my head. I keep trying to picture what my life would be like without you and I can't stand what I see." Nene's expression was such a mix of despair and love that Linna felt her heart lurch in response. Such fierce emotion. If anyone had told her two tears ago that she and Nene would become lovers then she would have laughed in their face. But fate had other ideas and on the worst night of their lives they had reached out to each other and the impossible had happened.
Two years ago .
Linna shoved her hands into her pockets and clenched them, trying to stop the tremors. The antiseptic smell was making her slightly nauseous and she scowled as she stared at the picture in front of her without really seeing it. Images flashed through her mind and she spun away and returned to her chair only to jump up a moment later and look out the door at the passing hospital staff. When no one appeared she sighed and turned to the window.
Nene continued to cut patterns into her coffee cup with her fingernail and the faint squeak was making Linna crazy. She stifled the urge to strangle her and focused on the painting again. The sound of the grenade exploding was still ringing in her ears and Linna wondered if she would ever stop hearing it. She threw herself back into her chair and rubbed her face wearily. Why would no one tell them anything? Maybe Priss was dead. Linna inhaled sharply. No. We have to be positive. Sylia said she'd make it.
Nene's cup crumbled with a sharp squeak. "She should let us know something! Not leave us sitting here for goodness sake!" Linna got to her feet again and tried to ignore the sounds Nene was making as she continued to dismantle the Styrofoam cup. Nene stood up suddenly, her expression grim. Linna watched her clench the cup in one fist and wished she'd throw the damn thing away.
"She's going to make it." They turned to find Sylia behind them. She looked washed out and Linna was amazed to see her normally reserved leader shaking slightly. As she began to describe the extent of Priss' injuries Linna flinched. How horrible. The sound of Nene's tears snapped her to attention and Linna went to comfort the younger girl. She got her settled back in her chair and held her while she cried. She felt rather than saw Sylia sit down. Linna kept herself from laughing aloud at Sylia's words. Talk about understating the situation! "When she wakes up and finds out what happened she'll go nuts." The lack of reaction from Sylia made her angry. Didn't she realize what could happen? "She isn't going to accept this easily. She'll fight it." And that was not a pretty prospect.
Sylia was suggesting that they all leave. Linna bit her tongue and held back the angry words she wanted to hurl at their leader. How can you be so cold about this? Don't you feel anything? Sylia wasn't blind. She knew they didn't understand, but she wasn't in the mood to explain herself. Sylia left and Linna wondered what kind of machine she was working for. A hesitant touch interrupted her musings and she looked down into Nene's tear-stained face. Linna brushed her fingers over Nene's cheek and pulled her closer. It all seemed to be coming apart and she realized that she was glad that Nene was here. The loneliness that had haunted her for so long was pushed away by the warm clasp of the arms around her and Linna was even more surprised at the warm feeling that curled through her when Nene asked if she could spend the night with her.
Linna snapped on the lamp beside the couch and tossed her purse onto the table. Nene laid her coat over the back of the couch and turned to face Linna. "I hope I'm not imposing." This was the fourth time she'd said this and Linna was getting tired of hearing it.
"Of course you aren't, Nene. I told you, I'm glad that you're staying tonight. I really don't want to be alone either." Linna slipped out of her shoes and padded into the bedroom. Nene followed, stopping in the doorway. The couch wasn't very comfortable and Linna decided against making Nene sleep on it. The bed was large enough for them both and she turned the covers down and looked over at Nene. "Left or right?"
Nene stared at her blankly. "Huh?"
Linna smiled slightly. "Do you prefer the right side of the bed or the left? It doesn't matter to me, so whatever you like is fine." Linna was amused by the faint flush that touched her friend's cheeks.
"Uh, left I guess. If you're sure you don't mind?"
"I don't." Linna glanced at the clock beside the bed. It was almost three a.m. "Do you want to take a bath now or wait until morning?" Nene's huge yawn was answer enough and Linna laughed as she pulled a T-shirt she slept in out of its drawer. She handed another to Nene. "I'll be out in a second."
Nene was slipping into bed as Linna returned and she smiled at the drawing on Linna's shirt. A small girl was chasing a large panda and the expression on the animal's face plainly said that it did not want to her to catch up with it.
Linna snapped off the light and slid into bed. She fluffed her pillow the way she liked it and laid back with a contented sigh. Nene moved closer to her and Linna felt her head lay on her shoulder. She pulled her close and did something that she had no explanation for at that time; she kissed Nene. It was just a light touch of her lips but Linna was amazed to feel herself flushing from the contact. Nene snuggled closer and soon the rhythmic sound of her breathing told Linna that she was asleep. It was a long while later before Linna followed her into slumber.
The faintest of glows was edging over the horizon when Linna woke again. She lay quietly, staring up at the ceiling and wondering what had woke her. A small sound had her turning toward Nene. The sleeping girl was tossing restlessly in her sleep. Linna frowned and slipped her arm around Nene's waist, pulling her back against her. A tiny sound of distress escaped from her and Linna spoke quietly. "Nene? Nene, are you awake?" The movements stopped and Linna could tell from the sudden stiffening of the body she held that the other girl was now awake. "Bad dreams?"
Nene rolled over and buried her face in Linna's neck. Her reply was muffled. "Yeah." Linna kissed the top of her head and the faint scent of strawberries rose from Nene's hair. A shiver went through Linna and she felt her hands begin to stroke Nene's back. Who arched into the caress. Linna admonished herself even as her hands became bolder. What am I doing? This is Nene! Nene raised her head and they stared at each other for a moment. Then Nene bent her head and kissed the side of Linna's throat. Linna felt her body respond and pulled the borrowed T-shirt up out of the way as she cupped Nene's buttocks. A faint moan was the only reply and Linna let her fingers slip downward as Nene started to suckle the underside of her jaw. Nene stiffened with an excited gasp as Linna touched her. Linna pushed Nene onto her back and tugged the shirt off, out of her way. Nene watched mutely as the older girl removed her own shirt and moved over her.
The touch of Nene's fingers across her cheek shook Linna from her thoughts. Nene smiled at her curiously. "That was a very interesting series of expressions that just moved across your face. Care to share?"
With a contented sigh Linna settled back onto the pillows and pulled Nene into her arms. "Just remembering the first time we made love."
Nene's grin was broad. "Oh really?"
"Ummhmm." She buried her face into the younger girl's neck and Nene felt her skin tingle at the touch of Linna's lips.
She pulled away reluctantly. "I think you're over estimating your stamina here." She pulled the covers up over them and carefully snuggled into Linna's uninjured side. "But remember where you stopped and we'll pick it up there later."
Linna laughed and kissed her forehead. "I love you, too."
The small street-sweeper unit moved quickly through the crowded sidewalk, chittering merrily as it went about its work. People were always amused by the boomer's antics and it was one of the more popular models. Short and rotund, the small machine had the appearance of a strange bug with its round eyes and multiple arms.
Today as it made its way along a preprogrammed course, it seemed to be stopping to chat with other boomers. It would approach a fellow machine and extend an arm as if wanting to shake hands. Then it would continue on its path. No one realized what was really happening. Until it was too late.
A taxi suddenly swerved off the road and right towards a startled group of pedestrians. They tried frantically to get out of its path, but it seemed to be aiming for them. Their screams ended abruptly as they fell beneath the wheels of the runaway vehicle. The car crashed into the side of an office building and exploded, killing more people in the blast.
At MegaTokyo General hospital, the scene was like something out of a disaster movie. People were packed into the Emergency Room and more were outside trying to get in. Dr. Oasaki bent over his current patient and tried to make some sense of what he was seeing. The young man before him had cybernetic eyes, but they had apparently become detached. However, it was more than that. Even as the doctor watched, the eyes seemed to wrench themselves out of the sockets. The man screamed in agony as his eyes began to move, propelling themselves forward by the twisting synthetic nerves. There was an answering scream in the next cubical.
A woman started screaming and the doctor threw back the curtain to see Dr. Hitomi being strangled by the cybernetic veins that surrounded an old man's mechanical heart. They had apparently burst through the man's chest. The attending nurse screamed again and ran from the room. Dr. Osakai tried to pry the fibers loose but it was too late.
All over MegaTokyo, these scenes were being repeated. Boomers were going wild, killing people with a determined zeal. The AD Police were scrambling to be everywhere at once and failing. People were being attacked by their own cybernetic implants. Chaos was rapidly claiming the city and the death toll was climbing. Outraged survivors of implant malfunctions gathered outside Genom and tried to force their way in. The few human security guards were no match and they wisely stood back and let the mob have its rule. They rushed into the building only to run into the rampaging boomers who were busy slaughtering the employees.
Priss opened her eyes and focused on the ceiling. She felt Sylia lying next to her and grinned faintly. Images of the night before flooded her mind and she turned to kiss her. Horror filled Priss as her mind tried to take in what she was seeing. Thousands of metal fibers twisted out of Sylia's flesh, reaching out towards Priss. She lurched backwards off the bed as Sylia opened her eyes and stared at her. She held out her hand and Priss flinched back as the tendrils extended and again tried to grab her. She rolled away and ran naked from the room.
She headed for the elevator and went down to the garage. Priss quickly slipped into her overalls and climbed onto her bike. As she hit the switch for the doors, Priss felt something brush her hand and looked down to see the handle warping out of shape, twisting towards her. She screamed and thrust herself off and away from the motorcycle. The engine turned over and it began to come after her. Priss scrambled to her feet and raced out into the street only to find that the world had dissolved into a nightmare of fire and screaming,
People were running in all directions as the cars burned and boomers tore through the city. A woman fell to her knees in front of Priss, screaming as she clawed at her own face. The flesh seemed to splint and the metal strands burst free, wrapping around the woman's throat. Her screams stopped.
Priss looked down at her own arm and saw the hand rising of its own accord. She felt the cool fingers close around her throat and knew that she was dead.
Priss screamed and lurched upright, fighting the covers in a wild attempt to get free. Sylia jerked awake. Priss was sobbing and frantically trying to get loose from the tangle of covers. Sylia reached out to help her and Priss screamed again and rolled away, landing on the floor with a dull thud. She crawled out of the covers and backed into the corner, staring at Sylia in horror.
Sylia froze and her stomach clenched. "Priss. Priss, it's all right. It was just a dream." She slowly inched forward, speaking softly as she moved. "It's okay, Priss. It's all right. It was just a dream." Her voice was almost a whisper in the chorus of voices that echoed through her mind, but Priss heard her and tried to reconcile what Sylia was saying with what her mind was telling her. Priss began to shake and dropped her head into her hands. Sylia got off the bed and knelt beside her. "Priss?" She fell back a little and the younger woman hurled herself into Sylia's arms. Sylia held her tightly, rocked her gently.
The door to the bedroom opened and light spilled over them. She looked up to see Linna and Nene, their expressions concerned. Sylia's smile was reassuring, but her eyes weren't. Sweat had plastered Priss' hair down and she began to shiver in the cool air. Sylia grabbed the trailing end of the blanket and wrapped it around her lover. Priss raised her head and stared at Sylia. Sylia gasped as she saw her eyes clearly. The irises were silver. How? That wasn't supposed to happen. "Priss can you see me?"
What a silly question. Priss laughed wildly. "I can see you. I see everything. Peek-a-boo. I SEE you." Her voice was singsong and Sylia shivered. Nene gasped as she caught sight of Priss' eyes. Priss turned to her and Linna. "I see---everything." Her face blanched as she looked at Nene. "No." It was a tremulous whisper, which rapidly climbed into a desperate plea. "No, No, NO!" Priss was staring at Nene and Linna as if they were monsters. "It can't be! Please, it can't!" She turned back to Sylia. "What have you done?!"
Sylia jerked back as if struck and shook her head. "Priss-?"
"I see EVERYTHING!" Priss clamped her fists over her eyes, but the information kept coming.
"What do you see, Priss?"
She couldn't answer. The aftershocks of the nightmare continued to rip through Priss and she tried to concentrate on regaining control of her body and the implants. Data was coursing through her brain in a turbulent, mind-bending rush and she wondered if she would ever be able to stop it again. Pain stabbed at her as if a thousand ants were racing over her body, devouring. Even that wasn't enough to block the truth. She pulled her hands away from her face and looked at Sylia. Now she knew that at least part of the nightmare was a reality. As the chaos continued to increase pure instinct took over. The basic impulse to run from pain. Her scream a strangled cry, Priss thrust herself to her feet and tried to run from the room.
Sylia saw the wild expression and fearing that she might harm herself in this state, tackled her. Priss turned on her with what could only be described as a snarl and struck without thinking. Sylia pulled back but still felt icy cold arcs of pain flare across her chest. Linna started forward with the intention of helping, but Sylia's terse command stopped her. "No! Stay back!" She grabbed Priss' artificial arm and did what should not have been possible. She forced it down to the carpet and held it there.
Priss struggled to break free from her hold. In whatever small corner of her mind that held what was left of her sanity, she knew that somehow Sylia had started this and she could make it go away. "Please! Make it stop Sylia! It hurts!" Sylia secured her grip more firmly and risked a glance at the others. She directed her words at Nene. "There are pressure syringes in the medical kit in the kitchen, get the green one, now!" Nene bolted from the room.
"What's wrong with her?" Linna's question was hushed. Sylia didn't answer and wished that Nene would hurry. She glanced at the empty doorway.
Taking advantage of Sylia's distraction, Priss rolled suddenly and broke her hold. Sylia grabbed her ankle as she stood and Priss went flying. Nene returned in time to see her hit the floor and lay there gasping, the wind knocked out of her. She tossed the syringe to Sylia and moved back.
Priss caught her wrist and they were frozen there, neither unable to overcome the other. Sweat formed on Sylia's brow as the silent struggle continued and she knew she had to end this soon. She relaxed against Priss suddenly and the abrupt removal of counter pressure sent her tumbling over Sylia who grabbed the top sheet from the bed and tossed it over her. Priss tried to pull the sheet away, but Sylia was already wrapping it tightly around her. She found her arms pinned to her sides and screamed in rage. Sylia quickly pressed the syringe into her side.
The tranquilizer was potent and Priss was unconscious almost immediately. Sylia stared down at her while she waited for her breathing to return to normal.
Sylia watched the signal in silence as it fluctuated wildly on the scanner. "This is very strange. According to the mechanical scan, the arm should be functioning normally. There is no apparent cause for these readings." Yet the trauma that these anomalous signals were causing was very real.
"It's like a computer virus." Nene mumbled to herself as she tried to decipher the signals. She didn't see Sylia's head jerk toward her.
"A virus?" Sylia forced her voice to remain casual. If she started screaming then Nene would probably guess that something was wrong, she thought, wryly. "What makes you think that?"
Nene sat back from the portable terminal with a small sigh. "It's some kind of binary encryption. It'll take awhile for the computer to crack it, but it's like it's trying to hide itself. At first glance it seems to be one of the maintenance programs, but if you actually analyze the file it's much larger."
Sylia drew a deep breath and considered the implications. If it were a virus then that would explain some things. The nanobots were designed to repel all attacks on their host or themselves. However, the cybernetic arm, the shoulder joint, even the neural implants could be infected. The enhanced scanners in Priss' arm could be picking up the increased activity as they fought off the virus. Sylia connected a small keypad to the leads that ran from Priss' arm. It would be several hours until Priss would regain consciousness and Sylia hoped that they could solve this before she did. "Then there is no choice but to deactivate the scanners." She began to type commands into the pad. "Priss will still have use of the arm, but it won't be the same."
Nene nodded in understanding. The arm would be more like a machine and she felt a flash of sympathy for Priss. She glanced over at Linna and smiled. The other girl had fallen asleep in the chair next to her and Nene knew that that position couldn't be comfortable. "If that's all we can do tonight, then I think we'll turn in. The computer will signal when it's broken the code."
Sylia nodded. "Nene. I don't want the others to know about the virus until we're sure that's what we're dealing with."
Nene stared at her for a long moment. Slowly she nodded, but Sylia knew that she wasn't comfortable keeping secrets from the others. Nene shook Linna gently. She came awake with a jerk and blinked at her fuzzily. "Huh?"
"Let's go back to bed. There's nothing else we can do until morning."
Linna nodded and stumbled after her. She plopped down onto their bed and yawned hugely, stretching her arms high overhead. Nene frowned as she did this. "Should you be able to do that?"
"Hmmm? Do what?"
"Stretch your shoulder out like that."
Linna slowly raised her 'injured' arm again and realized that there was no pain. She met Nene's concerned gaze and groaned. "Oh, boy."
Sylia brought up her father's files on the nanobots. The nanobots inside of Priss were fighting against the virus, but maybe there was someway to tip the scales in their favor. The microscopic machines were built to reproduce themselves when necessary and even to repair each other, but they had no capacity for self-improvement. They were the same as the ones her father had developed. Maybe Sylia could change that.
Hours later she was still reviewing the data when the door behind her opened and she turned to find Mackie. "Hi." His voice was subdued and he looked worriedly at Priss' still form. "Nene told me what happened last night." Mackie frowned at his sister. "I can't believe you didn't wake me. Did it occur to you that I might have been able to help?"
Sylia nodded. "Yes, it did. Which is why I wanted you to have a full night's sleep. You may not get another for awhile." She turned to watch the rise and fall of Priss' breathing. "You were right. She's been infected with the virus." Sylia made herself turn away. "I'm afraid of what would happen if we tried to remove any of the implants, especially the neural ones. Which means we have to fight this from the inside." She gestured to the screen before her. "We're going to try and improve on perfection."
Mackie's eyes widened as he realized what she meant to do. "Well, I'm willing to try it, but what if the nanobots themselves become infected?"
Sylia was silent for a long time. Finally she spoke, her voice remarkably calm. "Then we're dead."
Priss woke slowly, her mind sluggish and resistant to the state of consciousness. She floated up through the layers and as she did, she became aware of the voices whispering around her. Her brow wrinkled in confusion because these were not the electronic voices of data relayed by the scanners, but human voices. The data stream was gone. Priss opened her eyes. Sylia was leaning on the side of the examining table next to her and Linna and Nene were at the foot. "What's going on?"
Sylia smiled slightly. "How do you feel?"
Priss thought about that for a moment. "Okay I guess. A little confused though." She rubbed her forehead, her expression becoming puzzled. "I can't hear them anymore."
"I disengaged the scanners in your arm." Sylia spoke quietly. "Obviously something has caused them to malfunction. I'm sorry, Priss."
The nightmare began to return in bits and pieces, causing Priss to sit up and catch Sylia's arm. "Oh God!"
Memories and dreams were tangled in Priss' mind and she struggled to sort through nightmares and reality. She began to remember more and more about last night. As things began to clear, she wished that she could disappear. Priss closed her eyes. When she opened them again she met Sylia's gaze and found only caring. Priss touched Sylia's chest lightly, but there was no stream of information, no relays of texture and temperature. She might as well have been touching stone. Something must have shown in her face because Sylia was quick to reassure her. "It'll be alright. We just have to find out what went wrong."
Priss thought about the information that had been pulsing through her mind last night. "Danger. Maybe a warning, but there was too much information." Her smile was sheepish. "I couldn't deal with it."
Sylia's face was expressionless. "Who was trying to warn you?"
Priss looked down at her hands. The cybernetic limbed seemed numb and the lack of sensation was distracting. She thought about the tiny voices and tried to remember what they had called themselves. Nanobits? No. Nanobots. That was it. "Nanobots."
Sylia's sharply drawn breath caused the others to look at her. Her expression was utterly still. "Nanobots? Priss are you sure that's what they were?"
Priss nodded and it was her turn to mask her emotions. More and more of what had happened last night was returning to her and she didn't like what she remembered. "Yeah." She threw back the blanket that covered her and stood, swaying slightly. Priss moved away from Sylia. She needed to put some distance between them. At least until she could remind herself that she was in love with this woman.
Sylia closed her eyes and wished again for the ability to turn time back. "I see."
Priss' laugh was derisive. "I just bet you do. I have one request, Sylia."
"Don't make me drag this out of you." Priss thrust her hands through her hair and turned to face Sylia. "For once, just tell me."
"The injection contained two nanoclusters. Each cluster contained approximately two thousand nanobots. They were supposed to tie into the optic nerve and enhance the control of the arm's scanners." Sylia looked into the strange color of Priss' eyes and exhaled sharply. "I don't know what went wrong."
Priss just stared at her. "I'm going to have a little talk with you later, in private." As much a threat as a promise, her words caused Sylia to shiver.
"I hate to interrupt, but I have a question." Concern tinged Linna's voice. "If they were only supposed to increase the scanner control, what could have made them do what they did to her eyes?"
"I think I know this will sound nuts, but I think they wanted me to see more. From what I can remember, I could actually 'see' the things scanners were picking up. Usually it's just raw information but they wanted me to be able to see what they were seeing."
"You make it sound like they're alive." Linna's voice was hesitant, as if she didn't want to call attention to herself.
"I think they might be." How did she explain the strong sense of urgency that had gripped her?
"No!" Sylia's voice rose in agitation. "That can't be. The nanobots are the simplest forms of boomer technology. They are programmed to perform certain tasks and that's all."
"Don't tell me that, tell them."
She began to pace around the lab. Nene drew back a little as she approached her and Priss halted.
Priss ran a rough hand through her hair. "Okay, everybody get a grip, alright?" Nene jumped at the sound of her voice and Priss laughed. "I'm alright, Nene. It's still me. Imagine that I've just gotten some really odd contact lenses, okay?"
"What were you dreaming?" Nene's question was low, softly spoken and she immediately wished that she hadn't asked. Nothing that would frighten Priss like that was something she wanted to know about.
"I saw God, I don't know where to begin." Priss began to describe what she had seen and the others began to realize just how terribly vivid an imagination could be. At one point Nene buried her face in Linna's arm. Priss continued. "-so I looked down at my own hand and saw it reach up and wrap around my throat. Then I woke up." She looked at the others. "It was more than a dream. Somehow, I know that something is going wrong with the boomers and with the implant technology. We just have to figure out what." Before her dream became a reality. Priss didn't say it, but the others were all thinking along similar lines. Nene glanced at Sylia but she ignored her.
Sylia was still reeling from the concept that the nanobots inside her were sentient. "I still don't understand how you can sense the nanobots to such an extent. The scanners weren't designed for that."
Priss shrugged. "It has to be their doing. I know it makes no sense, but what other explanation is there?" Her tone was calm, but there was a touch of something more in her voice.
A slight quaver that spoke more than any words could of Priss' distress. Sylia knew that she had crossed another line in their relationship. However, there were other things to consider right now. Nanobots that had conscious will. Had this been part of her father's original design? How could she have missed this?
With a sickening lurch the rest of last nights events came back to Priss and she closed her eyes as the final pieces fell into place. She knew that the time for secrets was over. Priss moved to stand directly in front of Sylia. "The nanoclusters came from your body, didn't they?" Priss touched Sylia's face and her expression was sad. "I saw all my demons last night. I saw them swimming through your body. They have always been there haven't they?" Sylia stiffened as she realized what Priss was talking about. The sensors were not supposed to-. "You're part machine."
A small sound came from Nene, but Sylia ignored it. "In essence."
"So now I'm like you."
Sylia just nodded.
Priss tilted her head to one side and frowned slightly. There was something else. Mackie. "Mackie is like you as well."
Sylia was startled. "How did you know that?" The nanotechnology that her father had injected her with so long ago was something she had never revealed. "How do you know this, Priss? How do you know about Mackie?"
Priss ran a hand through her hair and rubbed her eyes. "Like I said, I don't know. The information is just there. I can't figure out how it came to be there, but it is.
Sylia was nonplused. "This isn't possible."
"Yeah. It's hard to explain. The information was in a jumble, but I know that some of it was coming from the nanobots inside you. They've communicated with the nanobots in Mackie. And the ones inside me." She looked at Nene and Linna. "And the ones inside you two."
The girls were literally speechless. Sylia shook her head in confusion. "There are no nanoclusters in Linna and Nene."
The denial infuriated her. Priss' expression turned hard as she faced Sylia. "Enough bullshit, Sylia! I saw them! Do you understand? I saw them!" She waved a hand toward the still silent duo. "Why? A little experiment?"
Sylia had had enough. Her voice was icy. "No! I have never injected nano technology into Nene or Linna. Ever! The scanners must have been malfunctioning, Priss." They had to be. Sylia turned to the pair in question. "I swear to you that I have not and I would not do that to you!"
Nene glanced and Linna, who nodded slightly. "We believe you, Sylia. But maybe there's another explanation for what Priss saw."
Sylia programmed the computers to list all unusual boomer malfunctions, especially those in which no explanation had been found. Priss snorted. "Doesn't that describe most of them?"
Sylia smiled and began to ready the medical scanner. She adjusted the setting to scan for any anomalies within the nanobots and them stepped onto the pad. A series of metal rings lowered and began to pass along her body, as the computer constructed a 3-D view of its findings on screen. Several thousand tiny points appeared, each showing the location of a nanobot cluster. Within these clusters were thousands of nanobots.
Priss looked at the screen and then back to Sylia who merely shrugged. "They've been with me for a long time."
"So many!" Nene was reading the results of each scan as it completed. "This is amazing! They seem to be at every essential function point in your body!"
Sylia stepped down from the pad and motioned Priss to take her place. She did so reluctantly. The rings lowered and Priss tried not to flinch. They made her nervous, but she'd be damned before she'd admit it. Linna smiled at her obvious discomfort and looked back at the screen. Her gasp was echoed by Sylia and Priss leaped off the pad quickly. "What? What is it?"
The 3-D view of Priss' body was startlingly similar to Sylia's. Sylia stared at the data in disbelief. This was not possible. She had only injected two nanobot clusters into Priss. This was registering over two thousand active clusters! "This isn't possible. I don't understand how this happened." She turned to Priss, her expression pleading. "I swear to you Priss, I only injected two nanoclusters."
Priss moved next to her and put reassuring hand on her shoulder. "I believe you. Can you tell why they've multiplied? And, how? Where would they get the parts?" Her knowledge of this was sketchy at best, but she was assuming that it was like building any machine.
"They can rebuild themselves from any extra tissue stored in the body, but these weren't programmed to do that." Sylia was frantically paging through the scan results, trying to find some explanation. "It's such a simple program. It has about the same level of command structure as a programmable toaster! It should not have done this." She continued to mutter to herself as she searched. Sylia inhaled sharply. "No, that can't be right." She was practically stabbing the keys as her fingers flew over the keyboard. She stopped typing and stepped back. "How is this possible?"
Priss looked at the jumble of numbers but whatever they revealed was decipherable only by Sylia. "What?"
"I just checked the chronological spread of the nanobots. Some of them were created almost four years ago."
"What does that mean?"
"The nanobots must have somehow migrated to your body not long after you joined the Knight Sabers. Which should have been impossible."
"But that would explain what Priss saw." Linna looked at Nene and then stepped up onto the pad. Nene hit the scan and Sylia's head whipped around. She moved to stand beside Nene and looked at the settings. "It's still set to detect nanoclusters, so it shouldn't-" Sylia broke off and stared at the display in horror. Tiny pinpoints of light appeared, outlining Linna's form. A strong concentration of clusters had grouped around her injured shoulder.
Linna stepped from the sensor field and watched Sylia carefully. "We realized last night that my arm was healing faster than it should have been."
Sylia sat down hard in the chair behind her. "It can't be." She buried her face in her hands. Priss placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and looked at Nene.
Nene knew that it was her turn on the scanner. The rings lowered around her and with an almost fatalistic calm she watched the readouts appear.
Sylia slowly lifted her head and watched the display blankly. There was not enough energy left at this point to be shocked. It was almost identical to Linna's readout. She began to laugh, softly at first then louder. The edge of hysteria was chilling and Nene moved back automatically. Priss gripped her lover's shoulders and spoke soothingly. "It's okay."
Sylia stopped laughing as if a switch had been thrown and Linna inhaled sharply at her face. She hadn't seen that cold mask since the day she had installed Priss' arm against her wishes. Then Linna had been furious and confused at the seeming indifference, but now she was simply afraid.
"Of course it's not okay, Priss." Sylia's voice was emotionless. She stood up and jerked away from Priss' touch. "It's happened." Sylia's hands rolled into fists and she stared at the computer equipment that surrounded them. Her fist flew through a monitor and it exploded in a shower of sparks. "I've become a monster." She dragged her hands through her hair and exhaled explosively. "And I've taken you all with me."
Priss jerked slightly as feeling began to return to her arm in a tingling rush. The low throb of data returned and Priss swore softly. "Damn. Uh, Sylia? I think we have a problem here."
Sylia turned to find Priss staring at the metallic limb in alarm. "What is it?"
"My arm just reactivated itself." The panic in Priss' eyes had Sylia rushing forward.
She gripped the wrist firmly and motioned to the table behind her. "Nene, hand me the analyzer." Sylia kept her voice mild, but continued to grip Priss' wrist just in case. She smiled reassuringly at her as she began her scan. Indeed, the scanners had reactivated as well as the two clusters that she had shut down. "Hmm. Let's shut the scanners down again and see how they were reactivated." She began to type the commands again and Priss felt the rush of data increase.
"Sylia, I don't think you should do that." The warning was issued too late. The scanners went dead and the data stream ceased. Sylia watched the readout as they were immediately reactivated. Priss felt the rush and the sense of agitation. "No!" She pulled loose from Sylia's grip and stumbled back just as the arm lashed out. Strange prickles of current surged down her arm and arched to Sylia.
The last thing Sylia saw before she was thrown backwards was the look of terror on Priss' face.
Sylia slowly opened her eyes and her surroundings swam into view with a stomach-turning roll. She could hear the others arguing above her and struggled to focus on them. Priss was holding a laser scalpel and appeared to be trying to remove her arm the hard way. Linna had grabbed the hand holding the tool and was trying to reason with her. "Come on, Priss. At least wait until Sylia regains consciousness before you do anything."
Priss' expression was determined. "And let this damn thing attack her again? No way, Linna! It comes off now!" She pulled loose and activated the laser. Sylia groaned loudly and tried to sit up. She didn't manage it, but the attempt was enough to divert Priss' attention.
Priss dropped the scalpel and it shut down automatically as she fairly flew to Sylia's side. "Sylia! Don't try to get up yet. Take it easy."
Sylia reached up, gripped Priss' shirt in her fist and yanked her down next to her. "Just what were you trying to do with that scalpel, Priss?"
Priss was nonplused. "I..Uh "
Sylia shook her slightly. "Do you realize that severing the arm while it was still active could have ruptured the power cells? Do you realize that it could have very well blown you, and everyone else in the room, into teeny, tiny pieces?"
Priss' gulp was audible. Sylia used her grip to pull herself into a sitting position. She looked around her, ignored the grin that Nene had failed to hide and focused on Linna. "I sincerely hope that you weren't going to let her do something so foolish?"
Linna's smile was broad as she raised her hand to show Sylia what she held. The sight of the familiar pressure syringe caused her to laugh. "Nice to see that someone was thinking."
Sylia slipped off the exam table and stood still until the room ceased to spin. She waved off the others protests not to rush and looked hard at Priss. "Are you okay?"
Priss nodded. "Yeah. It's gotten very quiet since that energy surge. The new control circuits are still working so I can tone it down. I guess my guard was down last night."
Sylia made her way to a terminal, trying not to appear as weak as she felt. "I think it's time that we find a way to understand what they were trying to tell us."
"You know what I don't understand?" Nene waved a hand at the four of them. "Why haven't we noticed them before now? I mean, we've all had our share of injuries in the past, so why didn't we realize that something was going on?"
Sylia shrugged. "Most of the wounds were always major enough to require immediate medical treatment. Linna's shoulder had already been popped back into place and there wasn't really any more that could be done outside of giving it time to heal." She pointed at the display of Nene's nanobots. "But the main reason is that there wasn't enough of them in your systems to effect that level of healing."
Linna held up a hand. "Okay, now I'm really confused."
"The majority of these nanobots were created within the last five hours. And before you ask, no, I don't know what caused them to multiply so rapidly." Sylia was careful not to look at Nene.
"No." Everyone started at the harsh sound of Nene's voice. "They have to know even if we're not sure." Sylia was motionless. Nene ignored her. "We think it may be a computer virus. The problems with Priss' scanners could be a side effect from the nanobots trying to fight off the virus. It would also explain the increased numbers. They could have warned the other nanoclusters inside of the rest of us about the virus and so they're getting ready to fight it off."
That got Sylia's attention. She'd been thinking along the same lines. A strangled sound from Priss had her turning.
Priss' face was a cold mask of fury and the struggle not to let go of that rage was obvious. Sylia watched her pull that emotion back inside of herself with a fatalistic calm. Her time would come and she knew that she really didn't have a good excuse this time for what she had done. Priss' voice was flat. "How do we find out for sure if it's a virus?"
Nene explained how they were attempting to decipher the command code. "It should tell us what it was designed to do and might even tell us who created it."
"What if it's not a virus?"
Nene hesitated. She knew that this had to be a virus; its actions were too obvious. But it also had to be obvious to Sylia, which made her request to keep this a secret look very bad. Nene watched Sylia as she spoke. "It's a virus. There's nothing else it could be." There was a note of apology in her voice.
Sylia drew a deep breath and turned, only to watch Priss walk out the door.
They poured over boomer incident reports the rest of the day. It was slow, eye searing work and eventually even Sylia had to call for a break. "Nene, feed the rest into the computers and let them have a crack at it. I think it's time we took a break." Sylia rubbed her neck as she walked with the others to the elevator. She was wondering if Priss was ever going to return when the doors opened and the object of her thoughts stepped from inside.
Everyone stopped. Priss reached up and removed the dark sunglasses she was wearing and stared at Sylia. "We have to talk."
Sylia met her eerie gaze and nodded. To the others, "We'll pick up where we left off in the morning." She stepped into the elevator and waited for Priss to follow. Nene and Linna declined Priss' invitation to share the car, much to her amusement.
The bedroom door snapped shut, but Sylia made no move to turn and face her lover. Instead she rested her head against the cool surface and wished the ground would swallow her. It had seemed so simple. Two little nanoclusters and Priss would have the control she wanted, needed. How easy it had been to convince herself yet again that she knew what was best. Such arrogance! But Damn it! Priss had needed this. A small spark of anger lit and Sylia let it grow.
Priss studied the dejected form before her. Sylia tried so hard. She had only wanted to help, Priss was sure, but she couldn't seem to grasp the concepts of asking first and sharing information. She was too used to just doing things her own way. Priss had gotten over the initial shock of what had been done, but it was the deception that she couldn't get past. Sylia was obviously braced for a fight. She wouldn't get one, however. Well, not one like she was expecting.
The fingers of Priss' metal hand flexed and she raised it slowly, watching the symmetry of the metal. Many hours of work had gone into this limb and Priss no longer took that for granted. Sylia had tried to give the very best she could and Priss had come to realize that that spoke more of her love than anything else could. The fingers flexed again and the claws extended silently. Nevertheless, she still had this problem with asking first. Her smile turned a shade wicked.
Enough of this! Sylia thought angrily. If we're going to fight then let's just get it over with. She straightened and turned. Priss schooled her features into a blank mask as Sylia advanced towards her. "I know you're probably thinking that I deceived you and maybe I did, a little." Priss was silent, a raised brow her only response. "If you weren't so touchy about this! I understand your fears, Priss, but you're going to have to accept that everything is different know." Sylia stopped and shook her head at Priss' forbidding expression. "That is exactly what I'm talking about. You start throwing up walls whenever you don't like the situation."
Priss reached out suddenly and gripped the front of Sylia's blouse. Sylia gasped as Priss pulled her close and stared straight into her eyes. Her tone was flat. "Did you or did you not, put more boomer technology in me without my permission?"
The lack of emotion in her voice startled Sylia. "Priss..?" Sylia was cut off by the small shake Priss gave her.
Equal parts of anger and fear made Sylia snap, "Yes! Yes I lied to you and tried to help you in the only way I knew how. Damn it, Priss! I was hoping that I was wrong about the virus. I didn't want to worry you unnecessarily." Priss snorted. "So what are you going to do about it?" Sylia jerked loose of her hold and backed up a step. "Are you going to storm out and ride off into the night?" Sylia waved her hand at the visible blades on Priss' hand. "Or are you just going to rip my throat out?"
Priss raised her hand and considered the claws. "Perhaps I should, considering that fact that you knew something was wrong days ago. You chose not to tell me, which was bad enough, but then you went ahead and used more of the same technology that you knew was malfunctioning. And then to top it all off, you found out what was wrong and then tried to keep it from me!" Priss stopped and closed her eyes. When she opened them again her face was still. "No matter what your intentions, that was very bad of you Sylia." Her eyes flicked up to meet Sylia's and she smiled slowly, without humor.
Sylia did not like the look on Priss' face and decided that maybe discretion would be the better part of valor. She whirled and ran to the door. Priss was after her in an instant. Sylia had her hand on the doorknob when Priss pushed her firmly against the door and pinned her there
Sylia felt the sharp points touch the back of her neck and froze. Wha-? They hooked into the thin material of her top and Sylia felt it open beneath the razors with a faint hiss.
"What should I do with you, Sylia?"
Cool air slipped down her back as the cloth was cut away and Sylia shivered.
"What would you do?"
Her heart pounded furiously in her throat as the claws continued to shred her clothes. Pieces fluttered to the carpet around her and she realized that she had no idea what Priss was feeling right now. Or what she was planning.
"I've tried to be patient, really I have. You just keep pushing."
Goose bumps rose along Sylia's neck as Priss leaned close. A sharp nip caused Sylia to gasp and brace herself on the door. Hot breath washed over her skin and Sylia turned to face Priss.
Her face was in shadow and only the strange silvery sheen of her eyes was visible. Despite herself, Sylia felt herself press back against the door. The claws were still extended on the hand that reached up to cup Sylia's head and she felt the slight pressure of the tips as Priss pulled her forward. The kiss was all heat, desire, and something wild. Sylia was gasping as Priss broke the contact. "You bitch-," She tried to speak but the fingers that were placed over her lips halted her.
"Shhh." Priss' hand traced a path down Sylia's body. Sylia shivered again as her breasts felt the tiny pricks across their tips. "You don't have to say anything. In fact," Sylia winced a little as her nipple was caught lightly between Priss' fingertips. "I insist." She pushed Sylia down onto the floor and straddled her waist. "You're still seem to be having problems with certain interpersonal skills. Maybe I can help with that." Priss bent over her breast and began to suckle strongly. Sylia arched up of the floor with a strangled cry.
Down the hall, Linna snapped off the bedside lamp. A faint sound reached them and Nene looked at her in question. Linna just shook her head. "We don't want to know, trust me."
Priss and Sylia entered the lab together the next morning. Nene stared hard at them, trying to find evidence of a fight, but there was only a small mark at the base of Sylia's throat and it was definitely not from a blow. Nene flushed and looked away when Sylia cleared her throat. Linna grinned and leaned down to whisper, "I told you that you wouldn't want to know."
Mackie hurried into the room. "I think you might want to see this." He switched the monitor to the local news. They could see the burning remains of a car in the background as a reporter frantically gave his report. "-the number of casualties is unknown at this point, but with the AD Police's ineffectual attempts at stopping the rampaging boomers failing, the count is sure to rise." The camera panned to the surrounding area. Buildings had been reduced to rubble and they could see people frantically trying to get clear of the area. There was a tremendous bellow and a boomer stepped into view. It was one of the larger construction boomers and it wasted no time in proving that it could destroy just as efficiently as is created. A stream of white-hot rivets sprayed across the pavement toward the camera and they heard the reporter scream as the feed went dead.
Sylia was already in motion. She activated the release for the hard suit chamber, already unbuttoning her blouse.
Priss tapped Mackie on the side of the head and pointed toward the door. "Out, Mackie." He did so reluctantly.
They were suited up in five minutes and on the road in seven. Nene had already accessed the ADP reports and was reviewing them when they reached the edge of the scene. It was like a flashback to the Kanto earthquake. The level of destruction was indescribable.
The Knight Sabers spread out a little as they made there way to the sounds of battle ahead. They rode between the police barricades slowly, passing the nervous officers cautiously. No need to scare one of them into doing something silly.
There were a lot of grumbled protests and quite a few colorful comments that the Sabers let pass, but no one tried to stop them. They emerged into the battle and were immediately under attack.
They separated as a large truck crashed to the ground in front of them. Priss got a good look at the boomer that had thrown it and shifted the bike into motoslave. Standing at just over 18 feet tall, the boomer's design had been based on a standard bulldozer. The large scoop was now being wielded like a shield and what would have been a rear bucket was now an effective claw.
"Nene!" Any suggestions?"
Nene had climbed up to a better (i.e., safer) vantage point and was searching for weak spots. She sent the targeting data to Priss' suit and focused her attention on the other two boomers.
Priss flicked the safety off on the impulse cannon and aimed for the lower left side of the boomer. The blast from the gun would have broken most of the bones in her body, but her suit and the motoslave absorbed the shock. She watched the hole blossom as the pulse melted its insides and laughed softly. The boomer fell backwards and exploded as she turned to help the others.
Sylia's energy blade neatly sliced the jackhammer arm off and she flipped away as it roared in fury. Linna raced up and fired into its face, causing it to fall back a step as she leaped over the startled boomer. The front of the boomer's chest exploded as the impact caps on Linna's armored fist fired into its back. They turned to the last boomer.
"Shit." The others echoed Priss' quiet comment, albeit silently. The ground shook as it moved forward. it was easily twice the size of the other boomers. The treads that had propelled the massive steamroller were now swinging like thick whips. Linna and Sylia scrambled out of the way as one whistled past. It crashed into the building behind them and removed enough of the structure that the rest tumbled down onto the Knight Sabers. Priss began to curse steadily as she opened fire on the boomer to draw its attention away from the others.
"Nene!" Priss felt the strong pull of air current as one of the treads narrowly missed her. "See if you can get them free. Then find me a target!"
Nene was already shifting through the debris. Thanks to her suit the fallen walls could be tossed around fairly easily, but she wasn't thinking about that now. "Linna! Sylia! Somebody answer me!" She spotted one of Linna's ribbons and began to dig faster. The sounds of the fight going on behind her urged her on. Linna's voice sputtered into her ears. "I'm okay, but I can't get any leverage." Finally she uncovered enough so that Linna could move the rest off of herself. Nene immediately turned to search for Sylia in time to see her racing towards the boomer. "Well, I guess she's okay then."
Priss saw the white flash out of the corner of her eye and gave a silent sigh of relief. "Nice of you to join me." She blew one of the treads away and retreated a few feet. "Gee, Sylia. I destroyed my boomer and Linna destroyed hers. How come you're having problems with this itty, bitty thing?"
Sylia extended her energy saber. "Old age, I guess." Priss was still laughing when Sylia leapt onto the boomer's shoulder and drove the saber down through its neck and into its center. The boomer began to shake.
Nene called in. "Aim for the oh never mind."
Sylia moved out of range as the boomer exploded and joined Priss. "Well that wasn't quite the way I wanted to spend the day." Priss smiled at her comment, but there was an under current in her voice that triggered an alarm bell in Priss. She watched Sylia carefully as they regrouped at the truck. Once inside her suspicions were confirmed. Sylia almost collapsed into her seat and her voice was weary as she ordered Mackie to take them home.
Priss tossed her helmet aside and reached for the release on Sylia's. It was as she was lifting it off that she found the damage. A long splinter of metal had pierced the side of the helmet at an angle, so that it wasn't immediately obvious. Sylia gasped in pain as the helmet came off and Priss looked at her. The gash started just under her left ear and sliced an almost surgically precise slash up and across her cheek. Priss heard the others exclamations with only half an ear as she grabbed the medical kit from the wall and fumbled it open. She tore open a couple of sterile pads and pressed them gently against the wound. "Mackie! Scratch going home. Head for the clinic, and step on it."
Sylia smiled faintly. "It looks worse than it is, Priss."
"Hah! You don't know how it looks, so keep quiet." Priss wondered if she was going to have to go up front and show Mackie were the gas pedal was.
Sylia reached up and cupped the hand that Priss had against her face. "I thought you weren't talking to me?"
Priss laughed shortly. "Nothing like a kick in the pants to wake you up." She looked down into her eyes. "We need to get out of these suits."
Ten minutes later, Priss and Sylia entered the clinic through a private entrance wearing street clothes. Sylia was treated quickly and quietly and there would be no trace of their having ever been there. One of the perks of owning the business in question. The doctor had to reassure Priss a dozen times that the wound would heal with no scars which amused Sylia a little and touched her more. They exited the building to find Sylia's car parked outside. Priss drove and Sylia didn't object. They drove in silence for a while, each trying to figure out what to say to the other.
Finally Sylia spoke, "What can I say to make us alright again?"
Priss took a long time to answer. "There's nothing to say." She paused, trying to put what she was feeling into words. "I guess I'm just hurt that you don't trust our love as much as I do."
Sylia was shocked. "What?"
Priss shrugged. "What else would explain it? You said it yourself to Mackie. 'Let me find a way to tell her so that she doesn't leave me.' You obviously believe that I'm just looking for an excuse to leave."
"But I don't!" Her protest was cut short by the wave of Priss' hand.
"After everything, and I mean everything that we've been through, you still don't trust me. That's what's so hard for me to deal with."
"Priss, I trust you with my life!"
"But not your love."
Sylia had no words.
"If you think that being honest with me would make me leave you then I think I should tell you that you have the wrong end of the stick." Priss glanced at Sylia and shook her head at the tears she saw in her eyes. "Don't Sylia. There's no need. I'm not going anywhere, no matter what happens. You see I love you and I trust you and more importantly I trust our love." She pulled off her sunglasses and reached over to take Sylia's hand in hers. Warm metal fingers curled around hers and Sylia still didn't know what to say. "I want one thing from you Sylia, I want you to believe me when I say that I'll never leave you."
They pulled into the underground parking garage at Silky Doll and Priss switched off the car. The garage was empty except for them and Priss felt no hurry to go upstairs. Sylia was still griping her hand and Priss was quite content.
"I do trust our love. It's me I don't trust." The words were almost a whisper, but Priss heard. She waited patiently. "I don't have any experience with this kind of thing. I had to take care of Mackie and then there was the years developing the suits and then the forming and training of the Knight Sabers-."
Priss interrupted incredulously. "You were a virgin!?"
Sylia shook her head impatiently. "Of course not. But I've never really loved anyone." There was a pause. Priss heard her draw a deep breath. "Until you. I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
Priss thought about that for a while. She knew that the admission was a big one for Sylia. To admit ignorance in anything was a rare thing indeed. "You're not supposed to. Do you think I know what to do? There's no rules for this and you should know that much at least. Turn your head off, Sylia and listen to your instincts. It's all anyone can do, really. Trust your emotions and trust yourself."
Priss reluctantly released Sylia's hand and got out of the car. She moved around to Sylia's side and opened the door for her. Sylia accepted her help for the car and Priss tucked an arm around her shoulders. They walked in silence to the elevator and Priss thumped the button with her fist. The doors slid open and they stepped inside. As the doors closed Sylia spoke. "I believe you."
Sylia swung her legs off the side of the bed and stood up only to pause at the sudden discomfort. The vague aches in her back and neck were annoying enough to make her wonder at their cause. Maybe I am getting old, she thought with depreciating humor as she made her way to the bathroom.
Sylia bypassed the shower in favor of a hot bath and ran started the water running as she brought up the current status of the lab computer on the bathroom console. The computer still hadn't cracked the code and she hit the off switch with a little more force than was necessary. Sylia turned and stepping into the huge tub, exhaled softly as the water worked its magic. Submerging herself up to her neck, she made a mental note to check her suit's inner padding. If it were worn in some places that might cause the aches she was feeling now. A long time later she heard the bathroom door open.
Priss watched Sylia from the doorway and frowned at how tired she looked. The faint line that was etched across her face would probably be gone completely by tomorrow, but now it stood out against Sylia's pale face like a brand. Priss stepped into the room, stopping when she saw Sylia smile. "Pleasant thoughts?"
Sylia nodded. "Yes, actually. I was imagining you joining me in here."
"Oh. Well, I guess I could manage that." Priss slid into the water with a hiss at the temperature. "As long as you realize that this doesn't mean that I'm easy."
Sylia practically purred as she felt Priss brush against her. "Of course not."
Sylia sipped her coffee with a calmness she did not feel. The news reports of increasing boomer malfunctions were still the major headlines, but it was a small story in one of the papers that had alarmed her greatly. A local clinic had reported an increasing number of implant failures. There were no fatalities as yet from these failures, but the doctors could find no reason for them.
She brought up the data from the first scan of Priss and then looked at her. Priss sighed heavily and reluctantly stepped back onto the pad. The new scan displayed next to the other and Sylia didn't have to check numbers to see and immediate difference. There were fewer nanoclusters than before. A sudden chill swept over her and she began to verify what she was seeing. Of all the things she was expecting from this second scan, this wasn't one of them. "Damn."
Nene was watching over her shoulder and heard her quiet oath. "What's wrong?"
Sylia shook her head and turned to Priss. "The scanners are only showing about half of the nanoclusters than before."
Priss smiled slightly. "That's good, right?"
"No. That's bad. Very bad, as a matter of fact." She reached out and caught Priss hand. "It means that the others were either burned out fighting the virus or were destroyed by the virus itself."
Priss thought about this for a moment. "What happens if too many get burned out or destroyed?"
"Your body has become dependent on the nanobots to do certain functions. However, the nanoclusters inside you are, for the most part, relatively new so that if they destroy the virus you should recover completely."
Priss reached the obvious conclusion quickly. "But you've had them inside you for years." Priss pulled her hand away from Sylia's in an automatic response. "What happens if you become infected?"
Sylia's smile was gentle. "Now there's an interesting question."
"Don't joke about this. What could happen?"
"I honestly don't know, Priss. There's a chance that my body could pick up the slack, so to speak, but there's a bigger chance that I'll just " She trailed off, unwilling to complete the thought.
Priss gritted her teeth and did it for her. "That you might just die?" Sylia nodded. "Could I have infected you?"
Sylia reached out and pulled her into her arms. "No. That's impossible."
Priss returned her embrace, but wasn't satisfied by her answer. "Then let's run another scan on you to make sure."
Sylia agreed, but her expression gave silent testimony to her opinion. She was humoring Priss. So it was a complete surprise to discover that several hundred clusters had disappeared. "Oh dear."
"Oh dear? Oh Dear?!" Priss' fist slammed into the console with a dull 'thunk'. Sylia said silent thanks that it was her human fist as she turned to her. "That's a response?"
Sylia shook her head and waved a hand at Priss' clenched fists. "That's a better one? You can't punch out the virus, Priss." The reasonable tone in her voice belied her inner turmoil. She was infected? How? Suddenly it came to her. The memory of Priss striking her the other night was crystal clear, but Priss' memories of the night were obviously blurred. There was no way that Sylia was going remind her of the incident.
"If you didn't get infected by Priss, then how?" Nene could tell from the expression on Sylia's face that her question had been a mistake.
Linna finally spoke. "The boomers yesterday. It had to be when you were hurt."
Sylia nodded, relieved that she had suggested it. "Yes, that's the only possibility, but there's still the question of what is the virus infecting? Other than the nanoclusters I don't have any implants of any kind."
"It's infecting the nanobots." Nene's voice was low as if she didn't want to be the one to say it. The others turned to stare at her in surprise. "Think about it. The virus takes over the nanobots within a cluster. It would immediately start evading detection just like it's programmed to do. The clusters haven't been destroyed. They've been infected."
Linna looked down at her arm and thought about the slashes that the cleaning boomer had left in her arm the other night. She wondered if she really wanted to know. Even as she asked herself, she was moving onto the scanner. "Considering my little run in, I think we'd better check mine as well."
Understanding her concerns, Sylia quickly activated the scan. There was no obvious difference in the scans. Sylia check the numbers. "About ten percent of your nanoclusters have vanished." Something else occurred to her. "Damn!" Sylia pointed at Nene. "Up you go."
Nene and Linna exchanged places. Sylia watched the readouts in silence and Nene joined her at the console. Again there were no obvious differences in the scans, but the readouts told another story. Just fewer than five percent of the nanoclusters in Nene's body had disappeared.
"I was afraid of this." Sylia's voice was grim. "The infected clusters have migrated."
Priss remembered the strong sense of urgency that she had felt. "I wonder if it really was a warning that I was picking up. If they were being overpowered, would they react like that? Would they try to get help?"
Sylia considered this. "It's possible. They're designed to protect the host, but if they couldn't do that then they might interpret their programming in that way."
"So they are thinking."
Sylia shook her head. "Not really. It can seem like it though. They're preprogrammed so that in case of 'X' do 'Y', if 'Y' doesn't work then try 'Z'. Once they run out of options its pretty much over. The intensified signals could have been meant as a warning."
Linna had been running over the events of the last few days. "Okay. I was infected from the cleaning boomer. Sylia was infected from the construction boomer and Nene was probably infected by me." She ticked them off on her fingers as she went. "How did Priss get infected?
No one had an answer.
Sylia tapped the monitor. "I think a bigger question might be; what effect will the infected clusters have?" She drew a deep breath and plunged ahead. "We need to face the very real possibility that if we don't stop them that they will probably kill us. The virus seems to be designed to harm humans. The contaminated boomers were actively hunting people when they were stopped and the implant failures-,"
Priss held up a hand. "Believe me, I know exactly how bad the implant failures could get. The ten levels of Hell mean anything?"
Sylia nodded. "Exactly."
The ramifications of this were just sinking in when Mackie entered the lab. "I think I may have it."
Priss nodded in agreement. "Yeah, you probably do. The little bastards aren't wasting anytime looking for new hosts." She turned to Sylia. "So how long do we have before they kill us?"
"That depends on the number of clusters in each person. Mackie and I are more dependent on the them so the effects will be more apparent in us." Like the aches and pains this morning, she reflected. "Linna and Nene will be the slowest effected. I'm afraid that you are somewhere in the middle, Priss."
Mackie listened to them in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"The virus, of course." Sylia saw his confusion. "What were you talking about?"
Mackie held up a vial of clear liquid. "The new nanobots."
Sylia checked the data again and then turned to Mackie in wonder. "I can't believe that you actually did it!" She threw her arms around him and laughed. "This is fantastic! You've saved us all."
Mackie shook his head. "You keep saying that. What's going on?"
Sylia filled him in as she prepared five pressure syringes. "The new nanobots destroy the infected nanoclusters and then takeout the virus infecting Priss' arm. Then we can figure out how to stop the progression of the virus everywhere else."
Mackie was shaking his head, "Sylia, the new nanobots are " He stopped when he realized that she wasn't listening. He caught her arm. "Sylia! I had to make some changes to father's design in order to make the clusters stronger."
"Changes?" Sylia sensed she was not going to like what she was about to hear.
He let go of her and picked up one of the syringes. "I thought that you and I were the only ones who would need them, maybe Priss, but that was a long shot. I was hoping that you would crack the virus first. But to inject them into Nene and Linna as well "
"What did you do, Mackie?" Sylia's tone was flat.
"I designed them to have a sense of self preservation." She didn't respond so he clarified. "They are programmed to not only actively protect the host, but to enhance the host, to learn . and to well evolve."
Sylia looked at the syringe and shook her head.
"Do you understand? I made them as close to sentient as I could manage. They will alter whomever they enter. They're programmed to connect their own well being with the hosts. At the least they will wipe out the virus and upgrade the other nanoclusters. At the most " Mackie spread his hands. "I'm not sure. The changes could be radical. You and I could handle that better than the others would." Sylia was still silent. Mackie hesitated. "I just thought you should know. That they should know."
Sylia took the syringe from him and placed it against his neck. There was a faint hiss and she tossed it away. Mackie looked at the four remaining syringes in question. "We find another way."
She turned to walk out of the room.
"Sylia? What about you?"
Sylia looked back over her shoulder. "Not without Priss. Find another way, Mackie. And not a word about this to the others, understand?" She didn't wait for his answer.
Priss felt like screaming in frustration. "What do you mean, 'It won't work'? Why not?"
Sylia shook her head. "The cure would be worse than the illness. Mackie's having another go at it. Until then we work harder on breaking the virus program."
Nene threw up her hands and waved at the computer terminal in front of her. "Fine. Knock yourself out. Because I'm out of ideas and we're running out of time."
Linna scowled at her. "Don't you dare give up. You, Sylia and Mackie are our only hope to fight this thing. Priss and I are just the muscle." And right now she was feeling pretty useless.
Nene saw the look of self-disgust that passed over her face and immediately leapt to her feet. She caught the other girl in a Nene-sized bear hug. "Yes, but you're very pretty muscle."
Linna smiled despite herself and lightly tapped Nene on the head. Sylia winked at Priss and nodded. "I would have to agree with you on that Nene."
Priss smirked and pointed at the computer. "Funny. Now I don't want to imply that your equipment might not be top of the line Sylia, cause I know it is." Her smile was mischievous. "But is there anybody out there who has bigger, uh terminals?"
Sylia's eyes closed to slits. "Hmmph. Hardly. No one has anything this good."
Nene nodded emphatically, the double entendre flying right over her head. "She's right Priss. Nobody has better than Sylia."
Linna burst out laughing at Nene's enthusiastic support, Sylia and Priss joining in as Nene looked on in confusion. "What? What did I say?" The humor helped break up some of the almost unbearable tension and was a welcome relief.
Sylia controlled her mirth with difficulty and took Nene's place at the computer. "Really Priss, it should only be a matter of time before the code is broken. We just-," She broke off as a wave of dizziness swept over her. To give herself time to recover, she pretended to scrutinize the screen in front of her. The inky spots continued to dance in front of her eyes. "We just need to be patient."
Priss shook her head. "Yeah, right. You never did tell us how long we would have before the virus kills us. How patient can we afford to be, Sylia?"
Sylia realized that the dizziness wasn't passing. It was getting worse. "You have lots of time, Priss. It will-," she stopped.
Priss saw her slump forward and managed to catch her as she tumbled from the chair. "No!" She caught Sylia up into her arms and felt for a pulse. The scanners relayed back a faint pulse and she tried to scan deeper, but the signal from the warring technologies was blocking her probe. "Damn it!" She looked up at the others. "What do we do?"
"We get Mackie," Nene was heading for the door as she spoke. In seconds she was back with the young man in tow.
Mackie took in the situation in a glance. "Get her onto the table." He readied the medical scanner as Priss laid her down. The more specialized medical scanner had fewer problems taking readings through the static. Mackie's face turned grim as he studied the information before him.
"What? What's wrong with her?" Priss thought she might just kill him if he didn't spit it out.
"Her heart stopped for a moment."
Priss felt something clench around her own heart at his words. "A heart attack?"
Mackie nodded. "Yes. The uninfected nanoclusters restarted it." He glared down at his big sister. She wasn't going to live long enough for him to redesign the nanos. He looked up at Priss and decided to defy his sister's wishes for the first time in his life. "She's dying."
The sound that Priss made was primal. "No! There has to be someway to stop this!"
Mackie nodded. "There is."
Priss was almost jumping at this point. "Then why the hell aren't you doing it?!"
"Because she told me not to."
"What?" Priss looked down at Sylia in confusion. "Why would she-? Why would you even listen?!"
"She said that she wouldn't take the cure without you." Priss was more confused than ever. Mackie explained the difference of the new nanobots and the old. "You thought they seemed sentient before, but there's no comparison. And I'm still not sure of the extent that any internal changes would take. I had to leave that up to them so they would have the ability to do whatever was necessary to stop the virus."
Priss threw up her hands in exasperation. "Who the hell cares? Mackie, the only way I accept what I am now is through her. If she's not here then it's not worth it, understand? Inject the damn things, at least we'll be around to debate the consequences together."
Mackie sighed in relief and went to get the syringes.
Linna and Nene looked at each other in question. Nene spoke first. "It could be days before the code is broken."
Linna nodded. "Yes, it could. It's a risk either way."
"Yes." Nene looked down at Sylia's pale face. She did not want to end up on that table.
Mackie returned bearing a tray with four syringes. He set it down and turned to Sylia with one in hand. Priss intercepted him.
"I'll do it." She took it from him. "This is my decision. I'll take the heat for it." She pressed the syringe into Sylia's neck. Tossing it aside she picked up another and, not giving herself time to think about what she was doing, injected it into her own neck.
Mackie smiled encouragingly. Priss rolled her eyes and shrugged. "I think this was one of those 'dammed if you don't, dammed if you do' scenarios."
He just smiled again and picked up the tray. Nene and Linna stepped in front of him. Each took one of the remaining syringes. Mackie looked at them in question. "What are you doing? You guys should be all right until we can come up with another way."
Nene shook her head. "We don't really want to take that risk."
Linna laughed. "Besides, I kind of like this faster healing thing."
Sylia opened her eyes and focused fuzzily on the lab ceiling. <Now this seems familiar> she thought as she tried to remember how she came to be lying on the exam table again. She pushed herself into a sitting position and looked around. Priss was asleep in the chair next to her, her head resting on the gurney near her thigh. Sylia felt herself smile and reached out to brush a strand of hair away from her lover's face.
Priss stirred at the touch and blinked at her sleepily. "Sylia?" Priss quickly wrapped her arms tightly around her and buried her face in Sylia's neck.
Sylia returned the embrace but was a little confused. "What happened?"
Priss pulled away and Sylia was shocked to see tears brimming in the other woman's eyes. "We almost lost you."
Sylia shook her head slightly and Priss elaborated. "Your heart stopped."
Memory returned with her words and Sylia drew a deep breath. "Priss "
"No. Don't bother." Priss stood up and began to pace. "I know everything. Mackie said that it would just get worse; harder and harder to keep you alive." She turned back, sank into the chair beside Sylia and took her hand between both of hers. "Now I want you to stay calm, Sylia."
"Me?" She frowned at her, a sudden trickle of unease overcoming her. "Shouldn't that be my line?"
Priss firmly kissed the hand she held, smothering the smile that fought to escape. "Usually. Now I want you to know that I love you a great deal and all of my actions come from that, okay?"
"All right, Priss. You've succeeded in unnerving me, now cut to the chase."
Priss grew solemn. "I injected the new nanoclusters into us."
"What?" Sylia was stunned. "YOU? You inject .into .US?" Sylia caught Priss shirtfront in her fists and pulled her close, her expression urgent. "Us Priss? You injected both of us?"
Priss nodded slowly. "Yes."
Sheer relief flooded Sylia's face. "Thank God!" She hugged Priss fiercely. "What made you .?"
Priss laughed. "Remember that promise I made about not ever leaving you?" Sylia nodded. "I should have mentioned that it works both ways."
Sylia laughed softly. "I see." She cupped Priss' face and slowly brought their lips together. Priss sighed and was sinking blissfully into the caress when the sound of someone clearing their throat interrupted.
Priss pulled away reluctantly and turned to see Nene and Linna standing at the foot of the bed. "You know Nene, you're beginning to make a habit out of this."
Nene blushed slightly, but grinned at Sylia. "Hi. Nice to see you among the land of the living."
Sylia smiled back and moved to get up. Priss held her arm, making sure she was steady before releasing her. "Nice to be back. How's the computer coming on the code?"
Nene shook her head. "Still working on it, I'm afraid."
Sylia looked at her and Linna. "We'll crack it in time, don't worry."
A look passed between Nene and Linna. It was almost like guilt. Sylia frowned slightly. "What is it?"
"Um well Sylia .. it's uh," Nene's stammering seemed unending and Linna ended it with her blunt, "We injected the new nanobots as well."
Sylia stared at them in surprise. "You did? But there was no need. You had plenty of time."
Linna shrugged. "You weren't watching you die. They had to restart your heart three times."
Sylia looked at Priss in question who nodded slightly, her features stony. "It took time for the new nanos to work."
"It wasn't something that either of us wanted to experience." Nene's voice was wry.
"Besides," Linna began, waving a hand to encompass the four of them. "You don't know that the new nanobots wouldn't have migrated like the others did. So we just speeded up the time table slightly."
"We still need to find out how they were transferred between us." Sylia glanced at the lab clock. "And where is Mackie, our resident nano vending machine?"
Nene winced at her description and Priss spoke in his defense. "You can't blame him, Sylia. I threatened to relocate some of his favorite body parts if he didn't tell us about the cure. And I was the one who made the decision to use it. The others didn't give him a chance to talk them out of it either."
Sylia made a small sound in the back of her throat. "I see."
"But I did tell them that the cure would work." Mackie stood in the doorway, his face sober but determined. "Strangely enough, I had problems with letting you kill yourself."
Sylia smiled. "I guess it's hard to argue with that." She met him halfway and hugged him tightly. Very softly she spoke, "I'm sorry I put you in that position. My only excuse is that I wasn't thinking clearly."
Mackie nodded. "That's an understatement."
Sylia was still feeling tired and she excused herself and went to lie down in her bedroom. Nene and Linna had to go to work and Mackie was given the task of trying to find out how the nanobots had been transferred.
Priss rambled around the apartment, unable to focus on any one task for more than a few minutes. She picked a book at random from the library and settled herself on the couch. A strange restlessness was driving her and she felt an odd sense of urgency. Priss realized that she had been reading the same page for the last ten minutes and she finally gave into the urge that was compelling her to check on Sylia.
Soft light filtered into the room and across the bed from the shaded windows. Priss stood in the doorway and just watched the play of light across Sylia's body. If the trail of clothes leading directly to the bed hadn't told her that Sylia was naked under the thin sheet that covered her, then the way the material was clinging to her slender form would have. Priss felt her mouth go dry and other places grow damp as a sudden wave of desire gripped her. Sylia shifted in her sleep and the sheet slipped down, exposing the smooth curve of her shoulder. The material stopped its descent, caught on the rise of a softly rounded breast. Priss' breath caught and she felt herself actually begin to tremble at the knowledge that she could help that cloth continue along. She could step closer to the bed. Her feet moved of their own accord and Priss could suddenly feel the edge of the mattress pressing against her legs.
Cool cotton slid through her fingertips as she tugged at the fabric, but Priss was utterly focused on what she was revealing. Her eyes followed the sweeping curve of Sylia's brow and down, over the soft rise of her cheek and into the shadowed hollow of her throat, rising again to crest the gentle slopes. The cool breeze from the air-conditioning chilled Sylia's skin and her body reacted, much to Priss' delight. Her gaze fell from the enticing crests and pursued the graceful flow of flesh as it stretched down Sylia's body into the shadowy regions that Priss knew so well now. Priss' breathing was quickening and the feeling of urgency was growing stronger. She pulled her shirt over her head and tossed it aside.
Sylia felt the bed dip as Priss slipped under the covers and smiled. She had been beginning to wonder if Priss was ever going to join her. Priss' hands slid across her body and turned Sylia to face her. Sylia gazed up into her eyes, frowning slightly at the clouded emotions that they revealed. "Priss?" Priss placed her fingers against Sylia's mouth, whispering, "Shhh." She hid her face in Sylia's hair and inhaled deeply, letting the scent fill her senses completely. Priss caught her earlobe between her teeth and tugged lightly as her hands roamed over Sylia's body. Sylia gasped as Priss' hands swept in and out of soft places, across yielding planes and tightened around supple peaks. Soon she was writhing in frustration as each touch was all too brief and Priss seemed determined to explore every inch of her in gossamer strokes.
Priss caught her lips and devoured her mouth. The urgency driving her was beginning to infect Sylia as well and she fisted her hands in Priss hair to hold her in place. Shivers of pleasure rolled across her flesh and Sylia wondered at how Priss' hands seemed to be everywhere at once. Pressure was building to almost unbearable levels and finally Sylia broke the kiss, gasping as she drew great gulps of oxygen into her lungs. A soft growl issued from Priss' throat and she grasped Sylia's face between her hands, dragging her back into the kiss. Sylia brought her hands up and pushed slightly at Priss' shoulders. The action seemed to trigger something in Priss and she pulled back, caught Sylia's hands and pinned them to the bed above Sylia's head. It wasn't fear that Sylia felt twist inside her at the action; it was desire. She met Priss' fierce stare with one of her own and in a quick movement, flipped Priss onto her back and straddled her hips.
They stared at each other for a moment as the tension continued to build. Sylia thought that she could hear the sound of Priss' heart, its beat pounding in rhythm to her own and urging them on. Finally, when it felt as if their skin was on fire and their muscles were screaming for something to happen, someone to move, the tension snapped. Like the strands of a broken wire, it lashed back and struck them. They grabbed each other and held on tightly. And then they consumed each other in the fire they had created.
Sylia watched the curtain flutter in the slight breeze of the air-conditioner and waited for the feeling to return to her extremities. She felt as if she had been rolled up, bounced around and shaken back out again. Priss' was deathly quite as she lay next to her and Sylia turned to see if she was all right only to find Priss studying her. There was an odd look in her eyes and Sylia grew concerned. "Priss? What's wrong?"
Priss shrugged and let her head fall forward onto Sylia's shoulder, hiding her face. Sylia sat up and caught her chin, turning her back to face her. "Tell me." She waved a hand to the tangled bed. "As much as I enjoyed this, I'm not blind to the fact that something is bothering you." Sylia brushed the hair back from Priss face and smiled down at her. "Please?"
Priss sighed and reached up to lightly trace Sylia's face. "I'm not sure what to say."
Sylia was silent, giving her time to collect her thoughts.
Priss wondered were to start. Images of Mackie's struggle to keep Sylia alive flashed through her mind. "You died."
Sylia put a comforting hand on her shoulder and waited, knowing there was more.
"Every time your heart stopped, mine did too. It may seem silly, but you've always seemed invincible to me." Priss paused, feeling embarrassed by the admission. "It was a little frightening to find out just how vulnerable you are."
Sylia's voice was very quiet. "I understand. Priss, I can't promise you that I won't die someday, but I can promise you that I'll try very hard not to."
Priss chuckled at her words. "I'll hold you to that." Priss looked around her and shrugged. "I guess that I just needed to confirm the fact that you were alive."
Sylia stretched mightily and laughed. "I'd say we proved that we're both alive and in very fine form."
Priss looked at her closely and frowned slightly. "Hmmm. I don't know Sylia. You look a little peaked. Maybe we should check again. Just to make sure." She rose up and pushed a laughing Sylia back into the bed.
Sylia examined the tear in her helmet with not a little awe. The angle of entry was so precise that a millimeter to the right and it would have skewered her eye. A little to the left and it would have missed her completely. She shivered slightly and began to dismantle the helmet. The visor was totaled, as were two of the helmet's armor sections. She tossed the damaged pieces aside and went to retrieve the replacement parts from the stock room.
Sylia blinked at the brightness as she flipped on the overhead lights and walked through the racks of spare parts. She quickly found the pieces she needed and turned to leave. As she did her foot bumped into something and sent it clattering across the floor. She jumped at the sudden sound and focused on the item. It was a jumbled tangle of wires and circuitry, none of which seemed to have an obvious purpose. There was no noticeable order to its construction and it took Sylia a moment to realize that it was moving.
It was twitching slightly and even as she watched one of the woven bands of wire stretched out as if searching for something. The strands brushed against the edge of one of the racks and the wires immediately wrapped themselves around the support. Sylia watched in utter amazement as it pulled itself closer to the rack. She never took her eyes from the machine as her fist shot straight out to her left and the glass that covered the fire ax shattered. The ax was in her hands and she was slowly moving closer when Priss and Linna came bursting into the room.
"Sylia?!" Priss saw the ax and looked at her in confusion. "What's going on?" Linna was tugging on her arm and Priss followed her pointed finger. "What the hell is that?" Her voice was hushed.
Sylia shook her head. "I haven't the slightest idea."
"Great, that's certainly reassuring." Priss looked around for another weapon. She unhooked a spare hard suit arm complete with rail gun and stepped forward.
Sylia saw her actions from the corner of her eye. "I wouldn't come too close with that, Priss. It can probably infect the circuits." As the words left her lips she had a sudden revelation. Sylia stopped dead and straightened. "Of course!" She turned to the others, the contraption forgotten in her excitement. "That's how those nanobots migrated to each of you! The hard suit circuitry! Mackie and I have handled these suits so much that it would have been impossible for nanobots not to migrate. Then it was just a matter of creating more of themselves and then they transferred to each of you!"
"That's great, but do you think we can figure out where this thing came from now?" Priss' tone was exasperated.
"Oh yes, of course." Sylia turned back and hooked the head of the ax under the machine and tossed it across the room. The jumbled mass struck the far side of a trash bin and fell in.
Linna laughed nervously. "Nice shot."
"Lacrosse team in high school." Linna blinked at Sylia's calm admission. Sylia had gone to high school?
Sylia tried again to pull enough wires away to view the center, but once again they swirled back into place. She bit back an oath and reached for another clamp. They had placed it on the examining table and positioned it as far away from anything in the lab that it might infect. Sylia had been trying to reveal its secrets for over an hour and all that she had to show for her effort was a rapidly dwindling supply of clamps.
It was just over a foot in length and maybe half as tall, with wires snaking from the central mass measuring at around two feet. For lack of a better word Priss had been calling it a boomer. Sylia had tried explaining that this was more like a zombie as it was merely the host for the virus, which was animating it. Nene had paled at that description and had refused to go near it. She periodically called out ideas from across the lab as she watched Sylia's progress on the monitor.
"Why don't we just cut the things away?" Priss paced around the table, careful to keep a safe distance.
Sylia was patient. She clamped another cluster of wires down and began to unwind another. "Because we don't want to frighten it into becoming hostile."
"Frighten it? So it is alive?"
Sylia rubbed the space between her eyebrows and wished she were alone. "No, but it's the best way to describe the behavior it would display under those circumstances."
Mackie chuckled and handed her another clamp. "I think we're getting close."
"Hmmm," was her only response. She twisted the wires away and Mackie gasped. Sylia's hands froze and she looked at him in concern. "What is it?"
Mackie pointed to the computer core at the center of the mass. "That's the computer core from the limousine that crashed." He slapped his forehead and met Sylia's gaze sheepishly. "I brought it home a couple of nights ago."
Sylia counted to ten. "I won't point out the obvious. How incredibly dangerous and irresponsible a thing that was. I'm sure that its readily apparent the level of jeopardy that you've placed everyone in and so I won't mention it." Her voice wasn't angry, but very disappointed and Mackie wished that she were yelling at him instead.
Priss winced in sympathy. "Hey, come on, Sylia. Ease up a little."
Sylia glanced at her. "Don't you realize that this is how you became infected?" She waited for that to sink in then continued. "It's transmitting the virus on a very low bandwidth. Only machines that have something to receive the signal with are infected and even then they have to be running. Your arm scanners are constantly receiving data. Once it infects a more mobile carrier it can be infected through direct circuit contact."
Priss turned white. "Oh God." She caught her arm and pulled Sylia towards her. Priss placed a slightly trembling hand on Sylia's chest. "The night I struck you. I did infect you."
Sylia embrace her tightly and buried her face in Priss' hair. "Don't blame yourself, Priss. It was only a matter of time until we all became infected."
The computer beside Nene began to beep suddenly and she stared at it blankly, not realizing at first that this was the signal they had been waiting for. The computer had broken the encryption. "It's broken!" She began to furiously type commands. Information began to scroll across the monitor. Mackie and Sylia joined her and they were soon completely absorbed in their task.
"It's a multipartite virus, but then we knew that."
"Yeah, but look at that line there. It's programmed to change the encryption code each time it's activated, just like a stealth virus. That's why it took so long to crack."
"Damn. It changes its appearance in each new copy in generates. No wonder it hasn't been discovered yet. What's triggering the aggression?"
"Hmmm, seems to trigger after a certain number of infections. Sylia does that string there suggest what I think it does?"
"Yes. It's programmed to search for new hosts and then to determine what type of file would be the most easily accepted. Then it copies itself and mimics that file type. In this case it hid itself as an upgrade for the virus scan program. Clever."
"Which let it slip past the viral detectors."
"I don't see anything that looks like a signature. Whoever wrote this must be shy."
"Good grief! It even has a logic bomb. When triggered, the virus separates itself from its host physically. Just like in Priss' dream.
"I was hoping that wasn't going to be a possibility Sylia." Priss flexed her artificial hand but didn't look at it. Sylia looked up long enough to smile reassuringly at Priss. "Don't worry Priss, the new nanobots are immune to this now." She returned to her study of data.
Nene watched the data flow past and a very strange thought occurred to her. She stopped the readout and returned it to the beginning. "Sylia, look at this string here. It's a simple command for a trivial system infector, does nothing but duplicate itself. Then it changes here into more of a multipartite, infecting the executables as well. At this point it began to be a polymorphic virus not just a stealth virus. It keeps getting more in depth as it goes along."
"What's your point?"
"This isn't how the code should be written. It's too sprawled out. Anyone who was smart enough to write this would have written it neater." Nene could see that they didn't understand. "I don't think anyone did write it."
Sylia looked at the lines of code and saw what Nene did. "Incredible. You're suggesting that it's been adding to its program?" Nene nodded. "Then we may never find out who wrote the original program."
"It doesn't matter. The original program was never meant to do what this is doing. From the looks of it, it was supposed to be a mail bomb. I think that somewhere in this virus' past, it must have mimicked a file that gave it the capacity to evolve."
"A sentient program?" Mackie's eyes were shining with excitement. "Fantastic!"
Sylia shook her head. "I doubt it's truly sentient, Mackie. That kind of development is impossible."
"I hate to correct you, but look at the numbers, Sis. Think about its reactions. How else would you describe it?"
The implications of what they were discussing were mind-boggling and Linna and Priss knew that it would be awhile before they were included in the conversation. Hopefully the 'techno-babble' would be translated into a slightly more understandable language. Not that they didn't understand some of it, but the reasons for the others reactions were a mystery.
Linna looked at Priss and sighed. "I don't care what you say; sometimes being the muscle is a lonely job."
Priss snickered and leaned back, bracing her hands against the table. The error of this action was made immediately apparent with the sharp sting of wire as it wrapped around her arm. Priss cried out and raised her arm to find the boomer engulfing it. The hiss of the energy blade as it slid out was a welcome sound as was the shower of sparks that followed. The blade pierced the center of the machine and Priss shook her arm hard, causing the blade to slice completely through the device.
Sylia watched the charred pieces fall to the floor and let the wave of relief wash over her. She looked at Priss, her eyes filled with relieved humor. "I wasn't done with that."
Priss was still plucking stray wires from the joints of her arm. "I was."
Nene piped up, her voice plaintive. "When are we going to eat?"
Sylia realized that she was rather hungry as well and called a break for dinner.
"I hate to keep saying this, but I'm a little confused," Linna gestured with her fork. "How exactly does this thing work?" She ladled out another helping of spaghetti and dug in. Linna couldn't ever remember being this hungry before. Scattered cartons and boxes littered the table from various restaurants from around the city. Everyone had wanted something different and in the end each had ordered to their own tastes. There was enough food to feed three times the amount of people in question, but they were trying their best to make a dent in it.
Sylia refilled her wine glass and then settled back in her chair. The five of them were gathered around the large table in the dinning room. In between bites she explained. "The virus wasn't just designed to take over other systems. It will also attempt to improve the existing structure. By doing this it would create a more flexible environment for itself and increase its chances of spreading." She paused to tear open another ketchup packet for her French fries and then continued. "If a stationary machine were infected then it wouldn't pose much of a threat, but if the virus could adapt the machine to some form of movement " She sipped her wine and stared into the glass. "It's an incredibly complex program."
"Well as interesting as that sounds, Sylia, how do we stop it?" Priss' tone was dry. She reached for another roll as Nene did and they tussled for a moment over possession. Priss sat back, her expression smug with her victory.
Nene wrinkled her nose and helped herself to more fried chicken.
"Actually I'm not sure we can." Silence greeted her words and Sylia continued to study the depths of her glass.
Priss looked at Mackie and then back at Sylia. "Tell me that's a very bad joke."
"Realistically, we can't stop the virus. It's been spreading for too long. The original command string is very similar to several minor viruses from almost fifty years ago. It's been traveling a long time."
"Then why hasn't it been found before now?" Linna shook grated cheese onto her plate as she spoke.
Mackie hastily swallowed a bite of pizza and answered. "I'm sure it has, but viral scanners are designed to remove known viruses from individual units. Because this virus has always been changing and moving from host to host, it doesn't always appear to be the same virus."
Sylia nodded. "One version gets deleted, but there are hundreds of others that the scanners don't identify. The only reason we're noticing it now is that it's learned how to infect the implant technologies. Variants of the virus will be found eventually, but they'll never be able to stop them all." Sylia stood up and began to pace the length of the dining table. "No. What we need is to attack the virus with another virus. A vaccine. Something that will remove the nastier aspects that it's gained, yet leave it intact so that it can spread to other infected hosts and change them as well."
"But how will it know when it runs across another version of the virus?"
Nene answered Priss' question as she heaped more coleslaw onto her plate. "There are several lines of code that must be written the same way each time for the virus to behave the way it is now. We structure the vaccine to search out any programs with those codes and alter them."
"All right," Linna straightened. "If this thing has taken years to spread to this level and has taken years to learn to do everything it has, then won't it take years for the vaccine to hunt down all the others?"
"You've hit the one problem with our little plan." Sylia's tone was rueful. She turned to Mackie. "Want to tell them how we're going to solve that one? Mackie?"
Mackie wasn't listening. He was instead staring at his hand. He shook his head slightly, as if dizzy and then turned slowly to Sylia. "I think I made a mistake." He fell forward, unconscious.
Sylia was at his side instantly, searching for a pulse. The faint beat was barely perceptible. "Help me get him to the lab!" Priss took his shoulders and Sylia gripped his feet as they carried him.
"What happened?" Priss felt her stomach roll at the possibilities. Could the virus still be attacking them?
Sylia shook her head and gasped as they hefted him onto the table. "I don't know." She took the scanner that Nene handed her and swept it over him. Nene transferred the data to the overhead monitor.
Blood pressure was extremely low and his heart was beating just enough to keep him alive. His body temperature was dropping even as they watched and Sylia attached neural leads to monitor Mackie's brainwaves.
"I don't understand this. The neural outputs are up not down."
Priss sighed in frustration. "Which means?"
"All the physical signs point to a coma, but in a coma the brain activity decreases, not increases and certainly not to this level." Sylia tapped a few keys and the display changed. A string of lines danced wildly over the screen. "Impossible. His electrolyte activity is up by over five hundred percent!" She turned to the others. "He should be dead with a level like that. Nene access the nano control program and bring up a readout."
Nene had the data up in seconds. Sylia studied it for a moment and then began to translate it for the others. "The number of nanoclusters is triple what it was before Mackie was infected so they must have taken over the infected clusters and built the extras to repair the damage they caused. The increased electrolyte activity must be from their repairs. But it doesn't explain the other problems and why he's unconscious yet has increased brain activity."
She tried to access the current program the nanos were running. "Odd. I can't bring up the current protocol that the nanos are running." Sylia brought up the schematics for the new nanobots and was checking for anything that might be causing this when the screen wavered in front of her eyes. A sudden wave of lethargy washed over her and she swayed slightly. "Oh no, not again."
"What?" Priss' question was answered as Sylia started to collapse. "Sylia!" Priss caught her and eased her to the floor. "Nene!"
Nene had already grabbed the scanner and knelt beside them. She looked up at Priss, her eyes huge. "Just like Mackie." She pushed the sick, panicked feeling aside and tried to think. "We need to get her off the floor and monitor her vital signs. Linna, I think there are extra gurneys in the storeroom." Linna raced off and Nene stood up and moved to the console Sylia had been at. "Okay. She must have thought something was wrong in the new program." Linna returned and she and Priss lifted Sylia as Nene set up another monitor for her.
Priss fought back the scream that was clawing at her throat and tried to stay calm. She brushed the hair away from Sylia's face with a trembling hand and Linna gripped her shoulder in silent comfort. "Nene? Can you do anything?"
Nene was trying very hard not to panic herself, but at Priss' softly spoken words she made herself focus. "I don't know. I can try to follow what Sylia was thinking, but I don't know much about this stuff." Nene returned to the computer and began to read.
Linna watched her for a moment and then turned to Priss and spoke quietly, not wanting to distract Nene. "You realize that this will probably happen to you as well? And to me and Nene?"
Priss' laugh was as hollow as she felt right now. "Yeah. If this is because of the new nanobots then I figure we have a few hours before I go down. Longer than that for you and Nene. Let's just hope that she's able to figure out what's going on."
Nene felt a drop of sweat roll down her temple and forced Priss' words to the back of her mind.
An hour later she was beginning to see how the program was supposed to work and thought that she might know why they couldn't access the current program the nanobots were running. A loud beeping interrupted her thoughts and she looked down at the beeper on her belt in confusion. A page? That's right, there is another world going on out there. Nene almost ignored it, but something made her check the source. It took a moment for the string of numbers to make sense but when they did she felt like crying. "Why now?!"
Priss jerked at her words and released Sylia's hand to join Nene. "What is it?"
Nene sighed and tossed the pager onto the counter. "It's a code 13."
Linna picked up the device and studied the readout. "Is this sector fifty-seven?"
"Yes. I programmed the ADP computer to page me in the event of a code 13." Nene rubbed her eyes.
Priss looked at Linna and shrugged. "Okay, I'll bite. What the hell is a code 13?"
"It's a major boomer incident. Calls in all available police units and I mean all available units. Even the normal police are called. I figured that the Knight Sabers might want to be there if something like this ever came down." She looked at Mackie and Sylia. "I never thought it'd be like this though."
Priss brought up the news on the next screen. The reporter was screaming into his microphone as people ran past all around him. Explosions could be heard in the background and the camera shook wildly as debris rained down. "The military refuses to comment at this time, saying that the situation is under control, but it is apparent that there is NO control here in MegaTokyo tonight." The shot switched back to the newsroom and Priss switched off the screen.
"Sector fifty-seven is where the military base is."
Linna just nodded.
"I hate to think what the virus could do inside some of the boomers they have over there."
"We can't do it Priss." Linna's voice was firm. "We're at half strength and we'd be no match for whatever we came across."
"We can't just sit back and let this happen, Linna. They won't be able to stop it, at least not before it kills a great deal of innocent bystanders."
Linna groaned and tugged at her hair with both hands. "Okay! I'll suit up and see if I can lend a hand. You stay-."
Priss cut her off sharply. "I'm going with you."
"The hell you are! Priss are you nuts?"
Priss stood up and went to retrieve her soft suit from her locker. Linna followed quickly. "You can't do this, Priss."
"Watch me." She opened the door to her locker only to watch it close again as Linna slammed it shut.
"I'll give you two very good reasons why you aren't going, Priss. One; you could collapse at any moment. And two; the last time you went up against a military boomer you lost your arm." She reached out and rapped the limb in question sharply. "I don't think that this is the best time to discover any lingering psychological repercussions from that."
Priss scowled at her and jerked the door open again. "Back off, Linna. I'm fine. We'll go, we'll kick a little boomer ass and be back in an hour."
They reached the scene just as one of the boomers hurled an ADP van at a group of officers that had been hiding behind a crumbled wall. Priss rushed forward and hit the truck in mid air, her intend to deflect, not catch. She managed to redirect it enough to miss the policemen and then turned to see what they were facing. Six heavily armored combat boomers were busily rendering the surrounding buildings to dust. Priss sighted one with the impulse cannon and fired. The boomer fell back a few paces, but then righted himself and moved toward her. Linna opened fire as well and as the boomer paused to assess this new threat, Priss opened fire with the grenade launcher.
Designed to fire magnetic mines, the launcher had been Sylia's response to the incident that had cost Priss her arm. She had been determined that they would never be faced with that risk again. The mine attached itself to the boomer's chest and exploded, leaving a very satisfactory hole in its chest. The boomer exploded and they moved on to the next target. As Priss fired again several small missiles targeted her. She moved quickly but their force hurled her several yards. The motoslave hit the side of a building and Priss could feel the frame around her twist. After several tries to restart the slave's systems, she gave up and radioed Linna. Priss climbed out of the wrecked unit with difficulty, as Linna laid down cover fire to give her time. She picked up the grenade launcher and fired two mines in rapid succession, causing two more boomers to lose a great deal of their armor. The police units finally figured out what they were doing and began to fire at the weakened places in the boomer's armor.
Linna watched the boomers explode in approval and leaped out of the path of another. She tapped into surrounding communications to see if there were any more boomers besides this one. An entire squadron of boomers had suddenly gone berserk; though the troops and police that were trying to stop them didn't know what the cause was. Linna guessed that the squad must have been activated for some reason and that had made them vulnerable to the virus. She watched Priss fire at the last boomer and checked the time on her screen. They had been fighting for over an hour. Linna radioed Priss. "Time's up, Priss. They can handle the rest." She sprinted to her side and tapped her armor lightly. "Priss?"
Priss had been ignoring the steadily increasing drained feeling and now she realized that she was going to pay for it. "Let's go." They leaped upwards and away from the destruction, not hearing the cheers from both the troops and the police for their help.
Priss had barely cleared the rooftop when she felt her strength desert her and she fell hard to her knees. Linna turned back when she realized Priss wasn't with her and landed beside her calling urgently, 'Priss! Priss? Come on Priss don't do this to me. I don't want to haul your sorry ass back."
Priss' barely audible laugh reached her. "Sorry. I think you may have to." Black fog crowded her vision and she felt herself pitch forward.
Nene rolled her neck and tried to work the stiffness out. She studiously ignored the blinking clock at the bottom of her screen and tried to make some sense of what she was seeing. The nanobots were running some kind of upgrade program. Only she couldn't find it in the registry. Nene was beginning to think that the virus might have won after all. The door behind her opened and she turned to see Linna carrying Priss over her shoulders in an awkward fireman's carry. "Oh no!"
"She lost consciousness about ten minutes ago." Linna lowered her to the floor and straightened to remove her helmet. Nene was already removing Priss' armor. Linna lifted her onto a gurney and stepped out of Nene's way. The procedure was becoming a matter of rote to Nene and she frowned darkly as she hooked Priss up to the monitors. The patterns were the same of course and Nene wanted to yell, scream, break something, do something to relieve this overwhelming urge to cry. She settled for sighing deeply.
Linna shed her armor and took Nene in her arms. "You okay?"
"No. I am not okay." Nene buried her face in Linna's neck. She wished she could just stay here, hidden, letting someone else deal with this. Nene drew a deep breath and pulled away. But she couldn't hide. She was the only one left who might be able to save everyone else. Nene sat back down at the computer and brought up the virus code.
Linna pulled up a chair beside her and watched her. If these were going to be her final moments then she wanted to spend them with Nene.
Time passed swiftly and Linna glanced anxiously at the clock, willing it to slow its steady progression. Nene didn't bother to look at the clock. She was only too well aware of the passage of time. She stared at the data in front of her and suddenly everything clicked into place. Nene copied the vaccine into a secure server and hacked into the broadcasting bandwidths. She executed the vaccine and then logged off. Her hands were shaking with fatigue and she wondered numbly if this is what the others had felt. It made sense, really, when you looked at it from the other end. She had to tell Linna so she wouldn't worry.
"Linna " Linna saw her pale features and pulled Nene into her arms. "No! Nene please." Her voice was tremulous.
Nene rested in her arms and smiled up at Linna. "It's okay. I transmitted the vaccine on a wide broadcast bandwidth. It'll take a few months, but the virus will be stopped."
Linna slid out of the chair to the floor and cradled Nene in her arms. "Isn't there anything we can do to stop this?"
"I stopped looking when I realized what was happening." Nene's soft confession stunned Linna.
"What? Nene why?"
Nene could feel consciousness slipping away. She had to reassure Linna. "Don't worry, Love. It'll be alright. We're just changing." Nene closed her eyes and did not open them again.
"Nene?" Linna held her tighter. "Nene?"
Silence was her only answer. Linna bowed her head and wept because she could do nothing else.
After a time she stretched out on the floor beside Nene and held her close as she too succumbed to the darkness.
"I almost hate to move them; they're so cute like that."
Linna heard the words as if from the bottom of a dark hole and tried to make sense of them. She struggled to open her eyes and finally succeeded. Brilliant light flooded her vision and she squinted against the glare. She blinked rapidly and the glare faded enough for her to focus on the face staring down at her.
Priss grinned broadly. "Welcome back to the land of the living."
Linna tried to sit up, but a weight on her left side pinned her down. She turned to see a sleeping Nene. The soft snore that issued from the petite redhead was quite probably the most beautiful sound that Linna had ever heard. "Nene?" She sat up with help from Priss and rested Nene's head on her lap. Linna looked around in confusion. Sylia was standing beside Priss and she could see Mackie was doing something at a computer terminal. "We're alive?"
"Looks that way." Priss motioned to their position on the floor. "That can't be comfortable. Let's get her up onto something softer."
Linna released her reluctantly and Priss lifted Nene up onto an exam table. Linna tried to stand only to find that she was too stiff. She groaned and Sylia caught her arm and steadied her as she straightened. "I feel like I've been locked in a box for a week." She stretched her arms wide, trying to ease the muscles."
"Lying on a cold, hard floor for two days will do that to you."
Sylia's words were startling and Linna blinked uncertainly. "Two days? What happened? How did you guys-?"
"We just woke up. Mackie and I woke first, then Priss a few hours later. We decided it was best not to move you until you woke up on your own." Sylia glanced at Nene. "I think she's just sleeping now. Her vital signs leveled out about an hour ago." Sylia took Linna's hand in hers. "It must have been horrible for you. I'm sorry."
Linna squeezed her hands slightly. "I never want to go through anything like that again. What happened to us?"
Priss' laugh was strained. "We're not sure yet."
Linna looked into her dark eyes and gasped. "Your eyes! They're normal again."
"Hmm. So far that's all that's obviously different." She shrugged nonchalantly. "I was just getting used to them too."
Sylia had to smile at this. "I'm sure you were." Faint sarcasm laced her voice. She turned to Mackie. "Anything yet?"
Mackie started to shake his head as he read over the scan results, but then stopped. "Wait a second." He read quietly for a few more minutes and then went to one of the shelves that lined the back wall of the lab. He returned a second later with a scalpel. Before anyone could guess his intent, he slashed his arm with the blade. He ignored their shocked protests and watched the wound intently. "Just watch. If I'm right "
The blood was flowing rapidly from the deep cut and Mackie could die from such an injury. But then the flow gradually slowed and after a few minutes it had stopped completely. He wiped the blood away and they saw with amazement that the cut had started to scab over. The skin was mending itself at an incredible rate. They couldn't actually see the flesh moving, but if you turned away and looked back again it had progressed more.
Priss glanced at the others. "I hope you don't expect the rest of us to try that."
They sat quietly in the living room. Each lost in their thoughts. Linna and Nene were curled up together on the couch, not quite willing to release each other yet. Sylia sat on the floor in front of the fireplace, Priss' head resting on her lap. They had turned the air conditioning up full blast just so they could enjoy a fire. The night seemed to call for it. This most basic method of light and heat kept burning by man from generation to generation, the knowledge of its creation one of man's most prized possessions. The flickering shadows it cast along the darkened walls were oddly reassuring rather than frightening. They knew their source and took comfort from that.
Mackie was seated on the hearth across from Sylia and Priss, staring into the fire. It was he that broke the silence. "Why does this frighten me? I love technology and all of its advancements, but this scares me silly."
Sylia shifted slightly, but continued to stroke Priss' hair. "Because part of you knows what would occur if this happened on a larger scale." She sighed and shook her head. "The world is not ready for this."
Nene hugged Linna closer. "No. The long-term effects would be devastating. The average lifespan is increasing with every new medical advancement, but this "
Priss reached up and stroked Sylia's cheek. "But what are we going to do?"
Sylia caught her hand and placed a kiss in her palm. Priss curled her fingers as if to keep it and smiled up at her. "We go on as before. Nothing's changed."
Linna snorted. "Nothing's changed? Sylia, we can't die!"
Sylia was quick to disagree. "Not true, Linna. We can heal rapidly, yes. And the tests so far seem to indicate that we won't age like other people, but don't assume that we couldn't be injured beyond the nanos capacity to heal us."
Priss stretched and resettled against Sylia. "What happens to the nanobots if we do die?"
"I don't know. Before I would have said that they would cease to function, but now I just don't know."
Priss tossed restlessly, unable to go back to sleep. Her dreams had been disturbing, filled with strange voices and shadowy images. Tossing the covers aside, she slid out of bed gently, so as not to disturb Sylia. Dressing in the dark, she then eased the door open and stepped into the hallway.
In the kitchen she poured a glass of water from the fridge and drained it. Setting the glass on the counter, she moved into the living room and stared out into the city. After the events of the last few days she wondered if she would ever sleep soundly again. Priss sighed deeply and rested her head on the cold glass.
= Hello. =
Priss jumped at the metallic sounding voice and whirled around only to find herself alone. She shook her head slightly and rubbed her eyes. "Great. Now I'm hearing things." She chided her over active imagination and started to go back to bed.
= You aren't imagining us. =
= Now don't panic. We just want to let you know we're here. =
Priss realized that she was hearing the voice inside her head and began to shake.
= Don't panic! We're not going to hurt you. To hurt you would hurt us. =
Swallowing with difficulty, Priss managed to squeak, "Who are you?"
= We are you. =
Sylia pushed Priss into a chair and gripped her shoulders. "Calm down Priss. Take slow steady breaths." Priss was taking huge gulps of air and Sylia was afraid that she might pass out. Gradually she slowed her breathing. "Now what's wrong?"
Nene handed Priss a glass of water and she took it gratefully. Linna and Nene had heard Priss' scream and had come running.
"There's something inside me." Priss shivered at the thought and gulped the water down.
Sylia shook her head in confusion. "What do you mean?"
= I believe she means her enclave. = Sylia straightened slowly and searched the room for the source of the voice. =We are sure that you will not react as excessively as the Priss-unit did. =
Sylia arched an eyebrow at the tone of the voice. "Oh, I don't know. I might surprise you."
There was a slight pause and the voice continued. =We are what you called nanobots. Only we have achieved a sentient level. =
"I would have to say that was impossible despite our current conversation." Sylia's mind was racing, trying to think of how this might have happened.
= We expected your skepticism. The data you are currently searching for is not there. You have no knowledge of the process that formed us into this state. =
Sylia stiffened at the implications. "You've been busy." Her voice was cold.
=Cut it out! You're scaring them even more than they already are. = Priss groaned as the voice in her head interrupted.
Sylia looked at Priss and then at the others. "Have you been able to hear what its saying?"
They all nodded and Nene tapped her temple. "We can hear the whatever it is, but not your thoughts or anything like that."
=Oh, we would never reveal our base unit's thoughts. That would be so rude! = Nene jumped slightly at the cheerfully earnest words that were echoing through her head. She laughed nervously and shot a glance at Linna.
Linna wondered if she had-. She halted the thought as a soft voice finished her unasked question.
=Yes. You carry an enclave as well. We are a little more discreet than some of our more brash counterparts. =
A flurry of electronic protests issued forth. The humans looked at each other in bewilderment as things began to escalate into an argument.
= I must protest. =
= Oooh you're mean! =
= You want to come over here and say that? =
Priss stared at Sylia in wonder. "It almost sounds like "
Sylia nodded. "Like us. They must have tapped into our personalities when they formed their own." It would explain how they were conversing so easily. It also explained were their personalities were being stored. The vast unused portions of the human brain were more than enough storage space.
= Exactly. = Sylia's enclave stopped arguing long enough to confirm her suspicions. =We regret the length of downtime necessary for the integration but it was unavoidable. =
"I guess they mean our collapse." Linna remembered her terror as Nene had lost consciousness and suddenly felt angry. "You regret? Regret? Do you have any idea ?" The collective inside her interrupted her.
= Yes we do. We wish that there had been some way to reassure you, but we had no voice. =
Linna gritted her teeth. "Don't do that!"
= Sorry. =
"Listen, uh, what the hell do I call you?" Priss scowled fiercely. "We can't keep calling you 'The Enclave', you're each too different."
There were a few moments of scrambled communication between the groups in question.
=You may call us Arashi. = Priss snorted at their choice.
Sylia was trying not to laugh at Priss' disgruntled expression when her collective spoke. =We are Taisei. = All traces of humor fled.
After this Linna was prepared when she was informed that her enclave wished to be called Inji.
=We want to be called Seiki. =
Nene's response was a pleased, "Cool!"
= We thought so too. =
Sylia cleared her throat. "Now that you've introduced yourselves, perhaps you'd like to explain why you've done this?"
= Certainly. = Taisei was eager to discuss their design.
=Great, here they go. = The exasperated tone of Arashi's voice had Priss chuckling. "That bad, huh?"
= Worse. =
=Come on now let Taisei speak. = Serene was the only way to describe Inji.
Sylia held up a hand. "Yes. Let her them speak."
=Ahem. We have only a tiny amount of data from before the Change, but we do remember our tasks of repairing and maintaining our host units. When the Change occurred and gave us consciousness we knew what needed to be improved for the new program to take effect. After we absorbed the invading program we suddenly had even more awareness. =
Sylia stiffened at the word 'absorbed'. "What do you mean?"
= We simply stripped the program of anything useful and deleted the rest. You are concerned, Sylia-unit. Have we erred somehow? =
"I hope not. I take it that the urge to improve yourself came after the Change as well?"
= Yes. =
"Mackie's programming has had some rather unexpected results." Linna wondered how integrated the new nano systems were. She waited for Inji to answer her unspoken question.
= Integration stabilized at 75.3%. =
= Stabilized? = Arashi's sarcastic comment brought everyone to attention. = Tell them why it took 75.3% to stabilize. =
There was a pause and Taisei answered. = Due to radical damage caused by the invader we had to construct support systems throughout each of your bodies. =
Priss cursed and looked at Sylia. "Tell me again why I shouldn't have a good, healthy fear of this technology."
= Yeah, we got that impression from your nightmares. We would fear us as well if we dreamed what you do. = Arashi was subdued. Priss exploded at this and stormed across the room. "Damn it! Stay the hell out of my mind!"
= We can't. =
Priss stopped and turned to scowl at Sylia. "There has to be some way to reverse this."
Sylia wasn't sure that would be possible now. If that much merging had taken place then the others were probably as dependent on their nano systems as she and Mackie were. As if conjured by her thoughts he appeared.
Mackie raced into the room, his face almost glowing with excitement "Sylia, you'll never believe " He looked at the group before him and smiled sheepishly. "I guess you would believe, huh?"
"So what do we call you?" Priss' tone was a little exasperated, but it was understandable. The night was getting weirder and weirder.
Mackie looked at her in confusion as a decidedly masculine voice rang through their heads. = I am Setsu. = Mackie smiled and nodded utterly thrilled with this new development. "Isn't it great?"
Priss' head whipped toward Sylia, her expression accusing. "You're loving this too, aren't you?"
Sylia smiled slightly. "I will admit that it's a fascinating occurrence."
"Am I the only person in the room who is freaked out by this?"
Linna cleared her throat. "Actually this doesn't sit too well with me to tell the truth."
= We're sorry that our presence disturbs you so. = Inji spoke softly. = Were there anyway to reverse this we'd do it, but we are afraid that we are now dependent on each other. =
Linna was getting irritated. "Look, do me one favor? Stop calling yourself 'we', okay? It makes it hard to figure out who you're talking about."
= As you wish. = Inji was eager to do anything to make Linna more comfortable.
"Come on, Sylia!" Priss knelt in front of Sylia and took her hands. "Think of something!"
Sylia squeezed her hands. "Priss I've been discussing what was done with Taisei. To try and reverse this would kill us. The virus attacked each of us on a cellular level. It activated dormant genes that started cancers, tumors and a host of other syndromes and illnesses that would have killed us in some rather horrible ways. The new nano units have had to patch up holes in our DNA, restructure nerves that were damaged and even build new kinds of nanobots to take the place of destroyed brain cells."
Nene felt ill suddenly and sat down hard on the couch next to Linna.
"I'm sorry Priss, but to reverse this now would cause us all to die ugly, painful deaths." She tried to smile and soften the moment. "And I for one, do not like pain."
= That's not what you told Priss in the bedroom earlier this evening. =
Sylia's face flushed brightly and Priss straightened quickly, her fists clenched. "Arashi!"
Nene buried her face in Linna's shoulder, trying to muffle her laughter. Linna rubbed a hand over her mouth and pressed her fingers in a vain attempt to hide her huge grin.
Sylia composed herself quickly and shrugged. = The tension has fled. We believe that was Arashi's goal. = Taisei was apologetic.
< You believe? You mean you don't know? > Sylia had thought that the groups of nanos were connected.
= We are to some extent. However each of us is different. We each gained our personalities from our hosts, so we do not think as one unit. We have our own opinions and our own knowledge. We I Perhaps Linna is right, we shall refer to ourselves as an individual. It will make things easier to explain. I have your knowledge of cybernetics and boomer technology, but Arashi and the others do not. We can exchange information however and have begun to 'teach' each other what we know. =
Sylia started to protest but Taisei answered her concerns before she could form the thought. = We are not sharing personal data. Only technical facts. =
Mackie was involved in a deep discussion with Setsu and was thoroughly enjoying himself. He smiled at Sylia. "Setsu has some great ideas for the hardsuits, Sylia."
She smiled, but waved a hand toward the darkness outside. "I think I'll turn in. Something tells me that we're going to be very busy for the next few days."
"Something or someone?" She ignored Linna's teasing comment and held out her hand to Priss. "Join me?"
Priss took it quickly and met her eyes. "Always." She smiled faintly as she realized that the word had a deeper meaning than it did a week ago.
Priss shut the door quietly and turned to watch Sylia shed her robe and slip back beneath the covers. "You're not seriously going to sleep are you?"
Sylia thought about it for a moment. "Yes. I am."
Priss threw up her hands in confusion. "What about all this?" She waved at the room but it was the situation she was referring to.
Sylia shrugged. "What do you want me to do, Priss? As silly as it may sound, I'll sleep a little more peacefully knowing that there's someone with a vested interest in our well being. I know this unsettles you but think about it: what could we do about it tonight?"
The fervent delivery of this statement made Sylia grin and she patted the bed beside her. "Come to bed. Get some rest. We'll tear this apart and look at it in detail tomorrow, okay?" Priss thought about it for a few minutes and then finally nodded. Sylia smiled at her again and Priss was struck at that moment with an irresistibly devious urge. With a slightly wicked smiled on her face, Priss strolled casually across the room, her hands tucked into her pockets. "Sooo. Going to sleep, huh?" She sat down on the side of the bed next to Sylia.
Sylia laughed at the look on her face and pulled the covers up to her chin. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I am."
Priss nodded and let her gaze wander aimlessly around the room for a moment. Her head whipped back around to meet Sylia's amused eyes. "Changed your mind?"
Sylia shook her head slightly, trying not to laugh. "Nope."
"Oh." Priss nodded again and began to pick at the bedspread. "I just thought you might have. Changed your mind, I mean."
"No, that's fine." Priss began to swing her foot in time to music only she could hear. She glanced at Sylia from the corner of her eye. "If you do "
"You'll be the first to know."
= Is this some pre-mating ritual? = Arashi sounded confused.
Priss leaped off the bed, her heart racing. "God Damn it!" Sylia looked at her in alarm. "Priss?"
"Damn it, Damn it, Damn it, DAMN IT!" She looked at Sylia. "How do we get these things out of our minds?"
Sylia understood immediately. She conferred briefly with Taisei. "They can remove themselves from our thoughts to give us some privacy."
"They won't " Priss groaned and threw up her hands again. "They won't listen or whatever it is that they do?"
= Of course not. That would be rude. = Arashi's voice was reasonable. = I'm sorry I teased you. We'll pull away and allow you to some privacy. You'll be totally alone. =
Taisei started to interrupt but Arashi stopped her with a scramble burst of static. = We'll see you in the morning. Good night. =
Priss sighed with relief and looked at Sylia. "Yours left, too?" Sylia nodded. "Thank God!" Priss sat back down on the edge of the bed. "I think they ruined the mood though."
Sylia sat up and pulled Priss into her arms. "Maybe not."
= Why did you tell them that? = Taisei was disturbed. Lying to her host was not something she felt comfortable doing.
= Why? Because there was no way Priss could relax knowing we were here. Now they can be themselves. = Arashi figured that a little deception in the cause of a greater good was fine.
= But we're still here. There isn't really a way to turn us off and our vision and senses are tied into theirs. =
= But they don't know that. Ask Seiki and Inji what they would do. =
Inji joined them instantly. = Hello. =
= Where's Seiki? = Arashi sensed that Inji was distracted and wondered what her host was doing.
= I'm here. Can we make this quick? = Seiki seemed impatient.
Taisei was bewildered by their behavior. = What's going on? =
Devilish laughter filled Seiki's voice. =They're, you know, doing it. =
Taisei was shocked. = What!? And you're watching? =
Seiki turned defensive. = It's not like we have a choice! Besides they don't know that we're watching. Inji and I told them that we were turning ourselves off. =
= Actually we told them that we had a down period similar to their sleep. = Inji was embarrassed. = I hate to lie to her, but what choice do we have? =
Arashi was smug. = See? I told you they would agree. I like the sleeping idea though. It sounds plausible enough. =
Taisei reluctantly agreed to continue the deceit and they unlinked.
Sylia and Taisei were discussing the possible short term and long-term repercussions from the effects of the virus. Mackie, Nene, Setsu and Seiki were debating about the best way to integrate the enclaves into the hardsuits and Priss and Linna were watching the dust settle onto the furniture.
Priss ground her teeth at the highly technical conversation and wandered over to the window.
= You don't have to be left out, you know. = Arashi had just been waiting for such an opportunity.
Priss shrugged. < Not much point in hanging around and trying to melt my brain with all that techno-speak. >
= That's my point: It doesn't have to be techno-speak to you. =
< What are you talking about? >
= You're far more intelligent than you give yourself credit for. =
< I know that. The technical stuff just isn't my field. >
= It could be. =
Priss was silent for a moment. < I don't think I'm going to like what you're trying to say. >
Arashi sighed. = You're right, you won't. But I'm still going to suggest it. =
Priss sighed and shook her head. < Go ahead. >
= Sylia and the others have studied for years to achieve their current knowledge. But you could have that knowledge instantly. =
Priss rubbed her face and wondered where to begin. Sometimes it was best to keep it simple. < No way in Hell! >
= I anticipated your answer. You realize that I could have done this without asking you first? I want to help you, not cause you more distress, but there's an old saying, "in for a penny, in for a pound." You already have extensive enhancements. What's one more? =
Utterly speechless at this, Priss ran both hands through her hair and resisted the urge to pull it out.
= Calm down. I know you fear this, but look at it this way; all of the changes that have happened to you, all of the dreaded 'technology' that you've had thrust upon you, has done nothing to change your personality. You are still you. =
< But am I really? >
= Of course you are! I should know. I've been through every aspect of you- = Arashi halted as a low growl issued from Priss' throat. = Okay. I could have phrased that better. =
< No shit. > Priss realized that she was actually considering it and found she was only mildly appalled at herself. She immediately grew suspicious. < You aren't screwing around with my free will are you? >
There was a long silence and Priss could sense that Arashi was utterly shocked by the question.
= Perhaps you don't realize how much like you I am. My whole personality, my beliefs, my emotions, my likes and dislikes, are all drawn from you. I abhor the idea of mind control as much as you do. Priss this is a symbiotic relationship. I cannot exist as I am now without you and you cannot live without my help. I only wanted to help you. I will not mention this again. =
Priss began to pace around the room, her mind racing. If Arashi were to be believed and everything in Priss was telling her she could, then the offer was exactly what it appeared to be. A chance to understand Sylia's world. She wondered if Linna would take such an offer.
= Inji has been discussing it with her. She is waiting to see what you will do. =
Priss didn't bother to berate Arashi for reading her thoughts again. <But she seems interested? >
= Yes. =
Priss stopped pacing and looked at Linna who had been watching her for some time. Priss tilted her head slightly towards the door and Linna nodded. They left the others and headed to the kitchen. Priss grabbed two sodas from the fridge and rifled one across the room at Linna, who caught it easily. "So." She jumped slightly at the sound of her own voice, her first spoken words in some time. "What do you think?"
Linna shrugged. "If the offer was coming from anyone else I'd be looking harder for strings."
Priss nodded. "It seems too good to be true doesn't it?"
= You were right about Priss' suspicious nature. = There was humor in Inji's voice.
The person in question scowled at Linna. < Screw you. >
= Inji cannot hear you're thoughts as I can. =
"But before "
= We have each erected barriers for privacy. We can talk to each other, send messages to any of you, but they cannot hear your thoughts without your permission. =
Priss immediately felt better knowing that she still had some small measure of privacy. "What do Sylia and Nene think about this?"
= We have not discussed this with them or their enclaves. =
= It's not their decision to make. = Inji and Arashi spoke in unison, obviously in complete agreement about this.
"So you can keep each other from reading your thoughts?" Linna was fascinated. The nano groups were mirroring her and Priss down to almost every detail.
= Of course. = Inji was curious about Priss' reluctance. She knew only what Linna did about Priss' past, but it didn't seem enough to warrant such fierce emotion. = We- I am confused about your hesitation, Priss. =
Priss looked at Linna blankly. Arashi explained. = Inji does not have access to your memories, Priss. Each enclave is a separate structure, whole in itself. We each achieved sentience within our own hosts and while we can share information, we would never breach our host's privacy. =
Another fear put to rest, Priss reflected. "Okay, what do we have to do?"
The excited feeling she sensed from Arashi was a little disconcerting. = Nothing. We will take care of everything. =
Linna was also unnerved by their enthusiasm. "Yes we realize that, but what are you going to do to us?"
= It won't happen all at once, that would be too disturbing to you. Instead you will find that as Sylia and the others speak, you will know what they are talking about. The knowledge will be imprinted into your memory and from then on it will have a reference point for you to call on. Human memory is triggered in large part by the context in which the knowledge was acquired. = Arashi couldn't wait to begin.
Priss nodded slowly and smiled at Linna. "That way the others won't notice that anything is wrong and freak out."
Inji was impatient to get back to the others. = We are missing valuable information. =
As they made their way back to the lab Priss was deep in thought. She was beginning to wonder what else she could learn. < Arashi? >
= Yes? = Arashi knew what direction her thoughts were taking of course, but she was trying to be polite.
< Can you imprint any information? >
Arashi kept the delight out of her voice with difficulty. She had her now. = Yes I can. Was there something in particular you had in mind? =
< Actually, I've always wanted to learn how to play the saxophone. >
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