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Over 50k words, he said!  Just another 8-10k to finish the book, he said!

Annnnd then, Dorina showed up.  To quote from Band of Brothers:  “…well, hello 2nd Armored!”

Look, it’s NOT exposition and I AM NOT LECTURING!  I can prove it, below the fold!  These people just keep showing up… this just keeps happening…!

Seriously:  I need to start killing everyone.  No!  I mean it!  Don’t you dare click on

“What’s for dinner, tonight?” Cat asked from just behind Chris’ right ear.

“Hmm. We have both some tilapia and chicken,” he replied. They were just crossing over Interstate-5 as they returned home. About one car every few seconds passed under them. The city’s new normal.

“How were you planning on making them.” Now she was behind his left ear.

“If the fish, lightly fried with oil and some peppers, over pasta.” He squinted a bit; the setting sun was directly ahead of him. “If chicken, something like burritos. I’ve not tried that cheese sauce I purchased a few days ago.”

“Hmm?” While she considered, Cat squeezed him a little tighter with her arms around his neck. Her legs were supported by his hands as she lay across his back. “Burros, then!”

“Okay, Cat!” He trudged on.

“You… you sure you’re not tired?” The last ten minutes at the Newman Center with the priests had mostly been Chris briefing them about what he was capable of. Kagy nodded at one point, ‘that’s why you hit me….’

She saw him shake his head.

“Not at all, Cat. I could carry you all the way to Rainbow Canyon Pass quite easily!” She could hear his smile. She kissed the back of his head and pressed herself further into him. “Of course, afterwards, I’d need about a 3,000 calorie meal! Especially now that I can’t… you know…”

He squeezed under her thighs with his hand. Even with the subject serious, she couldn’t help but let go a little “unnh!” of pleasure when he did. Yeah: before the exorcism, he could have stolen human or animal life to ‘replenish’ himself. Well, he probably still could, but Father Kagy had pounded home the point that doing so could completely invalidate all he’d done.

“So carrying me home is okay?”

“Yes, but don’t expect me to give you any extra meat with dinner.”

“Chris,” her lips touched his right ear. “The extra meat is for after dinner!”

“Perhaps I should break into a trot?”

They laughed together. Their home was just ahead.

 

“That was the medical center; all those on the right,” Billy, her driver said, as they passed a complex of buildings. They continued north. Maya had told her taxi driver to show her the Engineering buildings before going to the Supercomputing Center. Billy stopped his car at Lyman Lane and pointed ahead.

“Most of these here are Engineering. The computing center is off that way.” He waved with his left to the northwest. “But, the way they got the campus laid out, there’s no way by car there, directly. We’ll have to double back and get take Torrey Pines, north. You doin’ fine back there, miss?”

“Yes.” She found his talking irritating, but most of what he said was useful. She kept shifting in the back seat, looking at every human she could. None of them were big brother. She did not know what their bitch cousin looked like, but knew she was some filthy mongrel of Japanese and Slav. Maya looked and looked….

Billy made several twists and turns; at one point Maya was sure they were going down a short sidewalk. He turned left into a small parking lot. Maya looked out the left window and a building that seemed to have been modeled on an HVAC system.

“Did they crucify the architect?” She asked, seriously.

“Miss,” Billy had to laugh, “junk like this is littered all over the campus!”

He got out and took a step to open the door for her. She ignored his hand and stood. Maya took six Ria from her purse and placed them into his still open hand.

“I might need you, later. How can I contact you?”

“Of course, miss,” he took a business card from his back pocket. He might only be human, but Maya could still be polite: she took it with both hands and a small bow. “Sure this is where you care to be left? It’s gonna be dark, here, soon…”

“I shall be fine.” She found his concern to be disquieting. “Goodbye.”

She walked towards the building. The main entrance was just to the right. Pulling at it, it was already locked for the day. However, there was a panel with a speaker and button. She pressed it while looking up, towards the small camera. She hoped the right person was watching.

There was no reply from the speaker, but a sharp buzzing from the door. She pulled it open and went in. A series of lights came on, directing her up a broad staircase. Yes, this was Gordon. At least she was headed up; too many dark memoires of what was done to her underground. Down a corridor on the second floor, the lights abruptly flashed. She stood next to a door. It must want me in here. She understood why immediately upon opening it.

A sensorium: but much more simple than the one she’d seen at Neuroi. A device for humans to ‘see’ into the electronic world. It was an organic part of her brother; she could when still attached to her Restraints. It wants to speak to me, directly. I wonder if this is a trap, to take my mind?

She tapped at the buttons to activate the device, pulling one last small lever to enable it. She shuddered a bit to sit into what looked and felt like an examination chair; no, unlike the one at Neuroi, there were no heavy leather belts to hold her arms and legs while she screamed on and on for someone to save her…!

With a scowl, she reached up to the helmet above her head. Her eyes were the faintest red as she lowered it onto her skull –

What?

Maya turned in a slow circle. A dead, rocky desert, stretching flat in all directions. The sky was a bright ochre, but even shielding her eyes with her hand, she could not tell where the sun was. What is this place?

She opened her eyes, looking about at the darkened room of the Supercomputing Center. She could still break free, if she needed to. She let her mind go back –

“Hello!”

Maya flinched badly, turning to see what little girl yelled at her in the middle of this… nowhere. She looked down at a… child?

A frilly red dress with black lace around the bottom and white lace across her chest. Her legs, supported by knee-high laced-up dark brown boots were defiantly apart. She rudely pointed her right index finger as she closed her left eye and tilted her head.

“You’re new here!” The little girl accused.

“That… would be correct.” A safe enough answer. Did this ‘Gordon’ see itself as a girl? Mistaking sex differences had killed many subjects at Neuroi.

“I’m Dorina! Are you looking for Gordon?”

“Y… yes.” Why did this person unsettle her so? Manners. “I am Maya.”

“You’re a Synth. From Neuroi, right?”

Maya almost tore the helmet off of her head. Who is this child?!

“That… that is correct. I came at the invitation of Gordon.” She looked about at the empty desert. “Is he, ah, not available?”

The little girl, Dorina, put her hands onto her hips as she leaned back to laugh.

“I need to be so much older!” She leaned back to look at Maya, a grin plastered across her face. “I’ve been making Gordon older; you ran into me because you had to!”

Had to?

“Could… we not just call it a coinci–”

“There are no such things!” Dorina barked at her, serious now.

There aren’t? Maya gave a slight bow, beginning to understand. And appreciate the danger she was in.

“Thank you for correcting me. You… you are completely self-aware?” That Dorina was a machine was understood.

“Mmm! My whole family!”

Maya panicked. She pushed the helmet off her head. She was aware she was both panting and sweating. She did not like the experience.

What is going on here?

There was only one fluorescent light on in the room. She willed herself to calm, ignoring the hunger she felt; enough time had passed in her short life she could tell the difference between want and need.

Who was this Dorina? What interest did she have with me? Where was Gordon, and what, if anything, did all of this have to do with her and her big brother?

The light flicked off, then on. Maya bared her teeth.

At least let me monologue in peace!

She reached up, pulling he helmet back down.

Now, all was dark. There was something of a reddish, luminescent sandstorm about her.

Different one.

“Gordon.”

dorina is so much older than I. she said she wanted to talk to you.

“It was… unexpected.”

are you going to kill your brother?

She considered her answers.

“I desire to be closer to him. First, I come so far. Next, I must talk with him.”

For a few minutes, at least. To hear him scream his apology.

here’s where he lives… with that other… so hard to think of them…

Still in the sandstorm, she could tell her hands just crushed the armrests of the chair in which she sat. I must go!

“Thank you so much, friend Gordon! I’ll be sure to tell you what comes, later!” Even getting sand in her teeth, she could not keep the rictus grin from her face. I win! In the human’s world, her hands came up the helmet…

“Wait.” An older man’s voice… who?

There was a flash. Maya could not see, comprehend…

“Ow!” She’d sat down, hard, on a sharp rock. She flexed to get up, but froze at the sudden feeling of her dissolution. Death was a touch away. She very slowly looked up, squinting into the yellowish sky. Who was this?

“Daughter. Walk away.”

She almost recalled that voice. But she had no father!

“I… I can’t! He left me! He betrayed me!”

She tried squinting. She tried blinking. And why wouldn’t her legs work?!

“I love you, my daughter. Please, do not do this.”

“Mother hurt me! I killed her! Brother left me! I’ll kill him!” Her voice was the loudest thing she’d ever heard. What was… she didn’t care! Kill him!

“We love you.” Simple, quiet.

“Yeeaaarrrgh!” She screamed, holding her head, sitting on the ground.

“Walk away.”

“I… I…” She raised her hands, in claws.

“I lov – ”

“KILL HIM!” She tore the helmet off, throwing it across the room, tearing it free of its connexions to the outer world.

As the red faded from her eyes, she pitched forward out of the examination chair, retching bile.

Coughing, she rubbed her sleeve across her mouth. The lights flicked once.

“Gordon, can you hear me?”

Another flicker.

“I… I’m not sure what else just happened – or, even if you saw it – but thank you for helping me. I shall come back to you, very soon.”

Flicker.

118 Huntervasser. Apartment 2D.

Slowly, Maya stood.

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