The Enhanced: TRI - 35

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By Diana M. Howe, Edited by Melanie Howe, Cover art by Monica Plant
Copyright © 2004, 2015 by Diana M. Howe
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express written permission of the copyright holder.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are
Used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


Previously

“David, you had better do as he says and not antagonize him any further. Remember, he not only rescued us, but also has done more against The Council than we ever did,” he glanced at Lia, “and yes, young lady, I recognise you as well, but if you are working with Dr. Howard, I’ll wait to hear the full story before making any rash judgements.” The older man took control of the tense situation with an air of authority. He took the neutralizer from David’s hand and walked back to clamp it on Theo’s wrist.

Chapter Thirty Five
Cry Havok
‘It is a wise father that knows his own child.’
The Merchant of Venice by W. Shakespeare

It was nearing midnight on the eighth of June when a very weary Greg landed his motley collection of survivors in the yard of the AERI. He was nearly bowled over by both Betina and Hestia when he entered the main room. Lia joined the embrace, which went on for several minutes before Nikoli cleared his throat behind them. Greg broke from the women with a little difficulty.

“I’m sorry Major, allow me to introduce you to part of my family. Lia Tang, who you’ve already have met briefly, Betina Becker, my Major-domo and good right hand and my daughter Hestia. Ladies, The SIX. Hestia, where’s Julian?” Greg asked looking around the room.

“He’s still in Mission Control, going over the data. He’s trying to figure out what caused the malfunction in the ship. Should I call him up?” she offered.

“Yes Dear, I have the missing piece of data that he needs. Can you figure out some accommodations for our guests too please? Trish and I really need a shower and some down time,” he looked at his co pilot, who seemed asleep on her feet. “You too Lia, and that’s an order. eight hours of sleep at least and no arguments,” Greg insisted. “Hes, have Julian meet me in my quarters.”

Greg trudged slowly to his rooms and was not surprised to find the Professor already there. Julian nodded once and spoke.

“I need you to tell me what happened Greg, and then I’ll need to debrief Trish,” Julian sounded concerned and curious all at the same time. Greg stopped short and spun towards the Professor.

“Why do you need both accounts? Will you be grilling Lia as well?” he asked churlishly, then ran his hand across his face and looked at the floor for a moment. “I’m sorry Julian, I’m tired and angry and confused. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that,” he apologised.

“Don’t worry about it Son,” Julian smiled sympathetically. “I need your account first, with all its emotional colouring, then I’ll get Trish’s account, which will be more observational in nature and finally, I’ll interview the rest of them tomorrow. That should paint the complete picture of what happened aboard. We will then review the statements against the real time log that was recorded here up until the time Hina stopped transmitting. Solomon?”

“Yes Professor?” the mech responded.

“Recording testimony of Rescue One mission and aftermath, statement number one: Greg Howard, Captain,” Julian started the log recording. Greg cleared his throat and began to relate his memories of the mission.

“…and from that point forward, I just had to concentrate on getting to the ground with our skins intact. It wasn't until we were safely groundside that I could start to let my emotions out. I was as professional as I could be under the circumstances. I did lose my temper with Mr. Andover, however, Major Rasmussen was the calm voice of reason that managed to bring us home,” he relayed wearily. “That’s about it Professor. That’s as clearly as I can recall it without getting Trish to fill in any blanks I may have. I figure you probably don’t want that anyway,” Greg concluded. Sitting in one of the big chairs in his bedroom, he waited for the Professor to respond. Julian cleared his throat.

“Solomon, end recording statement number one,” the older man commanded. “Greg that was exactly what I wanted. In my opinion, you acted professionally and did what you had to do. But now I need to speak with Tricia please.” Greg blinked sleepily and then threw the mental trigger for Alter-Ego. Trish smiled at her father and then stood up.

“Father, can this wait for 15 minutes? Greg was being very polite and accommodating but if I don’t get out of this suit and have a quick shower and a pee, I’ll scream,” she said over her shoulder. Not waiting for his reply, she walked towards the washroom, shucking off the ACM as she went. Julian chortled at his daughter.

“Solomon, that young woman has exceeded all of my hopes and dreams for her. She is truly her own person now, so much different from the scared little girl we sent out into the world, what, two years ago now?”

“Affirmative Professor… TRI Ca has become a most human person. It gives me great hope for the others,” the machine confirmed.

Trish returned from the washroom in a light robe, vigorously towelling her hair. She crossed the room, sat down in the chair across from her father, and cocked her head to one side to look at him.

“You know Father… the time you've spent here really has made a difference in you. You seem to have grown younger. Almost all of the stress that you were carrying before seems to have been washed away,” she smiled tenderly at the man who had given her life.

“You can thank my Granddaughter and Ms. Becker for that. They have been quite wonderful in my recovery and mental healing,” he told her happily. “I must compliment you as well My Dear, you’re growing up so strong and true. I am so proud of you,” Julian cleared his throat and began again.

“Solomon, recording testimony of events of mission Rescue One and its aftermath, statement number two: TRI Ca.”

“…I had observed that Theo Baht had been staring at Lia Tang throughout most of the return journey, however, I didn't see it as a threat. I simply thought he was attracted to Lia,” Trish related. “Lia had expressed some concern to me about meeting The SIX again, and considering the fact that they were in opposition during the battle of The Mall, these were definitely understandable concerns. I simply didn’t derive a correct conclusion until I detected a sharp spike in electromagnetic energy just after we began re-entry. When Major Rasmussen called out, and managed to redirect the energy blast, he couldn't have known that he'd be doing more harm than good. He is completely blameless in these events. Captain Howard kept his head throughout the evacuation and subsequent landing manoeuvres. He behaved professionally except for a momentary lapse during a brief confrontation with Dreamwalker. He quickly regained his self-control and, with the assistance of Major Rasmussen, returned us all home safely. End of report, TRI Ca,” Trish finished smoothly.

“End recording, Solomon,” Julian directed. “Thank you Tricia, I won’t keep you awake any longer. I’d like you to meet the rest of us in the conference room tomorrow afternoon, oh, I should say today at 13:00 hours, OK?” Julian concluded the debriefing.

Trish rose from her chair, hugged her father, and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

“Of course Daddy, Good Night,” Trish obliged. Julian exited the room and Trish turned out the lights from their bed.

Greg woke up at 10:00am and walked to the washroom. He took a shower, went to the toilet and walked back into the bedroom to dress. It wasn't until he saw his reflected image in the closet mirror that he realized he was still in Trish's form.

“Humph, guess you really can get used to anything and considering what we’ve been through lately, this doesn't even register on the weird meter,” he cocked an eyebrow at the mirror. He dressed them in a tracksuit and sneakers, brushed their hair and shuffled off in search of coffee or failing that, some really strong tea. He was well into his second cup of Russian black tea when he noticed he wasn’t alone in the kitchen. Major Rasmussen was leaning back against the wall by the window just staring out at the forest. He noticed he had been observed, turned and smiled sweetly.

“Хорошее Утро, what a glorious place this is! The stillness reminds me of the forests of my home,” he sighed.

“And Good Morning to you Major,” Greg returned the greeting. “I assume I have you to thank for this excellent tea. It’s a real eye-opener!” Nikoli blinked and blurted out in some surprise.

“Pardon me Madam, but you seem to have the advantage of me, have we met?”
Greg chuckled at Nikoli’s discomfort. He stood and walked over to the window.

“Well Major, please allow me to introduce myself, I’m Dr. Gregory Howard,” Greg held out Trish’s hand.

Morning Darlin’ Man, what are you up to?

Trish asked.

I’m just having some fun with Major Rasmussen. Take over and introduce yourself, will you? I’ve gotten him all flustered,

Greg returned.

Trish looked at Nikoli and smiled.

“I have to apologise for Greg, I wasn’t quite awake yet and he has a bit of a twisted sense of humour. I am Tricia Saber-Howard. We share a body. two minds, one physicality,” she smiled apologetically. She triggered Alter-Ego and Greg was suddenly in front of Nikoli. Niki jumped and then shook his head ruefully.

“Yes, this was explained a while ago, if I remember correctly. Boize Moi!” he cussed. “You would think that I’d be used to the unusual by now. Doctor? May I speak again to your… partner?” he addressed Greg formally. Greg smiled gently as he was beginning to like the big Russian. He switched again and Trish once more faced Nikoli, who grinned hugely.

“It is indeed a pleasure to meet you in the flesh, so-to-speak. I have so many questions for you and really have no idea where to begin,” Nikoli sounded confused.

“Major, please join me here at the table. Can I offer you anything, coffee, tea?” Trish invited. Nikoli moved toward the table with an artless grace that belied his size and sat down opposite Trish.

“Thank you, no. Please call me Nikoli, Ms. Howard. I was speaking with Professor Saber earlier this morning and after he finished debriefing me about the events of yesterday, he left me with an offer that, quite frankly, perplexes me,” Nikoli furrowed his brow as if he were trying to find the correct phrasing for his next question, so Trish jumped in, deftly filling the awkward silence.

“Please… call me Trish. What did Father say to you that has you so puzzled Nikoli?” she gently prompted.

“Professor Saber said that you had started your existence as an artificial intelligence and now were… bonded? To Dr. Howard? That you act as sort of a mental co-pilot and assistant to the Doctor in his missions? Moreover, you have become as human as Dr. Howard? Is this correct?” Niki frowned as he tried again to make sense of this information.

“Yes Nikoli, I did start out as a sentient AI created by my father, Professor Saber. The ‘bonding’ process, as my father calls it, happened in 2 stages. The first was the physical bond that occurred when Greg put on the PNE suit. Over the course of several months, when Greg’s physical and mental systems were rebuilt, we became bonded in mind and, as Greg would have it, soul. We are closer than any husband and wife could possibly be and our bond is stronger than that of siblings. We love each other deeply. A similar process was supposed to happen to you, but due to the actions of The Council of Twenty and their attack on my father’s original home, that process was never completed, robbing you of valuable information, abilities and companionship,” Trish paused, letting the man absorb what she had said. She then reached across the table and took his hand in hers continuing her story…

“Nikoli, I know what my father has offered you. A chance to bond with the being that was supposed to be your other self and it frightens you a little. Have you talked with Lia?” Trish asked. “She bonded with Father’s AI and I have watched her blossom from a frightened child who had been abused and bullied into actions not of her own choosing, into a confident, powerful, self-reliant woman and heroine,” Trish’s pride was evident in her voice and she encouraged The Bear further. “Talk to Hestia, who is a pure artificial intelligence, but you would never know it by talking with her. Finally, ask Father to introduce you to AND Ru,” she finished and gave his big hand a squeeze.

“Andrew?” Nikoli asked in confusion, “Who is he? Besides the Professor and Greg, I didn’t think there were any other men here. I mean besides my cohorts.” Once again the big man looked puzzled. Trish giggled and squeezed Nikoli’s hand again.

“Not ‘Andrew’,” she winked, “EH – EN – DEE – ARE – YOU. He’s the AI that would have bonded with you, had there been time. I think you’ll like him… he’s got an excellent sense of humour.” Nikoli smiled in spite of himself.

“Go Niki,” Trish continued, “talk to them and then make up your own mind, but don’t take too long, we have a meeting downstairs at 13:00. OK?”

“Da pretty lady,” Nikoli smiled. “I do envy Dr. Howard though.”

“Oh? Why?” Trish was genuinely curious.

“It’s obvious he got the pick of the Saber litter,” Nikoli smiled toothily. He tipped an imaginary hat to Trish and walked out of the kitchen whistling.

In the hours between her talk with Nikoli and the meeting, Trish spoke with four of the other five members of The SIX. All of them had the same line of questions for her so she suggested that each of them get to know their AI counterparts and speak with Hestia as well as Lia. The only person who wouldn’t talk to her was Theo. He stayed in his assigned room and only came out for food. She had knocked on his door but he had rudely told her to get lost. As she walked away, she bumped into Nikoli again, who noticed the slight frown on her face and stopped.

“What is troubling a pretty lady on such a day?” he asked her pleasantly.

“I was just trying to speak with Theo, but he refuses to see me. I had hoped to help him with any concerns he might have, with what Father spoke to all of you about,” Trish relayed.

“I see, and Theo is being stubborn. Ah, the storms of youth… would you like me to speak with him on your behalf?” Nikoli offered gallantly. “I have just come back from chatting with Andrew and have learnt quite a lot. You were right about him Trish… he does have a marvellous sense of humour.”

“Would you please Nikoli? It’s terribly important that he understand the choices available to him. Without his bondmate, there’s no way of predicting or calming his reactions,” she explained further. “Father is worried he could go rogue without a counterpart to balance his emotions,” Trish sighed with gratitude.

“Really? I mean, he is rash and sometimes impetuous, but going off on his own and causing problems?” Nikoli was genuinely surprised. “Mind you, he is extremely closed to the rest of us, and we’re his teammates. Let me speak with him then and we’ll join you in the conference room at 13:00 hours, da?” Trish seemed to relax visibly.

“Thank you Nikoli, that would help immensely,” she nodded as she continued down the hallway.

Nikoli looked down the corridor at Trish’s departing figure, “…so beautiful,” he murmured sotto voce. Then he knocked on Theo’s door and waited.

“What do you want now?!” came the growl from behind the door.

“I want you to open the door and then we can discuss this like civilized people, or would you prefer me to rip the door off its hinges?” Nikoli demanded, his voice unconsciously taking on a tone of authority. Theo’s demeanour changed instantly.

“Niki? Hold on…” the door opened and he let Nikoli enter his room.

“Now little brother, what’s all this about you causing trouble for our hosts?” Niki began cordially.

“Hosts?” Theo spat the word out as if it burned his tongue. “You mean like that thing that was at my door a moment ago? The either-or?” he sounded utterly repulsed.

“Why are you acting this way?” Niki pressed. “Greg, Trish, and Lia saved our lives, rescued us from our abandonment. I think you owe them at least a word of thanks, if not some gratitude,” Niki was starting to get upset.

“Gratitude? That old man came in here and said he wanted to put something into my head!” Theo’s voice started to become shrill and his tone sarcastic. “And in your’s too my friend, so your use of the term host is ironic at the very least. You act like there’s nothing wrong with that. You bow and scrape before the woman who almost killed you in Washington! What’s wrong with me? What the hell is wrong with you?!” Theo glowered from under his thick brows. Nearing his own boiling point, Nikoli scowled and clenched his fists until his knuckles cracked. He regained control and watched Theo carefully.

“You have come very close to insulting me little man. The ‘old man’ that spoke with you is the same man that gave us our abilities. The woman that ‘almost killed me’ in DC is a scared but brave young girl who was caught up in circumstances beyond her control,” Nikoli took a deep breath before continuing. “I spoke with Lia and settled the matter to my satisfaction. Greg and Trish are the very people, yes people, who demanded that a rescue operation be mounted for us,” Nikoli painted the picture in primary colours for his young companion. “They are both very human, as you would find out if you would just talk with them. If they are freaks, then what are you?” Nikoli pointed his massive forefinger at the slight man standing before him. “You almost killed us all on the shuttle and you expect anyone, let alone Greg, to congratulate you for this? Are you on crack!?” he finished incredulously. Theo’s mouth dropped open and he pointed a shaking fist at his erstwhile teammate. Nikoli cut him off with a sweep of his arm.

“Don’t… Even… Try… To… Defend… Your… Actions! You feel abused because they placed an inhibitor on you before you could cause any more damage. Well, don’t. Under the circumstances, I would have done the same thing. Do you realise you killed a sentient being?” he asked disbelievingly. Nikoli’s question brought Theo up short.

“A sentient being Nikoli? Now who’s on crack? Who’d I kill?” Theo protested.

“You killed Hina, the sentient computer who piloted the shuttle that rescued you! She was still trying to protect us when her reactor blew. I shouldn’t have to tell you that we all should have been incinerated by that fusion blast if Greg hadn’t done some very quick thinking,” Nikoli was getting frustrated again. “These people have saved your life on numerous occasions and you have the nerve to have hurt feelings? You need to have a bond more than any of us, my young friend. You’re coming to that meeting, you’re going to sit quietly, even if the blame falls squarely on you, which it does, and you are going to bond with Marc As or by all the gods, I will recommend that Professor Saber disable your abilities permanently. Now shut your mouth and get moving,” the Major shoved the young man out of the room and marched him down the hallway.

All the people on the island, carbon and silicon, gathered in the hastily created auditorium at 13:30 hours. Julian and Betina were at a table in front of the main monitor and he stood to address the group.

“Good Afternoon,” Julian commenced, “I’m going to try to keep this brief so please bear with me. First of all, I will not be assigning any blame for the disaster. There has been quite enough of that around here lately. Secondly, we are here to discuss the cause and thirdly, I will hear all of your decisions on the offer of bonding, as per the design specifications for the physio-neural interface devices that I supplied you with. Betina, if you would?” Julian took his seat. Betina stood and activated the main screen.

“Solomon has taken the logs and data from Hina along with all of your statements to come to his conclusions,” she read from her notes. “The malfunction was caused by a massive Electro Magnetic Pulse that knocked out most of Hina’s core processors and databanks. This caused a failure in the shipskin as well as a catastrophic loss of containment in the fusion reactor. Hina should be honoured for the fact that she managed to get the ship far enough away from you all and high enough in the atmosphere that the plasma didn’t cause any causalities except to herself,” Betina paused, deliberately looking at each member of the gathering. The Professor gestured for her to continue. “The evacuation of all aboard was handled perfectly by Doctor Howard and all subsequent actions taken were well within his command rights,” she concluded. Theo glowered at this, but kept quiet. The Professor cleared his throat and stood.

“Thank you Miss Becker. Now, I have spoken with you all about the bonding process and its advantages to you and your Earth protecting abilities,” Julian’s gaze swept the room. “You’ve all had some time to think about this offer and meet with your AI counterparts. I would now like to hear back from each of you. I will accept your decisions, of course, but I do strongly suggest undergoing this procedure,” Saber advised. Theo leapt to his feet.
“Or what?” he interrupted. “You’ll deactivate our powers and dump us out to fend for ourselves so you can start over with a new set of guinea pigs?” he cried with rancour.
Nikoli grabbed him and forced him back into his seat with an apologetic look at Julian.

“No Mr. Baht,” Julian looked levelly at the young man while keeping his tone even. “The only reason you are currently ‘powered down’ is for your own protection. If you choose not to undergo the procedure, you will be able to leave here and continue as you have been. Your actions will be monitored closely however, so as to ensure that you cause no harm… to others or yourself. Now, I will call out your names and you can answer with a simple yes or no. David Andover?”

“Yes”

“Carina Sanchez?”

“Yes”

“Nikoli Rasmussen?”

“Da”

“Steven Francis?”

“OK”

“Sarida Jones?”

“Yes”

“Theodore Baht?”

“Can I get back to you?” Theo answered disrespectfully. Nikoli growled low in his throat, sounding as threatening as the great bear he was nicknamed for.

“Yes, OK, alright, whatever,” Theo responded with a dismissive wave. He glared at Nikoli.

“Happy now?” he whispered sarcastically. David stood up and looked first at Theo and then at Julian.

“When can we start this procedure Professor?” he asked.

“Immediately if you’d like David, we can bond all of you now if you wish,” Julian replied. “The process takes 24 hours and will be closely monitored by Solomon and myself. I assure you, if there is any indication of danger, we will abort and you will be no worse off than you are now. If the AIs will return to memory and the rest of you will follow me, we can begin right away.”

Professor Saber headed for the door as the others stirred from their seats and began to follow.

To Be Continued



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