In which we meet Femi, Doc confronts Esther, Marnie and Sonya go to the Boardstock Trials and we meet Ken and Barbie.
Milo raised his eyebrows to his hairline as Marnie put the phone on the desk and sat down heavily.
“Femi, ok…” he said, “well, I think if I didn’t know you were an AI, I think you would have passed the Turing test.”
“Why thank you Doctor,” the contralto voice replied with a laugh, “that was almost a compliment.”
“Soooo,” he blew the word between his lips as if he was blowing out a birthday candle, “Unprogrammed combat computer in learning mode, right Femi? And you have been monitoring all open ports as a matter of course to acquire vital battlefield data and intelligence.”
“That would be as accurate a description of what I’ve been doing since activation as can be put into words Doctor Samuels.” Femi responded almost cheerfully.
‘Of course she would be cheerful,’ Marnie thought sourly, ‘she’s doing what she was designed for.’
“That’s correct Marnie,” Femi answered, “Circumstances aside; this is what I was built for.”
“Argh! Can’t I have one private thought?” she railed.
“If you wish Marnie,” the AI countered, “there is a privacy mode built in to the unit. You just say ‘Activate Privacy’ or ‘Deactivate Privacy’. It was deemed necessary for the field unit’s mental stability.”
“Field Unit! What the…,” she bit back on the string of profanities that were threatening to spew out of her mouth, “Listen Femi, refer to me as a piece of hardware again and I’ll stand by a giant electromagnet, got it?”
“Got it Marnie,” Femi answered slowly, “I had not really taken into account that you were an unwilling participant in this process, my sincerest apologies.”
Marnie settled deeper into her chair with a grunt “Just so we’re clear on who is the ‘Host’,” she rolled her eyes, “and who the guest is.”
Milo cleared his throat, “Ok Femi, first thing you need to know is that I have full security clearance on this project, up to and including ultra. Marnie has complete access for obvious reasons.”
“Understood Doctor,” Femi responded, “What do you need to know?”
“We can start with what can be safely deactivated and what must be left running,” he stated, “the misapplication of any number of functions could be dangerous or even tragic.”
“Scanning operational files,” the AI replied, “all physical enhancements are read only… combat reflexes can be dampened, defensive reflexes can be set to 70% of current norm. With no mission files, objectives are open to default state, which is off duty. Currently, that is all that can be done.”
“Will that do for now Marnie?” Milo asked.
“Yes Doc,” she smiled, “Can we do that Femi?”
Marnie felt herself relaxing for the first time all day, like the edge had been taken off, and realized that she had been like a coiled spring or a snake, waiting to strike. She sighed from somewhere deep inside.
“Whoa Kid,” the Doc remarked, “That sounded like a good one, base of the toes good.”
“It was from the pit of my being Doc,” Marnie smiled, “It’s a good thing I didn’t go home with everything active, who knows what might have happened if I got angry?”
“Don’t make me angry,” Milo quoted, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
“Great,” Marnie rolled her eyes, “Another copyright ‘smashed’? I’m the freaking Avengers.” She sighed deeply again, “do you two need me here? I need to clear my head.”
Milo shook his head with a smile.
“Ok,” she said, “transfer this call to the Doc’s phone, Femi.”
Milo picked up the receiver as the phone rang and then turned his attention back to the conversation with the A.I. Marnie stood, grabbed her phone and crossed the room to the door quietly, although nothing could have distracted her friend from his dialogue short of a small explosion. Heading back down the stairs, she could hear the bustle of activity as Sonya worked her magic with the computers. Like father, like daughter... a pair of happy anarchists. A step creaked beneath her foot and Sonya looked up from her work and smiled, “Hey! How’s Supergirl?”
“You’re closer than you think Sonya,” Marnie half smiled, “Whatever Esther got her hands on changed me more than just this.” She waved her hands vaguely across herself as she made her way across the basement. “How’s it going down here?”
“Well, as far as the government knows, you’re a legal human resident of the Metro Vancouver area. I didn’t want to muck about with the banks, they have pretty tough security,” Sonya had a serious look on her face, “I could do it with more lead time, but with the government documents you have now, opening new accounts anywhere will be a snap. Now, come over here for your unflattering photos.” Sonya positioned Marnie in front of a neutral background and went behind a monstrous black beast of a camera, “Look at the light… and done.”
“Where did you two get...?” Marnie began, then shook her head, “No, I don’t want to know.”
Sonya grinned. “Amazing what you can buy at government auctions, isn’t it?” as she walked over to her printer. “Oooh perfect!” she said as she pulled the photo paper from the tray, “we’ll backdate the licence and health card so you can get the new cards later. I don’t have the gear to print those new digital ones...yet.”
“Anyway Trinity,” Marnie grinned back, “Can you get into the Boardstock registration database? I need to alter my entry a tad.”
Marnie stood in the sales area of the One Six skate shop, silently cursing Esther once again. She had needed to take a cab all the way from the Doc’s place in Vancouver to just outside Victoria, but it was worth the trip if she could replace all of the gear that Esther had removed from her room. Right now she was looking at decks and trying to figure out which ones would be best for her smaller frame. The Mutant from Skull Skates looked good, as did the Bowlrider but she needed more information about her new physiology before she could buy. Reluctantly she whispered,
“Hello Marnie,” Femi answered, “How can I help you?” Marnie held her cell to her ear,
“I need to know more about this body, centre of gravity, reflexes and similar information,” she started hesitantly, “I used to be a top level boarder and need to figure out if I still have my skills.”
“Well, that’s a different information request than I ever expected to have data on,” the AI replied, “let me search and compile. Meanwhile, for your height and mass, the two decks you seem to favour are more than adequate. Try the Tensor Mag 10 trucks, Bones Swiss ceramic bearings and Firstborn 53mm wheels...”
“And you knew nothing about boarding till just now?” Marnie asked with sneaking admiration.
“We’ll talk later, let me organize and compile the data I’m finding.” Femi replied with a smile in her voice.
Marnie shook her head slightly and took the two decks to the service desk to place her order. The tech told her it would be about an hour for assembly and raw tuning. She paid for the boards and proceeded to select gear and tools she would need to compete properly. Then she saw it.
It was a long sleeved tee shirt, black body with a weasel skull on crossed bones, purple and black striped sleeves. It was beautiful, mesmerizing and it took her a moment to tear her eyes away from it.
“What the Frack?” she thought furiously, “why am I paying so much attention to a shirt?”
Normally she didn’t pay much attention to clothing, just making sure that what she wore was clean, or at least didn’t stink. But this afternoon with Sonya, she had noticed the colours of the clothing, the fit and whether it had looked good on her and now this.
She felt drawn to this shirt.
She needed this shirt.
She grabbed the shirt and added it to her basket, but it gave her an idea. She found a black crash helmet and took her selections to the counter. The clerk started ringing things up and prepared to bag everything. Marnie held the shirt and helmet back.
“Do you do graphics here?” she asked the cashier.
An hour and a half later, Marnie stood at the top of a decent enough half pipe at Coquitlam’s Town Center Park. She held the mutant board she had just re-tuned and was decked out in black jeans, black chucks, the Weasel Tee and her helmet that had the weasel skull and crossbones and was trimmed in the same purple as the stripes on her sleeves. Safety gear in place, she stood on the board and pushed off.
It was like flying, without even thinking her body was making minute adjustments in stance and balance. She reached the other side of the pipe and tasted air… twist and contact, now more speed, gaining acceleration every second. Up, higher and twist, contact and more speed… Air… she was sailing through space. She reached down, gripped the board, and bent her knees deep into a Method Air. She could keep control of her board while looking down at the ground dwindling away, seemingly in slow motion. Twisting like an acrobat, she made contact with the ground reluctantly, bleeding off speed until she came to a rest on the opposite side of the pipe.
That, she thought, was amazing. Marnie hadn’t felt anything all day except a simmering rage. Now, that was background noise compared to the feeling she had now. It was the highest high, the mellowest stone and the most joyous calm she had felt in a long, long time. She got back on the board and built up speed on the level towards the rails. Up and a long grind with a board flip and stick the landing. This was effortless, but exhilarating. Everything she knew, every move came to her mind and was executed flawlessly. She got moving again and lost herself in the bliss.
Milo Samuels had other irons in the fire to deal with now that he was sure that Marnie was safe, physiologically speaking. He had to make sure that she wasn’t going to lose another parent and that meant going over to Marnie’s house and confronting Esther. His conversation with the AI had left many more questions than answers, but he was certain that Femi had Marnie’s best interests at heart. He listened carefully and heard the girls talking in the basement, so he let himself out the front door and drove away towards what he was sure to be an unpleasant reunion.
Milo had not been to his former business partner’s house since he passed over eight years ago. Esther had been quite plain about the status of his welcome there. His mind ranged back to the day of the funeral...
“You heard me Samuels! OUT!” Esther shrieked as young Arthur cowered in the doorway to the living room, “As far as I’m concerned, you are no longer welcome here or at NeilTech! Your delays and dithering cost me my husband!”
“The formula was not ready for human testing Esther, and you know it!” Milo replied in an unsteady voice, “It would have killed David as surely as the cancer did; those nanites disassembled healthy tissue as well as cancerous! The simple fact we’re at the point in this research is a testament to David’s genius!”
“You shut your lying mouth Samuels! You Are Out!” She bellowed as Arthur fled to his room, “Never contact me again!”
Milo left, never contacting her again, but it didn’t stop him from becoming friends with Artie when the boy needed a parent, any parent, as he grew up. Nor did it stop his work with NeilTech. But he should have kept a closer eye on Esther, and now he’d have to pay the piper.
He pulled his silver grey Infiniti coupe up the drive at the Neil’s home and parked. Exiting the car, he drew himself up to his full height of five foot eleven, straightened his shoulders and walked to the door. Ringing the bell, he waited... and waited. Five minutes passed as he waited for any sign of life in the house, any movement, any noise. He knew Esther was there as her red Mazda was in the drive. He finally went and peeked in the front window seeing her still form on the sofa and a welter of glass on the living room floor. He immediately did two things, he got out his cell phone and dialled 911, then he went to the rock he knew Artie used as a key ditch and opened the front door.
He ran to Esther’s side and checked her respiration and pulse. Her breathing was steady and while the pulse was a little slow, but the toppled crystal decanter told the story. She was passed out drunk. This gave Milo the opportunity he needed. He removed the afghan blanket from the sofa and covered Esther with it and then walked upstairs to Marnie’s bedroom. The door was locked, as Marnie said she had been locked into it by Esther, but the key was still in the door. Milo unlocked it and opened the door onto a pink nightmare.
“Holy Jebus!” he thought, entering the room proper, “Esther must have been seriously delusional if she thought Artie would accept this willingly”
Milo shook his head and gave a low whistle as he got to work searching for any trace of his old friend and partner’s son. He found the loose board easily enough and prised it open. There was Artie’s stash box, complete with roach jar. Milo removed both and found small treasures that Marnie might like to have as well. He then went to the closet and found Artie’s bank stash, which he cleared out as well. There was a large pink backpack in the closet as well, so Milo put all of Artie’s belongings into it. Making sure the room was as he found it; he closed and relocked the door. He would have to hurry with his last task as he could faintly hear sirens in the distance.
“Ok, I remember David’s safe was in the study,” he muttered, “and it’s a ‘safe’ bet Esther didn’t change the combination.” He chuckled dryly at his own pun.
As Milo expected, the safe opened easily and he found not only Artie’s wallet and identification, but classified project notes from the FEME213D experiments. Notes that could get Esther some serious time in the Graybar hotel and not the country club type either. He took what he needed, closed the safe and went to his car. The sirens were closer now so he ditched the backpack in the trunk of the Infiniti and went to the porch to await the Emergency Service Personnel. The police arrived first, followed by Fire and Paramedics. The Firemen and Parameds went inside while Milo answered questions from the Officers.
“On the request of Esther Neil’s child, I came to the house to speak with Mrs. Neil and gather some of her child’s belongings as Mrs. Neil and her child have become recently estranged.”
“And your relationship to Mrs. Neil and her child is?” the officer inquired.
“I am the child’s Godfather and Mrs. Neil’s husband’s former business partner, up until David died.” Milo replied, “The kid had a blowout with Mom there and showed up on my doorstep. Not that the kid needed to come to me. Legal adult and all.”
“We may need to talk to her ‘child’ later Mr. Samuels,” the woman looked up from her notepad, “But you did the right thing calling 911. The medic thinks Mrs. Neil has mild alcohol poisoning.”
They watched as the Paramedics wheeled Esther back to the waiting ambulance.
“We have your contact information Mr. Samuels,” the officer flipped her notebook closed; “We’ll leave you to secure the house and will be in touch.”
Milo watched the controlled chaos as the emergency personnel packed up their equipment and vacated the scene, the ambulance in the lead with its sirens blaring. Milo closed the door behind him, locked the door and pocketed the key. Marnie might need it. He got in his car and headed back to his home and hopefully better answers for Marnie regarding her future.
Marnie headed back to Metro Vancouver by cab to Doc Samuels’ house silently cursing the rush hour traffic, along with every other occupant of every other car on the road. She had agreed with the cabbie that the bridge was better than the ferry, though now it seemed, not by much. She should have been exhausted by her workout at the skate park, but instead felt full of energy and even a bit fidgety.
“Courtesy of the wee buggers in my body,” she thought sourly.
“Correct Marnie,” replied Femi in her head.
Marnie didn’t quite flinch. Instead, she took her phone from her pocket, mimed dialling and brought it to her ear.
“Hi Femi,” she kept her tone light and conversational, “thought I should check in though Privacy might have been an issue.”
“Oh, yes, you didn’t request privacy mode after we spoke at the skate shop,” said the AI, “I just left you to your thoughts as you seemed to need it.”
Marnie did a mental facepalm.
“I guess we both have to work on our communication skills dear,” she smiled a tight smile, “just keep me in the loop from now on, ok? Anyway, now that I have you on the line, do you have anything for me?”
“Well, as you found out at the skate park, you seem to still posses your skill set,” Femi chuckled, “slightly enhanced, mind you, but by all the calculations I’ve run, even without the stabilization programs running, you still are a top level athlete.”
“So,” Marnie said carefully, “even without using the program to tighten up my routine, I can still compete without any edge?”
“Absolutely Marnie,” the inner voice agreed as they pulled up at the Doc’s house.
Marnie made as if she were hanging up and settled the bill with the driver. She retrieved her bags from the trunk and waited till the cab drove out of sight to continue her conversation with Femi.
“You can’t believe what a relief it is to hear you say that Femi.” sighed Marnie, “It feels like the first good news I’ve heard all day!”
“How so Marnie?” the disembodied voice asked.
“I really need to compete at Boardstock, but I was worried about whether it would be me competing or this Super Soldier Serum.” She answered, “No offense Femi!”
“None taken Marnie, I have come to terms with who and what I am.” Femi sighed, “I was designed for war, but I am happy to take up a new role, if I am allowed to.”
Marnie was about to ask Femi what she meant when Milo drove up to the house. As he got out of the car, he popped the trunk to retrieve the backpack. He closed and locked the car, then waved Marnie towards the front door.
“Good news or bad news first Kiddo?” he asked as he opened the door for her.
“Are you kidding me?” she smiled, “Bad news. Good news is for desert.”
“Your m... Esther has been hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. My guess is she has... regrets.” He began, “I went to your house to confront her about her reckless behaviour and found her passed out.”
“And?” Marnie asked flatly.
“And, her state gave me the opportunity to go into your room and pick up a few things.” Milo smiled gently, “As well as the chance to go into your father’s safe. I found your wallet and ID, as well as the dossier she had taken on the drug she used on you. Hopefully the notes will help reverse engineer this nightmare.”
“Reverse engineer?” she raised her eyebrows, “I thought you needed my old DNA for that?”
Milo opened the backpack and tossed Marnie a jar.
“My roach jar, so what?” she asked.
Milo smiled as he watched Marnie work through the question.
“SPIT! Saliva I mean, there’s DNA in spit and spit on the roaches!” She exclaimed happily.
“Bingo Kiddo! Top of the class!” he winked at her, “I’ll take the jar and the files, you can dig through the rest of this stuff with Sonya and see if you need any of it right now. I’m off to the lab, can you have Femi give me a call?”
“Will do Doc,” she smiled and blushed, “Thank you for being the parent I never really had. I...uh, I love you.”
“I love you too Marnie.” Milo smiled brightly and closed the lab door behind him.
Marnie was about to ask Femi what she had meant about being allowed to adapt to her new role when Sonya came up the stairs from her lair of computer wizardry. She spotted Marnie and smiled brightly.
“Hey Kara,” she smirked, “as far as Boardstock knows, you and Artie are the same person… I mean… uh…” Sonya trailed off, slightly confused.
“It’s ok Sonya, I’m still getting used to being a twofer myself.” Marnie smiled back gently, “Thanks for all your work, you’ve been amazing. If it hadn’t been for you saving me from Barbie this morning, I’d likely still be a mall zombie, shuffling around.”
Sonya blinked, then came over and hugged Marnie tightly.
“I’m glad I did too, I never met anyone like you before and I’m so glad we’re friends,” she gave a gentle extra squeeze, “though I am slightly ticked at dad for not introducing us before.”
Marnie extricated herself from the hug but held one of Sonya’s hands.
“I want to ask you a question,” she looked directly into Sonya’s eyes, “I don’t know if you want to go to all the Boardstock trials and events, But I’d really like you to… be there with… for me.”
Sonya lit up like a 100 watt bulb.
“Oh yes!” she burst out, then blushed, “I was half hoping you would ask and half dreading you wouldn’t.”
“Ok, registration and trial assignments begin in two hours,” Marnie blurted, “and I really need help with all those clothes we got earlier.”
The two headed down the stairs to the basement and Sonya’s lair.
The cab pulled up just inside Stanley Park and disgorged two overly excited passengers.
“…English Bay side of the park, according to the phone,” Sonya confirmed as she shouldered her backpack and stowed her smartphone.”
“Not too big a hike then,” Marnie sighed, “Pity, I have a huge butterfly migration in my abdomen.”
They set off in the direction of the bay and were at the registration tent in under ten minutes. The DudeBro at the desk looked up and grinned smarmily.
“Hello lovely Ladies,” he oozed, “the tourney is off limits to the public until tomorrow, and it’s all the trials today.”
Sonya made a face and Marnie stiffened slightly ‘It would be so easy to toss this himbo into the ocean and see if he skips’
“Well, that’s good news…” she glanced at his lanyard, her voice as chill as a wind out of Whistler, “Brad. I’m a participant and this is my pit crew. Here’s my registration paperwork, so make with the data entry and get us our passes, or is this job too difficult for a pretty thing like yourself?”
“I’m beginning to like the idea of seeing how many times he’d skip Hun.“ Femi’s cheerful giggle echoed in her head.
Marnie choked back a snerk and kept her bitch face in place as Brad scurried off to get all the registration forms signed, sealed and delivered. Twenty minutes later, Sonya and Marnie walked into the competition grounds with their all access passes. Cheerful advertising all over the photo IDs led them to believe they were now beholden to banks and soft drink manufacturers.
“Says here that we’re by the half pipe in tent twenty two,” Sonya looked up from the map and pointed, “over there.”
Marnie squinted slightly and here vision zoomed in till she could see the laminated card attached to the easy up shelter.
“Huh,” she snorted, “the sign says Team Neil, that’ll put a fox in the henhouse round here, with Neiltech as an event sponsor. Well, let’s check out the digs.”
They got to the tent to find it well lit and relatively empty, as a shelter, it would keep the sun and rain off them. They tied off the front opening flaps and set up their folding chairs. With their area secured, Marnie left Sonya with her laptop to watch their gear and took her credit cards to the dealers alley.
She approached the first tool and parts manufacturer and was ignored by the sales staff until she went to touch something expensive. That got a smarmy blond salesman’s attention.
“Please Miss, don’t touch unless you plan to buy.”
“Oh, I intend to buy, but whether its from you or the booth down the alley is up to me now, Isn’t it?” Marnie grinned ferally while flashing her Amex gold card. “Check the ID, buster.”
The salesman just about swallowed his teeth as he looked at Marnie’s competitors’ badge.
“I’m so terribly sorry Ms. Neil, how can I help you?”
Depends on whether you want to sponsor me or just sell, I’m buying either way and I need a full workshop kit. Worktable with vises, Full wrench set, and ratchet set with sockets and several spare decks, trucks and wheels.”
The salesman looked like he wanted to hug Marnie, but refrained. He had expected little in the way of actual sales this weekend.
“Ms. Neil, when would you need all of this?”
“As soon as possible, delivered to the team Neil shelter by the half pipe. You give me a discount if you wish to put your store info on our tent. I’ll be back here after I arrange for water and sundries for the team.” Marnie responded as she turned as if to leave. She hadn’t even managed a step before,
She turned back to see an older gentleman standing with the salesman.
“Yes Mr. ...?”
He introduced himself,
“Robert Schaeffer, Special events manager for SkateOne.” He held out his hand and Marnie gently took it.
“If I understand correctly, you’re looking to be sponsored, but are willing to just buy our products?”
“Of course Mr. Schaeffer, Team Neil is currently unaffiliated with any groups, as we are a relatively new team. I personally would like sponsorship, but I’m only looking for a discount as you’ve never seen us perform. It wouldn’t be fair to you in case we do poorly.” Marnie explained.
Schaeffer pulled at his lower lip while looking intently at Marnie.
“20 percent?” He offered.
“30 percent...” she countered
“25 percent, no more,” he scowled and smiled at the same time,
“Done,” she thrust out her hand, which he took and shook on the deal.
“Jerry will arrange for the sale of the item you want as well as having them delivered and sent to your shelter,” Schaeffer said, “you and I will get a contract for SkateOne’s sponsorship of Team Neil. When are your trials?”
“Tomorrow at nine am ... can I call you Robert?”
“Certainly,” He allowed, “I just need to arrange for a graphics package to be delivered before then as well as sales literature and the usual sponsorship nonsense. I’ll have a contract ready in ten minutes if you’d care to wait. Until then, Jerry can assist you as you pick out your gear.” He gestured to the waiting salesman.
Marnie selected only top of the line equipment and tools, and was just having her purchase totaled when Robert came back from his trailer with two copies of the contract document. She quickly scanned it for loopholes and booby traps but it was straightforward and exactly what the verbal agreement had been.
Robert signed both copies and then handed the pen to Marnie. She had to concentrate to make sure she didn’t sign Arthur Neil. The salesman witnesses the documents and took Marnie’s credit card for the purchases.
Marnie got back to the tent just as Sonya was hanging up the phone.
“I thought you were getting water Marnie?” Sonya smiled as she saw her friend.
“Dag! Forgot the water, I only managed a sponsorship deal with SkateOne.” Marnie smiled back, “what were you up to?”
“Sponsorship?!” Sonya squealed, “Details girl! Details!”
Marnie quickly filled Sonya in just as Robert arrived with the boxes from SkateOne.
“Thank you Robert,” she smiled, “This is Sonya, my partner in crime.”
Robert shook Sonya’s hand and made to depart,
“The workbench will be here in about two hours and we should have the graphics before seven o’clock,” he said over his shoulder, “A pleasure to meet you Sonya.”
“Twenty five minutes,” Sonya said, shaking her head, “you were gone for twenty five minutes.”
“So, what did you accomplish in twenty five minutes?” Marnie inquired slyly,
“um... Called Mountain Equipment Co-op and got cots, coolers, and sleeping bags on rush delivery, called the Bay for towels for sweaty people. Pick up in about an hour, and called Foodland for ice, drinks, and snacks delivery hopefully after the coolers...” Sonya ticked her accomplishments off on her fingers, “no sponsorships, sorry.”
Marnie stuck out her tongue at Sonya and dialled a number on her cell.
“Hello, Administration? This is Team Neil, could you have a couple of cases of water sent to our tent?” she inquired, “Ten minutes? OK.”
In roughly ten minutes, a well built, dark haired young man wearing a volunteer lanyard rolled up with a dolly.
“Team Neil? Here’s your...” he paused as he spotted Sonya, “Oh god! I can’t even get away from you Mall dregs here!”
Marnie looked at the man sharply, taking in his name from his ID.
“Who are you talking to Kenneth Brenner?” She said sharply, “Not my team, I hope?”
She was interrupted by a shrill voice, and noticed a trim blond figure in the sunlight,
“You! You almost got me fired today!” the blond pointed and shrieked, “This is the one I told you about Ken!”
Marnie recognized the salesgirl from the mall that morning,
“Marnie,” said Sonya quietly, “Meet Barbie and Ken...”
To Be Continued
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