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Chapter 25

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This is getting way too freaky-deaky for me.Isla struggled as her twin held her in a hard embrace. Unable to move her upper body, her arms crushed backwards by the ‘thing’, Isla stammered at the man she thought was her father.

‘What…is… th-is? How…did y-ou…??’

Major Anderson laughed, sitting back down at the kitchen table, clearly enjoying himself as he explained to Isla.

’Both you and Ger were more than willing to help me when you were in space. It was easy really. You both provided DNA samples for us, remember, and thanks to the Krays skin-growth technology, it’s easy to generate a real-skin cover for any subject or 'bot. We knew early on that positronic transfer was going to be the alpha level of the program — but we still needed simple direct machines that looked — human for the grunt work.

He pointed at Isla. ‘Meet Isla 2.0.’

Isla grunted. I’m so not talking to this creepy thing.

<Hello Isla 1.0. It’s nice to meet you.> trilled the 'bot wearing her skin. <I am a perfect replica of you built on a skeleton of titanium alloy. I have three times human strength and require neither food nor sleep to remain functional. Father says that I will soon have an upgrade making your model obsolete. I look forward to this.>

‘Upgrade? Isla stammered. ‘You mean me, — my consciousness?’

Major Anderson nodded. ‘Yes, that’s right. Without it, Isla 2.0 is a more than a willing assistant — but she lacks the ability to improvise, to reason — all the things that make us truly human. Don’t get me wrong, I need soldiers — but I also need thinkers. Smart people that can see the future. Like you — and Ger.’ GER! What have you done with Ger? Isla tried to twist out of the 'bot’s steel armhold as she quickly plotted how to escape — to warn Ger — to tell the world what was going on. She settled for sulking. Let’s go theater girl. Make ‘em believe you.

‘Wait…wait, before things get out of control, can I please sit down? I’m exhausted and having metal-me twist my back all out of shape isn’t helping anyone.’

Anderson nodded to Isla 2.0 who promptly released the squirming teen.

’See…I am not without mercy, ‘ soothed Anderson as he pointed to the chair opposite him.

Isla ignored him, turning to look at her robot twin, marveling at how lifelike she looked. The 'bot had the same freckles, eyes, nose — everything she knew about her own face perfectly copied. If I wasn’t so freaked out, I would be totally amazed. She moved closer to the machine which stood motionless in front of her.

‘It.. isn’t breathing,’ noted Isla as she grew closer still.

She doesn’t need to breathe. Unless she is imitating human life.’

Anderson tapped a few air commands onto his invisible touchscreen. Isla 2.0 started to slowly breath, a perfect simulation of the body at rest. I’m upgrading freaky-deaky to frakkin’ frakked. This is full-on hardcore frak!

‘Both you and Ger performed flawlessly returning home and making contact with Jericho. As I said before, he was the missing part of the equation we needed to put to bed before we initiated the next stage of our plan.’

Isla flopped down into the chair, a sneer firmly etched on her face.

‘So what’s the secret plan — world domination, taking over the government? Oh I forgot, you are the government.’

She folded her arms across her chest, feeling her glasses in her jacket pocket. If I can get these on before they can stop me, I can get to Level 3. There’s no way they’re gonna anything to hurt my body…I think. Right?

Like I’m going to tell you my plan,’ Anderson sneered as he stood, yawning loudly. ‘All you have to know is that you’re coming back to our main workshop so we can make the transfer permanent.

‘Permmm…anent?’ Isla stammered, the word catching in her throat.

Major Anderson nodded. ‘That’s right, with our main Hieronymus units, we can switch you out into Isla 2.0 permanently. ‘No more annoying teenage troublemaker. Say hello to the new perfect Isla.’

Anderson smiled, his teeth grinding happily.

‘And won’t we have fun then.’

<Yes, Father,> said Isla 2.0. <I like fun.>

Ger fell through the floor as he rolled down into the coffin level beneath him. Other coffin-dwellers burst out of their tiny pods, terrified by the noise and smoke as Ger rolled on the ground, extinguishing the flames on his jacket. Of course they knew where I was. Where else would I be?!?

‘GAS LEAK!! Everyone out,’ he lied as he ran down the dimly-lit corridor.

Heads popped out from various curtained coffin-suites watching Ger run while others, carrying as much as they could, raced behind him. Smoke and fiery debris dropped from the gaping hole in the empty-floor above as the fire alarms started up.

Leaky, barely functional sprinklers started to spit yellow-grey dirty water everywhere as Ger ran. I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t believe they nuked my room. This is insane. I have to get to Isla. We’ve got to get out of here. NOW. Ger slammed his way out through the exit door at the end of the hotel corridor, racing downstairs followed by disoriented and angry residents.

 

Outside the Nagatomi, it was pandemonium as rescue and cop 'bots flooded the area. The high-pitch whine of emergency sirens coupled with the dramatic flashing lights made the weathered hotel a magnet for bystanders, the press and authority figures. It was easy for Ger to slip through the cracks. Pulling up his hoodie, he looked like every other Off-World Traveler drawn to the fire. Glancing back at his former crib, Ger saw that the entire top floor of the discount hotel was now burning. Melted plastic and Plexiglas dripped down the side of the building as firefighting machines struggled to maneuver through the accident site.  We’ve been going about this all wrong. Instead of trying to stay low, and keeping under their radar, I should do what I do best. Hack and slash. And I need to get to Isla — NOW.

<NO RESPONSE> Ger pulled off his linked Hieronymus glasses in frustration. She’s not answering. That’s not good. That’s so not good. I have to get to her. But how? For sure, they’ve got me tagged on all the vids. Probably blaming me for the hotel fire too. Huh, looks like I’m the new Jericho whether I like it or not.

 

Ger sat with his head down in the Bristol Place cafeteria tapping away on his comm link as he skimmed the big fish above him. Rather than hunting for errant shopping transactions or micro-payments, his multi-level access allowed him to tap directly into the corporate accounts and well-financed reserves of the government workers above him. He’d targeted all senior Axiomm employees figuring that they were all complicit in the 'bot hijacks and the funding of the covert Anderson psionic division. With the advanced tools at his disposal, it was easy to set up a ghost protocol to redirect any of the e-scam scanners that were installed in the eatery. I was never here. And neither was your money. He glanced up at the monitors above the crowded cafeteria and saw his picture once again flashing on screen. FIRE AT NAGATOMI PLAZA emblazoned across the screen with requests to call authorities on sight if they spotted him. Typical. Frakkin’ typical. Ger sighed, shouldering his bag, as he slipped his sunglasses on and pushed off towards the trains. Nobody sees these monitors anymore. I look just like everyone else. The chances of anyone recognizing me are so remote.

Look, Mommy — it’s the man from the TV,’ a small voice called out.

Ger spun to see a small boy, pointing at him, while his harried mother glanced from Ger to the continuing broadcast. Busted. I have no luck. He leaped over the turnstile leading to the transit trains, his feet pounding on the tiled floor as the sound of an alarm blared behind him.

Great. I’m about to be mind wiped by a frakkin’ cyber bully who isn’t my Dad and I’m stuck in my room. This sucks. Isla kicked at the bedroom door, her pulse pounding at being ‘grounded’ in her room. Downstairs, she could hear her creepy twin and fake father reviewing their imminent departure schedule. It didn’t sound promising.

‘What do you mean you lost him!’ Major Anderson bellowed, clearly audible to Isla through her locked door.

Who are they talking about? Ger?

Isla raced to her computer terminal, hoping that the internet connection was still active. Anderson had taken her Hieronymus unit and glasses, passing them off to Isla 2.0 for safekeeping as they locked her away.

‘They’re gonna be hers soon enough, anyway,’ laughed Anderson as Isla fumed. I hate him so much.I gotta get Ger a message? How? As her computer fired up, she breathed a sigh of relief as the internet portal was still open. Drumming her fingers on her desk, she clicked on the BERSERKER icon, activating the game. I can use the bulletin board here, post him an urgent message there, at least he’ll know that I’m in trouble. Isla still bristled over Ger cruel dismissal of her earlier, but understood why he had done it. It was pretty clumsy — but, it worked. I know his heart was in the right place. Who knew my fake Dad would be here to mind wipe my Mom and then kidnap me to do the same? Right now, Isla wished that Ger was with her. Not that I need him to tell me what to do, but… we were a good team, and together we could both figure out what to do.

Logging onto the MMORPG, Isla quick-type a message.

<GER — STAY AWAY — Dad IS HERE AND HE’S A FAKE — MAJOR SNAFU - EMERGENCY - STAY AWAY!!!>

The message rocketed off as Isla sat back, hoping that Ger was going to get her message. At least he won’t get Ger. I’m not going to wait for someone to rescue me like some princess. I gotta find my own way outta here. Isla crept to her bedroom window, contemplating her escape strategy. She had used the back-way out through this window before — but where would she go? It’s not like I’ve got a lot of options. And Anderson has my Hieronymus unit.

Just keep looking. He’ll log on again. This time just go to the source and apprehend. Don’t bother to engage him in 'bot form,’ Anderson yelled from downstairs. ‘Go get the wetware ready. Let’s bug out,’ he yelled at the clone robot. Okay. Go time. From downstairs, Isla heard the sound of the front door opening and angry footfalls stomping out. ‘Just load her up and haul butt outside. I’ll be waiting.’

Isla, pushing her ear up to the door, heard the sound of her clone coming up the stairs. Sweat pooled under her arms as she looked about the room for a weapon. I gotta have something I can hit her with. Maybe she’ll still got my comm link on her. Take her down and then bolt out the window. GOOD PLAN. Yet there was nothing in her room that might work as an offensive weapon. She dashed to her closet, pulling out her old bass guitar from the closet. It was an old school wooden Fender that had once been her Dad’s. An antique — but also a great club. As the door unlocked and Isla 2.0 strutted into her room, Isla charged the clone with the bass held high. The thick wooden base slammed off the side of Isla 2.0’s head knocking her sideways into her dresser drawers.

‘YEAH!,’ screamed Isla as she leapt on top of the disabled 'bot, her bass at the ready to hit her again. Beneath her, Isla 2.0 rose slowly, legs trembling. Pulling up onto the drawer for balance, she looked at Isla with cross-eyed confusion. She held up a hand, warding off another blow from Isla.

‘Hey, GNGR…Need a little help?’ asked Ger from Isla 2.0’s bloodied mouth.

That would have killed me IRL. Isla’s got game! Ger’s HUD system wavered as she held up both hands to Isla.

‘Chill, Isla. It’s me… Ger,’ he trilled from the body of the damaged Isla 2.0. ‘Hold off…’

Above him, Isla held her weapon - Is that a frakkin’ Fender? - at the ready as Ger jjibbered for her to stop wailing on him as robot Isla 2.0.

‘Dude, chillax. I skinned into this 'bot remotely. I’m over in the Off World settlement just south of Homewood. I came here to help you.’

Isla dropped the guitar, leaning down to Ger, grabbing him/her in a smothering hug.

Ger hugged Isla back, trying to stand at the same time. As he stood, he caught a glimpse of himself — as Isla 2.0 — hugging the real deal. Oh, this is trez trippy. I’m Isla as well.

Ho….ow?’ Isla stammered as she pushed back away from Ger, holding him at arm’s length. Ger smiled at Isla, still marveling at his reflection in the mirror. ‘Do you find this as weird as I do? I’m you…’

Isla started ransacking his pockets, finding her Hieronymus comm link and glasses. ‘Of course I do, DD — whataya think?

Outside, the sound of a horn honking could heard in the universal signal for ‘Hurry Up.’

‘We gotta go, Ger. Or he’s going to come up here and drag us to the frakkin’ moon again. He wants to wipe my brain — and stick me inside you — her — the 'bot’

‘Dude, you gotta slow down…’ said Ger as he started to turn and model his new Isla 2.0 'bot in the mirror. ‘This is so much cooler than I thought it would be…’

Isla grabbed her 'bot clone. Slapping her across the face.

‘FOCUS, dude! If we’re not downstairs in two minutes, he’s going to come back in and get us both. Let’s walk and talk — figure out our next steps.’

Ger shrugged. ‘Okay by me. It’s way uncool that he wants to frag your hard-drive and reformat you in this thing.’

 

Outside, hidden in the tarp he had bought from an Off-Worlder, Ger cyberwalked with Isla through her house downstairs to meet up with Major Anderson. He explained how he had jumped off the train as soon as he hit the next station — and found himself in one of the settlement camps that populated the outskirts of Megacity One.

‘My plan was to drop into the computer system, or even the frakkin fridge, and scope out what was going on. I was blown away when I found there was sentient 'bot on-site that I could access.’

Ger wiped the rain away that collected on his sunglasses. The tarp did little to keep the weather out and he was lashed by the rain that fell on the settlers. I hope these things are waterproof.

‘What I did find was that Major Anderson was wearing some kind of bypass so I couldn’t body jump into him. If we shut that down, we could boot him out of his skin — and maybe get your Dad back?’

Ger watched Isla sag as she explained to him that her Dad was gone — and now her Mom was stuck in containment, somewhere.’ I don’t know what to say. Her Dad dead? Her Mom…gone?

‘Where’s containment?’ Ger asked.

<YOU WILL FIND OUT VERY SOON> a metallic voice thundered above Ger as he crouched down further in his tarp. Around him, Settlers scattered as Oleg’s armored bear reached down and plucked Ger from the ground.

<TOLD YOU, I WAS THROUGH PLAYING GAMES>, Oleg bellowed as he tossed Ger at the dumpster directly across from him in the rain clogged alley.

Ger slammed into the wall.

<SIGNAL TERMINATED>

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