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Chapter Six: Good Help Is Easy To Find
"Just tell me if it hurts."
"Aye? It does? Okay. I'm done anyway."
Ace grabbed his still throbbing head, which proved to be a poor choice as the still damaged tissues of the scalp had yet to do any healing. John squinted at the bullet he had removed from the man's head.
"Huh... I think it's a hollowpoint, but that can't be right. Hollowpoints shatter. This one is intact."
Drew held a magnifying glass over the round. "Looks like a 9mm, which means it could have come from a pretty good number of guns. Mitch, is there some way you could-"
"Track the bullet to the gun? I dunno. Odds are I'd just track it back to wherever Mac got shot."
There was a thump in another room of the apartment and the sound of scratching on a door, followed by a muffled voice. "Uh, hey guys? GUYS? This door closed behind me, and it has those old style round knobs. I don't have any thumbs, so, you know, if you were on your way back here, you might want to let me out or something like that. Or install a doggie door. That would also be very- WOW! Hey Ace! You gotta check this out! There's like this robot french maid back here! And she's stacked like- hey- HEY! PUT ME DOWN! PUT ME DOWN RIGHT N-"
A door swung open and Cody was thrown out into the short hallway. A rather busty metallic mannequin studded with gears and large metal pins, and dressed in a french maid's outfit, stepped out. It theatrically dusted off its hands -- producing an odd clanging noise -- then bowed to Ace and returned to the room, closing the door behind it.
Cody scratched his ear with his hind leg. "She's just playing hard to get. I'm a ladies' man. Seriously. I get all sorts of emails from girls with webcams who want an audience."
After Mitch and Drew left to pursue some training exercises -- openly admitting they involved property damage and disturbing the peace -- John and Ace and Cody sat around a coffee table with just enough space between the tools for coffee mugs.
"You never did tell me what it was I did to keep things running. Did I even tell you before I forgot?"
"Not as such. But one does not gallavant around the Underground without stepping in a steaming pile of rumors here or there. I learned, third hand, that you sell technical solutions for occult technical problems. As opposed to, say, technically occult problems."
"And if I knew what that meant, that would be something I knew the meaning of."
John rolled his eyes. "I heard from a guy that his mother's uncle's best friend's dog's obedience trainer's mafia liason's dry cleaner's deadbeat dad had trouble with a possessed toy doll. Some dick chained a demon into Malibu Barbie or some shit. So Barbie had gone batshit and was trying to kill everyone in the house with a finishing nail. The deadbeat dad knew it was the doll, made a few calls, and eventually stumbled to your door. I know because I saw him a-rap-rap-rapping, a tap-tap-tapping, at your chamber door. Wouldst I ever get to sleep? I suspected, Nevermore."
"If I were to say I was with you so far, what would you say?"
"I would say this. About four days later, he came back and you gave him two action figures. The original, large GI Joes, that were about a foot long or so. Only they could just as easily been Star Trek Borg merchandise, cuz they looked just like your house keeper. On that note, would you mind giving her some sort of voice-matic thing? The way she doesn't talk is really, really creepy."
"If I ever remember how, it's at the top of my list."
"Goody! Christmas has come early! Anyway, I was in the hall trying to spy on what you were doing, and I succeeded. You showed him how to wind them up and wound one up yourself. It saluted, marched around, stood at attention next to the guy."
"So what happened?"
"Hell if I know. Maybe the Barbie doll out-witted them and took them apart. Maybe They're still locked in mortal combat. Maybe they captured her and they've got a military gang-bang of sorts going on. Which makes absolutely no sense, since very few dolls intended for kids are anatomically correct."
John leaned back and pressed the tips of his fingers together. "Tell me, und Machininmakin person, vould you say you are ze type oof man who vould give tiny robotic soldiers tiny robotic rifles UND guns? Vun ist for fighting, und vun ist for fun? Ja?"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Ah, on the defensive. You must be-"
"Defensive my ass! What kind of accent was that supposed to be? German? You sounded like you were just making up phonetic noises."
Ace stared at the sink. A trio of arms bolted to the countertops carefully picked up the mugs, washed them, dried them, and placed them on the counter to be put away.
Suspicious, he opened the fridge, took out some milk, and poured it into another mug. He was about to take a sip when he noticed how terribly bad the stuff smelled. Disgusted, he poured the rotten stuff down the drain and placed the mug in the sink... after taking the towel off its rack.
The washing arms proceeded to turn on the tap, rinse out the mug, wipe it with a washcloth and rinse a second time. However, when one arm reached for the towel rack, everything stopped while it felt around the rack, trying to find the towel. After about fifteen seconds, the various arms took up a position almost humorously like a man scratching his chin in perplexity. One arm held another's elbow joint, which was making a scratching motion with the index finger. The third arm held the dripping mug.
Eventually, the arm with the mug put it by the rest of the mugs and all arms folded back to their spots outside the sink. Ace put the towel back up. They did not reach for the towel.
He took the wet mug and held it by the sink. No luck there either. Shrugging, he toweled off the mug himself, set it down by the others, and put the spoiled milk jug back into the fridge.
"Ace, come hither. I have found a disagreeable filo-fax."
"You know, a set of file cards mounted on a wheel?"
Cody walked over and put his paws on the desk. "Are you sure that's a filo-fax? I thought those were like those trapper-keeper things students use for school work, except much larger and with more pockets. I like pockets."
"Excellent choice. Pockets hold things."
Ace walked over and leaned over the mechanism. It had several exposed gears on its axis, and the cards... yep. They had tried to bite John. Ace reached for the device and his fingers were un-opposed.
A few minutes later, he shrugged. "Nothing but parts suppliers. Hardware, plumbing, carpentry, metal shop."
"What? There has to be like two hundred cards in there!"
"Only twenty two of them have any text."
Ace was straightening up when his eyes panned down to find a drawer slightly ajar. Some vague visual cue triggered his curiousity and he opened it to reveal a sealed envelope and an open envelope with a letter still in it.
Ace brought up a hand to his face, then looked at it. It was almost like he was going to instinctively adjust his glasses, except of course that he didn't wear any such glasses.
A train of thought was a train of thought, but a letter was much more accessible. Ace turned his thoughts towards the paper.
This is a letter, from me, to you. You could also say it's from you, to me, and that would make sense from a point of identity. It does not take into account the amnesia we must deal with daily, so the correct form is from me -- with intact memories -- to you -- with gaps.
I hope this letter finds you in good health. For obvious reasons. For the past few weeks I suspect that my apartment is being searched carefully by unauthorized intruders when I leave it. I base this suspicion on the erratic behavior of my security devices. Only one could be adjusted without my knowledge of magick machinery, and that would just reset it to a kill-everything mode. I must therefore conclude the intruder is someone who, like me, possesses knowledge of the way of gears, but lacks both my style and my level of skill.
I have ruled out all of my present allies and neighbors via a process too long to list here. I have no idea who it might be, but I think I may have had such an idea in the past, because this type of situation has recurred at least TWICE in EVERY journal I have ever kept. I think I have a stalker, to speak plainly.
From what I have inferred from the disorganized nature of my notes and journal entries, I burned some memories to construct fair-to-middlin' attack machinery, but whenever I came out of the Fugue, no such machine could be located and the premises had to be vacated immediately. Once it was on fire.
I have three theories, but I will put only one down here. This theory is that someone has been riding my ass for the past couple of years, forcing me to create machines, which they then take for themselves. They have a potent gadget, I have a year-long gap in my thought processes. The other theories are simply too incredulous for me to expect a future version of myself to beleive, and the last thing I need is to screw up my credibility with myself.
That was my theory. THIS is my plan:
I have placed in the laundry room the mechanized arachnid I stripped down to produce the acoustic stunner I was planning to use on Cassidy Vargas. Or Vargus. Or whatever! I have not restored any of its higher functions, but I have installed a time-share, autonomic repair feature and a set of spare parts in the abdomen. When this is stolen after my next visit to Alzheimer Land, it will construct, in the home base of whoever stole it, a Guiding Beacon.
If it's activated, trust me, you will freaking notice.
To summarize: We have troubles, I am working on solving them, it's up to you to impliment the solution. Regards,
P.S.: John, our neighbor down the hall, wants us to install a means of communication into Kimiko. Don't forget to rewind her again when you get in, even though she should be good for three weeks. Just pump the left forearm. Also, you hate Red Bull. I know this because I tried it not ten days ago and I would have cut off my tongue if I could have found something sharp enough in that store.
P.S.S.: There are the start of some designs for a prosthetic tongue in your bedroom if you should ignore my warning and drink that stuff anyway. Gives you wings my ASS.
Ace looked at the letter, then turned it around. On the back side, there was a note. "Kimiko, put the other letter in the drawer. Don't open it. Thanks, Builder."
Ace looked at the letter, then at the unopened envelope, then at the opened one. Something deep in his subconscious mind clicked.
"Come one guys. I must maintain my maid."
"That sounded very dirty. Also, fuck no. She tried to kill me."
"She removed you from the laundry room."
"Well, if I drew my lifeforce from detergent, she COULD have killed me!"
Ace opened the door to the room and looked around. Two machines, obviously of the washer and dryer persuasion. One sewing machine. One robot maid sitting behind the sewing machine. No giant machine spider. Everything made sense so far.
Ace walked over and looked at the maid, almost tripping over the edge of his memory loss. Tapping his chin, he tried to dredge any concrete information about the maid out of his head, with no luck. Oh well.
The machine turned to look at him.
"You can understand me, right?"
"But I never gave you speech capability."
A shake of the head.
"Are you just a personality program, or are you self-aware?"
John tapped his fingers on the dryer. "Try rephrasing the question as yes or no."
"Are you self-aware?"
"So you have feelings and a changing personality?"
"Do you have any other skills besides housework?"
"Okay, I reeeeally have to build a speech machine soon. Do you run off of a tension mainspring?"
"Does that need to be rewound?"
"How do I do that?"
The robot stood up from the chair and lifted the outfit from its skin. Ace looked down at Cody and noticed the dog's almost palpable disappointment that the robot had not been made "fully functional", then looked closer. The spot where a navel would go on a human was occupied by a large slotted screw, mounted on an insulated gasket.
Ace nodded, then reached behind the washer. There was a large flathead screwdriver hanging on a rack back there -- he didn't remember the fact, he just knew it was there. He slotted the screwdriver and turned it clockwise. There was a ratcheting sound inside the maid, and he continued until Kimiko stepped back.
"I guess the spring is fully wound. Kimiko, can I see your left arm?"
The robot held out the limb. Ace carefully held it and began contracting it back towards the upper arm, like a bizarre negative version of somebody doing arm crunches. There were strange clicking noises coming from within the robot, and after about fifteen times, the mouth opened with a loud click.
Ace looked inside the mouth. There were no teeth, no real jawbone structure... this had been an afterthought. An afterthought designed to conceal...
"Kimiko, remove the object in your mouth, FROM your mouth, and place it on the dryer, please."
With some clicking and whirring, Kimiko complied. Ace peered at the metallic mass. It looked to be some sort of medallion or dog tag. He picked it up and turned it around in his hands.
It was not solid metal. Not at all. This was definitely some sort of machine, hidden from an unknown threat, even from himself, as the letter was blatantly wrong on the means of rewinding the maid. Assuming he'd written the letter... but then again, that could also be a part of it.
While his conscious mind seemed to flailing around trying to find purchase, some subconscious Ace was grinning the grin of the Cheshire cat.
"Thanks, Kimiko. You've been a big help."
The robot bowed and sat down again. Cody grinned a wolf's grin and walked up next to her. "Yeah, you may be a big helper, but just remember, I'M man's best friend, and that means that I'm literally the top dog ar- OH SHIT Don't bother to get up I'll let myself out thanks!"
John lept up on top of the washing machine to avoid being knocked sprawling by the furry missile that was Cody.
Kimiko, her function served, sat down again.