Molly remembered her first week of basic training. Lugdon had read her the riot act for some antics in the lab. She couldn’t even remember what it was about now, she’d been in this office so many times since then for various reasons.
None of them entirely her fault.
Lugdon’s dark brow was furrowed as he flicked the screen upward, still engrossed. He was okay. He’d been kind of fatherly to her—mostly. At least until that time they were both a little drunk after a squad party a few months ago.
By her ancestors, she wished she could die right now.
Lugdon looked up at her. She couldn’t be sure, but there seemed to be a glint in his eye. Hell, he knew exactly what a 4077 was. Her cheeks flushed bright red again, especially remembering their history.
“I didn’t think you’d last longer than a week. Hell, I was surprised you made it through Basic Training.” He swiped at the holo, disappearing the screen.
Molly raised one eyebrow, quizzically.
“Well…you came to us with a background in theoretical energy physics and computer science—both self-taught, I believe. You could have done anything. It was beyond me why you were here.”
“I figured all your capers were because you were bored.”
His voice softened. “You’re one hell of a lady…” His voice drifted off, perhaps remembering something she had been too drunk to recall.
He suddenly looked flustered and gruffly cleared his throat.
“Always thought you were wasted in an R&D position. Anyway, your discharge is approved.”
“Thank you, sir,” Molly responded, with a short sigh of relief.
“I’d say it was a pleasure, but you were a real pain in my ass, Flight Sergeant.” He smiled warmly and stood up. She did the same, and saluted.
As he returned her salute, a wave of sadness hit her. She knew she didn’t belong here, but this was a big change, and all so fast.
“Don’t let me see you in here again,” he teased, dismissing her. He’d said that to her countless times over her stay here. This time, he seemed to be getting his wish.
Fuck you and my fucking arsewank of a fucking life!!!!
Wishing the ground would just get on with it and swallow her up, Molly ended her salute and reached down to scratch her crotch again while fighting to maintain eye contact with her former supervisor. Her cheeks were now deep purple and her heart was in her mouth. She was sick with embarrassment.
He was buying it. He smiled a toothy, amused grin, shaking his head, as she turned awkwardly and headed to the door.
Unable to look him in the eye again, she stepped out and closed the door with her back still to him. She leaned against the doorframe.
That went well.
I’m glad you’re amused, you fuckwit of a glorified subroutine she huffed as she started down the hall.
Chenz’ Bar, Downtown Uptarlung. Irk’n Quarter
Remind me why we’re here again.
Remind you? I never told you.
I’m using your syntax to smooth our integration.
I detect sarcasm.
Yeah, and I never had to utter a word out loud.
Neural connections, baby. I feel you.
Don’t be a wanker.
The AI was silent.
That reminds me…you don’t have a name.
You mean a designation? Sure I do. I am Project Ozimandaus 0922.
That’s not a name.
Yes it is. That’s what your colleagues, Sue and Dickwad-Charles, called me.
Yeah, but that’s not a name. Not like “Sue” or “Charles,” or “Molly”. They were referring to the project. Not you. Plus, it’s a fucking mouthful to say, and no way I’m going to remember that.
I’m not a Sarkian of any variety, and therefore I don’t require a Sarkian designation.
But you are sentient, and you deserve a name.
Even though I hijacked your holo?
AND neural cortex.
Yes. Even though I hijacked your holo and neural cortex?
Yes, even though. Have you got any ideas about what you’d like me to call you?
Baby? Sexy? Hot stuff? Bad boy???
What the fuck?
Molly scrambled in the recesses of her mind trying to recall why he might know those words. They sounded familiar. Shit, they were how she would refer to her crushes. How would he have access to that kind of data?
All right, you arseburger, what gives? What makes you say those things?
I’m just kidding around. To be honest, I haven’t thought about it. What would be an appropriate designation for something like myself? Is there a nomenclature that is relevant here? Or a social convention?
Hmm… not really. I guess my preference would be to give you something easy for me to say, and to communicate with others when the time comes to introduce you to people. Also, I like the idea of using your project designation in a name
Molly’s eye scanned the crowded bar looking for inspiration. Nothing at all jumped out at her.
What about “Oz”?
It’s short for Ozimandaus–which is actually a cool name too. Maybe that can be your Sunday name.
Yeah, like your full name for formal occasions.
Molly mulled it over, imagining what Oz the AI might even look like. For a moment, she pictured the ridiculous Holly on that ancient show she used to watch as a kid…what was it called? Red Dwarf? Yes. Red Dwarf—with the folks who had the hilariously melodic accents. Thank goodness Grandpa had downloaded all those cultural pods before he and Nana had left the QBBS Meredith Reynolds all those years ago.
Okay. I like it. “Oz” it is, then.
Great. So, Oz, the reason we are here is because we need to make money. And fast.
What about that trust you have set up? That could keep us going for a century or more.
How do you know about that?
I did a search on you. Once I we were off base and I was hooked up to the XtraNET, I just scanned for anything that had your DNA or retinal print attached to it. Turns out it’s the optimum way to find all the recorded information on someone, no matter what their species.
You’ve been looking me up? And not just me by the sounds of it!
I think it’s logical for me to know all parameters of operation—including who I’m associating with.
“Associating with”? You jumped into my fucking holo!
Your sentiment is noted.
Anyway. That trust is private and all sorts of alarms go off if I go near it. I don’t want to touch it. Not yet. We need to find another way to make money independently.
Acknowledged. The trust is off limits.
Yes. Off. The. Record. Like I said, it’s private. I don’t want anyone else knowing about it. Okay?
So, I have a serious question. How come you’ve not come up with a plan to tap into the Central Systems’ trade market, and just syphon funds from there? I mean, you’re an AI with frickin’ uber amounts of intelligence. It wouldn’t be hard to bypass some security and take a little from a lot of trades—no one would even miss it.
Ah, but Molly Bates…that would be unethical. And you’ve forbidden me from doing anything unethical. EVER.
What? What are you talking about? I never said that.
Sure you did. When I was going to cyber-blackmail that colonel back at the base, you went off on a moral trip making me swear to never do anything like that.
That was for them. Not for me. I never meant you were supposed to be all moral and shit when it came to what we needed to do.
I don’t understand the differentiation. Please clarify.
Molly recognized the man who had just walked in the door and who was now looking around the tables. She stuck her hand in the air, waved vigorously and slid out of the booth to stand up.
Joel is here, asswipe, she grated out mentally. This conversation isn’t over.
Former Captain Joel Dunham wandered over to the table. He was buff and large. In fact, much larger than Molly remembered. It had been a few years though, and her memory for people things wasn’t great.
Joel smiled at her.
“Long time, stranger!” she grinned at him as he looked her up and down.
“Hello, Geek-brain!” he said, wrapping his bear-like arms around her. He squeezed her tight. A little too tight.
Molly tapped his back, signaling her surrender.
It was a familiar feeling to her. They’d often trained in the base gym in hand-to-hand combat. Since they’d both had extensive prior training in martial arts, their normal style would often lapse back in to some bastardized version of the ancient human arts of Jujitsu or Karate.
Many times other squad members would gather to watch them train and to speculate on who would have their ass handed to them. It was never a foregone conclusion, despite her slight frame and geeky awkwardness.
“Sorry!” he said, realizing that his enthusiasm had gotten the better of him. “I forget how delicate you girlies are.”
Molly suspected there was something loaded in that statement, along the lines of him not having much contact with women these days. She didn’t have the inclination to ask, though.
Joel’s psychodramas with women were his own.
“There’s something different about you though…” He held her out by the shoulders, looking her up and down again.
“I’ve lost weight?” She looked hopefully up at him.
He shook his head. “Something else.” He paused. The looked at her face. “Didn’t you used to be a brunette?”
Molly’s cheeks slowly revealed her embarrassment. “Yeah. One of my genetic experiments is taking longer to wear off than I had anticipated.”
Joel howled with laughter while pointing at her hair. “How much longer?” he asked catching his breath.
“Two years, three months and nineteen days. It was meant to self-correct in three months, but, well…”
“No, tequila,” she admitted.
“You were drinking?”
“No, I used tequila as the carrier fluid.” She eyed her friend in annoyance, “I was impatient and it was handy.”
Joel was still snickering, and shook his head at her. “Same ol’ Molly, I see.” She rolled her eyes…both at herself and the familiarity Joel had with her sagas
She pushed a chair out for him, and sat herself down.
“Anyway, good to see you, fuckwit. I ordered you a beer.” The waitress arrived with their drinks, and Molly was quick to get her lips around hers. “You still drink this stuff, right?””
“’Of course, and thank you. So, to what do I owe this pleasure?” he asked.
She played with her bottle before looking at him, “I’ve left the military, and I need a job.”
She didn’t say more, and allowed Joel to absorb it. He lowered his eyes to his bottle.
“A job, you say? Genius-girl Molly Bates has come to me for a job?” He looked back up at her, clearly amused at the irony. “You know, all the time you were assigned to our detail, there never once was a problem that you couldn’t solve. The boys would swear you were a witch, or a freak, or something. I just told them you were an evil genius. They called you ‘devil-woman’ behind your back, did you know that?”
“I knew,” she smiled, completely uninterested in what some meatheads thought of her.
Joel continued, “And yet you’d keep going back to the research core.” He asked her a question that he had wondered from time to time, “Why did you never join an ops team?”
She shrugged. “Dunno. Guess I just felt more comfortable not having to make life and death decisions all the time.” She looked around before returning back at her beer, “I’ve made a few mistakes in my life already. I found out that sometimes I act before I think, and sometimes even when I think, I don’t always think like normal people.”
Inside, she finished the statement she was too scared to admit, because I’m broken.
Joel waited a moment before asking. “And that’s why you want a job now? So you don’t have to put all that talent to good use?” Joel took a sip of his beer. Man, it tasted good no matter what time of day it was.
Her grin spread across her face, looking a little mischievous. “Oh, no, I’m happy to put my immense reservoirs of talent to good use. I just want you to help direct it for me at the moment!”
Joel’s squaddies often found her arrogant, but Joel knew better. He understood her weird humor, even though he didn’t get it half the time. He put it down to the whacked-out ancient shows she would watch. Fokk knows where she got those datastreams from, though. One of the engineers had once told him they were from a time long forgotten in the Sark System.
“So, a job, for your talents…that pays beer-money,” he pointed to the drink that she’d already almost drained. He rubbed his chin, pretending to think deeply.
What he couldn’t do with her talents!
“And it has to be, uh, legal,” she added, remembering that at some point she also needed to find a way of reprogramming Oz to make sure she wouldn’t be too restricted by his newfound morality.
Joel’s eyes opened wide. “Legal? What do you think I am? I’m an upstanding Sarkian, I’ll have you know!” His mock indignation made them both giggle.
Molly knew he was mostly straight-laced when it came to the jobs he would take. But there was no denying that the circumstances under which he had left the service had left a few people wondering.
Joel pursed his lips. “I have some ideas. A friend came to me the other day about something he noticed that was going down in his company: price-fixing on a type of painkiller that thousands of Oggs and Estarians need. Said there were whispers of hiking the prices to three times their market value, just because they can. He wanted a way to stop it without involving official channels or losing his job.”
He continued, waving off the waitress asking him if he wanted another beer. “I didn’t know how to fix it; I don’t have the tech skills to tackle something like that. And taking on a big corporation? Who’s going to listen to me? Not the police, that’s for sure. But now,” he glanced at her, “now you’re here. And I wonder if we can’t take this job and do some good things for these folks?”
Molly used her sultry voice, and her eyes glinted with glee. “Sounds like my cup of tea. Tell me, will there will be hacking?”
Joel had worked with her long enough to know that hacking turned her on. Shit, she is one weird chick…. “Oh, there will be hacking, baby. There will be lots and lots of hacking.”
As he smiled, his awareness seemed to drift off. When he refocused, he dropped his eyes to his beer. “You know, I never did apologize for the thing with Candy.”
Molly did a doubletake, trying to work out what he was talking about.
He lifted up his bottle to point to her, “You remember. The girl you said had several guys in the squad in tow.” He took a sip. Molly nodded, recalling the bust-up. “I just wanted to say, I appreciated you looking out for me. I mean, I know it was a big thing then and we didn’t exactly part as close as we had been. But. I’m sorry I was a jackass about it.”
Had Molly been drinking at that exact moment she may have choked. “Well, er, That’s great. I mean, yes, I was. I just didn’t want her to make a fool out of you.” She hesitated. “While we’re on the subject. I have something to apologize for too.” She noticed that Joel had looked up.
“You remember that club we went to not long after that?”
“Yeah, the gay bar where you got called away for some lab crisis?” Joel recollected the night.
Molly looked at him, hoping that she wouldn’t have to say it.
“There was no crisis, was there?” Joel figured out. “And you knew it was a gay bar?”
Molly kept her face straight. “and I paid Hose, my friend on the door, to encourage the guys to, erm, keep you company.”
Joel’s face dropped.
“Yeah. They didn’t find you that magnetic. They were having you on.”
He closed his eyes in a grimace. “You are a cold-hearted bitch!” He groaned.
“Now, now, you just tried to make good about Crystal.”
“I genuinely tried to get out of there without letting anyone feel rejected. I fretted about that for days! I even wondered if…” He stopped himself, realizing there was some information he didn’t want to share with Molly.
They looked at each other, and couldn’t help but chuckle.
Joel finally admitted. “One of them told me I should go into modeling.”
“Yeah, model airplanes maybe!” Molly retorted.
The two laughed. Just like they had done back in the day, before Candy had gotten between them.
He drained his glass, dropped some credits onto the table for the drinks, and stood up.
“Lemme talk to my contact and see what we can set up in terms of this job. I’d say ‘stay sober,’ but stay by your phone, at least. I’ll get back to you soon.”
And with that he headed out of the bar.
Molly watched his broad shoulders and buff arms leave through the front door, then signaled to the waitress for another beer. The drink was helping her process the enormity of the day, she told herself.
And the residual shit from having to deal with being ushered out of the service due to a 4077.
FROM ELL’s Facebook Page >>> (Here: http://www.facebook.com/ellleighclarke/)
My eyeballs are so tired i think they’re disappearing into my brain. For some untold reason I was spontaneously awake at 5am. Yep you read that. AM. I’m normally lucky to see 11am.
But as it turned out – it worked out well… given that MA gave me a shit tonne of homework to do in the form of author notes, and stuff and things not 20 minutes later.
Plus I tried to get some words to the lovely Jen. Jen is awesome. she puts in punctuation and translates my english into american. she rocks.
but alas, with eyeballs melting, i didn’t get nearly as much done as i would have liked.
I also think i’m kinda overwhelmed: emotionally. And it’s coz of you! I never expected such an outpouring of support from MA’s TKG fans. You guys are da frikkin bombdigity. I’m still trying to come to terms with:
a. how much fun you are. (Seriously – you guys are hilarious… I may be hitting you up for material very soon!!!!)
b. how you can laugh at the random shit that spills from my brain onto the page. #blessed
c. how frikkin awesomely supportive you are. (despite the inference of lawn faries and pitch forks that will come after me if i don’t write fast enough. If that gives me nightmares…)
anyway – i wanted to say a HUMOUNGOUS Mega-tonne sized THANK YOU.
ah man, i’m tearing up. It’s been an emotional day, and i’ve probably over-caffeinated. sigh.
Again. Thank you!
More snippets and badassery to follow in the am.
ps. that was a metric, UK tonne of “thank you”. It’s better than an American one, and the maths is easier when you stick with metric units.