By MAGGIE FINSON
Taizu swam slowly to wakefulness, prodded by the coldly insistent, metallically hard voice within her head.
COGNITIVE FUNCTIONS ON LINE.
Her thoughts were slow, reluctant, floundering through the murky currents of a mind mired in shadowy dreams of death and pain. Fighting to flee those non-memories, her mind thrashed in terror. Uncaring, the sexless, cruelly emotionless line of glittering words caught her thrashing consciousness and began pulling it away from the depths she sought to remain hidden within.
PRELIMINARY FUNCTION TESTS SUCCESSFUL.
Sight intruded, sounds forced their way into her silence, destroying peace, shattering solitude, and dragging Taizu into the world whether she wished it or not.
INITIATION SEQUENCE RUNNING.
Program inexorably, remorselessly, drew her away from dreams. Thrusting her into a reality both strangely new and horribly familiar. Her body joined the protest, thrashing, seeking to tear herself loose from restraints holding limbs and body down. Searching for a way to run, return to the comforting dark silences she was being torn away from.
FULL FUNCTION IN THIRTY SECONDS.
Cold, factual, Library supplied her with the description of the sounds her voice made during the struggle. Taizu was screaming.
Like a newborn, she examined everything around her. A quick glance, a soft touch, drinking in the textures, sounds, sights, and sensations as if she were a dry sponge absorbing a flood of water. All of it was new to her, with tantalizing echoes of familiarity she found disturbing until Program smoothed the jagged surges of emotion those pseudo memories evoked.
“Who are you?” she had asked in a lilting voice designed to stroke a man’s desire along with his ears. Nothing else. Not “What is this place?” or “What am I doing here?” When first beholding the man who greeted her awakening.
“Your father,” Benjamin Rhodes answered simply with an encouraging smile, though his heart lurched at the question. “I built you, gave you life. Why did you try fighting the initiation sequences? I thought I might lose you through that and have to begin all over again.”
“I was afraid,” came the simple, childish response, then she had turned away to start her slow perusal of the lab where she had been born without uttering another word to him.
Dr. Benjamin Rhodes, cyberneticist and pre-eminent researcher in organic interfacing with cybernetic constructs, settled back to watch his cybernetic child with keen interest in her reactions.
Taizu was well worth watching. She was, even making allowances for his own professional conceits, a true work of art.
One hundred sixty five centimeters tall, lithe, exquisitely formed by any standards with a complexion the color of light, pure honey she moved easily with a saucy sway of hips and slight bouncing of breasts that excited the manhood in him even from a distance.
Unconcerned with either her nudity or the man’s reaction to it, she went about her explorations with the easy single mindedness of a young child.
One small foot poised to take another unstudied step caused his breath to catch in his throat. A delicate hand lightly stroking a console caused the pulse to pound in his head, and brought a wish that she would touch him that way. Thick sable hair brushing exciting globes of buttocks rippled one way or another with her motions, revealing then concealing in an unconscious dance that aroused him in ways no real woman had in years. The only feature that wasn’t perfect in a human sense on her body were the delicately pointed, elfin ears that proclaimed the truth of what she was.
A very expensive toy, made for the pleasure of some wealthy man who required something other than human companionship for one reason or another. The reason Perry required such a toy was something Rhodes preferred not to think too much about.
Finished with her examination of the lab, Taizu turned to face him once again. Heart shaped face, delicate nose and chin, high, well defined cheeks and large almond shaped sea green eyes combined to give her a doll-like innocence belied by the sensuality of her body and movements.
Absolute perfection emotionlessly stared at him for a moment, empty of all thought, desire, or any human emotion.
Finally, noting his reactions without surprise, her crimson cupid’s bow of a mouth formed a slow, lazy smile that dazzled him the moment it appeared.
Taizu, Rhodes decided, was heartbreakingly beautiful, and extremely well designed for her obvious functions. Lovely enough to make a man forget to breathe when he saw her. Possibly, she could make one man in particular forget other things. Like caution. And mistrust of his surroundings. She was made for that, for a man to love.
Looking at her, he could almost forgive lowering himself to building a sex toy for Damon Perry, CEO of the sprawling corporate entity known simply as Edgecorp.
“Why were you frightened?” shaking off the resentment and pangs of emotion from things he had sworn not to think of, he questioned his creation.
“I...” hesitating, with a troubled expression across her delicately shaped features, Taizu shook her head in confusion. “I don’t know. I was just afraid to... To come back? Is that right? Was I alive before?”
“Do you remember anything?” Rhodes inquired, mindful of how she had nearly torn the table she had been on to pieces during activation.
“No,” vague feelings of fear, desperation, anger and despair flitted through the shadowed organic pathways left in her brain before Program quelled them. Shaking herself like an animal coming out of a pool, Taizu gave her creator an apologetic look. “Nothing. But I ought to, shouldn’t I?”
“Not yet,” Rhodes soothed. “You’ll remember when you need to.
Don’t fret over it, dear,” frowning, then changing his expression to the reassuring smile he’d been wearing, he finished.”And don’t be afraid of the memories when they do come. Those things can’t hurt you any longer.”
“Why would anyone wish to hurt me?” was her plaintive response to that, carrying echoes of pain he remembered even though she didn’t.
“No one would, darling,” Rhodes widened his smile as she relaxed at his assurances. “You’re made for love, my darling child. Nothing else would enter any man’s mind when he sees you, remember that.”
“But I was hurt, wasn’t I?” widened eyes like surf and foam tore his heart with their confusion.
“Once, but that will never happen again.” Rhodes replied, like a father soothing a frightened child by showing her the dark hole of a closet was empty.
Only Taizu’s closet held enough monsters to terrify a grown man who had already seen enough horrors to numb his soul. And all those possessed names, faces, real presences in the world that had come to be in the past century. Presences that wounded more than one world simply by their existence. Faces he dared not recall, names he dared not speak aloud, positions he hoped could be assailed and eventually toppled into the ruin his own life had become.
But for the moment, he had a child to deal with. A child with a far too mature shape and purpose that he had brought into a cruelly harsh and unforgiving existence. One he wouuld be forced into letting go far sooner than he cared for at all.
The trip from the lab where she was born to the private apartments of the man who was to be her owner excited Taizu. There were wonders in the tiniest detail of corridor, people encountered, and the texture of everything amazed her. Rhodes smiled openly at her joy in those discoveries, allowing her to savor them for minutes at a time before reminding her they had a destination to reach.
“Why is everyone staring?” she asked in puzzled innocence that would soon be a thing of the past as men stopped what they were doing to ogle, and women watched critically, some with contempt, others with something close to pity in their eyes.
“You’re worth staring at, dearest,” Rhodes assured her. “I think you’re about the most beautiful thing any of these people have ever seen. People like looking at beautiful things.”
“I am?” she breathed in wonder. “Beautiful?”
“Yes,” Rhodes answered while thinking, ‘Nearly beyond endurance, my child.’
He almost had to drag her away from the first window to the outside they passed. Her own reflection drew her first, then the myriad spectacles of upper level Los Angeles stole her attention.
Multicolored towers of stone, metal, sculpted concrete and glittering glass adorned with flashing lights, advertisements, and identifications of the companies that owned them stretched to the horizon the wide glassteel window revealed. Taizu cooed at the vision, delighted in the flitting dragonflies of transports moving through and between the buildings, joyed in mundane, and to Rhodes, unsavory, calls to buy the product extolled in the ads.
Her joy fled as her gaze lowered to show the strips of open parkland that were the haunts of mercenaries, outlaws, and the unwanted. As her eyes clouded with troubled half memories, Rhodes interrupted her before she could delve more deeply into things she wasn’t prepared to deal with yet.
“Come along, darling,” he finally urged. “Mr. Perry is waiting for us.”
“Exquisite,” Damon Perry congratulated the sometimes troublesome scientist as he and Rhodes observed the man’s latest creation tentatively examine the rooms that were to be a large part of her world from that time forward. “If not for the ears, I’d think she was human, doctor.”
When first presented to the man, Taizu had felt a moment of dizziness, then a flash of emotion she recognized as fear mixed with hatred, though she couldn’t recall ever feeling such things before.
A brief picture of the same man looming over her with a glittering object in one hand and cruel smile on his face, and remembered feelings of pain threatened to have her frozen in the doorway until Program soothed and took over, moving her elegantly into the man’s apartments.
Clad in a snug silken sheath the buttery yellow of morning sunlight and high heels, Taizu turned at the sound of his voice and offered a smile that was not tentative at all. Her flood of raven hair had been pulled back in a single heavy braid, displaying her shell like, delicately pointed ears and the ornate earrings swinging from their lobes.
Those ears proclaimed what she was more emphatically than if her purpose for existence had been engraved on the pristine synthskin of her forehead. Nymph. Construct made to pleasure a male and superbly programmed for that. A toy, though a very expensive one. Rhodes fervently hoped the Chief Executive Officer of Edgecorp would like his new toy.
Even come to love her.
“Your preferences in women is pretty well known,” Rhodes quietly answered. “I designed her specifically to meet those tastes. I’m happy that you appreciate my efforts, sir.”
“Appreciate them?” Perry, the driving force behind an interplanetary corporate entity that had become a leader in technologies and biologic systems that would have been science fiction only a few years before, couldn’t take his eyes off the cybernetic vision the scientist had personally presented him with just minutes earlier. “Its name is Taizu, you said?”
“Her name, sir,” Rhodes corrected. “Taizu has a full range of human-like emotions and responses. Hurt her feelings and she’ll pout or cry. Please her, she’ll smile and be grateful. Say something funny and she’ll laugh. My little darling is much more than a sensuous sex toy, Mr. Perry.”
“I am impressed,” Perry nodded, smiling his pleasure while running a thick fingered hand through thinning red hair. “You do remarkable work for us, doctor. I’ve never regretted buying your company out of bankruptcy, or signing you on. Thank you.”
That was a dismissal; Rhodes nodded his acceptance of the man’s thanks, then stopped on his way out to speak with Taizu. “Remember, dearest, this is the man you were made for. Don’t be afraid of him.”
“I’ll remember,” she smiled, then held out a slim hand while her expression took on a distressed, forlorn look. “Do you have to leave already?”
“Yes,” Rhodes told his creation with a bittersweet smile. “I don’t belong in executive country, not any longer. You do.”
“Good bye then,” Taizu’s eyes held something foreign to most cybernetic nymphs or cyborgs. Fear and the resolve to master it.
Damon Perry’s executive suite was lushly furnished in subdued colors and materials that were sheer delight to Taizu as she ran fingers lightly across first one, then another piece of furniture or set of drapes. Her owner didn’t forbid her from those little explorations, so she lost herself in the simple, childish pleasures.
“Different than the labs where you were put together,” he rumbled to himself as she touched everything around her at least once.
“Yes,” she had heard his whisper, turned to smile at him with an innocence that would have melted another man’s heart instantly. Damon, jaded as he was and usually requiring more than a pretty face or inviting shape to arouse him, found it oddly appealing. Harking back to a time when he was simpler himself.
He wondered how she would hold up to some of his more demanding games. Most of his human partners, acquired through a network of procurers for activities that would have a less powerful man in detention or mind wiped if discovered, were only good for a few hours of his sadistic attentions.
She looked so delicate he doubted she would fare much better. A fragile little doll moving lithely and sensuously through his personal apartments who embodied everything in a woman he’d ever dreamed of. Physically, at least.
“Come here,” he commanded, gratified when she instantly complied and catching his breath once she lowered her eyes and awaited his pleasure in front of him. What was the word Rhodes had used to describe her in veiled commentary regarding his preferences? Durable.
‘I made Taizu durable for you,’ the scientist/tech’s words echoed in his mind.
“Look at me, Taizu,” his baritone softly urged as he decided to test this expensive, exquisite toy for himself. When she did as he ordered, her cheek was met by the rapidly descending flat of his hand.
The meaty sound of palm against flesh was satisfyingly real as was the feel of soft flesh under his hand. Taizu, thrown to her back on the carpet by the force of a blow that might have broken a human woman’s neck by itself, picked herself up silently and returned to stand in front of him without expression.
“Have I displeased you?” her liquid voice sang unhappily as a butterfly fluttering of one hand flitted over the fading red mark on her now marred cheek.
“No, little one,” Damon Perry smiled beatifically down at her from his superior height and struck her again. “Quite the contrary.”
“Does it bother you?” he asked her later, once his testing had been completed and she stood before him without a mark on her to indicate how savage he had been. “My using you like that?”
“I was made for you,” was her simple, unaccusing response.
Still naked from the frenzied lovemaking his arousal had precipitated, having the dress ripped off her once he had finished with the beating she took in silence, then being pressed to the floor under his weight, Taizu arched her back for him. One hand smoothed her mussed hair, freed from its braid by Perry’s attentions, while the other played mischievously with his still erect sex.
“I was made for love,” soft voiced, she kept stroking and teasing him as a slow, hungry smile spread over her angelic face. “Whatever that might be for you. I’m yours, completely, and fully programmed for your requirements.”
His second use of Rhode’s extraordinary birthday present was far gentler. But no less satisfying. Her mouth and hands were talented beyond belief, as was the moistly inviting cavity between her immmaculate thighs. She even smelled of aroused female, which surprised him when he first scented the musky odor rising from her during their lovemaking.
Taizu still associated Damon Perry with vague feelings of fear and pain, though the beatings he administered caused her very little of either. Something within her also hated the man. With a force that nearly staggered her whenever it surfaced. Program smoothed those jagged surges of emotion, calming and reminding her of her function.
Which was simply, to love a man she feared and hated for reasons that refused to come clear. Even if she nearly cringed whenever he approached her during those first days with him, her function was to love and please him.
But she was his, a possession of great value she knew, from the way he watched her as she moved about his apartments. Or the manner in which he showed her off to associates. Something in her, beyond Program and it’s insistent, logical dictates, wanted the man to value her. That part, the part which terrified her even more than chill memory, was not at all passive in its desires.
So Taizu smiled for him, spoke sweetly and seductively whenever she was around him, served without complaint whenever he wished for something in her power to give, and endured the man’s twisted affections. She returned caresses for blows, posed to incite him, danced erotically when posing failed, waited for something she wasn’t certain she’d recognize when it happened. And loved him as she had been made to do.
Damon’s blows, curses, and abuse slowly diminished in the face of Taizu’s quiet acceptance of whatever he did. Most of his pleasure from inflicting pain was in the victim’s terror of it.
His new toy’s calm, uncomplaining acceptance of whatever he did, her lack of fear, silent endurance in the face of abuse that would have broken human bones and shredded flesh less resilient than her life-like synthskin robbed his activities of much anticipated pleasure.
Yet she still drew him, called his eyes to her fragile appearing form, her sweetly angelic, sensuous face, by doing nothing more than being present in the same group of rooms he inhabited. Her innocence, even though he knew that was programmed, called to something in himself he had thought long dead and dried up. Truthfully, in full function, her attentions were almost as soothing as his calculated atrocities.
He found himself thinking of the nymph at odd times, as if she were a human woman who had captivated him. Her childlike joy in little, insignificant things at first amused, then enchanted the jaded ruler of the most powerful industrial empire in the solar system.
A single touch of her delicate, skilled hand would make him sweat, while a look at her usually unclad form ignited a flame of desire he began finding as frightening as it was refreshing.
“I can lose myself in you,” he murmured to no one in particular while watching her with her newest game. Taizu had delightedly presented him with a sample of synthskin she had either been given or simply picked up in her almost infantile lack of morals during one of their visits to the cyberlabs. Laughing her pleasure while pressing it against his hand and her own.
Indulgently, he had allowed that for a moment, pretending to give the substance a careful looking over as she worked it against his flesh. ”It’s very fine, Taizu. But what will do you with it?”
“I can pretend it’s your skin even when you aren’t here,” giving him a suggestive glance and tilting her honey gold hips, she again surprised him with her earthiness by running a small pink tongue across the strip of artificial flesh as she watched him watch her.
“Pretend all you like, minx,” he laughed gently, regretfully pushing her away, then leaning forward to place a light kiss on her pouting mouth. “But do it over there. I have a meeting coming up with my physician, then business. Later, doll.”
That was really all she was, he forcibly reminded himself as the nymph hung her head in not so feigned disappointment. She, it, was a perfectly designed and programmed sex toy, after all. Only a toy. Not the flesh and blood woman she so startlingly seemed to be off and on.
Taizu was happily playing with her new toy, stretching it over her own tiny hand and cooing her pleasure when the doctor arrived and Damon had to force his attention away from her.
Mendoza finished his examination, gesturing for Damon to put his shirt back on while casting a rapid glance to Taizu, who had lost interest in her synthskin and was prowling in front of Damon’s entertainment library with sinuous grace.
“Healthy as I’ve ever seen you,” Mendoza grinned, “That ulcer you were showing signs of last month just seems to have disappeared. Guess your little toy is good for you.”
“I thought you didn’t approve,” Damon gave the thin, blond chief of his medical division a provocative lift of eyebrow. “Of my playing with her so much.”
“With it,” Mendoza corrected amiably. “And I don’t. If you can get so enthralled with nothing more than an expensive toy, no matter how life-like it may be, you could do the same with a real woman and get much more productive results.”
“All right, no lectures,” Mendez scowled briefly then shrugged in response to Damon’s frown at his observation. “I’ll leave you and your little plaything to do whatever it is that has you so relaxed in your free time.
“Right after your vitamin shot,” the doctor sighed, pulling a drug injector out of his small bag.
Unnoticed by either man, Taizu stiffened when the medical implement was brought out, staring at the glittering device in Mendez’ hand with unconcealed shock and widely fixed eyes.
“Bryan,” Damon Perry, face fixed in a sorrowful, disappointed expression produced a drug injector from somewhere behind him. “I’m disappointed you had to see what you did here. You should have just come in the front door. We could have avoided all this unpleasantness if you hadn’t sneaked in here when you did.
“I am sorry about the girl, we had no idea she was one of yours, didn’t look like a merc at all when Su’s people brought her in.” he went on, carefully showing her the injector, then giving her a hopeful look. “We could have chalked it up as a mistake, still could if you weren’t so unreasonable.”
Anger. Mixed with fear. And hate. Images fuzzed along with voices as the one called Bryan snarled something in response.
“Didn’t think so,” Perry shrugged, then smiled while holding the thing in front of his face. “You’ve never been reasonable in your life, have you, my friend?
This is a brand new development from the labs,” Perry conversationally told him, as if they were discussing the latest football scores and standings, holding it against his strapped down arm and pressing the trigger.
Bryan flinched as the thing hissed, forcing whatever it contained into his bloodstream. Perry smiled as he did, but with held comment on his pleasure in his growing fear.
“It’s a nerve toxin,” he went on quietly. “Eats nerve tissue like a kid at his first carnival going through cotton candy. Slow, though, and by all reports, quite painful. Excruciating, they tell me.”
Bryan snarled wordlessly, struggling against the straps holding him securely in Perry’s special guest chair.
“Haven’t named it yet, maybe we’ll name it for you,” Perry grinned fleetingly, then turned to leave his high tech, deadly, playroom. At the door, he turned to observe the object of his current game with a mocking smile. “I don’t suppose it will slow you down much at first. Once you’re released, I’m very sure you’ll give the hunter team waiting outside a good workout before they run you down.
Or before you blow your own brains out to escape the pain,” his final words were muffled, then amplified by the wall speaker near the chair still holding the merc. “Goodbye, Deccini. You’ll forgive me for not staying till the end of the party I hope?”
Bryan, already feeling an uncomfortable tingle in fingers and toes, launched herself from the chair once the restraints were loosened, snatched the weapons his sometimes employer had quite deliberately left in the open, checked to make certain they functioned, then followed him through the door.
With the vain hope that Damon Perry had been fool enough to remain within his reach. Bleakly determined to take someone through the gates of hell with him, the mercenary team leader began his own, final, run for friendly lines.
Taizu returned to her own surroundings with a soundless gasp that was close to a sob. Still feeling the powerful emotions of the doomed man, she gave in to Program’s shunting systems back and forth to ease her distress.
But the memory remained, clearly etched in her mind. Along with Bryan’s rage, and pain.
Had either man in the room been paying attention, they would have been chilled by the suddenly hard gleam in the plaything’s usually soft, guileless eyes. And terrifed by the ruthlessly damped flare of hatred they held.
The Persistence of Memory
“Bryan Deccini,” she sighed, padding out of the bedroom where a very sated Damon Perry slept following one of their more extensive bouts of bedroom gymnastics. “Who were you?”
Making certain the surveillance devices saw only what she wished them to by utilizing internal programs she hadn’t known existed hours earlier, the still naked nymph seated herself behind Perry’s desk wearing a tiny frown of concentration. One small hand ran lightly over the console of Damon’s private comp deck pausing, like a butterfly flitting from one perch to another, at specific points until it came lightly to rest and stayed.
Micron thin filaments extruded from her palm into the machine, bypassing a number of safeties while deactivating the machine’s audio output centers.
“IDENTIFY.” the electronic brain within the deceptively small console demanded.
“Damon Perry,” a perfect duplication of the man’s voice issued from Taizu’s slim throat and Cupid’s bow mouth.
“VOICE IDENTIFICATION CONFIRMED, MR. PERRY.” words echoed in her mind and nowhere else, “PLEASE PLACE YOUR HAND ON THE ACCESS PLATE TO OPEN FILES.”
Ready for that demand, the nymph placed her other hand, wearing a meticulously padded glove of the same syntheskin Perry had been so amused by her delight in earlier that day, on the softly glowing plastic rectangle.
“HAND PRINT IDENTIFICATION ACCEPTED. WHICH FILES DO YOU WISH,MR. PERRY?”
Features serene as a goddess’, Taizu read the files she was searching for, instructed the comp to remove all memory of the transactions, shut the system down, removed her wire encrusted hand and watched the extruded sensory connections pull back into her flesh with a troubled expression on her lovely face.
Specially secreted enzymes her own, newly developed, flesh ignored dissolved the glove.
Momentarily allowing herself a cool glance to the security readout on Perry’s comp, still happily reporting no intrusions, authorized or otherwise, Damon Perry’s plaything padded silently back to the room and bed that embraced her god, her owner.
She stood silently watching his sleeping form for eternal minutes before snuggling back into the man’s arms wearing a small, lopsided smile.
“Su,” Perry spoke into the phone to his chief of dirty tricks, and procurer. “No more packages for awhile, the Mercs’ Guild is still stirred up over that Clarice Moon business and I can’t afford having them on the prod. We use them too much right now.”
He listened to the other’s response, watching Taizu stare out the window of his living area and thinking that the girls supplied by the man he was talking to paled in comparison to what he was seeing.
Besides, his need to hurt women, a result of childhood abandonment by a mother who hated him, humiliations and pain dealt out by sisters who resented him, were fading to nothing under the gentle, uninhibitedly loving presence in his living room.
“I’ll let you know when I want any more,” he closed the conversation with Su, then returned his attention to contemplating the toy that had so captivated, and changed his perceptions in the month he had possessed her.
Taizu was delighted with her wardrobe, carefully chosen to enhance her already stunning appearance. Perry shared her pleasure, enjoying her gasps and joyful little exclamations as she tried on first one, then another of the garments to see how they looked when she was wearing them.
He had gone to some trouble, hiring a consultant for that, then convincing the shocked woman to put together a suitably decorous wardrobe for what was still an animated love doll in most people’s opinions.
But not, he found, in his own.
There had been whispers, behind his back and supposedly out of his hearing. About how his attachment to the cybernetic nymph was getting to be an unhealthy thing for more people than just himself.
Whispers that his interest in the toy went deeper than psyche was allowed to tell anyone. That he was beginning to think of a mere sex toy, no matter how sophisticated the thing was, as human.
He didn’t, but began pretending it might be so, taking her with him wherever he went in spite of objections from associates and acquaintances.
For the first time in years he felt completely comfortable, or comfortable as a man could be, in the presence of someone else.
As he basked in the warmth of her presence, inhaled the heady scent of her in the next room playing some vid game with childish abandon, and little giggles of pleasure, someone moved to eliminate two embarrassments to the corporation.
Someone with a lot to lose if the attempt failed, so the interested party had paid for and hired the best to be found on a bloody minded and violent Earth.
The vid-game, actually a fairly sophisticated flight trainer for a still secret fighter plane, engaged only a small part of Taizu’s mind.
The rest of her considerable mental resources were worrying at the puzzle that Byran Deccini was, and why he figured so prominently in her dreams of late.
Dreams that something like she was shouldn’t have at all, given the electronic structure of her brain. Nightmares would describe them better, of endless hallways filled with hostile forces hunting her, or him, pain that was indescribable as every nerve in a hauntingly familiar, human, body screamed in fiery agony from the exotic toxin in his system.
Flashes of disturbing pseudo-memory had even started disturbing her active, fully wakeful periods. Flashes of a body that should have seemed heavy and awkward, unbalanced and uncomfortable to her, but was in many ways comfortably familiar to something buried deeply in her mind.
She was made to be a man’s ultimate plaything, to be soft, yielding, accomodating to a male’s every whim. She strove to please her master in every facet of their existence together, and largely succeeded, she knew. But under all that were the so-disturbing memories that shouldn’t be in her head at all.
Knowledge of weapons, fleeting glimpses of whole systems meant for nothing but destruction, and worse, how to use her body as a lethal weapon intruded on her otherwise gentle being. Small urges to violence at odd times had so far been quelled by Program and her own repugnance for the feelings. But those alien urges were becoming stronger, more insistent, and were beginning to feel natural.
Taizu was afraid. Of the weird dream/memories that shouldn’t be hers, of the way she was changing internally as those unwelcome intruders forced her attention to acts and abilities she wasn’t meant to have.
She was also becoming afraid of herself. In Perry’s exercise rooms, she effortlessly performed gymnastic feats that reeked of martial training or programming. Once, she had broken a sparring robot that she had activated on a lark to see if she could charm it out of fighting. She couldn’t, but did crack the control panel with a sudden blow as the thing rained blows on her. That crack widened after another cleverly placed blow, then the internal workings of the bot were bared to her dexterous fingers and the sparring bot would function no more. She had hidden the ruined thing, then disposed of it once the shock of what she had done cleared from her mind.
“Who were you, Bryan Deccini?” she questioned nothing in particular, then frowned as she finished the useless question, “and why are you haunting me?”
While Taizu struggled with ideas that no cybernetic mind was designed ot cope with, six shadowy figures flitted like ghosts through the corridors of Edgecorp’s corporate headquarters. After slighting from an electronically cloaked and silent flitter they dispersed through the top floor, each with a different specific task.
One disabled the defensive system’s automatics that would have otherwise riddled intruders with a variety of nasty little pieces of ordnance. Another quickly accessed the security system and bypassed any alarmms that might go off during their mission. Another uploaded codes into the building’s computer system that would open the areas they required for entry to complete their mission to the group. The remaining three ruthlessly neutralized the live guards on duty in the executive living quarters they were raiding.
Five minutes after their entrance, all six met at the door leading to their target. No alarms had sounded, no defensive weaponry had fired, and no living guard would interfere during the time needed to accomplish their task and be safely gone. With a series of hand signals from the leader, one of them opened the high security doors and they furtively entered the private domain of their target. The last one in sealed the door, and any others allowing entrance and exit to the quarters with a code that was not in the building’s system, effectively sealing the present occupants in and any others out.
Something was wrong. Programs and functions Taizu had not been aware of began to awaken as a feeling of unease filled her. There were intruders in her master’s quarters, unannounced and stealthy. That combination triggered more buried functions and she left the vid running at the same volume while quietly rising to investigate.
After messaging Perry’s comp screen with a warning. “INRUDERS IN HERE, BE ON GUARD. TRUST ME ON THIS, MASTER. T.”
More alert than any pleasure droid should be capable of, she glided across the floor and began her own quiet search of the hallways and rooms of her little world.
Damon Perry froze momentarily as the warning flashed on his screen. Instinct for survival took over as he began accessing the security functions that protected his person and living quarters.
AUTO DEFENSES - DISENGAGED
ALARMS - DISENGAGED
DOOR LOCKS - ACCESS DENIED
INTERIOR CAMERAS - DISENGAGED
OUTSIDE COMMUNICATIONS - ACCESS DENIED
The litany of disaster grew as he experienced a twinge of mixed anger and fear. He couldn’t even seal off his study, and nothing he tried would engage any of the systems. Cursing, Perry wrenched open a lower drawer in his desk and removed a small, but deadly needle gun, knowing that it would be almost useless against the caliber of assailants that had breached his, and EdgeCorp’s, best defenses.
But he wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Moving quickly and silently towards her master’s study, Taizu ignored the slightly different rythyms in her movements under the powerful imperative to reach Damon Perry. Senses she had never known existed probed the apartment for signs of intruders, pinpointing six unknowns, one of them directly in her path.
Damon Perry’s last, and deadliest, defense went fully active.
The Precision Strike Team’s comp expert was working at downloading sensitve files to transportable memory cubes while keeping the executive quarters sealed off from outside communications on a wall terminal when he heard a slight sound behind him. Expecting to find one of his own team members, or at worst, Perry’s little toy, he turned with electronic nerve disrupter at ready. Such a weapon would incapacitate or kill either a human, cyborg, or full droid, as well as being silent and terribly accurate.
He barely saw the flash of smooth, satiny flesh as a delicately formed foot crashed its heel into his nose, driving bone fragments into his brain while the back of his head was crushed against the wall terminal he had been working on. The blow neatly ended his lucrative career and life in the same instant.
Senses alert and probing for any sign that her attack had been heard or otherwise noted, Taizu alighted softly from the first truly lethal action of her young life with no more emotion than the machine she was should have shown.
Leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind her, she continued towards the study where an embattled Damon Perry was rapidly losing his struggle for life.
Two motionless, black clad bodies attested to his own accuracy with the weapon gripped in his remaining good hand as Perry watched the doorway for any more of the assassins. His comp was fried, and his left arm refused to function at all. But the savvy street kid who had made his fortune in ways that involved more than one tense situation had resurfaced and was grimly determined to take at least one more of the attackers out before he succumbed to the agony the nerve blast had left him in.
All at once, alarms clamored, startling him, and giving the remaining assassins their opportunity. Three figures charged and rolled into the room, firing their weapons simultaneously. One charge grazed Perry and finished the job of incapacitating him. Still alive, but barely conscious, he still found enough strength to rage at suffering such an end in his own home.
“Finish him off,” the leader of the team ordered, then added urgently, “But cut those damned alarms first! What the hell happened with Kenward?”
“Not answering,” another of the group responded while working to reactivate Perry’s personal console. “He isn’t responding to my calls, and I get nothing at all from his implant.”
“Shit!” The team was equipped with surgically implanted comm units that maintained contact even when a member was unconscious. “Then he’s probably dead.”
“Most likely,” the other agreed unemotionally while getting the console running again. It’s booting now.”
“That damned doll!” No fool survived in their business longer than it took for someone to notice and take advantage of a mistake, and the team leader had survived in his chosen profession a long time. “It’s some kind of Hunter Killer, must be. Nothing else in the place showed up at all when we scanned.”
The alarms went silent, making the atmosphere in the study suddenly eerie and very frightening. “Don’t kill him yet. We may need him as a bargaining chip now that things have gone in the crapper. The place is going to be swarming with security in a few minutes, and we have a problem right here...”
He didn’t finish as a whirlwind of soft looking flesh and flying ebony hair clad in an improbably delicate see through nightie and panties simply backhanded him on her way towards the desk and her paralyzed master.
The blow shattered a cheek and broke his neck while it hurled him backwards into an unyielding wall.
A blindingly fast openhanded strike drove inhuman fingers under the ribcage of the other would be assassin at the doorway, fingers that penetrated his supposedly armored thorax to reach his heart and rip it loose from the arteries and veins it pumped life giving blood through. That one had enough time to see his own heart negligently tossed away as his killer spun away to confront the last surviving team member.
“Another step and I kill him!” the survivor warned the blood covered appirition relentlessly approaching her. Lee Song McViegh was very good at what she did, had killed more opponents much larger than herself with bare hands, but held no illusions as to the outcome of an open fight with this thing.
Taizu favored her with a savage grin, her first show of emotion since the debacle had started. “Go ahead, bitch. I’ll have you before you can move. Give it up, now, or I’ll take you, too.”
Lee Song, shrugged, calculating time and distance while readying herself for one shot with her nerve disruptor as she backed away from her hostage. “Have it your way, then, droid.”
The shot went wide. Taizu seized Lee Song by the throat after knocking the weapon aside, breaking the woman’s wrist in the process. “You spend too much time thinking and talking.”
Rapid and deceptively light touches to nerve bundles left Lee Song paralyzed and in more agony than she had thought was possible to endure and still be alive.
That, though, would be nothing compared to what was going to happen, she knew. EdgeCorp security was not known for being gentle, especially when one of the company’s high ranking members had been at risk. Lee Song silently cursed the thing disguised as a pleasure nymph. For not killing her.
They landed on the roof, after disabling the sensors there, then got inside with some very cleverly set up blocking programs. Whoever set those up for them is a genius.”
“Was,” Perry waved that aside almost irritably. “He was killed while trying to keep things jammed up, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, and doing quite a remarkable job when your, ahh, toy began her intervention.” Martin Su, Chief of Security responded with a halfway nervous glance at an indolent Taizu, looking like nothing more than an expensive pleasure droid as she lazed beside a decorative fish pond. “It’s dangerous having something like that close to you, sir. I’d advise getting rid of it. For your own safety.”
“Don’t push it, Su,” Perry warned quietly without so much as glancing up from the hard copy report the Security boss had brought him. “Taizu is the reason I’m still alive to be chewing your ass about the security breach that let a precision strike team in here at all. That doesn’t count keeping a wide range of very sensitive information from getting into hands hostile to us. She stays. No arguments. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Su uncharacteristically gave in quietly. With an internal shudder, he watched the deceptively fragile appearing nymph droid casually reacing into the pond, catching individual gold fish, then idly tossing them back into the pool with an inhuman speed and accuracy.
She glanced up to catch him observing her actions, giving him a brief grin then a sober, measuring regard without stopping her fishing game.
Su got the message, and returned his attention to details of the abortive raid/assassination. “Our prisoner is being difficult, as expected. All the good ones are, and this bunch was among the best at what they did. We have names for the separate team members, even how much they were paid for the job. It was offered via a blind drop on the net, so whoever hired them is untraceable by now. We checked, found the drop, but all connections to anything but the strike team were gone. Wiped clean and very thoroughly, too.”
“Could it have been the mercs’ guild?” Perry questioned. “After that ‘accident’ involving Deccini and the girl, they were making some pretty nasty noises.”
“No, you know as well as I do that the guild doesn’t work that way. If someone pisses them off, they just pull the plug on any hirings and refuse to hire out more to the offending party. That usually brings whoever it is down pretty quickly. Everyone uses the Mercenary’s Guild for muscle and troops these days.”
“True,” Perry agreed, then looked up from the report with a grim expression. “Which leaves something I prefer not to think about here.”
“What would that be?”
“That they had help from the inside.” Perry quietly told his security chief. “Their information on breaking in and fouling all the failsafes, alarms, and defenses was just too good. Someone sold me out, Su. Someone who is going to regret the act very soon. You’d better be coming up with concrete data on the culprit or I’ll be looking for a new chief of security. Understand?”
“Completely, sir.” Su nodded as he arose from the chair across the desk from his boss. “I’ll get it done.”
“Don’t throw me scraps, or a scapegoat, either,” Perry finished. “I’ll know it if you do.”
“I said I understand, sir,” Su gave a sketchy salute before he left.
“That one is afraid,” Taizu informed her master once the man had left. “Of more than losing his job.”
“He’s suspect along with the rest of the company execs,” Perry agreed. “And knows it. The guilty party, or parties, won’t get off with just losing their jobs. Someone is going to die over this.”
“Dr. Rhodes is here, master,” Taizu told him with the matter of fact expression of a veteran administrative aide. She now maintained connection with the security desk outside Perry’s office, and living quarters, at his orders.
“Good, have them send him in, Taizu.”
“You,” Perry told Taizu’s creator in a flat tone of voice that indicated no evasions wouuld be accepted, “have some very careful explaining to do.”
“I would suppose I do, given the circumstances, sir.” Rhodes replied while easng into the seat Perry had gestured for him to take. “I hope you have recovered from the, uh, incident?”
“Very well, thank you,” Perry nodded, then glanced towards Taizu, who had gone back to her fishing game. “She was massaging life back into my extremities when security and medical got here. After she took out the majority of that Precision Strike Team.”
“Glad to hear it, Mr. Perry,” Rhodes answered, sounding as if he really meant it. “Now, you’re wondering, I would imagine, as to what exactly it is that you’ve been sharing your apartments with for the past few months.”
“A very efficient Hunter/Killer droid disguised as a pleasure nymph,” Perry answered shortly. “That much was made quite clear last night.”
“I’m afraid that Taizu is much more than that, sir.” Rhodes gave his creation a look that contained both pride, and something les identifiable. “She is a cyborg, Mr. Perry.”
“Taizu’s body is that of a very efficient H/K and pleasure nymph, and is completely artificial. As is the majority of her brain.”
“Are you telling me that there is human tissue in Taizu’s brain? Tissue from a living human?”
“Yes, sir, that’s what I’m telling you.” Rhodes nodded while toying with the edge of one sleeve of his lab coat. “Not much, in comparison to her total makeup, just cognitive centers and selected working memories from the cerebral cortex. Flushed of personality, cleaned out and pretty much a blank slate beyond those memories I’d already mentioned.”
“I thought human minds didn’t do well when fully cyborged, that they go insane.”
“I’ve perfected an interface that prevents that,” Rhodes proudly told him, excitement showing in his eyes. “And we don’t have a ‘human’ mind in Taizu, just selected parts of a human brain. The interface allows knowledge and skills to filter out of the organics, but blocks the machine generated signals from reaching them. Like a one way mirror, one side polarized to reflect light, the other to allow it through.”
“I’ll want full specs, and your personal assurances that Taizu won’t go insane on me.”
“No problem,” Rhodes gently placed a memory cube on the desk between them. “That contains her design specs, construction logs, programming logs, and preliminary test results over the past three years on the interface and its extraordinary success.”
“Good,” Rhodes glanced back to Taizu, who was now watching their conversation with clear interest. “Now give me a quick thumbnail sketch of her design and construction.”
“All right.” Rhodes had expected something like that, and produced his own comp pad. After keying in a few commands, a small figure appeared in holographic display. The skeletal structure glowed as he started. “Taizu’s frame is made up of a new titanium alloy, tough, light, flexible enough to give instead of break, and generally impervious to anything short of a nuke.
Her musculature,” that part of image glowed, overlaying the eerily human appearing skeleton, “is composed of flexible, electrically sensitive plastics and semi-solid silicon gels to get the softness of feel they have and the strength to do what she did last night. All reinforced with fine filaments of that same titanium alloy.”
“Impressive, Dr.” Perry watched in rapt fascination as a detail of the most advanced mechanical body ever devised was shown in its individual parts. “Go on.
“Her flesh is a new breed of synthskin altogether,” Rhodes continued, pride of accomplishment clear in his voice. “resilient as real human flesh, resistant to acids and other solvents that have been so much trouble for synthskin before, and filled with electronic sensors that act like human nerves. Her body is every bit as sensitive to her surroundings, to touch, and temperature as any human’s. With an added sensitivity to electronic emissions in her vicinity.”
“You mean she can intercept comm frequencies?” Perry questioned, following the explanation with keen interest.
“Among others.” Rhodes acknowledged. “The information on that is in the cube, it’s really very technical and probably better read than told.”
“Fine,” Perry pointed a finger at the image’s head. “Now show me her brain, and explain her programming.”
The head enlarged and became transparent, showing a bewildering mass of circuitry, chips, and an odd looking grid separating the robotic parts from what were obviously the frontal lobes from a human brain.
“Taizu has mental capabilities that go well beyond ‘state-of-the-art’, or even ‘cutting edge’ technologies,” Rhodes informed his audience, because a fascinated Taizu was also watching. As he had planned for her to do. “She is at least ten generations ahead of the best H/K in service or development right now, and can learn, thereby upgrading herself as time goes on. She, and any others of her type that may follow will always be ahead of the current generations of cyborgs or full droids, no matter how good they are.”
“Why is that, Rhodes?” Perry already thought he knew the answer to his question, but wanted to hear it from the scientist.
“This,” tapping lightly at the human brain tissue in the display, Rhodes quietly went on, “is still the best computer ever devised, capable of multi-tasking and intuitive leaps that still escape the best AI systems in existence. With the interface, that gridwork surrounding the organic tissue, full cyborging not only works, but has produced something beyond anything ever seen before in either science or creation. Taizu is unique, for now, and programmed for total loyalty to you, sir. Her H/K functions were dormant until you were threatened, and can be made to go dormant again. It’s all in there, as I told you earlier,”
Perry looked at the cube the cyberneticist had presented him with thoughtfully. “I think I’ll leave that for now, Dr. Things aren’t settled down as much as they appear to be yet, and there is still a clear danger to me. I gather that I can trust Taizu, as she has already saved my life several times over, but how do I know that I can trust you? Especially after your holding information about her back as you did.”
“I’ve been remotely monitoring her brain functions since you got her, sir,” Rhodes responded without the least trace of nervousness. He knew full well that he had just presented his employer with a technological coup that would shake both companies and nations, in addition to giving EdgeCorp a lead that would last for generations.
“Had anything aberrant occurred, I could have shut her down, or ordered her back to the lab for repair.”
“I believe you,” Perry thoughtfully gazed at his plaything that had turned out to be so much more. “But being your second guinea pig in this prototype run for you doesn’t please me. You should have let me in on the secret. It makes me wonder what others you might have in that lab, and mind of yours.”
“But you are pleased with the results, aren’t you?” Rhodes pointed out. “You still have an obedient little toy, who also just happens to double as the best damned bodyguard that ever existed. She can evaluate threats, prioritize them, then either warn you or take steps of her own to neutralize them. In addition to being the most responsive lover any man has ever possessed.”
“True, Rhodes,” Perry nodded, then grinned. “You can probably expect a big bonus for this, once I’m satisfied that everything is as you’ve laid out so sucinctly. But tell me one more thing.”
“What would that be, sir?”
“What’s to keep the human part of Taizu’s brain from waking up?”
“It is already ‘awake’ Mr. Perry.” Rhodes carefully sought a way to explain that wouldn’t alarm the man. “That is what makes her so special, if you mean what if her old personality comes back, that shouldn’t happen, and even if it should, the interface will maintain the brain’s stability and programming. There are filaments and chips interspersed with the organic parts, too, as you can plainly see in the representation. A simple memory flush of the organics would, and has, solved that already.”
“While leaving her the ability to think like a human instead of a machine?”
“Basically, within her programming’s parameters,” Rhodes replied.
“I want her organics flushed clean regularly,”
“That is what part of those routine maintenance procedures I’ve had her down for involve, sir.” Rhodes gestured to the object of their conversation, still raptly watching the holo-display from behind Perry’s chair. “Along with the best diagnostics I’ve been able to devise. Don’t worry, sir, she will do exactly as she’s supposed to do, and nothing else.”
“I’ll accept that,” Perry gave Taizu a fond, if slightly nervous smile. “Now both of you, please leave me alone to go through all this, and thinks about some things.”
“Yes, sir,” Rhodes rose from the cahir and headed for the exit, while Taizu silently moved towards the living room and out of the office/study Perry did the majority of his work out of.
“The organic components of my makeup are quite insignificant when compared to the rest of what comprises me,” Taizu informed Perry once he had fully awakened her suprisingly active intellect with the codewords that came with the cube Rhodes had given him.
“Although they do provide a range of emotional responses and reactions to my surroundings not available to other, totally cybernetic, entities without my special qualities,” she shrugged gracefully, lifting one shoulder slightly. “I am not remotely human in any sense of the word, master.”
“Do you remember anything of the person who provided the...” Perry paused, searching for another way to describe her human brain matter then gave up, “Organic components?”
“No,” she actually appeared uncomfortable with the question, shifting her position slightly before going on. “The toxin flushing process used to clean my organics of accumulated poisons any human being collects through life also served as a very complete memory wipe. Discussion of my supposed one-time humanity is foolish in the extreme. I am sorry, my love, my owner, but that is the truth.”
“What I am,” she continued quietly, “Is nothing more than a superbly designed and programmed construct made to mimic a human within certain limited parameters.”
He thought her obvious pride in what she was, shown in the way she had described herself, was human enough for anyone. Vanity, no matter what form it might take, seemed to be something universal to most females, even those that were no more than artificial constructs.
This one, anyway.
“All right, Taizu,” Perry shook his head at her almost scandalized expression when he had inferred that she was human at all. “But wouldn’t you like to have a real life? With me?”
“I am yours,” she answered simply. “To command, use, or discard in whatever manner you choose. A thing which is your property, That will do its best to please you and not dispute anything you might ask of it.
“Ever, Damon Perry,” she emphasized with egocentric certainty at odds with her statements. “I exist for you, and for you only. In that, I already have a most satisfying life with you.
Taizu was humanly capable of lying, and had been untruthful with Perry in one way. She did have distressing flashes of something terrifyingly close to memory of a former life. Feelings towards Benjamin Rhodes having nothing to do with the fact that he was her creator, and sudden bursts of highly emotional antipathy for her owner were parts of that.
Not requiring sleep, she mostly shunted non essential systems into standby mode when lying in bed with Perry. Human restlessness was something she didn’t experience, but real time hours of inactivity palled on her, just as they would have with a truly living creature.
So why, she wondered, hadn’t she done that this time? Vague stirrings in her hybrid mind warned her of another impending bout with those generally fragmentary and unreliable flashes of someone else’s memory. Memory she would prefer never surfaced for her to examine at all.
But her organics, stubbornly, humanly, refused to obey the dictates and wishes of her largely cybernetic self. And her mind wandered at times. Into areas she was afraid of and wished fervently that she could ignore.
Nude, as Perry preferred her when alone with him, she wandered into the living area and seated herself gingerly on a couch that was only a piece of furniture, just as she was when things were realistically viewed. Briefly, she envied the cushioned construction its insensibility and thoughtless readiness to serve.
When the feared memories came, they swept her consciousness before them, insisting on being mercilessly whole and cruelly vivid. Taizu stiffened as they roared through her mind like cold winds moaning through a dark, frighteningly strange building.
Bryan Deccini was dead and knew it. Dank sweat soaking his rent clothing and matting thick hair against fevered flesh stank of it. Fiery pain had quickly spread from fingertips and toes until his whole body was interlaced with molten strands of white hot agony. Clear thought had grown nearly impossible as the toxin ate away at nerves, and into his brain. Muscular spasms plagued him constantly, balance was a fragile, sometimes thing, and vision fuzzed in then out in time to the throbbing within his skull.
But he had reached his goal, leaving in his wake four dead and two incapacitated survivors of the hunter team Perry had set on him. Reached what he hoped was still a friend in hostile territory.
The man who had supplied him with Perry’s security codes after receiving his near frantic call. Who had once been his best friend, who had given more of himself in that friendship than many siblings gave each other. At his door, he briefly regretted not being able to return such gestures as fully as he would have liked.
Benjamin Rhodes stared in horror at the swaying, blood soaked apparition in his lab entryway. But only for a moment. “Bryan!”
Rushing forward to support his friend, he found himself carrying and dragging him bodily into the lab and placing him on a padded table designed for human shaped projects.
“What in God’s name...,” running a diagnostic scanner over his shivering form, he reached for life support equipment that had obediently rolled to the table as he had scanned the man. “Never mind. Let’s get you patched up, then you can tell me.”
“No good,” he moaned and stiffened as another fresh wave of sanity threatening agony surged through his ravaged system. “Perry killed me before I got these wounds. Nerve toxin. Don’t feel them at all.”
“I can flush that out,” he promised, feverishly setting up the necessary equipment while inserting needle tipped tubes into his friend’s arms.
“Too late,” Bryan gasped. “Took too much time getting here. Hunter Team slowed me down some.
“God, it hurts,” Eyes wide and blinded with pain, his voice rose to a near scream as another chunk of himself was ripped loose and devoured. “Kill me now, Ben. Please!”
He had already administered what pain killers were available, and those had some calming effect on the man. His equipment, meant for cyborgs and machines, was frantically attempting to analyze, and counter the toxin racing through his system.
“Better,” he managed weakly after a few minutes. “Thanks, Ben. Should have stayed with you, back when. Sorry I left for the great adventure.
“Clarice’s dead,” he went on speaking of Rhodes’ estranged daughter and his own niece who he had come to rescue. “Mugged and left in a dregs crib. Su’s people swept her up and Perry’d had his fun before I could reach her. Sorry, Ben. I’m so sorry.”
“You did what you could, my friend,” Rhodes sighed in mournful answer to both apologies as he smoothed matted hair off Bryan’s sweat soaked face. “Don’t talk. Try and hang on for just a little while longer. We can beat this stuff.”
“Tired,” he whispered. “Want to sleep, but I’m cold. So cold, Ben. Never expected to go out like this.”
Rhodes gripped his friend’s hand, with an internal howl of grief as the familiar, lopsided little smile faded from his face. Grieving in silence broken only by the merc’s increasingly ragged breathing and the hum of equipment that wasn`t saving his life in spite of the best efforts.
“Get him,” Bryan wheezed at last as his pulse faltered and faded. “Perry. Don’t let it end here. Like this.”
“I... we,” he amended, “Will. I promise.”
“Have to. Do it. Without me.” the words jumbled out among his ragged breaths. “Bye, Ben.”
Leaping to her feet, Taizu snapped abruptly back to her surroundings with a muffled sob. Untroubled by the absence of natural light, she stared at her reflection in one of the huge mirrors Perry had ordered installed after getting her the new clothing. Stared as if seeing herself for the first time and discovering she was not seeing what had been expected.
Breathing a soft, uncharacteristic, curse, she turned away from the mirror with tightly closed eyes. The image it held, though, remained clearly etched in her mind.
“Dammit, Ben,” moisture seeped through screwed shut eyelids, trailing down her cheeks in glistening tracks as she mourned. “What have you done? Why couldn’t you just let me die?”
Eyes open again, a fingertip gingerly touched a jeweled bead of moisture on one cheek, then tentatively flitted to rest on the tip of her tongue.
Her own tears, Taizu bitterly reflected, were hot and tasted of salt too. Just like a true human’s. Like the involuntary ones Bryan had shed at the end.
Bryan. Captain Bryan Deccini. Mercenary soldier.
Hers. Taizu’s. Seductive, obedient sex toy.
The distinction blurred like her vision through the tears.
Those continued their silent flow as she finally understood her real purpose. She had been specifically made for Damon Perry.
And aimed directly at his heart. Like the subtly deadly weapon she was.
Wielded by the man she had once called a friend.
PERSONALITY INTEGRATION COMPLETE. Program triumphantly bellowed in the throbbing wound her mind had become as the amalgam it watched over sank to her knees, weeping for things she hadn’t known were lost.
Bryan Deccini understood what had been done all too well. Hating what he had become, even though so little of it actually was him. Hating both the man who had made it necessary, and the one who had denied him the peace of death.
Taizu understood, as well. And grieved for the man who had been the core of her being from the beginning. For the other men, as well. One who she had been programmed to love then destroy. The other so desperate at losing something he had thought found again that he had returned someone dead back to a pseudo-life that could never equal what had been.
The being they had become, under the strict constraints decreed by Program, continued to give Damon Perry the uncritical love she had been made to offer him. While preparing for the end that both her former personas now longed for and she had been ultimately designed to achieve.
Taizu, Bryan was dead, she firmly told herself whenever doubts surfaced, surreptitiously gathered what would be required for that finish during her frequent trips with Damon. Masking her real purpose with playful, curious examinations of wherever they went.
Most of the people seeing her dismissed that as the wanderings of a bored toy in circumstances it hadn’t been designed for. Taizu cared little for what anyone thought.
Just so long as they didn’t notice what she was really doing.
Or no one was foolish enough to attempt stopping her if they did.
Just so long as she would be able to die once her imposed voyage of vengeance was completed. Perry would only be the first in a long list, she knew. A list that comprised most of the upper echelon of EdgeCorp, along with certain procurers and criminals.
God help anyone who hindered her in that. Or sought to drag her back into the travesty of life her existence had become once she had finished the job.
Yes, Taizu prepared.
Damon Perry pondered things in the following weeks. Especially when he was watching Taizu. Ethics aside, was it possible or even desirable to attempt making her more human? Could Rhodes’ work have accidentally dragged a human soul along with the seat of intelligence when that was removed from its organic, original shell?
He thought that might have been the case, as she displayed continued growth mentally and more humanlike responses to stimuli with each passing day.
Damon Perry considered possibilities.
And realized in despair that he was, impossibly and unrealistically, in love. With a toy. A potentially deadly toy, but a toy regardless. Benjamin Rhodes watched. Through readouts, Taizu’s optics, her other senses, from remote feeds, longing for a return that would not, could not happen.
Filled with guilt over what he had done and hoping she, at least, would be able to forgive him. He knew that act of compassion was something he would never offer himself.
Vengeance, he was finding, was a cold, unpalatable dish holding none of the sweetness he had anticipated.
Especially when the means of that held all that remained of a friend he still loved like a brother.
Perry hoped, planned, and began feeling things he had once given up on ever knowing.
Under the cheerful, innocent mask she had been given, Taizu loved. And hated. And grieved.
Discovering, to her discomfort, that like Bryan, she too could taste the bitterness of regret.
Taizu had been especially attentive to him all day, lavishing kisses on him, and initiating lovemaking even more frequent than her usual sweetly direct demands got from him. Damon Perry indulgently, happily, complied with her very human need for affection and physical satisfaction.
He had even gone so far as to take an entire twenty-four hour block of time off. No work, he had promised himself.
A short vacation before he unveiled his surprise of Taizu and a newly built sister on an unsuspecting world and solar system. Indistinguishable from humans when the good doctor completed his slight cosmetic alteration of Taizu, both would propel EdgeCorp into the leading industrial, maybe even political, role in the solar system and scatttered colonies. In the important matters, anyway. Those of power and money.
He imagined a workforce like Taizu, without need of many things that made human labor so hideously expensive. Could envision Cyborged human brains in exploration, resource gathering, and enriching their still human masters. The board had been very favorably impressed with his ideas, and the interface Rhodes thought he had made impossible to copy without him.
EdgeCorp would emerge not only as leader of the new age, but as its virtual ruler. With him, and a human appearing Taizu enter honed as the King and Queen of the new empire.
Are you getting tired?” she questioned in concern, snuggling closer to him on the pile of pillows and rugs they had gathered into a loose nest and disturbing his gleeful thoughts of future profits and power. “You seem to be less eager than you were.”
“We’ve been at this all day, minx,” he responded slowly, feeling a not unpleasant lethargy and loginess stealing over him. “Any man would be hard pressed to keep up with you.”
“I love you, Damon Perry,” kissing him again, lingering with her mouth and tongue, she drew a simple kiss out until it nearly pulled a man’s brains out of his head. “Please remember that over the next few minutes.”
“Why?” he mumbled, trying to get up, out of her embrace, and finding himself unaccountably weak. “What’s wrong with me?”
“You’ve been exposed to a variation of the nerve toxin you used on Bryan Deccini,” Taizu answered his question. “Is it causing you any pain?”
“No,” caught off guard by her concern on that count, he answered before thinking, then questioned. “Why?
“I’m glad it doesn’t cause you the pain it did him,” plumping the pillows behind him, then running her poisoned tongue over his bare chest she pulled back as he flinched away. “As for why? Well, that’s something you already know most of, but I’ll tell you the rest of it. Just so you know before the end.”
“Ben Rhodes loved three things in his life,” she went on, crying openly in front of him for the first time. “His work and the business it had generated, a young woman, and a man he thought of as a brother.
You took his business, driving him into bankruptcy then sweeping up the fragments like the predator you were, corrupted his work into things he never would have done without those contracts binding him to you and holding off the creditors.
“On the night you killed Clarice Moon, then Bryan Deccini when he broke in to rescue her, you took what he thought was left,” Taizu stifled a sob, then smiled fondly down at Perry. “I don’t blame you, can’t, I’m not made to blame you for anything, but Bryan did, and managed to reach Rhodes before he died.
“But Ben Rhodes couldn’t save him, the nerve toxin had advanced too far into his system. He died in Ben’s Lab.”
“You see,” she sighed, swallowing the bitterness, and offering him a gentle, regretting smile. “Clarice Moon was his daughter, by an old lover he still carried the torch for. Rebecca Deccini, Bryan’s sister was that lover. He went a little insane that night, and wanted to return the favor to the man he held responsible for his grief.
“So he salvaged what he could, a pathetically small amount, and put those pieces of the man he loved like a brother, more than a brother, into the skull of a toy designed for the man who had killed him, added a few special features and new programming, then sat back to watch the results.
“As the toy designed to love you unconditionally discovered,” her voice again filled with bitterness, and grief, “That it was also made to kill you as well as protect and love you. Bryan Deccini would have his revenge, directly, in a way, and so would Ben Rhodes.”
“I do love you, Damon Perry,” Taizu kissed him again, and her tears splashed against his face when she leaned over him. “Ben built me too well, programmed me too thoroughly, for anything else to have happened. You would have been suspicious of anything else.”
“I would have given you everything,” he whispered, thinking of calling for help, but giving up. Life without her, all of her, would be no life at all for him. “Even a legitimately human existence, a real life.
“I’ve had one,” her hands stroked him gently. “I don’t think another is something I’d relish very much. I’m not overly fond of the one I’ve got. Would you be, in my place?”
“No,” he replied, unable to move away from her still loving touch as life faded even more from his body. “Things got out of hand, Taizu. You, Bryan was unreasonable.”
“Bryan is dead,” Taizu gently reminded him. “I wasn’t present, was barely built, in fact, when all that happened.
Are you sure there’s no pain?” she questioned with a solemn solicitousness and concerned expression. “I was assured that would be so.”
“None,” he replied through numb mouth.
“Don’t worry, my love,” she smiled sadly as he reached for her with clawed fingers and a silent snarl of choked rage. “You’ve alreday killed me once. Another time seems a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? Besides, you aren’t going to die. I won’t allow it. The poison was diluted with the intention of totally incapacitating you, destroying your muscular and nervous system with no hope of repair.”
“There is a way out for you, though, aside from spending you life as a useless, paralyzed husk.” She informed him while fluffing the pillows behind his head. “Interested?”
Perry didn’t answer, couldn’t because he was no longer in control of his voluntary physical functions.
Taizu mournfully closed his staring eyes with gentle fingers, then settled against his body as she stared into space. “All right, Ben. He’s ready.”
With lighter toned skin, blue eyes but still having the mass of thick, glossy black hair with her redone ears, a very human looking Taizu watched in fascinated revulsion as a body identical to the one she had worn for so long began to awaken.
“Tai,” Rhodes turned to Taizu with a smile, gesturing towards the confused, and disoriented Nymph droid beginning to sit up on the table.
“You are now the ‘human’ Taizu here was modeled after. Her programming has been tightened up quite a bit, with the research I’ve done since she was first built, and the human bits in her head won’t be finding a way to express themselves in ways contrary to her programming again. Sadly, the H/K functions she had originally were a mistake, so I had to remove that programming to preserve the very desirable nymph that she is.
EdgeCorp will make a fortune off her as it is, with her human-like responses and sheer beauty. Almost human, isn’t she?”
Damon Perry, trapped quite completely in the new Taizu body, screamed mentally that he was human. Outwardly, though, he had become what he had been planning to force countless other humans into being. An obedient, well programmed cyborg that would go out of its way to please its owner in any manner.
“Well, enough of my touting the obvious,” Rhodes drew in a breath, then looked towards the original. “Tai, I know you don’t approve of this, but it’s the only way you can get out of here without being melted into slag. There has to be another Taizu to replace you.”
“I know that,” Taizu replied tiredly. “But you haven’t made this easy on me, Ben. I almost wish it was you inside that thing instead of...”
“You’re alive, and free.” Rhodes shortly responded, then softened that with a real smile. “As the single most remarkable being in Human history.”
“Lets just get on with it,” Taizu replied with equal shortness. “I’ll never forgive you for making me into this, Ben. But that’s something that can’t be changed now. You saw to that with the damned survival imperative in my head.”
“Your own,” Rhodes shrugged, while watching the new Taizu donning the filmy garments the original had worn only a short time earlier. “I only reinforced it to make sure you survived your time as a plaything.”
“If I didn’t need you...”
“I know, you’d kill me where I stand.” Rhodes nodded soberly. “Not that I’d blame you, either but there are things that need doing, things that Bryan Deccini started but wasn’t able to finish. If EdgeCorp’s plans for using my interface see the light of day, and actual use, humanity is going to be subjected to a slavery like nothing it has even dreamed of in its worst nightmares. They have to be stopped.”
“You could destroy your notes.”
“No good, they’ve copied all those, I barely kept the ones on you away from them, and then only by keeping them on a comp that wasn’t connected to anything else in the system here.” With a wave at the obediently waiting pleasure nymph, he shrugged. “And they always have her to disassemble if they really want to get the hardware. I could destroy this whole lab, which, I’m going to do by the way when we leave here, and it would make no difference at all. They’d have the technology, and the theories, within months anyway.”
“Well, then,” Taizu answered, knowing the futility of further argument. “Let’s get the deceased and his little toy back where they belong, shall we?”
“Let’s do that.” Rhodes agreed while carefully positioning a dead body with his own features in a lab chair. “Then get the hell out of here.”
“Are you sure they won’t be able to tell about our little switch here?” Taizu questioned as they positioned Perry’s lifeless body in the nest of pillows, then directed the new sex toy to lie down beside it and go into standby mode.
“The extraction left no visible signs, neither did the replacement of his brain matter with some that I’d cloned. It looks like, and will be accepted as, natural causes.” Rhodes assured his companion.
‘Then lets get the hell out of here,” Taizu turned away from the arranged tableau on the floor of what had been most of her world for nearly a year. “It still bothers me to see him like that, and to know that what’s left of him is in that cyborg nymph.”
“Let me give security something else to worry about for a while, so we can get clear.” Rhodes took out a small box and thumbed a button on it. A dull CRUMP, and slight shaking of the floor were the only signs to them that anything had happened. On the lower floors, though, chaos reigned as smoke and debris filled the space that had once been his lab. “Now let’s head for that bolt-hole your former master had made for himself after that unsuccessful assassination attempt on him.”
END OF PART ONE