The wind flew through the bright-red hair of the two seventeen-year-old teenagers sitting in the front seats of their brand-new convertible (a birthday present from their parents) as it navigated through the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts at over a hundred miles per hour.
Since the girl, Rachel, was driving (if you could call logging-in to Cambridge's automated traffic system and inputting their destination "driving"), she got to choose the music, and the electric car's built-in mp3 player was blasting out some of her favorite robot rock. Her brother Roger, who much preferred classical music, seemed to look grateful when she pulled into a parking space and turned off the car and its radio.
"Are you sure this is the right address?" Roger asked uncertainly as they got out of the car. "I thought Wendy was studying at M.I.T. Shouldn't she be in a dorm or something?
Rachel shrugged, causing her long fiery-red hair to fall off her shoulders. "It's the address McGrory gave us," she told her twin. "Maybe she got kicked out of the dorm. You know how she is."
Roger nodded, agreeing that Rachel's suggestion was a definite possibility--it wasn't as if either twin could imagine their friend, Wendy "Wonderchild" Wendell III, peaceably coexisting with a roommate--as he followed his sister into the run-down apartment building and made their way to Room 314. Rachel gave a quick knock on the door.
Almost instantly, a winged mechanical doll descended upon them. "Who goes there?" the ultra-feminine elfin creature asked using what was clearly the voiceprint of James Earl Jones. "If you're not wanted, get lost."
"Definitely the right address," Roger noted. "Any guesses what the password might be?" he asked.
Rachel simply snatched the automaton out of their air. "You better let me the fuck in right now," she said, threateningly.
Roger looked at his sister in surprise, shocked by her uncharacteristic use of obscene language, when the door swung open all by itself.
Rachel nodded as she let go of the flying doll. "You just need to understand how Wendy thinks," she said with a triumphant smile.
"I'm not sure I want to be able to understand how Wendy thinks," said Roger doubtfully.
They passed through the door into what was without a doubt Wendy's apartment. Although it had been over four years since they had seen Wendy, at the wedding of their friends Dr. Stanley Remov and Dr. Armand Mercury, they remembered quite well the "disaster-area" quality that Wendy's living spaces always exhibited. All the familiar signs were here, in particular the dirty clothing strewn everywhere. In true college-student style, an array of posters adorned the walls: one a portrait of Ada Lovelace, another displaying two half-dressed women making out, while yet another loudly announced that ALAN TURING WAS KILLED BY THE STRAIGHT CONSPIRACY.
They found the Wonderchild herself in a bedroom off the main room, where she was seated at a desk, hunched over a computer, dressed in a pair of much-abused blue jeans and a scarlet brassiere, uttering curses as she stared at the screen, her fingers flying over the keyboard. Except . . . the "child" portion of Wendy's nickname clearly no longer applied. Rachel estimated her to be about eight centimeters taller, seven kilograms heavier, her hair quite dramatically shorter (the pigtails traded for a pixie cut), and her chest at least three bra sizes . . . fuller. While still slender, Wendy clearly was no longer the flat-chested stick she once was. She now had curves. Quite appealing curves, at that. Curves that. . . .
"Ahem," Roger cleared his throat to capture Wendy's attention, bringing Rachel's wandering mind back to the situation at hand.
"Oh, it's you two," Wendy said, looking up at them from her computer, then twisted to look behind her to survey her room, clearly looking for a clean-enough shirt to pull on over her bra. After a moment, she shrugged, apparently abandoning the attempt in failure as consisting of too much work just for the sake of modesty, and turned back to the twins. "I wondered when you would be visiting me. I'm assuming you're here about the kidnappings?"
"You've already talked to Bridget?" Rachel asked, surprised. The agent had given them the impression that she hadn't contacted Wendy yet, and was leaving that job to the twins.
"No," said Wendy. "But ve still have our methods, ja?"
Rachel shook her head at the blonde's reprise of her particularly horrible fake German accent, and tried not to think about just what system Wendy might have hacked into in order to receive the information.
"This is serious," Roger chided. "Our friends are in trouble."
Wendy sobered instantly, and nodded. "McGrory have any idea who might have taken them?"
Rachel shook her head. "They're not even sure the kidnappings are related."
Wendy snorted. "Of course they're related. Three teenage boys are kidnapped within weeks of each other and it just happens that all three were on Anza-Bora?"
Anza-Bora was an island which, five years previous, had been located in the South Pacific. Rachel, Roger, and Wendy had all lived on the island in the year prior to its sudden--and very classified--disappearance, along with the three kidnapped boys: their friends Ray, Trip, and Hap.
Roger shrugged. "Apparently some people think the kidnappers still might present ransom notes."
"That makes sense for Ray and Trip, but Hap?" Wendy asked scornfully. "I mean, I love the boy and all, but his light and his bushel are fairly well-acquainted."
"Hey, we're with you on this," said Roger. "So's Bridget--that's why she brought us in on this. As if we're going to be able to figure it out when the world's best intelligence services."
Wendy smiled. "Hey, we did it once."
"Yeah, that time we had the world's most powerful supercomputer to help us."
Wendy's fingers flew over her keyboard, and the work she was doing was replaced by another screen. Rachel stepped closer to get a good view, then turned to her friend in shock. "You've hacked into the SETI@home servers?"
Wendy shrugged unapologetically. "Hey, it's not like they're all that successful with the whole finding aliens thing. Might as well put that processing power to good use."
"Do you think we'll find them?" Roger asked as he and Rachel got out of the car and made their way up the walk to their own Cambridge home, just a few blocks from Harvard.
"I hope so--either us or the professionals. I just hate thinking of them, in the hands of who knows, G.H.O.S.T. or whomever, doing God knows what to them--"
"I get it," Roger interrupted his sister. "We don't know anything--yet. We'll figure it out. After all, apparently we have SETI@home on our side."
Rachel laughed. "Same old Wendy."
"I don't know," said Roger. "There seemed to be a fairly significant change or two. Not that I didn't catch you noticing, because I totally did."
Rachel's cheeks quickly turned the same color as her hair as she blushed furiously. Sometimes she felt she should never have confided in her brother that she was attracted to women as well as men, but he was her twin. It wasn't something she could have kept from him. "Well, you obviously did too."
"Obviously," he agreed. "But I got the distinct feeling that it was your side of the street she walked on."
Rachel nodded absently--the signs hadn't exactly been subtle, admittedly--as she waited for Roger to thumb the front door's print scanner and gain admittance to the house for the two twins, then followed her brother inside the Philips residence.
They passed their father's study, where he was up late working. "You two were out late tonight," Dr. Philips said, briefly glancing up at them. The comment was conversational; they were well within the limits of their one o'clock curfew.
"We decided to go visit Wendy," Roger announced, following his trustworthy never-lie-to-Dad policy. "She's studying at M.I.T., so she's in town."
"That's nice," Dr. Philips answered, somewhere close to ninety-five percent of his attention already transfered back to his work. "She's a good kid."
Roger exchanged a knowing glance with Rachel before the two twins split up as they headed to their separate rooms. Once in her bedroom, Rachel quickly changed into a pair of pyjamas and got into bed, but found she couldn't sleep. Worry for Trip, Ray, and Hap, fear for herself and Roger, lust for Wendy, and excitement for a new project all blended together in an overwhelming wash of confusing and disturbing emotions which denied her rest.
Eventually, she got up, walked across her room to her computer terminal, logged onto Wendy's SETI@home program, and began to continue the coding on the crimefighting A.I. the three of them had begun to work on that afternoon. Somewhere around three o'clock, she was finally overcome with enough exhaustion to collapse into her bed, and fall asleep.
The next day the two twins went straight to Wendy's afterschool to resume work on their new project.
"It needs a name," said Roger. "Sherlock II?"
"God no," Rachel answered.
"What about Mycroft, then?" Wendy said. "That was Sherlock Holmes' brother, right?"
"Taken," answered Rachel. "Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress."
"Sigerson?" suggested Roger.
"That'd work," agreed Rachel.
Wendy just blinked. "Who?"
"It's the name that Holmes used when he was supposed to be dead, in between 'The Final Problem' and 'The Adventure of the Empty House,'" Rachel offered.
Wendy shrugged. "Okay," she said. "Sigerson it is then."
"Maybe we can use Jeremy Brett's voiceprint this time," Rachel said, beginning to warm up in the Sherlock Holmes geekery. "Or Christopher Lee. Or maybe even Peter Cushing, although I'm not sure I want Sigerson to sound like Grand Moff Tarkin."
Wendy snorted. "Because Saruman the White is so much better an association."
"Just as long as it's not Robert Downey, Jr." was Roger's only contribution.
The twins had debate practice after school the next day, after which they went home for dinner, but after dinner Rachel drove herself to Wendy's.
"Where's Tweedledum?" Wendy asked as Rachel entered her apartment. This time she wasn't wearing a shirt or pants, sitting in front of her computer dressed only in a bra and panties. Rachel could already begin to feel herself going flush, almost wishing for the days when the Wonderchild could just steal something of her father's.
"He has a date tonight," Rachel answered.
"Lucky him," responded Wendy. "Is she hot?"
"If you like brunettes." Rachel's could feel the heat of her cheeks blushing as she admitted, "I prefer blondes."
"I don't know," Wendy said, a smirk on her face. "I've always been partial to redheads, myself." The warmth in Rachel's face promptly got even hotter. "Come on," said Wendy. "Let's get to work? You want a burger?"
Knowing just what one of Wendy's burgers entailed, Rachel shook her head. "No, you're right. We need to get working. Who knows what the boys--"
Wendy cut her off. "None of that. Positive thinking only."
Rachel took a deep breath, then nodded her agreement. The two girls turned to Sigerson, and resumed their coding.
"Okay, I'm beat," said Wendy, three hours later, leaning back in her desk chair. "If I have to look at another line of code tonight, I'm going to scream."
"I know what you mean," Rachel admitted. She knew she could definitely use a break, too.
"Let's go out," suggested Wendy. "Why should Roger get to have all the fun?
"I'm pretty sure that would require you putting some clothes on," Rachel noted. "Preferably something clean."
"I might have something," Wendy said, a twinkle in her eye, as she got up and navigated the dirty clothes across her floor on her way to her closet. A moment later, she pulled out a sleek navy blue sheath dress on a hanger. "What do you think?"
"Yowza," Rachel's mouth said before her mind had a chance to catch up.
"Come on," said Wendy, pulling the dress on over her head. "It'll be plasmagoriffic!"
The kidnapper sat in the passenger seat of a black Crown Victoria parked across the street of Wendy Wendell's apartment building, watching as the two girls exited the building and got into Wendy's Volkswagon.
"Follow them," the kidnapper said to their accomplice, Steve. "Tell me where they go."
The kidnapper then exited the car, and walked around the building to the back, where they would be able to enter Wendy's apartment via a loose window. Having done so, the kidnapper examined the computer system the girl had been working on with the Philips twins. Excellent, the kidnapper thought. Everything was in order. They would be able to put into action the final phase of the plan.
Everything now relied on the success of that final phase. The kidnapper knew that if they were caught, their superiors would disavow any knowledge of the kidnappers' actions. But that was only the lesser of the reasons why they could not fail. The greater, more important reason was the reason why the kidnapper had started the mission in the first place. It's success, the kidnapper truly believed, was essential for the safety and security of the entire planet.
The kidnapper's phone rang. "Yes?" the kidnapper said.
"They stopped at the redheaded girl's place first," Steve said, "and she got changed. Now they're at some club for queers."
"Very well," said the kidnapper. "Come back here and pick me up. We'll pick them up there."
First the kidnapper would pick up the girls, and then come back for this equipment, before finally kidnapping the Philips boy.
Then, the kidnapper knew, there would be a complete set, and the world would be safe.
Rachel had never been to a lesbian nightclub before. She hadn't even realized that Cambridge had a lesbian nightclub, although in retrospect it shouldn't have surprised her. It was a college town; of course it had a lesbian nightclub.
Indeed, she had never been to a nightclub of any sort before. She watched in shocked wonder as the bouncer took the counterfeit ident card that Wendy had provided her with, scanned it, and then handed it back to her. Trust the Wonderchild to successfully break into the Massachusetts Identity Database.
She followed Wendy to the bar. Wendy drinks for the two of them, and Rachel accepted the offered beverage uncertainly. The most alcohol she had ever consumed before was a couple of sips of wine that her parents would occasionally allow her to consume at family dinners.
"Well, come on," said Wendy, and downed a not-inconsiderable portion of her drink in one gulp.
Rachel took a sip. It wasn't bad, exactly, but it had a weird aftertaste, the way she always imagined alcohol would taste. It tasted the way rubbing alcohol smelled.
"Let's dance," said Wendy, and dragged her onto the dance floor.
"I need to go to the bathroom first," Rachel said. "Here, hold my drink."
On the way back from the bathroom, Rachel was hit on by no less than three women--attractive women, too, women she would be interested in if the sight of Wendy in that navy blue dress didn't drive any thought of any other man or woman from her mind. It made her feel good about herself, though, more confident.
She found Wendy on the dance floor, holding a drink in each hand, dancing. Rachel made her way through the crowd of gyrating women and began dancing across from the shorter woman.
"When did you know?" Rachel asked after a few minutes of silent dancing. The club had excellent taste in music; she wasn't familiar with the band, but their brand of robot rock exemplified everything she loved about the genre.
"Know what?" Wendy asked, moving to the beat in a way which was pure poetry.
"That you were gay," Rachel explained.
Wendy made a show of looking surprised. "I'm gay?" she asked. "Who told you that?"
Rachel just rolled her eyes. "Wendy, please."
The girl shrugged, nearly spilling her drink in the process. A slow, soft song began to play, and Wendy used the opportunity to step closer. "I've pretty much always known," she said. "Like when a massive explosion called my attention to this gorgeous redheaded girl, back when I was twelve."
It took a Rachel a second to realize that Wendy was talking about her. "You were interested in me?" she asked, shocked. "Even then?"
Wendy smiled shyly--a strange look on her. "Hell, I spent that entire year madly in love with you, and too afraid to let you know."
Rachel blinked. The notion of Wendy afraid of anything was something that required getting used to. "I never guessed," she said.
"I didn't want you to," Wendy said. "But you can imagine how jealous of Hap I was."
Rachel opened her mouth and then closed it, finding she didn't have anything to say. That maybe she didn't need anything to say.
"When did you know?" Wendy asked.
"I'm still not sure," Rachel admitted.
"I'm sure," said Wendy, and that was the Wendy that Rachel recognized, all brazen and confident. "I look into your eyes and I see the eyes of someone who wants to fuck me."
Rachel looked into Wendy's eyes and she got lost in them.
Her attention to Wendy was so complete as the two girls leaned in closer, their mouths moving toward each other, that she didn't notice the kidnapper moving up behind her, or the kidnapper's accomplice behind Wendy.
Roger was whistling as he entered Wendy's apartment, having gained entrance from the Wonderchild's mechanized flying sentry. His date with Melissa, a dark-haired beauty from his Advanced Mathematics class, had gone even better than expected.
He realized that they had left Sigerson running and that, furthermore, the computer had come to certain conclusions in their absence. "Oh my goodness," he said. "I need to warn Rachel!"
But just then a voice rang out from the apartment threshold. "Finally rigured it out, did you?"
Roger turned to face the kidnapper. "Of all people, and it was you? How could you?"
Bridget McGrory shrugged. "Did you know that North Korea is working on an advanced military A.I. supercomputer? So's China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, not to mention G.H.O.S.T. We needed to make sure we had one first. And the three of you kids just built it for us."
Roger's face darkened. "You knew we would never consent to work on such a project, so you had to trick us into it."
Bridget nodded. "You three did quite well once provided with proper motivation. I'm impressed."
"You kidnapped our friends! If you've harmed then. . . ."
"They're fine. Your sister and her little girlfriend should be joining them as we speak. If you'll just come with me, I'll bring you to them."
"Emergency attack!" At Roger's words, all of the miniaturized automata which littered Wendy's apartment suddenly sprang to life, stumbing/walking/crawling/flying towards McGrory. When she brought her hands up to her face to block the descent of some creature which looked like a cross between a remote-controlled helicopter and a tyrannosaurus, and Roger used to the chance to sprint out of Wendy's apartment. . . .
. . . and right into the hands of Bridget McGrory's waiting squad of goons.
"Hey, Rog," Ray "Gamma Ray" Gammand greeted him as the Philips brother was thrown in with the other members of the former "A.I. Gang": Rachel and Wendy, as well as Trip Davis and Hap Swenson. They were in a large cage, about six by ten meters, in the middle of what seemed to be an abandoned warehouse. "Long time, no see."
"Yeah," agreed Roger. "I just wish our reunion was under better circumstances."
Trip nodded, looking worried. "Now they've gotten all six of us, what do you think is going to happen to us?"
"They have Sigerson now," said Rachel. "They don't need us anymore, but we're still a threat to their plans."
"I think what Rachel is trying to say," Wendy interjected, "is----kkkccchhh!" She made a dramatic gesture drawing a line in the air in front of her neck in the universal symbol for decapitation.
"I was able to trigger Sigerson's emergency protocals," Roger said. "They'll be locked out without the release code."
"Which you're about to give me," Bridget McGrory said as the door to the cage swung open, and she entered, gun in hand. She held the gun against Wendy's head. "Somebody better tell me how to get into the computer, or there'll be a former kid genius with a bullet in her brainpan." She looked intently at Rachel.
Rachel let out a breath. "The code is 'Equus Ilio,' e-q-u-u-s-i-l-i-o," she said. She looked at the other members of the A.I. Gang. "Sorry, guys," she said apologetically.
Bridget released Wendy, then nodded to one of the operatives outside the cage, who inputted the code. "We're in," he confirmed. A smile spread across Bridget's face as she backed out of the cage door, sealing the six teenagers inside together once again. The A.I. Gang let out a collective breath, and waited for what would happen next.
It was about fifteen minutes later that a commotion could be heard outside; seconds later, dozens of S.W.A.T. officers appeared throughout the warehouse and began taking down McGrory's men. Once the area was secured, a familiar figure appeared among them: Dr. Stanley Remov. "I got your message," he said to Roger and Rachel. "Once you trigured the Trojan Horse from inside this location, we were able to determine your whereabouts and come after you." He gestured to a man on his left. "I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine, Alexander Harper, Deputy Director of the C.I.A."
Rachel looked to the three boys. "Sorry I couldn't let you in on it," she said.
Trip snorted. "I think we all figured it out on our own. It didn't take a whole lot to realize that 'equus Ilio' is Latin for 'Trojan horse.'"
"Did you ever think Dr. Standish might have been right?" Trip asked as the six A.I. Gang members worked at dismantling Sigerson. Even though most of Sigerson was software rather than hardware, somehow they found the destruction of the main processor to have a necessary cathartic element, in addition to the virus the children had written to reverse Wendy's SETI@home hack.
"About computer science being an abomination before God?" Wendy asked, pointedly. "Not really."
"Well, ignoring the crazy religious part," Trip amended. "But McGrory claimed that all sorts of countries and organizations are working on thinking computers. What do we do when SkyNet decides to wipe out the human race?"
"We get John Connor to send Michael Biehn back in time to fight Arnold Schwarzeneggar," Ray answered.
"I'm serious," Trip insisted.
"Adam would never let that happen," Rachel insisted.
"Can we be sure of that?" Trip asked. "I mean, completely sure?"
The children were silent. As much as they trusted the near-omnipotent supercomputer, they knew they could never hope to comprehend its thought patterns.
"Life's a bitch and then you die," Wendy interjected at last. "It's not like there's any way to put the genie back in the bottle, so I'm going to stop worrying and get on with my life." And to accent her point, she brought the heavy mallet she wielded down onto Sigerson's main processor, then leaned over and kissed Rachel, long and hard.