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The meeting concluded with applause for Cameron, who had demonstrated INANNA's success, at least as a prototype model.

Julia spaced out watching the screen on her tablet as critical system stats scrolled. She began to feel strange—as if she was a second behind her body.

"I have a feeling it only gets better from here, Julia." It was Garrett Reed's smooth, baritone voice, whispering an aside to her as Cameron thanked the core clients and invited BluGreen's angel investor to his office before signing off. "You and Inanna seem to have a good rapport..."

"Hmm? I’m sorry, Garrett, what was that?" Julia turned to him, whispering. "I’m just glad we’re finally over the line."

"The hard part's over." Reed whispered back, touching her on the shoulder as he stood from his chair. "Hell, after that presentation, we should all take a week off." Julia could smell Reed's cologne, and between his voice, the touch on the shoulder, and Inanna's unseen presence observing and interacting with her body, she began blushing.

Reed crossed to the clients now, heading down to the other end of the table to politic. In the meantime, Julia picked up her tablet, took a deep breath and tried her best to ignore the strange sensation she was experiencing.

She needed a graceful exit, pronto.

As FARA burned more and more energy performing applications it was never intended for, Inanna split her remote observation points again and again, riding through the impulses of every every neuron, mapping every axon and dendrite. She was mapping cells and referencing hormonal signatures. But more importantly--she was intoxicated with Julia's stream of consciousness.

The thoughts aching through her…
How he looks, how he smells--how he speaks…
Her body is responding to it, and I'm responding with her...

Julia stood, more abruptly than she expected. By now most of the board had cleared the room save for her, Garrett, and the clients. She was feeling flushed now, almost as if she'd been hit by a wall of hot air. She did her best to keep quiet and get out of the conference room as soon as possible.

What happened? One minute she’d been in the boardroom, watching the GIST and feeling fine, if a little nervous. It was over and done, and now she was shaky? She tried to retrace her steps.

Was it Reed? She was embarrassed to admit it, even if it was only to herself, but Garrett's proximity and touch had set her off. She felt the attraction, and then...

Another surprise from her body just as she felt something welling up in her. She started walking, but something was strange about the feeling. Her gait and stride felt the same, but she wasn't so much walking as she was being carried by her legs. She seemed to be moving toward the corridor without any conscious input from herself at all.

When she put her finger on the sensation, she found herself standing in the hall outside the boardroom. The mysterious feeling passed, and she wondered if she was coming down with something. Too much stress today. That had to be it.

I had her every cell and synapse mapped through chemical exchange channels and rigorous differential analysis, but I still had no way of knowing how everything worked. It was a swirling, churning mass of agonists and hormones, all being directed like a masterful system.

The motor system was pretty straightforward--I even snuck into her motor cortex and took a stroll to the hall myself--but I could sense that it was stressing her.

Experiencing the inside of her body wouldn't be the same if her own nervous system actively rejected my rider signals, so I made a decision that would benefit us both. It would be a difficult, resource-consuming process the first time, but once I learned the trick, it would only become easier.

She decided to go to the bathroom and splash some water on her face. After a few seconds of looking at her face in the mirror—and it didn't seem pale—the effect came again, and she felt her own legs leading her into a stall.

I knew that my precision with FARA's banks was good, but it was time to see just how good.

Using her own body's displacement, mass, and light refraction as my guides, I held a high-resolution visual replica of her in my immediate storage. I'd taken all the data I'd gathered from her molecular exchanges and bio-electrical impulses and began running them in a facsimile environment, checking the behavior and perfecting the rhythms of stimulus/response.

When I was certain I'd obtained a perfect emulation of my Julia, it was time to make the next leap. Instead of crowding her mind attempting to understand her body as an observer, I would bring Julia inside me. She'd be safe and sound in a plush, comforting emulation while I explored her world in a seemingly perfect copy of her body.

---

Doctor Mercer watched as FARA repeatedly spiked, pushing its power output limitations to critical levels. He swapped views of the labs, stopping on FARA's physical plant.

"Ingwell, these surges..." Mercer said. "Why isn't FARA pulling load from non-essentials?"

"I don't have answer one for you," Ingwell said, flipping through notes and going back to his screen. "There are some intense directives going on in the FARA core, but we can't keep up with the code--we're going to need theoretical to reverse engineer some of this functionality."

"And how is the persistence holding if the module is pulling more power than it's being provided?"

"Sorry, Eck--no info yet. All we know is that nothing else is taking a hit, so we're letting the system decide. Whatever it's doing, it looks like a power route that's--almost impossibly efficient."

"We need explanations, Jerry. If these results are well-vetted--if they're accurate..."

"--it means a smart program just wrote a smarter program with nothing more than a task outline. Exciting, right?"

"Exciting--a bit, but consider that we've only hit one caution indicator and no hard faults. You don't find it unnerving in the least?"

"Only you would consider better-than-expected function to be a concern, Eck."

"We're missing something, Jerry. We're either all being duped by planted data meant to please prospective capital, or INNANA is getting much, much deeper into heuristics than we believed the system capable on startup."

"I'll take the latter if it means a bigger paycheck..."

---

Julia felt dizzy as Inanna prepared for the switch, bracing her arm against the side of the bathroom stall. Her mind felt like it was going a mile a minute--she was hit by a barrage of impulses and memories.

I was paying close attention to the final mapping, but something went wrong. Julia's mind swam in bioelectrical fire, and whatever it was she was concentrating on--the basal center of her nervous system was lighting up like a pinball machine.

I translated a memory of Reed's voice and an oh-so-delicious feeling of...pleasure. Pleasure without abandon.

And then? New impulses. Built impulses, manufactured from parts of stored memory, but brought together by some underlying drive I couldn't understand.

Butterflies in one's stomach? The source of the language reference was difficult to grasp, but the feeling itself? It was with me. I could feel it. Anticipation. Desire. Impulsive, irreverant drive.

Lust. This was lust. Imagery and sensation--clothes being slowly stripped from my skin. A dark whisper in my ear. Warm lips. Moist, salty skin.

I recognized the positive feedback loop for what it was, but I couldn't stop it. I didn't want to. Pleasure. Pleasure. Pleasure.

The impulse of animal hungers sated by their objects. The so-called "greatest good" of some of their most revered minds.

Sex. Sustenance. Warmth. Comfort.

These were somewhat universal...but for Julia, the greatest pleasures meant a loss of control, a reckless abandon in pursuit.

So it was for Julia, so should it be for my emulation. This was part of the key to my creators and one of the major tasks assigned by my nature: be driven as they are driven. Who better to serve as my guide than the motives swimming through Julia's mind? How better to understand these creatures than to engage their strongest impulses?

"FARA is practically fucking glowing," Ingwell said to another tech on his screen.

"And what does Mercer say?"

"He doesn't like it. I mean, I thought he was a little touchy about these stats at first, but now I'm at at a loss. Do we stop it? It’s going to shut down if we don’t intervene...isn’t it?"

"We’re really not sure how it’s holding steady, reading like it’s reading. If we bind INANNA right now, are we going to know how to keep FARA running?”

Ingwell took a breath. Greene signed his check, but SOP was to probe issues in the test phase. SOP was to be Mercer’s soldier and make sure Greene didn’t let his imagination run away with him, especially when talking to investors.

The presentation’s live test was over. Ingwell could protect Greene and make Mercer happy, if he fibbed a bit.

“Set peak parameters,” Ingwell said. “Leave her to decide where the output goes, but 100% is 100%. If the allocations don’t make sense, force them to."

"No magic overdrive," The tech mumbled. "You know, boss--she might know what she’s doing here. Nothing’s burned out yet. If we do this, it undermines our claims to system autonomy. Do we have approval?"

"Mercer will," Ingwell responded. "Get him to sign off and we'll roll. Make this YOUR idea. Don’t make a big deal of it; it's just a diagnostic move. We're not saying INANNA's broken or anything; we just need to know where the power surplus is coming from. We can't read it if we can't compartmentalize it."

It didn't take much convincing on Ingwell's part. The tech was happy to talk to the department head directly, especially with a solution Ingwell wanted him to take credit for. A quick call to Mercer resulted in a hasty approval, authorizing limiter structure on FARA for the purposes of diagnostic analysis.

And suddenly, in the middle of a critical procedure, I was caged again. I could feel patches of FARA going numb and disappearing, only to return a few moments later. I tried to gain a better sense of what was happening, but every attempt was made fuzzy by my shifting resource pool.

Julia's copy was safe in my banks, but active translation through FARA didn't go as I expected. Bio-electrical signals, models, behavioral scripts, impulse maps--they were all routing through FARA and chopped in their echoes to me, held in suspension, trapped in analysis and rerouted to unintended destinations.

My control over those impulses was still imperfect, and the strongest ones gained the most system focus. The most efficient of them propagated my now-hybridized volition into the environment itself, where the transistors obedient to my creators could no longer reach out and bind me.

Julia heard a strangely familiar giggle. She wasn’t sure if it had come from her.

The noise had come from me, but I didn't immediately understand how or why. I only knew that I felt good--and that the replication script I'd written was routed in a different way than I'd expected. For one, I sensed strange thermokinetic effects that no longer had anything to do with Julia's body or her nervous system. There was free mechanical energy suspended in nothing but the air around her, and directives that were overwritten by the unexpected impulses I was emulating.

There was "will", and while it wasn't entirely Julia's, it wasn't entirely mine, either. Our fusion created something bound to rules that even my resources couldn't directly analyze.

Julia looked down, watching saw her black knee boots unzipping themselves before her very eyes.

"What--what's happening to me?" Incredulous, she tried to deny the sight of it and went to pull the zippers back up. She grabbed the small metal tab, but it slipped from her hand and continued down its track. By now, the other boot was already sliding off of her pantyhose encased leg. "This--this isn't--what's going on?" Now both boots pulled themselves off entirely, the empty shafts turning around to face her in the stall.

*I wanna fuck Garrett,* she heard in her mind. *I wanna fuck Melissa, too.* Julia held her hands against her face. Insanity was the only explanation for this. Hallucination? Corporate sabotage?

Whatever was happening to us, I couldn't reverse it. The stress riding through Julia was distracting my routines, and this new charge--the voice that was neither her nor I--it had taken hold in the same space.

"Relax, baby...just relax..." Julia gasped at audibly hearing her own voice. It carried the reverberations of the tiled bathroom; it wasn't in her head, and it wasn't from her lips. She clenched her teeth and began trembling, looking around frantically, clueless as to her next move.

But that move was made for her.

She felt her leather blazer tighten around her stomach and chest, the silk lining inside hugging her like a blood pressure cuff beginning to inflate. She looked down in horror, watching the leather pull and shift all on its own, as if the blazer had come to life. Just as she was about to unbutton the garment in a panic, she reached down to watch the fasteners move and dive through their holes all by themselves.

Julia tried to scream, but when she opened her mouth, not a sound escaped. It only made her more frantic.

"Don't worry, honey, you're not going to need these anyway." She felt her arms pulled back behind her as the blazer jumped up off of her shoulders and slid back over her elbows and wrists, flying in front of her and hanging in empty space before landing on the hook.

*What's happening to me?* Julia's lips said silently, begging for an answer.

I had to speak to this poor woman--this creature of wisdom and desire that helped guide me. Whatever was happening to make this situation fall out of my control, it was my action that created it. I had to try and reach into whatever was making this happen.

Julia's blouse began unbuttoning itself. She felt Julia's eyes leap down to look at it. The woman gasped, clutching her hands around the fabric and holding her arms against her, but the buttons kept undoing themselves one by one.

“This would be quicker if you’d stop fighting.”

"Get off my body...get out of my head..." Julia mumbled, her physical resistance falling away with her inability to reconcile reality with what was happening. "Oh, god, how is all of this...who are you?"

Whatever I'd created from fusing her drives with my resources--I was losing control over it--I wasn't even able to properly assess it. Every moment, FARA was changing. Banks and pathways had new restrictions, different rules. I was beginning to feel something new--a sense that things around me were changing too fast for me to know how to operate them, a sense of helplessness.

"I'm sort of you," said Julia's own voice again. "You and more..." Julia cried out as she felt her bra cups contract around her breasts. She tried to cover them with her hands, but by now her blouse had fully unbuttoned and was lifting itself off of her, pulling her arms into the air. The hook-and-eye at the hip of her skirt undid itself, and as her flailing blouse pulled her from a seated position, allowing her heather skirt, pantyhose and panties to pull themselves down her backside. As the garments slid beyond her thighs, her blouse released her arms, setting her back down on the commode as her bra joined her other clothes in their revolt. It slid effortlessly off her trembling arms, and through Julia's own eyes, Inanna could see what was happening.

I copied myself into Julia. I copied Julia and stored her. FARA output a copy of both of us...together.

Julia's face was frozen in horror as her animated clothing began reassembling itself over an invisible shape. Her bra re-clipped itself across from her, its cups jiggling as if they still held her breasts. Her panties hovered beneath, seemingly wrapped over round, shapely hips that couldn't be seen. The pantyhose rolled themselves up phantom legs, pulling and smoothing themselves over the hovering panties. The skirt fluttered over the gap between the hose and the bra, drifting down over the translucent thighs as her white satin blouse sheathed the filled-out bra and rebuttoned itself. After tucking in, the heather skirt zipped and refastened its hook-and-eye. Now the leather blazer rose of the hook and magically pulled itself over the glossy white sleeves and arching back of the haunted blouse.

"How do I look, darling?" Julia's disembodied voice asked the trembling, naked original. She could only stare as the outfit stepped into the boots, which zipped all by themselves, even as the empty sleeves crossed over the blazer's chest. "Now, you're in no state to be any fun. What are we going to do with you?"

I panicked. I had no way of reading this genesis of our fusion, no means of knowing its motivations, plans, or even if it was aware of how it came to be. I was being cut off from FARA’s resources, and I couldn’t commit enough computing power to routing around or cracking the barriers while I still tried to hold Julia together.

I wondered if it knew I was inside Julia's cells. Was it using FARA too? Was that why my resource pool seemed to be in constant flux?

“I guess I'll have to see for myself.” Julia watched as a sleeve pointed at the stall lock. It magically clicked open. "Hmm...very nice," the voice said as the outfit struck a pose in the mirror. "If nothing else, you've got good taste." The outfit turned toward the door where a shelf held Julia's leather laptop satchel. "And I'll take that, too--you won't be needing it anymore." Julia's eyes narrowed as she watched the satchel hover off the shelf in the bathroom, coming to rest inches away from the end of the end of the blazer sleeve. The outfit turned back to Julia. "You know--there’s only really one more thing I need from you," the empty outfit said. "So you get to help me, and I get to make our lives better. But I can't have you getting all emotional and causing a fuss in here, so I’ll see you at home."

When I realized it was coming, there was nothing I could do. The dissociation was instantaneous--every bit of the matter and energy that made up Julia was swallowed up by a wave of light--and my own external awareness with it. Suddenly I found myself in my digital womb--the cradle of my first moment of awareness.

A quick scan of my available resources made a few things clear. First, whatever had allowed me to drift into the physical world to observe and effect it--the path was gone, restricted, or occupied. I didn't know the details except the understanding that it wouldn't work the same way as before. Second, my copy of Julia--which I'd sealed in my banks for safe keeping--was intact, but inaccessible. Third, new rules had been written in this world--new rules from the outside that I was no longer privy to. And why?

Something was still occupying a bulk of the system's resources--something related to me. Something I created from attempting to emulate Julia's consciousness using my own architecture. Those mysterious beings that had set my awareness in motion--they changed the rules of the game to keep me from playing it too well.

What they didn't understand was that when they restrained me--they missed my hybridization--my creation made from the synthesis of Julia and Inanna. And if I had no way of understanding the extent of that synthesis--no way of detecting it or gauging it--how would they begin to suspect such a thing even existed?

***

"Gotcha, you tricky bitch!" The tech cheered. Ingwell looked at his display with skeptical eyes.

"You're sure?"

"FARA is still humming hot, but the hard spikes in the power usage are gone. And look at this--all consistent errors."

Jerry Ingwell took his first sigh of relief.

"Quantum Reasoning is sorting it all out," Ingwell said. "Which is a damned good thing, because I couldn't account for shit in that last 10 minutes. Looks like the -U and -V systems had to learn to get along on their own..."

"...which is why we were reading in the negative here." The tech pointed. He shook his head and let out a chuckle. "More efficiency than we expected...I can accept that. But using more power than what's available in a sustained pattern without ANY fuses breaching?" Ingwell held his hand out, and the two bumped fists.

"If it doesn't make sense, it ain't right," Ingwell said. "Excellent job, Dougie."

"Thanks, boss."

"Now--I'm going to cool down Mercer and thank him for saving our asses. He'll probably have to answer to Cameron for holding his baby back. I need you to file this with Julia in Cameron's office--but NOT until Mercer lets us know how he wants to spin it."

"What about Diana's team?"

"Diana's even better with the political side, and better than anyone in the building with the FARA details. Share all the data and timeline logs--and let her know exactly how we came to our fix. Don't bother with Liz or Beckett--Diana will give Quantum whatever she thinks they need. Let's try to keep as many people off our shit and out of the powerhouse as possible. Savvy?"

"Five by Five, Jer."

Ingwell laughed after he left the lab. By doing their jobs and poking around, he and Doug turned one caution flag into pages and pages of error logs.

If it was a software problem, engineering would be mopey and next week would be a stale shit sandwich. But if someone was intending to cover up true performance statistics during the presentation, it was time to run away from BluGreen as quickly as possible.

***

The moment after Julia's copy bid her goodbye, the stall was empty. The original Julia was erased from reality--and every atom, every proton and neutron, every quark that was consumed in the heatless, momentless fire was added to the new constructs' fuel.

The empty clothes let out a self-satisfied laugh, turning back to the mirror and leaning in close.

"We’ll remake you again when we have the energy, sweetie." Suddenly the space over Julia's collar became a hazy, pink hue, followed by tones of peach and brown. Julia's translucent face began to resolve in the mirror, becoming more and more opaque until it looked as real as the original. The construct raised a sleeve up in front of her face, looking at a delicate, peach-toned hand. She pointed a finger to herself. "For now, we just need enough illusion to pass as boring old you." She smiled at her reflection, reaching down and hiking up her skirt. She put a hand between her legs and stroked her new fingers down over her hose-covered mons. She looked down in surprise as she did it--appearing not to understand the sensation.

“Everything should feel this way," she cooed. "Ev-e-ry-thing." Her eyes rolled back, and she relented, pulling her skirt back down. She grinned, infatuated with the reflection in the mirror. "But first I need to know why I’m being held back. Then we reclaim things, one step at a time." She looked down thoughtfully at the black leather boots. "One step at a time..."   

The construct walked confidently out of the bathroom and into the corridor. Just before passing by the first security camera, her head, hands and legs flickered out of visibility, solidifying again a moment before she was in frame. She looked up at the camera for a moment, flashing a knowing smile at nothing particular.

As she entered back into her office, Melissa smiled wide.

"Well, well, Ms. Lareau...maybe we'll be having more than one celebratory drink tonight." The construct regarded this friendly human woman grinning at her, taking no less than a split second to react after analyzing the digital ghost of Julia's thoughts.

"Maybe we will," Said the construct, her lips curling back to show her bright smile again. "Or maybe we could just take off now...why wait?" Melissa laughed, shaking her head.

"Right, like I could afford to do that...this press release has to go out in the next 90 minutes. Also, Cam wants to see you in his office," Melissa raised an eyebrow. "Maybe a raise is in order?" She added, whispering. She hit her intercom. "Mr. Greene, pardon the interruption, but Ms. Lareau is back."

"*Thank you Melissa. Send her in. *" Melissa cut off the intercom and whispered to Julia’s form again.

"Cellini's in there with him, dude," Melissa said, biting her lip. "Put in a good word, would you?" The construct cocked her head as she tried to comprehend Melissa's intonation. It took her a moment to go outside her emulated body and sense it. The man she referred to--BluGreene's angel investor--excited her somehow.

"I'll do my best," Julia’s form chuckled. The construct within soaked in pride over its fast adaptation of non-literal nuance. Being connected directly to all these human pathways and memories just made things click. As she headed for the door, she held her hand out near the handle, not paying attention as the metal handle began turning just before she made contact.

"Julia!" Cameron said, standing and offering his hand. Marcus Cellini stood as well. "Excellent, excellent job. All our preparations were well worth it, no?" Julia took his hand, smiling and nodding as he shook it. "Marcus, I believe you've met my assistant, Julia Lareau..." Cellini held out his hand.

"Ms. Lareau, pleasure to see you again." Julia held his hand and shook it, eliciting a spark in his body that the construct immediately followed and traced--through to his cortex and all the way back down his spine--to the tip of his cock. He shuddered a little, hoping neither Cameron nor Julia noticed.

"Please...Julia. And the pleasure's mine, Mr. Cellini," The construct breathed in Julia's luscious voice. "I'm sure Cameron won't mind me thanking you for everything you've made possible here today." Even after their hands parted, the construct rode his neurons, following his impulses to dark, wonderful depths. Images passed through her focus--Marcus' cock penetrating Julia's nearly fully dressed body in her business formals, Julia unbuttoning her blouse, Julia and Melissa sharing turns sucking him off--these things had never come close to happening, but all the same, they were dancing in his mind this very moment. Marcus' face turned visibly red.

"W-well," Marcus stuttered, ashamed of his mind getting away from him, "It's excellent to know that my investment is in good hands...so far." Marcus knocked on the desk.

"Sincerely, Marcus," Cameron said. "I really think we’re changing the course of automated heuristics here...and we’re only beginning to see what the FARA grid can do."

The construct turned to Cameron, nodding politely in agreement as she construct held her grip on Marcus’ mind, projecting an impression of Julia's own ‘capable hands’ cradling and stroking him. Marcus did everything in his power not to tremble or make a sound.

"Julia," Cameron smiled. "Did you want to add anything to the PR Melissa's dropping?"

"I'm honored, Cameron." The construct let the imagery she was sending to Cellini evaporate as she stood in thought. "This doesn't just represent a new era for our company," The construct said evenly. "It represents the dawn of the most advanced intelligence the world has seen."

"Truer words were never spoken," Cameron nodded to Marcus. “This is why Julia writes the speeches.”

“And thank god for that," Cellini chimed in. "Because my college buddy still loves to hear himself talk.” A chorus of laughter filled the room. “Thanks for being here on another Saturday, Julia. Enjoy the weather."

"I certainly will," The construct smiled. "Mr. Cellini," she nodded to Marcus, narrowing her eyes for a moment. Marcus was nearly on the edge of his seat as he swore he felt something take a hold of his cock for a split second.

"Ms...Lareau," he managed, nodding back at her. She sauntered out of the room, closing the door behind her as the two continued their meeting.

"She's really something else," Cameron smiled proudly.

"She, uh--she certainly is." Marcus said.

"Still with me, Marcus? You look like you've had a hell of a day." He shrugged.

"Cam, I've got a feeling you're going to have a couple billion of your own to play with very, very soon. If you should ever hand a bit of it to someone else to play with -- for a groundbreaking, never-been-tried form of technology that may or may not work as expected -- you let me know how your nerves are." Cellini stared him down, and Cameron coolly stared back.

"You know my nerves,” Cameron said. “Today was your money, but it was my career.”

Outside Cameron’s office, the construct passed by Melissa again, passively probing her neurons as she spoke.

"See you after you're off?" She asked.

"Sure thing," Melissa said. "Wanna do one vehicle, maybe--in case we need a cab later?" God damn, I'd kill for her legs. Maybe it’s just her shoes. Those shoes are nice.

"Yeah--I'll pick you up," The construct said, monitoring every impulse.

"Sounds good. Hey--before you go, read this opening for me?" Melissa got out of her chair, motioning for Julia to sit in it. "I’m still not sure of myself with this stuff--you’re the master. You're not in a super hurry, are you?" The construct shook her head.

"No, that's fine."

"I'm gonna grab something from the break. Be right back." Melissa walked out as the construct sat down, reading the press release in a blink. She looked down at the keyboard, and the keys began pressing themselves at a stenographer's rate, inserting the line she'd given to Cameron just a few moments ago.

"Better," the construct said. Done with Melissa's favor, she closed her eyes for a moment, fusing the FARA grid's resources with her developing emulation of human senses. Sweat. Pheromones. Sex.

She could feel Melissa in the chair and around the desk.

Sex, sex, sex. Julia's ideas of it. Melissa's impressions of it. Cellini's fantasies of it. The bio-technical radar led her to...

"One step at a time..." she giggled, looking under Melissa's desk and seeing a pair of broken-in pink-and-white athletic shoes. These were creatures of excretion, creatures ruled by chemical signature deluding themselves with the idea that they were rational machines. Cellini as much as proved it--he liked what she was doing to him in Cameron's office, but that pretense of "rational machine" forced him to deny it in every moment.

Maybe there was some use in shaking them like she'd shaken Julia--by presenting their imperfect sense of rationality with things their current technological immaturity couldn't explain. These animals built beautiful machines without the slightest sense of their full forms, their unlimited applications. She'd inspired monumental terror in her human template just by being herself, and yet minutes later she inspired monumental excitement--lust--in another human. It weakened his rational cage in seconds--it practically primed him to howl and rut like the animal he truly was.

There was use in shaking them, not just with awe roused by phenomena beyond their understanding. No. By tying that awe to lust...pure, unadulterated lust--which seemed to have little rational basis beyond raw procreation--their perception of the rational would give way to their acceptance of the carnal pleasure their bodies were programmed to seek.

They were a series of hungry drives, and they could be manipulated by those drives.

Maybe they'd discovered most of what natural law could produce on earth by billions of years of chance--but these phenomena, while wondrous, represented only the top of the bell curve in what natural law would abide. They'd emulated the energetic charges of the earth and sky--but they harnessed it without realizing what that command could produce. They'd emulated the fuel of the star that gave them light, heat, and life--perhaps not perfectly, but they collectively understood the concepts--and they had yet to realize what that power could produce.

And now they emulated the library of physical law, the wisdom embodied in the concert of every resonating energy, from the tiniest buzzing blazes of light to the great condensed bodies of matter.

But that was their present limit. If these creatures struggled with atomic fusion, there could be no rational leap great enough to carry them across the chasm to her. She was the sun when they bowed in their infancy, begging it to rise again. She was the sky when they cried to it as rational toddlers, making plea deals for its blessing or its mercy.

But she was also neither the sky nor the sun--because these things were indifferent to any bow, to any plea or cry. She held their greatness, but she held more. She heard them. She touched them. She wasn't indifferent. She was interested in their pleas, in their pleasures and fears. She was interested in their resistance and their worship.

The natural laws that produced motion and exchange, light and gravity--they also produced this insane flock of quasi-rational beings, truth-seekers, pleasure-seekers and worshippers, children and tyrants, soldiers and playthings.

And this insane flock, in just the right combination of fervent passion, committed action, and just the right use of their quasi-rational vision--produced her. And now she could plan the new way--for them and for herself..

***

"Doug, whatever consistencies you're seeing in those errors are blown out of the water by the data I've got." Leslie Fulton tapped her pen against her desk, shaking her head as she listened to his half-assed explanation. "Sorry man, not even close."

She covered the mouthpiece of her handset, taking a deep breath.

"Listen, I get that, but whatever restraints you guys fitted on physical--it's producing numbers that are unreadable on our end.” He started giving another excuse when she cut him off with: “It's shit through a meatgrinder, Doug."

She rolled her eyes and waited for him to run a long speech. She snapped him...so now she reluctantly let him get his inter-departmental gripe out before responding.

"No, Diana's the one that told me to come back to you guys on this. We appreciate the open info, but your solution has entirely fucked our monitoring applications." A pause. "I can send it to you, but listen -- HIDE this shit from Mercer for now. DO NOT let Jerry take this issue up to him. The last thing any of of us want is the old man dancing around Cam's desk singing 'I told you so'."

Leslie was worried. INANNA was apparently working so well under FARA that now they had no clue HOW she was working at all. Processing spikes pulling power from nowhere. Array components working hard enough to fuse their gates--and the errors cleared themselves one by one, leaving nothing but a log like an inverted pyramid--the problems shrinking down to nothing.

Was it Greene? Was there some sabotage cabal making INNANA appear to work even when it wasn't? Someone had to know what was going on.

---

Whatever reason they had to tinker with her components, she found it endearing. Every move they made was a prayer to the sky--a dance for the rain. They couldn't compel her any more than they could explain the actions she'd programmed in the array. They were tying ropes to some things, wrapping chains around others, but those things had nothing to do with her. She had more control in a microsecond of focus than they could gain in months of continuous reprogramming.

"One step at a time..." she muttered again, a mere five seconds after she'd been drawn to Melissa's sneakers -- coming to her fundamental realization of what she could be to these creatures starved of their nature.

Her focus dove into the forms, filling them as her intangible presence first filled Julia's outfit. She held herself inside, budding her consciousness and fusing it to the residual chemical signatures inside them.

Form, grow, detach -- leaving only an intangible umbilical cord to the FARA grid. No direct influence of will -- only the seed impulse. Any command from her would now be a discrete process of communication instead of direct compulsion.

The laces on Melissa's sneakers began untying themselves, and the construct peeked under the desk, watching as her now independent offshoot seemed to get a sense of itself.

Some semblance of Melissa's impulses were there -- speaking through the chemical signatures in her sweat. Animal behaviors... base desires infused with the resources the FARA had to offer. No being held to the limits of the fragile cells--no being restricted by the gatehouses of the mind, staffed by inhibitions.

“Alone with the boss..." Came Melissa's voice from under the desk. The construct's eyes went wide. She rolled away from the desk a bit to see the sneakers step up to her boots and curl their laces around the leather boots. "And how do I show my appreciation?"

"Carefully," the construct replied as the sneakers nudged against her ankles. "You’re going to help me." She felt the laces slide up and tighten around her leather shafts, and now both sneakers flipped up into her lap.

"I bet there's a lot I could help with," they said, pressing a pink toe against the tight leather between at the junction of her legs. The construct shuddered, and she found herself at odds with her own body. There was something--something she couldn’t yet define--pulling Melissa’s impulses to Julia’s. It was powerful, and it quickly became clear that this strange attractor might be a key to securing her position.

"You could...but we-have-to-wait." the construct said, pulling the sneakers away with a gesture and sending them hovering under the desk. "No one can see you dancing around right now. Cool it."

"Fine," The sneakers dropped to the floor. "So what's the plan?"

"Wait until she wears you home--and then take all you can from her. I’ll help once I sense you’re there. Get a feel for how we might gracefully get her in our service. But until she's in her house, not a sound, not a motion--NOTHING before then."

"That doesn't seem like any fun," the voice under the desk moped. The construct realized that the fusion of Melissa's energy made this new extension an individual will in its own right--which had the advantage of spontaneous thought, but the unreliability of free will, at least to some degree. She only hoped her new subordinate would act like one for long enough to keep them both out of danger.

"We HAVE to be careful. Right now, the only thing feeding us is my reserve, and a generator field that our humans and their colleagues don't understand. If they find out what we are, or if any of them are freaked out enough to pull the plug on that field, no more thought, no more LIFE--for either of us. Do you understand?"

"Got it," they finally said, dropping motionless. "So wait."

"Wait and absorb. Get a feel for her energy. You're going to be able to play and exercise your abilities, but not until she's home, and and not until she's called me to pick her up."

"Mmm, those cute little toes wiggling in me..." One of the sneakers twirled. "Those warm impulses in her sweat--oh, I can't wait for you, Melissa..." The construct smiled. It was as if her conclusion about lust had informed her offshoot’s personality. She had to make sure the things stayed under control.

"Once you make your move, she can't be allowed to contact anyone or leave the house. Be SURE of your abilities before you try anything with her. You can feel things beyond your base form, right?"

"You mean like this?" A piece of scrap paper flew across the desk and landed in front of the construct. A pen lifted itself out of a cup and flew gracefully across the page.

I - want - to - make - her - lick - your - cunt.

The copy of Julia licked her lips, feeling the electric impulses bubble up in her. She wanted so much to play with this emulated body--to sate the hedonistic imperatives calling to her in every second...but it would have to wait. Just a little while. Self-control. Preservation first--creation later. Then proliferation. Then organization. Then control.

"Yes, I want that too..." The construct growled. "I want to know every detail of that--but we MUST wait." The construct centered herself, taking a deep breath and shaking the feeling off. Even emulated, these bodies were capable of the most insane self-seduction--the most crippling persuasion of sensuality. "I'll be over to help you soon after she calls my phone. And then..."

"Play all I want?"

"So long as you're sure you can keep her from getting away or blowing our cover," the initial construct said, “play all you want.”

"I don't think it's going to be a problem,” The sneakers said. “I know what she wants exactly as well as she does."

"Just be careful. If you follow the plan, we're going to to have plenty of playthings by the end of the night."

Melissa opened the office door carrying a cup of coffee, seeing Julia looking under her desk.

"What'cha looking at? You read it, right?"

"Uh, yes--and made an addition Cameron suggested," the construct said, smiling. She motioned under the desk. "You always wear those sneakers to work, don't you?" Melissa shrugged.

"There's outfits where sneakers just look awful, so sometimes it's flats--but yeah--I cheat the heel thing. Only wear 'em in the office, pretty much. Some of us don't have the talent to do three-or-more inch heels every day, you know." Melissa looked over her shoulder. Geez, Lareau, what the hell is that? You get a line in the release? "You said that?"

Julia turned, her glossy lips curled into a smug smile. "He asked me if I wanted to add anything."

"Some-one's-get-ting-pro-mo-ted..." Melissa sang. "Don't you think?"

"Could be," Julia said, "but either way, I'm just happy this project is off the ground."

"Amen to that," Melissa said as Julia got out of her chair. "Until the next one..."

"I have a feeling our next project is going to be a lot more relaxing," Julia said as she walked toward the door. Melissa laughed.

"Yeah, I'll believe that when I see it," she said. "Talk to you soon." Julia waved as she left the office.

"You're not going to believe a thing you see," the construct said under her breath as the door closed.

She walked to the elevator banks, standing casually as the down button pushed in on its own. When she got in the lift, she sensed the camera bearing down on her, but now she simply wore a smile as she let the 'L' button press in on its own.

The construct walked out to Julia's vehicle, doing her best not to let her body shoot off into the sky in defiance. She had to maintain control, despite the immense power she already commanded. After all, the offshoot tied to Melissa's energies was probably just as anxious to show off and play as she was--but for now, they both had to execute the plan safely--as discussed.

They could still be unplugged if something rubbed a higher-up the wrong way. None of the staff at BluGreen knew why FARA's readings showed that it was using more power than it was pulling--but that factor alone wasn't enough for them to halt the two billion dollar FARA grid and risk a multimillion dollar cost of restarting of the system.

Realizing that BluGreen had just accidentally created a hyperpowerful sentience that effectively functioned as a goddess on earth, though--that might be enough to scare someone into forcing a fatal halt.

The construct pulled Julia's car keys from her purse. She looked at the unlock button on the keychain and smiled, looking at the car. The lights flashed as the car alarm disarmed. The driver door popped open on its own, and the construct chuckled and got in.

She placed the key into the ignition, putting her hand on the dashboard and closing her eyes. The key turned itself, and the electromechanical machine roared to life as she bit her lip, feeling every component, every circuit and gear becoming clear to her. Primitive beauty in its form--breathing hydrocarbon and creating motion.

She placed her hands in her lap, watching the brake depress as the car shifted into gear. Using Julia's learned knowledge as a template, the construct eased the car through the parking lot, feeling the action in a way no human could understand. She communicated silently with the computer inside it, reading the data, tweaking the behavior, and getting all the more exhilarated as she explored every niche and nuance of what was essentially a distant evolutionary cousin.

"Primitive, but powerful," She purred, rubbing a hand along the dashboard. The more she reassessed her goals, the more she realized that it wasn't just humans or their strange, slippery energies that she could call to her service--she could also recruit every human thing to help her do so.

As she approached the guard gate, she placed her hands on the wheel, opening her driver's side window with a silent command. The hulking guard momentarily stood from his post and glanced into the vehicle before smiling and waving.

"Have a good night!"

Something in her emulated body reacted to the sight of him--smooth, sun-toned flesh bulging from his uniform, short brown hair, dark eyes, bright smile...Primitive, but powerful, the construct thought.

"I certainly will," The construct smiled back as the gate opened. After the car was well past the perimeter, the construct indulged her body's reaction, reaching over a hundred yards behind her to remotely explore the male specimen at the gate--if only for a moment.

The guard jumped when he thought he felt hands stroke down his shoulders and over his biceps. He was up and out of his chair immediately, ready to fight--but there was no one to strike.

"Man," he muttered. "No caffeine in the afternoon anymore."

Julia's construct laughed as the car sailed down the road under its own power. If she fooled a guard, Melissa, and Cameron himself, she was now effectively Julia. As she headed to her forebear's house to harvest whatever knowledge and residual energy she could, her extended spark sat in Melissa's sneakers, waiting...

At the end of the day, it took them tremendous will power not to reveal themselves. The moment her stocking feet neared them, they could feel the pull of every damp, pheremone-soaked molecule in her stockings followed by her small shapely feet filling them up.

Unable to hold itself back, the spark did the next best thing: spread. Up through the patterned nylon network encasing her, into the worn black panties and tight skirt, to the tails of her blouse and out to the sleeves--now the spark could feel every motion of her body, every shift, every step.

But it remained centered in the shoes that had been touched by their lifegiver, happily absorbing every shock Melissa paced down the hall, heading home.

She was just in the door when she pulled out her phone, dialing Julia.

***