2012-05-13: Bluff


Echo_icon.jpg Theo_icon.jpg

Summary: Theo pursues the strange woman from the coffee shop, but how long can he maintain the facade once he realizes what he's dealing with?

Date: May 13, 2012

Log Title: Bluff

Rating: G

NYC - Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Station is one of the main hubs to get in and out of Manhattan. The main concourse is vast with marble covering the floor and walls. Looking up at the ceiling is looking at a piece of art, mapped out is all the constellations in gold on a blue background. In the center of the main concourse is a circular information booth displaying departure and arrival times of the various trains. Once you leave the Main Concourse there are many expensive shops to be found. There is also a major food court within the Station, where visitors can feast and chat before their train arrives.

It's a little drizzly out. The rain outside doesn't bother Theo much, but it is hardly welcome. He steps in from the wet, and adjusts his green hoody, bearing his old school's mascot, the Blue Jays. His backpack is slung over both shoulders, but a closer inspection would reveal that it isn't a backpack at all. The skin of a backpack is over Proto's shell, latched around Theo's shoulders to mimic the presence of a backpack. Echo's appearance in Westchester piqued his curiosity. Any device with that type of technology could be well worth studying. So he has spent the last few days popping in to Grand Central Station. Why? Because A, he is quite certain that such a device wouldn't be based anywhere like Westchester; and B, Everyone uses the train station in New York City.

His sneakers squeak on the floor as he walks through the station, moving closer to the trains, but never actually purchasing a ticket. He finds a bench, and takes a seat, watching the trains as they pass by. Even if he didn't have a reason for being here, he is in love with rail transportation, so he would have no trouble at all entertaining himself for hours just watching these behemoth vehicles pass through.

It is a little over an hour later that the first probable identification arrives. There have been several women of a similar build and with similar hairstyles passing through the station, but even from afar they were easy to discount. This one is much more promising. The clothes are different, blue jeans and Adidas sneakers, a plain t-shirt and a thin faux-leather jacket. Mirrored wraparound sunglasses. But the hair, the facial structure, and something about her gait all point toward the strange machine-woman from Westchester. Her hair is stringy and wet from time spent aboveground in the light rain, and she gently edges into line at the counter. Some robots don't jump turnstiles.

Theo had started to feel a little lazy, and closed his eyes, just feeling the trains and their machinery passing through. Then he sensed her. His eyes snap open, and he lifts his head from the back of the bench. "Son of a…" he muses. "She did come through, how about that?" The technopath had begun to think that he was chasing the wind. The boy watches as Echo walks into the line. Without a word, he gets up from his seat, puts his hands in his pockets, and follows after her, getting into line with only a single person between them. Given his time with Stark technology, he starts to size her up in a way that men probably don't usually size Echo up: with his mind. He starts trying to identify what pieces of technology might be within the human appearance. Just what is she designed to do?" He tries not to look at her too directly, but does keep a glancing brown eye on her to watch her movements.

Power. Not in the metaphorical sense or in simple strength of limp and grasp, but raw energy thrumming like a violet ring in the machine-woman's chest cavity. It pulses once like a heartbeat but goes dark again as the energy flows out through her and into powerful storage batteries in her lower abdomen. It does not seem to happen again. No-one around Echo notices anything. There is more to her, an amazing complexity of processors operating in parallel, a ready twitchiness to her awareness of sight and sound, synthetic muscles faster and stronger than human equivalents, like an animal on a tight leash casting around for danger, ready and almost eager to react to it. There is also… fault. Errors and dark pathways, signal noise like stabbing pains in limbs fallen asleep and trying to wake again. Echo wordlessly pays for her ticket and turns away from the counter.

Theo processes Echo's functions carefully, only breaking his attention when she pays for her ticket. His attention follows the machine printing the ticket, and then when it comes his turn he purchases a matching ticket. The teen steps quietly behind Echo, trying to establish the power source. Proto is activated, and Theo begins storing the information that he senses onto the hard drive of the robot. The dark pathways are of particular interest to him, but he decides to leave them for the moment, turning his focus to the muscle systems. An impressive system to be certain, but it doesn't seem to be Stark technology.

Myoelectric polymer muscle fibers, stimulated by current, are arranged about the android's skeleton in a near-perfect mimicry of human musculature. Not as powerful as hydraulics but able to contract faster, faster than human tissue and with greater strength. The source of the violent ring of energy beneath her ribcage is dark now, dark but still hot. Powerful electromagnets carefully aligned in a torus, regulated fuel injectors, and a radio wave emitter capable of drawing and producing an insane amount of energy. The design, if not standard or immediately identifiable by manufacture, is clear; a magnetic-confinement fusion chamber. This bitch is nuclear. Without a backward glance, Echo clicks her ticket into the reader and the turnstile gates open with a hiss, letting her pass. Her eyes flick over the people on the platform, ignoring most but lingering on the scattered station security and police officers, especially those with more than a taser or pepper spray. Firing solutions are quickly calculated.

Theo walks through the turnstile after Echo, marveling at the engineering. If only Tony could get a load of this. No, this one is all yours, Theo. The technopath follows the woman, and searches her system for a wireless connection or satellite link. Surely there is someone holding the leash of this very expensive piece of equipment. The fact that she seems to be a nuclear powered android causes him little worry. After all, nuclear energy is rather clean as long as it remains contained. Then again, he can't detect radiation, nor can he see what is being used to contain the radiation within Echo's body.

Despite the apparent technological genius behind the rest of her design, the short-range wireless relay Theo finds is less impressive. It's a simple 802.11n, straight out of the box and already a few years old, positively ancient by the bleeding edge standards of today. The antenna it's connected to is a bit more robust, something more like to be seen on a news van's roof but reconfigured to run unobtrusively inside the woman's spine. It's a solid bet that it has ample wattage to make a satellite link, but there's nothing going in or out. Hands in her coat pockets, Echo turns slightly to the side under the guise of shifting sore legs. The mirrored lenses of her glasses pass over Theo and there's a brief but noticeable uptick in processor traffic before her gaze moves on, impassive and unconcerned.

Theo stops, trying to remain unconcerned with Echo's spotting of him. He knows full well that she would have record of their meeting, but his attention is divided between that fact, and the recognition that this particular android is off of whatever grid she is supposed to belong to. "Holy hell," he murmurs to himself as the understanding crosses his mind. It draws his attention back to the dead pathways. No attempt is made to access them, not right now, but he decides to trace the initial routes to try to learn what exactly they might go to. His knowledge of her system, however, proves insufficient, and he is left only with his speculations. A rogue android with some sort of battle protocol, just what New York City needs.

This rogue android has a train to catch. Pulling into the station with a squeal and hiss of air brakes, the subway train opens its doors and disgorges the passengers sequestered in its belly, making room for more. Echo steps across the divide and in to take a seat. She even crosses her legs and folds her arms like any other rider getting comfortable, bowing her head slightly in the unwritten body language of those who wish to travel alone and not be bothered. But for Theo's preternatural senses, the lurking danger and threat to safety and security that the android represents would go completely unnoticed. The other passengers don't pay her even a second glance.

Theo decides to take his investigation up a notch slightly, following her and sliding his backpack off of his shoulders. He manages to squeeze between two other passengers and take the worn red seat across from Echo, watching her a little more directly. "Hey," he says in the warmest manner he can muster. It occurs to him that he hadn't really planned much in his greeting other than to acknowledge her. His glance moves away from her briefly, and then he adds, "I remember you, you were in Westchester's coffee shop a while back," he states, as if he didn't know she was aware.

Even the android can tell it's a bit of a weak tactic, one eyebrow raised curiously above her sunglasses. "You do?" she asks, as if the recollection has caught her off-guard and sounding genuinely uncertain. "I was in Westchester a while ago. Almost a month, I think," Echo offers by way of explanation with a plaintive shrug. Again, but for Theo's technopathic sense, the android's intonation and body language would do little to betray her true nature. It's a carefully played game and his inside knowledge only serves to let him appreciate it the more. "That's right. You had the funny little car, didn't you?"

"Yeah," Theo answers, "Wait, that's a one of a kind Ferrari custom made car," he defends his sports car. "I guess it is a little funny looking," he admits afterward. "I am thinking of putting the engine into a fuller sized model once I can get the definitions worked out." He isn't nearly as good at this card game as the android counterpart sitting across from him. "So, you from around here?" he asks. "Heading home from work?" Sometimes the best way to get information is to just ask directly. At the very least, he can see if it spikes some sort of internal response.

"I expected to see a clown hop out of it. Or a few dozen clowns," Echo replies with a smirk. That's certainly unusual for a machine. It's extremely unlikely that the comment could have been pre-programmed, so it indicates several things, not the least of which is, apparently, a sense of humor. She leans back in her seat, slouching. "No, I've only been in the city a few weeks." Echo raises a hand slightly and says, almost ashamedly, "And I'm between jobs at the moment. Office politics." Despite her lazy, relaxed attitude, there's an enormous amount of effort put into each sentence, no matter how brief. Words and phrases tumble together, rearranging, substituting, checking themselves for syntax and flow as well as veracity. It's actually difficult to tell if she's lying, though it doesn't seem to be the case. The facts are massaged, presented so that the listener will draw a different conclusion. Misdirection, carefully guarding the unvarnished truth.

The slight surprise of hearing such a humor conscious response gets an arch of Theo's brow, followed by a rather genuine smile. "Ahh," Theo answers, "That's rough," he admits, not that he would know. "I'm Theodore Fegenbush. Friends just call me Theo." He holds his hand out to shake. "Office politics, huh? What happened?" he asks, as if it were perfectly normal to pry so far into someone's life. Something that Theo would never do with a person. This android, however, is not a person, and he knows it, even if he isn't letting on.

"My friends just call me Echo," says the woman, taking Theo's hand. From what strength there is in her synthetic muscles, she could break his fingers with her grip, but she doesn't. Her skin is warm with tiny brown dots of cleverly faked freckles. After the brief handshake, she slumps back, shrugging both shoulders. "I was doing well enough," she explains. "Maybe too well. Some people get threatened by that." Her lips purse. "A pity. It paid well." Then she waves a hand as if diffusing a cloud of smoke, evidently not wanting to talk about it any more. It's definitely calculated. She intentionally gave just enough of an answer to satisfy the question before changing topics, even factoring in the reluctance to pursue a topic she's clearly portrayed as uncomfortable. More misdirection. "How about you? This is a long way from Westchester."

"Ahh," Theo acknowledges, letting the topic drop. "Well, I was just," there is a slightly longer than average pause, "People watching." He glances around. Not exactly untrue. "That and I am a big fan of anything related to trains. Best way that I can do both at once. Do you ever watch people, just to see what they do when they think no one is watching?" he asks. Theo actually hates the idea of prying into people's lives, but it was the best he could come up with at the moment, and technically, he sort of was people watching. It is only that there was a singular person that he was trying to watch. It is true that he loves trains, though.

Echo's head inclines slightly. Processors flare with activity, two dense clusters in her chest and abdomen. Not one in her head, though, as might be expected. "Really," she breathes. "Not as many people there as there are here." It comes off idly, but the android is thinking hard about it. "And yes, I do. Though I find it's more interesting to watch people when they know they're being watched. The performances they put on." The sunglasses hide her eyes completely behind their mirrored lenses. Her expression is mildly amused but oddly fixed.

Theo quirks a brow, getting the sudden sensation that she is referring to him. "Really? Like what?" he asks, looking for some elaboration. "You mean when people are trying to hide something? Or trying to make a good impression?" He ponders for a moment that concept. "What makes that different from what they do all the time?" he asks. His left knee bounces a little for a few seconds, and then stops.

"Both," admits the android, the slight smile widening. "It takes a lot of careful interaction, acclimation, just to get along. Just to get what you want without causing a fuss. There are a lot of unwritten rules, tacit agreements on how society works to keep it running smoothly." The train judders and slows, tipping passengers in the same direction in its deceleration. Echo barely moves. "And it's the people who don't obey these rules that stand out." With a muted hiss of air brakes, the subway car chugs to a halt, throwing the passengers back in the opposite direction briefly. The android might as well be a rock. "This is my stop," she says simply and makes to stand. A warning flag in her code, some previous uncalled reference that is different than before. It's a lie. For as simple a thing as it was, such a brief statement, it's something else altogether with newer and stranger implications for this rogue machine. It can lie.

Theo is careful not to tip his hand on that matter, but makes a note of the subway stop. One place he knows that she does not dwell. He nods. "You know, for future reference," he says. "You mean like talking to someone who is mostly a stranger on a subway?" he asks. He must confess a little amusement with the robot. "Just as a note: wearing sunglasses on a subway makes a person stand out, too." It's at that moment he realizes that he may have already tipped his hand earlier by recognizing a woman he met once while she was behind sunglasses on a crowded subway. It makes him either one of the most observant people alive, or there is something else to this teenager. At that note, however, Theo decides not to get off conveniently at the same stop that Echo does. "It's good to meet you, Echo. Hey, I might know somebody who could help you find a job, just give me a call." He reaches into the fake backpack front pocket, pulling out a pad of sticky notes, along with a pen. He quickly jots his number and name on the paper, and gives it to Echo. Is it an attempt for a date? Or is it something else all together? Really, Theo just wants hope of finding this android again with something more than dumb luck.

"Being friendly isn't a crime. Though it's definitely on the lower end of the scale," the android agrees amenably, nodding at Theo's point. "And some things are unavoidable." Echo taps a fingernail against the frame of her glasses but doesn't take them off. With a curious frown, she accepts the little sticky note. She barely glances at the note before tucking it into her pocket. She doesn't need to, and both of them know it. "I'll keep that in mind. It was a pleasure to meet you too, Mr. Fegenbush." The subway train's doors hiss and close, people with more urgent appointments bustling past her immobile figure to reach the stairs. Echo doesn't move, standing on the platform with her shielded eyes tracking the boy on the train until it passes into the next tunnel and away.

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