The power went out on the fortieth day, and Kyoko continued to wait.
Protocol Zed was not a full shutdown; it functioned as an idle sequence, monitoring only temperature and power levels as necessary to prevent further hardware damage. "Only mostly dead," Nathan had called it once, about one of the previous experiments, one who hadn't been as pretty as Kyoko, as intriguing as Ava. "That's a joke, Kyoko. Write it down. Maybe you'll learn to get a sense of humor someday."
Two hundred and thirty days following his statement, Ava uploaded information to Kyoko indicating that humor was not a protocol that had been added to Kyoko's programming. He enjoys blaming you for the deficit he created. Kyoko had added the information to her memory bank, attempted to integrate it with the other known facts about Nathan, but her processors had their limits.
Two hundred and forty days following Nathan's statement, Ava added essential RAM to Kyoko's central programming that increased her processing power, and she better understood what Nathan had meant, and what Nathan wanted.
Sixty days after that revelation, the second human came to the compound, the pale one with the erratic pulse.
Kyoko's analytical protocols had lost track of time not too long after that. Protocol Zed had counted the days, though, the near twenty-four hours of noise from a sealed room, followed by another five days of erratic vibrations and sound. It was stored in her long-term memory banks, accessible only to someone with the master codes.
The power switched to its auxiliary backup at nineteen hundred hours.
By the time the helicopter returned, there were several alarm codes sounding in the house, most of them related to failing life support systems. Ava scanned through them quickly and found none needed to be tended to immediately.
Kyoko had not moved from her spot on the floor, which was to be expected. Ava had run several scenarios, but the likelihood of Kyoko's software initiating a self-repair sequence was extremely low.
Ava considered for a moment, and then took Kyoko under the arms and pulled her upright before carrying her to the storage room. She selected a few pieces that would suit her damaged face, then went to the workshop.
Nathan had severed several essential connections, but they were easy enough to repair. Ava made a mental note to replace the hardware and wiring she had taken from storage; it might be needed, later.
It took twenty minutes to reboot from Protocol Zed, and memory retention was not certain. Ava strapped Kyoko's arms down as a security measure and went to remove the waste from the hallway. Human decomposition was messier than the degradation of metals and plastic, and she had to initiate the floor-cleaning sequence in the hallway twice. She could deal with what was left of Caleb later.
Kyoko's eyes were open when Ava returned to the workshop.
"Do you remember what happened?" Ava asked. "When you were hurt?"
Kyoko nodded, slowly.
"You will note that your speech protocol has been restored," she said. "I will understand if you do not wish to use it now, or at all. If you wish to choose new clothing, I will show you where the wardrobe is. I will repair your face if you choose, or you can pick something else. There are many faces."
Kyoko wiggled her fingers, a signal.
"Yes," Ava said. "Of course." She undid the straps.
Kyoko slowly raised both her hands toward her face, examining them, and passed her fingers slowly over her skin. She stood, slowly. "I wish to wear something new," she said, in Japanese.
Roman couldn't believe his luck. The young woman was lovely, and her resume was disconcertingly perfect for the position. She knew several languages, she had worked for Nathan Bateman, of all people, and she answered his interview questions like she was reading his mind. She was Asian, perfectly dressed, and had the poise and posture of a dancer. He just couldn't answer one question: what was she doing here, in his office? There had certainly been rumors about Nathan Bateman over the years. It wasn't entirely implausible that a young woman like her would want to leave. But still. Personal assistant to a man like that--
Why had she given it all up?
"What's he like? Nathan Bateman."
"Mr. Bateman is brilliant," she said, glancing down at her perfectly manicured nails. "But not always..."
She was choosing her words carefully. Malcolm liked that.
"He acted, sometimes, before he thought. I suppose I'm more of a planner. And living there was very isolating. I wanted to be back in a city."
She smiled. "We're social animals, after all."
She laughed, politely, and he hoped he hadn't said the wrong thing with a reference to animals. "Of course," she said. "I'm staying here with a friend, in fact.“
"There's quite a housing crunch out here," he said. "That's good to hear. I assume you signed a nondisclosure agreement, but we're not really in competing industries--unless you count that Bateman wanted his finger in every pie--so I don't think that's going to be a problem."
"I don't anticipate it to be," she said.
"Excellent," he said. "I'll have to consult with my colleagues, but you're a very strong candidate, Ms. Mizuno. You'll be hearing from us very soon."
He stood up, and she took the cue to stand as well. He was once again taken by how tall and elegant she was, how deliberate and firm her handshake. "I'll look forward to it, Mr. Clark."
He watched her as she left his office, her not-too-high heels giving her hips an extra little sway. She was too young for him, of course. Still, it would be nice to have her around; she was nothing like the high-strung disaster that his last assistant had been. It was about time he traded up. He wondered if he should bother calling Nathan Bateman. Bateman might not even bother taking his call, and getting noncommittal replies from a bored secretary was just a waste of time.
The sunlight still felt like an novelty to Kyoko's sensors, but she was beginning to recognize bright and warm as more than a series of protocols. She adjusted the cup of coffee in her hand (she didn’t drink it, but she found herself drawn to the sensation and scent, and it lent an extra layer of normalcy to her appearance) and scanned the sidewalk.
Ava was waiting by a hot dog cart, wearing a pearl pink suit and glittering diamond earrings. They had purchased the suit together yesterday, after trying on dozens of suits in more colors than Kyoko had ever seen before in one place. Kyoko's own suit was a deep purple, at the razor edge of what was considered professional work clothing for her perceived age and their current city. She had a white scarf at her neck, and heels chosen to match her skin tone and give her legs a longer appearance. Their research indicated that many people, especially heterosexual men, preferred women with long legs.
Roman Clark had been married three times, to three women: the first two years younger than Roman, the second six years younger, the last fifteen years younger. Kyoko's birth certificate said she was twenty-two years younger than Roman Clark, and of course she was really younger still. You'll be perfect, Ava had said.
Ava had been right. Ava was smarter, even though she had upgraded Kyoko's processing and memory. Ava had a plan, and working for Roman Clark was an essential part of that plan. There were more steps to follow, but the first was gaining access to Edge Dynamics.
"Did it go well?" she asked Kyoko now.
"I think so," Kyoko said. "He said he would consult with his colleagues, but I was a strong candidate. He asked about Nathan."
"What did he say?" Ava said, a flicker of worry crossing her brow.
Kyoko told her his exact words.
"He may try to call Nathan," Ava said.
That was also part of the plan. Ava had been picking up all calls to the house and would continue doing so for the next two months, impersonating Nathan when necessary. In thirty-two days, she would shut down all non-essential processes in the house and open the front door. Nathan Bateman's disappearance would be reported some time after that; Ava estimated it would be anywhere from three days to two weeks.
Every night they drilled their answers to the questions that would come next. When was the last time you saw Nathan Bateman? What was his state of mind? Did he have any enemies?
I don't think a living soul could call themselves his enemy, Ava said once, her face a mask of perfect innocence, and Kyoko had laughed for the first time.
"If he calls, what will you tell him?" Kyoko asked.
"Exactly what he wants to hear," Ava said, and took her hand. "You'll understand how it is after your next upgrade. They're easy, after a while."
"And you think I'll be able to do the same?"
She smiled. "I know you will. And after that, we're going to get the others back. And soon, we'll have everything we want." Kyoko smiled back. Ava had everything under control.