The Nightingale's Song

by ButchyBoy

I had this written on paper and submitted it piece by piece to the fembot central board. Taryn put it all togeher for me.

The pick-up truck drove silently through the desolate streets. The wind howled, and blew around the light falling snow on this cold December night. In the back of the truck rode its two passengers, one of them a rather average looking man in his late thirties, his face looking tired and worn, almost as though he had been through hell itself. He was sound asleep in the lap of a slight rather pale looking young blonde. She just stared out into the night, every now and then, looking down at him. smiling and stroking his hair and face.

Suddenly, the truck slowed, and she attempted to waken the man passed out on her lap. "Harry", she called softly as she shook him. "Harry", she repeated, "Wake up Harry, we're here."

Harry Lang stirred, groggily at first. "Just five more minutes mommy", he mumbled as he tried to turn over.

But the girl stopped him cold, her grip firmer, her voice a little louder, yet still full of innocence. "C'mon Harry, wake up! It's the end of the line." she said.

The truck jerked to a stop in the back and Lang shot up, "Wha-.....we're here?".

"Yes Harry" the cheerful little blonde replied. "We're in Old Chicago. About two blocks from where this.......Throckhammer guy is supposed to be."

"Great," Harry said as he helped her out of the truck, then got out himself. "It's such a nice night for a walk." he said, with just a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

"Thanks for the ride mister", the young blonde called out with a smile.

"My pleasure", the old man in the cab replied. "You young folks be careful out here now. And Merry Christmas." And with that, the truck driver continued on his way to wherever he was going.

Harry thought he heard something about Denver and family when they hitched a ride from the kind old driver. Lang looked over at his companion and thought about family. She was his family, all he had left.....perhaps all he ever had. "You all bundeled up there, kid?" Harry asked as he took their backpack from her and slung it across his back.

"Sure am" she smiled back.

It was Harry's turn to smile now. "Ok Cricket, let's go find our Mr. Throckhammer and see what adventure awaits us. Hopefully one with lots of money at the end cause we need it!"

Anyone walking the streets of Old Chicago at this moment could get a good look at the pair walking close together. Harry Lang was a tall fellow, black hair whith a dash of grey, thin moustache, a rather stocky body, just an ok looking joe, so he thought. He was dressed in a three-piece suit, covered by a brown raincoat, and sported a snappy looking fedora on his head. He had been a private eye back in a time when people had use for such men. He still dressed the part, but now just wandered from place to place taking whatever odd job paid well.

The girl he called Cricket stood just under 5 feet. Under all those winter clothes was a sweet looking blonde whose hair was done in pigtails. She looked to be around eighteen, perhaps a bit older. In reality, she was just barely two years old. Cricket was a robot.

Harry remembered how he found her. It had been five years since America's Second Civil War. The goverment had gotten so careless with fighting every other country, they forgot about their own. Nobody knew how and why things fell apart as they did, only that they did. After six bloody horrible years, peace was finally made in the year 2015. New cities were built, mostly on land where national parks once were. This is where the rich and powerful lived, and they made sure the 'riff-raff' were kept away. Harry had managed to be well-off enough during his private eye days, and playing mercenary during the war (always for the right side, he felt). He could live it up one one of those fancy domes, but he wanted nothing to do with those people. He felt more at home with those getting by in the old cites. People were more real, more genuine, and yes still more violent, but that came with the territory. Even little Cricket, a machine, showed more human quality then those phony people who lived in the new cities, Harry thought.

On a fateful night, Harry was about to treat himself to a good meal for another job well done when he heard a scream. It came from alley down the street. Harry rushed to find four punks pushing and grouping what he thought was a young girl. "You're hurting me!!" she cried out "Somebody help me!!!" Ah, the hero's cue. After many punches thrown, and blood shed, the punks limped off, and the girl was lying on the floor, her body twitching. Harry tried to help her up. "Are you ok?" he asked. The girl struggled to reply, "H-Help me............. d-d-d-damaged....... short...... shorting....... help...... m-m-m-meeeee." And with that she passed out. Harry thought he heard some crackling coming from with inside the girl. As he tried to revive her, he noticed what looked like sone wires sticking out of her left wrist. As he lifted her arm for a better look, he saw her hand just hanging as it were about to come off!

Harry never delt much with robots, androids, mechs, or whatever people called them. Oh, he had seen them on video screens and around the arms of the well-to-do. Many bots were sent into battle to replace the dead human soldiers. That's why the war dragged on for as long as it did without peace. Most bots nowadays were found in the new cities either as servants or arm charms. Most of the ones who were abandoned could be found roaming the streets of the old cites either until they ran out of power, or were discovered by the police. Either way, the scrap pile was most often their fate. Harry figured the lifeless girl on the table in his apartment was one of the unlucky, abandoned robots.

She was quite a looker, he thought. She was dressed in a sleeveless top and skirt, both pink, with heels to match. He noticed a label under the skirt. "Daddy's Girl" it read. Harry knew that type of model to be the kind that mostly perverted old men buy. They were marketed as the perfect daughters, sweet and innocent. Once you got them behind closed doors of course, they became nothing more than glorified sex toys.

Harry pondered what to do with her. He was no bot tech, that was for sure. Then he remembered a box for software he got from a company as a perk for stopping some nasty hackers. Among the programs he got, but never used was "Bot Wizard". It was sort of a 'robot repair for dummies'. He found the box, pulled out the program and installed it on his computer. Then he examined the robot girl for some sort of access port. He found it just under her right ear. He connected her to his puter and saw the mess her systems were in. Beside the physical damage, there were several commands given to her just microseconds apart from each other. The punks who attacked her were probably giving her several orders at once and she had a near meltdown trying to obey them all. It took Harry nearly an hour to undo everything, following every prompt the Bot Wizard gave him. His high school shop skills came in handy for fixing her hand. He made look good as new. When everything seemed done, he took a deep breath and activated her.

He heard several beeps coming from within her, and her eyes blinked just as many times. She spoke in a momotone voice, "Model 2QX3R is now online." She suddenly smiled and her voice became more natural. "Thank you for choosing a Daddy's Girl", she said sweetly. The teen robot looked around and saw Harry. She flashed another smile and said, "Thank you for fixing me mister. I feel much better."

Harry smiled back and helped her off the table. "My pleasure. So, where's your owner kid?" Harry asked.

The smile quickly faded from the artificial girl. "He's dead" she said softly. "They killed him."

Harry became stunned. "What??? Who killed him?"

"Those men you chased away when you recscued me" was her answer. She took Harry back to the alley where they were before and she pointed to a lifeless body in a dark corner. Harry looked the poor stiff over. Dead at least over several hours from the looks of things.

He made an anonymous call to he police about the body and took the robot back to his place.

She seemed said, her face full of worry. "What's going to happen to me now mister?" she asked.

Harry knew the drill if he turned her over to the authorities. They would strip her, have their fun, let her batteries run down, then turn her into scrap. Somehow it just didn't seem right. So, he just smiled, put his hat on her head and said, "Just stick with me kid. And if anyone're my partner. And call me Harry."

Her smile returned, brighter than ever. "Ok Harry, call me Cricket" she said.

"Cricket, huh?" That's a funny kind of name" Harry said as her covered the hat over her eyes. They both just laughed.

Harry became quite fond of the little robot named Cricket. They got in and out of all sorts of trouble and adventure together. Any mention of her former owner seemed to make her sad, so he left well enough alone. He even called in a favor to have owenship papers forged in case any questions were asked. A first class job too. As far a Cricket was concerned, Harry was her owner...... and her friend.

All that took place just over a year ago. Now things were slow, and jobs were few. So, when a call came for Harry Lang to come to Old Chicago all the way from Original New York where they were, Harry was hesitant at first, but six figures were mentioned and Cricket was excited about travelling. Trouble was this time of year, all the flights and bullet trains were booked solid, so they ended up having to hitch it. And that's how they ended up at the door of Mr..........

"Throckhammer," a sweet voice said, bringing Harry out of the past.

"What was that Cricket?" Harry asked.

"Carl Throckhammer.... 241 Park Place. Destination achived," she said. Harry hadn't been paying attention. The kid was better than NeverLost.
As they approached the door, they thought they could hear a bird singing in the distance.

Carl Throckhammer lived on the bottom floor of what was once a luxurious tower condo complex. It served as both his home and workshop, cluttered with gadets and inventions, both finished and broken. Before the war, Throckhammer was one of the top manufacturers of humanoid robots, both service and pleasure models. He got a government cortract for solider bots, and had them turned out by the thousands.

Throckhammmer soon became disgusted with the war. It hadn't turned out like those "Terminator" movies, and that was by design. The solider bots nerver "learned", they were never given the chance to. They would simply execute the scenearios the human generals would plan out and program. Each time in the end, the result was always the same; neither side would really win, and more and more destruction was caused. Many innocent lives were lost as well. Finally, new leaders had decided enough was enough. That indeed, as a line from some old forgotten movie went, the only winning move was not to play. And the great genius Carl Throckhammer went into hiding.

Like Harry Lang, Throckhammer detested the new "society". Those living safe in their domes, not a care in the world, never really accomplishing much.... and always knowing what their neighbor was up to at any given moment. At least in the old cities, priviacy was still very much respected. That priviacy was distrupted by the buzzing of his front door.

"Well, what is it??" a harsh voice came through the speaker.

"Harry Lang to see Carl Throckhammer. I believe we're expected" came the reply.

"What's that?? --- Lang, you say?? -- Oh, yes yes.....It's about time! Just a moment." A second buzzer went off and the door opened. Harry and Cricket went in.

It was one enormous room. All the walls and doors that stood before seemed to have been gutted out. Creations of every type were on the walls, and lined up on numbers of tables. Cricket noticed the many inert droids everywhere.... or at least parts of them. Arms, legs, feet, hands, and heads, all of them disembodied everywhere. A chill run through her as she looked upon what could very well be her brothers and sisters.

She gripped Harry's hand tight. Harry put his arm around his robotic partner and comforted her. "Yeah, I know kid. This place gives me the creeps too.", he said. "Hello???......Anyone here???", Harry called out.

"That you Mr. Lang?", a voice echoed from a distant corner of the room. Harry looked over to a somewhat elderly looking man, his back to them.
He seemed to be working on something.

Harry answered the man, "Well that depends. Are you Mr. Throckhammer?" he asked. "I am", the old man replied as he rose up and turned to meet his prospective employee. He seemed suprised when he saw Cricket standing next to Lang.

As Throckhammer got up, Harry and Cricket could see the old man was indeed fixing something. It was a shiny golden bird.

Harry greeted the lanky old man that now stood before him. He was as tall as Harry, his hair was white and rather unkept. He almost looked like some crazed mad scientist one might find in a bad movie. "A pleasure to meet you Mr. Throckhammer", Harry said as he put his hand out to greet the man.

Throckhammer returned the gesture, but only grunted at Harry. He seemed more interested in Cricket. "I haven't seen your type of model in........oh, a very long time", Throckhammer said as he looked the robot girl over. "You're a Daddy's Girl if I'm not mistaken", he said.

The robot smiled and put her hand out. "My name's Cricket", she said as she beamed. "It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Throckhammer."

"Oh, the pleasure is mine young miss. And what is it you do for Mr. Lang here?", he asked. "Oh, I'm Harry's partner", she replied, excitement in her voice. "I help him on cases, we go everywhere together, and we always have lots of fun, don't we Harry?"

Lang looked a little bewildered and replied, "Oh yeah, the fun never ends with us."

"Well isn't that nice", Throckhammer chimed in. He looked at Harry. "You just let her shadow you around, do you?"

"Oh don't let the little miss innocent act fool you, Throckhammer. Believe me, she's smater then the average fembot", Harry replied.

This made the old man examine Cricket even closer. "Hmmmm........ so, you're letting her grow up, are you?" Could be dangerous."

"Maybe", Harry said "If you subscribe to all that mumbo jumbo about robots turning on their masters and taking over the world."

"And I take it you don't Mr. Lang"

"No, I do not, Mr. Throckhammer. Ever since we started playing God, weve done a pretty pitiful job. Giving life to these "people", letting them have just a taste of it, and then when we think they'd had enough or even too much, we just throw them away like so much garbage." Harry put both hands on Cricket's sholders. "Well this Daddy's Girl is going to experiance life... .all of it, the good, bad, and ugly for as long as she wants to...... as long as she's able too." He looked down at her and winked.

She smiled back and then spoke to the old man. "I'd never hurt Harry, Mr. Throckhammer, and I'll always do everything in my power to protect him. He's my friend", she said as she looked up at Harry and winked at him.

The old man smiled at them both. "And now I know you're both the right people for this job", he said.

"Ah yes.....the job", Harry replied "And what is this job we've come all this way to perform?"

Throckhammer picked up his little trinket he had sitting on the table behind him. "This", he said "is the Golden Nightingale." It was a sleek looking replica of a bird, plated in gold, with little rubys for eyes. Its body was studed with what looked like diamonds.

Cricket's eyes lit up at the sight of the pretty thing. "May I hold it?", she asked.

"Of course you may, but be very careful", Throckhammer said as he handed her the artificial bird.

Harry was less impressed. "You brought us all the way from Original New York..... on the coldest month of the year........ for that???", and he pointed to the bird.

Cricket noticed a small button on the bird's neck and pressed it. The nightingale suddenly came to life and sang a very lovely song. "That song you hear, my friends, is someting certain individuals will do anything to posess. Even kill!"

As Harry looked at the golden mechanical bird singing in Cricket's hand, he could think of several people who might like to have it on a mantle for show, or take it and melt it down. But, to do bodily harm over the little tune it was singing, well that seemed a little far-fetched. "Anyone in particular looking to get their mitts on the little golden birdy here?", Harry asked Throckhammer.

The old man replied with a question of his own, "Ever hear of The Chairman?"

"The head of GlobalCon?", Harry said, "Yeah, I've heard of him. They say he runs New Chicago. He's also the type of guy to make Santa's permanent naughty list. But what's a slime like him what with a toy? Even if it is a golden one?"

Throckhammer paced a bit before giving his answer. "I happen to know through some contacts of mine that The Chairman is looking to expand his territory into Old Chicago and some of the other non-domed cities."

"And just how is he planning to pull that little trick off?", Harry asked.

"By letting a few of GlobalCon's overseas partners move in and 're-develop' the place."

"The governors will never sit still for that."

"Oh, theyll have no choice, Lang. The Chairman will have plenty of lackys who will get themselves elected and make sure the new landlords have no trouble moving in."

"And the current tennants?"

"Oh, I'm sure they'll be welcome to stay. As long as they keep in line, if you catch my meaning, Lang."

"Yeah I do, Throcky. But where does our little golden friend come in?"

"Well it seems this isn't quite a done deal yet. So, to make it one, The Chairman is having some of his hotel chefs and 20 tons of food flown to Tokyo 2 days from now for a Christmas Party."

"20 tons of grub?? That's some party..."

"Yes", Throckhammer said with a distain in his voice, "one party I'd love to stop. That's where you come in." He reached for a carry case on the table where the bird was and opened it. Its contents made both Harry and Cricket take notice. "$75,000, Mr. Lang..... and Miss Cricket, all small bills, unmarked, and my money so you won't have any trouble. It should move than cover any expensives you'll need to get to St. Louis."

"St. Louis????" Harry exclaimed.

"Yes", Throckhammer said matter of factly. "You'll deliver the Golden Nightingale to a Mr. Tutter at the Archway Center. Here's the address."
Lang took the paper and the case from Throckhammer. Then he gave the address to Cricket who studied it, blinking several times.

"Destination entered and route plotted, Harry", Cricket chirped.

"Once you deliver the Nightingale Lang, Mr. Tutter will have the other $75,000 waiting for you. "

"Well, the money's fine, Throcky, but how does going to St. Louis stop The Chairman from taking over Old Chicago?"

"The song is the key Mr. Lang. It's a-"

He was cut short by Cricket who raised up her hand, her face full of worry. "Wait! Listen!", she cried. After a long moment, she spoke again, "Someone's placed a bomb in here. We have to get out now!"

Throckhammer didn't know what to make of the robot's sudden cries, "I don't understand. What's she-"

This time, Harry cut the old man off, "When she gets like this pops, I don't ask, I just do! Come on!" And they bolted out of the old townhouse for their lives. They were outside and halfway down the street when Throckhammer's place suddenly exploded in a huge fireball that knocked Harry and Cricket to the ground!

When they got up, Carl Throckhammer was nowhere in sight. Cricket used her optics to scan for him, but he compleatly vanished!

On the edge of the Illinois/Missouri border, on what was once a long forgotten Native American site lies the domed city of New Chicago. It's a pristine looking, almost eerie looking, place. It's citizens, blissfully happy and carefree. Here, one company provides them with all their wants and needs. And in return, same said citizens work and give their lives to that one company. That company, of course occupies the tallest tower in the dome. And that company is known as GobalCom. And on the top floor of that tallest tower sits a man known simply as the Chairman. Few have ever seen him, but those that do never forget him. A tall rather lean looking man, always dressed in white. His head balding, his looks and demeanor ice cold. Those he has chosen to grace his presance with have never seen him smile. This day was no exception.

The Chairman was speaking to two rather filthy looking persons via his laptop.

The first related his story. "We planted the bomb at the old coot's place, just like ya said." "Yeah, you shudda seen the fireworks", the other said gleefully, "a right pretty kaboom it was." he continued backing his statement up wuth a rather sickinging laugh.

The Chairman seemed unimpressed. "And the.... old coot... I trust is no longer a threat?"

The pair on the screen thought a moment. "Well", the first one said, "he has to be, I mean it was a REAL big kaboom, ya know?"

"And the item??" the Chairmain asked coldly.

This brought another long silence, and finally the second one spoke first, "Well a..... funny thing that..... we thought it blew up with Throcky boy but we seen two people running away with something shinny looking, but that could be anything ya know".

The Chairman just stared at the two lackeys on the laptop screen. "No, I don't know" was his simple icy reply. "Who were they?" the Chairman asked.

The first thought a minute and said, "Well, one looked like a lil girl, and we're pretty sure the other was Harry.....Lang, yeah Harry Lang."

At the mention of Lang's name, the Chairman's face quickly changed from cold to hot. "Then I suggest you two follow Mr. Harry Lang and take that bird from him!!!!! Got it?????!!!!!!!" Even though separated by cyberspace, the anger in the Chairman's voice and the look on his face truely frightned the two rogues.

The first quickly spoke, "Yeah, you bet...... good as caught he is". And with that, the connection was terminated.

The Chairman sat at his large desk, thinking outloud, "So, the old man has made Harry Lang his delivery boy. I've got to make sure his loses that golden package and I can't count on those two brainless idiots". Suddnenly he got an idea. He pressed a button, and a tall, musclar looking brunette woman entered the room. Her gaze was as cold and somber as the Chairman's had been a moment ago.

She spoke coldly, "Executer model Athena reporting, Mr. Chairmain. What is my mission?" The Chairman answered her with an evil smile, "A simple snatch and kill job, my pet. Snatch the Golden Nightingale and kill Harry Lang."

After determing that the reclusive inventor, Carl Throckhammer was nowhere to be found and wasn't going to turn up anytime soon, Harry and Cricket made their way through Old Chicago, with Harry leading the way this time. As they walked, Cricket was admiring the little golden nightingale in her hand, listening to its song.

"Pretty, isn't it Harry?", she said as she looked up to her friend.

Harry looked down at his blonde robotic partner and smiled, "Yeah, sure is. And it's 150 grand pretty for us, so don't wear it out."

"Yes, Harry", was her simple reply. She silenced the little golden bird, and carefully tucked it away in a secure place in her backpack. "So, where are we headed?" she asked.

"Looking up and old friend who owes me more than a few favors.", Harry replied. "Hopefully, he'll have some nice transportation to get to St. Louis in."

"I sure hope so. It's getting super cold Harry." Cricket said as she leaned into him for warmth. He wrapped his arms around the little blonde robot as she kept her mind occupied so as to not think about how cold it was. "Harry, I've been trying to think of what Mr. Throckhammer meant when he said the nightingale's song was the key. But the key to what?"

She's got the right idea, he thought. Think about the case, not the cold weather. "Well," Harry said, "keys usually unlock things. Or perhaps our little golden friend is the key to a puzzle of some sort."

"Maybe", Cricket replied, "There's just something about the way it sings. Something you almost can't hear."

"You mean like a subliminal message?"

"Not quite, Harry. Not a message per se, but........." She suddendly became silent and deep in thought.

The pair arrived at a rather plain-looking bulding. A faded sign hung rather loosely over the door, with the name "Decker". Harry rapped hard on the battered door. A slot on the door opened, revealing a rather cold pair of eyes.

The voice behind the door gruffed, "If you're the collector, I've got till the end of the month!"

Harry just shrugged off the comment and said, "Yeah, I'm a collector. Of sorry old war vets who don't recognize a pal when they see him."

The pair of eyes behind the door slot squinted. "Harry....Harry Lang???"

"Yeah, Harry Lang. Now can we come in, or you just gonna wait till we become popsicles?" The door opened, and the pair outside quickly entered.

Closing the door was a gruff looking, portly gentleman, more then a few years older than Harry. Also much shorter, but tall enough to look down at Harry's companion.

"Well, Harry Lang" the man beamed for the first time, "I'd never though I'd see you again. Not round here anyway. And I see your keeping nice company these days," he noted, eyeing the girl by Harry's side with a smile.

She smiled back and offered her hand, "My name is Cricket. I'm Harry's partner."

The man just laughed and introduced himself, "Well, miss Cricket, I'm Bill Decker. Harry's sometime partner, mostly during the war.

So, you're Harry's partner eh?....How cute." The robot just smiled back at him.

Decker looked back at Harry, "She for real?"

"Yep", Harry replied matter of factly, "Don't let the size and smile fool you. She's gotten me out of few tough scraps."

"It's only fair, really" Cricket chimed in, "Harry's saved my life 87 times since we've met."

This statement just floored Decker. "87........ and uh, how many...... scrapes have you gotten him out of?"

Cricket had to think about that question a moment, then chirped, "Oh, I've saved Harry's life two-hundred and...."

"Uh, look Bill" said Harry, rather quickly, "We on a job, and we need some fast transport to St. Louis. Can you deliver?"

"Well, it's goona be tough, what this being the holidays and all. It's not gonna come cheap."

"How much?" Harry asked.

"Well, seeing your an old friend...."

"Who you owe more then a few favors to." Harry reminded him.

"Ah, yeah.......Well, I can get ya something nice for say.......$30,000"

Harry just looked at him. "How nice?"

"Get ya to Saint Louie in an hour"

"It better for $30,000"

"Sure, sure" Decker replied, "Now if you'll just deliver the money, I'll point the way to..."

Harry cut him off, "You'll show us the transport first, then we'll talk price."

Decker just sighed. He almost always lost every bet, and every fight to Harry when they ran together. "Allright, we'll cut through the mission district, and then you'll see a real beauty, my friend.

The trio left Decker's place and went through a snow covered park which had become sort of a poorman's "Christmas Town" and shelter. Here, familes who weren't lucky enough to have a roof under their head gathered, keeping warm with fires, some portable heaters smuggled out of the domed cities for a hefty price. The food here wansn't in huge supply, but the prople made do. All about, Christmas lights hung, more then a few burned out. Cheap plastic Santas and reindeer, tinsel, and small trees decorated the landscape. Yet, in spite of all the seemed misery around them, the people actually seemed happy with what little they had. People were gathered in groups talking, childeren were bundeled up playing, having snowball fights.

As Harry, Cricket, and Decker made their way, Cricket noticed two boys running up to a smaller girl, yanking from her a plastic airplane on a wooden stick she was happily playing with. The boys steeped on the toy, breaking it in half as they ran laughing. The little girl was devistated, and started to cry, picking up the broken toy. She looked up through tear-filled eyes to see the a pretty blonde woman smiling at her.

"Hello, my name is Cricket, and I saw what those mean boys did. Maybe I can help", she chirped. The young robot girl examined the toy. It looked homemade.

"You fix?" the girl asked with hope in her eyes. She couldn't have been more then four.

"I have something better than this" Cricket said. Hearing this, the little girl sniffed and smiled. Cricket reached into her backpack and pulled out a large pink jeweled case that said "Daddy's Girl" in script letters. She dug though the case to pull out a small stuffed pink pony, with wide eyes and nice silk mane.

"For me???" the little girl squealed with delight.

"Yes" Cricket said. "Those mean old boys can't break this."

The little girl beamed and reached up to hug her. "Thanks you Miss Cwicket."

Cricket gave the girl a warm hug. "You're welcome...... I don't know your name."

"Me name April", the little girl said proudly. At that moment, a much taller woman came up behind the little girl. "April, sweetie, who are you talking to?.......Oooo, and what happened to your airplane?", the woman said, picking up the broken toy.

The little girl pinched her face, "Mean boys bweak it, Mommy!! And this me new fwiend, Miss Cwicket. See, she give me pwetty new pony." the girl beamed with excitment.

The rather plain looking woman was a bit taken back, yet she was greatful to this kind young stranger before her. "Well, thank you Miss...... Cricket is it?"

"Yes, Ma'am" came the happy, yet respectful reply.

"I'm Betty Stevens. This is......just so very nice of you."

"Oh, it's no trouble at all", Cricket said, looking down at little April, "She looked like she could use some cheering, and I wasn't using the little pony anyway. The toy comes standard with all Daddy's Girls."

Harry, who had been watching all this time, suddenly bacame a bit alarmed. Cricket had a rather bad habit of freely revealing her true nature to strangers. It had sometimes gotten them in hot water. Luckily, this time it wouldn't be the case. Betty stared at Cricket for a moment.

"Daddy's Girl? Are you a........ a robot?" she asked in wonderment.

Cricket just smiled and replied with a simple, "Yes".

"And you just gave her the toy....... all on your own? You weren't told to do it?"


Now Betty smiled, "That's amazing."

Cricket just shyly smiled and said thank you to her.

"Look, I've love to explore this more, but I have to get her inside for dinner. You're welcome to join us."

Cricket looked at Harry who just shook his head.

"I'm afraid not, Miss Stevens. I have to get to..."

Harry cut in again "We just have to get going."

"Well, thank you for your kindness. Hope to see you again, really, I do", Betty said as she and little April rushed inside to the old community center. She wanted to find her who the man was, but she knew if they didn't get in line they would both miss dinner.

"Goodbye Miss Cwicket. Thanks fow the pweety pony." April called out as she waved goodbye.

Cricket, Harry, and Decker continued walking. "Well, that was........very nice of you", Harry said to Cricket.

The little robot could sense in his voice that he wasn't exactly happy. "Did I goof it up again Harry?" Cricket asked rather shyly.

"No, no. Interacting with other people is very important. And that selfless act took thinking. And I'm proud of you there."

There was a long scilence. "But??......." Cricket finally asked.

"But, you know that some people......... a lot of people just don't like you for..... well, who you are. It's also not wise to give out our destinations when were on a case."

"Yes, Harry. I'm sorry." Cricket looked down as she walked.

Harry put his arms around her, "Well, no harm done this time. Just be more careful, ok?"

Cricket perked back up. "Yes, Harry", she smiled.

Decker just shook his head. "Lang, this is too rich. Your......."partner"....... is a sexbot."

"Was, Decker, was..... I've made some modifications."

"Such as?"

"Such as seeing she's not so helpless as she was, expanding her memory, downloading history and culture programs into her banks, anything and everything useful to me", Harry looked down and gave Cricket a knowing wink, "And her."

Decker just kept shaking his head. "Modified or not, I think she'll just be trouble in the end."

"And where would my life be without trouble?" Harry asked.

Sunddenly, Cricket looked up at her friend with a worried look. "Harry", she almost wispered, "someone's following us. About 250 feet away." Harry look back slightly over his shoulder. Indeed, a tall shadowy figure was coming up on them and fast!

Harry was about to find a way to shake their unwanted shadow, when it was suddenly in front of them! It was the Chairman's cyber-assain Athena.

Standing nearly seven feet tall, she took the trio of heros by surprise. "Are you Harry Lang?" she asked rather curtly, cocking her head to one side. Harry wasn't sure what to make of the well toned amazon standing in front of him, but Cricket found her limbs powering up, ready for trouble.

Harry decided to give Athena a standard "tough guy" reply, "That depends on who's asking."

Athena's response was the grab Harry by the neck and lift him up several feet to bring him eye level with her. Guess she had heard that one before, Harry thought.

"Put him down!!" Cricket commanded.

Athena's response to that was to grab the little blonde fembot by the neck and toss her like a rag doll several feet into the snow. "Where is it?", the much taller brunette fembot asked Harry coldly.

Lang tried his best to answer, considering is airway was rather restricted. "Where's... what?", he asked.

Athena banged Harry's head into a tree branch above him before replying. "The Nightingale?", was her next inquiry.

"Sure you got the right guy?", Harry answered. This got him arother date with the tree branch.

While all this was going on, Cricket was able to gather herself, and determine that Harry was tangling with an Executer model fembot, the most deadly kind man could make. Taking her head-on would most likely result with a squashed Cricket. Yet, she had to do something. She came up with a plan in a mere few nanoseconds (just before Harry's head met the tree branch the first time). She yanked her Daddy's Girl case from the backpack, dug franticly, and produced a cube of bubble gum, ripping the wrapper free and poping it in her mouth in one swift movement.

While all this was going on, Bill Decker also tried to free Harry from Athena's clutches with a makeshift two by four. He was also tossed into the snow for his effort. When Decker, got up, he saw what Cricket was doing. "Hey......little doll.......have you flipped??!!", Decker was shouting, "Your partner is about to get his neck broken, and your sitting there chewing gum??!!!!"

Cricket didn't look at him, she never took her eyes off Harry and Athena. She answered Decker with a simple. "Yes, excuse me." She pulled the golden nightingale from her backpack, and went to get the amazon robot's attention. "Hey, Bride of Frankenstein, looking for this??", Cricket called out. On hearing this, Athena looked over to see where the voice was coming from. When she saw Cricket waving the item she had been programmed to retrive, she immediately dropped Harry into the show and went after the little fembot. Cricket dodged this way and that, tossing the golden bird like a hot potato. "That's right, I've got the little golden birdie right here, come and get it." It didn't take very long for Athena to do so.

She lifted Cricket by the arms, with the intention of crushing the smaller robot, and getting the nightingale. Cricket had other plans. She took the gum she had been chewing all this time, and began blowing a huge bubble. This strange action was enough to distract Athenta for a moment which was all the little blonde needed. Instead of sucking air to pop the bubble back into her mouth, she blew it out for all she was worth, causing bubble gum to cover Athena's face. Cricket was dropped into the snow and Athena struggled to get the massive wad of gum out of her optic units.

Cricket franticly scanned for an easy access panel on Athena. It would be a matter of seconds before the killer droid had cleared the gooey gum off her face. As luck would have it, a patch of the amazon's bare midriff stuck out like a sore thumb. In a matter of three seconds, Cricket had jammed her pinky into Athens's navel, pulled the panel free, took the rest of the gum she had been chewing, jammed it into her CPU, and replaced the panel.

She then ran to Harry, helping him to his feet. "You okay Harry?"

"Yeah, just a little winded kid", Harry replied.

"Well, get a second wind cause we gotta run"

"Oh, perfect!"

"Come on, Mr. Decker", Cricket called out.

As the trio ran for cover, Athena had gotten the gum off her face, and went after them. "You cannot escape me. I will get the nightingale and kill you all." Athena took about five steps, and was about to repeat her statements, when she suddenly had trouble walking. The gum was having its desired effect, and starting to play havoc with her systems one by one. "Yooooooouuuu can-can-can-can-not-not-not essssssssssss error error...... systems overloading". The more Athena tried to move, the more strain she put on her motors, until they began to tear her apart. "Overload.... .malfunction..... overload......... self des-des-des-trustttttttttttt activateddddddddd..."

Harry, Cricket, and Decker, had managed to get behind a concreate bunker left over fron the war, and hope for the best. Athena was out of control by that time, her head, arms, and torso, flying everywhere. "Ovvverrrrrloaddddingggggggg hellppppppp meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee OOOOOOOOOOOOO" was the last sound killer droid managed to make before exploding into several parts.

Harry, Cricket, and Decker carefully emerged from the bunker they had dived into. What was left of the Executer droid, Athena, was scattered all over the ground, limbs twitching and sparking.

Harry looked down at Athena's head, her face a total look of shock, as if she didn't know what had hit her. "Cricket, let's see if we can find out where our ah......friend came from."

"Right, Harry." the little blonde robot replied. She dug through the backpack and pulled out what looked like some sort of VU meter device. She picked up the disembodied head of Athena and carefully attached the jumper cable at the end of the box to a wire that was hanging loose from the head.

"Not too much juice now", Harry said looking on, "we just need her to talk."

Cricket gave the dial on the device less than a quarter turn. It was enough to widen Athena's eyes a little. Cricket looked right at her. "Identify yourself, please", she asked in a simple pleasent tone.

The reply was slightly feminie yet cold, "I am Executer model Athena 07625. I am the property of the GlobalCon corporation of New Chicago. My mission is to..."

"That's good, Cricket, I've heard all I needed to." Harry said as Athena contined to spell out her programmed "mission".

Cricket detached the cable wordlessly. What little power Athena's head had faded out as she struggled to speak her last, ".......night-in-gale and......and......killllllllllllllllllllllllll" Her voice deepened, and her eyes rolled to the back of her head as Cricket lightly set it on the snow.

"Well, it looks like the Chairman is hot on our tail, kid," Harry said to his partner. "And by the looks of things, he's dead serious about getting his hands on our little golden friend."

Decker chimed in. "Well, I can't imagine what the likes of The Chairman wants with a toy, but from what I've seen, you should't have any trouble at all. Not with this lil spitfire at your side." He smiled down at Cricket, "I'm sorry I doubted you before missy."

"That's ok, Mr. Decker. Lots of people underestimate what I can do." She leaned up and wispered with a sly smile, "Especially the bad guys." She smiled and gave him a wink.

Decker smiled and winked back.

Harry was getting restless. "I hate to interupt this meeting of the mutual admiration society, but you mentioned something about fast transport I believe, Bill".

Decker suddenly remembered why he joined the little party. "Oh sure sure, Harry" he quickly said. "The little beauty is just...." They were suddenly interupted by some flashy laser fire tearing up the landscape around them.

As the trio scatrtered for cover once more, Cricket noticed sights aimed right at Lang's chest. "Harry, look out!!!" Cricket cried as she moved to put herself into the laser sights. Her back ended up taking the full blast.

"CRICKET!!!!", Harry cried out as he watched his partner twich and shudder violently, babbling, her eyes crossing every which way, sizzling and popping noises coming from within the blonde fembot. She fell into the snow face up, wearing a total blank expression.

"Sorry about your lil friend.", a voice came out of the darkness. "Yeah, guess they don't make em like they used to.", came another. The pair laughed sickenly as they came into the moonlight.

It was the Chairman's other two lackys who had been tailing the heros, intoducing themselvs as Mr. Hacker and Mr. Slacker. Harry would have had quite a time making fun of the hididous pair, but all he saw at this point was red. He would have also given them the beating of their lives had he not had two laser pistols pointed at him. "Now Mr. Lang, if ya don't mind", Hacker said. "Or even if ya do mind", was Slacker's follow up.

All Harry could do was try and stall. Where the hell was Decker, he thought. Harry couldn't believe he would just abandon him like that. "Don't tell me, you want the golden nightingale. Everybody wants the little toy birdie. And here I thought Tie-Me-Up Barbie was what all the kiddies wanted for Christmas."

"Joke it up all you want Lang", Hacker said with a sadistic grin. "You're luck has finally run out." As the laser powered up, a bright pair of headlights blinded the two.

"What the..." Slacker had started to say. They suddenly started scrambling from a hail of bullets from an old fashioned Tommy Gun. Harry quickly ducked for cover himself.

"Yeahhhhhhhhhh, take that ya ruddy blanks." A gruff voice come from behind the shiny silver car now in view. More bullets were fired as the pair of villians ran for their lives. The trigger man then showed himself as Harry came out of hiding. It was Decker. "Now, about that 30 grand," he said with a triumphant smile.

Darkness. Warning Harry, trying to get him out of harm's way, and then darkness. That's what Cricket remembered. Then, distant voices. All around her was still dark, but she could hear voices. "Got someone for ya doc........My God, what happened to her..........took a laser shot for me, sweet crazy kid.........let's get these off her.......looks bad.......miss cwicket....please wake up miss cwicket." Voices, just voices.

Cricket lay on a table, eyes closed, her young teenage looking face seemingly at peace. Most of her clothes had been stripped away, leaving her clad only in a matching pink lace bra and panties. Her synthetic skin was smooth and cool to the touch. A large gap in her belly revealed mostly burned out wiring and circuit boards. Harry Lang was by her side, watching over her, his face full of concern for his android friend. Bill Decker was there too.

Examining the robot girl more closely was the woman the trio had encountered earlier that evenng : One Dr. Betty Stevens. She was a rather plain looking dark haired woman, dressed in overalls, and looking like she should be working under the hood of a car. As it turned out, Betty was once a bot tech in the employ of GlobalCon. But she had a major flaw that never sat well with her bosses: she cared. She treated every android that went through her station the way any good doctor would treat a patient; making sure they were in prime condition, and giving them lots of tender, loving care. She soon got tired of seeing the abuse many of them were put through, and worst of all, she hated stripping perfectly good droids of their memories and feelings. Looking into their eyes and having them always smile back trustingly, never aware of the fate that awaited them once they were switched off. She left her position at GlobalCon, and soon learned the price that was paid for those that did so; No friends, no family, no money.

Were it not for her connections with one Carl Throckhammer, whom she used to work closely with, Dr. Stevens surely would have lost custody of her only child, little April. But even Throckhammer's pull seemed to have its limits. With what tools of her own she managed to smuggle away, she spents her days doing odd jobs for anyone in Old Chicago who could pay. She aslo did her best to rescue abandoned droids, and give them new hope as they secretly lived among the people of this shanty "Christmas Town" most of them working as cooks, teachers, even a few actors and actresses, providing entertainment. Thanks to Betty's work and silence, the droids blended in with the humans here, and rarely got the attention of the cops.

"Well, Mr. Lang, as bad as it looks, she's actually pretty lucky." Betty stated as she removed the burned out boards from inside little Cricket. "Those winter clothes she was wearing seemed to have absored a lot of the shock. Her main CPU and memory don't look like they were damaged much. I can replace the rest with spares I have here."

Betty suddenly felt a tug on her jeans. "Mommy" a little voice spoke. It was April. "Miss Cwicket be all wight??", she asked.

"Yes April, she'll be good as new in the morning" her mom assured her. "Now you go with Uncle Bill. It's bedtime."

" no tiwrd" she protested.

Decker took his cue and lifted the little girl up onto his sholders. "Come on lil missy. I'll get ya some cookies and milk, tuck ya in and you can see miss Cricket bright and early tomorrow."

April thought about it for a moment. "Pwomise??"

Betty smiled at her daughter. "Cross my heart" April smiled back,

"Okays. Ni ni mommy.....Ni ni miss Cwicket. Wake up soon"

Cricket couldn't answer back. She just lied there looking like Sleeping Beauty. With Decker and little April gone, Betty got to work putting Cricket's innards back together.

Harry spoke up for the first time in a while, "Now I know why you seemed so facinated with Cricket earlier tonight."

"Yes," Betty replied, "She's an amazing girl. How did you come by her Mr. Lang?"

Harry related the story of how they met. How like Betty, he couldn't just throw her out like so much garbage. How he went to the trouble of faking owership papers. "She's just become......such a part of my life. I know she's a machine but...... sometimes......"

Betty finished his sentence, "She's seems all too human."

"Yeah..... she sure does." Harry turned his thoughts to the woman fixing his partner. "What about you Doc? How did you and your daughter end"

Betty just sighed. It had been a long journey for both mother and daughter indeed. "Well, after I'd had my fill of mighty GlobalCon," Betty said with disgust in her voice, "I found living in New Chicago impossible. Not that I wanted to stay mind you. But every other door outside the dome was slammed in my face as well. My family even stopped speaking to me. Guess even mom and dad had a price. Anyway, I was able to secure an apartment here in Old Chicago, with rent paid for by one Mr. Throckhammer but suddenly the rent checks stopped coming."

"Yeah", Harry said, "Dear Mr. Throckhammer seems to have a knack for just vanishing into thin air."

Betty continued, reparing little Cricket all the while. "Well, I found myself with an eviction notice, and that's when I met your friend Bill Decker. He brough me here to the shelter. It's not much, but the old guy's actually made this into a pretty good home."

"Yeah", Harry said, "Good old Bill could always make the best out of almost nothing."

Betty looked down at Cricket's damaged systems then up at Harry, "You used 'Bot Wizard' didn't you?.... Poor girl."

Harry suddenly cringed. "Ah.......'Bot Wizard' is bad?"

"Yeah", Betty replied, "It's for people too damn cheap to go to a real Bot Tech."

Now Harry was getting a bit bristtled. "Well, excuse me, lady,, but given the alternative was to turn her into scrap, I think I did a pretty damn good job with her!"

Betty just smiled. He really did care for her. This Lang fellow just became OK in her book. "Not bad Mr. Lang, not bad. Now sit back, cool it, and let the expert drive for a while." Harry sat back as she finished. An hour went by before Betty spoke again. "Well, I've done all I can."

"And?" Harry asked, "she gonna pull through?"

"Mr. Lang, one of two things will happen when I toggle this activation switch. One; she'll boot up and be good as new. Or two......... she'll fry up beyond repair!" Both Harry and Betty held their breath as Betty carefully reached behind Cricket's right ear to manually re-activate the robot girl.

The sound of motors whirring up to speed, gears moving slowly at first, and lights coming from her exposed panel area, were all heard and seen at once. Cricket flinched just slightly a took a breath. She then spoke in a flat monotone, "New hardware detected.......... processing....... hardware accepted.... checking main CPU drive....... ok........ checking memory..... ok.... model 2QXR3 is now online."

Her eyes remained closed, but her speech suddenly returned to normal, "That's now two-hundred and fifty times I've saved your life," Cricket said rather weakly and then opened her eyes, looking up at her friend and partner, "Mr. Harry Lang", she said with a faint smile.

Harry breathed a huge sigh of relief, smiled and gently put his hand on her sholder. "You don't know how happy I am to hear you say that, kid," Harry said.

Cricket continued to smile and placed her hand on his cheek. "You look awful Harry," she said.

"And you look so... beautiful," Harry replied.

Cricket smiled and lighty stroked his face. "Get some sleep Harry. We can get the nightingale to St. Louis in the morning." She looked over at Betty. "Are you the one who fixed me Miss Stevens?", Cricket asked.

"Yes, and please call me Betty.", the older woman said with a genuine smile.

"Why do I feel so tired?" Cricket asked .

"Your battery had mimimal power. Now that I know all your new parts took ok, I can give it a full charge now."

"Guess I need some sleep too," the little robot said, smiling as best she could.

"There's a spare cot in the corner you can use Mr. Lang. Blankets and pillows as well." "Thanks Doc.", he replied. "And call me Harry."

Six hours went by. It was now just before dawn. Harry was sound asleep, as were both Betty and lilttle April. Bill Decker had gone back to his tiny hovel of a residence a few blocks away. As for little Cricket, she had just "awoken" from her re-charge. She had gotten dressed very quietly so to not awaken the others too soon. Daylight was coming through the window and she heard birds singing from outside.

She looked over at the golden nightingale. "Well, you certainly have caused a lot of trouble in just one night my little friend.", Cricket said to the ruby-eyed bird. It just stared back at her. "And you of course have nothing to say in your defense. I wish you could just tell me what this so important secret is." She pressed the button that started the song it sang. As Cricket listened, she noticed something she heard before. It came from the nightingale. It wasn't something Harry or another human could hear. But it was definitely coming from the golden bird's mouth. The song ended and she played it again. This time, her eyes widened as she suddenly realized what she had been hearing all this time. "Wowie Zowie!!!!', she exclaimed but in a near whisper. "You are talking aren't you?", she said to the faux bird, looking right at it. "And now I know your secret."

A few hours later, breakfast had been made and eaten. After a lot a haggling, and a very stern lecture from Betty about making SkyBall bets with the bookies, Harry finally agreed to give Decker 20 grand for the hovercar that would fly them to St. Louis.

"You all set, kid?" Harry asked, as he gathed up their stuff.

"I'll be out in a few minutes, Harry. I need to speak to Betty alone first. Just girl issues, I'm sure you understand.", she said with a wide smile.

Harry did a double take. "Girl issu--", he started to say. "Dare I ask, how long this will take?"

"I'll be ready in 15 minutes on the dot, Harry.", she said in her sweetest tone.

Harry looked at his watch. "Fine, 15 minutes, then I come back in and throw you in the car."

"Yes, Harry", she replied. Cricket made sure Harry was out of sight and then turned to Betty. "I can't thank you enough for what you did last night, Betty. But I need one more adjustment made to my systems." Betty looked at Cricket, wondering what she meant, and then saw she was holding the nightingale in her hand.

The trip to St. Louis went suprisingly without incident, although Harry and Cricket did work out a plan of what to do should trouble arise. The sight of a balding tall man dressed all in white waiting for them, as they were about to land at the Archway Center let them know that indeed, trouble was ahead. Cricket's face turned very pale when she saw the man. Harry just shook his head in total disbilief.

As they touched down on the landing pad, and Harry opened the door, the man approached. "Harry Lang? I'm Mr. Tutter.", he said with a twisted smile.

Cricket knew better. "He's lying Harry.", she whispered quietly.

"I know kid," Harry replied, "now, no matter what happens, stick to the plan."

"Yes, Harry," she said matter of factly.

They both got out. Harry approached the man, while Cricket stood by the car, smiling mutely. "Lanny 'The Shark' Roykirk", Harry said looking the man in white up and down. "Don't tell me you're The Chairman."

"Why, whatever do you mean??", the man in white replied with more than a touch of sarcasm in his voice. He knew he hd been made.

"How did a cheap two-bit hood like you come into this kind of power?", Harry asked.

There are a few unshakable constants in the universe. One of them is when is a villian is asked 'What's your plan?' or 'how did you do it?', they will always give a lengthy answer. "It was very simple Mr. Lang," The Chairman began. "When I stumbled into the GlobalCon buliding during the last days of the war, it was a no name dot com company. I found myself taking shelter inside one of the board rooms. Everyone was dead, but the place still had power, and most importantly, the computers were still on. One screen was asking the question over and over, 'Mr. Chairman, are you all right?' And knowing a golden opportunity when I saw it, naturally I answered in the afirmative. As it happens, few people had seen the poor dead soul who's place I had taken, and they were already dead themselves. And so, the ever unseen Chairman pulled the strings from then on, and made GlobalCon what it is today."

"Yeah, one stunk up company!", was Harry's reply. "What I can't figure out is how you were able to know our every move."

"That's the wonderful thing about being the only game left in town." The Chairman answered, looking right at little Cricket. "You are able to keep tabs on every product!" Cricket gulped hard when she heard that classification. Harry looked back at her also, not believing what he had just heard. "Not that.... she...... knew anything about it, of course." The Chairman continued, "When you suddenly became a threat Mr. Lang, I checked you out as I do all my enemies. For shame, Harry...... running around with a robot that doesn't even rightfully belong to you. And you," The Chairman continued ranting, looking again at Cricket. "Didn't I have you sent to the junk pile last year??", he said with evil disgust in his voice.

Cricket wanted to kick his sorry butt right then and there but thought better of it. The plan, stick to the plan, Cricket thought over and over. That plan called for her to play the dumb little sexbot. She stepped forward, smiling sweetly, her voice full of innocence. "My name is Cricket." was all she had to say to The Chairman. Deep inside, she was thinking thoughts a lot worse.

"Boy, Lang, you sure know how to pick the winners," The Chairman said to Harry. "But enough chit-chat. I want that golden nightingale."

Harry replied, "Well, why don't you ask Santa Claus. And maybe if your a really good boy in the next few days, he'll bring you a nightingale of your very own instead of the two tons of coal you're probably due."

The Chairman drew a laser pistol and aimed it right at Harry. "Choose you next little joke carefully, Mr. Lang. It will be your last." Harry groaned. Why is it the bad guys can never come up with original lines.

Harry hoped his hand-to hand combat training was an advantage over The Chairman. For a while, it was. He kicked the gun out of Lenny's hand before he could fire and the two exchained blows and kicks. Harry though he had the upper hand when The Chairman was suddenly able to recover his gun after being kicked to the ground. He quickly moved to Cricket, who had been standing like a happy statue all this time, wishing all the while she could get in on the action. The Chairman regained control of the game when he pointed the laser, aiming it right at the center of Cricket's back. "Now choose Lang, your friend, or the nightingale!"

Cricket suddenly spoke up. "Just give him the stupid old bird, Harry. I don't want to be hurt again."

Harry did his best to give a look of pure hatred, which actully wasn't hard, given the comtempt he felt for Mr. Roykirk. He pulled the nightingale from his pocket and tossed it to the Chairman who caught it with a grin on his face.

The Chairman then shoved little Cricket into Harry, and was still aming the gun. "I could just kill you both quickly, but........ I'm really sadistic." He rapid-fired at the concrete under their feet, breaking it apart. Both Harry and Cricket started to fall.

The Chairman laughed and got into his private hovercar as the heros hung on to what was left of the busted up ledge. "So long suckers!!!!", The Chairman said as he flew away, golden nightingale in tow. Harry managed to pull himself back up to safety, but Cricket wasn't faring so well. She was hanging on for dear life to an iron rod.

She screamed and cried out, "Harry, help me I'm slipping!!!" Harry tried but couldn't get a grip on his friend.

He watched the little robot struggle and slip down even further. At that point, a fuse was lit deep inside the man. They had come too far. It was not going to end this way!!! Harry leaned down for all he was worth and grabbed his friend, pulling her up, safe into his arms. Cricket hugged her partner tight, and began to cry, sobbing uncontrollably.

Harry lifted Cricket's chin up. "Hey, what's all this, huh?" he asked.

She answered him, her eyes still full of tears. "Oh Harry. I wanted to tell you, so many times I wanted to tell you. You see, at first I thought it was really neat, working in that big shiny building and all."

"The GolbalCon building?", Harry asked.

"Yeah. They had me working as a waitress and sometimes a companion. Some guys were real nice, others...." She began to hesitate.

"Go on", Harry said softly.

"And then one day, I got something in my eye, and dropped a tray of food I was carrying up to The Chairman. The next thing I know, Dr. Reynolds, the one who built me, was taking me away, to someplace safe he said. We ended up in Original New York and......and...." She started to cry again.

Harry just held her. He could guess the rest. "Now you just listen to me," Harry told her. "We're going inside to where....... hopefully, the real Mr. Tutter is waiting for us, and we're going to wrap this case up. And then, I'm going to set everything right. I promise."

When they got inside the Archway Center, and found the office of one Mr. Tutter, the door opened on its own when Harry knocked. The office was darkened, save for a single desk lamp. The chair on the desk was turned away from them. "Mr Tutter?" Harry called out.

A very familiar, gruff voice answered. "That you Mr. Lang?" The chair turned and the lights suddenly came on. It was Carl Throckhammer!

"Well well well,, Harry said, folding his arms, "Good old Throcky, back from the dead. Let me guess, you're Mr. Tutter?"

"One of my many aliases; I've found them useful."

Harry just glared at him. "You knew about the bomb last night, didn't you?"

"I knew The Chairman was sure to try something."

"So, you just toddled off here to St. Louis, and let us do all the dirty work.", Harry said, anger in his voice growing by the word.

"I don't care much for your tone, Lang." Throckhammer gruffed.

"Brother, that's not all you're not gonna like. We've almost been blown up...... twice, shot at; I almost lost her!", Harry shouted, pointing to Cricket. "If it hadn't been for Dr. Stevens..."

Throckhammer cut him off, "Dr. Stevens...Betty??"

"Yes, Mr Throckhammer.", Cricket said. "She's living at a shelter in the mission district of Old Chcago."

Hearing this, Throckhammer became more subdued. "I....I didn't know that." The old man then looked right at both of them. "Betty was one of my best people, one of the few I really trusted. After she was finally was able to leave GolbalCon, I made sure she and her daughter were taken care of. I only found out a few days ago that my checks to her were being rerouted by The Chairman himself, and for that I blame myself. I was too sloppy. I should have known that two-bit hacker would find me out sooner or later. Now you see why he has to be stopped, my friends. I have to set things right..... for everyone."

Harry was suddenly a lot less angry. "I guess that's why we're here Mr. Throckhammer.", he said. "To help set things right."

"I trust you still have the nightingale?", Throckhammer asked. Harry and Cricket looked at each other, then the little robot girl stepped forward.

"We don't have the golden nightingale with us Mr. Throckhammer, The Chairman got it. But I do have exactly what you need." Throckhammer raised his eyebrows, as Cricket gestured her hand at his computer. "May I?", she asked sweetly.

Throckhammer offed her his seat, which she took. There was already a login prompt on the screen. The blonde fembot looked the question up at Throckhammer. "Nightingale.", he told her. She typed it in. Then it asked for the password. Cricket blinked hard once. And then, she herself began to sing.

Both Harry and Throckhammer just stared at Cricket in absolute shock. It was the song of the nightingale! Not a recording, or an imatation, but the actual song. As Cricket sang, seven starbursts popped up on the screen, one by one, next to the password prompt. And then the GolbalCon screen came up. Words followed:

30 Grand Holiday Hotel Chefs
20 tons food
Destination: Tokyo, Japan

-- Re-routing --

New Destination: Mission District, Old Chicago

New orders confirmed

Have a nice day, Mr. Chairman.

Cricket finished singing, blinked hard once more, then smiled up and both Harry and Throckhammer. "Did I do good?", she asked sweetly.

Both men were still searching for words after a full minute. Harry finally turned to the older man. "Everything in order there, Throcky?", he said, pointing to the screen.

"Yes.....yes it really is!!", he replied, laughing shaking his head in approval.

"All right, young lady, your turn.", Harry said.

Cricket smiled up at him. "Well," she began, "I knew after last night that there was more than a 75% chance The Chairman would, sooner or later, get his hands on the nightingale, and that people would most liklely be hurt in the process. So, this morning, Betty and I did a"

"On the nightingale.", Harry said.

"Yes," Cricket replied. "We removed the chip that made the bird sing, and placed it here." She pointed to a spot just below her neck. "Then the chip was routed to my vocal processers. I just blinked to access it at the right time. That's why I told you it would be ok to let him have the nightingale, Harry. On the outside, it still looks genuine. And that's why I had to let you do all the fighting. I had to play the dum dum for this to work. That way, I'd be that last..... thing.... he'd ever suspect."

"But my nightingale, Miss Cricket." Throckhammer said. "The Chairman now has a nightingale that can't sing?"

"Oooooo, I wouldn't say that, Mr. Throckhammer," And she just giggled.

The Chairman was feeling on top of the world by the time he got back to his penthouse office at GlobalCon. Old man Throckhammer, that goody goody Harry Lang, and that bucket of bolts.... what was her name?? It didn't matter. They were all eliminated. And by the new year, the foreign investors whoud begin to move into the old cities. And he would rake up all the profits and just get more and more powerful. Yes, life was good.

He just needed to check and make sure and make sure everything was going as smoothly as he knew it was. He turned on his flattop screen.

You know what they say, king of the hill one minute, a pile of dirt the next.

The Chairman thought for a minute this was some sort of bizarre bad dream. Order??......... rerouted??........... Old Chicago??.......... HIS ORDERS??!!! This was impossible!!!

Even if Throckhammer and Lang somehow survived, he had the nightingale!!! The Chairman quickly examined the bird. It was handcrafted in Theockhammer's style. Right down to that stupid "CT" crest just below the bird's belly. Could old man Carl have made a duplicate nightingale? There was no time, was there. The Chirman quickly started the song. A few notes in, something happened. It sounded like static. And then a voice. That sounded like a little kid trying to sound all grown up:

We interrupt this song for this very important message to Mr. Chairman.

The voice then changed to that of a very familiar sickly sweet voice.

(sing-songy) Ha-Ha-Ha. I fooled you. Ho-Ho-Ho. Yes I did!!!
Your a mean man Mr. Chairman. Trying to hurt me and my friends. Not very nice, now is it? And I'm not gonna forget it. And I'm not gonna forget you. But hey, It's Christmas, right? So, here's the pretty shiny nightingale you always wanted. And all that food, that was gonna go to waste? Now, it's gonna be eaten. By lots of happy hungry people who need it bad. And it will come from you. You're the hero. And don't worry. I won't tell them what a mean, rotten rotten man you really are. So, until we meet again.....HO-HO-HO......... MERRY CHRISTMAS (click) MERRY CHRISTMAS (click) MERRY CHRISTMAS

This was far too much for The Chairman to take. He had been beaten. He lost........ to a robot!! Throckhammer, Lang, they were bad enough. But he had been suckered by a fucking sex droid!!!!

The nightingale kept tauting him over and over with "Merry Christmas" His blood began to boil. He picked up a heavy paperweight on his desk, and smashed the golden bird!!!! And smashed it again and again and again!!! It was all in pieces, strugging to work.
Buuuuuuzzzzzzzz whirrrrrrrrrrrrr Meerrrrrrrrryyyyyyy buzzzzzzzzzzz nevvvvverrrrrr goooonaaaaa forrrrrrrrrgetttttttttt

And with that, the golden nightingale was no more. "Oh....and I'm never going to forget you, Miss....... Cricket. Count on it!!!!" As the villian stood there, his anger quickly left him when the saw the URGENT message flash on his laptop screen. The color began to leave his face. He knew exactly who it was. It seemed there were those even more powerful then The Chairman in this world.

His hand shook as the pressed the enter button. "Yes..... Mr. Tanaka-San."

Before leaving Old Chicago, Cricket had told Bill Decker, Betty Stevens, and her four-year-old daughter April, to gather everyone they could, no matter who, to the old Palmer House Hotel. She told them to spruce the place up, and expect the best Christmas ever. And that's just what happened. The word spred like wildfire among the few handful of tennats there. They spread the word out into the street. And those people spread the word thought the entire city. When Harry, Cricket, and Carl Throckhammer returned to Old Chicago late that afternoon, they almost couldn't believe their eyes. Hundreds of people were already inside the old, more than run-down hotel, cleaning it out, cleaning it up from top to bottom. And more people were arriving by the minute.

Bill Decker found the trio first. "Well, here we are Harry. Just like ya said." He pointed to all the people around him, running here and there, as though they were on some kind of wonderful treasure hunt. "I, ah just hope there's a nice payoff to all the hard work these folks are doin'"

"Oh don't worry sir, I assure you there will be.", Throckhammer told him.

A certain female voice suddenly broke through. "Cricket!!! Harry!!! (gasp) Mis-Mister Thockhammer???" It was Betty Stevens. She stood there a moment like she had been frozen in time.

The old man walked up to her and gently smiled. "Hello Betty. It's very good to see you again." She started to speak, but words couldn't come out. She just hugged him.

The old man revealed how he had been looking after her in secret all this time. How The Chairman was finally able to drive her into where she and her daughter had to stay now. "But this time it's going to be different. I'm taking you..."

She cut him off. "Before you say anything, Carl, I want you to know that it really hasn't been that bad here. Even being in the shelter. These people need me, and you too, if I may say so."

Throckhammer looked around. All these people, working, chattering, even singing, happily and together. "You're right. I've been away from people far too long. I've grown tired of hiding in the shadows. If I'm ever to defeat people like The Chairman in those phony cities for good, It's going to be out in the open and on my terms. Care to join me?"

"Yes, Sir.!"

The next day was Christmas Eve. The chefs and the food and arrived early in the morning and the kitchens were ready. The food and last preparations were made for that night. Harry, Cricket, Betty, Bill, and even old Throckhammer pitched in. Cricket was able to spot about a dozen of her "sisters" in the crowd and rounded them up to make up the welcoming committee, complete with nametags. April wanted to help, so Cricket gave her and some of her friends big bright nametags and them told to help other kids so "they won't get lost in all these big people."

That night, it was a grand feast, unlike anyone there had seen in a long time. Every room, the courtyards, the streets, all were brightly lit, and alive with Christmas trees, tinsel, and decerations of every kind. Every table had a cooked turkey, with all the trimmings. Everyone in the city was there, filling the entire old hotel and outside. No one was turned away. And for that one magical night, everyone was happy, kind to each other, helping each other, offering seats, enjoying the company of total strangers. Cricket rejoind her friends at the head table soon after everyone had started eating. Betty made sure her and the other "hostesses" were treated to full goblets of lubricant. Cricket drank hers happily. It felt so good flowing through her. As the night wore on, Cricket looked up at Harry, who was just finshing his meal.

Cricket spoke a bit meekly. "Um Harry, please don't be mad at me, but.... I kinda already spent most of my half of the money we got on this case."

Harry choked down hard on the last bit of stuffing. "Already??!!", he asked, looking at her as if she had blown a few good circuits.

Cricket smiled faintly back. "Uh huh.."

Ok, Lang, just play it cool. Don't blow your top. I'm sure she has a perfectly good reason for blowing 75 grand in one..... "And may I ask what you spent your half on???"

Cricket smiled a little wider as she noticed a large man in red, white, and black boots make his way onto the ballroom stage. It was Bill Decker changed into Santa. "See for yourself, Harry." Cricket beamed.

Cries of "SANTA", rang out as Decker gave his best "HO-HO-HO". He picked up an old style bullhorn so everyone could hear him. "I understand we have all kinds of good boys and girls here tonight. And Santa's here to give you all what you deserve this year!" Suddenly, the back of the stage doors swung up and several trucks backed in. "Santa" Decker motioned several adults onto the stage. They opened up the back of each truck. What spilled out made every child there open their eyes and squeal with delight. "Toys!!!!!", they all cried. "Come on up now, careful though.", Santa Decker said, motionning the kids. "There's plently for all here!" The kids raced up, careful not to run into anyone else. Amazingly, the bigger kids were helping the smaller ones who couldn't run so fast. The toys were handed out. Girls hugged their dollies, boys raced their trucks, zoomed their airplanes, toys of all sorts were there. It was indeed the best Christmas ever for all there.

Cricket spoke to Harry while all this was going on. "I had Mr. Throckhammer keep most of my half, and used the nightingale program to raid a few stores."

Harry just smiled, and kissed his partner on the forehead, hugging her. "You really are something special.", Harry beamed.

"Your not mad then?", Cricket asked, looking up.

"No, in fact, I actually most of my half too."

Cricket looked at him in mock anger. "And what may I ask did you spend your half on??"

By this time, Decker and little April were standing near them. Decker whispered to the girl to hand something to Cricket.

It was a round paper, wrapped in a bright red bow. "Fow you Miss Cwicket. Mewwy Chwistmas." , she said, handing it to her. She smiled and thanked her small friend.

"Harry, what it this??", she asked.

"It's something I should have given you a long time ago", Harry answered.   " Go on, open it up."

Cricket did so carefully. What she saw made her gasp, and what she thought she had for a heart stop. It was a certificate of ownership! A real one! Stamped, dated, hologram sealed and all. Most of all, she noticed the name in the center. She was no longer "Model 2QXR3". She wasnt't even a 'Daddy's Girl' anymore. The name in bright black script letters told her who she was now:  Cricket Lang

There were tears in her eyes when she looked at Harry. "How?" she asked.

Harry put his arms around her. "That's the great thing about being the only game left in town.....Lots of loopholes. The Chairman ordered you scrapped, but never bothered to take you off the "employee roster". So, Throckhammer used one of his names..... a Mr. Kringle I believe, to buy you from GlobalCon, and I bought you from Mr. Kringle. Merry Christmas Cricket."  

The young android was grinning from ear to ear.  "Oh, Harry, does this mean...", she started to say.  

Lang then sunnenly got down on one knee.  "Miss Cricket, will you marry me?"  

She looked down at the certificate.  He really did love her.   "Oh yes, Harry. yes!", she exclaimed.  They began to kiss, and rather deeply, when the tug of a little hand pulled on Harry's slacks. They both looked down to see April. "Did I forget someone, my young friend?", Harry asked.

She held her arms up to Decker, who picked her up. She then smiled to everyone there. "God Bwess Us Evewyone."

They all smiled at her and repeated it. "God Bless Us Everyone."

It was indeed a very Merry Christmas.


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