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Title: Her Cyborg Champion
Author: Anne Kane
Tag Line An intergalactic game of hide and seek, with a sexy human female as the prize.
Blurb: Zoe is five feet, six inches of green-eyed, red-haired militant activist. A deeply ingrained need to help those who can’t help themselves — human and otherwise — motivates her every move. She snuck into the Mailon research facility to investigate rumors of experiments being conducted on a rare and highly intelligent species of sentient mammals. Now she finds herself in need of help to rescue one very sick little battle rat.
Greyson is six and a half feet of ruggedly muscular cyborg with a penchant for violence. He loves to fight, and he fights to win. What he hates is being sent to the Mailon research facility on a petty errand. When he catches a glimpse of a former lover flitting around the facility like an impossibly sexy cat burglar, he is intrigued. What is the saucy little wench up to, and why is she stalking him through the corridors of the alien laboratory?
“I’m sure you will find our new process fascinating.”
Greyson tried not to let the ingratiating tone of the scientist’s voice get under his skin. How had he managed to land himself an assignment where he had to tolerate this ass-kissing lump of alien-bred flesh?
He was a warrior, a fighter. His place was with the Terras Five Outer Rim Defense Fleet, not wandering down the halls of some obscure research facility with a fake smile pasted on his face. When he returned to Terras Five he’d make damn sure his name never came up for one of these assignments again.
“Here we are.” The ass-kisser stopped in front of a gray metal door and motioned Greyson to proceed him into the room.
A split second before he moved, flash of color in the very edge of his peripheral vision caused Greyson to turn to the left, but whatever it was had disappeared before he could see it more clearly.
He walked through the doorway, replaying the movement on his neural net, slowing it to a tenth of the speed. The replay showed a female, most likely human, gliding silently across the open space between one corridor and the next, her attention on some object beyond his vision.
Now that was interesting. There was an intruder in the facility. Certainly didn’t do anything to impress him with their security. He replayed the snippet again, studying the female.
She didn’t look like the usual type of intruder, a burly thug intent on stealing assets or secrets and able to fight their way out of the facility if necessary. She was small and pale skinned with a mass of shining red hair flowing down her back. The angle of view made it impossible to see her face. The vid clip was short, and the female moved with a silent speed and grace that reminded him of a dancer. Something about her stirred his male instincts.
What in the stars would such a creature be doing skulking around a Mailon research facility?
“We’ve created a process that allows us to improve the response speed that the synapses use to transfer messages to the muscle tissue, and I’m sure your government would be happy to have exclusive access to the new technology.” The smile on the Mailon’s face could only be described as oily.
Greyson repressed a shudder. As a cyborg, he’d long ago learned to ignore emotional response but a gut reaction was different. In battle situations a gut reaction could mean the difference between survival and destruction. His gut was telling him not to trust the man in front of him.
Then again, this was hardly a battle situation, unless you considered it a battle to keep his attention focused on this creature’s inane chatter.
Smile pasted firmly in place, he silently retrieved a still image of the intruder, studying it on his neural overlay while the Mailon continued to prattle on about the supposed improvements his cohorts had made to neural net technology.
Even from behind, the female looked familiar. He deftly cross-referenced the picture with his database relay. Within a nanosecond he had his answer.
Zoe Calhoun, a sentient activist. She made the newsfeeds on a regular basis with her crusade to set galaxy wide laws banning the sale or ownership of sentient beings. The latest story had her raving about the ape-like population of a planet that had been found to be rich in several high value minerals. The apes were pressed into service to mine the ore, under conditions that could be best described as slave like. Activists such as Zoe were horrified, and had made such a media circus out of the practice that the mine owners were promising to revise their operating procedures and treat the primates as employees.
She was also the only female who’d ever enticed him to break the unspoken rules of the Cyborg race and have unprotected, potentially fertile sex outside of the cyborg breeding protocols. His only excuse was that he’d been young and stupid and much too idealistic.
He’d actually fancied himself in a state known on the human worlds as love at first sight. Sheer stupidity.
They’d spent two sweaty, magical, exhausting days exploring each other’s every nuance, every quirk, every secret guilty pleasure on a vacation planet just inside the outer rim of the galaxy. They’d had sex in every position, on every possible surface, in every possible place on that planet. It had been the most educational and most character-forming weekend of his life. On the third morning, he’d awoke to find himself alone, a note on the pillow all that was left of the supposed love of his life.
$Got to get back to work. It’s been fun.$
He’d felt so incredibly stupid. He’d meant absolutely nothing to her beyond a warm body to pleasure her for a day or two. He’d returned to Terras Five and took his assigned place in the military. For the last decade he’d done his duty with a dedicated ferociousness that had seen him rise steadily through the ranks until he now captained his own cruiser. The downside, an occasional assignment such as this one, served to remind him just how much he enjoyed a good firefight.
He hadn’t seen Zoe Calhoun since she’d deserted him a decade ago, other than random snippets on the galactic news network.
So what was she doing sneaking around the Mailon research facility? So far, he’d seen no signs of gorillas or monkeys, and he doubted she was there to further her love of science.
It wasn’t that he was under any illusions about Zoe, or that he had any residual feelings for the human female. He just loved a good puzzle.
“So what do you think of our setup? We have been told it’s the best-equipped research facility in the known universe.” The Mailon finally stopped talking for a few precious seconds.
“Nice.” It actually was impressive, if somewhat sterile. “Do you do all of the research on site, or are there other facilities as well?”
“Everything we need is right here.” The biped swept his arm in a wide arc. “If it’s not, then we bring it in. No sense in diluting our assets by spreading them all over the galaxy. Your people can rest assured that only the very best goes into the products we produce.”
Just then, Greyson caught another flash of color. This time, the female hesitated long enough for him to get a glimpse of a bare thigh before she scurried out of sight. A flicker of lust ignited deep in his gut as he remembered how it had felt to have those silky thighs wrapped around his.
Okay. That had been deliberate. What was Zoe up to?
“Do you ever have issues with security? People sneaking in and stealing ideas or prototypes?” He watched the Mailon’s face carefully. Of course they’d never admit it if security was an issue but there were always telltale signs if a person were lying. The shifting of eyes, a slight waver in the voice, a telltale tilt to the head.
“Never. Our security system is one of our own invention. It’s one of the best in the galaxy.”
Zoe reversed her direction, slinking back across the corridor as if to point out the falsity of the claim. She paused, staring straight at Greyson. A ghost of a smile graced her lips, and she winked at him before disappearing once more.
Greyson blinked. Seriously? She’d looked right at him and winked. Was the woman insane?
He switched his attention back to his tour guide. “Well what?”
“What do you think of our facility?”
$I think the security system isn’t nearly as good as you’d like it to be if there’s a redheaded activist waltzing up and down your corridors.$
“It’s interesting and the new tech definitely looks promising. I applaud your research team.” Time to wrap this up and get the hell away from the one female he’d never managed to forget. “I’ll report back to the Ruling Committee and they will let you know their decision.”
The Mailon gave him a quaintly formal half bow. The self-satisfied smile on his face said he had no doubts about what the Ruling Committee’s conclusion would be. “I will await their decision. If they have any more questions, I’d be happy to answer them.”
“I’ll be sure to let them know.”
The Mailon turned, leading the way back to the transit deck while managing to keep up a nonstop conversation. Or monologue. A conversation would have required Greyson to take part in the oratory, wouldn’t it?
The annoyingly sexy human female slunk gracefully out from behind a wall to Greyson’s left and touched his shoulder. When he turned toward her, she promptly disappeared down yet another side corridor.
He should say something to the Mailon, warn him that Zoe was waltzing around the facility unescorted and presumably without an invitation. An activist in a research facility couldn’t be anything other than bad news, especially an activist playing hide and seek in the labs.
Then again, the Mailon was annoying and despite his better judgment, Zoe’s presence intrigued him. What kind of game was she playing?
They reached the flight deck where Greyson’s sleek interplanetary shuttle awaited his return. He turned, grateful to be leaving this sterile hunk of rock. The last thing he needed at this point in his career was to get tangled up with a militant animal lover who seemed to think that rules didn’t apply to her. He was much too mature to be led around by his libido. “Thank you for the tour, and the information. Once the Ruling Committee has had time to study it, they will contact you.”
The Mailon bent from the waist in a formal bow. “We appreciate the chance to work with such a well-oiled society. None of the political red tape that the humans are so fond of. I look forward to hearing from your Committee. I leave you to your departure routines and wish you a safe journey.” He bowed again.
Greyson nodded, and turned to palm the security panel mounted beside the entrance to his shuttle. It pulsed for a nanosecond before settling into an exact match of his palm print.
Interesting. His print wasn’t the last one used on the pad. Someone had been tampering with his ship’s security.
The access panel slid open with a quiet swoosh and he stepped into the familiar vehicle without doing anything to alert the Mailons to the fact that he knew there had been an attempt to circumvent his security and enter his ship without his permission.
The door closed behind him and he strode to the command console, throwing his bulk into the seat and placing his hands on the control panels on either side.
The screen in front of him lit up and the ship’s avatar shimmered into view in the space above the console. “Welcome back, Captain Greyson. Shall I start the launch sequence for our return to Terras Five?”
“Not yet, Gemma. I’d like to run a diagnostic on the security system before we depart. I believe someone tried to enter the ship without my consent.”
He’d named the avatar Gemma because he’d modeled her image on the bioengineered females that tended the bar in his favorite recreation facility on the vacation planet just outside the outer rim energy field. He’d spent a pleasurable few sun cycles with one of them while on R and R and it amused him to have her image represent the highly complex avatar that controlled his ship’s systems. Unlike the default avatars that came standard with this model, Gemma looked and sounded like a sex robot.
“Of course, sir. Do you wish me to access information on the female who entered the ship during your absence?”
“Yeah. That would be good for a start.” Sometimes he failed to remember that the avatar was not actually sentient. It did not provide information he didn’t solicit, so it would not occur to it to tell him about a security breach unless he asked it to share that information.
The avatar disappeared and the screen refocused to show a picture of Zoe, a recent mug shot by the looks of it. “This female humanoid approached me shortly after you departed from the ship. Her palm did not match any of the preset prints to trigger my systems to allow access however she verbalized a factory override reset code in order to command me to open the access panel.”
Interesting. The timing indicated that she knew exactly who he was and what his schedule was like before she’d started playing peek a boo with him down in the labs.
“Once inside, she proceeded to the command console where she inserted extra lines of code into the command procedures before exiting the ship.”
The avatar disappeared and a segment of surveillance video lit up the screen, showing Zoe as she worked her way through the ship.
He straightened in is seat. “Gemma, replay that last segment, and slow it down to a frame by frame shot.”
He studied the screen carefully, concentrating on exactly what Zoe was doing and trying to ignore his gut reaction. She appeared to be accessing the messaging system, then she turned and stared directly at the video camera. He’d missed that part in the initial run through. She spoke, but the video had no sound capability and the stop frame view made it impossible to read lips.
“Gemma, replay the last ten seconds again at half-speed. “
Greyson focused on Zoe’s luscious red lips, vainly trying to ignore the thought of what they might feel like crushed beneath his own. Or wrapped around a certain male portion of his anatomy.
“Check this out.”
She knew she was being filmed and that he would be watching. The little minx had used his own security system to send him a message. He felt a grudging flicker of admiration for her brazen audacity.
Problem was, on his planet the females did not go running around breaking into research facilities and playing peek-a-boo with ex-lovers in the corridors. They waited in the palatial splendor of the conclave for their appointed mates to come to them.
“Gemma, access the most recent messages stored in the ship’s logs.”
“From all origins?”
“Yes. All of them.”
One thing about an avatar. No matter how human he made it look, it didn’t have feelings or emotions. He didn’t have to worry about how to speak to it. Gemma would do what he told her, when he told her. He had a feeling the same could not be said about a certain redheaded trespasser.
“Retrieving messages in reverse order of transcription.”
Greyson realized he was drumming his fingers on the edge of the command console like some untried warrior in training and forced himself to still. Something about that woman had him tensed as if waiting for the first move in a battle.
“Hey, Greyson, remember me? Zoe? It’s been a few years but we had a fling a decade or so ago. I know this is a lousy way to reconnect, but I need your help.”
Her voice, low and sexy, filled the bridge and Greyson’s body reacted predictably. It took more than a little effort to ignore the tightening in his loins.
“I found the female and she’s in bad shape. She needs medical attention ASAP. If I don’t get her out of here they will murder her to cover their own asses. Please. I’m going to try to get her out of the labs and down here to the landing bay. I’ve set the surveillance cameras to loop so security is blinded. What I need from you is passage off this hellhole of a planet. If your ship is still docked when I get back, I’ll assume you’re willing to help. Hell, you’d better be there when I get back. I don’t have a plan B this time. You’re my only hope, and I’m not leaving here without her.”
The sexy voice trailed off to silence.
Greyson sat back in his chair, eyeing the vid screen thoughtfully. Definitely the Zoe he remembered and definitely an activist, but he had no idea what female she was talking about. Based on her latest escapades, and the fact that primates made excellent research subjects, he assumed it was a gorilla or some similar creature.
Taking an injured gorilla on board his ship was not his idea of a good plan. An injured gorilla could do a lot of damage to the ship’s systems if it got out of control, and really, how did one control a pain-crazed gorilla? There were no containment crates on board nor did he have a brig. The shuttle wasn’t the type of ship that went out on missions where prisoners were likely to be taken. Maybe he could insist the creature be contained to one of the cargo bays. Yeah. That might would work.
He felt a rueful smile curve the corner of his mouth. Apparently he’d already decided to help Zoe and her mystery companion. Maybe the boredom of this mission was affecting his sanity, but he’d always had a soft spot for the underdog and he couldn’t help but admire a tiny slip of a human female who charged in to help where most, human and other, would look the other way.
A very delectable, irresistibly sensual human female. A decade had only added to her allure. She’d matured from the boisterous young idealist he’d fallen for so long ago. From her mane of flowing red hair to the way her hips swayed as she walked, everything about her aroused the predatory male in him. Centuries of a carefully mandated cyborg breeding program had failed to suppress that primal instinct.
On Terras Five, males were assigned partners who were selected for them based on genetic compatibility in order to assure the strongest, most intelligent offspring. Life-long mate bonds were rare.
Cyborgs weren’t genetically different from humans, they were actually offshoots of the same species. The humans who had elected to form the cyborg nation opted for a rigorously selective breeding program to give their children the best genetics possible. When the males were toddlers, they were implanted with cybernetic enhancements that fused to their skeletal and nervous systems, growing with the child until adulthood.
The females weren’t enhanced, as the scientists feared what those enhancements might do to their reproductive abilities. In reality, there was no genetic difference between a human and a cyborg female.
“We are cleared to launch when ready.” The ship’s avatar broke into his thoughts, and he pulled his attention back to the board in front of him. If he planned to help Zoe abscond with a creature that she’d plucked from under the noses of the Mailon researchers, he’d better be ready to leave on a moment’s notice.
Finishing the preflight checklist in record time, he ran his fingers over the navigation controls and selected his initial destination. No way was he heading directly for his home world with illicit cargo onboard.
There was a supply station in the Gliese system where everyone was welcome and no questions were asked. Yes, that would be the perfect place to go with the Zoe and her rescued… whatever it was. Once there he could point her in whatever direction she needed to go and get on with his own mission.
He was under no illusions about a romantic reunion. Her interest in him was purely practical. She needed an escape plan and he was it.
He felt a twinge of something unfamiliar at the thought of letting the human female continue her escapades. Inevitably, she would be captured by one of the groups she opposed and they were not nice people. They wouldn’t hesitate to hurt or possibly even kill her. After all, she’d exposed their unsavory business practices to the entire galaxy.
Still, she’d made her choices and he had no business interfering. He just happened to be in the right place to give her a hand with this particular exploit.
He heard the sound of the access door sliding open. The little redhead witch had his private access codes? He shook his head ruefully and tried to ignore the way his flight suit suddenly felt a size too small. Of course she did. She’d already been inside his ship to leave him that message.
“The human female is aboard, along with a small mammal of unknown type. The mammal appears to be in some type of medical distress.”
Thank you, Gemma. Prepare to launch ASAP.
“Initiating launch sequence.”
“Let’s get out of here!” Zoe burst onto the bridge, carrying what appeared to be a ball of white fluff about the size of a large feline. She threw herself into the empty chair at the navigations station and fastened the safety harness while still clutching the bundle of fur to her chest.
As if in answer to her command, the ship’s deck vibrated silently beneath their feet and the shuttle craft moved into the launch corridor. The vibrations ceased as the main engines came online. Nanoseconds later, they were hurtling out the launch portal and into the welcoming vacuum of space.
“Gemma, you have the com. Continue on course but alert me to any unusual activity.” He paused. “And let me know if anyone follows us from the research facility.”
Greyson turned to Zoe, determined not to show any emotion. “So. What exactly is that thing and what’s wrong with it?”