Peyton fought the pain contracting his muscles as best he could while not allowing his face to show it. Over time, he had learned to channel the physical torture into a silent exercise that made his body stronger. Through the steady stream of current scrambling his circuitry, he heard the delivery guy speaking to his new wife.
“Lady, are you sure about this? Peyton 313 has been fighting his restraints all the way here. He’s not going to be easy to control.”
Kyra nodded without smiling. The thought of the constant torture the cyborg was experiencing made her ill. “Yes. I need a husband and he’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
“Listen. You’re a nice looking woman. Even at your age—and trust me you don’t look a day over fifty—you could be hooking up with a real man instead of this—this thing. Peyton 313 has had ten wives and they’ve all returned him. Even though he’s supposedly good in the sack, he eventually gets sent back for exceeding boundaries. Hell, this one’s programming has been upgraded so many times that they’ve had to replace his uplinks twice. The only reason he’s not been sent to a work camp is because my boss thinks he’s too pretty. They would disassemble him for sure if he acted up there.”
Kyra snorted, but told herself not to show her contempt for the man’s words. Compassion and protesting got you nowhere. Mankind in general was too far gone where the cyborgs were concerned. It was time for a new approach.
“I appreciate your concern for me… Lyle,” Kyra said as she looked at his Norton Industries ID. “But I’ve waited a long time for this particular model. I assure you there’s no need for you to worry at all. I’ll have Peyton 313 toeing the line soon enough. He’s not my first Cyber Husband.”
“Well okay, Dr. Winters—ma’am. My job is just to transport. You’re the one who paid for him. I figure I done my good deed today by telling you the truth. That’s all a simple man can do.”
Kyra smiled as pleasantly as she could, considering the man didn’t seem to be able to take a hint at all. “Yes. Thank you for the information, Lyle. Now if you’ll just hand over Peyton 313’s wrist controller, you can be happily on your way with another job-well-done stamp on your record. I’m sure you’ve got lots of other deliveries to make.”
She watched Lyle shaking his head steadily over her words even as he relinquished the wrist unit to her outstretched hand. Her fingers slid over the buttons until she found the restraint one. She waited until Lyle was halfway down the sidewalk before turning to Peyton. Raising a finger to her lips, she watched his pupils fluctuate in acknowledgement as she released him from the circulating pain.
Kyra kept her tone abnormally cheery in case Lyle was still within hearing range. “Hello, Peyton. You’re even better looking than your online profile. Let’s go inside and get acquainted.”
His simple nod as she ushered him through her front door was promising.
Free of the debilitating current at last, Peyton’s body got busy with his muscle recovery. In twenty minutes and four seconds, his muscles would be functioning at optimal capacity again. Before he’d developed his organic neural bypass, recovery would have taken several hours. The bypass hurt like hell to use, but it was effective and outside the control of the cybernetic chips embedded in his brain. He had even been able to recover some blocked memories, such as his original name and highest military service achievement.
While he followed Dr. Kyra Winters indoors, he reviewed what he’d learned. His name was Peyton Elliot. His rank was Marine Captain. He was forty-seven years old in human years but his body was in the physical condition of a twenty-five-year-old right down to his remaining organs. Part of that was the efficiency of his new cybernetic heart pump. He had wife number seven to thank for that. She’d run him through with a kitchen knife when he had refused to do something humiliating.
But that incident wasn’t his first husband failure. Wife number two had upgraded him when he’d pretended to be stupid for a time. In fact, every wife had done something new to him, except for wife number six who had done nothing. She had just wanted his company. He had liked wife number six. He had been disappointed when she’d turned him in after meeting a non-cyborg man she had wanted to marry.
He could list facts about each of his ten wives to date, but none had been worth the memory space each now took up in his long-term storage. He had made sure his time with each of them had been as short as possible without raising concerns. If there was a plus to his current husband contract with Dr. Kyra Winters, being chosen again would provide the additional time he needed to finish researching his memories beyond his cybernetic data banks. He was trying to extrapolate enough data from those brain areas to piece together a story his human side could recall as his past.
Those who worked on him at Norton had thought they made him a blank slate with each upgrade, but none of the routine memory wipes of his chips had worked completely on him. Data remained stored out of the reach of every new code and eventually he learned how to bring it forward. Maybe his success was because he had early on taught his physical body to live in harmony with his cybernetic parts. A few years ago he had figured out what Norton had done to him and afterward vowed never again to forget who he was supposed to be.
The number of his organic bypasses continued to expand though it took a painfully long time to grow each of them. He knew about time only because he had developed a method of tracking it outside of his primary processor’s programming. By his calculations it had been thirteen years, two months, and four days ago since he had received the combat modifications that had turned him into a Cyber Solider. He had learned that the Cyber Husband program was the UCN’s version of military retirement for him and others like him. Once he even vaguely remembered his Major informing him he was going to have access to all the “tits and ass” a decorated hero could ever want for the rest of his extended life. He had wanted no part of their plan then and was determined to escape his cybernetic captivity now.
Though Dr. Winters and her exceptionally well-defined ass didn’t know it yet, she was going to be his last wife. All he had to do was keep her happy and distracted until he could assimilate his latest upgrades and learn to control them as he had his others. From what he had observed in the first five point three minutes of meeting her, some form of frowning seemed to be the woman’s default facial setting. Based on his now extensive experience of females, he decided Kyra Winters probably hadn’t been sexually satisfied in years. Satisfied women smiled.
Peyton knew with certainly he could remedy her poor experiences, but it was unusual for him to have innate enthusiasm for the task. As a Cyber Husband, he’d serviced a lot less attractive women for sure. Kyra was five feet ten, a natural brunette, and nicely shaped, especially considering her age and sedentary profession. Though not very stylish in her clothing choices, there was a natural grace to her movements as she walked, which visually appealed to him. A sudden twitching sensation below his waist accompanied his deeper study and signaled a rising attraction of the most basic kind. Strangely, no pulse stimulation had been required for arousal at all. He couldn’t recall having such an organic reaction to any of the other women who had bought him.
“You have a beautiful home, Dr. Winters. Thank you for choosing me to share it,” Peyton said politely. He continued his study of the nearly silent female as they walked through her hallway.
Kyra nodded as she soundlessly crossed the terra-cotta tiled floor in her black non-conducting microfiber sandals. She listened to her new cyborg’s footfalls as he followed close behind. “You’re welcome, Peyton 313. I’m glad you’re here. Let me show you to your quarters.”
“Quarters?” Being away from her would not suit his plans. Peyton lowered his voice to the bedroom huskiness he knew made most women instantly wet with need. “A Cyber Husband resides in his wife’s quarters, Dr. Winters. I am programmed to meet your every need. May I call you Kyra now?” It was all he could do to hide his surprised reaction to her loud, disbelieving laughter.
“Wow. That’s a very charming bedside manner you have developed there, Peyton 313. Sorry to have to decline, but I do not require your services in bed tonight.”
Since her back was still turned to her new cyborg, Kyra rolled her eyes at their idiotic conversation. At six feet four inches, her new Cyber Husband was handsome and well-built enough to tempt any woman. So sure, her mind briefly fantasized about taking him up on his offer—just once maybe—even though she couldn’t ethically do that given her other plans for him. A decorated Marine hero like Captain Peyton Elliott deserved a hell of lot more than to live his life as a multimillion dollar gigolo—no matter how nice his shoulders were or how many muscles he sported. Or how sexy his voice was when he was trying to talk her into bed.
She stopped in front of her lab door and cleared her throat before speaking. “Voice authorization: Mankind Redefined Code X Delta 13 Omega Definition.”
After the door slid open, she pressed a button on the access panel forcing it to go into manual initialization.
“After entry of Dr. Kyra Winters, and cybernetic unit Peyton 313, delete all recent access authorizations and commence random cycling of entry codes. Offer prompts for new codes only on the following panel authorization—Third Time Is Charmed—with password phrase—Jackson Is A Cyber Dickwad.”
A series of lights flashed in multiple sequences. When the initialization for her orders had been completed, she stepped across the threshold and motioned her cyborg companion to follow.
Going to stand at the specially designed operating chair, she paused and looked back to see Peyton 313 hovering in the doorway. His human sense of danger was apparently still active.
Kyra allowed herself a moment of genuine happiness that all the rumors about the man’s cybernetic rebellions were true.
Maybe the human part of Peyton Elliott really was still alive inside the cybernetic machine he mostly was at the moment. She certainly hoped so. She couldn’t afford to buy another Cyber Husband, especially not a pricey one like Peyton. Buying the infamous Marine Captain had wiped out the last of her ill-gotten inheritance from Jackson. She needed her work retirement money to fund other things.
“Come in and sit in the chair,” Kyra ordered, pushing away her distaste for deceiving him. “I’m your wife, Peyton 313. I paid for you and you have to do what I ask. Check your programming.”
“I am not programmed for sadistic or masochistic games. I do not require aides to give you an orgasm, Dr. Winters. My sexual training is sufficient to meet all your pleasure needs,” Peyton declared.
Kyra barely repressed her elation at having her theory proved so quickly. Peyton’s hesitation obviously annoyed him on some yet inaccessible level. The glare he sent her way told her volumes about his emotional state over what she was asking. Kyra knew that on some level he also had to be feeling some genuine fear. His tone of voice had carried concern as he had offered logical reasons why he needed to disobey her request.
Kyra studied him closer, fascinated by the Marine captain’s struggle against his urge to protest more. Yet she could also see the torment chip beginning its work. In the end, Peyton wouldn’t be able to do anything other than what she asked him to do without suffering a fires-of-hell kind of pain torturing his body. The torment chip took it cues from the syntactical interpretation of her orders to him. The very act of hearing his assigned program wife speak forced him to obey the woman’s every command. As much as she regretted being the woman who caused his suffering today, it was an edge she would use until she had Peyton 313 in her operating chair.
Guessing the rebellious cyborg would continue tolerate the pain until he felt safer, Kyra walked back to the doorway and held out her hand, hoping to establish some form of a trust bond. It wasn’t like she could reveal what she planned to do to him, but she did have the best of intentions. She was pleased when Peyton 313 immediately responded to the gesture. His hand gripping hers was gentle and warm, even though he had the capacity to easily crush her fingers. Fortunately, Kyra knew that using too much force with her was something his current programming would never allow.
“Come with me, Peyton 313. I’m not going to take sexual advantage of you—not tonight and not ever. I did not purchase you for that reason. I just want to study you and learn as much as I can. At least come inside the lab. I can’t speak freely while the door is open.”
Kyra winced as Peyton studied her, no doubt registering the mild sheen of perspiration her pores exuded in her nervousness. She tried to control her reaction to his presence, but the man was so attractive that he would have made her nervous if he’d not been a cyborg. When he finally stepped across the lab’s threshold, the door slid quietly closed behind him.
Kyra sighed in relief and squeezed his fingers tightly before letting go. She could feel Peyton’s gaze on the back of her as she walked to stand beside the chair again.
“Forgive me, Captain Elliot, for taking these measures. If I am successful, this is the last time you will ever have to do what I, or any other human, orders you to do.”
Facing the inevitable, Kyra swallowed hard and cleared her throat as danger signals suddenly sent adrenaline to every cell in Peyton’s body. Some invisible command must activated inside him prompting him to take whatever measures were necessary to halt her speech. His intense gaze meeting hers with a fixed purpose had her fighting not to call out in alarm. Peyton started across the floor at a rapid clip toward her, but in the three seconds it took to reach her side, it was already too late.
“Activate program Mankind Redefined on Creator 2 of 2 Authorization Code 002970463. Machine ID is 98765320A7. Subject is a Cyber Soldier. Rank is Captain Marine—Name is Peyton Elliott—cybernetically redefined as Peyton 313. Commence Maximum Reboot. Transfer full control of all controller files to Dr. Kyra Winters. Delete all previous authorizations. Destroy primary processor and both Level 1 torment chips. Leave life support running at full and all secondary chips unharmed. New processor will be installed upon unit shutdown.”
Kyra watched current fly through Peyton’s chest and head as his cybernetic eyes flared with the processor’s death. His upper body bent forward from the pain. The man groaned, but didn’t call out. She swallowed the bile rising in her throat as he struggled against what was happening. Peyton Elliot’s current agony was wrong on so many levels that she almost couldn’t handle acknowledging her part in creating it. She immediately shut down her emotional reaction and did so with an efficiency not even the constant code programming could imitate. Her motivation was great and it wouldn’t help either of them if she ended up a weeping mess at his feet.
“Please get into the chair, Captain Elliot. Do it now before you pass out. My purpose for doing this is to help give you back your life—your real life. I swear you can trust me not to hurt you any more than is necessary.”
Unable to fight the excruciating torture of the complete reboot she had activated, Peyton automatically obeyed and stumbled to the chair. Kyra put her arms around him trying to help him to sit. She couldn’t prevent a tortured groan escaping her throat or stop her shock when she actually heard it followed by an audible sob. Was she actually on the verge of full out crying? She hugged the man in her arms hard as she eased him down to sit.
“Captain Elliott, I read your service record over a hundred times while I waited for you to be put back into the bidding system. I know how many people you saved during your military service. All those people in the desert villages… and the children… you saved so many children. You deserve a hell of lot more than to be a toy for the highest bidder. I’m trying to help you escape what they’ve done to you. I swear I really am.”
His gaze seemed barely focused enough to see her, but the cybernetic orbs he’d received in place of his eyes flared in surprise at the tears in hers.
Or maybe that was just his wishful thinking.
The muscles in his chest tensed and another little moan of despair leaked out of her mouth as he fought what was happening to him.
“I’m sorry. So sorry. There’s no other way,” Kyra whispered.
“Who the hell are you?” Peyton demanded, wincing as lightning flashed through his circuitry.
“Just someone who thinks this bullshit has gone on long enough,” Kyra answered, patting his hand. She knew one of his hands was cybernetic, but at the moment she couldn’t recall which one. She could only hope Captain Elliot felt her touch.
“No… Who are you really? You activated the creator code,” Peyton stated, his voice breaking through bursts of pain.
Kyra drew in a sharp breath. “Yes. I did activate the creator code, but how do you know about that? The code is buried in a locked file only Jackson or I can access.”
“Been trying… for years… to free myself,” Peyton admitted, groaning at what was happening in his head.
Kyra nodded and sniffed. “Good for you, Captain Elliott. I hope others are doing the same. Now stop fighting the reboot and shut completely down. It’s less painful if you don’t fight it. I’m going to remove your controller wiring. Please try not to kill me when you wake up.”
“Damn it… can’t kill you… programmed…. to be… your… husband.” Peyton spat the words, letting his anger slip through the searing fire he was enduring. Being pissed was just too hard to block.
Kyra rubbed his arm as she sniffled harder. Even after watching others go through what he was, Peyton Elliot’s suffering was hard for her to witness. But sympathy had no place in what she was planning to do to him.
“Is that actually sarcasm, Captain Elliot? If so, I really like you for it. And thanks for proving the dickwad was wrong. The human brain is superior. I knew it was… or at least I’d hoped my suspicions were true.”
“This process…. always hurts… like hell,” Peyton declared.
Kyra used her sleeve to wipe his sweating brow, trying to soothe him. She was so out of practice. The woman that used to know how to give comfort had been gone for many years. “I know it hurts bad. I’m sorry. It’s going to get much worse before it gets better. Hang in there. I can’t knock you out because I don’t have the equipment. But once the processor is dead, you won’t feel what I’m doing.”
“Will I… remember you… or anything?” Peyton asked.
Kyra bit her lip at the question. Guilt consumed her because she didn’t have a answer for him.
Then Peyton 313 groaned loudly as his upgrades sizzled and popped inside his head. His neural attachments were probably freaking out at the separation from the organic paths he had painstakingly created. Kyra winced because she was having to destroy them along with the cybernetic links, but hopefully they would build back quickly and better without any blocks.
Kyra was immensely relieved when the power dimmed further in his cybernetic eyes. Unconsciousness had finally descended and rescued them both from the unnatural torture she had inflicted.