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Love is not logical. Neither is leaving her alone.
Restored Cyber Soldier, Marcus 582, thinks the chances of dating reluctant cyborg, Rachel 235, are slim. His cyborg mind can’t calculate the odds of her loving him back with any accuracy. His human side certainly feel Rachel’s resistance to his every romantic overture. Neither of those change the fact he’s compelled to protect her.
Marcus understands why Rachel doesn’t want to be a cyborg. After all, her conversion wasn’t voluntary like his. But she wants a life without any cyborgs in it, including herself. Too bad though, he can’t give it to her. He’s already lost all he can stand to lose in his life. He refuses to lose Rachel too.
Head down to avoid the curious stares his tats always drew from passersby on the pedestrian track, Marcus walked into the apartment building next door to Norton Industries. Even though he visited the location daily, the barely sentient AI bot sitting at attention behind the welcome desk always treated him like he’d never seen him before. Marcus found it difficult to believe the building guard unit didn’t come with enough memory storage to record and retain visuals for tenant recognition. Norton probably had some jacked-up reason for programming the front desk guard to treat everyone as a stranger, but their logic certainly wasn’t his. He dreaded seeing the abject misery on Rachel’s face every time she came home and the insufficient bot made her feel like a stranger. Her eyes loss all shine and her mouth turned into a frown which irritated him because he had to go home and leave her that way.
After seven months, Marcus well knew the routine to gain entrance, but waited until the guard bot’s programming kicked in enough to offer directions. If he moved too fast, the unit got confused and exhibited what could easily pass for ‘anxious human’ behavior. He wasn’t in the mood to linger in the lobby this morning while the guard bot slowly searched all its secondary codes to figure out the best way to handle him trying to rush. He might be tempted to throttle the lame ass unit until Norton had no choice but to replace it. Not that any AI bot was much better than any other. In his opinion, all AI’s seemed to have some sort of processor OCD issue. They all stretched his limited patience, which was a human trait most saw as a fault, but one his cybernetics barely constrained. Watching the nearly incompetent bot struggle to carry out the simplest of programs always made him wonder if he had functioned like that before Dr. Winters did his restoration. He had all the memories of his Cyber Husband contracts, but no feelings by which to judge how effective he’d been as a cybernetic unit. One wife had rated him poorly in all areas. Another had rated him high and he’d still been with her when Peyton had rescued him. There were some years where he remembered nothing and no records were available. But he’d stopped worrying about those in the last few months. Data was useless in answering his real questions. Marcus counseled himself it was worth being patient now with the bot in order not to cause his mind more concern. Concern seemed to tax what he considered his ‘human thinking’. Dr. Winters had called him a ‘natural worrier’. Regardless of the accuracy of her analysis, he was still uncomfortable with the descriptor. “Place your ID hand on the scanner,” the bot ordered. The unit’s tinny mechanical voice grated on his cybernetic ears—and human nerves—but Marcus complied without complaint or comment. “Your identity has been confirmed, Marcus 582. You are now cleared to enter this domicile. State your exact destination and I will inform the inhabitant.” “Rachel Logan. Domicile 37.” He watched the unit blink a few times as notification was wirelessly sent. “The inhabitant has agreed to your entry. You may proceed, Marcus 582. Walk slowly through the scanner.” Marcus walked under and through an artistic looking archway which tried unsuccessfully to mask its true purpose. He ignored the yellow caution lights flashing along the edges and so did the AI bot. Dr. Winters had made sure his ID information thoroughly rationalized his cybernetic soldier enhancements. In fact, AI guard bots—even the better programmed ones—no longer paid any attention to him. What he was in reality now matched the United Coalition of Nations official data about him which appeared on every scanner worldwide. For a short period of time though, when he’d first been restored, he’d had some very real issues with human guards at places like the bank. His very large deposit from the UCN had prompted them to manually amend their ID records for him. Fortunately, his kids’ school had eventually accommodated him as well, but he knew that was more about the irate phone call Peyton had made on his behalf after his always nosy friend, Eric, had informed their former captain about the trouble he was having. After he cleared the scanner completely, a tinny voice acknowledged UCN approval with fake well wishing. “Thank you for your compliance. Have a blessed day, Marcus 582.” As he walked to the airlift and stepped inside, Marcus shook his head over the platitude he damn well knew the unit didn’t have the capacity to understand. Hell, he barely did. “Floor 30,” he ordered gruffly, irritated by his caring as much as by the building’s shoddy security. The doors swished quietly closed just before the lift rose soundlessly. *** Rachel sighed when the monitoring system announced Marcus 582 would soon be standing outside her apartment door. She wondered if Marcus hated hearing her building’s ID system state his cyborg moniker as much she did. Her abhorrence of all such things had significantly escalated after Dr. Winters discovered her mad scientist torturer had labeled her with a number in all official UCN databases. Whenever her registration information was announced by bots or scanners, she just silently screamed in her head so she wouldn’t have to hear it. She was Rachel Logan—damn it. Having circuitry in her head didn’t change her freaking genus. “I am not a cyborg,” she said aloud, breaking a silence that had been a prison to her until last week. Her declaration hadn’t faded from the air before the irony of her mechanized vocal rebellion occurred to her. Shrugging her shoulders, she ducked her head until her chin touched her chest, an annoying and self-abasing habit she’d picked up since her conversion. While her Cyber Wife file had been expunged from her public records, nothing could completely remove the memories of what she had suffered at the hands of Dr. Bradley Smith who had—among other things—taken away her ability to speak. She had done therapy to rid herself of her two months of abuse at his hands, but had quickly given up trying to type every angry thought she had about him. Her best help had been working alongside the cybernetically, and also behaviorally, modified version of the man who had robotized her. Dr. Winters had done to Bradley Smith the very thing he’d intended to do to as many people as he could. Now cyborg Brad looked at her every day with no recognition of her in his gaze whatsoever. She told herself cyborg Brad had no memories anymore of picking her up at the coffee shop. She only wished it was as easy for her to forget it. It was the one and only time she’d voluntarily engaged in sex with him, and unfortunately the one she regretted most now. Cyborg Brad’s complete lack of personal acknowledgement went a long way toward letting her pretend nothing seriously bad had happened to her because of him. She preferred thinking of her cybernetic alternations as something medical, like the kind of parts replacement surgery a person might have if they were in an airjet accident. Her rational mind knew it wasn’t the truth, but she didn’t care about what was rational. Rationalizing did not help. She liked being able to sleep at night, and whoever said living in denial was a bad thing obviously had never been turned into a cyborg against their will. As she went to answer the knock at her apartment door, Rachel reached up and pressed a tiny button several times to turn up the volume on the small device Dr. Winters had installed in her throat. They had consulted many specialists but no one could find the physical switch to turn her vocal chords back on. Not wanting to replace them unnecessarily, in case they one day found a way to reactivate her natural speech, the next best thing had been wiring her with a device that obeyed her vocal mechanisms. She was finding it to be a great relief to finally have some way to talk to people, even if talking did come at a price. She opened the door and her mouth at the same time. “Hello, Marcus.” Rachel could tell from the flash of surprise crossing his gaze that hearing her computerized female voice had shocked him, but Marcus recovered quickly. If she hadn’t been seeing him five days a week for the last seven months, she might have missed it. The man was so reserved that she often had to remind herself Marcus hadn’t been stoic at all when he was first restored. No, the man had been weeping steadily, and with good reasons, given all he’d endured and survived. Like all of the original three hundred and forty-two Cyber Soldiers, Marcus had lost a decade of his life living in an AI processor induced trance. It was a small blessing, but because of Marcus, she was grateful Bradley Smith hadn’t taken away her awareness of time passing. And she was happy for the progress Marcus had made since he’d been restored, but couldn’t see that the human side had been made any more content by his chance to have an integrated life. In the last few months, he’d sought out his family and gradually gained back some of his children’s affection. Unfortunately in that same effort, Marcus had eventually had to accept the permanent loss of his former wife who had already remarried. From the stories she heard working for Dr. Winters, Marcus’s situation was pretty normal. Cyber Soldier reintegration into society was going like that for most of the men being restored. They were back from the war for real now, even in their own minds, but their families had all moved on without them years ago. Most, just like Marcus, were finding they had little of their old life left to return to. “Well, listen to you. You’re talking finally,” Marcus declared brightly. It took all his self-restraint not to blurt out how much she sounded like the AI bot downstairs. Blurting out his thoughts was one of his blips and something he never allowed loose around the woman in front of him. Rachel snorted at his comment, easily reading his appalled expression over the quality of her voice. “You can say it. I know I sound like the announcing bot at the international airjet facility.” Her reward for her disparagement was an honest grin. It wasn’t much, but she’d still take it as positive proof Marcus’s sense of humor was improving. Rachel barely fought back a sigh of resignation when his fake expression of delight over her speech changed to one of genuine worry. She wished Marcus didn’t worry so much about her. He had enough problems of his own to deal with. “Does it hurt to talk?” he asked. Rachel ignored him for a minute to finish pulling on her solar protection jacket. His soft-spoken question was thoughtful, just like so many others Marcus had asked her from time to time. “Only hurts when I laugh,” she finally answered. At his continued stare, she reluctantly gave up teasing. Marcus could tell when she was trying to bullshit anyway…and he always called her on it. “The vibrations make my throat sore, but talking beats typing every word on a com. I just need to practice being succinct.” She smiled when Marcus released a heavy sigh. “Good thing I was never a chatterbox.” She finally got a grin as she looped her Norton Industries sanctioned backpack over her shoulders. Though Marcus was no longer tasked with surveillance of her activities, he still showed up to walk her to work every morning and back every evening. He did this even though Norton was only a single building and a few steps away from where she now lived. No matter what she communicated to him with her typing, she hadn’t been able to dissuade him from being her personal escort service. Now at least she could verbally argue about it. She opened her mouth, thinking carefully of how to express it in as few words as possible. “Don’t make your throat sore arguing, Rachel. You’re my only job right now. Stop feeling guilty.” Closing her mouth at his firmly spoken comments, she fell back to her habit of expressing herself in body language. She sighed loudly, nodded, and then shrugged. She had no choice but to let him trail behind her as she opened the door and stepped into the hall. Wondering if she’d caved too fast, Rachel turned back to try another attempt while Marcus secured the door behind them. It was something he insisted on doing for her and she’d learned to let him. Not a sound came out though when she caught Marcus checking out her bare legs under the short, full skirted dress she’d worn. Her heartbeat picked up, which both annoyed and surprised her. She couldn’t decide whether it was out of nervousness about a cyborg’s potential masculine interest in her, or excitement to feel even a little like a normal female again. Needing some time to think about her reaction, Rachel decided it was best to pretend she hadn’t noticed. She ducked her chin and headed for the airlift, her booted feet eating up the short distance quickly. Of course, Marcus’s long legs brought him almost immediately to her side. The confined space of the lift shrunk with her new awareness of Marcus’s interest in her legs. She wanted badly to turn and meet his gaze—maybe see what lurked in the depths of his usually unfathomable gray eyes—but why did she suddenly care about his thoughts whatever they were? Until a couple months ago, she had viewed Marcus as her jailor. His daily presence made her feel punished for ending up some crazy cyber scientist’s victim. Why would she possibly care now about the thoughts of someone who was a prime example of all she feared becoming at the hands of someone like Bradley Smith? She still didn’t completely trust Dr. Winters, even though she now worked for the woman. “I hate being late,” she said aloud, covering up her real thoughts with the first inane one she found in her scrambled brain. She had just been trying to fill the silence, but Marcus interpreted her comment as being a problem. She should have known better. “Relax, Rachel. You’re not going to be late to work. It only takes us four point seven minutes to walk to the next building. Scanner clearance takes an average of one minute and twelve seconds. You will arrive in Dr. Winter’s lab approximately ten minutes and thirty-five seconds before you are due to be there. So you see—you will not be late.” Rachel rolled her eyes at the outpouring of so much precise data from Marcus. The next guy in her life was definitely not going to be a cyborg, not even one of the nicer restored ones. If—no—when she started dating again, the man she chose was going to be just a normal human. She would date no more cyber scientists. No more avid gamers. Definitely no good-looking geeks with hidden evil agendas. And no former soldiers with who knew what kind of prosthetic enhancements. No. Simply no. There were good reasons she had chosen to study arts and humanities in college…a decision made long before she had been abducted. With her singing voice gone now, and probably forever, it was heartbreaking enough that she was going to have to choose another career. She had already been an older student at twenty-six. She couldn’t give up work at Norton until she’d saved enough for school. Her daily work probably qualified her for some sort of medical field training. But every time she went into Norton all she could think was how it was a giant building full of sad. No matter what future career she chose, she’d be in her mid-thirties before her education was completed. Lost in thoughts from her rapidly occurring epiphanies, she and Marcus walked to Norton in silence as they always did. Yet just like she couldn’t forget Marcus looking at her legs, she also couldn’t push away the realization that this was just one more typical, boring morning in her monotonous victim life. She needed a change—and she was going to have one. Like every other person on the planet, her life had problems and challenges, but only she could really do anything about them. “Good morning, Rachel Logan. Please place your ID hand on the scanner.” Rachel smiled automatically in reply to the polite request, pretending as she always did, that the Norton guard was human. Unlike the bot in her apartment building, this bot was a self-aware version who always recognized her visually. He also called her by her real name, at least until she passed through the scanner. When the embedded ID chip turned the scanner archway green, she exited rapidly to avoid the guard repeating the clearance statement. If she was fast enough, he’d skip it and just wish her a blessed day. Usually the platitude annoyed her. Today she could really use one. Her self-preservation urges had always been strong which was how she’d survived being used as a sex slave, housekeeper, and general science lackey for two months. This morning she couldn’t fight the urge to be both impolite to her escort and outright disobedient to the Norton bot if it meant the chance to have a better life. Stopping in the middle of the scanner, she turned back to Marcus and calmly lied, using her new tinny mechanized voice to deliver it without emotion. “Thank you for the escort this morning, but don’t come to walk me home, Marcus. I forgot to mention that I have a date tonight with an old college friend. He is picking me up here. He will see me home afterward.” She waved and turned away quickly to finish being scanned, but was not quick enough to miss the flash of disappointment in Marcus’ eyes. Refusing to believe she had crushed some fledging human emotion in Marcus, Rachel stared defiantly at the AI bot who seemed more taken aback by her unusual actions than the cyborg with his mouth still open in shock. “You are cleared to enter the building Rachel 235. Please proceed through the scanner.” Hearing herself being addressed by the hated moniker, she lifted her chin and strode forward without glancing back. The scanning system could identify her however the hell it wanted, but she was never going to think of herself as a cyborg.
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SERIES: Cyborgs: Mankind Redefined, Bk 3
RELEASE: April 21, 2015