Genres: Science Fiction, Romance, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy

William 874X

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LENGTH: 71,000 words, 285 pages

Will doesn’t need the trouble Meara causes, but maybe he does need her.

For Captain William Talon, aka William 874, there aren’t many choices left. Whoever captured him after the war kept him out of the Cyber Husband program and instead turned him into a killing machine—a worse one than most cyborgs.

Will has no idea how many deaths are on his hands nor does he want to know. The few incidents he recalls are bad enough. But now it has come to this… Kyra and Peyton need a better cyborg than their mysterious Creator X enemy is making.

Will’s processor is dying daily which means the rest of him will die soon as well. An upgrade of the kind Kyra’s talking about will either improve his entire existence… or kill him completely. Ironically, Will really doesn’t care which. He’d have taken his own life years ago if he could have gotten around the daily brainwashing.

His losses are massive. Like many other cyber soldiers, they include the loss of a family who is convinced he’s a prime example of walking evil.

His gains since Peyton rescued him? Really there’s only one—just one annoying, endlessly chattering red-haired troublemaker who’s volunteered to be upgraded as well. Now they’re cybernetically married, or at least they are in Meara’s warped mind.

What’s he supposed to do with a female cyborg partner who has no boundaries?

And what’s he supposed to do with the first hope he’s felt in years?



Chapter 1

“It’s not too late, Meara. You can still change your mind. Let them get one of the guys to do this.”

“One of the guys is already doing this. Ya know Kyra’s upgrading William Talon while Nero’s doing me.” Meara snorted and glared. “I have to admit that ya’ve surprised me, Lucy. I figured I’d be hearing this kind of nonsense from Shiva’s handmaiden.”

“It’s not nonsense—it’s common sense,” Lucy argued. “Consider what this could do to your life.”

“What life?” Meara asked, stopping her nervous walking. “Would it be the life we all lead waiting for that Creator Omega bastard to capture and warp another cyborg so he can send him or her to kill us all? Would that be the life yar speaking of?”

Lucy paced away. “I’m not your captain anymore. I know I can’t tell you what to do. But I also know what it’s like to have your entire identity fucked with until you don’t recognize yourself.”

Meara laughed at the idea of it getting any worse. “They took away my ability to do math and no one’s been able to give it back to me, so I do have some idea of the magnitude of change we’re talking about here. I haven’t been myself in a hell of a long time.”

Lucy nodded. “Yeah. Maybe you do.”

“Yar worrying for nothing, Lucy. Aja oversaw the programming of a duplicate set of chips guaranteed to restore me to be just as dumb as I am now. I trust Dr. Nero Bastion’s fine arse will be restoring my scrambled Humpty Dumpty one if the neural implants fail. Whatever the risks though, I gave my word and I’ve not changed my mind. The obsolete, hacked-up base code that Aja tweaked in the two of us is precisely why I’m a perfect candidate.”

“Bullshit. You’re doing this so Aja won’t. You stepped up before she could.”

Meara grinned. “Ya always were sharp. We both know Aja has a chance with Nero if she’s brave enough to take it. Maybe ya could give her a shove or two in that direction if things don’t work out for me. I love her like a sister, Lucy. If Aja’s happy, I’m going to be as well. Goddess knows we all deserve to be.”

“We do,” Lucy agreed, thinking of her life with Eric. “That includes you too.”

“Well,” Meara said, chuckling at the idea. “If I can get my girly parts to stop lusting for married men, my chances might improve in that area.”

Lucy ran a hand through her hair. She stared at Meara. “That reminds me. I need to tell you something. I should have told you before, but… I forgot.”

“That’s a simple enough fix. Ya need to get Seetha to give yer processor a tune-up and do a file sort. It stings like a fecking hornet for a couple of minutes, but yer processor runs like a race car afterward.”

“No,” Lucy said, laughing at Meara’s advice. “I’m not actually forgetting. I meant I lied to you, but only to spare someone else I cared about. I was going to tell you what I’d done afterward but…”

“Ya forgot,” Meara finished for her. “I believe we covered that already. To which lie are ya referring, Lucy? I may have some repenting of my own to do after yar done.”

Lucy blew out a breath. “Cassandra Talon—William’s wife—was my college roommate. She saved money for years and waited for Will to show up in the Cyber Husband program. They eventually told her Will was an unrecoverable cyborg, and to prove it, they showed Cassandra a video of Will brutally killing someone. It destroyed her. When she told me what she’d seen, I decided to find out what was going on. The military had already cost me my husband at that point. I wasn’t going to let it take my friends too.”

“Ya never said a word about yer reasons for being converted. Aja and I thought it was a brave thing to do. That’s why we followed ya down the same path.”

Lucy shrugged. “I was naïve and stupid. I thought I could change things for Will once I understood what being cyborg meant. All I did was get a whole lot of women killed. I quickly lost my goal of rescuing Will and had to focus on trying to save what was left of us. I never thought of Will again until I saw him here.”

“Beating yerself up for the sins of yer enemy is a fecking waste of time, Lucy. What happened to us would have happened to others whether we’d been involved or not. I tell myself all that time I spent in cyber hell spared some other poor female. Most days I believe it too.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Lucy said, nodding in agreement. “What I’m trying to explain is that I lied to you about Will being married to spare his feelings—at least what he has left of them. Whatever he’s been through, Cassandra was right, it’s dramatically changed him as a person. He’s nothing like the man I knew. I’ve been meaning to ask you to help me look a little deeper into his history as a cyborg, but then this shit came up…”

Meara nodded. “Yeah, I get it. The timing sucked all around. As for looking into things, ya best be asking Aja for help with that. She’s the happy hacker, but I’d be more than happy to assist with any distractions ya might be needing.”

Lucy sighed in relief. “Thanks for not being mad at me.”

“Go on with ya. Life’s too fecking short. We both know just how short—plus I can appreciate ya trying to be kind to an old friend.”

When pacing became boring, Meara plopped down into a chair. Nero was prepping the lab for her conversion and the man was nothing if not meticulously careful. Unfortunately, waiting had never been her best thing.

“I’m guessing from yer story that William Talon’s wife believed that shit they showed her about him being a mad killer. I know the recordings they made of most cyborgs were very convincing. Marcus and Eric have shown me several of them.”

Lucy lifted a shoulder. “What choice did she have but to believe it? By the time I saw Will was here, I was starting to remember my past before my conversion a little better. I sent Cassandra an email asking for a chance to talk to her. She didn’t respond, but my communication was received. I think it was deleted without being read. Apparently, Will isn’t the only cyborg Cassandra believed bad things about.”

Meara crossed her arms. “Goddess help me… hearing that crap makes me want to go kill all those UCN peckerheads who sanctioned that negative propaganda shit. You and Will did nothing wrong except be in the wrong fecking place at the wrong fecking time. If his wife doesn’t get that, then maybe he’s better off without her.”

Lucy shook her head. “Things are never that black and white. I’ve learned that lesson well. Before I sent the email, I found out Cassandra had her and William’s marital relationship dissolved about four years ago. She legally remarried some full human engineer who used to work for the military. Now her new husband works for the UCN.”

Meara sighed. “Poor William. He lost it all, didn’t he?”

“Yes. Will refused to contact Cassandra when I suggested it, even after I told him that she’d waited for him and planned to buy him if she could. My gut kept insisting Cassandra had a right to know the truth so I persuaded Kyra to call and explain. Kyra said Cassandra politely thanked her for the information and hung up without any real response.”

Meara frowned. “Aja and I have spent some considerable time looking at the current lives of all the cyborgs Kyra and Peyton have managed to free. Very few managed to return to anything resembling their previous human life before being converted. Most cyborgs have had to start completely over. If I think about it too long, I get pissed and violent. The whole fecking world believes all the bad things the UCN ever said about us. No one remembers that soldiers got converted to cyborgs in order to help win a fecking World War.”

Lucy crossed her arms and rocked in place. It seemed to be some new habit she was developing. “Reminiscing and resenting don’t change the past and that certainly wasn’t why I brought up my lie while we’re waiting for Nero. The point I wanted to make with my confession is that Will isn’t legally married to Cassandra anymore. He’s as much a free man as he will let himself be. Unfortunately, I have no idea how he feels about Cassandra these days. He knows she’s remarried. He won’t talk about it with me—or even with Kyra or Peyton.”

Meara sighed in sympathy and was grateful she’d had no man in her life to lose. “I think it’s sadder for Will to lock it all away so hard, but on the other hand, I’m glad to know my hot guy radar didn’t fail me after all. He probably hasn’t been with a woman in years. Nero told us once that they could turn a person’s sexy off just like they cranked it up in us. He said it was a matter of manipulating hormones correctly.”

“Nothing they can do surprises me. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth sooner. I guess I was shocked to find out Cassandra had taken those actions. She loved him so much that I figured she’d be one of the wives who waited no matter what. In hindsight, I should have encouraged you to take a run at him. You and Will both deserve some physical comfort.”

Laughing, Meara shrugged. “No worries, Lucy gal. It’s not like I’ve never bent the facts before. I understand about ya wanting to protect William’s cute arse from the crazy Irish woman lusting for him. Ya were helping an old friend, right?”

“Right,” Lucy said. “But you mean as much to me as William does. I never meant to hurt any friend by my actions.”

“Hurt me?” Meara chuckled at the idea. “What’s left of my human ego is pretty much bulletproof. If he’d wanted to correct my misunderstanding of the situation, Will could have told me. His silence probably means he’s still married to her in what’s left of his screwed-up head. Any way ya turn the details, the man’s still off-limits.”

There was a knock on the door seconds before Seetha stuck her head inside the room. She looked at both of them before her gaze landed on Meara. “Nero’s ready. I’m going to assist him so I can learn about the neural connections. Rachel’s is going to be observing as well. Are you ready to go, Meara?”

Meara stood, put her hands on her hips, and nodded. “Yeah. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Let’s get this shit over with.”

In the hallway, a quiet Aja leaned against the wall.

“Eavesdropping on me again?” Meara demanded. “Ya know I hate that shit, Aja.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Eavesdropping would imply that you and Lucy might be saying something interesting and worth hearing. You can set those concerns aside, Irish. Given the conditions of both your broken minds, the chances of that happening are exceedingly small.”

“Goddess, I hope Nero’s changes fix me up good and proper. Yer spiteful brown arse is going to be the first one I kick when I’m improved.”

“Calm yourself, Irish. You don’t want to get all worked up before Nero starts tweaking your brain,” Aja said, straightening her spine. “I got here two seconds ago. I wanted to see you before…” Her speech was cut off by Meara hugging her tightly. Aja swallowed hard and hugged back with all her strength. “We’ve come through too much for me to lose you now, you red-headed devil. If you want to save Dr. Cyberstein’s ass from death and destruction, you better come out of this redefinition the same smart-ass you are now.”

“I’ll be better than that,” Meara said brightly, pulling away to look into her friend’s concerned gaze. “I’m going to become the next evolution of us, Aja. And at least this time no one is dragging one of us down a hall to get upgraded in some cyberhacker’s lab. I’m actually walking to meet my upgraded cybernetic destiny all on my fecking own. Is this some strange shit or what?”

The three of them stared at Seetha standing a short distance down the hall holding open the door to the cyber lab where the procedure was going to be done.

Meara lifted her chin and looked at the two women she loved above all others. “Promise me something…” she began.

“No. I’m not sleeping with Nero Bastion just because you think I should, Meara. Let it go. That silly idea of yours is not related to the risk you’re about to take. Can you not take life seriously for a single moment?” Aja demanded.

Meara burst out laughing. She looked at Lucy who winked and smiled. She looked back at Aja. “I was intending to make ya and Lucy promise to always be there for each other if things don’t work out for me. What ya secretly want to do to the delicious Dr. Bastion is yer own fecking problem, Aja. Just don’t be distracting the man with yer perfect tatas until he puts all the nuts and bolts back in my head.”

“Sometimes I hate you, Irish,” Aja said.

Meara grinned and headed down the hall. “I know, and sometimes ya love me just as much I love ya back. Mind yer temper, Aja. And seriously… take care of Lucy. Eric tries, I know, but ya know how men are. They get ya off, get themselves off, and then go on about their fecking business while forgetting about saving yer arse from the bad guys. We female cyborgs have to stick together.”

Meara disappeared inside the room and refused to look back. If she went to meet her maker today, so be it. She’d loved in this life. She’d lost more than most should. She’d fought the good fight to survive and managed to do so. In the end, wasn’t that the best any human—or cyborg—could do?

“Are you ready, Meara?” Nero asked.

Meara shrugged and walked to the chair. She slid up into it, willing her queasiness away. Across the room, a concerned Rachel looked away from her, but she couldn’t worry about the girl either. Climbing into a cyber operating chair was never, ever going to feel natural or like a smart thing to do. She was proud of herself for not puking out of fear.

“Ya better not damage me, Dr. Cyberstein. I’m all that’s keeping Shiva’s handmaiden from killing yer cute ass.”

Nero snorted. “Yes. So I’ve been warned at least fifty times today.”

Meara chuckled. “I love that woman like a sister and would kill for her in a heartbeat. Now ya know how we survived all those years.”

“There is no need for killing today,” Nero said as he fastened the restraint bands on his side of the chair while Seetha secured them on the other. “I’m going to exceed your expectations, Meara MacDonald.”

“Good. Maybe ya can give me a pair of perky boobs like Aja’s while yer making yer changes.”

“Your physical appearance will not change dramatically, but your musculature…”

“Shush with that kind of talk,” Meara said firmly interrupting him, mostly to see the stunned look on his face. She smiled as he stared blankly at her, but she heard Seetha and Rachel both quietly snickering. “Don’t be dashing my hopes, Nero. At least let a cyborg woman dream.”

“Very well. May you have all good dreams then,” he said, bowing his head to her.

Charming bastard, Meara thought, as she heard the shutdown command issued—the one command no cyborg could refuse to obey when uttered by their human programmer.

For the first time since her original conversion, Meara let the cybernetic oblivion claim her without a fight.


Chapter 2

“We need to talk about some things before I get started,” Kyra said, slipping on her white lab coat. It had deep pockets and she used them to hold things when she did cyborg conversions or restorations.

“What haven’t we covered?” Will asked, tired of all the talking. More discussion wasn’t going to change anything, least of all his decision to have this done.

“Indulge me,” Kyra ordered. “I want to go over the risks one more time.”

Will snorted. “There’s only one risk that concerns me and it’s unavoidable. You’ve already told me my processor is disintegrating which is why I’m having all the leak-throughs. A total upgrade was in my future one way or another.”

“The chance of becoming a robotic vegetable is not something to take lightly. Your processor is unique, William. Someone whose skills rival mine designed it. Nero and I couldn’t risk decoding it or copying it while it was installed in you.”

“Good to know you two have limits to your tinkering,” Will said, chuckling to try to put his worried cyber scientist at ease.

“The risks are no joke. Your processor has also been flashed with new code more times than any other I’ve ever seen. The safety limits on that sort of thing were exceeded in less than one year. If I damage your processor upon removal or it implodes and erases itself before I get it out, I won’t be able to restore you back. Your body and mind won’t die physically, but you won’t be yourself either.”

Will snorted. “I doubt anyone will see that as a problem except you and Peyton.”

Kyra refused to let Will’s melancholy stop her. “You also need to understand that my new processors won’t block any memories your organic brain has chosen to store over the years. They’re built expressly to allow your human memories and your human personality to rule your thoughts. In fact, I refuse to install any processor in any cyborg that doesn’t allow that. This means that whatever you’ve suffered and your human mind has chosen to remember will all come at you at once as you regain consciousness. Integration of that information is going to be an emotional clusterfuck.”

Laughing, Will grinned at Peyton—no doubt the source of Kyra’s colorful language—before he laid his head back. “Clusterfuck? I can certainly tell who you’ve been keeping company with.”


“It’s okay. I get it, Doc. If I come unhinged over how much bad shit I’ve done, you may have to put me down cybernetically like you’d euthanize a rabid animal. It’s a risk I have no choice but to take. Right?”

Kyra pointed at Peyton and Marcus standing by. “They’re here for a good reason.”

Will glanced over at the two somber men leaning against a wall before turning back to Kyra. “I accept the logic of the precaution. I’m under no illusions about myself.”

Kyra grabbed Will’s arm and squeezed hard until he looked at her in surprise. “I disagree. I think you’ve accepted a lot of shit as truth that isn’t true about yourself. I want you to know that while I’m taking every safety measure I can, mostly I’m relying on your human side to accept what they did to you is over and help you move on. Am I being clear, Captain Talon? You are to help me save your ass, not let your mind get overwhelmed.”

“Clear,” Will said softly. He put a hand over hers. “However this works out, Kyra… thanks for trying to save all the cyborgs that the world thinks are unrecoverable. No one else would even bother. They’d destroy a broken cyborg like me and never lose a moment’s sleep over it.”

“Well, nothing like that’s going to happen today.” Kyra let go and motioned to Peyton to come fasten the restraints.

She was fighting to stay calm about the procedure and hoped it didn’t show. The last thing she needed was to not restrain Captain William Talon properly. He was also the very dangerous cyborg registered as William 874. She’d seen most of what Will had done because Eric had found the recordings stored in Norton’s company files. While Lucy’s violent side had been an enigma to them, Will’s programmers had been openly and boldly designing a killing machine. His progress had been a source of pride for them.

She cleared her throat to speak to Will one final time. “One person’s cybernetic villain is another’s cyborg hero. Just don’t plan on buying a superhero cape and trying to fly the moment this is all over. I’m going to have to get a little more creative with you than I’ve been with anyone else. You may need several days to assimilate all the changes.”

“Better you fucking me up than Creator Omega getting hold of me again,” Will said sincerely, closing his eyes. “I know that bastard’s responsible for what I’ve become. Now let’s get this over with, Doc.”

Kyra put a hand on Will’s shoulder and gave the shutdown command. His body arched painfully in the seat even though she’d long ago pulled every pain-causing device and wire out of him. The mind was a powerful tool. She wouldn’t put it past Creator Omega to have done some regular old brain manipulation on William Talon’s human side. Creator Omega had wanted Will to suffer in every way he could make him do so. He’d deliberately and systematically controlled Will with pain.


She looked at her husband’s concerned expression. “It’s okay. I’m fine, Peyton. I was thinking of Creator Omega and the extreme damage he’s managed to do to soldiers like Lucy and Will. Neither of them will ever fully recover. No one can change that, especially me.”

Peyton lifted a hand to his wife’s face to cup her cheek. “Lots of things change a person. Not all of what changed Lucy was because she was a cyborg. She lost a husband to suicide because of the choices she made. And the war changed us all. You gave Lucy back as much of her life as you could, Kyra. I know you’ll do what you can for Will.”

“It’s Will’s humanity that worries me, Peyton. Can anyone ever give that completely back to him? Somewhere inside that man is a programmable killing machine. His cyborg side only made the killing easier. The only reason he’s not an assassin right now is that they built in a failsafe program to stifle the killing urge as suited their needs. I’m about to wipe away that failsafe. William will have to learn to control himself. I may be unleashing a secretively dangerous man on the world.”

Peyton studied the man in the chair. Not a muscle twitched anywhere—not even the involuntary ones. The rise and fall of his chest was the only outward sign of life. That level of unconsciousness was still eerie even though he’d witnessed it in cyborgs thousands of times. “Will is a good man. We’ll have to count on that good man winning the battle for his own soul.”

“I wish his wife hadn’t divorced him…” Kyra stopped and took a deep breath. “Doesn’t matter. I can’t change that either.”

Will’s wife wasn’t his wife anymore. If Kyra let herself go down that path, she’d get weepy over the former Cassandra Talon acting like she didn’t give a damn about a man she’d once loved. This was not the time to indulge the weepy side of herself. This was the time to focus on using all her science and all her skills to redefine William Talon.

“Alright, let’s get this over with,” Kyra said finally, echoing Will’s words.


He was trapped, restrained, and being tortured. When the pain became intolerable, Will opened his mouth to scream, but his ears heard no sound.

The face of his tormentor leaned over his chair. “I’m going to let you talk now. Pull the trigger and the pain will stop.”

“No,” Will said through clenched teeth. “He’s a boy—a child.”

“He’s a trained killer for our enemy. He bombed one of our supply posts, Captain. Pull the damn trigger.”

“No. He was the water boy. We paid him to do his job… damn you. He’s a victim of this war.

His tormentor lifted his hand, which was clutching the gun tightly. “You hold this because I am making you hold this, and now I’m ordering you to pull the trigger, William 874. I’m sending the command to your hand to do so. You have no choice but to obey your cybernetic programming.”

“No. I won’t kill that child!” Will shouted.

But the gun fired despite his denial. The boy dropped out of sight. Will’s head was restrained in the cyber chair so all he could see were blood splatters covering the wall behind where the boy had been standing.

“You fucking bastard,” Will said with all the venom he could muster.

His tormentor rolled his eyes. “You’re programmed to be a killer, William 874. Killers kill—that’s what they do. If I had another processor like the one in your head, I would make you use the gun on yourself and start over. Since I don’t have that or any way of making another, I’m going to have to be creative in getting you to follow my killing orders. In the end, you will either do as I command or you will die. Those are your only two choices. I am your creator.”

His screams split the air as the pain was cranked to a level that traveled to every nerve ending Will had. If he hadn’t been a cyborg, he’d no doubt have pissed himself from the shock to his nervous system. The intensity was like trying to absorb a lightning bolt.

His tormentor was now only inches away from his face, but Will couldn’t lift a finger to kill the one person he wanted to.

“A normal human body can tolerate large amounts of pain before the mind shuts down, but a cyborg? There is virtually no tolerance limit for the pain you can endure, William 874. We will be successful.”

When the pain eased off, Will panted to get back his breath. “One day I’m going to kill you.”

“I don’t think so,” his tormentor said. “But you will kill anyone I tell you to kill. One day I’m going to send you after my wife. That will be a very, very good day.”

The pain hit again… and several more times after that. Finally, the blackness of not feeling anything returned to save him.


When his mind woke again, Will found himself standing in a room full of dead bodies. Will looked at his blood-covered hands and then back at the people. There were men, women, teenagers, and even a couple of small children. Had he killed all of them?

He put a hand on a nearby wall to steady himself. Then he bent over and wretched up the contents of his stomach, which wasn’t much. Even with the cybernetic pulses, he was thin and obviously hadn’t been eating. After the bout of sickness passed, his ears suddenly tuned in to a discussion he soon realized was about him.

“What happened here? One second he was a raging beast and the next he was a shocked human staring at the carnage. If there’d been anyone left alive in there, William 874 would never have finished them off.”

“William 874 is a cyborg, not an emotionless AI, Chancellor. Inside that cyborg is still a human man and I have to work with that limitation. My programmed cyborg killed for two straight hours before his humanity leaked through. I think we can both agree that he’s come a very long way in the two years I’ve been working with him. I deserve the money to continue my research. We both know it.”

Will glanced around the room and counted forty-one full humans. They were all malnourished, filthy, and now dead. His clothes were covered in assorted body fluids and what he guessed were the brains of his victims. If he had killed this many in a couple hours without any awareness of doing so, how many others had they made him kill in the last two years without his knowledge?

This couldn’t continue. He wouldn’t let it.

He reached up, grabbed his head, and was going to break his own neck to end the madness. Before he could carry out his decision, excruciating pain racked his body once more. It took away every thought save one. He turned and directed his focus at the two-way mirror. “I promise you—I’m going to kill you one day,” he said firmly.

“I think he means that,” Will heard a voice he didn’t recognize say from the other side of the one-way glass.

“Forget his ramblings, Chancellor. The pain makes his human side delusional. In every other way, William 874 is perfectly fine.” His programmer casually passed off the threat he’d made. “We have to completely reboot his processor after every kill and load in a fresh directive. The reboot causes William 874 to promptly forget what he’s done and we get to start all over. I discovered that little coding gem when we were ramping up the New World Companion program. It makes the women much more malleable and useful to be erased routinely. It works on killers too. But a genius like mine doesn’t come cheap. I need that funding to continue.”

The next round of pain passing through his body was that super level Will couldn’t fight. Like it always did, the excruciating pain sent Will falling. This time it was among the bloody, broken bodies of his murder victims, but at least it brought back the blessed blackness.

Too bad the oblivion couldn’t last for forever. In the few moments of clarity and awareness his tormentor allowed him, he always wished it would.


When Will eventually blinked his eyes open for good, he immediately met Peyton’s cold stare. “Guess seeing you means I’m still alive,” he whispered roughly.

“Barely,” Peyton said quietly. “We had a lot of trouble keeping you under. You broke one of your restraints and Kyra’s arm the second time you woke up. She left me to watch over you while Marcus took her to medical to get her arm repaired. Kyra finished the work on you one-handed, but she was more pissed than I’ve seen her be in a while. You might want to avoid her for a bit.”

Will closed his eyes and swallowed. He felt a climbing rope wrapped tightly around one wrist. He must have struggled and broken the restraint. “I’m sorry I hurt Kyra. I was… dreaming… or recalling what happened in the past. It’s hard to know the difference when your brain can’t sort it out.”

“I figured as much. What did you recall?” Peyton asked. He pulled over a nearby stool and sat. “You were righteously scary every time you came around which is why you aren’t allowed to get up from the chair yet. Try to relax and see if your head clears.”

“Relax? My brain is buzzing. What did Kyra do? Turn the inside of my head into a computer circuit board?”

“Hopefully that buzzing won’t make you crazier. Your new processor is wireless so it has some special capabilities. As soon as we can trust you’re back to being your saner self again, we’ll tell you about them.”

Will nodded or tried to. His neck hurt too. His head was restrained but not tightly. “I can see why you and Kyra are together. Neither of you pulls any punches.”

“No. We’ve seen too much shit to be anything but direct,” Peyton said. “Tell me about your dreams, Will.”

William instantly recalled all the dead bodies he’d fallen among. “You don’t really want to know.”

Peyton snorted at the standard answer all cyborgs gave to such a question. “Yeah, I do. Everything we learn helps everyone else.”

Will frowned as the memories returned once more. Apparently, there were two episodes now that he was never going to forget regardless of how many times his cybernetic storage got wiped.

“They programmed me to kill people, Peyton. I don’t know all the particulars of how they were able to get me to do what they wanted, but I know their process was far from perfect. I had episodes of coming around and realizing what I’d done.”

“Leak-throughs?” Peyton asked. “All cyborgs have them. They always have. Kyra said she’s seen it in nearly all cyborgs she’s restored.”

Will nodded. “Leak-throughs—that’s what I heard them call what happened to me. They seemed to think it was a flaw that I tried to kill myself to keep from letting them use me.”

“Balls of steel,” Peyton said firmly. “I always knew you had balls. I would have done the same in your situation, except I’d have actually been successful at offing myself.”

“I call bullshit, Marine. They sent lightning bolts through my nervous system to stop me. I doubt even you could fight lightning bolts,” Will said, shaking his aching head a little.

Peyton grinned. “Yeah, doesn’t surprise me that you could handle lightning bolts and live to tell about them. You’re pretty shocking for an Army guy.”

“Don’t worry—I won’t tell anyone you said that,” Will said softly. “The guy who programmed me re-flashed my processor after every killing task. That’s why it’s all vague. I recalled my first forced kill and a mass one two years into my capture. I came out of the mass kill after it was over and got sick with revulsion when I saw what I’d done. That was the first time I tried to kill myself. I think they made double-damn sure I never got a chance to do it again.”

“You don’t remember being programmed to kill Seetha?”

Will shook his head, but his restraints would let it turn much. “No. I only remember trying it again in her lab. My processor was looping an imperative command to kill her that I couldn’t seem to refuse. Seetha said Rachel had to zap my ass to stop me. I wish she’d had power cranked to kill instead of stun. Kyra wouldn’t have a broken arm right now.”

“It’s not the first time Kyra’s tangled with a cyborg and ended up hurt,” Peyton said, thinking of the time he’d broken her wrist. “What we discovered after that day in the lab is that you were generating your own electrical current when you shot Marcus. That bolt of electricity you shot into him came from a source inside you. The only reason Rachel was able to take you down was that Marcus had drained your internal power with his attack. Getting agitated for you is like flipping a switch to turn on a generator.”

“Is that shit still going to happen to me?”

Peyton shrugged. “We don’t know. When we picked you up at the work camp, our scan showed you didn’t have any onboard weaponry. We still don’t know how your cybernetics harness power and keep it ready for your use. We didn’t dig into that mystery today because Kyra didn’t want to turn off any potential defense mechanism. She’s banking on your human mind developing complete control over your use of any weapon you possess. She’s done that to every cyborg.”

“God help us all then because stopping myself hasn’t been real effective up to now,” Will said dryly. “I also heard my programmer say he was rebooting me after every kill because it had worked well in the New World Companions he’d been working on. Unless my twisted mind was making that shit up, Creator Omega was my programmer as well as theirs.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. Bad cyber guys sure seem to get around. Did you find out any good news?” Peyton asked.

Will snorted. “Yeah—sort of. I think my processor was one of a kind. Hopefully, there are no more over-programmed, cold-blooded cyborg killers running loose.”

“Good. One of you is definitely enough,” Peyton said. He slid off the stool. “I’m making an executive decision. Access your processor. You should see several new links running off it. That’s your neural network. You should be able to connect to some of the equipment in this room with it. Once the connection is made your thoughts will become commands.”

Will glanced at the workstation nearby. He sent the screen rolling as he searched for the unlock codes. Peyton stood by saying nothing. Will looked at him in surprise. “Not too shabby. I can get out of this room without touching the door.”

“You can also get out of your chair,” Peyton said, nodding at the seat. “Break the restraints.”

“Doc’s going to be pissed if I do that.”

Peyton shrugged. “Maybe… but I don’t think so. She increased your strength on purpose.”

Will had to put some real effort into it, but he managed to break most of them, including the head restraint. The wrapped climbing rope was going to take too long and too much energy, and for some reason, his cybernetics were urging him to conserve. Giving up, Will set about untying his makeshift restraint.

“Hey, William.”

He stopped his escape efforts to look at Peyton. The man now had a pulse cannon pointed at him.

“What the fuck. Whose side are you on, Captain Elliot?”

Peyton waved the weapon as he smiled. “Mine. I made this extra-strength version for King. He’s nearly impossible to stop when he’s in full rage mode, but I found a way. You need to know it’s going to knock a lightweight like you flat on your pansy ass if you try anything I don’t like.”

“Noted,” Will said, finishing his work on the knots. “I heard you made weapons for a hobby. You’re a freaking prodigy with knots too, aren’t you?”

Laughing at Will’s complaining, Peyton lifted his chin. “Marines travel on ships. Tying knots is part of the ticket for the ride. And for your information, Marcus did those. Now he is a prodigy. Don’t let his quietness fool you.”

Will snorted. When his restraint was gone, he stood and flexed his limbs. He felt… stronger? No, that wasn’t quite right. He stared at the door and it opened with a decisive click. “Look at what I did. That’s not a bad party trick.”

Peyton kept the weapon aimed while he laughed. Behind him, the door closed and locked back. “Yeah… I’ve been able to do that since I got stabbed in the chest, but I haven’t always been able to control using it. I think the artificial heart I received allowed them to install some hidden programming in my second processor. They were covertly building a double-wired spy every time I got repaired or upgraded. Kyra restored me before they completed their spy work.”

Will glared at the door. “Is there no fucking end to what cyber scientists can do to us?”

Peyton lowered the weapon at last and shook his head. “None that I’ve found.”

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