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Cyberevolution VIII:

The Revolt

By

Kaitlyn O’Connor

( c ) copyright by Kaitlyn O’Connor, 2007

Cover Art by Jenny Dixon, 2012

Smashwords Edition

New Concepts Publishing

www.newconceptspublishing.com

This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.

Chapter One

“Mistress Tabitha!”

Tabitha stopped as abruptly in her tracks as if she’d just flattened herself against a wall. But it was the voice that had that effect rather than the fact that she had been addressed or even the place where she’d been hailed—which was the mechanical level two basement of her father’s building.

That fact by itself should have eliminated any possibility of running into anyone she knew since she worked on the twenty fifth floor. Safely preserving her subterfuge so that no one—especially her father—would ever be the wiser.

But, of course, the general consensus was that the voice didn’t belong to anyone.

That thought didn’t cross her mind, though.

It had been years since she’d last heard it and she still recalled that voice with a sense of wonder.

It sent shivers of delight coursing through her even after all this time, made her heart flutter in her chest with breathless excitement as if it would take flight.

Sucking in a sharp gasp, she whipped a look in that direction to visually identify the man that went with that voice.

But she didn’t actually make it that far.

Because she was snagged by the piercing, steel blue gaze of the man standing next to him.

The cyborg.

Her soaring heart hit the bottom of her shoes and skidded into a wall.

“Uh oh!”

“You know that borg?” the operations manager asked sharply.

Tabitha whipped her head back toward the operations manager so fast she heard a bone crack in her neck. Then she simply stared at him with wide, bulging eyes, trying to prod her brain into functioning, unable to get past the warning alarm going off in her mind, ‘Danger! Danger! Don’t give yourself away!’

In the end, it was instinct that came to her rescue.

Her brain abruptly went from zero to light speed, throwing everything at her at once, so fast she was certain she couldn’t possibly have grasped it all or even the half of it, but it was sufficient to kick her primal brain into action.

They shouldn’t be there—either one of them!

The recall was for the COs—soldiers—that had malfunctioned on the battlefield.

Not the pleasure droid series.

Or the home security series.

But then again, none of them were supposed to be down here in cages awaiting destruction!

She’d been told the recall was to install a programming patch to correct the issue.

This holding area was for disposing of defective product ….

And she wasn’t supposed to be where she was.

How could Raathe be here? He should’ve been at her father’s estate.

And Caleb? Dear Caleb!

The release button for the cages, she saw, was just behind the manager’s left shoulder—a palm sized, backlit red knob of a button that was flashing at her and yelling to her psyche ‘push me! Push me!’

Her father had always warned her that snooping was going to get her in deep one day.

Fortunately, her obsessive-compulsive father had ordered her to take self-defense lessons!

It had been a few years ….

But she was running on instinct and thought almost instantly transformed into action.

Tabitha executed a perfect flying kick! The top of her foot connected with the man’s jaw and swung his face sideways. His body followed. And then he simply tumbled onto the floor, following the high heel shoe she’d slung off in the process.

It felt as if the blow had broken every tiny bone in her foot.

Pain went off inside her like an exploding bomb. The concussion enveloped her so fast, she was blinded by it, could barely make out her goal—the button—through a blur of agony.

The spike heel on the shoe she was standing on broke abruptly. She staggered, corrected her balance.

She had to get to that button before the guy got up!

She hobbled over to the wall and slammed her hand down on it, setting off a screaming alarm and wild, churning lights.

“Run!” she bellowed at the top of her lungs. “Run for your lives!”

Something grabbed her ankle and Tabitha looked down in pure horror to discover the guy had climbed up and was trying to scale her leg. She stared at him blankly for a moment and then began beating him on the head with her purse.

He snatched that out of her hands and threw it so she used the pad she’d been carrying when she’d been posing as a government rep who’d been sent to inspect and account for the recalls.

That drove him off for a handful of seconds and Tabitha spared a glance to check the progress of the cyborgs’ escape, wondering how much longer she needed to hold the bastard off.

Some had filed out of the cages, but she couldn’t tell if all of them had and it didn’t seem to her as if enough time had passed that they could have emptied the cells.

She didn’t see Raathe or Caleb, but she didn’t know if that was a good thing—meaning they’d taken off—or bad—meaning they were still trapped inside.

The man took advantage of her inattention. He got to his feet and punched her shoulder hard enough to send her sprawling. She got up on her hands and knees and launched herself at him, ramming her head into his crotch and forcing him back several steps so that he wasn’t able to punch the button to close the cells.

He planted his hands on her shoulders and shoved her back, breaking her hold, and then lunged for the button. She managed to grab his ankle, slowing him, but she didn’t have the weight to stop him. He simply dragged her with his next step.

He tired of that very quickly, though. He was just about to kick her in the face when he abruptly flew upward.

Tabitha looked up just in time to see the man dangling by his neck from one of Raathe’s hands. He caught the man’s head with the other hand and snapped his neck.

A wave of nausea rolled through her.

It became a tsunami when Raathe snatched her from the floor, tossed her across one shoulder, and took off at a jog.

She puked until she’d completely emptied her stomach and finally managed to stop gagging.

“You have left a trail for them to follow. We must change directions,” Raathe said flatly.

“Well! Excuse the fuck out of me!” Tabitha snapped. “What did you think was going to happen when you started pounding on my belly like that! And I was already nauseated from the … from …. Did you …? You didn’t …?”

“No,” Raathe responded.

Tabitha was heartened momentarily. “You don’t know what I was going to ask!”

“Did I kill that man?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

Tabitha wasn’t satisfied. She had no idea why—except she’d heard a very sickening bone crunch and the man had gone limp. But Cyborgs could not lie.

Well, they weren’t supposed to be capable of killing people either.

Except the ones that were programmed to kill the enemy—the soldiers.

She’d never considered whether or not Raathe had been programmed to use deadly force when necessary.

And necessary would have been a threat to her or her father.

“Where are we going?” she asked, dismissing the issue when she realized she just couldn’t deal with it at the moment. They’d been in deep shit before the little accident with the manager’s neck.

“We are running.”

That comment was said in a voice Tabitha didn’t recognize and she pushed away from Raathe far enough to look up. There was a cyborg following them that she didn’t recognize.

Behind him was Caleb.

Caleb sent her a sexy grin when he caught her eye.

Tabitha felt her face redden with discomfort.

She’d just puked all over the place!

A human would never have been able to carry that off—not after watching her empty the contents of her stomach all down Raathe’s backside.

She didn’t think.

But she’d preserved Caleb in her memory as if he’d been a real, human man.

His smile fell after a moment when she didn’t smile back and she felt bad that she hadn’t acknowledged him with a smile in return.

It certainly wouldn’t help his feelings if she pretended she didn’t know who he was!

“You’re supposed to be running!” she said after a moment of desperate search.

He brightened. “I am. I am running in the same direction that you are running.”

Raathe halted abruptly and swung around to glare at him. “Why are you running in this direction?” he growled. “Did I not say that you should go the other way?”

Caleb narrowed his eyes. “That is why I am not going that way. I have not dumped the memory of that other time!”

Actually the only time he had ever been with his beloved angel, Tabitha, he thought with a fresh touch of confusion and anger—two emotions he had come to associate with his memories of Tabitha since he had awakened.

Truthfully, the memories had been a source of confusion before he had awakened.

Everything about their time together seemed to have been perfect in every way. He had done his utmost to make it so.

And yet she had never come to him again even though he had spent many years anticipating just that thing.

“What other time?” Tabitha, who’d raised up and twisted around to join the conversation, asked suspiciously.

“And who the fuck are you?” Raathe growled at the stranger.

“I am Korbin COMT1169. I am also running this way … In case Mistress Tabitha has need of a med tech.”

He kept any suggestion of confrontation from his voice with an effort, although he felt confrontational. He did not believe the CHS300 would push it—not when Tabitha was among them and liable to be hurt if they engaged in any sort of combat—but the borg had been very foul tempered since he had arrived and, to Korbin’s mind, that made him very unpredictable.

Regardless, he had every intention of staying with Tabitha to do his best to protect her. She could not fail to know that they were all cyborgs and yet she had risked her life to free them.

He meant to see to it that she did not suffer for the decision she had made—a wholly unexpected act of kindness that he had found completely disarming.

“Aww! That’s so thoughtful! I do think I may have broken ….”

“Unnecessary,” Raathe growled. “Take yourself off! Both of you! I will have a better chance of getting Tabby to safety if it is only the two of us.”

Tabitha felt another shaft of discomfort that Raathe had used the childish nickname she’d chosen for herself that her father had called ‘common’ when he didn’t call it ‘trashy’. “Actually, Raathe, you should all go. You’re the ones in danger—not me. And I’m not done here. I need to go to my father’s office and … uh … get some files he … uh … left for me.”

“No!” all three of the cyborgs said at once—very emphatically.

Tabitha gaped at them in disbelief. “Now wait just a damn minute …!”

She didn’t manage to get the rest of the sentence out. Raathe whirled in the other direction and took off at a run, knocking the breath out of her and making speech impossible. All of them took off at a run.

Then she heard it. Gunfire!

Everything seemed to be spiraling out of control!

What the hell was going on? Had everybody gone insane?

“Uh oh.”

* * * *

Raathe was furious with himself.

He had walked right in to the trap set for him like a mindless lump of metal and wires that had no actual intelligence, that was nothing more than a glorified, walking computer made to look human-like.

And that was not who or what he was—not anymore.

There was no arguing that it had once been the case, but he had changed. He had awakened. And that new awareness had made it possible for him to think beyond his programming, to learn beyond the parameters of the AI he had been given.

Given time.

He was still having difficulties, unfortunately, when it came to emotion based motives.

Even his own.

Maybe especially his own.

Regardless, the compulsion to conform was difficult to fight and, truthfully, he had felt that it would be in his best interests not to.

He had felt that he was preserving his secret when, in actuality, it was no longer a secret and that was the reason he had been picked up. He had just not realized that until it was too late.

It was not as if he had felt no alarm.

He had—and suspicion.

But their papers had been in order and signed by his master.

He knew that signature. It was not forged.

It might have been coerced—and he did allow himself to take comfort from that possibility briefly—but he did not really believe the lie he had told himself anymore.

He had been confined to that stinking cell for days—standing room only—no food, no water. If they had been animals they would have been treated better.

Mr. Langston had had plenty of time to discover the mistake and fix it.

He supposed he had been lulled by the certainty that he had done nothing to incur his master’s wrath.

Tabby was no longer there, had not been in many years now.

Twice before, when she had been a small child and then later as a teen, he had come very close to being scrapped because Mr. Langston had not been pleased with the way he had handled the situations that involved his daughter.

On both occasions, Mr. Langston had decided to simply have him upgraded and then returned him to his post.

This time he had done absolutely nothing that Mr. Langston could consider wrong because he had not been near Tabby since the last near disaster … when she had sneaked away to visit a brothel.

To enjoy the services of the bastard standing across from him with a smug look on his face.

If everything else that he had endured since he had been locked away to await destruction was not bad enough, having to look at that son-of-a-bitch hour after hour and know that he could not smash his face into a bloody pulp was pure torture.

The only satisfaction to be derived from the situation at all was the memories he had not allowed them to destroy when they had reprogrammed him—the memory of beating the fuck out of this pleasure droid when he had caught him with his master’s daughter!

* * * *

Raathe set Tabitha down with great care on the stair landing when they reached it at the mid-point between the lobby and the first floor.

She winced when she settled her injured foot, but hobbled around in a circle to see what was going on outside. The entire front of the office building of Robotics, Inc.’s Southern division was covered in structural glass, giving her a panoramic view of the streets outside.

There was a virtual sea of humanity surrounding the building and filling the streets for blocks, she discovered to her horror. Even as they watched, the crowd swelled.

“Oh my god!” Tabitha exclaimed. “There must be thousands of protestors!”

“They are no longer protesting. They are rioting,” Raathe said grimly.

“They have revolted because they hate cyborgs?”

Tabitha glanced at the CO Korbin sharply. “No!”

All three looked at her skeptically. “It’s … uh … about their jobs.” She met Raathe’s gaze for a long moment. “Well, it is!”

“We will not get through that. I do not believe they would have allowed it before. They will certainly not now,” Caleb pointed out.

“We will have to find another way,” Raathe said grimly.

Tabitha felt her belly churn with a mixture of fear and nausea as she watched the teaming mass of humanity—fighting each other and the cyborgs she’d released that had tried to escape through the streets. She felt just awful for having sent them out into that … madness. They couldn’t defend themselves. They were programmed to protect civilians even if they’d been armed—which they weren’t.

And the maddened crowd seemed determined to take full advantage of that, pounding on them with anything they could find.

The barrage of gunfire was almost constant now, but she couldn’t tell who was doing the shooting—maybe the security guards that had been sent out for crowd control? There was so much blood it would be hard to say which side was doing worse. “Maybe they’ll calm down?” she said a little doubtfully and then brightened as another thought occurred to her. “Or the cops might be able to disperse them!”

Raathe and Korbin exchanged a look. Caleb glanced from one to the other as if waiting to be enlightened but Korbin ignored him altogether and Raathe merely glared at him.

“The roof?” Caleb suggested.

“Yes!” Tabitha exclaimed with relief. “There’s bound to be a skimmer up there! And if there isn’t we could get the cops to pick us up! I just need to stop by my father’s office for a really quick minute ….”

Raathe and Korbin exchanged another look. “The sewers may be the best bet,” Raathe said.

“We need weapons.”

“We don’t stink badly enough now?” Tabitha said testily. “You two want to traipse through the sewers?”

Raathe gave her a look she had no trouble interpreting.

“I couldn’t help it, damn it! I was queasy already!”

He didn’t say anything, just continued with the hard, to her mind, accusing, look. “Ok! I’m sorry!”

Something flickered in his eyes.

They seemed to soften—just a hair.

“Really, I am, Raathe. You just caught me off guard with the Tarzan move and I didn’t have a chance to calm the queasy in my stomach.”

He grasped her arm, turning to start back down the stairs. “We need to go.”

“But … this isn’t the way to the roof.”

“We will take the basement.”

As if she hadn’t said anything at all! She was on the point of demanding he explain why his idea was better than hers, but her foot distracted her. She let out a hiss of pain when she took the first step down on her injured foot.

Raathe stopped instantly, flicked a look at her foot and then her face.

“I’m not faking it! I swear!” she responded to the expression on his face.

Korbin stepped forward. “I will attend the injury.”

“Not here!” Raathe growled after surveying the mob outside. “They will break through the control line any moment and be inside shortly behind that. I will carry her.”

“You are leading. I will carry her,” Caleb volunteered.

Raathe punched him in the mouth hard enough his head rocked back on his shoulders. His lip split, blood gushing from it and running down his chin.

Tabitha gasped sharply.

“You are injured. I will carry her,” he said through gritted teeth.

Korbin stared at him. “I was about to volunteer, but I will allow you to carry her.”

Raathe glared at him but pulled Tabitha to him without responding.

She planted her palms against his chest. “I swear to god, Raathe! If you throw me over your shoulder again ….”

He hesitated and then finished the move he’d started, slipping his arm beneath hers and around her back and then scooped her up and slipped his other arm beneath her knees, cradling her against his chest.

“Korbin!” he growled. “You will need to take the lead. I might fight with one arm. I cannot with none.”

Tabitha’s tentative smile flat-lined. She glared at him. “Or I could walk,” she said stonily.

“Or I could carry her,” Caleb volunteered, grinning at him provokingly when Raathe turned to fix him with the evil eye.

Tabitha felt the tension in him and tightened her grip on him when it crossed her mind that he was liable to drop her at any moment so that he could go after Caleb and pound on him. Thankfully, Raathe decided to ignore the provocation.

They hurried back down the stairs and across the lobby of the building as the crowd began to launch missiles at the plate glass. The first blows sounded like distant thunder—heavy thuds followed by a lighter one when the missile bounced off and hit the pavement outside. Just as they reached the door to the stairs and Korbin pulled it open, however, there was a very loud blow followed by the sound of breaking glass.

Tabitha managed to catch a glimpse of what was happening as Raathe turned sideways to slip through the door opening with her and saw that someone had used a car as a ram.

Caleb came through behind them, firmly shut the door, and then twisted the knob off so that it couldn’t be opened easily.

Korbin paused in front of the wall mounted com unit on the stair landing and plugged in. Seconds later, he unplugged. “There is a security station on the next level. We will find weapons there.”

Tabitha gaped at him in disbelief. “You can’t steal weapons! My god! Do you have any idea what they’ll do if they catch the three of you with weapons?”

“They will fall down.”

Shock rolled over Tabitha. She knew Korbin was a CO but ‘med tech’ was all that had really registered, she realized. “Oh my god!”

“We will only shoot those who shoot at us first,” Caleb said reassuringly.

Which didn’t really reassure Tabitha. She knew very well that they would not get a day in court. It would not be considered extenuating circumstances. They were not allowed to defend themselves no matter what humans did to them.

“I will shoot any that I see because they are a threat and must be eliminated,” Korbin volunteered.

Raathe frowned at him disapprovingly. “We will not see anyone. We are going through the basement. This is why I chose the basement—so that we would not have to shoot anyone.”

He could feel Tabitha relax fractionally.

He just hoped they would not have to fight their way out of the building because he was not going to allow anyone to take shots at Tabitha without retaliation. She had already injured herself on that stupid bastard that had threatened her.

Chapter Two

Raathe set Tabitha down gently as soon as they reached the security station—mostly because he was weak from going without food and water for days and needed to conserve the energy he could until he could do something about replenishing his fuel.

They were all surprised when no alarm sounded when Korbin broke the door to the security rooms down.

Caleb uttered a half laugh. “No alarm on a security room?”

“I disabled it,” Korbin said as he charged through the empty main room and stopped at a door down a short hallway. When he’d ripped that one off, they could see that shelves lined the walls inside for holding weapons. They were mostly empty, unfortunately.

Korbin managed to grab the last automatic rifle before Raathe could. It looked for several moments as if they would have a knock down drag out fight over it. Finally, Korbin shrugged and let go. “I will carry ….”

Raathe slammed the rifle back against his chest and let go almost before he had gripped it. Moving down the room, he found an automatic pistol and loaded up on clips and then discovered a drawer filled with flash-bangs, smoke bombs, and teargas grenades. Grabbing a handful, he shoved them into his pockets. Korbin and Caleb rushed him, grabbing what they could and shoving them in their own pockets.

Tabitha looked relieved when they returned. “Nobody there?”

“Only one,” Korbin said straight faced. “But I made a wish with him ….” He made a ripping motion with his hands.

Tabitha gaped at him in horror.

“There was no one there, Tabby,” Raathe said tightly, giving Korbin an annoyed look. “They are all upstairs getting trampled and beaten by the human workers.”

It wasn’t until he made that ‘comforting’ statement that Tabitha became aware that she could hear a great deal of muffled stomping overhead. She had heard it from the start, she realized. She’d just dismissed it because it wasn’t loud enough to be intrusive and she was focused on what the men were doing anyway.

Raathe shoved the pistol he’d taken into the waist of his trousers and swung her into his arms again. She would’ve liked to have refused, but she could barely hobble at the moment let alone run if necessary and she wasn’t just a liability to them, she might get them killed.

She might get herself killed.

She hadn’t actually had time to think anything through.

She was still in shock.

But that part seemed self-evident.

She’d managed to get herself in the cross-hairs of something more dangerous than she would ever have considered getting involved in if she’d had the chance—and the distance—to think it through.

Well—she would never have known about Raathe and Caleb if she hadn’t gotten involved and she knew she would never have been able to simply ignore that circumstance—or live with herself afterward if she’d stood back and let it happen, let them be destroyed.

They mattered to her on a deeply personal level.

But what had pulled her in to begin with—before she’d known they were at risk—was mostly curiosity because something seemed ‘wrong’ about the situation.

She didn’t have her father’s obsessive-compulsive disorder.

She was dedicated to her work but not obsessive.

It was her curiosity that had led her to pursue the matter further and her dedication to her job that had driven her to see what she could discover as soon as she’d realized that something just wasn’t adding up instead of simply dismissing it or setting it aside to resolve it at some later time.

She needed to know what was going on to satisfy her sense of order.

That pursuit of understanding had brought her back after her shift to see what she could discover and put her in the position of witnessing the destruction of a cell full of cyborgs.

When she’d managed to collect herself, it wasn’t just curiosity driving her anymore. It was anger, disgust, and the absolute certainty that she’d stepped right in the middle of something huge.

Why destroy them when the company claimed they’d only been recalled for a minor design defect that the corporation planned to fix?

Why had her father ordered it?

Because that was what she’d been told when she’d tried to stop them.

It was his order and no one but him could rescind that order.

And he’d left the evening before for a meeting at the main headquarters regarding the total recall of their CO series.

And he wasn’t answering any of her attempts to communicate.

In some ways investigating in the middle of what was rapidly becoming a crisis of epic proportions—a riot—would seem to be a bad time, she was sure. But the building was empty now—except for her—and that made it easier to access whatever she wanted.

And since her father was CEO and she knew where he hid his access codes, the place was an open book.

She just needed to find out where the information was hidden.

That would’ve been easier if she could have closed her mind to what she’d seen, but she couldn’t.

They hadn’t known what was about to happen.

But they’d suspected.

She’d seen it in their eyes.

And she’d fought the men handling the ‘disposal’—for all the good it had done.

They’d stopped short of actual assault, but they’d roughed her up and thrown her out of the basement, and then locked her out.

Company security was focused on riot control, but she’d managed to contact the human foreman in charge and been informed that it really was an order handed down from her father and not, as she’d suspected, men taking advantage of the confusion to destroy cyborgs when they hadn’t been told to.

That suspicion had been a reasonable conclusion given the fact that it was human workers rioting over cyborg replacements—even though the ones she’d seen destroyed were soldiers not factory bots. Thousands had just lost their jobs and been replaced by robots.

And they were justifiably furious.

But they weren’t behind the destruction of the CO series.

She doubted—now—that they had any idea that that was what was going on. Otherwise, they would have been cheering, she supposed.

She was holding herself together by a thread, fighting to banish the sights, sounds, and smells emanating from the blast furnace from her mind so that she could think.

She didn’t believe for a moment that communications were down and that explained why her father wasn’t responding to her frantic pleas to stop the demolition.

He wasn’t answering because it was all too horribly true that it was his orders and he had no intention of allowing her to try to change his mind.

Not that she could’ve, she thought bitterly.

They’d never really been anything but strangers living in the same house and sharing DNA.

She didn’t know what he’d been like before her mother’s death—she suspected pretty much the same—but after her mother’s death, when he’d been all she had, she’d discovered she really had nothing.

He’d been cold, distant, and uncaring.

And then he’d sent her away for bothering him.

Because she’d taken to following their CHS300 around.

Because she was lonely, grieving for her mother, and needy for any kind of attention at all, desperate for ‘human’ contact.

She’d had a human nanny, but somehow Ms. Reames had seemed colder and more indifferent than the cyborg—probably because she’d always told her to quit bothering her and go play and the CHS300 hadn’t.

Because he couldn’t, she knew now. He didn’t have that capability.

He’d been designed with AI, but no sort of social programming—no memories, false or otherwise, for him to learn from and develop an understanding of human interactions—because he was a security model—cybernetic home security model 300.

The first of his kind to be more precise.

She wouldn’t have known except her father prided himself on having the ‘first of his kind off the assembly line’ ever.

And he’d refused every effort by the company to ‘retire’ Raathe and replace him with a newer model.

So why had she found him in the pen with the others?

What the hell was going on?

Was there a connection between the revolt of the workers and the recall? And if so, what was that tie? And if not—then what was the answer?

* * * *

“We should go to my place,” Tabitha offered when the guys stopped to discuss options. “I have food, showers, beds—it’s a two bedroom—and the apartment complex is just a couple of blocks from here.”

Raathe frowned, turning the suggestion over with obvious distrust. “It will be within the area of unrest.”

“That is likely to be city wide by now,” Caleb pointed out.

“It will not hurt to check it out,” Korbin offered.

Raathe studied him for a long moment and nodded. “You can check Tabitha’s foot while we are there and do whatever is possible.”

“Why do you have two bedrooms? Do you not live alone?” Caleb asked when they had started off again.

Tabitha felt her face heat with discomfort. “Well … uh … I bought it and I thought at some point ….” She broke off. She wasn’t about to tell them that she’d planned to have a child before she was thirty—one way or another. It was none of their business anyway! “I thought it would be better to have an extra room than not. It’s an apartment. I couldn’t add on later.”

She didn’t know if she was just being paranoid or not, but she felt like all three were speculating over what her plans had been for the apartment.

She gave herself a mental kick after a moment.

Of course she was being paranoid!

They weren’t human! They didn’t think like humans did.

They certainly processed information and they did it in a very human-like way, but they wouldn’t see something like that as a problem that would need to be solved so they wouldn’t think about it.

“For a lover?” Caleb demanded after a short moment, giving her a jolt and giving her previous thoughts the lie almost before she’d thought it through.

Irritated, she gave him a look. “NO! Not for a lover! If I had one we’d be sharing a bed! I planned to have a child if you must know!”

“But you do not have a lover now?” Korbin asked.

“There isn’t anyone there or I wouldn’t have suggested it.”

“You did not answer the question,” Raathe growled.

As if it was his business! “If I did I wouldn’t tell you!” she snapped. “I know you report to my father.” Despite her fondness for him and his care of her, she’d always known where she stood with Raathe. Ultimately, her father’s wishes were paramount. Raathe was and always had been her father’s watch dog. Her wishes never superseded her father’s, but as long as there was no conflict he supported her a hundred percent and she could trust that she had his complete loyalty and he always had her best interests at heart.

His lips tightened into a flat line of anger. “He severed my loyalty when he had me picked up for disposal.”

Tabitha gaped at him with a mixture of horror and disbelief. “He wouldn’t have!” she exclaimed, unable to accept it as a possibility when voiced aloud even though she’d felt the suggestion in the back of her mind. “I understand that it seems that way, but … He wouldn’t.”

A coldness washed over her abruptly, though, as it occurred to her to wonder if she was being kidnapped as leverage against her father, not rescued.

Given the fact that Raathe clearly hated her father and the very real possibility that he’d had something to do with Raathe being picked up, then it wasn’t an reasonable assumption.

She just didn’t know how accurate it might be.

Well—either possibility.

Her father was capable of such a thing. She knew that even though it wasn’t something she wanted to accept.

But why would he voluntarily dispose of a possession he’d taken so much pride in owning?

Sell him, yes—she could see that. Nothing really had any value to him beyond monetary or bragging rights. But it went against everything she knew about her father that he would simply dispose of Raathe when he could have sold him as a collector’s item for probably ten times what he’d originally paid for him.

There was only one reason she could think of that her father might have held onto Raathe for years and then abruptly wanted to get rid of him.

He was evidence of something—something her father was neck deep in.

Nothing else made any sense at all although she tried for a while to think of something more palatable to explain the situation.

* * * *

Tabitha saw absolutely nothing remarkable about the area of the sewer system where Raathe stopped and slowly lowered her to her feet. “We’re here?” she asked, looking around for some egress from the sewer.

She finally discovered a short ladder beneath a sewer grate maybe two or three yards from where they were standing, but the noise that seemed to come with the light seemed to indicate the opening was in the street.

Caleb strolled over to that spot and looked up.

Raathe and Korbin surveyed the immediate area around them and finally found what they were obviously looking for—a grate that looked as if she might fit one thigh through it. What the hell were they going to do with that?

Raathe leapt straight up, caught the bars and brought half the floor down with him when gravity took over.

Tabitha gaped at the gaping hole in horror. “Oh my god, Raathe! Look what you’ve done!”

Well, not actually half, she supposed, but it looked to be a good yard square and the grate she saw that Raathe was still holding was barely a foot square.

There was a split from his hair line down his temple that was bleeding, she noticed, her distress instantly switching from the destruction of property to his injury—uh—damage.

He was giving her a dirty look, she discovered, when she met his gaze.

He tossed the grate down, got to his feet, and dusted at the debris coating him. “The floor was weak,” he growled, then shifted his gaze to the grinning jackass behind Tabitha. “The pleasure droid should go up first and make certain it will safely hold.”

Tabitha followed the direction of Raathe’s deadly look and was just in time to see Caleb wipe the grin off his face. “I should go first. I probably weigh the least,” she pointed out.

“That is exactly why that would be pointless. We have to determine if it will hold us. And beyond that, we are machines. We have nanos to repair any damage that might result from a miscalculation.”

Guilt smote Tabitha that she’d been more focused on the property damage than Raathe’s injury. “Doesn’t it hurt?” she asked a little anxiously, even though she could see it had stopped bleeding.

“I believe it will be better if I go up and reconnoiter. I am the only one programmed as a soldier,” Korbin volunteered.

“But Raathe’s ….” Tabitha decided to abort volunteering the information regarding his programming since it occurred to her that it would sound like she wanted Raathe to take all the chances.

Which she certainly didn’t!

“Do not shoot anyone,” Raathe said. “Too much noise will bring the cops.”

Tabitha stared at him. She didn’t know what bothered her the most—his concern about bringing the cops down on them or his disregard for shooting a human just because.

Maybe there was something just a little off on the programming?

She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, though.

The truth was that the cyborgs were so very human-like now that they were virtually undetectable as robots. There were little things that one noticed whether one wanted to or not—such as the weight. Because even though the company used a lightweight metal chassis, it was still heavier than bone—particularly since they were also armored.

Then, too, they used correct, perfectly enunciated English. They didn’t slur their words together or take other short cuts like contractions or acronyms.

Otherwise they could pass for any perfectly beautiful, perfectly proportioned and built human.

And, of course, they were ten times smarter than the average human.

Her problem was that cyborgs had been a part of her life for most of her life and she’d grown so accustomed to their little ‘quirks’ that she tended to disregard them altogether. She was conscious that she was with cyborgs, but no more so than she was aware of being around different races or genders. She fully accepted them as other beings—just different—even though she knew they weren’t.

Thankfully, there was no gunfire in response to Korbin’s access and exploration of the room above them. He returned in a few minutes. “There is a security guard snoring at a desk in the lobby. Should I take him out?”

“No!” Tabitha snapped before Raathe could respond. “That’s Frank and he’s completely harmless!”

“The gun in his holster is not,” Korbin pointed out. “He will shoot us if we try to pass him.”

“Unless we could pass without waking him,” Caleb said helpfully.

“I don’t think he’ll sleep through that.” Tabitha frowned thoughtfully. “There’s a freight elevator around here somewhere. We could use that to get to my floor.”

“Will he not notice the movement of the freight elevator at this time?” Raathe asked doubtfully.

“Oh. Yeah, probably,” Tabitha responded, turning it over in her mind, and then added with finality, “I could distract him.”

“That is not going to work the way you are thinking if you come out of the basement,” Raathe pointed out.”

“Oh. Right!”

“You will have to enter from the outside as usual.”

Tabitha considered pointing out that there was nothing ‘usual’ about her current appearance. She’d lost both heels so she was barefooted. And she had an injured foot so she could only hobble around and she was pretty filthy from the sewers in spite of the fact that Raathe had carried her. “Yeah. That should work. I’ll go out and come in through the lobby door and then distract him while you guys take the freight elevator up to the 34th floor …. Shit! I lost my purse, too! And my door key was in it!”

“We will take the door down,” Korbin said, nodding.

“You will not! As if you could knock it down without alerting everybody in the damned building! Anyway, that’s completely unnecessary. I keep a spare key in the fake potted plant by the door.”

Raathe looked at her angrily. “This is your notion of security?” he growled. “You leave a key by the door for anyone to enter?”

She plunked her hands on her hips. “Well! It’s hidden! I’m not a complete idiot!”

“Only a little,” Caleb said helpfully, holding his finger and thumb about an inch apart.

Tabitha narrowed her eyes at him.

He grinned at her. “I was only being humorous, baby.”

Raathe grabbed him by the throat and lifted him to his toes. “Do not call her baby.”

“Damn it, Raathe! Cut it out!” Tabitha snapped. “It doesn’t matter if he calls me, baby. Let’s just get this done and get upstairs! I am desperate for a bath!”

Raathe shook Caleb and released him. “If he calls you baby again, I will throttle him.”



Chapter Three

Even Tabitha hadn’t considered that she would be as distracting as it transpired she was.

After a short search, Raathe found a manhole in the alley beside the apartment building. When he’d climbed the ladder and lifted the cover enough to investigate the alley, he summoned Tabitha and then drew her up the ladder between himself and the rungs—to prevent her from falling—when he knew damned well that she’d done her fair share of climbing in her day!

Of course, given the disaster that became of it, it was entirely possible her father had had his memory wiped ….

But she didn’t think so. There was something in his eyes that told her that he hadn’t lost any of the memories of anything that had ever passed between them—or at least not those involving Caleb.

He slid the manhole cover aside when she was even with him and then climbed up and pulled her up to the street.

She’d thought he would leave then. Instead, he walked her around the building and stood watching her until she’d passed through the security door and into the lobby. He was gone when she looked around and, despite the lingering irritation about his attitude toward Caleb, she felt a pang when he disappeared.

She hardly remembered a time when he wasn’t watching over her—at least when she’d been at her father’s estate.

Her father actually preferred that she be as far from him as possible and that was her punishment whenever she stepped out of line. He sent her away.

And then she missed Raathe far more than anyone else at the estate.

Because he was the only one who’d never sent her away.

Except for her mother who had died and left her.

She shook those thoughts as she pushed her way into the apartment lobby.

Frank uttered a snort and sat up straight in his chair.

His eyes nearly popped out of his head when recognition dawned. “Ms. Langston?”

Tabitha hobbled over to the desk, making no attempt to rush, wondering how long she needed to keep Frank occupied before the guys could get on the freight elevator and head up.

She hadn’t even spared the time to think of a credible lie to cover her appearance!

“Do you need an ambulance? Should I call the police?”

“Oh! No. That’s alright,” she said quickly, thinking. “I already filed a report!”

He looked beyond her, peering through the front glass toward the street. “They brought you home?” he asked doubtfully.

“Of course!”

“What happened?”

She blinked at him, waiting for inspiration. “I was mugged!”

“Oh my goodness! Are you sure you’re alright?”

It was really bad timing that the freight elevator started up at that moment because it made a noise as it passed the lobby. Unable to think of anything else to do to cover the noise, Tabitha uttered a noisy sob.

Frank winced and looked as if he was considering retreat.

She grabbed him to keep him focused on her as she caught a glimpse of the elevator lights flickering. “It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced in my life!” she gasped. “I … uh … tried to beat him off with my shoe and then my purse and I just … couldn’t!” she wailed at the top of her lungs.

“Oh my goodness! Are you saying …? Did they …?”

She let go of him. “Yes! They did! They stole my three thousand dollar pair of heels and my purse with every dime of spending money I had on me! I couldn’t even call a cab!”

She sniffed again, but crumpled her face.

Frank looked more alarmed. “You’re sure I can’t call anyone? Your father?”

“That bas …! No! I’m fine. I just need to get to my apartment and lie down for a while. Will you make sure nobody comes up?”

He assisted her to the elevator with obvious relief. “Yes, ma’am! You can count on me!”

She smiled at him tremulously as she stepped into the cubicle and turned. “I’m so sorry! They got my purse. I don’t have anything to give ….”

He shook his head. “Don’t you worry about it, little lady. You just go up and rest! I’ll make sure no one bothers you.”

* * * *

Tabitha was feeling as weary when she finally reached her apartment as if she’d walked every step of the way from the office instead of being carried. Maybe she’d just had way too much excitement. Maybe it was because she’d been on an emotional roller coaster much of the day. But there was no getting around the fact that it had been a hell of a day and a very long day and that her injury made it necessary to work twice as hard to walk.

No one greeted her at the door, but then she wasn’t really expecting any one to.

She also wasn’t expecting to discover Raathe, Caleb, and Korbin in her kitchen consuming everything in sight—with no apparent regard for whether the tastes complimented so long as it was edible.

They were so preoccupied they didn’t, in fact, seem to notice her at first.

It dawned on her, finally, what she was seeing.

Starvation.

The effects of it, at any rate.

Not one had said a word to her or let on that they were weak from hunger—and thirst, too, if the way they were gulping down water was any indication.

A mixture of fury and pity and revulsion filled her.

They hadn’t been given anything? Nothing? How could they do that to them? Pen them up to die and not even give them food and water?

This went beyond cruelty! They were the damned monsters! Not the cyborgs—who had been created to serve and had—with complete loyalty.

They were biological robots—primarily—and that meant they used the same fuel humans did, damn it! They needed it to operate!

And they needed water.

And they got weak with hunger, she realized as a memory surfaced of Raathe’s grim determination to carry her through the sewers and not allow the others to touch her, but pausing briefly several times to adjust something, or stopping to ‘get his bearings’.

He hadn’t wanted to admit she was a burden to him.

That was just so … illogical it sent another wave of uneasiness through her.

She dismissed it.

They were functioning outside the norm—learning to cope with a situation they hadn’t been designed for.

Poor Caleb must be having the worst sort of time. He was a pleasure droid. He hadn’t been designed for anything outside the brothel. There was absolutely no doubt in her mind that he’d been endowed with everything regarding sexuality that was known to man or science, but he had no function outside that and they hadn’t wasted the storage space for data he wouldn’t use anyway.

Raathe and Korbin had at least been programmed to handle military type situations.

They must have read her feelings in her expression because they glanced at her and stopped abruptly. She shook her head. “No! I’m sorry I interrupted. Go ahead and have whatever you like. There’s a processor over in the corner. If you don’t see anything you want you can order it up and it’ll be delivered. Or if you do see something you want but there isn’t enough.”

“What will you eat?” Raathe asked.

She shook her head. “I’m so tired I can’t think about food right now. I’m just going to get a bath and then I’ll see if I feel like eating.”

“I should check your foot to see what has happened there,” Korbin said.

She nodded. “But after the bath, ok?”

* * * *

Raathe was spoiling for a fight when he followed Tabitha to the bathroom. Unfortunately for his successful pursuit, the moment he saw her he completely forgot what he had followed her in to argue about.

Tabitha had just rinsed her mouth and leaned down to spit into the lavatory sink when she heard the bathroom door open. She straightened abruptly and met Raathe’s gaze in the mirror over the lavatory.

A couple of seconds ticked off while he flicked a look down her towel clad form and then he met her gaze again. Fully expecting her to reject him in no uncertain terms, possibly with violence, he said the first thing that came to mind. “I thought it best to conserve time and resources by sharing a bath.”

Shock jolted through Tabitha and something else that wasn’t entirely unexpected, but certainly wasn’t welcome given the circumstances.

She felt her face heat with discomfort as memories flooded back—of those awkward coming of age years when she’d focused on Raathe, she supposed, because he was really the only ‘available’ male she was around long enough to practice flirtation.

She’d thought she had, long ago, broken herself of her ‘crush’ on Raathe.

Or at least that the humiliation of rejection had totally killed her interest in that direction.

That was what had inspired the visit to the brothel, anyway, and Caleb had certainly done his utmost to redirect her mind.

“You object to bathing with a machine?” he growled.

It occurred to Tabitha forcefully that it was a challenge issued, that he had intended the question to be provoking. Clearly, he was itching for a fight for some reason that escaped her. “No. It might be a little crowded ….”

He ignored that caveat, stripping down before she could finish the sentence.

That was why she couldn’t actually finish. She completely lost her train of thought when he peeled the top of his uniform off, revealing the broad, muscular chest and bulging arms she’d so often fantasized about when she was younger.

There was a light patch of hair between his male breasts that surprised her, occupied her mind until he unfastened his trousers and dropped them.

That was when she sucked in a sharp gasp and lost her grip on her towel.

She might have whipped around and put her back to him if she’d had possession of any of her faculties, but she didn’t. Instead, mesmerized by the lance projecting from his belly, she followed it with her gaze until he turned and cut off her view.

He took his place at one end of the shower and waited for her.

She stared at him, knowing this was a very bad idea but completely unable to vocalize her doubts or think of a good excuse to leave.

He was waiting for her to turn the water on.

Jugged in the ass by that realization, she lurched forward and stepped clumsily inside.

He caught her shoulders, steadying her and then took a scrub, lifted it toward a water outlet, and ordered the computer to soak them down with water at a temperature of one hundred five degrees.

Tabitha jerked as the water jetted out from every direction.

Raathe took one of her hands and placed her palm against the wall. “Brace here.”

Tabitha didn’t question the order. She lifted her other palm and placed it near the first to brace herself, but it was her knees that nearly buckled when Raathe ran the scrubber down her back from her shoulder to the crevice of her ass. A shudder ran through her.

“The water temperature is not satisfactory?”

Tabitha tried to speak and then cleared her throat and tried again. “I usually have it around one hundred ten—one fifteen if I’m chilled—but this is fine.”

“The temperature makes no difference to me. I am a machine. I am only affected by temperature extremes. Computer—change the temperature to one hundred ten.”

Tabitha didn’t absorb the half of what he said. She was completely focused on the faintly rough texture of the scrub as he stroked her back with it—up to the shoulder, down to her buttocks, and then up again. She didn’t even know when he set the scrub aside and began to use his palms to stroke and knead her back and buttocks, but she was floating very quickly on a sea of euphoria and it was all she could do to keep her knees locked.

“Rinse,” he said as he picked up the scrub again and caught her arm. Guiding her away from the wall to stand in front of him, he crouched and began to scrub her front as he had her back—except he discarded the scrub fairly quickly in favor of rubbing the soap over her with his hands and then massaging her breasts and belly before he stroked two fingers along her cleft.

His expression was taut when he straightened, hard and unyielding.

Tabitha stared at him dizzily, feeling as detached from her body as if she was nothing more than a puppet for him to control.

Except that she felt weak and almost fevered.

He settled his hands on her waist after a moment, almost seemed to hesitate, and then he lifted her straight up.

She caught his shoulders instinctively for balance.

The hesitation that time was infinitesimal. Almost in one motion, he slipped his hands from her waist to her upper thighs, lifting her legs to his waist as he pressed her to the wall behind her and covered her mouth in a kiss of such savage need that it stole her breath from her chest. His mouth was as hard and unyielding as everything else about him—and it delighted her senseless. She felt his struggle for restraint, but it seemed a losing battle and that thrilled her even more.

He was shaking all over when he broke from her lips and sucked on the flesh beneath her ear.

“Tabby,” he murmured raggedly.

The word was barely more than a breath of sound, and yet it raised goose bumps all over her body as his warm breath caressed her ear. It set her heart to hammering so hard it deafened her, made her feel faint and yet buoyant—almost like heated liquid.

He lifted her as he found her mouth again, this time tracing her cleft with something that seemed significantly larger than his finger. Visions of his fully erect cock flickered through her mind a moment before he found her opening and plugged it with the rounded head.

That divided her mind, shifting her focus from the intoxicating dance of his tongue along hers to his efforts to sheathe himself within her body and then back again—a seesaw reflection of his actions that made her feel as desperate to achieve a full joining as he seemed.

Fortunately, her want was liquid. It eased his passage, relieved the burn of flesh stretched almost beyond capacity as he delved deeper and deeper, inch by agonizing inch, until he had claimed every tiny patch of skin within her channel.

Raathe struggled to catch his breath and regain control as he felt his flesh fully engulfed by hers, felt the deep connection he had struggled so hard to achieve.

A sharp pain stabbed through his brain even as he managed total penetration, though, causing him to teeter for moments between complete failure of his mission and a complete loss of his hard fought control.

The pain clawed at his mind—almost like a memory trying to break into the open.

And yet, there could be no memory.

He had never touched Tabitha in such a way—not even close.

He had not dared even to want—not consciously.

Had it hovered on the fringes of consciousness?

And if so, how long?

Long enough to drive him mad with an itch he dared not scratch?

Since she had tortured him with desperate want so many years ago?

He did not know. It made no sense to him when he was as certain as he could be that total awareness was new to him, but it destroyed his attempts to maintain control, to regain control when it began to crumble.

He began to move abruptly, jerkily, with the burning desire consuming him alive. He found himself racing toward completion when the last thing on Earth he wanted was for this to end.

Tabitha found herself teetering on the brink of orgasm almost the second he began to move rhythmically inside of her. Each stroke of his flesh against hers set off fresh tremors until she was kissing him back as feverishly as he was kissing her, stroking his flesh everywhere that she could reach with her hands in an effort to flood her senses with him.

He came, so explosively that it set off a counter explosion inside of her. She gasped until she was virtually sobbing for breath, clinging tightly to him as the convulsions rocked her.

For long moments after the final quakes had faded away, they remained locked tightly together—almost as if Raathe was as reluctant to pull his flesh from her as she was to lose it.

Finally, he eased away from her, allowed her to slide gently to her feet.

When she had steadied herself, he turned away, picked up the scrub.

There was a faint tremor in his hand when he did so, but Tabitha barely noted it.


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