Kissing Steel Page 21

Another yawn and she turned to go sit down finally, ready to get off her feet.

“Proximity warning.” Pod 3 spoke suddenly, startling Rena enough that she jumped.

“To what?” She dropped into the pilot chair. Confused, she said, “Open the window shields and let me see out there.” The pod’s range scanners wouldn’t have picked up the outpost yet. Steel had told her that when one of his men reprogrammed the pod memory he’d made its sensors blind to the Star, the Vontage, and their shuttles so it wouldn’t record them. That meant it also wouldn’t be able to give warning if those were the ships in range.

The window shields opened as the computer started to speak. “Vessel identified as the Gordon Lee One-Two-Seven, Earth Government, Class B. They are hailing.”

Rena stared out into space but didn’t see anything. When she peered down at the scanner board she saw a blue beep on the upper right side of the screen. The ship was still far off but it definitely was in range and closing.

“They are hailing us,” Pod 3 informed her again. “Orders?”

“What the hell is a government ship doing this far out?”

“Information not available,” the computer stated.

She had to fight to not roll her eyes. “I was speaking to myself.” She bit her lip and then sighed. “Open communication.”

“This is General Vern Mellhorn of Earth Government,” a man’s deep voice filled the speakers. “Adjust your course immediately to dock with the Gordon Lee or we will blow you out of space.”

“Um…” She was stunned. “I’m Rena Gates, an insurance recovery agent with Demco insurance.” She paused. “I’m not a pirate though I’m sure you’re reading the designation of this pod and it’s been reported stolen. I was able to recover it from the ship it belonged to.”

There was a long moment of silence. “Confirm your identity again. State your full name and employee identification number.”

Taking a deep breath, Rena started talking, knowing that their computer would be running her voice and verifying her identification with Demco. She waited as she figured they attempted to contact Earth. This far out in space could take some time but she was surprised when within two minutes the general’s voice came back.

“Your identity has been confirmed, Ms. Gates. Who else is on that pod with you?”

“I’m the sole survivor.” She took a deep breath, knowing now was the time to start using that made-up story. “I’m a recovery agent for Demco and I went after the Star with a hired recovery crew on a shuttle named Bridden. We located and boarded our target but there were a lot more pirates aboard than we estimated.” She took another deep breath, hoping that she sounded believable. “My crew was outnumbered, they fought hard, but we were overtaken by the pirate crew. The last thing those men did was fight hard enough to get me to one of the Star’s pods where I launched to safety. I watched both ships explode as I jettisoned away to escape but my men never made it to another one of the pods like they were supposed to. They gave their lives for me.”

“Did you personally see these pirates?”

“Of course I did. I just stated that I left the Bridden, boarded the Star with my crew, and we were outnumbered when we were attacked.”

“You saw pirates yourself?” The general sounded angry, his voice tight.

“Yes,” she lied easily.

“Describe the pirates in detail now.”

What the hell was this guy’s problem? What kind of question was that anyway?

“They are ugly, deformed, smell bad, and are insane, judging by the way they fought.”

She’d seen the news and heard the stories enough to know that much about them. “They killed my crew.”

“So that is going to be your official statement? You discovered pirates onboard the Star and they killed your crew?”

“Yes,” she said, not liking the sarcastic tone of the man speaking to her or that he didn’t even try to hide it from her.

“Under Earth Government order you are under arrest, Ms. Gates. Have your pod change course immediately to dock with us. If you try to run we will chase you down and blow up your escape pod. Do you understand?”

She was beyond stunned. “What am I under arrest for?”

The general’s voice shook with rage when he answered her. “Do you know why I am in this vicinity? My nephew sent out an emergency transmission before I assume he was captured, telling me he was onboard the Star, their general location, and that cyborgs attacked him.”

Rena’s heart nearly stopped. “What?”

“You heard me, Ms. Gates. My nephew’s ship computer relayed the message from his com and sent out a long-range beacon repeating his last message to me. That computer belonged to the Bridden and my nephew is Dell Harver, meaning that you were his boss on that mission. Why are you lying about what happened to him? I heard him say cyborgs with my own ears and I’m going to make you listen to the message when you’re in lockup.” He paused in his vocal assault. “I don’t know why you are lying, Ms. Gates, but be assured that I will get the truth out of you.”

Rena sat back in her seat, her mind reeling with the implications. Dell had gotten a message out? How? The computer on the Bridden hadn’t responded to her commands even though she’d used the emergency response command. She bit her lip, at a loss, but then a horrible thought struck her. What if the computer had been programmed to just respond to Dell’s commands? It was possible that he might have been linked with his coms to the computer, able to get out a message and if so… Shit! “Ms. Gates?” The general sounded livid. “Why are you lying? Are you a cyborg sympathizer? We’ve gotten reports of their existence for years but until I got that message from my nephew we never put stock in what we believed were false rumors. I demand you answer me.”

She took a deep breath. “I assure you that I saw pirates,” she lied. “Maybe before the ships blew up they forced Dell to lie to protect themselves by blaming someone else for having stolen the Star and attacking us. I don’t know what to tell you. We ran into pirates onboard that ship and I got a good damn view of them. They were mutated human beings and definitely not cyborgs. My father was military, Sir, and he guarded them at a detention center so I know what a cyborg looks like. There was no mistake on my part about who I saw attacking us.”

Rage came across the speakers as the man spoke. “I’m reviewing your full file, Ms.

Gates. Your mother was a traitor to Earth Government and she stole five cyborg units from the detention center she worked at and shot her husband helping those killers escape.”

Fuck. Talk about my past coming back to bite me on the ass. This guy is never going to believe me. She took a deep breath. “Sir, with all due respect, don’t you think I would hate their kind with that history? I grew up with a father who was bitter about his injury and he lost his wife. I lost my mother and all because she felt sorry for cyborgs.”

“Order your pod to change course immediately to dock with the Gordon Lee,” the man’s voice shook. “I will get the whole story out of you because I know Dell was telling the truth. I don’t care if you’re a woman, Ms. Gates. I’m going to see you in hell if you don’t tell me the truth and tell me where the hell those bastards are so I can find my nephew to see if he’s still alive. I will order my men to cut the damn truth from you if that’s what it takes to make you tell me where Dell is, so in the time it takes your pod to dock, you’d better have a change of tune, young woman. End of communications.”

“Transmission ended,” Pod 3 stated. “Orders?”

“Full stop,” Rena said softly.

“Repeat order?”

“I said come to a full stop. Cut the engines. I need time to think, damn it. If the general wants me, he can come get me. I’ll be damned if I have you pilot me closer to him.”

“Order confirmed.”

She heard the engines cut off, the soft hum dying, but in seconds they executed again and she knew the pod was reversing engines to slow their momentum. The sound died within a minute and left her in utter and total silence, able to hear her own breathing. She was dead in space.




She took deep breaths, hearing each one in the eerie and unnatural quiet. The general wasn’t going to believe her after pulling up her history. He was a man who had lost a nephew, obviously not reasonable by the way he’d sounded over the com, and determined to make her talk even by means of having her tortured. She hugged her chest tightly, trying to find comfort in her own embrace. Earth Government was known to be ruthless to humans they deemed traitors. She had no doubt the general would order his men to do whatever it took to make her talk.

Shutting her eyes, she tried to calm her pounding heart, knowing that this couldn’t end well for her or for Steel and his people. She’d be tortured until they broke her . I know too much! But I don’t know where their planet is, thankfully. That was her single comforting thought.

* * * * * “Calm down,” Gene ordered Steel as he watched his commander, in a rage, nearly beat one of the control panels to pieces with his fists. “There is nothing we can do for your human. The best we can hope for is that she doesn’t break if they do torture her.”

Turning to give the other man an icy glare, Steel took a ragged breath. “Open communications to the pod now.”

Blackie shook his head. “If we heard their communications then they will hear us as well if you try to talk with your human. They will know we are in range even though they can’t pick us up on their long-range scanners thanks to the droid extending the signal from the pod to us.”

“The pod has stopped advancing,” a black-haired cyborg said quietly. “She seems to have come to a halt for some reason. Do you think she will try to flee? That is a class-B starship and will catch her easily. She would burn her fuel up and even if she reached Outpost Five they would just search it to arrest her.” He frowned at Steel. “She wouldn’t reverse course to get back to us, would she? She has to know we’re no longer where we were when we parted with her hours ago.”

Steel shook his head. “She wouldn’t risk exposing us.”

“She’s human.” Blackie sounded disgusted. “Why did you release her in the first place? We are all at risk now. She is going to tell everything she knows about us to Earth Government.”

“No,” Gene said softly. “I read her when I held her during interrogation. She is a fighter and she feels fondness for Steel. She will do with the humans what she did with us. She will fight until she forces them to kill her.”

Pain lanced through Steel’s chest, regret over letting Rena go a strong emotion that gripped him. But he had been certain at the time that she would be safe. He had been wrong. He turned to glare at Blackie. “I’m taking the Bridden. She’s still docked to us for the crew to go over her specifications and to reprogram her computer. Tell them to start the engines and clear out unless they want to test her capabilities with me.”

“Halt,” Blackie ordered. “Why are you taking the Bridden?”

Steel turned. “It’s heavily shielded, it’s a jumper shuttle so it’s faster than a large ship, and the Star didn’t detect it until it was almost on them.” He paused. “I’m going to attempt to reach her first and hope I make it before the Gordon Lee is in visual range and can detect me. The pod won’t see the Bridden at all since we programmed it so all of our ships are invisible to its sensors.”

Blackie’s mouth tensed. “No. You’re risking a jumper shuttle we need, the lives of cyborgs, and for a what? A human? I realize she knows too much about us but it’s too great of a risk to take. Stand down, Steel.”

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