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Sometimes the biggest risk is to one’s heart….
A science fiction romance by USA Today Bestselling Author Cara Bristol
An ex-Cyber Operations field agent, Dale Homme has kissed danger and betrayal more times than he cares to count. Now he runs a clandestine factory beneath the surface of the moon Deceptio, where confidentiality and security matter more than anything. When a beautiful young woman arrives seeking a job, Dale knows within minutes she’s lying. Everything about her is false: her past, the people she claims to know, her reason for being on Deceptio. Illumina Smith? Even her name is an alias.
Logic says send her packing. His gut says she’s in trouble. She needs him. So he’ll do anything to keep her safe….even if it means keeping her captive.
Captured by the Cyborg is third in the Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance series but is written to be read as a stand-alone novella.
(In this scene, Dale Homme, a cyborg, is communicating to his assistant via the computer interface in his brain)
Dale pushed back from his chair and strode to the glass wall overlooking the factory floor. His cyber-enhanced vision zoomed in on the job candidates sitting in a row across from Charlie’s desk. Four men, one woman…and a child?
A kid is interviewing?
Charlie glanced up at the window. His assistant, who had normal 20/20 human vision, couldn’t see him from the distance, even if the glass wasn’t a two-way mirror. You mean the blonde girl?
Yeah. Is she a prodigy?
If she hadn’t perched on the edge of the seat, her feet wouldn’t have touched the floor. The other candidates chatted among themselves, no doubt comparing impressions of their experiences so far, but she sat disengaged from the others, her chair a discreet distance away, her hands folded in her lap.
Why don’t you send her up?
Hold on; let me shoot you her CV.
A split second later her curriculum vitae popped up. Illumina Smith. Female. Age 24. Graduated with honors from the Terran Cyberscience Institute. Four years as a programmer with Infinity AI Corporation. Given her youth, she didn’t have longevity behind her, but the qualifications she did have were impressive. TCI was recognized throughout the galaxy for its excellence. Its graduates were highly sought after. And, Infinity, the number one android manufacturer, hired the best of the best. Job seekers would kill to work for them. So why leave? A good question for the interview.
I’m ready. Send her up.
Charlie motioned to the woman and then pointed to the stairs leading to Dale’s office. He turned away from the window and removed computer debris from a chair. Moments later, a brisk tap sounded outside. He opened the door.
Petite adult? Try sprite. The woman’s head didn’t reach his shoulder. But what she lacked in stature, she compensated for with hair.
Shimmering, silvery-blonde waves of it tumbled to her hips. The platinum shade didn’t reflect light, it radiated it, almost as if the individual strands were composed of fibers of light itself. Although women could and did take chemical supplements to alter pigment at the cellular level, and platinum hair was not unusual, the combined effect of the color and shine was. Striking under the harsh artificial illumination—what would it look like in moonlight?
In a complete violation of propriety, he reached out to touch. He caught himself and snapped his hand to his side, calling upon his nanocytes to stamp out the kindling of desire. Turned on by a job candidate’s hair. This is what happened when you didn’t get laid often enough. Not entirely his fault though. He’d planned to visit the Darius 4 pleasure resort, until Lamis-Odg terrorists had destroyed the place. Under reconstruction, reopening hadn’t been scheduled yet.
He forced his attention away from her hair.
And noticed her clothing. What the hell was she wearing? Masculine, almost military-style trousers in a fabric mottled in various shades of tan led to clunky coyote-brown boots. A loose-fitting jacket in the same variegated pattern covered her top half. Fatigues—but from what century? The twenty-first maybe? Where had she acquired the getup?
“Mr. Homme?” Gray eyes met his in a direct stare. “I’m Illumina Smith. Thank you for seeing me.” Her voice tinkled like chimes blowing in a gentle wind, but the hand that seized his gripped like a steel clamp.
It’s not an arm wrestling match. He hid his amusement while noting the slenderness of her bone structure. His thumb and index finger would overlap if he were to encircle her wrist. “Come in. Have a seat.” He gestured.
She lurched with a jerky, awkward gait to the chair and sat, her posture rigid. Her robotic movement was so opposite the grace he’d expected, he ran a quick scan. No, not android. An organic, sentient life-form, but not human either.
“Your name is very unusual.” He plopped into his sensa-chair, which immediately conformed to the shape of his body and began a massage.
A tiny furrow creased her forehead. “Smith is a common Terran surname.”
If she was Terran, he was a six-eyed, webbed-handed Arcanian. “I meant Illumina.”
“Oh,” she said, and for a split second her skin turned luminescent.
A normal human wouldn’t have noticed the brief flash, but a cyborg with enhanced vision caught it right away. “How was the flight?” he asked. To protect the location of the installation, interviewees had been picked up at a central planet and transported via a windowless spacecraft.
“Smooth. The stewards were very attentive.”
“Good to know,” he said. “I’m curious, how did you hear about this position?”
“Cy-Net. I saw a posting.” She paused. “Although it didn’t give a lot of information. It was rather cryptic.”
“And that encouraged you to apply?”
Ads were worded to be vague, but coded with keywords to attract individuals with the right skill set. In his mind’s eye, he scanned through the documents Charlie had transmitted with her CV to verify she’d signed the confidentiality statement. She had.
“So, what do you know of what we do here?” he asked.
“I understand you need a computer troubleshooter; I got that much from the ad. After arriving and seeing the vehicles, I surmise you need a programmer to work on spacecraft.”
“And are you that person?”
She didn’t blink. “I am. You could say I have a way with coding.”
“Why did you leave Infinity? They’re one of the top artificial intelligence companies.”
“They’re an excellent company, but I’ve always been interested in things that fly. To work on shuttles and other spacecraft would be a dream come true.” Luminescence flashed again.
Interesting. Dale steepled his fingers. “You didn’t know what the job involved until you got here.”
“There…were hints, bolstered by comments the recruiter made when he offered me the interview.” She lifted her chin. “What I’m not sure is why everything is so hush-hush.”
Fair enough. “Moonbeam Chop Shop disassembles and remanufactures spacecraft. We can transform a pleasure cruiser into a fighter. When vehicles leave here, they’re unregistered to any planetary agency, which is the way our clients like it. Further, we’ve developed cloaking technology that can render a spacecraft invisible to the eye and computer scans. We want to protect our proprietary information.” And since not everything Moonbeam did was technically on the up-and-up, it was best to run a clandestine operation. For that reason, the runway was cloaked, too.
“I understand,” she said.
“I’m looking for a programmer to troubleshoot anomalies. The vehicles we acquire often come installed with alien electronics. Our knowledge base increases the more ships we work on, but we continue to encounter challenges.” Like Baby. What the hell was causing the malfunction? She wasn’t even a remanufactured craft. They’d designed and built her from the ground up. “Often there are glitches in programming or code hidden within code that can be difficult to detect, override, or remove.”
“Troubleshooting is my specialty. If I can get my hands on a system, I can figure it out,” she boasted, but Dale sensed her self-confidence was genuine. Whether she could do what she claimed remained to be seen, but she believed it.
“Do you understand how isolated you’ll be if I hire you for this position? You won’t be able to leave the facility until your furlough. You’ll work here—and live in the employee barracks. For months at a time, you won’t see sunlight, hear a bird chirp or an insect sing, or feel the wind on your face. You’ll be stuck with the same people day in and day out—and, by the way, there will be no natural rotation to mark the time. Day and night are controlled by artificial lighting and work schedules. The only visitors to Deceptio are pre-approved buyers or sellers. For security reasons, you won’t be permitted contact with any outsiders, including your family.”
Her lips twitched with a slight smile. “You make it sound so appealing.”
“Many people can’t handle the isolation. We lose a lot of good employees to moon fever.” He opened up a hailing frequency in his cyberbrain and fired off a couple of messages.
“That won’t happen with me, Mr. Homme.”
“They all say that,” he said.
She leaned forward. “I mean it.”
Why would a young woman leave a prestigious, lucrative job to live in an artificial environment beneath the surface of a barren moon? Moonbeam paid as much if not more than Infinity, and offered generous leave, but that was the extent of the perks. For a programmer starting out in her career, Infinity was the better choice. Which led him to believe she was running from something, rather than to something. “Tell me about your educational background.”
She eased back, but her spine didn’t touch the frame of the chair. “I graduated with honors from TCI.”
“I got that from your CV. What was your favorite class?”
“I was on the computer security track, but I also mastered all the computer languages.” A response, but not the answer to his question.
Ping! Ping! Both his messages came back with replies. He read them while continuing the interview. Multitasking was a cinch for a cyborg. “You must have taken Professor Annabel Harriot’s class. She’s a friend of mine.”
Illumina nodded, her face flashing that luminescence that caused her to glow like a pearl. “I learned so much from her. She’s….tough, but respected.”
“So you think you can handle this job?”
“I’m confident I can.”
“And the isolation?”
“Won’t be a problem.”
“If I were to offer you the position, when could you start?”
“Immediately. I, um, brought my suitcase. I don’t even need to return home.”
Interplanetary hiring laws dictated what an employer could or couldn’t ask a prospective job seeker. Dale knew the rules, but he hadn’t gotten where he was by following them. Cyberoperatives worked outside the law, as did spacecraft chop shop owners, so he had no qualms about asking whatever he needed to gather the necessary info to facilitate his decision. “What species are you exactly?”