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I had never been on first-name terms with the president, but while I sat there
trying hard not to succumb to jet-lag, he chatted about my father, whom I had
just visited, and who had finally retired from Lunar Base to his native New
Zealand. Sirkonen opened the drawer of his desk and took something out, which
he flipped across the gleaming wooden surface. I could do nothing but catch it.
A datastick. I turned it over. The black plastic cover reflected the sunlight.
“What’s on it?”
“You might find it useful. Think of it as some . . . personal
advice, from me to you. We’ll talk about it later, when you return for your
first briefing.” He shut the drawer with a thud as if closing the subject.
This was highly irregular. “Mr President, can I ask—”
He shook his head, and offered me a drink—Finnish vodka, best in
the world, he said. While he poured, his hands trembled.
I should have insisted that he tell me what was wrong, but who was
I? An unimportant, sending-out-our-feelers type of diplomat, expendable and
twenty years his junior. Not the type of person to draw attention to his
problems—with alcohol or otherwise.
We made a toast. The heavy scent of the vodka did nothing to
improve my alertness.
“Mr Wilson, when you come back in six month’s time, you must
present your report to the general assembly. We need to know in detail what
sort of regimes we’re dealing with.”
I didn’t understand why he spoke in such empty generalities; I
wondered when he was going to open that folder on his desk and sign the
contract. Nicha, my Coldi assistant, was waiting in the foyer. We had a whole
heap of work to catch up on. I was annoyed that Sirkonen had changed our
meeting time at the last minute—the original meeting had been scheduled for
Sirkonen stopped speaking.
I stared at him, realising with embarrassment that I’d been off
with the fairies. Was I meant to have said something? Was I breaking rule
number one of the diplomatic circle: never show any sign of sleep deprivation?
An attack of dizziness overtook me. My vision wavered, as if the
world were painted on a silk flag that flapped in the wind, and all the
furniture was rimmed in a red aura. “Mr President, I’m—”
I just managed to put my vodka down. The glass hit the wood with a
soft clunk, the only sound in the frozen silence.
There was a small sound from outside, a click.
As if stung, Sirkonen turned to the window; his eyes widened.
The president opened his mouth, but a sharp crack interrupted his
She stepped into the firewall square. The door behind her closed and she
authorized the interior door to open.
A buzz swept over her. No, not simply over her. Into her. She
gasped, her inhalation of air drawing more of this unknown presence inside her.
It was too much, almost suffocating. Joan swayed, lightheaded. “Do
not faint. Do not faint,” she repeated to herself, closing her eyes.
The rolling under her feet gradually stopped. She opened her eyes
and wished she hadn’t. Crimson spray covered everywhere she looked. Gore was
splattered into the farthest corners, hanging from the ceiling. Cleaner bots
scrubbed the walls and floor.
This was why she felt dizzy, she reasoned. She smelled and sensed
C899321, the being she had been told was responsible, stood in his
uploading dock, a cable inserted into his nape, his towering form naked,
covered with blood, his long black hair dripping with it.
He turned his head, locked his gaze with hers and she sucked in
her breath. There were worlds of agony, of rage, in those bright blue eyes.
This was no rational, logic-driven cyborg. This was a man, an animal, crazed by
bloodlust and pain.
“They thought to pacify me with the use of a human female?” he
thundered, his deep gravelly voice clawing across her skin, awakening parts in
her she didn’t realize slept. “I’d kill you before I allowed you to touch me.”
This insult didn’t hurt her the way he’d intended. Joan knew she
wasn’t the slim tiny female males desired. She was solidly built, good breeding
stock, as her mother had once said.
She discarded his words and focused on the torment in his tones.
He hurt. Horrifically. Her fingers twitched, the urge to reach out to him, to
comfort him, tremendous. Judging by the flex of his powerful biceps and thigh
muscles, by the anger radiating from him, he wouldn’t appreciate that response.
He also wouldn’t listen to any command she issued. A reprimand,
verbal or physical, would add to his hostility. Some being had already tried to
restrain him and failed. The reportedly unbreakable wrist and ankle cuffs
attached to the frame of the uploading dock had been shattered, rendered
Joan discarded four solar cycles’ worth of theory on how to handle
malfunctioning cyborgs, realizing now that the academy experts knew nothing.
Her late father, however, had taught her how to deal with wild beasts.
“I would never touch you without your permission.” She lowered her
gaze, showing submission, recognizing C899321 as the dominant male he was. He’d
seek to harm any aggressor, to protect himself and his territory. If she wasn’t
female, she suspected she’d already be dead.
“I also would never hurt you.” Joan stuffed a couple of cleaning
cloths into her pockets and dropped to her knees, into a puddle of red. The
moisture soaked through her flight suit. “I’m here to serve you, to clean you.”
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