Authors: Stephen B. Pearl
Tags: #9781629290492, #Damnation Books, #military, #science fiction, #Stephen B Pearl, #romance, #erotica, #Genetics, #cyborg, #science fiction, #science, #biotech, #aliens, #war, #spies, #espionage, #slaves, #love, #romance, #duty, #dedication, #life, #death, #battle, #armour, #rifles, #guns, #torture, #salvation, #sacrifice, #biology, #space
“Goddess. I thought being a biologist would be a quiet job.”
* * * *
Upload monitoring/ Ashley Hinkly /Index 17:26/ 7/9/2032
* * * *
Ashley listened as Richard shook hands with Tannal. They were two bodies in a long line that looped over the dais where the aliens stood.
“You are the native healer that constructed our gift,” said the alien.
“Yes. It is astounding technology.”
“It is a useful trifle.”
“Your ship intrigues me. It's obviously organic. Have you mated mechanical systems?”
“Our vessel is beyond your capacity to understand.”
“Oh, perhaps we can speak later.”
“I hardly see the point.”
Richard looked at the perfect face and fought to keep his ire in check. He felt like a witch doctor who'd just been told by a neurosurgeon that he couldn't understand epilepsy. He moved to shake hands with Osa.
“Hello.” Ashley held out her hand.
Tannal smiled at her displaying perfect teeth. “Hello,” he caught her hand and kissed it on the back. “You are?”
Ashley felt her face grow red. The alien in front of her was the epitome of fantasy.
“Iâ¦” She swallowed in a dry mouth. “I'm Ashley, Doctor Green's assistant.”
“You helped develop our technology?”
“Yes. I worked on the neuro-electric interface. It's fascinating.”
“No more so than you. Perhaps when I have a moment from official duties, you would grant me the honor of a dance. I have watched your transmissions and find the practice, charming.”
“Well Iâ¦” Ashley blushed
“Oh I see. You and Mister Green are, is the proper term? Involved?”
“No! No we aren't. I'd love to dance with you.” Ashley smiled despite her blush.
“Please meet me at the podium when this tedious ritual of greeting is complete.”
“I'll be there.” Ashley moved along the rest of the greeting line in a daze.
* * * *
Upload monitoring/ Ashley Hinkly /Index 17:52/ 7/9/2032
* * * *
“You don't mind, do you, Richard?” asked Ashley.
“Mind, why should I mind? Weâ¦wellâ¦it's not as if we were more than friends. Have a good time. I'll be stuck in boring debriefings anyway.” Richard sounded peevish.
“Richard, I won't dance with him if you ask me not to.”
“Go, do what you want.” He shook his head and his voice returned to its traditional reserved quality. “Have fun. I have to go to the debriefing. Fill me in on what happens.”
“Richard?” gasped Ashley.
“What exactly do you want me to fill you in on?” she tried to keep a straight face but her smile broke through.
Richard blushed and looked sheepish. “Ash, I didn't mean. I meanâ¦I'd never.”
“Relax. I know what you meant.” She moved to his side and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
* * * *
Upload monitoring/ Ashley Hinkly /Index 19:03/ 7/9/2032
* * * *
Ashley danced across the floor with Tannal. He moved with mechanical perfection but was completely stiff, as if locked into a program that he couldn't deviate from.
A slow dance played and Ashley allowed him to pull her close. There was a hint of animal musk rising off him that ignited her senses.
Oh, Goddess, the hunk of all time travels light years to get here and now he wants to dance with me. What did I do right, so I can do it again?
* * * *
Upload monitoring/ Ashley Hinkly /Index 21:01/ 7/9/2032
* * * *
Tannal sat across from her at the table, a smile touching the corners of his mouth.
“It really wasn't difficult to upgrade the chip to a more-versatile, higher-density one that we have currently in production.” Ashley toyed with her glass as she spoke.
“Fascinating. Your machine intelligence technology is well in advance of what we believed you would have.” Tannal touched her hand.
Ashley felt her breathing quicken. “It's surprising how alike our species are.”
“Yes. A fluke of evolution. I was amazed to discover that the anatomical similarities extend to reproductive cycles.”
“What?” the word came out as a squeak.
“I am sorry. Is it a taboo subject at this time? I know your culture tends to be cyclic about its acceptance of certain biologic functions.” Tannal smiled winningly and touched Ashley's hand.
“No, that's all right, I'm just surprised. I mean you're saying your, ummâ¦reproductive organs are identical to those of a human male.”
“As far as one can tell from your EM transmissions, perhaps on the upper end of your normal range for size, but otherwise yes.”
Ashley swallowed and blushed. “Wow! That is parallel evolution.”
“Amazing isn't it.”
Edwin glanced furtively down the hall. The summons sickened and terrified him. Unconsciously he straightened the lapels of his suit and glanced at his two collaborator guards.
“Rachel, stand straighter,” he ordered, after seeing how the taller of the two women slouched. They were both attractive, a petite, Asian beauty and a tall woman of African heritage. Both wore short skirts and high heels with their blouses tied under their breasts.
Lord God Almighty, let them be enough to distract him,
he thought as he came to the internal checkpoint just inside the embassy door. A Darmuk, that looked like a cross between a bloodhound and an orangutan, waited beside a battle-ape. Edwin and the two women stripped. The battle-ape physically examined them, probing every orifice then the other creature approach.
Edwin felt the second Darmuk's snout press into his groin then move around to his backside. It snuffled over every centimeter of his body then backed away and nodded at the battle-ape. Edwin felt dirty and violated. The ape motioned for Edwin to dress as the sniffer Darmuk examined the shorter woman. Next it checked over the tall woman. Each shuddered with disgust and the whites of their eyes stood out.
“Pass,” grunted the ape.
Edwin moved down the corridor. Two massive guards, that resembled minotaurs, except their teeth were needle-sharp points, flanked the data section's door. Each held an automatic rifle at the ready, with a bandoleer of gas grenades across its chest.
“Mayor Edwin Robinson, as summoned by Captain Tannal, Chief control unit of the Darmuk mother ship. General ofâ” began Edwin.
”Pass, Lapdog,” grunted one of the guards.
Edwin glanced at Ashley as he entered the Bio-mind's central chamber then, his guards in tow, moved to stand in front of Tannal.
“Mayor,” said the Darmuk leader. He scanned Edwin then allowed his eyes to lustily trace the forms of his two guards. His fat face pulled into a leer.
“Master, how may I serve you?”
Tannal shifted his gaze to Edwin. “My pet informs me that you are falling behind quota in the weapon's manufacturing plant. This is unacceptable.”
“Captain, so many of my workers have been taken I don't have the people I need to maintain production.”
“I see your hands are clean. If this is so, why haven't you operated a machine?”
“My lord, my other dutiesâ”
“Are of no concern to me. Do you wish the governorship of Hawaii, or would you rather join the rest of your miserable kind in extinction?”
Edwin went pale. “Iâ¦I will push the workers harder, master. I will see that quota is met.”
“See that you do. Let me see. Today is the seventh. I give you until the twenty-first to bring production up to its proper level.” Tannal smiled and gestured towards the Asian woman. “What is your name?”
“Ji-Yeon, my lord.”
Tannal heaved his bulk from the interface couch and moved to stand before the woman. “You appeal to me. You will join the bio-mind.”
“Butâ¦But master. Iâ¦I don't know much about computers. Iâ¦I'm married. I have a little boy.”
“So? My pet will see you are properly prepared for your new duties. As to your husband and son. Mayor, see that they are given extra rations, so long as I am pleased with this one's performance. Fear not, from what I have seen of humans, your husband will find another mate soon enough. You are a faithless and fickle species. Is that not right, Ashley, my sweet?”
“Yes master, we are a fickle and faithless species,” hissed Ashley.
Opening a drawer beside his cyber-chair Tannal pulled out a cerebral symbiont and held it to Ji-Yeon's neck. It squirmed into her flesh. Her eyes went wide with fear. He touched his secondary symbiont to hers and her face went blank. He walked her to an empty interface couch at the end of the row and disconnected his symbiont. He pressed Ji-Yeon's symbiont against the mass of engineered nerve tissue that connected all the human ram chips of the bio-mind.
“Ashley, I leave it to you to seal this one's consciousness. When she is suitably passive, I will use her for relieving this fleshes primitive urges. I will monitor your instruction momentarily.”
“Yes master.” Ashley replied not quite hiding all the hate in her voice. She closed her eyes. Secretly readying two memories.
“Now mayor,” opened Tannal. “About your petition. Your request is denied. I require Ashley to continue in her capacity as the interface between the human computer systems and the bio-mind. Go now. I have matters of import to attend to.”
Edwin bowed then, sweat dripping off his face; he backed out of the room.
* * * *
Ashley replayed Tannal's favorite memory from when they bound the consciousness of the ram units individually. The ram unit had been a fourteen-year-old boy. Tannal had sodomized the youth, using his cerebral symbiont to increase each sensation and play up the young man's horror and adolescent self-doubt. He'd finished by locking the boy's mind into a perpetual replay of the rape. Mercifully the youth's mind had burnt out two months later, ending his private hell. She set this in the areas of her mind Tannal could reach.
The other memory came from her inner self. The precious cache of person hood Tannal could never touch.
“What? What's going on?” demanded Ji-Yeon. She existed in the middle of a field of mist, with no sense of place or orientation.
“Don't be afraid, or maybe be a little afraid. As a collaborator you deserve it.”
“Who, where are you?”
“This is your mind. Your consciousness must be locked into a pattern so you can be used as a ram unit. I'm here to do that.”
“Please no,” pleaded Ji-Yeon.
“Stop that! Is it such a price to pay for survival? If I don't do it Tannal will, and heâ¦ You don't want to imagine what he would make you live over and over again.”
“I don't want to live anything over and over again.”
“Do you think I do? If you fight me I can't protect you.”
“You aren't a Darmuk? With the size of your symbiontâ¦”
“I'm a slave. You're a collaborator. I hate you for that, but you're human, I won't see you trapped as Tannal would trap you. Now decide. His memory or mine?”
Ji-Yeon felt tears sting her eyes. She looked into the mind of the strange woman she'd seen. It was beautiful, and deep down held something she had lost. Hope. Despite all this stranger had obviously endured, she still had spirit. That spark leapt from Ashley and kindled a small fire in Ji-Yeon's heart.
“Do what you have to.”
“I approve of the choice, Ashley.” Tannal's voice echoed through the room before Ji-Yeon lost all exterior senses.
“You won't be able to change anything, just feel what I felt, see what I saw,” explained Ashley.
The mists vanished and Ji-Yeon stood in front of a strange door. A pale hand turned the knob, and she stepped in.
“Richard,” called Ashley's voice.
“Down in a moment, Love. Are you ready to go?”
“Just about.” She moved into the bathroom and gazed into the mirror. A pretty redhead stared back at her. She fiddled with her hair and Ji-Yeon tried to move, to pinch herself, but couldn't. Leaving the washroom she saw a handsome, middle-aged man standing in the living room. A gentle warmth filled her chest and she smiled. Her gaze followed the line of his buttocks and she felt pleasure at the sight. Ji-Yeon's mind tried to rebel but it was held prisoner.
“Don't fight me. It isn't easy running two projections at the same time. Just experience this or we'll be caught.” Ashley's voice intruded.
“We should hurry, the display is quite extensive,” said Richard.
“I love the group of seven. It's like they touched the spirit of the land and put it on canvas,” remarked Ashley.
“Isn't that the point of surrealism?”
The discussion continued as they walked to Richard's car and during the drive into LA.
They reached the museum and went in. The pictures brought a sense of wonder; a feeling of beauty Ji-Yeon didn't understand but had no choice but to feel.
Hours later she and Richard sat at a table in the museum cafeteria, with buttered scones and tea.
“Zane just couldn't figure out why the cells weren't accepting the adjustment. Then I asked him what he was feeding the rabbits he's using in his study. The diet had a high level of chromium, which was reacting out with the enzyme he was using, binding it up so it couldn't have an effect. I think he was ready to kiss me,” said Ashley.
“Good thing he's your brother. I'd be jealous of a younger man.” Richard smiled.
“I have all the man in my life I want.” Ashley took his hand across the table.
A middle-aged woman approached from the other side of the room. “I just had to say. You two are so adorable. I've watched you all morning. It is so nice to see a daughter be so affectionate to her father. My son hardly gives me the time of day.”
Richard's face darkened and Ji-Yeon felt a deep sadness well up from inside. Then something happened, courage and resolve that were like tempered steel chased up after the pain and pushed it down.
“We, um, actually,” began Ashley.
“Thank you. Ashley and I are very close. A great number of common interests,” interrupted Richard.
“It's so nice to see,” the woman returned to her table.
“Richard, we could haveâ”
“To what end, love?” A warm feeling pervaded her at the use of the title.
Richard kept speaking. “This way she walks away happy and it doesn't hurt us at all. Besides, it's your fault for looking so young. I have to keep telling the undergrads that you're not a first year.”
“I just wish people wouldn't assume.”
“We know, Zane knows and soon we'll tell the world. On that, have you thought about telling your parents about us?”
“Goddess no. Dad only just got remarried and mom, wellâ¦She isn't taking dad getting on with his life well. Let's let it go a little longer.”
“Of course, Pet.”
The afternoon passed much as the morning. Ji-Yeon had never experienced a museum like this. A place of wonder filled with things to occupy the mind.
Before the museum closed Ashley and Richard retrieved packages from his car and ducked into the washrooms. Ji-Yeon watched as Ashley changed into a burgundy evening gown. She stared at herself in the mirror, adding a hint of makeup and understated earrings.
God, she is gorgeous,
thought Ji-Yeon, while Ashley examined her appearance.
Exiting the washroom she saw Richard in a blue suit.
The drive to the restaurant was once more filled with conversation. The restaurant was a little hole in the wall. Richard ordered in French and poured the wine. It was crisp, clean, biting the tongue. Ji-Yeon savored it as she listened to Richard.
“The reverse engineering takes forever, but I'm making headway.
“It is garnishing me a reputation. Your idea of me setting a day a week aside to do a lecture circuit is paying off. I've had job offers from Harvard, MIT, Yale, Princeton and half a dozen other universities. Edwin is praying I'll take one. The university's dean is offering to shine my shoes if I stay.” Richard grinned.
“That's great.” Ji-Yeon felt pure admiration. An almost hero worship, except it was tempered by an understanding of the man's faults.
The food arrived, each bite a blending of texture and flavor. She ate slowly, savoring it. A classical piece played over the sound system and the candlelight flickered. She caught Richard gazing at her and she could feel a blush color her cheeks.
* * * *
Ji-Yeon remembered how it was when she and her husband courted and let her memory become one with the projection.
* * * *
The meal done, they walked a block to a club where a muscular bouncer, dressed in a sports jacket and slacks, held back a line of people.
“We'll never get in. We can just go home,” suggested Ashley.
“Nonsense. The night is young and you are beautiful. That dress looks magnificent on you. You deserve to dance,” Richard walked up to the bouncer.
“Tell Mister Pennyworth that Richard Green is here, would you?” he asked.
“Look, buddy, the lines there for a reason.”
“So true. If I must borrow a cell phone and call Bobby I will. However, it would probably make both our lives easier if you simply contacted him for me.”
The bouncer paused to think then picked up a phone inside the door, a minute later he lifted the rope.
“You and the lady are to go right in, Doctor Green. A table is being prepared for you.”
“How'd you do that?” asked Ashley.
“Bobby and I did our undergrad together. He was a business major. He was also something of a scoundrel. He had, let us say, relations with the girlfriend of the one of the football players. The football player didn't appreciate it.