Authors: Lee-Ann Wallace
Tags: #Erotic Romance, #Science Fiction, #Adult
“You’ve lost some muscle tone, but other than that, it appears to have healed completely. You should visit the weight room and work on strengthening the muscles.”
Kesh stared back at him, the swirling patterns of his markings giving him a fearsome if somewhat exotic look.
“I told you it was fine, and I’ve already started a program to rebuild the muscle.”
Manik didn’t doubt that he had. Kesh wouldn’t want any weakness to get in his way. He looked around the bridge at the men, who were studiously avoiding looking at him. Most of them had avoided the fighting when the Delarians had boarded their ship, but some were long overdue for their regular check-ups. He could get them while they were stuck at their posts, and they couldn’t do anything about it.
He was about to step around Kesh’s station when a soft beep came from the console. A light flashed on the plexi glass screen, a scroll of text running across the top of the image of the ship.
“I’m picking up a signal, but I can’t get a read on what it is,” Kesh said from beside him.
“Can you put it on screen?” Tor’Arr asked from the captain’s chair in the centre of the room.
An image of a pod appeared on the ship’s main view screen, which took up the entire wall of the bridge, filling it with the dark expanse of space and the millions of visible stars. The image of the pod filled the view screen. It looked like a life pod. Manik had seen one once before in his days at medical training.
“Is that a life pod?” Bask their pilot asked.
“It could be an escape pod. I’ve seen single occupant pods before,” Manik said.
If it were an escape pod, there would be a person inside, unless the pod had been ejected empty. Kesh’s fingers flew over the screen of his console. He had access to all the ship’s controls from his dashboard. The only person who had better access was Devral in the tech department, and he could remote link to the ships computer at any time.
“I can’t get a read on it,” Kesh said. “There’s no identifier, no trace of a ship. I can’t even scan it. The scan’s just bouncing off. It’s impenetrable.”
Tor’Arr had been suspiciously silent, staring at the image of the pod on their ship’s view screen. “What are the chances there’s someone inside it?” His voice rang out around the bridge.
“The chances of there being a person inside it are high,” Manik replied to Tor’Arr’s question.
Tor’Arr turned to look at him, indecision on his human face. He had taken the form, using it more often than not. His woman was human, and Tor’Arr joked that Tarnee liked him best when he was in this form, even if it was one of the weaker species.
“There could be anything in there, and without being able to scan it, we just don’t know. My recommendation is to leave it alone. Whatever’s inside, it could be dangerous. We’ve just finished repairing the ship from the last lot of damage we sustained. We don’t need any more.”
Manik looked at Kesh, amused by the fact that he was cautioning them against something dangerous. They were all dangerous. They were pirates, after all—some of the most feared pirates in many a galaxy, and he was cautioning them against whatever was inside the pod. Manik could understand what he was saying, but if there was a person inside the pod, the person might need help. He couldn’t walk away from someone who needed help. It was part of who he was. It was the reason he’d become a medic.
He looked back at the captain, “Whoever or whatever is in that pod might need our help. We can’t just leave it floating through space without at least checking to see what’s inside.”
Tor’Arr ran a hand through his thick dark hair, leaving the short strands sticking out all over the place, the gaze of his silver eyes meeting Manik’s. Manik could see the indecision in Tor’Arr’s eyes. He had the whole ship to think of—the crew that were left after their run-in with the Delarians, and the two women who choose to make the ship their home—Tor’Arr’s human partner, Tarnee, and Kesh’s half human partner, Magnolia, who was also the ship’s cook.
“You better get down to the shuttle bay and make sure whatever comes out of that pod isn’t dangerous. Kesh, bring it in.”
Manik turned from the captain as Kesh said, “You’re making a mistake.”
The doors of the pressure lift closed on him, shutting him into the circular metal tube before he could hear Tor’Arr’s response.
“Shuttle bay,” he instructed the ships computer.
The lift whooshed down, sending his stomach into his throat. The doors opened onto the corridor that led to the shuttle bay, the serviceable metal flooring echoing under his boots as he made his way towards the doors halfway along.
Turning at the sound of his name, he waited for Devral to catch up.
“What are we dealing with?” Devral asked.
“A life pod. The ship’s scanners couldn’t penetrate it, so we have no idea what’s inside.”
They reached the doors together and walked through just as the pod landed with a thud on the floor of the shuttle bay, the sound echoing around the cavernous area.
Manik walked to the section of wall where a med kit was stored. Pulling the case from the storage cage, he laid it down on the floor and pulled out the pressure injector, then loaded it with an anaesthetic. There was enough anaesthetic in it to stop every species on board the ship. It would stop whatever was in the pod in its tracks.
Devral was standing beside the pod when Manik joined him, his eyes closed. A control panel of sorts blinked from the side of the pod. It was unlike any pod Manik had ever seen before. It appeared to be reinforced, the whole structure consisting of metal bars and sheets. It looked a lot like a cage.
Manik felt a small amount of worry. A lot of effort had gone into creating something that would keep whatever it was it held inside the pod. What had he convinced Tor’Arr to bring onto the ship?
“Fuck,” Devral muttered from beside him.
Manik stood patiently and waited for him to finish. He’d often wondered what it would be like to have a computer inside your brain, but had never found the time to ask Devral. The cyborg rarely needed healing, the nanites inside him taking care of any wounds he sustained, and the man seemed to be one of the most level headed and rational members of the crew they had.
A crack appeared in the side of the pod, a hiss escaping. Cold, frosted air whooshed out as the panel started to lift away revealing a person.
A naked human woman lay in the pod, long brown hair covering her breasts. Her skin was pale, almost a light blue. Her lips were a darker shade and were tinted blue. Ice crystals clung to her long lashes, and her skin had a film of fine ice over it. She appeared to be sleeping.
“A human.” Devral’s gravelly voice came from beside him.
Manik raised his scanner and ran it over the length of the small woman, the device picking up her vitals and telling him a multitude of interesting things about her.
“No,” he replied, looking at Devral. “She’s like you.”
The woman lay on the shiny metal surface of the med bed as quiet as death. She was barely breathing, her heart beating an excruciatingly slow rhythm, the beats echoing around the medical bay from the control panel of the med bed.
It had taken hours to bring her body temperature up to what Manik considered normal. Her skin now glowed with health. Her heart rate and breathing had increased only slightly with the increase in body temperature. Something was keeping her in a state of stasis, but Manik had no idea what.
Manik stared down at her as he waited for Tor’Arr and Kesh to join him. Devral stood opposite him on the other side of the med bed, his gaze locked on the woman’s face, a look Manik couldn’t read on his face.
She was a mystery he wanted to unravel. Questions about her heritage and why she was in the life pod floated around in his mind. He was fascinated by the nanites inside her and wanted to ask her how they came to be there, but she couldn’t answer him. She couldn’t give him the answers he sought.
He knew of one person who might be able to wake her, one person who had made it her life’s work to study cyborgs and the nanites that kept them healthy and whole. A woman he’d thought of every day in the time since they’d had to leave her station. She’d fascinated him, on an intellectual level as well as a physical one.
He saw her luminous yellow-green eyes in his dreams at night, the lush shape of her mouth as she talked of the fascinating things she was researching. He’d wanted to kiss her shapely mouth when he’d been in the bar with her, but had been called back to the ship before he’d had the chance to do much more than ask her name.
Elmertia, but my friends call me Merty.
He could still remember her voice as clearly as if she’d been standing in the room talking to him. He preferred Ellie and thought of her as so whenever his thoughts turned towards her.
The doors to the medical bay slid open, the quiet hiss barely registering as he looked towards Tor’Arr and Kesh. The two men walked over to stand, one beside him and one beside Devral.
“She’s human,” Tor’Arr stated, looking down at the woman on the med bed.
A light sheet covered her naked form, protecting her from view and the cool air of the medical bay. Med beds lined the room, the long window that filled one wall showing the wide, open reaches of space. Manik’s office took up one corner of the medical bay, a space for him to keep records on the crew and work on research.
“She appears to be, but her DNA is inconsistent with a human. She is most closely related to Devral. In fact, they could be the same species. She has nanites inside her, and she has cranial implants. I have no way of knowing what they are for or why she has them. From my scans, they are not the same as the implants Devral has in his brain.”
“So she’s a cyborg,” Kesh said from beside him.
“No, I would not classify her as such. She doesn’t have any muscular or skeletal enhancements, and I don’t believe her implants work in the same way. They could be the same species, but they are very different.”
Devral had been silent throughout. He’d stood watch over the woman as Manik had completed his scans and taken blood samples from her. Manik suspected something deeper at work than a simple case of curiosity, but left the cyborg to his silent vigil.
“Can you wake her?”
Manik looked away from the cloth-covered form of the woman on the med bed towards Tor’Arr where he was standing beside Devral.
“No, I cannot. She’s in some kind of stasis that I don’t understand. As you can hear, her heart rate is slowed to the point of almost stopping. She’s barely alive. There is no brain function, she’s not dreaming and I would assume her to be brain dead if it weren’t for the fact that her heart is beating on its own and she’s breathing. The nanites inside her are inactive. They, too are in a state of stasis.”
“Why do I feel there’s something you’re not saying,” Tor’Arr asked, looking back at him steadily.
Manik steeled himself against the reaction he was bound to get from the men standing around him.
“I know someone who should be able to wake her and tell us more about the nanites inside her.”
“And where exactly is this person?”
Manik looked back at Tor’Arr, holding his gaze, “On Bextra Station.”
“No,” Kesh growled from beside him.
“It’s the only chance we have of waking her up.”
“And why exactly do we need to wake her up? We should put her back in the pod and send her back to space,” Kesh said, anger apparent in his tone.
Manik looked at Kesh in surprise. He’d thought the operation on Bextra station was a success. They’d stolen the research they were employed to retrieve, and they’d gotten out without any loss of life. As far as he was concerned, that was a successful operation.
“She can help me understand Devral’s nanites. They’re not exactly the same, but they’re close enough. We’ve been lucky so far that he hasn’t had any problems. If something went wrong, I have very little information on his nanites, or how they work. The scientist on Bextra has made it her life’s work to study nanites and cyborgs and has a much better understanding if something were to go wrong.”
“So what you’re saying is this woman here can be of benefit to you. What happens if you wake her up and she turns out to be a danger to the crew?” Tor’Arr asked.
Manik felt a hint of excitement. Tor’Arr hadn’t said an outright
If he could convince him of the benefits of returning to Bextra, he would be reunited with Ellie, and he could do something he’d been longing to do since he met her in that bar.
“If we can figure out how to wake her, we should know how the process works and be able to put her back to sleep. I can always put her in an induced coma if I need to.”
Kesh looked at Tor’Arr, a deep frown on his marked face. “You can’t seriously be thinking about going back.”
Devral spoke for the first time. “I agree with Manik. Understanding this woman’s nanites would be of great benefit to understanding my own nanites. I’ve had some inconsistencies since the fight with the Delarians that have caused me concern.”
Manik looked at Devral in shock. This was the first he’d heard of the cyborg having problems. “You should have said something.”
Devral looked at him, “What would you have done? It’s not a physical ailment that you can heal. Your current understanding of the nanites is limited to what I have been able to tell you, and I only know rudimentary basics. If we could get this scientist to talk to us or even join us for a time on the ship, it would be a huge benefit.”
They both looked at Tor’Arr, since ultimately it was his decision. The risks of returning to Bextra needed to be weighed against the benefits. Tor’Arr had the whole crew to think of, and now that crew included women.
“Are you sure this scientist will be willing to help you?”
Manik thought about the small woman who had captured his attention the minute she’d sat down beside him in the bar. He thought of the way she’d smelled and the movements of her sure hands as she’d played with a napkin. The little giveaway that showed her nervousness had charmed him. He couldn’t guarantee that she’d help him, but he knew without a doubt that he wanted to see her again. They’d had some kind of connection that he couldn’t ignore—a connection he wanted to explore.