Melting Iron Page 21

The white-haired cyborg refused to look at her. “Ask Iron your questions.”

Frustration welled instantly. “If I did that, he’d just blow me off or, worse, refuse to answer. Getting shit out of him is like pulling rusty, stripped bolts from an old generator.”

A chuckle was her only response. As long seconds turned into a full minute she realized he wasn’t going to answer her. She replaced the last wire and then wiggled hard to get out from under the control panel.

“We’re not done,” Ice called out. “The section next to you also needs replaced. I have been working my way to the starboard.”

Dawn climbed to her feet and realized she and Ice were still alone in the shuttle. She bit her lip and then a mean thought struck her. She glanced down at the man’s bent legs, the only part of him showing. She wanted answers, damn it, and she wasn’t about to risk Iron refusing to answer her since he was the most stubborn man she’d ever met.

One of the repair bags was on top of the control panel as Dawn peered into it. She reached in carefully and removed a metal cutter, a tool about sixteen inches long with pliers-like claws. She gripped it and then stepped between Ice’s bent legs, putting the tool right against his thigh. He tensed instantly.

“What are you doing?”

“If you try to wiggle out, that’s going to cut you. I asked you a question, damn it. You’re claustrophobic, right? Well, now you’re stuck and can’t get out without a little blood loss. Answer me now. I’m desperate. I hate to do this but I’m not letting the opportunity pass. Tell me all about breeding pacts.”

Guilt ate at her for terrorizing the poor guy as she heard his breathing increase. If he moved she’d move the tool, not really ready to cut his leg but he didn’t know that. All the cyborgs she’d met so far had a real low opinion of humans so she guessed he might mistake her for being cruel enough to actually hurt him. Just to be safe she turned the sharper edge away, hoping that he wouldn’t notice. If he panicked he could move without meaning to.

“What do you want to know?” His tone was angry and his breathing indicated he wasn’t taking the trapped feeling well at all, as it increased to a soft pant.

“I just overheard a cyborg woman telling Iron she could hook up with someone in his breeding pact and force him to sleep with her. Is that true?”

“Yes. When I get out of here you’re going to pay for this.”

“Yeah. I knew it would piss you off. I’m real sorry to have to do this to you but you weren’t exactly forthcoming with the explanations when I asked nicely. Tell me how these things work.”

“Twelve males sign into a breeding pact. It’s law on Garden that we must all breed at least one offspring to further our race. It is highly encouraged to produce more. If a male is damaged—it happens with our kind—someone in his breeding pact must impregnate the female in that family unit.” He paused. “Can I get the hell out now?”

“So he just has to donate his sperm?”

Ice’s legs started to shake and more guilt slammed Dawn. She had a big guy literally shaking.

“No,” Ice panted. “We learned early on that natural breeding works best and the stress involved with artificial insemination causes a high fail rate.”

Dawn couldn’t make him suffer anymore. She backed away, moving far from him. “Go ahead and get out.”

The big cyborg didn’t hesitate as he wiggled out from under the console. He was sweating, a sheen of it on his forehead and his upper lip, as he sat up. Dawn had a sudden insight as to why he’d been given the name Ice as he gave her the coldest look she’d ever seen. He gripped his bent legs, sitting there, looking furious.

“I’m sorry,” Dawn said softly. “This is my damn life and I have a right to know what the hell is going on. So that woman can hook up with someone in Iron’s breeding pact, a male who can’t knock her up and she’d be able to force Iron to f**k her? Is that the gist of it?”

Taking deep breaths, Ice continued to glare at her. “Yes.”

“What is breeding code nine-two?”

A good minute passed before Ice climbed to his feet, glaring at her still but his shaking had subsided. Meaty fists clenched at his sides and he took a step toward her. Dawn raised the tool the way she would a baseball bat.

“Don’t even think about it,” she warned. “I’m sorry I did that but you shouldn’t confess to a weakness and then be a jerk to someone. I did ask you those questions nicely if you’ll remember.”

He froze in his tracks but still looked ready to lunge at her to get even. His icy gaze went to the weapon in her hand and then returned to lock hers. “It means that there’s something inherently special or unique about someone that requires them to breed with another similar to them.”

“Is red hair considered unique to your kind?”

His head jerked in a nod. “Red hair and white.” He reached up to touch his hair, a finger brushing it before his hand dropped. “I know that code due to its use on me five times so far by females who requested my DNA. I denied their requests. They took me before the council and I was ordered to donate.”

“Did you get angry about it? They really order you to have sex with women? Doesn’t that really bother you?”

He nodded again. “Regardless of your human ignorance, we aren’t unfeeling. If you think I enjoy being a donor to children I have no right to see or get to know, you are incorrect, but it is the law. We all must make sacrifices to survive.” He clenched his teeth. “Humans left us no other choice in the matter but to go to drastic measures to ensure our survival.” Pain flashed in his eyes.

Dawn dropped the weapon and took a step toward him, sympathy welling up inside her for this man. She wanted to wince as she lifted her chin. “Go ahead. Do you want to take a shot at me for what I did? I deserve it. Could you try not to break something though? I didn’t really hurt you and I had no intention of drawing blood.”

Shock gripped his features. “I don’t plan on hitting you. I only wanted to take your weapon from you before one of us got harmed.”

Her body relaxed. “Oh.”

Disgust twisted his features. “That’s a human response. I’m far above your standards of behavior.” He took a deep breath. “Do not ever do that again. We have work to do and I have regained control of my systems. I was locked up and tortured.” His voice deepened. “It is an unreasonable fear but it is there all the same.”

“I am sorry.”

He just glared at her for a long moment. “Get back to work, and if you ever do that again, you will wish that striking you like a human would be my response.”

He turned his back on her and lowered his big body to the floor again. He hesitated but then slowly inched back under the control panel. Dawn walked forward. She had a lot of thinking to do and working always helped her figure things out.

Chapter Eleven

“What did you do?”

Dawn started at Iron’s words as he came up behind her where she sat eating lunch on the edge of the small hillside the shuttle sat on. She turned her head to give him the most innocent look she could muster. “I haven’t done anything.”

Had Ice told Iron what she’d done to him? Probably. She noticed Iron’s tight, angry expression. Iron looked downright irritated as he hovered over her. While she’d worked side by side with Ice after what she’d done to him, he’d relaxed and even made a few jokes about the old shuttle they were working on. She’d hoped he’d give her a break and not tell Iron but she’d been wrong.

“The stabilizer grid is totally rewired and you took the gravity control offline from what I have determined.”

She pushed air from her lungs, relief slamming her. She owed Ice and made a mental note to thank him for not ratting her out. “You said you can remote link with your…” She tapped her head. “Implants. All the relays for the manual control were fried beyond repair. Ice said you don’t have replacements for them and it would take days to try to create something that can replace them since everything is so outdated. You don’t have anything available that will work. You said you’re just going to fly it into space to dock to the Moonslip so it will work fine for you short term. If you had to fly it for an extended distance or time I wouldn’t have gone that way.”

“I see.” Iron hesitated and then sat down next to her. He straddled the log she was using for a chair. “I am glad that my orders were followed and they brought you food.”

“It’s weird, but good.” She offered her plate to him. “Try the green plant thing. It’s kind of like a banana in the shape and the way it peels but it tastes similar to mushy maple syrup. It’s really sweet but not so over the top that it’s sickening.”

He didn’t hesitate to grab up the fruit as a smile played on his lips. “I am proud of you, Dawn. You have behaved extremely well.”

Heat flushed her cheeks as she looked away and hoped he didn’t notice it. “Thanks.” If only he knew.

“We will return to the Star soon.”

She didn’t want to be reminded of being back in his small room. She enjoyed the fresh air work too much. She dreaded going back to the ship and back to her confinement.

“Iron?”

A black-haired cyborg paused near them. “We’re ready to run the engine tests and we need you there. What is your range of transmissions and receiving?”

“Approximately thirty feet.” His attention returned to Dawn. “Stay here in case there are problems. I want you at a safe distance. The shuttle hasn’t been used in at least ten years.”

“You’re going to be on the outside, right?”

He nodded as he popped the fruit he’d peeled into his mouth. Standing up slowly, he stepped over the log to walk away. Dawn turned to watch him approach the shuttle, worried that something would go wrong. She noticed the cyborgs moved away from the shuttle a safe distance while Iron moved to the front of it, close to the nose and away from the thrusters at the back.

Dawn held her breath as Iron closed his eyes, an expression of concentration on his face. She assumed he linked mentally with the onboard computer. The engine came online—a loud, rough sound. She inhaled slowly as the sound increased and smoothed out a little as it warmed up. The back thrusters burned, shooting fire for seconds, making Dawn wince at the old way the shuttles used to fire literally. The thrusters turned, making a slight squeaking sound that could be heard over the engines and then the shuttle lifted a few feet from the ground.

It amazed her that Iron could stand on the ground and control the ship but it was obvious that he did. He opened his eyes, his hands fisted at his sides, and intently watched the hovering ship. He eased it back down and powered down the thrusters. He kept the engines on but he did open the back hatch so two cyborgs could go inside to check the systems visually.

Turning away from him she peered at the sight below her where she could see the small cyborg camp. A line of trees separated the living area from the river. She had a good view of both from a side angle. Movement caught her attention by the river as someone stepped out of the trees toward the water.

There was an outcropping of rocks leading out into the river as if someone had painstakingly made a dock of sorts that jutted about fifteen feet from the river’s edge. A small child, perhaps six years old, walked out onto it. He wore braces on his legs, easily seen even from a hundred yards away since they were thick and he walked with a heavy limp. He held what Dawn assumed was a fishing pole as he edged to the end of the rocks. A frown twisted her lips as he stumbled a little on the rocks but then caught his balance. It looked damn dangerous for a kid with braces to try to navigate the wide rocky path.

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