Taunting Krell Page 3

“I hate old shuttles,” she muttered but knew it had been the only smart thing the general had insisted upon. The Markus androids could remote hack computers. On the older ships everything was pretty much manual and the onboard computer was only voice activated from the same room in which the module had been installed. They traveled through space slower but once in range of the station, they couldn’t be controlled by one of those freaky Markus Models if they’d taken it over.

Destruction and death met her the moment she walked onto the station. Two dead bodies lay decaying on the floor. She curled her lip, grateful for the mask that kept her from smelling what had to be putrid air. Their severe decomposition assured her that this part of the station hadn’t been affected at all by the hull breaches from the attack. Only being exposed to high levels of oxygen could do that to a body in space. She could remove the mask but didn’t do it.

She entered one of the corridors. More bodies were piled up as if someone or something had chased them, shot them in the back, and they’d tripped over the fallen bodies to collapse on top of each other. She counted twelve dead stationers. It was hard to tell if they had been male or female but they were wearing civilian shoes when they’d died. One body looked suspiciously small.

“Oh no,” she muttered, distraught. “They had kids here. It’s too close to deep space and pirates. What were you thinking?”

No one answered but she didn’t expect it. She stepped over some of the bodies, moved slowly, and continued deeper into the station. She kept alert. It was likely the Markus Models had figured out how to mask their tracking signals. They had a scary ability to adapt. She’d been fully briefed on them after they’d been created and the trouble had started. Her vote would have been to pass on that project if anyone had asked her before they decided to make the defective things.

The defense androids were nearly indestructible except by electrocution. They were also self-aware, had escaped from the manufacturing facility where they’d been undergoing testing, and were extremely dangerous to anything living.

Her grip on her weapon tightened and her left hand reached for the other weapon at her waist. All she had to do was pierce their skin with a bullet and shoot energy shots at them to jolt them with electricity and take them down. Her ears strained to pick up any sound but only eerie silence greeted her.

“Not having a good feeling about this,” she whispered, the sound of her voice comforting. “Every living person on this station is dead. I just know it.”

She’d wished to find some survivors on Belta Station. Sure, they hadn’t responded to hails since the initial distress signals but she’d still been hopeful that it was a case of their communications being taken out. Cyan tried not to stare at the bodies she passed. It freaked her out a lot and depression settled in deep with all the death surrounding her. There had been thirty-nine souls aboard according to the manifesto, all civilians, and obviously some of them had been children.

She paused at the sealed-down section when she came to it. The door indicators blinking red in warning told her she’d found the breached section of the station. She knew she could override the safety procedures to attempt to pressurize the affected areas but there wasn’t any reason to do it. No survivors would have made it without air. Even if they’d managed to lock down inside a secured room with a sealed door, two weeks would have killed them. No food, no water and a breached section stopped sending oxygen to the affected areas. They would have suffocated before they starved.

She located the main control room. She really wished she hadn’t as her gaze slowly took in over ten bodies. Weapons fire scarred the walls, dried, black bloodstains smeared on parts of the metal floor and she knew this had been where the stationers had made their last stand. One body drew her attention.

She aimed her gun at it and tread carefully, ready to shoot the hell out of it if it moved. It was male, had brown hair and wasn’t a mess of disgusted death rot. Her heart accelerated. It had the exact size and shape of a Markus Model. Their hair and eye color could be changed out, along with their voices, but not their general size or cloned faces. It remained sprawled facedown. Her boot nudged it.

She nearly screamed from fright when it jerked, barely trapped the sound inside her throat, and hissed instead. She leapt back to put at least four feet between them. Its fingers clawed against the floor but it didn’t move anything else.

“Great.”

The head tried to turn but it just twitched. It took her long seconds to take a few calming breaths before she approached. One good kick and she jumped back again. The kick flipped it onto his back. She studied it.

“Wow!” The Markus Model’s eyes were open but it didn’t attack. Burn marks scorched his chest and neck pretty badly. “They fried you, didn’t they? Just not enough to totally take you out.”

One of his hands twitched. She saw a cable lying about three feet to his left along with the decaying body of a stationer, who still gripped it. A shudder ran through her. The stationer had obviously torn lose a live electrical connection once attached to the control panel to attack the Markus Model. He’d shoved the live current against the downed android and they’d both fried in the process.

Cyan crouched, cocked her head and peered at the android. “Can you talk?”

His mouth parted. “Help me.”

“Oh I plan to. Where are your brothers?”

He paused. “They aren’t here.”

Good to know, she thought. “Where are they? I’ll tell them you’re still functioning and have them come get you. I’m not good at fixing stuff,” she lied.

“I am uncertain. I have no linking capabilities. I have come to the conclusion they believed I terminated when the link between us severed. They have not returned.”

“How many of them are there?”

“We are eight Models.”

She hid her grimace. Two would be difficult but seven still on their feet were bad odds to face off against. “Why did you attack the station?”

He paused and she could have sworn his eyes actually sparked. “Information unobtainable. I am suffering connection problems to memory and functions.”

“Poor baby.” He watched her. She sighed. “Did any of the humans survive?”

“Affirmative.”

Surprise jolted her. “How many?”

“One female.”

Cyan turned her head and studied the room before looking back at him. “Where is she? Do you know?”

“She left the station eight cycles previous.”

“How?”

“A shuttle docked and retrieved her.”

“Do you know which shuttle? Who it was?”

“Negative. I am unable to link to the station computer.”

“How do you know she left on a shuttle?”

“The onboard computer verbally warned of a shuttle approach and I heard voices. The female screamed and I heard a male say he had her. They undocked.”

“Well, that information wasn’t very helpful. Now I’ve got to try to track her down. I don’t suppose you know if they were pirates?” Cyan really hoped not or there wouldn’t be a reason to try to locate the survivor. Eight days with pirates would have made her either completely insane or very dead.

“Negative.”

“Okay, well, thanks for playing.” She straightened to her feet. “I’m going to help you now.”

“Good.”

She didn’t bother to shoot him and waste bullets. His open chest wounds gave her access. She pointed the energy gun at him and fired two shots. One would have done it but she wanted to make sure the stationer hadn’t wasted his life when he’d attempted to kill the Markus Model. This time she’d make certain it permanently shut down.

The body jerked and smoke rose. The report of her weapon sounded unusually loud inside the otherwise silent control room. She watched as the eyes turned white, the mouth dropped open, and it totally ceased functioning.

“Oh, just for shits and giggles.” She fired one more energy shot into the thing. “Better to be safe than sorry. I hope you keep burning in computer hell for killing all those people.”

Cyan walked over to the monitoring station that still appeared operational while she holstered her weapons. She paused but then frowned. Two docking doors registered in use. The Blarney accounted for one. The survivor would have used the same door to flee if another ship had been docked when the attack happened.

The color drained from her face at the implication. “Computer, emergency response,” she whispered to override most of its protocols. “State the times when the docking locations were activated.”

The computer responded. “Twenty-three minutes and forty seconds.” It paused. “Ten minutes and nineteen seconds.”

Cyan spun, her weapons clearing their holsters, gripped in each hand, and her heart raced. Someone had docked after she had. She wasn’t alone on the station anymore. She swallowed hard. She’d found one Markus, which meant at least seven more androids were unaccounted for. She had a really bad feeling that she’d just found them or worse, they’d found her.

“Either way, I’m so screwed,” she whispered. She needed to return to her shuttle if they hadn’t already entered it. She cursed the age of the Blarney again. No way would she be able to outrun one of the newer shuttles the androids had stolen when they’d fled Earth. She rubbed her leg, the energy shots a bumpy mass inside her pocket, to assure herself she wouldn’t run out if it came down to a battle. Dread twisted inside her belly, knowing she’d have to retrace her steps to reach her shuttle.

She eased into the main hall, kept close to the wall, and her gaze darted around, watching for any sign of movement. She inspected each body on the floor before she passed it. She didn’t want one to rise up—an android using the dead to fool her—and continued to head for the section her shuttle had docked to. Hope flared that she might make it out of this mess alive.

She reached the final corridor and glanced around the corner where her shuttle awaited. One look made her teeth clench. The door to her shuttle was closed. She’d left it open.

Screwed, she mouthed silently.

Scenarios formed inside her mind. They were either waiting on her shuttle to kill her there or they’d sealed it from the outside to trap her when she tried to enter. She glanced behind her to make sure nothing sneaked up. The corridor remained clear of movement.

She took deep breaths, hated the way her mask fogged under her nose, and knew she had to do something. She peeked around the corner again. Large crates were stacked near the far wall. They could be hiding behind them.

She glanced back and knew she was trapped either way. They could come at her from both directions if they’d split up. She decided to do something nuts. It might work. She knew they’d tried to negotiate with Earth Government to have their line of android Models released. They called each other brothers, as if that made them more real.

“Earth Government sent me,” she called out loudly. “We want to negotiate.”

Silence greeted that statement. “I’m their ambassador,” she lied. “That’s why I came alone if you checked my shuttle. I’m here to talk about settling our differences peacefully.” She paused, trying to think up something they might want to hear. General Vargus would have a heart attack if he knew she’d stated this bullshit but he’d sent her on the mission alone. She wanted to save her own ass since he’d been determined to get her killed. “I have the authority to make a deal with you.”

They didn’t respond. So much for that plan. It was crazy, she admitted.

“Throw down your weapons,” a deep male voice commanded. “We will negotiate.”

She hesitated. “Okay. I’m just a woman. That’s why they sent me. I’m only five foot three.” For once it seemed a good thing she’d ended up so short. “I’m no threat,” she lied.

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