Each week, Mojocastle Press shall be featuring an excerpt from one of our backlist books. Today we are proud to present to our readers Chapter 1 from Security Issues by best-selling author Morgan Hawke. Enjoy!
The large airy boardroom of Arrington, Architectural and Engineering was the only room in the entire building that didn’t look like it was about to fall into ruin. That in itself was impressive, considering the revolutionary war for planetary independence that had just ended. There was moderately fresh paint on the soft blue walls, and fairly new gold carpet. The long black marble meeting table wasn’t scratched or chipped, and all twenty leather chairs were present and accounted for. Best of all, the room had fully functional air-conditioning.
Unlike the basement of Rory’s two-bedroom cottage on the other side of town.
Strapped into his leather and chrome control chair and wired within an inch of his life, Rory ignored the sweat trickling down the side of his face. His attention was entirely focused on the sensations and images being fed directly into his nervous system through the wires attached all over his body. He lifted his gloved hands and spoke.
Across town, seated at the head of the long black marble table in the AA&E board room, a perfect replica of Rory followed the motions of the robotics specialist’s hands to lift a document and replied to the question that had been posed. “Yes, I do feel that explosive demolition is the right way to deal with those Imperial subterranean military labs.” The Imperial bastards had specialized in human experimentation. “We are recovering what can be recovered…” The stuff that couldn’t be used to replicate said experiments. “But everything that cannot be dismantled and moved is far safer under several tons of rock.” Understatement of the year. Really.
The gray-suited, gray-haired and corpulent executive waved his hand in the replica’s general direction. “But, administrator, what about all that valuable equipment…?”
The Rory replica scowled briefly, then smoothed his expression to one of polite concern. “If you will look at document sixteen-b, you will find a list of what has been salvaged, versus what has not.” Minus a few things that no one needed to know existed—ever.
The balding executive shuffled through his papers.
“Now then…” Rory’s replica smiled and slid his scattered files and papers together. “According to the reports I received this morning, the Culvert Town hydroelectric plant is fully operational.” He looked down and tapped a finger on the document at the top of the pile. “And according to my sources, three more hydroelectric plants are about to go into full operation in less than seven days time.” He looked toward the foot of the long table. “Care to elaborate, President Teradyne?”
Dressed in an immaculate white suit, Christophe Teradyne, president and CEO of Teradyne Corporation, smiled. His sleek white-blond hair gleamed in the understated lighting and his eyes creased at the corners giving his ice-blue gaze the illusion of friendly warmth. One wouldn’t think that sugar would melt in his mouth.
However, the frightening truth was that he was currently the colony world’s most powerful and influential man. Teradyne Corp. was the only company that provided electricity in the world—all two cities and seventeen towns of it. That he employed and trained top-notch assassins…ahem, security specialists to protect his assets went without saying.
A slight smile on his lips, the company president spoke in smooth, even tones. “You’ve ruined my surprise, administrator.”
Rory’s smile broadened even as the small hairs rose all over his body. “Oops, my bad.”
He was one of the few who knew exactly how ruthless Christophe Teradyne could be. He’d been the master engineer under the previous President Teradyne, Christophe’s megalomaniac and utterly insane Maker. Hell, he’d designed the planet’s capitol city for the man. A city the insane bastard had allowed the Empire to destroy.
To say that Rory didn’t regret the crazy son-of-a-bitch’s death in the slightest was a vast understatement. He celebrated it every year—without fail.
He wasn’t the only one.
A little less than two years ago, Wilhelm Kaiser Teradyne, company president and colonial council member, single-handedly caused the Empire to damned-near wipe the little colony world off the interstellar map.
No one really knows why the insane bastard had ordered the mass assassination of just about every Imperial representative stationed on the colony world. Some say it was over an insult. Others say it was a bid for dictatorship. Personally, Rory was inclined to believe both. The man really was that much of a power-hungry sociopath.
That the mass assassination had gone off without a hitch—one hundred and twelve men dead in one night—was no surprise. Teradyne’s Security were that well-trained, in addition to more than a few of them being cybernetically enhanced specifically for that purpose. However, that the Empire had retaliated with an entire battalion of warships hadn’t been a surprise either.
That Teradyne’s Security elite had spear-headed the fighting corps and applied their special brand of guerilla tactics to help drive the Empire off their world was entirely beside the point. By that time, it was purely a case of ‘live free or die’. Sadly, that wasn’t an exaggeration. The Empire took an extremely dim view of rebellious colonies.
However, the real deciding factor in the ‘revolution’ had been the simple fact that their little planet was way the hell out on the rim of known space, and possessed no resources of particular interest. In short, the cost of sending troops out to subdue them wasn’t worth the loss of their out-of-the-way colony of two major cities and seventeen little towns.
All in all, it was an intense—but short—revolution. All that was left was reorganization, clean-up and rebuilding…lots of rebuilding.
Strangest of all, Rory Arrington, simple architect and robotics engineer had somehow ended up in the Administrator’s seat of the brand new Altair Republic council. It looked impressive on paper, but the truth was, he was little more than a glorified mediator.
A flurry of questions started up at the far end of the long table, all directed at the man in the white suit who sat directly opposite Rory. However, they were all careful to use polite tones of extreme deference, and with good reason.
Unlike his tyrannical—and deceased—father, Christophe Teradyne was keenly interested in the colony’s continued survival, which was why was at that table. Not that that made him any less ruthless or terrifying, just more inclined to play nice…publicly, at least.
As a gentle reminder of Teradyne’s true power, flanking Christophe on either side was two of his black-suited Security. On the right was Jin, a tall, elegant, and exotic dark-eyed man with long black hair drawn straight back into a snug tail. He was the cool and calculating head of Christophe’s Security. On his left was Elizabeth, a compact and curvaceous, blue-eyed woman with ruthlessly straight, chin-length blond hair. She was the company’s sharpshooter. One did not ever want to piss her off. She didn’t miss.
In response to the signals being fed into his wiring, the Rory replica sat back in his chair, sighed, and dug a handkerchief out of the pocket of his long, midnight blue Administrator’s coat. Looking away briefly, he blotted his perfectly dry brow.
Jin, the tall, dark, and intimidating Security elite on Christophe’s right, lowered his brows slightly.
Far across town, Rory’s sensors picked up the slight movement. Rory barely hid his instinctive scowl. Shit, Jin noticed something. Luckily, Elizabeth hadn’t. She was a little too trigger-happy for Rory’s comfort.
What had set Jin off? His mind went over every detail of his motions, then dismissed them. His virtual reality equipment was damned sensitive to even the slightest twitch, so his replica’s motions were in perfect synch with his actual body, except for his legs. He couldn’t very well walk around when he was hard-wired into a chair. Walking was done by sensing the slight tightening and loosening of his leg muscles.
Abruptly, a white-haired board member wearing a blue suit entirely too snug for him turned to Rory with a question.
Rory responded to the member with facts and figures, dismissing the puzzle for later examination. No matter what the Security elite had spotted, there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it from his VR chair. He’d just deal with it, should Jin ask any…pertinent questions.
Of course, getting out of there the moment the meeting ended and avoiding the man entirely was another option. In fact, it was his preferred option.
The meeting concluded in the usual fashion—about an hour past the time it was scheduled. In twos and threes, the members rose from their chairs, gathered their briefcases, and began talking about places to eat where they could discuss the results of the meeting.
Across town, Rory worked his hands as quickly as possible. Need to get out of there… Need to get out of there…
Rory’s replica rose from his chair, gathered the scattered files, and began stuffing them into his briefcase.
“Mr. Arrington, Rory…” The voice was right at his shoulder.
Rory startled so hard, the papers in his replica’s hands flew out of them and all over the table. He turned.
Right behind him was the elegant and extremely dangerous Jin. His hands were neatly folded behind him, but his head was slightly tilted in an obvious pose of polite inquiry.
Rory swallowed. Crap. He pasted a smile on his replica’s face. “Oh, Jin, you, ah…” He started grabbing for papers again. “You startled me.”
Jin’s straight black brow lifted over one uptilted black eye. “So I see.” The corner of his lips curled in the slightest of smiles. “Do I make you nervous?”
It was such a stupid question that Rory stopped his paper shuffling to turn around and face him with a blank stare. “Nervous…?” He sighed and rolled his eyes. “You’re only capable of killing me in at least six nasty ways in about that many seconds, without ever using your gun.” He leveled a glare at the man. “Of course you make me nervous!”
Jin folded his arms across his chest. “I could see that as being a valid reason…” He lowered his brows. “If you were actually here.” He gave Rory’s replica a very obvious head to toe stare. “This is definitely one of your better robots. I didn’t even realize that it was one until the very end of the meeting.”
Rory dropped his paper-filled hands to the table and bowed his head in defeat. “You’re also one of the most observant son of a bitches I’ve ever met.” He took a breath and began stuffing the last of his papers into his briefcase though more slowly and carefully. He cleared his throat. “And the first to have noticed.”
Jin’s smile widened slightly. “Thank you. Does it bleed?”
Rory stilled, then turned to face the Security elite, his brows up and his mouth open. “What kind of question is that?”
Jin shrugged. “If it was shot by an assassin, bleeding would make them believe that they’d actually hit their target, giving you a greater chance to identify them, or at least, make an escape.”
Rory sighed and closed his briefcase. Trust Jin to think in terms of assassins. But then, he had designed the replica with assassins in mind. “As a matter of fact, it does bleed.” He pressed his palm to his chest. “The skin is cloned organic, which is why I have…body hair.” He looked away and coughed. “A fully organic circulatory system is needed to provide it with nutrients and oxygen.” He smiled wryly. “Though a mechanical heart pumps it.”
Jin’s smile widened and he shook his head. “Brilliant.”
Rory felt something warm bloom in his heart, and in his face. He smiled. “Thanks.”
Jin’s smile curved a little more sharply. “However, it does not sweat. Wiping your brow when it wasn’t damp is what gave you away.”
Rory cringed. “Oh.” He stepped away from the table, briefcase in hand. “My…control room doesn’t have air conditioning, and the system is so sensitive, it mimics everything I do.”
Jin’s brows lifted. “I was wondering why your expressions were so very…you.” He tilted his head. “What about sensitivity from this end?”
Rory frowned. “You mean, can I feel what this unit feels?”
Jin gave a small nod.
Rory shrugged. “Damned near perfectly, on the surface anyway.” He lifted his hand and spread the fingers. “Normally with a virtual reality system, electronic pulses from such things as movement have to be translated into nerve impulses to perceive them and send them, so there’s a slight drag in timing. However, because the skin is organic, it transfers directly. It’s already nerve impulses, so sensations register instantly.”
Jin’s eyes looked a touch unfocused.
Rory winced. “Sorry about the techno-babble.”
Jin smiled. “I didn’t mind.” He casually stepped closer. “So, you can feel everything your robot feels, yes?”
“Er…” Rory frowned and stepped back, only to feel the table up against his butt. “Yeah, but only on the surface.”
Jin looked downward and nodded. “So, then you should be able to feel this…” He reached out lightning fast, catching Rory by the back of his neck. His head dropped down, and he planted a kiss directly on Rory’s mouth.
Across town in his VR chair, Rory froze. Yes…yes he could indeed feel Jin’s lips pressed against his. In fact, he could feel Jin’s tongue sweeping across his bottom lip. He could also feel heat filling his face and his pants tightening behind his zipper too. He was suddenly very glad that his cybernetic unit wasn’t that anatomically correct.
Jin pulled back and smiled. “In case the message didn’t translate correctly… That was a kiss, and it means exactly what any other kiss would mean.”
Rory could only stare stupidly into the deep black eyes of the handsome elite who also happened to be the second most powerful man in the country. “Eh…?”
Jin leaned close to the replica’s ear and whispered. “I am interested in you, Rory Arrington. Call me at my personal number if you’d like to…discuss it over a glass of wine.” He stepped past Rory’s replica and walked out of the boardroom, his footsteps perfectly silent.
Jin is…interested in me? Too stunned to think properly, it took a full five minutes before Rory could focus enough to get his replica downstairs, into his jeep, and headed home without wrecking his car.
~ * ~
Once Rory had his replica back in his basement and in its preservation tank, he tromped upstairs to his bedroom. “Jin is interested in me?” He stepped into his bathroom and turned on the shower. “Jin is interested in me?”
After a long cool shower, he went back into his large bedroom clad only in a damp towel, and flopped face down on the bed with a moan. “Holy mother of all, why me?” He had known that the man was somewhat attracted to him. This hadn’t been the first time the Security elite had hit on him. New Year’s Eve parties tend to encourage that sort of thing, but he still couldn’t fathom why.
Why would a top-notch assassin…err, enforcement agent have any interest in a practically harmless, not to mention pacifistic, engineer?
Truthfully, Rory admired the Security elite and found the man very attractive in a dangerous and somewhat scary kind of way. However, he didn’t know if Jin felt anything for him beyond attraction.
“Fuck…” He ground the heels of his hands over his eyes. “Why do I even care what Jin feels?” A fuck was a fuck, right?
Wrong. He couldn’t stomach being that intimate with someone merely to scratch an itch. He simply couldn’t do casual sex.
He blamed his parents. They’d ruined him—he was convinced of it. His parents were childhood sweethearts and were demonstratively in love with each other all their lives. Because of the open affection they shared with each other—and their only son—he’d been thoroughly brainwashed into wanting the same for himself.
In short, a hard dick wasn’t good enough reason to fall into bed with just anyone. If he needed to scratch an itch, he had a perfectly good hand for the job.
He knew damned good and well that hardly anyone else in the world thought that way, but that didn’t seem to matter. He couldn’t stop seeing sex as an expression of care and affection…of love.
Rory smiled sourly. Somehow, he sincerely doubted that Jin would ever do something so undignified as express care, never mind affection. Love was right out of the question. The only thing that man loved was his job.
Rory sighed up at the ceiling. The obvious answer was to turn him down and go find someone that was actually capable of affection.
However… He leaned up to stare down at the towel tented by his rather painful erection. No matter what he personally thought about sex, his body was clearly a total slut. If the man cornered him, he was doomed.
Rory flopped back on the bed, grabbed his pillow, and pressed it over his face. Blood and hell… When had life suddenly gotten so complicated?