What do you get when you have an IQ that is off the charts, the inability to let go of someone you love and a lot of spare parts? The man of your dreams, of course.
Dr. Aeron Braxton is on the verge of unveiling her newest creation--a droid who can pass as either human or Vanos.
An alien race took the man she loved away from her, but her revenge is at hand. Aeron has rebuilt Brad into a living, breathing killing machine she hopes will save the outer quadrants from a mass Vanos invasion.
Too bad the brilliant scientist didn't calculate the probabilities of love getting in the way.
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August 21, 2006
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Excerpt from Performance Criteria by Mandy M. Roth
Planet Athena in the Epimetheus Quadrant of the A-QET73 System...
Brad pried the bay doors open, his heart feeling as if it were lodged in his throat as thoughts of something happening to Aeron filled him. He should have never agreed to leave her side. The idea of sending pact members to opposite corners of the galaxy to avoid capture hadn't sat well with him but he'd listened, to a point, respecting the others' wishes. Instead of completely leaving the planet, Brad declined a promotion and stayed on as a captain to assure he would be in the vicinity of Aeron's lab. He'd not told her his decision yet and had little doubt word would have reached her even if he wasn't showing up to face her.
It wasn't until he intercepted a transmission leaking Aeron's whereabouts that Brad knew he should have trusted his gut and never left her side. He'd wanted to take her with him and confess all he felt about her. Only one thing had prevented him from doing just that--Conell, her on-again, off-again boyfriend.
None of it mattered now. Aeron's safety was his only concern.
"Aeron," he called, rushing down the corridor towards her lab. The sound of his voice echoed off the walls and was the only response he received. Adrenaline coursed through his veins as Brad continued full force into Aeron's lab.
A quick look around the area showed no sign of her. Brad grabbed the end of a work station and fought for air not wanting to come. "Aeron, honey!"
"Ouch. Brad, is that you?" Her soft voice never sounded so sweet. She peeked up from behind a tall table, rubbing her head gingerly. "What are you doing here? I thought we agreed to--"
He was on her in an instant, dragging her petite frame against his body and holding her close. She smelled of mint and Brad knew Aeron had been playing with her hydroponics garden again.
"You're safe? Not hurt? Unharmed? All right?" He visually scanned her, searching for any indication she was injured but finding none.
A tiny laugh came from her and tugged at his heartstrings. "I'm fine but aren't you Captain Redundant. Could you think of any more ways to ask if I'm okay? Want to tell me why you're here?" She pressed her cheek to his chest and he felt the tension in her ebb away. "Not that I'm complaining or anything."
"I need to get you somewhere safe, Aeron," he said, not wanting to let go. Holding her felt right. "_They_ know where you are."
She tensed. "How?"
He'd wondered the same thing when he'd intercepted the transmission leaking her location. Brad would have assumed a pact member turned on Aeron if he didn't already know better. Each member was loyal to the cause--protecting humans from an all-out Vanos invasion. Aeron had also been one of the few pact members who remained on the planet Athena. She'd been adamant about not leaving her work behind and Brad had been equally as stern on her going. In the end, Conell stepped in, trumping Brad's decision. "I don't know, honey."
Aeron leaned back and lifted her sandy blonde brows to form a question on her face. "Brad, you're acting strange. You just called me honey."
"Is Conell here?" He didn't have time to worry about slips of the tongue. He needed to get her somewhere safe.
She shook her head. "No. He left, like almost everyone else did."
Anger coursed through Brad's body. As much as he hated knowing Conell held Aeron's heart, he hated the knowledge the man had left her alone more. The pact agreement didn't mean a thing. Not when it came to Aeron's safety. Brad would move the heavens to assure she was well. "Come on, we need to get you back to your father's ship. Is it still docked in the south bay?"
"Yes but it's not been serviced in the last six months." She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. "I couldn't do it, Brad. Not after they killed him. Being around the ship reminded me of my father too much. It's not ready to fly. Not yet." Aeron's bottom lip trembled as fear crept into her voice. "Brad?"
"Shhh, it's fine, Aeron. Every time you and the others got going on a new theory, I got the hell out of here and hung out on your father's ship. I've kept up on it. In fact, I think it's one of the best vessels out there." Unable to stand the sight of her frightened, Brad leaned his head down and pressed his lips to hers. He waited, stuck in the moment, sure she'd push him away. She didn't. Instead, Aeron parted her lips for him, allowing Brad to ease his tongue in. The kiss was intoxicating, stealing Brad's ability to do anything other than lose himself in the taste of her sweet lips.
The second Aeron went to her tiptoes and slid her hands into the back of his hair, Brad pulled her towards the ground, too many years worth of wanting but never having built up behind him to stop. It felt so good to finally have her with him. He wouldn't think about tomorrow, about how she'd no doubt push him away. No. He'd concentrate on the here and now.
Something whizzed past his head and his military training kicked in. Brad shielded her body with his as shots from a Vanos weapon flew by. He knew the ammunition they packed was often filled with a substance that ate human flesh. Having Vanos blood in him would retard the destruction, to a point, if he was hit. If Aeron was hit, she wouldn't heal.
A beaker exploded, raining glass down on them. Brad kept Aeron tucked safely beneath him. When he realized she hadn't made a sound, his worst fear hit him head on.
"Aeron?" He leaned back enough to look down at her. Her blue eyes were wide as she clung to him.
She peeked out. "Are they gone?"
"No," he said, relief breaking in his voice. "Are you hurt?"
Shaking her head, she whimpered before grabbing his neck and coming away with blood. "You're bleeding!"
"Just a scratch, baby." He planted a chaste kiss on her forehead and then rolled off her. "Stay put."
"Brad." She grabbed his hand. "They'll kill you."
He drew his sidearm and winked. "Not if I kill them first. Promise you'll stay here."
She nodded and he took one last chance to stare at her. Telling her how he really felt for her was on the tip of his tongue but he held back. He'd get her to safety and then tell her once they were airborne. Brad tugged his hand free of Aeron's and forced a smile to his face. "We'll get through this, Aeron."
Aeron watched in horror as Brad bolted upright and began firing off shots. The enemy returned fire--a multitude of bullets, breaking glass and fumes from lab experiments now destroyed filled the room. Each time something popped, Aeron yelped. She rolled to her side and onto broken glass. It bit at her exposed skin but she ignored the pain, too worried about Brad's welfare to mind.
She peeked around the side of the table and came face to face with a dead Vanos. Shocked, she lurched back, raking her legs through more broken glass. A portable microbiology system crashed to the floor next to her, a piece of its glass front flying wide and lodging into her upper leg, as sparks popped out of the back end of it. The cut, while superficial, resulted in a large quantity of blood. She pulled the shard free of her leg, careful to avoid cutting herself further.
Brad seized hold of her arm and yanked her to her feet. Aeron knew better than to question his judgment when it came to matters such as these. Brad was a soldier and a damn fine one at that. If he wanted to move, she'd follow blindly.
She touched her swollen lips with her free hand, still in awe he'd kissed her. For years she'd wanted him. When it finally happened, their kiss had literally been explosive.
He led her towards the double bay doors and stalled, just a second, as he raked his gaze over her. "Aeron, you're bleeding."
"It's just a--"
Something loud sounded and she watched in what felt like slow motion as Brad's body lifted off the ground. He fired his weapon towards the doors a nanosecond before he released his hold on it and continued his decent.
It took Aeron's brain a moment to catch up with what she saw--Brad, lying on his back. An array of wounds littered his once unmarred body. The only part still recognizable was his face. Bile rose and she steeled her nerves for the time being as she glanced towards the door and spotted a dead Vanos there.
"B-brad?" She reached out tentatively, already knowing the worst had come true. "No."
Instinct kicked in and Aeron shut off her emotions, focusing on Brad instead. She launched into the steps necessary to save him, if it were possible, all the while blocking out the sounds of station police heading her way. Help was coming, but for Brad, help was already too late. As his blood coated her hands, she knew she would do everything in her power to make this right.
Bending down, Aeron pressed her lips to his cheek and released a secret she'd held dear. "I love you"
Brad's hand jerked and Aeron dismissed it as nerves but silently prayed the action meant some part of him could still hear her.