Armed and dangerous...
A Cybershock story.
Born a psionic--a rare human prized by the government for her gifts--agridome worker Via Brede lives by two simple rules: slip into stealth mode whenever the cybernetic-enhanced militia is near. And never remove the gloves that block her psychic ability.
During a routine delivery, a tear in her glove connects her with what should be her worst nightmare. A meched-out soldier with bulging muscles and a scarred face that makes her heart pound like a pneumatic drill. She also envisions his death in an attack that happens...now.
Locke's typically ho-hum mission goes sideways when the stunning, green-eyed bubble farmer plants a sensual kiss that sets fire to every one of his remaining man-nerves. He also sees her vision. His own commander is about to kill him.
He needs Via to find out why. First step is to get her to Old Las Vegas without succumbing to a raw, sexual need that burns in him like fever. Getting there will be a snap. Getting out alive--and winning her trust--might be a little tougher.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
August 29, 2011
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Zero Factor by Stacy Gail
"Welcome," Weddo Hu announced to his passengers, "to New Vegas."
Via Brede looked through the agridome transport's plexi window, her stomach twisting into nervous knots at the sight of the mega-city's skyline. She hadn't seen its familiar spires for eight years. She would have been happy to never see them again.
"Okay, kids, time to shut your mouths and open your ears." At the transport's helm, Weddo adjusted the satellite radio's volume so he could be heard. "Militia types have a low tolerance for what I like to call dumbassery, so no screwing around on this delivery, yeah? Patricio, I'm looking at you."
Patricio smirked in a way that only a kid barely out of adolescence could. "How was I supposed to know spitting gum on the ground was an offense worthy of a firing squad?"
"Everything's worthy of a firing squad to the militia." Weddo snorted. "But if you're feeling like a big man today, you can run the off-loader, while Adelaide downloads the inventory. Via, you're back in the transport's payload lining up crates for the off-loader. Have you ever done that job before?"
Via adjusted her work gloves and tried to look like she wasn't about to throw up. "I usually grow this stuff, not deliver it."
"And I'm grateful you're pitching in since I was short-handed today." Weddo nodded, slowing the transport for a mob of people in the street. "It's an easy enough job. Just move the cargo to the off-loader and let it do its thing. Got any questions?"
She bit her lip to keep from asking what the hell she was doing there, and settled for shaking her head. But the question had merit. Of all people, what was she doing driving into a militia stronghold when her life's goal had always been to stay off their radar? If the militia discovered her--
Without warning, a gush of static from the sat-radio screamed out. Weddo jumped, and the slow-moving transport swerved drunkenly. "Dayum."
"Ooh, turn this up." Pulled from the bored examination of her nails, Adelaide leaned forward. "It's the Lady Pirate!"
Via's eyes narrowed before she turned to look out the plexi window. And she'd thought this day couldn't get more stressful. She sighed. Usually the familiar voice of the Lady Pirate soothed her, but heading into New Vegas now--into a stronghold of the militia itself--it was one distraction she just didn't need.
"...interrupting your regularly scheduled programming to bring you that one thing the militias don't want you to have--the truth," came the familiar synthesized voice of the satellite hacker known only as the Lady Pirate. "Citizens take note--the New West Coast militias will be out in force this month to aggressively recruit any and all people found with psionic ability, no matter the age or power level."
With her mouth as dry as the desert around them, Via sank deeper into the transport's lumpy seat.
"As discussed many times on this program, individuals born with psionic abilities are deemed property of the United North American States government," the Lady Pirate continued. "According to the Psionic Acquisition Imperative, or PAI Law, UNAS reserves the right to utilize the valuable resource our psionic population represents in any way it sees fit."
"Whatever that means," Adelaide mumbled.
Via closed her eyes.
"Of course, legal experts worldwide denounce the PAI Law as inhumane by labeling people as property. UNAS officials, however, insist otherwise. And we know why our government does that, don't we, ladies and gentlemen? The government clings to that wording so it can legally kidnap its own citizens."
"I'd hate to be a psi," Adelaide said, shivering. "Once the militia finds you, you're never heard from again."
"You're just showing your ignorance," Patricio scoffed. "The government doesn't want us to be enslaved by those freaks. Their genes got jacked up by all the radiation the zealots unleashed when they bombed us. Now the psis are pissed off about it and want to take over the world."
"Who'd want to take over this mudball of a planet?" Weddo smacked the younger man in the back of the head. "Psis aren't freaks, you asshat, and psychic abilities have been around since the dawn of man. Yeah, the radioactive pollutants probably accelerated those abilities, but they've always been there in our DNA. Before the Decade of Quakes, my granny was a famous medium in San Francisco. She was told by her spirit guide to vamoose before the Old West Coast disappeared into the ocean. Granny listened, and because of that I'm now sitting here having this stupid-ass conversation with you."
Patricio cringed back. "Are you...one of them?"
"Stupid-ass conversation," Weddo muttered. "No, but I wouldn't mind if I were. In fact, I'd be proud. If I had an ability that could help people, I'd use it in whatever way possible."
Via nearly snorted. How in the world did Weddo think being a freak psionic was something to be proud of? No matter which way you looked at it, it was a kick in the teeth. Even without the constant fear of the militia to contend with, there was always that oh-so-fun potential twist of being held prisoner by one's own uncontrolled abilities. But did Weddo think about that? Hells, no. Apparently the only thing he thought about was how epic it would be to put on a cape and save the day.
If he only knew.
Patricio made a disgruntled sound. "I still say psis aren't like us."
"They're just like you and me, kid."
"Guys, I'm trying to listen to the Pirate," Adelaide complained.
"...no official explanation," the Lady Pirate continued. "Finally, a point of concern amongst the citizens in Old Las Vegas's second and third Sectors, formerly known as the Strip. Sources have confirmed seventeen young women have vanished without a trace over the past year. While on the surface these disappearances seem unrelated, local law enforcement confirms that all seventeen women reported missing were pregnant at the time of their disappearance."
"Via, Adelaide," Weddo said as he maneuvered the transport through the crowds outside a warehouse complex surrounded by high Zapper fences. "I know New Vegas is twenty clicks from those old sectors, but I have to ask--anyone have a bun in the oven?"
Via would have laughed if she hadn't been shaking so much. That would be one for the record books. "I'm good."
"Me too." Adelaide nodded.
"Aren't you worried about me, Weddo?" Patricio asked, and earned himself another smack in the head.
"Mute it, you clown, and keep it that way from here on in, roger that? I want no screwups this time."
"We'll all keep an eye on each other," Via said between clenched teeth. It was the only way to keep them from chattering. "Let's just do this and get out of here."
"That's the kind of team spirit I want to hear." Smiling, Weddo pulled up to a heavily fortified gate. "With a can-do attitude like that, this delivery's going to go like clockwork."
The New Vegas sun bounced off the mega-city's concrete canyon walls, turning the world into a hellish blast furnace. As a uniformed patrol brought his strike-bike to a stop at the distribution center's gate to check in, Lieutenant First-Class C. Locke stood on the edge of the loading dock and made note of the blistering heat only cursorily. His razor-edged attention was on the shuffling denizens of New Vegas just outside the fifteen-foot-high chain-link Zapper fence surrounding the Provisions Warehouse Complex, a distribution center that fed and clothed every militia on the New West Coast. As long as the citizens stayed on the public side of the fence, all was right with the world. But if anyone made a serious move to gain entry, he had no problem with putting his pulse rifle to good use.
It was hard to believe the ragged mass of humanity outside the distribution center was capable of causing trouble, but Locke knew better than to relax his guard. Prices on basic staples like water, rice, dairy and corn products had risen to nose-bleed levels in the past months. That meant the people on the lowest rung of society's ladder, the so-called no-goods, were growling as loud as their bellies. Vitamin-packed MREs offered by the city's overburdened shelters were just about the only option left to them, other than starving to death in the gutter. Considering he'd often been forced to live on those heinous packets of synth-nutrients some think-tank egghead had the gall to call food, he couldn't blame the disenfranchised citizens for pacing along the fences like caged lions at feeding time.
But sympathy was a zero factor when it came to the job. Order had to be maintained for the good of all--even if the all were frigging unappreciative of everything the militia did.
"Locke, look alive. Transport's here." Colonel Francis Fynn stalked to where Locke stood at the edge of the open loading dock. The colonel's badge as Commander of New Vegas's Urban Militia on his desert-camo's left arm declared who was in charge, and the small gold medallion gleaming at his neck marked him as a Lifer. A twin of that medallion hung around Locke's neck, a near-sacred gift given to him by the colonel himself when the man had taken Locke out of the state orphanage. When Locke had caught his first glimpse of the colonel eighteen years ago while wasting away in that horrific human warehouse, he'd thought then that the colonel didn't have the normal need to blink. After being recruited at the age of ten, outfitted with neurolinks, cyberoptics, military-grade biomechanical components, and trained to be one of Colonel Fynn's elite Lifers, Locke's opinion hadn't changed. Colonel Francis Fynn wasn't like everyone else.
As far as Locke was concerned, that was as it should be.
"Roger that." As the agridome's transport slid into the loading bay, Locke readied his pulse rifle, a weapon capable of destabilizing matter on a molecular level. A few bold citizens tried to rush the gate, but the guards were on them before the gate swung shut and the transport powered down.
"Dayum, look at all those no-goods," Colonel Fynn said, his steely gaze trained on the crowds. "Seem like more than usual to you?"
"Yes, sir." Locke's cyberoptics also sifted through the crowd, the face-recognition software flashing negative for any known terrorist. All he saw were sunken, desperate faces. "They're hungry, Colonel."
"Not our problem. Compassion is a zero factor. These provisions keep our troops strong so that we, in turn, are strong enough to keep the peace for the entirety of the New West Coast. One sign of weakness on our part and before you know it--boom. Everything we've fought for is gone. Remember what happened to us after the Decade of Quakes?"
Locke's expression hardened. "Yes, sir. Zealots bombed every North American city back to the Stone Age. What Mother Nature didn't destroy, they did."
"Because we showed weakness, Locke. Weakness is how our enemies gain traction, whether they're zealots or no-goods. We gonna let that happen again?"
"Outstanding, soldier. Keep it stone cold and remember--there is no sacrifice too great that a Lifer won't make, yeah?"
"That's why you chose me, sir."
"Don't you forget it." The colonel turned and marched past the cargo transport just as its automated rear payload door rolled upward. Four people in agridome khakis piled out to unload their cargo, and out of habit Locke looked them over in a quick but thorough threat assessment.
The driver was by far the oldest of the bunch. He was of Eurasian descent, balding at the crown and sporting an elaborate Fu Manchu moustache. He favored his left side, a nearly imperceptible limp that came from the hip and whispered of early-stage arthritis, but otherwise the old guy seemed downright spry. The younger man with his black hair tied back in a messy braid was so busy eyeing a generously endowed blonde that he seemed incapable of activating the transport's magnetized off-loaders. As for the blonde, she stood off to one side, one booted foot tapping out an idle beat, striking a pose that best displayed her impressive curves while looking away from the work she should no doubt be doing.
Civilians. It was a frigging wonder anything got done.
Stifling a sigh, Locke glanced to the fourth agridome worker, a woman perhaps the same age as the blonde slacker. This one was a tall drink of water with mile-long legs draped in baggy khakis and a riot of blue-black corkscrew curls falling down her narrow back like a cloak. Unlike her self-absorbed female compatriot, this woman's pale eyes swept the area with the practiced air of a veteran soldier digging out exits and hidey-holes. Then she moved over to the blonde to murmur something, and his optics narrowed even as the blonde pouted and shuffled into reluctant action.
There was something...different...about that long-legged agridomer.
Locke shifted into face-recognition mode without conscious thought, only to frown when nothing more malignant than an Agridome #4 I.D. popped up. Via Brede. Single. New Vegas native. No military background. No government-funded schooling or training. No criminal record. No high-risk registry.
Nothing that would explain why this long-legged bubble-farmer walked just like his martial-arts master.
Leaving the blonde in her wake, the woman named Via Brede moved to the kid screwing with the off-loader's control panel. This time she didn't speak, just stood over the noob with a look that promised a tooth-loosening beat down if he didn't get his shyte together, double-quick. Despite his preoccupation, Locke almost snorted at how the kid's eyes widened in alarm before he got serious about his job. After a couple fumbling moments, the transport's magnetized off-loaders hummed to life and the first of the cargo slid smoothly on its tracks from the transport and into the offload bay, while the kid shot the woman covert looks of cock-of-the-walk resentment, mingled with the genuine fear of getting pulverized.
So she was the hard-ass of the bunch, this Via Brede of Agridome #4. Locke could appreciate that. Nothing would ever get done if it weren't for the hard-asses of the world. She would have done great in the military.
The thought made Locke switch to x-ray mode just to double-check the data. With a subtle blink of his optics, he gave her a thorough once-over, looking for any sign of the dog-tag barcode embedded in a microchip at the nape of the neck that every UNAS soldier had, or perhaps the presence of biomech accessories. Nothing. Not even the cosmetic enhancements of breast implants or silicon stays in her pert little ass that he was used to seeing in the women who usually lined up to service the New Vegas Urban Militia at the Pleasure Palace. Via Brede's firmly sculpted feminine curves were all natural. She was one hundred percent ordinary human.
"Dayum, Patricio, a chimp could do better!"
Locke blinked out of x-ray mode when he realized that the magnetic hum of the off-loaders had stopped halfway through the unloading process. The older man stalked over to the kid and snatched the control pad away while the blonde snorted with laughter. The dark-haired woman, Via Brede, simply sighed and began trying to push the cargo down the track, angling her shoulder against massive crates labeled "Fresh Fish".
"This is the last frigging time I take you on a run, boy," the older man raged, jabbing at the touch-screen control panel so hard Locke was surprised he didn't poke a stubby finger right through it. "Take a good look around, Patricio, it's the last time you see the city."
"No, Weddo, I--"
"I don't want to hear it! You're on compost duty until I'm dead, which should be a good fifty years from now. Go sit in the transport and do nothing, which is what you're best at, while we-- Via, don't be stupid, you'll kill yourself trying to muscle tons of cargo around. I'll get this thing running, just be patient, yeah?"
She ignored him by doubling her efforts. "Just...wanna get this...done."
Before he gave it a thought, Locke was on the move to help just as the furiously jabbing person named Weddo hit the right combination of buttons. The off-loaders hummed back to life, and the stack of heavy crates the woman had been putting all her weight into moving flew down the off-loader's mag-tracks like unguided Venom missiles. With suddenly nothing there to hold her up, Via Brede slammed to the transport's floor while the crates zoomed into the loading bay and crashed, but all Locke heard was the woman's pained intake of breath.
Winded from her face-plant, she pushed gingerly to a sitting position while the blonde and a couple militia members crowded around the tumbled crates. Locke held up a staying hand when some of his comrades turned their attention to the transport, his focus laser-locked on the woman on the floor now cradling her hand against her breasts.
"Are you injured?"
The sound of his voice seemed to startle Via Brede. Her gaze jerked to his, looking as skittish as a first-time guest at Madame Cedrine's Pleasure Palace. His attention sharpened further when her expression filled with undiluted alarm the moment she had him in her sights. Her eyes were nature's own work of art--heavily fringed with sooty black lashes, a little too large for her pale face, and greener than anything he had ever seen in his desert-dwelling life. In that heartbeat of time Locke realized his favorite color, hands down, was green. Green meant life, a fragile rarity in the irradiated, heat-blasted wastelands of the New West Coast. Green meant hope that life could never be as easily snuffed out as everyone seemed to believe. Green was beauty, and strength within that beauty.
But with those eyes filling with fear as they took in his crisp militia camo uniform and automatic pulse rifle, green was also beginning to look a lot like trouble.