Author: Kristin L. Stamper
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 05/31/2021
Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex
Pairing: Male/Male/Female (Male/Male interaction)
Genre: Science Fiction, LGBTQIA+, sci-fi, AI, scientists, gay, bisexual, MMF, enemies-to-lovers, established couple, reunited, aliens, alien artifact, court trial, mystery, humorous, interracial
Elora isn’t a robot, but she isn’t human either. She’s an abominable combination of the two, a cyborg. For this offense, she must face judgment in a court of law. There, it will be decided if she’s a person, owed the same rights as any other, or an object, owed no rights at all.
But when a last-ditch effort to demonstrate her humanity backfires, Elora is faced with an element of human nature she always hoped to avoid: love. The consciousness of a dead man is accidentally downloaded into her cybernetic brain, and she becomes infatuated with his still-living husband—whether she wants to or not.
For Elora, making her way in a solar system that fears and hates her has been hard enough. Now, she must do it as an intermediary between lovers while keeping her own heart in check. With the trial fast approaching, and anti-robot protesters demanding her head, Elora can’t afford to get swept up in someone else’s love story.
Kristin L. Stamper © 2021
All Rights Reserved
It’s the first taste of freedom I’ve had in weeks. It could also be my last. I march handcuffed down the labyrinthian corridors of the Aidos to be ejected out of an airlock, or have my metal components melted down and recycled into engine parts, or be squashed in a giant garbage disposal. No one’s actually told me where I’m going, but it can’t be anywhere good.
An armored squad of meatheads forced me from my cell without a word. They press the barrels of their rifles into my back to keep me walking. The Aidos was assigned to deliver me to the Minos Justice Station for my trial, but we should have arrived three days ago. Plenty of time to find a dark corner of empty space where they could ditch my body without being noticed. I’d been told my confinement was for my safety as well as everyone else’s but always suspected the scale tipped slightly in favor of everyone else’s. Looks like I was right.
We finally arrive at our destination. The door hisses open…and it isn’t an airlock. It’s a conference room. A massive blank viewscreen hangs behind a shiny circular table. Paul Margot, my lawyer, sits beside it, balancing his chair on its back legs and playing a handheld video game. Not a care in the world. As usual, an expensive suit and tie drape his gangly old body, and he’s combed his scarce hair to the side to hide the bald patches. The smell of peppermint wafts from him, the odor so strong I swear I see a green menthol cloud looming in the air.
A Japanese man stands with his arms crossed on the other side of the screen. He isn’t wearing the black-armored uniform of the guards but rather the stark white with gold trim of the Aidos crew. He has a dashing gentleman sort of look about him, and the decorations on his shoulder suggest he’s high in rank. But despite whatever power he might have, he’s hesitant to approach me—like I’m a live bomb. And it’s not an unfair comparison. During the Great Human-AI War, many robots were exactly that. Humankind nearly went extinct in that war, so I don’t blame him for handling me with caution.
A million questions pop into my mind at once, but I settle for the most pertinent: “What the hell?”
“Well, hello to you too,” Paul says.
“See?” the Japanese officer says to him instead of me. “She made it just fine. Now, I’m going to have to ask you to step out.”
“Actually, I think I’ll stay. No one talks to my client without me present.”
“I’m not interested in the legal matters concerning your client, Mr. Margot.”
“And I’m not interested in whatever secret sciency things you have onboard this ship.” Paul laughs. “But I stay. Go right ahead. She can be a little snippy though. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
I’m so grateful for Paul. I know the things he does are because he wants to win his case, but sometimes I feel like he actually cares about me.
Still. “Is someone going to tell me what’s going on?” I say, louder this time.
“I apologize, Ms. Cussons.” The Japanese officer stares at me with the same stupefied ogle everyone gives me the first time. There’s been a great deal of discussion over what exactly I am—ranging from papers published in scientific journals to angry rants on internet forums—but the term “half-robotic abomination” would seem to apply. I prefer Metal-American. Either way, most people know about Elora Cussons, the illegal cyborg in the news, and when they hear my story, they think of a half-robotic, hideous monster. When they actually see me, it’s never quite what they were picturing. On the outside, I’m a perfectly ordinary, unspoiled, twenty-two-year-old woman from Kauai. My tan skin and long, mud-brown hair are indistinguishable from any of my neighbors’. Although, the red prison jumpsuit isn’t in fashion.
“Do you know who I am?” the man asks after a moment.
“That’s a negative.” I mock his uptight military bearing.
“My name is Hamasaki. I’m captain of the Aidos. I hope you’ve been treated well.”
“Mm-hm, the brig is simply lovely.”
He clears his throat and straightens his blouse. “I’ll get right to the point, Ms. Cussons. Do you know where we are?”
“You should probably assume I don’t know anything. It’ll be easier.”
“Right. Sorry. This is an unusual situation for me too. We’re parked outside of the Great Compass. A member of our crew is head of research here, and he’s gotten himself into some trouble.”
“Wait, the Great Compass?” Paul cuts in. “I thought research on the Compass was shut down. Some guy died or something last year?”
“Yes, someone did. That’s why our people don’t interact with the technology here anymore. It’s observational study only. At least, it’s supposed to be. Turns out, our guy bit off more than he could chew and was injured a few days ago. We were on our way to pick him up and transport him to the medical facilities on the Minos, which is how we got tagged with giving you a lift. Come to find out, it’s a little more complicated than we thought. He’s inside the core of the Compass itself, which is deadly to biological lifeforms. Going in there was how we lost our crewmember last year, and we can’t risk any more losses by sending in a rescue team. We’ve been scratching our heads since we got here, trying to think up solutions, and one of our people thinks she might have something.”
“You want me to do it,” I conclude. It was easy to follow his story to its inevitable end.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Paul practically bellows. “If you’re trying to force my client—”
“No, nothing like that.” Hamasaki reclaims the reins of the conversation. “No one is forcing Ms. Cussons into anything. But with robotic machines being illegal, she’s our best chance. We’ve had experts in medicine, biology, cybernetics, the whole bit reviewing her files, and everyone agrees. Because she’s more mechanical than biological, if there’s ever been a candidate for safe exposure to the Great Compass, it’s her.” He returns his attention to me. “We wouldn’t ask this of you if we didn’t think there was a high chance of success. We’ve already gotten permission from the council handling your case, and they’ve agreed to push your trial back. But of course, you’re free to refuse. What do you say? Want out of your box? Want to be a hero?”
It’s obvious why he’s asking me himself rather than send a lackey. He’s a salesman. He’s charismatic and energetic, and his good looks don’t hurt either. An excited gleam twinkles in his eye, and I can tell he thinks I’m sold.
I can’t wait to disappoint him.
Meet the Author
Kristin L. Stamper is a writer of YA and adult science fiction. Her interest in storytelling dates back to her childhood when she brought her ideas to life through play-pretend. Once society had successfully pressured her into knocking that off, writing became her new creative outlet. After high school, she spent seven years as an Information Systems Technician in the US Navy, gaining experience in computers and robotics. Currently, she is the mother of a toddler whose favorite pastime is banging on the keyboard while mommy tries to write.