QSFer Elle E. Ire has a new FF mystery/sci fi book out, Storm Fronts book 3: “Woven.”
What if the mirror does reflect what’s inside?
Mercenary Vick Corren is steadfast in her love for empath Kelly LaSalle. When it comes to her love of herself, not so much.
After an acidic-lake dunking on a distant moon shows Vick what’s really beneath her synthetic skin, it doesn’t matter that she heals. All she can see is the metallic shell of the soldier she once was. It’s a cruel reminder that she’s a cyborg. An AI. Less than human.
And that’s not Vick’s biggest problem. Her clone, the sadistic VC2, is on the loose and on the hunt. Her mission? Eliminate Vick and make Kelly her own.
Can Vick resolve her crippling identity crisis in time to defeat VC2—a terrifying version of herself that she might have been if not for Kelly’s love?
I STUMBLE toward the Storm’s military transport ship. The ramp seems to waver and buck as my boots climb it, though I know it’s solid and still. The hatch stands open, Lyle’s massive form framed in the entryway and backlit by the interior lights casting his already dark exterior into shadowy blackness.
“Corren, great job today. You kicked some serious ass. That psychopath won’t be hurting kids ever again,” he says, his bass tones falling over me like a thick blanket. Warmth, comfort, companionship. These tonics wait for me in the shuttle, if I can just make it another few steps, though the one person I need the most isn’t onboard.
A smaller form appears behind Lyle—Alex, our tech expert. “Yeah, and you did it in record time according to the Undercover Ops records I hacked. Mission spec for this job was another week at least. Hunt the bad guys, take ’em down, get home for breakfast. No one has beaten their estimates as bad as you just did.” Alex didn’t know the Storm had an Undercover Ops until five months ago when they “invited” our team to join them. Even VC1, my ever-present, brain-inhabiting AI, hadn’t been able to confirm their existence, and she makes Alex look like a kid playing with a toy circuit set. But from the inside, they both have a lot more access to intel, including data that U Ops probably doesn’t want us to have yet, if ever.
An image of my new handler, Carl, appears on my internal display, his broad chest and tree-trunk legs barely covered by a cheerleader’s uniform. Meaty arms and hands the size of my skull wave pink-and-white pompoms before the entire picture vanishes.
Yeah, the boss will be pleased. The Fighting Storm’s decision-making board will be pleased. The accountants will be pleased. Everyone who has any kind of power within the Storm’s infrastructure will be fucking ecstatic.
Yippee for me.
I’m two steps from the lip of the hatch when I stumble, nearly falling off the metal ramp to hit the landing field tarmac six feet below. It wouldn’t do serious damage, but it would hurt, and I place my next foot with extreme care.
“Hey, you all right?” The concern in Lyle’s tone touches me in places I hadn’t known I possessed until Kelly, my life partner, helped me reconnect with them.
Damn, I wish she was here, but then again, I don’t. I’d be a heartless, cruel bitch to bring an empath into a kill zone.
When I trip a second time, Lyle closes the small distance and catches me, grabbing me by both shoulders and hauling me upright. With his face mere inches from mine, his frown is impossible to miss, shadows or no shadows. “You don’t stumble.”
In other words, I’m programmed for optimum agility.
I stop that line of thinking, my own growth and Kelly’s influence curling tendrils of guilt in the pit of my stomach. Such thoughts not only belittle the individual human I am, even with the implants, but also make unfair assumptions about Lyle’s perception of me. He and Alex both have worked hard at overcoming the predominant mindset that I’m a machine in an organic casing (and even that’s cloned version 2.0), a walking biological computer, a robot with a pretty exterior. If they can accept me as a person, a friend and teammate, rather than property, then I can damn well give myself the same treatment.
“This is our third assignment almost back-to-back,” I remind him. “I’m… tired.”
But I shouldn’t be collapsing on boarding ramps. The implants’ job is to maximize my energy reserves, keep me to all outside appearances fit and focused, and I’m not. What’s going on?
Exhaustion, mild dehydration, emotional trauma. In other words, the usual.
I swallow a bark of laughter at that last comment. VC1’s droll humor becomes more and more like my own every day, but my non-AI partners will be even more worried if I start laughing out loud without an obvious stimulus. No, not a stimulus, a reason. An obvious reason. Sometimes I worry the more human VC1 becomes, the more machinelike the rest of me gets.
I push that concern into a dark emotional corner with all the rest in order to focus on my current dilemma. Why aren’t you doing anything about it?
Because you are now in a position of safety and security. I have been moderating your physical and emotional stress for several days. My own systems are not taxed. You are in no danger of redlining or overload or burnout—
I close my eyes and exhale. No, I don’t want to burn out ever again. Dying that way once was more than enough.
—but I, too, have limits, as you are well aware. It is imperative that I allow your biological infrastructure to heal naturally when time and situation permit. It gives me an opportunity to perform maintenance on my own functions while preventing you from becoming overly dependent upon my assistance.
Which means you’ve pulled out your support and I’m about to lose consciousness.
Wonderful. That thought and the tightening of Lyle’s hands on me are the last things I remember before the universe goes dark.
Elle E. Ire resides in Celebration, Florida, where she writes science fiction and urban fantasy novels featuring kickass women who fall in love with each other. She has won many local and national writing competitions, including the Royal Palm Literary Award, the Pyr and Dragons essay contest judged by the editors at Pyr Publishing, the Do It Write competition judged by a senior editor at Tor publishing, and she is a winner of the Backspace scholarship awarded by multiple literary agents. She and her spouse run several writing groups and attend and present at many local, state, and national writing conferences.
When she isn’t teaching writing to middle school students, Elle enjoys getting into her characters’ minds by taking shooting lessons, participating in interactive theatrical experiences, paying to be kidnapped “just for the fun and feel of it,” and attempting numerous escape rooms. Her first novel, Vicious Circle, was released by Torquere Press in November 2015, and will be rereleased in 2019 by Dreamspinner Publications along with her new novel, Threadbare, the first in the Storm Fronts series.
To learn what her tagline “Deadly Women, Dangerous Romance” is really all about, visit her website: www.elleire.com. She can also be found on Twitter at @ElleEIre and Facebook at www.facebook.com/ElleE.IreAuthor.
Elle is represented by Naomi Davis at BookEnds Literary Agency.