Friday, April 1, 2005

Adam and E-V-E by Bridget Midway

Adam and E-V-E by Bridget Midway
April, 2005 - ISBN 978-1-59426-518-1
eBook $5 (five formats), included in Original Sin - Buy Now!

Author's backlist: Bridget Midway


Chapter One

"Eve, at some point you're going to have to listen to me," Adam shouted over the whirring and whizzing sounds of his KN-47 weapon.

The over-forty-foot tall steel robot in front of them with its round body, solid titanium legs and modified claws for all four feet, raised another metallic shield over its exoskeleton. It showed no sign of stopping its assault.

E-V-E, or as she preferred to be called, Emergency Violator Equalizer, stood with her back to the thick steel door protecting the last few humans on planet Earth.

Although basically human, with tissues, organs, muscles and nerves, she thought of herself as a robot, a computer, no different than the thing in front of her that she wanted to take down. A sophisticated computer chip existed in her brain, implanted at conception and remaining until today, her twenty-fifth year.

She'd been trained to be a killing machine. With one hand-chop to the throat at the right angle, she could crush a man's windpipe and leave him gasping for air until he curled into a ball to die. With an upward thrust of her hand, she could shove the cartilage in any human attacker's nose into his brain, killing him within milliseconds. Endless hours of combat training had guaranteed that she would never need weapons. But in a case like this, where the attacker wasn't human, she'd be foolish to discard them in favor of fighting with her bare hands.

E-V-E squeezed her finger on the trigger of her assault rifle, firing off several rounds. The shots landed around what could be considered the knee joint on machine.

Nothing.

The physics of the contraption astounded E-V-E. The shot should have taken it down. She was an expert at spotting weakness, since it had filled her training schedule from the beginning.

Her regimented and practiced skills thrived while protecting those who couldn't fend for themselves--humans--against all outside forces determined to take over. The last thing she needed was to take advice--no, orders--from a man, especially one that made her question herself.

This was the gratitude E-V-E got for surviving beyond a few years. Leaders of the Federation offered her a role in their Army. She could have had her own troops to lead. But she'd chosen to work alone, at least that was what she'd wanted.

Peering over at Adam in his now tattered pants and opened jacket, she took in a long, haggard breath and jerked her attention back to the advancing monster. However, the image of his muscled thighs and the honey-colored skin of his thick neck and smooth, barrel chest invaded her thoughts until she had to swallow the saliva gathering in her mouth.

Her reactions didn't compute. Once she took this spherical giant down, E-V-E would have to defrag her computer chip. Seemed to be about that time anyway.

As soon as the Cerillions had entered the Earth's atmosphere three months ago, E-V-E's internal sensors had been on alert. Three rapid beeps every five minutes for the entire three months had given her a not-so-gentle reminder to remain alert until the attack. Sleep mattered little to her until she could ascertain the cause of her protective signal. When it had finally stopped, the robot appeared.

Why Adam, this human, had to tag along, made no sense. She'd been told he was sent to assist her because he was the best in the squadron unit.

But E-V-E had been told she was the best. Period.

She recognized a babysitter when she saw one. But at least he offered a pleasant diversion from looking at the flat, rusty Earth all day.

"Adam, get inside," E-V-E demanded. "I'll stay here and hold off this thing until you can get the inhabitants to the tunnels."

"All twenty thousand of them? Not likely." He took a precise shot at the underside of the predator's carriage. Good to see that he remembered the basics of his robot-defense training. Go for the weakest spot.

The thing didn't falter. It took another step closer, shaking the ground until both E-V-E and Adam fell into one another. Adam put his arm around her shoulders to steady her.

As though he willed her to do so, E-V-E turned her attention to Adam when the robotic intruder stopped its attack, righting its clunky posture and lowering its rifles as if at ease.

"What's going on? A truce?" E-V-E asked.

She'd never known a Cerillion to give up. It had to have been a trick.

"That's what I've been trying to tell you." Adam held his gun at the being and managed to turn E-V-E around to face him. "I figured something out and I think it'll work."

E-V-E glanced at the robot, which started to hoist its guns back up for a second wave of attack. She asked quickly, "What? We don't have much time to--"

Before she could finish, Adam pressed his firm lips on hers. Keeping her eyes open, she glared at the lieutenant. Her pulse quickened and that scared her more than the attacker. The loss of her senses reminded her of her training days when her programmers took over her body during exercises. When she felt herself lowering her gun, she pulled back.

"What are you doing?" she asked, holding on to his muscled arm.

He nodded toward the gatecrasher. "Take a look."

Turning her head, she noticed that not only had the robot lowered its weapons, it started to shake uncontrollably as though on a self-destruction mode. When she turned back to Adam, he kissed her again, passionately.

His hand pressed against the small of her back as he held her even closer. Sweat rolled down the side of her face, a first. She turned to break from the embrace. If Adam wasn't trying to pass secret documents from mouth to mouth, then this action proved futile. But her slight struggle caused him to hold her tighter.

E-V-E took in his masculine scent, a combination of red clay dust, salty sweat and ammonia, the last a permanent aroma that constantly wafted through the atmosphere. Her hand snaked up to the back of his neck as she took in the kiss, another first.

When Adam broke from her, he asked, "How was that?" He peered over at the robot, which still vibrated violently but struggled to hold its gun to them. "Say it now. Say it fast."

"What are you talking about?"

"Christ, Eve. For a computer, you sure aren't the fastest processor in the lot."

"I'll have you know that I'm able to compute multiple--"

A laser shot blasted over their heads, denting the door and burning a small hole in its wake.

"Don't argue with me," Adam said as he moved her over to avoid the molten steel pouring down the door as a result of the gun blast. "It's reacting to conflict."

E-V-E blinked. "Which is why we need to continue our rifle assault."

"Not that kind of conflict." He waved his hand between the two of them. "Us. Our fighting is causing that thing to fire on us."

She didn't have a chance to ask why. Without warning and with no hesitation, Adam pressed her back against the door, the smoldering hole over their heads a reminder that they weren't doing a practice attack. He paused for a moment, then did something she'd never thought he would do as long as she'd known him: he dropped his weapon.

"What are you doing, Lieutenant?" she demanded. "We have an intruder in our midst!" Standing on the tips of her toes in her class five work boots, she peered over his shoulder to see the Cerillion attacker gearing up for another battering. "Pick up your weapon!"

Aural Sex - Ann Regentin

Aural Sex - Ann Regentin
April, 2005 - ISBN 1-59426-508-9
$4 eBook (five formats) - Buy Now!
Author's Backlist: Ann Regentin

Max Schwarz put his fingers on automatic pilot while his eyes wandered over the orchestra. In three days, he'd be playing a concert with these people, his fourth in America, and this was his way of getting to know them. Mostly it consisted of snap judgments based on how they played in rehearsal.

Or conducted. Chicago's conductor wielded the baton as if he were fending off wasps, swatting each beat out of the air as he braced for the one that would follow. He gave his cues as if he were stabbing attacking bears, jabbing right into the heart of the section so no mistake could be made as to who was supposed to be playing when. Max actually flinched the first time he was on the receiving end of this, and had to remind himself that it wasn't him, it wasn't personal. The orchestra simply went on playing, and Max wasn't sure if they couldn't have cared less or if they understood that the music was master and not the man with the baton.

The orchestra. The first flute reminded him of his ex-wife. The first violin hated him, but that was natural. Second cello was paying no attention to him whatsoever. Her eyes were glued to the conductor. Sleeping with him? Probably.

Second bassoon. Hmmm. Round face, pointed chin, hair pulled back, lips wrapped tight around her reeds. She really felt what she was playing and he wondered why she was second to a man who looked like he was playing a two-by-four. He watched her for a few minutes, then something in the back of his mind let him know that he had a solo.

He turned his brain back on, but he kept an eye on the bassoon player. She was watching him over her stand, listening, smiling. She liked the music at least. Maybe she liked him, too. He certainly liked her, but he wasn't sure what to do about it, or even if he should do anything. He'd be in Chicago for only two more nights.

After rehearsal, the conductor took his hand. "Well done," he said, sounding surprised, as if he hadn't heard the CD of Max playing this very piece live in Vienna. Whether because of Lucas, Max's manager for this tour, or his own innate caution, the conductor had chosen music that he knew Max could play in his sleep. This would be a good show at any cost. "A few of us are having drinks," the man added. "Would you and Lucas like to join us?"

"I'd love to. I don't know about Lucas." He hoped not. He and his manager had taken an instant dislike to each other that seemed to get worse with every passing day.

"I'll ask him. You can ride with me."

"Thanks."

Lucas did want to go but so did a fair number of others, so Max was able to dodge the man by surrounding himself with fellow musicians. He'd been right, at least, about the second cello. She hung happily on the conductor's arm and on his every word, but the best part was ending up next to the second bassoon. Up close, she was even more appealing. Her jeans hugged her hips and accentuated her small waist. Auburn wisps and curls framed her face, a sprinkling of freckles spilled over her nose, and her eyes were a deep, startling violet. The tympani player sat on the other side of her, a bit protective perhaps, but she turned toward Max instead and offered her hand. "I'm Bianca," she said. "It's an honor and a pleasure to play with you."

"Thanks," he said. Her hand felt just right in his, soft and warm. "It's an honor to be here."

"Have you been to America before?"

"No," he said.

"How do you like it?" she asked.

"I don't know," he said. "I've been too busy to see much of it."

"That's a shame," she said. "Where have you been so far?"

"Boston, Philadelphia and Detroit," he said.

"I've never been to any of those places, so I can't tell you what you're missing."

"What am I missing here?" he asked.

"Lots," she said. "There are loads of museums and a great aquarium." Then she grinned. "We even have a German U-boat."

"You do?" That was news. Then again, he was no historian.

"Yes. U505. It was brought here after the war."

"I didn't know that," he said.

"I took my son to see it when he was younger."

"You have a son?" He hadn't seen a ring on her finger.

"Yes, Ben. He's fourteen and just starting his first year at boarding school."

"Boarding school?"

"An arts academy in Michigan. He was on tenterhooks before he got his acceptance."

"Is he a musician?"

"No, an actor."

"Do you have a picture of him?"

"Yes." She dug through her purse for her wallet and pulled out a small photo of a strikingly handsome boy in an elf costume. "That's from A Midsummer Night's Dream last summer. He played Puck."

"That's quite a big role," Max said, impressed.

"His biggest so far," she said. "He's been acting since he was six, when he got a bit part in a community production of Oliver Twist . He has his eye on Juilliard."

"Will he make it?"

"He'll die trying. Do you have kids?"

"Yes," he said. "Two."

"Are they boys, or girls, or one of each?"

"One of each." They suddenly sounded boring and spoiled compared to Bianca's son.

"Do you have pictures?"

He got out his wallet. "That's Angelika and Leo."

"Oh, she's lovely! She looks just like you." Bianca leaned into Max as she peered over his arm and he smiled at the compliment and the touch. "How old is she?"

"Angelika is twelve. Leo is fifteen."

"He looks a bit like Heathcliffe," she said. "I bet the girls just love him. Are you married then?"

"Divorced."

"I'm sorry."

"Thank you," he said. Actually, it was nice to be with someone who didn't know all the gory details. "It was a few years ago. And you?"

"Ben's father and I split up when I was pregnant," she said. "I've been more or less on my own ever since."

"So long?" he asked, surprised.

She grinned. "More or less. I've been a little busy."

"Don't you get lonely?" That seemed like an eternity to Max.

"Sometimes. But being with Ben's father taught me that it's better to be alone than to be with the wrong person."

For a moment, Max had nothing to say. He'd known so many women who were looking for Mr. Right-Now that the idea of one who didn't want or need that surprised him. Was she frigid, or maybe afraid of men? He wouldn't have thought so. Her smile was wide and warm and her eyes sparkled with hidden mischief. Too attached to her son? No, he was in boarding school. Could she really be what she appeared? He barely dared to hope. "Do you like your life?" he asked, then felt his face go hot. This wasn't normal German honesty. It was tactless past the point of rude, but he needed to know more than he needed anything else.

"Yes," she said softly, and when she looked at him, her eyes were wide with wonder and even a trace of pity. "I have a good life. I like it very much."

Those few sentences opened a door into her that he both wanted to fling wide and slam shut. He could see, as if on a movie screen, everywhere she had been, everything she had done and that had been done to her, good and bad. Part of him, the protective chivalrous part, was dead certain that if he opened his arms to her, she would come to him and let him soothe away the rough edges. Another part, the mean cowardly part, knew that if he did, she would see into him the way he now saw into her, and he wasn't sure he wanted that. He wanted to be better for her than he thought he was.

He would leave Chicago in a few days and never see her again. He blew hot and cold on that thought until closing time.