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Liberation’s Kiss Release Day!

Today Liberation’s Kiss is live at the following retailers! If you have preordered, it should arrive shortly in your timezone.

3d book

Available Now:

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Amazon DE

Party time! The journey that started in November 2014 has now been completed. I hope that you took advantage of the pre-order price because it is going up to its usual price of $4.99 as soon as everything is processed.

I can’t wait to hear what you think! I hope you enjoy the and are looking forward to the sequel, Liberation’s Desire, coming soon…

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Liberation's Kiss by Wendy Lynn Clark

Liberation’s Kiss

by Wendy Lynn Clark

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Liberation’s Kiss – Chapter Five

In celebration of my upcoming new release, Liberation’s Kiss, I am posting the first few chapters here and on Wattpad. Like what you read? Take advantage of the $0.99 pre-order price, changing back to $4.99 on release day July 1. Or, join my newsletter and request a free review copy in exchange for an honest review.


Xan finished injecting the human ligament regrowth hormone into the surgically inserted patch he had installed over the problematic left knee and recapped the syringe. It would hold until he got to the mainland and found proper parts, but his feedback sensors now operated at the speed of human pain. He wouldn’t be making giant leaps any time soon.

Then, he rested his head against the back of the chair and stared at the ceiling.

What the fuck had he been saying to Cressida?

She wasn’t alone anymore? She had him? He knocked his head against the wicker as though he could shake loose the idiot from his circuits. He was a disconnected, damaged, reprogrammed android originally assigned to kill her. What a reliable guy.

He stood and checked his appearance in the mirror. A seam streaked down at the angle of a drone laser. It felt and looked like a Gorgon Five bee sting. All hot and pulsating as if something foreign were alive under there. Had he self-administered the seal, he would have left no imperfection. Cressida’s hands had been shaking, and yet she had forced herself to fix him.

He touched the new ridged line in his eyebrow. Throb. Now, more than the temporary human knee ligaments or his increasingly illogical thought patterns, he would physically no longer be able to blend with the other x-classes. One more thing about him had been altered, rearranged, made unique. Because of her.

That made him feel…

Fuck. He still had a plan. He would get her off planet, then confront the other x-class while his mind was clear. Never mind the extra sense attuned to her life patterns, even now providing a vague sense of comfort. How would he do separated from her? He couldn’t rip his attention away.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

He let his hair drop, closed the cabinet, and followed her steady heartbeat down to the kitchen bar. She was perched on the stool, legs crossed and arms properly tight against her elbows, consuming a large plate more quickly than socially acceptable. Given her size, he guessed that she was making up a calorie deficit rather than indulging in a binge. Another reason to hate her precious general.

“You found something to eat,” he said.

“The unit is like new, so everything tastes just great.” She offered a flake of pink coconut, but he shook his head. He only needed a small amount to feed his small percentage of biological components, and he’d get weeks’ worth out of the plums he’d eaten on the boat.

She considered the pink flake. “I read somewhere that coconut used to be white.”

He made a grunt of interest.

“And hard, with a brown outer shell full of hair. And it grew on trees.” She bit into the succulent pink fruit, licking the dripping juices. “If it’s so different now, I wonder if this is how coconut used to taste.”

He could watch her eat all day. “Like how?”

“Creamy, sweet, rich on your tongue, like it’s really filling your mouth. Kind of…I don’t know. Coconut-y.” Her dreamy look gave way to practicality. She chewed the pink fibers and swallowed. “I just wonder if it tastes the same as the original.”

“The original on Rigel?”

She shook her head. “I wonder if it really did originate on Rigel. You know?”

“That varietal did.” He swung onto a stool across from her.

She smiled at him, her tapioca spoon halfway to her mouth. “You look better. How do you feel?”

Her smile was beautiful and shivered through him not unlike the shock of the bee sting. Strange. In absence of the Voice, constantly realigning his actions to the assignment every micro-moment, his brain was beginning to rewire all other sorts of stimuli to take its place. Feelings that once didn’t matter, such as a painful cut or a beautiful woman’s smile, suddenly assumed a new importance.

A guy could do a lot for a smile like that.

He shrugged, the entire analysis contained in less than half a blink of an eyelash. “I won’t be dancing Swan Lake until I hit up a titanium-alloy repair shop, but we took out the sting.”

Her smile slipped. She worked on her cream. “Do we really have to leave here?”

“Even if you figure out a way to rig up a life pod in the deepest unexplored bacteria-farm tunnel, they will find you.”

She set aside her spoon. “I meant this island.”

“The longer we wait, the more infrastructure they’ll have set up on the mainland to recapture you.”

She met his gaze, then closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. “How long do we have?”

“A day.” The longer he went without being plugged in, the more the empire’s path diverged from his original estimation. Given enough time, he would be walking into the world as blind as someone who had never been plugged in. He’d be blind as a human. “Maybe two. Any longer and we’re dancing in front of their cross hairs.”

She set down her hand with a sigh. It held an edge of exhaustion and something else. Sorrow.

He reached out and covered her hand with his.

She blinked, startled, and then smiled.

He was lost.

Even though he meant the gesture as a simple 2097-a, comfort a team member, he took it up a level, rolled her taut hand between both of his, massaging the fascia, soothing her. She didn’t protest when he picked up her other hand. Her breathing calmed and evened, and the edge soothed. He moved up her wrists to her arms, squeezing the shape of her beneath the thin suit, remembering what she had felt like pressed up against him. His cock twitched at the memory. It was a good one.

When she allowed him to rub her shoulders, he stood up and went around the counter to stand behind her, moving her silky hair out of his way. His thumbs pressed into the delicate pocket of her rhomboids, where she seemed to carry most of her tension. A moan escaped her lips. She rolled her head forward, bonelessly granting him permission to touch the rest of her.

And he did.

Focusing on her hitched breath and moans, he moved her from brick to syrup. His cock pulsed, hard as a rock. This was entirely outside of his assignment. Squeezing her softness, smelling the delicate fragrance of her earthy body awoke a strange craving. One he couldn’t seem to control.

He wrapped an arm around her waist and dug his fingers into taut muscles along her spine. Her breasts pushed like small weights against his taut forearm, and she seemed to turn her sweet lips toward him as though inviting him to press her even closer.

He nuzzled her coral-shaped ear. Her breath hitched. He tasted the rim of her lobe, the softness tapering up to hardness, down again, and teased the flesh with his teeth. Her heartbeat jumped beneath his palm. “Mmm.”

Her murmur pierced his chest.

She put her hands against the bar for balance. He sucked, and felt her heartbeat jump again, and again. Rhythmic, as her awareness opened to him. He kissed the point of her jaw — salty — and her cheek, following her gasps to the corner of her coconut-sweetened lips.

“Why are you doing this?” she whispered.

It was a question that anyone would ask. This wasn’t part of any assignment. So why did he want it so badly? He just wanted to touch her. Intentionality and reason had no explanation.

“Xan,” she said, breathless.

He nibbled on her. “I don’t know.”

This was apparently the wrong answer. She slowly hardened beneath his hands and leaned away from him until he had no choice but to release her.

She stepped away and wouldn’t look at him as she straightened her already perfectly straight robe. “I told you not to do that.”

Shit. “Sorry.”

Her frown deepened as though he had said a wrong thing again. Shit. Human-computer interactions hadn’t been his worst class, but no one could tell from his behavior right now. Performance failure? He seriously regretted that programming flaw.

Cressida put the counter between them and slid her plates into the reprocessor slot. It disassembled the food remains, plates, and silverware into their molecular components for reassembly into a future meal, complete with appropriate serving dishes and cutlery.

“And, um, how long did you say until we have to leave?” She refused to look at him while she asked.

Shit, shit, shit. He rested his palms on the counter. “A day, maybe two.”

“Then where will we go?”

“Somewhere that alters ID chips.”

She closed the unit and stepped out of the kitchen. Triggered by her absence, a miniature ventilation system fanned magnetic cleansing powder across the bar, adhering to crumbs, and then reversed magnetism to suck it into the wall. It was actually a pretty powerful system; he felt it trying to lift the grime from beneath his fingernails and doing it pretty successfully too. He lifted his hands away from the bar and dusted the powder off his ripped suit.

She frowned at his knees, fixed him with troubled eyes, and said, “There is no way I will ever agree to alter my chip ID.”

“It isn’t a suggestion. It’s a condition of the continuation of your life.”

Her eyes fixed on him with the start of fear.

A strange, high-pitched noise seemed to fill his ears, but when he queried his audio receptors, they registered no external sound. He flexed his fingers. “Don’t you understand? Another android, another x-class, has come to kill you.”

“I thought you said you wouldn’t let her.”

“I may not have a choice.”

She blanched.

The noise increased. He struggled to isolate it and said, through the distraction, “I mean, if we defeat her, then another will come, and another, until they have completed my assignment and you are dead.”

Cressida’s eyes shone white. She stepped back. “Your assignment?”

Oh, great holy fuck.

Her voice rose. Shrill. “I was right. You were assigned to kill me.”

He stepped forward. “Wait.”

Her hand shot up. “No!”

He froze.

Her palm shook. Her other arm folded across her belly. “I came here with you. I let myself be talked into coming to this isolated place…” Her eyes darted over her surroundings, but she was completely hemmed in between the bar and the walls. “I knew it.” Her face whitened. Her lips trembled. “I knew!”

“Cressida!” He stepped forward and grabbed her wrists.

She stopped breathing.

He shook her wrists. “Goddamn it, I’m not going to kill you!”

She stared sightlessly past him as though waiting for a bullet.

“Think!” He shook her wrists again, dragging her attention back to him. “You’ve been afraid of the Faction your whole life. I get that, and you’re not wrong. But look at this situation logically, all right? There’s no reason—”

“It’s your assignment,” she said faintly. “It’s your mission.”

“It was.” He let go of her wrists and folded her cold fingers into his hot palms, trying to transfer some of that warmth into her, never minding that his extended inattention to the temperature differential had caused a sweat to break out on the rest of his body. “Then I met you and everything changed.”

She focused on him again. Disbelief mixed with something else. Color returned to her cheeks, and her balance settled more firmly over her feet. “Please let go.”

Although he really didn’t want to, he forced his fingers to loosen. She drew her hands away and rubbed them on her thighs, stepped back, and looked away. “I’m going to sleep. I don’t want you doing any more touching.”

He swallowed the sudden dryness in his throat. “Sure.”

“Nothing, do you hear me? I don’t want you within touching distance of me either.”


She nodded and, still not meeting his eye, went out to the back veranda.

He followed her movements around the mansion with his auditory sensors, and when he was sure of her location, he climbed the stairs and eased into a shadowed lounge chair. As calculated, she sat in a lounge chair on the veranda below him, easy for him to see but unlikely to see him. She needed the space. He needed to know she was alive so he could think.

Did they even have two days? He again cursed that he was an action-oriented x-class and not an analytical y-class android. Although they had slipped out of the transit hub, there was always a risk that their pursuers would see him on the security footage, or flag his bad acting as an Outer-Centurian, or note that the private yacht had deviated from its course at the whim of two illegal visitors. Better limit themselves to just the one.

Which meant he now had to get them off this uncharted island in the middle of an acidic sea, sneak onto the mainland, jack into a local network, find a black market medical facility for Cressida and an equally discreet parts shop for him — if such a facility even existed on a world like this. Never mind that about a million satellites, drones, sentries, and all security, enforcement, and now most likely transit authorities were also looking for the two of them, and Cressida broadcast her identity every time she stepped into range of a sensor — which, depending on the sensor, could be anywhere from ten to fifty feet.

Oh, and she didn’t trust him or want him to touch her, and definitely didn’t want to get her chip ID changed.

He flexed his hands, testing the tensile strength of his titanium-alloy bone wrapped in neural-fiber muscle and coated in a thin veneer of blood, skin tissue, and singed dark hairs. This problem would surely paralyze even a y-class.

Below, Cressida hugged herself, looking more vulnerable and alone than even when he’d first found her hiding beneath her bed.

Fuck. He would figure this out.

Together, but separated by distance that seemed much farther than the visible feet, they watched the brilliant tangerine sunset.


Cressida passed the rest of the day enclosed in her own thoughts. True to his word, Xan remained out of sight. By the time the second half of a Liberation VI “day” — the hours of tangerine sun plus more hours of intense green planetshine from the gas giant and its three largest moons — faded into true darkness, she had a taste of the future she had predicted to Xan.

It tasted like a single meal, consumed alone at a bar, while the solitary night wind howled past.

She put away her utensils, climbed the stairs to the second floor, and stood in the terrace doorway, staring out into the darkness. In the glassed cities, the starlight was allowed to filter through naturally to create a twenty-three-and-a-half-hour local day. Soon the Nar would rewire all of the cities to the twenty-five-hour New Empire standard, and no one would see these views but tourists. But tonight, the vast star-spatter looked just that. Not poetic, like the calligraphy she captured by rote described it. But vast and frighteningly empty.

Cressida hugged her elbows. This must be how her little sister had felt when their parents had chosen to run away with Cressida, leaving her behind. Surely, too, their older brother had faced his own hours of sadness. This was only what she deserved. This and many more hours like it.

She turned and climbed into bed.

Because she had been thinking about her siblings, she drifted into a half doze full of memories of their times together. How, at ten, dark-haired, shy Mercury came alive with a multi-tool, teaching Cressida how to change her alarm pet’s voice to a silly accent. How their brother Aris always got up on special Saturday mornings, no matter how late he’d stayed out with friends the night before, and served her and Mercury coconut cakes of his own invention with sweet breakfast tea. How their parents always kept them close when other families shipped off their children as soon as they were able, and always introduced them with love and pride.

On their last family trip, this one to the nearby oceans, her parents purchased them all stuffed sealotters to commemorate the visit. Even Aris, who was too old for stuffed toys, had accepted the wedge-shaped plush and promised it to his girlfriend of the time to make up for choosing his family over her and being absent from her on his last day on planet. They were called away for business just after they reached the return shuttle port, and their children waited for their return so they could go on to the final promised stop of ice cream. Mercury had been waving her sealotter by the tail fin and somehow managed to drop it over the side of an open hydrovent. Even though Aris leaped up on the guard rails to grab for it, the plush was sucked away.

Mercury’s eyes filled with dark tears.

“Here.” Cressida pushed her own plush into Mercury’s trembling chin. “You can have mine.”

“D-don’t you want it?”

Well, Cressida did like the sealotter’s soft fluff and the goofy grin. It was much less scary than the actual animal, which was the size of a commuter shuttle and swam the oceans sucking everything into its ginormous mouth and filtering it out gills in the side of its blind head. But she hadn’t had enough time to get attached. “It’s okay. We can share.”

Her little sister still hesitated.

Cressida mooshed it against her. “Go on. Squeeze.”

Mercury’s small hands grasped the plush tight. “Then what will you squeeze?”

“When I want to squeeze”—she put her arms around Mercury and hugged with all her might—“I’ll just squeeze you both.”

Mercury squealed.

“Double squeeze!” Cressida cried.

“Double squeeze,” Mercury repeated, giggling.

Her brother swept down on the two of them with a masculine yell. “Triple squeeze!”

Cressida felt herself crushed between her brother and her sister, sandwiched perfectly between them, exactly where she belonged.


Cressida awoke with tears in her throat.

The memory was so vivid. She had been so grateful to be put back into that place, with her whole family together and everything after gone or forgiven, that waking up now, here, alone, as an adult, hurt. She just wanted to go back. She wanted to go back. But that couldn’t happen no matter how hard she wished it.

She sighed and wiped at her eyes.

Navidi’s second moon, Alefar, shone like yellow-green cheese through the distant windows. She stretched slowly on the bed. It was just as full and thick as she had always imagined, ever since she’d first learned of its existence and eagerly, then jadedly, awaited the general’s invitation to visit. She rolled over.

A masculine form rested in the bed beside her.

Xan sat against the bedstead, his dark head against the backboard, arms crossed over his wide chest, legs long against the sheets. His eyes were closed, breathing regular.

Was he sleeping?

She shifted closer. He had obeyed her order not to be within arm’s reach, although apparently she should have instructed him not to sleep in her bed either. He didn’t react to her movement. She hovered a hand over his knee. If she touched him, he would probably come awake with a start. She retracted her hand. So, perhaps, androids did need to sleep. Strange.

She didn’t know much about robots. She had never been interested in mechatronics or intelligence theory or biosynapse technology, more interested in her alarm pet’s cheerful recitation of her daily itinerary than in rewiring its vocal chords to speak in a helium pitch.

Her throat closed.

She studied Xan in the yellow shadow. His strong features looked like crags of strength. Why was he helping her? What did he mean that his assignment had changed after he’d met her? Did he really intend to take her off planet, and if so, what would happen then?

Why did he keep trying to kiss her?

Her belly heated, needing only the tiniest whisper to awaken the ember. How he felt, squeezing her against him. His cock, a hard ridge of masculine desire, undeniable against her back. His teeth nibbling on her jaw—

She squeezed her knees together, trying to force the throbbing ache down.

It was so difficult to know what to trust. Could she simply ask everything she wanted to know? Would he answer? Did he even know the answers? Or was she just going to feel even more frustrated and distrustful? He’d said he didn’t know why she was on the Kill List, after all. If he didn’t know that, was there really any way he could help her?

She would rather stay on this isolated island for a hundred years than face one more second of the terror she’d experienced in the Central Transit Hub, or before that, in her old residence. But staying here wasn’t an option any more than hiding under the bed had been one. And look at what had happened to her old bed.


When Cressida awoke again, gentle light flickered through the wind-blown palms and cast sleepy shadows across the empty bed beside her.

She rose and stretched. A bird of paradise trilled. Her stomach growled.

She scooted out of bed, sliding from the thick, rumpled sheets down to the polished wood, and padded to the closet. Several different types of outfits hung in the closet, most of them optimized for her size range. Well, she’d always known she was the general’s type, even if she didn’t ever interest him enough to be invited here. She slid into a morning robe, fastened the belts, and walked down the stairs as the clothing stretched and shrank to fit her body. She ate a large breakfast of creamy fried banana cakes with date muffins and sliced fruit glace. It had only been three days of starvation. Would she never be full again?

She put away her dishes — tidy, tidy — and stepped out on the back terrace.

Decking led to mossy steps in the soft forest floor. She waded through a crowd of purple butterfly-catchers, ducked beneath a curtained fig tree, and emerged in a sheltered lagoon. Water flashed as a green coin ebbed against silver rocks, gently rocked by a tinkling waterfall. Paradise birds flittered over the water, tempting brassy fish and harrying the gentle hellbenders and smaller mudpuppies paddling below the shadows of the rocks. She dipped in a toe. Warm and gently fizzy on her skin.

Well, there was no posted sign warning her off of swimming in a secret lagoon…

She undid her robe, eased into the water, and glided gently into the center of the pool. The water slid up around her legs and armpits, into her unfamiliar places. Home bathing was restricted to mist showers or reclaimed orbital standing baths that swished the water around her in a claustrophobia-inducing tube. Nothing like the natural luxury of this freedom. She flipped over on her back and stared at the sky. Overhead, the wind whipped the trees, but here it was a pocket of calm.

Somewhere up there, in the almost-visible stars, were her parents.

Also somewhere up there were the Robotics Empire’s satellites.

She ducked beneath the water, feeling the bubbles tingle on her skin. Once, she had believed all robots to be her guardians, like a child looking up to familiar uncles. Among the many things, she longed for that naiveté again.

When she surfaced, Xan was striding down the path. He moved more naturally now. Her chest felt a strange uplifting, bubbled up like the water. She took a deep breath to calm it, and the added buoyancy floated her breasts almost to the nipple in the water.

He stopped at the edge of the lagoon, angling his body to keep the house and beach path in view, as though naturally attuned to any potential source of danger. A new flight suit stretched tight across his body, like he had selected a broken one and couldn’t get it to trigger to match his size.

“Where’ve you been?” she demanded, and immediately wished the question back. She was the one who had asked for solitude.

But he just jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Down at the beach, scoping out our options.”

“Flagging down a passing ship?”

“Sticking out my thumb.” He set his feet, as powerful an image of a man as the first miners, the founders who had ventured to this moon and planted the first operations. “See if any assholes take a bite.”

The question lingering in the back of her mind moved forward. She floated toward him, disturbing a flock of paddlers and scattering them around her. “Why do you swear?”

He cupped the back of his neck. A smile started on his lips, boyish, and he looked up at her from under his brows. “Is it a problem? I could stop.”

“No, I just find it a little strange. Sentries use polite language and servos use only preprogrammed sentences. This linguistic choice isn’t a product of the way you’re raised.”

“It kind of is.” He found a spot to hunker down and leaned his back against a rough palm trunk. “I’m an x-class, ninety-eight subclass, type four. The ninety-eight stands for human conciliatory type, which means I will try all forms of emotionally pleasing negotiations before any alternate method of problem solving. Type four is programmed to operate best in groups. They fed me a steady diet of soldier flicks and team-sport real-time vids and then simmed me into both. My graduate work was to go to a military bar with a human wingman and pick up chicks.”

She tried not to eye him skeptically.

He shifted. “What?”

“Did they grade your performance?”


Okay, now she tried not to feel the immediate stab of irritation, flushing through her system. She dove beneath the water, swimming in the bubbles, thrashing to keep the snarky questions from boiling up. How well had he performed? Was he trying to get in a practice session with her? Or was he going for an A+ performance? She surfaced and breathed steadily at the sky. There were bigger problems for her to deal with today. This was stupid. And not worth her time.

“Hey,” he called out from the shore.

She ignored him, swishing around the gorgeous lagoon.

“Why does that upset you?”

“It doesn’t,” she said. The words echoed in her ears.

“I think it does.”

“I think it doesn’t,” she said, her voice rising in sing-song.

“Your heart rate is elevated, your body is tensed, you’re avoiding eye contact, and you’re—”

“Okay!” She splashed upright, facing him, the water draining off her like her dignity. “All right, I’m a little upset.”

He studied her. The intensity in his gray-green gaze burned.

Her cheeks heated. She felt even stupider, even as her belly clenched. She gripped her elbows, bobbing lower in the lagoon. “I’m just— I’m— It’s nothing, so forget it.” She rubbed her forehead, striving for the calmness that a discussion about education ought to be. “Anyway, so, you slept with some women.”

“No,” he corrected. “The assignment was to ask them to go to a hotel. If they say yes and walk into the lobby, you pass.”

Strange, the sensation of hesitant relief that flowed into her. “So you didn’t sleep with them?”

His brows folded in concentration, as though she had put up a mathematics problem and asked him to use spherical geometry to solve it when relative geometry was more appropriate. “Why would I?”

“Why not?”

“It’s not the assignment.” He tilted his head. “What’s your real question?”

Apparently the human-conciliatory type meant mind reader. She gritted her teeth, then asked the question she really did want to ask. “Have you ever slept with anyone?”


“No one at all?”

“When would I have had the time?” He laid out his palm. “I finished my training and got stuffed into cold storage. I woke in isolation, came to this moon, and here I am, still trying to figure out what the hell is going on.” He hesitated, noticing something in the intent way she listened that she hadn’t meant to show him. “What?”

Okay, he had been honest. She sucked in a breath. “Then why do you keep trying to sleep with me?”

He looked away.

She felt the coldness across the water. She swam to the shore, told him to look away, and pulled herself out. The gentlest breeze dried her, and she refastened her robe, feeling its perfect cut against her skin.


She didn’t want to hear his answer.

He caught her ankle. A gentle arrest, a palm around her, pleading with her not to go. “I upset you when I said this before, but the truth is, I don’t know. It’s not part of any assignment. I don’t understand it.”

Assignments again. She turned to him. “Normally, you have to do what you’re assigned. You said that changed when you met me. Why?”

He fixed her with gray-green eyes. “Will you sit down?”

She stepped back, jerking her ankle away.

He studied his empty hand, then dropped in it in his lap and turned to the hellbenders making patterns in the water. “If you leave partway through my explanation, you’ll get an incomplete understanding, and then you’ll feel much worse.”

“I won’t leave.”

He raised a brow.

She put her fists on her hips. “I won’t.”

He sighed. “Fine. In the diplomatic residential courtyard, I was accosted by an unknown individual and implanted with a new set of programs. These programs disconnected me from the Faction and removed the impetus for completing my assignment.”

A cold ball formed in her belly. “So the only reason you’re not trying to kill me right now is because some person stopped you less than fifty feet from my bedroom and installed another program?”

He nodded.

“Then what if you get reconnected to the network? Suddenly you want to kill me again?”


“Or what if that person changes their mind and installs a new program in you? Or what if they already installed a program that executes on a delay, and then you’ll decide to kill me?” She heard her voice rising, but the cold seeping into her bones caused such a trembling she felt like she was under the overpass all over again, staring at the sudden shock of metal just after she had thought he was safe. “You’re like a grenade that could go off at any time! How can you just sit here like nothing is wrong?”

“Are you going to run away?” he asked quietly.

She realized that she’d already taken several steps away. She wavered, the historical instinct to run fighting the impulse to trust, just a little longer, that it was all a mistake. That there was something more. She retraced her steps until she was standing before him. “No.”

His jaw moved. Thoughtful. He nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“Just explain so I can feel safe again,” she said. “Are you not a grenade?”

He scratched his head, a rueful smile curving his lips. “Honestly? I don’t know.”

She hugged herself. “That doesn’t make me feel better.”

He flashed to her and sobered. “I don’t know who the person was that installed the other program, so I don’t know their intentions. I don’t even know if they’re human. I don’t know the scope of their program, or what defenses it has against hacking if I am recaptured. The Faction will certainly want to deconstruct the code, which may require disassembling me completely. I don’t know.”

She swallowed. “Disassembling?”

“That is the usual consequence for an android that goes off assignment.” He sighed. “That goes rogue.”

She knelt down. “But it wasn’t your fault.”

His brows drew together. “What does fault have to do with anything?”

She sat back on her heels.

“I don’t really care either way.” He cupped the back of his neck. “It’s not like I have a biological imperative forcing me to stay alive and transmit my genes. Up until a day ago, I, like all of my brethren, had only one imperative: to enact the will of the Faction. And now…” He released his hold and filled his eyes with her. His expression changed to awe, almost pleading, and his voice turned raw, as if she could answer his questions. “What is it about you that makes me so fucking compelled to hold you? Even now, when you distrust and fear me, I just want to yank you into my arms and squeeze you until your eyes glaze with pleasure and your breath comes in gasps. It’s not an assignment. It’s not the will of the Faction. I just want you. I want to memorize every single molecule, from the inside to the outside, from the chemical bond to the neuro-physical configuration, so that I could be your resurrect if you needed it. It feels like burning under my skin, but when I query my dermal receptors, they report nothing but ambient temperature. I don’t understand these sensations. I need you.”

Her body throbbed.

He stared at his hands. Then, he opened his hands wide, as though he were attempting to release his feelings for her. He frowned at the open palms and closed his hands again.

She shifted. “So, even now, you want to touch me?”

He focused on her. “Even now.”

She licked her lips. “And you can’t control it?”

“It’s pulsing in my hands, under my skin, in my cock. But”—he took a deep breath—“I promise to keep my distance so long as it’s safe to do so. More than any desire of mine, I want only to do things that you like.”

She was having trouble thinking. Her body pulsed on its own rhythm. She tucked a ticklish lock of hair behind her ear. “It’s not that I don’t like you, um, touching me.”

He focused on her intently. “No?”

“Well”—she tucked in the lock of hair again, even though it was already tucked–“you kind of said that you intended to cut me open, and let’s just say that it’s a hard image to forget.”

He blinked. “Wait. What?”

“You said that you were going to find out what was wrong with me no matter what.” Why did he look so surprised? Had she hallucinated when he’d said that? “You said it when you told me to decide whether to go with you or stay behind.”

“That’s because we want to know why the Faction is trying to kill you. If we can’t figure it out by other tests, exploratory surgery might hold answers.”

“You didn’t say exploratory surgery,” she accused. “You said you would cut me open.”

“What are you thinking? I would come at you with a knife?” He shook his head, his face a mask of denial that frayed at the edges with hurt. As if her fear hurt him. “You really think I would do that?”

She cupped her elbows. “You’re the one who said you’d kill me if you have to.”

“Come on.” He laid out his flat palms, irritated. “I keep telling you that the easiest way to do that would be to just turn you over to the other x-class. Instead, I’m doing everything in my power to keep you alive. Why can’t you get that?”

Because he was an android whose specialization was in getting humans to believe him. She shifted. “Because you said those things. It’s really terrifying, okay? I saw you destroy hundreds of sentries within the first five minutes. Just because you haven’t killed me yet doesn’t mean you aren’t going to. I’d be like nothing. So easy you wouldn’t even feel it.”

“Cressida.” His expression squeezed in agony. He stepped toward her, seeking her hard elbows, her taut neck. “I shouldn’t have spoken so carelessly.”

For some reason, her nose prickled. Moisture, unshed tears of fear warring with relief. She rubbed it. “No, you shouldn’t have.”

“I’m sorry.” He cupped the back of her neck and drew her forward until their foreheads touched. His gray-green eyes radiated pain and sincerity. “I’ll do whatever necessary to protect you. You’re the most important person to me in the entire universe right now. Okay?”

Her chest throbbed.

He rubbed the back of her neck, seeking to release the tension in her cords. “I’ll die before I let anything bad happen to you.”

She sniffed. “Why?”

“Because I don’t matter. I’m just one guy. I’d give my life to protect any member of my team.”

“No, I mean, when did I become a member of your team?”

He leaned back. Confusion crossed his face, and then that distant look. Ah. Well, it didn’t matter if he didn’t know, so long as he did what he promised. He spoke many fine words, but at the end of the day, he was still a robot. They were constructs of logic, not of passion.

Even though he was doing a very good job of convincing her otherwise.

A shooting star flared behind his head, over the beach.

He turned to follow her gaze. Something fell with a black streak and landed on the beach. His lips twisted to the side. “Well, damn. That was faster than I anticipated.”

She tensed. “What was that?”

“Our ride.” He looped his fingers around her loose wrist and tugged her toward the beach. “Let’s go stick out our thumbs.”

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SFR Brigade Summer Cafe Blog Hop: Edible hair dye and pink flamingos

This post is part of the SFR Brigrade Summer Cafe Blog Hop. Check out the other blogs featuring short story appetizers, main dish novels, and sweet swag desserts all about Androids & Aliens this week. Scroll to the bottom of this post to enter to win!

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Edible hair dye and pink flamingos

Question: What color are flamingos?

two pink flamingos
Flamingos Laguna Colorada” by [ Valdiney Pimenta] – Own work by uploader. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Answer: Flamingos are gray!

Perhaps you only know pink flamingos? Gray flamingos turn pink because they eat pink shrimp. (Mostly brine shrimp, also known as sea monkeys.) And shrimp turn pink when cooked because they eat caroteniod-producing planktonic algae. You see the food chain in action every time you look at a pink flamingo.

Eating your way to a new color is nothing new to the animal kingdom. Cardinals are red because they eat tasty berries containing carotenoids, and finches metabolize these same carotenoids into yellow. If you keep them in captivity and feed them a diet without the tasty red berries, their colors will fade after a few molts, and you will no longer have vibrant birds. Similarly, zoo keepers and salmon farmers have to supplement diets or else their pink flamingos and salmon will revert to dull gray.

Melanin pigments our human eyes, hair, and skin, and the amounts and ratios of the different types of melanin determine whether we are blue-eyed blondes, mysterious brunettes, or ravishing redheads. This is generally controlled by genetics or Lady Clairol. But Lady Clairol has a ways to go to catch up to nature! Box colors and spray tans can take hours, color contacts rip or fall out, and as soon as you stop the applications, you too will revert back to your normal color.

[See pink hair on my Sci-Fi Robots board on Pinterest.]

In the science fiction future, I think we will definitely control our colors with more fun and ease. Leloo in The Fifth Element discovered a makeup device that applied perfect color with one click, and the receptionist for Mr. Zorg spent hours instantly changing from one nail color to another.

Fifth element picture
The Fifth Element receptionist and her fingernail-o-matic [check out for a comparison of which is better, the Fifth Element version or the 1990 Total Recall model]
Even now, cosmetology and technology change all the time, whether it is the recent discover of shellac “Gelish” nails that harden under UV light and last for weeks, or the discovery of paint that will never fade.

I like the idea of changing hair color by eating. (I like food!) On the run from pursuers, my characters in Liberation’s Kiss go under cover like flamingos and cardinals: by popping melanin pills.

3d bookIn this excerpt, reprogrammed assassin android Xan has just returned to his injured love Cressida’s tiny hotel room with food, medicine, and a strategy for keeping her safe for one more night…

His confidence filled her with confidence. They had already survived this long against incredible odds. She filled her belly with the delicious protein noodles, then watched him testing the water in the shower. New exciting thoughts shivered through her. Him, naked. Washing her, equally naked. And then, touching…

“Um, what are you doing in there?” she asked. Her voice sounded too loud for the small room.

He shut off the water and returned with a brown bag. Putting away her leftovers into the delivery cart – keeping it fresh and warm for later – he drew out cosmetics for changing her appearance. She swallowed a slow-acting melanin pill and a second pill that directed some of it to the stroma of her irises, to increase the Rayleigh scattering shifting her eyes from blue to green.

He held up a tub of Bruisease. “This has to be kept away from water. I know it’s going to hurt, but how about changing the rest of your appearance in the shower first?”

She swallowed the sudden dryness. “You’ll need to help me.”

His eyes remained steady as a rock. “Anything.”

She rotated her feet to the ground and then eased out, putting slow pressure on her heels. Pain shrieked up her legs. She sucked in a breath through her teeth.

He eased an arm around her bare shoulder blades and helped her to stand, supporting her into the tiny room. She shivered on the cool tile. He adjusted to a comforting temperature and detached the nozzle from the wall. The stream eased down her sore back like a warm caress.

She rested her hands on the tile while he rinsed her body, then had her lean forward, hands against the wall, and scrubbed the depiliatory cream into her scalp. Her hair dissolved like a color; she watched it disappear down the drain, careful not to get any splashes on her brows or lashes. Gentle hands stroked her head, tracing the soft lines of her bare skull, sensual. Under his relaxing ministrations, hair regrowth formula adhered to her scalp, and he rinsed the layers away, revealing the first bit of fuzz. She touched it tentatively. Red. In a few hours, it would grow as long as her finger tips, and in a day, it would reach her shoulders. She swallowed a calcium tablet and an E supplement, trusting him as he remade her into a new person. Without those minerals, her new hair would turn brittle and break away, fragile as strands of spun glass.

His eyes traced the fuzz as his hands did, an odd expression on his face.

“You’re sad,” she guessed.

He flashed to her in surprise. She had been correct. “I like you as you are.”

“It’ll come back,” she said. “In a few days.”

His thumb stroked her cheek. Absent, like he didn’t notice. “Real hair takes so much longer to grow.”

She swallowed. “Then you’ll just have to wait with me until it’s all back.”

His eyes skipped up to her scalp again. He rubbed the softness, pressed her briefly to his chest – making a wet print on his flight suit – and shut off the water, allowing the warmth of radiation to dry her naturally and fully. Her chemise and panties puffed out, made fluffy by the warmth. He scooped his arm under hers and helped her back to the bed…

 – From Liberation’s Kiss, available July 1 (Pre-order now for a special price 80% off!)

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Liberation’s Kiss – Chapter Four

In celebration of my upcoming new release, Liberation’s Kiss, I am posting the first few chapters here and on Wattpad. Like what you read? Take advantage of the $0.99 pre-order price, changing back to $4.99 on release day July 1. Or, join my newsletter and request a free review copy in exchange for an honest review.


Against all calculable odds, Xan’s human managed to save them both from execution with a few flirty phrases and an adorable smile.

The neuter metal sentry queried the database and, in ancient dialect, laboriously accepted Cressida’s fluently communicated embassy authorization and billing codes. Then, while Xan’s hands were still tied up smothering her identification broadcast, he got to experience the second unusual experience of Cressida’s sweet hands near his cock as she tied his belt. Once again, a signal flashed to his brain — Pursue — and once again, his immediate reaction was to draw her in and explore that sensation. But they were still within the lair of the security forces. Xan kept her possessively close as the sentry escorted them across the transit hub to the private hover yachts. Where they would go after, he didn’t know. But for the moment, the other x-class was instigating a lockdown in the mines, entirely unaware that they had passed in the opposite direction in a yellow-splotched theft suit under custody of the very forces attempting so desperately to apprehend them.

All because of his beautiful, capable human.

At the boarding gate, Cressida bid the sentry farewell and led Xan up the velveteen steps onto the luxurious shuttle deck as though she entered it every day of her life. Being a diplomatic escort, she probably did. They followed the other passengers through a darkwood lounge, up a glass-encased ramp, and emerged onto the windy sun deck. A subtle hum shivered through the hull as they exited the transit station and slid noiselessly along the rails arching over the Central City. The other passengers captioned vid-holos of themselves pointing and commenting on the iridescent glass spirals, floating skyscrapers made of a perfect union of rubilum and mikodon. Off of Liberation VI, the sight was afforded only by the richest of private enterprises and empire-building factions.

Xan shrugged his sun hood over his eyes. Overhead, he felt the invisible glints of satellites trained on them, even though their anonymous robes matched the other passengers. When Cressida leaned forward to return a greeting, Xan waited a moment and then deliberately pulled her back.

She relaxed, resting her head against his shoulder, her fragile body pressed against his.

They changed onto the rail for the coast.

Black sands glittered like simple obsidian, the type of rock that the rubilum-producing bacteria enjoyed eating miles below. The ocean spread out, green and foamy, and they sluiced into it, transferring from magnetic rail to a buffer of expressed air. The motors increased their noise output as they traveled along the beach, passing small bum-shacks between elaborate beachside manors, and then they turned away from the opulence into open sea. On the far horizon, two of Navidi’s other closest moons hovered in the sky, red and yellow. Farther out, Xan’s optic sensors barely detected five more, so tiny they burned like daytime stars above the atmosphere.

Cressida tugged his arm. Her fingers entwined the fabric, a child clinging to a parent. “Dinou anat ailea.

A full second later, his translation program output, “Everyone walk/movement downstairs.”

He repeated, “Walk/movement,” and followed her.

Down in the lounge, the guests slipped quietly into private booths and disappeared into their own languages, so Cressida selected a darkwood booth and slid across the velveteen seat with Xan. She pressed the center com button and ordered two meals. Shortly, a servo delivered plates mounded with sweet-smelling foods and pitchers of colored drinks. She dug in, not bothered about the hand he continued to leave clamped around her crown.

He contemplated what he wanted to say in Outer-Centurian. When she was halfway through a plate of jiggly yellow fruits and he was starting to get distracted by the way the liquid was clinging to her lips, he gave up on their ruse and switched to Standard. “Aside from individual recorders on the servos, I don’t detect a broad-spectrum scanner.”

She hesitated, then licked her lips. Aw. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Well, they’re not supposed to spy on customers. This is a private company. I guess it’s reassuring that they’re doing as they promise.” Then her mouth turned sad. “For now.”

She used two long eating sticks to plop a thick bun in her hands. Steam released where it touched her skin, and syrup drizzled out. She danced it between her fingers, nibbling bites.

“You’re hungry,” he noted.

“I didn’t eat for three days.” She licked her fingers. “The last time that happened was when I was coming to Liberation VI, ironically. My parents stuffed me in a tricked-out transit container filled with anything I wanted: the newest games I’d been begging them for, forbidden ‘frivolous’ books and movies, and my favorite foods. When we arrived two weeks later, I couldn’t even look at another chocolate whip or cheesy doodle without feeling the gag reflex. I still can’t.” She shuddered. “We were too used to living on a nano-enhanced world. It barely matters what you order because an ice cream cone can become bison steak just by thinking about it hard. But this time, I didn’t know I would be stuck in the residence for three days awaiting rescue.”

“Sorry,” he said, although he wasn’t sure why.

She fixed on him. Her blue eyes softened. She touched his cheek, below the scar. “Thank you for coming. And for saving me in the transit hub.”

His titanium-reinforced stomach dipped. And his cock twitched. Both new sensations. “Sure.”

“I just wish I could do something.” An old disappointment lingered on her face and tinged her voice with pain. “But it seems like my only talent is sitting around and waiting for someone else to rescue me.”

He choked.

She looked up in surprise. “What?”

“Are fucking kidding me?”

She blinked.

“Was I the only one awake back there?” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, in the rough direction of the Central Continent. “Who do you think got us onto this yacht and out of the city just now? Who got us out of the transit hub?”

She frowned and picked up her utensil. “Well, you hid me in the decontam room and snuck me past the whole security force.”

“And then I set off the station alarms.” He waited for her to say something, but she didn’t know what he was getting at. He reached across the table and gripped her thin shoulders. “You saved us.”

Her mouth opened. Heat suffused her cheeks. She licked her lips, and that frown came back as she looked away, deflecting his recognition. “I just knew an error code. Anyone in the diplomatic corps would know the same.”

“And you used it at the right time. You spoke the right language. I was out of options, Cressida.”

At her name, she finally looked at him again. Her eyes were hooded, refusing to believe.

He squeezed her shoulders. “I was out before I picked up the wrong air tank. You’re not just some piece of baggage I threw over my shoulder. You got us out of there alive.”

She sucked in a deep breath and let it out, then pulled back. “Well, I can be useful sometimes.”

He allowed her to go, even though he didn’t feel satisfied with her answer. Not at all.

“Anyway.” She picked up a dish of fermented sour plums, wrinkled her nose, and forced one down with a grimace. She set it aside and wiped her mouth. “Ugh. I forgot how much I hate these, but they are the national dish. I think it’s required that they be consumed at every meal. Will you?”

He scooped up the dish and swallowed the contents without noting much more than the nutritive content. “You are not helpless.”

She laughed. “Not going to let it go, huh?”

He looked away.

When she was finally sated, somewhere over the mid-equatorial region, she rewarded him by leaning back into his hand with a sigh. She sipped a fizzy tea as she looked out the window. The clear green sea spread out in all directions, therapeutically calming.

He pressed her head to his shoulder, and after a brief hesitation, she relaxed into the position, her curves squished against his side. She snuggled. “What’s our plan now?”

He could stay like this for another few hundred years. “Rest and recuperate.”

She let out a heavy sigh, as though she, too, could rest here instead. “Thanks to your people, everyone’s looking for us.”

“We need to go where they’re not looking for us.”

“Where’s that?”

“Ideally, off planet.”

He had to warn the Faction about the rogue, but the x-class sent to retrieve him seemed uninterested in having a chat, and he couldn’t just call up the Mainframe himself on any old terminal. Besides, he couldn’t seem to think at all so long as Cressida was in danger. He had to stash her someplace safe so he could get those circuits back.

Too bad he wasn’t a y-class. Those bots could calculate chaos dynamics accurately in the middle of a shuttle collision. Of course, if he were a y-class, he would have already figured the rogue out.

“And how are we going to do that?” she asked dryly. “The transit hub is behind us.”

“I don’t suppose you know of another uncertified freighter like the kind that brought you here?”

She bit her lip.

So, then, she had some idea. Interesting.

“If you know, then why were you still hiding under your bed this morning?” he asked.

She jerked away from him. “I didn’t— I mean, I don’t know of one. That’s why.”

“Except for the general’s, I’m guessing.”

She tightened her jaw. “I don’t know of any.”

Well, fine. She was protecting her friend. He dealt with his irritation. Unlike the planet she had come from, Liberation VI had never needed to smuggle live cargo past sensors. The simplest solution was to get Cressida onto a licensed shuttle, and that meant modifying her chip ID so that she could travel through a wired area without tripping an alarm. Even if she made it off planet with her current chip, waltzing around the empire broadcasting an indelible record of her passage only meant the next android could easily catch up and complete his old assignment.

His forehead stung. And his knee squeaked. “We’ll rest somewhere quiet.”

“Where is that?”

“I have no fucking clue.”

She was silent for several minutes. Then, she suddenly leaned forward and pressed the center table com. “Disatalia mearit soorinalo.”

Which his translation finally propped forward as, We intend to disembark.

At double that time, the com queried her intended destination and, when they could not reconcile her request with their itinerary, ordered her to the captain’s quarters. Beside a microscale itinerary map of the rugged, isolated equatorial islands, the human concierge bowed low. A silver microphone attached prominently to his jaw, and he spoke in laborious Outer-Centurian. “Madam, sir, you are not scheduled to disembark on any islands.”

Xan stepped between them.

And then checked himself. The concierge clearly wasn’t a threat. There was no logical reason for Xan to— Ah. According to his reason logs, he didn’t like the fact that the man had put himself closer to Cressida, and whatever his future intentions, Xan erected himself as a barrier to arrest those in the formative stage.

Okay then.

Cressida placed a calming hand on Xan’s arm and spoke the Outer-Centurian he was starting to become familiar with parsing. “Please.

He eased back.

The man stared at Xan’s face, eyes wide.

“Excuse,” she told the concierge in accented Standard. The man blinked rapidly, obviously accessing a translation card inside his brain. She spoke with the fluency of a person who did not need to, but it was clear to Xan that she had switched because she didn’t know the correct words to express herself in the more ancient dialect. “My assist, he is injure from the bomb. It is an unexpected.”

The concierge’s mouth folded into a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I apologize on behalf of my countrymen for any inconvenience you may have faced during your visit here.”

“Accept.” She patted Xan’s hand. “We will go to the hospital later, yes? Now is time for rest and amusement.

Amusement,” he repeated, matching her exact tone and phrasing one octave lower.

She returned to the concierge. “Then, I am guest of this island.” She tapped a native species-restricted nature preserve not far from their current location. “Please and thank you.”

He blinked. “Your name?”

“As guest, Vinitra Asada.”

He stared into space, breathing slowly. He blinked onto Xan. “And this person?”

“No list. He is my assist. After bomb, I am so fright, I am come with assist.”

“He is not on the list.”

“Please?” She smiled hopefully. “It is private. Ask?”

He reviewed his protocols, then lifted his hand in farewell. “Thank you very much for your patronage. Convey our respect to Outer-Centurian. We hope to see you again soon.”

“And as well.” She nod-bobbed and led Xan to the boarding ramp. The yacht altered course, and the restricted nature preserve rapidly grew from a cloudy speck on the green horizon to a towering, windswept tropical island. They stepped from smooth, synthetic wood onto rough, dark sand. Harsh wind whipped Cressida’s brown hair against his fingers. They watched the boat depart, shielding their eyes to the wind-blown debris, and then turned to face an abandoned paradise.

“Vinitra Asada?” he repeated. “Married name?”

She glanced sideways at him. The expression was undeniably guilty. She pulled free of his hands now that they were beyond any recorders and started toward the impenetrable vegetation. “Let’s get you repaired.”

“On an uninhabited nature preserve?” He strode after her. His palm felt cool and strangely empty. “What the hell’s that, a naturalist cabin?”

She didn’t reply.

Vine-encrusted copperwood trees drove out the sun, and unfamiliar cries died on the wind-shaken branches. Although no dangerous creatures lived on this moon, exotic imports escaped, and anything could mutate. He hurried to catch up, bunching his robes for better ease of movement. His knee grated.

Just a few short minutes into the interior of the island, they came upon a manor faced in the white stone nestled against a matching cliff. He noted the heavy palm growth and liberal coating of radio-reflective paint on top of sound-muffling shingles. If he wanted to stay hidden, this place was designed for his need.

She arched her brows. “You were saying?”

“That’s one hell of a cabin.”

She smiled and took his hand. “Come on.”

And, guilty or not, he would have followed her to frickin’ space and back without a flight suit if she’d asked him.


Cressida pulled Xan up the moss path and unlatched the front door. Shutters slid along a silent track, opening up the veranda that ringed the house. Half-wall windows lined the rooms, and mirrors cast a subtle green glow onto the tall ceiling. A plush sitting area with rattan chairs and low tables and the gleaming darkwood kitchen bar were much grander than she had imagined.

She stepped into the hall. Her favorite composer seeped gently from the ceiling, and the kitchen bar morphed from polished darkwood to bold ink on white canvas. A disembodied voice said, “Welcome, Cressida Sarit Antiata.”

Xan stiffened, his free hand flexing for his dead pistol.

She squeezed his hand. “It’s local wiring.”

“How can you be so sure?” But he still cautiously relaxed.

“I’m sure.” She tugged him forward. Having him with her in this new place made her more confident, although she preferred not to dwell on the reason.

But he poised with such caution she relented. “You’re right about some things. My family’s friend negotiates shipping contracts that need more security than can be guaranteed in one of the glassed cities.”

“The general’s a smuggler,” Xan said.

Hmm. Apparently she hadn’t spoken obliquely enough. “He helped my parents attain their diplomatic positions and continue with their previous work.”

“Where are your parents now?”

“Off world.”

“You don’t know?”

“I was supposed to rendezvous with them. Well, I’m still supposed to.”

“How and when?”

The impotence of the previous three days weighed on her. “I don’t know.”

He pushed ahead of her and swept the house, his head swiveling while he limped. His many injuries, garnered while protecting her, tugged at her chest. They passed a vast indoor bath, a sauna set in a beautiful glassed atrium, and reached the back gardens without finding what she desired, so she started up the winding staircase. He refused to release her hand, limping laboriously after her, despite her protests.

“I think there’s got to be a medkit around here somewhere,” she explained apologetically, noting the perspiration on his upper lip. Normally he seemed strangely cool, and only when all of his effort was directed at something else did she note his perspiration. “So far from civilization, the general has to have something just in case.”

“You’ve never been here?” His question ended with a grunt, as though something new had broken off unexpectedly inside him. He didn’t wince or grimace, but he did pause, doing some sort of self-analysis.

She stopped herself from going to him and hugging him. He was a robot and, unlike a human, could just shut off his pain receptors.

Well, humans could do that too, if they were military or had stents—

He was looking at her expectantly. Oh, he had asked her a question. She turned away, flustered. This was not a time to be thinking of the ways in which robots and humans were similar. “No, I’ve never been to this place. I told you, it’s for discreet contracts mostly.”

He eyed the single bedroom. “Mostly?”

A giant bed sat in the middle of the loft, old-fashioned four posters secured from the ceiling, white and cream sheets accenting the subtle softness, and the inviting scent of real wood and sea mingled to create a relaxing, seductive atmosphere. Beside the bed was a night table and a gleaming pitcher, and an intimate terrace overlooked a lush waterfall, and she was not thinking of how lovely it would be to snuggle with Xan on the bed through the night and then breakfast on the terrace with his sheltering arms wrapped securely around her like they had been on the yacht, keeping her safe from any harm.

“Business happens mostly in the daytime,” she said, shaking the pulsing needful pictures from her mind and scanning the walk-in closets, mirrors, and cabinets, “and if he stays the night, it’s with someone who only needs one bed.”

Ah, inside a wicker drawer, she pulled out the size of medkit that would make a field surgeon proud.

Xan leaned against the doorframe. His travel robe fell open to reveal his torn flight suit, tight against his chest, and he was every inch the powerful soldier that she was trying not to notice. “Discreet contracts with women named Vinitra?”

“Yes.” She selected skin-seal and an applicator and moved a lounger to such an angle that she could work from the chair beside him and not see the bed or the terrace. Her hands still felt oddly clumsy as she lined up her tools.

His green-gray eyes burned on her. “How well do you know this guy?”

Her heart kicked in her chest. From his question, and not from having to look at him so closely. “I told you. He’s done a great service for my family and for me.”

“Enough that he trusts you with the code name he gives his mistresses?”

“I once did some secretarial work for him.” She took out the numb applicator.

He grabbed her wrist. “Don’t waste it.”

She allowed him to set it down and instead wiped his injury with a sanitizing acid mini-cloth. The gash gleamed, humanity flayed open to reveal the metal core. He was lucky that the cut had been stopped by his metal brow bone and that his eye was safely uninjured — but even if the eyeball were pierced, she had heard his optical receptors would continue to work. Because he wasn’t human. He did not change expressions even after the dampness touched his skin, but the magnetese reacted to the acid and reversed its bonds. Blood gushed from his brows onto his cheek, jaw, flight suit.

She gasped and held a staunching cloth to his face. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” His jaw made the skin move, exacerbating the injury.

“Don’t talk. Hold the cloth. Here.” She gave it to him and concentrated on ripping open the skin-seal. Her hands shook.

“Does blood bother you?”

“I guess.” She wasn’t thinking clearly. Her face felt hot. She wiped sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. “I mean, not usually.”

“I can do it if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“No, I can.” She took a deep breath and let it out. Calm. Poised. She shook the tube and pinched the applicator, trying to gather an appreciative smile. “You got this from my bed. It’s the least I can do.”

Bed. She swallowed the awkwardness heating her cheeks and tried to focus.

He removed the staunching cloth and sat perfectly still, exactly according to her directions, as she squeezed the clear cellular gel into the ragged edge of his bleeding forehead wound. Like magic, the cellular filaments reached for the edges of the wound like a mold and knit them together, pulling tight. Blood slowed and then stopped, leaving only a single bead above the surface. She wiped it away with a corner of the staunching cloth. She used a little more skin-seal than she should in the deepest part of the wound — ah, her hands were shaking again — and it made a little pucker, which she tried ineffectually to smooth with her thumb. The filaments reached for her thumb, suctioning it to his brow, and she pulled free with effort.

When she finished, he was still looking at her.

She felt that hot tremble again and turned away.

“So the general doesn’t know you know about this place,” he said, speaking again as if the intervening pause had only been a moment.

She found herself smiling ruefully. “No. He would be shocked.”

“Because your relationship was public.”

She jerked her head up. “How did you—”

He remained steady on her.

Oh. Of course. They had access to all the data from the upload — what she ate, where she visited, who she was with — for the past fourteen years. She rubbed her forehead, curled up in the chair across from him, rested her hot cheek on her knees. He had known since the beginning. But still, confessing it made her feel stupid and small. “I’m not good with trust. He already knew about my situation, so it was convenient.”

“How old’s that guy?” he asked, reminding her that although the robot army might know everything about her, apparently they didn’t know everything about everyone else. Yet.


“Real age?”

“Oh, I have no idea. That’s his acting age, give or take a decade.” He was looking at her again. She shifted. “What?”

Xan flexed his fingers. “He sounds like an asshole.”

“Oh, no. He’s helped us out so much—”

“Uh-huh. And what did your parents think about this relationship, real age unknown?”

She rocked forward and began gathering up the medical supplies. “I suppose you would expect them to be upset.”

“I would.”

She filed that away. “I think they were grateful.”

He stared.

She chose her words. “After our discovery that I was on the Kill List, we went through a period of analyzing everything I had ever done to see if there was a reason. And when they couldn’t find one, I guess, I got a little hopeless.” She felt the old pain in her chest and tried to smile for him. “The only thing worse than being told you’ve done something terribly wrong is not being told what it is. I went a little crazy trying to do everything right. Whether that’s with my school or career, or with my hobbies, or with the family I still have left.”

“Or in your relationships,” he said.

She nodded. He did understand. “Which is to say, I spent most of my time not having them. How could I tell a lover thanks for the lovely night and, oh, by the way, your life might be endangered because you slept with me?”

“Sleeping with you doesn’t automatically put another on the list,” he said.

“Then what does?” she demanded. “Do you know?”

He closed his mouth.

“Then how do you know sleeping with me doesn’t?”


“No, I’m sorry. I don’t really believe that. But it’s still true that a man’s odds of needing a resurrection point go up the longer he’s around me. Look at what happened to you.” She sighed. “Anyway, my parents cautioned me against any school-age romance. But as I reached majority and passed it, I think they became more worried that I wasn’t having any relationships.”

“So you started one to stop them from worrying.”

“I don’t know if I thought it through so carefully. Dating an older man was my idea of a rebellion. But since my parents were worried about me listening to them too much, I think they were grateful to see me do something, anything, contrary to their stated expectations.” A silent laugh shook her shoulders. “Of course, if you think about it, then once again I was only doing what I thought they most wanted me to do.”

His gaze burned on her brightly. The seam of his new skin, smudged with dried blood she hadn’t fully cleaned away properly, made him look all too human, and all too male.

She stood. “Um, anyway. I can’t help you with your knee. I’m sorry. You’re welcome to look through the medkit in case you can find anything.”

He followed her back to the wicker drawers. She was too conscious of his presence at her back. Strong, virile, and nothing at all like the refined older man who made up the sum of her prior love experience. He bent over, his face too close to hers, and reached over her shoulder. She was conscious of him with every cell in her being. He smelled human. Everything about him screamed attractive man. He promised to cut you open. She finished putting everything back, made her hands into tight, controlled fists, and rested them on her knees. Waiting until the heat waves at her back moved, and his inquisitive arm dropped, and she could escape.

“He still sounds like an asshole.” Xan’s rough mutter filled her ear.

She reacted before conscious thought. “Why should you hate him so much? He was supposed to save me.”

“And he failed. Isn’t that reason enough?”

“I don’t have a lot of choices,” she said.

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I don’t. Aren’t you listening?” She threw out one palm. “There’s something wrong with me.”

“There’s nothing—”

“The general was so easy — he already knew about my situation. If I tried to tell someone else, who would believe me?”

“I would.”

“Of course you would. Your people are the ones who are trying to kill me!”

She collapsed in on herself, more shocked at her own outburst than at everything else that had happened these past few days. Xan waited, allowing her to speak out. It was exhilarating and strange to raise her voice. She always had to be in control.

She smacked her palm to her chest. “This problem of mine has destroyed my family. It arrested my parents’ careers and cost my siblings a hell of a lot more. So what if I have to give up one little thing? I can’t hurt anyone else spending my life alone.”

Xan took a deep breath. “You’re not alone.”

“Oh, I know.” And now she worked to bring herself back into line, rubbing her chest until she felt reasonably certain that the ache was gone from her voice. “I’ve had my parents for all these years, selfishly depriving my siblings. And now that I’m old enough, I can certainly go on to another planet, somewhere even farther away from the galactic networks, by myself. I’ll make my own way and be fine. I’m just complaining because I’m tired.” She took a deep breath and let it out. “Sorry. ”

“That’s not what I meant.” Xan’s gray-green eyes glowed on her with possessive brilliance, a sort of knowledge that set her pulse to throbbing deep in her belly and her chest to squeezing in a hungry sort of yearning. “You’ve been fighting a long time, but you’re not alone anymore. You have me.”

His meaning made her catch fire. She twisted to get away from that uncontrollable heat.

He caught her wrist. Gentle, insistent. “Cressida.”

She shivered. “What?”

“You need to reconsider altering your chip ID.”

Oh, so not what she had expected. The words hit like cold sea spray. She yanked her hand away. “I already said no. Can’t we hide here?” His face said no, but she insisted. “There has to be a way to fool the shuttle.”

“The shuttle is not the only thing we need to fool.” A muscle in his jaw flexed as he appeared to consider how best to tell her something terrible. A new darkness awoke in her belly, just as she had started to feel safe once again. “Another android has been dispatched.”

To execute her. No. “We’ll think of something.”

He shook his head. “She’s an x-class.”

“What does that mean?”

“We have the same basic wiring, meaning that if we look at the same set of data, we will arrive at the same conclusion. Worse, because she’s still connected, she has the observation power of the entire solar system behind her and the logical processing power of the entire Robotics Faction at her fingertips, so the data set she sees and processes will be far richer and more quickly computed than anything I can do.”

“So she’s an upgrade,” Cressida said, frowning.

“No, she’s exactly the same,” he said. “I would be just as ‘upgraded’ if I were still connected. The difference is what I noticed in the decontam room: she is clearly a different sub-type. I’m what is known as a team player. She places less weight on the value of human life.”

Cressida took a step back, then caught herself. He was trying to convince her by scaring her. As far as scaring her was concerned, he was doing a great job. “What are you saying, exactly?”

“We need to slip by more than just a few passive sensors.” His sober face turned Cressida even colder. “We also need to outwit or outrun an android who is my exact match only better informed, better repaired, better armed, and more willing to use lethal force to obtain her objectives. It is only a matter of time before she finds us. As long as your chip ID is unchanged, nowhere on this moon is safe for you. She will find us.” He took a step forward, emphasizing it. “She’s working on it even now.”


Xelia|Brae stared at the wall of screens. The combined security footage of the Central Transit Hub — soon to be renamed Rottoild Station in honor of the CEOs ceremonially in charge of this acquisition — looped the same seventy-five minutes over and over. Somewhere in the vast undulating sea of miners, if she studied them carefully enough, moved her targets. Somewhere.

“Representative Brae.” A messenger bot hailed her from the other side of the empty offices. Chairs were overturned and screens left logged on and idle from the rapid evacuation. “The Transit Authority has requested a report on deaths of eighteen security officers and one miner that occurred here in the Central Transit Hub.”

“They were interfering with my assignment,” she said.

“Is that your full report?”


The messenger clicked, noisily transmitting the message through their ancient, obsolete technology.

She only watched from the moment they lost positive contact with the other x-class and his target, which was between the visible footage on security camera 03808 and the expected-but-absent footage on 21976a. On 03808, they had positively identified his oddly bulky shape with the target secured to his torso inside the mining suit. On 21976a, a cluster of miners entered simultaneously at an angle to obscure the identifying shape. Worse, the cameras were affixed at imprecise angles, so she could not reconstruct a 3-D model to run crowd simulations. Too much chaos was introduced; the blind spots magnified the incomplete percentile to unacceptable proportions.

The messenger finished its transmission. “The Transit Authority has requested the New Empire’s assistance with fully funding the compensation for wrongful death for the nineteen casualties of a weapon you wielded.”

“I do not make financial decisions for the Faction.”

She had studied each segment of film in the cameras individually. Now she was hoping that her greater processing power would allow a pattern to emerge that would show her which direction the pair had gone. Down a tunnel? They had scanned everyone in the upper caverns. If he had gone below, his target would be dead from lack of oxygen, and half of Xelia|Brae’s assignment would now be complete. A ghost sensation filled her brain with simulated accomplishment; she deleted that false sensation and flagged the circuits that had misfired to generate it.

Exited back into the city? She had reviewed exterior footage and found nothing. Examining all of the ducts showed no unusual entry. Xan|Arch was either still inside the Central Transit Hub or he had escaped, possibly on a private yacht; they had scanned all of the public ones and reviewed passenger lists from the privates. Nothing had raised any red flags. Not here, not in the rest of the city.

“The Transit Authority requests some sort of recompense or they will no longer render assistance.”

She turned to the clunky antenna on wheels. “I do not require any assistance with completing my assignment. However, the longer it takes to locate and neutralize the criminals, the higher number there will be of incidental casualties.”

Its blank eyes regarded her, soulless as glass.

She turned back to her screens. “I leave the risk estimation as an exercise for the Transit Authority.”

The one thing that she knew Xan|Arch hadn’t done was get off planet. The shuttle traffic was still waiting for clearance from Upstairs, a clearance that they would not receive until Xelia|Brae’s assignment was complete. And thanks to their deep space network, they monitored extraplanetary traffic so closely even a speck of asteroid dust was tracked on its orbital plane.

They needed that for the planet now. When they had that level of detail on the planet, then nowhere would be safe, not even the bottom of the acid oceans or the deepest pit mine into the rubilum farms.

The messenger robot clicked. “The Transit Authority requests updated information about the criminals.”

“Clear your forces from the ‘honeypot’ locations, and direct your employees to contact me immediately if you see any of these.” She shunted over the newest pictures, Xan|Arch with a ripped forehead and Cressida Sarit Antiata in a burned uniform with a dazed expression, taken from her retinal cameras in the men’s decontam a few hours earlier.

“The Transit Authority does not have authority to remove key security personnel from health stations and hospitals.”

“Forward the order to someone who does.”

The messenger robot disappeared abruptly, without a farewell. The equivalent of slamming a receiver. She ignored it as irrelevant.

“Xelia|Brae.” A disembodied voice addressed her from the only remaining external speaker; she had destroyed the rest when their meaningless beeps and buzzes had disrupted her calculations. “We have located the near-moon subspace defensive network you requested and established control. They are currently pointing out at space. A program has been sent to turn them planet-side on your command.”

She started to smile. Two thousand satellites with advanced imaging.

Xan|Arch could not hide.

liberations kiss science fiction romance

Liberation’s Kiss and Jason Bourne

3d bookI have mentioned before that Liberation’s Kiss was my 2014 NaNoWriMo novel, which meant that I had the month of November to write 50,000 words on it to “win.”

(I actually wrote 64,000 words and finished the first draft. Thanks, Scrivener!)

But I didn’t start on November 1st. I actually “wasted” the first few days plotting out the structure of the story using Blake Snyder‘s beat sheets and watching one of my favorite movies, The Bourne Identity.

I love The Bourne Identity because it’s about a badass assassin who starts the movie as a lost soul and learns to become human again through the power of love.

Jason Bourne has amnesia from being shot and floating dead in the Mediterranean for hours. He has skills he can’t explain and he can’t trust anyone. But he has to rely on a young woman who is his exact opposite – clumsy, unlucky, too-trusting. He gets a second chance at recovering his humanity by learning to trust, love, and protect her from the very bad guys after him – his own former “team” of assassins.

I knew that was the structure I wanted for Liberation’s Kiss. An assassin robot encounters a mysterious agent who alters his programming and gives him the free will to choose whether or not to execute his target. Lost without the constant commands of his makers, he has to rely on a too-trusting young woman, who soon shows him the power of love to make a positive change. He gets a chance to explore what it means to be human by learning to protect, trust, and eventually love her. All the while, they are trying to get away from the very bad guys after her – his own fellow androids.

That’s the hero’s side of the story. But unlike Jason Bourne, my hero Xan is a robot. And in the same way that a robot can be given free will by altering a program, it can be taken away again by altering the program back…