I’m so excited to drop Coded Red (Book 2 in the Cyborg Guardian Chronicles). Here’s a peek at Chapter 1…
The Soba Calais began its descent through Earth’s atmosphere. Strapped in my passenger seat, my cyborg cognition tracked every rattling nerve and bone in my body as the ship hurtled through the air at Mach 25—five times the speed of sound. The ship’s exterior was built of reinforced carbon-carbon composite, made to withstand temperatures in excess of 1,260 degrees Celsius on reentry.
The minutes ticked by before the vessel slowed and reached a cruising altitude. I gazed through the small portal window inside my cramped cabin. As we soared above the cloudscape, bulbous white clouds stretched below like a luminous sea.
I struggled against my restraints, but the Scyther had bound me tightly and left me alone. He was a robot, and when I’d studied him with my sensors, there had been no biological data readings—no heartbeat, no sweat. His heat output was that of a machine’s, and there were no biological components to the Scyther. His glowing red eyes bored into me whenever he looked my way.
My stomach rolled as the ship encountered a patch of turbulence. My cognition flashed: Elevation 29,000 feet above sea level and descending. I stopped trying to squirm out of my cuffs and gazed out the window. Had I been to Earth before? Someone had wiped all my memories around the same time NeuroDyne Corporation experimented on me and turned me into a cyborg as part of a highly classified project known as THARP, which was really code for the Cyborg Trials.
I’d woken up on Luna, the Moon’s domed colony, after being smuggled off Earth by a NeuroDyne rogue scientist and his sister. The scientist, Newt, had disappeared mysteriously after we arrived on Luna.
And on this Earthbound voyage, traveling farther away from Luna, Ryken talked in my ear.
“Diya, I hope you’re listening. I’m still here.”
I closed my eyes and allowed a half-smile to escape. Ryken was a Memory Stalker—a coder who had the capability to hack into memories uploaded into Cerulean, the online storage hub created by NeuroDyne. Ryken had helped me escape from the Scyther and researched clues about Newt’s disappearance. And now, he’d hacked into my EarthShine—the memory lens I wore in my right eye and controlled through a gemstone in my ear.
Ryken was brilliant, and for some reason, he was helping me even though I was a lost cause. The Scyther was probably returning me to NeuroDyne, where I would be killed or forced to undergo more experiments.
“Diya, say something. I’m trying to tune in frequencies and see if we can communicate two-way instead of just me talking to you.”
He paused and waited, but I bit my lip. Should I respond? Should I encourage him to talk to me and indulge his ridiculous dream that he could actually help me out of this situation?
“Diya?” His voice, so far away, sounded shaky.
“I’m… here.” My voice was raspy from disuse.
After a two-second delay, “Holy shit!” His voice erupted in my ear and I winced. “I hear you! I hear you!” He clapped.
“Okay, take it easy. When you shout, it’s loud as Mars. I can’t control the volume.”
“Sorry, sorry.” Now he practically whispered. “You don’t know how relieved I am to hear your voice. To know you’re okay.” My heart did a somersault. “When that Scyther took you away, I felt like a puddle of piss. I didn’t know how to stop him.”
“You couldn’t have. You said it yourself, the Scyther is unstoppable.”
He paused. “Where are you exactly?”
“I’m in a ship, alone at the moment. We’re cruising somewhere on Earth, still at high altitude.”
Elevation 25,000 feet above sea level.
The GPS tracking on your EarthShine shows you’re over the Atlantic Ocean, heading north.”
“Iceland.” I closed my eyes.
“Was there ever any doubt? They want their stolen property back.”
“This is bullshit.” Something slammed in the background, likely his fist.
I laughed bitterly. “At least I’ll finally get some answers.”
“You there?” I asked.
“How are we managing to talk anyway?”
“NeuroDyne keeps the Cerulean servers in many locations, both on Earth and on Luna. They do this for security and contingency reasons. If one server farm goes down in Peru, it won’t bring down the entire array. I hacked into one of the servers on Luna with a little help from my friends and tapped into the comms link they use for bouncing data back and forth.”
“Impressive. Will we still be able to talk when this ship lands?”
“Yeah, even though we’re over 200,000 miles apart, we can talk. There’s just a little over one second delay from the time it takes the radio waves to propagate.”
“It just seems too good to be true that I’m hearing your voice like you’re right here.”
“Don’t give up.”
“If I can find a way out, I will.”
He sighed. “And when you get out, I’ll be waiting. I’m booking passage to Earth, so I can be closer and help you escape.”
I shook my head in frustration, even though he couldn’t see. “No! Don’t. If you get anywhere near NeuroDyne and they discover we’re communicating…” Plus, leaving Luna for the home planet was a super expensive trip with a long waiting list, thanks to the huge tourism influx.
“Be sure to hide the device—your earring. Make sure to protect it. They could figure it out.”
I said nothing.
After a while, he gulped. “I’ll be tracking your location. Thank Mars for the lost and found setting on the EarthShine devices.”
I chuckled. “Lost and found, huh?”
“Like you.” I knew from his voice he was grinning. “Don’t worry. I’ll get you back. You’re a Luna girl, not an Earthling.” His words morphed into a yawn.
“Have you slept?”
“Not really. I’ve been waiting to hear from you and know you’re all right.”
“Well, now you know, so you can sleep. You’re no good to anybody if you’re sleep deprived.”
He groaned. “To be honest, I do feel like shit.”
“I’m just sitting here in a room while this ship flies. It’s pointless for us to talk right now. Get some sleep and tune in later.”
“As much as I hate to say you’re right… Yeah, I need some sleep. But I’m setting my alarm, and I’ll be back in three hours.”
“You need more sleep than that.”
The ship turned and banked as I waited for his reply.
“But what if something happens to you?”
“You’re not even on the same planet. There’s nothing you can do.”
Silence. For a long time.
Finally, he came back. “This fucking sucks. I’ll go to the police. I’ll take your story to the media.”
“Ryken, you’re delusional from lack of sleep.” I couldn’t believe I was trying to calm him down. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? “We’ll make plans after you’ve gotten rest. You’re no good to me this way.”
“Okay, Diya. I’ll log back in later to talk.”
“I’ll talk to you soon.” And then he was gone, and the hollow pit in my stomach grew deeper.
The ship descended to 16,000 feet and through the clouds over a vast, silvery ocean that stretched out below. The luminescent blues of the high altitudes were gone, replaced by a dreary gray sky. The ship slowed and a land mass loomed. After another minute, a city came into view. It was Reykjavík, Iceland. My GPS told me so. Tall, spiraling towers rested next to a quaint seaside village that had been preserved for tourists and historians.
A man-made island rested a quarter mile from shore. On it stood a massive glass and steel structure in the shape of a cube. A massive neon sign glowed red: NeuroDyne.
The ship slowed and hovered over the building, which occupied the entire island. The sun was just beginning to set and cast red and orange streaks across the sky; panels on the structure’s face glowed like fireflies.
Through my window, I gazed at churning waves bashing against the sides of the island. There was no way on or off the land mass, I realized, as the Soba Calais landed on a platform on top of the ten-story building, unless you traveled by boat or air. NeuroDyne didn’t fuck around with security.
The humming of the thruster engines faded, and the door to my closet-sized cabin opened. The Scyther appeared, red eyes glowing, and unbuckled my restraints with his metal hands. There was no sign of the gun canister it had used to shoot me and threaten Ryken. It must’ve been retractable. He’d also had a blade earlier, and I wasn’t sure where that had gone either. If I was ever going to fight this machine, I needed more information about how he worked.
“Get up.” He stepped into the corridor. I rose, never taking my eyes from his. I followed him into the narrow corridor, and he pushed me toward an open-air hatch where I descended a long ramp that led outside. A gust of cool Earth air washed over my cheeks. I opened my mouth and sucked in natural air, not the recycled ventilation I’d been breathing on Luna and the ship. As fresh oxygen filled my lungs, droplets of misty seawater sprayed my face. Licking my lips, I tasted salt. As the wind tossed my locks, I fought the urge to wipe the hair from my eyes.
Ahead, an open door led inside the NeuroDyne building where a woman wearing a white lab coat stood. Beside her, a soldier carried a semi-automatic rifle.
As I marched along the platform, ocean spray whipping my skin, I glanced at the roof’s edge and imagined darting off the side and into the freezing ocean water. With my hands restrained, I would surely sink.
But now that I was a cyborg, would drowning even kill me?
What had I become?