Padded walls, bright lights, a smooth, gray floor, and equipment suited to different biotypes created an ideal gymnasium for those looking for both recreation and a serious workout. Tumblers practiced their arts at one end, while sleek runners raced each other around the perimeter. Grunts, groans, and sporadic conversations settled into a background murmur with an occasional yelp thrown in for good measure.
Derik, decked out in fencing gear with a long rapier in one hand, swaggered up to Max, also bedecked in fencing apparel. They circled each other until Max raised his sword hand and gestured to his outfit. “Couldn’t you have found something less…involved?”
Even from behind the mask, it was obvious that Derik sneered. “What’s wrong? You can’t handle a little protective gear?”
Max tore off his breastplate and mask and tossed them aside. “I don’t need them. But don’t let that intimidate you.” He thrust out his chest. “If you insist on acting like a barbarian, I can accommodate you. Just remember, Justine is an android. Human chest-thumping and Cresta wrangling does not impress her.”
Derik frowned. His gaze darted from the abandoned gear to Max’s face. “I suppose your modesty is going to win her heart? Just try to keep from being run through, and we’ll see who impresses her. She’s more than an android, tech-head. She’s a woman in the fullest sense of the word.” Lifting his rapier, Derik saluted his enemy.
Max shook his head and returned a half-hearted salute.
Derik charged forward with the first thrust.
With matching dexterity, Max met Derik’s initial blow, and they clashed swords around the fencing ring. A small crowd gathered as the intensity of their flashing blades gathered strength. Neither Max nor Derik would give in. After an hour, the crowd began to seep away from the monotony of their struggle. Finally, Max’s untiring strength began to wear down Derik’s exhausted physiology. With sweat dripping down his face, Derik suddenly did the unexpected. He stopped dancing about and raised his arms. Max halted, letting his sword arm fall to the side. Derik dove in and stabbed Max’s chest with his blade.
Those intrepid souls who had stuck out the extended battle sucked in a collective breath. One human screamed. “Call a medic. He’s hit!”
All eyes darted from one figure to the other.
Derik fell backward, his hand releasing the rapier, shocked by the violence of his own move. The abandoned sword quivered, protruding from Max’s chest like a child’s toy.
Max frowned at the steel undulating from his chest. He gripped the handle and drew it smoothly from his body. “It’s not that easy to kill me, you know.”
All color drained from Derik’s face as he limped to the wall and slid to the floor. Medics rushed onto the scene, stared at Max’s impenetrable expression, turned to Derik’s drooping form, and immediately scrambled to Derik’s side.
A couple of spectators tried to correct their mistake but gave up when Max waved them away.
Max sauntered over, swishing the two rapiers menacingly. He tapped the human medic on the shoulder with the tip of a blade. “Not him—me. But don’t worry; I wasn’t seriously damaged. Only irritated.”
Confused but eager to move away from the rapier-swinging figure, they backed off with the rest of the crowd.
Max sighed at the forlorn figure. He toed Derik’s boot and tossed the rapiers aside. “Come on, idiot. I got a date, and I could use a chaperone.”
Max sat opposite Derik at a Breakfast Nook booth and twiddled his elongated thumbs. “You’ve got a date—with whom?”
“Sal, the hostess. She wanted me to come by for a sweet treat. Considering her various hints, I think she has… feelings for me. I hate to disappoint.”
Derik gazed at Max through bloodshot eyes. “Aren’t you a mercenary? Killer-for-hire-sort-of-guy? And you’re afraid of—” He rubbed his temple as Sal lumbered into view with a heavily laden tray. He sneered. “Max, your sweeties are here.”
Max stiffened and plastered a happy grin on his face.
Sal sashayed over and placed the tray with extra care in front of Max. She matched his expression, grin for grin. “It’s the best we’ve got. Pecan pie, vanilla ice cream, and an extra-large health drink.” She positively beamed. “Even androids need to take care when indulging.” She leaned in and whispered. “I studied up.”
Derik slapped his forehead, disbelief writhing across his haggard face.
Max became practically giddy. “You are one of a kind, Sal. Not another like you from here to the Divide. Thanks.” He patted the bench. “You want to sit and help me eat it?”
Derik closed his eyes and swallowed something back.
Riko turned from a pie rack and snapped his fingers, his eyes mere slits.
Sal shoved Max playfully. “I know your type. Just because I bring sweets, you think you can have your way with me.” She grinned. “I’m no fool. Besides, I’ve got a price on my head. A working Ingot like me is worth half a million—easy.” Her eyes teased. “Let’s see if you can handle that pie first.” She hurried off at skipping speed.
Derik held his head in his hands as if he were afraid it might fall off and roll away. “What in darkness was that? I don’t know if she’s smitten, looking for an easy victim, or just having fun at your expense.”
Max balanced a spoonful of pie against a dollop of ice cream. He surveyed it like a geologist studying an unusual rock formation. “According to human customs, this is a special treat. But she knows I’m an android, so why bother?”
Derik leaned on one arm, giving into the surreal situation. “She must’ve heard that you have human DNA, and she figures you’d like anything that makes you feel more human.”
Max slipped the dripping spoonful into his mouth, swirled it a bit, and swallowed.
Derik’s gaze followed the pie all the way down his gullet.
“Nothing.” Max sighed and darted a glance across the table. “Does Justine like human food?”
Sitting up straighter, Derik folded his hands. “Yeah. I think so. When she eats with me, she always likes whatever we have. At least, she never complains.”
“You don’t even know what she likes, do you?”
Derik’s hands clenched into one big fist. “Do you? How well did you know her before she was turned off—back in the war years? Trust me, she’s not that person anymore.”
“She killed Mitholie.” Max shoved the ice cream and pie toward Derik. “Despite your feelings, you can’t honestly say you know her well. She’s only been reawakened for a few months and during that time, she’s been living a double life, working for Taug and pretending to love you.”
Derik jumped to his feet, his breath coming in sucking waves. “I’m her fiancé, at least in my heart. She was going to run away with me. We’re going to get married—”
Max rose slowly and faced Derik. “I am sorry. But Justine can’t be anyone’s wife. Her creators think they still own her—like they still own me. She was made to hire out, not to live free. When she killed Mitholie, she was acting according to her nature.”
Derik glared at Max. “I don’t believe that! Justine is not a killer.”
“Why did she kill then? The Inter-Alien Alliance Committee will judge her—again.” Max laid a firm hand on Derik’s shoulder. “You have nothing to offer but a broken, crossbreed heart. But I can offer a way out. I was tried for a crime once, but when I claimed my android nature, I was covered under weapons’ immunity. Justine just needs to claim her true identity, and she’ll be free.”
Derik shouldered Max’s arm away as he pounded to the door. “You’re not free. You’re a slave.”
“It is human nature to think wisely and act in an absurd fashion.” ~Anatole France
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Science Fiction Novels
Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg
Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN
Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend
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