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Taken by the Cyborg (Paperback)

Taken by the Cyborg (Paperback)

Galactic Pirate Brides, Book 4

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A duty-driven soldier finds herself tethered to a rebel cyborg with secrets as vast as the galaxy itself. As they grapple with their burgeoning passion and conflicting allegiances, they're thrust into a high-stakes race against time and must decide what they're willing to sacrifice for love, duty, and the fate of the universe. Will loyalty be their salvation or their undoing?

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Main Tropes

  • Enemies to Lovers
  • Abduction
  • Alpha Cyborg Hero
  • Quirky AI Companion
  • Unwilling Test Subject
  • Soldier Heroine

Synopsis

Betrayal, Secrets, and a Cyborg's Forbidden Desire...

In a galaxy ruled by sinister corporations, Doug stands apart—half-man, half-machine, but all heart. Bound by circuits and programming, his primary directive is to protect: especially his twin and the rebels she champions. When a rogue AI threatens to expose the rebellion, he's primed for action. However, he didn't account for Attie, a soldier whose loyalty to Syndicorp runs deep, yet whose presence sparks a passion he can't compute.

Private Attie Swan's life was simple: serve Syndicorp and ascend the ranks. But a twist of fate ties her to the rebellion, and when a captivating cyborg kidnaps her, her allegiance wavers. Doug isn't just any machine—he's a revelation, challenging every corporate truth she's ever known and stirring emotions she thought she'd lost.

As trust becomes a luxury and love a liability, Doug and Attie are ensnared in a web of deceit. With the stakes higher than ever, they must forge an alliance or risk losing not just each other, but everything they've fought for. Dive into a universe of love, danger, and a rebellion that might just rewrite the stars...

Intro Into Chapter One

Attie Swan smoothed the blanket over her bunk one last time, assuring herself the corners were perfect. She couldn’t take any chances that someone might find fault with her service, not even in the privacy of her own room. After her sister’s explosive escapade with that alien pirate, she’d been demoted from Corporal to Private. Everything she did was under constant surveillance—at this point, she was fairly certain even her toilet was bugged.

At least they hadn’t taken away her private quarters and relegated her to the barracks.

Turning to the basket near her closet, she picked up one of the black uniform tunics that had just come back from the laundry. Before the incident with Marlis, she’d been Admiral Olly’s personal assistant. Now she was just another grunt in the administrative pool. At least she hadn’t been banished from the SNV Icarus altogether, though she’d spent several horrible days in the brig and endured interrogation under truth serum before being allowed to return to duty. She told herself she still had a shot at working her way back into the admiral’s good graces, but as time wore on, she was becoming less hopeful.

She hung up the uniform, trying not to dwell on the lack of insignia on the shoulders. Dad blamed Marlis for everything that had happened, but Attie knew it was her own damn fault; Marlis was only running around with rebels because Attie’d encouraged her to leave the corp and find a job. She’d imagined her sharp-shooter sister working on a shipping freighter, or maybe as a personal bodyguard. Now Marlis was on the corp’s most-wanted list. If she tried to come home, she’d be executed.

Attie shook her head, still having trouble believing Marlis’s brain injury made her that susceptible. That stupid. But then, there was a hot pirate involved, so maybe hormones had gotten the better of her sister.

A knock at her door made her startle, heat rising into her face at the inane idea that someone had detected her doubts about Marlis’s guilt. Syndicorp surveillance was good, but not that good. Smoothing her curly ash-blonde hair out of her face, she opened the door.

A short man in a janitorial uniform standing there holding a familiar wristband. “I found this in recycling. Says it belongs to you.”

She accepted it, confused as she stared at the familiar band. Marlis’s service AI? “Thanks,” Attie said and closed the door.

Tears blurred her vision as she turned the useless thing over in her hand. On the back of the black polymer disk that housed the AI, “Swan” had been etched in rough letters. The janitor obviously thought it’d ended up in the trash by accident. The data on it’d been declared irrecoverable by Syndicorp’s best tech specialists, and Attie’d assumed the thing had already been incinerated.

Tempted to throw the dead AI across the room, she muttered, “You were supposed to keep her in line, Twerp.”

A feminine voice emerged from the band, “Corporal Attie Swan, I have a message for you.”

Attie dropped the AI. “Twerp? You’re not dead?” 

"I am an AI. I cannot technically die." Twerp sounded as calm and matter-of-fact as ever. But then, that was the AI’s job.

“I know that, Twerp.” Attie picked up the band, turning it over to inspect it more closely. It looked exactly as she remembered. “But the tech team said your data had been corrupted beyond recovery. Who gave you a message?”

“Before we continue, I must ask you to verify your identity.”

“Attie Swan, oh-two-gamma,” Attie responded automatically. Marlis’d had a bad habit of leaving the wristband in the locker room on their old ship, and the family had installed anti-theft protocols to make sure it never got hacked. 

“I am afraid that access code is no longer sufficient,” Twerp replied. “Please tell me the name of the movie character you used to play when you and Marlis were children.”

Blinking in confusion, Attie plopped onto her bunk, disregarding the rumpled blankets. Marlis must’ve reprogrammed the AI after joining the pirates. Attie looked toward the empty spot on the wall where her favorite movie poster had once hung. Before escaping the Icarus, Marlis had left a scrawled message on the back of the poster. It’d said Syndicorp had staged the terrorist attack that’d caused Mom’s death. Which was absurd, of course. Why would the corp do something like that?

Perhaps Marlis had left more information with the AI.

Suddenly worried about who might be listening, Attie brought the AI close to her face and whispered, “I always played Sheila Crosby, even though Kris was my favorite. Marlis threw a fit if she didn’t get to play Kris.”

“Your identity is confirmed. Thank you, Attie.

Attie brought her legs up and leaned back against the wall, cradling the AI against her knees. The disk had no visual display, interacting only by voice. Casual observers might not even realize the device was an AI. “Who added this new protocol?”

“Several unauthorized attempts to access my systems forced me to adapt my programming. I estimated there was a ninety-nine point six chance that only you or another family member would be able to correctly answer this particular question.”

“Good thinking,” Attie said. An AI like Twerp wasn’t considered sentient, but was intelligent enough to adapt. “Now tell me how Marlis ended up with pirates.”

“There was a gunfight in a bar. But that is not important now. I must return to Marlis and assist her.”

Attie’s throat tightened. A gunfight in a bar. How very like her sister. “Marlis isn’t here, Twerp.”

“I have a code that will allow me to set up a rendezvous point with her,” Twerp said. “However, my wireless capability has been damaged. I need you to connect me to the ship’s comm system.”

Attie couldn’t breathe for a long moment. If anyone heard even a whisper of this conversation, Attie would be back in the brig. “I can’t do that, Twerp. I’m being watched.”

“My code is encrypted and I can mask my signal.” Twerp’s voice was too loud. Too open. Too obvious.

None of this felt right.

Setting the wrist band down on the rumpled blankets, Attie rose and paced the small confines of her cabin. What if Twerp was a spy? It could’ve been left behind as a plant by the pirates to gather information. This so-called code to contact Marlis could be a way to send information to the enemy.

Attie stopped pacing and stared at the floor. Along with the posters and other personal memorabilia she’d removed from her cabin after Marlis left, she’d discarded the fluffy rug that had once covered the metal deck. Only standard issue items for her from now on. Strict adherence to protocol had helped her rise in the ranks before, and she was determined to prove her loyalty to Syndicorp.

What if Twerp’s arrival is some sort of test the admiral set up?

That would explain how the supposedly irrecoverable AI had shown up out of nowhere on her doorstep. Attie lifted her gaze to sweep the corners of the room, looking for potential cameras. Any hesitation on her part could make her fail.

She snatched up the AI. “I’m going to take you to the admiral.”

The band vibrated against her palm. “If you do that, I will be forced to self-destruct. Syndicorp is a threat to Marlis. I cannot allow them to reach her. It is my duty to keep her safe.”

Torn between the need to help her sister and the desire to prove her loyalty, Attie hesitated. What if Twerp really was just trying to help Marlis and taking the AI to the admiral led the corp to her sister? Marlis would be shot on sight.

Attie felt sick with indecision. “How do I know you’re not here to trick me?”

“I have no way to convince you except to remind you that my Prime Directive is to monitor Marlis’s health and safety. To do so, I will sacrifice myself if necessary.”

Twerp was willing to give up existence to help Marlis. Attie was her sister—she would never be able to look at herself in the mirror again if she didn’t try to help Marlis, too. Even if it meant failing a Syndicorp test. “Okay, then. Tell me exactly what I need to do.”

* * *

Doug paced his prison cell on board the Icarus, attention half on his footsteps and half on the feed coming through his cybernetic implant. As a Syndicorp top-secret test subject, he was physically quarantined to the lab, but Dollard did not know how much freedom Doug actually enjoyed. The nanites embedded in Doug’s body allowed his cyber sensitivity to stretch for parsecs past the dampening field, and given enough relays, he could remotely access computers at the edge of the galaxy. Under Syndicorp’s orders, he’d hacked competing alien corporations, diverted warships, and even caused the downfall of a small planetary government.

On his own, he mostly just used his ability to keep tabs on his twin sister.

Lisa had escaped this hellacious test facility and rid herself of the nanites before she became like Doug—more machine than human. As a cyborg, he could never join her. But he could keep her out of Syndicorp bounty hunter hands. It was a simple task to tweak the data streams whenever someone drew too close, and he amused himself by sending pursuers to outlandish locations and watching them bumble into dead ends. He had to take pleasure where he could get it these days, and he found it more enjoyable than free time with the Consorts—the women Dollard brought in to assuage his cyborg team’s baser biological urges.

The alert Doug had received told him that someone on the Icarus was talking about the pirates. Probably a crewman telling jokes in the galley or someone in the corridors talking about a recent news broadcast. But Doug was never one to ignore potentially new information. He looped the flagged feed so Syndicorp’s security team would be none the wiser, then diverted the real-time broadcast to his implant.

And found himself looking into Attie Swan’s quarters.

The only other person he was sworn to protect besides his sister.

She had pale, delicately arched eyebrows, a petite nose, and eyes as blue as the waters on Terenthu. Her lips were full, and she wore no makeup, her porcelain skin naturally flushed along her cheekbones. Something about her touched the last wisps of his humanity, which was the reason he’d promised to watch out for her. Hell, it was the reason he’d helped her sister escape the Icarus in the first place. The siblings’ love for each other was too familiar, too like his own dedication to his twin sister. And he found looking at Attie a soothing pastime.

Extricating her from the internal investigation after her sister’s escape had turned out to be a pleasing challenge. He hadn’t been able to keep her out of the brig entirely, but over the course of a few weeks, he’d subverted orders, altered records, and forged enough transfers to hide her safely among the throng of nondescript humans on the ship. He supposed he should’ve gone a step further and relegated her to duty on some backwater planet. But keeping her close gave him an edge in case anything went awry.

Like now.

Attie was holding Marlis’s service AI. 

How the hell had that fallen into her hands? The device was supposed to have been incinerated after being deemed irrecoverable by top Syndicorp tech teams two months ago. He’d remotely accessed its core processors searching for information about the rebels his sister had joined and discovered the AI wasn’t broken after all.

Somehow, Twerp had acquired the nanites—the same nanites running through Doug’s and the other cyborgs’ bodies. Not intelligent in and of themselves, the microscopic bots had a sort of hive mind when gathered in large numbers. They also had a fierce self-preservation protocol that made them difficult to eradicate once they’d integrated with a person’s body. But this was the first time he’d heard of a non-biological host. Dollard would probably give his left nut—both his nuts, actually—to get his hands on this information.

To prevent the AI from ending up in the test lab along with the cyborgs, Doug had tried to alter its programming, which should’ve been easy with the nanite-to-nanite interface. Except instead of complying, Twerp’s nanites fought back. All Doug managed to do was fry the device’s wireless capability before the AI shut him out completely. Even so, since the AI was in the recycling bin awaiting incineration and wasn’t mobile on its own, he’d assumed that had brought an end to the problem.

Now the thing was in Attie’s hands, apparently trying to return to Marlis. If allowed to proceed, it would lead bounty hunters right to the rebels and his sister, Lisa.

Doug had to stop it.

But he couldn’t shut it down remotely. His only option was to physically destroy the device himself.

Problem was, the lab where he lived was a fortress layered with several dampening fields to keep the nanite-infected cyborgs from taking over or getting out. Everything on level three was a highly guarded secret from ninety-nine percent of the crew. If he absolutely needed to, Doug could leave the lab, but then Dollard would learn about his full capabilities and find another way to lock him up. His best option was to have Attie bring the AI to him. 

He stopped pacing and turned to stare at the glimmering translucent energy field blocking his cell door. In the harshly lit lab beyond, Dollard spoke with one of his technicians at a stainless steel exam table where Twobit, a fellow cyborg, sat with the metal skeleton of one shoulder exposed beneath a partially regrown skin graft. At the exit stood two trooper guards in full body armor. Ever alert, one of them met his gaze through the field but didn’t acknowledge him—the doctor didn’t like staff getting attached to the test subjects.

He frowned. Slipping Attie in here among Dollard’s elite assistants would be impossible, even for someone like Doug. The doctor’s keen attention to detail meant he likely knew what color underwear the janitorial staff had put on that morning. But there was one roster Doug could add her name to without question—the Consorts. The doctor didn’t view the women he brought in as anything more than playthings. That will do.

Doug began forging the transfer, trying not to imagine Attie in the scanty “uniform” given to the women for the job.

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