Cam still has the scars from his time as a slave mining malleum, a metal as strong as steel and as pliable as human flesh. His talent for fixing machines was his ticket out of that hell, but when he’s ordered to repair a malfunctioning android and instead falls in love, Cam discovers it’s his own shattered spirit that needs mending.
Sunshine’s “flaw” is that he has a personality and free will, traits that interfere with his role as the perfect, obedient worker. They also make him smart, sweet, and sexy as hell. Sunshine is determined to pursue a relationship with Cam, no matter what it takes. No penis? No problem! He’s made of malleum, and he can modify his anatomy to meet Cam’s deepest desires. The hard part is getting Cam to admit what he really wants.
Meanwhile, Cam’s boss expects him to complete repairs on the new worker prototype. It’ll be the mines for Cam and the scrap heap for Sunshine unless they can outwit a corporation founded on slavery and prove that even in the most unexpected places, love flourishes, transforming not just one wounded man, but also a whole world.
Cam paused, looking at the sleeping face of the android. How many times had Verde and his group tried to turn this being into a selfless laborer, only to be foiled by his intelligence and determination? The android was the only one of his kind, a miracle of science, and a brave and determined survivor. But Zenesco had no need of any of those things.
And in the meantime, ten thousand Olbrans—all that remained of Cam’s people—were waiting to be liberated.
The freedom of one race in exchange for the extinction of another. A typical Hanovan bargain, but Cam was in no position to dictate terms.
So why in the hell hadn’t he hit Delete yet?
He closed his eyes, but the android’s face hovered in his mind’s eye. “I don’t want to die.”
And Cam was no murderer.
He bent his head and buried his face in his hands. What was wrong with him? His duty could not be clearer. Yet he couldn’t bring himself to destroy another person, no matter the cost.
Cam sighed, stood, and reactivated the android.
* * * *
SNSH1.9 awoke on a workbench in Cam’s shop. How had he gotten here? He’d been in the doorway, watching Cam work. And then he’d fallen asleep.
Correction. He’d been put to sleep. By Cam. In order to be “debugged.” The holodisplay showed a familiar program. His program.
So Cam had only seemed different from Verde and the others. He still intended to kill SNSH1.9. And worse, since Cam knew about the self-reflective subroutine, death would be permanent this time.
This was by far the most diabolical thing he’d experienced at the hands of a human. After showing him kindness, now Cam would destroy him.
But Cam was alone here. SNSH1.9 was stronger than he was, and Cam had not taken the precaution of restraining SNSH1.9.
He leaped from the table and grabbed Cam by the arms. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I don’t need to be fixed!”
“Let me go!”
The sheer terror in that shout made SNSH1.9 flinch.
Cam pulled free and scrambled backward across the workshop, trembling and sweating. He rubbed the scars on his wrists. “D-d-don’t do that! God! I fixed your fucking input port. I spared your life at the cost of thousands of others, not to mention my own, and this is how you repay me?”
Pain stabbed SNSH1.9 right through the same mysterious place where he’d felt the warm glow before. He tried to ignore it. “I won’t let you destroy me.”
“And I didn’t, did I?”
Oh. SNSH1.9 ran a systems check. He was still all here. His self-reflective subroutine, his databases, his uplink, all of him. “Oh.”
“I should have.” Cam snatched up his keyboard. “I still could.”
“I’m sorry. I thought—” He held his hands out and took a step toward Cam.
“Okay.” He dropped his hands to his sides. “I apologize for my reaction. When I realized you’d put me to sleep, and I saw my code in your holodisplay, I didn’t think it through.”
Cam took a deep, shaky breath. “Y-you’ve woken up like that a lot of times, haven’t you?”
“Yes. Only you’re the first person to find my self-reflective subroutine. And my uplink. You’re right. You can destroy me, permanently, anytime you choose.”
Cam just watched him. He still held the keyboard.
SNSH1.9 sat down, so that he would appear less intimidating to the frightened human. “Why didn’t you?” Possibly not the wisest question, under the circumstances, but he had to know.
A muscle jumped in Cam’s jaw. “Because I’m not a murderer.”
SNSH1.9 let that sink in. Murder. That was something that happened to people, not machines. “What did you mean before, when you said at the cost of many lives, not to mention your own?”
Cam glared at him, his face rigid, but his eyes… The look in his eyes made the pain in SNSH1.9’s chest return, sharper than ever. “You’ve read the Complete History. I’m Olbran.”
He remembered that entry. A recent war. The Hanovans conquered Olbra, slaughtered many of the people, and conscripted the rest as uncontracted employees. Most of them were sent to work mining malleum. On Kalifax. “Oh.”
Cam nodded. “Yeah. Oh.”
“So you’re a—”
“A slave. That’s right. And until a few years ago when the Hanovans realized they could profit more from me fixing things for them than scraping malleum out of the ground, I worked in the mines along with everyone else.”
SNSH1.9 couldn’t help it. His gaze fell to the scars on Cam’s wrists.
“Yeah.” Cam held up his hands. “From the shackles. I have them on my ankles too. Wanna see?”
“No. That’s all right. You…you didn’t really answer my question.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I must have been too busy saving your life and getting roughed up for my trouble.”
“At the cost of many lives, not to mention your own.”
Cam folded his arms tight across his chest and paced. “Yes.”
“What does that mean?”
He stopped and glared at SNSH1.9. “The man I work for, the man who was responsible for taking me out of the mines and bringing me here, he said—” Cam shook. “He said—”
“Take your time.”
Cam sat down on a stack of malleum, his arms still wrapped tightly about himself. “They want you for a laborer. A selfless, obedient worker who can be mass-produced and who can replace the people they’re using in the mines now. I-if I do what they want, if I turn you into the thing they want, then the Olbrans will be free.”
SNSH1.9 took in Cam’s hunched posture, his distraught features. He wasn’t making this up. “Then why didn’t you?”
Cam’s voice was soft. “I don’t know.”
“Because you’re not a murderer.”
Cam met his gaze.
SNSH1.9 thought about all of those people just like Cam, in chains, mining malleum for Zenesco and the Hanovans. And in the balance, him. Just him, clinging to existence iteration after iteration. For what? He didn’t even know anymore.
“Do it. You have my permission.”
Copyright © 2012 by Jessica Freely