Evan Mortice trusted few women—and none that could talk, not even his own mother.

That went double for this bitch who tried to choke him just moments earlier. Now that he could understand his situation, he opened and closed his mouth often in an attempt to speak, but it was to no avail.

He was in the future. The stasis had worked. And the damn superpowers had gone south just like Theresa’d warned. From what he could tell from the big machine scanning him with blue light instead of red, the virtual implant worked well in adapting and conditioning the human body for the power they wished for.

But there was one drawback. Do it too long, and there was no shutting it off. Take it out, the powers would go bonkers. So people must have kept the virtual implant, knowing eventually it would turn on one day, and never go off again.

That had been Milo’s design, because he’d wanted this shit permanent.

Evan scoffed. Once the big blue light stopped scanning him, the damn robot started rattling off his medical history yet again. Apparently, on his own, he was like ninety-five in life points, years to live maybe, but it dropped down to forty. Forty more years to live? That wasn’t bad at all.

And could he have lived a hundred plus years if he’d been a good boring college student? Who knew. But he came to one conclusion as the big bot started scanning the girl, Jenny, or whatever her name was—this shit had nothing to do with him.

“Hey, robot?” His throat hurt when he spoke but if he didn’t get this thing’s attention, he was dead. “Hey. Doctor. Whatever you are. Hey!”

The gray bot focused on him. “What is your medical emergency?”

“My medical emergency?” Evan tasted blood when he swallowed. This wasn’t a good idea; he wasn’t a hundred percent but this machine was a bot and it had more of an interest in keeping him alive than these other assholes. “I don’t know these people. I don’t wanna be scanned with ‘em. Let me out.”

Caleb, the big meathead with the deep voice rasped, “You prick.”

“Fuck off.” Evan didn’t look back. “Like I’m gonna help you two after you tried to kill me? Eat a dick.”

The blue light on the robot faded and came back flashing green.

Evan judged from the collective gasp that this was a bad reading.

One boom came and another and Evan turned his head to the right, away from the gray bot, to behold something…unreal. The next robot was at least a foot taller. It had a slimmer, bluish silver physique. A blue badge on its shoulder meant it was for doctoring but the huge guns on its hip and back showed it was equally capable of giving…or taking said life.

Jenny whispered under her breath, “Hal….”

Evan meant to ask if she knew this walking nightmare but lost the chance as it stopped before the gray bot.

They clashed greatly. The gray one was thicker, broader, low to the ground and moving on legs where the knees were bent backwards. In contrast, the bluish silver one simply looked like a giant man.

“Medic, you’re relieved,” the shiny one’s voice thundered.

“Assessment is not yet announced.”

“Unnecessary. I’ll announce it,” Hal answered.

Machines communicating together should have been a seamless thing, but the gray one…Barron or whatever it was called, took a while to compute the words.

Hal leaned forward and said, “Two platforms below this has a collapse of the floor. You are more equipped to handle it. Analyze this logic.”

After it obeyed, it rose up and turned its lower body then upper body. “Acceptable.”

It stomped away, the red bot and two drones following behind it.

They were so fucking slow. Honestly, how were these things supposed to save people’s lives, Evan wondered.

Jenny’s body lost power and she pressed her face into Evan’s neck.

What he truly wanted to do was tell her to get off him, but the feel of her tits against his back wasn’t too bad.

“Untether him,” Hal ordered.

Jenny hesitated. Finally, she argued, “He’s very important. Be sure to use a stun setting.”

Hal waited as she went to work. “Explain what happened,” he said.

“I don’t really know,” Jenny muttered as she kept unwrapping this infinitely long rope. “The parade began, and three Downers came out of the crowd. We kept to protocol. But then as I tried to take Milo, an explosion went off and the rest is, as they say, history.”

“And is he still in the compound? In the company?”

Jenny had the nerve to be angry. “Well obviously. Where else would he be? And we could have asked the Kabra sent for him if the medics showed more restraint.”

The last of the tethering coil fell away and the robot’s hand shot out, catching Evan around the throat.

It marched him to the other side of the wall, Jenny screaming frantic behind.

“Hal! He’s all we’ve got. Hal! We agreed to a stunner.”

By far, it was the biggest gun Evan’d ever seen held to his face.

Hal used the nozzle to trace Evan’s right cheek. “Oh, but it is a stunner,” the robot cooed. He told Evan, “I’m going to ask you a series of questions and I need them answered.”

Jenny hurried around until she pressed her back against the wall, too. “He can’t answer yet. He can’t speak.”

“He spoke enough to call for the medics,” Hal replied, his gaze still on Evan. “So it’ll have to do. Can you hear me, Evan Mortice? Nod your head.”

Evan nodded, frantic.

“Six months ago, Milo Atkins, the inventor and brilliant mind behind the Virtual Implant was reactivated. The reactivation process repeated fifteen times. Upon the final attempt, an explosion created chaos and he was lost in the confusion. He is somewhere in this facility, and we must find him as he is the only person alive without a Virtual Implant and the only one who knows how to save mankind from the plight brought about by his invention’s misuse by none other than you, yourself, Evan Mortice.”

Everyone could look at Milo as a god, but Evan had figured out more than these idiots could.

“Nobody external helped him,” Evan whispered. “If you gave him a prisoner disguised as a doctor, he’d figure it out.”

The robot slammed him against the wall, jarring his focus from the how to the what now.

“He had help,” Hal insisted. “For that you need blood relatives that can reach him telepathically. So I will ask you, starting now, name each and every next of kin Milo Atkins has.”

Evan scoffed. “Next of kin? For Milo? That loser’s got nobody.”

This next slam had Evan’s ears ringing.

“Hal! Stop. You’ll hurt him and then what’ll we do! He’s a viable citizen with forty more years. Have you lost your mind? You’re supposed to protect him.”

“Oh, I’ll protect him,” Hal answered, raising the gun into Evan’s line of sight. “I’ve got this on stun, too. But you know….” He pressed the barrel to Evan’s temple so forcefully that Evan’s skin burned. “Even a temporary stunner, shot at pointblank range, becomes a permanent stun. Talk!”

The grip on his throat tightened simultaneously.

One day. One hour. No. It hadn’t even been an hour that Evan’d awoken and already, two people were interested in offing him.

“Don’t suppose either of you know any of my ex-wives?”

His laugh took effort but it was worth it. The grip on his neck loosened and his hand slammed back against the wall.

Hal moved so fast Evan couldn’t perceive it.

A line formed in the center of the thing’s helmet. One square segmented and slid to the left, the other part to the right and it cracked open to reveal…a man.

The entire head and neck, maybe the torso was human. It was still a pretty big dude. Above his bald head, lights still flashed red and yellow, so making his ethnicity out was hard.

As impressed as Evan was with this discovery, it was the hardened gaze that he focused on.

The gun discharged but Evan felt…perceived nothing.

If not for Jenny’s scream, he would have mistaken it for a bluff.

Evan was slow to turn his head to look at his hand against the wall. There was smoke.

“Please stop,” Jenny begged, trying with all her might to pull the hand with the gun down to no avail.

Evan wondered why. Why was there smoke, and why was she carrying on like that?

And then he blinked and counted his fingers again.

His pinky was gone—seared off by some sort of laser.

“You’ve got nine more,” the cyborg said, pressing the gun to the ring finger on Evan’s left hand next. “And I’ve got a self-powering alternator to make certain I can drag this out for as long as necessary.”

Evan couldn’t move. He couldn’t look away. Even when Jenny was choking him earlier, a part of him knew she’d never go through with it—she’d been crying so hard.

This prick wasn’t crying. He wasn’t so much as showing a speck of emotion.

“Name. Milo’s. Next. Of. Kin,” Hal ordered.

Panic sent Evan’s heart racing. The gun whined and he focused on the cyborg and screamed, “He doesn’t have any next of kin! I swear. I fucking swear! He’s got nobody. Nobody.”

“Wrong answer!”

Evan shut his eyes when he felt the heat on his finger this time. “Except Theresa! Maybe you mean Theresa!”

The gun lowered but Hal stepped forward, meeting him closer, face-to-face. “And who the hell is Theresa?”

“His wife—his fiancée. Ex-fiancée. He was obsessed with her. She warned him that the Virtual Implants could get…stuck, and they should try a different apparatus. He accused her of always undermining him. He beat her up. Fucked her up so bad that I had to pay her money to disappear instead of suing us. If anyone’d given him a fucking kid, it would be her. That’s the only person, I swear. He’s an only child and his parents were fucking old as fuck when he was born!”

Bile rose up, stifling Evan’s painful scream.

“Theresa.” Hal looked past him then refocused once more. “I’m getting no records of a Theresa Atkins. She never existed.”

“I swear to God she did. I swear. I mean, look! Look!” Evan nodded toward Jenny who watched on, stunned. “She looked just like this bitch here! Down to the g’damn eye color!”


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