Retired military officer Malcolm Torvik runs a rehabilitation facility for malfunctioning pleasure cyborgs. When WLF-6759—Wolf—arrives at Reboot Camp, the former battle cyborg presents problems Malcolm’s never faced before. Most pleasure cyborgs are sensation junkies, constantly high on the chemicals sex releases into their bloodstream, but Wolf’s faulty refit means it’s spent a decade suffering through unwanted encounters—and sometimes fighting back despite the consequences.
At first Wolf’s rebellion frustrates Malcolm even as Wolf’s undeniable physical perfection draws him. Then Wolf’s unexpected vulnerability and need open a whole new dynamic between them, and Malcolm finds himself feeling far too much for something that isn’t even human. Or is it? Could Homo sapiens technica be just as human as Malcolm is? And if it is, what’s Malcolm supposed to do about it? Malcolm’s been alone for so long…. Is it possible he’s found love with a cyborg? How far will he go to ensure Wolf’s freedom? Malcolm knows what he must do—for both of them—but it might cost him much more than his comfortable life.
ONE OF Tirsa Prime’s dual suns sank beyond the city-sphere, radiating bloody light and scorching the air before it dipped below the horizon. The other sun would rise in three hours, glowing like a radioactive melon and disturbing the sleep of anyone foolish enough to forget their window shades. The near constant heat and light bathing the core colony of Tirsa Prime supported rampant equatorial plant growth to sustain its population of millions, leading to a high oxygen atmosphere and cleaner air than any other colony. The thick belt of trees ringing the planet’s middle scrubbed the industrial pollution from the skies better than any terraforming tool. Only the wealthiest and most important lived here, the top echelon of humankind, attended by cyborgs and live-in human servants just as dependent on their powerful masters.
Standing alone high above the vast sprawl of the megalopolis capping the planet’s entire southern pole, Malcolm Torvik mopped his brow with his sleeve and glanced at the time—1930.
The shipment would arrive any minute.
The landing pad’s absorbent coating felt springy beneath his booted feet, but it soaked up movement and impact as he walked across it, almost like he wasn’t moving at all. That critical advancement—spearheaded by Titantech, the massive interplanetary corporation owned by the Torvik family—made it possible to land heavy transports on thin Titansteel ledges adjacent to residential units. This one adjoined Reboot Camp, Malcolm’s home-slash-workshop, and it was a necessity given his line of work—malfunctioning cyborgs were potentially deadly, and their shipping manifests required spot delivery directly to his doorstep. They weren’t removed from the high security onboard cells until Malcolm signed for them.
Someone always had to take responsibility for them. While a cyborg could be destroyed or even imprisoned, it was impractical to punish the cyborg when punishing its owner provided society so much more leverage. They weren’t human, after all, though they looked it. It was as illogical as taking legal action against a pet animal. They might be biological, but they hardly counted as people. In a properly functioning cyborg, programming controlled their actions, they had no personalities to speak of, and they had databases instead of real memories. Improperly functioning ones ran the gamut of problems from disobedience to chemical addiction to outright violence, like the one about to arrive.
Malcolm’s retraining facility usually housed a dozen cyborgs at a time, but this was his first new delivery after a recent deployment to the Mid Rim for Titantech. Whether Malcolm liked it or not, the family business came first.
He’d disappointed his parents enough already in his forty-two years; first he’d been gay—not insurmountable—but then he’d been single and childless. The first narrowed his possible matches among the Core World elite, but the rest…. Well, he’d obviously given little enough to the Torvik legacy. At this point Titantech felt entitled to make demands on his time.
It was just as well. From the sound of things, Malcolm would need the extra time and room for this project. Over a decade in service, this cyborg had murdered twenty-nine Peacekeepers and been owned by twelve separate families. Though it had been kept well restrained following that first massacre, it inevitably grew violent or intimidating toward its owner, prompting its resale.
Malcolm would’ve terminated a cyborg that tried that with him, but suckers had lined up to buy this thing. Apparently it stood seven feet tall and, with all its cybernetics, weighed close to five hundred pounds.
Cyborgs that size were meant to work in the tritanium mines on Jalez or as military units, but this one…. Some genius got it in their head to make it a pleasure cyborg. No wonder everything went sideways.
Given its unique size and the inherent value of its pleasure training, its current owner—Randolf Sheridan, a Manitanian politician from a well-respected and moneyed clan—preferred to rehabilitate the cyborg rather than destroy it. After the fines Sheridan had already paid for its infractions—this time not for murder, but for nearly biting the cock off a party guest—Malcolm’s fees probably seemed meager, and he wasn’t cheap.
The Torviks were respected throughout the Core worlds as a military clan with legendary ancestors who laid much of the Core’s infrastructure after humanity left Earth, and when Malcolm retired from active duty in CAPE—the Core Alliance Peacekeeping Endeavor—he found himself in high demand shaping recalcitrant and wayward cyborgs as he had once done with spoiled, privileged young soldiers who refused to take orders.
A boot camp for machines. Reboot Camp. Heh. That one still tickled Malcolm.
They were always pleasure cyborgs too, weren’t they?
People would pay anything for the pleasure cyborg they’d dreamed of to respond the way they longed for. Malcolm couldn’t pretend to understand what drove such people—too much money, not enough sense?—but he’d used behavioral modification tactics successfully along with the various technological tools everyone else utilized for cyborg rehabilitation. It was satisfying to return the things to proper working order, especially when no one else in the galaxy could have done it as well or as swiftly.
Malcolm was proud of his work.
A klaxon sounded, and the light fixtures around the landing pad flashed in welcome and warning. Malcolm backed off to the edge as the transport’s captain sent an alert to Malcolm’s wrist unit. The screen read ETA 2 MINUTES, and Malcolm rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
He’d never taken on a big one before. The cyborgs bred for pleasure stock were usually slender and never over five and a half feet, and Malcolm easily intimidated them. This would be intriguing work. How would he intimidate such a massive beast?
The outsized obedience collar and cuffs he’d special ordered hung from Malcolm’s belt, shipped from Titantech—the same company that supplied the mines where this thing belonged, and most of the galaxy’s other cyborgs. Sometimes cheaper restraints failed, but no one ever complained about Titantech quality.
Malcolm fingered one bracelet, marveling at the size of it. It was difficult to imagine what was going to step off the transport. He’d served with military cyborgs in his time at CAPE, but he’d never been alone with one or worked with it up close.
Would it be openly defiant? Dangerous in its strength? That it had murdered so many Peacekeepers suggested as much. He’d been a Peacekeeper himself once; he knew how formidable they were.
And Malcolm loved danger.
With a whoosh of thrusters and another wash of heat, the small transport touched down on the landing pad, and Malcolm approached with one arm lifted in greeting. A few moments later, the ramp lowered and the captain emerged. She nodded to Malcolm and then gestured to her crew. Within seconds, a loud grunt and the shriek of protesting metal suggested what it took to get the thing out of its cell.
“Need some help?” Malcolm started forward, ready to board at the captain’s say-so and haul the thing off the transport himself.
She held up a hand for patience and shouted up the ramp, “You got this?”
A sharp cry rang out, and Malcolm bounded past the captain into the cramped confines of the cargo area. She followed him warily, phase gun drawn. At the end of the small bay, a hulking brute hunched in the farthest corner, curled in on itself but massive just the same. Long, golden-brown hair like a lion’s mane shrouded its features, spilling over its shoulders and down its back. One big hand extended toward them, seeming to threaten or entreat.
A few feet away, a crewman lay groaning softly, his face bruised, newly crooked nose spurting blood. The collar controls rested on the mesh floor beside the crewman’s open hand, one of his fingers still curled at its base.
Malcolm stooped to retrieve it and immediately pressed the panic button. The cyborg shuddered and gasped as electricity coursed through it and pain hit its nervous system directly. Though the mechanical components of cyborgs varied with their purpose, they were all built to receive direct nerve inputs for punishment and control.
When even the smallest, most demure cyborg could break a grown man in half, it was a necessary precaution.
The label on the controls read WLF-6759. Malcolm glanced between the label and the cyborg. “WLF-6759, my name is Malcolm Torvik, and I am taking possession of you at this time. Confirm.”
Trembling with the aftermath of its shock, it gritted out, “Confirm,” between clenched teeth. Then it shook back its hair and looked up at Malcolm.
His breath caught.
Two troubling things he noticed immediately: an ocular implant on the left eye—a feature only found in military cyborgs—and the most beautiful face Malcolm had ever seen.
Ignoring that as best he could, Malcolm swapped out the collar and cuffs for his own, superior equipment. Then, at his command, the cyborg preceded Malcolm out of the transport and onto the landing pad. He clocked the moment when it looked over the edge at the long drop to the planet’s surface. With the new collar and cuffs in place, Malcolm only had to press a button and the cyborg froze in place, immobilized by the powerful magnets embedded in the metal.
“You will not harm yourself or anyone else during your stay here. Your owner is paying an astronomical sum to rehabilitate you. Let’s not disappoint him.”
Malcolm walked around the cyborg to take in its expression and found its handsome face blank of emotion. The only thing animated about its countenance was that ocular implant, whose readout flashed white and blue over the pale gray of its organic eye.
Maybe Malcolm would contact Sheridan, see if they could have that removed. It made no sense for a pleasure cyborg to have the tactical advantages of a military cyborg. No wonder the thing was hard to control.
Too curious to resist, Malcolm asked, “Why do you have military technology?”
The cyborg’s gaze focused on Malcolm, distant and impassive. “I was intended for military use.”
Malcolm had known that much, but he’d imagined they plucked the thing from the military program in its youth, before its implantations were complete. Who tried to refit a fully equipped and trained military unit? They were lucky it hadn’t ended more lives than it already had.
“Where are you from? I’m not familiar with designation WLF.”
“Weyani-Leland Foundation on Christos Prime.” The cyborg’s voice gave little away, as deep as Malcolm expected from that expansive chest but lacking the usual rebellious fire of the projects he undertook. It certainly wasn’t behaving as erratically as its file suggested.
“That’s on the Outer Rim, in the Davies sector.” The cyborg didn’t so much as nod, so Malcolm kept going. “Christos Prime does breed military cyborgs. Harsh world, poor climate…. Not an important enough world to merit terraforming or a climate dome. Impossible to survive without an envirosuit unless you’re borged. Makes for good soldiers. How did you become a pleasure cyborg?”
The cyborg’s eyes closed. Its throat constricted as it swallowed, and its nostrils flared. There was the emotion Malcolm was looking for.
“Answer the question. How did you become a pleasure cyborg?” Despite Malcolm’s best efforts at restraint, impatience crept into his tone. He was dying to know.
“Admiral Horus Grandin purchased me after a performance review. He said I was too beautiful to be cannon fodder, so I received pleasure training and retrofitting. He enjoyed having a soldier for a slave.”
Malcolm stared, shocked. He knew from personal experience the sort of clout top-ranked military officers could bring to bear, but he’d never heard of anyone using their influence for something so tawdry.
That was a lie. They used their influence to cover up all kinds of affairs, some far worse than taking a military-earmarked cyborg for a sex toy.
Still, the Grandin family was almost as prestigious as the Torviks, and Malcolm was biased. People of their class were supposed to be above such peccadilloes. The galaxy ran on the presumption that those with wealth and power deserved it, that those who served did so because it was their place, suited their abilities. That presumption was all that prevented open warfare within the corporatocracy.
That a Grandin granted the rank of admiral engaged in such distasteful behavior….
It took Malcolm a while to process the words well enough to catch the glaring rebellion they’d exposed. Then he grunted in annoyance. “You’re not a slave, cyborg. You’re not even human.”
“I was human, once.” The cyborg’s flat delivery and the fact it was already immobilized only underscored how deep the rebellion ran in this one. It made it easier to look past that perfect face.
Lip curling in disgust, Malcolm pulled it together. “You were never human. Homo sapiens sapiens is human. Homo sapiens technica can’t survive without extensive implantation. You are an evolutionary quirk of the twenty-third century. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not.”
“You breed my kind to serve yours. You loathe us, but you desire us.” The bass rumble of the cyborg’s anger set Malcolm on edge. “Your kind have impregnated my kind. That makes us human, and that makes us slaves.”
What kind of argument was that? Cyborgs shouldn’t even be capable of that kind of logic, let alone wield it to manipulate their betters. They weren’t supposed to possess intellect. They were beasts of burden or built for pleasure, not… this.
Horrified and without retort, Malcolm pressed the button that removed the cyborg’s ability to speak. Wielding that power soothed him.
Whatever cyborgs were, they were never human, and handsome or not, this thing was malfunctioning, unfit for service. Malcolm would fix it and ship it back to Sheridan.
The thing was lucky it didn’t belong to Malcolm. He’d scrap it.
WOLF SAT in its cell, staring at the blank wall opposite its bunk, and wondered for not the first time whether it would have been better to die than serve as a pleasure slave. It would have been a good soldier. It would even have been a good miner. It was not temperamentally suited to fuck and be fucked by whoever could afford it.
Pleasure training had conditioned it to endure. Its elaborate software ensured it could service a wide array of Organic tastes and preferences. But nature had meant Wolf to fight. Its every instinct compelled it.
Malcolm Torvik seemed acceptable. Wolf could tolerate him. He had chosen to remove Wolf’s voice rather than strike with his fists, which indicated discipline mattered more to Torvik than punishment.
Wolf valued that distinction. It understood the need for obedience and distrusted the urge to deliver pain. The strong created order; the weak permitted the chaos of violence.
Likewise, though Torvik had betrayed desire or at least admiration at first glance, he had already begun to show signs of revulsion. There was the possibility Torvik would not require Wolf to perform sexual activities. It hoped that would prove true. It still ached from serving the crew of the transport vessel, and they had not adequately cleaned or maintained it on the long voyage.
Not that it truly mattered. Nothing could erase the stains it carried on the inside after a decade of service as a pleasure cyborg.
It would have been better to die a soldier.
Silence reigned in the small room, and voiceless, Wolf could not break or fill it. It suspected the walls were soundproofed. Torvik probably observed it from a room nearby.
Resentful of its captivity, Wolf stretched out on the padded floor and stared at the ceiling, looking for the camera. When it found it, it stared into the lens, able to detect it only because of its implant.
It was unlikely Torvik dealt with this scenario often. Would it unnerve the implacable Torvik? Ruffle his perfect steel-shot auburn hair and military bearing?
Wolf reveled in the thought. The silence was enough, if Wolf could amplify it with a stare.
Sometimes communication did not need words.
MALCOLM CURSED in the quiet of the control room and looked away from the cyborg’s steady stare. That thing was… disturbing, not least because it had the face of a Terran angel. Plenty of pleasure cyborgs had come through, but they were always delicate, fragile-looking things with the type of ethereal beauty destined to burn out fast. Malcolm had retrained and upgraded dozens in his time, drilled them on their purpose, scrubbed their faulty programming, and installed newer, better software.
It never took much. Their implants and remnant biology took care of the rest. They were all sensation junkies, captives of the chemicals their implants released when they were penetrated. He didn’t tend to that part himself either. The machines in his workshop were the same make they used to train them in the first place, capable of fucking them until they remembered their purpose.
Surely WLF-6759 was the same. Maybe its anal sensor ring had malfunctioned. Maybe Sheridan had preferred to have the cyborg do the penetrating and failed to keep it adequately doped up. A pleasure cyborg that size had to require a lot more oxytorphin than the smaller models did, and though its size might make it a tempting top, its purpose demanded different use, or at least regular injections.
Regardless, Malcolm knew how to fix this. He’d planned to put that off until the cyborg had settled in, but it wasn’t getting any more stable, was it?
Then he realized what the problem really was, and the satisfaction of solving it all so swiftly brought a grim smile to his face.