Home > Electric Heart (Dark Planet Warriors #7)

Electric Heart (Dark Planet Warriors #7)
Author: Anna Carven

Chapter One

 

 

Riana fidgeted in the hard metal chair, trying to relax. The stark white walls were closing in on her, and the blinking red light staring down at her from the ceiling was giving her the creeps.

It was small enough to be unobtrusive, but just large enough to be noticed.

We’re watching you.

They wanted her to know it. It was a deliberate tactic, and it was classic Federation. On Earth, she was always plagued with the feeling that someone was watching her, that she was being followed, that every single little piece of her life was being dissected and served up to the greedy information-hungry gods of the Network.

It hadn’t been like that on Fortuna Tau. The mining station had been so remote and inescapable that nobody had bothered with surveillance.

But even though the Federation sought to know all, there were still ways to hide one’s deepest, darkest secrets. If they knew who and what she really was, she would probably never see the light of day again.

“Case file number 10357X, you have failed to submit your progress report.” The bland, robotic female voice droned out of a holoscreen at the end of the table, a little too loud for comfort. A generic grey AI ‘face’ stared back at her, its gaze flat and emotionless. Riana cringed. “Failure to submit by the nominated deadline is a Grade B offense. Forty demerit points have been deducted from your MQ.”

“Forty points?” She stared at the blinking light in alarm. That seemed a terribly harsh penalty for something as minor as failing to submit a progress report. “But I didn’t even know I was supposed to file a report. I didn’t get the notification.” When the hell had that requirement popped up, anyway? She’d only just arrived back on Earth after the most harrowing experience of her life, and she was still trying to adjust to the change of pace. Checking in with the Board of Corrections had been the last thing on her mind.

After almost a year in space, Earth felt strange and unfamiliar to her, especially after she’d spent most of last week on a doomed cargo freighter feeling absolutely terrified.

Of horrible insect-aliens called Xargek.

Of explosions and gas leaks.

Of Kordolians.

Riana shuddered. The ruthless warriors were the stuff of nightmares, and their Universal reputation as merciless conquerors did them no favors. She still didn’t quite understand what they were doing in the Ninth Sector, but whatever their mission, it couldn’t be good for Humankind. Their appearance had sent shockwaves through the Human population on Earth.

“The penalty stands, 10357X. It is not open to appeal.” The AI’s voice was hard and inflexible. As usual, they’d stuck her in a small, suffocating processing room and left her to talk with a machine.

It was standard Federation procedure.

“I thought I’d worked off all my demerits,” she protested, frustration creeping into her voice. That was the main reason she’d joined the Offender Enlistment Program in the first place. After being found guilty of several minor charges of information piracy, it had been a chance to reduce her penalty and increase her Morality Quotient.

Surprising herself, she’d passed all of their rigorous psychological and physical screening tests.

The Offender Enlistment Program was a novel idea, and some of the more conservative senators and citizens were very vocal in their opposition to it. After all, who would trust a convicted citizen with a borderline MQ? But the Federation was struggling with overcrowded correction centers and a dire shortage of Human peacekeepers, and it had been increasingly difficult to find volunteers who were crazy enough to sign up for duty on an isolated asteroid mining station in High Earth Orbit.

So that was how Riana, a nonstandard offender with one petty crime to her name, had enlisted for duty on Fortuna Tau as a probationary peacekeeper.

See the Galaxy, they’d said. Challenge yourself, they’d said. It’ll be the adventure of a lifetime.

Ha. Talk about a way to glorify community service.

She’d been fed the usual recruitment propaganda. But instead of the promised ‘adventure’, she’d encountered a living nightmare of giant flesh-eating insectoid aliens and ebony-clad killers with coldfire eyes and very sharp swords.

Kordolians.

A chill ran through her. What was Sergeant Arin thinking, hooking up with one of them? Riana feared her friend had fallen victim to some weird sort of Stockholm Syndrome.

Even worse, Arin now expected Riana to somehow use her infotech skills to help solve a conspiracy. Someone was behind the catastrophic explosion on Fortuna Tau, and Arin and the Kordolians wanted blood.

Riana wanted nothing to do with it.

Not with what she’d discovered so far.

Not with Corrections keeping tabs on her.

Not with the Kordolians thirsting for revenge. According to them, revenge was a blood right, whatever that meant. They seemed to take it all very seriously.

“10357X, you are thirty-six hours, seventeen minutes and forty five seconds short of the required service duration. You have failed to complete the twelve months of service stipulated in your reform contract. No further reduction of demerits will be considered.”

“Are you kidding me?” Riana groaned in disbelief. “I’m only a day-and-a-half short of the required twelve months. You’re going to cancel it just like that?” Something wasn’t right. After hacking a damn top-secret military server, escaping a doomed superfreighter, and returning to Earth, she hadn’t even heard a peep from the infotech court, but Corrections were all over her ass.

“You have failed to complete the requirements. No further reduction of demerits will be considered.”

“I want to speak with a case worker,” she demanded, anger making her voice rise. “Someone Human.” A mild feeling of panic coursed through her. The processing room was warm and stuffy, and there were no windows. Her heart fluttered, her palms felt sticky, and her breathing had become rapid and shallow.

Riana willed the feeling away. She couldn’t give in to some stupid irrational sense of panic. She couldn’t let anxiety win. Not here. Not now.

The AI’s emotionless voice snapped her out of her rising panic. “Current waiting time for a face-to-face appointment is four weeks, three days, two hours, thirty-seven minutes. Under Federation law, you may apply for an appointment through your Citizen Access Account.”

Typical AI. The machine’s processing capability only went so far. Flexible logic wasn’t part of its makeup.

Riana knew it all too well. She’d once programmed similar AI operating systems. They were designed to be inflexible for a reason. Efficiency over individuals. That was the rule.

Lateral thinking could get a man or woman dismissed.

“Surely I can get some sort of credit for the time I’ve served,” she protested, even though she knew the AI couldn’t process her request. She had a sneaking suspicion the Federation had some sort of vested interest in keeping her under endless surveillance.

“No further reduction of demerits will be considered,” the AI repeated for the third time, its dull eyes looking straight through Riana. The inanity of it all made her want to scream. “You are to complete a further twelve months of micro-surveillance. You are permitted to reside and travel within the common zones, however you will be fitted with a replacement monitoring chip and restricted from manipulating data on any Network-capable devices. Your bio-sig will be logged at all times. Do you understand, 10357X?”

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