A shrill siren blared throughout the facility—three short bursts, followed by a pause and a repeat of the initial signal.
“Oh hell!” Trish protested, her body stiffening with surprise. “That noise almost gave me a heart attack!” She blew out a breath and dropped a pile of shredded metal into the holding container near the blazing hot mini forge, the harsh sound of the indicator still ringing in her ears.
She stood up, pushing strands of black hair away from her face, trying to calm her racing heart. Ever since she’d installed that damn emotion chip into her brain a few moon cycles ago, every single external stimulus in her daily life translated itself into a nagging series of physical emotes that tore through her nerves like a shredder. The placid life she’d known prior to the chip’s installation was constantly challenged by these intangibles she couldn’t always decode or neatly compartmentalize. And these attacks on her system still seemed random, allowing her little opportunity to preplan a defense. How humans lived comfortably like this, dealing with these physically crippling data bursts, she had no idea.
Trish took a few deep breaths, managing to finally erase her initial shock over the sound, and mute her body’s response. And then a new emotion immediately took hold—worry began to flood her system, causing a temporary dryness in her mouth and a sour feeling to form in the pit of her stomach. She stood still, working through this debilitating “feel” as her best friend, a human from the original planet, termed these random emotions.
Finally, cool logic returned, bright and soothing, clearing her efficient Cyborg mind to process input. Because nothing good was going to come from that signal—its entire purpose was to alert her to danger in the neighboring sections.
She powered down the mini forge, mentally bracing herself for the possibility of some very bad news. “Details?” she asked crisply.
“The red alert originates from section thirteen,” the computer replied.
“Section thirteen?” She exhaled, using her sleeve to wipe sweat from her brow, secretly relieved to confirm the problem was with section thirteen, and not with fifteen where her extended family unit lived. Although if the problem had been on fifteen, she suspected she’d know through her internal com link. She tugged off her work gloves. “What type of problem?” she asked, not even bothering to ping her three brothers about this possible crisis on thirteen; there was no need to disturb them until she had further information. They had their hands full with their pregnant mate.
Trish was the sole proprietor of section fourteen, a station in The Swirl, an area on the edge of the known universe where space currents had gathered a staggering collection of debris just begging to be recycled. Each day, Trish worked hard, cutting and shredding enormous chunks of disused metallic waste within her defined section of The Swirl, melting and separating it into base metals that she sold back to governments and individuals in the four sectors in need of raw materials.
Her brothers and their mate worked section fifteen…and on her other side was section thirteen, which had remained empty for a full planetary rotation until new neighbors had recently taken over the facility. She’d long ago programmed the computer to alert her to any disturbances occurring on either side of her recycling station. There wasn’t any law enforcement or emergency services to rely upon in The Swirl. Out here, on the bleak edge of the known universe, the Cyclers helped each other.
She hadn’t met her new neighbors yet. They’d moved in only a few short weeks ago. What could be going wrong over there…already?
“It is a proximity alert,” the computer answered.
“Ooh.” She winced, immediately processing the threat level. A proximity alert meant only one thing: a rogue space current was pushing an unusually large piece of debris, possibly from a wrecked long-haul ship, destroyer, or space station, and it was about to collide with a section’s station. This rarely happened, but when it did, it could significantly damage the recycling facility and result in possible loss of life. And if something catastrophic happened to section thirteen, it could cause a chain reaction of devastation to several sections in a row.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Trish swiftly departed from the mini forge and strode down the hallway. She stepped onto the bridge of her facility and sat in her favorite chair, in front of the communication console. “Contact section thirteen for emergency information,” she ordered.
Trish’s best friend and sister-in-law, Megan, who lived in section fifteen, had taken it upon herself to map the Swirl and acquire communication links for all sections, just to mitigate emergency situations such as this. Megan had also long ago warned her that the three Xylan males who’d recently taken over section thirteen had requested privacy and contact only in case of emergency. Well, if this wasn’t an emergency, she didn’t know what was!
A holo vid blinked to life, displaying the live communication feed with section thirteen. The backside of a large Xylan male formed on the screen. He turned and squinted at her. “Who is this?” he questioned in guttural Xylan.
Before she could respond, two additional Xylan crowded into the viewing area. All three of them stared at her, intently. She shifted in her seat. They were huge, muscular males, dark-skinned, with long, gleaming golden-brown hair. Ridges lined their foreheads. Their hands were tipped with claws. She knew the basics of the Xylan species and their culture, but she’d never actually met one in real life. Heh. They were certainly…large.
“It’s the female from section fourteen,” one of them noted in a rich, raspy voice.
Her lips pursed. “Yes, I’m your neighbor,” she responded in formal Xylan. “My name is Trish. I received a proximity alert concerning your station. My scans indicate an enormous piece of space junk will soon collide with your section. You need help.”
The first warrior shook his head. “No. We do not require assistance. We have this situation under control.”
Her brow furrowed. She glanced down at her screens, which clearly showed they did not have this situation “under control.” She looked back up and met his dark gaze through the vid. “I have a specialized gravity tool I can bring with me to avert disaster.”
One of the other warriors pushed his way forward, filling the entire holo-screen with harsh Xylan features and bared fangs. “You are denied access to this section,” he snarled. “It is not safe for you here.”
Trish snort-laughed and shook her head. Not safe for her? This was a crack up. She had no idea Xylan had a sense of humor. “Let’s remember,” she answered, “I’m not human. I am a Cyborg. I may appear deceptively fragile to you because I was manufactured to look that way, as stealth technology. If I chose, I could kick all of your asses and wipe the floor with your bloody remains. Let’s get real, you need my help. And any damage to your station could possibly affect my station, so your problem is now my problem. I’m transporting over right now. ETA five minutes.” And she cut the vid, not bothering to listen to any more of their ridiculous statements.
“Males,” she huffed.