Athena's Ashes (Star Thief Chronicles 2) - Page 1

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  • ONE

    For someone who was supposed to be the best thief in the galaxy, Renna had been spending entirely too much time locked up lately.

    Not that a high-security hospital room in a secret MYTH base was much of a prison for her, but the IV line snaking from her arm might as well have been a pair of Saltani iron handcuffs. She swung her feet over the edge of the lumpy bed and watched the holoscreen on the far wall. Stats scrolled past, red text on the black background. Her vitals were stable; blood pressure was fine. Looking at her chart, she was the picture of health.

    Except for the cybernetic implant taking over her mind.

    Renna rubbed the back of her neck where the original incision site had started to throb. It had been doing that a lot lately, thanks to Navang’s depraved experiments and the drugs he’d injected her with. Drugs he’d used to create a whole army of human-robot hybrids.

    Thana Samil, the MYTH doctor in charge of her case, said it was nothing to worry about, but Renna knew better. In the five days she’d been locked up here in the MYTH facility, the pain in her head had only gotten worse.

    And then there were the weird side effects. She hadn’t stepped foot outside her room, but she knew a bank of super-servers sat in the northeast corner of the facility, as if she’d drawn the blueprints herself. Communications relays resided on each corner of the roof. She’d even felt the throb of the automated defense cannons guarding the facility.

    If the doctor and her team didn’t figure out how to slow down the integration between the implant and her nervous system, Renna would be a walking machine before she had the chance to stop the person behind all this.

    Pallas.

    If Renna’s hunch was right, the traitor was close enough to touch. Maybe even inside this facility. But she’d never find him if she was trapped here for the rest of her short life. She slid off the bed to pace the stark room, careful not to disturb the needles in her arm. Six steps to the door. Turn around. Six steps back to the bed.

    She’d done this to herself. She’d volunteered to be locked away and dissected, just to keep Myka Aldani safe. To keep Finn safe.

    Her pacing slowed as a pang of longing shot through her. Captain Nick Finn. Former gang member turned MYTH soldier and her first childhood crush. Now, she suspected that she’d fallen in love with him, which worried her. Renna had spent most of her life making sure that didn’t happen. Yet somehow his bright blue eyes, square jaw, and straight-laced moral code had slipped through her defenses.

    And oh, the way his fingers had tantalizingly stroked her most sensitive places…

    Renna felt herself go warm as she remembered the last time she’d been with him. She’d escaped from Navang, but not before he’d started the process of taking over her implant. Finn had spent the night in her room, waiting for her to regain consciousness, and she’d practically begged him to make love to her. She could still feel the heat of his skin. She inhaled, half-expecting to smell his scent—sandalwood, gun grease, and something that was inexplicably him.

    She needed to know what was going on between them, and if that meant more bunk-side exploration, she’d totally take one for the team. But until she knew how to stop Pallas and put an end to these experiments, she wasn’t going anywhere, despite the urge she had to run back to Finn. She’d stay in this facility and let them poke and prod her, just to protect him and Myka. Even if it made her crazy.

    The lock on her door beeped, and high-heeled shoes clacked across the threshold. Speak of the devil.

    Renna turned as Dr. Samil entered the room. The young doctor wore a pleasant smile despite the slightly frazzled appearance of her long blonde hair escaping the messy bun she always wore. Renna leaned back against the edge of her bed. “Do you always have to look so happy at the prospect of stabbing me with those instruments of torture?”

    Dr. Samil’s blue eyes sparkled. “For someone who’s done her share of killing, I can’t believe you have a needle phobia.”

    “We all have our weaknesses,” Renna said with a shrug. “Pointy, shiny, metal bloodsuckers just happen to be mine.”

    Samil set her holopad down on the counter and pressed her thumb to the scanner to unlock the drawer. She pulled out a tray of tools. “I guess it’s time for the torture to begin.”

    The doctor brushed her bangs back off her forehead, and Renna gritted her teeth as she slid back onto the bed, preparing to be poked.

    “How’d the last test go? Is the implant fusing normally?” Renna stared pointedly at the far wall as Samil fumbled with the glinting needles on the tray. “Or whatever normal is in this f**ked-up situation.”

    The doctor shook her head, flicking a finger against one of the syringes before pushing the plunger. Pink-tinged liquid squirted from the needle. “I wish I knew. I haven’t seen anything like this before. It’s fascinating.” Her voice was full of that breathless excitement Renna had come to hate. “Whatever Dr. Navang did prompted your ordinarily harmless implant to start fusing directly with your nervous system. If my hunch is right, any other cybernetic implants installed during this time would also fuse to your body. You could even start picking up other electronic signals.”

    Renna flinched. Not only because of the quick jab of pain as the doctor deftly slid the needle into her arm, but because she was already picking up those electronic signals. Things were progressing faster than the doctor knew.

    “Relax. I promise this won’t hurt.”

    “That’s what Navang said.” Renna tilted her head and fixed Samil with a frown. “And look how that turned out.”

    The doctor finished injecting Renna with whatever drug cocktail she was trying today, then smiled. “There. Wasn’t so bad, was it? I promise I don’t like torturing you any more than you like being tortured. Unfortunately, I need one more sample to check your antibody levels.”

    “Of course you do.” Renna grudgingly let the woman extract a vial of blood and then crossed her arms as Samil slipped the vial into her pocket. “So what did you mean about the other implants?”

    Dr. Samil nodded as she tapped some information into her tablet. “Navang wanted to create an army of hybrids he could control, right? Well, the first step was to keep their bodies from rejecting the modified implants he installed. But it didn’t work. His technique destroyed some of their own tissue and risked the constant rejection of the implants. Hence the need for a steady infusion of the anti-rejection medications.

    “The new formula he tested on you was a different attempt at the same thing. If he could find a way to make your body fuse with the implant, make it think it was part of itself, eventually technology could overtake biology. Even better, when the process was complete, depending on the type of implant, he could have different types of soldiers. He’d be able to control them all using his neural network. They’d be nothing but mindless robots until he gave them orders.”