And that was Just the First Few Hours

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Right into It

Cora opened her optics and noticed the differences immediately. They had twice the resolution of her old ones. The nano-sensors on her surfaces and the systems they were connected to had already been state-of-the-art, but she noticed a few tweaks that had improved their performance as well.

Willy picked up a mirror and handed it to her. “How’s that?”

She studied her new face. The optics glowed red and the gunmetal surface matched the rest of her body. The optics were slightly larger than human eyes, putting a hint of anime into her appearance, and the lips were full and the nose was broad but not too “sticky-outy,” as Kim sometimes described things that protruded too much.

“I like it.” She flexed her mouth a few times and then smiled. “I’m eager to try it out.”

“We can see if one of the food carts has any of your old favorites,” Kim said as Cora handed the mirror back to Willy. “I remember you love chocolate ice cream.”

“Yes, that would be a perfect place to start.” Cora cocked her head at Willy. “When do you get off work? Maybe we could make it a date.”

“About an hour.” He grinned. “I’ll start wrapping things up right away.”

“Cool.” Kim turned back to Cora. “There’s one thing you don’t have to wait to try.”

She leaned closer and pressed her lips against Cora’s. The lower half of Kim’s face was a synthetic approximation of the one she’d had when she was still fully human and the sensation was quite pleasing to Cora’s nano-sensors. She beamed and her processor raced as she gave Kim a longer kiss.

“So, I guess you two are, uh, ‘together?’” Willy aimed a lopsided grin at them.

“We’re friends and we’ve worked together for a long time.” Cora laughed softly and stepped back. “It’s just the two of us hauling cargo between Earth and the asteroids and Mars and the outer planets, most of the time, so we have sex when we’re both in the mood.” She shrugged. “It feels good, so why not, right?”

“And sometimes we do it because we get bored.” Kim chuckled. “Even with the advancements in propulsion over the years, it still takes a couple of weeks to run from one of the space elevators at Earth to one of Jupiter’s moons, so it’s easy to run out of things to do.”

“Well, I can think of worse ways to pass the time.” Willy nodded approvingly.

“Exactly.” Kim aimed a smoldering smile at him and then turned it on Cora.

“Well, I should start closing up shop before all the blood leaves my head.” Willy smirked and led them up to the front counter.

“Before you shut anything down, I need to pay for the mods.” Cora waited at the counter while he entered the sale information and gave her the total. She linked up to his console, paid the bill, and downloaded the receipt and invoice. “Nice doing business with you.”


Kim motioned at the area outside the shop. “We’ll hang around out front so we don’t get in the way if you have any last-minute customers.”

“Cool. I’ll see you soon.” Willy tapped a few more buttons, then he seemed to notice something behind Cora and Kim. His eyes opened a little wider and his smile collapsed. “Y-you, uh, may want to take off now.” He leaned closer and whispered, “Alert security!”

Cora smiled and stroked his cheek to give herself a moment to save the last ten seconds from her memory buffer and continue recording from there while sending a live feed to the nearest security post. At the same time, Kim nodded.

“Okay. We’ll see you later.” She headed for the door and Cora followed her, capturing a still image of the two approaching humans while barely glancing at them. Neither of them stood out much from the rest of the locals aside from wearing black coats that were just long enough to hide a weapon under.

“I’m in touch with security,” Cora whispered once they’d walked around the end of a nearby module. She peeked around the corner to watch whatever was about to go down. “I’m sending them a live feed.”

“Me, too.” One corner of Kim’s mouth quirked up. “I’ve still got my credentials and contacts from the time I worked with my mom’s team in the Justice Foundation, so I used that to run an ID check on these guys.”

“Nice. What’ve we got?”

“The one on the left is Roy Hurley and the other is Sean Mallory. They arrived a year ago and have been working in maintenance.” Kim cocked her head. “According to several reports, they’ve been spotted in places they shouldn’t have been. Such as right now -- they just started their evening shift and according to various logs, they’re still on the south side of town. They accepted a repair request over there a minute ago.”

“Two different locations at the same time, eh? So, either they have twins working their shifts while they’re here, or someone’s forging their job activity.”

“Yep. Heh. Mallory looks like the kind of guy who won’t stop scratching his crotch and sniffing his fingers.”

Hurley flipped his coat open, revealing a holstered pistol for a split-second before letting it flap closed, and twitched his head toward the front door.

“Uh-oh.” The gun was a standard projectile weapon common on Earth but banned in places like this because of the risk of puncturing the dome. Security forces in pressurized environments used stunners or guns loaded with beanbags or shatter rounds that broke apart on impact with anything harder than flesh.

“Yeah, I saw it. I’ve updated the security team.”

“How did they get those into the colony?” Cora began scanning the two men despite the risk of them being equipped with implants that could detect it. Her sensors picked up one hand cannon on each of them, plus an assortment of knives and a knuckle duster in Mallory’s hip pocket.

“Any number of ways. They could’ve bribed someone or the guns could’ve been smuggled in on a freight shipment or pieces of them could’ve been slipped in and assembled later. Hell, they might’ve even been fabricated right here. I’ve seen this kind of thing happen from time to time.”

“Fantastic. We can’t have hard ammo flying around in here.” Cora’s and Kim’s bodies were military-grade and not easily damaged, but most of the people nearby were fully human or had limited cybernetic implants. And as thick as the dome was, all a bullet needed to do was find a structural weak point and the air would start venting. “I await suggestions.”

Mallory grabbed Willy’s arm and dragged him toward the door. Willy shook his head and pointed over his shoulder, clearly worried about leaving his shop open. Hurley snarled something at him and Willy flinched. His face turned a shade paler and he nodded.

“Doesn’t look like a robbery. Looks more like an abduction.” Kim glanced around. “Nobody seems to have noticed what’s going on, but this place is pretty crowded. I think we should follow these guys until they’re more isolated from the population. At the very least, maybe we can disarm them before they hurt anyone. Maybe we can even find out where they’re taking Willy and what they want with him.”

Both men walked him out of his shop and pushed him into an alley between it and another store. Kim stood and crept after them.

“Well, here we go.”

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