The cell was a sterile icebox.
Natasha Morrison twisted her wrists in the padded handcuffs in a useless attempt to escape. She frowned and lifted her head as far as she could to look around her empty cell. It consisted of the cot she lay on and a metal chair bolted to the floor and that was it. Frustrated, she swore under her breath.
She couldn't remember being this uncomfortable in her whole life. She'd been lying on this cot for close to an hour now. Her wrist restraints didn't hurt, but they annoyed her, stretching her hands above her head and affixing her to the wall. She had been here so long, she was beginning to wonder if anyone was ever coming back. To make matters worse, she was nearly naked, stripped by the guards down to her fuchsia bra and panties to make sure she couldn't hide any weapons. Her dark blonde hair was loose and flowed off the cot, dangling close to the floor. She thought their stripping her for security reasons was a bunch of crap, because since then, the guards had been making extra rounds by her cell to peer in at her.
As she lay there, she wondered if her fugitive passenger had managed to steal a shuttle and escape. She hoped he did, at least one of them should escape the executioner's deadly probe. Natasha already accepted her fate, even if she was unsure of exactly what crime she had committed.
The air conditioning clicked on again, humming cool air onto her bare skin from a vent just above her. She shivered slightly and felt her nipples grow hard under the chilly stream of air. As they stiffened, they brushed against the fabric of her bra, arousing her and making her more aware of them. She shifted as best she could, trying to get away from the cold.
A passing guard strolled by her cell. He stared in at her.
"I haven't done anything wrong!" she shouted at him as he walked out of view. "When do I get to know why I'm being held here?"
As if in response to her question, a hydraulic door down the hall whooshed open and two sets of heavy boots made their way toward her.
Thank God. Now I can finally get some answers.
The men appeared at her cell door. The first one she recognized as William Steelman, an old acquaintance and the captain of the guard here on Penal Station Three, but the other man she couldn't see well enough to make out. She heard Steelman punch a code on the keyboard outside and the amber bars of her cell disappeared. A moment later, they entered and the other man came into view.
No, not a man. An android.
Natasha's blood chilled as she met his eyes. They were a solid, vibrant green and burned with malevolence. Slowly, she tore her gaze from his and ran her eyes down the rest of him. He must have been at least six foot three; a powerful wall of a man who filled out his black enforcer uniform like he'd been grown into it. His face was brutally handsome, boasting a square jaw, high cheekbones, and a strong noble nose. It was the kind of face both beautiful in its perfection and private in its savagery. His hair was the color of dark coffee; cut short and neatly groomed. Natasha had never laid eyes on a more attractive man.
What a cruel irony that not only was he not a man, but he was one of the most ruthless and fatal creations in the galaxy. He was a Stinger series android; a model created for the sole purpose of executing fugitives condemned to death while on the run. Natasha knew from the intergalactic newslines they were notoriously deadly, racking up impressive body counts on every planet that hosted a colony. And now here one was to collect her.
Natasha tossed her head to the android. "Why is he here?" she asked Steelman. "Is smuggling a capital offense now?"
Steelman let his eyes wander over her body and gave her a hungry grin. He rubbed his beer belly in a slow circle. "No, he just wants to ask you some questions about your last fare. You know, the man you transported off Earth without checking the wanteds?"
Natasha glared at him. "That was just a simple misunderstanding. He said he was cleared, and he had the paperwork to back it up."
The android stared down at her. "He lied, and the paperwork was a forgery." Then he turned to Steelman, his face cool and expressionless. "I want her released into my custody. I'll interrogate her on my ship."
"I don't know..." Steelman said, scratching the grey stubble on his chin thoughtfully. "That's not really proper protocol."
"How much do you want for it to become proper protocol?" the android said.
Natasha couldn't believe what she was hearing. Was she about to be sold under the table to a government killing machine? Had Steelman gone nuts? "Don't you dare sell me off to this robot!" she said, fighting her restraints with renewed panic. "He'll kill me!"
The android turned his head and fixed his penetrating green eyes on her. The look was so angry, so full of rage, that it caught her breath in her throat. I'm as good as dead. He's going to kill me right here, and Steelman will probably help him dispose of my body.