Touching Ice Page 27

Coal released her. “You’re brave.”

“Actually, I’m scared shitless. I don’t want to die, but if I do, I’m with Ice. It’s the only way I want to go out. Is it just me or does this thing look similar to a deep coffin?”

She tried to joke, desperate to find some humor so she didn’t start crying. “Talk about irony, considering I might die in it.”

Coal smiled softly. “I’m going to put myself and the council male into the last pod so we at least have a chance of survival as well. Good luck, Megan. You’re worthy of Ice. He’s a good male that I am honored to call friend. Tell him that please.”

“I promise. Thank you.”

Megan lay facedown on top of Ice’s limp body. Her thighs were flush with his and her cheek rested on his bare chest over his heart. She looked up to peer over her shoulder as Coal reached to activate the lid. She saw the release control when the lid sealed closed because it was the only thing that glowed. It turned red as the pod slid back into the wall and then it jerked to a stop. The light flashed to green. Her hands shook as she shifted enough to bend her arm up and over her shoulder. Her fingers brushed the button, pushed, and then she cried out in surprise.

The pod shot them away from the shuttle, the force suddenly sucking her tightly against Ice, obviously designed to do that to hold the occupant in place. The loud pod engines hummed as they burned strongly to send the capsule flying into space and away from the shuttle. Minutes passed before the engines suddenly died and an eerie silence settled around her, only broken by their breathing.

The gravity stabilized so she could move again as she lifted her head and stared into the utter darkness around her. It was pitch black, no lights were on the control panel above her any longer and she wondered if they were just going to remain trapped in space until they ran out of oxygen or until someone located the capsule. She really hoped that a cyborg ship was on its way, not sure if the council had a chance to make anyone aware of their predicament.

“Emergency life capsule activated.” A female computer voice startled Megan. “I am currently triangulating our location and will make exact calculations to set a course to Earth. I will send distress signals for pickup of any Earth vessels we may come into contact with as soon as we are within transmission range of one. I currently am not showing any on radar.”

“Delay that order,” Megan gasped. The last thing they needed was to be piloted to Earth or to have the computer hail Earth ships to come pick them up. They’d rescue them all right but then turn Ice over to Earth Government.

“Unable to accept command. What is the abort code for auto programming?”

“Oh shit,” Megan hissed. “Emergency response.” She knew the universal code to take command of a computer.

“I am in emergency response mode.”

“Abort auto programming.”

“Unable to comply without authorization. I will dose you if you do not comply with auto procedure. The capsule is fully functional, my diagnostics read no damage and oxygen levels are acceptable.”

We’re in a world of shit, Megan though. The computer could dose them, which boiled down to the computer having the ability to release a gas with the oxygen it pumped in for her to breathe that would knock out an unruly, panicked passenger. Usually a captain of a pod would literally dose a freaked-out person with a shot but since it was a single capsule totally controlled by the onboard computer, gas made sense.

“I am calm,” she lied.

“Understood. Location mapped.” The computer paused. “We are nine days from Earth. I am setting course.”

“Did your sensors read an extra passenger?” She hoped to confuse the computer and stall it. “Lights please.”

A dim light filled the capsule interior, barely bright enough for Megan to get a good look at her surroundings. Above her were some controls but she didn’t see the panel for the computer. She twisted her head and caught sight of it down by her feet. It had to be the access and she needed to get to it. She doubted she could hack the computer to take control of it but it was all she could think to do.

It had to be at her feet. She ground her teeth in frustration and tried to turn around.

She realized quickly that she couldn’t flip around. She wiggled and rolled over to face the top of the lid with her back against Ice’s limp body. She attempted to sit up but she couldn’t do more than lift up two feet before the lid blocked her. The heavy pants she wore hampered her movements.

“Two life forms confirmed,” the computer stated. “That is against life-capsule specifications.”

Megan immediately became awash with relief. “Perhaps you should run a complete analysis on possible ways to conserve resources to make sure both life forms survive the trip to Earth. I suggest you check with your manual.”

“Running scenarios.”

Megan wondered if she had minutes or hours before the computer stopped looping its programming, searching for a solution. She needed to figure out a way to make her body small enough to squeeze into a ball. She reached down, unfastened her pants, and shoved them down, kicking at the legs until they slid from her ankles, freeing her completely.

She took a deep breath, blew it out, and pulled her knees high up into her chest. She rolled onto her side, keeping in a tight formation, and tucked her head up, spreading her knees slightly to make room. She reached out with one arm, gripped a handful of Ice’s pants, and started to pull. Her body moved, her ass rubbing against one side of the container while the back of her head pressed against the other side. She pulled harder, tucking her body tighter together. A slow inch at a time, she turned until she got her back clear of the side.

She had made it. She stretched her legs out, careful not to kick Ice in the face, and rolled onto her stomach. She reached up, grabbed Ice’s leather-covered ankles, and pulled herself toward them and the panel just inches from the soles of his boots.

“Assessment made,” the computer stated.

Megan wanted to curse. She’d hoped to confuse the computer for a while. “What is the conclusion?” Her fingernails explored the panel, trying to pry it off.

“I am adjusting oxygen levels to low. Passengers may experience lightheadedness if they move around but they will not suffocate. There is no reason to fear immediate death. I will cut food and liquid rations in half. Passengers may experience hunger but each passenger will be permitted to have one nutrient bar every twelve hours and two ounces of liquid. It will be the bare minimum to sustain life.”

The panel popped off and Megan stared inside, squinting at what she had to deal with. She mouthed a silent curse, studying the mass of wires and circuit boards.

“I’m reading an open panel.”

“Yes, you are. One popped off. I’ll put it back on,” Megan lied.

She inched closer and read the tops of the integrated circuits. Each were labeled clearly with numbers but that didn’t do her much good. Her expertise was in programming, not hardware, and she really doubted the computer would give her instructions on how to disable the navigational system or take the engines offline, if it were even possible to from that panel. Then again, she could give it a try.

“Computer, what kind of navigational system are you running? I’m worried about your accuracy.”

“Unable to share that classified information.”

“If you conserve energy by routing it to life support instead of navigation, will that increase power to life support?”


Hope soared in Megan. “On that basis, I am ordering you not to start engines and route all power to life support. Is it in your directive to override standard procedure to avoid risking human life?”


I’ve got you now, Megan thought. “I am ordering you to route all power to life support and keep the engines off.”

The computer hesitated. “Is a human injured? According to my estimation it is possible to do both if I lower oxygen levels.”

“I’m injured,” Megan lied. “I need full oxygen levels. I’m having trouble breathing.”

The low sound of a fan hummed to life and Megan relaxed, setting the panel back in place. The computer had responded to her commands. She’d found a loophole in its programming.

“Reserving all excess energy for life support. Navigational systems powered down, engines powered down. Scanning for possible rescue vessels and will emit a distress signal when one comes within range.”

“Thank you.” Megan closed her eyes and lowered her face, resting it on Ice’s leather-clad lower leg. Her tense body relaxed. That was close and I got lucky, she thought.

Time passed as Megan lay there. Ice remained unconscious but it was a blessing.

She knew she needed to move, needed to twist her body up and turn around again so she and Ice were facing the same way, but she admitted that she’d been through an ordeal. She worried that the Markus Models might be able to come after the life capsules. She also hoped that if a ship did find them, it belonged to cyborgs.

Ice twitched and softly groaned. Alarm rushed through Megan. She pushed up and twisted her head, watching him lift an arm, bump her foot, and then he touched his face.

“What the―”

“It’s all right,” Megan said quickly. “I’m with you and don’t move.”

The big body under her tensed, his muscles tightening, and she lifted up higher, bumping her head on the top of the lid, but watched as Ice lifted his head. She couldn’t miss the stark, pale expression on his face as he realized where they were.

“I’m with you. Don’t move, okay? It’s tight in here and if you struggle you’re going to hurt me.”

His eyes were wide, alarmed, and the fear he experienced couldn’t be denied as he locked gazes with her. His mouth opened and a soft moan came out. A new expression gripped his features, twisted them, and she knew panic when she saw it.

“Ice, listen to me. It’s all right. I’m here, I’m with you, and we’re really okay. Take a deep breath. There is plenty of air.”

“What happened?” His tone deepened into a raspy, harsh sound before he started to pant. “How did I get in this thing?” His hands moved and he gripped her calves, his hold painful. “Megan, what did you do?”

“Coal did it actually. He hit you and knocked you out. He put you inside the capsule and I didn’t want you to wake up alone so here I am.” She forced a smile.

He stared at her, horrified. Megan bit her lip and tried to think of anything to say to calm him. She couldn’t even promise him that rescue from his people would come soon.

“I’m with you and we’re together. Just listen to my voice, okay?”

His fingers moved, rubbed her legs, and he dropped his head back as he closed his eyes tightly. “I need to get out of here.” His breathing increased and his legs under her shifted, one heel digging into the soft floor.

She didn’t see an emergency kit as she turned her head to search for one. The capsule didn’t seem to contain one so the thought of knocking Ice out was a useless one.

She needed to distract him and fast, before he totally lost it. She could tell he was about to with the way he shifted again, softly moaned, and his hands trembled where he gripped her legs.

She needed to turn around, get nose to nose with him, perhaps cup his face, make him stare into her eyes and get control of him. “Ice, I’m going to turn around, okay? You need to let go of my legs so I can curl into a ball again and wiggle enough to twist back to you.”

He shook his head, his hold on her legs tightening instead of loosening. “I need to get out of here.”

Shit, he is about to have a full-blown panic attack. He wouldn’t release her so she bent her knees, spread her legs until she straddled his waist, and then wiggled back a little, hoping to force him to release her. The movement only changed his hold on her so her knees ended up under his armpits, his arms hooking just under her knees on her lower legs, and he turned his face into her skin, breathing hard against it.

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