Former Cyborg Corps soldier Jasim Antar was relieved to come out of the war alive and looked forward to switching to a less violent line of work. But nobody wants to hire a brawny cyborg to do anything that doesn't involve brutalizing people on a daily basis. Stuck working as a debt collector alongside an eccentric pilot who enjoys knitting gifts for her grandkids when she isn't blowing people up, Jasim longs to find a more peaceful existence.
But peace is elusive when you have a violent past. While on a routine mission, Jasim comes across the body of a soldier he served with during the war. He soon learns that someone is murdering former members of the Cyborg Corps, men who should be extremely difficult to kill. And he's next on the list.
Jasim steels himself to reach out to the one person he's certain can help, his old commander: Colonel Leonidas Adler. Adler is strong, smart, and deadly, good traits to have in an ally. Unfortunately, he remembers Jasim as a misfit rather than a model soldier, and convincing him to join forces may be even tougher than finding and facing the killer.
If you spend any time at all in the incredibly fertile breeding ground of the indie sci-fi and fantasy community, you will encounter the works of Lindsay Buroker. I am proud to have worked with her in several capacities over the years, and I am perpetually humbled by her ability to craft clever, funny, heartfelt, and vulnerable characters. She is one of very few "sure things" in the business, in my opinion, and as such this was the first book I've ever reserved a spot for sight unseen. Already familiar with the Fallen Empire series and the rest of her writing, I was certain Cyborg Legacy would be an excellent addition. – Joseph R. Lallo
"This may be my favourite read of the year, and I put the entire series here instead of calling out individual books because they are not standalone, but one long, continuous story."– author K. J. Van Houten
"What makes it all work is Buroker's absolutely hilarious dialogue and sense of humor. She is without a doubt one of my favorite Indie authors. Thank goodness she writes almost inhumanly fast, because she always leaves me wanting to read the next book."– Ann Waukon on Amazon review of Star Nomad
"If you are a certified sci-fi nut and are honest with yourself to admit that you still pine away wishing Firefly, Farscape, and Stargate would go on forever, then I believe you will be thrilled with the series."– Amazon reviewer KMJPandora on Star Nomad
"Ms. Buroker's writing style is clean, efficient, and witty. ... I really recommend this book for its clean, efficient writing, memorable and deep characters, and steady, believable plot."– YA author Cheryl S. Mackey
"In recent years, it's become increasingly rare for me to become so absorbed in a book that I stay up super late reading and neglect doing other things in order to finish it… However, this book is an exception… I stayed up to probably 2 am (I was too scared to look at the clock!) trying to finish it."– Natalie K.
"This series is deeply addictive."– Kelly Rubidoux on Starseers
A soft hiss-thunk sounded as Jasim Antar fastened his helmet, the final piece of his combat armor, and walked out of his cabin on the Interrogator. He headed for Navigation and Communications where his lone companion on the journey sat in the pilot's seat. Knitting. Jasim grabbed a blazer rifle from the weapons locker on the way into NavCom.
When he entered, Maddy lowered her long needles and an amorphous purple and green blob that would, he had been informed, grow into a scarf to match the hat she had already knitted him. Her gray hair was swept back with a clip, and she wore a loose sweater of her own design, the sleeves pushed up to her elbows, the front featuring a cheerful orange bird perched on a twig. The weapons belt secured at her waist, a blazer pistol longer than her forearm hanging in the holster, contrasted oddly with the otherwise kindly grandmother visage.
"Ready for a tough one, big man?" Maddy asked.
Jasim snorted. Big man. Hardly. When he'd applied to join the Cyborg Corps, back when the empire had dominated the system and the imperial army had been a great entity with headquarters on every planet, he'd cracked his spine trying to stand tall enough to make the minimum six-foot height requirement. He was an inch too short, and he was fairly certain the recruiting doctor had only allowed him in because the war had been ramping up, and he'd had a quota to make. Few men had been crazy enough to sign up for the extensive surgeries and body alterations that came with being turned into an imperial cyborg.
"I'm ready," Jasim said. He'd never thought he would miss the war and the killing—the sun gods knew he'd tried to get out of the unit more than once—but at least he'd had a purpose then. Now…
"I'll do my flyby to make sure the ship is there," Maddy said, turning toward the control panel. Her needles and project went into the yarn-filled knitting basket next to her seat.
"Don't get too close to the compound. He'll have enhanced hearing, just like me. I'd rather not warn him I'm coming by buzzing his living room window."
"You needn't tell me how to do my job, dear," Maddy said, swooping low over the tents, metal buildings, and salvage yards that dominated this part of Temperance. Most parts of Temperance. Targos Moon had not been doing well since the empire fell, with the dozens of governments that had sprouted up too busy squabbling over resources to worry about their people, and Temperance was controlled by a mafia clan that wasn't reputed to be any better. "I've been flying since before your mother was paddling your bare bottom."
"My mother died before I was old enough to need paddling. I grew up on the streets of New Jerome with my older sisters."
"Well, I'm sure paddling was involved. You have a naughty personality."
Jasim arched his eyebrows. "I'm certain I've never done anything to suggest that to you." Granted, he occasionally played a prank or two on those who deserved it, but even if Maddy had deserved pranks, he would be afraid to try anything on her, since she was his boss's mother-in-law. Any woman who cheerfully allowed her daughter to marry a man known as The Pulverizer was not to be trifled with.
"I've read your record. Your last pilot complained about run-ins with something called a whoopee cushion."
"Actually, it was a splat pad, and that was only one time. And he deserved it. He was smooching with a prostitute in NavCom when I was getting shot at and needed a pickup. I trust you won't be unreliable like that."
"I suppose that depends on how handsome the prostitutes here are." Maddy winked at him.
"Pilots," he grumbled. It didn't matter how many children or grandchildren they had. They were all half-crazy. If not all crazy. He wouldn't be surprised if Maddy came from the word mad rather than being a shortening of her name, Madeline.
He got another wink before Maddy returned her focus to the control panel. A three-legged dog roaming a street threw back his head and barked at them as they flew overhead. The cloudy green sky was clear of other spaceships. Few people had a reason to visit the unincorporated part of Temperance. Jasim wagered most of the citizens wished they lived somewhere else. Where else, he didn't know. Most former imperial citizens who hadn't turned traitor and fought for the Alliance now had trouble getting citizenship on their pretty core planets.
"There she is," Maddy said, nodding toward one of several holodisplays, this one showing the ship's port camera feed.
The sleek black hull of a ten-man star yacht rested on a dirt lot surrounded by a brick and barbed-wire fence. Less than a year old, the gleaming spaceship stuck out outrageously in the impoverished neighborhood. Jasim was surprised the locals hadn't broken it down into pieces to sell, but supposed the presence of the man living in the squat cinderblock structure attached to the yard might have intimidated them.
"What a beaut," Maddy said, eyeing the yacht. "I looked at the specs earlier. She's got real showers instead of saniboxes, and there are auto-massagers and saunas in the lavatories."
"You don't think The Pulverizer would put a sauna in the lav on this ship for you?" Jasim asked.
"Please, he's a scrimper. Besides, where would it go in that tiny lav? The toilet would have to be inside the sauna for it to fit. And an auto-massager?" She sighed wistfully and looked at Jasim's arms. "I'd ask you to put those meat slabs of yours to work in a useful manner, but I don't want to have my bones crushed."
"What do you call them?" She waved to his arms.
The armor hid the thick muscles at the moment, but Jasim supposed she'd seen him in a T-shirt often enough in the few weeks they had been working together to remember them well. He'd caught her investigating other parts of him, too, usually when she didn't think he was looking. It probably wasn't appropriate to think of his boss's mother-in-law as lecherous.
"I call them arms," Jasim said.
"How insufficient." Maddy whistled cheerfully and adjusted their course. "I'll get within a half-mile, and you'll have to rappel out. There's no place to land, and I wouldn't want to in this neighborhood even if I could. Probably wouldn't take the hoodlums thirty seconds before they descended on us and tried to tear off the panels for scrap."
"Just open the hatch, and I'll jump out." Jasim waved at the altimeter to indicate that he could handle the thirty- or forty-foot drop.
"Ah, right. I forgot. You're like an android."
Jasim frowned but didn't bother correcting her. He'd tried numerous times in the years since the war ended, but he hadn't had much luck changing people's assumptions about cyborgs. At least she didn't call him "mech," the derisive nickname many people had for cyborgs. Not that many used the term to their faces.
"Just fly over one of the streets," Jasim said, turning toward the exterior hatch that opened up from the ship's single corridor. "Preferably not one of those alleys full of dog piss and potholes."
"I've been to Temperance before. I don't think that's dog piss."
Jasim walked the three steps to the hatch—the Interrogator was a modern ship with a fast engine, good shields, and impressive weapons, but it was definitely not luxurious or large. As he waited for Maddy to find a spot, he silently ordered his helmet display to turn on. The neural net touching his scalp in several spots read the command and obeyed, and readings that ranged from sensor data about his surroundings, to the suit's integrity, to his body's vital statistics appeared along the sides of his faceplate. They did not interfere with his vision, and it was easy to look through them instead of focusing on them during a battle. Everything appeared normal, and his heartbeat thumped along at a perfectly normal rhythm despite his nervousness about the target he would confront on this particular mission.
He checked his rifle and the smaller blazer weapons that could pop out of the arms of his suit on command. He doubted thugs would leap out at him as soon as he landed—most people fled from men wearing the distinctive red combat armor of the Cyborg Corps—but when he was operating on his own like this, he couldn't be too careful. Maddy might provide some aerial backup if he got in trouble, but that wasn't her job. She was supposed to fly him to the deadbeats, tow the ships they collected if necessary, arrange to have them transported back to headquarters, and fly him to the next mission. That was it. She also, Jasim suspected, reported back to her son-in-law regularly and would let The Pulverizer know if Jasim absconded with any of the goods he was supposed to be retrieving.
A boom came from outside, and the ship tilted alarmingly.
The stabilizers in Jasim's leg armor kept him upright without trouble, but the litany of un-grandmotherly curses that came from NavCom was alarming. He'd never heard her denigrate the size of the reproductive organs of all three sun gods before, not all at once.
"Problem?" Jasim asked.
"Some idiot with a grenade launcher is firing at us from a rooftop." Even as she finished speaking, the Interrogator banked hard.
This time, Jasim braced himself by pressing his gauntleted hands against the bulkhead. In space, artificial gravity would usually keep the ship stable, but down here, it was more akin to being in an airplane. An airplane that was under fire.
As the ship rose and looped back the way it had come, Maddy said, "Hold back on opening the hatch. I had to raise the shields."
As the deck shifted and tilted, Jasim made his way back to NavCom and looked at the view screen. He was in time to see a pack of men and women in baggy, mismatched clothing pointing weapons at them from the flat rooftop of a three-story tenement building. There was more than one grenade launcher among the group, along with everything from blazer rifles to shotguns to a longbow that someone looked to have made by hand. Its owner couldn't have been more than twelve.
Maddy wore a determined expression as she arrowed the ship toward the rooftop.
"You're not going to fire, are you?" Jasim gripped her shoulder, careful, as always, not to squeeze too hard. In addition to having the strength that his cyborg implants gave him, combat armor amplified the wearer's power.
"Nobody fires at The Pulverizer's ships without receiving retaliation," Maddy said, speaking it like a mantra. Maybe it was underlined in the company rulebook somewhere.
"You'll blow up that whole building."
"It might improve the neighborhood."
"There'll be people in it. Women and children, maybe. Grandchildren," he added, since she had mentioned having more than a dozen of those herself.
She kept flying, looking determined to blow up the entire building, if not the city block.
"Maddy," he said quietly, giving her a slight warning squeeze, even though threatening her would not be good for his career. He did not want to wrest the controls from her, but he would if he had to.
She growled, but did not fire as they swooped low over the rooftop. The Interrogator received more fire from the group of thugs, bullets and blazer beams pinging off their shields. Those weapons wouldn't do any damage. The grenades were another story. Maddy banked hard to avoid another one that was launched from the rooftop. It blew up to their starboard side amid a cloud of black smoke. The ship rocked, but the shields remained near full power.
"What kind of cyborg soldier are you?" Maddy asked, scowling at him as she swooped left and right to make a challenging target.
"A retired one," Jasim said, though it seemed an odd word to use. After all, he was only twenty-seven. He'd only been in for three years before the war ended. "And not one who ever targeted civilians," he added firmly.
"That's not what the stories about the Cyborg Corps say."
Jasim pressed his lips together. "I know what the stories say."
"I wasn't just spouting nonsense back there. We have a company policy that anyone who tries to damage one of our ships or one of our people gets handled—like a straw bale on a rifle range. Our logo is on the side of the ship where anyone can see it. We can't let word get back of our weakness. The Pulverizer has a reputation."
"I'm aware of it. Drop me on the roof, and I'll deal with them." Jasim felt like a thug when he said such things, but he couldn't object too much to using force on people who shot at him. He just didn't want to take out innocent people lounging on their couches and reading news holos on the first floor. Not everyone who lived in this neighborhood was a felon. He knew all too well what it was like to grow up in a place like this and have no way to escape it.
"I'll have to lower shields for you to jump out," Maddy said.
"I'll be quick." He released her shoulder with a pat and headed back to the hatch.
"I'll have Earl send the repair bill to you."
"No wonder he goes by The Pulverizer."
"No insulting the family, cyborg, or you might not get picked up again."
"I'll remember that." Jasim returned to the hatch and touched the control panel on the bulkhead beside it, calling up the forward camera on the display. Between the shock absorbers in his armor and his mostly synthetic bones and joints, he could survive if he jumped and missed the rooftop, but seeing him splat against a brick wall wouldn't drive fear into the hearts of their attackers. "Ready when you are."
"Lowering shields," Maddy said.
The people on the rooftop jumped and pointed, aiming their weapons eagerly. They probably couldn't believe the ship was coming back so they would get another chance at it. Missing sauna or not, Jasim knew the Interrogator's parts could bring in good money on the black market. Or maybe the farmers' market—he doubted the authorities cared much about policing illegal salvage here, and it wouldn't surprise him to see stolen fuel cells and tube couplers for sale in a kiosk next to tomatoes and asteroid fruit.
Jasim tapped the controls, and the hatch slid open. Maddy hadn't slowed down for her approach, and wind buffeted his armor and tugged at the rifle slung across his torso on a strap.
He was about to jump out when Maddy shouted, "One's firing," and banked hard.
Jasim, already crouched to spring, had to adjust his aim. He jumped from the ship, leaping outward instead of simply dropping down. More wind railed at him but not enough to alter the descent of a two-hundred-pound man in full combat armor.
As he landed on the corner of the rooftop, he planned to charge straight toward the men and women and deal with them as rapidly as possible—his armor could deflect a lot of bullets and blazer bolts, but it wasn't as impervious as the ship's shields and would weaken eventually. But part of the old building gave way under his feet, and he had to react quickly to keep from plummeting through to the top floor. His charge turned into a roll away from the hole crumbling open underneath him, and crimson blazer bolts streaked past above him.
"Combat armor," someone whispered, Jasim's superior hearing catching the words from across the rooftop. "It's worth a fortune."
"Get him. Get him good!"
Jasim recovered from his ungainly landing, leaped to his feet, and raced toward the pack. Not everyone agreed with the speakers, and some of the smarter thugs were already scattering, eyes wide as they took in his red armor. Several, however, stood their ground, unleashing their rifles and pistols at him. There wasn't any cover on the rooftop, except for an open trapdoor that didn't look like it could take a windy day, much less weapons fire. Jasim didn't bother dodging, but he kept an eye on the readout on his faceplate, reporting on hits and giving him armor integrity updates. He almost laughed when a crooked arrow bounced off his shoulder.
He crossed the roof in a second and leaped into the middle of his foes. Even without the combat armor, his enhancements gave him speed and strength that unaltered humans couldn't match. He knocked two men off the roof and grabbed the grenade launcher from a third before the thugs registered what was going on and tried to run out of his reach. He gripped the grenade launcher in both hands, and metal squealed as the frame bent, then snapped. He threw the pieces to the ground and knocked more people from the rooftop, some flying twenty feet before they tumbled over the side and to the ground below.
Screams of pain came up from below, and he had no doubt there would be broken bones, if not worse. But he knew Maddy was right. They couldn't let the company be a target, and a strong showing here might mean he would face less opposition as he walked toward the target's house. Word traveled fast, especially in run-down neighborhoods like this.
He let the people who ran get away, even though he could have easily caught up with them. Only the fools who were determined to keep fighting sealed their fate. He knocked them across the rooftop or tossed them off the building with the others. When he'd first received his cyborg implants, he'd been delighted at his newfound strength, his ability to thwart all those people who had once bullied him, but years of war and killing and walking across the battlefields of the maimed and fallen had bled the satisfaction out of him. Now, there were far more regrets than delights. Still, he did his job, because it was the only one he had.
Soon, only one opponent remained on his feet. The boy with the homemade bow and arrows. Dirt smeared his grimy face and hands, but it did not hide the terror in his eyes or the shake to his hands.
As Jasim strode toward him, he expected the kid to drop his bow and run. But he held his ground.
"You keep coming, and I'll shoot."
His bravery surprised Jasim, and he admired it, even if it was only likely to get the kid killed around here. Jasim wished he could take him away from the neighborhood or impart some message to him, some advice to help him survive to adulthood and find a better future. After all, that was what Jasim had gone to school for after the war. Teaching children. Helping them. But how could he reconcile that with his current job, one that demanded he not allow slights against his boss—or his boss's ship? If nothing else, he should offer a few tips on how to survive in an unfriendly world. That way, the boy might be wise enough to run the next time.
When he didn't stop advancing, the kid was true to his threat and fired.
Jasim caught the arrow out in front of him, before the tip would have bounced off his chest piece. He gentled his grip so that he didn't snap the wood. Finally, the boy seemed to get an inkling of what sort of foe he faced. He lowered his bow. Still, he didn't run. He stared defiantly.
Jasim stopped in front of him. "I have a couple of suggestions for you."
The boy blinked. Apparently, that wasn't what he'd expected to hear.
"First off," Jasim said, "I recommend that when someone in combat armor enters your neighborhood, you run. Far and fast. You can't spend the money you think you could get from selling his armor if you're dead, eh?"
The boy's expression grew mulish.
"But if you can't run, because you're a part of one of the gangs and they're putting pressure on you…" Jasim lifted his eyebrows, wondering if that was the case, or if the kid just wasn't that smart. "You better have some rust bangs."
The boy's expression changed, his face wrinkling in confusion.
"They're sort of like grenades," Jasim said, "but when they explode, they spit out a kind of acid that can eat through spaceship hulls, combat armor, and just about anything with a metal component. It doesn't feel too good on skin either."
"You'd have to find a military surplus store to get some around here, I imagine, but I've heard of people making homemade versions out of local ingredients."
"What kinds of ingredients?"
"Well, you'd have to study some chemistry to learn that. Can you read? Do you go to school?"
The boy hesitated. "I did. But my mom needs… stuff, and you can't make money around here from what dumb things they tell you in school."
"You sure? I figure it'd be useful around here to know how to make rust bangs. Smoke bombs too. Those aren't that hard to make. A little chemistry…"
Now, a speculative expression grew on the boy's face.
Jasim wondered if he was planting the seed that school could be useful or if he was just making the kid think about muggings and robberies his gang could commit with rust bangs and smoke bombs.
"Teachers usually have certain things they have to teach you," Jasim said, "but if you show an interest in something else and ask for help with learning about it, they'll be happy to give that help."
Jasim's comm beeped, reminding him that Maddy was waiting for him. He held out the arrow to the boy to return it. He accepted it distractedly, as if lost in thought. Maybe he was imagining himself hurling smoke bombs.
Jasim almost told the kid his own story, of how he'd survived a neighborhood just like this, if not one that was worse than this, until he had been old enough to enlist in the imperial army. But where was the happy ending? It had gotten him off the streets, and he'd finished his degree after the war, but only to learn that nobody would hire a cyborg to do anything that didn't involve brutalizing people. Almost ten years after he'd escaped his childhood, he was a thug, working in the same kinds of places that he'd grown up in.
"Thanks," the boy said, scampering away, his arrow in hand.
Jasim left, having no way to know if anything he had said would make a difference to the kid. He walked to the edge of the rooftop and leaped down to the street. The pained groans of those he'd thrown off the building drifted to his ears, making him wince.
Another comm beep sounded.
"Antar?" Maddy asked.
"You're less than a half a mile from the target's house. I'm transmitting a map."
The map popped up on the side of his faceplate, showing his location and the target's address.
"Be careful dealing with him," Maddy said. "It'll be a lot more challenging than those scrawny thugs."
"I know," Jasim said, turning up an alley in the direction the map indicated. "I remember him from the Corps."
"Ah. I'd wondered if you might."
Jasim said nothing else. He didn't look forward to coming face-to-face with someone else in red combat armor. Sergeant Matt Adams, a man who'd referred to Jasim as "Shorty." A man who would have the strength to kill him. Jasim hoped it wouldn't come to that, that Adams would agree that he was a year behind on the payments for his yacht and accept that it had to go back to the dealership, but Jasim remembered Adams's temper, remembered that he liked to fight and that he liked to kill. He doubted very much that this would be easy.