Rika is mech-meat, a cyborg killing machine, created by the Genevian military and cast aside when the war was lost.
Now she slings cargo on Dekar Station, falling deeper in debt as she struggles to make enough money to keep her cybernetic body functioning. The local gangs would love to have her join their ranks, and the takings would pay her bills, but the only thing Rika hates more than what she's become, is killing for others. But morals don't buy repairs and she's at the point of utter desperation when her loan holder cashes in her debt and sells her to the highest bidder.
When Rika wakes, she's in a warehouse on a planet she's never heard of, and a trio of mercenaries are reassembling her body. Their mission is to kill the world's president, and her mods and abilities are just what they need to get the job done.
Whether she likes it or not, Rika is in the business of killing once more as she joins the ranks of the Marauders.
M. D. Cooper is a force of nature and keeps rolling out the hits in his Aeon 14 universe. At this point, I'm so far behind that I don't know I can ever catch up with his awesome stories but I'm going to keep trying. Rika Outcast is one small part of an absolutely huge and wonderful saga. Take one try and you'll be hooked. –Terry Mixon
"Once you start reading this series you'll want to read them all. You have been forewarned."– Amazon Review
"When Michael Cooper brings us a new character for the AEON 14 universe, he does not scrimp on the horsepower! Rika is as strong and interesting as any character in this already character-rich universe. Excellent first story, Michael! I am already deeply enmeshed in her problems and strengths! I look forward to the next in this series!"– Amazon Review
"Rika's story is complete with the horrific details on how she became a mechanized warrior and what her government used her for. The plight of a "mech" is not so different from our own Vietnam veterans without any safety net. Deep in debt to just keep her parts working she is sold to a mercenary group. But there is so much more - fighting , freedom, family."– Amazon Review
"Such an exciting story. Struggling to find your humanity when none has been shown to you. And finding love in the midst of so much turmoil."– Amazon Review
"As with all the books in this series, this one pulls you in to a vivid sci-fi universe, with well-rounded, believable characters. There is a good deal of action, and storyline that leaves you wanting to read more!"– Amazon Review
Some time later—she was uncertain how long, as her Link access had been severed upon her guilty sentence—her cell door opened, and a stern voice ordered, "Get up, girl. Time to go to processing."
Rika assumed 'processing' was some sort of procedure where the police handed her over to the military, but when her eyes focused on the speaker, she saw that the woman who spoke to her was in a military uniform. Clearly that form of processing had already occurred.
The woman led her through the long hall of holding cells, all empty now. Had they been filled when she came? Rika couldn't remember. Once beyond the cells, they passed through a cold, dark corridor that led to a solitary door.
Her escort grunted softly as she opened the door to reveal dim evening light; as Rika's eyes adjusted, she saw an unadorned bus waiting in an empty parking lot.
The bus was half-full of men and women, and the military woman led Rika to its door. A man with a sheet of plas stood beside the yawning portal and looked up at her, his eyes narrowing with distaste.
"Conscript A71F," her escort said, using just the last four digits of Rika's identity.
"So it seems," the man said with a nod. "Good haul today, eh, Jenna?"
"Decent enough," the woman, who Rika now had a name for, replied. "This one's a bit scrawny, though. Wonder what they'll do with her."
"Who knows," the man grunted. "Can always use meat for the grinder, no matter what it looks like when it starts."
Rika didn't like the sound of that, and she looked at the man, who gave a smile that did not reach his eyes.
"Your new life awaits you A71F, get on the bus."
Rika walked carefully up the stairs. She didn't want to slip again—one smear of dried blood on her face was enough. At the top of the bus's steps she saw an empty row, and slid into the seat by the window. Rain started to fall outside, and she closed her eyes, desperately wishing that someone would walk onto the bus, call out her name, and announce that there had been a mistake and that she was free to go.
Nothing even remotely close occurred.
A moment later, the man who had been outside the bus climbed the stairs and took a seat at the operator's controls. The door slammed shut, and the vehicle began to move.
Rika fell asleep again and when she woke, it was still night. The bus had stopped at a gate, and the operator was talking with a guard outside his window. The door opened, and two soldiers stepped onto the bus. One stayed at the front, rifle held up, stock against his shoulder, while the other walked down the aisle, examining the human cargo.
"All clear," he announced when he got to the back.
The soldier with the rifle nodded, but his weapon remained trained on the conscripts. Only when the first solider passed him did he lower his weapon and walk off the bus.
The door closed, and the operator set the bus in motion once more. It only drove for five minutes before stopping at a large, nondescript building. A group of soldiers stood out front. When the operator opened the doors, another pair of soldiers walked onto the bus.
These two didn't carry rifles—rather, they swung stun batons, slapping them in their hands. One soldier stayed up front, while the other began walking down the aisle.
"Get up, you lazy scum. Your glorious future in the Genevian Armed Forces awaits you. First row, out!" the soldier walking the aisle hollered.
One of the men in the first row didn't rise fast enough, and the woman hit him across the shoulders with her baton, causing him to cry out in pain.
"I said, Get! Up!" She screamed right in his face, then grabbed his jumpsuit, lifting him bodily from his seat, and tossed him into the aisle. "Now mooove!"
The man scrambled to his feet and promptly fell down the stairs. Rika stood, ready to get off the bus the moment the woman passed her row. She noted that the stairs would be slippery from the rain-soaked boots of the guards.
"Fucking moron," the soldier grunted. "Not that it matters; you scum will make a proper contribution to the commonwealth soon enough."
Given the other man's reference to 'meat for the grinder', and this soldier's choice of words, Rika's level of concern about what lay in her future intensified.
Once out of the bus, she joined the other conscripts in a long double-row. The rain had lessened, but it was still enough of a drizzle to make them miserable. She saw the first man who had fallen down the stairs standing at the head of the line next to hers. His nose was broken, and blood poured down his face; no one made a move to help him as he sniffled and wiped the blood from around his mouth.
As the bus emptied out, Rika looked over the others. They all wore the bulky jumpsuits, and the least disheveled of them still looked as bad as she felt. She was surprised to see that only half looked like street-rats; the rest of the men and women appeared to have seen baths and good food in recent days. The clean hair and trimmed fingernails were also dead giveaways of a better life.
She did a quick sum as the last woman stepped from the bus, followed by the soldier and her swinging baton. There were thirty-two of them. Thirty-two miserable souls unwillingly added to the Genevian war machine.
The other soldiers formed up around the conscripts, and the baton-wielding woman yelled into the rain-soaked gloom, "Move it, you fucking filth! We don't have all night!"
They marched into the building, and were led down a long corridor to a wide foyer. At the end of the foyer stood a man at a small podium. Behind him were three numbered doors. The man looked the shivering conscripts over for a moment before turning his gaze to a sheet of plas on the podium.
"Conscript B43E, door 1," he announced, and one of the cleaner, though no less miserable, men shambled forward, and stepped through the door as a guard opened it.
The man at the podium carried on, announcing the conscripts' codes and a corresponding door. Rika noticed that there was a clear class preference. The most fit were sent to door one, and the street rats, like her, all ended up going through door three.
It came as no surprise to her when her name was called.
"Conscript A71F, door 3!"
She walked on unsteady feet toward the door, doing her best to hold back the tears that threatened to spill down her face. If she started crying now, she knew stopping would be impossible. Once through the door, she found herself in another long hall, and slowly walked until she came to a bright white room.
Eleven other unwashed scum like her were waiting there, all shivering with cold. After she entered, one more girl joined their number, and there they stood: an unlucky thirteen.
Rika noted that the room was tiled, and drains were set in the floor. Above, there were sprinklers, and along one wall were several large wire baskets on wheels.
A pair of guards entered the room—one with a rifle trained on the conscripts, and the other with a decoupler for their shackles. As he freed each person, the guard with the decoupler gestured for them to stand along the wall near the baskets. Once the last unfortunate soul stood in a ragged line in front of the baskets, he barked one word.
No one moved for a moment, and he eyed them with an unpleasant stare. "If you sorry assholes aren't butt-fuck naked in one minute, I'm going to have Lars here shoot you all in the kneecaps. Fuck knows you won't need them anyway."
The possible meaning behind his words terrified Rika, but she followed the instructions. Something in his voice made her think he was very serious about shooting them in the knees.
She pulled off her shoes and the jumpsuit, tossing them in the tub behind her. She hesitated at removing her underwear, but despite the guard's hungry gaze, she thought that any ogling from his eyes would be better than bullets from his rifle. As she pulled off her bra, she glanced at the others, who were pulling off their undergarments as well.
Somehow, they all looked better naked than in the ill-fitting jumpsuits. Not that any of them looked great. Most bore the look of hard living on the streets, or in low-rent government housing. Rika had to admit that she looked better than most, though she was shorter and thinner than all but one other girl.
"Get under the nozzles, close your eyes, and clench your dicks, assholes, and pussies. This is gonna sting," the not-Lars guard said with a coarse laugh.
Rika stepped gingerly across the cold tile to the center of the room. She clenched her fists and closed her eyes, prepared for the worst.
When the spray came, it was warmer than she had expected—but it hit hard, scouring every part of her body. Then it began to sting; then burn. She felt like her skin was on fire, but didn't dare to open her eyes. Nearby, a man screamed in pain, and the guard laughed.
"I told you not to open your eyes, fucker. Don't worry, little bitch; you'll get rinsed off in a minute. It'll stop burning, then—mostly."
Rika felt something sliding down her head and shoulders, and she tentatively reached up—her hand encountering a strange, lumpy mass. She recoiled in horror before she realized it was her hair. She touched her face, and found that her eyebrows were gone; she ran her hand higher, and felt her smooth scalp.
"That's it," the guard advised as the warm spray continued. "Brush all that shit off yourselves. The sooner you do, the sooner we can give you the final rinse."
A minute later, the spray changed in pressure and the burning feeling on her skin eased. The man who had opened his eyes a moment before was reduced to a mere whimper, and Rika hoped his vision hadn't been permanently damaged.
"Open your eyes," the guard called out, and Rika tentatively followed his instruction. All around her were the glistening forms of her fellow conscripts. Hairless, with red, irritated skin. "Look at you all," the guard chuckled. "Like shiny little dolls."
"A lot better than the shit-stains that came in here," the guard with the rifle, Lars, spoke for the first time.
"OK, meat," the first guard yelled. "Move!"
At his words, a door opened up on the far side of the room, and the naked, hairless, shivering conscripts filed out.
This time, the corridor was short and well-lit. It opened up into a large room with three long boxy structures running down its center. They looked almost like train cars, though conduits connected to them at regular intervals.
At the near side of each of the long boxes were wide, dark openings, with a pair of technicians standing before them. Rika noticed that no additional guards were present, but she doubted even the two who followed them in were needed. Each member of the thirteen conscripts was utterly cowed, their spirits broken. They would not put up any resistance.
Rika also spotted automated turrets mounted on the ceiling, and knew that any attempts to escape would be met with more force than she cared to encounter.
The technicians on the far right called a citizen number, and one of the men walked over to them.
"Right, then," she heard one of the technicians say to the man. "You're a good size. We'll fit you for the K1R. Good thing, too; we have a quota to fill on those, and you lot rarely live up to the reqs."
The other technician pulled a metal harness along an overhead rail until it slapped the man in the back. Clamps wrapped around his thighs, torso, biceps, neck, and forehead. Without further preamble, it lifted him into the air as he cried out in alarm, and then it pulled him into the dark opening of the long structure.
One by one, the other conscripts were called forward. Each was racked just like the first man as the technicians made cryptic remarks about what they were suited for.
Eventually it was just Rika and the girl who was a hair shorter than her. They stood close to one another; not touching, but taking whatever comfort they could from another human's presence in the hell they found themselves in.
"A71F," one of the technicians at the far-left structure called out.
Rika approached, and the man sized her up. "Hey, Rick, she'll probably work for one of the new scouts, won't she?"
The other man eyed her up and down, likely measuring her with his augmented eyes. "Yeah, she's great for it. Looks like a hundred sixty seven centimeters and just under fifty kilos."
"Has good Link-tech, too," the first technician said. "Won't have to spend too much to make her brain worth using."
"Using for what?" Rika asked quietly. It was the first time she had spoken since the courtroom, and she surprised herself—it was almost as though she had forgotten how.
"You'll find out soon enough," the technician replied as Rika felt the rack slap her on the back.
This one was different than the others she had observed; it clamped tight around the top of her thighs, and again just above the knee. It did the same around her arms—one just above her elbow, and the other uncomfortably jammed up in her armpit. Another clamp wrapped around her head, followed by one around her neck, and two around her torso.
"No!" she cried out, struggling against the clamps. "What are you doing to me? Where am I going? Please, I have to know!"
The technician named Rick slapped her ass.
"Somewhere where that will never happen again," he leered.
The rack lifted her up and pulled her toward the dark opening of the long structure, and Rika began to writhe with fear, bucking and straining against the bonds.
"Hey! Stop that!" the first technician called out. "You're gonna miss the—aw, shit."
Rika felt something hit the clamp on her neck and slip to the side. She wasn't certain what she had just avoided, but she was glad—until she heard the technician named Rick laugh behind her.
"Well, I guess you don't want the anesthetic, then! Don't worry, the pain will make you pass out soon enough."
"What?" Rika cried out, and then she felt something hot against her elbow. She strained her neck, trying to get a good view, and shrieked in terror and pain as she watched a laser slice her arm off at the elbow. The light from the opening was fading, but she could still make out her forearm, falling free from her body and landing in a pile of limbs below her.
The scream that tore from Rika's throat was cut short by her collapse into blessed unconsciousness.
"See?" Rick told the other technician. "I told you she wouldn't make it past the first limb."
"Good for her; would have sucked if she was still awake when it started cutting her skin off."
A thud came from behind the pair, and they turned to see the thirteenth conscript unconscious on the ground.
"Well," Rick laughed. "At least we don't have to worry about her struggling."