Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #Romance, #Science Fiction, #Shapeshifter, #Space Opera
Mrvon frowned. “We would like to examine the suit in detail.”
Niad smiled tightly. “It currently is all that stands between me and catastrophic injury, so when you have something to replace it with, I will be happy to let you play with it for a few days.”
He blinked and frowned. “But I wish to examine its composition.”
“You can. When I have something to replace it with, you can do as you like but not until then.”
Tauron was looking at the family he had worked with, and he appeared to be in shock.
She took the suit, folded it up and stuffed it back into the bag. “Tauron, I believe we have concluded our visit here. The Skarrows have all that they need. What they do with it is their business.”
The textile specialists looked insulted, but a voice from inside came to them, and it was no-nonsense. “Mrvon, give her whatever she needs. Make her safe.”
Madame Skarrow was standing in the doorway, her eyes red, but her spine straight. “Thank you for allowing us to serve, Guardians.”
Tauron nodded and Niad paused, but she followed him after a moment’s hesitation. She had done far more today than she had planned.
“What did Madame Skarrow want to speak with you about?” Tauron’s voice was a low rumble in her ear.
She debated what to tell him. “I reminded her of someone she once knew. She just wanted to show me the design floor.”
“If you say so.”
“You two have very similar names, and you have features that echo hers. Is there something I should know?”
“Since I don’t even know your name, I think not.” She kept her lips tight.
“Remik. Remik Tauron.”
“Niad Wyfirth, daughter of Mlina Skarrow.”
“Skarrow, like the Skarrows that we just visited?”
“The same. My mother was disowned and blocked from contracting with my father. They had to make do with what didn’t require a magistrate.”
“So, that is why your grandfather and cousin didn’t recognize you.”
“How often do you recognize someone you have never met?”
They were nearly to the base when they got a distress call.
A tremor in the neighbouring province had caused a state of emergency. All Guardians on the continent were being called in.
Tauron changed their direction and asked her a truly important question. “Can you get into your suit while we fly?”
She reached for her suit. “I am willing to find out. Keep your eyes open and on the sky. I don’t want to ditch in a farmer’s field.”
He laughed. “I’ll be good.”
“Do you have a suit with you?” She loosely tied her Citadel suit around her neck and peeled out of the lighter suit.
“In the seat of the runner. I can change in seconds.”
She had her suit open, and she peeled it off, scooting it over her hips and pulling it off her legs and feet. Wearing nothing but her underwear, she wrapped the Guardian suit around her neck and removed the Citadel suit.
She wriggled into it the same way that she had removed the other suit, and Tauron was appreciative. With all that wiggling in his lap, he would have had to be dead not to be aroused. It was a lot of friction.
She sighed in relief as she sealed her suit. “Sorry about all of that.”
He cleared his throat. “Good timing. We are nearly there.”
He paused. “Niad, when we next have a free day at the same time, would you walk out with me?”
She blinked. “I... Yes, I suppose I would.”
He pressed a kiss to her temple. “Excellent. There are some great noodle places in my home province.”
She laughed. In the five days she had shared a base with him, his love of noodles was already well known. She tinkered with the vehicles to make herself feel at home, and he ate to supplement his rapid metabolism.
The kiss had her skin tingling, but she kept her mind on her work as she was called on to get generators up and running for the medical centre, and do emergency repairs on the vehicles that were bringing in the wounded. A sinkhole had trapped a number of people, and the others were working to get them out. Her work was with the inanimate and mechanical. She was support.
Niad grabbed a cup of water and a ration bar in between jobs and was about to return to getting an ambulance skimmer into action when she heard a scream.
She ran to the sound and found a man pinned under a riot runner. The pilot had passed out and was bleeding, but the trapped man was screaming for help.
Folks came to assist, but they couldn’t move the luxury vehicle.
Niad put her hands on the runner and focused. She hated using it, but if she was going to do it, now was the time.
She pulled on the vehicle, and it lifted off the screaming man. The metal came to her as she called to it, and it flowed over her body, turning into an armoured casing that let her move easily.
The witnesses to her transformation stared at her in shock. “Get him to a doctor!”
Her shout got them moving, and she used her suit to make a clear path to the med centre, pushing vehicles aside.
When she had done repairs on every mechanical item she crossed, she headed into the source of the injured. The sinkhole.
The armour was sapping her energy, but she had more than enough for what she needed to do.
She used her suit coms. “Tauron, Kimso, Homik, I am coming in in an alternate uniform. Get everyone into a large transport so I can lift them out in one shot.”
Homik was confused. “What are you doing?”
“I am wearing mech armour, and I can lift a large public transport vehicle, but after I get them out, I am not going to be much use. This is a one-shot event.”
Tauron ran out of the sinkhole with one of the wounded in his arms. He paused next to her. “Do what you can to get the able bodied out. They are getting underfoot.”
Kimso came through. “I am herding them toward a people carrier. We can get about a hundred out in one shot if you can lift them.”
“I can do it. Don’t worry. I am almost there. Keep packing them in.” She ran toward the mile-wide disaster and jumped into the crevice, aiming for a clear spot.
Ground transport was still popular, and it was one reason that their garage was as popular as it was. Folks abused their vehicles on a regular basis, and they needed the Wyfirths to fix them.
Niad ran through the disaster area, following the directions that Kimso was giving her until she spotted the vehicle he was referring to.
“How are things on your side, Homik?”
“My folks are loading up. You be ready to do your thing in three minutes.”
“Four minutes here. You can get them out at once?”
“If the vehicle holds, I can do it.”
Homik said quietly, “You said you can only do this once. What happens to you?”
“I will just need a nap. Possibly for a few days. I am currently part of this machine, the power source.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“Yeah, and it is about to get worse. I will be binding this armour to the transport in order to lift it.”
She decided not to explain. She took a look at the vehicle and watched the lines of mobile folks file inside. When the entryways were clear, she leaped to the top of the transport and linked her hands and feet to the metal. She reprogrammed her com system and yelled, “Going up.”
She pulled upward, reinforced her link to the metal and hauled the transport up and over the wreckage, picking up speed as she got her charges to the edge of the hole. She hauled them to the nearest triage centre and set them down.
“Last stop, get off the transport.”
She didn’t need to tell them twice. She uncoupled from the transport and flew back to the disaster. At the far edge of the hole, she could see other Guardians at work. She used the navigation systems from the riot runner and pinpointed the nearest folks trapped in their vehicles.
She ripped off doors, broke plexi and opened as many of the confined as she could before she began to stumble. “Guardians, this is Wyfirth, I am out of juice. I have to get out before I get stuck.”
Tauron answered. “Get out, Wyfirth. You have done enough.”
She ripped off one more door before she took off and headed for the mobile base that the local Guardians had supplied.
She landed, stumbled and the metal parts flew off her body as she staggered toward the small, private quarters left for the Guardians to recover.
She nodded to a few of the other Guardians sitting around a table and having a meal, walked into the sleeping area, identified the highest and quietest bunk and climbed up, tucking herself in.
* * * *
Tauron came in an hour later, his muscles aching and the second team in full action seeking out the wounded. “Where is she?”
“The mechanic? She’s up in the top level of the bunks. She came in and passed out.” Demsiac rubbed his hands together.
“Did you check on her?”
“I couldn’t find a pulse in an earthquake. She’s on her own.”
Tauron hauled himself up the ladder and peeked in on Wyfirth. He cursed and pulled on her shoulders, easing her against him and coming down the ladder.
“Who is on medical duty?” Tauron snapped.
“What is it?”
“I have no idea.”
“Let me take a look.” Demsiac insisted, and Tauron nodded, easing his burden down to where the healer could see her.
“Holy—That isn’t something you see every day.”
Skin and metal were bound together. Wyfirth’s body was slowly taking over and ejecting the metal, but it looked like a painful process.
“I don’t think she should get to a healer. Keep an eye on her and make sure she is still breathing.” Demsiac stared. “I don’t want to interfere with whatever is going on there.”
Tauron held her and settled in a corner of the common area. There was no other space for them.
He watched as her body slowly rejected the metal and wire. Occasional sparks came from her skin, but the progress was definitely made.
* * * *
Her body was on fire, but it was a familiar feeling. She squirmed and paused when she came to the realisation that she wasn’t in the bunk.
She opened her eyes to see Tauron’s bowed head next to hers.
He had seen her geared up. It wasn’t a sight for the faint of heart.
She shifted, and his arms clutched at her.
He opened his tired eyes and smiled. “You look better.”
She blushed. “Ah, yeah. That particular thing wasn’t on my application.”
“What was that?”
“My instructors at the Citadel said it was mechanical fusion. I stay in contact with a controlled machine too long and it and I fuse together.”
“It sounds painful.”
She shrugged. “It lets me do what I have to do. I couldn’t have lifted that transport if I wasn’t fused to it. I used the runner’s propulsion for vertical and the transport for horizontal.”
She tried to struggle free, but he held her firmly.
“I think you should stay with me until a healer can check you out.”
“I will be fine. My organs have nearly reset themselves.” She took in his surprised expression. “Oh, yeah, I become the machine, and it becomes me.”
“That seems agonizing.”
“Yup. Pain is a factor, but lives matter more than my personal comfort.” She smiled. Under her suit, the last bit of skin ejected metal.
“Excuse me. I have to clear my suit.”
He didn’t know what that meant, but he let her go.
She squirmed to her feet, opened her suit and dumped the shards of metal and wire that had worked their way out of her body.
She fished a few last pieces out and closed her suit. The shards from her arms and legs naturally gravitated to her abdomen, so she was pretty sure she had got it all.
“That was all inside you?”
She shrugged. “Yep.”
“Well, I have the utmost respect for someone who can shift their body.”
Niad blushed. “Right. Well, I am going to get something to drink and then see if any of the vehicles need repairs.”
“Are you up to it?”
“I can always fix a vehicle. It is wearing it that is a little rough on the stamina.”
He pushed himself upright. “According to the Neth City Guardians, everyone is out of the sinkhole and the healers are keeping up with the injured.”
She nodded. “Right. Well, I will be near the vehicles if you want me.”
Tauron nodded. “I will keep that in mind.”
There was something in his eyes that made her a little nervous, so she left the temporary base and headed for the assembled ambulances and other transports.
She had exposed her truth without knowing it, and now, she needed to put as much distance as she could between what she was and what she wanted to be.
She wanted to be her mother’s daughter, but that wasn’t allowed, so today, she was a Guardian.
Vids of the rescues filled the screens for the next three days. On day three, Tauron took her back to the Skarrow compound. They had something for her.
She sat close to her work partner. Demsiac had teamed them. Tauron had not objected, and it seemed like their talents worked well together. They could both be useful and independent at the same time.
“What do you think they did to the suit?” She leaned back against Tauron and leaned up.
“I am pretty sure that they are going to give you an armoured suit.” He chuckled. “You are the darling of the Guardian program. They are not going to risk your life.”
She snorted. “Life would be easier for the grandson if I was dead. It is easy enough to arrange with a suit that won’t protect me.”
“You really think that your family would do that to you?”
“They aren’t family. They are blood. There is a vast difference.”
They didn’t say anything else on the trip. When he set them down, the rear area was empty.
Niada Skarrow came out of the workshop and smiled in welcome. “Guardian Wyfirth, it is delightful to see you again. Please come inside. Oh, and Guardian Tauron, of course.”
The men weren’t anywhere to be seen.
The design floor was bustling, and the women at the tables paused in their work, got to their feet and bowed as the Guardians passed.