Alien AI's Marine (Warriors of the Lathar #14) by Mina Carter

Prologue





“I would have killed you! All because my programming favors saving Lathar life over any other!” Keris’s mechanical voice rang with anguish as she turned to face him, the lights on her faceplate a chaotic frenzy.

If she’d had hair, Jay was sure she’d be pulling it out. But AIs didn’t have hair. They shouldn’t have bodies, not even the worker model Keris currently “wore.” The only reason she’d been allowed to keep it was because she was part of Xaandril M’rlin, the Emperor’s Champion’s family.

“But you didn’t.”

“I could have!”

She paced, metal feet clunking against the thick carpet. Jay watched her, a frown between his brows. His heart ached for her. A sentient AI formerly attached to a ship; she had more behavioral modifications hard-coded than most humans had psyche issues.

“You didn’t… I don’t think you would have,” he tried to reassure her. Sure, it had been a shock to turn and find her leveling a blaster at his head, but it wasn’t her fault. Her reactions, even in the bot body, were not her own.

“If we got you an actual body, the—”

“No.” She lifted her hand sharply. “I am not biological. Not a real person, I can’t…”

She trailed off, looking around a second before the door slid open to reveal an agitated Indra, one of the two human women in their group. She practically vibrated with purpose and determination.

“Come on,” she ordered, motioning to them both. “Let’s go boot this flesh thingy up and get Keris a body.”

Stephens was on his feet in a heartbeat. “Hell yeah!”

Keris backed away a little. “No, the subcommander was quite right. I am… an abomination. I should not even be in this body—much less be granted a real one.”

“The subcommander can kiss my fucking ass,” Indra hissed, her temper exploding through her voice. “He’s an asshole. Did you know he’s been talking to those pirates? He knows them. He’s been lying to us. All along. I bet he was a plant, and he was going to hand that AI over anyway.”

Jay was speechless for a second but saved from answering by a snarl from the doorway.

“What!”

Two more of their small group stood there—a Latharian warrior and another woman. A look of surprise and anger was already forming on the Lathar warrior’s face. “He is Vesh. I should have known.”

“Someone is going to have to tell me what the fuck Vesh means someday,” Indra growled. “But not right now. One issue at a time. First we need to get Keris a body before Mr. Fucking Traitor finishes what was started in there and destroys that machine.”

“Right behind you,” Jay replied, his voice a low rasp as he turned to Keris. Determination rolled through him at the obstinate lights on her faceplate. “Either you walk, sweetheart,” he growled, meaning every word, “or I’ll put you over my goddamn shoulder and carry you. I’ll probably put my back out, but one way or another, you are going to that printer.”

Keris didn’t reply. She looked around the small group in silence. Then, with a soft sigh lifting her chest plate, she gave in to the inevitable. “I will go… I don’t think it’s a good idea, but I will go.”

“Halle-fucking-lujah,” Indra said, walking out of the room.

Jay motioned for Keris to precede him. He wouldn’t put it past her to walk the opposite way. But she didn’t. She walked along in silence until they reached the lab and clustered around the airport-like gate of the printer.

“Okay… does anyone know how this works?” Indra asked.

“I think I can figure it out,” Seren replied, a frown on his face as he stood at the control console. His hands moved over the screen in front of him. “I’ve triggered the settings for an expedition-variant female. It’s the last code in the system,” he explained, looking up at them. “It should be the swiftest to print and mature.”

Keris nodded, her metal feet clunking softly against the deck as she walked across toward another area with loungers set in a semi-circle. Jay followed her, nerves running through him. She was so quiet. Was this what she actually wanted?

She sat on the first couch, the furniture groaning under her weight.

“Once the body starts printing, I can download directly into the neural net, leaving this metal skin. I should awaken in the new body,” she said, her robotic voice ringing with nerves and excitement. She stopped and looked at him. After weeks in her company, he could tell from the lights of her “eye” that she was nervous. The violet streaks in the red were a dead giveaway.