Manual Dirty Little Murder: A Plain Jane Mystery (The Plain Jane Mysteries Book 2)

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This information helps us design a better experience for all users. To learn more about cookies, please see our cookie policy. To learn more about how we use and protect your data, please see our privacy policy. We want your feedback! He had, over the years, saved many women, men too of course, from hundreds of different species. Yet here was Jane, sitting carefully on the edge of the bed, splitting her attention between looking mildly annoyed at him and looking back outside the window, up at the night sky.

What kind of rationale was that?

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That was exactly what she was doing. She seemed so certain about the fact everything had been a mistake, and she stared up at the night sky with such a fixed look in her eyes that, well, Lucas was dying to know more about her. For the sake of privacy, he turned from her and took several steps away from her bed. Lucas Stone. It had to be Lucas Stone. Oh no, just Lucas Stone. She was right about him too — he was seriously annoying.

Jane realized she was obsessing over Mr. Universe as a distraction from a far more important thought: she could have died. That creature, whatever it was, it could have killed her. It had tried — it had tried really hard to kill her.

Traci Tyne Hilton

She was having immense trouble trying to process it all. Jane had never done anything to anyone, had never been in any kind of incident, and had never put herself in any kind of scenario where danger would come her way. Yet now she was sitting on a hospital bed, Lucas Stone standing several meters away from her as he talked into the com-line of his armor. She was constantly being interrupted. Doctors coming over to do readings on her, telling her that she was fine, looks of surprise on their faces as if they rather preferred that she were on the verge of death.

And now Lucas Stone. Jane crossed her arms and let out a heavy sigh. Imagination, after all, was different from reality. While her imagination ran wild, her real life just sat there quietly and boringly in a small corner. When Lucas finished his conversation, he appeared to hesitate before turning back to her. Instead, she sat there, her arms still crossed, knowing that her expression showed clear irritation.

Which was odd, because Jane usually went out of her way to ensure that her expression was just as kind and gentle as it could be. She believed that every single person or alien in the Galaxy deserved to be treated with dignity and respect. He tried to pat his hair again, and once again his hand glanced off something. Jane knew enough about his armor to realize his helmet was still on but set to transparent. She doubted Lucas Stone would ever forget his helmet was on, so Jane figured that rather than trying to pat his hair he was probably checking for faults or imperfections along the back of his armor.

Before Lucas could begin questioning her about whether she had enemies again, Jane pushed off the bed. There was something about Lucas Stone that made her want to cross her arms and keep them there. It was true. Confused that something like this could happen to someone like her. She was also tired. She repressed it immediately by crossing her arms even tighter. While she spent most of her nights fantasizing about romantic adventures, Lucas Stone was never in them. Before he could finish his sentence, he turned away once again, his eyes flicking to the left. Jane stuck her bottom lip out and blew a puff of air up until it played against her fringe.

After a while, it became clear that whatever conversation Lucas was having was an important one, so she sat back down on her bed. She even saw his shoulders hunch over for a second. That managed to get her attention, and rather than stare at him like he was a giant universal creep, she found herself wondering what could make the great Lucas Stone express such bitter disappointment.

Before he went through it, he paused, half turned to Jane, his mouth open as if he wanted to say something, but then stopped, shook his head, and exited the room. Jane stared on, her eyes narrowed, her eyebrows furrowed with confusion, and her arms still crossed. It was all going to hell. This one was with the Chief Engineer, who was telling him curtly, though still politely, that it was taking too much energy to keep two level-three containment fields running around the clock.

Keeping it in that containment field and stopping it from regenerating is pointless. They are illegal, and there is a Galactic Senate decree that they have to be destroyed if found. Disintegrating it is the only option. Lucas nodded. He could see her point. But the Chief Engineer was right, and they had taken extensive scans of the creature which should give them all the information they required. The most sensible and smartest thing to do was to destroy it. Lucas nodded several times as if he were just a leaf flapping in the wind. Which was kind of how he felt at the moment, with no energy, no control, and pretty much zero idea of what was happening.

The Chief was annoyed, and she drummed all eight fingers of her far left hand on the table. And you will owe me several Edarian beers for this. Now Lucas was alone. He hunched his shoulders forward and closed his eyes, pressing against his eyelids with his thumb and forefinger. Dammit, things were happening too quickly. He should have spent the whole night reading their report, not running around trying to find out how somebody had managed to ship an illegal synthetic life form onto Earth. At first, Lucas had thought that sounded odd and had urged Miranda to check that there was nothing wrong with Jane.

There was so much going on, and to top it all off, the Dean of the Galactic Force herself had requested — no, demanded — that Lucas attend a party that night. It was meant to be some informal gathering to celebrate the imminent mission. Lucas knew what informal would mean: everybody would be there, from the Galactic Force, to the news, to the Mayor of the city — just everybody. He would be expected to spend the entire night at the party, flying the flag of the Galactic Force. A flag he never had permission to put down… ever. And it was a flag that was getting heavier the longer he held it.

But more than the party and the specimen in the basement and even the curious Jane, it was meant to be arriving today. It was on one of the old home-worlds of an empire called Para. The Parans were now a fractured, nomadic race, made up mostly of refugees. In fact, only years ago, the Parans had been a major force in Galactic politics. The Parans had always been a reclusive, secretive race. So when one day the communication lines between the home-worlds of Para had gone dark, nobody had been able to find out what was going on.

Then, slowly, over the years, the news trickled out that their ruling government — their Royal Family — were no more. The history was still sketchy and was made up, not of hard facts, but of anecdotal evidence gleaned from refugees, traders, and adventurers dumb enough to go that far out. Yet somehow and with someone, the Parans had gone to war. It had been the last war between two sovereign nations that had occurred in the Galactic Union to-date.

Without the ruling family and without a government, the empire that had been Para was no more. Every planet had been razed. There was nothing left anywhere. The once great race was no more. The thing that Lucas was now waiting for — the artifact, as they called it — was meant to arrive this morning. It had been excavated on one of the outermost Paran worlds.

Yet another reason Lucas was being sent on his mission was to find out what had happened to the Parans and whether it had anything to do with that mysterious, unknown race. Now an artifact from one of their home-worlds was on its way here. Though Lucas should give it his full and total attention, considering its probable importance, he had to go to a goddamn party. He would never sleep, he would never get any peace, and he would be forced to spend the rest of his days running around the Galaxy with hardly time to blink and breathe as he went from mystery to confusion to crisis.

While he knew he should prepare before the artifact arrived, Lucas found his legs taking him somewhere else. It was stupid, and it was a useless waste of time, but now that he found his legs mutinously taking over his body and directing him there, he went with it, letting out another sigh and telling himself that he needed to get his priorities straight. But it was still there. When he arrived in the med bay, it was to the sight of Miranda rushing around, busy as always, and Jane nowhere to be seen.

Miranda glanced up at him, and she looked annoyed, just as she always did whenever she clapped eyes on him. She seemed to scan his body, looking for life-threatening injuries or maybe even mud on his shoes. She walked over to him, peeling away from whatever frantic job she was doing at one of the sophisticated computer terminals. The same woman you no doubt came in here to check on. Lucas was in no mood to be chased off by Miranda, not today, not when so much was going on. Miranda rolled her eyes and let out a sharp, angry laugh.

Lucas Stone, means that your opinion about whether my patients are fit to return home or not is entirely irrelevant. He shrugged, putting his hands up. Apparently, they are confident that they have fixed the hole in the security net, and something like this is not going to happen again. He replied with a sigh. I just have too much to do. Lucas Stone, is not a luxury — it is a necessity. If you can find the time to go to parties, then you can find the time to go to sleep.

It was his turn to roll his eyes. Apparently, the entire Galactic Force has been invited. I would be happy to give you a hand. Lucas replied with a short chuckle. Then he remembered something: sleep. It was a big Galaxy, and there were a lot of surprises out there. He wanted to know who Jane was — more than what was written in her file. But how did you put that question into words? More importantly, how could it be answered? By someone other than Jane, that was.

It was the kind of look she always got when she was thinking, when something had stumped her, and when she was trying to chase it down and make sense of it. Actually, an absolute sweetie, but she is…. Lucas felt an electrical tingle rush down his spine. Lucas met a lot of women in his line of work, and they were everything from Galactic Security Officers, to the daughters of Senators, to the best and brightest, to glow-in-the-dark fans. Yet he rarely met odd girls, and not in the way Miranda was suggesting.

It was like anticipation. What was Miranda getting at? For Miranda to be stumped by something? Is that normal? Miranda looked back at him, and she shrugged her shoulders again. Sleeping while she was awake? Damn, he would give anything to have that kind of physiology right now.

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If he could somehow manage to get some rest while in one of the many boring meetings he was forced to go to these days, he would bloody well do it. He frowned as something clicked into place in his mind. Miranda smiled.

Dirty Little Murder A Plain Jane Mystery The Plain Jane Mysteries Volume 2

How long did you think it would take, Lucas, before somebody out there would find the great Lucas Stone not all he was reputed to be? Miranda threw up her hands and shrugged emphatically. And walking, living legends always look their best. Now, for the love of god, get some rest. He smiled. That in about half an hour he had to go to the hangar bay to oversee the arrival of an artifact from Paran space.

She was plucky with a dash of determined madness. I can assure you that all the correct security measures have been put in place. He twisted his head to the side and gave Miranda a smile as he shrugged. Get his priorities straight — they always said that. From Alex to Miranda to his commanding officers.

But that was just the thing — they would say one thing and expect another. Everybody, each and every freaking citizen of the Galactic Union seemed to be relying on him to get everything done. From the security of Earth to the upcoming mission, he was expected to do it all and never fail. Before he could find an excuse to stand there any longer — before he could find some way to put into words the questions he really wanted to ask about Jane — another live com-feed came in. The transport had arrived early. Something had her in its grip.

That something was Lucas Stone. She felt a headache welling inside her skull. After several hours, she gave up trying to get some more rest. Instead, she sat down to read her messages. Jane let out a frustrated sigh. Though the doctor at the Galactic Force had told her to go home and rest in whatever way her race rested, Jane threw up her hands and decided to go back to work. Who was she kidding? So soon Jane found herself back at work. After all, there was always more work to do.

All too soon, Jane realized her mistake, but it was far too late. The second she sat down at her desk was the second Mandy scooted over to her, tail whipping about with excitement. You called me in because I made a mistake. What did I do? I just wanted to talk to you. Mandy stared back, her wide, beautiful eyes bursting with interest. Jane glanced sideways and realized that Tarta was staring at her, an interested look on his insect-like face. In fact, everyone who was sitting close to Jane had now turned in their chairs in order to see her more clearly.

Mandy dropped her head back, and she let out a robust laugh. What do you mean what happened?

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  • Mandy rolled her eyes. Stop dodging the question. What was he like? Now that Jane realized she had an audience, she started to recede, trying to hide in the collar of her uniform. She never, ever had attention like this usually. She was the one they all ignored. She was the one who never had exciting stories about her weekend. She was the one everyone assumed was boring. Yet she was the one who now had the complete attention of every single person in the room.

    Walking home and being attacked by something called an assassin robot and being saved by Lucas Stone? It probably happened to all the girls. Mandy kept clapping her hands, a look of genuine interest in her eyes. When Jane finished her story, Mandy fanned her face. You actually met him. You now know Lucas Stone. Jane, still feeling awkward, shrugged her shoulders. She hardly knew Lucas Stone.

    Yet the way Mandy was now phrasing it — it was as if Jane and Lucas were bosom buddies. Tarta looked thrilled. Mandy waved him off and bent down again, her smile still conspiratorial. You do know what that creature that attacked you was, right? But you know what an assassin robot is, right? Not mild-mannered office workers. And somebody sent one after you. Hoyans were known for their love of adventure. One of the humans had once said that Mandy was like a house cat, and she would bat at anything that moved.

    Jane could expand that theory to include the fact that Mandy always tried to hit you with her tail and often ate whatever food you left on your desk. Even though Jane had never and would never tell Mandy, the Hoyan was the closest thing Jane had to a friend. A sharp, acerbic friend with a tail, but a friend nonetheless. You were attacked by an assassin robot. That was when Jane looked up to see none other than Lucas Stone standing there. Lucas stared down, not at Jane, but at Mandy, with a look of controlled anger on his face.

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    Jane sat there, looking up at Lucas before she shifted her gaze to the side as she blinked. Obviously, someone had told him over the com-line that Lucas Stone was visiting again. The second Lucas turned was the second Mandy bent down to Jane and fanned a hand in front of her face wildly, her smile toothy and wide.

    I can assure you that you have our full support. Whatever help we can give you to make sure your mission is a success, is help we will gladly offer. The general manager, cheesy smile still spreading his lips, clapped his hands together. Lucas put up a hand. Mandy was built for intrigue and gossip. Lucas cleared his throat again and straightened up. For a second, the manager looked crestfallen, and then he nodded and his smile returned to his face. Please, take all the time you need. Lucas gave Mandy a polite but careful look. I would suggest that you do not refer to the incident as fantastic.

    It was harrowing. It was obvious he was about to tell Mandy to tuck her tail away because only last night Jane had almost been stabbed by one, and obviously in his mind that meant she would cry at the mere sight of one. Jane sniffed and shook her head. Lucas frowned at her, his eyes narrowing in frustration. He gave a short chuckle. I was there. She straightened. She was suddenly aware that all her coworkers were staring at her. Lucas gave a gruff cough. Before Jane could tell him that she was actually quite busy, Mandy snapped up.

    I can do all of her work. Jane knew enough about Mandy to realize exactly what she meant. She wanted Jane to go speak to Lucas alright, but what she really wanted was for Jane to come right back and tell her and everyone else every single detail of the conversation. Lucas got another annoyed look on his face, and before he could snap at Mandy to have some dignity and respect, Jane stood quickly, stumbling a little but finally making it around the side of her console.

    When the two of them were out into the corridor, Lucas sighed heavily. Then he returned his gaze to Jane, a hint of concern obvious as it stretched the corners of his eyes. While Jane was trying hard to maintain the exact angle of her frown and the exact hint of frustration and irritation narrowing her eyes, she mellowed and shrugged.

    He nodded, and she could see that his hand went up to pat his head, but this time, rather than have it glance off his transparent helmet, he managed to flatten down his short, sandy-blond hair. He looked down to the ground and finally back up at her. I overheard the doctor talking about it. The two of them were walking down the corridor slowly. Why are you back at work so quickly? It seemed awkward, and he instantly grimaced at himself. Lucas got the kind of look that suggested she was all kinds of crazy for not knowing or bothering to investigate earlier in her life why she never slept.

    For some reason, Jane latched hold of her ponytail and started twisting it around and around her fingers. But still, I think you should be careful. He stopped in the corridor, turning to her fully, brow compressed and creased over his eyes. Yes, she was aware of how stupid it sounded. Though people sometimes accused her of being slow or painfully naive, Jane was neither.

    It felt like something was hardwired into her brain that made her believe and act like she was normal and shun anything exciting, dangerous, or adventurous, even if it were just a suggestion of it. That would be when Jane took a sharp step away from him. Bloody Lucas Stone accusing her of not knowing how the Galaxy works, typical of someone like him. Before she could get too irritated at him, he put up his hands and looked genuinely sorry.

    That came out wrong. Yet again he put his hands up. Jane was starting to realize he put his hands up quite a bit, as if there were a lot out there that the great Lucas Stone was willing to surrender to, despite his usual reputation. Though Jane hardly ever watched the television and never read or listened to any of the Galactic news feeds, she knew enough about Lucas Stone. Lucas Stone always had a commanding, arrogant tone and countenance. While Jane still wanted to be angry and aloof at the man, she shook her head. It was probably stupid and unnecessary, as Lucas had, by his own admission, read her file, and he would know that Jane had no relatives on Earth.

    In fact, technically, Jane had no family at all. With the number of different races in the Galaxy and the sheer number of citizens in the Galactic Union as a whole, it was hard to track the life history of each and every one of them. Lucas looked solemn. Then he appeared to think. There would be plenty of spare room. And, in fact, it would be the most secure place for you; the Galactic Force security fields are some of the strongest on Earth. What had happened last night had been….

    Jane trailed off, frowning at herself as she realized just how stupid her thoughts were. She kept trying to convince herself that nothing had happened and that nothing like that could ever or should ever happen to a girl like her. She glanced up to see Lucas looking at her, expression interested, gaze darting over her face. Jane shrugged. All she would want was a window. Preferably a window with a lovely unobstructed view of the sky above. A moment passed between them, and Jane had no idea what it meant.

    It was odd and seemed to give her heightened expectations for some reason. But then, before anything could grow from it, Lucas walked off to the side, and it was clear he was getting yet another live com feed into his armor. Jane stood there and wondered exactly how many details she should include of their conversation in her report to Mandy. Though even if Jane tried to keep some of it back, she was confident Mandy would make her squeal eventually.

    Lucas finished his conversation and turned to her, swallowing for some reason. Jane simply stared at him, aware that her expression was still stern and thoroughly irritated. I will ensure a dormitory room is found for you. Stay safe. Jane watched him go, her eyes narrowing with confusion. She could easily tell that Lucas Stone was being awkward around her. The problem was, she had no idea why. Wow, that had been uncomfortable. No, that had been close to disastrous.

    And he genuinely had no idea why. It must be the fatigue, he told himself. The fact he was gut-wrenchingly tired. That had to be the reason. Okay, maybe not the entire reason, because he could freely admit to himself that Jane was a pleasant enigma. Plus, the call had been important. All Alex had said was that he needed to get his butt up to Research Lab Two, pronto. It took a lot in this universe to make Alex Wong excited. Jane had gone back to work.

    Jane had happily spilled the beans. Jane bit her lip. That part of Jane was strong, incredibly strong; it was the part that had her continually repeating to Lucas Stone that whatever had happened with the assassin robot, it had been an accident. The rest of the day passed quickly though not productively. All the Galactic Force are invited. Mandy threw her head back and laughed heartily. Now exciting things are happening to you, so you have to do exciting things to ensure that more exciting things happen next. Trust me. Jane pressed her lips together and shook her head.

    I have no idea what is happening to you, but I do know it is far more interesting than what usually happens to you. So you have to go to the party. That instinct that told her to never put her head out had suddenly kicked back into gear. It was assuring her that she had to go straight back to that dormitory, to close the door, lock it, and spend the entire night staring up at the sky and not going out to parties. Mandy looked at her disappointedly. Humans, or whatever you are, are far too preoccupied with comfort. Mandy clapped a hand on her shoulder.

    I will have gossip enough for a year. Good god, it had been a mad day. Okay, he could easily remember, as his life was truly peppered with the bizarre, the terrifying, and the fraught. The point was, today had been wild, and he was now over it. He was also now standing in the corner of one of the largest entertainment halls in the city, a drink in his hand and a placid but bland look on his face. The entertainment hall was packed, of course, and Lucas was the center of attention.

    Dignitary after Senator after esteemed scientist came up to talk to him and congratulate him on his command and to wish him good luck with his mission. Alex was even there, standing at his side, chuckling as he drank his wine and telling Lucas that if he got any more compliments, his head would grow so fat it would have its own gravity pool and would get its own moon. There were so many other things he had to do. The Parans had been renowned for their use of it and had guarded the secrets to it jealously.

    His thoughts kept returning to plain Jane, as she called herself. Yet he had no evidence to back that thought up. In fact, his belief seemed patently wrong. Lucas was aware that he was staring over the top of his glass at a point on the floor, gaze fixed. Lucas shrugged his shoulders. Perversely interested was the only way he could describe it. So, who is she?

    I want to see you when you say her name. I want to see if your pupils dilate, if your breath gets faster, if the areas with rich capillary beds under the surface of your skin get redder. Lucas rolled his eyes, clutched at his glass a little too hard, and shook his head. Lucas knew what Alex meant, and rather than tell him to stow it for the tenth time that night, he found some inane patch of ground to stare at, his lips pulled up to the side in a slight grimace. That was the other thing about being in the public eye constantly: he was never allowed any room to have a genuine emotional reaction to something.

    Right now he could hardly slam his glass down and walk off, telling everyone he was sick of their stupid party and that he just wanted a sodding holiday. That kind of behavior would not only lose him his command, but would send his Fan Club into a frenzy. By the morning, he would have thousands of messages either stating how disappointing he was or offering him a back rub to soothe his stress. Frankly, most of the time it was simply disturbing to him that he had an actual registered fan club at all. But the point was, Lucas never had the room he needed to be himself.

    He constantly spent his time trying to be the person that everybody else thought he was instead. It was tiring, far more tiring than actually running around doing his job. He always had to keep an eye on his image and what people thought about him. What does she do?

    I read the file, said she worked in admin or something. She human? While Alex was human, he was only half human. His mother was Chinese, and his father was from a species called Yaran. As such, Alex had a high tolerance for not just toxic substances, but general body shock as well. It also meant Alex could get away with eating and drinking whatever the hell he liked.

    More often than not, Lucas would find Alex chowing down on a dozen jam doughnuts for lunch, and Lucas knew perfectly well that the jam doughnuts would do no damage whatsoever to Alex. He could probably live on sawdust if he felt like it. Because everything else going on in your life is of the epic, Galaxy-wide-destruction variety. There was that word again. Lucas seemed to be getting it from every single angle every single hour of every single day. Though Lucas knew Alex was just teasing, he still stiffened up, straightened his back, and set his lips into a thin line.

    Lucas twisted his glass of wine around in his hand. What he needed was for Alex to shut up. What he needed was for the party to end. What he needed was to spend the rest of the night going through the information on the strange artifact that had been brought in from Paran space.

    And maybe, just maybe what he also needed was to head around to the dormitories to check that Jane was okay. Before he could throw his hands up and race out of the entertainment hall, he got a live feed through his suit. Yep, that was just as horrible as it sounded, because it meant that Lucas would never be able to go anywhere on Planet Earth without being in range of a signal and being contactable by anybody. If something arose and it was deemed to be serious enough, he would be quantum transported from wherever he was right to the problem.

    While quantum transportation was expensive and draining on energy stores, they always seemed to think Lucas was worth it. It was being transmitted directly to his brain. Yet it was at least a signal he could use to let people know that he was talking on the phone here, even if the phone was technically implanted inside his brain. What kind of reading? He turned, found a convenient table, and abandoned his untouched drink. As soon as the Dean of the Galactic Force got in his way, Lucas pointed to his ear and frowned.

    And I will sort this out for you. He always liked the Dean; she seemed to have a sound head on her shoulders, or two, rather. She knew when to reel in the show and to let him get on with his job. I got a call from the Chief Engineer. One of the great things about his job, and perhaps his only perk, was that he had a certain level of clearance, and if he needed to use it, he could shut down whatever transport was scheduled and redirect it to wherever he felt he needed to go. He was only permitted to use it in times of need, but it still meant, technically, that he could hop on a transport and send everybody off to Italy to get him a pizza.

    Well, he could if he were a lot more ballsy and less of a do-gooder. That thing is dead. I did those readings myself. It must be some kind of external influence. His jaw was so stiff that he could hardly open his mouth. This felt wrong. If your gut told you to run the hell away from the engine core, then you ran the hell away from the engine core.

    And more often than not, it would blow up barely moments later, and you would save yourself a one-way trip to the morgue. The assassin robot… was this somehow connected to it? If Alex was right and somebody was hacking the power grid to make the containment field fail, had they also sent the assassin robot here in the first place? Perhaps that had been the point? Maybe the assassin robot had been after Lucas or Alex or maybe the Chief Engineer herself. Or it could have been sent here as a distraction to pull the security forces thin and make the hacking far easier and far less detectable.

    Half a second later, it covered his body. As soon as it did, it gave him what you could easily call superpowers. He ran like crazy toward the Galactic Force. He bypassed the transport hub, reasoning that by the time he got in and redirected traffic, he could already be at the Galactic Force if he just set his armor to full-power and pelted there. Something was happening to Jane. The buzzing was back in her mind. Boy, oh boy was the buzzing back. For some reason, her hands were fidgety and her legs were bouncing up and down. She was afraid. Yet there was nothing to be afraid of. It was as if somebody had reached right into her brain to flick some kind of switch, sending alarm twisting and writhing down her back and burning deep into her gut.

    The more she sat there and tried to rationalize it away, the more it grew until she snapped her legs up and hugged them close to her chest. There is nobody after you. Though it was a mutinous thought, she got the urge to call Lucas. He was the kind of man she had no time for — arrogant, self-important, and far too adventurous for her. It was such a strange thought, and it gave Jane pause to laugh at how silly she was. But it was only a sweet, short pause, and in just another second, she was feeling trapped and frightened again.

    As the tension rose in her body, her thoughts became more forceful. She also felt a cold kind of detachment creep up on her. She started to half-jog down the corridor. Or, at least she intended to enter the location of the closest transport hub, but her fingers seemed to have a mind of their own.

    In the blink of an eye, the lift took off. When Jane doggedly tried to stay in the lift and make her hand type in the correct location of the closest transport hub, or simply the location that would take her back to her dormitory, she found her legs walking her out of the lift. She barely had any control over her limbs anymore. They appeared to be doing whatever they wanted to, taking her wherever they directed. There were two guards standing outside of it, and as she approached, they looked at her askance. Unless you have the correct access, you have to turn around and leave at once.

    Jane found herself nodding. Both of the guards looked at each other, sharing that particular look that all species do when they realize someone off-putting has just said something entirely crazy. She kept walking right up to them. Her face and voice appeared to be the only things she could control. One of the guards reached for his plasma stun gun and pulled it out, first pointing it to the ground and then pointing it at Jane as she clearly kept walking toward them.

    Jane paid no attention. Well, her body paid no attention; Jane herself was screaming at her limbs to stop, to turn her the hell around, and to walk back to bed. But they were beyond suggestion. As she watched the lead guard tighten his grip on his plasma stun gun, obviously readying to shoot Jane, Jane did something odd. She put on a burst of speed and tucked into a quick, tight roll. Then, hardly stopping, Jane twisted to the side, rolled again, jumped up, brought the gun around, and setting it to light stun with her thumb, she shot the other guard.

    Twisting, she shot the remaining guard. In a quiet instant, both were still on the ground. Something else — whatever had control of her body — had done that. Never in her life had she showed such agility, speed, and strength. Many doctors had told her that her general mobility was below that of the average human. Yet what Jane had just done was not average in any sense. What have I done? The gun was still lightly and expertly clutched in her right hand.

    With the other hand, she reached up to the panel on the side of the door that led into the research lab beyond. The panel and the door would be locked out — the second Jane had fired a weapon, the whole defensive net in this section would have turned on. Jane had little doubt that an entire team of security officers was on their way now. No doubt her gun would no longer work too, an interference field likely in place in the corridor by now.

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    As if to confirm her suspicions, the lighting in the corridor flickered and then cut to half illumination. Then a blaring siren echoed through the hall. Rather than turn around, put the gun on the ground, crumple up against a wall, and wait to be dragged off to prison, Jane watched as one of her hands reached out to the panel, and she started typing something blindingly fast. She had no idea what she was typing, and in a second, she stopped and latched her fingers onto the side of the panel.

    In a neat and even move, she easily pulled it away from the wall. Then she turned the gun around in her grip, ripped off the panel that led to the energy node that powered it within, and pulled out some kind of glowing crystal. She expertly managed to place the crystal into the exposed panel, and she hooked it up to the system core. She put the panel back on the wall and typed something into it, her fingers still blisteringly fast. She walked through the door to the scene of three security officers with plasma rifles, not stun guns, trained right at her, and several other scientists standing off carefully to the side.

    It was now far too late to turn around and go back to bed. Jane had just attacked two security officers and had apparently hacked right into the Galactic Force computer. Filled with horror at what she was doing, she waited to be shot. Her body had other plans. By the time he made it to the Galactic Force, it was in full shutdown. Lucas, via his armor, was getting live security feeds telling him that two shots had been fired on the research level and that an interference field was now in place.

    Lucas paused, his head swiveling from the different buildings that held Specimen 14 and the Paran Artifact. She was obviously midway through running or chasing something. They are into Research Lab Two. That made his mind up for him. Without waiting for another word, he set his priorities. And his priority was to get the hell to Research Lab Two as fast as his armor could manage.

    As he ran, he sent a quick message to Alex, telling him to get his butt down to Basement Level One as soon as he arrived. Lucas had no idea what he was up against, but something or someone who could hack so easily and quickly into the Galactic Force was something he needed to stop. One of the security officers told her to halt, but she did the exact opposite. She ducked down, pushed onto the floor, and did an automatic, quick roll, coming up and pressing into a full and neat somersault until she had landed right behind a console. Jane somehow still had the ability to speak, and she was mumbling to herself frantically, begging her body to stop.

    This one was almost the size of a hangar and had several banks of highly sophisticated computer terminals with rows and rows of different holographic pictures and images swirling over them. Beyond the bank of computers and floating holograms, right at the back of the room, was something else. It was surrounded by a heavy circle of yellow light, no doubt a sophisticated containment field of some sort, or perhaps a security field.

    Within the field was a simple black box. It was neat, it was even, it had no markings, it appeared to be perfectly flat on every side, and it was jet black. The second Jane saw it was the second a powerful shock of recognition blazed through her stomach. Several more plasma blasts ate into the side of the console beside her, and in another moment, she heard a clicking sound.

    Before she could wonder what it was, she scooted to the side, dug her hand into the panel of one of the consoles beside her and yanked it up above her head as an object slammed down. There was a great electrical discharge that was absorbed by the panel casing, and then Jane found herself throwing the casing to the side. She looked down briefly to notice that something looking suspiciously like a shock grenade was lying on the ground. She waited, still pressed up against the bank of consoles behind her.

    She could hear the footsteps of someone coming up behind. Perhaps they believed the shock grenade had stunned her, because the cadence of their step was easy and light. She waited — or more accurately, her body waited — until the steps drew parallel with the bank of consoles. She pushed heavily into him, grabbed the gun, and then dived back behind the security console. Before she could wait for the two remaining security guards to come up with another plan to disable or kill her, she felt her arm lift up behind her and twist until her palm was resting against the console panel above.

    She was still sitting there with her back pressed against the console, her legs still pulled up in front of her, her free hand still holding the gun. Without even looking at the panel, she started to feel her fingers dance across it as they typed something quickly and efficiently. There was a low hum and then a quick click, and finally she let herself stand up.

    Well, not that she let herself do anything; her body decided that it could stand up. When it did, Jane noted that all three security guards and all the scientists were now locked in place with security fields. They were all looking at her, human or alien, with expressions of total horror on their faces. She felt herself turning, felt her grip tighten around the rifle as she brought it up, her other hand holding it firmly in place. Jane was aware of a large commotion outside of the research lab doors.

    She could feel something shaking under her feet, and though the doors were soundproof, she still fancied she could hear the shouts and screams of what was no doubt the entire security corps of the Galactic Force waiting to burst through and shoot her dead. She started walking toward the field on the other side of the room, and she started shooting. At first, it buzzed as the shots had little effect. But with every step she took closer and every blistering round she fired, it started to weaken. And then, when Jane was almost upon it, it changed color to a deep red.

    There was a massive bang as the doors behind her exploded. Before Jane could turn around and watch herself get shot, she felt herself twist the rifle in her grip and she lunged toward the security field, using the butt of the rifle to strike it. That strike was all it took. The security field blinked out.

    There were several screams from the other side of the room, and she could hear round after round being fired at something. Out of the corner of her eye, as her body lunged toward the box on the ground, she saw a flickering blue security field in front of the door. Apparently, when her body had expertly managed to fool the computer into putting security fields around all the people in the room, it had also, quite smartly, put one right in front of the door. But just as Jane had been able to shoot through the security field containing the box, the people in front of the door would be able to do the same.

    The second they did was the second they would shoot her. She felt her body collapse to the ground as she snatched up the box. She slammed one of her palms onto the underside of it and then twisted it in her grip and slammed her other palm down on the top. There was a snapping sound and an enormous crackling, and Jane was sure that the security field in front of the door had finally failed.

    Suddenly something happened to the box. Something surprising, something quick. In the blink of an eye, it was no longer a box. In the blink of an eye, it was something else entirely.