Freaks Under Fire

Book 3 of the Freaks series by Maree Anderson

For a cyborg like Jay, life was never going to be simple.

Jay’s still reeling from her encounter with a rogue cyborg assassin when she discovers she has a twin—a severely damaged Beta unit. Jay is determined to find the Beta, and help her if she can. Now all she needs to do is convince her boyfriend Tyler that it’s best for him to stay behind. But Jay’s not the only one searching for her twin. With enemies who’ll stop at nothing, and Tyler and his family caught in the crossfire, Jay’s life is about to get a whole lot more complicated… and a whole lot more dangerous.

Other Books in the Freaks series:


Genre: Young Adult
Format: eBook
Length: Novel, approx 74,000 words/278 pages
eBook Price: US $4.99 (or US$ equivalent)
Trade Paper RRP: US $12.99/ GBP 7.99/ EUR 9.99
Publisher: Maree Anderson
Published: 31 Mar 2015 (eBook), Aug 2015 (print)
eBook ISBN:
Print ISBN:
Amazon ASIN: B00TLN2S98



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Reviews for Freaks Under Fire:


“[…] Loved the emotional and moral development of all the Cyborgs and very keen to see where Maree takes this if there is a book 4. It has the same essential the core “difficult” relationship elements of Fifty Shades, Twilight, and The Host, and picked up the “possibility of romance” which was only hinted at in the Terminator Sara Connor Chronicles tv series. All in all a great find.” ~ Roger Mulligan, Amazon

“[..] I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and like the first two books in the series this one did not disappoint! I would highly recommend this story but it would behoove you to read the books in order to get the full enjoyment. Patiently waiting on the next installment!” ~ Kindle Customer, Amazon




Cover design by Rob Anderson
(Click on the image to see the full-size cover.)


The Freaks Series


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BlankLine1 Freaks of Greenfield High

Excerpt from Freaks Under Fire

By Maree Anderson


The guard at the gate flashed a cursory glance at her ID badge before waving her through. She kept her expression pleasantly neutral, while inwardly sneering at his incompetence. At the very least he should have phoned through to Reception to verify that she was expected. The “hiding in plain sight” tactic meant there were a number of storage units available to carefully vetted members of the public, and if one of those carefully vetted people discovered what was in Unit Twenty-Six there’d be hell and all its minions to pay.

Before she’d even released the handbrake, the guard had resumed The Position—planting his substantial ass back in his chair and propping his boots on the desk, exactly as he’d been lounging when she approached the facility. Considering she’d had to blast the horn twice to get his attention, she suspected he’d been napping as well as lounging.

She drove off at a crawl, keeping her speed to a minimum until a glance in the rearview mirror confirmed the guard had remembered to lower the barrier arm. Hah. If Average-height Balding ’n Forgettable back there was an indicator of the caliber of the rest of the staff, just as well she’d been dispatched sooner rather than later. The whole place was a security leak waiting to happen.

Her stomach performed a lazy roll, acknowledging the true nature of the task she’d been dispatched to complete… and the toll it would take on what remained of her principles. She’d been required to do some distasteful things for Evan Caine—highly illegal things that would get her locked up for the term of her natural life if she were caught doing them. Some of those things bothered her in the dead of night when she drifted on the edge of sleep, but in the bright, uncompromising light of day, she found she could live with them. She could get out of bed each morning and stare unflinching at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, because she’d not crossed a personal line drawn in the metaphorical sand. The line that involved harming kids.

Until now.

She gave herself a mental smack upside the head, followed by a mini-lecture. Distance yourself from the task. Stop letting your emotions get in the way. Quit personalizing the target, and thinking of her as a kid.

The target wasn’t a child—wasn’t even human. “It” was a potentially dangerous machine that was incapable of empathy, didn’t have a conscience, and operated on severely flawed logic… if that recent display from Caine’s current pride and joy was any indication of typical core programming.

She stomped on the brake pedal, jerking the sedan to a halt alongside the main storage complex. Ingrained caution had prompted her to park where her vehicle couldn’t be seen from the reception area, and now she was thankful for the privacy the spot afforded while she took a moment to get her shit together. Her hands tightened on the steering wheel until her knuckles whitened. Bill had been a decent guy, one of the rare colleagues she’d wholeheartedly respected. In a rare moment, he’d confided to her that he was contemplating retiring because he was “getting to old for this fucking crap”. And then, against the advice of his techs, Caine had unleashed his shiny new pride and joy upon Bill and his team, and in the space of seconds it’d been all over bar the agonized screams of dying men.

That unholy thing had ripped through six men—Caine’s most experienced security unit—like a knife through butter, leaving them broken and bleeding. Poor bastards. A shitty way to die—and for what? To prove a fucking point?

She quashed that thought before it took root, forcing herself to relax and focus. She had a job to do. But she would miss Bill’s gruff manner and monosyllabic responses. Not to mention their sparring sessions. None of the other men had the guts to go one-on-one with her a second time after she’d wiped the floor with them, but Bill hadn’t given a shit about being bested by a female. He’d never fully recovered his peak fitness after being injured in the field, but he’d still taught her a thing or two.

Yep, she told herself, you’ll be doing the world a favor. This girl—it—is a ticking bomb, and it’s your job to defuse it before someone else gets killed.

Exiting the car, she grabbed her kitbag from the trunk and slammed it shut with unnecessary force.

She knew from security footage that the cyborg they called Beta was defective—incapable of moving, let alone defending itself. Beta could swallow food, but couldn’t feed itself. It responded to aural stimulation with a blink, but otherwise stared fixedly at nothing until one of its minders got around to closing its eyelids. It was the cyborg equivalent of a vegetable. And, according to Caine’s latest stable of techs, today’s task was simple: play the digital recording that Caine had entrusted to her, and get rid of the evidence.

She scowled, recalling how her boss hadn’t even bothered with a convincing lie. As he’d handed over the recording he’d looked her in the eye, curled his lip, and said, “I trust you implicitly.”

Yeah, right. They’d both known that was a crock of shit. The recording was of Caine’s voice speaking a command sequence to permanently shut the cyborg down. “Trust” had nothing remotely to do with anything, because it wasn’t like that recorded command could be scrambled to, say, recalibrate the cyborg’s programming so it would respond solely to someone else’s voice pattern.

Not that she would consider attempting such a double-cross—

Well, that wasn’t entirely true. If this cyborg had been functional, and she’d been handed the means to control it, she would have given serious thought to commanding it to locate Caine’s fully functioning killer cyborg and have at it. With any luck, both cyborgs would have destroyed each other beyond resurrection, and the world would be a much safer place….

Until Caine built another one of the godforsaken things.

Gravel crunched beneath her boots as she marched to the entrance. Putting on her “Don’t fuck with me” face, she shouldered through the doors into the small reception area.

No one was manning the desk. Voices drifted from a room out back—the break room, at a guess. Huh. Why did it not surprise her that security was so lax? Not that it mattered. She had a duplicate key to the unit, so there was no need to hang around waiting for anyone to escort her.

Get in, do your job, get out—good advice for people of her ilk. It was better this way, without any witnesses to her dismantling a thing that looked like a helpless young human girl.

A helpfully marked “This Way to Storage Units” sign on a side door led her to a concrete path running alongside each row of units. She took a right at the third row and halted in front of Unit Twenty-Six. A decent-sized sturdy padlock secured its roller door. At least some effort at security had been made.

Her key stuck in the padlock, and she had to wrestle with it to get it to turn… and then fiddle with the lock mechanism to coax it open. Hmm. Anyone could be forgiven for believing this unit hadn’t been accessed in a while.

She pocketed the padlock. Only idiots left an opened lock hanging outside a storage unit—it was just asking for some asshole to lock you in. She heaved the roller door up and squinted, adjusting her eyesight to the interior gloom.

Strangely, the unit was bare save for a large canvas bag dumped in the corner by the right wall. And from what she could see, both security cams were down. Whoever had set up the feeds reckoned there was no further need to monitor this unit.

She snatched a scant moment to dampen growing unease before fishing a flashlight from a side pocket of her kitbag. And she was about to thumb the switch when some deep-seated instinct prompted her to pivot on her heel and close the roller door behind her, blanketing the interior of the unit in darkness again. She’d learned to trust her gut, and if her gut told her it was prudent not to advertise the fact she was here, then so be it.

Switching the flashlight to the lowest setting, she approached the bag, playing the beam over the stained canvas.

Not empty. Whatever had been stored inside was lumpy, and took up the whole interior of the bag. The fine hairs on the back of her neck rose. Damn, but she was getting a bad feeling about this.

She reached for the zipper and, in one swift, decisive movement, opened the bag.

Her torch beam limned chalk-white, almost skeletal features, haloed with a tangle of limp dark curls. It—the cyborg—lay on its side, stick-thin limbs curled tight against its torso.

She swallowed the bile that had surged up her throat and flicked the flashlight beam over that gaunt face again, both hoping for and dreading a response.

Nothing. Not even the merest twitch of an eyelid.

Her hand shook as she reached out to check for a pulse. And the instant she pressed the cyborg’s carotid artery, those paper-thin eyelids opened.

Whoa. She had never seen such incredibly blue eyes—eyes that sucked her in and ripped through her defenses.

Horror warred with a wave of hot fury that stained her vision a bloody red… and all possibility of professional detachment died. The hollow emptiness she’d endured for so long it was now a part of her, filled with steely resolve, because she knew without a doubt that Beta wasn’t like Caine’s current pet. And there was no longer an “it” lying at her feet—some inhuman “thing” to be “dealt with”. There was only a defenseless, disabled child.

Sweet God Almighty. Beta was conscious and sentient and they’d zipped her into a bag, tossed her in a corner, and left her there to waste away, helpless, trapped in some nightmarish half-life. What they’d done to her…. It was unimaginably cruel. And Beta had suffered. Terribly.

Who were the inhuman monsters here?

Speaking the command that would shut this miraculous but flawed creation down, reducing this child to a lifeless machine, might be construed a mercy. But in this moment, right now, it smacked of murder….

And this time she didn’t have it in her to commit murder.

She stroked the cyborg’s hair. “Well, Beta, looks like it’s just you and me, and we’re up shit-creek without a paddle because that bastard Caine is gonna pin big-ass targets on both our backs.”

Her soft bark of derisive laughter bounced off the walls. And when the echoes of it had faded, she started making plans.


Chapter One 

The cab driver performed an inept three-point turn and zoomed off with a wince-inducing screech of tires, leaving Sam Ross in Nowheresville. The jury of his peers was still out as to whether this was a good career move, but right now, as the sky blushed rosy pink with the birth of a new day, and some nearby feathered denizen warbled a cheery welcome, Sam told himself he didn’t give a crap what his colleagues thought of his decision. No one had said respite care was going to be easy and he’d gone into it with eyes wide open. But lately, the chinks in his armor had become gaping holes and he’d not been able to maintain the distance he felt he needed to perform his job. He was burned out.

Bottom line? When you glanced at yourself in the shaving mirror each morning and barely recognized the hollow-eyed stranger staring back at you, it was time for a change of pace.

He hoisted his pack onto his shoulder, inhaling crisp country air deep into his lungs, holding it until tiny glowing sparks zinged through his headspace. And, as he exhaled, he cast off the last of his doubts. He’d been right to make this change—he felt it in his gut and his heart and his soul.

Coarse seal shifted beneath his feet as he approached the gate barring the cobbled entranceway. He pressed the buzzer on the speaker and leaned in to announce his arrival. “Samuel Ross.”

As he straightened, a flash caught his eye. A tiny security camera, barely noticeable amid the thick foliage poking through the gaps in the fence bordering the property. Which drew his attention to the fence itself, its sturdy metal palings colored a shade so close to the deep greens of the hedge plantings, he hadn’t even noticed a fence until now.

The gates shooshed smoothly, almost noiselessly, apart.

Disquiet feathered Sam’s spine but damned if he’d turn back now. He walked briskly through the gates… and fought the impulse to glance over his shoulder as they shut behind him. It was hardly unusual for an affluent property-owner living in relative isolation to install some stringent security measures, right?

Rolling the tension from his shoulders, he marched up the meandering pathway, determinedly admiring the freshly mown grass and bright, cheery flowerbeds with their neatly clipped borders. He passed two bent figures, diligently plying secateurs to a bed of standard rose bushes. Fulltime gardeners, perhaps? Not surprising given the extent of these grounds. Right now, he could be forgiven for imagining he was taking a stroll through carefully maintained public gardens. Fingers crossed the house wasn’t some drafty old mansion full of dusty antiques, with generations of stern ancestors glaring down their noses at him from the walls. Still, given the salary he’d been offered, he could put up with small inconveniences like OTT security measures, clanking plumbing and uninviting décor.

Besides, money hadn’t been his primary motive for accepting this position—though it’d certainly helped when he’d weighed the pros and cons. This placement was long-term. His patient was young and healthy—physically at least. And if her mental state left a lot to be desired, well, he could deal with that. So far as he’d been able to ascertain she wasn’t suffering. And for Sam, that was pretty much a win any way he looked at it.

He blinked as he caught sight of the house.

Nice. More than nice, in fact. Another win, for sure. The modest two-story, built of cream brick with a red tiled roof, was almost eclipsed by the addition of a huge conservatory. Bi-folding doors had been pushed back to take advantage of the balmy temperature, revealing a substantial swimming pool. An undercover pool—heated, too, at a guess. With a bit of luck he could wangle permission to use it on his days off.

Sam’s gaze lingered on what he guessed was the garage. He’d bet his next paycheck it housed some seriously sweet cars. But as much as curiosity pricked him to be nosy and peer through the side windows, he ignored the impulse and continued up the path to the front door. There were bound to be cameras secreted here, too, their feeds manned by someone noting his every move, and it wasn’t a good look to be caught nosing around on his first day.

He was reaching for the plain brass doorknocker when the door was yanked open, leaving him confronting a tall woman with short-cropped white hair and cold gray eyes. She wore light, flowing black pants, a loose black tunic, and black sneakers. Sam estimated her age as anywhere between forty and fifty—a polar opposite to the housekeeper-cum-guardian who’d interviewed him a month ago, and professed herself delighted to offer him the position. That woman, one Sally Bridges, had been short and plump, with dimples and a kind smile. She’d worn a floral dress, a pink cardigan and matching pink low-heeled pumps. She’d chatted away, immediately putting him at ease. She’d appeared friendly and harmless, the kind of woman who would sit you down in the kitchen with a plate of fresh-baked cookies and a glass of milk.

This woman? She was all lean muscle and coiled strength. She possessed the sort of watchful stillness Sam recognized from a stint training with a martial arts expert—the kind that told you here was a person who could explode into motion, and take you down before you could blink. His spidey-senses warned him to proceed with caution. Apparently this job was not going to be as straightforward as it had appeared.

He met her cool, assessing gaze with his best bland expression, and waited for her to make the first move.

One slash of an eyebrow arched. “Mr. Ross, I presume.”

She didn’t offer her hand, so Sam responded with a curt nod.

The other eyebrow joined the first before returning to neutral. “If you’ll follow me, Mr. Ross, I’ll show you to your quarters.” She turned her back on him and strode away, obviously expecting him to follow like a good little lapdog.

Sam figured he might as well start as he meant to go on. “It’s Sam, not Mr. Ross,” he called after her. “And getting settled in can wait. Right now I’d prefer you introduce me to Miss Smith.”

She halted and pivoted, the full force of that steely gaze boring into him.

A lesser man would have backed down, stuttered an apology. But Sam was made of sterner stuff. “Please,” he added, keeping his tone firm and to-the-point, while making it obvious the effort at politeness was a token afterthought.

Her lips quirked ever so briefly, and as she strode toward him she stuck out a hand. “Marguerite Danvers.”

Sam noted the slightest nostril-flare accompanying that announcement, and hazarded a guess she was less than thrilled to be named after a flower—a fact he only knew because marguerite daisies had been his grandma’s favorite bloom.

“You can call me Marg.” Although she pronounced it with a soft “g” her tone was anything but soft, suggesting dire consequences if he dared call her Marguerite.

Sam managed not to wince when she gripped his hand so tightly it felt as though his bones were grinding together.

She released his hand and, when he manfully showed no inclination to flex his crushed digits, her gray eyes sparkled with amusement. She’d won the dominance challenge, and they both knew it, but he’d also earned a modicum of her respect. “You and I are going to get along just fine, Sam. Let’s go check what Bea’s up to.”

Sam frowned, mentally scanning his employment documentation, but could only recall his patient referred to as “Miss B. Smith.” Nor could he recall Mrs. Bridges mentioning the girl’s first name. He took a punt. “Bea as in… Beatrice?”

“Yes.” Marg’s lips compressed to a grim line. “Though it might interest you to know that Bea’s previous guardians referred to her as ‘Beta’.”

Beta. The second letter of the Greek alphabet.

Sam blanched, rocking back on his heels as the full import of Marg’s explanation smacked him upside the head. They hadn’t believed this girl deserved a name—only a designation, like she was some freaking subhuman lab-rat instead of a human being. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered.

Marg must have had exceptional hearing, for she folded her arms over her chest, and gave him some truly superb cold hard bitch that was at odds with her conversational tone as she said, “When Sally came on board, she decided on the name Beatrice. Sally adores the English royals,” she added by way of explanation. Followed by a little shake of her head and an eye-roll, as if to convey fond exasperation, but those gray eyes were still cold and hard and watchful as she observed his reactions. “Most of us think that’s a bit of a mouthful, though, and shorten it to Bea.”

Sam swallowed the myriad questions clamoring in his head and said quietly, “Bea, it is, then.”

Marg rewarded his ready acceptance and disinclination to pry with one of her clipped nods, and beckoned him to follow.

Sam trailed her through to what turned out to be a spacious kitchen, dominated by a huge, solid wood table that could have sprung fully formed from the pages of Country Living.

None other than Sally Bridges, resplendent in be-ruffled floral apron, stood at the counter, kneading bread dough. She glanced up as Marg and Sam entered, and greeted them with a smile. “Oh good, you’re here. How do you like your eggs, Samuel?”

“Please, call me Sam,” he said, his gaze sweeping the room. “And I like my eggs however you care to cook ’em. Thank you for the offer of breakfast, by the way. I’m starving.”

He shucked his pack and leaned it against the wall. Ignoring the glances Sally and Marg were shooting at each other, he visually assessed the girl seated in the wheelchair at head of the table.

Her head had tilted to one side until her chin almost rested on her collarbone. Her shiny mane of naturally curly hair hung over one shoulder in a loose, fat braid. Her complexion was clear and smooth, pale but healthy-looking. Good muscle-tone—no atrophied muscles that he could detect beneath the shapeless gray sweatpants and loose black long-sleeved tee she wore. Surprisingly, there were no support straps to prevent her slipping out of the wheelchair. A good sign. Likewise that neither her hands, which lay relaxed atop her thighs, nor the sneaker-clad feet resting on the footrest of the wheelchair, were twisted—

His gut swooped. He’d been told Bea was in a persistent vegetative state. PVS patients were awake but unaware of what was happening around them. Some could open their eyes, even track objects. Others could move their limbs slightly, though such movements were reflexes rather than reactions to external stimuli. Bea’s eyes were closed—nothing unusual in that; PVS patients had regular sleep-wake cycles. But instinct prompted him to approach her—the same visceral instinct that insisted he drop whatever he happened to be doing to check on a patient he’d left only moments before, because he knew something was wrong.

He needed to see her eyes—gaze into them to gauge what it was about her that disturbed him.

He strode forward, peripherally aware that Marg and Sally had stilled and were watching him like hawks. He dropped to his haunches before Bea and took her hands. “Hi, Bea. My name’s Sam.”

Save for the slow, even rise and fall of her chest, there was no response.

In the back of his mind, Sam noted her hands were cooler than he’d expected given the sun pouring in the windows and the warmth of the room. “Bea,” he said, firmly and clearly. “I need you to wake up now.”


“Open your eyes, Bea.”

He waited. Still nothing—not that he’d expected any response to his command… had he?

He mentally shook himself, trying to shrug off a sense of foreboding so powerful that the fine hairs on the back of his neck were standing at attention. He reached up, and with the pad of his forefinger, gently pushed up her left eyelid…. And was confronted by an orb of breath-stealing, far-too-intense-to-be-natural blue.

He inhaled sharply. “Whoa.” That was… unexpected.

There was a muffled protest—from Sally Bridges, at a guess—that was quickly shushed.

Sam ignored his audience of two. Interesting. Bea’s left eyelid had remained open after he’d removed his fingertip.

He carefully opened her right eyelid and eased his hand back.

Ditto with the right eyelid.

He backed off. “Well done, Bea,” he said, smiling to convey approval, even though all the approval and encouragement in the world wouldn’t make an iota of difference to a PVS patient like Bea. And then, as he gazed into those inhumanly blue eyes, the smile froze on his face.

What the—?

He cupped her face in his palms, tilting her head.

No. He hadn’t imagined it.

He watched the telltale moisture form in the duct of her right eye. “How long has Bea been PVS?” he asked, without taking his gaze from that glistening teardrop.

“I took over as her primary caregiver five years ago,” Sam heard Marg say.

With a bent knuckle, Sam oh-so-carefully caught the plump tear tracking down that perfect cheek and held up his hand, knowing in his gut both woman would understand exactly what he was showing them.

“PVS patients can shed tears,” Marg said. “It’s not unheard of.”

She was right, of course. But this? This was more than the spontaneous crying, moaning, laughing, and even screaming, considered within normal parameters for a PVS patient. Sam knew it absolutely. He knew it in his heart and soul and the very marrow of his bones.

And then, as if she’d read his mind, Bea’s pupils dilated and those remarkable blue eyes were focusing… on him. And damn him to hell and back if he couldn’t almost feel the emotion pouring from her in waves. Determination. To… to….

To make him understand that she was… she was… trapped? Inside in a physical shell that refused to function as it should?

Sam had to lock his muscles to prevent himself recoiling. Jesus, Mary and Joseph. There was awareness in those inhumanly beautiful eyes. “I understand,” he blurted. “I’ll help you however I can, Bea, I promise.”

If he’d hoped for some miraculous physical reaction from her, some acknowledgement of his outburst, he was sorely disappointed. He knew Bea had understood him, though—believed him, too—because a breath sighed from her body, long and slow, heavy with some unnamed emotion.

He stared at her, fascinated and horrified in equal measure, as that spark of awareness was extinguished, leaving only gloriously blue, chillingly blank orbs.

God— Sam caught the thought before it could fully form, for it seemed the worst kind of travesty to importune the very deity who’d condemned a thinking, feeling human being—a girl who’d barely begun to experience life—to such a fate.

As he straightened from his crouch, he distinctly heard Marg declare, “You don’t understand a damn thing, Samuel Ross. But you will.”

He turned to the two woman, questions bubbling on his lips, in time to witness Sally Bridges hug Marg, and for Marg to pat the shorter woman on the shoulder before extricating herself and smoothing her tunic.

Marg glanced up, caught Sam’s gaze, held it. “Sal,” she said, “you were right: He’s just what she needs.” And although Sam was one-hundred percent certain he’d caught the glimmer of tears before Marg strode from the kitchen—because from the stricken expression on Sally’s face, she’d caught them, too—well, neither he nor Sally were brave enough to broach the subject.

Sally cracked three eggs into a bowl and began to whisk them vigorously. Sam planted his butt on the chair nearest Bea and stared into her unseeing eyes, willing that spark of awareness to return.


Freaks Under Fire by Maree Anderson

© Copyright 2015,  Maree Anderson


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