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SunLit

In “Beware the Eyes of Mars” an android starts to fall for a human under its surveillance

Author Jodi Bowersox puts a unique spin on relationships in this passage about a robot assigned to keep an eye on a beautiful -- by human standards -- criminal suspect

Jodi Bowersox has been an actress, seamstress, designer, business owner, home school teacher, kids’ choir director, and artist.

Her romance novels span genres from faith fiction to suspense to time travel to sci-fi with small town and big city settings. In addition, she has children’s picture books to her credit, a book of stage productions, and a non-fiction Bible commentary. As an award winning watercolor artist, Jodi specializes in pet portraits, and as a seamstress, she creates women’s vests out of men’s ties.

She lives in the heart of Colorado Springs with her husband and too many cats.

The following is an excerpt from “Beware the Eyes of Mars.”

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.


From a bench among nearby exotic plants, Vincent watched Clarinda Hawkins walk speedily into the retail dome alone. He needed to be more careful in his surveillance. It was obvious from the way Katrina McKenna kept glancing his way, that he’d been spotted in the ski lounge. Not that he’d been really trying to hide, but he didn’t want them suspicious of him either. And seeing him in their vicinity too often was bound to raise suspicions.

He rose from his camouflaged location and followed, keeping a fair distance from the African American woman wearing an ivory sweater over tight blue ski pants covered in snowflakes. His superior eyesight kept her in his sights when others wouldn’t have been able to see her at all. He had to admit his assignment to watch her was no great hardship. He liked looking at Clarinda Hawkins.

His programming included an understanding of the Greeks’ golden mean and what humans considered beautiful. And Clarinda Hawkins certainly fit the bill with a perfectly proportioned, light brown face framed by burgundy tipped braids. Her full lips seemed to be what humans desired for kissing, even though he questioned the value of the color she added. Seemed unnecessary to add anything at all, and it distracted from her dark eyes.

Her face wasn’t the only thing that could inspire art, but Vincent’s thoughts on her shapely snowflaked backside were suddenly scattered as she turned a corner and disappeared. He picked up his pace, weaving through the crowds of people carrying shopping bags, and side-stepping the occasional street musician.

The reason for the surveillance was disconcerting, but the man who had drugged Clarinda and nearly had his way with her—who was the suspected head of an illegal drugs and sex trafficking ring—had insinuated that she was his business partner. The fact that he passed his lie detector test probably only meant that he was very good at lying. He seemed the type. Hensley had still ordered that Hawkins be watched.

Vincent would have recommended that the surveillance cease several weeks ago if she weren’t constantly going on these solo excursions, sometimes meeting people in empty retail space and having long conversations. Most checked out as business owners, but many crime syndicates had legitimate businesses as cover for their illegal operations. He’d been hesitant to question them in case he was wrong about Ms. Hawkins’ innocence. He didn’t want to send any rats into hiding.

Clarinda thanked the Realtor for showing her the available space, even as she inwardly balked at the rental price. Retail space was not cheap on Mars. 

Stepping out onto the tiled walkway, she paused a moment and pursed her lips, wondering if starting a business on Mars was at all feasible, when she caught sight of a dark-haired man leaning against a nearby larger-than-life statue of Ricardo Montoya holding a rusty planet Mars in his hands. The broad man in a leather jacket had intense blue eyes that were staring at her over a slightly crooked nose. Quickly averting her gaze, she put her feet in motion, directing them away from his casual pose that somehow seemed anything but casual.

Despite her speed, he was at her side in just a few moments, his hands still in his jacket pockets. “Hey, sweetheart, where you heading in such a hurry?”

Clarinda didn’t look at him. “None of your business.”

He continued to walk beside her, and Clarinda could sense his amusement. “All right, fair enough. But here’s something that is my business. A friend of mine is being held by Security without bail.” He paused as their feet beat out four steps on the pavement. “Because of you.”

Clarinda felt her jaw go tight, but she kept walking. “If you are referring to the lowlife who goes by Artero Martinelli, I will not be held responsible for his bad behavior.”

“Nevertheless, when it comes time for you to testify,” —he dared to rest a hand on her back— “it would be best if you didn’t recognize him.” 

Clarinda stopped and turned to face him, and his hand fell back to his side. She refused to be cowed by a thug. “Are you threatening me?” If he continued in this vein, he’d find out just how much time she had spent in self-defense classes. 

His other hand appeared, and he spread them both wide. “No, no, I’m just looking out for your welfare.” He winked. “And that pretty face.” He tapped his wristcom. “Romeo Roman. That’s me. Send me a message later, and I’ll show you how much I appreciate a pretty face.” His gaze raked over her, his appreciation for the rest of her obvious, yet wisely unspoken.

Clarinda was about to let loose on this bozo who thought he could threaten her one minute and come on to her the next, when her eye caught on the tall figure of Vincent in the crowd of shoppers heading her way. If he knew this man was bothering her, she’d never rid herself of the robot’s protective eye. A tiny voice in the back of her head wondered if she might need his protection, but she shook it off. This guy was just trying to look tough and sound suave. She didn’t really believe he was either one. And she’d handled pretenders before. Her ex-boyfriend Rob had been a pretender of the worst sort.

Trying to bring a look of calm to her face for the sake of her security shadow, she forced a smile as she brought her gaze back to the man’s smug expression. “Walk with me… did you say Roman?”

His blue eyes lit up with surprise. “Yeah.”

She turned and resumed her trek through the dome, making sure to keep with the crowds. “Walk with me, Roman. We have a few things to discuss.”

Vincent began to grind his teeth the minute Clarinda Hawkins smiled at Roman Ricci, a known petty thief that Mars Security suspected of having ties to what seemed to be the beginning of a Mob on the red planet. They were hoping to deport his sorry hide with the next transports to Earth, but in the meantime, jail space was limited, and they had no hard evidence of those ties. 

Yet.

Teeth grinding wasn’t a known android trait, and with the strength of the hydraulics in his jaw, it was a pretty bad idea, but it was something he’d seen Chief of Security Hensley do on many an occasion, and he must have picked up the mannerism.

“Beware the Eyes of Mars”

Teeth grinding wasn’t a known android trait, and with the strength of the hydraulics in his jaw, it was a pretty bad idea, but it was something he’d seen Chief of Security Hensley do on many an occasion, and he must have picked up the mannerism. And anyway, he reasoned, seeing Clarinda smiling at someone like Ricci would have likely started the habit right then and there. 

He was following them at a safe distance, when Ricci stopped abruptly, spun, and headed back the way they’d come. Vincent moved behind a Big Dipper Ice Cream® stand as the man hurried past with a sour expression. Hensley would have said that he looked like he could spit nails.

Moving past the confection kiosk, he didn’t need to search for Clarinda as she seemed to be heading straight for him. Her expression wasn’t much more pleasant than Ricci’s had been.

“Why are you following me?” she spouted as she drew close, her parka folded over her arms. “I appreciate the fact that you saved me from Martinelli, but that was more than a month ago. You don’t need to protect me.”

Vincent decided that protection was a more acceptable reason than suspicion, even if she didn’t seem to want protection. “Don’t I? That was Roman Ricci you were walking with. A thief and suspected mobster.” He tried for a smile. “You need to pick better company, Ms. Hawkins, unless you’d like a repeat of—”

“I didn’t pick him for company. He followed me, and I sent him packing. I can take care of myself.”

Vincent hitched a brow of skepticism. Someone like Roman could throw her small frame over his shoulder with ease, slap a tranq star on her and take her to a secluded location so fast, she wouldn’t even know what hit her.

“You spend an awful lot of time wandering these domes alone, Ms. Hawkins, and unfortunately Mr. Montoya is in denial about the rise of the criminal element on Mars. He’s not hiring enough security and–”

She took a step closer. “Exactly. You are needed in a much bigger way here than just following me around.”

Vincent looked into those brown eyes looking up at him. There was something different about this woman. Something that drew him like no other human. Something that made him want to protect her as if he had been programmed to do so. But he knew that wasn’t the case. He hadn’t even laid eyes on her until the Mars transport and their investigation into Reese Kennedy and the search for Francesca McKenna.

He realized she was waiting for an answer. “What did Ricci say to you?” Vincent suspected a connection between Ricci and Martinelli. It was probably no coincidence that Roman Ricci had wanted to talk to her.

She pulled an arm out from under her coat and flung her braids over her shoulder. “He was just… trying to hit on me, that’s all. I told him to get lost.”

She was lying.

He gave her a small smile. “Are you certain he wasn’t trying to sway your testimony concerning Martinelli?”

Clarinda blinked, her gaze slipping from his, and he knew he’d hit the mark.

“You are a key witness in an upcoming trial, Ms. Hawkins. I plan to follow you and make sure you are safe until Martinelli is sentenced with jail time.”

She swallowed, then nodded, and Vincent only felt a tiny bit of remorse for not telling her the whole truth. He looked up the street. “Do you have more shopping to do, or shall I follow you back to your hotel?”

She hugged her coat against her. “No, I’m… finished.” Her sheepish expression turned defiant. “And no, you can’t follow me.”

Vincent glowered. “I thought I was clear. You—”

“I’m tired of being followed.” She tilted her head. “If you’re coming along, you’re walking beside me.”

Vincent fell into step with her as they headed back toward the Main Dome, not really understanding the sense of satisfaction he was feeling or why the prompt to take her hand kept popping to the top of his directives. 

He’d studied the human male response to women so as to better understand their motivations that sometimes led to crime or domestic violence. Human relationships were often not rational, and for the last two years, Vincent had been able to admire Ms. Hawkins without letting his emotions run away with him.

That all seemed to change forty-five days ago when he’d found Martinelli taking advantage of her in his bedroom after slipping a pill into her drink. It had been all he could do to not break the man in half, and he hadn’t been completely rational about the woman ever since.

“So, how ’bout them Yankees?” Clarinda’s non sequitur brought him out of his thoughts.

“ ‘Them Yankees’? Are you referring to the nineteenth century use of the word for American New Englanders or the baseball team from New York that got its start in the early twentieth century and continued into the twenty-second until all baseball fell out of favor with the advent of rocket ball in 2175?”

Clarinda laughed, and the sound made his feet warm. “I suppose it probably refers to the ball team, although it’s just a cliché people throw out when there’s a lull in the conversation.”

Vincent nodded. “Ah, yes. People tend to feel self-conscious with silence.” He smiled. “Surprisingly, I have learned that silence can sometimes bring more out of people than interrogation.”

She looked to him with a knitted brow. “Were you trying to interrogate me?”

“No!” Vincent hastily reassured. “I was just lost in my own thoughts during what you called a ‘lull.’ ” He probably shouldn’t tell her just what those thoughts were.

“Oh.” 

Was there a hint of surprise in her voice?

“Well, here’s another cliché: ‘A penny for your thoughts.’ ”

This was one that Vincent had heard before, although he didn’t find a penny to be much of an incentive to reveal to this woman that he’d been thinking about her. He hadn’t been switched on yesterday. “I’m afraid your offer is too low, Ms. Hawkins, but I’ll endeavor to be a better conversationalist.”

She laughed again, and the warmth Vincent felt spread clear to his knees. He suddenly wanted her laugh to be a part of his everyday existence, and the thought of it not being there was almost too much to bear. Afraid of another lull, he pressed on. “What would you like to talk about? Most of my job is confidential, I’m afraid. Why don’t you tell me about yours?”

She smiled and began, telling him all about the ins and outs of being a professional organizer, and Vincent stored every word, every inflection, every twinkle that came to her eyes, knowing he’d replay it later and enjoy it again as if it were a symphony.

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