Behind the Series: Syn-En: The Surlat Plague

It is always amazing that something so little as a bacteria could cause so large a change. Most SciFi novels write about a superbioengineered bug that changes humanity into something different.

But when I think of superbugs, I think of the Black Plague and HG Wells’ War of the World. 

An instrument of destruction and death.

 We know that on Earth a simple cold wiped out indigenous peoples in the Americas. That after the Vikings landed the explosure to foreign bacteria killed large swaths of tribes, and that the US government infected blankets with disease to eliminate the native population.

And yet, disease creates change as well.

The Black Plague changed the conditions of many living in serfdom in the Middle Ages. Guess we treat those scarce things better than in abundance. 

To change things up, I added technology to the mix and created my cyborgs. They could go into infected areas while a vaccine was being developed. Or a vaccine could be abandoned in favor of a better, more durable class of workers.  After all, why safe people when you could get more labor for your investment?

Of course, I had an ulterior motive for the Surlat Plague. A familiar trope in SciFi is cross breeding and slave labor, but I wanted to go the extra mile. I wanted humans to be valued as nothing more than lab rats. We are very plentiful.

Until next time

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Syn-En: Home World, Chapter 3

This is the last day to pick up the book for 99cents. So enjoy the eclipse if you’re in an area where it is happening and read while you wait:D

Syn-En-Home-World-GenericChapter Three

Admiral Beijing York’s cardiac sensors malfunctioned and his lungs seized.  Instinct, training, and his software upgrades kicked in. In one smooth motion, he drew his TorpSK7. The microsecond the energy weapon flashed green, he squeezed the trigger.

The blast hit the nearest Scraptor square in the chest. White light spider-webbed over his armor, and the Bug-Ugly stumbled back from the hit.

Not good enough. Bei wanted him dead. Wanted all the Scraptors obliterated. While the Torp charged, he diverted power to his limbs. A small leap and he closed the six meters to his prey.

The Bug-Ugly didn’t even glance up.

Bei raked his serrated arms through the Scraptor’s shoulders. The blades along his cyborg limbs tore through the armor, leaving jagged metal behind . The severed arms plopped to the brown dust of the planetoid. No blood spurted. No cry of agony registered on Bei’s audio sensors.

The refugee camp erupted into chaos. Municians cried out in alarm. Humans screamed in pain. Scraptors who guarded the periphery slashed and hacked their way through unarmed civilians. Red and blue blood soaked the brown dirt. Death drained the color from flesh despite the red rays of the dwarf sun.

Bei aimed his TorpSK7, fired at point blank range at the closest enemy target. Projectiles drilled through the armor and blew a hole out the back.

“Why won’t the bastards fall?” Security Chief Frankfort Rome ripped off the helmet on a white Scraptor. He crushed the helmet until the eyestalks popped out and the metal was nothing but a ball. The body fought on, snapping its claws and swinging its tail until the poisonous barb at the end found a target.

Bei loped off the bulbous stinger and slammed it down the throat of one headless Scraptor. How had the situation gone sideways so quickly? He had the last Munician matriarch. Peace was in his grasp. Nell was expecting their next set of twins. He wouldn’t lose. Not now. “Get the Matriarch onto the shuttle.”

A Human cry mingled with an Eseaian squeal of pain.

“What about our civilian peacekeepers?” Rome raised his hand, blocking a Scraptor from slicing off the top of the Matriarch’s green and lavender head.

The head of the Argent family gathered her embroidered robes and dashed up the ramp of the beetle-shaped shuttle. Her putty-colored entourage limped after her.

A Scraptor raised his stabbing appendages, spearing Bei’s foot.

“NSA recruits. Fall back.” Bei barked the order into the Com. Pain relievers flooded his system. Grabbing the Scraptor limb, he ripped it out of his boot and drove the pointed tip through his opponent.

The Scraptor fell.

Bei increased his strength and drilled the tip into the rock, pinning his enemy in place. He twisted, tore off the Scraptor’s remaining limbs, and hurled them away from the camp.

The Bug-Ugly still squirmed.

Headless. Limbless. Yet, still fighting.

Bei’s gut clenched.

“What the fuck is going on?” Rome dismembered his Scraptor, crumbling the pieces into a pile near his feet. “I like fighting as much as the next guy but this stopped being fun two severed limbs ago.”

Bei grunted. He queried the Combat Information Center for explanations while he tore into the next Scraptor. With a thought, he accessed his optics and scanned through all spectrums. Only the Infrared produced an anomaly. A bright white ball in the right thigh. He sent the results to the CIC for a match. He wanted to know his enemy. “Recruits, guard the transports and injured!”

NSA recruits in light blue uniforms ushered the injured up the ramps. Some carried those severely wounded. Others fired at any Bug-Ugly.

Despite the hits, the Scraptors didn’t falter.

Bei stomped on the dismembered body of his latest opponent.

Nell’s shout was an electric shock through his systems. Across the camp, she battled a set of pink armor. Her skin flashed silver, highlighting her NeoDynamic Armor. Fermites buzzed the pink Scraptor. One moment it was a golden haze, then the armor dissolved.

“Holy shit.” Rome hurled the crumpled mass in his hands at the head of another Scraptor. The Bug-Ugly’s helmet flew off his shoulders. “I wish I could do that.”

God, Bei loved his woman. He swung up his Lassiter rifle. It hummed to life in his hands. Destroy the enemy with extreme prejudice. 

The order echoed in the Wireless Array. His men shifted into camouflage. Their bodies and weapons blended with the red sky and brown landscape. Only the slight wavy motion of the air indicated their presence.

Bei’s vision merged with his men’s. His processors warmed from collating nearly a hundred soldier’s input simultaneously. Priorities made, he assigned tasks—some stood guard over the alien, flesh-and-bone medics tending to the injured Humans. Others fought along the perimeter, dismantling Scraptors and chucking their pieces into a pile.

With the situation under control, Bei glanced in his wife’s direction.

Two Scraptors stood where she had once fought.

“Where is my wife?” Bei’s systems went rogue. He rushed the camp, stomping corpses, leaping injured, and fast-balling severed limbs at the enemy.

Rome pounded on his heels. “Slow down, Admiral. I can’t cover your six, if I can’t see your sorry ass.”

Nell’s energy signal rolled through their private connection. She was alive. Alive and pissed. Waves of red hot anger tilted his systems.

I’m coming, Nell. Hang on. Bei zigged around a pile of refugees. His guns spat fire and projectiles. Each ripping into the Scraptors near Nell, tearing off their limbs. A golden bubble rose from the ground. When it burst, the explosion threw the Scraptors back.

Nell stood in the center, Humans with golden triage tags at her feet.

Two more Scraptors lumbered toward Nell.

Bei met them halfway there. He crushed one’s claws between his hands and ripped it from the body. Gaping holes stared back from the Scraptor’s trunk. Spinning and slashing, he added the limbs to a gathering pile.

Rome pummeled the other’s eyestalks down its throat then hammered on the trunk. “You’re really starting to piss me off by not dying.”

Bei checked the WA. The energy signal powering the Scraptors didn’t match any known enemy, but something was familiar. With his strength at maximum, he flattened the helmet. Its eye stalks popped out and rocketed in two different directions. Grabbing the tail, he swung with all his might and hurled it toward the horizon.

Bei spun, ready for his next enemy.

Only his men remained standing. But the severity of injuries and number of wounded had tripled.

“Damn.” Rome plucked a Scraptor mandible from his sleeve. The damaged NDA underneath quickly healed. “It looks like we’re in one of Nell’s zombie video clips.”

Standing near Nell, Richmond flashed Bei a thumbs-up before picking up her severed arm, inspecting the damaged edges then dropping it. “It was time for an upgrade anyway.”

Nell pushed her hair out of her eyes. A sea of glittering fermites lapped at her legs and blanketed the Humans nearby. “I can see your point, Rome, except zombies are reanimated Humans not just their empty armor.”

Bei shook his head. His wife was amazing, still healing people despite a battle raging around her. He stepped over a twitching tail.

She held out her hand and collapsed against him. Her arm wrapped his waist and squeezed tightly. Silver striped her arms, blending with her clothes.

Davena stepped out from behind Doc. Her pregnant belly stuck out in front of her. Gold fermites dripped from her cinnamon skin and rolled in a healing fog over the NSA medics.

One by one, the NSA rose and helped the refugees toward the ships.

Iggy and her pack of Amarooks materialized near piles of Scraptor. “I need lots of chocolate to get that taste out of my mouth.”

“Admiral.” Omest, the pilot of the Starflight 1 shuttle, rattled through the com button on Bei’s collar. “The probe we sent out earlier to search for weapons, just went offline.”

Rome’s head snapped up. “Crash?”

“No, sir.” The lanky alien swallowed hard through the Com system. “It looks like an energy burst from a weapon did it. And…”

Bei rolled his eyes.  Double check his findings.

Double-checking. Rome nodded.

“And what, Omest?” Bei prompted.

“The signal matches the one you sent of the Scraptors.”

Of course it did. Releasing his wife, he headed for the closest pile. “Understood, Omest.” His vision dimmed as he stepped into the WA and switched all the ship’s sensors to maximum. If an enemy weapon took out the probe, he wanted advance warning of the next attack.

In the WA, Rome’s avatar materialized next to his. He opened the data packet on the probe. “That’s definitely an energy surge, but there’s no weapon signature.”

At the edge of the battlefield, Iggy leapt atop a pile of armor, digging and sniffing as she worked her way down. “Humans were here, but there’s something else. Something fouler than Scraptor armor.”

Bei shifted his attention to the camp and left the WA. “Munician?”

Iggy spit out the bottom half of a claw, then wiped her tongue on her fur. “Possibly.”

“Sequester the Matriarch.” Bei would question her personally. She had to know something. The stinky politicos had their own weapon development program before the end of the war.

Iggy dove back into the pile. A moment later she yipped with excitement and her tail wagged.

“What have you found?” Bei stepped close to the Amarook just as alarms bathed the inside of his skull in bloody hues.

“We’ve got company.” Rome switched mags on his Lassiter then loaded his grenade launcher on top. “Four ships. Five ships. Incoming.”

“They’re Alliance ships, Admiral.” Omest’s voice broke. “But they’re not answering our hails.”

“They’re some of the ships that have gone missing in the last six months.” Rome lobbed a data packet at Bei.

In an instant, Bei caught it and merged with the shuttle’s systems. Using his command codes, he tapped into the approaching crafts’ computers. A brick wall rose up in cyberspace, blocking him from taking command. “Everyone, get to the shuttles. Now.”

Beyond the firewall, he sensed the weapons going hot. Then the surge of energy as the ships opened fire.

His optics detected the string of missiles headed their way.

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Behind the Series: Syn-En, the Amarooks

Syn-En-Home-World-GenericThere is a popular character in genre fiction usually called the best friend/helper/guide. This person’s role is to prompt the main character into some kind of action, to reveal information to the reader, and to fill in the gaps. This character is present in video games, as well, and provides helpful hints and mission objectives.

But this person doesn’t always have to be a human being. In my current WIP (work in progress) it’s a scarecrow. But in the Syn-En series, I couldn’t very well bring another bestie from the 21st century, so I settled on the time honored tradition and familiar friend: the dog.

Okay, dog-like, as Iggy would be quick to point out she could eat dogs for breakfast. Literally:D.

Iggy really set the tone for the species: by naming her after a kind of lizard (Iguana), I called up the images of a fast moving creature with underestimated resiliency. It also lent itself to the belief the Amarooks could camouflage themselves. But more important was the idea of dog-like creatures as loyal and trustworthy, and as pack animals lethal in their willingness to protect their own.

Better than a best friend. (Iggy is nodding)

Yet this wasn’t enough. There needed to be a level communication between the bestie/beastie and the hero. All the better, if it subverted technology to do it. So I settled on emotion. It’s elemental and contagious and dangerous territory for the Syn-En.

Now to answer a few questions people have asked:

I gave them six limbs because I needed the reader to see that advanced species could have more than 4 limbs so the introduction of Scraptors would be easier to accept without question. (Until the reveal in Ghost World)

I made the Amarooks companion animals because let’s face it, we believe how a person treats animals and how animals respond to people is a reflection of the person. As for those who don’t have pets… Well, that’s suspicious until proven otherwise.

I also liked the idea that the Amarooks picked their companion, not the other way around. That beings had to prove themselves to their ‘pets’. (Iggy just bit me for calling her a ‘pet’).

Time for a confession. Near the end of the last book, probably 3 chapters from the end, Iggy reveals why the Amarooks bond with another species at all. Usually revealing a tidbit so near the end is forbidden, but it was the only place it fit and someone asked, so there you have it.

Any other questions? Leave a comment, and I’ll answer.

If you haven’t already picked up your copy of Home World, it will be on sale for 99cents until Tuesday (8/22/17). Then I’ll be raising the price to $3.99.


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New Release: Syn-En: Home World

I’m happy to announce the release of the final book in the series and it’s on sale for 99 cents until Sunday. Pick up your copy today and begin the  journey home.

Syn-En-Home-World-GenericA universe on the brink of peace. A defeated enemy out for revenge. And a weapon designed to destroy everything.

Admiral Beijing York and his army of Synthetically-Enhanced Humans were built for war, taught to kill, and programmed to overcome all obstacles. Now, their final mission will take them to the one place no soldier is trained to go: Home.

Turning her back on the NeoSentient Alliance, Nell Stafford tracks the origins of the new threat to Earth and an ancient race determined to unleash its deadly fury. Nell, her husband Bei, and his cyborg army will fight with everything they have.

But this time the enemy has nothing to lose.
Syn-En: Home World is the epic conclusion to the seven book military SciFi series. The war is over but not everyone surrenders.

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Syn-En: Home World, Chapter 2

Syn-En-Home-World-GenericChapter Two

“Same satchel, different planet.” Nell Stafford patted the medical bag at her hip. Not that she needed the bandages, sprays, and fancy doo-dads inside. Gold fuzz twinkled like glitter around her fingers. Her fermites prepared to treat whatever traumatized the beings beyond the shuttle door. She may be an ordinary Human, but she had some super-powers thanks to ancient alien technology.

Around her, the turbulence rattled the shuttle flying low over the rocky planetoid below. A planetoid where the defeated enemy had deposited refugees and left them to die.

A situation she and the others crowding the crew compartment planned to remedy.

She only hoped the former enemy was grateful.

And that among the Municians seeking help was the one that could end this war once and for all. All peace required was the signature of the Argent family matriarch.

Intel said the lavender elven alien would be on the planetoid below.

Intel had been wrong before.

Admiral Beijing York, Nell’s husband and leader of the NeoSentient Alliance, landed silently on the metal deck beside her. Despite weighing over three hundred pounds and standing six and a half feet, he never made a sound when he moved. Part of his stealth lay in being trained as a soldier since birth, the rest was due to the fact that he was more machine than man and designed for combat.

But Bei was hers. All hers, well, when she didn’t have to share him with the NSA. Which was too often lately. Shouldn’t they have more time together since the war with the Founding Five was all but over? Nell adjusted the strap of her satchel, freeing the blond lengths that always managed to get trapped underneath.

Humor crackled in Bei’s blue almond-shaped eyes. “You did not have to volunteer for this rescue mission.”

“Neither did you. Besides you know the rules, where you go, I go.” Nell checked their shared connection in the Wireless Array. Open. Drat the man. She fingered the cover of the cerebral interface at the base of her neck keeping her organs functioning and allowing her husband to read her thoughts. If there hadn’t been the possibility of danger, she’d have the brain box switched to receive only.

“The matriarch of the Argent clan may be on Icely prime. I have to get her signature. With the last Munician family capitulating, the war will officially be over.” A green diagnostic beam shot from Bei’s wrist and washed over her. “Are you certain you are well enough to heal the sick?”

Nell pushed his hand down, aiming the beam at the floor. Her skin prickled as the sensors in his hand switched on. Sometimes, she’d like to put a magnet in his circuits. “I’m fine.” Releasing him, she gestured to the crew compartment of the shuttle. “I’m living the Star Trek dream. Visiting strange new worlds, crossing the final frontier in wormholes, yada, yada, yada.”

“Ah.” Bei’s lips twitched. “This ancient video clip I remember you making me watch.”

Nell clamped her lips together. Star Trek hadn’t been ancient before her century long nap landed her in the middle of the twenty-second century. “I don’t recall making you watch it.”

Ahead of them, civilian recruits in light-blue stood in four orderly lines. Each carried medical supplies and food rations. Humans intermingled with multi-limbed aliens. Bipeds lined up next to quadrupeds. Hair, feathers, and scales disappeared under auto-sizing helmets. Side-arms hung on hips.

Burping bile, Nell checked her TorpSK7 holstered at her side. The pistol shot projectiles or energy beams depending on the threat. It wouldn’t be the first time, a mission of mercy turned into a fight for survival.

Bei’s forehead wrinkled. His eyes darkened, a sign that he tapped into the Combat Information Center to search for data.  “The correct words to the opening of the video clips of Star Trek are…”

Nell rose on tiptoe and kissed his jaw. The synthetic skin was smooth under her lips. Her husband never had to shave or cut the thick black hair on his head.

Stopping mid-sentence, Bei blinked. “You missed my lips.”

“I just wanted to get your attention.”

Angling his body toward her, he cocked his head to the left. His hand skimmed her side to settle on her hip. Serrated ridges raised the sleeves of his black uniform. “You always have my attention.”

Warmth unfurled deep inside her belly. After nearly five years since he woke her from a hundred and twenty year sleep, she was still falling in love with him. She slid her hand along his cheek to cup the back of his head. “I am fine. Perfectly healthy.”

He leaned toward her, his attention focused on her lips. “You’re worried.”

A statement, not a question. “The children are fine.” Their twin boys were currently aboard the Nell Stafford being watched over by a pack of overly-protective Amarooks who sent her telepathic updates of the boys’ antics.

“I refer to the Meek.” He tugged her closer, holding her belly to his and pressing their chests together. “You have been feeling poorly since you assigned the last of the Meek to a newly conceived child four weeks ago.”

The Meek had once been Human but had ascended into energy beings and had spent millennia shaping the growth of sentient species in the universe. They were the reason Bei, his cyborgs, and the alliance had won the war. And now they were gone, cloning developing fetuses so they could rejoin the physical world to be reborn and eventually die.

Her sons were the first Meek rebirth.

Nell rested her forehead against Bei’s shoulder. “I miss Mary Marple. Sure, she was arrogant, powerful, pigheaded, and rude, but it was nice knowing she was looking out for us.”

“I think they knew we could look out for ourselves.” Bei kissed her hair, then her temple. He crooked a finger under her chin and raised her face to his. “We don’t need them anymore. Let them rest.”

“I want to. But I grew up in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. I know the bad guys always get sequels.” And villains didn’t come any eviler than the Erwarians. Not that she would let the big bads steal away all her fun. Nell’s eyes fluttered closed.

Bei’s breath washed over her face.

She parted her lips, waiting for his kiss. And waited. And waited. She glanced up at her husband.

Bei’s eyes were completely black. His attention fully focused on whatever was happening. “Stay in the back. Don’t move without my order. Understand?”

“Y-yes.” Her heart stumbled over a beat. The shuttle’s nacelles revved and her ears popped as the ship gained altitude.

Then he was gone, sliding through the rows of medics like a shark through bloody water. He joined four other Synthetically-Enhanced Human soldiers near the back ramp. A soft hum drifted back as the Syn-En charged their rifles and formed a shield between the civilian medics and whatever threat lay outside.

A whisper of fabric brought the scent of wildflowers.

Nell turned to her right.

In Syn-En black, Lieutenant Virginia Richmond stood next to Nell. Her medical pack had been pushed to her back while both hands rested on the TorpSK7 holstered at her hips. “Scraptors are guarding the refugee camp. The Bug-Uglies are in full armor.”

Nell swallowed hard.

Scraptors had been the military arm of the Founding Five. Resembling man-sized scorpions, Scraptors had enforced the will of the Founders with ruthless efficiency, especially against Humans. When the truth of their origins had been revealed, most could not come to terms with the fact that they were Human themselves. Humans that had been brainwashed to hate their own kind. Few had been able to live with the truth.

As such, the Scraptors were nearly extinct.

Nell wished the Bug-Uglies would hurry up the process or fully commit to being Human. The universe could do without any more bad guys. Unfortunately, it looked like they’d have to deal with some determined Scraptors on this rescue mission.

“I thought the terms called for them shucking their armor and divesting themselves of their weapons.” Nell shifted on her feet. Since a Scraptor had nearly killed her before, she’d preferred her Scraptors shucked.

“They got the weapons bit right.” Richmond shrugged. Her auburn hair had been shorn at the shoulders and her jaw formed a hard edge. She’d been remaking herself, and not in a good way. If there’d been ice cream available on the ship, she would have eaten it all. “The Scraptors are what they are. Who are we to tell them to be otherwise?”

“Um, we’re the winners of the war.” The sarcasm slipped past Nell’s lips before she could recall it. Her friend wasn’t talking about the Scraptors, but her break-up with her long time boyfriend. The girl may have been inducted as a Syn-En soldier since birth, but she was just a year out of her teens. “Sanjay still isn’t budging from his ultimatum?”

Richmond snorted and double-checked her weapons. “I am a Syn-En. Built and designed to handle the dangers of war and peace.”

Nell cleared her throat. “Yeah, about that… You did kinda die on your last mission.”

Nell knew. She’d been there. Not even her fermites could revive the girl, but the Meek had. The Meek had saved Richmond and given her back to the Syn-En and Sanjay. Nell’s eyes still prickled with tears at the memory.

Richmond flapped her hand. “I’m fine. I won’t let them kill me again.”

“O-Kay.” Nell bit her lip.

The Scraptors hadn’t killed the girl the first time. Richmond had fallen under friendly fire; she’d died protecting the people nearly killed her.

“Give him time, Richmond. Sanjay will come around.” Nell leaned against the girl.

A tremor ran through Richmond before she shook herself and gathered her hair in a ponytail. “He’s had a year.”

Nell rolled her eyes. Even a brain box couldn’t override stupid Human behavior. “He’s had two days since you told him you requested to return to active duty. He was fine with you on the ship, helping with the refugees. He was fine with you on those missions to return stolen heritage items to their original species. He was—”

“He asked me to choose. I choose to be who I am.” The girl thrust her chin forward. “And that’s the protector of the President of the NeoSentient Alliance, Leader of the Humans, and the admiral’s wife. In short, your bodyguard.”

Nell ground her teeth. She would unplug her husband’s circuits one by one as soon as they returned to the ship. A furry body brushed Nell’s leg and bloodlust steamed through her veins. Reaching down, she watched her fingers disappear into the furry, cloaked Amarook body.

The air shimmered and Iggy appeared. Pink and green feathers quivered on the Amarook’s head while matching fur covered her body. The species resembled extinct Earth wolves except the Amarook’s possessed a set of humanoid hands, camouflaging ability, and a means to communicate telepathically. Iggy’s swollen belly stuck out from both sides.

Another litter to crowd Nell and Bei’s cabin.

“As Nell says, you should cut the boy some slack.” The collar around Iggy’s neck glowed as her thoughts were translated into words. “Sanjay is a male. You must accept his sensitivity as part of his nature, just as your lethal skills are part of yours. It is not a weakness.”

“Why should I? He’s not accepting my nature.” Richmond dropped her right hand from her weapon and swung her satchel to the side.

The threat must have faded. The shuttle banked. Nell’s ears popped as it began its descent.

Iggy smoothed her feathers out of her eyes. “You are a female. The stronger of the genders. You must set the example.” She extended her claws on her paws. “Besides, sensitive males make the best nurturers of the young. He will be quite busy raising them leaving you free to do your job.”

Nell choked on her tongue. She might need to talk to Iggy’s mate about male liberation.

Richmond pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. “The admiral doesn’t stay home to take care of his sons.”

Iggy cracked her knuckles before folding her arms against her chest and sitting on her hind quarters. “The admiral fights daily between his duty and his protective instincts. Besides, he knows my pack will protect his young.”

“As I will protect your children.” Richmond’s Amarook decloaked on her left. She slipped her hand in the lieutenant’s. “Your mate’s fear caused him to overreact. Such a bond is rare for many species. You must not lose the battle to keep his heart.”

Richmond blew her bangs out of her eyes. “Fine. I’ll give him another chance. Eventually.”

The shuttle landed with a sigh. Gears ground as the ramp slowly opened. Brown haze seeped into the cracks.

The Amarooks disappeared, then Iggy deepened her telepathic link, merging her vision with Nell’s. A forest of legs over-laid Nell’s vision as her four-legged protectors made their way to the ramp.

“Do you really think he’ll come around?” Richmond focused on the deck and chewed her bottom lip.

“Of course he will.” Nell nudged Richmond’s shoulder. The girl reminded Nell so much of the niece she’d left behind on Twenty-First century Earth. Nell’s eyes prickled with tears. Dang it. Why was she getting all misty-eyed lately? Perhaps she should get a check-up, or have Iggy lick her. Both would probably tell her she was fine. “Just give Sanjay time.”

Richmond nodded.

Chatter drifted down from the deck above, and the scent of disinfectant wafted from the operating rooms. The lines of medics filed out of the crew compartment. Nell waited for her turn then fell into step behind the last group. The four rows parted around Bei and his Chief of Security.

A lavender Munician planted herself in front of the two cyborgs. The purple elf drilled her gnarled finger into Bei’s shoulder. “And I demand a private stateroom. I am an Argent, after all.”

“After you sign the peace treaty, I shall see what can be arranged.” Bei spoke softly, evenly. It was his I-can-gut-you-and-rip-out-your-heart-before-you-even-know-it voice.

Poor Bei, her husband hated politics. Nell trailed her fingers down his shoulder blades then swept along the curve of his bottom in a sensual promise as she passed him. Her fingers tingled from the contact.

His voice softened and he slanted her a glance as she walked down the ramp. He spoke through their private connection. Be careful.

Always. Nell stepped off the ramp. Puffs of brown dirt rose beneath her boots.

In the distance, the red dwarf sun poured pink light over the rocky landscape. Salts striped the exposed hills in lines of white, red, and yellow, attesting to the former presence of water. Armored Scraptors stood like red, pink, and green pickets around the camp. On the left, Municians rested on pallets and dined from bone white plates, attended to by putty-colored servants. Two Scraptors guarded a gurgling machine, extracting water from the air and soil. On the right, a fence of barbed wire penned in a hundred or more Humans. When one colorless Munician tossed food scraps into the area, three dozen Humans scrambled to claw the remains from the dirt.

Nell’s stomach cramped. “I’m really gonna have problems watching any Christmas movies this December.”

“Aside from the pointed ears, I have never seen the resemblance between Santa’s elves and the Municians.” Richmond turned between the rows of Humans. “Municians do not like chocolate or cookies. There is nothing good about them.”

The lieutenant spat and glared at a lime green one reclining on a padded chair.

Shaking off her camouflage, Iggy loped toward them. “And the stinky politicos taste foul. I am certain, they cause indigestion to my kind.”

Nell nodded. Although absolutes were dangerous, she hated the Municians as well. They were the ones holding up the peace. She wouldn’t put it past the pointy-eared freaks to be behind the attacks on the alliance ships occurring since the cease fire. “Let’s just find and fix our golden tickets and leave.”

Medics Brooklyn and Queens handed out partial rations to the starving and assigned coded tags, rating their injuries. On the periphery, Alliance soldiers checked the Scraptors for weapons. A gold banner rose in the distance.

One for her. Nell picked her way through the people shivering on the ground. Scars formed a lattice on most of their flesh. Some had their tongues cut out; others had their mouths sewn shut. The Municians considered themselves the height of civilization. They were simply barbaric.

“I might have to bite one or two Municians to calm the fever in my blood.” Iggy trotted beside Nell. Every once in a while, the Amarook fished in her saddlebags and handed out a cloth soaked in her spit to a victim with burns. The saliva would heal and soothe as it helped repair the damaged tissue. She bared her fangs at the Municians beyond the barbed wire. “You are lucky not to be as far along in your pregnancy, or you, too, would want to spill a little blue blood.”

“What?” Nell stumbled over the powdered dirt. The Amarook couldn’t be correct. She just couldn’t be. Bei would not be happy especially as she went on this mission. She tasted her energy bar from breakfast again. She wasn’t particularly happy.

“Oh, dear.” Richmond’s eyes widened. “I thought the admiral was just being his usual over-protective self. I didn’t know…”

Iggy smiled, baring rows of glistening canines. “I wager neither of the proud parents knew. But how could you not suspect? Aside from your frequent mating activities, you placed the last Meek nearly a month ago. You bore the first Meek; you will bring forth the last Meek.”

“Good God. I’m about to have two sets of twins under three?” Nell slapped a hand over her mouth.

But the damage was done. The Syn-En with their enhanced hearing stiffened. They carefully arranged themselves, closing in on her position.

Nell’s attention flew to Bei.

Shock loosened his features then a blank mask settled over his face. His thoughts were a caress inside her mind. Return to the shuttle.

When I’m done. Nell turned her back to her husband and ran a hand down her stomach. Golden fermites formed a halo around her belly. Well, sugar. She really was expecting.

Davena Cabo waddled closer. A loose black dress draped over her extended stomach. Fermites glittered around her stomach, an atomic shield of protection. “I see you are expecting again.”

“Did everyone know but me?” Nell ducked her head under the strap of her satchel.

Twelve Human shivered on the ground. Bones poked against their skin, practically providing an anatomy lesson. Dirt and scabs marred the stitching around their mouths. Insects feasted on their wounds.

“No one knew except the Amarooks apparently.” Doc hovered near his wife, Davena, sorting the injured while hooking them up to IVs.

With a grunt, Davena lowered herself to the ground. “Given the way they’re acting, I’m beginning to wonder if pregnant women on Earth aren’t stuffed in a padded box and kept there until they deliver.”

“They would be if they stayed.” Doc glared at his wife before shifting to the side to make room for another wounded with a golden ticket.

Nell searched for her assigned patient. “Our husbands are certainly acting like cavemen.”

Fermites created a glittering haze around Davena’s hands before blanketing the man on the ground in front of her. “I do not understand. We lived in caves in Surlat. Our men did not have an issue with women working until their birthing time.”

Richmond rested her hands on the butts of her pistols and eyed the stationary Scraptors. “I think I understand why so many species consider males the weaker of the genders.”

Doc’s head snapped up.

Nell’s brain box prickled. Oh, boy. The Syn-En chatter in the Wireless Array was spiking off the charts.

A moment later, Richmond winced and clasped her skull. “Apparently, they lose their sense of humor, too.”

Davena chuckled. Her black glossy curls bounced around her oval face and her cocoa-colored skin glowed as she healed the man at her feet. “I think your patient is behind Doc.”

Nell stopped next to her a young girl. Iron banded her chest, making it difficult to breathe. God. Children were the worst. At least Nell could help her. That’s why she was here. Her knees trembled before she dropped to the ground.

The girl couldn’t be older than twelve. Scars striped her tan skin and her blue eyes stared out of bruised and sunken sockets. She wiggled away, tried to slip into the dirt.

“Don’t be afraid.” Nell’s fermites shifted from gold to green. They would sedate her patient, calm her just enough until the healing was done. The subatomic machines reached out and disappeared into the girl’s skin. “I’m here to help.”

The girl clawed at the tattered tablecloth draped over her bony body.

“Shhh. It’ll be all right. No one will hurt you again.” Nell focused the fermites, felt them heal the girl from the inside out. Watched as the crushed bones in her hands and feet knit back together. Someone had stomped on her. Nell’s attention shifted to the Scraptor ten feet away. Bug-Ugly bastards. Sci-fi writers of the twentieth century really had a lot to account for.

Sure the scorpion-like Scraptors fit the Hollywood stereotype, but not the Municians. The elven race was hideously beautiful in a grotesque way. They should have been the good guys instead of the evil manipulators of the galaxy. If she could go back in time, she’d do some serious bitch-slapping of those writers.

“It won’t be much longer now.” Nell smiled at the girl.

Patches of brown hair sprouted from her scalp. Her scabs healed and flaked off. The stitching on her lips disappeared. Her attention jumped to the Scraptor in pink armor. The girl grabbed Nell’s hand. Her fingers dug into the small bones as her gaze bounced from the Scraptor to Nell and back again.

Golden gloves encased Nell’s hand, preventing further damage.

Richmond unholstered her TorpSK7. It hummed as it charged to a lethal burst.

“Don’t worry. The Scraptors can’t hurt you.”

The girl shook her head and opened her mouth. The interior glowed as her tongue grew back.

“Give it a minute.” Nell smoothed the girl’s short brown locks. “Then we can have a proper conversation.”

The girl tapped on Nell’s hand.

A pattern formed. Obviously, she was trying to say something.

“Richmond?” Nell gestured to her hand.

“Running it through the CIC now.” The lieutenant sidled closer, keeping the gun against her thigh.

Nell’s fermites twinkled red. Red indicated a spike of arsenic in the girl’s system. Nell froze. Only Scraptors built-up arsenic in their blood from the oil they used to keep their armor supple. She was treating a Scraptor.

Red tinged the fermites of Davena’s patient.

Nell tapped into her connection with Bei. I think we might have a problem. A big problem.

The girl gurgled as she struggled with her new tongue. Gritting her teeth, she pointed to the pink armor. “M-mine!”

She leapt to her feet. The cloud of fermites swarmed to follow. Leaping her fallen comrades, she rammed both palms against the Scraptor’s chest. “Mine!”

The Bug-Ugly didn’t budge.

Nell rose, slowly. “Scraptors don’t share armor.”

The girl grabbed the Scraptor’s claw, twisted, and yanked.

Nell held her breath. No arm filled the interior. No limb was ripped from the joint. A red glow filled the void. Electricity danced across her skin. Fermites molded themselves in a protective layer around her body. “Richmond!”

The lieutenant fired. Blue energy hit the Scraptor in the chest, crushing its armor.

The thing remained on its feet.

“Great, that’s all we need. Scraptor zombies.”

It raised its claw and snapped at Nell’s throat.

Syn-En: Home World available on pre-order for 99cents. Releases 8/15/17

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Behind the Series: Syn-En—The Cyborgs

Syn-En-Home-World-GenericEdwin Starr asked the question about war. He declared definitively that war wasn’t good for anything and, yes, this song was part of the soundtrack that I listened to while writing the Syn-En series.

Yet, despite Starr’s anthem, technology emerges from conflict that benefits civilians. World War II gave us nukes and computers (I’m not sure that was a fair exchange but there you have it). And while I don’t have a small thermonuclear device in my house, I do enjoy my computers and other electronic devices.

Of course, the most obvious benefit of war is the advance in medicine. Conflict on the battlefield bleeds into the operating room. As we devise new ways to blow someone up: we also struggle hard to put them back together.

Which is what triggered the rise of my Syn-En.

I read an article about the new prostheses for our Iraq and Afghan vets. It was the next generation of artificial limbs—a blend of man and machine with computer chip integration. The next article was the use of artificial skin for burns. Each advancement was borne of war to heal, but how long before these advancements turned into enhancements to make indestructible soldiers?

What if, bit by bit, soldiers were deprived of healthy parts? What if, as the technology and resources invested in these new warriors meant it took longer to recoup the investment, lead to the soldier’s rights and freedoms to be stripped from them completely?

The cyborgs were created.

To fight the good fight, to defend humanity, to enter dangerous territory and rescue those in need, and to protect and rebuild after disasters (natural or otherwise).

Yet even in the birth of such potential for good, the seeds of war were planted.

And now, Earth is about to reap the harvest.

Syn-En: Home World available on pre-order for 99cents.

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Behind the Series: Syn-En, The Name Game

With all due respect to Shakespeare, names are very important. Exorcisisms can’t be performed without knowing the name of a demon. When your mother uses all of your names, you know you’re in trouble. I once changed a character’s name in Ghost of a Chance and the first thing he did was punch someone in the nose.

Originally, many names reflected our jobs: Baker, Cook(e), Cooper, and Farrier. Others reflected our relationship to a clan or lineage: Pearson, Anderson, etc. And then there are the place names- where we come from. I recently found my grandfather’s baptismal certificate. My great-grandmother’s name was listed as Val of the place of her birth.

It would be cool if I could say, I decided to name my Syn-En characters after places in an homage to my great-grandmother.

But that would be lying.

The truth is far more insidious. Cyborgs are part Human and part Machine. And in their lives, the machine part mattered more than the human part. In fact, the powers that be wanted to drive that point home to justify stripping the cyborgs of any rights. They broke a link with the Syn-En by denying their claim to a human father and mother by allowing them to keep their family name. Instead, they were given names to a region not as a testament of human migration.

But like a product.

So next time you see something made in China, think of Beijing York. 

Until next time

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