Any more relatives end up in the hospital, and I’ll delay releasing this until July. As it now stands, Registration should be out mid to late June. And I’ll post a chapter every Monday until it’s out:-)
Fisting his chin, Beijing York drummed on the arm of his command chair. The circular bridge hummed with the power of the fusion nacelles on the lower deck. Sensors sent data in streams down the portholes and through the fiberoptic cable connecting his cerebral interface to the helm. The greenish glow of the magnetic shields seeped through the metal bulkheads–technology protecting weak biology.
A mirror of his own existence, his own body.
Bei’s drumming fingers curled into a fist on the metal armrest. Prostheses for arms and legs, synthetically-enhanced relays for nerves, neodynamic armor for skin, and a cerebral interface implanted in his fragile human brain to integrate everything.
A compression alert flared yellow across his senses and he relaxed his hand.
His human wife, Nell Stafford called him a cyborg——the best of man and machine.
Everyone else called him a Syn-En.
Synthetically-enhanced human. Always the humanity was last, tagged on as an afterthought. He and those like him had to fight to be considered equals.
So many Syn-En had died…
And still the journey wasn’t complete.
He had to travel to the planet Erwar to register like an extinct Earth dog. Only then would the Syn-En under his command, and the rest of humanity, be considered sentient.
Only then would all parts of him have universal rights and freedoms.
A soft thump echoed through the crew quarters on the deck below this one and up the stairs into the spaceship’s bridge. The Icarus was small for an interstellar craft. She had two decks and a saucer-shaped bridge connected to her beetle-like body through a narrow stairway. The engines and cargo bay were on the lowest level and the crew quarters and galley on the upper one.
Not enough space when two of his men were at each other’s throats. Sound carried far in a tin can.
“I am not being unreasonable.” Frankfurt Rome’s growl reverberated against the Smart Metal Alloy of the hull, punctuated by the punch of his fist against a bulkhead. “I would have liked to have been consulted before you went ahead and made me a daddy-to-be.”
Bei winced. Obviously his Chief of Security had finished his two-hour sleep cycle and needed another twenty or thirty. Too bad the Skaperians, their new alien allies, hadn’t shared their stasis technology. Even Bei’s tenth generation auditory upgrades couldn’t block the Chief’s temper tantrum. Bei mentally made a note to retrofit the Icarus with sound dampening technology in the crew quarters.
Rome’s wife, Havanna Keyes snorted. “You would have said no.”
Bei shook his head. If his communication’s officer performed her job as badly as she fought this battle, he’d have transferred her twenty-nine days, three hours and six seconds ago.
“Of course I would have said no. I don’t want a weak, squalling, inferior human infant.” Rome vented his anger in a series of short raps. “It’s bad enough we have to defend them.”
Caution lights flared in the galley. With a thought, Bei increased the bulkhead’s sound deafening ability. He didn’t need Rome waking Nell. His wife needed at least eight hours of sleep a night. Something she hadn’t received since boarding, nearly thirty days ago.
Thanks to his two squabbling officers.
He could have stopped it with a simple order, should have. But his wife had forbidden him to interfere. Stripping his best friend of his limbs and hanging him on a hook in the cargo compartment wouldn’t be interfering, would it?
“This baby is ours, something only we could make. Together.” Keyes repeated her argument. “This is different than our assembly-line legs, arms, eyes and hair. Nothing else in the universe can create something like it. Nothing.”
A baby conceived by Syn-Ens.
The first since the cyborg soldiers had been created.
Something hot and fierce flashed inside Bei before his cerebral interface compensated. One day, he and Nell…
“I don’t want it.”
“Then you don’t want me. Consider our term at an end.”
Keyes’ words barely scraped Bei’s audio sensors and his artificial heart nearly seized. She was terminating her and Rome’s marriage? But they’d been together forever. The three of them had been inducted in the Syn-En Forces together. They’d stood together through innumerable technological upgrades as their humanity was literally hacked off them.
Soft footfalls slipped down the hallway. Fabric whispered then there was a thump on the lower deck. Keyes was heading toward the engine room.
“No!” Rome clomped after her. His bigger bulk landed harder and echoed through the ship. “You are my mate. Forever. Nothing could ever come between us. Ever.”
Bei sealed off the hatch between the decks. Maybe if he locked them in, they would work this out between them once and for all. And he would have blessed silence for the next two days to Erwar.
Soft footsteps emerged in the quiet.
Nell. Her walk, her touch and her scent were encoded on his subroutines.
She shuffled up the stairs and onto the bridge, yawning. Fatigue bruised the delicate skin under her blue eyes. Static electricity crackled in her shoulder-length blond hair and across the small camera recording their trip for posterity.
The documentary was Nell’s contribution——as if being a representative of the species wasn’t enough.
“Gene Roddenberry got it wrong.”
Gene who? Bei ran the name through the Icarus’s Combat Information Center. No one under his command went by the name, but he did find an entry under Twentieth Century entertainment. The man was dust by now. Bei relaxed in his chair.
“Space isn’t the final frontier. A man’s head is.” Crouching down, Nell released the lever locking Bei’s chair in front of the workstation and pulled him back. She reset the clamp and sat on his lap. “And even angels fear to tread there.”
Bei wrapped his arms around her waist, keeping her in place. “Do you think Rome is wrong?”
Wiggling, she drew her legs up then curled against his chest. “No, Keyes should have told him he was going to be the baby-daddy. But it’s more than that. If that baby came out with mechanical legs and arms, Rome would be a proud papa. It’s the human part that has him scared.”
Not much scared Rome.
Not much scared many Syn-Ens.
But this was emotion, forbidden territory until the Syn-Ens had declared their independence. Now it was unwritten code. A proper response would take ages to perfect and write into their programming.
Wisps of hair tickled Bei’s chin. He smoothed the fly-away strands to the edges then unstrapped the headband holding the camera against her temple. “You think I should intervene? Send him some of those… What did you call them? Chick-flick files to speed up his adaption?”
She snuggled closer, pressed kisses against his jaw. “Chick-Flick movies. And not many men, even in my time, would go to see them.”
Her time. A hundred and twenty-five years in the past. Before the world had been FUBARed. Before her brother had volunteered to become one of the first Syn-En. “So, I should send the files to Keyes?”
Her warm breath cascaded down the collar of his black uniform. His body tightened, preparing for the command it liked so much. Unfortunately, he couldn’t give it. Not with the fifth member of their crew unaccounted for.
The sneaky amarook could appear and disappear at will——usually at inconvenient times.
Nell looped her arms around Bei’s shoulders. “Elvis is in the building, or rather in the co-pilot’s chair.”
The creature shimmered into view on the seat next to Bei’s. Although similar to an extinct Earth wolf, Amarooks possessed six limbs–the four traditional paws of a canine and an extra set of slim arms and hands minus the opposable thumbs. Cobalt eyes burned under a mop of black feathers combed back, with one curl escaping in the human Elvis’s trademark do. Sleek black fur covered the rest of his body. “Golly Nell, you weren’t supposed to tell I was here.”
The voice came out of the medallion around Elvis’s thick throat. The translator changed the amarook’s telepathic thoughts into words, so everyone could communicate.
Nell had never needed the technology. The amarook’s leader had forged a mental bond with Bei’s wife, because of their shared experiences at the hands of the Skaperians. Sometimes it was useful.
Elvis’s nostrils flared. “Your mate is in heat, Nell.”
And sometimes the bond was damned annoying. Bei accessed power controls. Maybe he could shunt a small charge to Elvis’s seat. Not to hurt the feather-faced mammal, just get him out of the chair. Then Bei could shut the door and get a little alone time with his wife.
She flushed and pressed her face against Bei’s neck. “Human males don’t go into heat.”
Elvis sniffed the air again. His eyes narrowed and his ears twitched. “You are in heat.”
Bei’s fingers clenched. Nell wanted to conceive on this trip? He double-checked the artificial gravity setting as he seemed to float. His child. His and Nell’s. Unique in the universe. No way would he impregnate his wife on the bridge.
This deserved a bed.
“Elvis.” Nell shuddered on Bei’s lap. “You know, I’m on birth control.”
Birth control. She didn’t want his child. Bei’s oxygen levels depleted until he reset his breathing relays.
Red tinged Elvis’s muzzle. “No baby? But why? There are so few of you humans. And you are an extraordinary human.”
She blew the hair out of her eyes, but she was looking at Bei when she answered. “Doc says there’s still traces of Skaperian DNA in my egg basket. So until the Easter Bunny delivers a new batch of colored eggs, we’re waiting until I get a clean, human-only bill of health.”
Ah, he should have known she had a good reason. Bei kissed his wife’s nose then her cheek. His lips registered the dampness and salt on her skin. Only five months had passed since she’d awoken from her long slumber.
She still had nightmares from the ordeal and slept in his lap instead of in their bed, alone.
Even now, his sensors detected her elevated heartrate and excess adrenalin in her bloodstream.
“You’re safe.” He tucked her head under his chin. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Not ever again.
“Neither will I.” Elvis sunk deep into his chair, wrapped his bushy black tail around his behind and glared at the bank of windows. “We shall raise a strong, fierce daughter to gut all of humanity’s enemies.”
Whoa. Bei had forgotten the creatures were a bloodthirsty lot. “My child——”
Elvis held up his two hands. “Of course, a boy will be trained in the arts if you so wish it.”
And sexist, too. Bei set his hand over Nell’s flat stomach. “My child will be what he or she wants to be.”
“Training should begin as soon as possible.” Elvis shook his head. “It is bad enough that it takes many years for your species to be coordinated enough to weild a weapon without self-injury.”
Holding his wife tight, Bei rose from his seat. Now, his species wasn’t good enough for the feather-headed mammal? “You–”
“This is a moot discussion.” Clinging to his shoulders, Nell stood on tiptoe on the floor. “It’ll be several more months before I’ll be ready to even try for a baby, and Bei and I still have to negotiate terms.”
Negotiate? As one of the first Syn-Ens to have their forced sterility reversed, he was more than ready to go.
Nell set her finger over his lips before he could answer. “We’re going to have to figure out how to balance your role as leader of the new Skaperian-Amarook-Human alliance and change poopy diapers, ‘cuz there’s no way I’m raising the kiddies while you go off living the Star Trek dream.”
“What?” Bei ran her words through his com subroutine and still couldn’t make sense of it.
“We eat the poop of our young.” Elvis rolled out of the chair. His nails clicked against the metal deck and his pink tongue lolled out of his head. “And clean them too.”
Nell wrinkled her nose. “That’s disgusting.”
Elvis arched one feathered eyebrow. “It is most informative regarding the pups’ nutrition and health status.”
An ache stretched across Bei’s forehead. He accessed his memory banks, tried to find a logic pathway in the conversation. And failed. The base of his neck tingled. Well, no wonder. They were fighting half verbally and the rest telepathically.
Releasing Bei, Nell shook her finger at Elvis. “Don’t even think about eating my baby’s poop.”
Elvis’s tail wagged and his furry lips tilted into a smile. “As her Godparent, I will—”
The amarook yelped and clutched his head.
Go Nell! Hit the smart-ass canine where it hurts——his ego.
Nell paled and grabbed Bei’s arm. “There’s something…”
Her eyes rolled back in her head and her legs folded.
Bei scooped her up and activated medical protocols. Elevated heart rate. Rising blood pressure. Brain waves off the charts. He speared the feather-head with a glare. “What did you do?”
Elvis whimpered and collapsed. “Attack. Under.”
The amarook’s communication medallion winked from his chest.
Images and emotions exploded inside Bei’s head. Ugly arthropod-like creatures in black. Beautiful willowy creatures in shades of green.
Lots of fear.
Bei’s mouth soured; his stomach clenched. The enemy was nearby. At the speed of a thought, he activated the alarm. Blood red light strobed the small bridge.
On the level below, Rome and Keyes jacked into the Combat Information Center. Their pixelated avatars joined him in cyberspace.
“I’ve got a ship off the starboard bow.” Keyes stuck her hands into the data-stream and pulled out what she needed. “Comparing identity against the Skaperian’s database.”
Rome’s digital blond hair stood on end as he combed through other data packets. “They’re building up power in their fore engines.”
“Shields at max. Energy weapons charging.” Although the connection to the CIC dimmed Bei’s vision, he could still see Elvis collapsed on the deck and Nell in his arms.
Both were stirring.
He had to get them out of here. One hit and the thin hull could rupture, yet he couldn’t leave his tether to the helm. Couldn’t afford to lose a nanosecond of response time. “Let me know if I can fire, Rome.”
Nell shook her head and blinked. “I’ll get to the safe room.”
Bei tightened his grip.
Setting her palm against his skin, she kissed his cheek. “You’ll do better without me distracting you.”
No! The last time they’d been separated, she’d been kidnapped by aliens and he’d been ordered to kill her. He activated his tactical programming and the emotional maelstrom inside him calmed. He set her on her feet. She would be safe on the ship. This wasn’t like last time.
“Don’t do anything suicidal.” Holding onto Elvis’s scruff, she staggered to the door.
“Shit!” Rome’s anger crackled in lightning bolts around his avatar. “It’s a weapon. They’re firing!”
A digital image of the two ships wavered in the Combat Information Center. Light shot from the enemy’s saucer-shaped craft.
At Bei’s command, the Icarus unleashed his first salvo. In the space between heartbeats, he waited to see the impact before making adjustments to insure the kill shot.
The energy weapon hit.
The Icarus bucked beneath his feet.
Then the EMP pulse blasted the hull.
It slammed into his circuits. Red alerts blazed to life. Pathways caught fire. Bei’s body convulsed before his consciousness gave up the fight.
He forced a total shut down, just as fatal errors initiated.