SINdrome by J.T. Nicholas Book Tour and Giveaway :)
The New Lyons Sequence #3
by J.T. Nicholas
Genre: Science Fiction, Artificial Intelligence
Pub Date: 9/18/18
The Sickness unto Death
The Synth revolution has come at last. The supposedly synthetic beings humans crafted to do their dirty work for them have fully actualized their own humanity—and they no longer acquiesce in their enslavement. Victory in the struggle to tear down the institutions of oppression seems just a matter of time. But the halls of power are not so easily shaken—and a counterstrike is inevitable.
Former Detective Jason Campbell has pledged his life to the Synthetic cause. So when a mysterious virus starts wiping out Synths left and right—and shows signs of mutating to target everyone else—he must lead a race against time to prevent the outbreak of the most horrific plague the world has ever seen. If he succeeds, he’ll expose the moral bankruptcy of the depraved elites who will stop at nothing to restore the old order. If he fails, it could mean the end of life on this planet. For both Synth and Human.
You went into a knife fight knowing you were going to get cut. It was one of the cardinal rules of weapon defense, and the reasoning behind it was simple: you had to prepare yourself for the inevitability so that when it happened, you didn’t freeze up. When blades came into play, inaction was synonymous with death. The chow line at the New Lyons City Prison moved slowly, a long line of orange-clad men shuffling forward, trays in hand. It reminded me, more than anything, of my time in the Army. Sure, the uniforms were different, but the sense of routine, the loss of any sort of control over your day-to-day life, those were…familiar. Easier to adjust to than I’d anticipated. Boot camp had just been a different flavor of prison. Of course, in boot, I’d only thought the instructors were out to kill me. Here, in the loving hands of the New Lyons Department of Corrections, things were a little different. I had not—technically—been convicted of any crime. At least not yet. But the charges leveled against me—which included everything the prosecutors could think of but could be best summed up as domestic terrorism—had equated to an automatic denial of bail and ensured that Momma Campbell’s favorite son was headed to the big house for holding. Normally, former cops wouldn’t be put into the general population. But somewhere, somehow, a clerical error had been made. The guards assured me—with the biggest shit-eating grins they could muster—that it would all get straightened out soon and I’d go into protective custody. In the meantime, I was sharing a cell block with a few hundred inmates who knew that I was a cop. The guards hadn’t even had to tell them. Denying inmates ’net access had long ago been determined “cruel and unusual” punishment, access to the web being deemed as vital a service as electricity or clean water, and with hours on end of sitting in a cell with nothing but a screen to occupy their time, damn near everyone knew who I was. They’d all seen the first ’net hijacking that Silas and the other synthetics had engineered, showing the world Evelyn, the synthetic impregnated by her human rapist. That wasn’t supposed to be possible, or course, since everyone know the synthetics were genetically sterile inhuman things and not people at all. Right. They knew about Silas’s demands, that all synthetics be granted full rights of citizenship and freed from their captivity. They knew about the stick that those in the revolution—myself included—claimed to have, the mountain of secrets that could bring down governments. And, they’d all seen Hernandez, my former partner and friend, escort me to the precinct and turn me over into the fat, greasy hands of Francois Fortier. They didn’t know why or how that had happened. They didn’t know that I’d turned myself in, after nearly a month of avoiding the cops and feds on my tail. They didn’t know about the documents Al’awwal, the first synthetic, had helped us recover from his “father’s” lab. The documents that proved not only that Walton Biogenics knew the synthetics were human, but that they had deliberately suppressed that information along with significant medical advancements that could have benefited all of humankind, in the pursuit of profit. But they would. The deadline was up. Sometime this evening, Silas, LaSorte, and the rest would flip the switch or press the magic button or whatever the hell it was they did, and that information would go out to the world, along with the first round of skeletons aimed at discrediting the most vehemently anti-synthetic politicians. And my presence here, turning myself in, was all in an effort to get some of that information into the official record, somewhere where an army of paid ’net trolls couldn’t try to muddy the waters with a focused disinformation campaign of their own. Evidence presented at trial became the subject of deposition and investigation almost by default, and there was only so much Walton Biogenics could do to hide the truth.
The New Lyons Sequence #2
The Post-Modern Prometheus
Synths were manufactured to look human and perform physical labor, but they were still only machines. That’s what the people who used—and abused—them believed, until the truth was revealed: Synths are independent, sentient beings. Now, the governments of the world must either recognize their human nature and grant them their rightful freedom, or brace for a revolution.
Former New Lyons Detective Jason Campbell has committed himself to the Synths’ cause, willing to fight every army the human race marches against them. But they have an even greater enemy in Walton Biogenics, the syndicate behind the creation and distribution of the “artificial” humans. The company will stop at nothing to protect their secrets—and the near-mythological figure known to Synths as “The First,” whose very existence threatens the balance of power across the world . . .
There was a body on my doorstep. I don’t know what woke me, or what drove me to climb so early from the narrow cot that served as my bed. Maybe it was some lingering cop instinct from my time with the NLPD, that nagging sense that something was wrong. It was that instinct that had me tucking the paddle holster of my forty-five into the waistband of the ratty jeans I had fallen asleep in. I slid open the door of the eight-by-eight walled office cubicle that served as my bedroom and stepped out onto the cavernous floor of what had once been a call center. The first rays of dawn were peeking over the eastern horizon, filtering through what remained of the call center’s windows, casting the interior in monochromatic grays accented with darker pools of shadow. The broad floor was filled with sleeping people. Sleeping synthetics. The genetically engineered clones that had served as an underclass of slave labor for decades and, with a small amount of help from me and a whole lot of work and planning from a synthetic named Silas, had begun a de facto rebellion. I padded among them on bare feet, stepping as silently as possible, and yet, without exception, the eyes of each synthetic I passed popped open. They stared at me, stark-white against the gray, eyes wide, searching, and somehow fearful. Not one of them moved. They waited in statue-like rigidity, a coiled-spring tension resonating from their stillness. It lasted only a moment, until they realized where they were; until they realized who I was. I couldn’t begrudge them that moment of fear, but it still hit me like a punch to the gut. Such was life in revolution central. Nearly a month since we had taken over the air and net waves. Nearly a month since we had ripped off the veil covering the ugly truth that synthetics were not unthinking, unfeeling things, but as much people as any of the naturally born. Nearly a month, and for synthetics, things had gotten worse. Much worse. It wasn’t unexpected. Silas had predicted the reaction from society at large when we shone a spotlight on the truth that everyone suspected but no one seemed willing to admit. It had started with protests. Angry people marching with signs about respecting their rights and not dictating what they could do with their bought-and-paid-for property. The protests should have collapsed under the weight of irony alone, but instead they had given way to violence—violence directed almost entirely against synthetics. Viral videos of synthetic beatings—always popular—had hit unprecedented highs, as had videos depicting darker, more depraved “punishments” for those who dared to think they might one day be “real” people. The violence, in turn, had given way to death. Not on a widespread scale—not yet. Whatever else they might be, synthetics were, after all, expensive. Only the very wealthy could afford to dispose of them wantonly. We’d given the world an ultimatum: give synthetics rights, or be prepared to have all the little secrets that they had gathered in their decades of near-invisible servitude released to the public. Silas had managed to bring together and weaponize secrets that could topple governments and destroy lives. The plan was simple enough—release a wave of compromising information on a number of politicians and public figures. The first wave was embarrassing, but not damning, not actively criminal. If that failed to spark action, then a second, more catastrophic wave would be released. And so on, until the governments either acceded to our demands or toppled from the sheer weight of skeletons tumbling out of closets. But as that deadline crept closer—now just over a week away—the bodies were beginning to pile up. The richest among society—individuals and corporations alike—could afford to throw away a synthetic here, a synthetic there, and as the dawn of revolution approached, they made their position clear. One billionaire businessman had gone so far as to cobble together a reality livestream. Every day, contestants undertook a series of challenges, and the winner got to kill a synthetic in any way they chose, all during a livestream that, last I checked, had viewership measured in the millions. And yet, there was hope out there. That hope was part of the reason the floor I moved across was filled with synthetics, crowded in here and there in clusters amidst the cavernous call center. They would trickle in by ones and twos, somehow always finding us, despite our having changed locations four times in the past month. Most told the same story—their nominal owners, horrified by the revelation that they had, in essence, been keeping slaves, but terrified of the possible reprisals from those who thought differently, had simply set them free. Turned them out. Part kindness, part assuaging of guilt…and part washing your hands of a problem you wanted no part of.
I didn’t know how they found us. They trusted me enough to share some pieces of their stories. The part I played in the rescue of Evelyn, what I had sacrificed to get the truth out, had earned me that much. That didn’t stop a young synthetic girl, maybe seventeen, from rolling into a half crouch as I neared. Her hands were extended in front of her, a gesture half defense, half supplication. Her look of horror and shame and guilt and fear reminded me so suddenly and sharply of Annabelle that it was like a knife twisting in my intestines. Her mouth opened and formed a single word, not spoken, but clear as a gunshot nonetheless. “No.” What could I do? I wasn’t the one who had hurt her, but she’d been hurt, badly. I offered a smile and kept my distance. It took a moment for the recognition to dawn, for the panic to quiet. Quiet, but not fall silent. I was still an outsider. I belonged to a different class, a class that had long subjugated and tormented them. A human. Trust only extended so far. But I had my suspicions as to how they found me, and my suspicions had a name. Silas. The albino synthetic who had started my feet on this path remained elusive. We received messages from him on a regular basis, and he made brief appearances a couple of times a week, mostly to check in on Evelyn and make sure she was receiving the medical care she needed so late in her pregnancy. But after only a short visit, he would vanish with the ease that had made him so damn hard to track down in the first place. He, or rather his messages, told us when to move, and where to move. That let us know when my former brothers and sisters in blue were getting too close. I had no doubt that it was his network that funneled the turned-out synthetics to our door. I just didn’t know what in the hell he expected me to do with them. Whatever Silas might hope—whatever I might hope—when February 1 rolled around, the governments of the world would not simply roll over, pass some new laws, sprinkle a shit-ton of fairy dust, and declare that synthetics were now all full-fledged citizens. And by the way, sorry about all the assaults, rapes, and murders suffered in the interim. No. The months ahead would be steeped in blood. And not one of the synthetics that were beginning to stir with the rising sun would be able to spill a single drop of it. Call it conditioning. Call it brainwashing, but synthetics were engineered to be incapable of violence, even in self-defense. Which was going to make fighting a war pretty fucking hard. I had nearly reached the main door of the call center. The entire front of the building—once a shining wall of steel and glass—had been boarded up, long sheets of plywood secured to the frame. Thin cracks of light filtered in where the boards fit imperfectly, and more came from openings higher up, where other windows had been spared the fortification. I had moved through that fractured light, my unease growing with each step. I dropped my hand to the butt of my pistol, thumb finding the retention lock and easing it forward. A four-by-four rested in a pair of brackets across the door, barring it more effectively than any lock. I had eased it off with my left hand, straining slightly with the effort, and lowered it to the floor. I had pulled the door open, reflexively scanning left and right, searching for threats. Nothing. The tension I’d felt since awakening had started to ease. Until I had looked down. And saw the body.
The New Lyons Sequence #1
The Artificial Evolution
They look like us. Act like us. But they are not human. Created to perform the menial tasks real humans detest, Synths were designed with only a basic intelligence and minimal emotional response. It stands to reason that they have no rights. Like any technology, they are designed for human convenience. Disposable.
In the city of New Lyons, Detective Jason Campbell is investigating a vicious crime: a female body found mutilated and left in the streets. Once the victim is identified as a Synth, the crime is designated no more than the destruction of property, and Campbell is pulled from the case.
But when a mysterious stranger approaches Campbell and asks him to continue his investigation in secret, Campbell is dragged into a dark world of unimaginable corruption. One that leaves him questioning the true nature of humanity.
And what he discovers is only the beginning . . .
The neon signs glowed sullenly, sending sickly tendrils of light slithering down the rain-soaked streets like so many diseased serpents. Once bright and inviting, the reds and blues and greens had dimmed and paled, sloughed off the flush of health, and left behind a spreading stain of false illumination that heralded nothing but sickness and decay. The signs themselves, flickering and buzzing, wheezing like something that wanted to die, something that should have died long ago, offered up a thousand different sins, unflinching in the frank descriptions of the acts taking place within the walls that they adorned. I stared at those signs, indistinct and hazy beneath the mantle of falling rain. The mist softened their lurid offers, restoring, however imperfectly, an innocence the city lost long ago. As the gentle caress of a silken veil added mystery to the sweeping curves of the female form, hinting at secrets far more tantalizing than the revealed flesh beneath, the cloak of rainfall shrouded the city’s darker side, softening its edges and lending it an air that approached civility. Approached civility, but did not—could not—achieve it. With a sigh, I turned my eyes away from the cityscape, and dropped them to the pavement beneath my feet. To the body that rested there, or what was left of it.
After nearly ten years on the job, I still had to fight down the bile threatening to crawl its way up my esophagus and force its insistent path between my teeth. The body—so much easier to think of it as “the body” and not “the woman”—lay flat on its back, arms stretched out above its head and crossed at the wrists, legs spread akimbo. No clothing. Nor could I see any discarded garments in the immediate area. The pose, purposeful and meticulous in its own horrifying way, was a parody of passion. It was a pose that was likely even now being played out in many, perhaps most, of the establishments adorned with the gasping neon signs. With one very notable difference. Vestiges of beauty clung to the woman, holding desperately to a youthful vivacity that was losing an inexorable battle to the unnatural slackness of death. Makeup adorned that face, hiding the pallor beneath blush and eyeliner, lipstick and shadow, only now beginning to fade and run beneath the unrelenting assault of a thousand raindrops. Her features were symmetrical, regular, past the awkwardness of youth, but not yet touched by the wrinkles or worry lines that would fell all of us in time. I forced myself to look past her face, past the strong lines of her outstretched arms, sweeping past her bared breasts and to the … emptiness … that extended beneath her sternum. From her lowest ribs to the tops of her thighs, the woman had been … I realized I didn’t have a word for what had been done to her. The words that stormed through my mind—savaged, brutalized, tortured—leaving a teeth-gnashing anger in their wake and making my stomach twist itself into a Stygian knot, were almost certainly true, but they did not describe what lay before me. Hollowed. The word floated up from somewhere in my subconscious, bringing with it memories of carving into pumpkins and scooping out the seeds and ropey innards with big plastic spoons made slick and awkward from the pulpy mess. I clamped my teeth so hard that a lance of pain shot along my sinus cavities, but it kept me—if only just—from vomiting. Hollowed.
The skin and muscle had been removed from the woman’s stomach and groin. The organs that should have been present—stomach, intestines, kidneys, everything south of the lungs—were gone. The tissue beneath them, the muscles along the spine, back, and buttocks remained, exposed to the air and rain. I could just make out pinkish gray tissue poking from beneath the ribs, so I guessed the lungs, and probably the heart, were intact and in place. There was no blood. The steady rain had formed a small pool in the resulting cavity, taking on a cast more black than red in the dimness of the night. No more blood on the body. No more blood at the scene. “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” The heartfelt exhalation came from behind me, and I glanced over my shoulder, tearing my eyes from the horror before me. The uniforms had finished cordoning off the area, spreading the yellow tape in a rough perimeter maybe twenty yards in diameter. Even on a night like this, in a neighborhood like this, a crowd had gathered, a few dozen people pressed up against the tape as if it were the glass wall at an aquarium, desperate to peer into the darkness and see the wonders and horrors within. All of them pointed screens in my direction or stared with the strange motionless intensity of someone wearing a recording lens. I prayed that the darkness, rain, and distance would cloud their electronic eyes, and grant the woman what little privacy and modesty were left to her. Halfway between me and the tape stood a small, trim man in his late forties. A fuzz of iron-gray hair sprouted from his head like a fungus, and a pencil-thin beard traced the line of his jaw. He wore blue coveralls, stenciled with the words “Medical Examiner” in gold thread. Dr. Clarence Fitzpatrick had been medical examiner in New Lyons for longer than I’d been a cop. We had worked some gruesome homicides, scenes far messier, at least in terms of scattered gore, than what lay before us. But nothing quite so damn eerie. “Yeah,” I muttered. “What can you tell me?” He made his way to the body and knelt by it, blue-gloved hands extended over it as if trying to divine information from the ether. “Liver temp is out of the question,” he said. There was no humor in his voice, no attempt to make light of the nature of the remains; he was simply stating the facts of the case before him, retreating behind cold professionalism. It was something you learned quick on the job. Those who could not put a wall between the atrocities and their own souls never lasted long. He touched the flesh of the woman’s arm, pressing against it, feeling the elasticity. “No rigor mortis, which means that death was either very recent or she’s been gone awhile.” He panned a flashlight across the body, the pale flesh luminescing under the harsh white light. “No discoloration of the remaining tissue. The damage sustained to the torso is sufficient to cause death, but there is no way to tell in situ if that occurred before or after she expired. Though if it had been done here, we would certainly be seeing a lot more blood, even with the rain.” He spoke in short, clipped bursts, keeping the medical jargon to a minimum, for my benefit no doubt. His hands moved to the woman’s head, peeling back the eyelids. “Cloudy. Most likely, she was killed more than twelve, but less than forty-eight hours ago. Apart from the obvious evisceration, there is no readily identifiable cause of death.” He cupped the woman’s face in his hands, twisting it gently to the side, continuing his field examination. He brushed back the dark locks of her hair, revealing the back of her neck. A deep sigh, a sound of relief, not regret, escaped him. “Thank God,” he said. I stared down at the woman, not really seeing what the doctor saw, but I knew what would be there. Only one thing could have drawn that reaction from Fitzpatrick. A raised pattern of flesh, roughly the size of an old postage stamp, darker than the surrounding skin and looking for all the world like an antiquated bar code. The tissue would be reminiscent of ritualistic scarring, but, unlike the woman herself, would not have known the touch of violence. It could be called a birthmark, but “birth” was not a word applied to the lab-grown people that were, collectively, known as synthetics. They bore other names, of course, dozens of them, all derogatory, all aimed at dehumanizing them further, at driving home the point that, though they might look and act and feel like us, they were not humans. Dr. Fitzpatrick was not immune to that dehumanization. “Thank God,” he said again. “She’s a mule.”
J.T. Nicholas was born in Lexington, Virginia, though within six months he moved (or was moved, rather) to Stuttgart, Germany. Thus began the long journey of the military brat, hopping from state to state and country to country until, at present, he has accumulated nearly thirty relocations. This experience taught him that, regardless of where one found oneself, people were largely the same. When not writing, Nick spends his time practicing a variety of martial arts, playing games (video, tabletop, and otherwise), and reading everything he can get his hands on. Nick currently resides in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife, a pair of indifferent cats, a neurotic Papillion, and an Australian Shepherd who (rightly) believes he is in charge of the day-to-day affairs.
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The Writing Process and How to Finish a Book
I’ve been asked a time or two what my writing process is like or, more often, how in the world do you finish writing a book?
If you’ve ever thought about writing a novel-length work, odds are you’ve started and stopped more times than you care to think about. The good news is, you’re in good company. So has every author, writer, and aspiring writer I’ve ever spoken to. It’s normal. Expected. Part of the long and painful (but rewarding – mustn’t forget rewarding) process of writing a novel. That doesn’t answer the question, of course, but I wanted to remind everyone that we’ve all got unfinished manuscripts out there, hiding in dark corners, whispering at us to come back and take another look at them. Don’t let the fact that you’ve started a work in the past that stalled stop you from forging forward. So, what’s my writing process like? Well, I think of it as 3 parts. Part 1 is the idea. Part 2 is the actual writing. And Part 3 is fixing what’s broken.
Part 1: The Big Idea
Ah, the idea phase. This is, in some ways, my favorite part of the writing process. This is when you sit around and think about the story you want to tell. What cool twists and turns you might interject. The amazing action and jaw-dropping drama you hope to infuse into your story. The emotional impact that you want your words to have. I’ve got files full of ideas, but at some point, you have to take things a little further. In general, you can do this 1 of 2 ways: outline or seat of the pants. Some people like to outline all the major elements of their story, so that every plot point and the path to it is known before the writing takes place. I admire the hell out of those people. I’m not one of them, though. Don’t get me wrong… I spend a lot of time thinking about those things, but I’ve never been one for putting them down on paper. Even in school, when an outline was required for papers, I’d write the paper first and then go back and do the outline. So, my process here is seat-of-the-pants, or, if you’d prefer something a little less pejorative, organic. Also, gluten-free. When I sit down to start a new novel, I know what the story is, how it’s going to start, and how it’s going to end. But I like to let the characters take their own path as to how they get there. That sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s the only way I can explain it. For me, the idea phase is lots of thinking and very little doing. That all comes in the next step …
Part 2: The Actual Writing
For me, the key to putting ink to paper (or bits to file as the case may be) can be summed up in one word: consistency. Look, everyone does things differently. The first thing you have to realize is that what works for one person when it comes to a creative pursuit may not work for another. We all have different demands on our time, different pressures stemming from everyday life, and different things pulling us in a hundred different directions. But, one thing I learned early on, if you want to finish a book, you must keep writing. Like Dory, in Finding Nemo. Just keep writing, writing, writing. What do we do? We write! That mantra pretty much sums up the doing part of my writing process. Every day I sit down at the computer and I write. I keep going (to the best of my ability to avoid the gaping vortex of productivity suck that is the internet) until I’ve written a thousand words. Then I stop and do whatever I want. Some days, I can pound out that thousand words in an hour or two. Other days, it takes all day. Every now and then, I’m still trying to finish as one day gives way to the next. Now, I’m in the fortunate position of not having a day job to worry about – I can focus on writing. That’s not the normal state of existence for most authors out there. And it’s definitely not the normal state of things for aspiring authors. So, the key to my process isn’t really 1,000 words a day. It’s having a goal. And sticking to it. That 1,000 words is so that I can finish a novel in (roughly) 4 to 5 months. I needed to do that to meet the deadlines I had for The New Lyons Sequence, and it’s a habit that stuck. But if you can’t do 1,000 words a day, then set a different goal. Maybe for you, 500 words a day is better. Or maybe you’re lucky to get 1,000 words a week. Whatever the case, find a goal that works for you, then stick to it. The only way to finish a novel, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, is to begin at the beginning, go on until the end, and then stop. The beginning part is easy. And stopping when you’re done? Piece of cake. It’s that “go on” bit in the middle that gets sticky. For me, having a measurable goal is the key to getting past that sticking point. Sometimes those thousand words are, frankly, crap. But that’s what the re-writing process is for. Set a goal, stick to it, and you’ll be amazed at the stately march of progress towards the end of your story.
Part 3: Re-Writing
It’s a truism in writing that you can fix a bad page, but you can’t fix a blank one. No writing process is complete without rewriting. For me, this is a three-step process that starts with going back over the whole manuscript and trying to catch all the little things that I can’t believe I missed the first time around. Inevitably, I won’t catch them all, which is why round 2 of rewriting goes to my wife. She does a pass for things that I missed, but also for story and character. And the last part is the back and forth with the great people at Kensington and Rebel Base (shout out to my editor Elizabeth May for being awesome). At each of these, the story is changing, evolving, and (hopefully) getting better. And that’s pretty much it. No big secrets. No mysterious late night sessions with a typewriter and bottle of whiskey. Just the steady, stately march of progress one keystroke at a time. Just keep writing, writing, writing. What do we do? We write.
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