Syn-En: Plague World, Chapter 5

PlagueWorldChapter 5

Nell swirled her finger above the white goo. A soft vortex spun in the silver bowl. Flecks of NDA glittered before disappearing.

Beside her, leaning his hip against the workbench, Mechanic Montgomery Smith exhaled. “I think that’s about done it. “

She bit her lip. “They’re in the solution, but will this caulk create enough of a seal to keep the Surlat Strain out?”

It hadn’t in Doc Cabo’s simulations. Neither had the four batches before it. What was the point of being some freak of nature if she couldn’t use it to save Bei, the Syn-En, and everyone else in the universe? She yanked her finger away from the bowl and the stirring tapered off. Familiarity whispered across her senses. Bei.

“It will buy us time once we’re dirtside. Which is more than we had before.” Her husband skimmed his fingers down her spine.

She shivered as the touch evoked memories. Hours spent in their cabin. The tenderness of their lovemaking giving way to the frenzy of fear, of the need to survive despite impending death. Her nose prickled. She wanted another century in his arms. Two if she could get it. Anything longer than the last six hours they’d spent together.

The mechanic cradled the bowl and backed away. His black eyes flashed against dark skin. “I’ll just give this to Doc. He can patch everyone up en route to the planet’s surface.”

Nell watched until the automatic doors into the hallway closed behind him. She wiped her damp palms on her black uniform pants. A lump grew in her throat. The workroom reeked of oil, solder, and ozone. Mechanical arms and legs hung on hooks, several layers deep, from the ceiling. A heap of stripped shells lapped at a corner, metal buckets sorted the salvaged bits.

She hated the whole horror show patina of the place. Never came in here if she could avoid it. But she’d gladly move her bed in here, if she survived this trip.

Bei wrapped his arms around her, moulding her back to his front. “The shuttles have passed their final checks and the engines are firing up.”

“Did you grab my bag from our room?” She clung to his arm. If only… The price of ‘if only’ was too high. They’d said everything they needed to in their cabin.

“Shang’hai is bringing our kit to the shuttles.” His warm breath cascaded down her neck. “She wanted to make certain her upgrades were functioning optimally.”

“It wouldn’t dare do otherwise. I’ve heard her threaten to turn broken equipment into toasters.”

“She’d do it, too. And no one uses toasters anymore.”

With a sigh, Nell stepped out of her husband’s arms. “How many are going with us?”

“Twelve medics, four security officers, Apollie, and two biologics.” He caught her hand.  Together they wove through the workbenches toward the door.

“That many?”

“Everyone volunteered to go.”

She replayed his words as the door opened. “Wait. Two Humans? Isn’t that dangerous? We know the virus is down there. That it’s mutated into a big, bad flu bug.”

“They’ve agreed to remain in quarantine until Doc cooks up a vaccine from your blood.” His lips firmed. “Since they’ve spent their lifetimes as lab animals, Karl and Erin feel they are in the best position to report the effectiveness of the vaccine.”

Soft white light illuminated the empty corridor. No one was about. Disappointment warred with relief.  As much as she would like to say goodbye to everyone, this short walk to the shuttle bay might be their last time alone. She leaned against his solid frame. “What’s wrong? The fact that Humans are helping to save the Syn-En and the universe, or…”

No point in finishing. They both weren’t happy.

“I don’t trust these biologics. They are too eager to help with everything.”

The elevator doors opened at their approach. It always did when she wasn’t in a hurry. Apparently, the universe wanted them on the ground as soon as possible.

She retreated to the far corner. “You think something more than gratitude is motivating them.”

A statement not a question. She’d felt the burp in his subroutines during the meeting, but hadn’t identified the cause until now.

“My subroutines do not burp.” He smoothed the hair back from her face and kissed her forehead. His lips lingered for a moment.

She clutched his shirt front and buried her face in his neck. “I thought you’d shut down the WA again.”

“I left it open for us.”

Something of them would remain if they didn’t return from the planet.  The knowledge helped to close the lid on her boxful of fears. “I hope nothing comes back to bite us on the butt when we return.”

The elevator slowed to a stop.

Retreating a step, he held his arms stiffly at his side. “I can always use my authority to delete the records.”

“Sometimes it’s good to be the king, or in your case, the admiral.”

“And sometimes it sucks.”

She couldn’t argue with that. The base of her neck tingled, then something tugged on her brain box. The WA had been disconnected. She was alone at her husband’s side. Raising her chin, she followed him along the short walk to the cargo bay.

The engines hummed, echoing throughout the ship. She glanced up and down the hall. Her stomach cramped. Shouldn’t she have seen someone?

The double doors on the right snicked open. Boots stomped as the Syn-en snapped to attention. The black-clad soldiers stood in neat regiments along the sides of the cavernous space. Humans straightened and faced her. Cheeks glistened. Some wiped their eyes.  When the Syn-En saluted, the people copied their movements.

Nell bit the inside of her cheek to keep from speaking. They were saying goodbye. She plodded beside Bei. The soldiers created a corridor ten feet across leading directly from the beetle-shaped shuttles to the opening in the hull.

Everyone stared straight ahead. Many swallowed hard.

In his dress uniform, Captain Pennig stood at attention near the ramp leading into Starflight 1’s bulbous belly. Chief Engineer Shang’hai stood beside him. With his tail curled around his body, Elvis sat between her and her boyfriend, Montgomery Smith. The dark-skinned mechanic clutched a wooden box in his hands.

Bei halted in front of the captain and returned the salute. “You have your orders.”

“Aye, Sir. As soon as you punch through the atmosphere, we continue to Terra Dos and drop off our passengers. The America will contact you when she reaches high Surlatian orbit in thirty-seven standard hours.” When Captain Pennig lowered his arm, the other assembled Syn-En did the same. “The America is creating space for three thousand refugees as well as readying quarantine decks.”

Bei nodded. “Has news of our mission been sent ahead?”

Nell twitched. If they failed, steps must be taken to eliminate the threat to the rest of the intelligent world.

“The Skaperians are drafting a proposal to present to the Erwar Consortium.” Captain Pennig presented an epad, representing the official transfer of power to him. “Our allies don’t think they will have any trouble getting it to pass.”

Bei set his finger on the pad, authorizing the power transfer, then entered his command code.

“I would hope not.” Nell sunk her fingers into Elvis’s feathery head.

The Amarook rose on his hind legs, until he stood eye level with her. His black tongue licked her cheek, then he held out a vial of his saliva. His furry hands shook as they placed it in her hands. “It’s fresh and potent. It will keep you healthy.”

Wrapping her arms around his neck, she kissed his cheek. “Thank you. I’m sure it’s just what I’ll need.”

Sniffling, Elvis settled back on his hind quarters. “I do not like an enemy I cannot shred with my claws or rip apart with my fangs.”

Nell tucked the vial in her pocket. “I’ll be back. Everyone loves a sequel.”

He hung his feathery head. “Some sequels are never made, no matter how popular the original.”

She scratched him behind his flat ears. The lump in her throat blocked any words from escaping.

Mechanic Montgomery Smith cleared his throat. “Nell Stafford, we made something for you.”

He balanced a battered box in his hands. His fingers fumbled with the brass latch before he lifted the lid. In the center of a nest of uniforms, rested a silver tiara. A spidery copper scrollwork held jewel-toned circuits in place. Diamonds of gold were soldered at even intervals along the sloping band. Screwdriver tips jutted from the three pointed peaks of the tiara. Amarook fangs dangled like pearls in oval openings.

Plucking the crown from the fabric, Montgomery set the box on the ground. His hands shook as he set the tiara on her head. “You declared yourself the Queen of the Freaks and so we decided our queen needed a tiara. We figure you can wear it for your next meeting with the Skaperian Empress. Humans are just as good as anyone else.”

Bei cleared his throat and looked away.

The metal settled lightly upon her hair. Her NDA sized it perfectly. Nell covered her mouth but tears sprang to her eyes. Leaning forward, she kissed Montgomery’s cheek. “Thank you. I might just do that.”

Growling, Shang’hai slipped between her boyfriend and Nell. She embraced her quickly. “Take care of Bei. Despite what he may think, a Syn-En isn’t as strong as his upgrades, but the man wielding them.”

Nell hugged her back. “I’d die for him.”

“Dying is easy. Live for him.” Smoothing her black hair, Shang’hai stepped back into her place. “Live for us all.”

“Of course.” Nell followed Bei up the ramp. It started to raise as soon as she reached the crew compartment.

Doc Cabo and Paladin Apollie sat on the long bench along one side.

Nell sat on the bench opposite them.

Instead of traveling up the metal ladder at the front of the rectangular compartment, Bei sat down next to her. “Who’s at the helm?”

Doc Cabo looked up from the handheld. “Brooklyn and Queens. I think two of my best medics wish to become pilots.”

“You’ll always have me.” Nell tapped her brain box. “In my day, students had to spend eight, even ten years in college and beyond, to learn what I downloaded in five minutes.”

Of course, they didn’t have to allow a computer chip to take control of their body to use it. She shivered. She hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but she’d done it before to save a life. She would do it again. Especially if Bei’s life was at stake.

“I’m more concerned about you being the patient this time around, not the doctor.” Doc flipped open the flap on his left forearm. A white gel pack filled the compartment. He tugged out a needle and rose. “Let’s seal you up, Admiral.”

Shifting on the seat just as the shuttle rose, Bei presented his back to Doc. “Are our two biologics stowed safely away?”

“Yes.” Doc swiped the tip of the needle along the cerebral interface. “Completely isolated. I did give them access to Nell’s store of computer games and learning modules to prevent them from succumbing to cabin fever.”

The hair on Nell’s arm stood up. The ship had just passed through the energy barrier. Her stomach fluttered up her throat as they moved away from the ship’s artificial gravity and relied solely on the shuttle’s.

Downy feathers floated around Apollie’s pale face. “I did find something interesting in the Skaperian archives. It seems that the fermites inside Nell will fluoresce once the Surlat strain hits her system.”

“You mean I”m going to glow in the dark?” Nell touched her tiara. She should have asked for a bigger crown.

Apollie frowned. “It is possible, if the virus hits critical mass during evening hours.”

Sarcasm was lost on aliens, or maybe they didn’t have a funny bone.

Taking the needle from Doc’s hand, Bei motioned for Nell to turn her back to him. “Does this fluorescence indicate she is fighting the infection, or just that she is infected?”

Twisting on the cushion, Nell lifted her hair out of the way. Cold goo tickled down her neck. Jeez, why didn’t doctors think to warm the stuff up?

“Fluorescence could mean both. Usually recovery is within twelve hours after this symptom appears.” Apollie flashed a screen at her.

Nell rubbed the base of her skull. She didn’t understand wingdings, nor did she want to waste the last hours of her life teasing out the meaning. “So I guess we pray I light up like a beacon, instead of hang there like a burnt out bulb.”

The shuttle shook as it entered the planet’s atmosphere.

Stuffing the cable into his arm, Doc staggered back to his bench.

Bei braced his hands on the overhead compartments and lurched toward the ladder. “Looks like you won’t be losing your favorite medics to pilot school.”

“Admiral.” Queens’s deep baritone crackled over the com. “We’re getting interference from the atmosphere.”

“Altitude dropping. Forward impulse engine off-line.” Stress broke Brooklyn’s whiskey smooth notes.

The lights flickered.

Nell floated off her seat. Her blond hair drifted in front of her face. NDA streamed off her, lashing her to the bench.

Darkness swallowed the compartment, then emergency lights bathed them in bloody hues.

Bei shot up the ladder. His boots disappeared through the hatch just as a deathly quiet displaced the thrum of the engines.

An invisible hand yanked Doc from his seat and slammed his head into the overhead compartment.

Apollie threw herself against the bench and held on. A thud and cry rang out from the upper deck.

Nell’s stomach flopped into her mouth. The straps dug into her shoulders. Something told her she wasn’t going to like how this trip ended. She clung to her straps as her feet struggled to find purchase. No, please, no.

“Shit.” Queens shouted. “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. This is Starflight 1. Cascade failures in all systems. We are going down. I repeat. Starflight 1 is going down.”



barnes and noble


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Friday Funny—The Day Einstein Feared Most

The day that Albert Einstein most feared…..


A day at the beach


Cheering  on your team

Having  dinner out with your friends


Out on an intimate date


Having  a conversation with your BFF

A  visit to the museum


Enjoying  the sights




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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Lots of folks think this is just the best time of year. Okay, most of them are parents. But there are a lot of kids in that number. They have to be bored too. Most of them say if often enough that it must be true.

As back to school time is now college for two of my children. I don’t look forward to the tuition bills, so I make them pay their own. Hehe. Okay, we pay part of it.

But that’s not really what this is about.

You see, during that other wonderful time of the year, we are busy doing things for our loved ones—baking, buying & wrapping presents, and attending parties where relatives bring up embarrassing stories from your past.

Thankfully, this wonderful time of the year doesn’t entail that. It involves back to school supplies. And while I dutifully purchase these for my children, I also have my own stash.

I love the colored pens for editing and I keep all my notes in composition notebooks. I have thought about using one of the nifty new computer programs to organize my writing stuff. Then I scratch a purple gel pen across the paper and such nonsense goes away.

Yep, it’s a wonderful time of year. And thoughts of those pens and books put a little extra zing in my step as I enter a grocery store.

Whatever your reason (child-liberation, fall color, or discounted office products) enjoy the season!

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Syn-En: Plague World, Chapter 4


PlagueWorldChapter 4


“Sir, the Human ship is moving out of the solar system.” Sitting at the helm of the dreadnaught, the Scraptor in pale pink armor sat in a metal chair that listed to the right. His primary claws, the pinscher’s, hung listlessly at his side while he manipulated the gears and knobs with multi-purpose hands. “Shall I pursue?”


Pink armor. The recruit was new, and Aircose Groat had to train him while spying on the Neo-Sentient Alliance. Some alliance. Only three species so far. The other inferiors wouldn’t dare join. The Founders were too powerful.


And he was the enforcer of the Founders’ will.


Like his parents and their parents before them. Stretching back to the great emptiness, when the Erwar had left a void in the universe with their departure.


“Hold position.” Groat rose from the commander’s chair. Scratches marred the metal sides.  Remnants of plush upholstery lay like fallen pennants on the dust that had once been a cushion.


The Celestia had seen better days and had been old when Groat’s grandfather commanded her. A knock sounded at regular intervals over the purr of the Helium-3 fusion reactors.  The dented deck groaned under his weight. Artificial gravity pulled on him. He massaged oil into his new armor, easing the sting as it meshed with the flesh underneath. The Syn-En scum had seemed impressed with his new sword appendages.


The vermin would think twice before challenging the Scraptors again.


“Holding position, Commander Groat.” The helmsman’s fingers prowled the control panel as if seeking something to do.


Beyond him, the star field visible through the forward portholes bobbed on the riptides of the solar winds.


Gears ground together. The door behind him squeaked as it lifted in the bulkhead.


Groat didn’t turn. He knew who it was. Mopus Argent, the Founders’ resident stooge.  What was the point of having a groveling politician aboard? He’d seen the classified communiqués. The Founders wanted this new alliance wiped out before it became too powerful.


And the best way to accomplish that was war.


And war meant upgrades, meant the stingy Founders would open their sacred funds for new tech, new ships, new weapons. Groat glanced around the bridge. Cables and wires poked through worn conduits like hairs sprouting from warts.  The lime green paint blistered and peeled off in giant scabs. Old electrical fires left soot stains along the bulkheads. Three quarters of the panels on the command deck no longer worked.


He bet a year’s supply of armor oil that everything gleamed and worked on the new NSA flagship, the Nell Stafford. Perhaps he would demand the ship as payment for eliminating this new threat to the Founders. Then he’d keep the chief scum, Beijing York, locked up in the bowels to rot. Groat and Groat alone would visit his prisoner but only to show him video clips of his wife undergoing the Decripi’s medical studies.


Leadership had its privileges.


“Open the door fully.” Mopus Argent snapped. “One cannot expect a man of my station to stoop.”


The metal screeched.


The new recruit at the helm shrunk in his broken chair.


Groat plugged his ear hole with his thick finger. Maybe he should demand one of the new recruits give up their supply of armor oil to grease the doors. But he wouldn’t. Growing into a new set of armor was painful. Armor oil was the only thing that made it bearable.


Fabric whispered. Light footsteps followed. Mopus. “You should demote that Scraptor, Groat. It took entirely too long to open a simple door. Such laziness. I thought you were preparing for war, not coddling budgetary waste.”


“My men are ready for war. The equipment is lacking.” Groat focused his eyestalks on the forward porthole. The starlight appeared to be distorting around the Nell Stafford. No doubt, the ship’s external sensors were malfunctioning. The Human vermin would need to travel for another Earth hour before reaching the mouth of the wormhole. “Magnify the image of the enemy craft.”


“Magnifying the image of the enemy craft, Commander.” The helmsman twisted knobs and pushed levers. The porthole blanked.


No image reappeared.


Mopus smoothed his green hair behind his pointy ears. A gold embroidered cuff slipped over his green wrists. More gold twined with the sapphire robe that brushed the dented deck. “Your men are hardly ready for war. He can’t even manage a simple task.”


“It is not my men; it is the equipment. Maybe instead of sending political liaisons to each ship, the Founders could send repair equipment. It would be more useful.” Crossing the six steps to the helm, Groat banged his fist on the side of the boxy console.


Static blitzed the screen. It cleared a second later.


“Stop complaining.” Mopus flicked a piece of lint from his sleeve. “We are issuing new armor, aren’t we?”


“And deducting the cost from the Scraptors’ pay.” Groat stepped closer to the forward screen. The stars around the saucer-shaped ship morphed into a halo. Others looked like flagean smears on a planet-bound windscreen.


Mopus milked his long fingers in front of his custom made robes. “What is wrong with your viewer?”


Groat’s insides condensed into a hard point. “I don’t think it’s my viewer.”


One moment the Human ship glowed as bright as a star. The next, it had vanished.


Where in the blackest holes of the universe had the vermin acquired such technology?


The air fogged with Mopus’s malodorous pheromones. The politician must be worried to emit such a stink. The Scraptors were immune to such chemical control. “Where did it go?”


Returning to his command chair, Groat shoved a lever on the arm, opening the air vents to full. His claws clacked in agitation. His tail swished. “Control your stink, Mopus, or I’ll ban you from my bridge.”


Mopus’s green skin deepened to a shade of infected snot. His coin-slot nostrils flared. “Where did the Human vessel go?”


“To Surlat.” Groat stilled his appendages. It wouldn’t do to give away the gaps in his intel. This war would need a Fleet Commander. He would be it. Two of his competition had already succumbed to unfortunate air scrubber malfunctions.


“Do you know this, or are you guessing?” Mopus’s tilted eyes narrowed to slits.


“They will rescue the vermin on the planet. I have studied the Humans’ behavior. I know how they act.” Groat clasped his pinschers behind his back.


“Scraptors did not evolve meaningful intelligence.”


Groat’s claws tightened, one nearly snapping the other in two. He forced them open. “Then you will be pleased to know, that on a pass under the Nell Stafford, we placed a homing beacon on her hull.”


The process had been so smooth, he doubted the Humans had realized it. He tugged out a keyboard. The keys clicked as he tapped in the signal frequency.


Four red dots flared on the stellar map.


His armor itched. How could the ship be in four places at once? It just wasn’t possible. Unless… Unless the beacon had shattered, and the remnants reported their positions. The screen fuzzed with static then cleared. The dots shifted on the star chart.


Mopus peered over the helmsman’s shoulder and frowned. “I will talk to the Founders’ board and see if we can jar loose some funds for repairs. We can’t destroy our enemy unless we can track them.”


“Thank you.” The words soured Groat’s mandibles more than fermented froce. But he would take the funds to repair his ship. And he would make certain all the Scraptors knew it had been him who eased the credit rationing.


“Lay in a course to Surlat, helmsman.”


“Surlat?” A chill penetrated Groat’s full body armor. The stinger on his tail flooded with toxins.


“Yes.” Mopus rested his pointy chin on the tips of his long fingers. “We need to observe the Humans in action.”


The helmsman’s armor glowed brightly. “But the planet hasn’t been purified. The Surlat strain…”


Groat couldn’t rebuke the new recruit even if he wanted. His father and grandfather had perished from the virus. So had nearly ninety percent of the Scraptor race. Only a quarter of the other Founding Five races had died.


Mopus dismissed their concerns with a wave of a lanky hand. “The Founders have given you the latest antiviral vaccine and embedded more in your armor. You’re protected.”


Groat’s mandibles remained sealed shut.


“The Humans will die, and then we can salvage their technology.” Mopus raised one green eyebrow. “Who knows, we might be able to save one or two of these Syn-En subspecies for you to test your new armor.”


There was that. Groat had heard the grumbling in the common areas. The Syn-En guerrilla attack had created doubts in Scraptor superiority. “Lay in a course for Surlat. Point three of maximum. I don’t want to arrive before the Nell Stafford.


He didn’t want to arrive at all. Not when the Surlat strain still thrived.


“What other devices did you plant?” Mopus scratched his smooth chin.


Not as much as Groat would have liked. Arriving on a ship surrounded by camouflaged hostiles hadn’t urged him to ask for a tour. “I spread trackers on their docking bay floor. Every member of their landing party should pick them up as they walk to their shuttles.”


Turning a knob on his chair, he switched feed from the outside sensors to his shuttle’s recorders. The image showed two beetle-shaped Human shuttles huddled on the far side of a cavernous docking bay.


“Those are their ships? Grotesque.” Mopus shuddered. “Do your trackers include visual?”


“Some do. Most are audio and locational beacons.” Groat lifted his hand to massage his armor but stopped short. He would not show weakness before another Founder. “As you know, the full sensor trackers cost more, so they must be conserved.”


And he had used an entire year’s supply. Still, it wouldn’t be enough. He just hoped the Founders realized that wars couldn’t be won on tight budgets.


“Good.” Mopus folded his arms and tucked his hands up his sleeves. “I wish to watch when the Humans realize their fancy gadgets do not work on Surlat.” He cut his attention to Groat. “Then you will be thankful that the Founders make certain your ships have rudimentary technology, not the easily disabled advanced stuff.”


Mopus pushed the button near the door. A buzzer echoed deep in the bowels of the dreadnaught. Metal ground as the door began to lift.


Groat’s swords raised in a defensive position.  His hands clenched. The Founders fear of technology was based on a myth, nothing more. The Erwar were more creatures of technology than actual biochemistry. Why would they unleash some invisible force that could destroy their world? He’d never bought into the superstition. Neither had his fellow Scraptors.


The Founders didn’t stint on technology when they created their comforts.


Just when the Scraptors needed it to enforce their will.


Then budgets and their streams of red and black ink came into the picture.


And the Scraptors always lost.


They wouldn’t lose if the Humans and their technology escaped Surlat unscathed.


Groat wasn’t certain whether he hoped they did or didn’t.


Yes, he did. He wanted Humans stuffed back into their rightful place—serving their betters, the Founders. His mandibles relaxed. Maybe he could help keep the anti-technology myth alive. Maybe he could send a code to the trackers to short-circuit their hardware.


And if it were strong enough, the Humans might never reach the planet’s surface at all. Eliminating both the Syn-En and the Plague in one fiery explosion.



barnes and noble


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Friday Funny—Signs

These are some of the most helpful signs I’ve seen in a long time:D





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$1.49 plus tax

Home repairs are never simple. If they are for you, know this—I hate you.

So weeks ago, my daughter asked me to help her paint her room. She did a fairly good job of prepping but really, teenagers should be banned from  using staples to hang up posters. Every few feet I found one or two. And then there were the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling. Plus a few nail holes that hadn’t gotten patched.

But I digress. It only took 3 gallons of burn your eyes out of your head white paint (with primer) to cover the chocolate brown walls in her room (Teenagers should also be banned from painting their room really, really dark colors).  We finished in a week and she moved her tutus and other things back in.

Then came the question that sane people dread.

When are you going to install those shelves?

Wha? I don’t remember there being a mention about shelves. Shelves that I had to make several trips to HoDe’s for. Shelves that she had to paint with the paint and brushes we’d just cleaned and put away.

But like most parents, I gave in to the inevitable and hunted the drill, the drill bits (which apparently have been segregated to a separate part of the garage for unknown reasons), then the screws which lets face is are easy and lie about with anything and everything, and lastly the stud finder.

The jokes that hubby made and the stud-finder are older than me. So I wasn’t surprised that the battery was dead inside it. I was shocked to discover that the clamp thing on the 9-volt battery remained attached to the connector when I tried to remove said dead battery. I was down right irritated when i attached a new dead battery that did the same thing. Then I ran out of batteries.

Now, I don’t know what it is like in your house, but sometimes batteries can be removed from one device and temporarily relocated to another. I eyed the remote for the ceiling fan. It didn’t seem to care. But it too was old and you had to squeeze it with the force required to crack a particularly stubborn walnut to get it to turn on or off, or well do any of the buttons. So I took out the battery.

Surprise, surprise, this one came out intact.

So I inserted it into the stud finder and dutifully marked the locations of said pieces of wood. Drilling holes, I realized I had been deceived. There were no studs behind that plane of dry wall. Either the stud finder is too old or it was just cranky and decided to mess with me. either way, I went back to HoDe’s and bought some nifty, no studs required sinks and installed the shelves.

Then hubby went to replace the battery in the remote as  he’d noticed that the ceiling fan was off. Ten minutes later he noticed the wire connecting the positive pole had broken off.

Now, a sane person might have just shelled out the $35 for a new fan remote. I was way past sane at this point. I went to Fry’s Electronics which is conveniently located right behind a home improvement store and bought not one but 5 9volt connectors for $1.49.

then I realized I didn’t have a soldering iron. A new one would cost 20 bucks, but one daughter’s boyfriend had one and was willing to loan it to me. knowing I had two engineers at my back, i set to work.

It had been over 8 years since I last soldered and apparently it isn’t like riding a bike. I’d forgotten to move the blasted thing around and forget about the stupid wick thing, that didn’t work at all.

Eventually, one engineer took pity on me and after an hour managed to melt the blob of old solder and slip the new leads in. One slightly used battery later and the remote now responds with a light tap on a button.

Moral of the story: Money or sanity—the choice is yours:D

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Syn-En Plague World Chapter 3

PlagueWorldChapter 3

Ten minutes after the Scraptor made his demands, Bei strode into the ready room next to the bridge. Electronics hummed. Human fear and Skaperian determination hung heavy on the rectangular room. Two-thirds of the command staff were already seated around the shiny Smart-Metal table and peered at the consoles embedded in the silver surface.

Bei had a decision to make—rescue three thousand potentially infected biologics or stand by while they burned during Surlat’s purification by fire.

Data packets rocketed through the WA. Lightning bolts of anger and steel rods of determination broadcast the sentiments of his men. As for the others…

Bei searched the streams for his wife’s presence. Razor wire blocked her thoughts. Elvis’s doing. Only an Amarook’s telepathy could sneak past the improved Syn-En firewalls. Even the doberman antivirals trotted past the protected zone. What would Nell say about his decision? She would tell him. When she was nervous, her conversation ran nearly nonstop. And she was still upset. Clasping his hands behind his back, Bei faced the crescent-shaped table.

A silver Nell stopped beside him. She raised her chin. Data streamed on the view screens mounted on the wall behind her.

A noticeable show of solidarity and trust. After more than a year together, he should have expected it, but it surprised him every time. He hooked his pinky through hers.

Her skin faded to a sparkly peach.

To his left, two pale humans nodded. The couple, Karl and Erin, didn’t bother glancing at the information provided to them.

Bei’s skin itched. The couple had been picked up five months ago from a Founders’ planet. Blotches marred their pale skin where the pterodactyl-like Decripi had experimented on them. Once aboard, they had needed new eyes, prostheses below their knees, and a handful of internal organs. Others had fared far worse. Twenty-two had died in transit. Yet only these two had volunteered to serve the Neo-Sentient Alliance.

Nell believed they wanted to right the wrongs done to them by helping others.

Bei looked for signs that they were spies. And he’d been forced to include them on this council in an effort to bridge gaps between Earthborn biologics and those who’d been enslaved. He hated it.

Twisting her hand, his wife laced her fingers through his. “They’re ashamed that they can’t read well. Not a necessary requirement for a lab rat, you know?”

Bei cocked an eyebrow. He hadn’t known, but he should have guessed. Even on Earth, education had only been offered to those who the government considered worthy.  “Did you find someone to teach them how to access the young one’s learning modules?”

Someone discreet, who would allow them to keep their pride intact.

And Bei could monitor what they learned and accessed from the ship’s Combat Information Center.

“Yes, of course, I found someone to teach them.”

Next to the new humans, the ship’s chief mechanic, Montgomery Smith, flipped open the point of his ebony index finger. A radio frequency screwdriver emerged from the cavity. He pointed it at the human male’s temple. “Let me know when your vision clears.”

“Will do.” Karl bent his head and stared at the screen. “There, that’s good.”

Mechanic Smith’s white teeth flashed against his dark skin. “Next time they start acting up, let me know. A good mechanic beats a doctor anytime.”

The man shuddered. “I’ve seen enough doctors.”

“You’re safe here. The Syn-En will die before they allow anything to happen to us.” Smith’s smile collapsed. Silently, he performed the same repair on the woman.

She nodded her thanks then focused on her screen.

Nell squeezed Bei’s hand. “Montgomery is the one who told me.  He wanted to make certain you wouldn’t object to giving them access.”

He glanced at his wife. “Why didn’t he come to me directly?”

“Apparently, everyone on board thinks we share a Borg hive mind. What I know, you know and vice versa.” Furrows appeared in her forehead. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“No. I should have thought of it.” He shot a query to the CIC. Seconds later, a data packet popped up. He opened the two biologics’ educational progress. Seventh level education in five months since they started. Whatever the Founders had done to them, it hadn’t affected their intelligence. Next, he browsed their search history.

Like all humans the Syn-En had recovered, Karl and Erin had scoured the databanks for information about Earth, Nell Stafford, and the Syn-En. Then they focused on the entertainment recordings his wife had brought with her into the Twenty-Third century. These two had a fondness for black and white Film Noir. Nothing suspicious, yet his circuits refused to settle.

“Sorry to be late.” Chief Medical Officer, Doc Cabo cleared his throat. His eyes were pitch black against his tan skin.

Bei sensed his frenzied whirl through the WA, glomming onto anything even remotely linked to the deadly Surlat strain.

Just as Doc picked a seat opposite the two Humans, the doors opened again. Captain Pennig marched in alongside Chief Engineer Sydney Shang’hai. The captain hooked his booted foot around the chair next to Doc and connected his cerebral interface to the ship. Light pulsed along Pennig’s fiberoptic cables. He clasped his hands on the table and waited. The ship’s engines strummed underfoot, and a subtle shift indicated motion. “We’re heading out of the solar system, awaiting an official heading.” The Founders vessel has parked its mammoth keister behind the gas giant. They’re watching us, Admiral.

“Very good.” Bei nodded. They both knew the ship’s inevitable destination, but their allies needed to have their say and their enemies needed to see the NSA’s unity.

Montgomery Smith patted the empty chair between him and Apollie. His black eyes flashed as he watched the engineer sashay closer.

Commander Shang’hai’s straight black hair brushed the shoulders of her uniform tunic. Color brushed her wide cheekbones. She sat in the reserved chair and set her hand on his thigh. Her attention focused on Bei.

In the center of the table, their Skaperian ally, Paladin Apollie jabbed at the screen to slow the scrolling. She rubbed her red eyes and flicked up the page.

Bei glanced at his wife. One ET ally was missing.

Nell sighed. “Elvis, show yourself or someone will sit on you.”

The Amarook shimmered into sight. “You have lost your sense of humor, Nell Stafford. I think it is because you haven’t any pups to call your own.”

“I have plenty of others to look after.” She dug her fist into her hip. “Now drop the subject before I pluck every feather from your head and change your name to Telly Savalas.”

“Humans can be so obstinate.” Elvis licked his palms before smoothing the black feathers out of his eyes.

After one final squeeze, Nell released Bei’s hand and moved to the side. She sent a burst of hearts and flowers through the WA from behind her cage of razor wire.

Bei’s avatar caught them and stuffed them inside his chest cavity. “As many of you have heard, the Founders have asked us to remove a population of three thousand Humans from one of their territorial planets known as Surlat.”

The view screen behind him filled with the grainy image of a blue and green sphere. Three other planets separated Surlat from its yellow star.

Bei shunted their destination’s particulars to the view screen by the picture of the planet. He didn’t bother reading the data. It was over a hundred and twenty years out of date. “The Founders plan to sanitize the planet in ten days. We can attain high Surlatian orbit within sixteen Earth hours.”

The screen blanked. A moment later, an icon of his starship appeared. A line of dashes led from it to the fringe of this solar system, where it twirled into a corkscrew indicating wormhole travel, and ended in another dashed line outside of Surlat’s solar system.

Apollie crossed her lanky, yellow arms.

Elvis’s disappeared in the fur covering his dog-like chest.

They were going to fight his decision. Tough. He knew his duty. Bei rolled a red crystal in his palm. The Scraptor hadn’t provided any intel, just a Trojan virus designed to infect the starship’s systems and transmit the information back to the Founders. Bei was insulted more than surprised. The Founders could not be trusted. “As you all know, the Surlat strain caused a pandemic nearly a hundred and twenty years ago. According to our Scraptor messenger, the virus is alive and well on the planet. He even hinted that it is just as deadly as before.”

He added the last bit for the biologics, Karl and Erin’s, benefit. Everyone else already knew.

The woman opened and closed the tool compartment of her index finger.

The man frowned at the screen. “But there are others like us,” he thumped on his barrel-chest. “that are living there. So this creature-thing can’t be that deadly.”

“There are usually some who are resistant to the virus.” Apollie’s fingers flew over the keyboard in front of her. A pie chart replaced the navigation map on the view screen. “Humans and Scraptors were the most affected by the initial infection.”

The slices representing the two species consumed nearly half the pie. The Skaperian wedge amounted to a third of the remaining portion. Four species out of the Founding Five amounted to a sliver. Had the Decrepi found a cure and not shared it? Or were these ETs special?

Bei pointed to the thinnest slice. “Why had the rest of the Founders escaped the Plague with so few casualties?”

Apollie glanced up. The beads at the ends of her cornrows clacked together. “Once the pandemic hit the third system, the Founders quarantined their ships and their worlds. The Accumla, Decrepi, Unadul and Municians didn’t leave their world for Earth decades. The Scraptors remained to enforce the Founders will. As the most exposed, they had the highest casualties.” A smile played with her thin lips. “They also brought the disease back to the Founders’ worlds. They did not escape unscathed. And given how much the Founders lie, these numbers could be severely underestimated.”

Given the hatred between the Skaperians and the Founders, Bei would process that statement with more than a kilobyte of skepticism. He glanced at Doc.

Doc stroked the black goatee ringing his mouth. “I concur with Apollie’s hypothesis. The Surlat strain is capable of inserting into any genetic coding, whether carbon or silicon based. It rips apart RNA, DNA and the silicon equivalent to turn the host immune system against itself.”

Leaning against the bulkhead by the view screen, Nell inhaled sharply. “Will the Syn-En be immune?”

Her gaze burned Bei’s skin. He refused to look at her. He wasn’t entirely mechanical.

Doc avoided her gaze but allowed his fears to broadcast through the WA. “It’s hard to say how it will affect the Syn-En. While we are primarily machine, we have a biologic core that is vulnerable to infection. And don’t forget, aside from our cerebral interface, our brains are untouched by technology.”

Throughout the WA, the Syn-En digested the news. Two thoughts later, suggestions for defending themselves sprouted and were snabbled up by the appropriate departments.

Most of them held promise. Unfortunately, the time factor eliminated ninety percent of them.

Shang’hai shunted an image of a Syn-En onto the screen. “The shortest routes to infection will be our joints and our cerebral interface.”  Red outlined the small cube at the base of the figure’s skull. “I’d recommend the landing party remove all hard lines.”

Bei nodded. They could minimize response time by keeping the WA online while dirtside. Thankfully, no one had discovered a biological virus with the ability to infect cyberspace.

Nell rubbed the back of her neck. “Can we caulk the seams of our brain boxes and… and joints to prevent infection?”

Bei’s gut clenched. No, and Hell no. His wife was staying safe on the ship. She was the glue that held the NSA together.

“Brilliant.” Mechanic Smith’s dark fingers flew over the keyboard. “I can create just the thing. If you’ll loan me your NDA expertise, I should have it ready before touchdown. Easy.”

Nell nodded. Her skin had almost returned to normal peach tones. “Whatever you need.”

Bei pinned her with a glare.

She set her hands on her hips. “Doc, what magic up your cyborg sleeves will protect your biologic core better than my immune system?”

Bei snapped his attention to Doc and shot an order through the WA. If you answer that truthfully, Doc, I will unsnap your prosthetic arm and pummel you into a lumpy pudding.

Every Syn-En at the table winced.

Nell rubbed her temples. “Elvis’s block prevents you from reading me, not me from hearing your tantrum in the WA.”

Admirals do not have tantrums. Bei’s response elicited chuckles in cyberspace.

The feather-face flashed his canines. Thankfully, Amarooks didn’t make a sound when they laughed. Unfortunately, they could unleash large bundles of Smiley faces into the WA.

Compression alerts flared in Bei’s head. He uncurled his fingers. One day the universe would introduce Elvis to a bitch named Karma.

Nell stomped toward Bei. Anger and concern crackled in her blue eyes. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Syn-En have very few biological bones left, which means their immune system might actually become overwhelmed faster than say a relatively unaltered human.”

Bei crossed to meet her. “You are not going.”

His NDA prickled. Everyone in the room watched.

“Furthermore,” she pointed at him. “your brain box will minimize your immune response so that you can keep working, allowing the infection to grow to lethal levels.”

Doc leaned back in his chair. She is correct, Admiral.

Stuff it, Doc. Bei loomed over his wife, using his tenth generation and eight-inch height differential to his advantage. “You are not going.”

“I never said I was.” NDA gathered under her soles, lifting her to his eye-level.

Sometimes, he hated technology. “When the Plague finished with Earth, nearly ninety-nine percent of all life had been exterminated.”

“I know.” She set her hand on his arm. Her bottom lip trembled. “I was there. I survived.”

Her anguish and loss cast a long shadow in the WA.

The biologic male, Karl, sputtered. “That was more than a century ago. How is that possible?”

Nell’s gaze never left Bei’s face. “I took a very long space nap. Look up Rip VanWrinkle or Sleeping Beauty. I have the ability to protect you. Let me.”

Bei’s logic processors recognized the validity of her argument. His logic processors were obviously malfunctioning. “The virus has mutated. Your antibodies will be worthless.”

“Then so would yours.” She cupped his cheek.

But you would still be alive. Clasping her hand, he placed it between them.

Would I? I don’t think there’s a me without you. She shrugged and shifted away from him.

He didn’t want to let her go, but this wasn’t the time.

Captain Pennig cleared his throat.

The woman, Erin, sniffled. Her companion, Karl, patted her on the back.

Bei smoothed his uniform tunic. Biologics were damn proficient at reading body language.

Apollie gathered her braids into a single pony tail. “I realize you may not wish to hear this, Admiral, but Nell Stafford is our best chance of safely extricating those humans and preventing the Surlat strain from becoming a universal threat.”

Had his wife known this? He glanced at her.

Nell shrugged and flashed her palms. “You want me to remain on board as a reserve Petri dish in case the Syn-En bring the Plague aboard along with the refugees?”

Apollie’s nostrils flared. “Like all women, you are a fearsome warrior, Nell Stafford. I would not prevent you from joining any fight and would gladly face any opponent at your side.”

Bei stiffened. The Syn-En did not discriminate based on gender, but he damn well reserved the right to protect his wife. He’d pluck a feather from Apollie’s head, use it as a quill, and write it on her forehead.

Nell blushed. “I’m not exactly a warrior.”

Waving her pale hand, Apollie dismissed Nell’s doubts. “As we are not fighting an opponent we can see, that is neither here nor there. The fact is, Nell Stafford’s blood is different than most other Humans.”

Nell tugged on her sleeves to cover the streaks of silver. “That’s kind of obvious.”

Doc frowned at Apollie. “NDA doesn’t involve the immune system. And she is just like other Humans besides that.”

Except his wife wasn’t. Bei didn’t mention her cerebral interface, nor her effect on him.

“I am not discussing the silver sheen.” Apollie squeezed her red eyes closed for a second before squaring her shoulders. “I was there the day Earth was infected with the Surlat strain.”

The Syn-En around the table sat up straighter. The background noise in the WA faded to nil.

Bei decided against closing the communal link. Secrecy was poison.

Nell scrubbed a hand down her face. “I knew you’d slept for over a hundred years but…”

“I selected Nell for our…” Apollie studied her fingers. “For our repopulation experiment.”

Elvis sprang from his seat. “Skaperians and their experiments,” he snarled then wheeled a chair around the table. The Amarook tapped it against the back of Nell’s knees. “I wouldn’t eat you if I were starving, Paladin.”

With a weak smile, Nell sank onto the seat. “You wanted to use me to create a new slave race.  A cross between Human and Skaperian.”

The woman hissed, but Karl kept her in her seat.

Apollie fidgeted on her chair. Color rouged her cheeks. “We needed antibodies for a vaccine. Humans are close enough to us that we knew we could get it from you. But then… Then the scientists discovered something different in one percent of the survivors. Something unique. Never before seen.”

Nell sagged in her chair. “Why not just give us tiaras and sashes and award us King and Queen of the Freaks? Why mess with our egg baskets and kidnap us?”

Bei set his hand on his wife’s shoulder. “You’re not a freak.”

Sitting on his haunches, Elvis stroked her hair. “You’re the best Human. Nearly perfect, except you lack a third set of limbs.”

Swallowing hard, Apollie sent a file to the view screen. The Skaperian equivalent of classified was scrawled under the name. Then came assurances of death if an unauthorized person opened it. “Survivors fell into three categories.” She typed in her password. “Possible candidate, unsuitable candidate, and candidate.”

Nell’s picture appeared under a banner titled Arizona Driver’s License. Given her birth date, she would be one hundred-sixty-four in three months. She looked younger now than in her picture—a gift from the Skaperians that would keep her ageless for another hundred years. She squeezed his hand. “What swung the vote to candidate?”

“Upon infection, these particles appeared.” Apollie tucked her braids behind her ear. “You recovered faster, you healed faster, you learned faster. You had been given the ability to adapt within a generation, not from one generation to the next.”

“That’s not possible.” Bei tightened his hold on Nell’s hand. “No species evolves that quickly.”

“I would have found these particles.” Doc shook his head. “I know Nell Stafford’s blood work better than anyone.”

Apollie tapped her keyboard and the screen changed. Molecules appeared then blew apart. “That’s because you weren’t looking small enough, and they change. It’s almost like they have some sort of intelligence.”

“On an atomic scale? Not possible.” Doc’s eyes darkened and the data flew in a blur across the screen.

Bei’s synthetic hair stood on end. Could it be true?

“Nearly an atomic scale.” Apollie raised her hands off the keyboard. “They measure one hundred one quadrillionths of a meter. We call them fermites after one of Earth’s great scientists.”

Collapsing against his chair back, Doc raked his fingers through is dark brown hair. “Shit.”

A data packet exploded in Bei’s head. Nell’s blood work did contain these fermites. In fact, they nearly outnumbered her red blood cells.

Elvis whimpered and huddled near Nell’s feet.

Nell slapped her free hand over her mouth. “How bad is it?”

“You’ll be fine.” Bei would make her fine. He would make certain of it. He wouldn’t lose to some fermite.

Apollie glanced at Nell. “We have never detected ill-effects from housing the fermites. We had you tested after registration. The Syn-En have had NDA for nearly a hundred years and yet none of them can manipulate it like you, Nell Stafford. Even when they use it to treat the injured refugees, it does not behave as it does with you. If the Surlat strain has mutated into a new virulence, you are our best hope for a vaccine.”

Nell tensed beside him. “And if I don’t survive?”

“Then for the sake of all the sentient species left in the universe, you may wish to stay for the planet’s purification.” Apollie’s voice cracked. “And the Erwar Consortium will force the planet to remain quarantined forever.”

Red warning lights lit up Bei’s skull. The thought of Nell’s death sent his systems spiraling toward a cascade failure. “No. Absolutely not.”

A tear slipped down Nell’s cheek. “If I’d have known how unique I was in the universe, I would have bought a lottery ticket.” She drew in a ragged breath. “Alrighty then, option one is to leave the Humans on Surlat, allowing them to be killed, and giving the evil Founders the idea that we won’t defend our own species, so as to prevent the Plague from returning to wipe out the rest of life in the universe.”

Apollie raised a finger. “The cleansing the Founders propose did not destroy the virus the last time.” She bent her head over her keyboard. Documents flashed up on the screen—memos from the Founders’ headquarters. “In fact, we think they traveled to other planets, knowing they carried the disease.”

The Syn-Ens’ fury consumed the WA. They demanded justice. They demanded Nell be kept safe.

Her shoulders slumped. “Evil happens when good men do nothing.”

Bei’s anger spiked. “The Syn-En will act.”

Nell sighed. “A hundred years have passed, hasn’t someone found a cure?”

Drumming her fingers on the table, Apollie sighed. “Most of the remaining Skaperian have been sleeping for the last hundred years. And Humanity has just achieved interstellar travel. The only ones who have a chance to find a cure are the Founders. Do you really wish to pay the price they will demand for a vaccine?”

Hell no, but neither would Bei sacrifice his wife.

Nell shivered. “Ask for the vote, Bei. This Three Musketeer moment isn’t an all for one, but a one for all. I need to be that one.”

In the WA, Elvis’s hold lost control over her emotions. A vortex of sorrow spun through cyberspace, touching all the Syn-En who were connected.

Bei crouched at her side. Her hands were cold beneath his. Who was he without her? Not half the man he was now, and no amount of technology would restore him. “All those in favor of rescuing the Humans on Surlat record your yes vote now.”

Beeps sound in his head. Everyone had voted in favor. Everyone but him. He couldn’t do it. Fuck his programming. Fuck his duty. He couldn’t send her to her death. He wouldn’t. He’d nix the whole mission.

She leaned against him. “I can beat a stupid flu bug, Bei. I can beat anything as long as you’re at my side.”

His wife was too damn clever. Bei cast his vote. It was unanimous. “Captain Pennig, set course for Surlat.”

He scooped up his wife and carried her toward the door. If he had to sacrifice her for everyone, then everyone could damn well give them the next few hours to themselves. Either they left the planet together, or they rode the same chariot from this world to the next.



barnes and noble


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