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Authors: Linda Andrews

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BOOK: The Syn-En Solution
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Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.

Turning her head to the left, she peered into the gloom. Did that shadow just move or was it a trick of the light? Eyes burning from the strain, she tried to discern objects in the shades of gray, charcoal and inky black. Gradually, she discerned the oval shape of a head pinned to wide shoulders by a thick neck. Good heavens! The silhouette reminded her of one of those Mr. World body-builders. Could it be a trick of the dim light?

The man shape eased forward into the bobbing bits of debris. His boots glided silently across the ceiling.

Nell shook her head. No. Floor. He walked on the floor. She must be upside down. But why could he touch the floor and she couldn’t? The hair on her neck and arms rose. The man’s action didn’t cause a sound, not even the tinkle of metal.

He’s a predator
.

Fear ballooned inside Nell, souring her mouth and urging her heart into a galloping rhythm. Did that make her prey? Is that why the Grace Jones wannabe urged her to scream? Did she know that stuff injected into Nell’s breasts wouldn’t kill her, only leave her paralyzed. Still dangling like a Christmas ornament, Nell drifted on an air current.
Please God, don’t let them kill me
.

The man crept forward. Yellow light flashed in the room, glinted off his face and the shotgun in his hands.

Nell tried to swallow her scream. It came out as a yelp. Good Lord, what was wrong with his face? His features seemed scrunched and smeared.
Could it be because I’m upside down or, please God, let it be a trick of the darkness
?

The man’s attention lasered on her.

Nell swallowed around the lump in her throat. This was it. Too late to play opossum or hide and seek. Blowing the hair out of her face, she stared into the dark pits she hoped were his eyes.

“I need help,” she whispered. Her voice sounded rusty from disuse, the words formed awkwardly on her tongue. Was this another side effect of the breast injection? “That woman did something to me.”

No response. Not even a cocked head.

Irritation flared to life deep inside Nell. What was wrong with him? Could whatever had damaged his face have rendered him mute? “I don’t think it’s a good thing. She wanted me to yell so you’d come near.”

The debris curtain parted as he stepped forward. Neat trick. She wished she could repel metal.

“Where has she gone?” His deep baritone rumbled across the five feet separating them. The muzzle of his rifle aimed below her left shoulder.

“That way.” Nell gestured with her chin to her right. With the slight change in position, she noticed movement. The man had not come alone. Why were they standing back? What danger could one naked woman pose? Nell focused on the man, the leader, she hoped. “She said something about delaying you.”

“Is that your purpose?” The question was casual, like co-workers discussing another sunny day after a month of them.

Yet, the hair on her neck rose and the air thickened with restrained violence.

“No, I—” Nell flashed him her right palm. The motion startled her. Why could she move now and not before? Was the drug wearing off?

“Admiral!” A man barked to her left. Striding forward, he pointed his index finger at her. “She’s rigged to explode.”

“What!” Nell shook her head so vigorously her body started twisting back and forth like an agitator in a washing machine. “No.”

The first man, the one addressed as Admiral stalked forward and tapped the barrel of his weapon against her forehead. “Straighten your arms and legs and hold them away from your body.”

Nell’s eyes crossed as she focused on the barrel. Calm. She needed to stay calm. Why had she listened to that stupid inner voice? Now she would die, and it wouldn’t be from her smart mouth or her impulsive nature as her mother had predicted. Tearing her gaze from the shotgun, she looked up at the Admiral. His distorted features caused a moment of disquiet, but she kept her attention unwavering. “I can’t move. That crazy woman stuck me with something and paralyzed me.”

The admiral nodded.

She felt the debris field shift behind her, scrape across her back.

Two more men stepped to her side and latched onto her arms. With a hand over hand motion, they spun her until her body was oriented in the same direction as theirs.

Her stomach bucked at the twirling motion and she tasted bile.

Fingers glided down her arm to wrap around her wrist. Gently but firmly, the two unfolded her arms.

As if her brain finally figured out how to control her limbs again, her legs straightened. She cringed as she felt the strangers’ eyes wash over her nudity. Look on the bright side, at least now they’d see she had no place to hide a bomb. They’d see a heck of a lot more than that. Gravity saved its kindness for small breasted women.

“Where is your chip?” The admiral grasped her right arm, turning it gently forward and back.

The gesture was nonthreatening, but her skin prickled with awareness. She didn’t like it and only part of it came from being restrained, at his mercy. “Probably with the pretzels and crackers.”

The grip on her wrists tightened. “I detect no residual of one nor evidence of removal.”

Nell turned at the sound of the feminine voice. Despite the dimness, she noticed the bun coiled tightly at the base of the woman’s skull and the high, full breasts under her thick breastplate. Nell glanced to her right. Another man. At least, the admiral had one female restrain her. It was more than the nutjob had done. Hope punched through her layers of cynicism. “Look, I’m not the enemy here.”

The admiral stepped closer until her toes skimmed the slick material of his boots. “You have stowed away on my ship and are rigged to explode.”

“I’m not a stowaway. I— What do you mean rigged to explode?” Nell straightened, tugging at her captors’ grip. They didn’t release her, but neither did they clamp down. Taking a calming breath of metallic tasting air, Nell focused on the admiral. “How? In case it escaped your attention, I’m butt ass naked here.”

“It has not escaped my attention.” The admiral’s head nodded slightly as if his gaze skimmed her from head to toe.

For a moment, Nell swore she saw the admiral’s lips twitch. The moment passed and doubts crept in. Maybe he didn’t have a mouth. Maybe he and his men were mutants from some ecological disaster. The Discovery Channel hadn’t covered a single one that could melt people’s features.

The admiral tilted his head to the left.

The mechanical jerk reminded her of ASIMO or a cyborg from a bad sci-fi movie. This time, she knew it wasn’t a draft that sent the chill down her exposed backside. What the heck was going on here? “Since we both agree—”

“Your lack of clothing will not deter me from my course of action. Neutralize her.”

“What?” Nell’s heart battered against her ribs. She knew what neutralize meant. They were going to kill her. Toes skimming the frigid floor, she tried to find leverage to jerk free. Dammit, why couldn’t she touch the floor like them? “No! Wait!”

A man to the admiral’s left glided forward. His face glowed a strange green. He raised his hands. His fingers seemed to bend backwards at the tips before he latched onto both her breasts. “Hold still.”

Nell arched her back, trying to break free. His grip tightened, nails biting into her bruised skin. Tears pricked her eyes. Legs flailing, she kicked him in the shin. Her toes popped. Good Lord, a concrete wall had more give. What kind of armor did they wear? “I’ve had enough of people playing with my boobs today.”

“I am attempting to neutralize the explosives.” Although the man kept his voice neutral, he spoke through clenched teeth.

“Is that what you call it?” Nell planted two feet on his knees and shoved away from him. His hold on her breasts remained strong and her action tore at her chest. Pain overloaded her nervous system and static crackled inside her head. The only way she could escape would be if she gave herself a rather excruciating mastectomy. Panting through the sensation, Nell stopped struggling and hung limply between her captors. “Cause from where I stand, you’re copping a feel.”

Ignoring her sarcasm, the man focused on her chest. A burst of yellow light filled the room, highlighting the caduceus tattooed on his forehead. “You may feel a mild discomfort as the probes enter your skin.”

Nell struggled to reconcile the caduceus with her current treatment. Why would a man with a medical insignia torture her? Unless he wasn’t out to harm her. Hadn’t the Grace Jones wannabe said Nell would get along with a bang? A stabbing pain flared up her chest, then a burning filled her veins like an IV running too fast. Cold air stung her teeth as she inhaled. “Mild! That hurts like an infected hangnail. Why didn’t you give me some sort of local anesthetic to numb the area?”

“It would have reacted with the peroxides.” His grip on her breasts loosened, but his attention didn’t waver from the damaged skin. “I do not believe you would survive the explosion. You are quite fragile.”

Nell snorted. Fragile people didn’t survive the pandemic of 2010 or the North American invasion that followed. She was a survivor, yet somehow she sensed that someone had changed the rules, if not the game entirely. “That woman injected something in my breasts to make them explode?”

The doctor nodded. “A peroxide and a catalyst, that when mixed together create a very powerful bomb.”

Nell pulled her legs closer to her body, wanting desperately to cover herself or to fall asleep and wake up safe in her bed. “That’s just wrong.”

“Fortunately you knew to keep still and the zero gravity allowed much of the catalyst to bubble out through the damaged skin.”

Her subconscious had told her to keep still. She hated it when her mother was right. “I couldn’t very well move could I? I mean that stuff paralyzed me too.”

“It did not.” The doctor ran his index finger over her damaged tissue then leaned forward. “You are not healing.”

“I’ve always been a slow healer, and I bruise easily too.” She glanced at the people holding her. From the corner of her eye she watched the admiral nod.

They released her.

Nell drifted toward the ceiling. Dammit. What the heck is going on here? She grasped the doctor’s shoulder and pulled. He jerked back as she rubbed against him. Honestly, he played with her boobs seconds ago and now he gets prudish. She forced herself to look him in the face. His features were still blurry. “I don’t suppose you have a survival blanket nearby? “

He looked at the Admiral. She could almost feel the nonverbal communication passing between the two.

Nell sighed. Their rigid adherence to the chain of command was almost laughable. Still, her street skills were rusty; she should have appealed to the leader. “Haven’t any of you guys ever been cold?”

Not to mention exposed. Despite their disregard for her state of undress, Nell wanted to cover herself so much she could taste it.

The admiral stepped forward, eased her grip off the doctor, then jerked something out from under his sleeve, shook it out then draped a silver blanket around her body. “We are not guys, nor are we people.”

Nell pinched the crinkly ends closed and grabbed for the admiral’s arm. Her feet still did not touch the ground.

“Yeah, right. What are you, ET? I know a human being when I see one.” Beginning to drift toward the ceiling again, Nell reached for his shoulder. Her hand bumped something warm and smooth and made a hollow thumping sound. A mask. They wore masks. Latching onto his arm, muscle and sinew bunched under her fingers and palm. Most soldiers kept in good shape but these men’s bulk surpassed even that. What branch of Special Ops were they? She smiled. Special Ops explained a lot. “Give me a break. I’m not that dense, you’re soldiers. Of course, if your cover story includes ET or little gray men, I’m not going to be able to repeat the official details with a straight face. Should I be wearing a mask too? Is there some sort of toxic hazard around?”

The admiral pushed his mask up so the clear face form looked at the ceiling.

Nell’s heart picked up tempo and for a moment she had a hard time catching her breath. The admiral couldn’t be more than forty. Although gray had yet to touch his short black hair, lines at the corners of his almond-shaped blue eyes and full lips told of his age and experience. Stubble sprayed his angular jaw, deepening the dimples in his cheeks. Holy mackerel, she’d been rescued by a hunk.

Nell shook herself out of the stupor his appearance caused. “So the masks were just because that nutjob injected me with peroxides? I’m okay, right? I’m not going to blow up?”

He nodded once. “How did you get on my ship?”

Ship? That’s right. She was on a ship. But that didn’t explain the floating unless… Unless, it was a spaceship. It explained so much. Still, her brain slammed against her skull. “I think I came in that coffin. Look guys, I know this is weird. You have no idea how weird it is, but we’re all on the same team, right?”

His nostrils in his flattened nose flared. “We are Syn-En.”

With her free arm, she covered her breasts. They may not look as good as when she was twenty, but that didn’t mean she wanted them going boom. “What does Syn-En mean?”

Syn-En stands for Synthetically Enhanced human. Typically referring to those children abandoned at birth or through parental negligence are made wards of the state. The wards are indoctrinated; their limbs, skin and most bodily organs are replaced by genetically compatible upgrades from toddler to adulthood. The wards are reclassified another grade of human and trained for combat, search and rescue as well as peacekeeping missions
.

An ache built at the base of Nell’s skull. Removing her hand from the admiral’s shoulder, she rubbed it. Okay, that did not come from any Discovery Channel show. And since when did her mother/conscience sound like an encyclopedia entry?

“It means I retain very little organic tissue. It is ill-suited for combat.”

Her brother was a soldier, stationed in Germany when the first outbreak hit. He’d disappeared two years before she entered the Save the World’s corporate office in 2012. Her mind replayed the admiral’s words. “What do you mean organic tissue isn’t suited for combat? You can’t change your skin like you do a uniform.”

BOOK: The Syn-En Solution
6.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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