The New Lyons Sequence #2
by J.T. Nicholas
Genre: Science Fiction/Cyberpunk Noir
Pub Date: 3/20/2018
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 . . .
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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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 . . .
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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.
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.
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.”
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They look like us. Act like us. But they’re not human. Created in a lab to do the tasks humans can’t be bothered with, synthetics are custom built to serve. But how can you tell if the menial behind the counter, the nanny watching over the children in the park, or the landscaper tending the flowers is one of us… or one of them? Perhaps it’s best to let the marketing department at Walton Biogenics answer that question…
Excerpt taken from a recent Walton Biogenics advertising campaign…
Each synthetic is designed with care and precision to be perfectly suited to their intended use. Through the application of extensive, patented genetic technology, we at Walton Biogenics have sculpted your new synthetic to the tightest specifications for the task at hand. Laborers boast a significantly higher degree of muscle fibers; undercity workers conform to physical standards compatible with the tight quarters they must negotiate, and domestics bring a balance of pleasing aesthetics and readiness to serve in any way you see fit.
Works of Art.
At Walton Biogenics, we believe that a synthetic should be more than just a tool. Aesthetics matter, and while form may follow function, we strive to make every synthetic a work of art. Our dedicated focus to bilateral symmetry, classic lines, and appealing curves will ensure that your investment in one of our synthetics will not only get the job done, but will keep a smile on your face for years to come.
The Finest Programming.
We don’t just grow synthetics and ship them out the door. When you purchase a Walton Biogenics synthetic, you can be sure that, in addition to being designed from the ground up to meet your needs, they have undergone extensive training and programming, so that they can handle any task within their design specifications. But more than that, we make sure that every synthetic is capable of even more. Whatever model you choose, they’ll come standard with a suite of skills guaranteed to cover your basic needs – and even some more exotic ones!
The Walton Biogenics Promise.
In modern times, it seems like nothing is built to last. Walton Biogenics is here to change that. Our synthetics are guaranteed to work, period. If you experience any problems or performance issues, simply take your synthetic to any one of our convenient service centers and you’ll be provided a replacement, free of charge, with no questions asked. That’s our promise.
*Note: Offer excludes products intentionally damaged by the purchaser.
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