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 . . .
Praise for SINthetic
"Darkly engrossing, SINthetic shines a stark light on the age-old question, what does it mean to be human?"-Julie Kagawa, New York Times bestselling author
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.41(d)|
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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.
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.
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.
My cop-brain kicked in immediately, cataloguing facts as fast as my eyes could identify them.
Male. Midthirties. Mixed race. Athletic build. Dressed casually in khakis and a collared shirt. Brown leather shoes. Good-looking, or he had been in life, but not so good-looking as to stand out. Could have passed unnoticed damn near anywhere in New Lyons. Except for places like Floattown or the abandoned commercial district farther inland where his body ended up. Places where clean-cut and well-put-together might as well have been signs reading "Outsider."
No obvious cause of death. With some trepidation I reached beneath his head and ran my fingers along the nape of his neck. No raised skin tag. I breathed a slight sigh at that.
Not a synthetic, then.
The relief was short lived. Sure, it was possible that, out of all the places this guy could have picked to lie down and die, he'd stumbled into the one where a synthetic rebellion was brewing. And it was possible that come the first, synthetics would universally be accorded the rights of full- fledged citizens. I wasn't holding my breath for either, though.
I needed to do a thorough search of the body. Shit. I needed to get a full forensics team in here, not to mention a medical examiner. Until this moment, I hadn't really missed being a cop. Too busy trying to survive and dodge my former colleagues. I missed Hernandez, one of the only cops I'd really thought of as a friend, and the only partner I'd been able to rely on. She had managed to avoid becoming caught up in the shitstorm I had created, at least. I missed a few of the others, but not the job itself. But I could have used the resources. The authority.
As things stood, all it would take was someone noticing the body, and the entire place would be crawling with police. It went against every instinct, every bit of training I'd had, but there was no choice. I reached down, hooked my hands into the corpse's armpits, and dragged it back into the call center lobby.
I ducked back outside, giving the area a quick once-over, but I saw no incriminating evidence. No blood smears. No obviously dropped items. I knew there were no cameras focused on the building, a rarity in New Lyons, but a certainty given that Silas had chosen the place. I didn't have to worry about what the unblinking, electronic eyes might have captured. Nor could I rely upon them to figure out what the hell had happened. I suppressed a chuckle at that. "Not a cop anymore, Campbell," I muttered to myself. "Not my job to solve this crime. Shit. Now it's my job to cover it up."
I moved inside, slipping the door shut and putting the four-by-four back into place. I turned to find myself face-to-face staring into Evelyn's widening eyes.
The synthetic was pregnant. Heavily, obviously pregnant. She couldn't be certain exactly when she had conceived — hers was a story fraught with violence and abuse, a story common to so many synthetics. I felt a twinge every time I looked at her, an aching echo that whispered "Annabelle" and reminded me what might have been. If the birth was more than a week or two off, we'd all be surprised. Evelyn had, in her own way, started this whole thing. She had been the catalyst, the spark, the trigger that gave rise to a movement.
Synthetics were supposed to be genetically sterile, designed to be incapable of reproduction. Everyone knew that. Couldn't have them breeding with one another and creating more synthetics. That would cut into the profit margins of Walton Biogenics. A synthetic couldn't get pregnant in the first place, but even if some genetic anomaly cropped up, it was simply impossible for a human and a synthetic to breed, to produce offspring. After all, if that could happen, then it would be pretty clear evidence that synthetics were not actually little more than biological toasters, but were, in fact, fully functioning members of the human race.
We knew now that Evelyn wasn't the first. She was just the first one that Walton Biogenics and its army of corporate hit men hadn't been able to "sanitize." I had no idea how many like her had come before, how long Walton had known the truth. How long the company had been suppressing it. But whatever genetic anomaly had allowed her to reproduce, it wasn't common. Couldn't be, or the fiction of the synthetics being things and not people would have collapsed long ago.
She didn't say anything. She rarely spoke to anyone, synthetic or human. She just looked at me with those clear blue eyes. Looked at me as I stood over the body of a dead man.
It was, to say the least, unsettling.
"I didn't do it," I said, as if she had demanded an explanation. "I found him out front." She said nothing.
"I couldn't just leave him there," I rambled. "If he was spotted ... He'd put us all in danger. The police would come." I wasn't sure why I felt the need to explain myself to her, but there it was.
She didn't respond at first, just kept staring at me, and I saw a deep sadness in her eyes. Then she extended one hand and pointed at the corpse.
I followed her extended finger. It pointed at the mouth of the man. Sometime during the dragging, his lips had parted. There was something there, wedged into his mouth.
"Shit," I whispered. I could hear a rustle deeper in the building, the sound of the gathered synthetics getting up to start their day. "Can you get a couple of people to help me? Have them keep people back from this area?"
"Yes, Jason," she said, startling me. No one called me Jason, but more than that, I think it was the first time Evelyn had ever said my name.
As she waddled off, I knelt beside the body. I didn't have gloves, or tweezers, or anything that would make the unpleasant task ahead of me easier. I fished in the pocket of the jeans I had slept in, digging out a stubby pencil. There wasn't much call for actual writing utensils anymore, but it was a habit I'd gotten into as a cop — you never knew when you'd need to write down a key bit of information, and screens, for all their wonders, still took longer to execute some basic tasks. Some habits, I had no intention of letting go.
I used the point of the pencil, inserting it gently between the corpse's lips, taking advantage of the point to wedge it between the teeth. A little careful wiggling, and I eased the mouth open. I could see the foreign object lodged in the soft palate. It was a square of paper, tightly folded, positioned so that one corner pressed into the tongue and another into the roof of the mouth. The light in the lobby was getting better, but the room was still mostly shadows, and I couldn't tell if any damage had been done during the insertion process, or if the poor sap had been alive at the time. Other than the presence of the paper, I couldn't tell a damn thing, and that was the problem.
Whatever I did from this point forward was likely to contaminate or outright destroy evidence. Every instinct in me screamed to stop, to not endanger an arrest. But that life was over. If there was any arrest connected with the death of this man, I had a strong suspicion it would be the arrest of Mama Campbell's favorite son.
I eased two fingers — index and middle — into the corpse's mouth, grasping the folded paper between my fingertips. I drew my hand back, taking the paper with it, wincing as I felt it pull away from the tongue and roof of the mouth. Then it was free.
A crowd had gathered, though, true to her word, Evelyn had found a couple of synthetics to cordon off the area. Not that it was needed. Not one of the synthetics pressed forward or shouted questions or thrust a screen in my general direction to film the horror. They simply watched and whispered.
I wasn't their leader. They knew it. I knew it. I held a strange and sometimes difficult position among them. I was respected, sure. I'd helped save Evelyn. I'd stood up to be the face of the New Year's Revolution. They knew well that anyone who wished harm on the synthetics wished a much greater and more personal harm upon me. But I still wasn't one of them. They shared a bond forged in adversity that I had only experienced — could only experience — the edges of. No, they did not follow me. They followed Silas.
Excerpted from "SINdicate"
Copyright © 2018 J.T. Nicholas.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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