Beyond the Galaxy Space Opera Anthology

Do you love space opera such as Firefly, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica? Well, I have a treat for you! I wrote a story for the new anthology Beyond the Galaxy.

Last September, I traveled to Seattle for an epic writer’s retreat hosted by J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon. For 2 days we hung out in a private room at the Museum of Pop Culture, and together, we built a sci-fi world in which we would each write our own story.

We built this incredible universe that has two warring alien entities: the Teku and the Krad. They arrive on Earth every 2,000 years to harvest people… You will have to read this entire email to find out what happens to us humans. (Spoiler alert, they are due for a 2020 arrival! Anything could happen in the next 6 months.) 👽

Out of that effort came Botched. It’s the first story in the anthology! Read on for an excerpt.

The book is available on Kindle Unlimited or you can buy the e-book or paperback. It’s 372 pages, so it’s a larger size book.

Proceeds from all sales go to Tech Bridge Girls, a nonprofit that excites, educates, and equips girls from low income communities with STEM programming that empowers girls to achieve economic mobility and better life chances.

When I was young, science and technology played a big role in my life and influenced much of my writing today. Helping girls learn more about science means a lot to me.

I’m proud to be featured with authors such as Lindsay Pogue, Heather Lee Dyer, Jay Key, Chris Yee, Tory Element, Christopher Wills, and more.

Here’s an excerpt from my story. I hope you enjoy it. If you feel like downloading or purchasing the book, thank you!

BOTCHED

by Cameron Coral

My titanium fingers tapped against the surface of the cockpit’s dashboard. I always got a case of nerves while waiting for the green light to signal the all-clear. The massive twenty-foot-high airlock doors were the only thing separating me and my shuttle from the vast emptiness of space.

My breath came in rapid spurts. I’d been waiting for five minutes. The clearance light stayed off.

What was the problem?

I glanced behind my pilot seat. Twelve passengers sat buckled into their jump seats inside the cabin. They were known as Botched—humans who were no longer useful. I was flying them to their new home on the surface of a nearby planet, Arae, where they would join the other humans already deposited there.

I turned back to the dashboard. The damn light still hadn’t turned on. My eyelid spasmed. A glitch? I’d go to the med lab when I returned, see if they could do something about my uncontrollable reflex. I was 70% Kevlar-titanium steel and 30% organic flesh. My people, the Krad, took the best parts from the humans, those traits that would help our evolution. We wanted human senses—taste, smell, and touch—to enhance our AI auditory and visual processing.

But now, odor was annoying me. I grabbed my tiny container of cinnamon oil and dabbed it below my nostrils to hide the smell of sweat and human gases coming from the cabin.

I sighed and glanced at the clearance light. Still dark. What in the name of Kradonovan the Mighty?

I grabbed the comm. “Control room, what’s causing this delay?”

Someone giggled on the other end, and laughter erupted from the cockpit’s speaker.

“Hey, what’s going on?”

A familiar, irritating voice replied. Gemini. “Hello, Mercuria. I just thought you’d like to sit for a while with your precious Botched. I know how much you love them.”

I clenched my jaw. He wasn’t supposed to be in the command room, but he’d probably charmed his way in, just to taunt me.

“Control room”—my voice trembled—“clear my shuttle for takeoff.” I disengaged the comm, not wanting to hear Gemini’s cackles. I would inform Supervisor Dex upon my return. Gemini was violating safety protocols.

I glanced behind me, and my gaze landed on a man in the first row. He watched me with curious eyes, a frown plastered on his face. Next to him, a woman pressed her hands together in front of her chest. Eyes closed, her lips moved in a soft chant.

I cleared my throat. “Sorry for the delay. We’ll be taking off shortly.”

Silence.

The humans were afraid of the Krad and they had good reason to be. Our kind had harvested them from their home planet thousands of years ago and had given them a new life aboard our fleet. Their species had a biomarker—a complex spiraled DNA sequence unique to anything we’d ever encountered before in the universe. Homo sapiens’ genetic mutations allowed us to harness bacteria that increased our lifespan by a full century.

Humans were pretty important to my people, so we took them and traveled with them everywhere we went. This might have been going on for at least a thousand years. Nobody really knew for sure.

It was a symbiotic relationship. Krad fed and sheltered the humans, and in return, they supplied their biomass, which fed our ship’s harvester. But after so many years, a human’s biomarker—what we called their essence—dried up. When that happened, they were assigned Botched status, meaning they no longer served a purpose on our ship, the Aragonite.

In the cabin, a woman sobbed. It wasn’t unusual for some of the Botched to overreact. They were leaving the only life they had known—in the bowels of our ship—where they’d kept sleep quarters and communal areas. The humans governed themselves, preferring to keep their society closed. As long as they hooked into the tubes inside their sleep bunks and provided us with their daily biosamples, we were fine with that arrangement.

And yet, they still feared us. Other Krad were often cruel. If a few teenage Krad imbibed too much petrol fluid, their drunkenness would cause them to wander into the human zone and cause trouble.

Some of the humans trusted me because I was around more than the other Krad. I resided in a narrow room close to the shuttle dock. It made my job easier. Usually, my orders had me making shuttle runs to drop groups of Botched several times a week. Sometimes, there were only four people, but once, there had been twenty—my biggest load. There were only seats for sixteen on the shuttle, so that had been awkward. Mostly, I was isolated from other Krad, except for when I ventured to the upper levels to visit Supervisor Dex and eat in the food hall.

The green light flipped on. “Finally,” I muttered and engaged the thruster engines. The shuttle vibrated as the glider track rose and hooked in. The automated countdown began. I didn’t need the info, but it helped to prepare the humans.

“Ten, nine, eight,” said an automated feminine voice. I leaned back in my seat, bracing myself for the rush of entering the dark void of space.

“Seven, six…”

That part never got old.

“Five, four…”

In the back, a woman wailed.

“Three…”

It’ll be okay, I wanted to tell her. She sounded so scared.

“Two, one.”

The shuttle lurched forward, careening along the glider track. Our bodies pressed against our seats as the shuttle launched out of the narrow tunnel. In three seconds, we were clear of the Aragonite.

There was nothing but pitch-black space punctuated by distant stars. We lost gravity, and the passengers grew silent.

I let my arms float up and admired my silver and orange metal coating, my elegant titanium fingers. After a minute, I pressed the button to turn on the announcement system.

A familiar recorded message began to play, one I’d heard a thousand times by now. “Dear Humans, you’ll soon be arriving on Planet Arae. The shuttle carrying you will dock at a location called Base Point. You’ll each receive a pack containing water filtration tablets, protein packs, blankets, and other necessities. It is important that you seek shelter quickly as weather conditions on Arae change drastically at night.”

The computer’s voice had a warm, cheerful tone, meant to comfort.

“You should expect to encounter other humans who have been dropped off previously. However, the Krad have no idea if those humans are friendly. In fact, we don’t know the survivability conditions on the planet as the Krad have cut ties with the humans on Arae.”

I paused the recording and let that information sink in. This is where the Botched usually lost it. If they were going to cry or scream or shout profanities, this would be the point where it happened.

The chatter of human voices sounded behind me, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. People were talking over each other. I tilted my head and watched with my enhanced peripheral vision.

The man in front, the one with the calm, curious eyes, hushed the others. “Stay strong, we’re going down there and nothing can change that fact. We must stay strong and stay together. Just like I told you. Just like we rehearsed.”

I started the recording again.

“The Krad appreciate your service onboard our ship. Generations of Krad are grateful for your contributions. Please note, we will not be returning to retrieve you. Arae is your new home. Going forward, do not approach the shuttles or attempt contact. There will be turbulence as we enter the planet’s atmosphere. Please make sure your belt straps are buckled. Thank you and have a wonderful day.”

The entry into the planet’s atmosphere shook the vessel and rattled my calcium-tipped Kevlar teeth, along with the bits of hardware and ligaments that connected metal to tissue. I had to visit med lab and tighten up after about every third shuttle ride.

Usually, I let the shuttle’s AI handle the flying, but today, I felt like enabling the manual controls, so I lowered our altitude and soared through the clouds. As we flew 10,000 feet above sea level, I blinked in awe. Cerulean-blue sky and bright, clear sunshine from a nearby star stretched before me. The temperature gauge displayed 28° Celsius.

Conditions were prime for a drop.

The shuttle passed over a blue-green lake—the vast source of fresh water was why I’d picked out this location for the humans. Those who outgrew their usefulness to the Krad settled here and had been doing so for several decades as our ship orbited above. I spied the outcropping that stretched out from the shore and nudged the shuttle in that direction. After banking, I gently rested the shuttle onto the platform.

Then I powered down the thrusters, unbuckled from my seat, and rose to face the passengers.

A weird thing happened.

I don’t know why, but for some reason, I touched the energy weapon that rested in a holster at my left hip. I’d been flying these shuttle trips, dropping off Botched for six years now and had never drawn my gun even once.

A nervous little flutter happened inside my chest. My right eye twitched again. Please, don’t let me glitch.

Then I said—I always felt awkward about this part—“Does anybody have any questions?”

The humans regarded me with frowns. The man who was their leader unbuckled and stood to face me with narrowed eyes.

He didn’t say anything. Perhaps he hadn’t heard me.

“Do you have a question?” Then I remembered him. He lived near my sleep cube with his family.

“You’re a monster.” He clenched his fists and veins stood out on his temples, looking as if they would burst.

My hand went to my gun again. Weirdest thing. I didn’t even realize I was reaching for it. Must have been a glitch in my circuitry. I really needed a med lab visit.

The chanting woman next to him grabbed his arm. “Royne, no. Don’t endanger yourself.”

But Royne just kept staring at me with icy eyes. “What you’re doing is wrong. Your kind—the Krad—are enslaving our people, using us up, and then tossing us away like trash on this planet.”

I shook my head. “I don’t understand why you’re angry. You and the others are going free. You can live on this planet with other humans like you, away from Krad.”

The others rose from their seats. I entered the code to open the shuttle door and lower the ramp. As it descended, I waved at the people to file out.

But Royne stood in place, his gaze fixed on me. “And what kind of life is this? A planet that isn’t ours. A life we didn’t ask for, trapped here with no hope of ever finding our real home. Your people have hijacked the human species. You’ve destroyed us.”

I didn’t know what to say. A few of the people started filing off the shuttle.

The woman touched his arm. “Come on, Royne. I never want to see one of these creatures again.”

Still, he stared me down for another half-minute—it was intense—until an off-kilter smile crept across his face. “You’re right, Lana.” He pointed at me. “I never want to lay eyes on your ugly Krad face ever again.”

Then he and Lana walked off the shuttle.

As I lifted off, I breathed a sigh of relief to be rid of them. They should be thanking me. On other Krad ships, humans got shoved out of the airlock or jettisoned in pods onto dangerous planets.

I switched on autopilot for the ride back to the Aragonite.

As I tapped my fingers, I noticed my hands shaking.

END OF PREVIEW

Here’s the link to buy the book and support a charity!

Coded Red – Chapter 1 Sneak Peek

I’m so excited to drop Coded Red (Book 2 in the Cyborg Guardian Chronicles). Here’s a peek at Chapter 1…

Coded Red

The Soba Calais began its descent through Earth’s atmosphere. Strapped in my passenger seat, my cyborg cognition tracked every rattling nerve and bone in my body as the ship hurtled through the air at Mach 25—five times the speed of sound. The ship’s exterior was built of reinforced carbon-carbon composite, made to withstand temperatures in excess of 1,260 degrees Celsius on reentry.

The minutes ticked by before the vessel slowed and reached a cruising altitude. I gazed through the small portal window inside my cramped cabin. As we soared above the cloudscape, bulbous white clouds stretched below like a luminous sea.

I struggled against my restraints, but the Scyther had bound me tightly and left me alone. He was a robot, and when I’d studied him with my sensors, there had been no biological data readings—no heartbeat, no sweat. His heat output was that of a machine’s, and there were no biological components to the Scyther. His glowing red eyes bored into me whenever he looked my way.

My stomach rolled as the ship encountered a patch of turbulence. My cognition flashed: Elevation 29,000 feet above sea level and descending. I stopped trying to squirm out of my cuffs and gazed out the window. Had I been to Earth before? Someone had wiped all my memories around the same time NeuroDyne Corporation experimented on me and turned me into a cyborg as part of a highly classified project known as THARP, which was really code for the Cyborg Trials.

I’d woken up on Luna, the Moon’s domed colony, after being smuggled off Earth by a NeuroDyne rogue scientist and his sister. The scientist, Newt, had disappeared mysteriously after we arrived on Luna.

And on this Earthbound voyage, traveling farther away from Luna, Ryken talked in my ear.

“Diya, I hope you’re listening. I’m still here.”

I closed my eyes and allowed a half-smile to escape. Ryken was a Memory Stalker—a coder who had the capability to hack into memories uploaded into Cerulean, the online storage hub created by NeuroDyne. Ryken had helped me escape from the Scyther and researched clues about Newt’s disappearance. And now, he’d hacked into my EarthShine—the memory lens I wore in my right eye and controlled through a gemstone in my ear.

Ryken was brilliant, and for some reason, he was helping me even though I was a lost cause. The Scyther was probably returning me to NeuroDyne, where I would be killed or forced to undergo more experiments.

“Diya, say something. I’m trying to tune in frequencies and see if we can communicate two-way instead of just me talking to you.”

He paused and waited, but I bit my lip. Should I respond? Should I encourage him to talk to me and indulge his ridiculous dream that he could actually help me out of this situation?

“Diya?” His voice, so far away, sounded shaky.

“I’m… here.” My voice was raspy from disuse.

After a two-second delay, “Holy shit!” His voice erupted in my ear and I winced. “I hear you! I hear you!” He clapped.

“Okay, take it easy. When you shout, it’s loud as Mars. I can’t control the volume.”

“Sorry, sorry.” Now he practically whispered. “You don’t know how relieved I am to hear your voice. To know you’re okay.” My heart did a somersault. “When that Scyther took you away, I felt like a puddle of piss. I didn’t know how to stop him.”

“You couldn’t have. You said it yourself, the Scyther is unstoppable.”

He paused. “Where are you exactly?”

“I’m in a ship, alone at the moment. We’re cruising somewhere on Earth, still at high altitude.”

Elevation 25,000 feet above sea level.

The GPS tracking on your EarthShine shows you’re over the Atlantic Ocean, heading north.”

“Iceland.” I closed my eyes.

“NeuroDyne headquarters.”

“Was there ever any doubt? They want their stolen property back.”

“This is bullshit.” Something slammed in the background, likely his fist.

I laughed bitterly. “At least I’ll finally get some answers.”

Silence.

“You there?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“How are we managing to talk anyway?”

“NeuroDyne keeps the Cerulean servers in many locations, both on Earth and on Luna. They do this for security and contingency reasons. If one server farm goes down in Peru, it won’t bring down the entire array. I hacked into one of the servers on Luna with a little help from my friends and tapped into the comms link they use for bouncing data back and forth.”

“Impressive. Will we still be able to talk when this ship lands?”

“Yeah, even though we’re over 200,000 miles apart, we can talk. There’s just a little over one second delay from the time it takes the radio waves to propagate.”

“It just seems too good to be true that I’m hearing your voice like you’re right here.”

“Don’t give up.”

“If I can find a way out, I will.”

He sighed. “And when you get out, I’ll be waiting. I’m booking passage to Earth, so I can be closer and help you escape.”

I shook my head in frustration, even though he couldn’t see. “No! Don’t. If you get anywhere near NeuroDyne and they discover we’re communicating…” Plus, leaving Luna for the home planet was a super expensive trip with a long waiting list, thanks to the huge tourism influx.

“Be sure to hide the device—your earring. Make sure to protect it. They could figure it out.”

I said nothing.

After a while, he gulped. “I’ll be tracking your location. Thank Mars for the lost and found setting on the EarthShine devices.”

I chuckled. “Lost and found, huh?”

“Like you.” I knew from his voice he was grinning. “Don’t worry. I’ll get you back. You’re a Luna girl, not an Earthling.” His words morphed into a yawn.

“Have you slept?”

“Not really. I’ve been waiting to hear from you and know you’re all right.”

“Well, now you know, so you can sleep. You’re no good to anybody if you’re sleep deprived.”

He groaned. “To be honest, I do feel like shit.”

“I’m just sitting here in a room while this ship flies. It’s pointless for us to talk right now. Get some sleep and tune in later.”

“As much as I hate to say you’re right… Yeah, I need some sleep. But I’m setting my alarm, and I’ll be back in three hours.”

“You need more sleep than that.”

The ship turned and banked as I waited for his reply.

“But what if something happens to you?”

“You’re not even on the same planet. There’s nothing you can do.”

Silence. For a long time.

Finally, he came back. “This fucking sucks. I’ll go to the police. I’ll take your story to the media.”

“Ryken, you’re delusional from lack of sleep.” I couldn’t believe I was trying to calm him down. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? “We’ll make plans after you’ve gotten rest. You’re no good to me this way.”

“Okay, Diya. I’ll log back in later to talk.”

“Got it.”

“I’ll talk to you soon.” And then he was gone, and the hollow pit in my stomach grew deeper.

The ship descended to 16,000 feet and through the clouds over a vast, silvery ocean that stretched out below. The luminescent blues of the high altitudes were gone, replaced by a dreary gray sky. The ship slowed and a land mass loomed. After another minute, a city came into view. It was Reykjavík, Iceland. My GPS told me so. Tall, spiraling towers rested next to a quaint seaside village that had been preserved for tourists and historians.

A man-made island rested a quarter mile from shore. On it stood a massive glass and steel structure in the shape of a cube. A massive neon sign glowed red: NeuroDyne.

The ship slowed and hovered over the building, which occupied the entire island. The sun was just beginning to set and cast red and orange streaks across the sky; panels on the structure’s face glowed like fireflies.

Through my window, I gazed at churning waves bashing against the sides of the island. There was no way on or off the land mass, I realized, as the Soba Calais landed on a platform on top of the ten-story building, unless you traveled by boat or air. NeuroDyne didn’t fuck around with security.

The humming of the thruster engines faded, and the door to my closet-sized cabin opened. The Scyther appeared, red eyes glowing, and unbuckled my restraints with his metal hands. There was no sign of the gun canister it had used to shoot me and threaten Ryken. It must’ve been retractable. He’d also had a blade earlier, and I wasn’t sure where that had gone either. If I was ever going to fight this machine, I needed more information about how he worked.

“Get up.” He stepped into the corridor. I rose, never taking my eyes from his. I followed him into the narrow corridor, and he pushed me toward an open-air hatch where I descended a long ramp that led outside. A gust of cool Earth air washed over my cheeks. I opened my mouth and sucked in natural air, not the recycled ventilation I’d been breathing on Luna and the ship. As fresh oxygen filled my lungs, droplets of misty seawater sprayed my face. Licking my lips, I tasted salt. As the wind tossed my locks, I fought the urge to wipe the hair from my eyes.

Ahead, an open door led inside the NeuroDyne building where a woman wearing a white lab coat stood. Beside her, a soldier carried a semi-automatic rifle.

As I marched along the platform, ocean spray whipping my skin, I glanced at the roof’s edge and imagined darting off the side and into the freezing ocean water. With my hands restrained, I would surely sink.

But now that I was a cyborg, would drowning even kill me?

What had I become?

Star Wars Rise of Skywalker

Last night I saw Star Wars Rise of Skywalker…here’s everything I liked and what could be better.

As a child of the 80s, I saw Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in the theater. I was seven when I watched ROTJ and as you can imagine, was obsessed with Ewoks. I mean, who wouldn’t be? That was also the movie where we met Jabba the Hut and Leah’s infamous gold bikini.

The new movies that came afterward were not my favorites. Let’s not discuss the name-that-shall-not-be-mentioned-that-begins-with-J-ends-with-S. And, no, it’s not JJ Abrams.

What I love about the final sequels & Rise of Skywalker:

  • Rey is a badass female heroine.
  • Kylo Ren is a nuanced, fascinating villain who I found myself secretly wanting to join the dark side for.
  • The effects are incredible (so much spaceship goodness).
  • Stormtroopers are people, too.
  • New robots that include BB8 and the little cone-head droid in Rise of Skywalker.
  • A sweet farewell to Leia. RIP Carrie Fisher.

    The movie hit a lot of nostalgic notes that a fan like me appreciated:
  • We got to say goodbye to our favorites: Luke, Leia, Han.
  • Went back to where it all started.
  • An epic Death Star fight scene among monster waves.
  • Lots of fantastic space battles.
  • Ewok cameo!

Was it perfect? No, but I’m going to leave all the nitpicking to critics and hardcore fans. I recently bought a BB8 mug that plays sounds. I love it so much!

BB8 mug

Cyberpunk Fairy Tale – Ruby’s Revenge

Ruby’s Revenge
A gritty, cyberpunk retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.

cyberpunk fairy tale

The wind shoved the unlocked balcony door open. High up, on the tower’s twenty-fifth floor, such gusts were common. Neon City’s artificial moonlight filtered in and cast its glow on the blood-spattered floor of a private apartment.

A media screen wall flashed blue, then flickered against inky darkness. He’d seen to the lights already—slashing the wires with his razor-sharp metal claws.

Now he waited in a shadowy corner. Patient. Licking his muzzle, he knew it wouldn’t be long.

Outside in the corridor, he heard soft footsteps and caught the scent of her hyacinth-oiled skin. Ever since the first moment he’d glimpsed her, he was captivated. Most humans were barely worth a second glance, but Ruby was different. A life force stirred within her, and he meant to drink every drop.

His attention swerved back to the door when the hallway floorboards creaked under her weight. Tail swaying, he envisioned his alloyed claws pressed against her graceful neck.

She would fight him. He knew this, and yet he persisted, driven by primal urges.

As she crept inside, her soft deerskin boots glided soundlessly across moonlit tiles, but she halted when she reached the first blood spot. Gasping, she drew a katana sword from her belt. He couldn’t help but grin as he ran his tongue over pointed canines.

“Show yourself.” Her voice rang out like a siren to pierce the darkness.

Another gust whipped the balcony curtains into ghostlike apparitions. She spun slowly, her wide eyes scanning the room, searching the darkness. Through the bedroom door, she spied a figure on the floor. As her eyes adjusted, she saw what was left of her grandmother.
A guttural sound escaped her throat, and her shoulders hunched, but only for a moment. Then her gaze shifted to his corner. Steadying herself, she raised the blade.

The beast growled like a race car ready to burst from the starting line. “Ruby.”

Her knees shook. “Why?” she asked, her voice choking. “Grandmother was innocent. It’s me you want.”

Kingston Wolf stalked forward until Ruby’s face was silhouetted in the moonlight. “To teach you a lesson, beauty.”

Her hands gripped the sword, squeezing the hilt, silently testing the balance.

“I’ll never stop hunting you. When I want something, I get it.” He reared up on massive hind legs, and his cybernetic arms gleamed as he extended his claws.

She held her ground. “You messed with the wrong girl.”

Wolf lunged, but she dodged him and jabbed. Heat blazed behind his left knee. Tipping his head, he howled and darted, making contact and bearing down on her. She toppled underneath his beastly metal mass. Digging his claws into the tiles, he tried to pin her, but she elbowed his jaw.

He recoiled and rolled off. Somersaulting into the opposite corner, she leaped to her feet.

Wolf snarled. “Why are you making this so difficult?” Then he charged, but she surged forward, raising her sword high and twisting her body.

The blade dazzled in the moonlight, mesmerizing Wolf, even when it plunged through his plated chest and pierced his synthetic canine heart.

The last thing he saw was Ruby standing over him, the mock moon reflected in her eyes.

**

On the last night of his life, Ben Mason eyed his microtab. Fairland Towers. A murder. “Shit,” he mumbled. Normally, he appreciated the night shift. Few other detectives on Neon City’s force did. He figured the work kept him out of trouble. Out of the bars.

As he walked the busy pedway, he glanced up at the manufactured sphere. Glowing serenely over the city, it reminded the residents that a moon orbited Earth, only it hadn’t been glimpsed in decades through the vast smog cover.

The orb was turned on high luminescence tonight. The full moon brought out the worst in the lunars. Lots of brawls and domestic calls.

But starting the night with a murder case was rare. Usually, homicides happened only once or twice a month on his shift. You had to work hard to kill someone these days. Victims were shuttled to clinics where replacement organs were hastily printed and implanted. So most of the time, his cases involved beat-up hookers or overdosing junkies.

Mason raised his half-smoked cigarette to his lips and checked his microtab again. The bulletin had been updated. Murder victims: 1 elderly woman, 1 lunar.

He inhaled in surprise, sputtering on tobacco fumes. A dead Moondog? That was rare. He’d only encountered it one other time in his seven years on the force. It had been a mob hit—lunar on lunar violence. You didn’t mess around with Moondogs. He could be executed for even using that word. Enhanced Canis Lunar was the official name for the ruling class of cyborgs.

Upon reaching Fairland Towers, he flicked his cigarette away, unbuttoned his trench coat, and entered the lobby. As he rode the elevator to the twenty-fifth floor, his temples throbbed. Another night of investigating the worst that people do to each other. No time to try to imagine the good things that were left, the people who still aspired to something, the few who weren’t always trying to steal from everyone else.

His first few months on the force had been enough to convince him how ugly people could be. Then the lunars came along and things got even worse.

Several first responders huddled in the hallway outside the apartment. One cop recognized him and nodded.

“Whose crime scene?” Mason asked.

“Castro.” The beat cop tilted his head at the door.

As Mason entered, the stench of blood and human waste assaulted his nostrils. Detective Castro stood a few feet away.

“Mason,” she said, “it’s about time you showed up. You’ve got a dead lunar on your hands.” She lowered her voice. “They’ll want results… fast. This one was high ranking.”

“What’s the scoop?”

Castro swooped her arm as if showing off a piece of art. “Eighty-two-year-old woman by the name of Fiona Crystal. Fifteen-year resident. No record.” She started toward the bedroom and glanced back. “Prepare yourself.”

“I’m cool,” he said, despite his roiling stomach.

“The victims ended up in the bedroom, although there was a struggle in the living room,” she continued.

Mason gagged when he spotted a pair of human legs on the floor. Her bloody limbs were covered in gashes; her entire torso had been ripped off.

“She hasn’t been dead long,” Castro added. “And then there’s this.”

She led him around a corner into a bedchamber occupied by a four-poster antique bed. A dead lunar hung, pegged to the wall, near the headboard. The cyborg was so tall that even with his shoulders nailed high above the bed, his feet still dragged the floor.

Mason whistled under his breath, a nervous habit.

“Yeah, it’s a real shit show. Not the kind of case I’d want if I were you.”

He ignored her and approached the cyborg’s body, but she grabbed his arm. “Not too close. We’re still analyzing.” Nearby, a hovering drone scanned every inch of the crime scene.

He hesitated and stared at the metal beast. “What did they use to—?”

“Pin him to the wall? They’re spikes of some kind. Maybe it was from the woman’s fireplace?”

The end of two staves jutted out from the wolfish shoulders. The lunar’s head was slashed at the throat, but not decapitated. Cyborg blood streamed from the wounds, covering the beast’s body in a sticky, green ooze. The assailant had sliced open the lunar, splitting the creature from crotch to chest. Gauges, gears, and bionic organs had been ripped out and tossed on the floor.

Mason was rarely shocked in his line of work, but this was an exception. Castro studied him. “It’s a mind fuck, for sure,” she said. “Each time I look, it just gets worse.”

“Why rip him open?”

“To pull something out. Follow me.” She led him across the living room to a bathroom.

He gazed at the dead lady’s cerulean tiled floor and ceiling. On the far side was a small tub. Nothing out of the ordinary, until he noticed all the blood.

Someone had gathered the pieces of the elderly woman’s body—head, part of her arm, and other bits he assumed made up her torso—and rested them in the tub.

He gagged and launched the contents of his stomach into the toilet, barely opening the lid in time.

“You owe me, Jenkins,” Castro yelled over her shoulder.

Mason rinsed his mouth in the sink. “Glad I helped make you a little richer.”

She shrugged. “Gotta keep spirits up around here. Let’s talk on the balcony. Get you some air. You’re looking mighty green still.”

Outside, he sucked in the breeze despite the pollution. It smelled better than the stale death cloud inside the apartment.

“Maybe the perp came in, found the woman half-eaten, and slaughtered the cyborg,” she said. “Why anyone would go up against a lunar… especially him. Everyone knows Kingston Wolf owned half of Neon City.”

Back in the apartment, Mason studied the living room. A coffee table and chair had been overturned and knocked aside. Deep gash marks interrupted the parquet wood tiles. Must have been a hell of a struggle.

“The scanner picked up evidence in the bedroom. A strand of hair. Human. Doesn’t match the old lady’s.” Castro smirked as she read her micro. “A positive ID. You’re gonna owe me big time for this.”

He flashed a grin. “Dinner on me.”

“Cheeky,” she muttered and handed the tablet over.

Mason’s breathing sped up as he studied the woman’s profile. Locks of fuchsia hair framed her cheekbones and heavy glam makeup obscured her delicate features. “Ruby Rollins,” he said, reading the info stream. “Only nineteen years old. Just a kid.” He paused. “Jesus, the victim was her grandmother.”

“There’s your motive. The kid got an address?”

He nodded. “On my way.”

As he left the tower, he glanced up. The counterfeit moon showered the city in a ghoulish glow.

**
Mason soared above the city streets in his unmarked sky cruiser. The Rollins girl’s last known address was in the abandoned toy district. With so few children born nowadays, demand had nosedived. His chance to have offspring had passed. Gone, years ago, when Marla left him after his drinking got worse.

He figured humans were dying off, anyway. So far, he’d resisted the peer pressure to get augmentations. His fellow detectives had biochips connecting them to the insurance companies who monitored their health. His buddy Smith had chips implanted in his ocular cavities giving him night vision and access to the info stream just by thinking.

But Mason waved his hands. “Nah, that’s not for me,” he told his pals. “I don’t want SimCorp getting in my head.”

The cruiser’s dash pinged, snapping him from his thoughts. He approached Ruby’s building rooftop and landed. Eight stories above street level, the breeze lashed his face and the tail of his trench coat whipped behind him. He rested a hand at his hip, feeling the reassuring weight of his sidearm. The rooftop was empty. Even so, his heart raced and the hairs on his neck stood up. He felt like he was being watched, though clearly there was nobody around. Crime scenes rarely fazed him, but every time he pictured Ruby’s grandmother, his stomach churned. He launched a security perimeter drone to guard his cruiser and alert him to visitors.

Inside the building, he descended a steep staircase until he reached the third floor. Moldy grime covered the corridor walls and the cheap 3D-printed tiles were caked in years of dust. He passed a few apartments, heard a media screen blaring inside one, but no other signs of life. The place smelled like old newspapers, glue, and rust. He couldn’t imagine a girl as pretty as Ruby holed up here.

Mason reached her unit and clutched his gun at his side. He rapped on the door and waited as the laugh track down the hall echoed.

He knocked again, harder this time. Nothing. The deadbolt was old school, not the high-tech smart networks of fancier apartments. Retrieving his police-issued bump key, he unlatched it.

Inside the apartment, a dim table lamp flickered on. Motion sensor. Heady scents of rose and lavender tinged the air. A gold velour couch occupied the center of the lofty room next to a zebra-striped throw rug.

Mason roamed the flat, checking the small bathroom and bedroom. Ruby’s bed was neatly made with a rose velvet comforter. He flicked on a light switch in the bathroom. Five red bulbs bathed him in a scarlet glow. He inspected his face in the mirror. The hollows under his eyes were more obvious today. No doubt about it, he was aging faster than his augmented friends.

Something near the front door clinked. He drew his revolver and tiptoed over. A figure stood in the living room, partially obscured in the shadows. Mason knew right away when he saw its massive size, midnight black hair, and ochre eyes set back atop a steel muzzle. A lunar—a big one.

Mason edged out of sight, as the cyborg rummaged through Ruby’s living room. His nerves tingled with adrenaline. At any moment, the lunar would walk into the bedroom and discover him. Despite being above the law, most lunars operated by a code. They rarely harmed police officers. Usually.

He took a chance and holstered his weapon, stepping into view. “Don’t be alarmed,” he announced. “Neon City PD.”

The lunar recoiled, growled, and flashed his claws.

“Whoa,” Mason said, palms up. “You can check my badge. I’m a detective investigating a crime.”

The lunar relaxed his shoulders. “Why didn’t you show yourself when I entered?”

“I was in the bathroom. Nature was calling.” He smirked, hoping the cyborg would buy it. “I’m Detective Ben Mason. Have we met?”

“Crimson Wolf.”

Alarm bells rang in Mason’s head. Crimson was a notorious lunar mafia boss. He was guilty of many crimes including murder, but they could never find enough evidence. Not that you could convict the cyborg mafia anyway, not when every judge and jury feared retribution.

What was he doing here?

“So,” Mason said. “Looks like the apartment owner isn’t around.”

Crimson growled, low and guttural. “She’ll be here.”

“You a friend of hers?”

“A friend of a friend.” As he spoke, his lips curled to reveal large canines.

Mason rocked back on his heels. “Huh. I have a few questions for her and bad news to deliver… Her grandmother just died. Murder.”

Crimson held Mason’s gaze, unflinching.

“You happen to know anything about that? We believe there were two perps at the crime scene. One who killed the grandmother, and another who killed a lunar.”

“Kingston Wolf was my brother. Ruby Rollins murdered him.” Crimson’s metal claws flicked out from his fists. “I’m here for justice.”

Mason’s heart threatened to sprint from his chest, but he had to stay cool. “Guess we’re here for the same reason. I have questions for Miss Rollins.”

“You don’t believe she’s guilty?”

“Well,” Mason said, “I wasn’t around when it happened. I have to follow the law—innocent until proven guilty. So, I have questions for her, and I’ll probably end up taking her to the station—”

“Useless,” the lunar hissed. He swiped a meaty fist in the detective’s direction as if brushing Mason off.

Mason’s microtab buzzed with an alert from his security drone. An image of someone in a red hooded cloak appeared on screen. Ruby. She entered the building lobby. Mason glanced at the cyborg. Should he leave and cut her off? Take her to the police station? Or let the Wolf have her?

Crimson Wolf would surely kill Ruby. And if Mason tried to intervene with a lunar who was hell-bent on vengeance, he would end up a cadaver too.

“What’s on your screen?” Crimson asked.

“This? Just my annoying boss asking me about the case for the hundredth time. Bosses—so aggravating, right?”

Crimson sniffed the air, hunching his shoulders. “She’s near.”

Crap, crap, crap, thought Mason. So much for heading Ruby off.

“Look, I have to follow procedure here.” He searched the cyborg’s canine eyes. “You understand my dilemma, don’t you?”

But Crimson Wolf growled.

“Let’s make a deal,” Mason said. “I’ll ask her questions. If she confesses, you can have her.” His instincts screamed against this, but what else could he do? “If she denies it, I take her to the station and book her. Let the justice system figure it out.”

“You’re wasting my time, Detective.”

“You’ll get your chance if she confesses.” Mason’s throat was dry. “You can have her, and I’ll never tell a soul.”

“You test my patience.” Crimson glared at Mason. “Fine, I’ll wait behind the door while you ask your questions.” He crept toward the bedroom.

The doorknob rattled. Sweat dripped down Mason’s forehead, and he loosened his collar. Messing with Crimson meant certain death. Even for a cop, it was beyond foolish to go up against a lunar. If his plan backfired, he was done for.

He stood in the middle of the living room and pulled out his badge. Ruby shut the door behind her and cast off her hood. Wild fuchsia locks cascaded down the back of her cape.

As he cleared his throat, she spun. “Who are you?”

“Hey there, I’m Detective Ben Mason. Neon City PD. Here’s my badge in case you want to—”

She strode forward and grabbed it from his hand. He caught a whiff of the flowers again. Mason’s gaze fell to a speck of dried green cyber fluid on her ear when she shoved the badge back at him.

“Why are you in my apartment?”

“I can explain. You didn’t answer my knock, and I thought something might be wrong.” He paused and began tapping on his micro. “Unfortunately, I have terrible news.” He frowned. “Your grandmother was found murdered this evening.”

Ruby clenched her fists and fought back tears. “I know.”

Mason’s throat tightened. He didn’t want this girl to die at the hands of Crimson Wolf. This was madness. “How would you know that already?” he asked softly.

She bit her bottom lip as if measuring her words; Mason waited. Please don’t confess, he pleaded in his mind.

Finally, she met his gaze. “What do you want from me?”

“Do you recognize this lunar?” Sweat made him nearly drop his microtab, but he managed to hand it over.

She studied the screen, then her eyes flashed to his in confusion.

“Take your time, please,” he blurted out.

Instead of a picture on the screen, Mason had written:

Crimson Wolf behind bedroom door.
Leave w me now.

Her jaw tensed, and he glimpsed her pupils contract. They could still walk out alive–he was sure of it. But everything hinged on her next move.

She thrust the device into his hand and moved closer. “I’ve never seen him before.”

“Very well,” he said. “I’m taking you in for questioning. We have to leave right—”

Before he could finish, Ruby lunged toward him and grabbed his revolver, yanking it from his holster. In one leap, she faced the bedroom door and fired into it.

Crimson shrieked and uttered a high-pitched howl. As the creature slumped to the floor, Ruby loomed over him and emptied the gun chamber until he stopped twitching.

Every muscle in Mason’s body stiffened, and he felt as if he walked a tightrope to her bedroom. “What have you done?”

Ruby glared at him. “He was here to kill me and would have killed you too. Afterward, he’d have cut your eyes out to make sure you didn’t have an ocular camera streaming video.”

“I don’t have implants,” he muttered.

“Good.” She kicked Crimson’s body. Grabbing a knife from her belt, she pried a steel claw from the cyborg’s hand.

Ruby was eerily calm. She wiped the fluorescent cyber fluid from Crimson’s barbed digit on his coat, her cherry red lips parted in a smile.

He’d expected a frightened young girl, reduced to tears, collapsing in his arms.

From under her bed, she grasped a jewelry box in which she laid the cyber claw next to a dozen others–her collection of trophies.

Mason’s stomach twisted, and she was there in front of him, guiding him to the edge of her bed.
Ruby was no hapless victim; she hunted lunars.

“Don’t worry, Detective,” she whispered. “This will all be over soon.”

The weight of the badge in his palm reminded him that he should lunge for her, knock her down, retrieve his gun. His duty was to haul this murderous woman to his precinct. But as he stared into her eyes, her pupils morphed into crescents. What was she? His mind buzzed, shouting at him to flee, but his limbs were dead weights, dragging him down.

“I’m going to take care of everything,” she said. “You have no augmentations, right? Nothing in your eyes?”

His response was automatic; he’d repeated it so often for his coworkers. “Nah, that’s not for me.”

“Good. No witnesses. You understand, don’t you?”

Something inside him snapped, and he wished for a drink–one last toast. To whatever humankind was now becoming.

The last thing he saw was her heart-shaped face, peering at him in the dim bedroom light, as the artificial moon cast a hazy glow on her skin. A shiver rippled along his spine when the steel barrel met his temple.

Detective Castro was the first on the scene.

She found Mason sprawled atop Ruby’s bed. In stiff hands, he clutched the gun that had killed Neon City’s most notorious lunar.

His lifeless eyes watched the fake moon beaming down from the smog-choked sky.

 

 

Summer travel and Good Omens

I hope your summer has started off nicely (or winter for my southern hemi friends). The weather in Chicago has finally warmed up following a chilly, rainy spring!

Last weekend, I took a trip to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Sometimes life in the city gets to be too much—frequent sirens (I live near a hospital), car horns beeping, garbage trucks in the alley—and it’s a real treat to sit quietly and stare at a lake. I captured a beautiful sunset. Check it out.

sunset

In book news…
Did you grab your copy of my novel, After We Fall? It’s free for my readers. Here’s the link again in case you missed it.

I’m 8,000 words into a book in a completely new series that features a robot as the main character. He struggles to survive in a post-apocalyptic world while carrying precious cargo. I don’t want to say more because it’s still early (a lot could change).

This is a novel in partnership with Molten Universe publishing, and I’ll find out if I can share an exclusive preview of the first chapter with you in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

What are you watching these days?
I’ve nearly finished Good Omens on Amazon (based on the book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman). Have you seen it? I’m enjoying the laugh-out-loud antics of an angel and a demon teaming up to prevent the apocalypse. The show features several Queen songs, so you really can’t go wrong. 🙂 😇😈

Gaiman is one of my favorite authors (currently reading American Gods which was made into a series on Starz). He also teaches a master class on writing, and it’s awesome to hear him describe where he gets ideas and to learn his work habits.

Quick favor to ask…
My friend, author KA Crow, is starting a new fantasy series and is looking for feedback from readers. When you fill out her short survey, you can register to win a signed copy of her first book when it comes out. KA is an amazing writer and good friend of mine, so please check it out. It takes less than a minute. Click here to give your 2 cents.

Books by Cameron Coral

Rogue Spark Series:

ALTERED (Book 1)

BRINK (Book 2)

DORMANT (Book 3)

SALVAGE (Book 4)

AFTER WE FALL (A Rogue Spark Novel) – get it for free on CameronCoral.com

Anthologies:

Dark Shadows 2: Voodoo and Black Magic of New Orleans (An Authors on a Train Short Story Collection)