Maven (The Endure series, book 1)
By S.A. Huchton
Genre: New Adult Sci-Fi Romance
"How far would you go for love?
Since losing her parents at 14, young prodigy Dr. Lydia Ashley has focused on one thing: an appointment on the Deep Water Research Command Endure. Now 21, she’s about to realize that dream, but nothing is how she imagined it would be. Her transitional sponsor forgets her, her new lab is in complete chaos, and, as if that weren’t enough, she’s about to discover something so horrific it could potentially destroy all life on the planet.
Daniel Brewer, a noted playboy and genius in his own right, may be exactly what she needs… Or he may make everything worse.
"Close your eyes," he said before opening the doors.
"Just do it." He smiled reassuringly.
Lydia sighed and shut her eyes. Daniel pressed his thumb to the scanner and the large bay doors parted. At her back, he guided her forward by the shoulders until she was a few feet from the stairs. Then he stepped around her. He wanted to see her reaction.
"Okay, you can look."
Her dark eyes opened, then widened at the sight before her. "Can I go up?" she asked.
Daniel nodded. After seeing her panicked state earlier, he thought she could probably use a distraction. Lydia raced up the six steps to the edge of the tank. Three sleek, gray heads popped above the surface to greet her. Two others hung back, the meeker of the pod, waiting for the verdict from the more outgoing ones.
"This is Gracie, the mother hen of our resident dolphin pod. You can recognize her by the heart-shaped spot between her eyes."
Lydia's grin was a mile wide. "Hello, Gracie. Nice to meet you." She reached out and touched the nearest dolphin. It rose to meet her, answering her greeting with a click and a whistle.
"This is Dora, Gracie's oldest daughter. She has an indentation on the top of her dorsal fin due to a run in with a shark. We almost lost her that time. She's a bit too friendly for her own good."
"Fozi is the youngest of the pod, a male. He's smaller than the others, but twice as loud." Daniel stroked the top of the dolphin's melon as he swam by.
"Back there are Lucinda and Talulah, impossibly rare twin girls. In the case of dolphin twins, one of them is usually stillborn or dies soon after birth. Those two are fighters, and stick together like nothing I've seen, but they also shy away from strangers."
Lydia looked elated. "They're beautiful. I've been wanting to see them since I got here. I was starting to think they were avoiding me."
"Not at all," Daniel said. "At this time of year they spend more time out than in."
"I wish we had one of their tubes running through the lab," she said. "They'd be a welcome sight every now and again."
"I know what you mean. I'd love to have them in the Tech Center too." He laughed as Gracie nudged her way in for another one of Lydia's pats. "She likes you. They aren't always so welcoming."
"Have you been successful in teaching them hand signals?"
He nodded. "Absolutely. The twins were pretty stubborn about it, but even they know twenty or more different signs. Daniel made two pumping motions with his right index finger. As Lydia reached out to touch Dora, she was met with a light spray of water from her blowhole. Daniel couldn't help but laugh loudly as she gasped in shock.
"Very funny," she said, wiping saltwater off of her face.
Daniel tossed her a towel hanging from a rack on the wall. "Just wanted to prove a point." He winked.
"Mission accomplished," she said through the terrycloth. "Speaking of, didn't we come here for something?"
"Oh, right." Daniel removed the drive from his pocket. He hopped down the stairs and grabbed a stepladder. Placing it against the wall, he climbed up and stuck the drive inside a container on a high shelf.
"You don't think someone will find it there?" Lydia asked.
"Nah," he said, pushing the container to the back. "They only use this stuff once every other year for a SCUBA class. That happened last month so I think we're safe for awhile."
He mounted the stairs again and perched on the tank edge next to her. "How are you doing?"
"Better, thanks," she said, running her hand along Fozi's side. "I still have this sick feeling of violation, but it's getting better."
She said nothing for a moment and was very quiet when she spoke again. "Since my family died, I haven't really felt comfortable anywhere. I've spent the last six years wanting nothing more than a place on the Endure. Coming here was like..." She stopped, swallowed, and began again. "Coming here was like coming home. To know that a place I care about so deeply, and my own lab at that, was abused for something so despicable... Yeah. Violation is the best word I can think of, but even that's an understatement."
Daniel reached out and laid a hand on her shoulder. He had been with the Endure since the beginning, but hadn't ever stopped to think if he considered this place as home. "Hey," he said, and she looked at him. "We'll get to the bottom of it. We'll fix it. Both of us."
She gave him a half-hearted smile. "I hope so, Daniel. I really do."
by S. A. Huchton
Genre: Science Fiction Romance (New Adult)
Available Now: Goodreads | Amazon| Barnes & Noble | Smashwords
"Tech genius Daniel Brewer isn't the only one with a romantic history. Already weighed down with the impossible problem of the Maven Initiative's plans for world domination and disaster, Dr. Lydia Ashley is finding it more and more difficult to keep things in balance. With an old flame reappearing and the schemes of a vindictive new rival thrown into the mix, her hopes for a life with Daniel may be on the brink of annihilation.
When Lydia's past is brought to light, one big secret could destroy everything."
At 1045, there was a quiet rapping at her door. Lydia turned to see Dr. Corvis standing there, smiling politely. It was like watching a shark circling for an attack.
"Do you need something, Dr. Corvis?" Lydia said.
"Dr. Miller and I have worked out a possible sequence of alterations for one of the bacteria. Care to take a look?"
Sure she was walking into a trap, Lydia agreed anyway. One of the work stations had been arranged with four different devices: an electron microscope, a centrifuge, a chromosome splitter more compact than any she had seen before, and a rotating rack for petri dishes.
"Where did that come from?" She indicated the splitter. The display screen on the top showed a squirming object, pinned in place by the microlasers hovering above the sample tray. The controls hummed, waiting for their next command.
"My own personal stash," Nick said, coming up behind her. He was closer than she would've liked, but given the confines of the area there wasn't anything for it.
Lydia was stunned. "You own a chromosome splitter? How did you afford that?"
Nick shrugged. "It was a gift from Dr. DeBeauvoir."
"He's as generous as he is brilliant," Dr. Corvis gushed.
"Uh huh." Lydia gave her a sidelong glance. "So what have you been working on?"
Dr. Corvis answered for him. "Dr. Miller had some amazing insights on how to achieve the necessary virulence while maintaining its water-borne nature."
"You figured that out? That was the one thing I was dreading the most. I had hoped to find a workaround so I wouldn't mess with bacteria's environmental needs." What Lydia hadn't said was that she was terrified of creating some super bug that would become airborne and infect everyone on the station.
Nick moved over to the electron microscope and looked into the eyepiece, adjusting the focus. "If you take a look here, you can see the segment of the chromosome we're targeting."
He took a step back and she positioned herself in front of the device. "What am I looking at, exactly?"
Nick leaned against the table, closing the distance between them some. He was close enough that she caught the scent of sandalwood from the soap he'd used since she'd known him at Stanford. Focus, she reminded herself.
"These base pairs are responsible for virulence and environment adaptation. They're right beside one another so it can be difficult to separate them. You have to know exactly what you're doing or you could wind up with something really nasty."
Lydia looked up from the eyepiece and was startled to find his face less than a foot away from her own. "Good thing you're here to make sure we don't do that then, I guess." She sounded like an idiot. His proximity was flustering her.
"I was about to make the first cut with the splitter, but I wanted to show you one other thing first." Nick slid up to the microscope and she skittered away, as though he might burn her if they touched.
If he noticed, he didn't show it. He made another slight adjustment to the eyepiece. "Here." They traded places again. "This is the chromosome segment responsible for host selection. According to Anna, this was being altered to make it viable on multiple cellular types. What this basically means is that the cell wall degradation mechanism will be much more powerful and adapted to both rigid cells from plants and softer cells from animals. Really wicked stuff."
He was calling her Anna already? Damn. That woman worked fast. She pushed it aside. Lydia focused on what was important: a bacterium that could attack both flora and fauna. Something that strong could be devastating. "So it feeds off of organic material then, but doesn't discriminate in regards to the source? The environmental impact that will have..." Lydia rubbed her forehead. "Not only on human life. Anything within the release area will be obliterated."
"It's designed to only work for a certain period of time, within a certain range, remember," Dr. Corvis offered. Was she really defending the Maven Initiative? "The nanotags will ensure self-destruction of any infected phytoplankton outside that."
Lydia gaped at her. "And so that makes it okay?"
She shrugged. "To them, it was acceptable."
"Now I'll show you how to split the base pairs and graft the new ones," Nick said. Her spine went rigid as his hand touched the small of her back, ushering her towards the other piece of equipment. Fortunately, there wasn't far to go and the contact was brief.
Nick's hand grasped the controls, strong and steady. He talked her through the operation, explaining where the precise cuts needed to be made and directing the microlasers expertly.
"Did you do a lot of this with Dr. DeBeauvoir?" she asked.
"Not at first," he said, keeping his eyes on the screen. "But the last two years I was in the lab almost exclusively. I got a lot of practice with this thing. They were upgrading the equipment when I left so that's why I didn't feel guilty when they sent me away with this baby. We have spent many an hour together, Sheila and I."
She tried not to laugh, but couldn't help herself. "You named the splitter Sheila?"
"I thought about calling it Lydia, but that seemed inappropriate given the circumstances."
Her face burned as Dr. Corvis giggled. She actually giggled. Lydia was mortified, and Nick didn't so much as crack a smile. He couldn't be serious.
"There." He finished the cut and turned back to her. "Want to give it a try?"
Reining in her embarrassment, she nodded and stepped up to the controls. Nick loaded up another sample. He reached in front of her and punched in the autofocus on the sample camera. Another hit of sandalwood drifted up to her, scattering her thoughts.
"You're looking for the eighteenth base pair," he said, directing her where to shift the sample plate. "Stop."
She had to remind herself to breathe. With the way her entire body was shaking, she would probably wind up creating a highly virulent super bacterium.
"Good, now lock in the sample position."
Lydia flipped a switch and six microlasers pinned the sample in place.
"This is the tricky part," Nick said. "You have to have the right touch."
Every nerve in her body electrified as Nick slid behind her and wrapped his hands around hers. If she wasn't seven shades of scarlet before, she absolutely was now. This was not happening. No way was this professional by any stretch of the imagination.
"Slowly... slowly... now cut."
Her thumbs pressed down on the buttons to fire the incision lasers, and she was careful not to jerk away as soon as it was done.
"Perfect," he said, leaning over her shoulder to smile at her.
Right on cue, a throat cleared and she jumped, pushing away from both the machine and Dr. Miller.
Daniel was standing not ten feet away, looking none too happy about what he'd walked in on.
"We're dicing bacterial DNA," she blurted. "Dr. Miller was demonstrating how his equipment worked."
His eyebrow twitched and somewhere behind her, Dr. Corvis coughed to hide her laughter. Maybe her word choice had been a little questionable, but her brain was scrambled.
"Daniel Brewer, right?" Nick strode forward, hand extended. "I don't think we've been properly introduced. Nick Miller."
Daniel was not impressed.
Lydia hurried forward, cutting Nick off before he got any closer and all but pushed Daniel toward the door. "Time for lunch? Great! I'm famished. Let's go."
She was pretty sure Dr. Harpy was still laughing when they left the lab. Apparently, she'd decided on a new plan of attack.
Author Bio & Links:
Starla Huchton released her first novel, The Dreamer's Thread, as a full cast podcast production beginning in August 2009. Her first foray went on to become a double-nominee and finalist for the 2010 Parsec Awards. Since her debut, Starla's voice has appeared in other podcasts including The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine, The Drabblecast, and Erotica a la Carte. She is also a voice talent for Darkfire Productions, and narrates several of their projects, including The Emperor's Edge series, This Path We Share, and others. Her writing has appeared in the Erotica a la Carte podcast, an episode of the Tales from the Archives podcast (the companion to Tee Morris and Philippa Balantine's Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series), which garnered her a second finalist badge from the 2012 Parsec Awards, and a short story for The Gearheart (earning her a third Parsec finalist badge). Her second novel, a Steampunk adventure entitled Master of Myth, was the first place winner in the Fantasy/Science Fiction category of The Sandy Writing Contest held annually by the Crested Butte Writers Conference. Maven was her third completed novel and the first in a planned series of four, being released under the name S. A. Huchton. Nemesis is the second in the Endure series.
After completing her degree in Graphic Arts, Starla opened up shop as a freelance graphic designer focusing on creating beautiful book covers for independent authors and publishers. She currently lives in Virginia where she trains her three Minions and military husband.
Print and ebook copies of MAVEN and NEMESIS
An Angkor Wat postcard signed by Daniel
Sandalwood Vanilla goat's milk soap handcrafted in small batches by Haldecraft
3 oz of Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls (green tea) from Teavana
Stonewear infuser mug with lid
MAVEN and NEMESIS postcards with party mustaches!