Starting today, I’m going to be reprinting the Kickstarter updates here at the Oktopod blog. I have a little backlog, but it’ll only take us a couple days to get caught up.
The following is a selection from the very start of Stars Rain Down, and it’s almost exactly half of the chapter. I won’t set the scene for you because, gosh darn it, that’s what this section is supposed to accomplish. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it, and without further ado…
There was nothing left but a single fortress, its armor tarnished and its silhouette a black mark against the burnt sky. The metropolis surrounding it had been pummeled into bloodstained rubble and shattered glass, and the scene was the same across twelve continents. Where the Somari empire had once flourished in all its glory and arrogance, now only the fortress remained.
At its foot, where the air was clotted with shrapnel and ragged flames, the last survivors of the Trans-Continental Army made their final stand. They had been pinned down and slowly strangled to death, forced to take cover behind the mutilated remains of their civilization while spitting fire at anything that moved. Without hope for victory or escape, they were walking ghosts fueled by rage, too stubborn to admit they were already dead.
And still the invaders pressed on, coming at them from every direction. Enemy infantry advanced tirelessly over broken ground, leading the way for mechanized monsters whose artillery howled through the swirling dust. Each blast bit into the fortress’ failing armor and inched the war closer to its end.
Meanwhile, within the fortress and far from the crumbling line, sounds of the fight became a baleful symphony. Cannon fire beat an uneven rhythm, accompanied by a melody of screaming jets and the bark of ten thousand rifles. Strained voices cried out in chorus, then were silenced once and for all.
This song came to Kai while he slept and dreamed. He ran from one nightmare landscape to the next, chased by a living machine that devoured the ground beneath him. The unstoppable beast chewed up and swallowed whole civilizations to feed its hunger, and still it craved more.
Then an explosion rocked Kai’s incubation tank and he was awake. The nightmare world dissolved only to be replaced by the chaos of reality.
He blinked and blinked again but his eyes refused to focus. The world was blurry and ill defined, tinted by the cold blue gestational fluids. Something wasn’t right. The incarnation process wasn’t complete, but he knew there had to be an explanation.
A staccato series of explosions thumped at the chamber’s walls, and Kai struggled to keep cool. It was no time to panic. He pressed his eyes closed and slowly opened them, and this time the image became sharper. The laboratory was in shambles; sparks danced from the ceiling, and rows of mangled birthing tanks dangled limply from their umbilical cords.
A pair of genetechs in red gowns rushed over to him, one carrying an armload of clothing. The color had long ago drained from their faces, and their wrinkled hands shook as they went to work at the console. Their expressions spoke of terror mixed with sadness.
Somehow, Kai kept his head in check.
The string of lights at the top of the tank changed color and their blinking pattern became insistent. He understood the message, but the gravity of it didn’t strike him. Not that it mattered. There wasn’t any way to prevent what came next.
There was a rumble and the ratcheting of mechanical locks. The viscous fluid drained from the tank a moment later, exposing his partially developed skin to fresh air. There wasn’t any pain. Not yet.
Then the front of the tank opened and dropped him onto the cold metal floor where he curled up like a newborn. He wanted so badly to remain calm, but he had no chance. There was simply too much pain, and it grew so loud that it blotted out every other thought until only a mewling animal remained.
His mind retreated while his body rebelled. The tendons of his jaw stretched around a silent scream, and a series of quick convulsions violently ejected liquid from his lungs. More blue fluid splashed across the floor, reflecting the flickering ceiling lamps on its silken surface.
The genetechs were speaking, but Kai was somewhere else. Somewhere far away, out of communication range. It took several long minutes for the wounded animal to subside, and finally allow rational thoughts to re-emerge.
“It’s too early,” one of them said.
“Nonsense. His nervous system is fully formed, and cellular automata are functioning within acceptable parameters. Sinit Kai, can you hear me?”
“Yes,” he mumbled feebly. His mouth was an unfamiliar instrument. “Why?” he managed to ask.
The older genetech crouched down beside him. The scientist might have been a mountain once, but decades of erosion had left him shriveled, withered and craggy. “Our time has run out, Kai. You must leave this place while the path remains open.”
Kai coughed and more fluid wrestled its way out of his throat. “I need to get to the front lines. The war…”
The genetech placed a hand under Kai’s chin, and gently lifted his head. “There is no war,” he said. “All you hear is the last gasp of the dying.”
“It’s a funeral,” the other genetech said.
The scientist shook his head as he spoke. “We lost at Sylus Gate, and the rest of our defenses collapsed in a cascade.”
The other said, “Locara, Asheth, Telarius Point, and finally here. Each one a total defeat.”
Kai looked down at his incomplete hand. The structure was in place, but patches of half-formed skin scarcely covered the lattice-work of muscle machinery. If his estimates were correct, that placed him in the eleventh day of incubation. His entire world had been conquered in just thirteen days.
His mind raced. “I’m still asleep,” he said.
The genetech said, “I hope you’re right, and that you soon wake.”
I think that’s enough of a taste for today. Be sure to check out my Kickstarter project for more samples and behind the scenes stories!