Today I’d like to share a free chapter of “The Island on the Edge of Forever,” the 2nd book in my Mythic Sci-Fi series.
A while back, I said I was going to start sharing excerpts from The Epic of Aravinda series every now and then on this blog. That first excerpt was a good warm up, but now I think it’s time to get into the real juicy stuff.
A deep, heaving rush of air echoed throughout the chamber as a mighty beast struggled in the midst of a terrible dream.
The creature Razakh was a uniquely revolting individual; and on this occasion, particularly ominous thoughts filled his mind, thoughts of a powerful light reaching deep into his Dominion, shattering all that he had worked so hard to bind together. Dark nebulas blew away, as if by a cosmic wind, yet when he saw the source of the light, he was not at all surprised.
The Accursed Orb, the object that had not only destroyed his fissure but also many of his best warriors, now haunted his dreams; and he rolled around on his bed of slime, nestled at the lowest levels of his rocky lair.
The slime, which was a natural excretion of the Vakragha species, provided a protective layer from the elements when not wearing their defensive outer shell, which had since been genetically engineered to be removable. In fact, it was rather impressive that such a monstrous species still managed to follow the galactic template for life at all: somehow managing to have two legs, two arm-like appendages, and a head, in spite of their tortured form.
Although by now, the Vakragha species was just as much a product of artificial selection as it was natural selection, and a cursory examination of their jet-black carapace suggested this fact. Mundane features had long since been refined by geneticists of old, such as retracting claws (important if you want to use certain tactile equipment) and back spines (also important if you want to impress the opposite sex). Recent additions were much more interesting: long, twisting horns which arched out of the back of Razakh’s skull, the heretofore mentioned detachable carapace (which made sleeping somewhat more comfortable), and increased shielding, allowing resistance to an impressive array of cosmic radiation.
For Razakh, that last ability had come in handy lately. After all, it wasn’t every day that a fissure in spacetime was forcibly closed, momentarily spewing exotic particles from the timespace realm. Even though he wasn’t especially sensitive, even to his own physical sensations, Razakh had certainly felt the difference after that day. His carapace had felt it, too, which was another reason why he enjoyed sleeping without it. Even with fresh agnihawk being supplemented into his diet, Razakh’s health advisor was concerned that he wouldn’t heal in time for the Grand Stratagem he had outlined just a few cycles before.
And so, Razakh tossed and turned, as dreams of the Accursed Orb returned to him again and again. He arched his back upward and groaned in a pitch so low that some of the pebbles on a nearby surface vibrated.
The sight of a Vakragha is bad enough even when one is wearing a carapace, but without it, Razakh looked like a true creature of the Abyss. Thick transparent skin revealed sludge-green muscles wrapped around grey, barbed bones, held on by thick, brown sinews. From up close, the creature looked completely revolting; and from ten steps back, wielding razor-sharp fangs and claws, he looked even worse.
Razakh’s nightmare ended, and he pulled himself out of his slimy hole and methodically snapped a piece of his dark carapace onto his body. All around him were round canisters, and when he was done assembling himself, he dug through them, looking for something to break his short fast. All of the canisters he could find were empty, and his stomach gurgled. He was about to scream out, until his claws came across something wriggling around at the bottom of the ninth canister. With ease, he pulled out a dazzling bird with streaks of red running down its wings. It screeched in protest and flailed around violently.
“Beautiful,” Razakh whispered, and promptly bit off the bird’s squawking head with a solid crunching sound, sending a stream of bright red blood shooting up to the ceiling.
Blood ran down Razakh’s arm, and he licked it off before biting into the bird once more, sending more blood down his long fangs and neck. It wasn’t long before the front of his carapace was splattered in blood, but he didn’t notice. He’d started his morning this way for days on end while he waited for his slaves to finish his new flagship and the fleet that would support it. While it wasn’t the glorious flagship he had once commanded, it would have to suffice until an even better one could be built. Indeed, he dreamed of a day when many systems would build never-ending armadas for him.
That day would soon come. He had a stratagem to ensure it.
The creature Razakh lumbered over to the hexagonal door, unlatched it, and rolled it open. Standing outside was Zura, one of his two chief advisors. Her expression was frozen, as if she had been studying the surface of the door for some time. Zura was a minor Vakragha, similar in appearance to Razakh, although much shorter. She had served him even before he had conquered the nebula.
Razakh narrowed his crimson eyes and scrunched up his flat, scaly nose. “If you don’t have a terribly good reason for staring at my door, then today will be especially painful for you, Zura.”
“Autarch!” she said. “I was afraid to wake you. Yet I felt no one else should know before you.”
“Know? And what, my terrible Zura, should I know? News of the fleet?”
“Yes, but there’s more. We have detected twin timespace signatures near the core.”
Razakh laughed a terrible bellow of a laugh. “And why should I care? The factions are tearing space all over the galaxy. How do you think we escaped Rodhas without those Confederation worms realizing it? Go away and bother me again when you have something of consequence to steal my time with.” And he stormed down the hall to where some sunlight filtered in.
“But, Autarch!” Zura struggled to keep up with him. “The timespace signatures match Confederation ships. We believe—”
Razakh stopped and grabbed her neck in one swift motion. She tried to gasp, but couldn’t. “That it’s them? Zura, do you understand how tremendous this galaxy is? Do you understand how many scouts the Confederation sends out?”
Zura wheezed, unable to answer until he loosened his grasp just enough to allow her to speak.
“Of course, Autarch,” she rasped, “but there was something else. We followed them to a world with a highly exotic energy signature, similar to the Accursed Orb. We believe it could be the artifact that we seek. Only a Chintamani stone could—”
“Fool!” Razakh bellowed, throwing her against the stone wall. “Why didn’t you tell me this at once? Redirect all scouts in the area to follow them, but from a safe distance. The Confederation cannot be allowed to discover how perfect our new cloak shell is until we are ready to strike.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Razakh turned and stormed onward, and Zura scurried after him. “And how long until my cruiser is spaceworthy? What is the status of its battle systems? The Harvest has already been inexcusably delayed, Zura!”
“We are moving as quickly as we can! Many of the beasts were destroyed in the eruption, but we have managed to complete the upgrade on the timespace drive.”
“And the negative energy wells?”
Razakh marched so fast that Zura struggled to keep up with him, and he reached the end of the long hall before she did. Just ahead, the hall opened up to a vantage point which connected to a path that led around the mountain.
The autarch stepped outside. The sky was a thick brown soup, as if something terrible had just been spewed into it, and ahead they could see a rusty, eroded mountain range extend into the distance. But that didn’t interest Razakh whatsoever. The skyline of Hataaza Darad was not why he got up in the morning.
What rested far below, between the patches of blackened lava deposits, provided far more motivation: dozens of starships that were so dark that light itself avoided them entirely. In space, they were invisible to the eye, even without their cloak. But here they looked completely out of place, and hundreds of Hataazan technicians crawled over their jagged surfaces as they worked.
“The negative energy wells, Zura?” he growled.
“The negative energy wells aren’t ready yet, Autarch, but—”
Razakh screwed up his face in anger and turned to Zura. “Do you see those ships?” He extended a sharp claw pointing down to them. “Those ships will be spaceworthy in two days. Otherwise,” he grew so close to her that his grotesque face completely filled her view and screamed, “I will personally launch you into the Abyss!”
Zura whimpered. “My lord, more beasts are being grown, but it will take time before they—”
“The Abyss, Zura! That is all.”
Razakh stormed back down the hall, leaving Zura’s lungs contracting faster than she’d ever felt them move before. She reached out the tip of one claw to the center of her heaving chest, and a strange thought came to her mind.
Was this what having a heart felt like?
And stay tuned for some BIG things coming soon.