This is a very early draft of the first chapter of a story I’ve been planning for years. It’s a little dark/violent but not much more so than the typical PG-13 war story. Let me know what you think, especially about the worldbuilding!
Year 0 of Our Lady Aster (0 LA)
The streets were ablaze in the city of August, Xenial and Aja Morris wondered if this was the end of the world.
Hewn about were machine parts, fragments of flaming hyperbikes, even a misshapen block of sandstone excavated from the desert city’s ancient foundations. The buildings, short dull structures with iowood frames and colourful pagodas, seemed to groan about the ruins of the plaza. An incission had been torn into the earth by the claws of something mighty.
Aja had come rushing outside when she heard the screams, but they had since gone silent. she stared. Wind swept through the ravaged city. It mocked her. “You’re too late,” it seemed to whisper.
The planet Xenial was under attack. she knew little more.
The news had come mere hours before, in the form of gossip over a lunch break. Something to do with the Galactic Government? Nobody knew for sure. There were whispers of a coup at the highest levels, the ousting of one political puppet for another. The air had been one of surprise, but not alarm. The Galactic Govermnent, everyone knew, was a figurehead organization with a figurehead leader. Coups had happened before and they certainly would again, everyone thought. One man, a colleague of Aja’s, even laughed.
As a child Aja had learned that the Galactic Government was formed to inspire humanity with a sense of unity after galactic civilization had recovered from the Desolation. A beacon of hope to a thousand broken worlds, spinning alone in their isolated night skies. Yet even then, when it had purpose, it had been as ravaged as anything else, and could not fulfill its promises of aid to any but the closest worlds. The rest had been left to recover alone, unaided.
It had taken decades for some, centuries for others, but a millenium after the Desolation the human race stood strong again. And yet the Galactic Government clung to power, ineffectual, led by a succession of equally ineffectual Presidents, some corrupt, some ambitious, some simply lazy. None had succeeded in expanding its influence; few had even made the attempt.
Xenial was on the Far Edge, tens of thousands of light years from any so-called center of power. It was an old world, one of the first settled thousands of years ago during what was now called the second Space Scramble. The planetary government, Aja knew, had not even made the barest attempts to humour the Galactic Government’s pretense of dominion. Like many worlds, Xenial was a city-state. They had simply ignored their would-be masters’ communications.
Aja, in particular, knew this because she was an employee of said planetary government, a military scientist and weapons developer. As she stood in a daze, staring drunkenly about the burning streets, she heard the sound of a collapse behind her. Her office building, the August Institute of Armaments, had been caught by the pyre.
Shouting a curse, Aja Morris sprinted into the blaze.
At the press of a button, light armour expanded around her upper body from the cybernetic gloves she wore. An invention of this very Insitute, the light armour was fireproof and increased the wearer’s strength. Though not powerful enough to be of use in combat, it was invaluable in many emergencies. Aja herself had had a hand in its design, despite high hopes that she would never have to use it personally.
Titanlike, she strode through the blaze, invulnerable. The building was nearly empty, she knew. It was only her and her most committed colleagues who remained in this late, long after mandatory work hours had concluded. A wooden beam nearly collapsed upon her from behind, and the light armour saved her at the last moment, jerking her muscles with a jolt of electricity and causing her to stumble to the side, saving her life from an impact that would have fractured her cranium. The light armour had sensors in all directions and had a sliver of what might be called artificial intelligence.
Not too much of it, of course. The Galactic Government, though they had neither power nor, frequently, respect, did have a single edict that was respected on every world, in every nation. The Phasma Proclamation, issued near a millenium ago to a trillion souls, in the first days when humanity began to hope that all had not been lost. General purpose artificial intelligence was banned. Networked artificial intelligence was banned. None among them wanted the Desolation to happen twice.
Aja passed through every room in the labarynthine laboratory, weapons ranges, administrative offices, chemical labs, and found them all empty. She kicked aside tables, ripped open doors, heaved heavy crates of the most experimental technology across the room, in search of everyone, anyone. At last finding herself at the insitute’s back exit, she realized that she was the only one in the building. Three she had left behind to go investigate the screams, she knew they must have escaped by now, she knew!
The smog began to get to her and she tried to cough, but it came out sounding more like a sob. She pushed open the back door, an emergency exit, and heard the alarms sound as the it slid open. Futile, she thought. As she stepped back outside her eyes were momentarily dazzled by the setting of Xenial’s twin suns.
When her vision returned she realized what was in front of her: a corpse. The body had been burned beyond all recognition, there was no trace of identity or even sex. Its clothes, however, were threadbare but discernible: a lab coat. The same worn by all in the institute.
Aja was so frozen it took her longer to notice the pike, nailed through the corpse’s chest and pinning it to the ground. It flattened out into the shape of a sign at the top, and scratched into it were the words, You can’t save them all, Aja.
She hyperventilated, feeling the world around her receeding. She sensed another presence in her mind, another voice added to her own. And it was screaming. Just before she passed out, Aja Morris witnessed a golden-skinned man striding across the rubble of the back alley towards her.
End of Chapter 1.
24 hours earlier…
Year -1 of Our Lady Aster (-1 LA)
Millions knelt on the iridescent sands of Uroburos. An unbroken wave of humanity stretched as far as the eye could see, and thousands more arrived every hour from nearby planets. Like all Inner Core worlds, Uroburos had taken mere centuries to recover from the Desolation, and space travel, a luxury in most of the galaxy, was once again cheaply accessible to all in the Core. The people flocked to Uroburos in droves to witness the crowning of their new queen.
They all came, humans in all their various species, protohumans with their demonic horns and pastel skin blending in with the rainbow dunes, exohumans with their elongated faces and twisted shoulders, the corrupted with their leprous skin and deep-set eyes. Unevolved humans there were too, dotting the crowd. Evolution had taken a strange turn in the millions of years since humanity first staggered into space.
Many too were Archenai, the machine-worshippers. In ritual to their dead god they replaced parts of themselves with machinery, an excruciating but survivable process with Uroburos’s technology. Two protohumans near the center of the crowd had robotic horns. A human across from them had a robotic leg. Three corrupted had a robotic ear, a robotic eye, and a robotic foot respectively.
Outside of the Core machine-worshipping had yet to take root, dismissed as a vain fashion trend fit only for those with too much cash and too little common sense, but they knew better. Their prophet lived. And tonight they would see him. Above them, Uroburos’s night sky twinkled in affirmation. Trillions of stars, and all of them now the domain of the new queen.
At the center of the desert lay a massive ziggurat, structured of hypersteel and irongranite. The peak was empty, but the people knew not for long. Everything was about to change.
A path was cleared through the massive crowd and the royal army marched through in perfect formation, ready to pledge their allegience. All companies were there, the Vanguard, the Hamiquasi, the Army of Gold, the Sword Dreamers, and more. Only a small, elite, and little-known group was missing. Only the Raiders had no place in the demonstration.
As he marched with the Hamiquasi wearing a stolen uniform to hide his famous face, Ezra Knight exchanged a glance with a protohuman man three rows and seven columns across in formation. His look seemed to say, Are we really doing this? The man gave him the smallest of nods. The army halted before the ziggurat…
As the last of the daylight trickled over the horizon, the night sky became dominated by the stars and the jets of the massive quasar at the galaxy’s center. As the darkness swept over the congregation, a flash and sound like a thundercrack…
And there she was. Utop the pyramid stood a lone woman. The millions in the sand pressed their faces to the ground. Before Stephanie Aster, Queen of the Known and Unknowable, they were all slaves.
She was human, with skin dark as the night, short black hair with streaks of bloodred, and an unreadable expression. Though none on the desert floor were close enough to tell, her upper body was caked in sweat and her breath came in ragged gasps.
She wore ceremonial gold and platinum armour that seemed to catch the light of the quasar and give her an otherworldly aura. Those who lifted their eyes to meet her gaze found themselves mesmerized, not only by the blaze, but by what they were staring into.
Her eyes were red, then yellow, then green, they pulsed through iridescent colours in a pattern that none could avert their eyes from. They were not of this world. They seemed to whisper into the minds of those who dared look, whisper tales of ancient knowledge and fantastical truths. Hours later, those who met her gaze walked home with one fanatical belief. Stephanie Aster, Queen of the Known and Unknowable, was something more than human.
Onto the ziggurat temple stepped another human, though to the thousands of Archenai watching, he too was something more than human. The Oracle Prime. His skull was a distorted, bulbous shape marked by the imperfect marks of tools and skin grafts. His eyes were gone, grown over as if they had never been there. He was the great Prophet of the Archenai, the only one to survive replacing his brain with a machine in tribute to their god. He had no need of eyes when he could see the past and future at once.
With a mechanic tick he walked towards Aster, holding a crown of white gold. As he placed it upon her head the quasar above them blazed with a new strength, showering the peak in rainbow light. This moment, everyone knew, would be celebrated for millenia. The Oracle Prime said nothing. There was no need. The crowd, he knew, could sense the divinity of what they witnessed. In the future, he knew, the crowd would be too overwhelmed with awe to leave for hours, some stragglers would remain at the ziggurat for days. The most devout would die of thirst as they made no effort to nourish themselves in a show of fanatical devotion to what they had witnessed.
A massive door opened at the base of the temple and the royal army marched inside. Uncertain, Ezra Knight looked around for the protohuman three rows and seven columns across, but he had been lost in the crowd. The darkness inside the ziggurat swallowed them up.