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Authors: Christopher Buecheler

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The Broken God Machine

BOOK: The Broken God Machine
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The Broken God Machine
By
Christopher Buecheler

The Broken God Machine
By Christopher Buecheler

Copyright © 2013 Christopher Buecheler
All Rights Reserved
ISBN: 978-0-9884708-2-8

http://brokengodmachine.com/
http://writing.cwbuecheler.com/

The Broken God Machine is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
First Edition: September 2013

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an addition copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to
BrokenGodMachine.com
and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Cover Art by
Tomasz Jedruszek
Cover Design by
Christopher Buecheler

Dedication

For Marie-Christelle, for always making me feel like part of the family.

J’espère que ce livre vous plaira!

Acknowledgments

This is my fourth book, and as with the others it represents not just my work, but the work of several people who have helped me to shape it into its present form. As always, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to thank them here.

  • My wife, Charlotte, who remains my toughest and best critic. Her love and support are the reason this book and all of my other works are available and not still sitting on my PC, half-completed and abandoned.
  • My principal editor
    Lauren
    , who has done a wonderful job as usual helping me not only to kill typos, fix grammar errors, and eliminate errant commas, but also in shaping the story. Once again: if there are any errors left in this text, be assured the fault is mine.
  • My content editor,
    Andy
    , whose thoughtful and thorough review of the manuscript identified many ways to improve it.
  • My cover artist
    Tomasz
    , whose glorious digital painting captures the spirit of the book beautifully.
  • My advance readers: Nora, Charles, Trevor, Zeke, Tracy, Kim, Sheri, Jennifer, and Tiffany. Your feedback really helped improve the book!
  • My fans. It continues to be a pleasure to interact with you guys on
    Facebook
    ,
    Twitter
    , and
    via email
    . I hope you enjoy this book as much as you enjoyed the
    II AM Trilogy
    !

Lastly, I owe a debt to Messrs.
Arthur C. Clarke
,
Frank Herbert
, and
Joshua Middleton
. Clarke’s
Against the Fall of Night
planted the seed for this book in my mind almost two decades ago. Middleton’s
Sky Between Branches
illustrations got me brainstorming on characters and ideas. Herbert’s
Dune
gave me the push I needed to start writing. While I don’t believe I’ve engaged in any outright theft, their influence can be felt here and there, and it would be wrong not to cite their work as inspiration.

Part One
// check for the key
if (scanPacket.giveDNA() == sys.lookup.checkDNA(mombPrime)) {
// open the doors
set public bool isMomb true;
set public int keyPrime = sub.private.getKey(scanPacket);
sub.setAccess(keyPrime);
}
Chapter 1

Pehr was sixteen and as impetuous, and stupid, and brave as any teenager,
yet even he feared the Test.

Why not? The Test had taken his older brother, crippled his uncle, and been
so terrible to his own father that the man had refused to speak of it to his
children, saying always, “When you are older. When you are closer,” until time
and fate had taken the opportunity from him forever.

Without the Test, there were no hunters, and without those there could be no
law, no order, and no hunt. It was best to be a hunter, and Pehr was glad to
have been born into the line. The only alternatives were scheming merchants,
grumbling farmers, and of course the women. Of the three Pehr thought the women
most worthy of respect. They could tend homes, raise children, mill grain into
flour and make it into dough. Women were creators – their hands made bread, and
their bodies made children – but they were not hunters.

The Test was only weeks away, and like the other boys of age in his village,
Pehr had thought of little else for many months. There were chores and lessons,
all those things that made up his life, but principle of all there was the
Test. The fear and joy of it occupied his waking and dreaming mind alike. Soon
he would be a man, allowed to call himself by his true and full name, the name
his father had given him when first he had emerged from his mother’s womb.
Khada’Pehr, the son of a hunter, soon to be a hunter himself.

They were talking of it now, he and Jace, who was also the son of a hunter.
Pehr’s cousin, two years younger, Jace was many things and most of them good.
He was quicker of mind than Pehr, and better with the bow, but he was neither
tall nor strong, and Pehr did not know if he would ever be a hunter.

“Sili says you will finish. She’s sure of it,” Jace was saying, and Pehr
glanced over at him, grunted, and resumed gnawing at the rib of roast kampri he
had stolen from one of the merchantmen in the village center. Pehr was always
ravenous; his uncle worked him, it seemed, as if strengthening Pehr’s body
could make up for the man’s own crippled leg.

“Yes, act like you don’t care,” Jace said, grinning. “I’ve seen how you get
when she comes around. You would take her to bed
right now
if you were
allowed.”

He paused, but no reaction from Pehr was forthcoming, so he continued,
laughing and adding, “And if you knew how.”

“I know how,” Pehr said through a mouthful kampri, not indignant. To sound
indignant would simply tell Jace his words were true, a satisfaction that Pehr
did not intend to give the younger boy. In truth, Jace was not entirely wrong;
Pehr did not know how to bed Sili – not exactly – though he had some idea of
how the process must work.

What he did know was that when he passed the Test, he would make a necklace
of jade and give it to her, and if she accepted it, he would marry her and take
her to bed. That he would go there inexperienced was not something that worried
Pehr terribly; he had asked his uncle once if he should seek instruction, and
the man had thrown Pehr a sideways grin, assuring the boy that such things
would take care of themselves.

“If you know, then tell me,” Jace challenged, and Pehr laughed.

“Learn for yourself, wet-head.”

“You don’t know anything!”

“Which of us has seen her, then? Was it you that she showed herself to that
time with the wine?”

“It could have been me,” Jace said. “It might have been, if I had been the
one who stole the wine and got her drunk. It could have been.”

“But it wasn’t you, because you would never have stolen the wine.”

Jace had no reply to this; it was true.

Pehr grinned at the towheaded boy, finished with his kampri rib, and threw
the bone aside. “We have until sundown. Will we sit here and talk of things
that I will have and you will never,
ever
have … or will we go, and
swim, and maybe catch some dinner? I doubt I can stomach Nani’s gruel alone
again tonight.”

“You say that every night,” Jace said, standing. “Then you eat a double
portion and ask for more.”

“Liar,” Pehr said, though it was true, and the two took to their feet,
laughing. The sun lay low on the ocean, but there was still an hour yet or more
before it sank below the waves. Here, by the lagoon, they were protected from the
tremendous rip currents that lurked below the surface of the water outside. The
semicircle of rock – the peaks of some long-drowned, long-dead mountain – kept
the shallow waters calm and clear, and the boys fished at its edge often. It
was the only hunting they were allowed, before the Test.

Pehr stood outlined by the setting sun, a boy of sixteen with brown skin and
shaggy, dark hair, on the cusp of manhood but not yet there, his bare torso
still unmarked with the scars of the Test and the hunt. The cool breeze that
blew unceasingly from the ocean had teased his hair into crazed loops and
whorls, and he ran his fingers through it.

He glanced over toward the towering cliffs of Nethalanhal, which ran in a
nearly straight line from the ocean to the eastern jungle, making up one edge
of his world. There were symbols there on the rock, high above where any man
could reach. Ten of them, said to have been carved into the limestone by the
very Gods themselves, their meanings lost to a time when men had been more than
they were now. They read: VEGA CALIZA.

Pehr wondered, not for the first time, what was beyond those massive grey
cliffs. Then his mind returned, as it most often did, to thoughts of the Test,
and of Sili, and of food.

“Let’s catch some fish,” he said to Jace, picking up his spear, and without
another word he turned and ran toward the bay. Jace followed, trailing behind,
his shorter legs not quite able to keep up. He was nimble, though, and gained
back the ground as the two negotiated the rocky drop-off that separated the
dunes from the farmland. Pehr dropped the last eight feet, landing in the soft,
dry sand and sinking to mid-shin.

“Watch out for crabs,” he admonished, turning back to look up at Jace. “They
bite.”

“They pinch,” Jace corrected absently, making the same drop down and landing
beside him. The two set off together toward the water.

“Look at the Everstorm,” Jace said, pointing.

In the far, far distance to the southwest, the edge of it was visible,
reflecting the setting sun. The swirling, angry clouds of the great tempest
never left the horizon. Lightning flashes illuminated their cores from time to
time, and occasionally a bolt would flicker down to strike the water’s surface.
Purple and red and grey, it squatted angry over the ocean like a beast in
waiting. No intrepid sailor who had ventured out past the lagoon and into the
raging ocean had ever returned; it was said that the Everstorm swallowed
them.

“What of it?” Pehr asked, and Jace shrugged.

“I just like to watch it. The colors change as the sun sets, and sometimes I
see things in it. Faces, like our ancestors, or … or the Gods.”

“You’re insane,” Pehr said, but he came to a stop at the peak of the last
dune, staring out at the swirling maelstrom that lay on the far edge of the
earth.

“Am not,” Jace said. “Haven’t you ever looked at something and seen … more?
A dragon in the clouds, or a monster’s claw in the branches, or—”

“That’s for babies,” Pehr said, giving a dismissive shake of his head. “It’s
like the stories of the Great Old Grandfathers, with their towers of metal and
bows that shot beams of sunlight, or the Lagos hordes that the Gods unleash
upon those who have sinned.”

“It’s not the same. Those are stories, but this … being
afraid
,
maybe, but the seeing is—”

“I don’t see anything except the Everstorm. It’s the same as it’s ever
been.”

“Which means it’s different all the time,” Jace muttered, but Pehr ignored
him.

They descended the dune, reaching the bed of kelp and other detritus
discarded by the sea that marked the high-tide line. Beyond it the sand grew
damp and hard-packed. The boys barely left footprints as they walked along it,
moving toward the rocks that poked like rotten teeth from the water near
Nethalanhal’s towering grey face. From the shoreward side, these were easily
accessible through chest-deep water, but they dropped off precipitously on the
other side to depths that made the water dark and inscrutable.

For ages, these rocks had supported a thriving tidal ecosystem, and
countless boys and men had come here to hunt the large, red-scaled fish that
served as the system’s alpha predators. The trick, Pehr’s uncle had told them
when first he began instructing them in the process, was not in killing them.
The trick was in luring them near enough to the surface to be killed in the
first place. It was best accomplished by two; Pehr and Jace had spent many long
hours practicing the technique, and had once succeeded in bringing up a fish so
large that it had torn the spear from Pehr’s hands and carried it away.

“I’ll bring them up. You spear,” Jace said, and Pehr laughed at the tone of
easy command in the boy’s voice. Of course Jace would bring the fish up; Pehr
had easily twice the arm strength.

“Yes, sir,” he said, and clambered out onto the nearest rock, skirting out
and around its edge, finding the well-worn platform upon which he had stood
countless times before. Jace scurried up and over the other side, nimbly
leaping a crevasse and then skidding on his feet down a slick, algae-covered
length of rock. Pehr watched, impressed, reflecting on the fickle twist of fate
that had given the boy such innate and uncanny agility, and an aim with the bow
that was truly Gods-sent, yet denied him the strength of body he would need to
survive the Test.

Well
, Pehr thought,
he has another two years yet to fill out,
at least
.

“Are you going to stare at me or spear fish?” Jace asked him. Pehr rolled
his eyes and made a gesture of contemptuous dismissal that his aunt would have
scolded him for making, but he took his position with the spear.

Jace squatted down at the water’s edge, pulled half a dozen sea snails from
the rock, and put them in a pile. Without ceremony, he grabbed a nearby loose
stone and brought it slamming down. Shells were shattered, snail lives
extinguished, bait made. Jace scooped up the remains in two cupped hands and
dumped them into the sea, then dipped his hands as if to rinse them, but
instead began to thrash them in sharp, erratic movements.

If they were lucky, a red fish would scent the blood and feel the vibrations
of Jace’s hands, putting the two together as a fish in distress. It would come
up from the depths to investigate, and Pehr would stab it with his spear, long
and slender and flexible.

They knew that from this point it was mostly a matter of chance; sometimes a
red fish came within minutes, and sometimes they would spend an hour without
success, killing many snails – it seemed that no matter how many gave their
lives for this cause, there was never a shortage. The men of the village
believed that the larger, elder fish had made it to such a distinguished state
by learning to discern the difference between a true meal and a fake. Only a
master of the thrashing motion, it was said, could hope to fool them.

Jace was no master, but he was skilled, and luck was on their side this
night. After but a few minutes, a red fish of perhaps three hands in length
swam up from the depths. It would provide plenty enough for the five people who
would be sharing it for dinner, with some left over to be stored in the cool
depths of the root cellar and eaten with breakfast. Jace grinned, his eyes
never leaving the water, as Pehr pulled back his arm and drove the spear
forward. His aim was true, and the limber wooden spike pierced first the water
and then the red fish. The fish thrashed, the water going dark with its blood,
trying to escape, but the spear had driven straight through it. Pehr lifted the
fish from the water with ease, leaning against the rock for balance against the
fish’s frenzied death throes.

“Well done!” Jace said, standing up from his crouched position and
stretching. Pehr held the fish up in the air until its motions had become
little more than twitches. Then he moved again to the shore side of the rock,
and into the water. Jace followed him.

“Let’s get it home,” Pehr said. “I’m starving.”

BOOK: The Broken God Machine
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