In the aftermath of the War With No Name, the Colony has been defeated, its queen lies dead, and the world left behind will never be the same. In her madness, the queen used a strange technology to uplift the surface animals, turning dogs and cats, bats and bears, pigs and wolves into intelligent, highly evolved creatures who rise up and kill their oppressors. And now, after years of bloodshed, these sentient beasts must learn to live alongside their sworn enemies—humans.
Far removed from this newly emerging civilization, a housecat turned war hero named Mort(e) lives a quiet life with the love he thought he had lost, a dog named Sheba. But before long, the chaos that they escaped comes crashing down around them. An unstoppable monster terrorizes a nearby settlement of beavers. A serial killer runs amok in the holy city of Hosanna. An apocalyptic cult threatens the fragile peace. And a mysterious race of amphibious creatures rises from the seas, intent on fulfilling the Colony’s destiny and ridding the earth of all humans. No longer able to run away, Sheba and Mort(e) rush headlong into the conflict, ready to fight but unprepared for a world that seems hell-bent on tearing them apart. In the twilight of all life on earth, love survives—but at a cost that only the desperate and the reckless are willing to pay.
Release date: May 9, 2017
Publisher: Soho Press
Print pages: 400
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When the darkness passed over the water, Taalik dreamt of the temple again. A temple far beyond the seas, ruled by an ancient queen who went to war with a race of monsters. In the dream, Taalik washed ashore on a beach at nighttime. A mere fish, unable to breathe, he slapped his tail on the sharp rocks until he felt the scales cracking. His fins strained as he tried to return to the water. His lidless eye froze stiff in its socket. And then, he rose from the sand on newly formed limbs, like a crab. The claws sprouted underneath him. He opened his mouth and splayed out his gills, and the air passed through. He did not fear the light and the wind. He did not scramble back to the lapping waves, to the muted blue haze where he was born. Instead, he stood upright, no longer weightless but still strong, defying the gravity that pulled his body to the earth. He marched toward the temple—a giant mound of dirt crawling with strange creatures, each with six legs, heavily armored bodies, mouths like the claws of a lobster. Soldiers bred for killing. They worked in unison, moving as Taalik’s people did, many individuals forming a whole. The creatures stood in rows on each side of him. Their antennae grazed him as he walked by, inspecting his scales, his fins. His body continued to change with each step he took. The soldiers admired his new shape, with his segmented legs, and a flexible shell that protected his spine, and tentacles that reached out from underneath, four new arms that could grasp or crush. Here, he was no mere animal, but something more, something his people would worship, something his enemies would learn to fear.
Inside the temple, he found the Queen surrounded by her children. He waited for her to speak, and soon realized that she did not have to. He had understood the message ever since that first dream, and for every dream that followed. Taalik would rule, as the Queen did. There would be a new era of peace to wash away the millennia of bloodshed. No longer would his people slip into the depths of Cold Trench while watching out for predators. No longer would they see their children snatched away. They would learn, and adapt. And one day, his people would rise from the water and find new worlds to conquer.
Or, they would die. The Queen made him understand the starkness of it. There would be no circles of life anymore. Instead, there would be one current through the dark water, leading to conquest or extinction. Life or death. And to secure life, they would not run. They would have to kill.
Taalik kept his eyes closed as he listened for the Queen’s voice rumbling through the water. Orak, his Prime, floated next to him. Ever since the first revelation, she knew to leave him alone at times like this. The Queen spoke to him only when she wanted to. Even after he opened his eyes and drifted there, Orak waited. The others hovered behind her. They followed her lead. She was the first to convert, the first to mate with Taalik, the first to follow the current with him. Orak kept the others in line, reminding them of their place, but attending to their needs as well, helping to protect the eggs and rear the hatchlings. As Prime, she enforced Taalik’s orders, even when they went against her counsel. She owed her life to Taalik. All the Sarcops did. But he owed his life to her.
Taalik and his people waited under the Lip, the vein of rock that jutted out into Cold Trench, offering shelter from the predators who swam above. This refuge would not hold forever. Their enemies searched for them, driven mad with fear of this new species. Taalik tried to make peace, even ceding territory to those who claimed it as their own. But some creatures, the sharks and other carnivores, would not relent. They would never hear the Queen’s song. They would never accept that the world began, rather than ended, at the surface.
Does she speak to you today, my Egg? Orak asked.
He left her waiting too long. Even Orak’s enormous patience had limits, especially with the family huddled under the Lip, the food running out. A fight had broken out the day before. Orak punished the unruly ones by ordering the soldiers to feed on their eggs. They had already uprooted the nurseries and hauled them to this desolate place. Feeding on the unborn would lighten the load, and strengthen the ones bred for war.
The Queen is silent this day, my Prime, Taalik said.
A shudder in the water. Taalik gazed into the slit above, where the Lip extended across this narrow stretch of Cold Trench. In the sliver of light he saw them, the fleet of sharks, white bellied, tails waving in unison. At the lead, fatter than the others, was the one Taalik called Graydeath. He recognized the freshly healed gash on the shark’s belly, courtesy of Taalik’s claw. Graydeath managed to bite it off in their last encounter. The darkness passed over the water forty times before the limb fully regenerated. The other Sarcops watched the healing in amazement, and declared that no one, not even the ocean’s greatest shark, could kill the Queen’s chosen one.
They smell us, Orak said.
We smell them, Taalik replied.
No enemy had ever penetrated this far into their territory, least of all an army of sharks on patrol. An act of war. It meant that the scouts Taalik dispatched had most likely been killed. He had ordered them to map the shoreline, and to find all of the shallows where his people would have the advantage. But the scouts also served as bait, drawing attention away from the Sarcops as they moved their young ones under the Lip. They die for us, my Egg, Orak told him later. Now we live for them.
Taalik watched the fleet passing overhead. He waited for the procession to end. It did not. It would not. Sharks of every breed crossed his line of sight, as thick as a bed of eels in some places. Mouths began where rear fins ended. In their rage, these solitary creatures banded together to fight a common enemy. The sharks baited him. They wanted the Sarcops to emerge and attack from the rear so that they could swoop around, encircle the strongest ones, and then descend upon the nest to destroy the eggs. Taalik saw it unfold in a vision planted by the Queen herself: Cold Trench clouded with blood. The torn membranes of eggs carried away by the current. Graydeath devouring the younglings while his followers waited for him to finish, not daring to interrupt his victory meal lest they become part of it.
Summon the Juggernauts, Taalik said.
Orak emitted a clicking sound, followed by three chirps—the signal that alerted the soldier caste. The Juggernauts formed their phalanx, with Orak as the tip of the spear.
Every year, when they hibernated, the Sarcops dreamt of the Queen and her empire. And when they awoke, the Queen bestowed upon them new gifts. A language. A philosophy. Until then, their entire existence revolved around fear. Fear of others, of both darkness and light, of the unknown. After the Queen’s revelation, and the miracles that followed, a calm determination set in. The Sarcops would not merely react to the environment. They would reshape it as they pleased. Soon their bodies changed along with their minds, as they had in Taalik’s dream. First, they sprouted limbs. Then their armored plating, making them resemble the Queen’s ferocious daughters. Their mouths and throats changed. Before long, they could make sounds to match all the images and words in their rapidly evolving brains. And then, slithering from their backs, a row of tentacles that allowed them to manipulate the world around them. Only the most loyal Sarcops advanced far enough to earn the distinction of Juggernaut alongside Taalik. The rest changed in other ways. Their senses improved, their teeth sharpened, their fins became weapons. The agile Shoots could swarm their prey. The slender Redmouths could bite into their opponent and twist their bodies, pulling away flesh and bone in a whirlpool of blood. The crablike Spikes could mimic the ocean floor, setting a trap for enemies who strayed too close. Though the Juggernauts formed the vanguard, all the Sarcops knew how to fight. All would have the chance to prove themselves worthy.
Taalik told his troops that they would follow him under the Lip at full speed. They would overtake the fleet at the northern end of the crevasse, near the water’s edge. There, Taalik would kill Graydeath in front of everyone. No more hiding. Today their enemies would learn what the Sarcops could do.
Taalik called for Zirsk and Asha, his third and seventh mates, who carried eggs in their pouches. When he confronted Graydeath, these two would release their eggs. Doing so would distract the sharks, who saw only the food in front of their faces. Orak watched them closely as they listened, ready to pounce on any sign of disapproval. As a consolation for their pending sacrifice, Taalik assured them that they would recover some of the young. We will cut them from the bellies of dead sharks, he said. The young ones will have a story to tell.
He turned away from his soldiers and headed north, using the rocky Lip for cover while keeping an eye on the movement above. He felt Orak’s presence, slightly behind him. She could lead if he died. But he would live. The Queen still had so much to show him.
Cold Trench grew shallower. The cover of the Lip gave way to open water, where the sharks blotted out the light piercing the surface. Taalik ascended, faster than the others, homing in on Graydeath. He felt so tiny in the expanse. The ground rising behind him blocked any hope of escape.
The water shivered as the sharks detected movement. Graydeath aimed his snout at the intruder. His mouth split in half, a red pit of jagged teeth. Scars from numerous battles left deep divots in his skin. A severed claw still punctured his dorsal fin, a permanent reminder of some creature that died trying to fight the sharks.
Taalik charged at him, claws unsheathed, tentacles reaching out. They collided, a sound like boulders toppling into the trench. Tumbling and twisting, Graydeath pulled free from Taalik’s grip and clamped his teeth at the root of one of his tentacles. Taalik struggled to keep the mouth open, to stop the shark from shearing off the limb at the base. Blood leaked from the puncture wounds, driving Graydeath into a new realm of delirium. Taalik tried to pluck out the eye, but Graydeath squirmed his face out of reach, using his mouth as a shield. The shark’s momentum dragged Taalik away from the battle, away from Cold Trench, and toward the shallows, where Taalik would not be able to escape.
Taalik let him do it. Sensing victory, Graydeath thrashed again, letting go of the wounded tentacle and twisting his snout toward Taalik’s head. With his claws, Taalik held the jaw open, gripping so tightly that some of the teeth broke off like brittle seashells. He pulled the shark toward land, toward the edge of the known world. They crashed onto a bed of rocks, kicking up dust and debris. A primitive creature, Graydeath nevertheless sensed the violation of the natural order that awaited him at the surface. Desperate, he tried to buck free of his opponent. A wave caught them, slamming them onto the earth. From here, Taalik could stand. And when he did, he broke free of the water. And even with the monster still trying to tear his head off, Taalik gazed at the new world, the land of the Queen—a golden patch of fine sand stretching from one end to the other, anchoring a blue dome.
Holding his breath, he dragged the shark out of the foamy waves. Taalik’s body grew heavy, as if a giant claw pressed him under the water where he belonged. The shark’s eyes shimmered under the piercing light, stunned at the impossibility of it all. The Queen called everyone to this place, though only a few would prove worthy. Graydeath, a king of the deep, writhed in agony. No water would rush through his gills ever again. His enormous eye caked in sand, the shark trembled as his life bled away at last.
Taalik felt as though he would burst. Unable to resist any longer, he opened his mouth, allowing the gills to flare out. Water sprayed from the two openings. The strange, weightless fluid of this place flowed through him, expanding his chest and rounding his segmented back. He released it with a choking cough. Inhaling again, deeper this time, he felt the power of it. And then he let out a roar that rattled his entire body. His voice sounded so different here, higher pitched and free to skitter away in the wind. There were no waves to muffle him. He screamed his name to announce his arrival, to shake the earth so that even the Queen, in her fortress, would hear.
This shark that lay at his feet did not have a name, save the one Taalik gave to it. Graydeath did not even understand the concept of a word, how it could rumble from the throat, and swim through the water, or float in the air, before finding purchase in someone else’s mind. The Queen showed Taalik how to do this, first in his dreams, and now while he was awake.
Taalik gripped the bulging eyeball of the shark and wrenched it free of its socket. He held it aloft and said his name again and again until the blood dripped down his claw.
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