Indie Book Spotlight: Lucid Machines, by Marshall Smith
Built to terraform the giant world, Boea, the Preform Augustine finished her work and put herself into hibernation. Now awake, she discovers that the vertebrates have arrived to finish the final phase: Colonization.
The new colonists discover these strange beings, and they find great value in them, enough to kidnap Augustine’s bonded one, Leon. Desperate, she searches the Five Systems for him, and even turns to divine intervention from an elusive and sinister deity for help. With the tether of their minds drifting further apart, she will do anything to get him back. Even if it means killing the innocent.
“You’re smaller than I am,” said Masha, the Gauld vassal assigned to the research vessel Default. She sucked in her belly and zipped up the rest of her diving suit.
“I’m shorter than you are,” corrected Argyle, the captain of Default and owner of Masha. “But you’re thin. I bet you can squeeze between those rocks down there with those long, skinny limbs. Just breathe deep.”
Research vessel Default had been assigned to the northern hemisphere of Boea, the giant world, to study the geology in the area. Traces of ammonia and bacteria were detected coming from a stream near where the vessel had touched down for base camp. And it was decided that Masha would dive to find the source.
Masha did what she was told, as if she had a choice, the slave that she was. She waded into the freezing water, pulled her hair back and slipped the hood of her skin suit over her head. A faint current from where Default had detected the exceedances could be felt through Masha’s long fingers, and she dove down, reaching her way over rocks and algae until she was enveloped in darkness of the subterranean stream.
She turned on her headlamp and continued to crawl and swim her way not too far until she could surface again to an opened pool. She could see stalactites hanging down above her as she kept herself afloat in the pool. She could hear echoes of the ripples mildly splashing around her neck and hands travel endlessly through the dark.
“I found something,” said Masha.
“What’s going on?” crackled Argyle.
“It’s some kind of cavern,” she said. “I’m underground. It’s a large pocket. Massive!”
She pulled herself out of the pool to investigate further on foot.
“Be careful,” said Argyle. “Probably a den for some Boean monster.”
“Yeah,” scoffed Masha, and peered around even more.
“Why don’t you come back. No need to look around. I think we figured it out.”
Masha turned back to the pool but stopped after she felt something crack underneath her foot. It was a wooden spoon half-buried in the mud. “It was anthropogenic waste coming out of
“I found a spoon.”
There was a pause. “Keep looking around,” answered Argyle.
Turning back around and going in further, a barrel was found, just opened. Masha peeked inside and noticed only a few grains of wheat at the bottom.
“Old food barrels,” said Masha.
“No sight of people?”
“Nah, I think this place is…” Masha froze as she looked near another empty barrel. There was a skinny girl in ragged clothes staring straight up at her.
“Masha?” said Argyle.
Masha and the girl locked eyes and stared until Masha mustered enough courage to extend her hand. “Hey,” she said.
But the girl yelled and shoved Masha in her chest, knocking her to the hard floor. Then she ran off into the dark.
“What’s going on in there?” asked Argyle.
Masha groaned and held her ribs. “It’s… some stupid bitch. Skinny…bitch knocked the wind out of me. I think she broke some ribs. Bitch.”
“Sounds like some kind of den for junkies. All hopped up on something. How or why they’re out here in the uncharted forests… You brought your gun, right?”
“Damn right I did.”
Masha groaned as she stood back to her feet. “I hate tweakers,” she grumbled. She unholstered her pistol and cautiously followed the walls deeper into the caverns, updating Argyle on the way.
“There’s another stream in here,” she said. “There’s a water wheel in it. More old machinery. Barrels. Lanterns. Some are lit. This place keeps going.”
She saw a shadow fly down a corridor and heard a door slam just after.
“I got you now,” said Masha, raised her pistol and walked towards the noise.
She approached the door, made of wood and iron and attempted to open it, but it was no use. She unstrapped a hatchet from her utility belt and started chopping away just above the handle. Gasps from people could be heard on the other side.
Masha pulled a tranquilizing grenade from her belt, packed just in case there was a beast of some kind in this den, and tossed it in the hole she had just chopped out of the door. Loud coughing was heard this time from several voices. And just as they subsided, Masha reached her long arm through the crack, unlocked the door, and kicked it wide open.
“There’re four of these crack heads,” she said.
Meet the Author
Marshall Smith is a resident of Brea, California and has been writing fiction since the early 2000s. His first published novel There Are No Countries was published in 2020, and its standalone sequel Lucid Machines in 2022. He's worked for several entities such as the National Park Service and NOAA, and likes to put some of his knowledge of the natural world into his stories.
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