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Want a taste? Here’s the Prologue. If you love it, which we know you will, you can buy it at Amazon by clicking here.
The planet was breaking apart. Under normal circumstances, it would have been a moment of rejoicing for the Solovot Empire—a sign that their drills had finally pierced the core. It would have been a time to honor their god and to celebrate the renewed life the core energy would bring to their homeworld—Solovot.
These were not normal circumstances.
Nicks Mul’nin nearly fell over as the world rumbled beneath his feet. He knew this world, Echebos, was eventually going to die—every Solovot knew that. But none of them knew it would die so soon.
Echebos shifted wildly, a rough reminder that somehow, somewhere, something had gone wrong. The core had been breached. That meant it would only be a matter of minutes before the planet would explode.
“Go see what the hold up is, Nicks!”
Nicks didn’t recognize the officer who was barking orders at him. The whole world was in a state of chaos, with everyone trying to get to the dropships in time to get offworld safely. On previous planets, only a select few natives were brought along with the Solovot fleet, but this time—without any explanation—the soldiers were under orders to save as many of the locals as they could.
“Now, private!” the officer yelled.
Turning in a slow circle, Nicks tried hard to pinpoint what the officer was talking about. Solovot soldiers were using all non-violent options to attempt to keep the native Eches from panicking—but it was a losing battle. It was a sea of blue as the beautiful creatures who called Echebos home ran for the dropships as fast as their long legs would carry them. Nicks saw an older Eche lose his footing and fall. His skin was dark blue with age, but it still shimmered with the same cool-water-glow that made the Eches so unique. Seconds later, the man was being trampled—his screams could barely be heard above the death cries of the world.
Pulling his gaze away from the gruesome scene, Nicks finally saw what the officer wanted him to investigate. A small group of Eches had fallen behind. There were four of them, all gathered around something. Nicks glanced at the dropships, then back at the Eches. He didn’t want them to get left behind, he’d actually grown quite fond of this planet’s inhabitants—but he didn’t want to get left behind either. The way the planet was shaking and shifting told him that time was in short supply.
Nicks took off at a sprint. His boots sinking into the sandy surface of Echebos with each step, slowing his progress significantly. Panic started to gnaw at him. He heard death calling his name, and he desperately hoped not to have to answer.
Another violent shift in the surface uprooted nearby vegetation. Nicks had long thought the towering blue trees were beautiful. It seemed poetic that even the trees mirrored the skin tone of the Eche people. The ever twisting and untwisting of their long limbs was almost hypnotic. Now that one of the trees was falling, threatening to crush him, he struggled to remember why he used to find them beautiful. As it grew closer, he could see the spikes covering its trunk, could see the glistening of the sweet substance that flowed from within it—a symphony of sugar-covered-death. He tried to run faster but found himself sinking deeper into the sand. He dove just as the tree slammed down, narrowly avoiding being crushed to death. The impact sent a wave of sand washing over him.
Nicks got back to his feet. The situation was officially out of control. He briefly considered writing off the four Eches and going for the dropship. He knew he’d regret it, but wouldn’t he regret dying more? As he stood there considering his dilemma he heard a scream. It came from one of the four Eches. Nicks’ instincts kicked in. He ran toward them, knowing now that he couldn’t turn his back on them. The Solovot Empire had brought doom to their planet, but it didn’t have to bring doom to these four people.
“Get a move on, the crafts are leaving!” Nicks yelled.
A voice rang out over the series of speakers attached to the dropships, first in Solovot, next in Eche.
“Salvation rises in five minutes.”
He came to a stop as he got closer. There was a fifth Eche present. She was lying in the sand on her back, the bulging belly telling him the whole story. Her legs were spread and the others were gathered there, coaching her through the birthing process.
“No, no, no way. Stop. You can’t do this here,” Nicks said. “We gotta go now.”
One of the other Eches shot him an angry glance.
“Newborns don’t wait for Salvation.”
Nicks studied her angry face. Her words sent his mind to his years in boot camp. New recruits—often called newborns—were never prepared for this type of tragedy. He was never warned that the fate of an entire race would rest in his hands. These were people. Beautiful, wonderful people full of life and vigor. Aside from their slightly longer legs, their large noses, and the blue tint to their skin, the Eches weren’t that different from Solovots.
“It’s going to have to wait,” Nicks said. “If we don’t move then we’re all dead.”
The world drove home his point with its most violent string of quakes yet. Nicks dropped to his knees. One of the Eches fell onto him, unable to stay upright. The world was cracking and screaming now, shooting spouts of gas and sand into the air. Time was up.
As the quaking subsided momentarily, Nicks got back to his feet and addressed the four Eches.
“Get yourselves to the dropships, now!” he shouted.
He could tell by their expression that they weren’t going to listen.
“Do as he says. Save yourselves.”
Nicks looked down, surprised to hear the mother backing him up.
“But—” one of the Eches started to argue.
“But nothing,” the mother snapped. “We five are all that’s left of our line. Would you have us all perish?”
Nicks could tell they were torn—unsure what to do.
“But the baby—” one of them said, tears streaming down her face.
Nicks stood tall, making a decision that likely meant the end of his life.
“You all go. I’ll stay with her,” he said.
They looked surprised. Kindness wasn’t something most of the natives associated with Solovots, especially now that they were coming to understand that the Solovot drills had killed their planet.
“Go!” Nicks yelled.
That got them moving. With tear-filled eyes, they backed away.
“I’m so sorry,” one of them said to the mother before turning and running away.
Once they were all gone, the gravity of the situation settled heavy on Nicks. This was it? He barely remembered his childhood, barely remembered anything before his training. A few years as a low ranking soldier and then death. It felt like a waste.
“Three minutes until Salvation rises,” the voice echoed in Eche.
The mother to be screamed, and Nicks came to his senses. Whatever he was going through was nothing compared to her. She was birthing life right into the waiting jaws of death. It was the cruelest thing Nicks could possibly imagine, for a child to be born only to die moments later.
He knelt down beside her, hesitating as he looked over her exposed body.
“What do I do?” he asked.
She screamed again, then bit her lip to try to fight off the pain.
“He’s coming,” she said.
Nicks didn’t have the first clue what to do now, but soon nature ran its course. She convulsed and screamed as the world beneath them did the same. Moments later, a goo covered baby arrived. Nicks cradled it as it emerged. It was simultaneously the most disgusting and most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
As Echebos started to shake even harder than before, the mother reached for her child.
“Please, I have to hold him just once.”
Nicks handed her the baby. She began to cry as she looked upon the child. She hummed a melody as she cradled it in her arms.
The planet jerked wildly—Echebos was in the final stages of death. Pulses of energy shot up through the ground and heavy winds kicked up, sending a storm of sand into the air. The baby began to wail and cry. Everything intensified, and as more flashes of energy shot up all around them, the sandstorm grew so dense that Nicks could no longer see the mother or her baby. He tried to position himself above them to shield them, but the sand was everywhere. If not for his helmet, he was certain he would’ve suffocated.
Suddenly, the sandstorm subsided. Nicks brushed at his visor, trying to clear his vision. A second later, he deeply regretted doing so. The mother was wailing, experiencing a pain unlike any other. The baby was still in her arms, but it wasn’t moving. She was trying to wipe the sand and dust off of the child’s face and eyes. It was futile.
“One minute until Salvation rises.”
Nicks couldn’t watch it. He couldn’t look at it for another moment. He stood up and turned away
“Can you move?” he asked.
She didn’t respond. He looked back down at her and he knew—she wasn’t going anywhere.
“Give me your hand, we have to run,” he said.
She didn’t even seem to hear him. He reached down and grabbed her arms. As soon as he started to pull her up she screamed. He released her, allowing her to settle back into the sand. What little life was left in her was dwindling fast. He could see the light fading in her eyes. He looked at the baby once more, then turned away.
“I’m so sorry,” he said.
He started to run in the direction of the dropships.
“Wait!” she cried.
Nicks turned back to her. She was holding the unmoving baby out toward him.
“Take him with you!”
It was a morbid final request, one that Nicks desperately didn’t want to honor.
“You Solovot honor your dead. I beg you, honor my son.”
He couldn’t possibly say no. He took the lifeless form in his arms and ran away. Echebos heaved beneath his feet. The waves of sand and dust returned, as did the bolts of energy. Soon, Nicks wasn’t even sure what direction he was running. He wondered if any of the dropships were even still there, any sense of time had been lost. He heard the voice once more.
“Thirty, Twenty-Nine, Twenty-Eight,” the voice echoed in Eche.
Nicks began whispering a quiet prayer as he ran. There were thousands of formal prayers in the Solovot faith, yet at this moment he could recall none of them. He just spoke of his desperation, he spoke of the tragedy cradled in his arms. He spoke of his desire to not die like this—to not die alone.
Just as he was about to stop and accept his fate, he felt something hard beneath his boot. He took another step and realized that the ground beneath him was rising up. A few more steps and the dust storm cleared. He was running up the ramp of the dropship.
“Lucky skag!” a Solovot officer said as the ramp started to close. “We’re the last ship here.”
Nicks got into the loading bay just as the ramp closed behind him. The ship was pushed beyond capacity, with Solovots and Eches alike packed into the area.
“Someone help!” a voice cried out.
It was the voice of a child, and after what Nicks had been through today he couldn’t ignore it. He looked around and seeing a clear space in the corner he gingerly laid the body of the baby in it. There was a tan cloak draped over a seat nearby, and he took the cloak and covered the body with it.
Nicks then ran toward the cry for help. It turned out to be a young Solovot who’d been forced to leave her favorite toy behind. It took all of Nicks’ willpower not to backhand the little brat. People had lost much more this day than toys.
The ship shuddered as it began to rise into the air.
“Strap in,” a voice said over the loudspeaker.
Remembering the body of the baby, Nicks ran back to where he’d left it. He slowed as he approached the corner. The cloak was still there, but something was wrong. It didn’t look like there was anything underneath it. He looked around, wondering if maybe someone had taken the body. There was nobody around, and those who had been nearby were far too concerned with their own survival to worry about a dead body.
Nicks looked back at the cloak. He knelt down, a knot forming in his stomach as he reached for the edge of the cloak. He lifted it up slowly, looking over the whole area. There was nothing there.
Nothing but dust.
Brother Dust: The Resurgence by Aaron Hall and Steve Beaulieu.