Centuries after global disaster, the remnants of humanity endure in a world turned inside out, a bubble of steel in infinite stone. In the Hypogeum the very air is poison, invisible assassins cull the weak, and privacy is a thing of the past. At the top of this radically stratified society sits the Orcus family, corrupt and contentious, but heir to a secret that allows them to wield uncontested power until the appearance of a mythical, seemingly superhuman avenger disrupts their careful machinations. But behind his mask, the Winnower is a man haunted by his own misdeeds, as much in need of redemption as the people he seeks to champion. The Winnower’s arrival precipitates society’s collapse, and possibly an end to all of humanity save through the interactions of an unlikely confluence of characters: a reluctant dictator, a disfigured outcast, a defiant victim, and an enigmatic artificial intelligence. The true power of Steel Sky lies in the richness of these characters and their personal stories of ambition, bravery, revenge, and love.
|Publisher:||Per Aspera Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
After a violent mugging in 1985, Andrew C. Murphy grew depressed and angry. He would later channel this energy into the creation of Steel Sky and the brutal, future world of the Hypogeum. In addition to writing novels and short fiction, Andrew is an illustrator, graphic designer, and the creative director of Brainworks Communications. An avid collector of comic books and old science fiction, he lives with his family in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania.
Read an Excerpt
By Andrew C. Murphy, Jak Koke
Ragnarok PublicationsCopyright © 2017 Andrew C. Murphy
All rights reserved.
I recognize that I am lost and I require guidance. Koba watch over us. I recognize that I am weak and I require strength. Koba protect us from the cold. I recognize that I am mortal and my time in this earth is short. Koba protect us from the dark. Guide me and strengthen me, that my every deed be good, that my every thought be pure, that I might one day join you in stone and in steel. Koba protect us from the Sky.
Common Prayer, Hypogean Church
THREE FOURTHS OF A CHILD
"Damn, there go the lights again."
As the last trace of fluorescence drains out of the tubes, the windowless lab becomes desolately black. With a sigh, Doctor Edward Penn peels off his latex gloves, rolls up his sleeves, and pulls an otoscope from the pocket of his lab coat. The tiny bulb gives him just enough light to see beneath the ultrasound machine. Dust tickles his nose as he reaches for a thick bundle of cables that runs from the wall. He jiggles the cables and pushes the plugs hard into their sockets. Nothing.
"What's happening?" His patient, half-naked on her back in the dark, sounds as if she's beginning to panic. Edward can't blame her.
"Just a moment, Mrs. Lessup." Crawling back out, he feels for the switch on the ultrasound. He flicks it off and on a few times. Still nothing. He'll try just about anything to fix the problem short of calling a repairman. Last time they came to his lab, they dragged off two of his machines for scrap. And one of them was still working. Now, in desperation, Edward has become an amateur mechanic. General practice becomes more general all the time.
Frustrated, he kicks the machine. He knows it's his imagination, but already the room seems stuffy, and the silence is making his blood pressure rise. Loss of air circulation is a serious matter in the Hypogeum, where the oxygen produced by electrolytic converters is barely enough to support the ever-growing population. This hospital has a ward full of brain-damaged simpletons who didn't notice when the fans stopped turning.
Pushing aside the storage unit of his crowded lab, Edward searches the electrical panel. Finally, it seems, he has found the problem: a loose wire. He turns off the line and twists the wire back into place, wrapping it tight with surgical tape. He activates the line again, and the yellow lights fade in with a deep buzz and a small pop. The fans resume their reassuring hum.
Edward turns toward his patient and takes a small bow. "The miracle worker," he says. Edward has an undistinguished face, but a strong jaw and a warm smile. Among the black hairs that peek from beneath his surgical cap are isolated strands of gray, like scouts before an advancing army.
Mrs. Lessup lifts her head, not a simple task from her position, and smiles weakly. She is a new patient for Edward, passed on to him when her old doctor was executed for trafficking in painkillers. A thin sheen of sweat makes her skin shine. Transducers are glued to her stomach, which is swollen with pregnancy. Edward realizes he should have told her to sit up while he was fixing the lights. "Let's see what your child looks like, shall we?" he says. He activates the controls on the hologrid. A shape begins to form above the pad like smoke in a bottle. "Can you see it, Mrs. Lessup? Your child is big for twenty decamera." The smoke swims into focus, forming limbs and a head.
"I never feel him kick," Mrs. Lessup complains.
"That's no reason to worry. All vital signs are excellent."
Mrs. Lessup rests her head back and closes her eyes. She looks tired, as if she's carrying more than just this child.
The image of the fetus floats indistinctly in a dark cloud above the pad, static crawling across its monochromatic skin. Edward studies it. Glowing lines appear along the spine, around the head, as the computer measures and records the child's statistics. All the data is within normal limits, and yet something feels odd. Edward leans closer into the skittering shadows. The hands are curiously large. The fingers are longer than they should be, it seems.
The child's head is turned away. Edward walks around the pad to see the face, but a flaw in the imaging mechanism has left the child partly unfinished. Its face is hollow, like a defective doll.
Edward grits his teeth; the evasion seems almost deliberate. There's no sense in hiding from me, Edward thinks. There are no secrets in the world you're going to enter, little one. You might as well give up now.
The image begins to flicker. Edward stares into the hologram as it fluctuates in and out, searching through the static. He cannot say why, but he senses that something is wrong with the child. An irrational fear grips him. Then the tank fails completely, and the child's image dissolves into ions.
Edward remains staring at the empty space. He slams his fist against the machine, but the image does not return. Mrs. Lessup is making noises of alarm. "This ...this thing never works right," he says absently, gesturing at the machine. He tries to call the image forth in his mind again. What did he think he saw?
"How did the baby look to you, Doctor?"
Edward notes the worried tone in her voice and calms himself. He has broken the golden rule of medicine: never let your patient know when something is troubling you. "Healthy," he says, in as professional a tone as he can muster. "Your baby is very healthy. Why don't you get dressed, and we can discuss it?"
He turns his back to her and waits for her to dress. He looks down. Judging from the marks on the floor, a separate office was once connected to this lab so that doctors could leave their patients to change in peace. But that must have been long ago.
He tries to shake his sense of dread, but it will not quit him. He cannot seem to approach the problem in a clear-headed, scientific fashion. Since his mother's death, things have become confused. His work, the people around him — nothing seems quite as real as it once did. His thoughts are broken up by a nagging sense of something left uncompleted.
He ignores the growing ache in his head and summons up his resolve. He needs to work less and sleep more, that is all.
"Doctor Penn ..." The voice of Edward's secretary comes from his ident.
Edward sighs. "Can it wait, Marta?"
"I've been monitoring the Security channel, as you requested," she says quickly. "They think there's a Deathsman in the building. Headed for Mr. Mosley's room."
"Damn." Edward stares at his panel on his ident for a moment as if wondering why this was not on his schedule. "Damn!" he repeats. "Doctor —"
"Excuse me, Mrs. Lessup." He pushes open the door and runs through. Mrs. Lessup yelps and ducks behind the exam table to protect her modesty. As the door slides shut behind him, Edward turns and shouts: "Don't forget to make another appointment!"
Second Son looks down. The city lies sprawled beneath his feet like the blocks he used to play with when he was a child. From above it is possible to see the original elegance with which the Hypogeum was designed. The oldest buildings, though lost beneath layer upon layer of new construction, have imposed their geometries on the architecture above. In the center is the Atrium, a tapered trapezoid of beveled glass, with its causeway leading to the Hall Mediary. Upriver are the gray, boxy structures of the industrial sector; in the other direction are the high-class dwellings, each facade angled to catch the light of the artificial sun. As the eye approaches the edges, the buildings become more sophisticated in design: sleek, shiny curves of glass and plastic grow up the sides of the great dome, culminating in this building, the Chandelier, which hangs glistening like a collection of soap bubbles above the city. To live in the Chandelier is the pinnacle of success; all other citizens are below you, and nothing is above but the steel Sky and never-ending rock.
Second Son quickly sidesteps across the translucent floor to the furnished half of the room where a small rug interferes with the precipitous view. His father, who is known simply by the family name of Orcus, strides easily across the empty space to the very edge. A single pane of hard, clear plastic curves up to become a wall before him, the only thing between him and a four-hundred-meter drop. Second Son stood there once. The vertigo made him pass out.
Orcus turns with a quick pivot that makes his surtout, the robed uniform of a null-class citizen, swirl around him. He has many similarly dramatic mannerisms. He once told Second Son that half the essence of power is the mere appearance of power. Perhaps that is why the men of their family take the depilatory treatment: to resemble Koba in his later days. And the fingernails? Second Son supposes they do it merely to look creepy. As with several generations of the family, Second Son had his removed, roots and all, at the same time he was circumcised.
"The matter is not open for debate," Orcus says. "The Orcus men have maintained the purity of our bloodline in this way for thirteen generations. That tradition will not end with you."
"But does it have to be her?" Second Son cannot seem to control his voice; his question comes out in a high-pitched whine.
"Yes, it does. In time you'll come to see the wisdom of my decision."
"But she hates me!" Second Son struggles to keep his voice in a lower register.
"Nonsense. She merely despises your weakness. And rightly. It is your unwillingness to take the necessary steps to becoming a man that incites her to tease you the way she does. If you are strong, she will respect you."
"I've tried, Father. She still terrorizes me!"
"She does not 'terrorize' you." Orcus turns his head. In profile, his head reminds Second Son of a crowbar, running almost in a straight line from the tip of his nose to his forehead before curving around his smooth cranium. "You have no idea what terror is."
"What about the time she set that snare for me, so that I was left hanging by my feet in the family room? Have you forgotten that?"
"No." The barest figment of a smile creases his father's face. "I remember."
Second Son feels his cheeks turn red with shame.
"You should not have fallen into that trap," his father says. "In the future, you will encounter other traps of different types from less benign sources. You must learn to evade them all."
Second Son throws himself on the couch, arms crossed. What can he say? How can he make his father understand? He cannot carry this burden. It is impossible.
"Stop sulking. You could do much worse. Your mother wasn't much of a woman, but I married her. I saw where my duty lay, and I followed it. You have things much easier. My duty was a sacrifice, but yours should be a pleasure, really. Dancer is smart. She's beautiful. She's ambitious."
"She's not as beautiful as she thinks she is."
"Listen, boy, you just have to marry her, let her bear children — keep the name of Orcus alive. No one said you have to be faithful to her. Hell, I'd have gone mad if your dull-witted mother was the only woman I ever charvered."
"Stop talking about Mother like that."
"What does it matter? She's with the Stone now. And probably happier for it. What about that girl you're always mooning over? The skinny one with the green hair?"
"Amarantha." Second Son squirms in his seat, thinking of her.
"That's the one. She's a bit dull, but she seems worth a little trouble. You can still sleep with her, as long as you're careful."
"If she wants me."
"If she wants you?" His father's voice rises in indignation. "Hump, you're null-class, an Orcus! What she wants is immaterial."
His father's use of the humiliating nickname is a deliberate insult. Second Son tries to ignore it. "It's not that simple," he says.
"Make it that simple. Damn it, son! I'm offering you the world, don't you see?"
"Dancer wasn't meant for me, Father! She was meant for Stone."
Orcus crosses the floor in two long strides and grabs Second Son by the bicep, hauling him to his feet. "In case you haven't noticed, Hump," he hisses, "your elder brother is dead!" His fingers dig into Second Son's flesh. "And as absurd as it sounds, you must take his place!"
"Stop it!" Second Son cries. "You're hurting me!"
"Koba's eyes, you're pathetic!" Orcus drags Second Son to the door and pushes him through. "Get out. I have work to do."
Second Son stumbles around to face his father, desperate for one last attempt. "Father, it's unseemly for a man to marry an older woman. Can't I marry Second Daughter instead?"
His father glowers down at him. His bulk nearly fills the doorway. "No," he says. "In five days you and your older sister will be married. The decision is made!" He slams the door in Second Son's face.
Second Son stares at the door, catching his breath, waiting until his pulse returns to normal. Glancing around to make sure no one is watching, he retreats down the hall and locks himself in the servant's laundry alcove. He likes how small the room is, how secluded. When he is here, he has no problems, no connection to the world outside. He sits on the floor, hidden between the machines and a gigantic pile of clothes, nestling into them, inhaling their earthy scent. He unclips his portable monitor from his belt and activates it. The screen flickers to life, still attuned to the camera he was watching last time — the camera he always watches — and he smiles. On the screen, a young man and woman are making love. The woman is lying flat upon a bed, head back and eyes closed, with her long green hair spread out around her like a web, like a halo of fissures in fractured crystal ...He watches them for a long time, relishing the sickly feeling in his stomach as his excitement curdles and his anger grows, meditating carefully on his father's advice.
Amarantha Kirton watches Cadell's backside with approval as he crosses the room to pour her a glass of water. He catches her watching him, and there is a hint of a swagger on his way back. "Now that was something special," he says as he hands her the cup and slips back into bed.
Amarantha sips the water and smiles. "You have a high opinion of yourself, don't you?" she teases.
"A high opinion of us," Cadell says, stretching languidly across the bed, kicking against the sheets that have bunched up at its foot. Like other fashionable young men in the Hypogeum, he shaves the hair above his forehead into a widow's peak while wearing the rest pulled back in a long ponytail. His face is narrow and handsome, with the untroubled smoothness of youth. He rests his head on Amarantha's naked stomach.
She leans back, running her fingers through his hair, and takes a deep breath, enjoying the moment. They have free time ahead of them: two chronons till lights-out, and two lifetimes after that. The future for them is unwritten, limitless, and dizzying in its possibilities. Resting her hand on Cadell's head, she looks absently at the ceiling. She imagines it peeling away, like a sheet of paper, floating off in the breeze and rising all the way to the Sky, the steel dome roof of the Hypogeum. She sees the Sky crack along its seams and crumble, great chunks of broken metal tumbling and disintegrating into dust. Beyond is the Stone, which according to the tenets of orthodox Geospiritualism extends forever. Amarantha watches as it splits apart, fissures racing through it at the speed of sound until it shatters in a crackle of blinding white energy, revealing ... what?
Anything. It could be absolutely anything at all.
Her attention is drawn back to mundane dimensions by the soft whirring noise of the camera on the ceiling as it refocuses on them. The black hemispheres — each exactly the size of a human eye — are normally silent, but this one has lately developed a personality, as if it were a third person in their lives: an intrusive, dull-witted cousin. Cadell, feeling her body tense, raises his head. She tries to erase the look of anger on her face, but she is too slow.
"What's the matter?" he asks.
"Those things," she says, gesturing toward the camera. "Watching us every moment of our lives."
"Don't think about it," he soothes. "You'll only upset yourself."
"I hate them," she whispers. "I wish we could tear the damn things down."
Cadell sits up, pulling the blankets with him and covering their bodies. "They're just doing their jobs, the same as the rest of us. Besides," he adds more quietly, "you can't get anywhere in this world if you make them angry at you."
Excerpted from Steel Sky by Andrew C. Murphy, Jak Koke. Copyright © 2017 Andrew C. Murphy. Excerpted by permission of Ragnarok Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsINHABITANTS OF THE HYPOGEUM,
MAP OF THE HYPOGEUM,
THREE-FOURTHS OF A CHILD,
FIRSTS AND SECONDS,
IT WOULDN'T HURT,
A FEMALE VISITOR,
A NEW MAN,
CONTRADICTION IN TERMS,
THE INEXCUSABLE CRIME,
TOMORROW HAS COME,
AIR OF DISASTER,
HOLDING ON TO THE WORLD,
FATHER OF THE BRIDE AND GROOM,
A WINDOW TO THE SUN,
THE NEXT DIMENSION,
THE BOY IN SHAFT SEVEN,
THE WAY OF THE STONE,
DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN IDENTIFICATION,
IN THE SHADOW OF KOBA,
POINTS OF ORDER,
BORN DOWN, LOOKING UP,
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST,
THE EATING ROOM,
LOGIC AND POWER,
A QUESTION OF CHARACTER,
TRIUMPH OF THE WILL,
THE BREATH OF THE HYPOGEUM,
CONTEMPLATING THE INFINITE,
THE SHORT, COLD,
PRESSED FOR TIME,
WHERE LIFE BEGINS,
THE SHADOW HEART,
THE ORIGIN OF THE WORLD,
THE FACE OF THE CULMINANT,
THE SLOW, INEVITABLE SLIDE,
THE DARKENING OF THE SUN,
THE VOICE OF DEAD EYES,
THE PERFECT END TO THE PERFECT DAY,
THE TIPPING OF THE BALANCE,
HISTORY OF THE HYPOGEUM,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
After a series of global catastrophes, the Founders built the Hypogeum a city two kilometers underground. After almost over four centuries, it is vastly overcrowded, a quarter to a million people live in a place designed for fifty thousand. There are fourteen levels, and the higher the class designation a person is assigned the closer they live to the top of the city. The inhabitants have no idea there is a surface where people once lived or a real sun and moon.------------- The air outside the buildings of the Hypogeum is poisonous due to the toxic waste produced on the lower levels. People need respirators to breathe once they leave a building and the whole city is ruled by the corrupt Orcus whose heir Second Son is a weak bully and a sexual predator. The people are controlled by Orcus using a technology that only his family knows about. A feeling of hopelessness pervades the city until the mythical Winnower returns killing corrupt officials and giving hope to people who need a champion. He has no idea that his appearance will signal the destruction of civilization as he knows it.-------------- STEEL SKY is an imaginative work that draws the reader into the exciting, character driven storyline and keeps them there until they reach the end of the tale. The Hypogeum is a bleak place where euthanasia for the sick or destitute is mandatory and the human body is recycled for various needs of the city. It is an intricately detailed world that the readers can see in the mind¿s eye, a place that makes an impoverished war torn nation seem like paradise. Andrew C. Murphy is a gifted storyteller who creates characters that are a microcosm of humanity.----------- Harriet Klausner