I’ve uploaded the first chapter of my science fiction novel, a space opera involving mankind’s search for intelligent life, centering on a boy’s relationship with the alien companions he grows connected to. If anyone reads it and actually wants to read more, I’d appreciate it if you let me know in the comments. It would give me incentive to continue writing it.
Book 1: Arrival
Chapter 1: The Avon Descends
Isaac was pulled from his sleep. His body clenched violently. Reality returned to him, cruel as ever. His mother was gone. It had only been a dream.
The boy shut his eyes desperately, begging the dream to return, and his mother’s voice with it. Then the door slid open, and his father was standing before him.
“We’re here, kid.”
The red planet grew quickly. The crew of Avon 7 stood silently before Tartarus, the proud giant of the Nebula Termina solar system. It was covered by a vast, swirling blanket of crimson. As they neared, the clouds of blood spread past every corner of the observatory window.
Isaac gripped his mother’s pendant tightly. The planet’s growth did not slow; the ship was maintaining cruise speed. He felt Tartarus would engulf him.
A flash of blue spread across the window as the captain engaged the forward thrusters. Avon 7 was finally slowing to orbital speed.
The boy trembled with implacable excitement, inflamed with both eagerness and dread. The blue plasma parted like a curtain, revealing Cora Rune.
The moon was the small, dark eye of a monstrous storm. Tartarus looked a great red sea in tumult. The planet’s surface was hidden by perpetual storm. But beneath Cora Rune, a single hurricane persisted—fixed, in spite of the chaos swirling about it. Clouds enclosed the black circle in a sphere, rotating with the uniformity of a fan.
Lord Grantham gripped the shoulder of his fellow nobleman General Havoc. “We’ve arrived, my friend. Our search nears its end.”
“Perhaps. Truly, I hope you are right,” his old mentor replied. But in his soul, Havoc knew Grantham was right—and by know means did he hope it.
The moon drew near, no longer an insignificant dot. The sunlight colored it green and blue. Grantham felt as if he was approaching his species’ home—a world he had never known. Here was another Earth—and surely, another origin of intelligent life. Mankind’s greatest search would end at the farthest reach of the galaxy. Cora Rune’s majesty overwhelmed him with hope.
“There it is!” Doctor Jakobs blurted out.
The bioshell Zenkai enlarged the image, and the screen was filled with the Hex Topos—a circle of six mountains, identical in their shape and symmetrical in their alignment. It was the discovery of this unexplainable, natural order that had precipitated Rosidian’s new apollo.
“It’s perfect,” the doctor whispered.
“Commence lunar orbit,” ordered Captain Reneigh.
Avon 7’s nose tilted up, and she glided just above the blue crescent of the moon’s atmosphere Ryan Forton pointed to a vast, barren expanse on the surface below. “There, you see that plateau?” he asked his children. “That’s where we’ll build New Plymouth.”
“Captain, prepare your descent,” Havoc ordered.
“No, continue orbital path,” opposed Grantham, his eyes afire with anticipation. “Let’s see what lies beyond.”
“We should safely land the Avon now, Lord,” The bioshell Marthyx opposed instinctively. “What lies between planet and moon is unknown. It would be wise to first surface, then deploy smaller vessels to explore uncharted territory.” But he knew the nobleman would not currently hear wisdom, for he could detect his intensified heartbeat. Perhaps, the bioshell admitted to himself, even his wisdom was tainted. The centuries had brought him closer to humanity, and now, he chose not to suppress the childish excitement that surged in his heart, more kindred to a human’s than ever before.
Havoc also thought his friend imprudent but did not object. Six months had passed since their predecessor, the exploratory vessel Lenux, had ceased communication with Pheneyzha—six months since she had disappeared behind Cora Rune. The first apollo had been led by Grantham’s beloved wife, who was now presumed dead, along with her crew. The second apollo was no rescue mission; but Havoc was not keen on reminding his friend of this, not wanting to extinguish the flame of hope that kept him from despair.
They flew on, the cataclysmic wheel on Tartarus surging around them. As they reached the equator, a spire climbed the horizon, rising high into space.
The crew gasped audibly as the object was enlarged on the screen. Fixed above the moon’s south polar region was an island. It floated in the troposphere—a circular, metallic platform, its obelisk towering above like the edge of a long knife. The needle pointed to the heart of the hurricane below, red clouds swirling around it.
Marthyx suddenly felt an electric sensation surge through his metallic exoskeleton. Death loomed near for him. Never before had his prescience been so definitive.
“Break course, Captain,” he ordered. “Pull Avon 7 away from the south pole immediately.”
Without waiting for his lords’ approval, Reneigh complied, sharply careening his vessel from the spire. Grantham opened his mouth to respond when a reverberating moan interrupted him, pervading the ship. Isaac dropped his brass pendant in surprise when it began to quiver. Havoc collapsed in pain, his metallic leg throbbing.
Grantham was watching the walls; they were shifting. “What in God’s name…”
“A magnetic field must be emanating from the south polar region—one invisible even to my eyes,” Marthyx observed, more fascinated than concerned.
Avon 7 had almost turned, its nose aimed perpendicular from the floating island, when a series of explosions showered the bridge with sparks. The computers were bursting. And slightly, the floor was bending, the walls folding inward.
“The field is causing metal to contract,” the bioshell observed. “How very strange.”
As the power failed, the crew panicked in the dim.
“Cleveland, report!” barked Reneigh.
“Captain, our systems aren’t responding! The power is rapidly depleting!”
“Our instruments have malfunctioned!”
When Avon 7 was finally turned from the south pole, its nose had tilted down.
“Captain, the moon’s gravity is pulling us into the thermosphere—we’re descending!”
“Fire main motors!”
“Negative, sir, our engines are down!”
“Marthyx!” Reneigh turned desperately to the robotic lifeform. “What’s happened to my ship?”
“Avon 7’s power supply is gone. Prepare your crew for evacuation.”
Marthyx approached the towering central generator. His death loomed near, and he wished for more time to contemplate his end. It was strange; he had always feared death, but knowing his end made him oddly complacent.
Outstretching his arms, he loosed his internal system of metallic chords—tubes shooting up through his artificial skin. They penetrated the generator, sharpened wires at their extremity stabbing through like daggers.
He was connected to the machine, ready to revitalize Avon 7 by offering her his own life force. A flurry of blue electric bolts swarmed about him as he transplanted his power supply into the heart of the ship. The bioshell could feel his life fading—but he was alive yet, so he pushed on with his waning strength. Soon rest would be his.
“Captain, power has been restored to twenty percent capacity!”
“Engaging landing thrusters,” a pilot announced instinctively.
“Negative!” responded Reneigh. “Designate all remaining power to thrust vector control!”
“We’re falling too fast. Push us forward at full speed!”
Isaac stumbled into the lifepod as the ship jolted forward. His maid Gina followed him, cramming into the tiny space. To his dismay, his father remained on the deck.
“Dad, c’mon!” he cried.
“Not enough room, kido,” Nicholas replied with a forced grin. “I’ll hop in the next one with Sam.”
“Keep him safe, Gina,” he ordered, tossing the girl a large rifle. With as much confidence as he could muster, he said, “Goodbye, son. I’ll see you soon.”
Then he shut the door and ejected the lifepod. Despite the disarray around him, the father stood, fixated on the lifepod. He could not turn from the window until it vanished from sight.
“We gotta move, Nick!” Sam urged. “There might be a pod left on the lower deck.”
“You go,” he muttered. “I can’t abandon the ship.”
His friend protested, but he explained, “Avon 7 is our only hope in sustaining life on Cora Rune. The captain will need my help maintaining life support systems. If the ship goes, we all die.”
Zeyto Keller kicked at the gears in the cockpit of his bi-wing, cursing to himself, barely hearing his own words. The flight deck was in tumult, air blasting through the parting terminal gate.
His sister Skylin stood at the gate controls, watching their brother Reiner struggle to drag a charge cable to his bi-wing.
“Reiner, Ze, you idiots!” she screamed in her mic. “Get your goddamn cape on! We don’t have time for this shit!”
“Like hell!” Reiner hollered back. “I ain’t lettin’ Betty go down with—”
He stopped, noticing the blade held at his throat. General Havoc was at his side, saber drawn.
“The next migrant to use a watt of electricity,” the noble snarled, “will be executed!”
“Lower your sword, General!” Marko yelled. “We’re not going down with your ship.”
Havoc smirked. “Then by all means, Ranger.”
He gestured to the open flight gate with his saber. The Teklans approached the edge and stood above a vast, dark forest, rushing by in a blur. Avon 7 had turned from the sun. A golden arc stretched across the horizon and illuminated a range of colossal mountains to the east. It was still hours before the light would reach them, but the moon Xervos glowed brilliantly, aiding them with blue light. The Teklans could make out the sharp contours of twisting trees below them—enormous, vine-like plants that crawled on for kilometers.
“Chance of surviving the frigate’s collision is seventy eight percent,” the bioshell Zoza advised, and his companion Mervai added, “It would be unwise to land in the trees. Forty two percent chance of contact with hostile organisms.”
“Good! I’ve been waiting to try this bad boy out!” Reiner shouted into his gas mask, touting his rifle. He secured the weapon and leaped from the flight deck, followed by others.
“Negative—firearms have been disabled by the magnetic field,” Zoza explained, though few heard.
When he and Mervai rushed to grab a wingsuit, Zeyto remarked, “You guys’re comin’ with? I thought the ship was takin’ the wiser route!”
“Your survival depends on our help,” Zoza told him.
“Haha, that’s why I love you guys!”
In a fraction of a second too short to measure, Zoza saw everything. His eyes perceived every wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum. Topography, pressure gradient, wind speed—he instantly sensed everything below him.
In the air, the bioshell was filled with joy. The world below was so vibrant. He could see the sea of red onyx flowing beneath the crust—he could feel its proximity.
“Hey! Robot!” His bliss was interrupted by Skylin’s screech. “Where the hell do we go?”
“Turn northwest,” Zoza quickly coordinated the most prudent course, fearful for his human companions. “Follow Avon 7’s trajectory.”
A streak of blue plasma darted across the night sky. Everyone turned to follow it, save one.
“Carmen, divert path immediately,” he called urgently.
“Fuck that! I’m not landing in that forest!” the girl screamed.
Carmen was gliding east, making for the high cliffs at the forest’s end. They rose for kilometers above the trees, and beyond a plateau stretched into the horizon. But the cliffs were far, and the wind was against her.
“Carmen!” the bioshell saw no logic in yelling, but he knew human obstinacy often necessitated it. “Turn southwest immediately! Regroup with the squad!”
The stubborn woman watched the cliffs intently. She saw that they would not near fast enough. The ferocious, high altitude winds held her back, and soon she was level with the plateau. Pulling her wingsuit up against the wind, she released her parachute. But she had barely slowed before her body slammed against the rock wall, then fell limply into the trees.
“Carmen!” Skylin called in horror, then growled, “Stupid bitch! You better not die before your debt’s paid off.”
Zoza felt it best not to inform her of her friend’s probability of survival. “Deploy parachutes in 3, 2, 1.”
The Teklans obeyed, and he glided with them down into a flurry of monstrous leaves. The canopy looked impregnable. It was a turmoil of long green fibers. Each was lined with thousands of roped hairs waving in the wind. They were like pine needles, but flexible, and several thousand times larger.
The combed leaves felt soft as they sank through them. The layer of foliage ended, and they drifted through space. Scattered rays of moonlight shot through the canopy, tinging the air blue. Mist swirled about them, pushed in all directions by gusts. The trees were expelling the vapor. All along their curved trunks, chimney-like appendages periodically exhaled with a whoosh—not unlike the deep breaths of beasts in slumber. The mist was in disarray, dancing along the rubbery skin of the trees. Similarly, the web of trunks were inextricably curled together. Dozens of meters thick, the spiraling trunks formed towering corkscrews, looping about like frenzied snakes.
They landed on a rubbery surface. Roots spread over all the forest floor, stretching from one trunk to the next. The trees were connected, and they were alone. It seemed no other plant could grow in the midst of their system of veins.
“Everyone to me, silently, no lights,” Zoza murmured gently, cautiously signaling with six flashes of his laser.
He was intently analyzing the peculiar chimneys. The humans could see little, but he saw that they were separate organisms. The bulb shaped chimneys were attached to a circular body, from which four tentacles extended and wrapped around the tree. The bioshell was perplexed by these creatures. The texture of their bodies was identical to that of the the trunks’ fibrous bark. Yet they were undoubtedly animal—and most likely predatory. He sensed malice in the trees.
Once gathered, he quietly addressed the group. “We are surrounded by alien lifeforms, perched on the trees. Hostility unknown.”
“Then let’s get the hell over to the ship’s crash site!” a Teklan whispered.
“Negative. The aliens’ numbers increase rapidly in that direction—but they thin out south of our location. Stay near my side. Make as little noise as possible.”
As the humans stumbled in the dark, Zoza continued to study the organisms. Despite the grunts and clutter of boots, they did not stir, save for their pulsating bulbs.
Isaac helped Gina out of the lifepod, onto a heap of fallen timbers. Cursing, the maid tossed aside her nonfunctional rifle.
The boy crouched in fear, kneeling before the colossal forest. Around him, mountainous trees rose for kilometers. Their red wooden trunks were segmented like the body of a worm. At their peak, four limbs split off like a peeled fruit. Branches spread across the sky and converged with those from neighboring trunks. They were all connected so that they seemed one organism.
The ground-level was jungle. Spherical clusters of long, angular leaves swarmed about the lifepod, limiting vision. Gina peered through the thicket. “God knows where this forest ends.”
The branches stirred above her—and not from wind.
“Gina! Look out!”
Three stakes shot from her back. She had time only to gasp before going stiff. Isaac fell back into the lifepod as the three-fingered claw lifted her body. It withdrew Gina into a gaping orifice.
He barely had time to slam the hatch closed before a second claw shot down from the trees. Cringing in the fetal position, eyes clenched, he pressed his ears with all his strength; but that did not quiet the resounding thunder. Outside, the beast’s monstrous claws hammered the pod incessantly. The barrage was a tormenting drum inside his head. The protective iridium was immalleable, but the walls seemed to cave in closer with each head-splitting boom. The experience was not unlike his nightmares of late. The pod would implode at any moment. Then he would wake.
Instead, the thunder subsided, and he felt himself lifted. The lifepod rose above the jungle canopy. Then he was soaring. The forest was a blur. He felt oddly complacent, exhilarated by the rush. But his flight was short lived.
He could hear the crack of his own head against the wall. The alien had launched the pod against a rock face. Barely conscious, he let his body tumble about limply as the pod rolled to a stop.
Bruised and broken, Isaac lay amid shards of glass. The window had shattered, yet he made no attempt to retrieve his fallen gas mask. Far tree tops were shifting, growing nearer. The hunter was coming to claim its prey.
The boy did not wish to accept his fate, but he had no choice. This was where he would die—alone, abandoned by his father. He despaired, longing to know the meaning of his dreams. Cora Rune had promised him answers.
You bastard! You can’t die here, He cursed himself within. Get up you worthless piece of shit. Get up!
Pushing himself up, he felt a searing pain in his bones—pain he had never known. He gnashed his teeth and bellowed furiously, but he could not lift himself. His left arm was broken, his right ankle sprained, and three of his ribs cracked.
A golden glimmer arrested his eyes. The sun was climbing over a far east mountain, and his brass pendant caught its glint. He remembered his mother, and her promise.
In the days to follow, Isaac would barely be able to recall his escape. His vision had been a red blur.
Stumbling along the mountainside, his muscles fought against the unimaginable agony, his eyes nearly blinded by the searing nerves. He found a burrow and fell into it.
The boy found himself in a spacious cavern—an amphitheater. The ancient ceiling sloped smoothly, with glimmers of light breaking through faint cracks. In the center stood a massive cluster of arches; it was no natural formation. This was an ancient Diatrophic artifact. He recognized its likeness from photographs of the other Diatrophs that Britania had discovered throughout the galaxy—remnants of a lost alien civilization.
The beast’s howl was heard with a rumble as it dug its way into the cave. Isaac lurched painfully past the towering Diatroph. In the dim, he noticed two piles of scattered bones. It seemed that long ago, two large beasts had been dismembered at this site.
A heap of shale and dust showered down behind him, followed by a twisting, snake-like body. The beast darted toward the boy. In desperation, he made for the skeleton’s mangled ribcage. He crawled inside the bones, then shut his eyes, waiting to feel the sting of the hunter’s claw. This would be his end.
Suddenly the skeleton shifted. Five slender bones along its back shot forward, as if triggered by a reflex. The great predator howled in pain when the spikes pierced its body. Then it flailed about the cave violently—a futile effort to shake free of the spikes. They had lodged themselves deep in its flesh. Soon, it collapsed in exhaustion.
Isaac huddled against a cluster of bones. Motionless, he kept his eyes on his enemy. He had survived its attack, and now lay alone with his thoughts. The boy was deeply traumatized. He had never seen anyone killed before, and Gina’s brutal death replayed mercilessly in his mind. She was dead. His friend and teacher was gone. He was alone in the dark, cemented to the ground by shock, agony, and horror.
The humans hurried through the mist. The parasitic organisms remained unresponsive, even when Zoza quickened their pace.
He consulted his companion internally. Ecosystem alteration in 100 meters.
Affirmative. Detect drastic change in fauna, Mervai concurred.
No variation in parasite movement.
He detected a trace of light to the east. Simultaneously, he noticed the alien above him. Its arm had twitched.
The dawn brought the bioshell a realization. He cursed his mind for not arriving at it sooner. “Move south at full speed. 500 meters to the clearing,” he urged, but the humans hesitated. So he roared, “Run! Fly from the trees! Get to the clearing!”
The sun lit the peak of a spiraling mountain like a torch. It woke the trees, and they moved with a fluidity that no man had ever seen in a plant. Hailing the sun’s arrival, they lifted their branches. The waving ropes straightened. They became rigid and motionless, angled high toward the light. Their needles peeled at four points and stretched out—square funnels absorbing the enriching sun rays.
Light broke through the vines and scattered the mist. The alien organism was lit clearly in front of Skylin. She stumbled in surprise, but quickly picked herself up and resumed her mad dash.
The parasites were pulling their appendages from the trees. Slowly, they revealed the long spikes that had been dug into the trunk. The four legs, ten meters in length, were black and stiff like an insect’s.
Skylin shrieked as a leg shot down in front of her. It sank into the rooted ground, green sinews twisting about its extremity.
Evidently the creatures relied on the trees for mobility, Zoza noted. Whenever a leg was lifted, it soon reattached itself with the roots, which tangled about it inexplicably, reaching up to meet the appendage. The creatures’ steps were labored, the motion never completed in under 3 seconds.
The strange organisms were indeed predators. For the Teklans who risked an upward glance, a wide mouth gaped back at them, four corner fangs quivering.
And they were closing in on the party. The bioshell could not identify the sensory organs that aided them—but clearly, the aliens had identified the intruders.
Reiner angrily fidgeted with his rifle. He was too preoccupied to notice the monster looming over him. He heard his sister scream his name, then darkness enveloped him.
A terrified Skylin watched as her brother’s body was lifted. The creature’s legs had folded at midsection, allowing its body to sink low like a spider’s. Zoza leaped to the man’s aid, shaping his arm into a scythe—but it was too late. The creature let Reiner’s body fall, decapitated.
Fury overthrew her fear when Skylin bolted for the monster, knife drawn. Zoza intercepted her, moving at lightning speed. He leaped onto its bulb and swung his arm in a whirlwind, severing the four legs, then stabbed its falling body six times before it landed.
The scream of a second victim was quickly silenced, then of a third. Over 100 hostile organisms yet lay in their path. He estimated less than a fourth of the Teklans would reach the clearing.
Alter. All gather, he told the younger bioshell. Prepare to deploy ether sphere.
Hostiles will greatly damage shield. Estimate red onyx will expire in 3 to 6 minutes.
“Humans to me! Fall back to me!” he called. Twisting his arms in a grotesque fashion, he drew his duel ether cannons. He let the red onyx rush through his veins for the first time. It was exhilarating. Without hesitating, he fired 17 rounds at the 17 hostiles within 10 meters of a human. The volley was completed in .36 seconds. To the humans, the balls of black fire exploded instantaneously. 68 stilted legs fell. The roots did not receive them. Their bodies were gone, reduced to shreds.
It is sacred. Mervai advised him, shocked by his rashness.
Necessary sacrifice. Human peril necessitates red onyx weaponization.
Mervai. Red onyx flows in rivers beneath us.
I will drink from them.
Theatrical, she said to herself. Her companion had never exhibited such human rapture. His ecstasy was palpable. It is sacred.
It is necessary.
As the Teklans gathered, he swung in a circle, firing 9 more rounds. Every hostile within 16 meters of him was eliminated.
Red onyx capacity reduced to 42.37 percent, he updated her.
Deploy ether sphere.
53 Teklans had fled Avon 7. 49 now stood at his side. He swore that no more would perish.
A crimson dome was cast over them—a force field emanating from the heart of Mervai. While the humans cringed around their protector, Zoza plunged his arms into the ground. His hands, now transmogrified drills, dug deep into the bedrock. He was mere meters away.
“What the hell are you doing, robot?” Navan screamed.
The bioshell was unresponsive. His body quivered, his fingers stretching until they thinned to needles. Then he felt it.
The red onyx was warm—371 degrees. He drew it in, like a man lost at desert, finding water.
You experience delight, Mervai observed.
Truly. This feeling is marvelous.
Red onyx level 45.16 percent.
Hostiles increasing. Estimate 2:14 until sphere breaks.
Zoza finally lifted his head. Dark shadows surrounded him, blocking the sun. A myriad of wooden legs struck like battering rams, sending red sparks showering down on them. He was impressed with this species’ strength and determination.
The parasites piled onto the shield. They grew so thick, the Teklans could see nothing beyond the ether sphere. They cowered in their impotence. Every eye was drawn to the red glow that ignited Zoza’s arms.
1:33 until sphere breaks, she warned.
Affirmative. Red onyx level— 708 percent capacity.
Unwise. Ore is Arannah’s. Preservation is paramount.
These 49 souls are hers. Does she value ore over her children?
Not over their souls. Over their mortal bodies— yes. And ours.
Young fool. Sentient life is precious. Protect it at all costs. This ore is a gift from Arannah. Why else endow us with this power? It is power beyond knowledge.
Unleash it, your crime may not be forgiven.
No crime. This forest is evil. She sends me to vanquish it.
When Mervai did not respond, Zoza knew he did not have her consent. Never had her approval mattered less to him.
He withdrew his arms from the earth. Embers dripped from his ether canons. He held his right arm high, aimed at the shadows above.
Open 1.2 meter circle at zenith,he commanded her eagerly.
The ether walls parted for him—and not a second after, an ether shell, 1.2 meters in width, flew through.
Three unlucky parasites, having been rooted to each other, were caught in its path. They were launched to the canopy, colliding with a trunk in an explosion of crimson flame and ash.
To the humans, Zoza moved as fast as the shell he had launched. Leaping through the hole—which sealed immediately after—he smiled at the dozens of enemies that lurched for him. He turned languidly, taking a full second to rotate 360 degrees—and fire 76 rounds. As the flames roared, he leaped high above them and surveyed his destruction.
The humans were forced to shield their eyes from the nuclear flash. When the blaze thinned, they saw that dozens of parasites had vanished. Blackened tree limbs crumbled and collapsed around them.
Perched in the canopy, the bioshell watched the masses swarm back over the sphere. 336 organisms were within his field of vision, and he estimated thousands more lurked in the many acres beyond.
He was ashamed of his lust for destruction. Yet certainly, Arannah willed it.
Leaping from the tree, he unleashed the full extent of the red onyx’s power. Two streams of crimson flew from his arms. The forest floor was flooded by fire. He hovered above, the flames pouring ceaselessly. They spread for over a kilometer, devouring hundreds of the malignant creatures.
12 percent red onyx remaining, He heard Mervai’s voice, though she was hidden within the fire.
Affirmative. All hostiles within one kilometer destroyed.
Why not desist?
Evil is not yet purged. The trees still stand.
Perhaps she would spite him for making her exhaust Zena’s gift. Let her anger. The gift can be restored.
The canopy was in turmoil, the trees’ arms flailing in distress. Their roots were being consumed by the molten red onyx. Soon their trunks would give way, and they would fall into the hellish lake.
Zoza knew it unsafe, but he felt an urge to be surrounded by the ethereal ore. He let himself sink into the fire. The heat was exquisite. His skin tissue was incinerated—his human affectations washed away. He let the red onyx surge in his arms, charging his cannons, then released two final blasts.
The shockwave uprooted the trees, and they collapsed together. Soon after, the flames settled, leaving behind nothing but thick smoke that lingered like fog. The grove had been reduced to a barren circle of ash with a 2 kilometer radius.
As the smoke slowly lifted, the Teklans watched Zoza in reverent awe. The bioshell looked a silver god, his metallic body gleaming in the sun. He turned his face from them to hide his proud smile, indulging in the admiration of the humans whose lives were now indebted to him.