Brian Burt - Speculative Fiction
Aquarius Rising: Blood Tide
BOOK 2 OF THE AQUARIUS RISING TRILOGY:
In Aquarius, Earth's world beneath the waves, Ocypode and his friends have managed to defeat the Human renegades who unleashed the Medusa Plague that entombed ten reef-cities in stone. Disaster has been averted for Aquarians in general, but not for one Aquarian in particular: Megalops, the Juno Reef biosculptor whose mate and child have become a permanent part of the grisly memorial of stone statues known as the Tombstone Tower.
While the devastated reef-cities struggle to rebuild, Megalops can focus only on revenge for the loss that torments him. His attempt to biosculpt a Vendetta Virus to transform infected Humans into Aquarians, killing them in the process, is discovered by two biosculptor comrades. Megalops is banished from his home colony as a result and forbidden from ever Joining with a Living Reef again, severing the final bonds connecting him to the rest of Aquarius.
Determined to avenge his murdered family at any cost, Megalops does the unthinkable. He carves his way into a Living Reef, where his tissues are liquefied and absorbed. This is a process reserved for the deceased, but Megalops manages through strength of will to maintain his consciousness beyond the death of his body. He hijacks the brain-reef and uses it to brainwash other Aquarians, then infects the Human allies known as Guardians, to create a zombie army dedicated to his only goal: ridding the Earth of the Human "dirt-swimmers" who stole everything he loved.
As Megalops spreads his toxic influence from reef-city to reef-city, Ocypode and his allies — including Aquarians, Humans, whales, dolphins, the mysterious hybrid species known as Orcans, and even a cyber-ghost — fight desperately to stem the rising tide of bloodlust. They must recruit a Redeemer, one of the Humans who unleashed Medusa, to their ranks as they battle their own Aquarian and Guardian friends to prevent Megalops's quest for vengeance from dragging the entire planet into bloody, genocidal war. The Redeemers wielded microscopic machines to do their damage. Megalops uses bio-weapons to match them, turning life into the vehicle for spreading death. Ocypode and his comrades must find a way to turn their enemies' invisible advantage against them without harming their enslaved Guardian and Aquarian kin... before the Vendetta Virus is released across the globe, lighting the fuse for World War Four.
Both Megalops and Ocypode know one brutal truth: war demands sacrifice. How many lives will be lost to pay the price for victory in the Aquarian civil war? And, as the blood tide rises, will it ultimately prove impossible to stop?
This book won the 2016 Readers' Favorite Gold Award for Science Fiction.
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EXCERPT FROM NOVEL:
CHAPTER 1—TOMBSTONE TOWER
Megalops floated in the twilit waters of Juno Reef, in the shadow of the Tombstone Tower, and grieved. Other Aquarians considered this a sacred place: a memorial to all the victims of the Medusa Massacres who had been entombed in calcite, here and in other reef-cities up and down the coast. There were only two victims who mattered to Megalops. The ghosts of his mate and child haunted his every waking moment, flailed madly through his nightmares. Their final, frantic screams filled his ear channels, rebounding and reverberating inside his skull until his sanity lay in tatters. Other mourners made the pilgrimage to Tombstone Tower to find peace. Megalops came here every day to remind himself why he should unleash war.
The high-pitched chatter of approaching Aquarians drew near. He drifted into the ruins of a submerged building as Mother Ocean smashed against the tower's windward side above him. She, too, seemed ready to do battle with those who would threaten Her children.
A pair of biosculptors from neighboring reef-cities swam out of the murk: Auriga of Tillamook and Makaira of Nehalem. Megalops liked Auriga. She was beautiful, of course. She had skin of smooth, unblemished silver; perfectly formed, scalloped fin ridges along her arms and legs; long, delicate flipper-feet. The webbing between her toes and fingers and at the outer edges of her fin ridges paled to a milky white. Her colony, like his own, had been savaged by Medusa. Makaira's had not been touched, and her sympathy felt as hard and unnatural as the stone-coated corpses of fish that lay half-buried in the surrounding seabed.
Megalops watched the pair glide toward the plaque near the tower's base and said nothing. Makaira chittered loudly enough to make eavesdropping unavoidable.
"I know this place is meant to be a tribute to the fallen, but it freezes my blood like the Deep Black. I don't see how he can bear to live in this graveyard. The memories must torment him without mercy!"
"I wonder," answered Auriga, "if memories are all he has to comfort him. Many survivors find themselves trapped in the same dark currents. Each of us fights the demons in his own way, Makaira."
"And each of us surfaces to breathe when our lungs demand it. I fear Megalops means to linger in this morbid place and hold his breath until he drowns. Juno doesn't need more death, it needs more life."
"I couldn't agree more," said Megalops as he kicked out of the shadows. Auriga looked chagrined, but Makaira recoiled as if confronted by unquiet spirits. Perhaps he wasn't the only one to see such things in these accursed waters.
"But life grows out of death, doesn't it? We biosculptors built Aquarius on the bones of drowned Human cities, planted gardens in the wreckage and seeded them with living works of art. We Join with the Living Reefs to draw inspiration from the memories of long-dead ancestors. And here, now, we resurrect a murdered colony beneath the world's most towering monument to genocide. If I linger here more often than I should, it's to remember what we sacrificed to save ourselves."
He swam between the two of them. Auriga's jade eyes brimmed with compassion. Makaira arched away from him, face pinched and anxious, a healthy creature terrified of catching a disease. Did she fear he would infect her with his madness? Perhaps he would, at that. He pointed one webbed finger at the gruesome statuary encircling the base of Tombstone Tower. A tiny white crab speckled with red, like a blood-spattered skeleton, scuttled from the crook of a frozen elbow and dove into the crevice between two fossilized legs, joints clicking as it moved. Megalops's extended arm held steady. On the inside, his heart tumbled, flotsam on a stormy sea.
"My mate Loreto and daughter Decora are a permanent part of the memorial...near the top, almost to the surface. Hard to make them out, in that tangle of arms and legs and faces. When Medusa struck, Loreto's only thought was to protect her child. You see how she holds Decora above her, as high as she can reach, trying to lift her child to safety? Even as the other dying members of her pod clawed at her, clambered up her back, as the nanomechs wove their smothering cocoon of calcite around her flesh, she struggled to push her child above the waves. Impossible. She must have known. And still, she didn't stop trying. She never will."
He turned to his fellow biosculptors. Auriga's delicate features crumbled, reflecting his own grief. Makaira's expression more closely resembled the faces of the statues: trapped, terrified, wanting only to flee. "I believe there's a lesson there, don't you?"
Auriga drifted closer and squeezed his arm. "You're right, Megalops. We'll honor your mate's courage by bringing this reef and this colony back to life. We won't ever stop trying, either."
Makaira nodded tepidly, relieved that his attention had been diverted elsewhere. Megalops chirped a brittle laugh. "Hmm. I see that the lesson depends on the student. Yours is uplifting, Auriga."
He didn't answer, simply swam away. He could hear Makaira chattering to Auriga and had no desire to listen. As Tombstone Tower receded in his wake, its upper stories jutting high above the waves like the polished tusk of a beached leviathan, the ghosts of his lost mate and child followed him. No matter where he drifted through the sprawling Juno reefscape, where new life wriggled its way out of Death's skeletal embrace, they were never far away.
He appreciated that biosculptors from other reefs came to these cemetery waters, spent their creative energies fighting to revive his home. It was a noble effort. But it was not enough. The rest of Aquarius clung to the belief that the Redeemer scientists from the barren lands above the waves who had unleashed the Medusa Plague had been an aberration, the threat eliminated by incinerating one isolated nest of vipers. How could they be so naive? Did the history of dirt-swimmers teach them nothing?
A pair of elfins darted from a stand of elkhorn coral beneath him, diaphanous bodies luminescing pale blue as they dove through a crumbled window into the cavernous blackness of a nearby building. For a moment, before the spectral light that marked their passage faded, Megalops glimpsed Loreto's and Decora's somber, pleading faces.
He would find a way to guarantee the survival of Aquarius, even if the others never understood his actions. Even if they hated and reviled him. Let them curse, let them claw and clamber at his back. He would still hold them up. He would still lift them to safety.
Someday, they would build a monument to Megalops, commemorating the destruction of their enemies instead of the slaughter of innocents. Then, finally, his mate and daughter would be at peace. And so would he.
"Book Two of the 'Aquarius Rising' trilogy shows that in a truly superior trilogy, the second book may hold an ability to stand alone but ideally will be chosen after the first is digested, only because the characters, setting, and crisis so exquisitely portrayed in In the Tears of God are smoothly continued here...
Readers should anticipate a heady combination of action and intrigue based on the events of Book One, in a post-apocalyptic setting that questions heroes, leaders, and a looming war between Mother Earth and Mother Ocean. Based in a world that's survived climate change, the impact of loneliness, life-or-death decision-making processes, and the effects of ongoing conflict illustrate the very different challenges of handling interactions between two worlds almost inhabiting the same body of Earth, making Blood Tide a top recommendation for readers who like 'climate change' dystopian stories with more than a dose of philosophical reflection paired with nonstop crisis mode style action."
"This exceptional book has easily earned 4 out of 4 stars. The fast-paced story includes timeless topics such as loyalty, trust, guilt, betrayal, forgiveness, atonement, redemption, and life after death. Mr. Burt writes clearly and concisely, with first-rate grammar. He avoids the gloomy atmosphere so common in post-apocalyptic novels, and paints a remarkably vivid picture of his undersea world, which includes numerous intriguing organisms, such as sentient living reefs and vampire squids. The tension builds to a gripping climax, but the victors do not gloat afterward.
One characteristic of the finest SF, such as the Aquarius Rising novels, is that you can enjoy reading the book even if you are not a big science fiction fan. The author has a well-founded confidence in his storytelling abilities, and does not resort to sensationalism to attract readers. This book includes no profanities or explicit sex, and the violence is not excessively gory, so it is suitable for readers of all ages. This is a great book for nearly everyone."
"Much like with book 1 of this cycle, I was sucked in hard and fast. It is impossible to not feel the pain and anger of the Aquarians, even knowing that only a few were its cause. It is impossible to not feel the fear and the anger of the surface dwellers who want only to have their planet back to sustainability. This is not a book that is read, much like the joining with the living reefs, it is a physical connection. The characters are so well developed as to not even be characters, but old friends telling their stories. I simply can’t wait to read book 3."
— , Michelle Perry
"I so enjoyed Blood Tide. Author Brian Burt has done a stellar job in creating characters that his readers will be able to relate to, connect with, and care about. If that isn't a hallmark of a great author, I'm not sure what is. His world creation abilities are simply second to none, and that's saying a lot in the highly congested genre of science fiction. Any reader who enjoys science fiction, or simply an adventurous and exciting story of any type, should absolutely pick up Blood Tide. I highly recommend this book, and look forward to more from the talented author, Brian Burt, as soon as I possibly can!"
— , Tracy A. Fischer
"Burt has created a complex and inventive world here. He has explored a new area that is often neglected by science fiction-life under the oceans. Very well thought out and real, despite its initial strangeness. Great series. I hope he sends me the next one."
— , Michael D. Griffiths