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Kickstart My Heart
Project Duality: Chapter 1
Dear Reader, with the success of my first novel, EX SUPRA, being more than I ever hoped, I decided to make a sequel. Titled Project Duality, set in the same timeline with the same characters as EX SUPRA. Project Duality will focus on what it means to be human, and specifically to be a soldier, at the dawn of the synthetic biology revolution set to the backdrop of the Sino-American War from EX SUPRA. What follows below is chapter 1 (contains no spoilers from EX SUPRA). Enjoy!!
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P.S. In keeping with the tradition of the EX SUPRA reading playlist, this chapter is best set to Halsey’s “Control.”
Kickstart my Heart
The warmth of the tropical summer air amplified by the pressure wave from the blast made her feel…good. Don’t I have a have a better word than…good? She searched her files. She found none. The wave of humidity pressed against her skin; is that what my skin feels like? The silence that followed the explosion rang out like a scream. The body spasmed and choked, unable to sustain its systems, and with a final convulsion, lay still.
Seconds later, she was born again.
How many times had it been for her? Twenty? Fifty? How many more until her system finally restored itself or punched out for good? Death was cold and evermore frigid with each successive reboot. Every heartbeat held a million seconds, containing multitudes of stimulations and simulations with every collapse and configuration of her quantum state of consciousness. Flares of electrical energy surged through her nervous system as conflicting commands of life and death made her body shake and her mind stutter. Crash. Reboot. Crash. Reboot. Crash. Reboot.
She heard voices, but the restart never made it to her optical sensors. My eyes. The shouts, the rattles of gunfire, the scream of missiles overhead. All drowned out by countless life cycles. These experiences were all too familiar to her. She knew them. They too felt warm and good. But she could not identify them. She coughed up the liquids in her lungs, do I have lungs? She was aware of the concept, but her systems told her nothing. There were no diagnostics to read, no sensations beyond the most overwhelming. She was simultaneously aware of her body but unfamiliar with her being. Nothing but lines of code and command prompts flickered across her eyelids. Blood burned and body ached. At least I think it’s my blood and I think it’s my body. Crash. Reboot.
The darkness gave way to more code and confusion. The shouting outside got louder. It felt directed, even aimed at her. She gasped for breath and spit up more fluids. She could make only the slightest movements, still blind, competing systems still fighting for control. Who was fighting whom? There’s only one of me, right? She tried to imagine herself, wherever she was, whoever she was, writhing in pain. This is pain, right?
But where was that image of herself stored? Surely somewhere in her files, in her brain, she must have stored some concept of self. Perhaps a blueprint, a flash of myself in a mirror, a body of water, nothing? Not even an image distorted by ego or self-loathing. How could she not know what she looked like? Crash. Reboot.
She gasped again with life, where am I? She tried to remember, she struggled to pull some files that told her these things. Why did she not know these things? What did she remember? Crash. Reboot.
On the 276th reboot, she found herself floating in her own consciousness. The muffled sounds of battle raging beyond her body, it was finally quiet on the inside. Her mind walked alone in the dark, grasping for anything she felt she could hold onto for a guide. First, she chased childhood memories, then the parties of an undergraduate student. But those memories quickly faded, and she was once again in the darkness. She felt pulled, no, drawn to the sounds of battle. But these crashes and booms didn’t echo from the outside, no, they pushed her across the darkness. She felt her heartbeat intensifying, she felt her legs moving faster. Her heartbeat grew louder, her nerve endings surged like live wires. I’m running. Running towards the sounds of battle. Is this who I am? She looked down, her hands now held a rifle. Her body felt heavier. She wore armor. As the sounds grew louder, so too did the vividness of the memory. The colors and polygons of reality growing out from her body; a living ground zero. Bullets whizzed and snapped, artillery collided with concrete, she smelled something awful. Death. She recognized the smell of death. Her eyes took in the new colorful world: a cityscape. It was ancient, trapped in the modernity of combat. There were screams, she didn’t know whose. Her weapon was now pointed at someone, there was a flash and the body dropped. She stared in horror, or was it pleasure, at her finger on the trigger. She raised the weapon again and fired. The percussion felt good. Another body dropped. Then another. She squeezed but no flash. The weapon fell to the ground and a grenade now filled her bloody hands. She pulled the pin and tossed the sphere into the black void of a windowed building. The seconds felt like hours. The blast wave hit, flinging glass and debris beyond her field of view. The screams followed. She dove into the void and found herself at gunpoint. The barrel of a rifle pointed between her eyes. The dark figure at the other end squeezed, but she grabbed the barrel before he could complete the simple motion. It’s my rifle, now. She fired twice and the figure dropped. She swept through the void as it gave way to more vivid images of a house. The corridors fleshed out their details as she advanced, the world behind her fading with each new step as if her core processors could only generate so many vivid memories at any given time. Her neural system was strained and so was her body. She climbed stairs and cleared rooms and corridors; the battle raged outside. Artillery rattled the walls and dust fell from the rafters. Approaching a door, her heartrate continued to rise until it overrode the sounds of battle. She could hear muffled voices on the other side. Her hand rose to the doorhandle, she could actually feel the cool metal as she turned it clockwise. She tried to inch the door open, but it wouldn’t budge. She pushed and pushed, but to no avail. She grabbed the handle with both hands, slinging her weapon, and shook it violently. Still no luck. Her heart continued to race, her thoughts scrambling, searching for a way through.
Just as she was about to give up, the door vanished and, in its stead, a bright flash of light filled the void. That blinding light was soon obscured by a new shadow. The shadow grew to fill most of the doorway, the bright white light glowing around its figure and distorting its features. The shadow was thin but haunting. It didn’t seem to move or sway, nor did it mimic her movements. It was not her shadow. With one hand she shielded her eyes from the light and tried to make out what the shadow really was, reaching forward with one hand to try to touch it but she felt nothing. The bright light of unknown origin faded and for a second, all was dark. There were no sounds but the thud of a heartbeat. Two heartbeats.
A red flash suddenly replaced the darkness, a creeping red glow emanating from where the shadow once stood. She felt the world around her collapse, the simulation of memories dissolving under the weight of the red glow. Now she was falling, and the red glow on top of her, attacking her with such ferocity she was unable to mount a defense. The two figures tumbled through the air until a new world was generated. Is this a memory or something new?
Rendering around them was a brand-new scene, populated with snow and darkness. She could smell something burning in the distance. But she couldn’t dedicate enough processing power to collecting the world around her so long as the demon atop her wailed into her body. Her hands scrambled for something to use as a weapon. Weapon. She still had her rifle. Holding her left arm up as a guard, she twisted her right and pulled the barrel into the center of the figure. Her eyes still wouldn’t focus, all she saw was darkness and a red glow. She fired three times. Impact. The rounds went in but didn’t pass through the shadow. It didn’t seem injured, but it still retreated, pulling itself off of her and disappearing into the dark, snowy night.
Rolling off her back, she shuttered in the freezing temperatures and stumbled to the nearest structure. Peering into the windows, she could see it was empty inside and must have been warmer than out here. She ran to the doors and jumped inside…landing in a puddle of cold blood. Climbing to her knees, nearly slipping, absorbing the shock of the red ooze now all over her hands and arms. She just stared for a few seconds before her shock was disrupted by the sound of loud thuds and gunshots pierced the air. That air. She smelled it again. Death.
Down the hallway, she could see the figure of a man and there again was the shadow. She held her breath, trying not to give away her presence to the beast. It charged at the man, the ground shook, darkness rose, and the bodies rolled as they fought for control over one another. She watched the battle with a mix of curiosity and outright horror. She felt drawn once again. Standing upright, she crept closer to the man and beast. Through the darkness she locked eyes with the man as he fought off the beast. Her world collapsed. Once again, the scenes evaporated, and she found herself falling through emptiness with nothing to guide or steer her. Who was that man? What was that thing? Where am I going? The external sounds of battle rose beyond the pitch black; the violence grew closer.
Soon the next reality began to form, once more wandering in a cityscape consumed by battle. But this time the battle was far below. It raged and raged. Engines screamed and treads trembled, bodies crunched and buildings shook. Yet here she was, in some sort of office space. There was shouting, gunfire. A body hurled past her, and a large, armor-clad man slammed into one of the walls. From where she stood, she could see men retreating and firing in her direction. Further down, she could see a man and a woman. Was that the same man? The scene collapsed at the thought and the darkness devoured her once more.
She awoke in a dimly lit room. The moon shone through the cracked glass and orange arcs traced through the skies. Sparks flew from her body and a burning smell wafted through the dusty air. She could hear voices but saw no one. The red glow appeared again. This time the shadow had weight, a real body. She looked it up and down in the mix of moonlight and scarlet glow. It looked…familiar. She caught sight of her boots, matching the weathered footwear of the shadow. Her eyes traced the shadow’s legs and bounced back to her own. The metal and flesh a mirror of her own. She tried to resist looking up any further but couldn’t control herself. The torso, the arms, the tattoos. All reflections of herself. Her gaze finally caught the face of the shadow. The red eye stared back. She had no way of knowing if it was her own. She tried to lift her left arm, but it wouldn’t budge. She raised her right arm instead and tried to touch her face. But she was too fast. Her shadow turned and ran as she gave chase. They raced down the dark hallways, tripping and hurdling over debris. Soon, the shadow found itself cornered in a large conference room against floor-to-ceiling windows. The war outside grew louder and the screams inside her head clouded her thoughts. She called out to her shadow. No response. The shadow turned and faced the window. She caught a glimpse of herself in the reflection. The voices grew louder. She couldn’t take it anymore. This needed to end. She took a few steps back and got a running start, lunging for her shadow, only for it to vanish just as she made contact. With nothing to catch her, she flew full force through the window, shattering glass and realities into millions of pieces, leaving this world behind, and plunging blindly into a new one below.
If you enjoyed this story and haven’t read the first book yet, you can buy it here: EX SUPRA. It was recently nominated for a Prometheus Award for best science fiction novel! It’s the story about the war after the next war. From the first combat jump on Mars to the climate change-ravaged jungles of Southeast Asia, EX SUPRA blends the bleeding edge of technology and the bloody reality of combat. In EX SUPRA, the super soldiers are only as strong as their own wills, reality is malleable, and hope only arrives with hellfire. Follow John Petrov, a refugee turned CIA paramilitary officer, Captain Jennifer Shaw, a Green Beret consumed by bloodlust, and many more, as they face off against Chinese warbots, Russian assassins, and their own demons in the war for the future of humanity.
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