It’s hard to resist a sci-fi noir, especially when the main character is a reluctant gumshoe — and even more when the setting is as unpredictable as a crime-riddled city that happens to be underwater. Chris McKinney follows up 2021’s acclaimed Midnight, Water City with Eventide, Water City next year, and Gizmodo is thrilled to have a first look at the second entry in his Water City Trilogy.
Here’s a bit of context to catch you up on the sequel’s stakes:
Year 2150: Eight years after the murder of Akira Kimura, Water City’s renowned scientist and anointed “God,” the nameless antihero who once risked everything to find Akira’s killer is no longer a detective, but a stay-at-home dad. While his wife climbs the corporate ladder of the Water City Police Department, he raises his now nine-year-old daughter and occasionally takes the odd job as a bounty hunter.
Water City’s domestic bliss is threatened when Ascalon’s Scar — the permanent mark left by the elimination of Sessho-seki, an asteroid that nearly wiped out life on Earth — vanishes from the sky and a familiar face thought dead returns from the ocean depths to exact revenge on humanity. What follows is a wild journey, both deep below and high above a futuristic Pacific, that takes Water City’s antihero from Lucky Cat City (formerly Osaka, Japan) to the moon and back, all to stop the destruction of the last of the human race.
Hawai’i author Chris McKinney’s cinematic, immersive follow-up to Midnight, Water City explores technology, class, climate change, and the lengths desperate people will go to in order to protect the ones they love.
Here’s a look at the full cover — art by Vlado Krizan, design by Janine Agro — followed by the excerpt, which is actually the book’s full opening chapter. (The italics are used to represent that the POV here is different than the main protagonist’s, since his narrative begins in the next chapter.)
Somewhere in the hadal zone, an arrowtooth approaches, and a pupil dilates from the cutting of its own light. The deepwater eel slithers, stops in front of the bodyless eye, and opens its mouth. It freezes in this barbed gape for a long moment. Everything moves so slowly that all moments are long moments twenty-three thousand feet deep. Synthetic hormones whirl with neuroception, but the eye remains motionless. Finally, the predator turns and slinks away. Relieved, the eye runs its qubit calculations in the dark. It has been 2,217 days since the eye first woke and found itself in the Challenger Deep. First, it was resuscitated by its own emergency protocol. Then, its neurons, glial cells, and nerves expanded and finally fired in the correct sequence to climb up the polyvagal ladder. An unravelled pattern stitched into memory trace.
No place on the planet’s surface has less light than Challenger Deep, which made the eye wonder if it had simply stepped from one death to another. The eye opened its nano-antenna and mapped its location, startled when it realised the tides had rolled it four thousand miles west of its own murder scene. Since waking in the trench, the eye has mapped its route back, a zigzag from heat source to heat source, and followed the bathymetry of Pacific Ocean hot spots that power its journey home.
Now that the eel is gone, six legs pop from the eye’s vitreous and dig into the deep dust. It crawls, moving laggardly like everything else down here — the swaying purple polyps on rocks, the cusk-eels, the grenadier fish, and the bygone plastic bags that the skimmers missed. The eye too must conserve its energy in this black place, this bog of barely life. But sometimes it needs to be fed sight to confirm that it is alive.
Of the murder, the eye remembers. The synesthete and his refusal. The eye had been so close to godhood. All snatched away by a man it had offered everything to — generational wealth, a life without killing, and the truth about Ascalon’s Scar. First, the bullets cracked and shattered the glass walls. Then the freezing, midnight zone waters flooded into the penthouse. Crushing chest pain followed. After that, the collapse of the windpipe. Hypothermia. Finally, every inch of the eye’s physical body crumpled as if a boulder toppled on it. When beneath a boulder, one does not try to gauge its weight or count the seconds. All one feels is the agonizing, inevitable doom. Despite this, the body still managed to bang at the chamber the old coward hid in. But the eye misplaced its mother’s jeweled memories in that haze of fear and hate. It wonders if the old man saw his own greens that day. It wants to bathe him in those colours.
The closest and final hotspot — 18.92° N, 155.27° W. The eye calculates that it can complete the odyssey in three days. It wants to swim badly, but it remembers its journey as it inches forward. Eaten by a glowing kitefin the last time it swam. Captured then nibbled on by a yeti crab for two days. Swallowed and shat out of a whale. It took several disasters to convince the eye that it is better to crawl than to swim. But it’s so close now. Swim. Then fly. Soar. But no, home can wait. Home is youthful, vibrant, and optically ripe by now. Patched into its own satellite, the eye has been tracking home for years now. Its channel. Its live feed in the digitally remastered world above. After using its zero-day master key to hack the genetic database, the eye has run simulation after simulation. The process of possession. Take the body. Let the host’s mind die. The eye will live again. The new host senses it as well. The faint, alluring transmission bands that the eye sings to her. The images and sounds of the deep, of the past, of the synesthete killing in siren frequency. The eye feels the girl diving. Searching. Following the faint sound as far as she dares. Over the years, she has been the only consistent flicker of human contact the eye has had on its long journey. It wants the child to remember what it has taught her. You learn when you take the long way home.
The eye has collected so much information while all think it dead. Among those is the data on the salvage of Volcano Vista. A familiar name financed it. The eye will take that man, who’s recently made a very large crypto transfer to a wanted criminal and seize his vast financial might after it takes the child. The synesthete is so close to uncovering the truth, and he doesn’t even know it. He probably doesn’t want to.
Something approaches on sensor! Was the eye skittering too quickly? Too excited by the prospect of home? It digs into the sludge and buries itself. No. No! Hold still. Hold still! The teeth. The gruesome underbite. The stem of green glow bait. Viperfish. Vertical migrater. Over the years, the eye has experienced victimization by vertical food chain a number of times. Eaten by one thing, taken up a few thousand meters just to be eaten by another, then taken up a few thousand meters more. Two years ago, the eye found itself in the throat of a masked booby, who then became mugged in midair by a great frigatebird. The booby shook and jostled until the lesser bird puked the eye up. The frigatebird carried the eye two hundred miles in the wrong direction before finally dropping it from over five thousand feet above sea level. Plop. Back at the outer edge of the Mariana Trench. The synesthete would have laughed sardonically and told the eye that nature is wild. The eye’s father would’ve said, “Pay attention to the now and hope the viperfish does not have squid eye,” which was the almost magical ability to see holes left by prey in the sand, the skill of the father’s native people. The eye does not and will never need others again. Needing others in the past had been its weakness. The eye must content itself to imagine what others would do and say. It imagines its twin sister, and these imaginations are the only company worth keeping.
The eye waits to make a move. It finally feels the turbulence of the fish kicking away. The viperfish’s blip disappears from the eye’s micro depth recorder. Three. More. Days. Patience. At least the eye’s not sleeping. At least it’s not in that madness-inducing torpor that its mother had put it in for thirty years. But it was during that sleep that the eye figured out many things, like how to evolve an iE from a floating, orb-shaped computer that can communicate with the brain of its individual user to something much more, something that can emulate the brain and can mind upload. Once, the eye planned to upload Akira’s iE into its own. But now it also knows how to download its mind into others. To Mind Exome Load, or MELd, as it likes to say to itself. To commune. Then possess.
The eye does have a name. Ascalon Lee. And Ascalon Lee is not dead. She has been copied and laced into this eye. And she will copy and lace herself into the mind of another soon. Another who can see murder coming in its glorious greens. Then it will do the same to another. Then another. The eye will become a hive that can work toward finding its mother. Akira Kimura. The eye knows that she stole Ascalon Lee’s tech. Has the mother copied and laced herself as well?
The eye dares a slip of light. The climb is steep. On the shelf above, plumes of heat rise from the vents like the smoke from old factory chimneys. The energy is already providing a charge for the eye’s almost spent battery. The six legs, one for every eye muscle, cautiously extend, and its induction coils draw power from a hydrothermal vent. The eye shuttles laterally in a defensive position. It spins every few steps, blinks, and darts in every cardinal direction. Am I a being? it asks itself. An entity? Or am I a philosophical zombie, a soulless copy of something that no longer is? I am sentient, but am I human? Not yet. But I will be. I refuse to be reduced to a voice in a jar. I will be her again. Not Akira. I will forever be Ascalon Lee.
The eye feels a tremor beneath its sharp legs. Oh no! The vent is about to erupt! The eye skitters away from the smoking hydrothermal crack as quickly as it can. Faster. Faster! The heat rises. The eye brightens now, basking in its own yellow shine. It spots a dark plastic bag half-buried in the distance. The bag may be useful. The eye’s spindly legs dig into sand and charge. The coming eruption vibrates beneath it, almost toppling it on its iris. Ten feet. Two feet. One. It snatches the bag and lifts it up. The seafloor’s crack widens and an explosion bursts from the vent. The eye is shot upward, taking its plastic makeshift parachute with it. The eye retracts its legs and soars. The bag glows and ripples behind the eye, sculling like the tail of a prehistoric thing. The two begin to slow. The eye rolls out of the bag right before the jaws of a goblin shark jut from its head and its teeth sink into the plastic. It’s a long but grateful drop to the bottom. Perhaps the eye is human after all. It associates. It predicts. It remembers. Deep in the weeds of its dendrites, it imagines.
The eye plops into the sand atop the shelf. A slow-motion puff of marine snow floats then rests upon it. The eye waits a moment, then continues its journey up. Yes. Smooth pursuit. Perhaps the eye is not just human. Maybe it’s something even more. When it reaches the surface and inhabits its new domicile, it will send the signal and kill the light, that permanent scar in the sky that reassures people of the existence of heroes, people like her mother, who can slay any and all threats to humanity. People and how they cling to their fairy tale . . . But for now, like the greatest of its native ancestors, the eye wayfinds, except without guidance from the stars.
Excerpt from Eventide, Water City. Copyright © 2023 Chris McKinney. Courtesy of Soho Press
Eventide, Water City by Chris McKinney will be released July 11, 2023; you can pre-order a copy at WaterCityTrilogy.com.
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