The Sleeper Wakes
At first there was nothing. Then came a spark, a sizzling sound that stirred frayed webs of dream and memory. And then -- with a crackle, a roar -- a blue-white rush of electricity was surging through him, bursting into the dry passages of his brain like the tide pouring back into a sea cave. His body jerked so taut that for a moment he was balanced only on his heels and the back of his armored skull. He screamed, and awoke to a sleet of static, and a falling feeling.
He remembered dying. He remembered a girl's scarred face gazing down at him as he lay in wet grass. She was someone important, someone he cared about more than any Stalker should care about anything, and there had been something he had wanted to tell her, but he couldn't. Now there was only the afterimage of her ruined face.
What was her name? His mouth remembered.
"H . . ."
"It's alive!" said a voice.
"Hes . . ."
"Again, please. Quickly."
"Charging . . ."
"Hester . . ."
And then another lash of electricity scoured away even those last strands of memory, and he knew only that he was the Stalker Grike. One of his eyes started to work again. He saw vague shapes moving through an ice storm of interference, and watched while they slowly congealed into human figures, lit by flashlights against a sky full of scurrying moonlit clouds. It was raining steadily. Once-Borns, wearing goggles and uniforms and plastic capes, were gathering around his open grave. Some carried quartz-iodine lanterns; others tended machines with rows of glowing valves and gleaming dials. Cables from the machines trailed down into his body. He sensed that his steel skullpiece had been removed and that the top of his head was open, exposing the Stalker brain nested inside.
"Mr. Grike? Can you hear me?"
A very young woman was looking down at him. He had a faint, tantalizing memory of a girl, and wondered if this might be her. But no: there had been something broken about the face in his dreams, and this face was perfect: an Eastern face with high cheekbones and pale skin, the black eyes framed by heavy black spectacles. Her short hair had been dyed green. Beneath her transparent cape she wore a black uniform with winged skulls embroidered in silver thread on the high black collar.
She set a hand on the corroded metal of his chest and said, "Don't be afraid, Mr. Grike. I know this must be confusing for you. You've been dead for more than eighteen years."
"Dead," he said.
The young woman smiled. Her teeth were white and crooked, slightly too big for her small mouth. "Maybe ‘dormant' is a better word. Old Stalkers never really die, Mr. Grike. . . ."
There was a rumbling sound, too rhythmic to be thunder. Pulses of orange light flickered on the clouds, throwing the crags that towered above Grike's resting-place into silhouette. Some of the soldiers looked up nervously. One said, "Snout guns. They have broken through the marsh forts. Their amphibious suburbs will be here within the hour."
The woman glanced over her shoulder and said, "Thank you, Captain," then turned her attention to Grike again, her hands working quickly inside his skull. "You were badly damaged and you shut down, but we are going to repair you. I am Dr. Oenone Zero of the Resurrection Corps."
"I don't remember anything," Grike told her.
"Your memory was damaged," she replied. "I cannot restore it. I'm sorry."
Anger and a sort of panic rose in him. He felt that this woman had stolen something from him, although he no longer knew what it had been. He tried to bare his claws, but he could not move. He might as well have been just an eye, lying there on the wet earth.
"Don't worry," Dr. Zero said. "Your past is not important. You will be working for the Green Storm now. You will soon have new memories."
In the sky behind her smiling face, something began to explode in silent smears of red and yellow light. One of the soldiers shouted, "They're coming! General Naga's division is counterattacking with Tumblers, but that won't hold them for long. . . ."
Dr. Zero nodded and scrambled up out of the grave, brushing mud from her hands. "We must move Mr. Grike out of here at once." She looked down at Grike again, smiled. "Don't worry, Mr. Grike. An airship is waiting for us. We are taking you to the central Stalker Works at Batmunkh Tsaka. We shall soon have you up and about again. . . ."
She stepped aside to let two bulky figures through. They were Stalkers, their armor stenciled with a green lightning-bolt symbol that Grike didn't recognize. They had blank steel faces like the blades of shovels, featureless except for narrow eye slits, which shone green as they heaved Grike out of the earth and laid him on a stretcher. The men with the machines hurried alongside as the silent Stalkers carried him down a track toward a fortified air caravanserai where ship after ship was lifting into the wet sky. Dr. Zero ran ahead, shouting, "Quickly! Quickly! Be careful! He's an antique."
The path grew steeper, and Grike understood the reason for her haste and her men's uneasiness. Through gaps in the crags he glimpsed a great body of water glittering under the steady flashes of gunfire. Upon the water, and far off across it on the flat, dark land, giant shapes were moving. By the light of the blazing airships that speckled the sky above them and the pale, slow-falling glare of parachute flares, he could see their armored tracks, their vast jaws, and tier upon tier of ironclad forts and gun emplacements.
Traction Cities. An army of them, grinding their way across the marshes. The sight of . . .
Excerpted from INFERNAL DEVICES: Book Three of The Hungry City Chronicles © Copyright 2011 by Philip Reeve. Reprinted with permission by Eos, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved