Today, Gentle reader, I have a gift for you. Here’s the first chapter of Divinity 36 for you to read!
Read the whole first chapter of Divinity 36 by Gail Carriger for free!
Also I included a video of me reading the whole thing for you, it you prefer to listen/watch. (I never do this!)
I also read this out loud on a FB live (I was very nervous since I almost never do readings anymore). Anyway, you can hear it in my voice, if you like. Alien names and planets and all that…
Before you ask, I prefer not to narrative my own audiobooks, and if you watch this video you will learn why. I think book narration is a real pro skill and I don’t think I have it. It was in my original book contract that I would have to narrate Soulless if they decided to go that way. I have never been more delighted in my life when they chose not to activate that clause.
Mentioned in this Divinity 36 Sample Chapter Video?
- Divinity 36
- Divinity 36 direct from me
- My “eye” necklace is from Etsy
- My lippie is Revlon Ultra HD Vinyl Lip Polish in “She’s On Fire”
- My new glasses are Pair Eyewear’s “Ella” with changeable magnetic frames (they aren’t really a sponsor I just love them)
- Divinity 36 cover art discussion
- The promised pronunciation guide
And now here’s the first chapter of Divinity 36 for you to read (or follow along):
Divinity 36 Free Sample
Chapter 1: Divine Intervention
Phex never wanted to be a god. But not everyone chooses divinity. Some have divinity foisted upon them by aliens in cafes.
It was a very ordinary evening in every way. There was a revival scheduled for the next night, but that was the next night, so the cafe was calm. It was half-full with the usual teenage malcontents pacified by caffeine or sugar or song. They were talking and flirting, and Phex had little to do but see to their whims and keep the place clean. The dome overhead showed its customary display of gods performing reruns in an endless loop of colorful charm. It was a pattern so ingrained into Phex’s daily life that he knew where he was in his shift just from which godsong was playing.
Tillam was singing “Day Gone” with Missit belting out the chorus in his smooth, syrupy voice (which meant Phex had forgotten to take his break) when the alien came into his cafe.
Not that it was really his cafe, more just his domain. At school, Phex was the tall, glum refugee that no one liked. At the cafe, he was still all those things except that he perked a mean coffee and bubbled the perfect tea, and no teen would ever risk offending a barista in any corner of the galaxy. Especially not under a dome. So, it was Phex’s cafe and he ruled over it with silent glares. In school, he was a lump in the corner, not trying to fit in, just trying to get through. After school, he had something they wanted, even if it was only a cup of some overpriced, overhyped slurp.
He had his regulars. The lingering elderly crowd who were still there when he first came on shift, and then, as it got later, the teens stopped doing whatever it was that normal teenagers did after school (who weren’t mandated workers like him) and started to arrive. The adults ceded the territory with tolerant smiles and careful movements, and the young people took over – louder, sprawling, and high-strung. It was like when one of the slower godsongs on the dome gave way to a faster, more lively performance. Phex knew all their drinks, just like he knew all their names, but he asked for both every single time because they never asked for his.
Tillam was sifting the dome, Missit belting out high cantor in that insanely beautiful voice, a regular refrain that marked the start of Phex’s last hour on shift. Phex was singing along, not high cantor but low, inventing a harmony none of the real gods bothered with. He did that sometimes with the older songs because he heard them so often, he wanted something different even if he had to come up with it himself.
The Dyesi that entered Phex’s cafe was not a regular and did not immediately approach the counter. Phex only saw it when it made itself known, moving forward as if birthed by the dome. Phex was usually more observant than that, but this was a Dyesi.
The creature shimmered into existence, iridescent and shining as if stepping out of Tillam’s performance and into reality. The dome was Dyesi tech. Phex supposed the Dyesi might be afforded some natural camouflage as a result.
The cafe hushed in the presence of greatness. Even adolescents knew to be cowed when a Dyesi walked among them. Especially adolescents. This one was average-sized, bigger than every human there, but narrow about it – not thin, just lean and bendy. Like all its kind, it had smooth hairless skin on the blue end of the spectrum, all the colors of the cafe and the cupola reflecting and shimmering over it, like the surface of highly polished metal.
Phex moved quickly over to the retail port to take the alien’s order. He worked hard to control his reaction. Almost every Sapien found the Dyesi wildly attractive with their glowing skin, willowy elegance, and huge eyes. Someone more poetic than Phex had once called them the nymphs of the stars.
This one had purple eyes.
“What will it be?” Phex asked, colonist-level polite, Galactic Common.
“Beautiful greetings,” it said, in Dyesi, staring at him. Phex understood because everyone understood at least a little Dyesi. It was the language of divine entertainment, after all.
It continued to stare, cataloguing Phex’s features – blue hair, black eyes, high cheeks, arched brows, and precision lips. A blueprint for human symmetry, an amalgam of crossbreeding for genetic superiority. Phex knew what his face was: the combination of many faces made into a simplistic ideal average, forgettable in its perfection.
“Would you like to place an order?” Phex switched to full Galactic Formal, diplomat’s tongue, careful with his pronouns.
“You’re quite lovely,” the Dyesi said after a long pause, voice flat and sharp when speaking Galactic.
What could Phex say to that? Thank you – I’m the product of a long tradition of gene manipulation that failed me in every way but pretty. Something more self-effacing? I’m base human issue, nothing compared to the Dyesi. Which was true because the Dyesi were unattainably gorgeous.
What he went with was “Can I take your order? Citizen? Visitor?”
“Would it be intrusive to ask for the title of friend?”
“I’m here to make you a beverage, not an emotional contract.” Phex dropped to Galactic Common since it was rude of the alien to have asked.
The Dyesi did not acknowledge the reprimand. “I think we should be friends.”
Phex was silent, confused by this social aggression. It was too strange even for Dyesi. Not that he’d had much personal experience with the species. He’d watched an interview once with a Dyesi cultural anthropologist who said they preferred the it pronoun because they liked both the distance it provided and the objectification it emphasized. The Dyesi specialized in being different, being something other and better. They liked to be thought of not just as custodians of art but as art themselves. The Dyesi did not make friends. Certainly not with common baristas on common little moons.
They had a reputation for being cool and aloof. Powerful in a way that wasn’t physical but manipulative. Everyone wanted something from the Dyesi – fame, influence, sex, attention. To be the object of desire was to control all the air in a room. Under bubbles of artificial atmosphere, that was real power.
Phex said, “Would you like saposi juice or corrosive dark?” He was a barista and a good one, so he knew that Dyesi went two ways with beverages – overly sour or overly bitter.
“You have interfaced with my people before?” The alien’s expression was hard to read because, well, alien. But it felt almost flirtatious because of its crests. Phex was a little fascinated – he’d never seen those infamous crests up close before. They were made of an accordion of thin membrane that rose off the top and back of the Dyesi’s large, pointed ears, like a fish fin. Those crests could open and flap about, wiggle and droop, and generally seemed to indicate emotion and reactions in the way that whiskers did in some species. Right now, they were unfurled and arched towards Phex, like a probe’s feelers intent on him.
Still, this was beginning to get frustrating. Did the creature actually want a beverage?
Attacon 7 had a diverse population. Phex was no stranger to being a decent interstellar barista to alien life. The moon saw a lot of spaceship traffic. This Dyesi should know that. Why wasn’t it just ordering a damn drink?
Phex wasn’t one for polite small talk, so he said, “I know Dyesi taste.”
“And you engage with our music?” It gestured with one six-fingered hand to the dome that formed the structure of the cafe. Tillam’s performance had ended and Errata had taken over. Their style was more percussive, less lyrical, but easier for Sapiens to dance to. Phex always found himself swaying his hips when Errata performed.
“Doesn’t everyone?” Phex asked. Thinking about the sheer number of cupola entertainment units in his hawker center alone. Domes were the best way to showcase gods, and young people these days demanded gods. His cafe screamed divinity all day and all night, and no one ever complained. When he’d first arrived five years prior, Phex had hated it – the constant sound and sensory overload. But like everything else off Wheel, he’d eventually become accustomed to the sensation. The fact that his cafe made sure to always install the latest updates to its dome was a big draw.
“Unfortunately, not everyone,” replied the Dyesi.
“Greedy much?” said Phex, he thought under his breath.
“Is the divinity not to your taste? You were singing along just now. You have a pretty voice.”
Phex flinched. That was not a compliment the Dyesi paid lightly. Telling someone they looked lovely was Dyesi-cheap. Small talk. A social nicety. Telling someone they sounded good came with a cost. Phex might not know any Dyesi personally, but he knew the warning signs of recruitment. Everyone did. Mostly because they wanted it.
But Phex didn’t want to matter. He only wanted to survive.
He panicked and looked around. A good thing, too, because he caught that one kid who was always causing trouble scooping an expensive god statue off a side counter. The relic disappeared like magic into the kid’s wide sleeves, and she stood smoothly and sauntered out of the cafe.
Phex put both hands on the high counter and vaulted over it.
The kid took off across the hawker center.
Phex bolted out of the cafe after her.
It was no contest. Phex had long legs, legs that had almost gotten him killed on the Wheel but had served him well since then in sports or dance. Those legs made easy work of catching a petty thief. Phex hadn’t run the blades for years, but he never stopped training as if he needed to. When survival meant speed and dexterity, you didn’t stop even when you found yourself safe. Especially then. Because safe wasn’t something you trusted. The song of a refugee was carried in Phex’s speed.
The kid dodged a noodle stall, dove through a group of gossiping locals, and rounded a bench. That was her undoing. Phex simply springboarded off the bench, flip-twisted midair, and landed facing her.
He slapped his hands to her shoulders. “Give it back.”
She struggled, trying to wrench free of his grasp.
“I’ll return it to the cafe and no one need know. We’ll both forget this ever happened.” Phex hated her for putting him in this position.
“I don’t have anything.” Scared eyes glared at him.
“You stole a god statue. If we do this quick, I won’t file a report with the cops.”
Phex shook her in frustration, bony shoulders small and sharp under his hands. “Give.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He let go of one shoulder and poked at the weight in her sleeve. “Give it back and I’ll leave you alone.”
“Why would you be nice to me?” She pouted but looked a little less wary. Perhaps she thought she could still get away with it.
“I’m not nice. I just hate cops. Give over or I will call them.” Phex had no way to know if she believed him. He’d never threatened anyone before.
The kid tightened her lips, examined his face, feared whatever she saw there. She fished about in her sleeve and handed him the statue.
It was Missit.
Phex sneered at the tiny god in his hand. She didn’t even have good taste. “You couldn’t be original?”
The girl made to grab it back.
Phex just held the stupid thing above his head, well out of her reach.
She screeched at him. “Have you ever seen him live? With Tillam? He’s amazing. The best thing ever. Missit is the greatest god of all! I love him. I worship him!”
Phex looked her dead in the eyes and said the most cutting thing he could think of: “He’s overrated.”
“Oh, my god! You can’t say that. He can cantor and grace. He’s the most multitalented god ever to exist. Ever! He’s the absolute eternal.”
“Can’t skinsift, though, can he?”
She made a dismissive noise. “He’s still only a Sapien.”
“Aren’t you too young to like a first-gen god?”
“He’s not that old! He was the youngest ever recruited! I can’t believe this. How could you? You don’t deserve the statue. I should have stolen it sooner.”
Phex rolled his eyes. “You think it’s mine? I’m still a minor. How could I own a licensed god statue?”
“Then why do you care to chase me down and get it back?”
“Lost items are docked from my pay. This crap is expensive. Plus, I need the exercise. Breaks up the monotony of my day.”
Suddenly, Phex wondered why he was still standing in the middle of the hawker center, making a spectacle of yelling at a kid, holding a statue of a god he didn’t like high above his head.
He snorted at the ridiculousness of it all and turned to leave. They’d attracted a small crowd. He glared at the bystanders until they moved out of his way.
He found the cafe untroubled by his absence, the patrons still held somewhat in thrall by a Dyesi among them.
Phex brought the statue to the counter with him in case it needed reprogramming after its little adventure. Troublemaker. He put it within line of sight on top of the pastry display case and told it firmly to stay.
Missit’s gorgeous face winked at him. Knowing Missit’s personality insert, the statue had probably started flirting with the girl and that’s why she’d stolen it.
“You’re very pretty,” said the statue in Missit’s warm, golden voice, confirming Phex’s guess. It used the Dyesi word for pretty, but everyone knew that translation. Quite a few Dyesi terms were part of Galactic Common these days.
Really, Phex loathed the interface statues. They were more trouble than they were worth. Except that they made small talk with customers so Phex didn’t have to.
Phex scowled at the Dyesi. The alien was still standing in the same place. Its crests still pointed at Phex in a clear indication of interest. So was a small recording device on the first finger of one bluish hand.
“The statue is correct. You are pretty. And you are also graceful for a Sapien of your size.” Grace was another Dyesi word. Another term never to be applied lightly.
Phex figured this Dyesi had observed, and probably recorded, his little run through the hawker center. He wrinkled his nose. He wasn’t that big – there were plenty of aliens taller than he, and many adult Sapien variants were bulkier. He was tallish for a human off-world. Someone had tinkered with his genetics in favor of intimidation. His brows were heavier than fashionable, and his nose had a bit of hook to it. He’d shot up starting young and was pretty certain he hadn’t stopped yet. He figured eventually he’d put on muscle, too. Right now, he had that annoying hormonal thing where he had to fight to be comfortable in his own frame. Sometimes he forgot his elbows, and sometimes all his joints ached as they tried to accommodate new length. He was always hungry. But none of that was new to Phex. His childhood was one of aches and hunger. He kept up with his crudrat training – running and climbing and flips every day, partly because it was his body and it better yield to his control. Partly to defy the hunger. But also because it was one way to get back at his unknown family for triggering his genes. It was his body, in the end, not theirs.
“Have you finally decided what you want to drink?” he asked the alien, intentionally rude.
But the Dyesi was riveted by the playback on its recorder, not whatever had initially brought it into the cafe.
“You just flipped as if it were part of your movements every day. Just flipped in the air. Like a grace.”
“There was an obstacle.” For Phex, that was explanation enough.
“You have a lovely voice. Your appearance is striking. And you are graceful.”
The repeated compliments were freaking Phex out. “My hair is not long enough,” he protested.
“True, but it is an unusual color. We can give you extensions. And your face shape is adequate. Have you never wanted to become a god?”
That was covetous, and it genuinely scared Phex. “You’re an acolyte?”
The Dyesi’s large purple eyes shimmered in amusement. “All Dyesi off-world represent the divinity in some capacity. Why else would we leave Dyesid Prime? We all keep our crests peeled for potentials, especially among Sapiens. Your kind make for very popular gods.”
Phex pointed an accusing finger at the statue of Missit, which was pretending to be coy. “I know.”
The Dyesi snaked out a hand and picked the statue up. Twirled the shimmery, metallic bit of tech with equally shimmery blue fingers. “Missit is still one of the most worshiped. Would that we could repeat the magic that made him.” It sounded wistful.
Phex didn’t believe in any gods. He didn’t consider himself a worshiper of the divinity at all, but he still knew most of Missit’s songs and his history with the Dyesi. Everyone did. Missit was just that popular. “Sapiens will never let you recruit a child that young again.”
“You think it’s his youth that did it?”
“I don’t worship. I have no feelings on the matter.”
“Good. How old are you?”
“Sixteen, maybe seventeen.”
“You don’t know?” The Dyesi’s crests wiggled in a cute way. Phex suspected that it meant confusion.
“I know very little about my birth.” Plus, Phex was never certain how the years matched up across the galaxy, or how time morphed in alien minds. His age was in his bones, he supposed. Someday, he could have them sampled for stardust-striation if he cared to know the truth. But by the time he could afford such a thing, his age wouldn’t matter anymore.
He caught a couple of kids out of the corner of his eye, standing and skulking toward the cafe door in a slightly suspicious manner. “Sit!” he barked at them.
“You don’t control us, refuse,” objected one.
Phex gestured autocratically for them to retake their stools. He didn’t want to know what they were up to, but they were better where he could keep an eye on them.
They sat back down.
Phex returned his attention to the Dyesi.
It was looking at him, intrigued. “You’re an odd sort, even for a Sapien.”
That was a better compliment than pretty or graceful. “Do you actually want a drink? This is a cafe, after all.”
“No. I want to talk to you.” The Dyesi slow blinked, large purple eyes intent.
“I don’t talk.”
“That one called you refuse in a tone of contempt. Why?”
Phex sighed. He supposed he better answer the alien’s questions if he ever wanted it to leave his cafe. “Refuse is slang for refugee. There are quite a few of us on this little moon, and we struggle to adapt. As a result, we have a certain reputation.”
“Isn’t that prejudice?”
Phex considered the question. “You Dyesi don’t like gender pronouns. You don’t like sweet things. You talk first to appearances. Is that prejudice?”
“Yes. For we are not all like that.”
Phex lifted his chin. “Then yes. Prejudice.” He was what he was, and that meant he struggled to fit in. He didn’t take refuse as a slight, because he didn’t care. On the Wheel he hadn’t even been considered a person. To be taunted because he actually existed was better. At least on Attacon 7, people noticed him enough to insult him.
The Dyesi’s ears were still fully crested. More questions were coming. “You are a Sapien, but here, you too are an alien?”
“I’ve lived on Attacon for years. They’ve fed and educated me. I try to be a good citizen. But yes, as alien as you, in the end.”
Though most Sapiens balked at calling a Dyesi it, Phex did not. He grew up in a place where anything not Wheel was enemy, and all planetary aliens were beastly and dangerous and it it IT. Six years as an exile, meeting all kinds and sorts, drifting in and out of culture, and Phex still flinched when he met an alien he’d never seen before. He still thought of them as something other. Something to be feared. He was still wary of their strangeness. The Wheel had hated him, when it thought of him at all, while simultaneously training him to hate and to fear everyone else. He worked hard to suppress those instincts, but they still bubbled up, and this annoyed him. He resented a past that had built fear into his subconscious, and he resented aliens for reminding him of that past.
“Would you consider leaving Attacon?” the Dyesi asked.
“Where else could I possibly go?”
The Dyesi cocked its head, imitating him. “I think you should become a god.”
“Because I am pretty?”
“You are graceful. It was a pleasure to watch you run and jump. And your voice has power.”
Phex took a chance, leaning over the counter. Curious to see if he could elicit a real reaction from a Dyesi.
Gods were performing on the dome overhead, so the Dyesi’s skin was shimmering and speckled with skinsift, matching the music, syncing with the display on the dome. It was a thing of incredible beauty that inspired true awe. Even Phex could acknowledge that. But this Dyesi was not inside the performance, only passively receiving it, so its colors were muted. Or perhaps this Dyesi simply wasn’t god-level, and a god’s skinsift was a talent possessed by only a rare few of the species.
Phex had always wondered about skinsift. So, he decided to test it.
He sang a refrain from one of Tillam’s biggest hits. One of Fortew’s lines. Distinct from the godsong above them. It had a contrasting cadence and different notes. He sang it soft but true, pushing it toward the Dyesi’s bare skin with his breath. Phex’s vocal cords had been altered just like the rest of him. It’s what the Wheel did – messed around with human genes, hunting for some impossible version of perfection. He may not have the training, but his voice had been modified pre-birth into harmony with itself.
The Dyesi’s skin shimmered with new specks of light, dusted with purples and pinks, like bubbles on the surface of a fancy drink. Skinsift. Much more intense than before. It was beautiful, just as it was above them on the dome. But definitely different.
The alien flinched and jerked away, abrupt and almost clumsy. Then it changed its stance, growing taller, defensive. “Are you trying to injure me with song?”
Phex dipped his head, ashamed but intrigued. “Could I?”
The Dyesi’s body language was now wary. Phex was a tiny bit proud of that. But also embarrassed. Had he committed a cultural violation of some kind? But if this Dyesi wanted to take him away and turn him into something else, Phex needed to know who had the real power in their dynamic.
“You’re sure it is me and not just my voice that you want?”
The Dyesi’s crests flared and vibrated. “There is something more important than your voice?”
Phex took a chance. “Is there something more important than your skinsift?”
“You are a little cruel, aren’t you? You’ll do very well as a god.”
Phex worried that might be true.
The Dyesi looked him up and down. “There is a Tillam revival tomorrow. Will your cafe be hosting it?”
“Of course.” That was a stupid question. Tillam was performing a new song as an apology for ending their recent tour early – every dome in the galaxy that could afford the fee would be hosting it. Tillam may not be the most popular pantheon at the moment, but they were one of the most famous and well-established of all time. They were never without worshipers. The cafe would profit nicely.
“I’ll return tomorrow,” said the Dyesi. It turned, all liquid elegance, and left Phex’s cafe.
The alien never had ordered a drink.
Phex finished his shift and ran home, leaping and wallwalking just because he could. When he was alone in his pod, he looked up everything anyone had posted about Dyesi recruiting, auditions, and the path to godhood. The infonet had notably little to say on the subject. Being recruited was the dream of many, but the process and reason some Sapiens were chosen over others eluded everyone who hadn’t gone through it. And those who had clearly labored under gag orders.
Phex didn’t like the idea of becoming a god – performing for millions, transforming into an object of worship. A statue in a cafe. A song on rotation. But he couldn’t deny a strange joy at being wanted. And he had to consider the fact that his life was already repetitive and statue-like and trapped under a dome. Would it be so different to be a god instead of a barista?
He didn’t sleep that night. He wasn’t certain if it was fear or anticipation or both.
And that’s the end of Chapter 1! Are you excited?
Here’s a peak at what this will look like laid out before I submit it for printing…
Divinity 36: DVD Extras!
- Official announcement & cover reveal: Gail has a new book! Divinity 36 What does the cover art remind you of?
- Divinity 36: Blurb & Pitch & Your Questions Answered
- Release day announcement and special extras:Divinity 36 & New Sci-fi Series from Gail Carriger!
- 10 Best Bits of Divinity 36 Research
Yours full of beans,
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Divinity 36: Tinkered Starsong Book 1
The aliens are coming for us and they want our voices.
New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger brings you a gloriously warm and unique scifi about the power of art, celebrity, and found family.
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