An immersive, electrifying space-fantasy, Neon Yang’s debut novel The Genesis of Misery is full of high-tech space battles and political machinations, starring a queer and diverse array of pilots, princesses, and prophetic heirs.
This is the story Misery Nomaki (she/they), a nobody from a nowhere mining planet. Misery has abilities they shouldn’t though: they can bend the will of stone, a dangerous magic that only “saints” are said to have. These abilities lead Misery to the center of the Empire, where rumors spread that Misery is the next Messiah, and where those in power seek to use Misery to win a terrible war.
Amid a nest of vipers, Misery grows close to a rebellious royal, Lady Alodia Lightning, and decides to embrace the legacy the prophecies speak of. True or false, for better or worse, Misery Nomaki will be the Ninth Messiah.
Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang, on sale 9/27/22.
But really, where do we begin? Do we imagine that the story of a person begins when zie is born? Or do we acknowledge that each one of us is the creation of a dozen forces, bearing down upon the clay of a being with all the weight of history? The threads that make up Misery Nomaki began in the distant past, not as fixed points but electron clouds, diffuse and undefinable, woven through the tapestry of human history in ways that are difficult to put into words or comprehend. Shall we start with the Old Planet, whose name has been forgotten, and swim the warm oceans as life begins to coalesce? Should we walk alongside the parade of creatures as they unfurl into human form, and watch as these shabby beings stumble toward the ruination of their planet? Perhaps a better opening would be the shoal of vessels that fled their burning home, each stocked carefully with a collection of individuals that has been deemed suitable to represent the future of humanity. Here we see the one christened The Cause of Labour streaking away into the dark, embarking upon its ten-thousand-year journey across the stars. Into long sleeps and uncharted territories and the ALISS Apocalypse and all that followed after.
But maybe that is too much. Too wide. It would take too long to tell all of it. Let us work at a scale comprehensible to human minds. You may think that means starting at the conception of our Messiah. But that holds little interest for me: Are we not programmed to want the exciting parts right away? Since you have mandated me as storyteller, I shall choose where we begin as it suits my fancy. Let us start at the center of the Empire of the Faithful, not too long before our current point in time. There is a ship, coming through a portal. Its name is Wolf at the Door. A narrow blade of a thing, half metal and half holystone, polished to reflect starlight. It arrives around midday standard universal time, nestled in a loose flotilla of travelers from the duchy of Apis. This ship belongs to the seventeenth Duke of Apis, Lord Bichap Amran Argan, he/him pronouns, and it is his personal ship, part pleasure cruiser and part diplomatic vessel. Its destination is the Imperial Capital, a gloriously jeweled confabulation of structures: domes and arches and turrets fused into a floating shape, thick in the center and tapering to glittering minarets at either pole. A colony suspended in an inky sea, filled with nobility and scientists and magnates of industry. A locus of power, in fact the locus of power in the Empire of the Faithful, to which those seeking power are also drawn. This is what The Cause of Labour has become, hundreds of years after its engines were stilled. The body of the original ship lies at the core of the Capital as a seed lies in a fruit. You are familiar with this, I do believe. Yet that fact is often obscured in the books of the Faithful. I wonder how many know?
Wolf at the Door, then. It has come to the Capital for a very specific purpose. It carries in its decks the nixen believed to be the Last Savior of the Faithful, who not a week prior had saved a far-flung colony from annihilation by the Heretics. Or so it was said. Misery Nomaki, they/she pronouns, newly twenty and newly thrust into a world they have no understanding of, a world so far removed from their upbringing it might as well be a different society altogether. Brought to the Imperial Capital at behest of the Church, to seek an audience with a skeptical Emperor. A herald of trouble, this Misery Nomaki. Into the pretty, fragile shells of empire they come like a wrecking ball. Let us make a beginning here, where there is none. In a steel-walled room encysted in the Capital’s guts, the Last Savior of the Faithful is trying to turn a door to jelly. Misery Nomaki, chosen of the Forge, presses herself against the flat glossy surface, cold as dead marble, and says, “Come the fuck on.”
The door is holystone. It whispers to her with the electric, back-of-the-neck prickle that holystone always has. She’s never seen this sort before—a pale gray streaked with white, only pretty because it shines—and she’s always wary of strange holystone. No fucking idea what it’s called. No fucking idea what it does. But ten minutes ago she watched the flint of its striped surface turn gelatinous and admit a young saint bearing a crate of dinner, breaking open and sliding over hir like liquid. Of course. That’s how she got in this box to begin with. The salve they put in her is still flossing her mind, muddying emotion and memory. Smearing adrenaline into a soggy mush of apathy. It’s hard to think, when the salves get her like this. If she had known, she would never have accepted the dose. But then, she’s been saying yes to a lot of shit she shouldn’t lately.
She doesn’t know what’s on the other side of this door. Guards, probably. Trouble. More trouble than what she’s stewing in right now. But anything’s better than sitting on her ass and waiting for the Emperor, or whoever, to pass judgment down. She didn’t sign up for any of this, and she certainly didn’t sign up to be thrown in a cell with zero cause upon arrival in the Imperial Capital. Misery has no idea where her sponsor, the Duke, is right now. For all she knows he’s in a lockbox too. And whatever’s coming next, if she waits for it, is probably worse than what it is right now.
It’s better to find your own trouble than to have trouble come find you.
Misery closes her eyes to focus better. There’s a familiar twinge she’s looking for, a fire in her nerves that tells her when she’s woken the holystone. These rocks are full of surprises, tricksy bastards: some invert gravity, some power the hearts of starships, yet others can destroy everything in their path. This holystone is ostensibly a doorway, but who knows what configurations lurk in its lightless depths? Won’t be the first time Misery wakes some voidtouched ability in holystone that’s brand-new.
“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you.”
Slouched against the door is a delusion in human shape. A youth with every trapping of a classical softlad, milk-fleshed and bird-boned, icy bangs framing a high brow and jutting cheeks. And hir eyes! Cosmic presence radiates from the hollow of those sockets; sometimes they go bright as suns, sometimes they fall dark as the void between stars. Zie’s dressed in the kind of loose, off-shoulder blanket dress worn by angels in art from the sourceworld, ending above the knee and displaying a generous swathe of skin and nipple. Unreadable symbols crawl over one bare shoulder, fluid and sinuous.
This delusion, zie claims a name. Ruin. No known pronouns. Bane of Misery’s life. Absolute bane. Showed up bright and inescapable a couple of weeks ago, all beautiful and haloed, claiming a grand destiny for her, just like her dead mother promised. Break into the local defensive base, zie said. Steal a sparrowhawk unit and take off with it, zie said. Fight the Heretics lurking over the nowhere nothing mining colony you call home, zie said. It is what the Larex Forge calls you to. And because Misery’s stupid, because she’s got void where a brain should be, because it was her birthday and also Mother’s death anniversary and she was completely smashed on dirty salves, because she was still pissed at her older brother for some bullshit he said, because of all that Misery said fuck it and did as Ruin suggested. Even though she knew better. Even though she should have recognized Ruin for the delusion zie is. Even though she knew the consequences of not resisting the voidsickness that generated the delusion.
She did it anyway, and so here she is, a prisoner halfway across the galaxy on the Capital at the center of it all, trapped with an advanced outgrowth of the voidmadness she was born with. Took twenty years to show up, but she’s finally full-on hallucinating the way Mother used to, arguing with shades like old family members. Good job, Misery. Everything going cherries and honey.
Ruin slants hir head in curiosity. “You wanted off Rootsdown. You wanted to leave home for shinier pastures. I did that for you. Did I not?”
“If I wanted to be imprisoned on the Imperial Capital, I would have found better ways,” Misery snaps. She can’t hear the holystone through all this nagging. Can’t believe she sat through thousands of hours of sermon and not one second of it covered getting a faux-aspect of the universal force to shut the fuck up.
“Tell me again,” says Ruin, clearly with the least inclination in the void to shut the fuck up. “What good would escaping this room do? Where do you imagine you will go?”
“Somewhere not here,” Misery says, and stills herself because a thread has come loose in the holystone, brushing against her senses like a questing finger. She can deal with Ruin later— freedom awaits. Breath held, she tugs upon the offered filament. Shuts her eyes, shuts out the rest of the universe. Her existence is stone and stone only. Beneath her, the essence of the strange mineral slowly unravels, loosening its grip on the divine gift that separates it from mere rock. The holystone melts, and Misery melts along with it, her body turning to jelly, bones and skin and all. She has no body; that brick of flesh right now has no owner. She is the stone, and the stone is she.
The holystone activates and Misery falls through it, plowing through gel thicker than her head, finding nothing but air on the other side. She tumbles onto her hands and knees, walloped back into her body with an angry smack that shoots up the bone. The epitome of grace, Mx. Misery Nomaki. She swears a little, because she has the mouth for it now. After thousands of melds with holystone, Misery still gets rustled by the out-of-body transitions every time.
Ruin stands in the middle of the outside passageway, arms folded, brows knitted, lips thin. Zie doesn’t need to walk, blinking in and out of places like a photon, and Misery could wring hir neck for it. Can one strangle a delusion? Misery hasn’t yet managed to lay a hand on Ruin: zie moves too fast, flitting out of reach every times she gets close. Of course.
Zie says, “Turn back. Return to the room you were in.”
“Not a room. A cell. And you can’t tell me what to do. You’re not my brother.”
“You will regret continuing upon this path.”
“Great, add it to my regrets pile.” She dusts herself off and takes stock. She’s made it out—good. She hasn’t set off a siren— even better. Some time to think.
Inside the cell it was gray and metal and frigid. Outside it’s still metal and frigid, but at least there’s light. Misery’s at the tail end of a nitro-white corridor, sleek reflective panels rimmed by light at the edges of floor and ceiling. It curves away from her and beyond the line of sight. No vents along these pristine surfaces. No ducts. Hidden, probably. This is deep space, the station’s got to have a circ system somewhere. That oxygen isn’t going to make itself. It’s her best hope, hiding in those veins while she figures her way around and out: she’s not armed, this is unfamiliar ground, and the Imperial Army won’t go light on her. A head-on confrontation would mean death.
What’s the plan? Find the deep vents, find a place to hide. Get to a safely crowded area—civilian dock, merchant zone, whatever, wherever they on- and off-load ship crews. Find a leaving captain willing to take her on, or sneak into a hospitable cargo hold. Get out, at any rate. Anywhere in the galaxy would make a fine landing. How many years has she got left, fifteen, twenty? Possibly less. Lots less. Mother wasn’t forty when she died, and Misery—she’s twenty, and the delusions have started showing up. It’s only a matter of time. Maybe ten. Maybe five. It’s fine. Enough time to drink in the stars, enough space to knock out a few adventures like Mother used to tell her. She’s not interested in being anybody’s savior.
There’s only one way forward. Misery pads along the curve of the corridor, left hand against the cool white, feeling for openings. Half her senses pricked for danger and the other half for holystone. She can’t tell if it’s the salves, but her stone-sense is fizzing sideways, like cremoline left uncapped too long. Her ears ring like the aftermath of a night with no sleep. There must be stone everywhere, the guts of the station riddled with it, shredding her focus in a million different directions. On Rootsdown, arid and barren, people lived a hundred to each clay reef and holystone sang across the landscape purer and clearer than church bells. Misery knew where every vein of the glistening stuff lay, and it was good business too, charging millions for prospecting services, dragging it out with surprise delays, invoicing for equipment she didn’t need and never bought. Good times. She’s got to find some like hustle once she escapes.
At the end of the curve, the corridor takes a sharp left into unseen territory, and she creeps toward it with full caution. It’s unsettling how empty this place is, compared to the squalor of Rootsdown and the lively crew of the Duke’s ship. Feels like a trap. Might be a trap.
Ruin materializes before her. “You had a window for turning back. That is now over.” But zie doesn’t seem alarmed. Zie seems amused.
She hears the footsteps before she sees them. Two saints, hair shimmering, gender unknown, burst through the mirage of Ruin’s chest and stop, blinking. One of them? Both? One was the saint that brought her dinner. But which one? They look identical. Dress identical. White hair and white skin and white robes with crisp lines that boat over their figures. Twins?
No. Not twins. Can’t be. She’s seen more saints dressed like this: on her way in, dotted on walkways at a distance. Even then she thought there was something eerie about the way they were all the same shape and height, same hair color, same haircut. Were they all instaprints, like this? Clones? That couldn’t be. Revulsion heaves through her flesh.
The saints don’t blink.
“Hello,” she says. “Nice day out.”
Silence. No emotion surfaces on their perfect, mirrored features. What are they? Stillness in these situations means danger. The one on the left, calm as a mountain, tilts hir head like a wild grimclaw before it lunges.
Misery moves faster. A practiced swing connects with the unnatural saint’s ear, and zie goes flying into the other one. Crash. Things are so light here. Misery vaults over them to flee left and down the corridor, straight and double-wide, intersections at a distance that’s rapidly closing. She’s built like a shuttle, squat and boxy, all muscle and adrenaline, and she’s never been more grateful. Rootsdown was a supergrav settlement, and the Capital is just slightly subgrav (or so she’s been told). She’s flying. She’s never run this fast or this effortlessly in her life.
“If you want to help,” she spits at Ruin, who hovers at the periphery of her sprint, “a way out would be nice.” Nearly upon the crossroads. She needs directions, and her gut’s always been good, so—
“Go up,” zie says, a voice in both ears, and she goes, “What?” but she’s already looking to the ceiling, and realizing that the paneling is finely gapped, it’s not a solid piece, and she doesn’t know what’s beyond it but what’s to lose?
She makes a fist of her nondominant hand and rockets upward. Forces her eyes to stay open as knuckle strikes acrylic and pain shoots up her arm. She sails in an arc into a half-height space, claustrophobic, silver, and she’s tumbling head-over-ass into it, tangoing with the panel she’s knocked loose. The vents. Misery keeps moving forward. No time to think. Plunge into darkness. She doesn’t need light to see. Around her the Capital thrums and keens with lodes of holystone, pinging on Misery’s consciousness, forming a makeshift map to navigate by. The huge, beating chunk of holy ruby in the distance: stonecore. Best stay away from that. Other direction.
Those saints. If they’re clones, what does that mean? Cloning is forbidden. Human clones are empty vessels, invitations to the nullvoid. Is that common on the Capital? What else have they made? Telepaths? Chimeras? AI?
She’s letting fear run amok. Not paying attention. Suddenly there’s air where floor should be. Misery screams as she drops stomach-first into the void, then her jaw slams into metal and pain shuts her up. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. Pain, something crunching, death waiting? She flails, grasps for holy tigereye to stop her fall, misses, falls some more. Fuck.
Light comes from below. Forge blast, if it’s just air—or some deadly whirring fan—
A crunch. She slams against something—metal mesh—and it pops loose. A tumble and she lands, hip and elbow flaring with pain. Some kind of metal surface, gridded for friction. Industrial. Grit-smelling. Misery sucks in greasy air and her ribs scream, angry, but she’s felt worse. Gets on palms and knees, all her bones hold. A loud complaint along the tendon as she finds her feet, but she’s fine. She’s standing. She can walk.
Where is she now? A massive chamber greets her, wider and taller than a reef, curved hullmetal walls so distant they form a horizon. The walkway rings the room, and below that an open pit pregnant with massive gray cylinders, fed by and wrapped in pipes. Has to be some kind of circ chamber, because it’s mostly empty space, drop lights fixed to the ceiling far abovehead. The sense of breath—hot and cool winds blowing over her skin— seems to confirm it. And over there: bright purple rectangle over a recessed door. Universal exit sign. Misery collects her breath, gives thanks for her continued existence, and gathers her determination. Let’s go.
Several steps away from the exit she halts. Next to the door, under the cone of a portlight, stand four figures in atmo-blue jumpsuits. Staring.
“Hey,” she says, propping a hand on one jaunty hip. She’s close enough to see their faces, close enough to see they’ve got no name/pronoun tags on, close enough to see they’ve obviously got a game of rumsake going atop the silver crate that’s upturned between them. Skivers? On a break? Workers, at any rate— people on her side. Two taller ones, a third built like Misery, and the last one skinny and feral as a hungry rat. She tries a smile. “I’m just passing by.”
They don’t mean her any harm. She can see that in their faces. No aggression here, just bafflement, tentative curiosity, and a hope that she’s not gonna mess up their leisure time. She holds both hands up, tender palms outward. “I’m not here for trouble. In fact, just pretend I’m not here at all.”
One of the tall ones says, “You look like you’re in trouble.”
The skinny one says, “Your face got fucked up.”
And the one who’s built like her, the one who seems warmest of them all, points to hir face and says, “You’re bleeding. Are you okay?”
Misery widens her lopsided grin, and the crust of blood on her cheek makes itself known in a wave of small prickles. “Don’t mind that. Just ran into a sharp edge. You know?”
Frowns and uncertainty in response. The workers’ Standard is strongly accented and so unlike the crisp phonemes that dominate the waves, but she doesn’t recognize the locality. Nothing like the Apisian lilts she’s used to. None of the four are saints; their hair lacks that telltale sheen. What would a saint be doing as an hourly wage-grunt in the bowels of a space station, anyway? Misery doesn’t want them to get involved either. It wouldn’t be fair. “Just let me on my way. You never saw me.” She points to the exit. “I’m headed right out.”
The hungry-looking one curls hir lip and snorts. “That door’s locked. There’s no key.”
Ruin slants against the offending exit, arms folded. “That’s never been a problem for you, has it?”
Misery smiles to mask a range of emotions. Ruin is right, but she’d rather the workers not know that. “It’s fine,” she says. “I have a key.”
“There’s no key,” the hungry one repeats, like Misery is an idiot.
The door in question is rimmed by holy obsidian, the aegis stone, projecting a film of impassable energy, invisible until touched. Misery’s fingertips leave starpoints of light as she brushes against the aegis: old habit, she likes the thrill of static she gets from it. A lively prickle.
“Please,” Misery says. “Look the other way. You don’t want to get involved.” There are things they would be better off not knowing. But she knows she can’t force them not to watch.
Misery’s done holy obsidian so many times she doesn’t need physical contact anymore. Important buildings in Rootsdown were lousy with the stuff, and she’s sneaked in and out of them a hundred times, a thousand times, a hundred thousand times. She shuts her eyes and breathes until her pores are one with the stone. Palms that invisible, intangible switch.
The aegis turns off. A handle’s set into the thick metal of the door beneath, and Misery digs in her heels to haul it leftward. Lemon squeezy. Thank the Forge for supergrav physique.
“How did you do that?”
Ah, right. Misery sighs before she turns around. The four workers are bugging with fear, the deeply held and religious kind. The other tall one, who hasn’t spoken yet, says: “How? You’re not a saint.”
There are two kinds of people who can move stone. There are the saints. And then there are the voidmad. One look at Misery and they can tell which one she is.
“It’s not contagious,” she tells them, which is pointless because it contradicts Church teaching, and You won’t catch it sounds like something someone with voidsickness would say. The stout one has withdrawn behind the others, hands clasped in prayer. The others are frozen in place, but Misery can see fear breaking the bar on their faces. Shit. She can’t blame them, but shit.
“Just forget I was even here,” she says, and slips through the door to close off her guilt. Forge willing, the workers will forget the encounter and go on with their lives, but she knows they’re going to spend the next Imperial week (or month, year, decade) jumping at lights and sounds, wondering if something they thought they heard is the beginning of the end. Anything and everything could be the first sign of madness. She knows that feeling too well.
Ruin’s voice whispers in her head. “Fortunately for them, you aren’t voidmad. And in time they’ll come to recognize today as a blessing. A day where they were graced by the presence of one touched by the Larex Forge.”
“Shut up,” Misery says. Now’s not the time. She rubs her face and pushes every tab of anxiety and regret deep into the primordial cauldron of her emotions where they belong, far away and out of her conscious mind. These workers will be nothing to her once she’s made her flight from here. In a few years—if she’s still alive—this will all be dust in the wind. A misadventure, getting involved with dukes and the Throne and the Church, places she doesn’t belong, but quickly done with.
For now: Shut up. Focus. Escape. She’s wound up in a service corridor, a grimly lit and humming affair, bank of indecipherable controls to the left and row of supply closets to the right. Locked, of course, but that doesn’t stop her from riffling through till she finds a stack of spare jumpsuits in taffy onesize automesh in that same atmo-blue. Misery pulls off her gray convict’s robe and cocoons herself in a jumpsuit. It takes several seconds to adhere to her body heat. What should she do with the discard? Is there no atomizer nearby? Why are the Faithful allergic to labeling anything on this, their capital city? She’s looking for the holy ruby that would make the heart of the atomizer, but there’s so much background signal.
Ruin points to a recessed square in the left wall, which Misery had taken for a drawer. Fine. There it is. She jaws it open, dumps in the gray robe, and goes back for a fresh raid on the closets. Boots this time, sturdy ones with reinforced soles, vacuum-proof. Gloves. A bunch of toolkits, because she needs shit to trade for credit. A medpack to fix her bleeding face. She even finds a cap to tuck the wild bush of her unsaintly hair under.
There. She’s all kitted out in generics. The only thing separating her from a regular drone, she guesses, is the bracelet around her wrist—holy jasper, irresistibly striated, lifeblood of Rootsdown. A dear friend, now deceased, made it. Then there’s her mother’s amulet around her neck. A circle of strange black rock on a string—maybe holystone? Maybe not?—covered in even stranger inscriptions, almost like circuitry. She’s had it since before she was born. Neither ornament will tuck into the jumpsuit. Whatever. Misery will never lose the two; it’s nonnegotiable. She will deal. Otherwise, she’s ready.
The corridor’s capped by a silver door, rimmed with holy obsidian and graced with a porthole from which light pours. It’s the outside, which glimmers and beckons like an astral promise. Misery marches toward it, practicing her confident stride. Confidence is key.
She puts her hand on the stone, and pauses to take a steadying breath. Four in, six hold, seven out. Beyond this door lies the Empire, unvarnished and real, full of places and things she has only experienced through the medium of waves and bulletins and old miners’ tales. She doesn’t know what to expect. She doesn’t know what she’ll find.
“Have faith,” says the delusion, uselessly. “No matter how far you stray from your destined path, you will find yourself guided back to it.”
Fuck faith. Misery’s in it to survive. And survive she will.
She shuts off the holy obsidian, and steps outside.
Copyright © 2022 from Neon Yang
Pre-Order The Genesis of Misery Here: