Willkommen, meine Damen und Herren,
My new program officially begins tonight with the very first chapter of the (as yet) unfinished sequel to Stars Rain Down, Biotech Legacy: Long Fall. Just as in Stars, this book starts with a Chapter 0 which exists outside the book’s primary timeline (…because I’m weird). Stepping away from my usual antics for a second, I’m going to just shut up and let the piece speak for itself.
Fertile soil shook under the repeated hammer strikes of orbital artillery on a planet with a golden sky. The nearby landscape was all scattered rubble and the broken remains of walls, smoking craters and sundered roads.
The crude buildings were gone, their inhabitants long ago evacuated to the hills, but the battle for their planet went on. Chirin war machines marched forward like shimmering scorpions made of crystal, modular works of abstract geometric art firing invisible lasers into the distance. Where those beams struck, targets burst into flames and wailed in agony.
Their ancient enemies, the Slilid, fought by their side. These were members of the Slilid Spear Chapter—the warrior caste—all of them long-legged amphibians clad in armored moisture suits, wielding particle-rifles shaped like halberds. They moved in bursts and dashes, darting from one piece of cover to another in formations that would appear chaotic to an untrained eye.
Diverse troops from Arcadia and Legacy advanced over the next hill, humans clad in sleek MASPEC armors, Alarhya floating above them with six arms flailing like the goddess of destruction made flesh. Rozom trundled along firing heavy cannons in high arcs, while the ridges behind were filled with sharp-eyed Kitsu providing sniper support.
The enemy troops were no less varied, though they were only one species, only one genotype. They were human. The infantry called Maqabim were men twisted into new shapes, with weapons grown as organs in their leathery flesh. Behind them marched the Goliaths, human forms standing fifteen meters high whose pale flesh hid beneath iridescent plates. Massive barrels on their shoulders coughed exploding death at high velocity.
Even the Canaans—swift attackers shaped like monstrous hounds, who rolled across the battlefield devouring prey—were human. Every gene was human; only the methods of gestation were different.
Benjamin Hernandez was pressed against a shattered wall, watching seering bolts of light streak past. The blood red armor that encased him was a living carapace, a combination of human and Eireki technology that transformed the wearer into an agile walking tank. When a momentary lull came, he turned and fired his stormrifle, launching high density rounds with the rhythm of a jackhammer.
The enemy didn’t duck for cover. They advanced into fire that tore limb from body, moving as one, dancing to a silent song and acting in perfect coordination.
The enemy was fearless, implacable, and unstoppable.
But Benjamin didn’t need to stop them. He only had to slow them down.
His team laid into the enemy front with concentrated fire, and even as the leading edge of the wave fell away, the rest pressed onward. Ever onward. Charging forward and devouring, growing and never sated.
Benjamin gestured toward the ranks of troopers marching ahead of their Grigori, a bipedal monstrosity even larger than the Goliaths, and his hand painted a virtual circle that went out to his troops. “Focus fire here. Rozom, give me some big blasts.”
The other MASPEC troopers responded, pouring iridium rounds downrange. The rhino-like Rozom’s assault hit an instant later, dropping explosive shells that reduced the line to pulp.
Benjamin motioned forward with two fingers, and his people received a charge order. Bubbles of red armor bounded forward on blasts of blue flame, their rifles belching hot metal in controlled bursts.
Their foe still did not pause, did not recede.
Benjamin headed toward the gap, setting his sites on the huge lumbering figure that was the enemy’s lynchpin. Its interlocking armored plates gave the impression of medieval armor, while its head most resembled a Japanese beetle, complete with an antler-like crest atop its head.
The monster paid Benjamin no mind as he approached. His feet touched ground just long enough to prepare for the next leap, and he was off again. He reached down and retrieved a metal disc from his thigh, a fission charge.
At the feet of the giant, he leapt upward. His arm extended out to deliver the payload, but the monster struck. It swatted him from the air and sent him careening back toward his own troops, the charge knocked free from his hand.
Benjamin hit the ground and dug a trench in the rubble, then finally skidded to a stop. Screens glitched, his eyes crossed, and his whole body felt like a struck funnybone. Things were broken.
He lifted his rifle and resumed fire. Still the Grigori pressed onward, with a horde of hideous creatures surgings at its feet.
An unknown trooper’s voice crackled over the comms. “He’s here!”
Benjamin dragged himself back behind a pile of cracked stones for cover and tried to right his head. There was only one man the troops spoke of that way. He didn’t want to get his hopes up yet, though. It could be a false sighting.
“Can someone confirm that,” he said with a weeze and a gurgle. Blood was trickling out of his mouth.
“Confirmed. I have eyes on Vigil.”
He was really there. Maybe they’d win the battle after all.
Benjamin brought up his strategic display and was treated to a live satellite feed of the battlefield. A swipe through his field of vision marked a swath of land for tactical strikes, and he hoped the Khoom Yuon Kwon a dozen kilometers away were paying attention.
He coughed and smiled. “Let our friend know I’ve prepped a dramatic entrance for him.”
“Relayed,” came the reply.
Seconds later, the sky screamed and thunder struck. Shells blew soil into the air in great gouts of smoke and fire. Benjamin turned away from the carnage just in time to see a figure rushing across broken terrain, snatching Benjamin’s fission charge from the ground and diving into the mass of disoriented enemies.
The next time Benjamin caught sight of him, the gaunt figure had scaled the Grigori. Standing atop its shoulders, he struck with one hand and tore a hole through the armor. His other hand jammed the demo pack inside, and then he was gone.
An explosion rocked the Grigori, rending its chest in two and sending an arm tumbling away. The great beast howled, shaking the ground for a kilometer around, then fell.
Without the Grigori, the enemy no longer heard their song. They lost their choreography and fell apart, now isolated individuals in a state of panic. They desperately surged, fired, and died.
Slilid and Chirin on the next hill redirected fire toward the broken formation, and enemy troops crumbled under the combined attack.
“Looks like we have quadrant G9 buttoned down,” Benjamin said.
“Acknowledged, Major Hernandez. Mobile fortress is advancing on your position.”
And then Benjamin let himself breathe. His collarbone was toast, and a few ribs were no doubt snapped. He mentally directed the micro-medics in his body to the damage sites, and partially masked the pain through self-hypnosis, an applied psycho-technology.
He ventured a peek around the stone-pile and finally got his first good look at the Eireki knight called Vigil. He strode purposefully back toward his allies as the teeming masses behind him were shot to pieces. He was a slim and angular figure, an avatar of ancient technology so unlike the MASPECs and their signature bulk. As he approached, Benjamin could make out the surface of his skin like a mosaic of tiny armor shards, canals between them forming circles and spokes. The geometric patterns demarkated regions of bone-white and others of dark blue, except his right hand clad in twisting red and orange.
Vigil spoke with an unearthly voice, in tones both commanding and spectral. “Are you alright, Major?”
“Nothing that can keep me down,” Benjamin said.
Vigil offered him a hand, and lifted him to his feet as if the weight were nothing at all.
“If you don’t mind me saying, it’s a damn relief to see you here, sir.”
Vigil ducked his head. “Sorry I wasn’t here sooner. I could’ve prevented so much death.”
“You prevented some. That’ll have to be good enough.”
The last word slipped from Benjamin’s mouth just as a shadow overtook the land. He felt the immense pressure of it before he saw it; a glance upward revealed a kilometers-long darkness in the golden sky. It was an enemy command carrier.
The knight called Vigil turned and said nothing, his body remaining in a state of relaxed preparation. He stood ready to leap into action at any instant.
The ship above let out a long, low tone like a furious god’s bellow. A twinkling star appeared at the its nose, then sliced down out of the heavens.
The shooting star was a single piece of mobile armor. It was a terrible angel on wings like razorblades, brandishing a sword whose blade was living flame. This type was called a Seraph, and it was an exceptionally rare sight.
As the Seraph approached, its many subordinates in disarray fell silent, while the humans and their motley allies stared in awe.
The shimmering warrior touched down lightly some fifty meters from Benjamin and kneeled. The chest case cracked open and a bubbling mist leaked out, rolling across the riven ground like a conscious thing. A silhouette stepped out of the machine in flowing steps and proceeded to walk across the battlefield as if it hadn’t a care in the world.
The figure was a nude human, but strangely devoid of sexual organs. It exuded male strength and female grace at once, melded together into an indivisible whole. It was a thing beyond gender, and it was so beautiful that Benjamin momentarily thought it glowed.
“Glad tidings, Wildlings,” it said. The voice was like a sweet song, the tinkling of chimes and the howl of autumn wind. “I am that which is born but once a millenium. I am the scion of Nemesis, the prince of the Nefrem, the unique amid the legion.”
“Shit,” Vigil said.
“And behold, a Wildling clothed in the bones of his Eireki forebears. The heretics. The betrayers. Identify yourself, wayward child.”
“I am Vigil.”
The Nefrem prince squinted its perfect eyes, two points of luminescent blue like the sun shining on an arctic cave. “Do you speak for your feral breed, Vigil?”
“No, I only protect them.”
“Intriguing. Then I shall appoint you emissary. Tell your kind that Nemesis welcomes the return of her kin with open arms, and stands ready to fold your genetic diversity back into the One Code. She offers you an opportunity to be one race again, of many minds but only one glorious purpose.”
The prince grinned, and Benjamin thought he understood the message clear enough. It was offering mankind an opportunity to lay down and relax while being eaten.
Vigil very simply said, “I’m not a messenger,” and stood his ground.
“So be it. Then I shall be forced to spread the good word myself.”
Without the slightest telegraph, the prince struck with terrible speed and force, but Vigil’s fist intercepted it in mid-air. Rubble flew in every direction from the force of the impact.
The two fighters shared a moment of surprise and mutual respect, and then they began to trade blows, their arms and legs moving with such speed that Benjamin couldn’t see the individual attacks.
Then came a moment frozen in time. The prince turned in frustration and looked him directly in the eyes. Debris tumbled through the air. There was a blur, and Benjamin heard his own neck snapping.
Vigil couldn’t react in time. In the milliseconds it took him to realize what the prince’s next move was, he was already behind, already too slow. He could only watch it happen and try not to think of what he’d just lost.
Rage. He forced it down and in. He caged it. But still it screamed in captivity.
“Kill,” Hush said to him. “Destroy.” The disembodied voice seemed to come from everywhere at once, a deafening whisper, a boiling compulsion that refused to be ignored.
Vigil trained his focus on the prince, allowing any other thoughts to gently bounce off of it. This was just as Kai had trained him to do two centuries before, back when the thought of simply seeing the day seemed impossible.
He pressed the attack.
Deriving energy from a miniature hollow-drive, the living machine that was Vigil’s body would never be exhausted. It would never need to catch its breath. It just fought and fought until the battle was complete, then waited for the next confrontation.
And the prince was apparently as efficient, matching him blow for blow. They traded hundreds of punches, kicks, and ripostes, with neither scoring a decent hit.
“Interesting,” the prince said. If he was afraid, it didn’t show.
Hush stirred. “More strength,” it said, and Vigil felt a surge of new output from the hollow-drive. “Kill!”
A microscopic tremor rumbled across his body. He kept the rage safely contained.
The prince smiled warmly. “You want to lose control, Wildling. Lose control.”
Vigil had done so once. The memory was a blackness filled with screams and a hatred deeper than the sky. It was his first recollection after becoming this thing, and there was nothing he wanted less than a repeat performance.
The prince cocked his head at an angle, a mannerism like a raven considering the fate of a worm. “No? A shame I won’t see the full measure of you. Yet.”
Then the prince turned and casually walked back to his armor. Vigil raised his hand, signaling to hold fire, but he didn’t know why.
The Nefrem prince leapt into the chest of its Seraph and the shell closed around him, then he rocketed upward and was gone.
Vigil’s focus dissolved, and with it the illusion of silence. The battle had already resumed all around him, but he stood alone in the field beside a dead man.
Then he ran away from the anguish and into the remains of the broken Nefrem line.
And with that, Long Fall has begun! Excited? Thrilled? Bored? Confused? Gassy? Let me know what you think in the comments. Yes, they do in fact exist.
Coming up in the next week, I’ll be posting at least one more chapter, and will probably make the first round of notes available, so stay tuned for more.
Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
Update: If you’re just joining Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, you can find all of the other chapters right here at the Oktopod Blog.
The previous novel, Biotech Legacy: Stars Rain Down, is currently available exclusively through Amazon.