Welcome back, gentle-readers. Tonight, we’ll be looking at Chapter 01 from Long Fall.
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.
Marcus Donovan floated in a sea of stars. Infinity surrounded him, brushing up against his skin and washing over him, but still he wasn’t free. This was nothing but an illusion created by the ancient starship Legacy to whom he was bonded. It was a small glass bubble of bullshit she created so he could believe, if only for a moment, that he was out there naked against the void.
Lately, he was spending too much time like this: alone in his cabin with the walls set to crystal mode, waiting for the universe to give him a sign. Any kind of direction, really. But signs never came, and there were still too many fires burning out of control.
He wanted to see the Earth, and Legacy heard his thought. A live satellite composite of Marcus’ home planet appeared before him.
It was funny how easily such things came to him now. He’d been connected to the ship for more than three years, and their relationship had become so fluid that Marcus was starting to forget where one of them ended and the other began.
Reminders came. She lied to him sometimes, and he jealously guarded secrets from her, but both tasks became more difficult day by day.
And there was the device, of course. The interface. It had grown like a mechanical fungus to cover the right half of his head. People stared, and the polite ones at least partly hid their disgust.
The interface was a constant reminder, but its existence somehow didn’t bother Marcus as much it should have. It was just another difficult part of life to be endured, and the only alternative—separation from Legacy—was unthinkable.
How else could he prepare for the arrival of the Nefrem? Without the link, he couldn’t oversee construction or watch the further reaches of the solar system like a silent sentinel. When the time came, he wouldn’t be able to fight back.
Legacy simply wasn’t complete without a human connection. Her psyche had a gaping hole in its core, something missing that Marcus struggled to identify at first. It was a quality that he only really recognized in himself by comparison to the ship’s lacking: the ability to make decisions according to his own desires. She lacked a will.
Every so often, he felt the faint stirring of an individual will, but the stunted weed that grew in her darkness was weak and twisted, exhibiting traits which Marcus might honestly fear if he weren’t there to suppress them.
But all these were just small, petty concerns, things to dwell on while taking a break from the real issues.
He reached out toward the image of the Earth and pretended to cradle it in his hand. That was where he needed to focus his attention but the problem was too big for him. Ragged nations had formed, war was brewing, and Marcus couldn’t fix any of it with a bit of gumption and a can-do attitude. A new round of border skirmishes broke out every few weeks, growing bloodier, wasting too many lives. He needed every soldier he could recruit, and that begrudgingly included the alien coalition who tried and failed to sterilize his planet.
The Nefrem would do worse when they arrived, that much he knew for certain. He sometimes found himself transfixed on borrowed memories of that fight, which Legacy had shared through their bond. The vivid flashbacks left him not just frightened but in total existential panic. It was second-hand PTSD.
He tried to tell others, tried to explain the coming holocaust, but it never quite worked. They always walked away imagining some kind of war, a noble struggle that would be harshly fought and justly won.
But it wasn’t war they were facing. He remembered it through the eyes of starships watching from orbit, and Eireki warriors fighting and dying on the ground. He watched the sky darken above him, and saw the coming of the biomechanical horde, individuals operating as the many arms of one living organism that existed solely to eat, evolve, and expand. It didn’t attack; it opened its gaping maw, closed its jaws around an entire world, and simply began to chew.
Nemesis was a predator and every living thing was her prey.
And there seemed to be no way to express that idea sufficiently. His own people were beginning to treat Marcus like a dangerous paranoid, never thinking that he might be crying wolf in a wolf-filled wood.
The raving and shouting didn’t particularly help his case.
Suspended there in the darkness, he pointed at the Earth and imagined dotted lines around the fledgling nations. “And all of you,” he said. “How will you survive when the devourer comes? Where will you hide when you realize you can’t fight back?”
He and Legacy felt someone approaching his quarters. Faulkland. Heart-rate up. Tense. Official business.
There was a time when Legacy freely read the crew’s thoughts, and Marcus presently found himself pining for those days. It saved so damned much time. No tedious conversations or chains of command slowing him down. He knew important things instantly and could act on them.
There were privacy concerns, of course, and perfectly valid ones at that. No one felt comfortable aboard a living ship that could see their innermost secrets, so she put up a barrier and left human thoughts alone unless invited.
As much as it was a win for individual freedoms, it starved Marcus of the data he needed to make decisions. Worse, it left him bored out of his mind.
Out of his mind.
The images of the stars faded to reveal stark walls in off-white, a room with a simple bed and nothing else. There was no other furniture or decoration.
Marcus lowered himself to within a centimeter of the floor and feigned a standing position. Most aboard the ship preferred to walk or stand whenever possible, but not him. Operating the artificial gravity was now second-nature removing any need to walk at all, and that act no longer held any special significance for him.
As far as he was concerned, it was nothing but a trapping of mankind’s past, another illusion they used to cage themselves to the ground.
Faulkland walked in, straight backed and stern. His metamorphosis from cowboy astronaut to taciturn admiral had occurred in record time, and though he was incredibly good at his new job, the transformation hadn’t been kind to him. He was always frowning like a man suffering a very large ulcer.
“What do you have for me, Alex?”
“We’ve found Subject Two,” Faulkland said. Unlike so many others, he liked to get right to the point.
“We believe so.” He pointed to the wall and said, “Legacy, if you would?”
Legacy accessed the memory he offered her, and relayed it to the wall. A topographical image depicted North America’s Pacific coast.
“We have solid information placing him deep inside New Union territory. The location is a former Carbon Corporation research facility beneath Crater Lake.”
The image of the lake pulsed with light.
“It’s like a bunker dug out of the Earth and shielded by nineteen trillion liters of water. No surprise it survived the invasion, and God only knows what it was used for before then.”
“Subject Two is a prisoner.”
Faulkland nodded. “Reasonable to assume. He could be a willing guest, but I wouldn’t put any money on it.”
The West Coast was Colonel Galili’s territory. In a nation full of angry freedom-fighters bent on eradicating the alien menace, Galili was perhaps the most accomplished and influential of the lot. Only Major Reyes who operated on the opposite coast commanded as much respect.
Like the rest of his countrymen, Galili had never shown much interest in honoring Marcus’ polite requests. Marcus thought it was time to consider impolite options.
“You’re sure?” Marcus asked.
“As sure as we can be, things being as they are.”
Subject Two was a mysterious creature. Years of painstaking research had pegged him as a primary factor in the Battle of Arkangel’s surprising outcome three years earlier. Witnesses said he was shaped like a man, but the things he was capable of defied belief. He moved like no man the Earth had ever produced, and if he was Oikeyan, no one had ever again seen his like.
Subject Two was holding important pieces of the puzzle, and Marcus was determined to reassemble the big picture.
He ascended into the air, staring at the otherwise peaceful looking lake. “Draw up exfiltration plans,” he said. “I want Subject Two. At all costs.”
“The New Union is a tinder pile, Mark. If he does belong to the aliens like we suspect, this will be seen as an act of collusion.”
Marcus had a wry smile. “The die-hards down there already think I’m in league with the enemy, and nothing I do will change a damned thing.”
Faulkland grunted. “So, then… full frontal assault is on the table?”
“If it will succeed, then yes. I don’t care what it takes, Alex; I just want to win this one. It’s time we remind the Union just how big and sharp our teeth really are.” He paused for a second, waited for his heart rate to return to normal. “Any news on Subject One?”
“Corpsman Hernandez? No, he’s gone off the map again.”
Of course he had. That one was too damned good at hiding, probably deep in some forsaken jungle right that second, curled up in a cave where no one would ever think to look. This new world had no shortage of rocks to hide under, and not nearly enough hands to turn them over.
Marcus was done. He subconsciously engaged Legacy’s gravity controls, lifted Faulkland off the floor, pushed him towards the door. “Bring me options,” he said. “I need a sure thing. Fast and definitive.”
He ushered his friend through the portal and sealed it shut, then brought the globe back into view. Her traditional mosaic of green, tan and white was joined by a bright belt of orange around the equator. If he squinted, she almost looked like a billiard ball.
Down below, on a surface far from his wandering eye, thousands of lives were being extinguished in flashes of light and heat. The survival of those who remained rested on a knife’s edge, and as of that moment, they were—each and every one of them—lost.
None of Earth’s factions stood a chance alone. They had to become something stronger and new, or their time in this universe would be written in sand. And for that, they would first need to come together. They had to become one unified front.
What could motivate them? Maybe a dream of a better tomorrow, but history proved that such things only ever rose from a hero’s corpse. Dreams were precious and they demanded sacrifice.
The fact that stuck most painfully in Marcus’ brain was that it wouldn’t be him.
The pace slows down a bit here after all the exploding and dying of Chapter 0, and this chapter is almost entirely about one character’s introspection. Potentially dangerous play. I just hope I didn’t throttle down too far.
What do you think? Good stuff? Funky crap? Perfectly middling? Let me know in the comments.
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