Long Fall — Chapter 03

It’s finally time for a new chapter. Sorry this took a little longer than expected. Production continues at pace, however.

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.

Let’s dig in…

Chapter 03
Into the Deep End

The fourteen-kilometer starship called Legacy waited above the Earth in darkness, hanging on the edge where thin atmosphere tentatively embraced the emptiness of space. It was quiet to her, lonesome, desolate. To maintain her position, she accelerated constantly using organs that created and controlled gravity wells. Legacy always fell in precisely the direction she wanted to go.

Far beneath her sat a round lake with a single island near its western edge. Legacy scanned over the area with a vast array of sense organs, and saw it at once in multiple spectrums of light. She probed across the distance and felt the soft crunch of soil, the wet slap of undulating waters. She longed to go down there and let the wind rush over her shell, feel the needful pull of the planet’s gravity as she grew closer.

Marcus soothed her the best he could. Soon, he assured her. This world is not ready to welcome you, yet.

She’d waited sixty-five million years already. She could survive waiting a few more.

This was one of the ship’s impulses that left Marcus worried and confused. He knew touching down on a planet required a great deal of effort, and it wasn’t something she’d ever taken lightly before. This was a deep and mysterious longing that she ached to fullfill, but she kept the finer details close to her chest.

Marcus decided this wasn’t a good time to scrutinize the ship’s psychology, though. They had an operation to conduct. There was fighting to oversee.

Marcus closed his own eyes and looked through the ship’s, focusing in on their target. Not the small island, but a point exactly opposite it in the lake. This was where they would fire.

Strength gathered in Legacy’s nose and strength became heat. Nerves in the machinery flared. A beam of seering red light burst out and down through the atmosphere. Through the water, heating the lakebed below. Stone turned red, then yellow, then white, finally becoming a hot fluid with little friction.

Together, Marcus and Legacy altered the energy beam, making it a hollow tube. They waited a pause, then launched a shell down the center.

It streaked out, flew down the center of the beam, and plunged into ground where its glossy armor brushed molten stone aside. It rocketed through the lava and bashed through the facility’s outer shell, and further into a storage area where it dropped to the floor with a hard clank, tipped over, and split open on the sides.

Kazuo Nagai and his four teammates climbed out clad in deep red MASPEC Mk-4 armors, powered shells that transformed the wearers into something more than human. They were walking weapons. Kazuo fought back the feeling that he’d become some kind of Greek god, but it never really went away.

This MASPEC model was smaller and more organically shaped than its predecessors, now looking very much like they belonged to Legacy and her strange, living fleet. They were dismembered Art Deco scarabs, rearranged into prehistoric monsters of chitin and leathery flesh in the rough shape of men.

Newer, stronger versions of the armor existed, but Amira took her designs with her when she left Legacy. Off to the Arkangel Compact. Gone from Kazuo’s life.

Not forgotten.

When Kazuo and the team were clear of the delivery vessel, it melted away into a thick slime, digesting itself to prevent the New Union from dissecting it. The Eireki had invented that trick for use against the Nefrem, and it was just as valuable a few geological epochs later.

“Weapons free,” he said, and it resonated in the team’s helmets. They unshouldered darkly colored carbines styled to match their armors, and disengaged the safeties with a thought.

Kazuo turned on his jammer and lights went out for ten meters around. A glowing overlay on his screen drew the facility’s walls far into the distance, with information based on Legacy’s deep scans. The tech involved there was only understood by God and Veejay Rao.

Kazuo oriented towards his target and followed the planned route, while his team’s boots lightly thudded behind him. There was no foot traffic thanks to careful scheduling: the facility was always at work, using two teams on alternate schedules, but there was a small gap between one shift drifting off to sleep and the next waking. It gave Kazuo’s operation five minutes of quiet before the storm.

They swept corners in flowing formations, spreading apart and contracting again, roles shifting from one trooper to the next as their positions changed. Cloaked in a sticky patch of shadow, they rushed down one hall after another, and finally stopped between two offices.

Their time window was closing. Kazuo motioned toward Rhys who stepped up and pulled a disk the size of a manhole cover from his back. It was a shaped fission charge. He placed it on the floor, double-checked for any warning lights, then armed it with a few quick key-presses.

The team stepped back a short distance, and Kazuo gave the signal. There was a flash of light and a blast that washed over their armors, and the floor beneath the charge was gone.

One by one, they stepped forward and dropped down into deeper darkness, while thin blue jets lit all over their bodies and silently slowed their descent. These were ion thrusters backed by hundreds of kilowatts, which the suits stored inside living cells like a rechargeable battery.

When they came through the destroyed ceiling of the lab, they crunched down in the rubble and suddenly found themselve’s in sufficiently deep shit.

Security personnel armed with assault rifles stood in a loose circle, and they opened fire on sight. Rounds ricocheted off Kazuo’s chestplates and he could feel each one relayed through the MASPEC’s nervous system, coming to him like pulses of warmth. Where they grew uncomfortably hot, the armor was threatening to fail.

He and his team engaged their built-in flashbangs; the suits produced a shockwave and a flash of light that disoriented the enemy. The MASPEC troopers fired into the ensuing chaos, slinging blue-ish white bolts of light trailed by spiraling trails. They quickly brought all of their targets to the ground.

Kazuo said, “Secure the area.”

The others took up guard positions astride the lab’s entrances with their guns at ready, while Kazuo began hunting about for his objective. He was in a large compartment, broken up by head-height dividers with small glass windows. As he progressed from one division to the next, he saw pieces of alien technology—Eireki and Oikeyan alike—prised apart and occasionally stitched back together in a Frankenstein-like fashion.

“Donovan, think I figured out what this lab is.”

“What’ve you got, Nagai?”

“It appears to be a rather sophisticated reverse engineering operation, commander.”

It made perfect sense to him. The New Union was badly outclassed by every enemy they faced, and theft was the fastest way to catch up. They would take apart what they didn’t understand, analyze it and replicate it to the best of their ability. He’d do the same in their position.

Kazuo turned a corner and it was a few seconds before he realized that he’d found what he was looking for. A humanoid body was tightly suspended within a metallic ring, arms and legs outstretched, skin removed and layers of tissue splayed apart. It was still.

Several large appliances surrounded the specimen, different kinds of monitors and recording devices interspersed with a variety of diamond-edged circular saws.

“I have Subject Two. Looks like they’ve dissected it.”

“Son of a bitch,” Marcus growled over the channel. “Collect the remains. Bring them back.”

Kazuo heard gunfire. There was no time to waste, he chided himself, but the grotesquely stripped corpse nevertheless gave him pause.

He swallowed his disgust and went to work. He pulled some kind of metal probe from the base of the spine, disconnecting various instruments attached to its organs, then released the cables that secured its wrists and ankles.

He gently put the body on the floor and went to retrieve a bag from his pack, but stopped when he saw something move out of the corner of his eye. The motion came again, and when Kazuo realized that the corpse was moving, he nearly blasted it to smithereens.

He cycled his visor to infra-red and watched a bright spot pulse in the center of the chest, followed immediately by another twitching convulsion. Was some piece of broken machinery glitching here, or was this thing still alive?

“Hold, Legacy. I think it’s moving.”

Marcus Donovan’s voice came back loudly. “What is?”

“Subject Two. Switching on video feed. You gotta see this.”

Kazuo aimed his head and made sure the lens had a good view of the action.

Tremors came faster and faster to the ruined flesh, spreading further, torqueing every joint over. The thing’s glistening jaw began to twist and bite. For an instant, Kazuo thought the tightened deathmask was about to scream, but then it became totally placid.

The eyes rolled and locked on Kazuo Nagai, and his whole body tensed. He wanted to turn and run.

Its jaw worked and tongue wagged. “Donovan sent you?” it asked in a voice that was altogether too pleasant, too at ease for Kazuo’s taste.

Kazuo’s hear jumped back into motion and he remembered to speak. “Yeah. We’re here to take you back to Legacy.”

Subject Two nodded. Flaps of flesh in its torso slowly drifted back into their proper places like time-lapse photography of a flower closing at night, then the cut edges began to knit themselves together.

Despite all the insane things Kazuo had seen, he couldn’t escape feeling he was watching an undead monster reassemble itself right before his eyes. A zombie was climbing out of its grave.

“Will you be able to walk?” he asked it.

“In approximately three minutes. We must retrieve my belongings. They’re all that’s important at this moment.”

“Donovan?” Kazuo said. No one replied.

Donovan’s answer finally came, amplified over the suit’s external speakers. “What are they, and what’s their importance?”

The skinless corpse peered at Kazuo, finally nodded and answered. “A metal gauntlet and a uniform. The materials comprising the uniform are beyond their level of technology, and I would prefer to keep it that way. The gauntlet is a computer, and…”

The corpse’s flesh settled into place, looking sturdy if repulsively incomplete. It went on. “The gauntlet contains the sum collected knowledge of my people. Our history. Our technologies. Our gene catalogues.”

Kazuo thought he could hear Donovan gritting his teeth over the microphone.

“Find them, Nagai. If you can’t secure them, destroy them.”

Subject Two climbed to its feet and the horror movie experience was finally complete. It took a few steps and plucked an assault rifle from the arms of a fallen guard, inspected it and held it at ready.

Kazuo pointed to the men crumpled all around. “We’re not killing these men,” he said. “They’re just stunned.”

Subject Two dipped its head and looked up at Kazuo from under its skinless brow. “I am killing these men,” it said, then turned and marched toward a corridor.

Kazuo was hard pressed to argue that point, so he followed. “Fall in, team. We have new mission parameters. VIP is taking lead.”

Despite having just faced the eternal slumber a few moments before, Subject Two moved with uncanny grace. It was a tiger stalking through familiar jungle, and when it came across prey, they never lasted long. Clouds of aerosolized blood preceded Subject Two wherever it went.

An alarm howled throughout the base.

Subject Two led them deeper into the complex guided by some preternatural sense. It never paused or showed even momentary indecision. It simply cut a bloody swath through hallways, checkpoints, and finally an R&D pod, then killed everyone there with the cold precision of an industrial riveter.

It discarded the rifle and collected items from around the room. It slid into its skin-tight uniform—finally relieving some of Kazuo’s ongoing stress—and retrieved a bulky pistol from a nearby table. Then it bashed a glass case, grabbed a dull metallic tube from inside, and latched the device to its wrist. Bright lights in some unfamiliar language scrolled across the gauntlet’s surface.

“Exfiltration plan?” Subject Two asked.

Kazuo smirked. “Yeah, we head to…”

Donovan cut him off. “Nagai, the main door is wide open. The facility is being evacuated as we speak.”

Kazuo understood immediately. If he were holding something as dangerous as Subject Two prisoner and it escaped, he’d nuke the place. No questions asked. Either that or wait for the unnatural thing to show up a day later hungry for payback.

“We need a fast evac here,” he shouted. Panic tainted his voice. They had come up with contingencies for pitched battles, but nothing for a self-destruct.

If no one said anything brilliant in the next few seconds, Kazuo’s day was about to get worse.

No one said anything brilliant.

It came quickly and without warning. Kazuo was standing one second, and the next he was struck and enveloped in pure white heat. He gritted his teeth and huffed and screamed inside his armor and it was over.

Kazuo’s face was covered in a mixture of tears and sweat. His ribcage was heaving with a stilted rhythm. His skin felt like it had the worst sunburn of all time, and his entire right leg was nothing but pain.

His MASPEC armor expired with an exhausted heave, then it came apart at the seams and fell away, leaving Kazuo in nothing but a skin suit.

He tried to move, but his body wouldn’t respond.

The alien stood over him no worse for wear, its uniform having turned reflective like an emergency blanket before shifting back to its normal colors.

“Are you mobile” it asked.

Kazuo opened his mouth, and his jaw shook like a broken toy. He closed it again.

The alien reached down, picked Kazuo up and lay him over its shoulder. He saw flashes of the hallway for an instant, ruined walls, melted beams, and the black and withered husks that had been his teammates.

He watched for a few beats as the ground passed beneath him, mesmerized by the alien’s heels flashing in the flickering light. And then he was out.

With that, we’re right back in the action again. This chapter was a bit experimental for me, as I’ve usually relied on a single character’s perspective throughout chapters in the past. Instead, this one shifts from Legacy, to Marcus Donovan, and then to Kazuo Nagai. I hope the transitions worked rather seamlessly, but I leave that for you to judge.

The next chapter shows the rest of this mission from another perspective, and should be up in another few days. I’m also still planning to release notes in the very near future, but have been dragging my feet a bit. Why? Because it’s kind of terrifying. I’ll get over it, though.

Until next time,

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.


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