And off we head into Chapter 04…
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.
Wizard Island sat at the western edge of Crater Lake, its landscape dominated by a cone rising some 230 meters above the lake’s serene waters. To Daniel Grey’s eye, it looked like a cartoon volcano sculpted in child-friendly proportions.
Terrified researchers in lab coats and engineers in dark blue coveralls were swarming out of a rectangular hole near the cone’s base. As the last few exited, a great blast of white flame belched out behind them, followed moments later by thick black smoke that bubbled and rolled as it struck the open air. A handful of charred corpses littered the ground.
“Sterilization phase complete,” Daniel said.
His eyes zoomed and refocused on the facility’s entrance, giving him a tack-sharp view from more than two kilometers away. A glowing diamond bounced gently around his vision, indicating where a bullet would land if he squeezed his rifle’s trigger. The diamond’s color told him how long it would travel before making contact.
“Still no sign of Samson. I’m moving in for confirmation.”
“Negative, Ajax-5. Hold your position.”
Ridiculous. Every corner of that building had been scoured with fire. Daniel didn’t care what the alien was; it didn’t simply walk away from a thermite bath. Even if it was somehow still alive, this would be Daniel’s best chance to end the game once and for all.
He didn’t need to voice his disagreement. A team of engineers back at HQ were watching and interpreting his biometrics, and they would see the spike in his heart-rate, the muscles of his neck tightening, the furrowing of his brow. So much of his data was being monitored that Daniel liked to think of himself as a Formula One car.
His focus danced across the target area, searching for anything out of the ordinary, and then he found it. A figure appeared in the doorway, striding purposefully with something large slung over its shoulder. The shape was human-like, but in proportions that no person would ever mistake for one of their own. Shoulders too broad, neck elongated and curved, a serpentine midsection. It was an artist’s stylized version of a person, a Saturday morning caricature that had jumped out of the screen.
It wore a double-breasted jacket in grey and dark blue, and a mask with a crescent slicing across one eye.
“Eyes on Samson,” Daniel said in disbelief.
The alien machine stepped out into daylight and Daniel could see that the pile on its shoulder was a man. The automaton began to glance about, then it did something that unnerved Daniel. It looked him in the eyes from two kilometers away.
“I’ve been made,” he said.
Before HQ could issue an order, Daniel drew a bead on the target and squeezed the trigger. In the dozen milliseconds between tensing his finger and feeling the trigger give way, the target was gone.
The .50 caliber round barked and Daniel heard it reverberate around the nearby hills. “In pursuit,” he said as he hopped to his feet, then took off running.
After what he’d just seen, Daniel had to downgrade himself from Formula One. He was a stationwagon or premium minivan. Maybe a small hatchback with an aftermarket performance package.
His feet gripped lightly at the pavement and propelled him to nearly 60 kilometers-per-hour. He stuck to the road, while Samson managed to move twice as fast through thick woods over broken terrain.
It pissed him off. But as a sappy commercial taught him to do in his youth, he channeled his anger into something constructive. He turned and cut a detour up a hillside, leaping from one switchback road to the next. He crested in little time, listened for an instant and locked on to a spot in the distance with his enhanced vision. A road cut that part of the forest in two, providing a ten-meter break in Samson’s cover.
Daniel brought the rifle to his shoulder, aimed and waited. He heard footfalls approach the road and he squeezed the trigger. His weapon barked. A round flashed out into the distance. Samson streaked out of cover and a large hunk of metal tore a hole through his ankle.
The target tumbled at high speed into an embankment, out of view. Daniel sprinted toward it, now holding his absurdly large rifle at ready. Down the hill, up the road. He came around the embankment and found only Samson’s cargo, a burned and unconscious man crumpled on the ground, one leg reduced to nothing but a charred remnant.
Daniel swapped viewing modes and his eyes twitched. Thermal data overlayed the image, and a bright, hot shape appeared along the wall. The illusion was suddenly broken. He made out the shape of the entity in front of him; the thing’s entire surface was the same color as its background, but in broad impressionistic strokes.
Daniel tried to aim and fire, but it was too late.
The alien machine leaped towards him on its one good foot, and its camouflage changed at the same time. It switched from solid colors to a flickering jumble of lines and shapes, the separate swatches changing on unsynchronized beats. The effect was confusing to the eye, and sickening to the stomach.
Samson pushed the rifle aside and its fist approached with ungodly speed. Daniel did what came naturally to him, reacting with split-second timing: he released his grip on the weapon, redirected Samson’s strike with one arm and bashed the automaton in the face with the other. They exchanged the next several blows like strings of firecrackers.
The machine outpaced him, and a two handed blow struck Daniel in the chest, knocking him back. His nanofiber armor dispersed the impact, but it still left his insides rattled. His head remained in a better state.
Daniel shook it off and closed the gap between them. He jumped, spun and whipped his armored foot at the target. He met only empty space.
The thing caught him in midair, and he felt immense pressure tugging at his shoulder and hip before pain erupted in his lower-back. The Samson machine had attempted to break him over its knee.
It was mostly successful, too.
It stepped away on its ruined foot, retrieved its hurt ally and Daniel’s rifle, then disappeared into the forest.
Daniel Grey lay still on the cracked and thinning pavement. “Grey to HQ. Samson has escaped, heading north. Requesting evac.”
“How’s the pain, Ajax-5?”
“Not bad,” he said. The UI guys had done a bang-up job this time. The pain was strong enough for him to feel where damage was without being obnoxious about it.
The damaged internal mechanisms were already repairing themselves, but it was slow and clumsy, an imperfect process. The technology of these self-healing prosthetics was still very young, and like every thing else on Daniel, highly experimental.
After a few minutes, he sat up and started to perform a diagnostic stretching routine they’d taught him in training. It helped calibrate his cybernetic parts, and gave HQ more data to use in directing repairs.
Daniel’s artificial spinal column slipped into place and the last pain in the area receded. He placed his hands on the ground, lifted himself up and brought his legs under him. They moved a little uneasily at first, but firmed up. He put his feet on the ground and stood, hardly worse for wear.
“Moving to higher ground for observation,” he said.
He picked a tree and scaled it, gripping it as easily as a rope in gym class. About twenty meters above the ground, he found an unobstructed view of the valley, stopped and watched.
Samson was far in the distance, having just entered a clearing. Its ankle looked to be whole and complete again, and its posture remained perfect, an exhibit of raw mechanical grace.
Something dropped out of the sky, came to a halt and gently set down on the grass. It was a bit larger than Carbon’s Orca transport helicopter, but shaped like Donovan’s vehicles. Insect and molusk, leathery flesh and shining, metallic shell. Alien tech.
Daniel said, “Visual on unknown vehicle type.”
“Copy, Ajax-5. We have it on radar. Air support inbound.”
He activated his target designator and an invisible laser marked out Samson for the approaching jets. It was a mistake.
In a single motion, Samson turned, aimed the rifle and fired. Daniel’s synaptic hardware crackled to life. Time slowed, and everything moved deliberately as if dunked in gelatin.
His eyes picked out the bullet in mid flight. Spinning. Arcing. The air behind it compressed, distorting light like a glass bowl. Even in slow motion, it raced toward him too quickly.
Daniel’s muscles flared, flexed, and his torso twisted away. Arms pressed at the tree and he threw himself into the air.
The bullet struck his shoulder tearing a ragged hole in flesh and bone. It was where his heart had been an instant earlier.
Synaptic accelerators powered down and time resumed its normal course. Daniel landed on one hand and both legs, the other arm left dangling uselessly. Then the pain rushed in, and the UI designers missed their mark this time. It was consuming.
Daniel buckled over, cried out, and waited for help to arrive while listening to the alien ship slice through the air and back into space.
Another chapter in a few days. Tune back in for Chapter 05: The Stranger, in the continuing saga of Biotech Legacy: Long Fall.
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