Chapter 05, comin’ atcha.
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 and Legacy watched the gunship approach. It was one of the newest vehicles, built from the skeletons of her ancient past but hammered by human hands into new shapes. Their designs were sometimes startling reinterpretations of old ideas, but they still felt like her own kin.
Marcus’ people called this type the Humboldt, after a small and fast breed of squid. A sea creature. A cephalopod. The red devil. It was a light attack ship that could probably (by Marcus’ estimation) massacre the entire Union armada without assistance. Legacy agreed.
Sending it was to be a show of force, to let the Union know that Legacy wasn’t just a power to be reckoned with; the fleet was a boot hanging above their heads. The core message was that mercy alone held that boot back.
But they screwed it up.
Marcus returned to his own senses and found himself on Legacy’s bridge, a multi-level chamber of smooth white porcelain like an upturned crockpot. He hovered in mid air, half-way from floor to vaulted ceiling, within a cylindrical field of faintly throbbing yellow light. It was a region of air doped with microscopic machines that conducted and amplified synaptic impulses. He was more powerfully connected to Legacy there than anywhere else.
The bridge’s white walls slowly faded to glass mode, becoming a display that revealed what lay outside. The illusion was effective. They could see the vast surface of Legacy for kilometers out before them, an intricate landscape of rolling flesh and smooth armored carapace. An artificial cage was also drawn around them to give some subtle sense of being at least partially enclosed.
“Faulkland,” Marcus said.
A square panel with the admiral’s image appeared on the room’s inside wall, seeming to float out above the ship’s dorsal hull. He wasn’t wincing for once.
Marcus knew Faulkland well. When the admiral was absolutely silent and placid, that’s when he was suffering the most inner turmoil. He became a hardened shell while he tortured himself inside.
“I asked you for one thing, Admiral.”
“We lost four good men today,” Marcus growled. He was incensed. His eyes began to glow.
These weren’t just soldiers he’d lost. They were his elites, true believers with pure hearts. They were his personal circle of knights, and now they were gone.
All but one.
Data continued to stream in from the Humboldt gunship. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Subject Two apparently hadn’t gone berserk and slaughtered everyone aboard. Good news.
Marcus pursed his lips. “This was a pyrrhic victory, Alex.” He tightened his eyes. “We’ll discuss it further.”
Faulkland’s image disappeared.
To Legacy’s port side, the small vessel approached fast. Marcus had planned for it to come in more deliberately and give him time to size up their guest, but reality never matched a good plan.
The entity’s rescue of Kazuo Nagai seemed to be a promising sign, at least. On the other hand, that impression was also what would make it such tasty bait.
Marcus mentally sent a command to the Humboldt telling it to dock, then he withdrew himself from his synaptic bath. The nearly invisible machines retreated into organs in the ceiling and floor, and Marcus felt an immediate emptiness, a bitter quiet despite the fact that he still retained his link to Legacy.
He straightened his white coat, a design that mixed traditional labwear with modern military flair, and used Legacy’s gravity controls to fling himself up into the tunnel at the back of the bridge. The transit system took over and delivered him through the ship’s dense network of tubes at several hundred kilometers per hour.
He emerged at the other end, and came to a gentle stop in midair above one of many identical landing bays. A medical team was already there on the floor below him, dressed in red jumpers and waiting for their patient to arrive.
A large portal dominated one wall with nothing but empty space beyond it. The bay’s ability to retain air pressure was another example of Legacy’s mastery of gravity, this time displaying precision rather than brute force. A razor-thin film of dense air was held in place by turbulent gravitic pulses that caused the surface to shimmer like a desert mirage.
The gunship pierced the gaseous film and flew in, producing a subtle and healthy warbling noise as it went. Marcus found the sounds of the new living ships comforting, almost like a housecat’s purr.
The Humboldt set down on the metallic pad, and legs beneath it flexed under its weight. The squarish mechanical toes held firm.
Marcus came around the gunship and stopped a few meters above the floor in a position he used whenever he thought someone else ought to feel small.
The ramp came down silently.
The Humboldt’s crew rushed out immediately with Kazuo on a stretcher. The red and black sight of him filled Marcus with nausea, with fury. Light again came to his eyes, another peculiar side-effect of the device buried deep in the side of his head. Another thing that set other people’s teeth on edge.
Subject Two walked down the ramp. Its pace was disturblingly even, like an early computer animation. The movements were free from imperfection, and as such simply didn’t look real.
The machine stepped down on to the landing pad, and it glanced in several directions so quickly that its head became a blur.
Then the thing looked up at Marcus with hard and angry eyes, and in that instant Marcus knew something. Even through the mask, he could tell that this wasn’t a soulless killing machine like all the witnesses thought. There was the wariness of old age in those eyes. There was a sadness that only comes from seeing one’s ideals shattered.
“Identify yourself,” Marcus said.
Subject Two dropped to one knee and placed its fists on the floor. “My name is Kai, and I am the emissary of the Somari that once were. I come to you in peace, Marcus Donovan, bearing information about the Nefrem.”
Marcus now possessed another puzzle piece that refused to fit.
The Humboldt’s crew, Kazuo and the medics were all long gone, having disappeared into the tube system and leaving Marcus and Kai all alone. Marcus didn’t feel the slightest bit afraid, much to his surprise; he realized it was Legacy’s confidence shining through him.
She wasn’t threatened, but something about the visitor did disturb her.
“Legacy doesn’t recognize you,” Marcus said with a start. His eyes glossed over as information streamed into him through the link. “Your gene pool is unknown, derived from no source extant in the Eireki record. She recognized samples taken from Oikeyan stock, knows their bloodlines, but not you.”
Kai watched Marcus’ movements closely. “You and this ship are one?”
“We are two,” Marcus replied offhandedly. “Where do you come from? Where are the rest of your kind?”
“Gone. Immolated in their own fires rather than fall to the ancient enemy.” There was a subtle new thread of paranoia about Kai as he reappraised his surroundings. “Why haven’t you taken me to a more secure location?”
Marcus smiled with cold confidence. “Every location inside of this vessel is secure.”
Kai looked to the undulating barrier where captured air failed to spill forth into the void, a casual use of immense power. He looked back to Marcus who floated above him, and nodded with understanding.
Marcus lowered himself nearer the floor, closed the gap with Kai. “Now, tell me what you know about the Nefrem.”
Kai was silent for an awkwardly long pause then said, “Demons.” There was no irony. “The oldest myths of my world warned of a beast that slept in a cage. It comes from the stars to eat all life. Nefrem. Nemesis. The devourer.”
Marcus squinted. “Nefrem and Nemesis… Those exact words?”
Kai repeated, “Nefrem. Nemesis.” He had a different accent, something Marcus couldn’t compare to any human language, but they were the same words.
Marcus overflowed with doubt. “A word doesn’t survive unchanged for a millennium, let alone for tens of millions of years.”
“Normally, I’d agree, but this is the tale of our creation. These were the fears that gave my people purpose, drove us to stop hiding in the trees and become the greatest fighters we could. We didn’t strive far enough, though, and when our destiny came, we were not ready.”
That had a certain resonance for Marcus. Legacy remained silent. A feeling at the back of his skull warned him that this all smelled like a con. It was too convenient.
During the early days of the war, Marcus had lost dozens of men on the surface. Some simply went missing. Were they interrogated, tortured? Could information about Legacy have made its way to this dangerous, manipulative being?
It didn’t seem so far fetched. Not when he considered what he already knew Kai was capable of.
Marcus looked him in the eye and said, “I have no reason to trust you.”
“But as you also pointed out, you have no reason to fear me. If you decide to hear me out, I will offer you whatever I know, Donovan. On the other hand, if you’re planning to dispatch me, get it over with already.”
Marcus could do it. He could tear Kai to shreds. In the blink of an eye, there would be only a swirling cloud of red mist, torn apart by fundamental forces that the alien could not fight. All it would take was a thought.
That fact was enough to convince him to let Kai stay.
That’s it for tonight’s selection. Next up, Chapter 06: Huntsman. I hope to have that up for you fine folks in the next couple days.
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