Chapter 06, hot off the digital presses.
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.
Twin helicopter rotors thumped, and the cargo bay was a racket of shaking equipment, beeping sensors, and a commanding voice. “Can you hear me, Lieutenant?”
Daniel tried to snap out of the fog. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m here. I’m here.”
He tried to focus his vision but something was wrong. A wire was frayed. Numerous lenses in his eye jumped, tightened, jumped again and gave up. Everything was a soft blur.
“Follow the light, Lieutenant.”
“Something wrong, doc. Eyes are out of whack.”
Daniel didn’t care for “hmm.”
The situation could’ve been worse, though. Someone must have slapped a nerve inhibitor on him, because he wasn’t feeling a thing.
He knew the shoulder was totaled. That meant more repairs, more replacement parts. More time out of the field. But the rest of him should still be in working order, he hoped.
He felt a cold disk press against his temple. It was an adjustment tool, a small array of electromagnets that manipulated machinery under the surface.
His eyelids flickered. Focus came back to him. The first thing he saw clearly was the doctor’s tanhauser cross, similar to an old Christian cross but shattered through the center.
“Yeah, that got it, doc.”
He could hear attendants chattering and their portable MRI machine going behind him, making a loud and warbling hum. When he focused, he thought he could feel its magnet nudging components around in his head.
The doctor eyed Daniel’s shoulder wound and said, “You look relatively unharmed. Should I ask how the other guy is doing?”
Daniel gritted his teeth. “How long will it take to fix?” he asked.
The doctor squinted as he did the math. “Two days, maybe more depending on parts. Assuming you check out alright, of course.”
Daniel sighed. “Take the arm off, and wake me when we get to base.”
He heard a saw spin up behind him. He closed his eyes, thought a command, and his synaptic hardware put him to sleep.
When Daniel next opened his eyes, the view through the window was a colorless sky. Snow-capped trees came into view as the Orca descended and finally set down with a metallic groan.
Daniel was groggy. “How long was I out?”
“Five hours,” the doctor said. “Welcome to Cheyenne Mountain.”
Daniel ran a quick diagnostic and found himself in working order, minus the left arm and a large portion of the shoulder. He felt awkward, off balance. He’d narrowly avoided a shell through the heart, though, so the arm was a small price.
Besides, it’d be back.
Daniel placed his hand on the table, wheeled around and hopped to his feet while the helicopter’s wide ramp lowered and touched the ground. He removed the dozen small adhesive monitors with a flick and proceeded out into the flat and deadening daylight.
The camp at Cheyenne Mountain had grown in the past few months while Daniel was stationed at Crater Lake. Temporary structures had sprouted up everywhere, cobbled together from old Carbon Corp units designed for a battlefield that hadn’t existed on Earth for decades. The cry of Blade Aerospace’s Valkyries and the buzz of their Locusts filled the air, while foothills for klicks around rumbled with the sound of heavy armor. Their landfleet consisted mainly of retired antique battletanks and mobile artillery, refurbished and pushed back in the field. No warranty coverage, of course.
There were rumors of experimental craft, too: tech that the two great military industrial behemoths had been secretly developing before the Fall, in violation of numerous long standing treaties. Daniel liked to think of these outlaw projects as God sends. He was the result of just such a project, and without it, he’d still be paralyzed and legless in a hospital bed somewhere, watching the paint peal and sucking dinner through a tube. Instead he was a living rumor, in a world so culture-shocked that no one batted an eye when he walked past them missing an arm.
As his boots touched gravel, his commanding officer approached with a ruggedized tablet tucked under her arm. Daniel stood at attention and snapped a crisp salute, which Colonel Krajicek returned.
Daniel said, “Reporting as ordered, sir.”
“Most of you,” Krajicek said with a grimace. “If my inventory record is correct, you were sent into the field with a standard compliment of two arms, Grey. Are my records in error?”
She nodded grimly. “In the future, you will return with all of your equipment intact. Otherwise, I might just start to think your brain is the least valuable part of this project. Do I make myself clear, soldier?”
She eyed his wound with hard eyes, raised her tablet and made a note. “Alright, meat. Report to the bunker for debriefing.”
That exchange ended much more quickly, and less painfully, than Daniel had anticipated.
He turned and started marching. A short road stood ahead of him, and at the end of it was a tunnel sticking out from the mountain like a giant drain pipe.
The complex was designed to surive a thirty megaton blast, but they never got a chance to test that. Instead, it simply lived on in seclusion like so many other things.
The dull-witted aliens struck big targets and scoured the land, but they missed anything even remotely hidden. North America had been rotten with bunkers and below ground shopping malls, and they both became cornerstones of this nation, the so-called New Union, a place for a fighting population to regroup and sharpen its knives.
They were really a vast army living under the guise of a nation, underground where they marshalled their strength and did whatever they could to protect the few survivors still struggling on the surface. Other than that, the Union kept its head down and waited for their chance to come. Soon, they would remove the alien infestation once and for all; what Daniel considered God’s work, and he could feel how close they were to completing it. The seeds of victory were in every one of his mechanical components, every augmented cell.
He and the other five members of the Ajax Program were the evolution of combat on Earth. In that, his faith was absolute.
As he marched into the base, jeeps and trucks came and went, always moving something around Cheyenne Mountain. The base was transforming, and the activity never stopped. After the loading area he passed through a pair of 23-tonne blast doors, impossibly large cinder blocks with dozens of deadbolts like a locomotive’s pistons.
From there, he followed navigation markers rendered directly into his visual cortex. A glowing square glittered out in the distance, and it led him directly to a darkly lit office with a large desk and a single chair set across from it.
Daniel walked in and stood in front of the desk. Opposite him sat Colonel Galili, the man whose hands had hammered the scattered resistance into an army. They called him the wolf, and sometimes the Mastermind of Arkangel.
Daniel fought at Arkangel, and he didn’t consider the second name much of a compliment.
The wolf was flanked by a major named Killian on one side, and a researcher in a blue jumpsuit on the other. The researcher had no name tag.
Galili said, “Have a seat, Lieutenant.” He spoke clear English with a touch of an Israeli accent. Daniel had confused it for French the first time he heard it.
“So, this isn’t going to be a normal debrief?” Daniel asked.
“We’ll see,” Killian replied.
“Let’s dispense with your recollection of events. We’ve looked over the recordings already,” Galili said. His smile was oddly arresting.
“Where would you like to begin, sir?”
Galili squinted, revealing deep wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. “Tell me about Samson.”
Daniel paused. Images came to mind, impressions. “Samson is a demon, sir.”
The wolf smirked. “Go on.”
Daniel’s eyes hardened. His nostrils flared. He pursed his lips. “Colonel, you have equipped me with the finest tech we have to hand, and I’m a super-soldier. I can outfight ten, maybe fifty men. I’m talking about seasoned, world class troops, fully decked out. I can engage them, and I can beat them.”
Galili nodded. The researcher took notes.
“This machine you had at Crater Lake was something else. If I engaged him ten times, I would lose ten times. I should be dead right now.”
“You should be,” Galili agreed. “In fact, we are rather surprised you’re not.”
Daniel’s lip twitched. “It held back for some reason, sir. It let me live.” He gritted his teeth, and one cracked under the pressure.
The researched never looked away from his tablet as he spoke. “Your performance was commendable, Lieutenant. You were operating near peak efficiency, and your tactics… were… exemplary.”
“I did the best I could with what I had.”
“You lived,” Galili said, “and you wounded it. The machine is everything you say and more. Its technology was utterly beyond the scale of our understanding… at first.”
Galili fiddled with his watch for a second, then looked back up at Daniel with his darkly bright eyes. “Lieutenant, what if I told you that you do not have our finest technology?”
Daniel’s ears pricked up. “I suppose I’d be eager to hear more, Colonel.”
Galili retrieved a bauble from his pocket, a small black pyramid the size of a throwing die. He set it down and a glowing display appeared in the air above it.
Daniel looked the diagram up and down as it slowly rotated in front of him. It was a computer model made of transparent parts, each glowing faintly and color coded. A human figure stood inside of another shape more than two meters tall. An armor. It wasn’t bulky like the NUMAX units Carbon was building, which were clumsy, second-rate knockoffs of Donovan’s old toys.
This looked like something else entirely.
“The Ajax project is an exceptional success, but it has certain drawbacks. It was a half-step toward a goal. It lacked follow through,” Galili said.
The human figure pulsed inside the armor, grew brighter while the rest faded. Daniel could now see that it wasn’t quite as he first thought. The body wasn’t complete, looking oddly like a dense wiring diagram. There were no hands or feet, but rather thin muscular filaments that threaded throughout its mechanical casing.
The researcher was running the display. He started to speak in a calming voice. “Ajax was our attempt to advance the human form. Orion is our reinterpretation of it. At the core is a new artificial muscle based on Samson’s technology, which is encased within a powered exoskeleton that multiplies its strength.”
“A man shaped bug,” Daniel said.
He became transfixed on a strange object embedded in the center of the figure’s chest. It was mesmerizing, like a glowing spirogram. There was no bulky backpack like the NUMAX armors. “What powers it?” he asked.
“Fusion,” the researcher said.
No heart. No lungs.
“The design was recovered from Samson’s computer. It functions on similar principles to a tokamak, but instead of a single toroidal chamber, it uses an array of concentric torus knots which together contain…”
“Doctor,” Galili said gently. He must have noticed Daniel’s eyes glazing over.
“Fusion,” the researcher said.
Galili looked Daniel in the eyes. He said, “There’s much more, but I believe you understand the extent of things, Liuetenant.”
He believed he did. He could imagine Orion clearly, could see himself standing inside of it. A permanent fixture. With what he’d been through already, the process was starting to feel a bit like getting his third tattoo: just not that big a deal anymore.
“The job would entail a bit more than just combat,” Major Killian said. “You will also become a major asset as an inspiration to our forces. A symbol of what humanity is capable of.”
“You were very carefully selected for this role,” Galili said. There was no hint of a compliment in it. It was a matter of extensive calculation.
Daniel nodded. He unemotionally asked, “Where do I sign up?”
Come back for Chapter 07: Submerge, which takes us back to Mexico and Jack Hernandez. That should be coming your way in another few days.
Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.