Long Fall — Chapter 07

Ready for Chapter 07? Let’s go!

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.


Chapter 07
Submerge

Jack woke up drooling. His head was on something soft and warm, and he could hear a pulse thumping inside of it. His eyes opened to a strange scene. Lights on the walls swirled and spun, throbbed and blinked. It was like a documentary about the deep sea, a super high-def special on bioluminescence like stores showed to upsell brighter TVs.

He tried to stand, and found it a difficult task on the now slanted floor. The object must have unseated itself while trying to break free, but only made the situation worse.

The call came to him. It was weak, growing weaker. It begged and pleaded.

Take it.

Jack’s eyes scanned the space, and locked onto the strange device still suspended at the center of a broken column. The lights inside danced and swirled, a source of vibrance in a swiftly dying environment.

“What is it?”

Take. Protect.

The tremors mounting in the call told Jack he didn’t have long to argue. He scrabbled up the tissue-like surface, found a foothold and reached into the gap. Again, the lights inside the device rushed up to meet him. So eager. And when he touched the glass, he could feel the emotions stirring inside.

He placed his hands on either side of the artifact and pulled it free, then slid it into his backpack.

Run.

The floor rumbled. Jack heard rock faces grinding together, heavy boulders splashing in water.

Lights on all the walls simultaneously streaked toward an opening half-way around the chamber. Jack took the hint.

He lunged across the floor and slid into the hole, and it shut behind him. His new confines remained still for several long seconds, and Jack realized it would probably be a good time to put on his rebreather.

He checked his pockets and discovered that his rebreather… well, it was somewhere else. Maybe on the floor where he set his pack down earlier. He didn’t have time to chase down the mystery.

The small cavity around him made a noise like an old drunk trying to clear his throat. Once, twice, and then Jack was in motion. It flushed him out down a narrow tunnel filled with water. He was moving toward darker water full of God only knew what.

Air would be a problem soon.

Jack entered a wide cavern and spread his body out, coming to a sharp stop. He reached up and touched the torch on his shoulder and its beam lit the blue and murky darkness.

He swam upward with a great thrust, and swept the beam in search of air pockets. None appeared.

He swam on. His diaphragm began to convulse, strongly disagreeing with his brain about appropriate breathing procedure. His brain countered with several convincing arguments about the dangers of inhaling water.

A flash. A reflection. Water jostling around a pocket of air above it.

Jack exhaled a thick raft of bubbles, pressed his face into the pocket and sucked in what he could. Then he pushed forward in the only direction available. Either he’d find air or he’d die; there was no option number three.

Stroke, stroke, another few meters in. He pointed his light at the ceiling, but there was nothing. His arms shot out and angrily pulled at the water, dragging him deeper inside. His lungs flexed and for a moment he thought he might suck his nostrils right into his throat.

His lamp lit a lowered arch. He headed down under it, feeling a current with ebb and flow, and he saw a flash of light. Blue-green and yellow. Was it real?

He passed through the arch and climbed upward. His mouth opened of its own volition and water splashed at his throat, but he tensed and didn’t inhale. Upward. Light, and warmth, and a roaring sound. His chest heaved and the next involuntary gulp crashed down his throat. Pain erupted in his lungs, and muscles across his torso ran riot.

Upward.

Up.

His arms and legs flailed erratically, uselessly.

Jack wondered why he hadn’t been born a merman.

Sunlight. Sand. Rhythmic pulses striking his chest, forcing water out through mouth and nose. Body warm water, tasting of the sea.

Jack’s throat remembered to cough, and he coughed out the ocean. His lower jaw stretched like a constrictor trying to eat a full-grown pig.

He buckled over on his side, and his stomach, chest, and throat worked hard to empty him out. Water splashed in the sand.

After minutes of feeling cold in the sweltering jungle heat, Jack thought the water was gone. Mostly. He coughed again, and wiped his face.

Felix was perched above him, the ship’s strange and bulbous head craning about at the end of its neck, inspecting him intently with many eyes.

“I’m alright,” he said, and he could immediately tell Felix was relieved.

Jack sat up slowly. He felt like he’d just done a thousand sit-ups, and there was a sharp pain streaking across his ribs.

But he was alive.

Felix was to thank for that. The ship had pumped Jack’s chest with invisible manipulators. Amira had told him they were a sophisticated sonic adaptation, similar to the way dolphins could nudge things around with sound, but it looked like magic to Jack. And he was exceedingly thankful for a little magic just that moment.

As he sat, Jack soon realized that some of the sounds he was hearing didn’t belong to the churning, bashing headache that had arrived when his breathing resumed. Jets whistled through the air, and cuttlefish warbled in the distance.

He lifted his head and looked around. The level of destruction was shocking. Thick foliage, soil, and stone had been upturned for kilometers around, cracks tiling the land like a lizard’s scales.

“Upshot is,” he weezed out, “I can add broke the Yucatan to my resumé.”

Felix chirped happily.

Against his body’s bitter protestations, Jack clumsily climbed to his feet. There wasn’t time to recuperate. He got the impression he’d rung a very large dinner bell, and all the stray dogs in the neighborhood had come running.

“We gotta go, little buddy.”

He patted Felix and felt the strange patterns indented in its leathery hide, like paving stones and fleshy wrinkles layed over top of each other. The alien ship nudged back affectionately at his touch.

In his last moulting, Felix had gained a bony shell that now covered his crew compartment. It was multi-segmented, off white, and had a texture like chiseled rock. The shell jittered for a second, then folded in on itself to reveal the cockpit beneath.

Felix dipped down toward him and Jack climbed inside.

The less-than-spacious interior had now been his roving home for about two years. It reminded him of his bestfriend’s houseboat where he used to fish in the summers, but the similarity didn’t go much further.

He set his pack down as the canopy closed above him. Thin, tubelike organs laid out in geometric patterns began to glow, lighting the compartment comfortably.

Jack stepped forward and sat down in the saddle-shaped organ near the front of the cabin. It was Felix’s cradle. The front of it was an open cavity, fleshy on the inside, through which the two of them could link.

He leaned forward and placed his arms into deep, warm sockets, then lowered his face toward a softly cushioned plate. A thin arm gently gripped him around the waist.

Skin made contact. His brain flashed and he and Felix were one. Nerve-pathways fired and he felt a chill race over his surface. New organs, new shapes. Jack was no longer human, but instead a living aircraft.

Felix’s drive organs swelled with power. During his last moult, he also lost the fin that originally drove him through the air, replaced instead by a pair of mysterious, glowing components that no one among the Oikeyans seemed to recognize. They believed that it was a by-product of the Yuon Kwon flyer’s unusual bonding with a human, and they looked on it as a weird omen.

The organs projected their strength outward, and Felix and Jack zipped off into the sky. They felt the presence of other craft as a slight pressure, sensed by organs that bristled along their skin like a shark’s. Groups of eyes peered into the distance, coalescing multiple wavelengths into a single, madly colored image. The colors and patterns and pulsing of objects and air around them instantly conveyed more information than Jack had ever imagined possible.

It never stopped feeling like a fevered dream. It never failed to amaze him.

The two blasted out just above the tops of the trees, and they felt the occasional bundle of leaves brush their stomach. They could see New Union jets transforming from sleek high-speed darts to a more maneuverable mode. Opposite them, new Yuon Kwon approached from the South, third generation combat breeds from Western Oikeya. Meaner brothers.

Jack and Felix chose the meaner brothers, with the understanding that the Uny fighters would shoot anything alien on sight. Felix’s chances were slightly better among the aliens, as long as no one paid him too much attention.

They tried to play it sly. Felix’s skin displayed patterns that implied confusion, embarrassment, fear; he was just a run-of-the-mill Okuta flyer who’d gotten lost and was fleeing the firefight. These marks would be visible to his own kind, while being completely unnoticeable to humans. It was Yuon Kwon body-language.

They raced along and stayed low, but Jack just couldn’t help glancing up at the new fighters despite himself. Compared to the cuttlefish he first encountered only three years before, this new generation was sleeker and more menacing. The comically chubby shape and crustacean surface had given way to something flatter and sharper like a flintknapped arrowhead, and the patterns that appeared on their skin showed only coded tactical messages and an eagerness for the hunt.

The Oikeyans had successfully taken German shepherds and bred wolves of them in that little time. What would they breed given another year?

Jack stopped rubbernecking and he and his craft accelerated. Stopping to watch had been a stupid risk. It would invite attention, and even a little scrutiny would be too much. Felix was simply too conspicuous, too strange.

Explosions crackled in the distance. Jack felt shells shooting out into the air and heard them bark at the enemy, their differing patterns of kinetic energy registering as distinct flavors. It was yet more information expressed in simple ways.

Jack felt one of the arrowhead fighters peel off formation, and he had a sinking feeling in his stomach. A radio based shout caught his attention, which Felix heard and understood. “Stop and identify yourself, Okuta!”

The new drives allowed Felix to angle his thrust in any direction, resulting in strange maneuvering abilities. He performed a kick-turn, rotating freely without changing direction, just so he could take a quick look behind himself.

A charcoal and purple arrowhead fighter was in pursuit.

“Shit,” Jack said. The word rippled through the colors on his hull.

Felix wheeled back around, realigning nose with his current vector, and he willed strength into his glowing drives. He accelerated and they could both feel a thick pressure-front build ahead of him only to slice over his mohawk-like crest.

Their pursuer kept pace.

“Why does this jackass care so much?”

Felix might have shrugged, but Jack wasn’t sure whether he imagined that or not.

They went to flat-out sprint, and the blue-ish glowing organs began to throb. Jack and Felix were now traveling faster than the speed of sound, but the dark fighter behind still shadowed their every move. It clearly had thrust and more thrust to spare.

Jack glanced to the right and could see several of the New Union Valkyries approaching in attack formation, wings repositioned so they looked like an angry swarm of asterisks.

They would definitely fire on him.

There were only bad options.

Felix picked one, and Jack had to begrudgingly agree.

They launched off toward the Union forces. When Felix made choices like this, Jack found himself wishing his friend had grown a few weapons at some point. Just to have them.

In the distance, Jack felt streams of bullets coming in from the Unies like a sharp pain, and he and Felix snapped a roll to the side. Fire flashed harmlessly by.

Felix spun again, charged his drives, and blasted off in a new direction. Straight up, spinning and darting about through eddies in the atmosphere, up and through one of the few clusters of clouds drifting across the sky. Bullets chased him and missed.

Fresh sounds joined the cacophany, pulses of hot plasma. Yuon Kwon cannons opened fire on the Valkyries, some of which burst into a rain of daggers and slag.

Felix had been right. The fighters’ urge to protect him overrode their interest in his deformity.

In the upper atmosphere, Felix and Jack sought the jetstream and ducked inside. Their tension eased a little, and the small craft began scanning the distance for possible places to hide.

Relaxing was a crucial mistake.

Thumping machinegun fire raced up from below, a heavy weapon the size and strength of a tank cannon. Felix and Jack reacted with plenty of time, but something was different. These rounds tracked.

One missed. Another missed, but was closer. The third struck and punched a whole in Felix’s port side. The glowing drive organ shattered like a dropped crystal figurine.

Oikeyan plasma sought out the Union jet and it turned to defend itself while Felix tumbled out of the sky.

The pain was severe, and Felix as usual showed no aptitude for controlling it. He wailed in agony and thrashed in the air. Falling. Spinning. Tossing end over end.

Jack stepped in, siphoning the pain away and dealing with it himself. It left Felix free to fly, and fly he did. He stopped the spin, balanced on just one drive, and slowed the fall. Still sinking, teetering shakily and off kilter, but not free falling.

They drifted down toward the tops of the trees, moving much too quickly. The branches slapped at Felix’s hull, and he began to bounce along them. Then he lost control like tripping over one loose stone, and the next, and the next. He flipped over, crashed through the trees, and dug into the ground.

Soil launched up into the air and rained down all around them.

Jack released from the cradle and slipped back into his own skin, while Felix let out a low moan like a forlorn humpback.

The segmented canopy rattled, and finally slid about a meter open.

“Oh buddy, this ain’t good,” Jack said. He grabbed his medical case and assault rifle, then climbed out through the opening. He thought he’d prepared himself but was still taken aback at the damage.

Felix’s right wing had a huge ragged hole in it, inside which Jack could see the alien creature’s internal anatomy. There were hollow pulsing tubes, a web of thin bones like lattice-work, and blood vessels everywhere pumping thick green fluid. The blood was coagulating; that was a good sign, at least.

Jack pulled out lengths of a fabric that was coarse and dense like canvas. It was of Oikeyan origin, used to bandage their wounded Yuon Kwon. Jack assumed it was made of some kind of plant fiber, but he honestly didn’t know the truth.

It didn’t take him long to disinfect and patch the opening but healing would take time, and Jack didn’t feel as if he had an abundance of that particular asset on hand. He might be able to buy some if they had some kind of shelter, something to hide under for a little while.

Shelter would require supplies, so he gave Felix a reassuring pat and headed off into the near wood. He was glad to hear the fight heating up as he went, probably for the first time in his life. The harder the two armies tried to bash each other, the less likely they were to come looking for him and his wounded ship.


Which brings us to the end of Chaper 07. We can see that things are definitely starting to get a little tense for Jack, and the situation isn’t much better for the New Union and the Western Oikeya. What happens next? Find out next time when we’ll take a look at Chapter 08: Sword of the East.

~Chris

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.

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