Long Fall — Chapter 08

Time to serve up Chapter 08, hot off the grill.

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 08
Sword of the East

Early autumn in northern Russia was much like the dead of winter anywhere else. The sky was an uneven slate, the ground below powdered in white. The cool night air cut like a cleaver, but Amira Saladin reveled in it. She’d spent most of her formative years on Mars, trapped like a hamster in habitrails the size of office parks. Here she was free to step outside anytime she liked, even if it might mean losing her posterior to frostbite.

It was past three in the morning, and the city was aglow with bioluminescent light in primary colors. This was Amiasha, a living city who had crashed to cold Russian soil after the Battle of Arkangel. It was a living creature of such fantastical scale that Amira might not have believed it had she not previously stayed aboard the even more collosal starship Legacy.

Amiasha’s body consisted of a pair of eight-kilometer discs which were currently separated like a clam being pried open. The city was hidden inside, formed of a material that was softer and fleshier than the creature’s hard exterior shell. A central stalk—a great bundle of muscles and nerves—dominated the interior, connecting floor to glowing ceiling, while a thicket of new buildings surrounded it, having sprouted right out of the ground like trees.

Continuing out from the center, next came a ring of thin columns arranged in a circle like minarets. These contained comstars, stable fusion furnaces about as large as the industrial air-conditioning units Amira used to fix back on Mars. They provided life, light, and heat to the city creature, and from there to its many million inhabitants.

The first time she witnessed one of those fusion reactions with her own eyes, it changed her life. Her introduction to Legacy had been startling enough, but there was something entirely different about standing in a room with a small star crackling right in front of her, held in a cage that absorbed more than 99% of its heat and light.

She had very suddenly found herself awestruck, dumbfounded, and right at the crossroads of a new technological revolution which she was uniquely equipped to explore.

That was when she decided to leave Legacy and come to the strange colony, this experiment out in the frigid reaches of the North where human and alien refugees had come together as a matter of survival. The combatants withdrew after the battle, marched on to other battlegrounds, but millions and millions of cold and starving survivors found protection against the brutal winter in the crashed and wounded alien city. Together they thrived.

It shocked Amira to think how quickly the alien ship and the so-called Arkangel Compact had settled, grown, and begun to emerge as a world power together. That power required organization on the human side, which naturally led to bureaucracy.

Amira tried to stay above it all, more literally this morning than usual: she stood on a balcony high up on Amiasha’s core stalk, and the city spread out below her. It looked almost like something growing in a petri dish, but she knew this particular culture was a unique hybrid. A miraculous hybrid.

Boots clacked on the floor behind her.

“Ms. Saladin.”

Amira turned and pressed her back against the safety rail. “Alderman Eriksson,” she said with a nod.

Sigrid Eriksson stood in the doorway a few meters away. Older, grey haired, dressed about as simply as everyone else these days in slacks, a long-sleeved shirt, and work boots. It was little wonder she’d been elected to council, though; she exuded a stately aura even in plain work clothes.

“You’re probably wondering why I summoned you.”

“At this hour,” Amira said with a smile, “it’s never any good.”

“It never is,” Sigrid replied. “Legacy,” she said and let the word hang in the night air.

The fleet hadn’t contacted the Arkangel Compact in more than a year. They’d grown quiet up there in their high tower, looking down on the Earth while supposedly protecting everyone from above. Amira took that sort of silence as an ill omen: only bad things could come from that mixture of extreme power and total isolation.

Sigrid finally said, “They’ve requested our assistance in an operation.”

That was new. “Combat op?” Amira asked.

“Likely. Fighting has begun out in the West. Union and alien, over something buried in Mexico.”

That didn’t make any sense. “I don’t follow. Did the fleet crash a ship?” she asked.

Sigrid shook her head. “No, it’s something old. Something Eireki.”

Amira knew the rest. The fleet never shared anything having to do with ancient tech. They hoarded it all for themselves, building a stockpile for their coming war.

“So,” Amira said, “they want us to go in and retrieve it for them.”

“Not precisely. They’re fine with letting the two pitbulls scrap over an old bone, at least for now. They’re more interested in a suspicious ship they detected trying to escape from the area. It went down in the forest, and seems to have gone unnoticed. They’ve asked for you to personally protect the ship, get it operational, and get it clear of the combat zone.”

Amira’s tone came out more indignant than she intended. “Why don’t they just go in themselves?”

“Wouldn’t say. What’s new?”

But Amira knew why. Her armors were superior. Her fighters were battle hardened. When she fought, she won. The fleet wasn’t willing to gamble on its own lack of experience.

She looked out over the city at the millions of lights still roving even in the middle of the night. She admired the elegance, the order of it, and she did so with an artist’s eye. This whole city was her project, and it was too important to leave unattended. Not without a damned good reason.

She sighed. “Did they offer us anything in return?”

Sigrid made an expression that was somehow a wince and a wry smile at the same time. “Just a warning. The situation may become ‘dangerous’ if we don’t intervene.”

Amira thought through her roster. She had ninety-six green troops and a dozen squad leaders out in the field right at that moment, and another forty-two elite veterans ready and waiting for a call to action. For this operation, the team should be small, quiet. Five to ten veteran troopers and one transport could probably slip in and out silently while the two armies focused fire on one another.

Her Mk-6 armors were brand new, and she felt a deep urge to test them; there was no trial but trial by fire, as far as she was concerned. She knew this model would succeed, though. Her armors would excel.

She shook her head. “I’m probably an idiot,” Amira said, “but I’ll do it.”

Sigrid flashed a particularly sly smile. “You don’t have to. But to be perfectly on the level with you, I thought you would.” She stepped to the railing and looked out over her city. There was a dangerous look in her eyes. “Time’s coming,” she said. “We’ll have to choose a side once and for all.”

Amira didn’t savor either of the options. The New Union was becoming something very strange and frightening to her. An upstart religion was spreading across North America like the Spanish flu, and if the rumors Amira had heard were true, its dogma didn’t allow for any alien life on the planet. They considered cleansing the Earth their divine duty. It was God’s will.

With the Western Oikeya, their problem was exactly the opposite. They wouldn’t rest until the human enemy, the Nefrem in their language, was totally eradicated.

A third option occurred to her. “Elkellian,” Amira said.

Elkellian was a young Alarhya who had fought in the Battle of Arkangel, and had risen through the ranks among the Eastern Oikeya afterward. Its species were pale, white creatures, shaped something like tadpoles, and they acted as pilots among the Oikeya because of their (nearly) unique ability to bond with the living ships. This particular Alarhya could be incredibly reasonable at times.

Sigrid gave Amira a wink. “You should run for a junior seat on the council,” she said.

Amira chuckled. “Right,” she said sarcastically.

“I’m serious.”

When Amira looked again, she noticed a steely look in Sigrid’s eyes. The woman most definitely wasn’t making a joke.

“We need your voice. Experience. Vision.”

Amira raised an eyebrow. “I’m too young by half. No one would take me seriously. There are dozens of better candidates in the city who would actually get votes.”

Sigrid frowned. In a voice rich with disappointment, she said, “You really don’t know how they talk about you out there.” She motioned languidly toward the city.

Amira didn’t know that they talked about her at all. There were people out there, but she didn’t know them or talk to them. It was all too much for her after living among a small population for all of her adult life. She worked in her shop, marched the perimeter, and lived among her people. Her troopers.

Small was solvable. Small, she could control. The city was anything but small.

Sigrid crossed her arms. The pose reminded Amira of a disapproving parent. “You mean something to them,” she said, tilting her head forward. “You and your soldiers fought for us, and then you stayed to safeguard us. You kept the enemy from our gates, and our people don’t take such things lightly.”

Amira heard the unsaid part of Sigrid’s statement: She had stayed, unlike Legacy and the fleet.

“This is just between you and me… formal talks are beginning with the African Oikeya. I don’t know how interested they are, but they haven’t walked away. If this is to go any farther, I believe you should be in the room.”

Amira wasn’t sure how to interpret that. It sounded suspiciously like Sigrid wanted to flash her sword at these talks. Amira wasn’t particularly keen on being a prop in someone else’s bullshit posturing.

She pushed herself away from the railing and looked to the nearby lift. “Well then… if you’ll pardon me, Alderman, I have a team to assemble. Mexico awaits.”

“Indeed,” Sigrid said. She offered Amira her hand.

Amira took Sigrid’s cold hand and shook it, then walked away. As she went, she started to wonder just what sort of hornet’s nest she was about to stick her face into.

…and the list of focus characters continues to expand. I don’t know about you, but Amira Saladin is a personal favorite, and I’m super excited to be back with her again. In addition, this chapter also reveals (minor spoiler) the primary conflict for the rest rest of the first act.

Next time, we’ll be looking at Chapter 09: Termination Shock. Be sure to tune in for more adventure, excitement, and weird-ass alien technology!

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.


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