Today, we’re jumping into Chapter 11: Turn It Up. This one is kind of short, which comes as a bit of a relief after the monster that was #10. What can I say? Editing takes a lot out of a guy.
If you’re not caught up, you can find all of the preceding chapters of Biotech Legacy: Long Fall right here at the Oktopod Blog.
The previous book in the series, Biotech Legacy: Stars Rain Down, is currently available exclusively through Amazon.
All set? Here we go!
Turn It Up
Jack Hernandez felt a bit like a fairy-tale princess. He’d found himself lost in a dark and foreboding forest beneath skies filled with fighting dragons, until his knight in (rather dull) armor arrived, quite literally swept him up in her powerful arms and whisked him away.
He’d done his level best to refuse, but Sal claimed they could cover ground faster if she carried him. He grumbled and finally acquiesced, but of course, she didn’t have to carry him around like a new bride. He was quite confident he could’ve ridden piggieback and been just fine. Just fine.
The whole situation might have seemed romantic if Jack and Sal had a different relationship. Instead, he felt the way he would if Leo Nikitin had decided to carry him somewhere; and knowing Nikitin, he’d also have insisted.
The one bright spot was that it didn’t take long for him, Sal, and her troop of little tin soldiers to backtrack to his camp, where Sal set him down and generously allowed him to stand on his own two feet again.
He started to dust himself off, but stopped when he realized the dust was just covering up several layers of dirt and mud. His personal hygiene had seen better days. To be fair though, it’d also seen plenty worse. Much, much worse.
Jack smirked. “You, uh… you don’t expect a kiss or something, do you?
The lights on Sal’s armor reappeared and turned a shade of plum, and the front of her helmet levered open to reveal the scrunched face of a woman who was almost perfectly unimpressed. Jack was pretty sure he’d made the same expression when he was nineteen and his skeevy uncle tried to sell him most of a car, but he couldn’t be sure: there’d been no mirrors or windows to see his reflection in.
Her helmet snapped shut again. “So,” she said in an oddly buzzing voice, “what the hell happened here, Jack?”
He ducked his head and scratched the back of his neck. Something exploded a couple hundred meters north of them.
“Kinda complicated. Can we focus on getting out of here first?”
A dense boom echoed off the land, followed by the sound of things clanging, clattering, crunching into the dirt. At this distance, he couldn’t hear the pilots screaming as they died, and he counted that as a small blessing.
Sal paused to think while her troopers stood in defensive positions, bristling with sharp and curving weapons like the bladed tips of medieval lances. These MASPEC armors were radically different than the ones Jack remembered from just a year before. These were smaller, more sleak and stylish. He imagined they were how amphibians might look if they had a designer who was not only intelligent, but also dreamt up new luxury cars for a living.
The sound of a cannon rose above the din of the firefight, thumping like a metal band’s bass drum. More explosions followed.
Sal made up her mind. “What condition is Felix in?”
“Between bad and worse. Not sure which direction it’s going just yet.”
She walked over to the wounded Yuon Kwon and gently stroked his leathery skin. Felix let out a quiet and warbling squeal, which Jack had come to understand as a whimper. He only showed that kind of vulnerability around friends, and then only when he couldn’t maintain a brave front. This was bad.
Sal stepped around Felix’s side and inspected the wound, bracing him with both hands to reassure him and steady some of his spastic quivering. She very gently lifted one of the many loose edges of Jack’s hasty bandage-work and peaked beneath. “You never should’ve been in a firefight, you poor little guy.”
Jack felt the sting of that.
“Why the fuck didn’t Donovan mention it was you… or at least that the ship was Yuon Kwon?” She let out a long and low growl, and the lights on her armor pulsed red. They dimmed again and she said, “Banks. Wei. Bring me the welding torch and a patch plate.”
Jack’s jaw tightened and he tried and failed to push her away from his partner. “You can’t just weld a piece of metal onto him, Sal! He’s not a damn junkyard beater.”
She didn’t turn. Her armored hand held him back easily. “Relax. I’m just using the plate to cauterize the wound. He’s bleeding out right now.”
The anger still boiled in his chest, and it found a new target. “He can’t take that kind of pain. Don’t you have some way to anaesthetize him?”
Her head turned and he could see her eyes through the visor. They were full of sympathy. “I’ve only got what I’ve got,” she said in a level tone.
Jack understood what he had to do. His anger evaporated and he ducked his head down, feeling like a complete jackass. Then he nodded, turned away and climbed into Felix’s crew compartment.
He crawled across the slanted floor and onto the saddle, got himself comfortable and took a deep breath. The cradle remained closed and no slim arm reached out to hold him.
“I can help you,” he said aloud to Felix. “This is going to hurt so much worse than… It’s going to hurt worse. “
The cradle held firmly closed for a moment, then shivered and opened to him.
Jack reached inside and as his hands come to the ends of the pockets, he could feel that Felix was still tentative. The ship was scared for him.
Jack leaned forward and touched his head to the soft plate.
It was so intense that he lost himself, found himself, and lost himself all over again. He was confused, feeling as if his ribcage were hanging open exposing his heart, his madly pumping lungs. He resisted the urge to roll into a ball and cry out.
The pain was constant, and that meant it was predictable. Tractable. If he could just see the edges of it, he could grab hold and steer it in a more manageable direction. He could sublimate it.
Then he had control.
“Ready,” he said. His own teeth remained clenched tightly together, and the words were instead broadcast in radio. He wasn’t adept at speaking through Felix, and he was sure the signal sounded like an absolute mess from outside.
His many eyes tracked Sal, watched her hold a torch to the dark metal plate which she’d bent into a more useful shape. She heated it until it was white hot, then looked back to him. She looked like an angel through Felix’s eyes, gleaming brightly in numerous spectra of light.
With as much conviction as he could muster, he said, “Do it.”
And she did.
It wasn’t heat. It wasn’t pain. It was a gulping void full of absolute chaos, with the gravity of a black hole. He scrabbled against it, thought he could resist, but it sucked him down and in and pressed his face into its vibrant, serrated bosom. It thrashed at him and smothered him, and all around was a glow that couldn’t be fought or ignored.
It rushed through him like a freight train and he screamed, in voice and radio and patterns of strobing color that appeared on his writhing skin, all at once and in perfect concert.
Claws sunk into his flesh, climbed up him and pierced through his skull.
Then it was done.
He was shuddering all over, from the tips of his toes to the furthest edges of his hull. The cradle released him and he snapped into his own body like a broken rubber band. Still convulsing, muscles refusing to obey his fleeting commands, he barely managed a stunted yelp as he flopped out of the saddle and passed out.
This one gets to the point pretty quickly, and gets the job done. I’m a little worried that Jack’s experience drifts a bit far into Mr. Spock “OH, THE PAIN!” territory, but that’s something that should hopefully smooth out a bit through edits.
Our next episode of Biotech Legacy: Long Fall will be Chapter 12: Red Queen, available right here in another couple of days. Be sure to program your DVR… errr, ummm… or news reader, or however you follow things here.
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