To help get your week started right, here’s Chapter 12: Red Queen. If you’re looking for something action-packed, I’m here to deliver.
For those who’ve just stumbled across Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, you can find all of the preceding chapters right here at the Oktopod Blog.
The previous book in the series, Biotech Legacy: Stars Rain Down, is currently available exclusively through Amazon.
Alright then… Got your adult diapers on? Good, let’s go!
“He’s out cold,” Wei said.
Amira tapped into Wei’s video feed, and there lay Jack Hernandez, crumpled up against the side of Felix’s crew compartment like a hastily discarded doll. A scan through different sensors showed he was in good health, though.
She couldn’t blame him for passing out, try as she might. Amira had seen surgery done without anaesthetics several times since her return to Earth, and it was always the same. The only difference here was that the usual blood-curdling screams came across in not only sound, but also color and a particularly powerful radio spike.
That last part was going to be a problem.
Her troops were already in motion, expanding the guard perimeter and preparing for something horrible. There seemed to be a lot of horrible to go around, and she was already noticing changes in the patterns of the fighters above. Neither side could disengage, so instead they slowly closed in on the signal’s source while they fought, trading blows as they circled ever inward.
“Bring him out,” she said. “Carefully, Wei.”
“Roger that, chief.”
Tom’s voice broke in over the comms. “What on Earth was that, Sal?”
“A fuck-up,” she replied. She’d been too hasty, hadn’t thought through the consequences. She got like that when friends were in trouble, always leaping into action before her brain had a chance to catch up. All she had to do was stop and take just a single breath, but there never seemed to be any time to breathe.
“I should’ve jammed the signal,” she chided herself.
Tom said, “Don’t think you coulda. We got an earful at twenty klicks, five-by-five.”
Twenty kilometers meant The Pegasus had already retreated to its secondary holding position.
“Shit,” she said. “We’re gonna need air support and fast here.”
The line went quiet. “Be tough, Chief. We caught someone’s attention earlier but managed to slip it. Don’t wager they’ll be so aloof a second time.”
The fighters kept drawing closer, like flies onto the scent of a fresh carcass.
Shit, shit, shit.
“Then it’s gonna be tough,” she said. “Guns blazing, Tom.”
“En route. Who’s the enemy?”
Amira gritted her teeth. “Anyone in your way.”
“Roger,” he said in a solemn voice, and that was all.
Gordon Wei climbed out of Felix’s interior with Jack Hernandez hanging groggily on his shoulder.
“How’s he doing?”
Jack spoke before Wei had a chance. “Coming around,” he said. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was moving as if he’d just woken to an epic hangover. “How bad is it?”
For a second, he looked like he might throw up.
Amira shook her head. “Felix is bad but stable.” She pointed a finger at the heavens. “But we’re headed towards worse at a very high rate.”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “Story of my life.”
“Can you hold a gun?” she asked.
“Uhhh…” Jack said. Then he dropped to his knees and started vomiting in the dirt.
Amira said, “Right.”
Not that it made a difference. His adorable little assault rifle wouldn’t do much against the metal and chitin hurricane whose eye they were sitting in. She considered the possibility of ground troops, but decided they were just about the least of her worries at that moment.
She spoke into the team channel. “Go to anti-air profile. If anything comes within five-hundred meters, open fire.”
She’d spoken too soon.
“I’ve got movement on the ground. To the North,” Tamsin said.
“Confirmed,” another trooper piped in.
Tamsin added, “Six of them, seven meters high. Unknown signature.”
The Oikeyan Heirath walkers were about that height, but they didn’t run as hot as these things, and the New Union didn’t have anything in that scale at all. In fact, the Earth had rarely built vehicles so tall, and Amira struggled to imagine a 600,000 kilo, giant dumptruck barreling across the jungle.
These things were a bona-fide surprise, and Amira had never liked surprises. She’d always been terrible at waiting for them.
She leapt into motion. “Change of plan. We can’t engage here, so we’ll draw them off to the West if we can. Wei, you stay with the VIP, and Pegasus, keep air units off those two. Pick them and the Yuon Kwon up when you can.”
Everyone confirmed at once in a single, noisy chorus, then went to work.
The team fell in behind Amira and they moved through the jungle together like a plague of locusts, blasting through the air and landing in a high-speed bound. Amira was used to fighting on the steppe, and the jungle offered stark contrast. Toppled trees and shredded landscape sped by, making progress seem so much faster, so much more intense.
“Two hundred meters to contact,” Misha said. “Doesn’t look like they see us yet.”
The mysterious units appeared as bright blobs of yellow-orange on Amira’s display. The tree tops shook at their location, while a silken cloud of steam peeled up and and away into the already muggy air.
“What the fuck are you?” she whispered. To the troops she said, “Two teams, loose formations. Team Two, you’re on fire support.”
The second team hunkered down while Amira pressed forward with her wingmen in tow. Green leaves and brown trunks rocketed by them, rattling after they passed. A hundred and fifty meters then a hundred remained, and she leapt up over the jungle’s canopy.
The ground shrank away beneath Amira, and her weapons began to charge. She could feel them beginning to quake with stored energy like a panther ready to pounce.
She caught sight of her targets, but there was simply too much heat coming off to make out anything clearly in thermal, so she dropped to regular optics. What she saw sent a shockwave of awe through her body.
The units were monstrous suits of medieval armor, loosely encasing two-story men made of magma. Each had a single red eye that glowed as bright as the late-day sun.
“Fire!” she screamed.
Lances of indigo-tinted light erupted from her and her wingmen, followed by chains of crackling lightning. Orange sparks exploded from the knights in fountains, and scattered to the ground.
When the sparks were gone and the clouds of dark smoke disintegrated, the black knights stood unharmed. As a group, they had ducked behind shields attached to their left arms, and there they weathered the storm. Then they lowered their shields at once, raised the cannons on their other arms and opened fire.
The air barked around Amira like a rabid rottweiler. Liam Banks’ name flashed on her screen then dimmed and disappeared. As she raced toward the ground, she glanced back just in time to see the uneven cloud where his MASPEC armor used to be.
Amira landed close enough to see the black knights through the bush, and one detail caught her attention. The arm-cannons were her Nikola magnetic rifle, but blown-up clumsily in a graphics program.
The knights remained focused on Amira and her team, while her support team’s particle beams cut through the forest and stabbed at the them. The attack tore the shoulder from one knight, which stumbled against a tree and then fell down, while another buckled entirely under the onslaught. It flailed in panic and was torn asunder, the multitude of jagged shards catching fire as they fell away.
“Circle them,” she called out.
As her team jetted into action, the knights fired again. The sound was sharp, close, Earth rending. She felt dislocated. Dizzy. Terrified.
A dozen meters in front of her, Misha flew into pieces. His name flashed on her screen and went out.
Flesh and armor mixed together in the blast, raining in every direction.
Amira didn’t have time for rage, but it came nonetheless. Her armor’s lights came online and turned red. The time for stealth was over.
“Assault profile. Output to full,” she barked out to her comrades.
Kerberos had already made the change, and she was running hot. Overspec. She wouldn’t be able to keep this up for long—either the battery would give out, or her armor would burn up—so she’d have to make it count.
The headset simultaneously overclocked her brain. Time stretched like honey.
With her thrusters firing at full power, she blasted out at an angle that approached the targets but aimed past them on a tangent. Her posture and Kerberos’ control surfaces allowed her to travel parallel to the ground, bouncing along on a high-pressure cushion of air.
The fireteam sent another volley of accelerated particles at the knights, but the towering monsters deflected them easily with their shields.
The New Union had really come a long way… But they didn’t know the Nikola rifle the way Amira did. There was a reason she’d abandoned the technology.
As she streaked toward the target, she dialed a new setting into her particle rifle, and howled madly. Her Kerberos armor amplified the sound, turning it into a baleful, immortal thing, while the rifle cycled up and fired. This time, it produced a strange beam in an unearthly shade of magenta.
The beam struck the lead knight’s shield harmlessly, not even producing a shower of sparks this time.
Amira’s feet touched down when she was twenty meters out from her foe, and she dropped into a sprint and crossed the small clearing at speed. The monster loomed up ahead, the intricate motion of its overlapping plates mesmerizing her. She could now more clearly see the glowing matter beneath, and it looked like twisting cords of muscle that glowed like high-performance brake pads.
The knight, whose shoulders were marked with bright yellow accents, turned and targeted her. It leaned forward and raised its cannon, and her moment of truth came.
Amira’s eyes went wide, and her heart thumped so hard it rattled her jaw.
The cannon pointed just ahead of her, then electricity crawled over its outside like a panicked swarm of ants. The walking machine that had looked so much like a living creature began to twitch in a way that destroyed the illusion. Its cannon exploded in a spherical wave of shrapnel.
Amira’s MASPEC produced an undulating series of magnetic fields that were less a shield and more a slippery bubble. It couldn’t do much against something as powerful as the knight’s cannon, but she could easily slide past the fragments of the weapon as it exploded.
While the knight staggered drunkenly, she dug her heels into the ground and launched directly toward it. Slicing up from the ground like a rocket, she bent at the waist and latched onto the knight’s shield.
The lion had caught her prey.
The wreckage of its cannon fell away leaving a sparking stump. While Amira scrabbled over the shield in search of a weak point, the cannon arm bashed her into it.
Her armor channeled energy into its reactive superstructure and reinforced the shell. It managed to absorb the blow, but her battery readout dipped in response. It was clear she couldn’t take another of those.
She released smoke. Slats opened along her back, spitting out a thick cloud of radar absorbent dust that choked the air and blinded the metal titans.
Before the next blow could come, she vaulted around the shield like a gymnast competing on uneven bars, and heard a hammerblow strike down behind her.
On the other side of the shield, she pulled herself in close and looked at the connection points. She overlaid an EM scan on her display and the machine’s underlying circuitry came into view.
She traced the criss-crossing lines and analyzed their patterns, struggling to focus in the heat of the moment. She sucked a deep breath in slowly, feeling it rush over her teeth. She could see the fault.
She drew her fist back and a pair of blades snapped up out of her forearm. Their edges began to glow with a pale-green light, and she struck.
The attack produced a sound like a sedan hitting a trash can and she pulled her arm free, then levered herself under the shield. She pushed and metal screeched and slowly tumbled away.
The knight reacted admirably. As the shield came clear, the other ragged stump rushed in again and hit Amira like a bullet train.
Kerberos poured every last drop of power into its shell, but it wasn’t enough. The shockwave tore the armor’s weakened tendons and sinews apart.
Amira cartwheeled through the air, the sun flashing over and over in her vision while the shattered and dying pieces of Kerberos flew off spinning.
She rebounded off a tree, and tumbled end over end across the ground. Once she finally came to a stop, the remaining large plates of Kerberos expired and fell away.
Amira spoke a single word and her headset dutifully transmitted it to her troops. “Fire.”
She lay motionless on her back atop a pile of discarded technology, and heard the fireteam’s beams sear the air. A thump like an illegal firecracker followed.
She shifted and pain came as suddenly as a slammed door. It engulfed her thigh, and muscles everywhere responded by seizing up, trying violently to force the pain back out of her.
Now curled up on her side, she gritted her teeth and growled into the headset. “Induce… a magnetic charge in… the fuckers. Makes the guns glitch.”
A strained yelp escaped her lungs, and it made her furious.
That bit of intel would have to be enough, because she couldn’t take it any longer. She used her arms to drag herself up against a nearby tree-trunk, then keyed a sequence in the air with her hand.
It was done. Her headset was set to put her out and broadcast an encrypted distress signal, while the bodysuit provided first aid. All neatly automated.
The headset began to feel like it was vibrating slowly, and she drifted off to sleep, making a mental note to try and figure out that pain problem.
So, what’d you think? I’d tell you my feelings, but I may be a little biased.
Our next episode of Biotech Legacy: Long Fall will be Chapter 13: The Open Channel, coming up in just another few days. Remember to be generous folk, because the dancers are only working for tips… Wait, wrong script. Sorry.
Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.