Long Fall — Chapter 13

Thursday. What a lovely day of the week. Fine one for a new chapter, doncha think? Tonight, we’re looking at Chapter 13: The Open Channel, which will no doubt shock and amaze you… or maybe mildly amuse you, or perhaps you’ll just hate it. What I can say is that you’ll definitely feel some way about it afterward, and that’s a promise you can believe in.

For those of you just catching up on 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.

Phew. Ready to get those feelings moved? Off we go!


Chapter 13
The Open Channel

It had been a bad couple of days for Jack Hernandez, and he couldn’t tell if things were about to get better or drastically worse. He was leaning against Felix who slumbered peacefully beside him, while their bodyguard, Gordon Wei, slowly paced the clearing.

The air above had become a living nightmare, strings of explosions flashing across it like a biblical plague of flying paparazzi. It sounded like a thunderstorm on fast forward, through an overdriven subwoofer.

He checked his rifle and found it just as useless as before. If he actually had to fire on one of the various deathmachines swarming the area, about the best he could probably hope for was a ricochet catching him between the eyes. He didn’t particularly relish that he knew that, but there it was.

The tactic he decided on instead was much more reasonable. At the first sign of trouble, he’d behind that Wei guy and quickly pray to as many gods as he could remember from school.

Jack heard a strange sound, glanced upward and saw something he might have mistaken for God’s wrath. A beam of light cut the sky in half, so bright, so angry that day seemed to dim behind it. Human jets and Oikeyan flyers that had only been near its path burst into bright red blossoms of flame, as if a garden had suddenly sprung up in the clouds.

Jack felt the heat from it on his forehead, nose, lips, and the beam left a thick, pulsating bruise across his vision. He buried his face under his arm and swore.

Wei said, “Be ready, Mr. Hernandez.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jack replied, rubbing his eyes. He could occasionally make out trees waving in the distance… unless they were all Wei, in which case he wasn’t making them out all that well afterall.

He suddenly became very confident that his day was getting worse.

Jack raised up the rifle but remained pressed against his Yuon Kwon friend. This wasn’t any kind of ready. He blinked, and blinked, and still couldn’t see much of a damned thing.

“Get up, up,” Wei said.

Jack felt the MASPEC troopers hands on his shoulder and back, pushing him away from Felix. What little he could see around him had grown darker, and he could feel winds swishing in multiple directions. Downwash?

Wei tugged his arm and Jack followed, trotting about as quickly as he could manage without twisting an ankle.

He blinked and started to see something recognizable. His head was angled down, and he was looking at the dirt and patchy ground cover under his feet. And his feet, obviously.

He squinted hard one more time, looked up, and nearly fell on his ass.

Something stupidly large was floating in the air in front of him. It was the size of three luxury yachts strapped together into a makeshift trimaran, sixty meters or more from stem to stern.

The design was grotesque and ungainly like something a six year-old might build from plastic blocks, with the starboard side dominated by a cannon in the shape of a yawning alligator clip. The opposite side held a large and mostly featureless brick. A bay had opened on the brick’s underside, from which thin manipulator arms dangled down and were in the process of securing Felix.

“What the fuck is that?” Jack shouted over the noise.

“Pegasus,” Wei said.

Jack smirked. “Ugliest damn pegasus I’ve ever seen,” he replied.

The manipulator arms finally got a good grip on Felix and they slowly lifted the sleeping Yuon Kwon inside. Wei pointed to another hatch further along, built into the bottom of some bulbous, warty outgrowth on ths ship’s belly.

Jack got the drift and nodded sullenly. Wei scooped him up in his augmented arms, then carried him aboard The Pegasus in a few great bounding leaps.

The hatch closed under them, and Jack found himself in one of the most dismal looking rooms he’d ever seen. The walls were a weak shade of strawberry flavored milk, beneath lights the same blue as those tuxedos he refused to wear.

A half-dozen of Amira’s armors stood facing the outside wall, looking hilariously to Jack like men relieving themselves in private stalls. He managed not to laugh.

He did more than not laugh. He gave one of the armors a hard look, and the upholstery inside looked oddly inviting. This suit was more than a simple weapon, though; what Amira had built was a human-shaped engine of mass destruction. In the wrong hands, such a thing could be a hammer of genocide.

Jack had convinced himself to carry a rifle for protection, but that was a far cry from driving a tank; it was light years away from becoming this sort of walking atomic bomb. And the thought that terrified him most about it—the one that absolutely shook him to the core—was the possibility that if he so much as stepped inside, he may never want to climb back out.

Wei stepped into a stall, then the back of his armor split apart and he shrugged it off as easily as he might a dusting of snow. Jack had seen Amira and her fleet allies wrestle themselves free of the older versions, and this was a definite improvement.

Dressed in a navy blue skinsuit, Gordon Wei stretched quickly using forms that reminded Jack of Tai Chi. He was a slender and unimposing man, a few years older than Jack with short-cropped hair that had gone grey at the temples. His posture had a certain angular erectness that made him seem intensely awake, quietly ready for the next terrible thing to happen.

“Come on,” Gordon said while fixing his wristwatch. “Should probably take you to one of our guest rooms.”

Jack shrugged. It didn’t seem there was much else for him to do.

Gordon tilted his head to the side and paused the conversation with a finger. “Wait,” he said. “Looks like I’m taking you to the bridge instead. Shall we?”

Jack nodded toward the door and said, “Lead the way.”

They exited the bay into halls that looked like an expensive hospital, and Jack was pleased that the ship’s interior so badly matched its exterior. He’d expected the inside to be treacherous.

A long hallway led them directly to a wide staircase, and as they descended the steps, Jack got his first sight of the ship’s bridge. It was a large, chevron-shaped cabin with two split stories and windows for exterior walls, which sloped out at a sharp angle. Jack could see most of the ground below them, and the rest of The Lumpy Pegasus stretching out above.

Jack had never seen a cockpit on the underside of an aircraft, as far as he could remember. He thought the design and its singular view of the Earth betrayed something about Amira’s focus.

A man was standing at the central console. He had salt-and-pepper hair and a beard that made him look like a rather meticulous lumberjack. He was stout, barrel-chested, and might have done a bit of boxing in his day, if the crooked nose was any indication. He wore a green jumpsuit that looked identical to the rest of the bridge crew’s.

Jack stepped forward. “Jack Hernandez,” he said, and offered a hand.

“Tom Greer, Pegasus XO.” They shook.

His accent was either Autralian or South African. Jack always confused the two.

One of the seated officers said, “The Yuon Kwon is secure, Tom.”

“Let’s get under way then.”

The few dozen bridge officers were all busy at work on their consoles. Jack was sure one of them must be steering the ship, but he’d be damned if he could tell who it was.

The ground began to shrink away, and when it continued to shrink, Jack grew worried. He pointed to the western jungle. “Sal went that way,” he said.

“We’re not picking her up.”

Jack’s face flushed. “Come again?!”

He watched the other man look him up and down, but couldn’t read any judgment in the eyes. Good poker face.

Tom said, “We lost contact with her, and she left explicit orders to be carried out in her absence. We’re taking you to safety. We’ll attempt to rendezvous with any survivors once the mission is complete.”

“Take me where exactly?”

Tom ignored the question and turned to look through the front window.

Jack turned too, and while he’d been otherwise occupied, the view had changed. Instead of ground, he saw only sky that was growing dark and starting to reveal the first few stars hidden behind it.

“Son of a bitch,” Jack said under his breath. He didn’t call Donovan out by name, but he was sure the meaning was nevertheless clear.

He glanced over his shoulder and saw Gordon Wei, who gave him a friendly nod and patted the sidearm on his thigh. The weapon was unfamiliar, pistol-like but made of steeply slanted angles and sides that curved inwards. Jack had a few guesses what it might do to him, and none of them were pretty.

So he hooked his thumbs in his pockets and waited. When the sky had turned totally to darkness marred by countless specks of light, the distant and gibbous moon seemed to swell. It was hypnotic. And that was the moment he realized he was in outer space. Not just skipping along the upper atmosphere like in the old Emergency Response Corps tranzats, but up and away from the Earth.

It felt like the first time he watched the coast shrink away from him on a boat ride as a child, but now marred by that touch of cynical disbelief that children never seem to suffer. The feeling was still profound though, jaw-dropping, and the fact that anything could have that sort of effect anymore truly surprised him.

Tom smiled. “First time, aye?”

“Yeah,” Jack said with a nod. “At least you were gentle.”

Tom nodded. “Not all that used to being out in space, myself. Still feel like bloody Buck Rogers.”

“Yeah,” Jack said again. There didn’t seem to be a surplus of other words worth using right at that moment.

Over the next few hours, the Moon inflated right in front of them and then slowly spun like a classroom globe. It took Jack an embarrassingly long time to figure out that the Pegasus, rather than the Moon, was the one in motion.

Then the ship came around to the Moon’s far side and Jack’s eyes went wide with wonder. Here was an object he’d at least casually glanced at most nights of his life, and it was suddenly showing him a new face after thirty-some-odd years. It was like finding out his childhood home had a backyard he somehow never noticed. He was gobsmacked.

As they came around, something else appeared. It looked at first like a mountain hanging in the sky, and for just an instant, Jack worried that there were floating castles on the Moon that no one ever bothered to tell him about.

But the thing grew larger and clearer, and he soon realized exactly what he was looking at. It was Legacy. Donovan’s alien warship. The shape of it was peculiar, something like a traditional Hawaiian canoe with a single outrigger. The lines were smooth and flowing, organic and clearly alive.

Jack squinted for a second and realized how much it resembled the Yuon Kwon. There was a commonality of design style, like the strange resemblance of humpback whales and giant squid. They were creatures born of the same environment, and the environment had shaped them with a single set of tools.

The Pegasus approached and skirted along Legacy’s surface, while the alien ship blotted out their view of anything else. It turned out to be much larger than Jack anticipated, and he felt like he was aboard an airliner coming in low over a city before landing. One made of a greenish metal, encased in a clear coat that swirled with color like motor oil floating on a street puddle.

Then the voice struck him.

He felt it a moment before it became too much, and was confused at the sensation. There wasn’t even time to panic, like that instant when waves shift before the undertow violently sucks someone under.

She was in his head. Every dark corner of it. Every precious point of light.

Her disembodied voice shouted so loud it shook him, battered him, flattened him. It tightened around his throat and squeezed his head inside out.

He was powerless to stop it.

Millions and millions of her thoughts oscillated all around, arcing and melding together, but arising from and melting back into just one voice. A fearsome voice. An ancient voice. A dying voice.

Then like a miracle, surprise reverberated through the many voices that were one, and it grew quiet. Anxious. It examined him with great curiosity, with shock, with panic.

Despite her unimaginable age, she became a young child who had just caught sight of a sleeping kitten. Then a tidal wave of pure and unconditional love overwhelmed Jack, and it began to sweetly sing him to sleep.

Be still,
I’m so sorry,
Sleep, and all will be well,
Sleep.


And that’s lucky #13. I’m changing the format a little tonight: instead of a wrap-up in this space, I’ll be publishing an article that discusses the chapter (in just a few minutes, actually). This will be more in-depth than I’ve been going previously, and will talk a bit about precisely how I work. Think of it as an aftershow. It will hopefully answer any questions you might have about the way I’ve decided to serialize Long Fall.

Next up will be Chapter 14: Two Aspirin, which should be coming your way very, very soon.

~Chris

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.

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