Long Fall — Chapter 15

Sorry it’s been so long between updates. I had some other work come up this past week (including updated marketing for Stars Rain Down), and that pushed the new episode to tonight! Get ready for Chapter 15: Apex Predator.

If you’re just joining Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, you can find all of the preceding chapters right here at the Oktopod Blog.

The previous novel, Biotech Legacy: Stars Rain Down, is currently available exclusively through Amazon.


Chapter 15
Apex Predator

Morning burned on the horizon. The sun reached out with bronze fingers that streaked across the sky, while clots of coal black and ashen grey bubbled up from the jungle and fought to halt its advance.

War machines littered the air, spinning and tumbling like so many leaves caught on the breeze, while countless ground forces butted heads in a pitched battle to the South.

Amira Saladin was at the end of a very busy night, and the start of what promised to be an even busier day. Her team had found her unconscious after they felled the last black knight, then they went about treating her wounds and setting her fractured femur. Afterward, her contact-suit hardened into a cast, which made for a stiff and nasty surprise when she woke some minutes later.

The Pegasus was nowhere to be seen, but Amira had expected as much. Tom had always been expert at following orders, and that meant Jack would be safe and sound aboard Legacy, far beyond the reach of any of this madness breaking out on the ground. Donovan would take care of him and Amira knew it, no matter what disagreements she’d had with the fleet commander in the past.

She couldn’t say the same of Sigrid Eriksson.

As morning overtook the land, Amira was elbow deep in jumbled wiring and partially disassembled hardware. The mess of spaghetti she’d constructed was dirty, hacky work, but there’d been time for anything more elegant. Death had been dangling over their heads for more hours now than she’d care to recall.

The black knight was laid out with a single arm stretched forward, like a dehydrated man who died just meters from an oasis. A thick, frayed cable connected its (mostly intact) Nikola cannon to a port on the ribcage of Tamsin’s armor, and the last flickering of the huge machine’s strange, mechanical muscles dimmed and disappeared.

“That’s the end of it,” Amira said.

Tamsin popped her faceplate up. “I’m reading 30% charge, Chief. Stable.”

“Good, good,” Amira chanted as she lifted her goggles and plopped them on top of her head. “That’s one problem solved… Well, 30% solved at least.”

The Unies’ aggressive recycling of her technology had again proven useful, allowing her to bring the entire team’s batteries back up to operational levels. She might’ve considered it an incredible stroke of luck, but she knew the way Donovan operated.

The rest of the team held positions around the perimeter. They were tense. Afraid. That was probably for the best.

“Chief,” Tamsin said. “Take my MASPEC. I can cover ground faster than you.”

Amira shook her head. “Negative,” she said. “We’re better off with six able-bodied troopers. Besides, you’re imprinted on that armor. If it doesn’t flat-out reject me, I’ll still be clumsy inside it.”

She left the other reason unsaid: if her team was going to die (and all relevant data pointed in that direction), it wouldn’t be due to her selfishness. She would give them the best change to survive—the best chance to win—that she could. She owed them nothing less.

Yet, she knew it still wasn’t enough.

The black knight lay there, never reaching that near oasis. Amira gave it a sound punch that landed with a thud.

Tamsin asked, “Could you fix it?”

Amira hated that even her inner circle thought of her that way. This damned thing had shuffled off its mortal coil, and she wasn’t a miracle worker. It was junk, an ex-machine, and there was no more fixing to be done anymore.

She momentarily smirked with pride that her troops had so effectively transformed this monster into swiss cheese. If nothing else, they were efficient killers.

“Turn it over,” she said.

Half the squad snapped into motion, and with strength that seemed out of proportion to their dimunitive size, they rolled the giant onto its back. When it and the dust cloud settled, Amira tested it with a foot, found it sturdy and awkwardly hopped on top.

She pulled herself across the cracked chest plate and looked into the gaping wound. A particle beam had dug a deep crater that exposed the knight’s metal skeleton, blocky modular components, and torn musculature. Her headset analyzed the materials as she went, and she could tell that this was unlike the myofiber technology she’d adapted from the Eireki. The knight’s flesh wasn’t truly alive; just a very intriguing facsimile.

The gouge exposed the knight’s cockpit, and the swiftly rotting corpse inside. A quarter of his torso was missing, and his permanent expression was tight and angry. Thin wires plugged into his shaved head were surrounded by flecks of dried blood, and the other ends connected him to the machine.

The smell was cruel.

Amira reached in and retrieved his sidearm. Nothing else of value remained in one piece.

She made a mental note to pack survival gear in the future. She never thought she’d lose her armor in the field, and it was a stupid, prideful oversight.

She rolled onto her back, slid back down the surface of the knight, and landed a little too hard on her broken leg. The grunt she let out wasn’t sufficient to the task, but she pushed the hurt aside as it howled and throbbed, until it gradually began to subside. She hoped that the pain’s quick retreat meant she hadn’t made the situation any worse.

Amira pulled her goggles back over her eyes and dialed into the sensor net. Soft lights pulsed in the distance, dispersed evenly across the landscape. Charts and graphs appeared on the side of her interface breaking down information about the targets, categorizing weight, heat, speed.

Some were scouts or walkers, others were heavy armor or large trundling Yuon Kwon artillery. Many of them were troop transports.

Amira felt her heart skip a beat. She filtered out the other targets, and left only the troop transports and their escorts visible. They were furious herds stampeding across the jungle, and she just needed to find the one straggler, the sick buffalo that had wandered off from the safety of numbers.

Her eyes lit up when she saw it.

“Any of you ever hijack a bus?”

She was greeted with silence, or the nearest approximation in a live combat zone.

“Luck had to run out sometime,” she said in a cynical tone. She looked down at the pistol in her hand, and while the technology wasn’t immediately obvious, the interface was suitably familiar. She was confident she could put a hole in a person with it, but people were the least of her worries.

“Alright, here’s our target, team. Tamsin… I, uh… I need you to carry me.”

The last part struck Amira as rather high-speed karma, but she tried not to think too hard about it.

Without a pause, Tamsin stepped forward and scooped Amira up in in her arms, and the armor was so strong that Amira felt like a child for a moment. It might have been comforting in any other situation.

“Let’s move out,” she said. “Thrusters are emergency use only.”

The team took off running at fifty KPH, weaving in and around the dense cover on quiet, nimble feet. It wasn’t often that Amira got the chance to just watch her creations in action, but the joy was quickly replaced with a critical eye. She watched Adisa Ajayi running in his armor ahead of her, saw the subtle way his feet slid in the soil, the control surfaces that flapped into position just a little too slow.

She was filing an unusual number of mental notes this trip, but it was better than the alternative. It was better than thinking about her impending death, or the conversations she’d have with Banks and Bukovsky’s families in the unlikely event she survived.

Better still would have been thinking up ways to get out of this hell-hole, but she doubted thinking harder was liable to provide any new insights.

They approached the lone transport, and Amira tapped the side of her headset. The goggles showed her a simulated overhead view of the area, marking out areas of interest and the transport’s expected route. There wasn’t much to work with.

She placed waypoints at three locations: one was a stand of trees on a small ridge, another a dry creek, and the last a moving point fifty meters behind their prey. She assigned roles through her interface, and without a word, the team angled off toward their new objectives.

The system was coldly efficient, and it was precisely why she sought out former video gamers for her team. They responded well to particular stimuli such as glowing objective markers and warning lights, and they were already used to taking orders from computers.

Tamsin rushed her to the dry creek and set her down. She dusted herself off as her feet touched the ground, then she motioned for Tamsin to turn around and took a demolition charge from the MASPEC’s cargo-pack.

Once she had what she needed, she waved and Tamsin left for her next waypoint.

Amira walked to the edge of the ravine and tried to slide down the side as smoothly as she could, but it turned out not to be very smooth at all. Instead, she fell and rolled down the incline, kicking up a hazy brown cloud behind her.

The contact-suit protected her from scrapes, but it couldn’t do as much for her leg, which got knocked, batted, rammed, and stretched out of position as she fell. As she came to a halt in the dirt, her whole body was committed to screaming, but she kept it inside somehow. She bit her lower lip and punched the ground, but she wouldn’t scream.

She had to stand. If she didn’t, her team would have no chance. She had to stand.

She put her palms on the ground and pushed. Her good foot slid and the other wouldn’t hold her. Face struck ground.

Amira pushed again and this time, she succeeded. She managed to lean back against the dirt wall, but all of her weight was on the left leg. Slowly, methodically, she lowered the broken leg and applied pressure.

It seemed okay.

She stepped forward brashly on her right foot, and the weight summoned pain like being stabbed with a pair of rusty scissors. She didn’t scream. It was a close call, but she held it in.

Amira fell back against the dirt wall. Walking was a no-go, and she harbored serious doubts about her ability to hop for any significant distance. Army crawling was a less savory prospect, but it was the only workable option.

She leaned to the side and slid slowly to the ground, then rolled onto her elbows. From there, she began to lurch forward, and her leg only hurt terribly.

She made it to a fallen tree trunk and placed the demolition charge against the side facing away from her. Then she turned and crawled back the way she came.

When she turned to look, she hadn’t crawled half as far as she thought, nor a quarter as far as she needed to. Time was short, though. It would have to do.

She lay down flat and brought her display back up. With a finger, she nudged the transport’s intended path so it headed straight for the charge, then let the computer do its work. It used flocking simulations to calculate her team’s optimum attack angles, then relayed the new targets to her troopers.

Amira really wanted to pass out again.

She could hear them coming, hear the squeal of particle beams and the bark of machine guns. The rumble grew in intensity until a green camouflage transport barreled over the edge of the creek. It crashed into the opposite side with a sound that reminded Amira of the day back on Mars when a habitation pod failed and collapsed in on itself.

The transport’s actuated wheels reached out from the body, searching for purchase in the uneven ground, while the round turrets spun manically, hunting everywhere for targets. That was when Amira triggered the charge.

All she would remember was a flash, a loud noise, and the sound of metal groaning.


That’s it for now. In the next few days, we’ll be reading Chapter 16: Legacy, so mark a nebulous blob on your calendar.

~Chris

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.

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