Wow, looks like I got the post’s title right this time… High-five!
Tonight’s entry continues our exploration of alien culture and technology in the Biotech Legacy world. I really enjoyed working on this one, and I hope that comes through in the text.
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.
Alrighty, let’s get on with the freaky alien stuff already!
The Dagger Path
Zelliar and the city were one. His will was strong and razor sharp, a weapon of endless light forged in the heat of conflict, and it pierced every shadowed corner of Talis Aum-Samaraya. The great and honored Yuon Kwon obeyed him eagerly, and thrilled at the touch of his indomitable soul.
They felt their war machine toil away within them, breeding, moulting, becoming. Each new day greeted another generation of fighting stock, and each night saw them sorted and digested to feed the next. That was the Yuon Kwon’s noble sacrifice, to feed themselves to the machine again and again in pursuit of perfection. The Nefrem had forced the Oikeya to sculpt themselves into monsters, and the sculpture was nearly complete.
We adapt, he and Talis thought together, and we will survive this transformation. We will survive even this fresh betrayal.
Zelliar willed himself released and he felt the city rush away from him. A million kilometers of nerve endings snapped shut and the ten thousand eyes vanished from his consciousness. He felt empty. Small. Unchallenged.
The Jerin Yuon Kwon swooped down immediately and embraced Zelliar, refilling at least some infinitesimal measure of the vacuum that Talis’ presence had left. The Jerin was far simpler and even more servile than the city, willingly giving itself over to him as another organ. A flying muscle.
He swam into the air and blinked his great and luminous eye. Talis’ cortex chamber was darkly lit, a hollow gourd whose interior surface was streaked by pulsating nerve fibers. They culminated beneath him at the cradle, a majestic piece with large blades that stood poised to kill the unworthy.
Zelliar’s most trusted advisors floated in a circle around him dressed in ceremonial robes, their loose and wrinkled skin marked by the ceremonial tattoos of their venerated positions. These were priests of the war, the eight Apostles of Kai. At nearly a decade old, they were ancient, grey, and furious.
A Guomi Yuon Kwon descended from the shadows above and draped Zelliar in his shining vestments, then scurried away.
Zelliar excited the symbiotic microbes that lived in his eye and it began to glow fiercely, casting a beam which would appear solid in the misty air. When he spoke, his voice echoed across the chamber with a deep thrum. “I fear our cousins on the far continent have lost their way.”
The apostles bowed their heads with solemnity and blinked their softly glowing eyes.
“The Yuon Kwon there display early signs of the wayward child’s affliction. They grow mad, confused, and now the mind-sickness has taken hold of Elkellian as well. If we do not act quickly, all may be lost.”
“Burn them,” Selkellis said.
“Destroy,” rumbled Lessian.
Delliash was ever the pragmatist. “The sickness must be stopped before it endangers our crusade,” she said.
Zelliar squinted thoughtfully. “No, division would deal us the greatest blow, and it must be considered with the utmost caution. How can our crusade hope to prevail if we do not swim together as one?”
The apostles dimmed their eyes in deference to his wisdom.
“Only the head is sick,” he went on, “so the head must be removed. But I will not see the innocent among our cousins destroyed, nor left prisoner to this madness.”
He gave a long, slow blink and the apostles turned to leave. There was much work to be done, and Zelliar didn’t relish any waste of time. It was why he’d done away with the Swarming once he’d seized control, and yet there was still so much more room for streamlining. He would not rest until his chain of command reached perfect efficiency.
“Accompany me to the Complex,” Delliash said. “There are developments, Primus. Swim with me.”
By Delliash’s tone, Zelliar suspected this was one meeting that would not waste his time.
Delliash swam toward one of the chamber’s five exits, and Zelliar formed up beside her. Her robes were covered in shifting patterns of green and red, the uniform of the Breed Complex. She was a wise and brilliant researcher, and the leading mind of their evolution program.
Together they traversed the tunnels that led out from the cortex then boarded a waiting flyer, one of the new Sang Yuon Kwon which had descended from the ponderous and gormless Okuta. Once they were inside, the Sang’s cavity sealed shut and the flyer raced across the bustling city, conveying them swiftly to the distant Breed Complex which squatted alone in a large and empty district. The surface of the sprawling facility was overlapping, pitted, and frayed at the edges like an aging scab.
The Sang and its Alarhya passengers set down in an enclosed bay, and Zelliar and Delliash exited once the cavity door was open.
A pair of Rozom stood guard on either side of the entrance arch, their thick legs firm and unmoving as glaciers. Armored plates glittered in deep blue, separated by wrinkled tracts of grey leather hide. Black watchful eyes peeked out from behind their horned snouts.
The intelligent insects grafted on their backs, the Marakhya, watched Zelliar and his companion with eager multifaceted eyes. Zelliar gave them a respectful nod as he passed, causing them to shudder with delight.
The door parted before Zelliar and his companion, and they swam into the belly of the Breed Complex. The descent was long and twisting, after which the hallway opened to become a thin catwalk suspended high above the workfloor. This area was one of several creches, collections of birthing cells where the wailing of newborn Yuon Kwon echoed all around.
The air there was warm and sticky, and Zelliar’s flesh thrilled at the feeling of moisture, but it only left him longing for the deep waters of a real sea. It had been too long since he last submerged himself, and the strain of it wore on him.
There were round cavities formed in the floor below, dotting the space in a hexagonal grid that was lit from above in ruddy orange. Within the cells rested the Yana Yuon Kwon, birthers who alone among their species never adapted. They were the constant amid continual change, able to accept genetic material from any of the other variety and produce that Yuon Kwon’s young.
Four-legged with long necks and tails, the Yana were also unique in being unable to bond. They lacked cradles and could not commune with Alarhya, but in balance, they could give the gift of life.
He looked down into the cells with a strange mixtures of pride and shame. This system had become staggeringly efficient, but at what cost? The Yana were now degenerate, no longer waddling low and caring for their young, but instead laid out on the floor, exhausted and shiftless. They produced scaly eggs from one end while the other was fed a constant stream of nutrients through a tube. The food was mainly composed of the liquified and partially digested previous generation.
Just as Kai the Enlightened had envisioned, the breeding of Yuon Kwon had become a factory process devoid of joy, love, or caring. There was no family here; only rapid evolution.
Teams of nimble Kitsu bustled in the cells, tending to the eggs and hatchlings with their furred paws. They were fast and inquisitive, but no replacement for proper rearing by a child’s Yana. These weren’t parents, but at best concerned nurse maids.
That was the true price the honored and ancient Yuon Kwon continued to pay in the name of the Oikeyan crusade, and it was a terrible one. But Zelliar had long ago come to grips with this arrangement, and he suspected the Yuon Kwon had as well.
There were many calls for Zelliar’s attention throughout the colonies. His patience was beginning to wear thin. “Why am I here, Delliash?”
“The generations come at pace,” she said. “Behold the newest Teigen phenotype, six percent faster than those in the field. Hungrier. More temperamental.”
“But still tractable?”
“With proper training,” Delliash said. “Selkellis assures me our young cousins will be prepared soon. He employs your techniques to increase psychic pressure in the Teaching Swarm.”
The Teaching Swarm had been different once. In those days, they were calm waters which an elder Alarhya would swim through, sharing his mind with dozens of young spawn preparing to gain independence. Now, it had instead become a crucible in which Alarhya children were forged into swords. It was where the young and innocent became able crusaders, fixed on overcoming the viscious struggle.
These children were no longer taught but rather imprinted, and Zelliar’s psychic amplification would surely enhance the process. The technique had allowed him to overpower the collective minds of the Swarming, becoming the only voice among the many. The effect on unsophisticated minds would doubtlessly be momentous. Transformative. Dangerous.
That was simply part of the price the Alarhya would pay for victory.
Zelliar put his concerns aside and allowed himself instead to admire the young Teigen taking their first hesitant leaps into the air. Their bodies were flat diamonds and darkly colored like some sea creatures Zelliar had seen on this planet, but missing the barbed tails.
The Teigen bloodline was descended from Zelliar’s own steed, Vissa Aum-Heirath, whose companionship was cruelly stolen from him by the Earth Nefrem. He could at least comfort himself in knowing that some part of her lived on in these children.
She adapted, and for that, Zelliar was glad.
“You did not bring me here to trumpet incremental advances, Delliash.”
“I did not,” she replied. She blinked her glowing eye twice quickly, a beckoning gesture, and proceeded across the catwalk. Zelliar followed.
The walkway angled downward until it finally became a tunnel with ropy, constricting walls. As she approached a sealed portal, its olfactory receptors recognized her scent and the door’s armor plates parted.
“When you became Primus among us, you gave me certain leeway to explore new avenues of research,” Delliash said.
The tunnel widened into a broad, flat chamber whose ringed floor glowed the same color as the Earth’s sky in the Spring. A circular scaffolding made of bone filled the space, suspending a strange Yuon Kwon in a tendon harness at its center.
“We discovered a mutant Thralesh Yuon Kwon whose genome exhibited unusual pliability. Through examination and experimentation, it proved more receptive to recombination than is ordinary, and I chose it as a base. I have successfully hybridized the Thralesh with more bloodlines than we once thought possible. The result is what you see before you, gifted with traits culled from among virtually all variety of Yuon Kwon.”
The mysterious Yuon Kwon was magnificent. Its gross shape was similar to Thralesh, the six-armed honored ones that Alarhya wore into battle, but its unique heritage was evident. It bore the angled styling and coal black coloration of the Taigen flyers, while the back was covered in a jagged, blue material like the city Yuon kwon’s outer shell. The arms were longer, more robustly articulated like the Auresh walkers, and on its shoulder rested a weapon similar to that of the Khoom artillery, but shrunken down to an appropriate size.
Zelliar floated forward. “What is its name?”
With shame Delliash said, “We do not yet know, Primus.”
Zelliar spun on her as incredulity colored his eye. “It refuses the bond?”
She indicated an Alarhya floating on the opposite end of the chamber. “Sessial is our leading candidate, but the child won’t accept him. It is… willful, Primus.”
Could this new creature somehow have contracted the wayward child’s sickness? It seemed impossible, but Zelliar was filled with both fear and awe at the prospect.
“I must tame it,” Zelliar said. He floated out across the chamber, and the dozen Kitsu working along the edges of the room stopped to watch him with their big, bright eyes. Their long ears pricked up, twisted in his direction and listened attentively.
“No Zelliar, it isn’t safe!”
Delliash’s attempts were in vain. Zelliar was already close enough to feel the frightening Yuon Kwon’s aura. It crackled along the edge of his consciousness, tickled and enticed him like the faint electrical pulse of relaxation pools. “What are you?” he asked.
“You are not prepared,” Delliash said, but her voice was weak and without conviction. She did nothing to stop him. She dared not.
Zelliar knew this was right.
In a single motion, Zelliar floated above the armor and bid his Jerin release him. He dropped through the air toward the bladed carapace, and at the last instant, it split apart and accepted him.
The shell pressed tight against his flesh and the line between the two disappeared. Heat and rage crashed into him, driven on by an unquenchable hunger for the kill. His mind surged in response, and his iron will stabbed back at the Yuon Kwon.
It was too much. He couldn’t control it, couldn’t overpower it. Something within this creature was different from other Yuon Kwon, darker and filled with hate.
It consumed him. Zelliar’s mind burned until only one phrase remained, and he wasn’t sure who had thought it: I will tame you.
Light alternating with smouldering darkness. Chaos. Screaming in two voices. Then the unbreakable crystallization of unity.
They tore free of the harness and the world throbbed at their combined touch as if it were the surface of a pond. Zelliar reeled in disbelief at the power he’d become part of, not diffuse like the Samaraya, but compressed into a talon’s sharp point.
The Yuon Kwon was Kinj Aum-Kesh, and her fury excited Zelliar like a drug. It washed over him from the depths of a bottomless pool filled with anger and strength. Together, they would reshape the face a world.
The next episode should hopefully be out this weekend. We’ll be taking a look at Chapter 19: Commute, and I hope you’ll come along.
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