Long Fall — Chapter 19

Missed the extra weekend update (sorry!), but here we are for your regularly scheduled, Tuesday night dose of science-fiction. Tonight’s episode of Biotech Legacy: Long Fall is Chapter 19: Commute, which shines some more light on one of the less-explored characters in the series.

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.

Now grab a spoon. Dinner is served.


Chapter 19
Commute

The walls were made of a material like white ceramic, but Kai knew otherwise. He’d seen it shift from solid to liquid and take on new forms before returning to solidity. It moved with elegance, creativity, and speed, and he had no doubt that those were the expression of a vast intelligence.

He was enclosed in living membrane. It was, he realized, a vacuole.

Was this vessel some unknown variety of Yuon Kwon, or was it another species of space-faring creature that had evolved separately? There were nearly as many differences as similarities, and the combination left him perplexed.

His box was just large enough to pace in if the spirit moved him, and furnished simply with a featureless slab for a bed. This was where Donovan held him between spasmodic bouts of interrogation, conducted clumsily by untrained civilians who were tentative and unintentionally informative. Kai found them wholly unsuited to the task.

It seemed the interrogators understood that as well, and as a result they left Kai with ample time to become familiar with his box.

Presently, he stood and waited and wondered. He wondered if there was some way he could have known that these humans were not The Adversary. He wondered if he could ever atone for the billions of innocent lives who’d been snuffed out by his misguided crusade. Most troublingly, he wondered if in his zeal to wage war on monsters, he might have transformed the Oikeyans into monsters themselves.

He knew the answers of course, and each one caused him a great deal of distress. But in truth, his inner disquiet had been so constant for so long that he worried he might long for its return were it ever to disappear. His only solace came from knowing that he’d never have to find out.

There had been one shining moment, though…

The punishing heft of his transgressions had never yet failed him, but for just a brief instant, he dared to believe he could actually wrestle out from underneath. That was the moment he decided to release Jack Hernandez from captivity and swear allegiance to the man’s cause.

In return, Kai bore witness to something amazing: one small, fragile creature bent two entrenched armies to his will, transmuting raging conflict into tenuous peace. Jack was an alchemist, something which Kai’s people hadn’t believed in for millennia.

The Somari were an advanced and sophisticated people, but in their hearts they understood only one craft. They pursued war as a means to cleanse themselves, a way to absolve sins so ancient that none still knew their names. The Somari marched on through history behind the spear, and it was with spear still firmly in hand that they finally perished.

Jack Hernandez had illuminated a different possible path to redemption, though, and Kai saw no choice but to walk it, no matter how impossible its far destination might seem.

The wall before him became clear and revealed Donovan standing on the opposite side. Deep brown skin contrasted against the bright colors of his uniform. His face revealed little.

“I require your assistance,” Donovan said flatly. Tension rippled along his neck then vanished.

Kai looked him in the eye. “I will not kill for you,” he said.

“I know, and I wouldn’t ask. This task is a bit different. There’s someone in peril, and you may be my only chance to reach him.”

If this was manipulation, it struck Kai as entirely novel. “I’m listening.”

“Jack Hernandez has been wounded. You and he have some sort of arrangement, as I understand it. You’re friends.”

Knowledge of he and Jack’s collusion had spread throughout the human population. Kai had verified as much himself using means that Jack would never have agreed to. Unfortunately, Kai possessed a particular set of skills, and absent Jack’s guidance, he could only use them as he’d been trained. If Jack’s life might depend on it, the decision was simple.

Kai computed a series of scenarios, but they all pointed to the same conclusion: Donovan couldn’t know of Jack’s true importance to him. The only one who knew that was Jack himself, and he would never share such a thing. He would die with that secret.

“We are acquainted,” Kai said. “What might I gain from this, Donovan?”

Donovan paused. “My gratitude. It’s a coin of some value these days.”

Sentiment coupled with a reminder of unexpended power. In combination, those two most often concealed guilt. Kai studied Donovan’s face, measuring its geometry and comparing it to a variety of statistical models. He craned in and said, “What did you do to him?”

A tremor shot through Donovan’s flesh, raising small hairs as it went. Goose bumps, as Jack had called them. Kai was otherwise impressed at the man’s ability to constrain his emotions.

Tightness came to Donovan’s lips. Very quietly, he said, “There was a regrettable incident and Mr. Hernandez needs help. He won’t accept it from us.”

Deflection. Group affiliation. Did us indicate his people, or the strange dual-consciousness to which he was bonded? No matter. Kai zeroed in on the unsaid information.

“I would be most pleased to help any wounded individuals. How may I be of most efficient service?”

Donovan’s pupils oscillated several micrometers. Then the muscles above and between his eyes contracted, causing the skin to wrinkle. Kai believed the expression was supposed to convey earnestness. It was backed by rather convincing conviction.

“Jack is the only victim. I’m going to level with you… This ship is capable of communing with other minds. Something more than this patch cable I’ve got plugged into my head. And right up until Hernandez came near her, we never knew any of our kind could connect.”

Kai heard truth in Donovan’s voice, and anger rose up inside of him. The long nostril slits on his face flared involuntarily. His pupils widened. All remained perfectly hidden behind his mask. “She violated him,” he said.

Donovan was silent.

Kai had learned of this concept from the Alarhya, who regarded the act with utmost hatred. In their Swarming and through their bond with Yuon Kwon, it was possible for one mind to invade another. The victim’s experience couldn’t be adequately described, but the effects were clear: they were left broken, altered. It left scars on every part of them.

There was only thing in the universe that Kai had foolishly allowed himself to believe in, and it might be broken. Destroyed. Darkness swiftly shrouded his path to redemption.

He struck out with force and the clear wall in front of him rippled. The waves travelled around the room and back again. He did’t know whether the ship felt pain or not, nor did he care.

“You’re more than acquainted,” Donovan said. His face displayed a subtle hint of smugness. Confirmation. He was more cunning than Kai had given him credit for.

Kai weighed his options and found the most benefit in honesty. Here, it might forge an important alliance. “Jack Hernandez and I are more than acquainted,” he admitted. “This human is valuable. I will help him however I can.”

Donovan lowered himself to the floor and said, “Then I’d like to extend an offer in good faith.” He removed Kai’s gauntlet from inside his coat and presented it.

The fact that Kai couldn’t detect its carrier signal at even this short distance was a testament to the ship’s impressive technology.

“I would be most appreciative,” he replied, and offered a curt bow.

“Good. You can collect it when you arrive.”

Kai canted his head to the side in confusion, while the wall shifted from transparent back to translucent white. Then the ceiling above him opened and the vessel’s cursed gravity snatched him from the ground, flinging him off through its many tunnels. Any attempt at struggle was pointless. The ship manipulated him like a child’s toy, and he was powerless to offer even the slightest resistance.

He’d never encountered a force that could so utterly defeat him, and he sincerely hoped never to do so again.

The vessel made at least a half-hearted attempt at comforting its passengers. The smooth tunnel walls remained lit alongside him as he moved, and the illusion of floating in place might just have worked if Kai didn’t possess other, less easily fooled senses.

Having an emotionally unstable creature of unimaginable power throw him around at several hundred kilometers per hour was not his ideal method of transportation. He had in his time faced the gaping maw of a living planet that existed only to consume, yet this filled him with a terror he struggled to contain.

And then it was done.

The vessel set him down gently on the floor of a brightly lit, sterile facility. It was not unlike the prison block, but the human uniforms were different here, looser and less aggressive. Kai had never seen an intact human hospital before.

Donovan stood more than an arm’s length away, still holding Kai’s gauntlet in his hand.

Kai said, “Your vessel creates many effective illusions.”

“Legacy does,” Donovan said. “She has many talents.”

Light in the room pulsed so subtly that it would be undetectable to humans, and Kai began to understand Donovan and the vessel’s relationship better.

He gave his best imitation of human manners. He lifted a hand, motioned for the object but didn’t reach out. Donovan gave a nodding affirmation, and Kai slowly extended his arm and took the device.

He yearned to have his mission-comp back, but he dared not show it. He precisely controlled his movements, affecting a casual air as he latched it around his wrist and felt the tingle of it connecting to his nervous system. The cracked and scuffed screen lit up and masses of words streamed by in a multi-colored mess.

The lively, angelic voice of his companion appeared in his head. “Initializing… still initializing… oh goodness… I’m getting so old… Ah, there we are! Greetings, Sinit Kai! You will be surprised to learn that most of my systems are functioning mostly correctly.”

Kai touched the screen with his opposite hand, and communicated using a gestural language. “Consider me mostly surprised, small friend,” he said. “How have they treated you?”

“With dignity!” his companion replied joyously. “They made some attempts to penetrate my intelligence, but this human faction is not adept. I revealed only what you wished, Sinit.”

“Good,” Kai said. “Run diagnostics and system optimizations on my muscle framework, then sleep. Rest until I need you again.”

“Immediately, Sinit. May I say… it is so good to have you back.”

“And you,” Kai replied, and he meant it. The device’s presence filled his spirit with warmth, the way seeing his multitude of nephews and nieces once had. That single instant of joy was more than he deserved.

Donovan had studied Kai avidly during the brief exchange, paying special attention to the hand used for communication. The human would learn nothing, though. The language was encrypted using a randomized series of keys fed directly to Kai by the device, making it effectively uncrackable. Kai took his privacy very seriously.

A fully telepathic connection like those used by Donovan and the Oikeyans might have been preferable, but the Somari, had followed a different path. They’d built these mundane machines as slaves, and the idea of sharing spirits with them was met alternately with revulsion and derision. To his kind, a thinking machine was just a tool, an idiot savant that existed to serve.

Kai no longer held that belief.

He looked up and regarded Donovan. “You should show me to Mr. Hernandez now,” he said, and Donovan ushered him through a wide door.


Coming up Thursday night, we’ll be taking a look at Chapter 20: Rites, and I hope you’ll drop in and take a look!

~Chris

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.

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