Thursday! What a day, right? Man, I’m short on material right this seconds so… lame joke, blah, blah, blah… And that means for tonight’s installment in the continuing saga of Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, we’ll be heading deep into touchy-feely territory with Chapter 20: Rites.
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.
A clear portal in the wall parted like an eyelid and Kai walked through. As everywhere aboard the monster vessel, the room’s walls glowed softly but in a shade closer to the nearby sun than in Kai’s cell. It seemed a natural step in comforting a human.
Jack Hernandez sat on the floor with his back against the wall. His knees were raised, his head was down, his heart-rate was elevated, and breaths came spasmodically. He was terrified. Kai had left humans in this state before. In fact, Kai had left Jack in this state before.
The door closed behind him and he waited silently.
After some minutes, Jack lifted his head a few degrees and looked up with eyes still partially obscured beneath his brow. He was gaunt, pale, and shaking. He’d lost ten or more kilos since Kai had last seen him, and some kind of bandaging covered both forearms.
Jack said, “Fuck.” His eyes burrowed back into his knees.
Kai leaned against the wall, slid down to his posterior and imitated Jack’s pose loosely. “If it’s any consolation,” he said, “I’m a prisoner, too.”
For a long time, neither of them said anything. Jack cried, Kai waited, and minutes passed.
“You…” Jack sputtered. Tears dripped from his upper lip. “You’re literally the last thing I wanted to see, you know.”
“I understand,” Kai replied. “Unfortunately, though you may not like me, I’m all you have.”
A shadow of a smile touched Jack’s lips, then flitted away.
“This thing that happened…” Kai said gently.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“That’s okay. Is there anything you do want to talk about?”
Jack mumbled something unintelligible.
“Alright, then perhaps I’ll speak a little and you can listen.”
Kai took Jack’s silence as an affirmation. He began to calculate the different potential emotional levers and their varying possible results, but stopped himself. He quieted that part of his mind.
“That day,” he said, “after I enabled the human weapon, I was prepared to die.”
“I believed in your cause, but maybe not so much in your abilities. I began the countdown, sat still and waited to be undone.”
Kai said, “Because I hate myself.”
Those words rested heavily in the room.
Kai went on, “And that was the last time I doubted you.”
Jack let out a dark chuckle.
Kai spoke in Mirresh, the Oikeyan common language he’d once taught Jack. “My pledge to you remains unbroken, Jack Hernandez. I persist only because I believe I may be of use to you. Now more than ever…”
Jack looked up. His eyes were dim and red. “Back there in the rain, you called yourself a ‘weapon of my will’.” His Mirresh had improved considerably in the intervening years.
“And…” Jack said, glancing at his wrist, “If I should wish to turn that weapon on myself?”
Anguish erupted in Kai’s chest, but he showed nothing. “I would do your bidding. I don’t take my oath lightly.”
Jack seemed to stare into some imagined distance.
“But I would join you not soon after.”
“Fuck you,” Jack said in English.
“Either by my own hand, or the wrath of this vessel. It doesn’t matter which.”
Jack nodded with understanding. His face showed cynicism. “Because you would be a tool with no use?”
“Because the last thing I believe in would be dead and gone.”
Under any other circumstances, Kai wouldn’t have put that kind of weight on someone in this condition. They’d break. But if there was one thing Kai’d learned about Jack through their relationship, it was that this peculiar human grew stronger under the weight of responsibility.
“You’ve saved lives,” Jack said. “Thousands. The stories made their way around the world.”
Despite his own pain, Jack was still trying to comfort him. It amazed Kai to no end.
“You don’t need me to save your soul,” Jack said with finality.
“My spirit is unsuited to this task, Jack. I’ve brought about the destruction of billions, but only a paltry few thousand were saved through my stumbling efforts.”
Something sparked inside of Jack. Color came back to his face if only minutely.
“I’ve seen you move mountains with your fingertip. Oikeya and human are learning to live together because of you. Just imagine what you could accomplish with my arm.”
“You have an amazing talent for blowing smoke up someone’s ass,” Jack said. It was dark humor, but it was humor none-the-less.
“I’m not lying to you. I was a Sinit. Infiltrator. I spent my life learning to manipulate and conceal for the purpose of destroying threats before they could materialize. I still don’t understand why the Archon chose me for this fool’s errand of his.”
“What do you mean?”
Kai said, “My previous body was critically damaged while capturing live specimens of The Adversary shortly after the invasion began. I was to be transferred to a new Sinit model and returned to infiltration duty, but I woke up in this strange construct instead.”
Jack wiped his nose with a bandaged arm. “So what’s wrong with your body?”
“Nothing is wrong. It’s faster, stronger, more resilient. Even more so than even our Khaled combat variants. I’ve never seen its like before nor even heard rumor that such a thing existed, and my suspicion is that it’s a unique product of the Archon’s creativity and desperation, but there’s no way to know… not anymore.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Jack said as his forehead sunk back down to his knees. “Just imagine what I could do with you, right? Gimme a super-weapon and I’ll save the world. Can I tell you something?”
Kai widened his eyes, ducked his head. “You may.”
“What happened to me was…” Jack’s voice started loud, but the wind that drove it disappeared in a quiver and a shake. “Just… Fuck what happened to me,” he growled through tears.
Kai waited. His patience was infinite.
“The only options left are to die or face it again, Kai… And I’m going to die someday anyway.”
“As I said, I will do as you wish if asked, Jack, but I have faith you won’t ask. Do you know why?”
Jack shook his head.
“Because I’ve experienced horrors that no living being should ever be subjected to… spent the last months picked apart piece by piece while I could do nothing but watch… and I’m here. You’re stronger than I am, Jack.”
Kai said, “I haven’t broken yet. And neither should you.”
Jack dropped silent while he processed that. They sat together for a long while, just breathing and being.
Finally, Jack wiped the tears from his nose and looked up. “Kai?” he said.
“I think… I’d like to see your face. Your real face.”
Kai thought on it, then slowly reached back and removed his mask. The air felt strange on his bare skin, still so fresh and raw after being regenerated. He blinked his two sets of eyelids independently.
With a genuine smile, Jack said, “You look like my friend’s pet tortoise.”
A genuine smile was a good place to start.
What remained of Daniel Grey lay in a bed of wires, cables, hoses, bits and bytes of machinery. His arms and legs were gone. His eyes were gone. His mouth was a distant memory, replaced by a synthesizer box whose use he hadn’t mastered yet. The voice that came out of it was garbled and metallic.
He could only feel pain as if his entire body had been ground down with belt-sanders, and all he heard was the glug of mechanical pumps and the hum of computer fans.
Footsteps approached. The clack of boots and thud of soft shoes. “Right this way,” one said to the other.
The soft shoes entered the room and Daniel could hear their owner gasp.
“Lieutenant Grey, you have a visitor. This is Father Kindregan. He was asked to come see you.”
“I told you,” the synthesizer voice croaked, “I don’t need him.”
“It’s not your call,” the booted soldier said simply, then closed the door and marched off.
“I don’t want to force anything on anyone,” Father Kindregan said. “Why don’t we just talk for a bit, Lieutenant? Would that be alright?”
“Nothing to talk about,” Daniel said. For once, the synthesizer’s flat tones were perfectly appropriate.
“They tell me you may not survive this uh… procedure. Your anger is very natural, Daniel. Even anger at the Lord. Do you know why our Heavenly Father tests us?”
“To help ussss… us. Find. Our. Faith.”
“Yes, that’s right. The Second Revelation tells us that the Lord calls down fire and water on us that we may be tempered. We forge ourselves in His crucible that our faith may become unbreakable. We are not chosen by the Heavenly Father but rather tested time and time again, and through this testing, He waits for us to choose ourselves.”
Chosen people had meant something very different before the Fall, but the Second Revelation changed that. Now they were all chosen, driven onward by faith not only in the Lord but also in themselves. It was every believer’s duty to prove themselves worthy of the salvation He’d invested in them.
“Appreciate the thought, Fath… Er… but I’ve read. I know why I’m here… and I’m. Not. Annnng-ry.”
“And I’m NOT going to die.”
Father Kindregan was quiet for an awkwardly long time. “I see you’ve already found your faith. I’ll leave you in peace then, child. Be well.”
The door opened and the priest’s soft shoes padded into the distance.
Finally left alone, Daniel Grey tried to grit teeth he no longer had against the pain, and he waited in defiance. He waited for this tiresome trial to be over, and for the next to begin. He waited for a chance to show the Lord just how worthy he’d become.
The next episode will be up Saturday night, when we get our first look at Chapter 21: Cracking Safe. Be sure to buy your tickets early to avoid long lines!
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