Long Fall — Chapter 22

Hope you’re having a lovely Tuesday. I also hope you’re ready for a bit of gore, because today’s episode of Biotech Legacy: Long Fall is a strangely bloody one. We’re looking at Chapter 22: Body Hacker and (as noted in Saturday’s update) that is exactly what it sounds like.

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.

Ready? Here we go!


Chapter 22
Body Hacker

Amira Saladin woke to the rumble of treads and squeak of a chassis. Before she could start to question her whereabouts, agony burst from her leg like water from a broken dam. Throbbing. Screaming.

She rolled to her side and began to throw up.

Murmuring voices.

Stomach convulsions.

“Didn’t work, Tam. It’s bad.”

Her stomach was empty but she continued to heave.

“Increase the current.”

“On it!”

Nothing happened, and she continued to spit on the floor while pain barreled over her like a delivery truck, then it vanished in a way that was wholly unlike a truck of any sort. Two small circles of hurt remained higher up her thigh, a searing heat like a pair of coins left out in the sun on black pavement.

Her eyes were soaked and blurry, and her mouth was covered in spit. One of the animate blobs pushed a towel into her hand and she took it gratefully.

He said, “Here ya go, Chief.” The voice was Vasily Romm, the youngest member of her team. “Feeling a little better?”

“Yeah,” she said. “How?”

She felt like she’d taken a full-body beating from a gang of rowdy football fans, but she couldn’t feel a thing below her right thigh. For that, she was immensely thankful.

“Tamsin’s idea. We’re using electrodes to block nerve impulses. Let me know if they start to hurt too much, and I’ll turn them down.”

“I won’t,” she said, then tried to sit up. She didn’t have enough strength left to accomplish it, though.

“Don’t try to move. Just lay still until we can get you back to The Pegasus, alright?”

“We don’t have time for this shit,” she mumbled drunkenly. She draped an arm over her face but otherwise remained still. “What’s our status, Vas?”

“Your charge knocked the APC over and the raid went off without a hitch. No casualties on our side. Richter and Chen got it running again, and now we’re thirty kilometers west and hugging the coastline. Bad news is that the previous crew managed to knock out the transponder before we broke in, so we’re not sending out an IFF signal… no one’s shot at us yet, though. Fingers crossed.”

Crossed fingers weren’t enough. Kazuo used to tell stories about Blade Aerospace pilots out in the field, and the fact that they weren’t even trained to recognize their own units’ silhouettes. They relied entirely on friend-or-foe signatures because doing otherwise might reflect badly on the technology.

Amira’s father would’ve laughed darkly and then ranted for an hour about the dangers of letting marketing get its fingers on warfare.

But maybe things had changed. Maybe these weren’t old Blade pilots at all, but fresh recruits with a new found respect for friendly fire.

Amira didn’t like relying on maybe. “I have to get that transponder back online,” she said.

“No offense, Chief, but fuck no. You’re not moving an inch.”

She wiped some of the moisture from her eyes and finally got a good look around. They were in a small cabin slightly larger than a single-occupancy dorm on Mars, lit with lamps the warm color of candlelight. The team fit comfortably with ample room left over for her litter, and the space was pervaded by a smell of motor oil, with undercurrents of deteriorating hoses, metal dust, organ meats.

This was supposed to be a rescue. Too many human bodies were stacking up on the scoreboard.

Amira tried to quell her still jittery stomach and somehow pulled it off. She focused on the facts. Her team had gone in with guns at full blast, so their batteries would be down around 8%. She always preferred precision strikes, applying the least effort necessary to accomplish a goal, but had to begrudgingly admit that it wasn’t always possible.

She took a deep breath and said, “At this speed, we won’t make the rendezvous, but we’ll be toast without a working transponder.”

“The Unies won’t…”

“Yes, they will,” Amira said, cutting Vas off mid-thought. “How do you think they treat deserters on this side of the world?” She didn’t know anything specific about New Union desertion policies, but the insinuation sounded plausible enough. It had a strong whiff of truthiness.

“And your leg? We just ignoring that for convenience, Chief?”

Amira really preferred to be on the supply side of sarcasm, but Vas had a point. “Yeah,” she said, “I had an idea about that.”

Maria Chen stepped toward the back of the cabin, crouched over Amira and said, “What can we do to help?”

It took them fifteen minutes to set up, which involved a lot of screaming and just a bit of foaming at the mouth. The electrical inhibitors were effective but sometimes slid out of place, sending the full howling horror back to Amira’s unsuspecting brain. She could only imagine how much worse it would’ve been had the APC’s suspension not been so silky smooth.

When they were ready, Chen and Vas stood together on either side of Amira’s leg, holding it up while their lamps flooded her tortured flesh in pale light. Amira had her headset on, and both wrists clad in thin metallic strips. Nerve transducers. She held a bio-circuitry printer in one hand, and despite the transducers’ best efforts, the device was shaking.

Tamsin shouted back from the cockpit. “You’re sure you don’t want me to stop the bus and hide-out?”

“What part of no fucking time did you not understand?” Amira didn’t mean to bark like that, but the situation was threatening to get the best of her.

Tamsin let it drop.

Amira reached up and touched the side of her headset, dialing up her brain-wave inducers to max. She was hoping for a nice calm alpha state but turning up the volume didn’t seem to work, and she wondered if relaxation might be something she just couldn’t force.

She tested the pen and found it in working order. Small actuated mandibles danced at the end, ready to spin their living work, and a single thin blade burned to bright red-white, then cooled off just as quickly. That was the unit’s RF knife. A small sliver of steam wafted up from the tip.

“Alright,” she said, “we’re ready.” She thought she was ready, at least. She glanced up at the two troopers, Maria Chen and Vasiliy Romm, both standing above her with bloodless faces and bright eyes. The rest had wisely found something else to do. “You don’t have to watch,” she said.

Neither looked away. She hadn’t expected they would.

She looked back down at her leg, and the sight made every muscle above her shoulders tense. She felt nauseous again. The thigh was malformed, bubbling outward around mangled bones trapped inside. Colors were a swirling mixture of red, purple, and lifeless yellow. No one ever wished for a compound fracture, but it certainly would have made her job easier.

Amira swapped through a series of color filters that made various details beneath the skin visible. She saw veins and capillaries pulsing in rhythm with her heartbeat, blood flushing into wide bruised regions.

She dialed up the zoom on her headset and found her gaze marching along a rolling landscape of subtle diamond patterns, dotted with small hairs sunk into shadowed divots. At this magnification, she thought she could at least pretend it wasn’t her leg. It was just another piece of broken machinery.

Amira lowered the pen and gave the surface a few trepidatious pokes. She felt nothing, like it was someone else’s body. Then she activated the RF knife with a squeeze, and the tip lit up. Her headset automatically darkened the image to keep its bright light away from her dilated pupils.

“I can do this,” she mumbled.

The heated blade approached.

The skin didn’t even quiver. The team’s improvised nerve-blockers kept her leg perfectly still and detached.

Her leg.

Amira softened her grip and pulled back.

“I can do this,” she said again. “I can do this.”

The pen’s tip bobbed up and down. It was only a few micrometers, but it meant she wasn’t fully in control.

She didn’t have time for full control.

Amira squeezed the pen again and the RF knife came to life. She grimaced and lowered the tool with a sharp thrust, and flesh parted around it like gelatin. Even in the absence of pain, Amira let out a low growl. She bared her teeth.

“Chief?!”

“I’m okay,” she said and continue on. Her blade cauterized as it cut, keeping everything neat and tidy, and there was little damage despite her graceless entry. It was a good cut. It didn’t get her any closer to the goal, but it was workable.

“I’m okay,” she said. She refused to cry.

Instead she focused on technique, confident it would push anything useless aside. She zoomed out, lowered the blade again and began a larger curved cut, opening a portal into the damaged region. Her other hand darted in with a pair of forceps and pulled the skin aside revealing torn tissue and rough bone jutting upward like mountainous terrain. Shattered fragments lay everywhere, white speckles and polka-dots in a landscape of red.

Amira felt herself begin to gag.

She quickly changed color filters so the subject no longer looked like something in a butcher’s backroom, then her tweezers swooped in and began plucking shards out of the shredded muscle fiber. She collected each in a metal pan to the side, and they each landed with a ding that was barely audible over the rumbling APC.

Those parts of the quadriceps that remained untorn, she severed quickly with a deft stroke of her blade. It felt needlessly destructive, but she wasn’t a surgeon and she needed space to work.

Besides… she’d fix whatever she broke.

Amira tore a clean path to her target, revealing both open faces of her cracked femur. Her headset scanned and recorded the patterns of tissue, an ossified and porous outer shell, spongy marrow inside, then it automatically measured the angle between the two ends and calculated how far to lift her foot to realign them. She forwarded the command, and the troopers slowly complied.

Nothing tore.

When they stopped, the two halves of the bone sat facing each other with only a small gap between them. Amira lowered her pen into the opening and began to sketch in a rough facsimile of the missing materials.

Marrow came quickly, bubbling up like the froth on a good beer. Her gaze occasionally snapped to another section of tissue, and the pen used that new area as the source to imitate.

“Marrow’s finished,” she said.

Someone exhaled loudly. Then the APC bounced, the leg jostled, and her freshly drawn marrow ripped away. Nothing new was damaged, though.

Amira took a deep breath and began again, more hastily than before. Instead of clean strokes, she worked with short, fast hatching, and the resulting material came out grainy, rough, oddly striped.

It would have to do.

Next came bone, which printed slowly. She had no choice because the calcium compound wasn’t one of her pen’s native materials, and it struggled to keep up.

She finished that as quickly as she could, then sprayed the new surface in an enzyme bath that would solidify her work, followed by amino acids to feed the fresh tissue. While that set, she began reconnecting the nerves that had been damaged by her hasty entry.

Then it was time to move onto the muscle layer. Her hand was about to move into action when she paused. The APC lurched over some kind of hole, but everything miraculously remained in place.

The short break gave her a second to stop working and think, and she realized with a start that she had a strange opportunity. Here was a blank canvas sitting in front of her, waiting to be filled in. She could do her best forgery of the previous artist’s work, or she could paint something entirely new.

The thought struck her as terrifying and morbidly alluring in equal measures. Short of time to really think over the consequences, she chose the option that frightened her.

Amira went back to work. She quickly reinforced the bone’s outer structure with a non-reactive silicate that would make the patch stronger than any other bone in her body. She drew it as a diamond latticework whose edges trailed off smoothly. Whatever problems might arise, at least she knew her patch would hold.

Next, she began mating the severed ends of her quadriceps together with Eireki-style myofiber. The new muscle was shades of amber and gold, composed of glittering threads woven together in intertwined helixes. It would be stronger, more resilient, and capable of storing an electrical charge.

She built it up in layers, bundles grouped into larger twisted bundles until the entire organ was once again complete. To that she attached a small socket-port, then pulled back the flap of skin and closed it with an organic sealant that would naturally dissolve as she healed.

The bruising was dark and pervasive, but she simply didn’t have time to go in and fix that kind of cosmetic damage.

With that, the task was done and Amira took off her headset. Then she reached down and untied the belt they’d used as a tourniquet. All that remained was to wait and watch.

To her surprise and titanic relief, nothing leaked.

She took a breath and the exhaustion finally caught up with her. She was mentally fatigued in a way she’d never experienced before, like strong hands had been pulling her brain apart for days on end. On top of that, her entire body was a heap of aches, some dull and others decidedly not.

She had to count on the omnibodies to do the rest. She felt herself falling, and she was asleep before she landed.


… and roll credits. Thursday, we’ll be reading Chapter 23: Adaptive Domain which is the beginning of a side-story that runs for three straight chapters. Hope to see you there!

~Chris

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.

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