Thank’s for joining me on the first night of the federal government shutdown. Lovely weather, doncha think? Anyway… Tonight in Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, we’re finishing off Charlie Hernandez’s side-story with Chapter 25: Age of Martyrs.
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.
Got a soft blanket and a comfy chair? Excellent. Let’s begin.
Age of Martyrs
Gadfly sliced through air accompanied by the warbling of her drive fin. She understood the stakes, and she and Charlie were going to win. They pressed more and more power into their fin until the organ ached from the strain, while Charlie tried to hide how much he’d have preferred to be aboard Remmy right that second.
Out beyond the sprawl of Amiasha’a buildings and the cover of his glowing ceiling, the first light of dawn had just come to the far horizon. It burned in shades of gold that seeped into the lifeless blue above it. Traffic throughout the city was out of whack, now quickened, panicked, and thrown into disarray. The people knew something was happening. The plume of smoke in the distance was warning enough.
They’d all begun to live in a state of constant fear and expectation, like goldfish in an aquarium surrounded by shark tanks. Someone wanted them terrified before dealing the killing blow, and they were doing an excellent job.
As they flew, Charlie couldn’t stop thinking about this attack. The shape of it was sharply familiar, and he realized it had been borrowed from Carbon Corporation’s disinformation playbook. He’d seen techniques like these used on some of the larger separatist camps, but never against a population this large. Never in a city teeming with millions.
It could only be the work of Major Reyes. Charlie had heard of him soon after enlisting, and had even met him once at an unauthorized party. Rumors had painted Reyes as one of the most talented up-and-coming tacticians in the company, and the impression Charlie took away that night was one of thoughtfulness and carefully measured response.
The fact the encounter left an impression on him at all was telling; they shared approximately five words over a pair of cheap beers.
“How’re we gonna find Maxwell Lee?” Shazz asked, his voice popping and sizzling around drops of water. They’d left the canopy down, and Amiasha’a warm rain started to come in torrents.
“He’ll be walking deliberately,” Charlie said through Gadfly. “No one ever rushes to a suicide mission.”
As he spoke, Amiasha’s central stock loomed ahead of them, its cortex bulging at the middle like a knot in a lean muscle. Gadfly ducked down out of traffic and sped low over the wide roads of the Central District.
Pedestrians filled the streets, men and women on their way to market, pushing ramshackle carts full of food, clothing, tools and works of terrible art. Gadfly’s numerous eyes provided a wide-angle view of them all, translating different kinds of information into patterns of light and color which Charlie understood intuitively. With her vision, he could see into and through the figures, watch blood pulse through the countless branches of their veins and arteries, and he saw the queerly slender bones that held all of it upright.
The Yuon Kwon didn’t always give their pilots so much info at once, and Charlie had always found dealing with it particularly challenging. A flood of data like this would give him a raging headache and bleeding nose after just a few minutes, but he pressed on without a second thought. He’d let his poor overworked brain burn to a crisp if it meant stopping whatever was about to happen.
Maxwell Lee. Middle-aged with hair greying in streaks. Tall, skinny, awkward. Likely the most boring man on the street, by both Doctor Benson and the receptionist’s description.
Charlie sorted through hundreds of people walking below but found nothing. Not a fucking thing.
Gadfly turned down the next street and continued the hunt, just high enough above to avoid suspicion. Protector patrols were a common enough sight, and anyone remotely familiar with the area would pay them no mind whatsoever.
Charlie thought better of it. Dive.
The two dropped and pulled in tight over the rooftops, then flicked on their external lights which swung through the falling rain like steel girders. The ship was now an unmistakable presence, and the citizenry looked up from under their hoods and umbrellas to see what was going on.
Shazz said, “Thought we didn’t want to alert him?”
“Change of plan. Time’s short, so I’m beating the bushes.”
Gadfly came to the end of that block and turned up the next while the groggy people below gaped up at them, dumbfounded. They pointed and gabbed and tugged at each other’s shoulders.
Then Charlie found the most boring man on the street, walking as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
“See him?” Charlie shouted.
“Block him in,” Charlie said. “You take this end of the street.”
Shazz said, “Roger,” then stepped out of the moving Yuon Kwon. The alien angled his hands downward, and through Gadfly’s eyes, Charlie could see magnetic fields projecting down toward the ground like elevation lines on a topographic map.
The alien floated gently to the ground, an extraterrestrial dandelion seed bobbing in the wind, and Charlie knew he’d absolutely never get used to that.
“Clear the way,” Shazz shouted from the ground. “Maxwell Lee, stop!” The last word struck like an artillery shell.
Charlie and Gadfly zoomed to the other end of the road, watching their prey carefully as they went. The man had frozen in his tracks, his pulse remaining inhumanly even the whole time, and he showed no signs at all of stress. Could Charlie have been mistaken about a suicide mission?
If he was right, there wasn’t any time for doubt.
“Everyone get back,” Charlie and Gadfly said, echoing throughout the canyon of living buildings.
The people stampeded away from the slender man, who remained still as an hour-old corpse.
Gadfly wheeled about and set down, releasing Charlie the moment she was on the ground. He shook off the after effects of bonding, and found his mouth drenched in blood.
He vaulted the Yuon Kwon’s soft wall and his feet padded down the chitinous street. He raised his right hand, aiming his thumper-clad fist at the frozen subject.
“I know what you’re planning,” Charlie said hoarsely. “It doesn’t have to be like this.”
He made eye contact with Maxwell Lee and saw only hatred, roiling like the dust clouds of inbound armor.
Charlie advanced at a steady pace and Shazz did the same.
Lee reached into his burlap coat and brought out a black cylinder. Charlie might have mistaken it for a coffee thermos in a different time.
Charlie broke into a sprint.
Lee brought his other hand to the top of the cylinder and cried out, “For man!”
Time seemed to shrink. As Charlie rushed onward, he watched Maxwell Lee twist the cylinder’s top and raise it upward. The tips of the fingers gripping it quickly turned black, bubbled, and lost their shape.
Charlie fired. His weapon whumped like the beat of old-fashioned electronica, followed by the whining cry of a mourning dove. Flashes of light struck stomach, chest, face, hands. Maxwell Lee’s body jerked back at the impacts like a blindfolded man in a batting cage.
The canister tumbled out of his hands and spun in the air. He reached out with decaying hands while his body fell away, splashing to the ground like a popped balloon full of sewage.
Still precious steps away, Charlie leapt. It was high school football all over again, his body thrusting from head to toe and propelling him forward, fingers outstretched for the ball.
The cylinder’s grippy surface touched his palm, bounced off his fingers, rattled between his two hands, and he he hit the ground shoulder first while wrapping himself around the it.
He slid a meter and came to a stop. The skin on the inside of his arms felt strange, almost like a hundred flees were nipping at him.
Pain lashed across his arms, his chest, and he hugged the canister as tightly as he could.
“Charlie!” Shazz shouted as he approached.
“Stop right there!” Charlie slobbered around the words like a dog that needed to be put down. “No time!”
“Yeah,” Charlie said, all the while fighting against the convulsions that were starting to wrack his midsection. He didn’t want to say the next part, but he said it anyway. “Kill me.”
“No,” Shazz said quickly. “There’s gotta be another answer. Just hold on, Char…”
“Please,” Charlie begged through gritted teeth, foam collecting on his lips. One hand began to drip down his body. “Please!”
“But my kind…”
Shazz slowly blinked his eyes, and Charlie watched as a piercing light appeared between those small, antennae-like hands. It swelled quickly, from just a spark to a spinning mass of twisting, electrical arcs. It swirled like a thousand cannibal snakes trapped in a snowglobe, hungrily eating one another’s tails.
“Shazz!” he screamed, the word bubbling in his throat.
The light grew and grew, making a sound like all the aluminum-foil in the world being crumpled at once. The brightness blinded Charlie’s eyes, and he thought, It was the only way. I’m sorry, Lisa.
And then everything was gone.
And that’s that.
A bit of background: This is one of several plot-points that never existed in my original notes, but it’s easily the most important among them. There was a sequence of events I simply couldn’t make work when planning the story, and this was the answer that finally brought it all together. I’m pretty happy with the result, and I hope you are too.
Thursday, we’re jumping into Chapter 26: Impact Crater. Wear comfortable shoes!
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